Me and My Colt 22

This is how bright the trees and sky felt to me, though this picture has been exaggerated for effect.  I didn’t bring sunscreen because it was so foggy when I left home in the morning that I couldn’t see twenty feet ahead of me.  I got so burnt I’m still hurting two days later.  It was at least 82 degrees and glaring meanly all day.

I don’t own a colt 22 but I spent 3 hours shooting one in a blindingly hot little clearing on Kutch mountain.  Saying “Colt 22” sounds the same to me as saying “Jordache Jeans!”, it has an eighties quality to it.  If I was to own a pistol it wouldn’t be a Colt anything, I’d own a Smith and Wesson M and P (9 mm).  Among other things I learned this summer in the research for Cricket and Grey I spent almost eight hours looking up different kinds of semi-automatic pistols and at the end of the day when my kid asked me one of his favorite questions “If you could only have one weapon in the whole world, what would it be?” and I said without hesitation “I’d have a Smith and Wesson M and P .40 caliber because although the Sigma seems solid, the M and P is an improved version of the Sigma.”

Those words did come out of my mouth much to the astonishment of my husband and son who are constantly throwing the names of guns at me knowing I don’t have a clue about any of them.

Until now.  It’s like I trashed the flimsy walls of their boys’ club.

Thank you Wikipedia.


Conifers of all kinds wrap the roads in the hills around McMinnville and in most of western Oregon.  They aren’t as tall as the redwoods of California but they’re more dense.

It wasn’t my intention to go shooting twice in the same calendar year but my attendance at the “Fire and Steel” seminar put on by my Kung Fu teacher and his Lawyer Terry (also a Kung Fu student) is due to winning a bet.

Shooting and betting.

Terry, the man who taught me to shoot the last time,  challenged me to solve a puzzle that evolved out of a conversation we were having about weapons of choice in which I was explaining that I am not a gun person.  I have no desire to own a gun.  Even after having fun shooting one for the first time.  Terry doesn’t think there’s such a thing as having too many guns strapped to himself any time he leaves his house because you never know when you’re going to have to fight an army single handedly in McMinnville.

I spent weeks trying to discover what influence connected slungshots, Portland history, and China together.  A historical puzzle over which I spent many hours googling for obscure weapon information.

I learned that Portland Oregon was considered the most dangerous port in the world in the 1800’s because around 1500 people disappeared without a trace every year from the city.  As it turns out, people were being “Shanghaied” through trap doors in taverns and dragged to ships where they were taken out to sea with no option to return and were put to work on the ships.  Slungshots are obscure nasty weapons that can do a great deal of damage to a person quickly and are easily concealed.  They started off as a ship tool before becoming a favored weapon of sailors doing evil work stealing people.  So in the Oregon concealed weapons code it is stated that you can’t carry a slungshot concealed.

Bet not too many other people had the chance to say “Monkey’s Fist” this summer.

The “Fire and Steel” class was all about self defense with both your gun and your knife.  There were drills (which I didn’t participate in) where your partner jams your gun and you have to pull your knife on them in a timely fashion or be gutted like a giant wild salmon.  This was a six hour class held in the Oregon wilds with at least ten people all carrying a minimum of two knives and two guns each with no bathrooms, barely a road out, possible gun thieves hiding in potential bathroom spots waiting for an opportunity to ambush groups of shooters, and two intense teachers promising to yell at you if you don’t follow safe gun protocol, and also promising to teach you how to lead an army for the second coming of George.

This is the real Oregon.

Sambucus Caerulea is an elderberry that is native to the Northwest.  They’re very pretty with the white bloom on the berries making them appear light blue in color when ripe.

I’m not a big fan of lethal weapons*.  I don’t live a life of fear.  I did that for most of my early life and there just comes a point where I think you have to balance preparedness, awareness, strength, and also letting the fuck go because you can have an entire compound full of explosives and still wind up dead from other people’s explosives like some people in Waco Texas had the misfortune to discover.  Or maybe it was just as they wanted, a kind of poetic justice to live by the gun and die by the gun, as the saying goes.

There are some things I know about myself and one of them is that I don’t want a gun in my house; not your gun, not mine.  I know that having a gun of my own would be antithetical to who I am and if there’s one thing I know in this world it’s who the hell I am.

I will freely admit, however, that shooting guns at a target that doesn’t have arteries is pretty satisfying the way throwing darts or making goals in soccer is satisfying.  I can’t throw darts well or make goals in soccer worth talking about, but shooting a gun feels comfortable.  It feels natural in my hand.  I like aiming a pistol and I like the sound it makes when I pull the trigger.  I am fascinated by how the sound doesn’t match up to the tiny shreds of paper blowing up into the air on impact.  I find it satisfying to have my teacher (a good friend of Terry’s named Louis) show me which groups of bullet holes are close enough to be considered good.

Louis may have been exaggerating just to make me feel good but he told me I was a great shot.  My Sifu and Terry seemed to think I was pretty good too and those two men NEVER LIE, so I’m pretty sure I acquitted myself with respect with that Colt 22 that I don’t own.

It doesn’t add up.  I realize that.  I don’t want guns in my house but it felt natural and good shooting one.  I think it’s more about doing something well that I don’t believe I have it in myself to do well.  It’s about making the shot.  Or landing the punch.  Or nailing the page to the hall of great writing.  It’s almost impossible to hate doing something once you find you can do it well.

The day wasn’t all shooting for me.  I was lucky I got to participate in the class and I enjoyed myself quite a lot.  There was a highlight of the afternoon that had me freaking out with excitement for, well, I still haven’t gotten off my high of excitement at the discovery of wild elderberries up at the clearing on Kutch mountain where all this fierce rugged manly stuff was going on!

I couldn’t get at a lot of them but I brought a bag home and on the way back I saw more elderberries on the side of the road.  HUNT!  When I catch a sniff of forageable fruits or herbs I become extremely single-minded.  I sent Philip out yesterday to pick some more for me while I struggled to begin the great albatross around my throat: the second draft of the book.

He brought me back a large bag of them.  This weekend’s haul is what you see in the bowl in the picture.  Wild medicine.  Wild food.  Native berries.  Free.  The best natural medicine for influenza for free.

It’s grey here a lot of the time (a fact that makes me very happy) but when the sun opens itself out across the landscape it becomes an impressionist’s verdant painting of light-points.


I truly enjoyed the strange blend of violent pursuits and the quiet peaceful art of foraging wild medicinals.  In so many ways it reflected the inspiration for the book.  This Oregon life is pretty rough around the edges.  It’s full of sharp contrasts and contradictions.  Oregon has got me shooting, betting, and picking wild berries from native plants.

I promise I’ll never wear chaps.

While Oregon has managed to make me more wild around the edges, it has failed to charm me with extreme politics.  If anything, it has given me the gift of being more certain than ever of my social and political beliefs while it’s teaching me to live among people who are violently opposed to many of my ideals.

Northern Oregon is still the wild west.

I’m frankly surprised that prostitution isn’t legal here.

What quickens my pulse still, what I dreamt of all those years I was away from Oregon in the dry hot California brown hills was the lush green blurring past you on the road everywhere you drive here.  I missed the smell of the air which is cleaner and sharper with the constant resinous tang of conifer sap.  I missed the way the light makes an underwater green against the velvety dark of thick underbrush.  I missed the moss that covers so much of the damp ground.

People get lost in our mountains here every year during the snow.

Wild, wild west.

*My Sifu loves to point out that anything can become a lethal weapon, but I refer to those “tools” that are specifically meant to kill other beings.  Guns weren’t designed to hammer houses together with the added bonus of efficacy at killing people you don’t like, they were made for the very specific purpose of flesh annihilation.  Sure, you can kill people with a screwdriver, but they are also very useful in making things.  You can split hairs if you like, but I’m pretty sure my meaning is clear.

My Spiritual Latenight Skivvies

I made a vague promise to myself not to write late night posts anymore.  I reduce to my raw element past midnight.  It isn’t quite eleven as I start this post but I know that I am already down to my spiritual skivvies.  If there is anything blogging has brought to people it’s an immediate unadulterated honest and raw view of human life in process which allows us to connect in ways we find it difficult to connect in our everyday community.

Something has shifted today.  I felt it in the air, definitively.  Life is wild; it shifts and changes course on a dime and none of us can predict what ride we’ll be on tomorrow that we never dreamed of today.  So there is essentially only right now.  There is always right now.  I don’t know what twists will wake me from my groggy Saturday morning stuperous sleep and I’m not worried about tomorrow.  Instead I am still tasting this queer, almost frightening deja vu that began this late afternoon.

Perhaps it was the unseasonable warmth and mellow fall light that stirred up a completely unexpected visitation of a past spirit.  Everything was subtly draped in a familiar light; a California late afternoon with the lingering warmth that always begs you to open another beer and sit on the stoop chatting to neighbors who are taking their constitutional in the gorgeous gold evening.  You smell the antique roses from where you sit and you speculate about whether or not the couple across the street has a relative chained up in the basement and laugh because it’s impossible that in a whole neighborhood there should be not a single Mister Rochester.

I don’t know what will happen tomorrow or next week.  I don’t know what new challenge will accost me when I can least deal with it.

That’s just it.  I have matured enough (finally) to understand and accept that it keeps on coming.  I have let go of outcomes to some degree.  The things I thought were most important for years have proved much less important than I could ever have imagined they could be.

Rewind.  Rewind.  Rewind.

Something powerfully subtle has transpired in the quiet.

Five years ago something in the universe started keeping the wrong time.  A gear got bent by a thirty-secondth of a fraction of a fucking infinitesimal unmeasurable tiny-ass millimeter.  Ever since then everything has been exactly that fraction of a fucking infinitesimal unmeasurable tiny-ass millimeter off.  I’ve been pissed off for a long time.

Until this summer.  I took a break.  I wasn’t particularly zen in my break.  I didn’t visit the Dalai Lama (because we’re still pretty fucking broke as a matter of fact and my trip to New York might be the last trip I ever get to take) and I didn’t wear a dirndle in the fresh clean icy Swiss alps reclaiming my milk-maid vibe…

This summer I just turned off all the conduits between my brain and the outside world and listened to myself.  I realized that there’s a damn good chance that we won’t stay in this house.  That life will be location-transient.  I had to accept this because there was no other reasonable course but to accept whatever might come our way.

I had to come to some kind of peace with whatever outcome life might dole out.  Proper medication at the beginning of the summer greatly increased my ability to achieve peace in myself and unknown outcomes.  The universe seems somewhat perverse when it comes to me.  Maybe it’s in love with me but is ashamed because I’m not a supermodel and so it plays with me in mean little shoves and sharp corners.  I let go of that too.  Just means the universe is reflected in me.

I let go.  In the quiet, I let go.

Today something shifted.

Five years ago Philip and I sat on our fabulous brick front stoop watching neighbors pass by on their constitutionals on the balmy July evening asking ourselves what it meant that he just got laid off from the best job he’d ever had.  We drank beers while our somewhat troubled child slept fitfully in his cheerful room in the house I had come to believe I would grow old in.  I loved it that much.

We sat drinking beers, stunned, and yet I had no idea what was coming.  I had no idea how far we would drop before finding solid purchase.  I had no idea that I would lose the life I had come to believe was the life I’d always wanted to live.  It was perfect, except for the fact that it depended on solid good paying work, which evaporated for so many people besides us.

I remember smelling the roses.  My beloved antique roses.  I remember the light my porch shed across my sunset pink stucco porch and how mellow, rich, and warm it was.  I remember believing that somehow we’d make it all work out.  We were hard working people.  We’d find solutions.

Still.  Still, there was a feeling of being cut loose on the world.  A feeling that something had broken in the gears of our life.  That time would never be accurate again.  Something shifted that night as we sat drinking beers, stunned, enjoying the security of a life we built suddenly thrown into possibly permanent transition.

I only weighed 165 pounds that night.  I wasn’t fat.  My house was reasonably clean every week.  My garden overflowed with amazing vegetables and we fit in where we were.

Reminiscing is the staff of human existence.  We mark time this way, so please forgive me.

There was something on the air that night that told me, on an instinctual level, that life had shifted and that we were no longer on the path we’d meant to be on.  I felt this strange grip on my heart and my spirit like something had gone out of focus.

Today I felt a great shift in the air and in my bones and both are in focus again.

It’s as though the past five years have been an odyssey and I have just come back from it.  The air suddenly smelled right, and felt right, and the clock was keeping the right time.

I don’t believe in God.  Not like most people believe in God.  If I tried to tell you what I believe it would be a convoluted mess of Hippie drug visions mixed with arbitrary (selective) attractive Buddhist tenets and the best concepts from Hinduism.  I’m sure if my parents had been exposed to Islam at the time they would have embraced at least some part of that as well.  I don’t believe in god.  I do believe that sometimes life becomes out of balance and we have to go through fire trials and struggle to keep our skin on as we fight for air in hell.  Life can be like that and it isn’t personal.

Except that it is.  If you’re suffering there’s something to know, something to overcome, something to grow out of.

I have lost a lot of skin but today I didn’t mourn.  Today I looked at my two guys and knew that I was lucky to have two totally crazy creative genius maddening different and sweet guys to share my life with.  Today something shifted and it was huge.  Something that couldn’t budge for five years because I needed to grow.  All three of us needed to grow.

Max is almost ten now and is the most amazing child.  I am not an amazing mother but I know him, I understand and appreciate his spirit and every day is about not crushing him, not folding him into a drawer.  I tell him to give me space to write my book and he asks me how my book is going.  He is proud of his mother that she is a book writer.  My wee son who used to threaten to kill himself when he was two.  He is now working on a “book” (about 5 pages long!) and tells us he is happy that his dad is an artist and his mom is a writer.  I know I’ve done well by who he is.  No one else can judge that.  I know.  I see how I’ve done by how comfortable he is being different.  Being a kid with obsessive compulsive disorder and ADD, he shines.  He is proud of who he is in his best moments.

Everything needed to unfold exactly as it did.  And there is no going back.  There is only forward.

Today the clock was wound for the first time in five years by an unseen hand.  I felt it as the minutes caught up.  A queer otherworldly sensation of being hastened to a gate I couldn’t see.

We went out to dinner tonight and that’s when the deja vu of a different life struck me the hardest.  Looking at the two boys I love best in the world in this strange light, a light both spongy and ethereal.  Max, confidently being himself in all his strange glory knowing that here, between us, he is the most loved person.  Just as he is.  Philip, having pushed forward in his own development was peculiarly calm and happy.  These are my people.  Something moved back into place that had been out of whack for five years.

Time has begun again.  We sat on our ghetto steps leading down to our weed choked ghetto yard and drank beers.  The air was exactly as it was that July night when Philip came home with the news that would alter our lives so dramatically.  This time no dramatic news prompted us to sit there.  Something has shifted, an ephemeral little something, an unquantifiable something that only comes to you when you have evolved a step further.  When you have let go of things that aren’t essential.

My ideal life divorced me and it was messy and now I’ve remarried and finally the fallout has fallen, the anger has dissipated, and what’s left is this new life with my old spirit returned.

The air was queerly intimate, smelled like my life before the great falling.  Tonight I feel like I have been returned to myself.

In the end it’s nothing but bathos.

Something essential has been returned to me tonight.

I’ll never stop loving that pink house, my snug but wonderful kitchen, my amazing neighborhood.  But it’s  a thing of the past and didn’t unlock the fiction, the growth, or the understanding I now have.  There’s no going back.  We came here because we had specific things to learn.

Something shifted back into place today.

Between me, the rams, the clouds, the deep carpet of wet sinking moss, and the fighting spirit that keeps climbing up the hill and doesn’t see the cliff.

I am returned to myself.

Automatic Music on Blogs is Aggressively Rude

Blog Advice: Don’t set your blog to automatically play music when people open it up.

When you open up a blog and music automatically starts playing it’s like when you click on a link you think is taking you to cute pictures of puppies but instead your screen fills with hard porn and you can’t find the “close window” box and your kid is sitting next to you and is turning his innocent 3 year old head and with eyes wide asks “Mama… what are those people doing?”

The music you listen to is extremely personal.  Like sex.  Or perfume.

Here’s another scenario: let’s say you opened up someone’s blog (because it looked interesting) and as it loads up your computer suddenly mists you with Paris Hilton’s perfume, (which smells like old civet pee), and you can’t get the smell out of your nose or your hair or skin.  The blogger who orchestrated this quaint little piece of mischief probably wears Paris Hilton’s perfume because it takes them to a happy place and they really truly want to take you there with them and they assume that their happy place is the same as everyone’s.  It never occurred to them that such a scent might make you want to get a whole body skin graft just to get the foul scent off.

I love music and I don’t trust anyone who doesn’t.  I don’t care what kind of music moves you, if you love music then we have some common ground.  Music is one of those primal arts that has been moving humans for thousands of years.

Unfortunately it’s also very emotional and personal and what makes me really happy might upset or horrify you.   This is why I would NEVER set my blog up to play the music I love automatically.  If you open up my blog, you’re essentially letting me into your life, into your living room or office, and you deserve to be treated with auditory respect.

So do I.  So does everyone.

Kenny G doesn’t take me to a happy place.  Neither does Yanni*.  In fact, Yanni makes me want to do violent things to floaty-type people who wear rainbow shoelaces and speak in gentle voices.  Someone automatically cranking up Yanni on their blog may inadvertently be responsible for crimes being committed.

If I was to play automatic music on my blog it would almost certainly be a bagpipe version of “Amazing Grace” or an accordion playing a chirpy polka.  But my favorite kind of music of all are dirges and I would love to make you listen to a bagpipe dirge!  But I wouldn’t do that to you.  Because I like you.

Recap of advice: setting up your blog to automatically play music when someone opens it is as rude as spraying a stranger with civet pee.  Don’t do it.

So how can you share your love of music with people who have come to experience your world and your happy places without being rude?  You can have a soundtrack in your sidebar that has to be manually turned on by readers.  It’s that simple.  Invite people to explore the music that makes you happy, don’t force them.

And if you absolutely insist on accosting people with your favorite tune from a Broadway production of “Annie”, for god’s sake- put it where it’s easily found so I can turn it the fuck off!

*Opening this link will, I think, prove the whole point of this post.  Go ahead, experience the irony and the anger.  As much as I dislike Kenny G music, I have to hand it to him, his blog is much more polite than Yanni’s.

Stop Waiting to Move Forward

We have a fly problem.  We’ve had it for a year but it has reached a climax.  I know why we got them and I knew what had to be done to fix the problem.  We did part of the fix but until today I hadn’t completed it.  The flies have finally become scary to me.  I’m not especially grossed out or worried about flies.  (That’s because I don’t spend time at crime scenes or work the livestock trade.)

The chickens are the reason but they aren’t the real reason.  It was our getting buried deeper and deeper into the folds of an impossible life.  We’re pretty strong people.  The clinical mental problems, bad backs, weak ankles, sprained ligaments, and general malaise aside, I’d say we’re fairly robust middle aged people.  Still, when you think life has given up on you, sent all your good karma to someone else out of spite, you let things go like poor chicken-run design.

It’s amazing how quickly a neglected small problem can blossom into something ugly and overwhelming.

I have learned not to think too much about what’s going to fall apart next* or to wait for the worst to be over.  Waiting was the theme of my thoughts while weeding.  If you think they were a navel-gazing festival of sad “why ME?”s strung out pathetically across the wildly overgrown raised bed you would be a total lunkhead (and maybe a little more mean than me) because I was thinking about waiting in a more inclusive way.  I was, more likely than not, thinking about you.  About all of us.  About this thing people do where they develop a waiting pattern in their lives that turns into the only pattern in their lives.

I’d say I’ve done a lot of waiting but I’m waiting a lot less these days.  There are so many unresolved things going on in my life.  There are fires all over the place just like in everyone else’s lives.  I don’t know if I’ll still be living in this house next year.  It really all depends on the whims of the bank and our level of meticulousness with filing papers repeatedly and consistently for months and months.  It’s so easy to say I shouldn’t bother to plant the apple tree that’s been living in the pile of dirt in the driveway because I might not get any fruit from it.  It’s so easy to tell myself that I shouldn’t tackle the unbelievably ornery weeds because if the bank makes us go then I’ll have done the work for nothing.

It might sound reasonable and I’m willing to bet that each and every one of you has said the same thing at some point in your life.  “I shouldn’t bother trying to look nice today because I probably won’t see anyone else.” or “We shouldn’t have a baby until we make more money.” or “I don’t want to start a garden until I own my own home.” or “I shouldn’t practice piano because in five years I’ll be able to afford a church organ and I’ll have a mansion to put it in and all this piano playing sure will feel useless and stupid.  I could have spent all this time wishing I was playing a church organ.”

Waiting isn’t always bad but it’s always bad when you’re not doing what you really want to do because everything isn’t just right.  Waiting to become an artist when life isn’t so crazy anymore means you will never become an artist.  The quack grass is a real bitch and yet I have to say that I have my best thoughts while I’m killing myself to rip out each tough little rope of root.  (I still think of Bush and his neck while performing this arduous but deeply satisfying activity.)  If you hear yourself saying things like “When I make more money I’ll…” or “Once I finish college I’ll…” or “Just as soon as I have a dozen children I’ll become a famous mime!”

(In that last case I can only be deeply deeply thankful that you most likely won’t become a famous mime because people who haven’t figured out that miming isn’t magical really scare me.)

It’s bullshit.   In case you haven’t already figured that out.  The beautiful thing about being a grown up is that you have control over what you do with your time and what you do with your life.  None of us live in a vacuum and you can’t just sashay off to the north pole to study polar bears if you’ve got family that needs you to not do that.  On the other hand, if you really wanted to do that and it was truly deeply important to you you would get your family on board with you and you would build a mutually beneficial life that includes studying polar bears.

If your husband/wife/partner isn’t keen to support you in doing what you really truly want and need to be doing in life then you might need to rethink such a partnership.  (But first you better figure out if you’ve been supportive of their own desires and needs because most people who love each other want to help each other reach fulfillment in life, but it always ALWAYS goes both ways so be sure you’re doing your end.)

There are a thousand ways to go about doing what you want to do without ditching your friends and family and not all of them involve giving up wheat and dairy.  What I kept thinking was that if you’re not doing what you always say you want to do then you don’t really want to do it.

A person who says they really want to be painter but claim they have no time and then have another baby is a person who had time to paint but chose to have another baby instead.

Think about that hard.

You might not be able to do everything in life you want if you’re like me and have an endless list of things you love doing.  However there is always one thing that is more important than anything else and you know what it is.  I remember a friend of mine, many many years ago (back when Max was an infant), telling me (with great longing, sad saucer eyes, and a general air of defeat) that she and her partner really wanted to have kids but they were going to wait until they had better jobs first so they could afford it.  Then, later on, she went on about how they would try to have children just as soon as they owned their own home.  Still later, (still childless and still not actually trying), she said that they’d start trying just as soon as they made a trip they’d always wanted to make.

I’m no great advocate of people having kids but I finally had to say that if she really wanted to have children she should just fucking get on with it because after all these years of pining and wishing and not even trying she might find she’s not even able to have them and then she’ll have a whole new problem to worry about.  I told her there was never going to be a good time because babies are damn inconvenient and if you lose your job or your house after you have one it’s really hard to send them back.

It’s the same with everything else.  It’s a universal story.  If you want to be a chef you’ll spend every damn available minute you can cooking even if you’re working 70 hours a week as an accountant.  If you want to be a mother and you have no babies you will either start trying and if you can’t have them you will adopt or foster because if you really want to be a mother you will find someone to mother and you’ll do it right now because it’s that important to you.

If you’ve always wanted to be taxidermist but haven’t done it because you can’t find a taxidermy academy in your area or you haven’t done it because no one you know wants you to become one then you don’t want it enough.   I know someone who’s doing it right now who didn’t go to an academy nor ask anyone’s approval nor wait until he’s done waiting for no good reason.  It’s possible it’s been a bit of a rocky road for him at times (sometimes that’s good for the taxidermist, right?) but he’s doing it and enjoying it and no matter what anyone thinks, he’s not waiting.

So what are you waiting for?  What excuses are you feeding yourself?

I’ve been waiting to tame my yard and strip the stupid wallpaper edging in my house because the house might be taken away from me and then I’ll have wasted my precious time.  I’ve been waiting to plant my sad (but beloved) Damson plum tree because I tell myself spending money on the soil to plant it and the effort to plant it might be wasted.  While I’m weeding out there the thing that strikes me hardest is this: it isn’t about wasted time or energy.  Weeding might be hard but every single time I do it I feel great.  I think more clearly while I do it.  I feel better when I’m done with it, even if I only cleared one square foot of garden space.  It’s the doing that matters.  There is no such thing as wasted time or wasted efforts.

We all have endless opportunities every single day to choose to do the things we really want to do, at least for a few minutes, and every single day that we choose to exercise the self discipline it takes to make our lives what we want it to be is not a wasted day or a wasted effort.  Things will change.  Life twists and bad things will happen just as good things will.  But I believe that more good things will happen when we are feeding the needs of our spirit and when we feed our spirit we are indirectly feeding our loved ones too.

I know someone is worried about the flies.  The flies will take time to eradicate.  You have to work against several life cycles before you see change.  It will take work on my part but I have risen to the challenge.  The cleaning I did today took 3 hours.  My hens are thanking me.  I feel really fantastic.  I’ll wake up and see a ton of flies tomorrow and it will make me anxious but I know what to do and I’m not waiting around anymore for things to explode or to get better on their own while I hide under my English prison table (tough enough to withstand riots and knives!).

I’m not waiting at all anymore.

*I don’t have to because I already know it’s going to be my teeth unless I get me to a dentist post-haste!  I’m already showing signs of wearing the Oregonian dental special smile.

You’re not a Writer if You’re not Writing

I have finished reading the first 12 chapters.  I have taken so many notes and I’m almost done writing a new (more detailed) outline.  I was planning to continue on from where I was, chapter 13, because in my mind I have an obligation to finish the entire first draft before moving on to the the second draft.

And then I realized that that’s just my OCD* talking.  Going through things by the numbers, doing things the way they’re SUPPOSED to be done (in order!)… this OCD glitch is so much easier to deal with than dermatillomania.  It only took about three days of pushing aside my instincts which said “You have fixed so many holes in your story and rewriting the first 12 chapters at this point will significantly change how the characters interact and what happens from 13 on… just start the second draft already!”

I listen to myself.  I am still working on the revised more detailed outline but I’ll be done with that with about another hour of work.  Then I will begin the second draft of Cricket and Grey.  I’m really excited!

It’s been one year since I came up with the idea for this series.  I came up with it right near the end of writing Jane Doe.  Writing Jane Doe was such a heavy, intense, emotional, upheaving, and exhausting experience that it forced me to look at what kind of writer I want to be professionally.  I was just telling someone yesterday that I believe that all writers have that Pulitzer quality earth shattering book in them that needs to get written, hopefully will get printed, and needs to be read… but that’s not the book that pays the bills (unless it makes its way into Oprah’s hands, and of course if it literally wins the Pulitzer it might pay a few bills).

I will finish Jane Doe eventually.  I HAVE to.  It’s important to me personally.  But after months of intense writing that literally turned my spirit inside out (and ended up helping to heal some very old yet unbelievably still raw internal scars) I took a little break and was reading some of my favorite Mary Stewart suspense novels to cleanse my palate and let the fresh air into my head.  That’s when I had the revelation that I want to be a career writer.  I want to write books that entertain, that are intelligently written yet not big heavy Faulknerian epics that make you want to kill yourself by page 112.

So this time last year I came up with the initial idea for Cricket and Grey.  By late December 09 I began writing it.  I haven’t been steady at it until late spring.

My goal is to have my second draft completely finished by the new year.  After I reach that goal I intend to work out a few chapters to the high polish point so I can start sending proposals to publishers.

This year I have achieved complete clarity about the life I want to live, what my most important goals are, what I will achieve.  Not what I HOPE to achieve.  It feels damn good.  I don’t say anymore “I hope I get this book published” or “if I get Cricket and Grey published”, I say “When I get this book published…”  Because I will.  Fact.  It’s still possible I will publish it myself (not the disrespected endeavor that used to be) but ideally I’m going to convince someone else to do it for me.

I hear so many people talking about what they want, what they wish their lives were like, and then there are all the things that are in their way.  They can’t be so selfish as to take the time to write or paint or invent or whatever… because their family has to come first.  Or maybe they can’t do what they really want because they have to pay the bills and work all week and have no time to follow dreams and selfish pursuits.

The truth is that there will always be sacrifices.  You either decide to make them or you will remain immobile and as far from reaching your goals as you were last year, and the year before…  Oh my god!  What kind of mother would put her art before her family?!

The serious kind, that’s what kind.  Sorry if that offends.  As it surely will.  I care very much how well I take care of my family but I married an artist who knows that no matter what connections you make in life, you are an artist first because if you are an artist it isn’t what you do it’s WHO YOU ARE.  We purposely had only one child (for many reasons) but among them was the fact that we are an artist and a writer above all other roles on earth and children require a lot of time.  We have only so much time.  We must give a lot of it to the development of our art.

What was I doing when my son napped?  I wasn’t cleaning the house (always very apparent to anyone stopping by) I was writing.  Writing.  What did I do when I put him to bed at night and in between his predictable nightly wakings?  I was writing.  Back then I didn’t have to work for anyone else to pay the bills and so I was able to do other things as well.  But the point is that my housekeeping sucks because no matter how small a window of “free” time I have I fill it with writing.

Once I finally cracked the fiction code and needed to concentrate on that last summer I sent my boys away from me at every possible moment so that I could work at it.  They gave me the space.  They gave me the time.  My kid needs me but he also knows that not writing isn’t an option and the truth is that he thinks it’s cool that his mom is writing books.  I sacrificed my family’s comfort for writing.

So what I have to say is that if you don’t have the balls to put your writing first then you will never get anywhere with it.  Maybe some people have to wait to get serious until they’re children are grown and flown.  That’s fine.  But it isn’t that you had no choice.  It’s just that you didn’t choose the writing.

I’m forty years old and have been writing seriously my whole life.  I am finally clear about what I’m doing, what I want to achieve (specifically) with my work, I know where I want to be and I know essentially how to get there.  So everything takes a back seat now.  My comfort (lack of sleep when necessary to crank out the next thousand words when I’m on a roll and it’s 3am) and my house is a serious mess of cobwebs and dust-bunnies and my garden is rife with weeds and ragged grass and overgrown roses.

But it’s okay with me.  I can clean the rest of my life up once I have published my book and people are buying and reading it and my job is to write new ones.

This won’t wait.

I’m a better mother and wife for being firm and clear about my goals and my son is seeing that if you want something bad enough, if you want to change your life and make it the life you really want, then you have to work your ass off and everything else will suffer until you get there.  When he was tiny and needed my undivided attention he got it.  I wrote in every other little second he didn’t need me.  If I had been as clear then as I am now perhaps I would have found a different way of doing things.  But the point is that my kid, being the only kid, got my 100% undivided through the first 5 years of his life.  No daycare, no babysitters (only because we couldn’t find or afford any), just his parents’ complete attention.  That’s a pretty sweet start if you ask me and is way more than I got.

I am lucky to have such a supportive husband and son.  I’m lucky they’re as intense and crazy as I am.  I’m lucky that they think it’s super cool that I am a book writer.

Today they’re going to go ride their bicycles on Grand Island where there’s some walk/ride tour going on.  This is how they’re going to give me hours of uninterrupted writing time because they know I’m working my ass off to get back into gear on the book.

I already have a good life.

The pursuit of great things is always selfish initially but when greatness is achieved it’s nearly always for the benefit of so many people outside yourself.  I’m not writing this book for my own amusement.  I’m writing it because I want you to pick it up after a long day and be drawn into a world that’s interesting and reflective of the truths you know but with a little more magic; I have so much in my head to share outside of it.  Finding the  magic road to get it from my head to yours is the longest, driest, hardest, and toughest one to walk.

I’m not doing it for self aggrandizement.  I never was.  When I was typing out soap operas when I was ten I wasn’t doing it because I thought maybe someday it would make me really important.  I was doing it- I was going to say I was doing it to be a conduit of entertainment for others but I think writing back then was a lot more primal for me- I think I was actually doing it because the sound of the typewriter keys was mesmerizing and writing was the only time I felt lit up and not anxious and depressed.

If you’re a writer (and you know it if you are, you will not have to ask yourself) then you need to be in constant practice.  So do it.

Incidentally, if you would like to start getting to know the main character of Cricket and Grey you can read her journal here:  Cricket and Grey It’s so new and fresh I haven’t got it on a feed yet.  Cricket’s Journal is going to be my inspiration board as I continue on with the writing.  I took a bunch of pictures of the roads and scenery around Yamhill County to inspire me since this is where the book takes place.  So I will be uploading those and so if you’re curious about Cricket and the setting for the book, please check it out!

It’s time now to get a fresh cup of coffee and finish my new outline.  Onward!

*This is great link to information on OCD.  My husband, my son, and I all have OCD.  It’s difficult to gauge a person’s OCD serverity because often the person with OCD doesn’t report all the symptoms they experience and as this article suggests (I know this to be true) people with OCD tend to be very good at hiding their obsessive behaviors from others.  I myself was guilty of this the first time I got diagnosed.  I didn’t tell my phsychologist about the dermatillomania because I was ashamed and also didn’t know it had immense significance in my diagnosis (or that there was a name for it).   Anyway, I just wanted to point out that this is a particularly well written article about OCD if you are curious about it.

Your Blog design is HURTING MY EYES

I am about to offer a piece of advice that will almost certainly be completely ignored, and while I’m not fine with that, I feel that bringing this up and offering my help is a public service.  If this piece of advice applies to you, I want to promise you with all my heart that someone you know has been dying to broach this subject with you (because they love you) but are afraid.

WHITE TYPE ON A BLACK BACKGROUND IS DIFFICULT TO READ AND IF YOU CAUSE A PERSON’S EYES TO HURT THEY WILL NOT WANT TO READ WHAT YOU HAVE TO SAY.

Many people believe that black is sophisticated and “frames” everything really well.  While this is occasionally true in design, it is never true of print.  So if you have a blog with white type on a black background it is almost certainly making people’s eyes uncomfortable and in some cases it may actually pissing them the hell off.

When I set up my very first blog on blogspot I chose that template with the dark green background and the white print.  I had that template for at least a year.  Maybe even two, before I changed it.  When I finally changed it my blog was transformed.  I have to say that looking at it every single day had irritated my eyes though I never realized how much until I stopped having to look at it any more.

A black background is not sophisticated.

Please,  PLEASE be kind to your prospective readers and inspire them to come back by not hurting them.

Recap of public service announcement: Black background with white type on a blog…KNOCK THAT SHIT OFF!

Credentials for giving such advice: design school, two years as the color specialist at a mens necktie company, growing up with an artist mother, my own dismal blog mistakes, I’ve painted many color wheels, I like to read and I prefer it not to be an annoying experience, all the books ever printed (that are worth reading) have been printed on either a cream, natural, or white paper using black ink.

My Staff is not Bigger Than Yours (by much)


In Kung Fu tonight I struggled through a staff exercise, (not to be confused with struggling through a staph infection), and many negative thoughts went through my head such as “I can’t do this!” and “%$#)@&&!$%$%$#!!!!”.  I asked my Sifu if I could sit that exercise out because I wasn’t ready and he said No.  No.  He has this way of saying “no” with a smile full of very sharp steel.  It’s the kindest but hardest “no” on earth.  I did it.  I did not entirely enjoy it.  But I did it.

You know how in films the martial arts instructors are always deeply wise and can also paralyze a ten foot tarantula just by thinking stinging thoughts?  You watch it and you know that the master is going to do and say profound things and maybe you’re going to get a little annoyed at such VERY DEEP wisdom.

My Sifu is EXACTLY like that.  Except not annoying.  What makes him fantastic and what makes me trust him is that he is always showing us the chinks in his armor that make him human like the rest of us.  He lets us know just enough about his struggles with his ex-wife (well, we don’t get to hear what those are, just that he has them) so that when he makes us do the brutal slow wall kicks* until our legs feel as though they are catching on fire we don’t hate him.

What I’ve learned is that when he says I can do something, he’s always right.

I’ve been taking Kung Fu for a year now and I’m still having to remind myself to trust him because he never lies to me.  I have some trust issues.

This guy tells me I can knock down a 300 pound 6’5″ tall man and then, as though I was made of iron, I do it!  I just do it.  Like that.  As though this were always true my whole life.  I wish he’d tell me I can become a successful published novelist.  Knocking down 300 pound really tall men is pretty great too, though.

So when he tells me I have to participate in this exercise that I suck at and am scared of, I just do it.  Not well, but I do it.  Most of the students are really supportive so that when I say “I only know the offensive lines” they don’t ridicule or revolt or hit me with their giant staffs (not to be confused with penises**).

I don’t love the staff.

But I’ll tell you what I do love: double sticks!  We’ve been learning to fight with double sticks and I LOVE it!  When I have two sticks in my hands and I’m doing the sinwalis with a partner and the sticks are smoking (literally) with friction and the smell of the hot rattan hits the air and the rhythm is fast- being in my own skin at these moments is amazing.  Would you like to see what I’m learning to do?

(That’s my Sifu and his son Dakota. )

It’s a little long but I think you should watch it just for the broadswords comment.  Because obviously many of us are trained in fighting with broadswords… when you watch two black-belts doing these exercises together it’s gorgeous.  No other way of describing it.  It is an example of the fluidity and elegance that I love so much about Kung Fu.  To do it yourself though is even better, even more incredible and makes you believe in the power of the body to take flight.

My feelings about the staff are less warm.  I find it cumbersome and confusing.  So I’ve booked myself a private lesson with my Sifu to practice it.  I can’t promise myself that I will learn to love the staff exercises but I’m deciding right now that I can do it, that I can become proficient in it so that the next time someone assaults me with a spear I’ll know just what to do and I’ll be able to acquit myself with some degree of honor and not die.

Sifu says I can do impossible things and I mostly believe him.  Because so far he’s never been wrong.

*This is an excruciating exercise that could kill a lesser person than me.  I’ve taken the hospital stress test for the heart where you have to sign a waiver that says you realize the stress test might kill you and I think this kicking exercise is about ten times more strenuous but with no waiver.

**One of the best Kung Fu class moments was when a few of the guys were discussing the size of their staffs and I got to tell them how wildly inappropriate their conversation sounded.  Apparently guys do discuss size.

Take Your Socks Off!

Socks aren’t sexy.  They can sometimes be pretty, cute, sporty, sad, rustic, happy, rugged, or even versatile.

But they are NEVER sexy.

So when you’re undressing for a romp, I suggest that the first thing you remove is your socks.  Always.  (You should do this anyway, even if you’re just undressing for bed, with no prospect of a romp.)  Because even for those of you who are sex-gods: you are NOT sexy in your socks.

Should you ever find yourself completely naked except for your socks, you should book yourself an appointment with your therapist immediately (and book one for your partner too, because after seeing you like that they may have a very hard time getting in the mood again for a long time).

I’m going to give a little piece of extra sock advice: white tube socks are the most hideously unsexy socks on the planet.  You shouldn’t even own any.  But if you are so misguided as to wear white tube socks: take them off the second you wish to appear attractive and sexy to another human being!

Just in case you asked:

What’s so bad about white tube socks?  They sag.  They bag.  They are always dingy after the first wear.  They’re white for god’s sake!  They’re uninspired.  Not designed for feet.  Instantly bring to mind: stinky bachelors in airless apartments that smell like dirty laundry, old pizza crusts under the bed, Budweiser beer cans in the sink, and tighty whities.

Final word: SEX AND SOCKS DON’T MIX*

*Unless you happen to have a sock fetish.  You might want to make sure your partner is also a sock fetishist.

Rereading the First 12 Chapters

I’ve written 79, 175 words of my novel Cricket and Grey.  In August I got gastroenteritis and kept writing.  Then I reread what I wrote while I was sick and realized that  being sick makes me write drivel.   I had to trash over 5,000 words of what I can only say was a wishful scene between my two main characters which, if  allowed to remain, would effectively end the whole book.  Because there’d be nothing left to say.

Then I had to get ready for my trip to New York.  I thought I’d do some writing while there.  You know: writer holes up in a seedy hotel and writes, drinks booze, doesn’t shave for days, and maybe there’s some naked typing in there somewhere?  Didn’t happen.  It turns out I can’t write in New York because I can’t shut the noise and the energy out enough to hear my own thoughts.  The best I could do was write notes and save up bits for later.

When I came back I had to work long hours for my job, I was jet lagged, my family missed me and needed me, I was so damn tired from my vacation that I had to rest.  I couldn’t dive back into the book yet.

The problem is that today, as I sit at my desk poised to submerge myself back into the story, I’m feeling drifty.  I’m scared I won’t be able to pick the last thread up.  What if it’s all a pile of crap anyway?  The task right now is to reread the previous 12 chapters but I’m scared to do it.  I’ll want to start rewriting it all today.  But I’ve promised myself not to do any rewriting until I’ve actually finished writing the whole first draft.

I’m going to sit back and read it.  I have to do it.  Then I was thinking I might write a couple random scenes that are floating in my head, little character vignettes, little nothings that don’t even have to find a place in the actual novel if they’re trash, but just a little scene to bring me back into the thick of the story where I lived constantly in June and July.

Part of being a professional writer is being able to step away from a project when you need to and come back to it without a bunch of artistic freak-outs.  This is part of the job.

Onward then.