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Just a Passing Moment Gone…

man and woman reading together on picnic blanket
My parents reading together. Totally posed. But reading was one of the things that brought them together and kept them together. They often fought over new books--who got to read, say, the newest Terry Brooks book first.

Grief is weird. 

I don’t even know how to handle it. Does anyone? 

I’ve never said the words “gallows humor” more in my life than I have the past two weeks. I’ve never laughed more through tears as I have in the past few days. 

I don’t cry much. I explained why a month or two ago to my friend Lindsay–allergies are the bane of my existence. I get itchy eyes and a runny nose all year long from cats, dogs, ragweed, pollen, mold, dust mites, insert some random thing here…but my eyes and nose also will mistake tears for an allergic response and just turn into a full blown allergy ATTACK.

Attack makes it sound so much more violent! I love it. 

In response, Lindsay said, “So you’re saying you’re allergic to crying.” 

Astute observation, my friend. Very astute, indeed. 

I laughed. She had me. Yes, I’m allergic to crying. 

So anyway. Not my norm.

I wasn’t even going to share this. But another friend who is also an author mentioned that I should. And it fits. Because the man I’m about to tell you about was my biggest fan. 

He read everything I ever wrote, even this one shitty story I wrote as a 12-year-old and carefully “hid” along the side of my desk in a pile of other papers. Hidden in plain sight, as it were. 

He wasn’t supposed to read that story. Why did he go rummaging through my things? I was pissed. He said it was good. He was forgiven a little. 

The last story I gave away to my newsletter subscribers, “Cry Olly Oxen Free,” well, he adored it. He read through earlier drafts and helped me work out some of the details. And improved it mightily, I might add. 

The stuff about the substation was particularly guided by him, because he was a power engineer and designed substations. He thought that was my best short story yet. I don’t disagree. 

Often, growing up, I just wanted to get away from home to get away from my parents, and him sometimes a lot, because he loved to always be working on a project in his shop, and he ALWAYS, WITHOUT FAIL, needed an assistant.

If I heard the shop door open, the best thing I could do (and my sisters as well), was make myself scarce. Otherwise I’d be stuck for at LEAST ten minutes holding the damn solder while he soldered two wires together, to make some broken, crap appliance work again.  

Yes, very classy of me. And not selfish at all. 

I know a little about a lot of things because of him. He was annoying and beautiful and happy and funny, and unabashedly himself. 

All those things people say about other people–oh yeah, that’s an annoying trait that that person has, but it’s the thing you’d miss about them once they’re gone–is true.

He’s the epitome of that, that sense of oh damn I’m going to murder him because he sings “Sherry” so loud and hits those high notes (somehow) and is so proud of it, or he has to carry a snack size Ziploc full of Pero into the breakfast diner and ask for a tea kettle of hot water, oh it’s so embarrassing…

That’s him. And he was my step dad. And he died July 14th. 

And it was sudden as hell. 

One week I’d heard he’d been admitted to the hospital 4 hours away. 

I could have driven down to see him, but I put it off (because they weren’t sure what was wrong with him or how long he had, but they were projecting maybe four months). 

The next time I saw him, he’d declined to the point of being in a wheelchair, sleeping on morphine, mere minutes from death. 

I hugged him a ton. He could understand and hear me. I told him I was sorry I’d been a brat on Mother’s Day, the last time we’d talked. And he was the best dad that I never deserved. 

He tried to tell me that I used the F-word too much in my books. 

Can you believe that? He was trying to trap me into some kind of deathbed promise! The gall…

I laughed. He smiled his notorious smile. 

I told him I took most of them out, anyway. 

He said something like, “You’re creating a reality…” 

And then he was too tired to keep speaking. 

Tonight I realized that he was the best dad I could have asked for. I always called him my step-dad. It’s something I guess I started as a ten year old and never let go of. This little thing I could control. 

But he was my dad. He was there for me always, no questions asked. I could call him for advice about anything and I did, regularly. Dad things. Like what the hell is going on with these light bulbs I’m trying to buy (he knew lots about lighting)? Why is my car making this noise? My car broke down, I need help! This cop confiscated my truck when they gave me a ticket, and it’s your truck, can you come help me? 

haha. 

Poppa playing with my kids four years ago. The house I grew up in had tons of trees, and so tons of autumn leaves. Crushing them into the trash bin was a customary way to fit more in!

He walked me down the aisle. He was there lickity split to see my two babies. 

The last thing I could write for him, was his obituary. I didn’t anticipate writing it for him when he was only 70. He just barely buried his father. I thought my dad would live to be at least 90 himself. 

I think I could sit here and list forever the things he did for me, all that he taught me, how easily he loved me and became the father I needed and never once made me feel like I wasn’t his kid. 

At his request, the pinebox in an old truck. Pallbearers in masks, as though a funeral isn't fun enough! Add masks!

So. When he asked to be buried in a pine box and carried to the cemetery in an old truck, I thought, “That’s just like him. So dramatic!”

This is his pine box. Solid wood. Made in New Mexico. Completely beautiful. The top slides on. The edges are round and sanded to perfection. Smooth. Soft. And I took a photo. I don't know if that's weird. But I did it. 

Can’t he just get buried in one of those elegant shiny things lined with silk?…but then I saw the actual elegance of the casket he’d asked for. It’s plain and understated and well made. Beautiful. A fitting resting place for him. Funerals in the time of covid are strange and awkward, but it made me extra grateful for the people who showed up to say goodbye. 

“Ooh Child” by the Five Stairsteps Was an Absolute Lie. And other stories.

Unless, of course, what the author meant with that song is: life doesn’t get easier. You just get better at handling the absolute hell of it. 

That’s TOTALLY what they meant. It has to be, right? 

I can’t figure out why, but I feel less prepared now to handle just about everything than I felt ten years ago. 

Maybe it’s Time. Maybe it’s a few things acting all together at once. You know, like a perfect storm? Late thirties, early forties should be called Hell on Wheels and Life’s Perfect Crap-Storm. 

At the age I am now, I fully expected to have a decent grasp on everything that mattered. Instead, I feel frayed and shredded by life. 

Life, they say, is a paper shredder and we are the vessel that passes through it. 

They don’t say that, but they should. 

I keep thinking about “Oooo Child” and singing it as I manage all the storms life is throwing at me. I am more unsettled internally than I have ever been in all my life. And I had some trauma as a kid. I mean, who didn’t? 

I would think that childhood shit would have set me up to laugh in the face of my mom’s burgeoning dementia, the impending doomsday scenarios the world keeps SHOVING down my throat (the corals are bleaching, fires in Australia!, penguins are murdering each other, doom, doom, doom!), and my own approaching obsolescence just hanging out there on the horizon of my future, threatening me with a smarmy grin on its face (that JERK!). 

But no. 

Instead, I’m feeling like filing a lawsuit against the Five Stairsteps and suing their asses off for writing that song and poisoning the public with its happy message of patience and confidence for what the future will bring. 

I mean, HOW DARE THEY? 

Honestly, the poison they’ve filled me with is so bad that when my own kids are feeling like life is unjust and why aren’t they free to eat cereal and Top Ramen for EVERY meal, I want to break into song to them, “Ooooh child, things are gonna get easier…”

Why does mom force healthy meals full of vegetables and love on them every damn day? “Oooh child things will get brighter…”

Why must we go to tumbling? Why do you force us into that torture chamber known politely as “public school?”

“Someday, yeah, we’ll put it together and we’ll get it all done. Someday when your head is much lighter. Someday we’ll walk in the rays of a beautiful sun! Someday when the world is much brighter!”

That’s what I want to do, just sing those lines to them.

But it’s lies. That’s all. I just, at this point, I see it all as a disservice.

Instead, when my kids complain, I should play Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata for them, and let them explore the doom that modern life actually consists of.

Because it ISN’T going to get better. It’s going to get worse. And won’t Moonlight Sonata will just facilitate the pensive, moodiness that realizations like that require? 

Can I always just blame The Crud? Even when it ends? 

I think that’s fair. Much like Millie Vanilli’s old advice, to blame it on the rain, I will blame it on The Crud (remember Milli? They were ROBBED!), and other environmental events unrelated to my actual state of mind and personal issues.

So there we go–I will blame it on a phase, and on The Crud, and NOT file a suit against the Five Stairsteps. They’ve been saved! They have no idea how close they came to my dangerous machinations…. bahahaha!

I mean, I think their song was right, right? Ok, so I’ve talked myself out of that frivolous lawsuit. I think the issue really is that everything is a phase and if you can just get out of this one phase that’s plaguing you, you’ll eventually escape all the phases right up until they put you in the ground and bam! You’re done! And wasn’t that easy? Ha ha, good job, old chap! 

Mature Love Stories Are Where It’s At. Really.

THE GREATEST LOVE STORY EVER. THIS IS NOT HYPERBOLE.

I’ve been thinking about what makes me tick lately. And because I’m such a commoner, I figure this applies to other people all over the place. 

Like people everywhere find the same things alluring that I find alluring because I guess you could say I suspect that I’m quite boring and haven’t really enjoyed the privilege of developing any fetishes. I know. Right? How drab of me. 

I mean….don’t get me wrong. I’ve had some time to figure this out and if we’re being frank about it (which we are, it’s the only way to be, I’ve got no time for games), I’m a damn sapiosexual.

Now, I don’t really KNOW what that means, precisely, because I think it means a lot of things.  But now that I’ve written that—about me being a sapiosexual—I’m questioning it’s validity. 

I should look that up before I go swinging it around as a label that we can apply to me. 

Again, time. But, I think it means that what a person finds alluring and sexy and sexual is the mind.

To me this would explain why readers can develop crushes on characters in books. Because it’s about the story that exists in a person’s head and in the head of the author who has written the story (?). Not necessarily any function of reality. 

OK I just looked it up and it took me like 3 seconds. I don’t know why I was complaining about time four minutes ago, but it’s just like me to find an excuse for a simple task like that, meanwhile I can dig into writing a book that takes weeks if not months without even batting an eyelash.

Oh, by the way. Looking it up did confirm my suspicions–sapiosexual. It means a person finding intelligence sexually attractive or arousing. 

I know that this doesn’t necessarily bear pointing out, but I’m going to venture into the territory anyway, if for no other reason than that I find it hilarious to state and possibly reiterate if you already noticed it. The subtext in that definition is that this means there are people who don’t care about intelligence. Maybe that’s overstating the facts. But does that mean there are people who don’t give a shit about the intelligence of the people they’re attracted to? 

I find that weird. 

I dated a couple guys in college who were kinda gorgeous. In fact, I wondered what the hell they were doing with me they were such ideal physical specimens of male. I know that’s funny, because I know I should have potentially seen it as complimentary and that I could interpret it to mean that I was super hot. 

Instead, I simply assumed they thought I’d be easy because I was so beneath their actual level of attractiveness, so much that I’d be begging them to bed me. 

Is that, what? My religious upbringing pounding shame and modesty into me so much that I can’t even accept that perhaps on some foreign plane of existence I am somewhat attractive? 

I don’t know. I have no answers. I just know that the end of that story about the super hot guys was that they were dumb, I couldn’t respect them, and their brains at all, and so it lasted about a day, which is as long as a clever person can last with a person who has never managed to develop their mind or their personality. 

It’s not bad. It just is. And I don’t feel like a dick for pointing it out, because we are all free to choose what aspects of ourselves we develop. Yes, we are products of our environments and so some start out better off than others. But it’s also true that many people are never hot, and so they start off lower on the totem pole of blessings of pure awesomeness from day one.

All this was meant to lead into the central idea here, which is this SUBLIME concept that I had recently conjured up in my head that the BEST love stories have a sort of gravitas to them.

Not to diminish the Romeo and Juliet love stories out there—but those kinds of stories ARE based on something naive. At some point maturity pushes us past them. And at this point in my life, I think they kind of suck. I’m sorry if that’s a brutal proposition to put out there, but kids that naively commit suicide over love are damn morons (yes, this is a story. But….a story that we have idealized!).

There are other options. Use your head. Consider alternatives. Maybe, I don’t know, put on a disguise and leave town? You are, after all, living in medieval times when it would be super easy to go off grid (there was no grid) and just blend in with a village several serfdoms away.

Someone will likely school me on how wrong I am about what I just said. That’s fine. I’m here to learn even when I’m saying stuff like I have it all figured out.

I will admit that there’s something cool about that trust of youth that love will save you and save everything and that it is worth the pointless sacrifice of everything else to get it.

Here’s the crux of what I’ve been thinking about regarding love and love stories: these days, what I admire most is the mature love story—I don’t know what else to call it, so if you have a better term, let me know. This to me is the older person finding a fire in their heart, knowing better how long life is, but still letting the flames of hope and desire awaken within. They do it willingly, almost.

So, forgive me the examples, but take Cmdr Adama and President Roslin in Battlestar Galactica, or in the Stormlight Archives by Brandon Sanderson—Dalinar and Navani—and consider how different the choices they make are. Their love stories aren’t pure whimsy. They’re built from embers that have never gone out, fanned alive by layered emotions and mental realizations that aren’t solely dictated by instinct.

I trust these stories. The characters have survived hardship. The flames in their hearts are more like those embers I already mentioned, and not a quick bonfire that will burn itself out in a day. Their desire is borne of mutual respect as much as passion—they’re likely not just going to succumb to a whim and then wonder what drugs they were on the next day.

I know that youthful romance and sex are easily packaged and sold in books and film. They’re cake. Because beauty and ripe sexiness are easily transmitted through physical appearance as messages for everyone to understand quickly. So that is how love is communicated—sex and beauty. It’s harder to build something deep like that Roslin/Adama storyline. That takes four seasons or two 1200 page books, for Dalinar and Navani.

But I was just thinking how gorgeous it is to see stories like Adama’s and Roslin’s as a focal point in bigger stories that hammer their way into the halls of legend (possibly only the halls of legend in my own head) Was the Adama and Roslin story always meant to be a major plot point or did it grow over time, organically?

It seems that, almost as a culture, it is the youthful passions that form the template for what love is and how it’s represented in story. But I question that. I think in actuality it is the stamina and respect that the mature love story embodies that we have built the Love Story edifice upon.

Animal companions, loss, and grief.

orange tabby in the sun
This cat gets it. The sun IS life.

This post is heavy. And raw. And I’m sorry, in a way, to share it. But hopefully you’ll forgive me! Next week will be better.

You know me. I like to joke and have fun! It’s my favorite thing to do—approach the world with a sarcastic hilarity that makes me laugh all the painful stuff off. I’m like Terry Pratchett that way (I love his approach to life and death!).

But I need to tell you all about this. Just know that you are free to skip it and do what we all do to get by: pretend that life isn’t painful.

My cat died a few days before Thanksgiving. We’ve had him for 15 years. He’s been sick and suffering for a while, but I think we hoped eventually he’d recover and be ok for a few more years.

He continued to decline. We had to face the music. You know how hard this stuff is. You know that these are the Things About Life No One Wants to Deal With.

His name was Sobek and he passed away on Monday. We buried him near where my other cat is buried (and his surrogate mother), in my childhood home (my sister bought it a few years ago and is renting it to my cousin).

It was a warm day for November in northern Utah. My daughter, Zoe, played on the jungle gym. My son helped Stoker dig the hole.

There were ghosts everywhere there, for me. Remnant memories of my childhood. Of all the animals we’d ever had funerals for as children, of my many past cats, of my mom shouting at me from the deck to put my shirt on as I played outside with my BF cousin (male, the one living in the house now), as a five-year-old. I know. Yes. I played with my shirt off. The boys did it. Why couldn’t I?

Grief is such a strange thing. I don’t understand it.

The week passed like a rough old beast that can’t be tamed. I went to work. My son went to school and called me often from his 3rd grade classroom.

Yesterday, I sat in the car as Stoker ran into a store to grab a coffee. I thumbed through a workbook the school counselor sent home for our son to use to work through his grief. It helped me understand my own.

The song “Breakers Roar” started playing. It’s this old-style country song by Sturgill Simpson.

Stoker trained to become a recording engineer in Nashville (he’s really amazing at it!). That’s where we adopted Sobek. And it’s where I also grew to appreciate old school country.

The song. It’s just. Wow. Poignant. Moving. I don’t listen to country that much, but when I do, it’s generally older stuff like that.

It hit a nerve. I was crying, suddenly. Just overcome with the song, with the sublime nature of life. The pain that we must embrace or allow to ruin us, turn us into angry humans, afraid of empathy and love.

I saw the four of us as though in an out-of-body experience, my little family, in the room at the vet’s, holding Sobek before we released him and let him return to light and energy, before he slept what Mary Oliver calls the “unshakeable sleep,” (blog post featuring the whole poem).

It all hurt so much. I kept seeing my son’s little 8-year-old face crumpled into tears and anguish. I saw Stoker holding Sobek tight and weeping. And Corbet looking at me like he was going to explode, like he didn’t understand how something could hurt so much.

I know. I really get it too, Corbet.

And it was so, so beautiful, but so painful. It ached so much.

But within the ache and the pain and the immense sorrow that I can barely hold inside my body, is this respect and awe at the other side of all that—the joy.

Life is beautiful. If we let it be that. But we have to be dedicated to love, to never letting the anger take away the love and dearest parts of what we may have and hold.

I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to hurt again like I have been hurting for the cat that was such a good companion for so long.

But I will. Because it’s worth it. Besides, I’m already in this deep. What can I do now but face all of it with the aplomb and dedication that my ancestors gave me?

I hardly understand love and suffering and how in the blink of an eye we can be holding onto a warm, living body only to have it suddenly go cold. I don’t get any of that. But I will choose it all again and again.

I must be an idiot.

The Unshakeable Sleep

Sobek on my shoulder. Like sunshine, aka a John Denver song, but better. Because he purrs.

Do you ever have one of those moments where you wonder why you do anything?

Just what is the point?

I’m not sure there is one.

BUT.

This poem. By Mary Oliver.

I know what you’re thinking (totally not assuming, I CAN read minds), “She likes Mary Oliver? How pedestrian. She probably also loves Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals and drinks red table wine.” I do, actually. My taste in everything is very run-of-the-mill.

Yes. Mary Fucking Oliver. If someone wants to fight me about it, I’m down. I’m in a fighting mood, you see. This week has been challenging. Last week was also challenging in its own ways, but this week…

Not sure I’ll go into all the reasons, because confessional blogging isn’t my thing. Although, tonight I ran into this hardcore kick ass woman that I can’t help but admire the hell out of. She has six or seven kids and runs a vlog, somehow! A vlog, about parenting. And her husband is on a six week tour (musician). So I mean, I should be OK with being confessional, if other kick butt chicks are. Right? 

All right, I WILL tell you who it was. It was Julie Boye (Stoker worked with her husband, so I knew of her, though I’d never met her). Here’s her Youtube channel. I don’t watch it, but I know she’s just hardcore, bares it all, and doesn’t apologize for it. Meanwhile, I apologize for everything. If I even remotely think of being confessional, I apologize and back off.

In any case.

Normally I’d be all, “Yes, love, Mary Oliver. She’s grand, isn’t she? I can’t help but adore her poetry.” All calm. Meek and stuff. 

And if you wanted to tease me for loving popular contemporary poets rather than you know, digging through the slush pile to find a poet that no one has ever heard of, but who is clearly amazing, well, I would simply laugh and change the subject.

But this time. Tonight. I guess my dukes are up.

Someday in some random future scenario that I can kind of imagine, I’ll make a video of my books of poetry (like a video of me showing off my bookcase, nothing weird!), and then we can compare notes. But Mary Oliver. She’s something else and reading her poetry, which I discovered on my own during college, rocked my tiny world-view. 

And she has this poem that I’ve been thinking about for a few days. And I found it again tonight, and read it, and felt the words in my bones. Life is hard. We bury chunks of our hearts all the time on our little travelogues. Sometimes it’s humans we lose, sometimes it’s our pets. And it is never, ever easy. 

So, read this one. 

Read it (Nicole, I think to myself) and try not to be angry

Her Grave

She would come back, dripping thick water, from the green bog.
She would fall at my feet, she would draw the black skin
from her gums, in a hideous and wonderful smile–
and I would rub my hands over her pricked ears and her
cunning elbows,
and I would hug the barrel of her body, amazed at the unassuming
perfect arch of her neck.

*

It took four of us to carry her into the woods.
We did not think of music,
but, anyway, it began to rain
slowly.

*

Her wolfish, invitational, half-pounce.

Her great and lordly satisfaction at having chased something.

My great and lordly satisfaction at her splash
of happiness as she barged
through the pitch pines swiping my face with her
wild, slightly mossy tongue.

*

Does the hummingbird think he himself invented his crimson throat?
He is wiser than that, I think.

A dog lives fifteen years, if you’re lucky.

Do the cranes crying out in the high clouds
think it is all their own music?

A dog comes to you and lives with you in your own house, but you
do not therefore own her, as you do not own the rain, or the
trees, or the laws which pertain to them.

Does the bear wandering in the autumn up the side of the hill
think all by herself she has imagined the refuge and the refreshment
of her long slumber?

A dog can never tell you what she knows from the
smells of the world, but you know, watching her, that you know
almost nothing.

Does the water snake with his backbone of diamonds think
the black tunnel on the bank of the pond is a palace
of his own making?

*

She roved ahead of me through the fields, yet would come back, or
wait for me, or be somewhere.

Now she is buried under the pines.

Nor will I argue it, or pray for anything but modesty, and
not to be angry.

Through the trees there is the sound of the wind, palavering.

The smell of pine needles, what is it but a taste
of the infallible energies?

How strong was her dark body! How apt is her grave place.

How beautiful is her unshakeable sleep.

*

Finally,
the slick mountains of love
break over us. 

Mary Oliver

Kindle Paperwhite Giveaway for Feed 4: The Corporation

For the last leg of relaunching the Feed series with new covers, I’m doing a MASSIVE giveaway. I convinced a bunch of really REALLY good authors to help me load this Kindle Paperwhite up with their books, and I’m super pumped to share it with you.

Because I write space opera, steampunk, and dystopian, you’ll notice that a lot of the authors are from those genres. So I hope you don’t mind. In addition to their stuff, the winner will receive all of the Feed series, the Holly Drake series, and the 6 Moon Side Job books. So, you’re getting much more than just a reading device.

The true value of this prize? Priceless. 😉

Oh, and just one more thing, if you read and reviewed the previous iterations of the Feed books, please consider reviewing the new copies. I’d be ever so grateful and send you all the e-hugs I can.

xoxox,

Nicole

p.s. some of you have already done this! Thank you so much! <3

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Bazillion things to do. I do one. This one.

I’m  currently polishing up the final draft of “Shoulders of Giants.” Where the hell have I been of late?

Only a bazillion places and doing a trillion things, and taking care of a grillion tasks.

Here’s a sample.

Well, the one I already mentioned. Finishing up Shoulders of Giants, Odeon’s story, and I really love it.

I’m really into the 6 Moons universe and it’s been a blast to write from Odeon’s perspective.

My husband, who I’ve somehow suckered into staying THIS GD long with me, Stoker (remember him?), had a skin infection in his arm recently.

Let me explain. We went to Mexico with his family and one night we stayed in Long Beach. That’s when I remember seeing this random wound on his elbow. No idea where he got it. Four days later, it was puffy and swollen, but swear to Jupiter, it didn’t look infected.

We thought it was an old skateboarding injury flaring up. From a year ago. We started skateboarding recently. So when I say “old skateboarding injury” I mean last year. haha.

Anyway. Long story short. It didn’t respond to antibiotics for like 3-4 days. He finally went back to the doctor and they gave him a second line antibiotic. It finally began to heal. Thank Zeus!

But that’s some scary shit. You don’t think you’ve been selected to contract a super-bacteria or whatever until it happens. We were waiting for that. Maybe. We’re both hypochondriacs. Who knows?

I’m coaching my daughter’s pre-K soccer team (little known fact about me: I kill it at soccer–I should have been a soccer star! How much you wanna bet I could kick this ball over those mountains!).

I have always really identified with Uncle Rico. Glory days...

It’s so fun. But time consuming, especially since it has been the most rainy April/May in all of history in Utah. So there have been a lot of canceled games, which means, make up games. But you know, you plan for that original game and organize your day around it. So when it doesn’t happen…

My kids are growing up too goddamn fast. That’s just a thought I had. Has nothing to do with what I’ve been doing, unless we can say what I’ve been doing is biting my nails, watching time fly, feeling like there’s not enough of it, and crying in the shower that I’m not doing enough carpe diem when it comes to my sweet little cherubs

Safest place to cry.

Writing a lot of books. That’s another thing. It’s funny how writing blog posts takes a lot of time. Those 1000 awesome words I write in a blog post could be half a chapter of Odeon performing death-defying stunts on the Spireway. So, you know, I end up picking my battles.

I love the sound of my writing voice. So writing blog posts is really fun. But I’m a mom. And my husband works crazy hard and sometimes his hours are long and that means I’m momming it longer, until the kids are in bed, and usually, these days, I’m exhausted at that point. If I haven’t put my words in to finish a novel, then I’m almost too tired at that point to write.

I sometimes fall asleep at the keyboard. I end up writing whatever I’m beginning to dream about. Do I have to say that it’s really hilarious? The stuff I end up writing as I’m drifting off? It’s like college all over again.

I should keep track of them. Ah, what the hell. They’re probably only funny to me!

I don’t know what else I’ve been doing! Here’s what I HAVEN’T been doing:

Writing blog posts. Playing with my kids (enough). Having wine a lot with friends while we chat. Going on dates with Stoker. Playing with my cats or just cuddling them. Sleeping in. Remodeling my house. Hanging the pictures I have ready to hang (why the hell?…). Going to the Greek isles. Eating fine cheeses. Preventing my hair from going gray. Getting that shattered crown replaced (WTF? F-U life). Listening to records. Going to concerts. Reading that friend’s writing sample he sent me to see if it’s a decent UF story (sorry, bro! You sent it to me while I was driving and in the midst of my husbands health crisis! Getting to it…) I mean, it probably is, right? He’s the most picky writer I’ve ever met. That’s a compliment.

Maybe my next blog post will happen in a year! We’ll see! I might surprise you. I love surprises.

Did you see this one? Yeah, I've been super bad about posting cover reveals here! Follow me on FB because I'm a champion there!

Welcome to My Poetry Dictatorship

I’ve been writing poetry since I was eleven. I wasn’t very good then, and I’m still not very good. 

BUT one of my favorite things is to read poetry. I’ve gone through so many phases, being in love with this poet or that poet.

I went through a Richard Brautigan phase, a Billy Collins phase, and I went through another phase where I read a poem a day and collected the names of contemporary poets and became their fan. Eleanor Lerman, Matthew Ryan, Robert Hass, Czeslaw Milosz, Hayden Caruth. 

During college I felt pretty lucky to be invited to participate in a poetry group that included several of my professors and writing instructors, people who I respected as mentors. 

Still, I never got very good. 

But I’ve never relinquished my love for reading poetry.

I fell deeply in love with the Frost verses from which Wallace Stegner pulled a stanza for his semi-autobiographical memoir, “Crossing to Safety,” partially because I’m so madly in love with the story. I pinned the poem up in my room during college and memorized it.

The verse that Stegner used as his epigraph:  

“I could give all to Time except–except
What I myself have held. But why declare
The Things forbidden that while the Customs slept
I have crossed to Safety with? For I am There,
And what I would not part with I have kept.”

Honestly, I am not as smitten with poetry that rhymes or sticks fiercely to meter than other forms. 

I look to poetry to feel the breath pulled from my lungs in a sigh of contentment over the perfection of imagery and word choice. Reading it trains me to see the world differently, if only for a few minutes. And I find the most complex language there, which informs my own writing. 

All this talk of phases. For years most of my books have been in boxes. We never settled anywhere long enough for me to take ownership and unpack them. 

And then I realized, recently, that I will never be anywhere that feels permanent. Life IS impermanence. 

That is the point of the Frost poem. And Stegner quoting it for his semi-memoir. 

So I set up my “office” recently, in the basement of our modest home (by American standards…please). And I pulled out and organized my poetry collections and put them on the shelf. 

And now I can read poetry without searching through ragged boxes that have seen too many moves, too many miles. 

And now I can shove poetry down the throats of unwilling participants and attempt to force them to enjoy and appreciate it, because that’s the sort of dictatorship I run. 

After writing in the 4th Holly Drake book this morning, I pulled out my Selected Works of Mary Oliver, looking for my breath to be stolen, searching for something that lit my soul on fire. 

Of course I found something because she is a master. 

Here it is, my first time reading this one (second, now). More meaningful because of this post about my cat, Bastet. 

I won’t write anything at the end of this poem, the post will end, because 1) I’ll be speechless again; 2) I’m typing it out for you from my actual book like some kind of old world scrivener, and I’ll likely be in tears (poems rarely make me cry); and 3) the poem is perfection and I don’t want to mess it up with blah blah blah from me.

The contrast in the lines about her dark body and her sleep…just, I swoon and sob. I’m not sure there have ever been more apt lines written on the subject. 

Her Grave

She would come back, dripping thick water, from the green bog.
She would fall at my feet, she would draw the black skin
from her gums, in a hideous and wonderful smile–
and I would rub my hands over her pricked ears and her
     cunning elbows,
and I would hug the barrel of her body, amazed at the unassuming
     perfect arch of her neck. 

*

It took four of us to carry her into the woods.
We did not think of music,
but, anyway, it began to rain
slowly.

*

Her wolfish, invitational, half-pounce.

Her great and lordly satisfaction at having chased something.

My great and lordly satisfaction at her splash
of happiness as she barged
through the pitch pines swiping my face with her 
wild, slightly mossy tongue.

*

Does the hummingbird think he himself invented his crimson throat? 
He is wiser than that, I think.

A dog lives fifteen years, if you’re lucky. 

Do the cranes crying out in the high clouds
think it is all their own music?

A dog comes to you and lives with you in your own house, but you
do not therefore own her, as you do not own the rain, or the 
trees, or the laws which pertain to them. 

Does the bear wandering in the autumn up the side of the hill 
think all by herself she has imagined the refuge and the refreshment 
of her long slumber?

A dog can never tell you what she knows from the 
smells of the world, but you know, watching her, that you know 
almost nothing. 

Does the water snake with his backbone of diamonds think
the black tunnel on the bank of the pond is a palace 
of his own making?

She roved ahead of me through the fields, yet would come back, or
wait for me, or be somewhere.

Now she is buried under the pines. 

Nor will I argue it, or pray for anything but modesty, and 
not to be angry. 

Through the trees there is the sound of the wind, palavering.

The smell of the pine needles, what is it but a taste 
of the infallible energies? 

How strong was her dark body! 
How apt is her grave place. 

How beautiful is her unshakable sleep. 

*

Finally, 
the slick mountains of love break
over us. 

–Mary Oliver

Cover Reveal: Shadow of the Colossus, Holly Drake #4

I took a hiatus for half of July and August, but I’m back now, and stronger than ever. You know how it works . . . with breaks and such. How they rejuvenate . . . 

I went a few places. Saw a few things. Expanded my mind, not with Zen or drugs, but with brutal, unrelenting exposure to the freeway, the chilly clime of Northern California, and my kids.

With no breaks. 

To be fair, my amazing cousins were there to help out. And I wasn’t necessarily doing it for myself, although it was epic and I came away from the adventure with the knowledge that I’m a warrior who can do anything I set my mind to (like break a stack of bricks with my forehead . . . I totally did that! heh) and if I want it bad enough. 

So that’s why I’m here, again, and I’m not stopping until I rule the world . . . with my mind . . . and uh, my books. And the characters in my books! We’ll dominate together! 

I don’t know what that means, really. But I know that I’m pumped to do this cover reveal. The colors look fabulous. And I’m excited to say that this has a tentative release date for the end of September. 

 

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