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

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

Daedalus and Icarus Finally Make Sense: Area Woman Has Realization Everyone Else Had Ages Ago

Parenting fail: dad ignored his son's actual personality, thinking his boy would mind. Uh, seriously, dad. Know your son. He needed stealth wings. Not wax!

There’s a lot on my mind. 

Chicks in 5-inch heels walking around me nearby (maybe 6 inches? I’m not an expert at this weird, female ritualistic stuff. This is happening right now, in case that wasn’t clear). If you’re a chick in today’s world, in this beautiful, modern world which consists of a plethora of footwear options, why do this to yourself? 

Why? 

People in heels of that height literally walk like how a satyr would walk, if a satyr was a literal thing and not some abomination that sprung from the minds of weird men (you know what I mean). 

Ok, no one wants to think about that stuff. But I’m sorry. That’s how these half-human mythological creatures came about.

Anyway. Speaking of myth…I drive a lot in the summer to take my kids to their cousin’s houses where they can play with the wild abandon of kids in summer. That sounds like a movie title. 

I’ll sell it to the highest bidder….AAAAND sold, to Ron Howard (it sounds like a Ron Howard film, doesn’t it?)

So on today’s drive to my sister’s house (she lets me take naps on her sofa while the kids play, after I’ve exhausted my mental reserves thinking super hard about plot and clever film titles to sell to Ron Howard), I had the most beautiful realization: 

Daedulus and Icarus is REALLY about raising your child. 

Wait, does everyone already know this and I was just the slow kid in the back of the room taking the story for merely one about naming geological features? 

Hmm. Well. So everyone else is more clever than I am. Stop reading, if that’s the case. Because all my realizations will be massively boring to you. 

So yeah, it’s a story about being trapped in a fun-house type labyrinth with a minotaur breathing down your neck (will these creatures ever stop being everywhere in my life today?), but… 

The labyrinth is a metaphor for life. Because let’s be honest, we’re all adult enough here to realize that life is pure shit. Unless you’re the 1%, it’s basically total drudgery one hundred percent of the time. Once in a while, maybe a person gets a momentary vacation on a beach with margaritas. 

Yay, you. 

And save one for me. 

Where’s my margarita? Did you…*sniffle*…did you drink it? 

Guess what? While you were drinking my margarita, I fashioned you these wings made of wax and feathers, for parasailing. Yeah, it’s a super fun beachy past-time! Try them out! *snaps on built-to-fail wax-wings*

Just don’t go too close to the sun…(you’ll defy me, I know it, because that’s what you did with my margarita bahahaha, sweet vengeance!) 

Now then. Back to my soap-box rant…

The beach. Yeah. That is the rare moment. The rest of the time we’ve all got the hot, smelly breath of a minotaur on our necks, chasing us through blind twists and turns, stealing all our joy, robbing us of our peace. Taxing us. Being whatever monster is most popular at the moment. 

So look. I don’t know. I was just thinking. I was thinking about my kids in the back seat reading books, and how the goal is, finally, for me to give them their own set of wings. 

You do what you can, you know? You, the parent. You try hard not to destroy their spirits, but give them enough of a taste of boundaries so that they feel safe and loved. 

You also love them, unconditionally, and you do whatever mode of parenting is most popular at the moment (right now it’s NEVER tell your kid they’re bad, er, or something like that, I’m failing aren’t I? Oh god. They’re going to end up in jail!). 

But there are no guarantees. This is the shit the wings are made of. And hopefully it isn’t shit. Hopefully it isn’t wax and feathers. Let’s hope that we’re both giving our kids wings that are made of something much stronger and resilient than that. 

So that when the world heats up, when Facebook bullies gang up on them or the Twitter-verse decides to rain down hellfire and damnation on them for a minor slip up, they don’t fall into a sea of self-loathing and doubt and drown in it. 

When I realized that tidbit (which may not even be true, but I like it for me) about the meta-metaphor, I was like, oh man. That’s fucking beautiful. 

Then I got a bit sad, thinking of how shitty it is to feel like a failure as a parent. But that’s all we do. We build these wings for our kids and hope they can take flight and not meet an untimely demise through their own hubris and unwillingness to listen. 

I mean, perhaps the flaw is in the parent who believes that their kid is a copy of themself. Maybe, maybe buried beneath the idea of what Daedalus did is that he failed as a parent. He thought Icarus would listen. He thought Icaraus was wise like him. 

Oh hell no. By the by, I never talk like that. I never say “Oh hell no.” That just takes too much panache. I don’t have that IRL. It fit here. But don’t imagine ME saying it. Imagine fictional me saying it. 

Anyway. Oh hell no. 

Kids. Not wise. Well, at least, I wasn’t. I had to learn everything the hard way. 

Icarus was probably that sort of idiotic kid. Which means: Daedalus, WTF? You should know this about your child. You should have known that he needed wings made out of carbon fiber. So that they didn’t fucking melt.  

Here’s to us: parents who are building their kids their own set of wings. Wings without limitations. Daedalus made the mistake of thinking that his son would follow perfectly in his footsteps. What an idiot, right? 

Our kids are not copies of us. I hope my kids have enough stories about who they are, where they come from, the strength their ancestors had to fight against the odds and survive, to not give up if the wings I fasten to their shoulders melt a bit. 

I’m not a moron though, I’m making my kids wings made out of carbon fiber and stealth fighter materials. 

This metaphor? It’s off the chain. Or the rails. I lost it a while ago and I don’t have the strength to rein it in. 

How about if you try?

 

Just When You Think It’s Safe to Live, You Remember Death

This was me two weeks ago, playing a heist in GTA5 online. The FIRST heist. Shhhh. My team pretended they weren't super pissed. They were.

I turned 40 recently. F-O-R-T-Y. 

And you know, part of me wants to hide it. To leave everyone who doesn’t know me in real life kind of guessing. Like, “How old is that chick who wrote that book with a bad ass heroine who seriously kicks ass?” So that they’ll think I’m younger and much cooler and well, wait. I am cool. Heh heh. 

Yeah.  

Come on. YOUTH does not equal cool. OK. So if you are a young person, like say younger than 30, let me just give you a bit of advice (I know you want it!) . . .

Oh damn. Did I almost just turn into one of those curmudgeons that goes around telling younger people that they’re nothing special just because they’re young?

“In my day . . . *grumble, grumble* hey, kid, get of my lawn!” 

Well, at least I caught myself before I one hundred percent became a crotchety butthead. 

CRISIS AVERTED.  

My age doesn’t matter, guys! I’ll be fucking sky-diving at 80 with my blue hair whipping in the wind and my face on fire with happiness because that’s how I roll. 

Yeah. And that’s *ahem* how I’m planning my escape from the flesh . . . skydiving “accident” at 85. So, this is the only warning you’ll get, all you younger people who will want me to stick around well into my 120s. 

So now you know. I just turned 40. And so far it’s been pretty damn great. I let out a back-cracking sigh when it happened and then I had a party with my husband because I don’t do big group parties. I like to know the people I’m with. Like, really know them.

I probably should have emphasized really in that last sentence because know is starting to, I don’t know, look like a biblical sense of the word. 

But I’m gonna leave it because it’s funny. To me.

That’s how all my humor works. It’s me, not you. 😉

Anyway. The people in my life. I like to know what songs they like. I think I know what they love about themselves and I sort of know what they hate about themselves and I love them for both. 

So tonight, I was making this Spotify playlist for a friend who will never listen to it, because that’s also how I roll. I like to make them. And sometimes I never give them to the person because honestly, I don’t think they’d give a crap.

But it’s one way I remember the people I love, with music, and sort of like thinking, “Oh yeah, I remember how [insert name here] turned me on to Widespread Panic. What a cool jerkface they were. I miss them!” Except I don’t love Widespread much anymore. That was an ill-advised detour into Phish-like jambands. And I was never high enough to really appreciate it in the longterm. Not high. That’s key.  

I thought about all this stuff, and I realized this thing out of nowhere (sort of):  I have a lot of friends who’ve died. And I still remember them like they’re alive. 

So what I want to do is make a list of the friends I’ve lost. I know I’ve forgotten some of the people, which is kind of sucky of me. But as I get closer to my own old age, creeping closer to me like the River Lethe, that is my excuse: old age. Forgetfulness. 

If you’re reading this, thank god, you’re still alive. Drop me a line. Let’s hang out. Grab a drink. Have a chat. I fucking miss you. 

Christie B. How we met: 3rd grade. She was funny and interesting and I was jealous of her for being one of two children. Just the other day I remembered how, during college, she used to take a jar of pennies to the airport (pre-9/11) and fake-trip down the walkway and “spill” her jar of pennies. Then she’d clean them up and act embarrassed and secretly laugh at the situation. Her sense of humor was prime–and apparently quite physical and situational–and I am lucky that I knew her for so long. Her song, the one that I think of when I think of her: Faith Hill, “It Matters to Me.” Granted, Christie had a lot of songs she liked, but I’ll never forget her asking me if I was going to try singing, randomly, when worked at JCrew in Nashville to try to get a record deal, because that’s how Faith got discovered.

Drew. How we met: he was a customer at the indie record store where I worked during college. And he was sweet, and pretty damn adorable. He smoked and I thought I could influence him to maybe be a bit less cynical. For some reason I was less cynical than a lot of the people around me. Call it naivete. Because that’s what it was. Drew was studying something intriguing like environmental engineering (I made that up) because he was more interesting than me (English lit, gag). He acted tough and he wore square dark-framed glasses that were uber handsome on his face…His death was this random shock. I think it was a freak heart-attack when we were in our twenties. His song, and how i knew that he was a damn softy beneath that tough exterior: Rocky Votolato, “White Daisy Passing.” 

Eames. How we met: don’t remember, precisely, but we became rock climbing partners for a while. He was in a rough spot with his girlfriend, and I was in a rough spot with this guy (super ill-advised boyfriend, 14 years older than me, he dumped me for a YOUNGER girl, WTF?! Classy). At the time, my heart was raw and Eames’ heart was raw, and he was a better climber than I was (translate: he led all the climbs and set the route so I could just top-rope it ha ha ha ha, you wimp, you, Nik), so it was a match made in heaven. We hung out a lot and drove all over to climb. I kept a soft spot in my heart for Eames for a long long time. Though we spent a lot of time in the car driving to climbing haunts, I don’t remember what he listened to. But I’m going to go out on a limb and say it was something like DMB. He was a chill guy, who said words like “jonesin’ to get on the rock” and he wore Smith sunglasses and was always super cool and had beachy sensibilities. Good guy, old Eames.

I’m glad there’s only three. A lifetime is a long time to live without your friends. Not included here are the people who died in the traditional order of nature: my father, my grandmother, grandfather, uncles. 

Sometimes it just seems worth it to stop and take stock of what you have and what you’ve lost, I guess. So you don’t forget to appreciate the people you can still hold onto. 

My Last Post Was a Joke. I AM A WRITR, ROARRR!

There’s some iron in the fire. I’ve got some things stewing. Stew. And other things broiling. Like grilled cheese.

Yep.

August is here and that means school is about to begin again. My youngest will be starting preschool. Saying that feels like being punched in the heart by some multidimensional monster that’s capable of bypassing my ribs.

Life. What a jerk.

It’s just some good clean fun, Life says. Watching Humanzz being ravaged by time and feelings and plagues. But mostly emotional pain. 

Well when school begins, there will be much work happening. Work on my stories and my development as a writer. Things are gonna be burgeoning, people.

They say, to writers, “Don’t have too many projects going.” Which is true. You shouldn’t do that. But I confess. I do.

Another thing I tend to do is have a few books I’m reading at once. Like right now. I’m reading Terry Pratchett’s Reaper Man and the first of the Scott Pilgrim books. I could have a few other books going at the moment. Somewhere.

That’s the problem: I end up forgetting what I’m in the middle of.

Which is also the problem with having too many writing projects going. I end up forgetting.

But that’s also a problem associated with having small children in my clutches. I won’t go into it again, but being a parent means a constant never-ending series of distractions. Which kind of sucks to say, as though my adorable kids are DISTRACTIONS. You know? What a dick thing to say.

But they’re not. It’s just that they want me to always pay attention to them.

What’s the problem with that?

And they win because they’re so damn persistent, the little cherubs…

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And Just Like that, You Can’t Call Yourself a Writer…

Let’s begin with the obligatory cool photo that has nothing to do with the post except that THIS was the amazing sunset nature gave me (and a couple other people) tonight.

Haven’t posted here in a while, have I?

And my last post was (let’s face it), kinda lame. Right? I mean, does ANYONE even use pumice stones anymore?

Ha ha ha.

Hardly. There’s sandpaper and such, for that.

What have I been doing lately? Well, I’ve been stuck writing this BRILLIANT short story. It’s a sci-fi mystery. I mean, who even knew those two genres could be mixed?

But I’m stuck.

That’s right! The secret to writing and finishing books and stories is WRITING. So I’ve been violating my own personal rules about writing. By not writing. At least, not writing enough.

Let’s make this, then a PSA piece. My little gift to you, ME doling out advice about writing. Everyone loves PSAs and advice columns and writing advice about how to become the next GREAT WRITER.

Frame this. Frame it in giant black letters and hang it above your bed or your bathroom mirror and read it every day (I’m saying this because that’s what I’m doing right this minute–I’ve got one finger on my keyboard and one adjusting the level as I measure the wall thingy, nail. Or whatever it is.): WRITE EVERY DAY, YOU BASTARD.

I added “you bastard” in because you know that’s what you’re thinking when you’re walking around your office or your house or whatever, your building, like doing stuff that isn’t writing, and you’re like, “Damn. I still haven’t written my daily quota of 500 words/day.”

“You bastard,” you think to yourself.

Once you’ve written your quota, call yourself an AWESOME BASTARD.

“You got your word count, you awesome bastard.” Also you can insert other colorful descriptor words. For fun.

So basically I’ve been doing A Lot of Other Important Stuff that isn’t writing novels or writing short stories or blog posts. I mean, I’m trying.

But writing a book is like reading a book in certain ways.

Say you start reading a new book one evening, stretched out on your couch with a delicious bon-bon in your hand, and some nice quiet solitude around you. And then in the morning, your kids come back from sleeping over at nana’s, and you have no solitude for a solid week and don’t have a chance to read for 7 days, right? Well, on the 7th day, when you go back to the novel, you can barely remember what you read 7 days prior.

Right? I mean, that happens to you, doesn’t it? Oh. It doesn’t? Oh damn.

So anyway, ha ha, I don’t need to go to the neuropsychologist ha ha. My brain is FINE.

Writing a book is like reading a book. You have to be consistent and you can’t let up. Otherwise you forget the important elements making up the story. And to progress you’ve got to keep reviewing them, every time you spend too much time between writing cycles.

Great. Right? Easy enough.

Also, your imagination needs to be exercised every day. Writing a story does that. It takes practice to get your brain to a good spot when it comes to being able to make it do cool tricks and flips and crap.

I know this. I know this because I’m out of practice.

BUT NEVER AGAIN. I swear it. I’m going to start getting up at 6 a.m. just to get my daily word counts. I’ll totally do that.

New life goal: get up at 6 am to write. 6:30. Er. 7. I can totally do 7.

Here’s a clip from my sci-fi murder mystery (btw, I have no idea how to write a murder mystery. It’s coming out like a crime procedural. This is an experiment):

Usually a giant head wound meant it was murder, however.

Rising again, I dusted off my hands and pen.

I skulked around the room, looking for anything else I might have missed. I took out my own notebook and sketched out the layout of the place and the approximate locations of all the big items, including the big old dead body at the center. The fireplace. The gray-fabric couch. The console table against the far wall, near the door. There was an orrery on it, of Giganto and the six inhabited moons: Kota, Itzcap, Po, Joopa, Paradise, and Helo. It moved like an old clock, on gears that ticked softly, showing the orbital paths around the pale gas giant that filled our sky. The little machines were all the rage forty years ago, when the first trans-moon zeppelins began operation. The vic might have collected old oddities like that. “Something’s missing,” I said loudly to get Meiko’s attention.

Meiko came to stand beside me as I crouched to get a view of the dust coating the table like a light fur. She copied me. “It looks square, the empty spot. Maybe slightly rectangular.”

“What do you want to bet that whatever was right there, was the murder weapon?”

“Or maybe the vic threw it out. Or maybe it was just a box. And he finally moved it.”

“Unlikely. No one leaves an idle box on a table,” I said, straightening and swiping my fingertip across the empty spot, “and dusts around it.” I showed her. No dust on my finger.

She nodded.

The end. I mean, the end of that clip. Ha. Don’t forget to sign up for my email list and in return, receive a free ebook! Click here to get in the in-crowd!



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