Monday, December 1, 2014

Decoding "Coda": Thoughts On Tonight's Episode of the Walking Dead

Okay, so I'm new to the Walking Dead fandom. I marathoned seasons 1-4 over the past 2 weeks and just caught up on what's aired of season 5 so far before the midseason finale tonight. I don't know if it's seeing it so close together like that as opposed to spread out over a span of weeks, or what, but it's left me... confused about how to feel after tonight's episode. Well, not how to feel really. I feel sad. Beth's dead. (SPOILER ALERT!) But more confused as to what the writers are doing.

This whole season 5 arc right now seems like an exercise in futility. Terminus seemed like salvation and it turns out to be the nightmare we viewers have come to expect by now. Eugene's gonna save the world if we get him to Washington, except - nope, wait. That was all just naive wishful thinking. That outlandish trio (Rosita dressed like an anime character, Abraham as an action-hero wannabe, and Eugene with his mullet and so many "It's classified"s) always seemed unreal to me. So it felt weird when people took them seriously and trusted them and acted like such a ridiculous mission would be plausible. And what is up with that preacher dude? In this past episode they worked so hard to make sure he and Michonne and Carl and Judith would be safe inside the church, then he wanders off to look at the school site and comes back and basically ruins his own safe haven by leading hordes of walkers right through the front doors.

So there's this with the church, and Team GREATM's meltdown, all of which spells out failure of a mission. Futility. The pointlessness of all their efforts. So it didn't surprise me at all when our third group met the same result. The whole point, the whole reason they were in the city working out this risky exchange to begin with was in order to get Beth back. So of course she dies. All of it for nothing. What the fuck, writers? I don't get what you're doing.

I want to think this is purposeful, that they're making some sort of thematic statement with all this futility and failure. But there are other, smaller stumbles along the way that have made me wonder if they're just getting clumsy in their storytelling. Seasons 1-3 each had their own tight narrative arc that stretched over the season. Season 1 was about how it all started, getting to know the characters, getting to the CDC. Season 2 was about finding Sophia and starting a life at Hershel's farm. Season 3 was about the parallel stories at the prison and Woodbury. Season 4 is where this tight structure started to unravel a little, but I didn't really mind because it's also what gave us some of the best character-building episodes in the whole series. Daryl and Beth's arc is my utter favorite from that season, but I also loved seeing Rick and Carl's relationship shift, getting to know Michonne's backstory, and watching Carol's heart-wrenching dilemma as she says "Look at the flowers"...

Damn. Good stuff.

All along what's made these big story arcs convincing is the smaller moments throughout, individual lines or decisions characters make that feel believable. Season 5 has been lacking in these. Like tonight's episode, when Rick shoots officer Lambton just because he wouldn't stop. That didn't feel believable to the Rick we know, the one who values human life and feels reluctant to take it if the person isn't directly endangering the group. I know the interactions with the thugs Daryl got caught up with in season 4, as well as the Terminus psychos, really changed Rick, but I still don't know that I believed it. Just like I didn't believe Sasha would fall for Lambton's story to begin with. And Michonne has softened some since we first met her, but I still think her frustration and anger at the minister would have led her to respond far more harshly to him when it becomes apparent he was stupid enough to get himself in such a mess. Maybe she is angry at him and is just more focused on keeping Carl and Judith safe? I don't know. Little things like that, little moments of doubt sprinkled throughout various episodes this season; they've taken me out of the story, made me question the motivations of the storytellers.

I still love the show and want to find out what happens to these guys, but right now? The way they left things? Nothing's at stake. It's just more of the same. Someone we care about has died. Walkers are still everywhere. We need to find somewhere safe so we can stay alive. We just went around in a huge circle and came back to where we started, only far worse for wear, and having lost loved ones along the way.

Futility. Failure. Pointlessness.

I've got enough of that in my life right now. I need my fiction to have some sort of a thing to hope for. So I'm holding out that the second half of season 5 won't just be more of the same, but that maybe they'll pull it together and get back to the incredible storytelling we know and love. After all, the title of this episode was "Coda," which Google defines as "the concluding passage of a piece or movement." So perhaps we'll head on to better and brighter things. People keep murmuring about this safe zone in Alexandria...?

Saturday, November 8, 2014

YALLfest 2014

There's a distinct sort of melancholy that comes from being alone in the middle of a huge crowd. The festival today was a lot of fun. I enjoyed many of the panels, and got to meet some of my favorite authors, and talked to a lot of cool people while waiting in various lines. But I wasn't WITH someone. I didn't have the family member or friend to save a seat for, or check in with, or turn to in order to see their reaction. 

As I get older and a lot of my friends are in relationships or have children or jobs that don't allow them the flexibility to travel or go out, this is becoming more and more of a thing. If I want to do stuff I have to do it alone. Sitting alone in a bar or restaurant isn't too bad; you can read or write (I haven't yet succumbed to smart phone ownership or I'm sure I'd be on that too). But when you're in an art gallery in Toronto gazing at a painting so lovely it literally just made you cry, you want to share that with someone (...other than the stoic, bored-looking docent nearby). When you're screaming along with the lyrics at an Amanda Palmer show in London you want to be able to turn to the person next to you and see a friend, someone who knows you enough to understand how much this all means to you. When you hear an author you love make a really profound statement about storytelling, you want to be able to talk about it, to share what you think it means and hear another point of view. People leave room around you at the movie theater because they assume someone else is coming. Strangers might talk to you in the polite, distracted manner you use with a chatty neighbor on a plane ride or someone ahead of you at the Redbox machine that's renting the same DVD as you. But it's all surface level, about as substantial as cotton candy.

You can make new friends and have adventures on your own, but at the end of the day everyone else has someone they come back to. And when you're by yourself there's this feeling that comes sometimes. It may not be true, but it's still there: the thought that a giant claw (kind of like those machines with the toys at the grocery store) could descend from the sky and snatch you up out of the crowd and not a soul would even notice you were gone.

Monday, October 6, 2014


Stress stress stress stress stress stress stress stress.


Next time I publish a book, I am not - I repeat NOT - editing the damn thing myself.

This is a disaster. I should never have done things this way.

Can I give people back their money and hang my head in shame?

Wednesday, October 1, 2014


There's a song by The Lonely Forest called "Woe Is Me... I Am Ruined." Kind of an emo title, I know. But wait until you hear the lyrics from the chorus!

All I can do / is make others bleed / a prideful ego fire / I'm eager to feed / and they say I'm a good guy / and they say I'm a good guy

Yeah, real ooey gooey stuff there.

I've been feeling a lot like that lately. Like instead of the Midas touch I have a touch that turns everything to poison. That breaks it, or consumes it somehow. Or like the Shadowbrute in C.S. Lewis's Till We Have Faces: "some say the loving and the devouring are the same thing."

I don't know how to be close to people. I don't know how to let people in. I've never particularly understood some of the very basic things involved in being a Human Person Who Interacts With Other Human Persons. I can be selfish and small-minded. I hurt people. I mess up.

But it makes me sad how easily we give up on each other. How quick we are to say "here's a hurt that cannot be mended."

There's another song lyric I go to again and again. Maybe it should be the thing I get as a tattoo. It's from the Tori Amos song "Job's Coffin":

You must outcreate that destructive tendency

And that's the only thing I know how to do. When I hurt people. When I let them down. When they turn away from me and give up on me and I realize that maybe they're right about me -

All I can do is try to make stuff. Keep making stuff. New stories, new art, new music, whatever I can do to add things to this world. A feeble attempt to make up for all the things I've messed up and broken in my time here.

Friday, September 19, 2014


I'm sitting at a cafe. I'm supposed to be editing my book, or writing the last story. Instead, I'm listening to the conversation at the next table.

It's two girls. (Young women? I'm 28 and still refer to myself as a girl, so I'm the wrong person to ask about the terminology.) They're discussing books they're writing. And I'm listening, and some of it sounds really good, and some of it sounds kind of cliche, but all of it is making me really happy because I've totally been there.

They're talking about characters like old friends, about plot turns (with the occasional interjection: "Oh wait! I can't tell you about that part yet. It'll spoil the ending."), about world-building, about making maps and pronunciation guides, about restructuring so that this part of the story actually comes at the end instead of the middle...

I love it.

Maybe it's that I'm young still. I was reading an introduction by Chuck Palahnuik, and he was talking about how when you're a young reader you want books that are mirrors. You want to see yourself, or something you can relate to. Sitting here listening to these girls talking about their books, it's like a mirror, or maybe a window to the past. It's me and Liz sitting around talking about the Red Quarter or the Doorkeeper. Or me and Amber swapping emails about Proverbs stories and Wishbook.

It's fun.

That's been the problem with the Halloween Stories, and why I'm kind of happy to be bringing that whole chapter to an end. As things have gone on, it's no longer fun. It's not the challenge or the new shiny thing it was at the beginning.

So I'm going to bring it to a close, focus on Doors and Half Miracle and Wishbook and whatever other stories creep in meanwhile.

It doesn't have to be a career or cause for stress. It can just be sitting around telling stories. That's really the way it should be.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

A Rule

So, let's make a rule.

If you like someone, and you tell them how you feel, and they are honest with you and tell you that they don't return the feeling, here's where we're at...

(1) You have the right to be disappointed
(2) You have the right to be sad
(3) You DO NOT have the right to be angry
(4) You DO NOT have the right to make that person feel like they are at fault.

It's nobody's fault. You can't help who you are attracted to, and conversely who you are not.

Now, if they're a jerk to you when they tell you this, I guess you'd have the right to be angry. Not for the message, but for the method.

Had this happen to me recently. Someone asked me out. I didn't know how to tell them I wasn't interested, so I accepted, but finally got up the nerve to admit that I had been wrong. I didn't mean to toy with anybody's feelings, but I suppose he may have seen it that way.

I've never been on the other end of it. I've had overwhelming crushes on people, but they were dating someone, or they weren't interested in someone of my gender, or I just knew due to their personality/the context of our relationship that I'd have been denied. So rather than risk it, I curled into a little protective porcupine ball - soft center hidden, scary spikes sticking out.

Dude, there's a reason I'm alone.

That reason is me.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

10 Books

First of all, that last post was unnecessary terror. My project is 95% funded now! Woohoo! So... yeah.

But on to what this post is really about. Books!

I did this for facebook but also wanted to share here:

You must list ten books that have stayed with you in some way without taking more than a few minutes to think too hard about it. They don't have to be great books, just ones that have affected you in some way.

(1) Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak. In a heartbeat. My teacher read this to us in Kindergarten, and it rocked my entire world. When people ask me what my favorite book is, I always say this one. Then they hem and haw a bit and say, “Yes, but what is your favorite book FOR ADULTS?” and I say this one again. 338 words is sometimes all it takes to tell the kind of story that sticks with you forever.

(2) I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith. This book features such a funny, charming narrator and a cast of some of the kookiest and most wonderful characters I’ve met in fiction. It felt like I was reading a friend’s diary; like these were real people, family even. I read this one again and again and again.

(3) The Tolkien Reader, by J.R.R. Tolkien. I really should say Lord of the Rings, but to me it was the book I discovered after reading about Frodo’s epic journey that has stayed with me so long. The Tolkien Reader is a collection of Tolkien’s shorter works. The two that impacted me so greatly were his short story “Leaf by Niggle” (which I think every artist/writer/creative person should read) and the essay “On Fairy Stories,” which utterly transformed the way I think about reading, writing, and faith.

(4) The Moorchild, by Eloise McGraw. I still remember being in Walmart with my mom when I saw the paperback of this book on the sale rack for $3.95. “Can I get it?” I pleaded, the question all us kids asked constantly on shopping trips, always expecting the inevitable “NO.” But this time she took a look at the price and said okay. I brought it home and devoured it. What was on that cover that so captivated 9-year-old me? A picture of a girl playing a pipe out on the Scottish moorland, her crazy cloud of hair and slanted violet eyes indicating that she was anything but an ordinary girl. “The Moorchild” is the story of what it’s like to be an outsider, to be a part of two different worlds but to belong fully to neither, to be persecuted for things you cannot control (your appearance, the circumstances of your birth) and some that you can (intelligence, ambition). It’s one of those stories supposedly “written for children,” but that I still enjoy thoroughly as an adult.

(5) Till We Have Faces, by C.S. Lewis. It feels a bit like choosing which one out of all my limbs I’d want to keep to have to pick just ONE book by C.S. Lewis for this list. Narnia, That Hideous Strength and its sequels, and the vast library of his nonfiction writings have all shaped so much of who I am as a person. But if I must choose a jewel for the center of this crown, “Till We Have Faces” is the one. It’s a retelling of the myth of Cupid and Psyche, but since it’s C.S. Lewis you know it’s going to be more than that. It’s the book that made me realize (with some horror) that I could completely relate to a character so broken and flawed as the protagonist Orual. But as the story unfolded I was able (with some hope) to root for her transformation, all the way up to the paradigm-shifting climactic scene that gives the book its name.

(6) The Harry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling. This one’s pretty obvious. Not only did these stories take such vivid hold of my imagination, but they introduced me to the fandom, this “hidden magical community” of creative, talented, smart, funny, warm, welcoming, amazing fellow geeks, so many of whom I’m lucky to count as friends.

(7) Enchantress from the Stars, by Sylvia Engdahl. This is a weird one. Not a lot of people know Sylvia Engdahl. I only know this book from finding it at the library, but it quickly became one of my favorites because it manages to be both science fiction and high fantasy at the same time. It’s the story of a team from an advanced galactic civilization that is tasked to keep a ship from a partway-developed planet (one that’s just started space exploration) from interfering with civilizations on an underdeveloped planet (one that’s still in its version of the Dark Ages, where early introduction of such technology as a space craft could be catastrophic). The portions told on the underdeveloped planet read like swords and sorcery stuff, even though the reader knows enough of what’s going on to guess at the advanced technology that would appear as dragons or witchcraft to the natives. In addition to the cool genre meld, it’s also just a good story – there’s a forbidden love arc between a girl from the advanced society and a boy from the underdeveloped planet. There’s the theme throughout of the importance of understanding things from other perspectives, of acknowledging mindsets different from our own. It’s a particularly timely book for our day and age since it raises questions about technology and progress, and whether you can truly consider these things successful if they are not tempered with restraint and wisdom.

(8) Gnomes, by Wil Huygen and Rien Poortvliet. I found this book at the library when I was 8 or 9. It’s beautifully illustrated, and written in the same style as many guides to birds or other wildlife, with drawings and diagrams and information about the gnome species and their habitats, diet, appearance, behavior, etc. As a kid, I read it and completely believed it was real, that there actually were gnomes that lived in the woods (and may even be living in my own backyard!). Even now that I’m older, I still catch myself staring into the forest sometimes, fully expecting to catch a flash of a red cap in among the trees.

(9) The Gifts of the Child Christ, by George MacDonald. The title is misleading. This isn’t a bunch of sermons, or some preachy moral lesson trussed up as a story for children. It’s actually a collection of fairy tales. George MacDonald was a Scottish minister who wrote dozens of books, most of them realistic fiction, romances, or, yes, books of sermons, but he also wrote fairy stories, and these were the stories that set him apart. C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Madeleine L’Engle all claim him as an influence on their work. You may know some of his longer fantasy works (“The Princess and the Goblin” or “At the Back of the North Wind”), but this book is a collection of his shorter, weirder stories. My two favorites are “The Golden Key” (which features flying feathered fish and rainbow stairways and a beautiful parallel with Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave”) and “Photogen and Nycteris” (about a boy who was raised only ever seeing daylight, and a girl who was raised only ever seeing night, and what happens when the witch who looked after them accidentally lets up her guard one night and the two children escape).

(10) Lost and Found, by Shaun Tan. This is a far newer book, one I only encountered in the last couple years, but it’s incredible. It’s three shorter tales in one book, told through both text and visuals. Shaun Tan’s artwork is weird, beautiful, disturbing, and exhilarating and acts as a perfect complement to his words. This is a book I know will stay with me for a long time, especially because of “The Red Leaf.” Reading that story was the first time I ever found anything that truly expressed how depression makes you feel – not some clinical explanation, or self-help-guide “solution,” but something far more visceral and real. I liked it because at the same time that it doesn’t shy away from the darkness, it still ends with a believable sort of hope. Anything by Shaun Tan is amazing, but this one in particular – just, WOW.


After I made this list, of course I thought of a million others I could have included. I noticed this book leans heavily toward fantasy/sci-fi and children's titles. But whatever, so do my reading inclinations, so I suppose that makes sense.

Here are a couple more I should have put down. "Honorable Mentions" if you will. I won't spend nearly as much time describing them as I did the others though.

(11) Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier. 

(12) All the Brian Jacques Redwall books.

(13) Catherine Called Birdy by Karen Cushman

(14) James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl

(15) Goose Chase by Patrice Kindl

(16) Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

(17) Holes by Louis Sachar

(18) Howliday Inn by James Howe

(19) Short stories by Edgar Allan Poe

(20) The Boggart by Susan Cooper

I mean, I kept kicking myself that I didn't include them on the list! And honestly, I could go on... I guess that's the problem. There are too many good books in the world.

A good problem to have.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014


I will go into this in more detail in a later post, but right now I'll just say this.

I just launched my first Kickstarter campaign this morning.

I'm terrified.

I'm going off 4 hours of sleep after having spent the day yesterday traveling home from San Antonio where I was visiting Rebekah and her family. I'm starving because I forgot to eat this morning. I have that lack-of-sleep headache which means I really need to get home soon and just recover.

I need to tell people about the project, but if I try to now it'll come out all wrong.

I am panicking. No one's backed it and it's been live for hours now, but of course that's because no one knows, because I've been at work and haven't told them.

No one tells you how naked this makes you feel.

Sticking your art out there and going, "Love me! Love me!"

Worried that they'll laugh at you. But what's worse than laughing at you?

That they won't even care at all.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Mess Up

I messed up.

I've been working at the library for the last four and a half years. Not gonna lie: I'm surprised they hired me. I felt like I was getting away with something in a sense. Like I managed to fake it just long enough that they no longer thought to ask questions. I'm surprised they hired me, and I'm surprised it took this long for them to find out I'm not professional, and I don't aspire to a career in this field, and really I'm an immature little brat who's more interested in flexibility/freedom and emotional happiness than in higher pay, longer hours, and so-called "benefits."

I thought maybe the blue hair might have tipped them off, but then that's only been the last six months.

Okay, so here's what happened. Now that a little of the dust has settled I have more clarity than I have for a while now.

My coworker left for a different position in local county government, leaving her Reference position vacant. Like I mentioned before, it involves longer shifts, it offers a retirement plan and the accrual of paid vacation hours, and it is still in my branch, a place I know well and would be reluctant to leave. Taking this position seemed to solve a lot of problems. First, more money. Great. I can pay off debts faster, and not have to worry about not running the A/C or stretching groceries for another week just to make sure I can pay rent. Second, every other person who does teen programming in our library system is a Reference person. It's always caused a little trouble that I've been technically a children's person but not really doing any children's programming. So by taking myself out of children's I'd be easing that issue completely. Third, everybody kept telling me I should do this. The coworker herself told me she hoped I'd apply. People from other branches texted or emailed to recommend I do it. It's a step up the career ladder. It'll be good for you, they said.

So I did it. I interviewed.

The interview went terribly... which is interesting, because the last two interviews I've done have gone really well. When I want the position, I feel confident, engaged, and even if my mind goes blank on an answer I can laugh it off and not give into nerves. But with this one I was a mess. I was nervous, stumbling, saying all the things I thought they'd want to hear, and at the very end when they gave me an exercise to do, I burst into tears.

I got it anyway. Go figure. And instead of taking time to weigh my options, I just immediately accepted. It all made sense on paper. It didn't matter that I felt a great unease at the thought of this new position; that was surely just me being fearful about change. I'd get used to it in time.

I didn't. The first week I was just at the home branch covering in children's and working up in circulation. It was overwhelming, and I hadn't even gotten to the new stuff yet. And then some really horrible, crushing news: while my "benefits" give me paid time off, this vacation time accrues at a rate of 6 hours each month. Since my average work day now is 8 hours, that's not even a day a month! I would have to wait 4 months to get three days off. Well, fine, whatever. I don't care about getting paid for time off. But here's the kicker: in this new position, unpaid time off is limited to SEVEN DAYS A YEAR. ONE FREAKING WEEK. THAT'S ALL. Before the change in position, I had already asked for 5 days off for the funeral, and 5 days for Salem in September. My branch manager was being really nice and trying to make this work for me, but you know what? I couldn't get the ringing in my ears to stop. I thought my brain might be melting and oozing out of my ears. SEVEN FREAKING DAYS. A YEAR. A WHOLE YEAR. Any shitty retail job will give you more than that. I was livid. I was so fucking angry. And that anger fortunately manifested itself in tears instead of swearing, because if I hadn't burst into sobs I definitely would have said something that would have gotten me fired. Seven days. Gaaaaaaaaaah. I knew right then that if I stayed in this position, I'd be gone from the library within a year. There's no way I'm missing the Europe trip next year, or cutting it short to fit these ridiculous guidelines. So yeah, that was roadblock #1.

The second week I started training at the main branch, and the first day went okay. It was all really boring, to be honest, but nothing too difficult to grasp. I could do this, surely, given time. I would be able to function as a reference librarian. But the second day I went in to do my reference interview training and halfway through I again burst into tears.

Are you sensing a pattern? I cried in the interview. I cried upon finding out about the limitations to my days off. I cried when being given important reference training.

The woman giving me the training was very kind. I explained I was likely just overly-emotional with my grandmother's funeral on the immediate horizon. I didn't even think about how the last week of summer reading is already just a stressful time in and of itself. And then of course all these changes.

The problem was, once I started crying I couldn't stop. We rescheduled the second half of the training, and I was sent to the back room to work on some database test questions. But people kept popping in to check that I was okay, and every time a new person asked I would start up again. Finally, the head of reference called me to her office and sent me home. Before she did, she told me to think long and hard about whether I really wanted this position, and to report to my home branch the next day instead of to the main branch for training as planned. I was to tell my branch manager my decision.

So I did. I told him that I wanted my old job back if that was still possible. He's checking with our library director, and with human resources at the county government center. I still don't know where all this stands.

Reasons I would be willing to give up more money and more respect and to make myself look like a fool in front of everyone I work with: because the only reason I have stayed at this job as long as I have is because of people and books. The people part is mostly programming, but also all the regulars that come in to the children's section, the folks that need help with book suggestions or finding pictures to go with a report they've written for school, that kind of thing. The books means what's inside the covers. It means talking about books, thinking about books, recommending books. Books as more than objects or statistics. In my new position, well - I'll be honest. The kinds of people I'd have to help wouldn't be nearly as cute or fun. If I ever talked about books, it would be reference texts, and not necessarily as a recommended pleasurable pastime but as a means to an end.

I realized too late that the pride I feel at getting to say I'm a librarian actually stems from getting to say I'm a children's librarian. If I've messed it up and can't do that anymore, maybe it's just time I moved on to something entirely new...

Saturday, August 9, 2014


My grandmother's funeral is today. Or memorial service. However you want to say it. She died back in April but was cremated, and we are putting her ashes to rest about 15 hours from now in the grave plot right next to my grandfather. I'm typing this from a hotel room in King of Prussia, PA. I've spent the last hour or so trying to write a eulogy.

Now, I haven't been asked to write a eulogy exactly. More to say a few words about my grandmother. (We called her "Oma.") But for the last several years I haven't seen Oma much, and even when I did see her she didn't seem like herself. Pain and fatigue were wearing constantly away at her edges. Plus, I was (am, really) an egocentric young person, too caught up in the immediate concerns of my own life to put much of an effort into trying to connect with her.

So I've written this eulogy, which I will type up for you below. But I don't like it. It's supposed to be about a person, and I spend most of my time talking about a sketchbook. (Which sounds weird, but I hope it will all make sense...)

So here it is, what I may (or may not) end up saying at the service later today:

I have many memories of days spent with Oma - the time Laura and I went with her to visit Old Sturbridge Village, fun trips to Deep Creek or Cape Cod, Florida or Sedona, and even that time she tried to drive me to a place in uptown Charlotte and we ended up getting lost, on the road for hours taking turn after wrong turn and getting trapped in the crazy mess of rush hour traffic. To me as a little kid it all seemed like a grand adventure, but I'm sure it was really stressful for her. So many memories of doing things, going places, all this exciting stuff happening.

But so much of life is in the still moments. Which is why when I remember spending time with Oma, one of the things I recall with the most fondness is this sketchbook.

I don't know if many of you have looked through this or really know what it is. I mean, basically it's what it looks like: a little sketch journal. Early on it's filled with her pencil drawings - a basket of flowers, a place setting at a table, a vague outline of a chair. She tried things, using watercolor pencils and investigating the different effects she could make. And at a certain point other artists' work start to take up pages as she began to invite us grandchildren to draw in it too.

I won't flip through the whole thing here, but there's a hodgepodge of sketches after this - Zach's depiction of grandfather clock, various attempts by me to try to capture those small toys she would keep on the ledge next to those stairs that led down to the basement, and of course many more drawings of her own.

I know I'm going on and on about this book, when I should be talking about her, but I kind of am talking about her. You've got to understand something about me. I've always been so caught up in my own distractions. I was the girl so busy reading that I'd be in the stands at the baseball game and not even know the score. But Oma wasn't like that. What's amazing about this sketchbook, and even more amazing about the lady who started it, who sketched out that place setting at the table, or the view of the street in Belmont, New Hampshire (even down to that stop sign there in the corner) - well, it's this: To make art like this, you have to be willing to stop and take the time to look at the things and the people around you, to really see them, and not only that but to appreciate that there is something of significance and beauty in them, something worth recording, worth remembering. And that was Oma. I mean, you all remember her stories, don't you? She had so many things in her house that she had collected over the course of her life, but these things, while some of them may have been quite valuable, weren't really important in and of themselves. There was always a story, a history behind an object or photograph, and if she'd catch you looking at something she might even share it with you. That's why they were important, at least to me. Because she said they were. She observed and she noticed things and she cared enough to remember.

I saw her sketches in this book, and I wanted to follow her example. I wanted to try too. Over time it came to be an inevitable part of any visit with her. Whenever we spent time with Oma, several more pages of this book were sure to be filled in. Sketches of beloved pets like Tilly and Bobby and Buffy, of Wes playing Game Boy, of the red glasses and Santa napkin rings on the table at Christmas eleven years ago...

I'm grateful for a lifetime of details like this, not just the big flashy photo-album-worthy times with her, but these little quiet memories that I know will continue to creep in at unexpected moments in the years to come, reminding me of her.

I miss Oma. We all miss her - Oma, Nana, Mother, Adelaide. But I'm glad she's no longer in pain, and I rejoice to think of the fullness of life she now knows in the presence of our Heavenly Father.

It was He who commanded us to "love one another as I have loved you." And what kind of love is this? One that sees beauty and worth even in the unlikeliest of places. A love that does not falter or forget. A sketchbook kind of love.


Yeah. That was really preachy and stupid. I didn't say any of that. Instead, I told a brief story about the time Oma was visiting us when it happened to be a blue moon. Mom, Oma, and I got in the car and drove up to the top of the drive way. It was almost like a little theater: the trees on either side were the parted curtains, and above us was this spectacular star-strewn sky and a huge, bright moon. "God was putting on a show for us that night," I said as I burst into tears. I didn't say a lot of things because I was too busy crying. I guess that's okay.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A Real Update

Oh, how I’ve missed this.

Writing. Typing. A blog.

I don’t think anyone reads this. (If I’m wrong and you do… hi!) But it’s not really about that. It’s about the rhythms in the sentences. It’s about the words themselves. Whether they’re tired-out-old-comfortable kinds of words like I tend to use in this blog, or the rare-beautiful-fragile-as-a-butterfly kinds of words like in a poem, there’s still this wonder to it. The tools of the trade. This. I want this. I love this.

People talk about “weaving words,” and I like that picture. Like a web you’re spinning, or a spell you conjure—a good story is something you get caught up in. And when you’re writing and something seems wrong, you know it. Like a tear in the fabric of your fictional reality. Like a dropped stitch, or a sloppy hem. Something missing, or something needs to be ripped out and done over right.

I love this. I love it. It can be frustrating. It can be lonely… writing stories you’re not sure anyone other than you will ever read or care about. I read about writers who develop these partnerships and friendships with artists and work together on these collaborative projects and I get so jealous. I want a Dave McKean to my Neil Gaiman. I want a Laura Cornell to my Jamie Lee Curtis. It’s fun to have people visit a world of your making and see it, imagine it well enough, to bring it out into the real world in the form of visual art.

I’ve been struggling with this as I try to put together my Shadows and Monsters book. That’s right, I’m really going through with it… I’m going to attempt a Kickstarter campaign. Nothing huge. I just want a handful of books for myself, a few to maybe sell locally, and at least one to put into the system at our library. And of course a copy for any supporters who might want one. I know so many talented artists; I wanted to try to get them involved. Beck (and possibly Ben) are helping me. I might be able to bribe Wesley, but I doubt it. I sent an old friend from high school a message about it but never heard back. So it may not come to anything (the art, not the book… the book is definitely coming to fruition, even it’s not the form I’d hoped).

But I’m getting sidetracked.

This. This is what I love. The clack of my fingers on the keys. The way the words just magically appear on the white of the page as I type. I was talking to my mom recently about the parable of the talents in the Bible. I was talking about investing, and she pointed out that of course that parable was about using your abilities, not about money, and how I didn’t have to worry because I was in a position where I used my abilities every day.

Do I, though? I mean, some. I get to form friendships with some of the regulars. I get to plan parties and events. I get to utilize my knowledge of book titles and authors. I can be creative when it comes to displays, bulletin boards, etc. And I do absolutely love designing and formatting posters, flyers, brochures, etc.

But I don’t write.

There are very few jobs you get to do where you write. Writing for a living is nigh impossible. I may just have to settle for writing in the blank-space-edges around making-a-living. Whatever time and energy will allow.

We’ll see.

I’m better than I’ve been.

I still don’t know where I’m going.


I’ve been meaning to get on here a lot more in the last few months. You tend to have ideas that are bigger than 140 characters, concepts Twitter witticism won’t adequately convey. You want to throw them out into the universe (AKA the internet), but what’s a girl without a Wi-Fi connection do? Well, in my case I did the old-fashioned kind of blogging: in a journal.

But there’s one very important thing I’d like to clear up about my last blog post.

The internet may not last forever, but certain things posted on it sure seem to. A simple Google search can sometimes make or break you – and it’s not just a potential job interview it could ruin, but also a reputation. I was very emotional when I wrote that last post, but even then I had this at the back of my mind and chose very purposefully not to name any of the people I was talking about. But I certainly gave enough descriptors that anyone in my immediate circle who read this (and possibly some beyond it) would be able to identify them: “my friend” whose birthday it was, “the alcoholics,” etc.

I’m not going to take the post down. What happened did actually happen to me. But I wanted to mention something that may have been obvious to you when you read it, but should still be highlighted and underlined and emphasized in every way possible…

What happened on the boat. (Yeahhhhhhh. Sorry for the reminder, but at least you don’t have the visuals I have.) Anyway, my recollection of what happened was told through the lens of my current state of mind. Wine and absinthe definitely have a way of messing with your perspective, especially the copious quantities I consumed. So everything I said about this guy and the way he seemed to be, well… you know… purposefully exposing himself to me. The truth is, I don’t know. It seemed that way to me in that state of mind I was in. But I can’t honestly speak to his intent. And I can’t honestly trust my recollection. If by some unlikely chance this blog post came to people’s attention, and his name became known, I would hate to ruin someone’s reputation based on something that could have been a misunderstanding.

Don’t get me wrong… it’s still pretty weird what he did. And I may have been right. It could have been intended as I originally read the situation. BUT – there’s a chance it wasn’t. And any sliver of a reasonable doubt is enough to get someone off in court, so I feel like in the court of public opinion we ought to give him a chance.

Anyway, that was bothering me, the fact that I left things that way. So I just wanted to clear it up.  But there are many other, far more important things to write about… So on we go!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Death, Dawn, Driving, and Discovery: Four Weeks In Five Parts

I. Mourning to be Rescheduled At Your Convenience

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

My grandmother died last Thursday.
We never called her “grandma.” She was Oma. A German endearment.
Opa died the year I was born, so I never met him. But Oma had a longer ways to go. She passed away in a hospital bed at 2:30 in the afternoon, with my Aunt Barbara and Uncle Jerry in the room with her. She was 87.
She died on April 10, 2014 in Greenwood, Indiana, but really she died to me a long time before that.
It wasn’t intentional. I didn’t mean for it to happen.
But she was an old woman, growing increasingly frailer, and her world was becoming consumed with the everyday battle of fighting off pain. She had friends in her nursing home, and I could have asked her about them. (I didn’t.) She was often too tired to write letters, but I could have still sent her messages or postcards like my Dad did (other than thank yous at birthday or Christmas, she never heard from me). Mom spoke to her weekly on the telephone, and I could have asked to have a few minutes to say hi (I never did). When I did talk to her, it was awkward and stilted, like I would talk to a stranger. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know what to ask. I knew I wanted to know things - about her day, about her life, about her past - but when I was around her (or on the phone with her) it always came up a big blank. I filled her in on some of the things in my day, my life, my hoped-for future. They were selfish, self-centered conversations, and quite brief. Like the letters I sent as thank-yous, the expected phrases of greeting and thanks and farewell taking up the bulk of the text with little of substance left over.
She died to me years ago because I let her. Because in a way I died to her too.
The last time I saw her in person was two summers ago. I was the thinnest I’ve been since childhood after a successful weight loss regime, and I had a terrible self-cut hairdo (too-short bangs and a shoddy attempt at layers). That’s the last picture she would have had in her head of me. It was the Dows and the Sandoz and Oma, nearly a family reunion, with the exception of the Price clan who couldn’t come. We all ate in the dining room at Oma’s nursing home, and then retired afterward to a little courtyard outside where we sat in the sun and talked and took pictures. Before we left that day I spent a little time with Oma alone in her room. I hugged her. I said goodbye, and when I said it I spoke like someone who knows they’re saying it for the last time. So I have that at least. She didn’t let on, but I know she understood that I thought this would probably be my last time to see her alive.
When the call came I didn’t cry. I saw two missed calls from my parents, within 15 minutes of each other, and I just knew. It made sense after having heard of her decline these past weeks, the hospitalization, the erratic swings between clear thinking and dementia, the hallucinations, and the nervous, violent outbursts at her new nurses - not to mention the pain. THE PAIN. I don’t even know the specifics but I know Oma was a lot like me - (okay, well, vice versa) - and we have to feel a lot, a lot, A LOT of pain before we finally let it show. If they could tell she was hurting that badly, it had to go deeper and wider than I think anyone could understand.
So I didn’t cry. Because I think I was glad she wasn’t hurting anymore. And I think I knew in my heart that I had said my goodbyes long ago. It may not have been fair, and it may have been a real jerk move, but the truth is I had already given up on her. So she was gone, absent not only in terms of something calculable like miles (Monroe, NC to Greenwood, IN… crunch the details, come up with a nice solid number) but now separated by a distance far larger.
I felt sorrow for my mom. And I felt a hollowness, not really sadness, but this feeling of frustration, because one of her last wishes (Oma’s, I mean) was that her body be cremated and that instead of an immediate funeral, we all gather at a later time that’s convenient for everyone and bury her next to Opa in the graveyard in Pennsylvania. And I knew I didn’t really have a right to feel this way after how I had treated her there at the end, but it still irked me a little, the thought that we weren’t all being asked to stop doing what we were doing, to interrupt our ordinary lives for just a day or two, and to gather together, and to miss her together, and to say goodbye. I know we’ll do that later, but this whole “Oh, I don’t know if I can fit you into my busy schedule” mentality is so disrespectful, and such an indicator of misplaced priorities. It made me sad, and a little mad. Even though I couldn’t cry for some reason, I wanted to have to stop and realize she was gone. So even though there wasn’t a funeral, I called into work at Target and lied and said there was, so I would have the weekend off to grieve.
It didn’t end up happening that way. Not exactly. If I’d known what would go down Friday night I would have just worked as scheduled. I would have just gone on with my life, which I guess is the point of what Oma was asking.
But I called in and explained that she had died and that I would need the time off. The manager who took the call expressed condolences, but something in his voice made me think he didn’t believe me, that he was going along with what I was saying because what kind of horrible person lies about their grandmother dying? But that really, even if he would never call me on it, he thought that I was the kind of horrible person who was lying about my grandmother dying. It was there in my voice, I think. A nervousness. I hate calling out.
But whatever. I did it. And I can’t take it back.
Which brings to me to Friday.

II. The Ernest Hemingway-Lonely Island Mash-Up I Never Saw Coming, Or: The Sun Also Rises On A Boat

Saturday, April 12, 2014

A drunken man stripped naked and exposed himself to me last night.
Okay, well maybe by that point it was this morning. The sun was rising, these pretty pink and purple stripes behind the grid-like silhouette of the power plant structure next door. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The day my Oma died was also my friend’s 25th birthday. But no one goes out late on a Thursday night (at least not many of her friends who are still in school) so she pushed the celebration to Friday. Normally I would not have been there, with work at 4am the next day. But Oma had died, and I had called out to allow time for mourning, and the idea of drowning my sorrows with this girl and her friends sounded therapeutic to me.
It started out okay. I met her at a restaurant and sports bar combo, where already a large group had gathered. Several of them I knew and liked from previous parties my friend had thrown. One by one people had to leave. By the end it was just my friend and these two guys she’s been friends with for a while, but has become increasingly more attached to since her graduation last December. The problem is that she’s convinced herself she’s in love with one of them, a guy who - I will give him credit - is trying not to hurt her or maim their friendship, but obviously does not want to make it anything more than that. This guy and his roommate are probably around the same age as my friend - mid-twenties. They are alcoholics.
I do not use that word lightly.
I have known people who drink abundantly and regularly but have control, could stop if they wanted. These people know their limits and just often choose to surpass them, but if called upon to be responsible and kinder to their livers, they could immediately cease that lifestyle.
These two guys are not like that. They’ve gotten to a point where they couldn’t stop if they wanted to. Not that they want to. They talk about this with pride. They still function in society, going to their (well-paid) jobs, but going out at every lunch time and having three or four beers with their food. There’s more to be had with dinner, maybe five or six, and that’s just leading into the evening hours. And it’s not always beer. They have cabinets upon cabinets filled with various hard liquors. In fact, so many cabinets that I seriously wonder where it is they keep their food. One of them (the one my friend is in love with) has the bladder of an elderly man. In fact, many of the old men in my Oma’s nursing home probably have less kidney/bladder issues than this guy, and they’ve been around at least 50 years longer. He jokes about this, my friend’s crush, like it’s a silly - nay, cute! - little problem. His roommate, the one who would later expose himself to me, has packed on such a beer gut in the few years since graduation and has let personal grooming go to such a degree that he looks like a mix between a Tolkienian dwarf and a pregnant woman. No, I take that back. Dwarves actually take care of their beards. More like an old homeless man with a hairy pregnant belly.
Yeah. Gross. And I know about the belly, all its folds and protrusions, in detail.
We were left with these guys. I’d had one margarita, but my friend was already blazing a trail to glory in the alcohol department. Though she’s spent many an evening like this with these guys on her own, I felt wrong leaving her on her birthday. So I continued on with them to a pool hall and we played a few rounds. I’m terrible at pool, but the place was kind of nice. Very simple. Come in, go to the bar to get your rack and pool balls (and drinks, if you were the trio I was with), and play as many rounds as you want. We stayed until last call. I had a cider. They shared a few rounds of shots and the guys had some beers. I was grateful I had driven myself there.
The alcoholics sobered up enough for one of them to drive (their call, not mine, and I was very unhappy with it), and I followed them back to their house. My friend has passed out many a time on their couch until morning, since she is currently living with her parents and they do not approve of the consumption of alcohol. This seemed like a perfectly acceptable plan. Come back. Sit around until we’re sleepy. Everyone goes off to bed, and my friend goes to sleep feeling that we loved her enough to stay with her the whole night long. (She is the sort of person who thinks like this. In fact, that night in her tipsy-verging-on-drunken state, she confessed that she felt like the people who hadn’t come didn’t really care about her, and that some of the people who were there but left early were just going through the motions of being friends. I don’t think this is at all the case, and I suspect that when she’s sober she doesn’t either, but it made me realize that possibly the best birthday present I could give this girl would be to just stay with her until dawn.)
We sat around the alcoholics’ living room watching YouTube videos on the enormous big screen TV they’d hooked up to one of their laptops. They were playing country music songs (not my favorite, but I’ve lived through far worse) and kept wanting to find more songs to show us when they realized we hadn’t heard them. Since we were in for the night I opened a bottle of red wine, and drank most of it myself. By this point Johnny Cash and alcohol were making the hollow feeling of not being able to cry seem even more hollowed and pronounced. I was stuck in this room with these people I really didn’t like that much, but I’d drunk too much to be able to leave, so I just gave in to it, and the “it” I mean was the contagious feeling of “Oh, I’m drunk but not nearly drunk enough. I need MORE.”
They brought out absinthe. I love absinthe, but it shouldn’t be drunk the way I had it that night - chasing a whole bottle of Malbec, and full-strength, not at all watered down. That was when my friend crawled to the couch and passed out, and her crush gave up and went to his own room to sleep. I was sitting on the kitchen floor and somehow talk turned to travel (as it sometimes does with me), and the other alcoholic brought me photo albums of the trips he had taken to visit his family in Germany and France. I oohed and ahhhed at the pictures, some places I’ve been but many I haven’t. I marveled too at how different this guy looked in all the photographs. They had been taken only four or five years ago, but that was before the drinking and it showed. In the pictures he was thin and young and healthy. No paunch. No blotchy, ruddy skin. No homeless man facial hair.
(I know I’m focusing a lot on the looks here, which is very shallow of me, I understand. But it’s more than that. There are some people who may look average or even downright ugly but are made beautiful and lovable because of who they are. This guy is like some warped inversion of that. I mean, I never knew that younger version of him, so I’m just guessing. But to give you some perspective: this was a guy who, earlier that evening, while watching a YouTube video listing top songs by Disney villains, had protested at the inclusion of a song by Gaston from Beauty and the Beast. “He’s not a villain!” he insisted. “In fact, he wasn’t an altogether bad guy. It was Belle who was the bitch. Nothing was ever good enough for her.” Yeah. A near-direct quote, and not at all surprising to me, since this guy is very much like Gaston. Pompous, loutish, falsely confident, close-minded and ignorant, lashing out at what he can’t understand or control. Was his younger self like that? Maybe not yet.)
I guess maybe the guy mistook my marveling at his photographs as me expressing admiration toward him. It was nearly six in the morning by then. The app on his phone estimated that sunrise would be at 6:50am. I said I thought it would be cool to stay up and watch it since we were so close anyway and he agreed. He said he had some things to show me in the meantime - a cool 1950s truck out in their barn, the barn itself which was made mostly out of old doors, and a boat that their father had bought and parked next to the barn, and which would never be usable because already much of the floor had begun to rot away. There was even a small tree growing up between the driver’s seat and the passenger seat. We foolishly, drunkenly, climbed up into the boat, careful to test for where the floor seemed likely to give. He made his way up to the front of the boat (I’m no expert, but perhaps it’s the prow?). I stayed toward the back, near the boat’s ladder. By that point my own bladder was behaving like a geriatric’s (I blame the absinthe), and I told him I was going to the bathroom but would be right back. I stressed this last part, that I was coming back, that I wouldn’t miss the sunrise, because for some reason I didn’t like the idea of coming out and finding him gone (perhaps back to his bed to sleep) and facing the morning alone. Maybe it was because I was drunk and feeling very much like my friend had about her party guests, but it seemed like I needed to do this with somebody, to welcome the new day. It didn’t matter who so much, just that someone was there.
I went into the bathroom. I came back out of the house and crossed the field to the boat. As I was nearly there, I looked up, and realized he was stripping off his clothes. I was at the boat by now and he was right there above me, his pale, flabby, hairy body on full display, his (okay, let’s be honest) very unimpressive member dangling there feet away.
I’ve known this guy a little while so I want to think that maybe he was just drunk and feeling carefree and wanting to experience the morning au natural, like people in a nudist colony do. Or like wiccans who go skyclad in ritual. Just a way to more fully experience the moment, unbound by cloth and seams. Free.
But he had this expression on his face that makes me genuinely believe otherwise. He was looking right at me, and it was like he was daring me to make a big deal out of it. It’s like without saying anything at all, he was saying, “Look at me. Don’t look away. I’m not giving you that option.” I almost think that if I’d showed any kind of discomfort he would have enjoyed it, like some kind of victory. So I didn’t give him that. I didn’t react. I kept walking, as had been my original path, toward the ladder at the back of the boat.
“Aren’t you cold?” was all I allowed myself to say.
As I lurched forward into my spot at the back of the boat, he turned to face me, seeming yet again to pose himself very precisely so I couldn’t avoid the view.
“Not really,” he shrugged. Things jiggled on his body at the gesture, things I really never wanted to see jiggle. “It seemed like the right thing to do.”
The funny thing is, I don't mind nudity that much. I don't find the naked human form inherently offensive like some people seem to. I've been around it before without feeling this way. But this wasn't about him being naked. Somehow in this context his nakedness was being used as a weapon.
Don’t' get me wrong - he didn’t come anywhere near me. He didn’t make as if he intended to touch me. He didn’t seem to expect me to strip off my clothing either. (Ha! Good luck trying to make me!) We just stayed like that for a long time, and I didn’t move, and I tried not to look at him but at the same time to not avoid looking at him, because to do that - to make this a big deal, or to stand up and leave - again, it felt like I’d be giving him a victory.
I know it’s not logical. I was drunk off my ass. Logic was a distant, fleeting dream.
But finally there was enough of a gleam over the roof of the door-barn that I felt I had an excuse. I stood shakily and lowered myself down.
“I think the dawn’s here,” I said, like I was giving him a reason, like I was saying, “I’m not running away from you” even though I kind of was. I didn’t feel afraid of him, but I felt angry at him for putting me in this position, and a little sad for him. When you see someone so blatantly saying, “Look at me! Look at me!” it’s hard to not feel a little bad.
I left him behind and wandered around the corner of the door-barn. Next to their house was a giant power structure. I don’t know the proper term, but I’m sure you understand what I mean. Towers and power lines and metal beams and gratings all intersecting and crisscrossing in this amazing pattern of angles and lines. The dawn appeared behind its silhouette, like watercolors bleeding across the sky, smeared there by a huge invisible paintbrush. Pinks and purples, a bit of green even, and the light fanning out toward dark at the edges. The night receding. A blinding thing of beauty. But it couldn’t erase the images in my head.
I took one last look at him as I said goodnight. He was standing as if dumbstruck by the lights behind me, still naked, clutching his balled up clothes in a wad that he rested on the shelf of his belly.
I walked past him and up to the house, and found some cushions on the floor by the couch, and I slept a few hours, and endured a morning full of chitchat with people who had no idea of the exchange we’d had. And then he appeared, fully clothed this time, and hungover. We watched more inane YouTube videos. I drank gallons of water and gobbled up bread and waited there until I was sure I was finally sober enough to drive.
I went home and spent the day hungover and miserable, angry and sad.
I was missing my Oma, finally, but it still wouldn’t come out in tears.
I had been violated, I was quite certain. Not in a huge way, perhaps. Not raped or physically assaulted. So very infinitesimal in comparison with those things. But I had been forced into a situation against my will, and had felt unable to escape it, and so had endured it. It may have been the hangover, but every time I thought of him, I felt the acidic burn of sick at the back of my throat.
Water and food and sleep and time heal many wounds.
The next day, Sunday, I spent the day at home with my Dad eating Chinese food and watching TV.
He kissed my forehead when we said goodnight, and I hugged him close.
A reminder at least that there are still some decent men in the world.

III. Yes, Officer, I'm Just Great. Whyever Would I Not Be?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

I got a speeding ticket this morning.
Going 60 in a 45.
Which I was, I totally was. And the law is the law. It was kind of a speed trap, but I should have known better. Cars aren't usually out at 3:30 in the morning unless they're cops. But I was preoccupied, worried that I wasn't going to get to work on time. The speed limit went from 55 to 45 and I didn't slow fast enough coming down the hill and - bam.
The guy was really nice, which kind of annoyed me.
Big smile, cheerful, the extra-Southern kind of polite.
"Your grandmother just died and you've had this weird unwanted sexually-tinged experience, and now here - have a ticket."
Yeah, he didn't say that. But that's what it felt like. The old "bad things come in threes" adage brought full circle.
I wanted him to be a jerk so I could hate him, but instead I just took the ticket from him (a $30 ticket but $188 in court fees!? UGH.) and continued on my way. The other annoying thing was that he pulled me over literally yards away from the turnoff for Target, so all my coworkers saw me as they drove by on the way in and made sure to mention it to me later.
         I'm at the point now where I kind of don't care what else happens to me. I don't really care about all that much period. I don't know what this all means for my escape plan financially speaking, but I'm not going to let it stop me now.
Oh yeah, I have an escape plan.
Did I not mention that?

IV. Escape Plan, Or: Thinking Outside the Career Path

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Even before Oma’s passing and the boat incident and the ticket, things haven't been great. I have spent the last eighteen months of my life feeling like a zombie, a robot, an empty shell, doing nothing but work, work, work, work, work, and drive to and from, and occasionally sleep.
Okay, slight exaggeration. There were a few happy times in there too. But on the whole I’ve felt trapped in my current situation.
It’s my own fault.
I spent the latter half of 2012 living (and spending) as if the Mayans really were right in their apocalyptic predictions. I went on a European trip with a friend who is in a lot better financial situation than I was at the time. Every time we’d want to do something that was a little too expensive for me, she’d get pouty and seem disappointed and almost a little angry, so finally I’d give in and just put it all on my charge card. But it wasn’t all that trip, and she wasn’t entirely to blame. I was the one who decided to spend the “money.” Besides, I’d established a pattern of similar (though smaller scale) behavior long before then. It added up.
Thousands of dollars of debt.
2013 arrived. The Mayans were wrong. Still here.
And so the seasonal job I’d picked up to help pay for Christmas presents became a real, second job. I accepted shifts that were ridiculous when put back-to-back with my library schedule, but the idea was to work myself to the bone for just a little while so I could pay off my debts and be free. And I paid off a lot. Got down from four credit cards to two, and got those remaining balances significantly smaller. It was enough that I felt confident in finally going out on my own and renting an apartment.
I felt okay with it because I knew I wouldn’t have to depend on my Target job to keep up with all my bills. That was one of my prerequisites when it came to deciding to keep that job, that anytime I felt I really couldn’t stand it anymore I would have the freedom to leave. And I’m at that point now. As I've already said, I’m miserable.
It's not just the hours, the sleep deprivation and state of constant weariness, the inability to have any kind of social life. Those are all definite factors. But it's more a crisis of identity, a slow and steady erosion of belief that's been going on for a while now. Adults are constantly giving little kids the idea that yes, you really can do everything. You can be the ballerina-veterinarian-astronaut if you want to. You can change and grow and think outside the box. But once you get older and go out into the world and get a job, that stops being true. This is just your life now. You've buckled yourself in for the ride and can't get off until it's all over.
The people I work with on the early morning shift are lovely, but they are the epitome of this kind of thinking. Somehow they seem to have come to the conclusion that this low-paying, high stress, mind-numbing retail job is all they're cut out for, that they'll be doing this or something very much like it for the rest of their lives (or at least until retirement). They have kids and mortgages and all this stuff I don't have to worry about yet, so that's probably part of it. But there's an attitude of defeat that permeates each conversation. Like a dog that's beaten by its owner so often it starts to just expect it, maybe to even feel that it deserves it. And when you hang out with people who think this way for long enough, you almost start to believe it about yourself.
The other huge reason I want out is my writing. One of the great sorrows of this past year and a half has been my inability to work on one of the main things that gives me joy. Oh, I wrote last year. I tried to sneak it in. But it was deplorable.
What a lot of people don’t realize is that it’s not just, “You sit down at a keyboard, or with a pen and paper, and stuff comes out.” Writing is very heavily influenced by your state of mind, and if you are in a very bad place, sometimes the words won’t even come. Or they will and they’re predictable or flat or boring or dull or so schmaltzy and stupid and gimmicky that you want to punch your hand through a wall just to punish it for having written those stupid horrible words.
(Melodramatic? Yes? Anyway…)
The point is, much like my money (which I squandered and misused until it was too late and I was already dug deep into this hole), I have been so wasteful with my writing. Back when I had the time and energy to sit down and put serious work in on this book that I’ve had in my mind for ages and ages - well, I frittered it away, I wasted it watching TV or scrolling obsessively through facebook, or I dabbled, writing a couple hundred words here or there and feeling like it was some freaking great accomplishment. And now that I have no time and energy (or when I do have time it's spent catching up on sleep), well, now is when I’m having all these ideas, and now is when I want to exert some discipline. If I had to get up at three in the morning, I’d rather do it to work on this story. It may not even be that amazing, but it means a lot to me. And I really want to give it a legitimate try.
Which is why I gave notice a couple weeks ago.
Which is why I'm going to be very, very poor this summer.
Which is why I finally feel… well, just feel again. Not numb. Not a looped repetition of "just make it through." Not threadbare with weariness and sadness. I feel hopeful. I feel here.
And in just four days I'll be free.
         I'll use the money from the library to pay my rent and very basic bills, and just scrape by until the fall. I'll use the summer to write.
         And who knows what will happen after that?

         V. In the Absence of a Road Map, Let’s Read the Signs

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

I don’t know when I got so superstitious, but these last couple weeks, especially since putting in my notice, I’ve been really into reading “the signs.”
A slip of paper in my fortune cookie near the end of April told me to “treasure the transitions in life, because they will happen regardless.” Surely this is a sign that I’m right to be moving on!
Then the mess with the ticket, which – funny enough – could have been avoided had I read the road signs. This was of course a poor sign considering my upcoming financial tight spot.
There have been unexpected signs: getting a reimbursement check in the mail from my healthcare provider since I was overcharged due to some clerical error on their part.
There have been many little signs: I went to buy my coworkers some Munchkins from Dunkin Donuts as a nice goodbye, and I had just enough cash in my purse (down to the pennies!) to cover it without going anywhere near the dreaded credit cards. (I’ve been avoiding them for months now).
Then came the disappointing signs: I went in for  basic oil change and discovered I needed to get my brakes replaced. “You shouldn’t really drive more than a week without new ones. You’re cutting it really close.” So out comes one of the cards again, and down go any hopes of ever fully getting rid of its balance.
But then—sudden, hopeful signs: apparently Oma left us each a small inheritance, enough to pay off those balances after all, and maybe to pay for some of this European trip my friends and I are plotting for next year.
Signs, signs everywhere…
Or not.
Maybe these aren’t signs. Maybe these are things that just happen. Maybe you make choices and you deal with the consequences, and you understand that while you are a part of the universe, it doesn’t all revolve around you.
It's been 28 days since I first started writing all of this. It's nearly five weeks since I found out Oma was gone. And today was my last day at my retail job. I feel… weird. Like a weight has been lifted. And also this scary but thrilling feeling of, “Well, now I actually have to do this thing. No more excuses.”
I still don't have much of a game plan. A lawyer friend of my Mom's is taking my case with the ticket to get some practice (she's just starting out), so I may have a reduced fee or get out of it entirely depending on how good she is.
I'm going to spend the summer writing, sleeping, staring at the sky, and occasionally getting paid to talk about books or do science experiments with teenagers. Not bad, right? I'll be "poor," but not really all that poor when it comes to things that matter.
I haven't seen either of the alcoholics or my friend since the night of her birthday, and I'm okay with that.
My mom has brought out old pictures of us with Oma, which has had that oddly paradoxical effect of bringing the dead to life again while reminding the living of a version of themselves that has gone now, never to return. I still feel regretful, as I think I always will, about the way I let myself fall so completely out of Oma's life. But what's done is done. 
I’ve come very slowly to what should have been an obvious realization: it does little good to dwell on the past or even too long on the future. I’m not the person I once was, nor the person I intend to be, but the person I am right now. This, here and now is all we’ve got. 
So I'll move forward. I’ll be here, all here. This is how I honor her.
Mary Queen of Scots put it far better than I ever could…
En ma fin git mon commencement.