Saturday, April 28, 2007

Blank slate

Saturday mornings are the best, especially lately. I awaken in darkness well before the sun hints it's up and realize I don't have to get up right away or at least I can go back to sleep once I take care of the morning water. A blank slate hangs before me. I have a few things I need to get done, but there is no clock ticking and no sense of time running out.

I watch the first colors tint the clouds and sky. As the light brightens, dark shapes coalesce from shadows into color and light. Birds twitter and call, singing up the sun. The blossoms on the tree next door brighten and the colors soften to shades of pink and rose when the light hits them. The breeze brings the scents of fresh, cool air and warming flowers. Sunshine filters through the leaves that seem to grow more profuse with every passing moment. I close my eyes and breathe and relax and drift in and out of sleep and dreams. It's Saturday and life is full of possibilities.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Family matters--or not

An old friend emailed and asked me if family was important. She's been having yet another go-round with her sisters and is feeling left out. Sometimes her sisters close ranks and gossip about her, passing around stories that have just a small poppy seed of truth that blossom into much more, thus alienating her from the rest of her family--and especially from her nieces and nephews.

Recently, one of her nephews stopped by and told her his sister moved back to Las Vegas. She had returned home to live but after three months found out it didn't work. She supposedly had cancer and full blown AIDS and had until October to live. When my friend contacted her, she said the tests weren't back and she's not going to worry until she is told differently. My friend thought she'd find her niece distraught and frightened; she wasn't.

My friend enjoys her nieces and nephews and she would enjoy her sisters if they weren't forever plotting and scheming and verbally abusing her. I've seen some of the abuse first hand. It's subtle but they certainly know how to set the barbed hooks deeply. Her sisters will make a comment that seems like a compliment on the surface; it's not. There's that sharp barbed hook barely hidden in the bait. My friend has learned not to rise to the bait but it means her sisters have less and less contact with her because she no longer gives them a burst of emotion to feed on.

This is what I told her:

I was thinking about family and how important--or not--they are just this morning. In fact, I was writing about it in the diary I keep on my laptop. I have a few of them, but that one sits on the bed on the side where I don't sleep and it's easy to pick up and type everything out, easier than writing it out long hand. Anyway, it all started with a shower yesterday afternoon. I was washing and suddenly the scent of Ivory soap came to mind. One of my aunts used it on her kids and I always associated the smell with her and with love. Dad told me one time that when her girls were little and came in from playing she'd wash their hands and faces in Ivory soap. Her bathroom always smelled of Ivory soap and I used to wash my hands very thoroughly when I went to the bathroom at her house so I could smell like her and her daughters. She never worked outside the home and I don't think she drove a car. She wore dresses all the time, simple cotton dresses--with sleeves for winter and without sleeves for spring, summer and warm days in fall. She didn't wear makeup or have fancy clothes and her house was always clean, but it was the kind of clean that was welcoming and homey, a place that smelled of love. When I was old enough to drive and had a problem I'd drive over to her house. No matter the time, she was always there for me and willing to listen to what I had to say.

Aunt Edith was family and she was important to me. But whether we like the people related to us or not, they have an affect on our lives and on making us who we are. In that sense the are important. In the sense that they should remain central in our lives and determine the course of the rest of our lives, no, I don't think they are important.

Family is a touchstone, a training ground, and a haven sometimes but family can also be a millstone dragging us down. There is the family you're born into and the family you make with the people who mean most to you, the ones who become your touchstone and your haven. In that sense, family is very important. Family is connection and we all need connections, just not the ones with which we come into the world.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Time's up; pencils down

For some reason memories often pop up without any reference to what I'm doing. One of those memories is a terrifying book by Joan Samson called The Auctioneer. I picked up the book as an impulse purchase and the story creeps into my nightmares from time to time. I wasn't dreaming when the book crossed my mind this morning. I had just finished writing another piece for the Chicken Soup books about cats.

The Auctioneer is one of the most horrifying books I've read. It creeps up on you and takes you over more with such a simple and innocuous start: an auctioneer comes to a rural community. What happens is insidious and will stick with you long after you put down the book. I read the story more than 20 years ago when it first came out. I haven't read it since, but it popped into my mind this morning. Then I went looking for the more books by the same author.

I didn't find them.

Like Harper Lee, Joan Samson only published one book. Unlike Harper Lee, Samson died the year after the book was published at the ripe old age of 39. She probably had a lot more books in her, but not much time. Her book lives on and is set for re-release August 2007. Now that is staying power. What's more, it has never been out of print.

From what I could find out, the book was once optioned for a movie that was never made. With the new release of the book in hardback (again), I hope some director has enough intelligence to put this one on the fast track.

If you want true horror, check out the book. Buy it, rent it, borrow it from the library or get it second-hand at Amazon or Alibris. You won't regret it.

I'll bet Joan Samson thought she had more time to write more books, but the sand had run out of her hourglass.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Writing well

I've been up since about 1 AM. I don't have insomnia. I just went to bed early because I'm trying out something I read in I'd Rather Be Writing by Marcia Golub about schedules and scheduling time to write. With one book contract and two other books in contract negotiations I needed to find a way to make better use of my time since I have a job that takes up a huge chunk of my time. The idea is to stick to a schedule for seven days and see if things aren't better and I am more productive. I have to admit I'm writing more and that's a good thing, but that little boost of confidence and energy came from a task I completed this weekend past. I did something I haven't done in a couple years; I entered the Writers Weekly 24-hour short story contest (short as in less than 1000 words). From noon (central time) on Saturday to noon on Sunday you have 24 hours to write a short story based on the prompt they email on Saturday. I am very pleased with the results and I came in just under one thousand words with a story that has a beginning, middle and satisfying end but leaves room for a longer story if I decide to go on with it--and maybe another novel. It wasn't what I first started plotting but what I came up with is better and not quite so mundane. At any rate, I'm still working out the kinks in this schedule thing.

I've decided to split up my working day because I can't sit still for eight hours straight, even with a break for lunch and going to the bathroom. I feel antsy and uncomfortable. So, I decided to work from 4-8 (yesterday it was 5:30-9:30), take a break until 1 or 2 PM and then work another 3.5-4 hours. In between times I'd shower and eat and run errands--and I'd write or work on writing projects, like marketing and proposals and submission. So far so good, except I decided to go to bed early last night and woke up at 1. Instead of getting to work I felt like writing. Something kept cycling in my mind that started in the shower and wouldn't let go, so I went with it. It's more a stream of consciousness, but I know from what happened this weekend that it's a process that works for me.

I started with an idea, a prompt of sorts (in this case Ivory soap), and I let it take me down memory lane to all the associations it brought up. I was surprised at some of the things that came out of that little freewriting session (something else I do on occasion--mostly in this journal). I had forgotten one of my cousins was married to Bill Howard who is the younger brother of Frank Howard who lived in a big stone house plucked right out of the medieval English countryside, complete with turret, that sat on the corner opposite Schiller Park in German Village in the Brewery District.

We lived in German Village just one block east of the park for a while. I went to Armstrong School just around the corner from the house my grandparents owned. We had just come back from Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland and were on our way to Panama in a few months after Dad got things settled and found us a place to live. I was in the second grade and I walked to school and home on my own every day. I don't think I realized my Aunt Edith lived just a few blocks south of us on Reinhard past the Howards' house with the turret or that one day I would stand in Schiller Park as Juliet's nurse in Romeo and Juliet a couple decades later or ice skate on the pond in the winter after driving across the city with my kids just to spend time in that particular park even though Westgate Park was closer and much more familiar. There is something magical about Schiller Park and the brick streets of German Village where so many grand old houses live.

But I am behind schedule this morning and the stories will keep a while longer, marinating in memory and the senses they stir, until I take my morning break and dip my fingers into the writing well again.

That is all. Disperse.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Hungry Bear

One of my friends is depressed--again. She was happy about a week ago. She smiled and laughed and told her awful jokes and everything was right in her world . . . until the world crashed down on her. She wasn't in an accident and no one died. Nothing broke and needed to be fixed and she didn't get hit with any unexpected expenses. The hungry bear came out of her cave.

There are some people who cannot stand to see anyone else happy, especially not someone they know. They feed on misery and depression and they're never satisfied until they've destroyed every last smile and real feeling of happiness. Only then is the bear's appetite sated. The bear can handle the occasional obligatory empty smile, the smiles that never light up the eyes or make anyone else who sees it feel light and happy. They don't mind laughter as long as it's hollow. But let the bear see a single ray of happiness or a contented smile or catch the faintest scent of hope and she charges out of the cave and devours every single morsel of joy until there is nothing left but depression, anger and sadness.

The bear is a subtle creature. She will start an argument or make some snide comment questioning competence, honesty or commitment to those around you, nagging and niggling away at the brightness until only dull and insipid smiles and thoughts remain. Insidious, the bear strikes without warning while her prey is lost in a fog of pleasure, sending her prey's bright dreams and fond memories plummeting into the dark abyss.

There are only two ways to deal with the hungry bear. Either learn to hide the smiles that come with true happiness or get out of the bear's territory where her keen senses can no longer discern the faintest whiff of joy. The only other option, and it's the coward's way, is to lock away every memory of happiness and joy and give the hungry bear what she wants: hopelessness, sadness, loneliness and depression.