Blog

Letting Go

February 24, 2018

Photo by Sarah Ball on Unsplash

I swore to myself I’d get my manuscript done in 2017. It didn’t happen. I could talk for hours about all the legitimate reasons it didn’t happen. I could talk for even longer about all the ways in which I procrastinated and avoided it. Does it make logical sense why I chose to avoid something I care so much? Yes and no. It about would take thousands of words and hundreds of dollars in therapist fees to explain it.

 

Focusing on 2018, I was determined. It helped that I landed a full time job that starts at the end of February. It also helped that based on some personal circumstances, I realized it the manuscript needed to be finished. It was now or never.

 

My manuscript is a memoir. It’s based on my journey through the fertility process. It details a year and a half of my mid-30’s, where the life I’d imagined for myself faded to black. I had been pregnant with twins. But five days after I became pregnant, I lost my mother to cancer after a lifetime of addiction. The following week I lost the twins. And nine months later, as I twisted the sterile bed sheets in my hands, I listened to my doctor tell me I would never be able to have children.

 

It’s a survival story about losing a past and a future at that same time–and learning to carve out a present much different than the one I expected for myself. Those were dark days. The harder I held on to the life I thought I should be leading, the more painful everything else was. But as soon as I pushed off from the ledge, trusting that whatever I fell into was going to be okay, I was free.

 

It’s about learning to let go.

 

After such loss, it’s hard not to build up callouses of control again. They start innocently enough with the little things. A set of activities, a diet to follow, a daily routine. But as time passes, it becomes less of a routine and more of a schedule. The control creeps in a bit more and it morphs your discipline into fear.

 

Writing is not so different.

 

Let’s say you’re starting a new project and you’re not quite sure what it is yet. If you’re not a “pantser” then you want to start with a rough outline. Just a general overview of what you want to write.

 

It’s easier to write around things. You can write extraordinarily detailed outlines with plot points and character arcs and detailed scenery. You can research and read for hours about how other writers have worked through their pieces, look at maps on structure and complete case studies of manuscripts that you love. You can build the most beautiful scaffolding to support the building of your dream word house. All of this to try and control your fear about sitting down in front of a project with zero words written. But at one point, you need rip down the scaffolding. You need to hang by your fingertips, in all the discomfort, in all of the pain, in all of the not knowing and write just what you see right in front of your face. You need to let go.

 

Writing does not like to be controlled. So despite your disciplined character sketches and your sweeping vistas of scene setting, your outline that you’ve so carefully crafted, it does what it wants.

 

When your writing is shoved into a narrow hallway, it will read that way. Your characters will seem like they’re tight and brittle and they’ll move through your carefully constructed scenes as if they were made out of matchsticks.

 

If you’re working on memoir or non-fiction, your readers will see right through your efforts of control. To quote Natalie Goldberg’s Rules of Writing,” Go for the real stuff. If you don’t, your writing will be tiptoeing nervously around whatever your real stuff is. You won’t believe it and neither will your readers.”

 

Whether you’re writing a first draft, editing, or putting on the final touches, it’s important to let go. Get words on a page, kill your darlings, do whatever you need to do to move your writing forward.

 

I realized that to finish the manuscript, the lesson for me is no different than it was in my mid-30’s—I need to let go. As Buddha once said, “You only lose what you cling to.”

 

 

 

 

 

Blog, Writing

My New Narrative

October 12, 2017

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

My New Narrative

 

“Hi, I’m Danielle. I work in new business and strategy,” I would say, balancing my tiny spear of swedish meatballs in one hand while I extended the other at a networking event. The person I was introducing myself to would nod, acknowledging my role, recognizing the large company I worked for. We’d sip cheap red wine and talk about our industry. I felt confident in my place in the world and in my “story” as a corporate executive.

I never introduced myself as a writer. It was a subplot to the “story of Danielle,” written into casual conversations about hobbies, somewhere between “brussels sprouts connoisseur” and “die-hard dog person.”

Two weeks ago, I attended a small business expo. This would be my first time introducing myself as a writer in a professional setting. I felt shaky, worried that as I uttered the words, someone might laugh. They might tilt their head, the way my dog Nala does when she hears a sound she doesn’t recognize. Would people recognize me as a writer when it was hard enough for me to recognize myself?

Fear pushed aside, I pulled my shoulders back and for several hours of networking, introduced myself as a writer. Generally speaking, I heard these three responses over the course of the event:

 

  • “Ohhhhh, that’s interesting,” they’d say, eyes sweeping the horizon for an escape route, looking as though they’ve just swallowed a live chicken. As we continued our conversation in halting phrases, one of their body parts would begin to bounce or twitch. They’d see “someone they know” at the farthest corner of the room, and were gone so fast I was surprised they didn’t leave smoke trails.

 

  • “That’s so cool, I write too! I’ve got a great idea for a book, it’s about this guy who’s a sloth keeper on a frozen planet…(fast forward several minutes) do you do any ghostwriting?” Their eyes bright and I’d smile, mentally taking inventory of my own partially edited manuscript, all my unwritten blogs posts, the deadline for an article, which I was now counting down in hours instead of days. Our conversation would pitter-patter back and forth until they realized I’m not really going to write their book for them and then they’re off to refill their drink.

 

  • “Interesting. What kind of writing do you do and what are you currently working on?” A book person, I’d think to myself, thank you, Jesus. I’d list the different types of freelance projects I have in the works and mention I’m in the process of editing my manuscript.

“What type of manuscript? Fiction?” they’d ask.

“No, memoir actually,” I’d say.

 

Here is where the conversation would hit a pivotal moment and I’d watch them curiously, knowing our casual chatter would abruptly end or shift to a deeper level of dialogue.

If it started with an awkward silence, then I knew the rest of the conversation was going to flop around like a dying fish on a dock. They would avoid asking me any questions about my project or joke about how I’m neither old enough nor have the life experience to write a memoir. I’d laugh and ask them a question about their line of work, watching the worry lines between their eyebrows soften, and knew the conversation was not veering anywhere near writing again – not memoir, not freelance writing, not writing of any kind.

Those that were brave maintained eye contact and asked me what my memoir is about. So when I’d tell them it is a story about motherhood, about my journey through the fertility process while losing my mom to cancer, I’d carefully watch their face, high fiving them in my mind for hanging on for the ride. To a man (or woman), they’d smile and I’d let out the breath I was holding in. Then we’d talk about the challenge they’d had having kids or about how hard it is when your parents are aging, or about writing, or something else entirely. These were the folks that asked me for my business card and the ones I collected in return.

This was a chance for me to learn how to tell my new narrative. Without fear. Without judgment. And while it may take me some time to get used to it too, I like this new story and I’m excited to tell it.

Blog

I No Longer Wish to Understand

October 3, 2017

I no longer wish to understand what “active shooter” means. I don’t want to know the difference between semi-automatic and automatic weapons. I have no desire to know how many rounds are in a magazine.

I no longer wish to understand your desire to protect your second amendment rights above the lives of your fellow Americans. I am not interested in your diversionary tactics, your smug analogies of blaming the car and not the driver for DUIs. I am tired of your constant question dodging when I ask things like, “Why would a regular civilian need to carry an assault rifle or a machine gun,” or “What’s the problem with adding additional steps to the gun purchasing process?”

You will tell me that overall crime rates are down in the past several years. It doesn’t matter that our homicide by firearms rates are almost four times higher than the next closest country on the list. You’ll say that restricting certain gun purchases won’t keep them off the black market, even though logic would argue restriction is a natural deterrent. You will blame mental illness (at the same time supporting a congressman that wants to remove funding from federal mental health programs). You’ll be unable to answer why you support border walls and travel bans to protect our country from international terrorism but stand silently by while our country is torn apart by domestic terrorism. You’ll say you don’t want to politicize the tragedy, sending your thoughts and prayers to the victims and their families, buying yourself more time and emotional distance before you refuse to engage in discussions about gun control. Because 1500 mass shootings in five years isn’t a pattern in your mind. It’s not something fixed by gun control. You’ll point to Chicago, erroneously claiming that they have the strictest gun control laws in the country and the highest homicide rates. Those “strict rules” have been laid bare by NRA lobbying, no longer requiring citizens to have permits or register their weapons, and in 2013, allowing them concealed carry. But New York City, with stricter gun control laws and homicide numbers trending to historic lows, doesn’t fit your narrative. You will use a hashtag like #Imwiththenra.You may bring up the car analogy again. I will remind you that cars are not designed for the purpose of killing people. That I am tired of your empty condolences and of your loyalty to a piece of metal over flesh and blood.

I no longer wish to understand what you think about the initial constructs of the second amendment. I no longer wish to understand your opinions, theories, and arguments about your right to bear arms. I am tired of listening to you spout off NRA sound bytes as if they were your own, tired of defining faith in our country in absolute terms by an outdated ideology focused on owning weapons. I am tired of listening to you defend a killing machine instead of the people it kills.

I refuse to defend an object responsible for so much death and destruction, and quite frankly, I can’t understand why you would either.

Blog, Writing

Living the Dream?

September 11, 2017

When I was six, I spent every Sunday morning sitting at the kitchen table with my mom. She would hover over the New York Times crossword puzzle, pencil poised as the smoke from her Kent Kings pulled lazily into the air. Some days I’d help, pushing my cereal bowl to the side to man the thesaurus and dictionary to help her look up words. Other mornings, I would pound away on her portable blue Smith Corona typewriter, crafting a story about flying giraffes or kung fu fighting squirrels.  I knew from those early years, swimming around in the words, splashing them onto the page, that I wanted to be a writer.

It was a dream I pursued through high school and college, one fiction or poetry workshop after the next. But when graduation came, so did a flood of fear; that I wasn’t good enough, that I couldn’t make a living doing what I loved. So instead of pursuing a career in writing, I got a “real job.”

I never left writing completely. I would steal loving glances at it on weekends, working on my manuscript, a short story, or even flash fiction. We’d meet in coffee shops, lock ourselves away in my home office. I’d attend writing retreats and conferences so we could spend more time together. I dreamed of being a writer full time.

So, at the end of last year, when my boss told me that my position was being eliminated, I was more ecstatic than sad. I could spend every waking moment working on my manuscript. This was my chance to become the writer that I’d always wanted to be!

The first few days after the holidays as a “full-time writer” went well. I was focused, energetic and eager to get to the page every morning. But as the days passed, my resolve wavered. Some days I would sit down at my desk, and it was just like days of old—I felt inspired, creative, the words flowed. Other days, I felt like taking a jackhammer to my keyboard.

While I made progress on the manuscript, I was surprised at how hard it was to stay focused.  I found every excuse I could not to sit down and write—laundry or dishes, an errand to be run, a phone call to make. One day, my procrastination efforts were so extreme that I chose to steam clean my furniture instead of sitting down at my computer.  Before losing my job, I could always fall back on a long list of excuses as to why the writing “couldn’t” get done, most of which involved a lack of time or brain capacity to do it. But now? There were no more excuses, and yet, there were some days that I had nothing on the page.

I learned some valuable lessons. Creative work, or really any type of work that happens outside of a traditional corporate environment feels different. The pace of my days changed from having every minute accounted for in meetings or deadlines to relatively open and unscheduled. To feel like I was still accomplishing something, it was important for me to build in some structure: writing dates with friends, accountability partners to keep me on track, and joining a professionally led read and critique group where I have pages due every other week.

I learned to have more patience with myself. There are times to work through your writing, to keep your butt in the chair and your fingers on your keyboard, and there are times to step away. I had to listen to my inner writing guide and learn which was which—to balance my need for a break, knowing I would come back with fresh eyes, with the guilt of walking away from my project.

And this new life still has stress, but it’s a different type of stress that comes from starting a new type of career, building a business around writing, and failing at things so that I can learn and grow. It has taken more time to adjust than I had thought and I still have my days of fear and doubt, just as I did when I was twenty-two, but overall as I sit at the kitchen table every morning with my laptop and my coffee, I’m incredibly grateful.

Blog, Book Review

The Best of Us Review

August 25, 2017

In her newest memoir, “The Best of Us”, Maynard chronicles her relationship with her second husband Jim, from their whirlwind romance to his pancreatic cancer diagnoses. What begins with a fairytale courtship for two people in their late fifties quickly morphs into their joint fight for Jim’s survival.

I’m always drawn to Maynard’s memoirs because of her fierce honesty. Similar to “At Home in the World,” we continue to see a woman unafraid to examine herself under the plainest of lights. She is willing to show the reader both the tender moment when she curls up in bed with her husband after his diagnoses to read their wedding vows to one another, and the moment that she posts on social media that she resents her husband for keeping her from the things she loves most, like writing. She does not shy away from discussing delicate topics, such as the rehoming of her adopted Nigerian children, just a year after she’s brought them home. She’s even-toned and candid about her decisions, speaks in frank terms of the backlash and threats she received as a result.

I admire the grace with which Maynard handles her struggle to come to terms with her husband’s terminal diagnoses and their collective fear. There are points in this story that are so honest and heartbreaking — a letter from her friend Deborah, asking “have you figured out ‘hope’ yet? And if so, would you mind sharing,” a quote from her friend Graf, “You are swimming now across this vast lake and you know now that only one of you will make it. What can you do but keep moving toward the shore?” And the most poignant, “If only,” I often said, “you could learn the lessons of cancer without having cancer.”

This is a wonderful story not only of illness and fear, but of love and loyalty.

Huge thanks to Net Galley, and to Bloomsbury publishing for my digital copy for a fair and honest review.

 

 

 

 

 

Blog

100 Days

April 25, 2017

It’s been 100 days since I left the corporate world. Just over three months since I was gently pushed from the plane of life as I knew it and began my free fall into something new. 100 days of growing roots at home and easing gently back into a routine, a regular writing practice, only to fall out of it again. 100 days of trying to bleed out all of the stress only to realize that it will always be there, it will just be a different kind. A stress that comes from complete self-reliance, from trusting blindly what’s next, from trying to put flesh on the bones of this new life. I have days where the light stretches me, when I can hear my own heartbeat strong and steady. I have days where the fear and anxiety still crawl into my belly, leaving me frozen with pain. I have learned to sit with the pain again, to lean in so that its intensity shrinks when I look at it plainly.

I’m still terrible at things that I thought would get better. I’m terrible at sitting and crave the speed of “busy.” Because “busy” is an excellent procrastination tool. I still crave structure and routine and sometimes feel adrift as I step into the new week without a calendar full of meetings and conference call. I still look to others to tell me that I’m good enough. A good enough leader. A good enough friend. A good enough writer – a lesson learned painfully when I had the virtual wind knocked out of me by someone I admired. A younger version of myself would’ve been shaken for weeks. But I surprised myself with how quickly I stood up, carefully brushed their words off and left them behind. I’ve learned to listen to my body and trust my gut.

100 days of delicately peeling off the labels I’ve felt society had mistakenly applied to me only to realize that I was the one that was applying them in the first place. 100 days of trying to shake the “shoulds”, succeeding some days and sliding back into old habits on others. 100 days of simplifying and shedding the layers of complexity that I lacquered on to shield myself from disappointment or fear.

100 days of creating. Of building community. Of letting go instead of holding on. Of slipping in to new skin. 100 days of slowing down enough to recognize myself in the mirror – and for the very first time- being strangely satisfied with what I see. Looking forward to what the next 100 days will bring.

Book Review

Scarcity Book Review

February 9, 2017

Let me start by stating that I’m not one for reading nonfiction, preferring to lose myself between the pages of literary fiction, contemporary fiction, or an occasional memoir. I venture in to nonfiction only based on strong recommendations. And when I say strong, I mean, “change-the-way-you-think” strong.

I’d gotten just such a recommendation for this book by a friend who works for a non-profit. She had recently built a comprehensive suite of free services for low-income populations offered at locations within their neighborhood. Yet despite the no cost offering and the close proximity of those services to their target population, many of their clients continued to miss appointments or decline services altogether. She and her team were baffled. My friend then came across Scarcity and said that it provided an inordinate amount of insight into the challenges of their clients and even helped them think about ways to restructure their program. I was intrigued.

Published in 2013, the book is a study on the psychological impacts of scarcity – how people change their behaviors when they are in a situation of lack – whether it be for money, but also for time, for calories (while dieting), or even a lack of companionship (folks that are lonely). Data was aggregated across multiple sources, and they tested a whole host of variables in their subjects including geography, occupation, income, ethnic origin, and time. The surprising result – at least for me – was that every human when faced with scarcity of some form reacts in a similar fashion. Whether it’s a farmer in India or a wealthy housewife in New Jersey, people have a tendency to get tunnel vision on the problem at hand, have reduced executive decision making skills, and in some cases, could even experience a swing in IQ up to 12 points depending on a scarcity situation. These factors and others (trying to preserve some of the ah-hah moments in the book), when compiled, make it nearly impossible to break the scarcity cycle.

Providing amazing insight on how scarcity can impact the human psyche, Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir present a thoughtful, brilliantly written and researched book on the impact that scarcity has on all of us. Not only does it challenge some of the common misconceptions and assumptions as to the “whys” behind the behavior of the less fortunate, it provides insights on how to structure programs that can help to end the cycle of scarcity.

 

A particularly relevant topic based on the current administration’s attitudes and proposed policies on public assistance programs, but regardless of your political inclinations, an amazing read.

Writing

Heads or Tails

November 13, 2016

 

Heads or tails

 

 

I’ve spent most of my week, like many people, absolutely stunned trying to make heads or tails of what just happened in the election. I am faced with the reality of Donald Trump as the new POTUS. Facebook, normally a fun distraction for me, became something I avoided. The amount of fear, hate, intolerance and cacophony of voices, most of which continued to yell at one another, was too much.

 

Most of my horror and fury was the fact that almost half of my fellow Americans voted for a man who I believe (and to be clear, still do) stands for misogyny, racism and hate. How could these people look at their black, Hispanic, LGBQT, Muslim or female friends and believe that their choice wouldn’t impact the freedoms and liberties afforded to them? Is that what this country now stands for? What happened to “liberty and justice for all?” Those are the questions that tumbled over and over in my mind this week.

 

Those questions were a result of a perspective I had built over time. From the beginning of the campaign, Trump’s antics horrified, disgusted, and enraged me. In him, I saw a man who used fear-based ideologies to stoke the fires of his constituents to build his own power base. I saw a man who was more concerned with his own ego than he was for the health of the country. I saw a man that catered to uneducated, white men and sold them false promises.

 

And while I believe that those perceptions of Trump as a person are true, with every new sound byte, every new video and accusation, I used his words to build my own ideological wall, to plug my ears, and to create my own story of his constituents, the “uneducated, white male Trump voter.” It helped me to build a very binary view of the election – heads or tails – and to bolster a stereotype.

 

And just like any other stereotype, it did little to help me understand any other perspective. I have several close friends who voted for Trump (some of them female, all of them educated). Our tentative and halting discussions, done so to preserve the sanctity of the friendship, were about the lack of choice in candidates and a lot about the “lesser of two evils.”(As a brief aside, this is not an essay on the puts and takes of a two party system or the need for an electoral college, nor do I want to discuss it at this time). In some cases, the vote for Trump was about “primary core beliefs” centered around religious or other dogmas that people use as a moral compass to guide their life decisions.

 

These discussions, while painful, gave me a greater sense of understanding. And while part of me is still very angry and disgusted, I found that wasn’t helping me shake myself out of my post-election shock. Instead, I began to read the articles from opposing views with an open mind. I had read them throughout the election, but only so that I could create my own rebuttals, load my arsenal with anti-Trump articles and build up my own ideological wall. And while I continue to read liberal articles too (there is something to be said for Scalzi’s “Cinemax Theory of Racism”, which argues that any vote for Trump includes some form of active or passive racism) that trouble me and flame my own fears, I believe there’s more to it.

 

This listening and attempt at understanding hasn’t shaken my beliefs in women’s rights, equality for all Americans, in gun control, and in tolerance. I will continue to be an outspoken advocate for those ideals. The listening also hasn’t lessened the fear I have for violence as a result of the election perpetuated by the zealots representing both sides of the coin. I am still afraid that a Trump presidency could shove our country backwards several decades and undo what I consider to be a lot of social, economic, and political progress. I believe those threats are still very real. But as a result of listening to understand, while my own fear and rage towards Trump remains, those feelings towards my fellow Americans has lessened.

 

I’m not advocating an immediate joining of hands and singing kumbaya, and to be honest, am exhausted at both those that mock it as a strategy and those that suggest it as an immediate form of healing. I don’t feel ready for that. I’m also exhausted by the “shut up and move on” arguments I’ve seen, as though if we continue to relegate our dialogues to our own politically sympathetic echo chambers, that those actions will in some way help us make progress as a nation. It won’t. The current state of the union is due to a group of people feeling disenfranchised and not heard. The irony is that this state of real or perceived oppression, in all of its manifestations depending on the different red and blue audiences in our country, is exactly what brings Americans together at this moment. We are all striking out against a perceived exclusion of some form. It enrages us all collectively yet still manages to isolate us. And while the expression of rage is needed, there needs to be a step after. Instead of exclusion, we need to see if we take a step towards inclusion in the form of dialogue.

 

At some point, we’re all going to have to be better at it. For conservatives to listen and understand the very real fears of their fellow Americans threatened by a Trump presidency. For liberals to try and get through the shock and awe and take some time to understand “how we got here.” We’re going to have to listen to hear and not to speak. We need to think less about labels and stereotypes and begin to have conversations with real people who think differently than we do. After the conversations, we’re going to need to take concrete action to bridge the very large chasm that we have in our country. Standing on one side or the other and continuing to shout at one another across the abyss is not helping. We can’t afford to continue to look at just one side of the coin. It starts with every liberal, every conservative, every independent, and every other American. It needs to start before rage and violence are the only languages we speak, before force and brutality against one another is our new American ideal. And it needs to start today, before it’s too late.

 

 

 

 

Writing

Rooted in Hope

September 19, 2016

This is a flash fiction piece (less than 1000 words) I wrote for a contest recently where they assign genre, location and an object. Here’s what I wrote within the 48 hour deadline with an action/adventure story set in the rainforest with a toy boat. Enjoy!

 

The only sound louder than her pounding heart was the screaming of the howler monkeys. She and Ted were crashing through the underbrush as small darts and larger spears whizzed by their ears. They sprinted as fast as they could across the rug of knotted roots on the rainforest floor. The same roots that they had come looking for were now likely going to kill them. They were losing ground. The shaking of trees and leaves in their peripheral vision was getting closer. They just needed to stay ahead long enough to make it to the pick up point on the river.

When Bernadette and Ted had left the Awa village ten minutes ago, they were grateful. The trip had been a success, despite the constant humming of insects in her ears, the sweat that tricked steadily down her spine into the waistband of her pants from morning until night. With Ted’s direction, they had found the Awa tribe and met their Shaman, a man famous for his herbal cancer cures. Bernadette’s sister had been diagnosed with stage four lung cancer just a few months ago. Charlotte was the healthy one. She was the triathlete who’d never smoked a day in her life. Bernadette had made a sport of channel surfing while she smoked half a pack of Camel Lights a day. But as the cancer wound its way through Charlotte’s lungs, the fear wound through Bernadette. It peeled the weight off of both of them, left them both choking for oxygen and struggling for breath. And when the doctors began to shake their heads and claim their hands were tied, that’s when the trip to Brazil came up. After two weeks here, Ted and Bernadette were heading back to Colorado with a bag of ground herbs and two small boats made from palm leaves tied together with vines that the village children had given them as parting gifts.

As they wound their way through the thick underbrush towards the pick up point, the buzzing of the insects seemed to drop away, the sound of macaws in the canopy of the trees went silent. It was as though the needle has been ripped off the soundtrack of the forest they’d been listening to for two weeks. Bernadette felt the hair go up on the back of her neck. And as she looked over at Ted, the first dart flew by and lodged in the trunk of the tree just three feet to their right. Ted looked at her wide-eyed and yelled, “RUN” as the howler monkeys began to scream in the trees.

While the Awa tribe was peaceful, the Massacos to the South were aggressive and territorial. The Awa told a story of watching one of their fellow tribe members be captured and skinned alive as punishment for trespassing on their lands. The only chance for survival, they said, was to run.

Bernadette yelled out in pain as her foot caught on a thick root and she came down with a crash onto the floor of the forest. Ted was just behind her and without skipping a beat, scooped her up under her arms and placed her back on her feet. A whoop went up behind a thick wall of green leaves. They were closer. Bernadette was choking as she tried to get air in her lungs, tears running down her face, desperate to find a way out. She and Ted continued to pound through the rainforest and wound themselves closer and closer to the river. Bernadette could see it, the brown water dully flowing by. She heard a thump and a gurgle just behind her. As she turned, Ted looked at her with surprise, a four foot spear stuck through his chest as he slowly fell to his knees and mouthed the words again, “Run.”

Bernadette was getting closer to the river, but so were the arrows. As she made it to the river bank, she knew she had little chance of making it down the half mile to the meet up point. Her only chance to save her baby sister was to get these herbs to Charles who was waiting down river. Hands shaking, she pulled the bag of ground roots out of her bag and placed it in the small leaf boat. After a second, she pulled her ring off her finger and placed it in the small boat with the herbs and shoved it out into the water just as she heard a crash behind her.

 

Charles waited for Bernadette and Ted at the pick up spot with the boat engine idling. They were thirty minutes late and despite the heat, his hands were starting to get clammy. He’d been watching the banks of the river for a sign of them and had seen nothing. Charles looked to the water and as he looked up river he thought he saw something unusual floating down the river. As it made its way slowly through the eddies towards his boat, he could tell it was a carefully constructed toy boat made of leaves with a small bag and a silver ring in it. A ring not unike the one that Bernadette wore. Charles choked on his surprise. As he leaned over to pick up the toy boat, a spear whistled just over his head and lodged into the far wall of the boat. He dropped the toy boat back in the water, ducked down and lunged for the throttle. He threw the throttle forward and the boat lurched away from the bank and down the river. As he picked up more speed, the rain of arrows and spears slowed as he gained some distance. He slowly stood up and looked back up the river. Charles watched the small leaf boat with its cargo dip into the wake he’d left behind and slowly sink down in to the dark muddy waters.

Blog

Molting

August 22, 2016

Sometimes words are my gift, and I sit patiently twisting the sentences, plucking words that don’t add to the bouquet, trimming and rearranging until it’s my version of perfect. Until the words are bent at the perfect angle so that I can hear the rhythm rolling through them down their stems out in to the air and into my lungs. Sometimes I hand these vases of words to people I love. Sometimes I hide them. I’ve got hundreds of half empty vases, sentences stuck at odd angles, or single phrases starkly jutting into the air, or vases that have tipped over with too many words, thoughts spilling out across the floor.

Sometimes words are my weapon, a razor I use to slit the throats of others, quiet and neat, leaving little blood and tremendous damage. Or I hold those words up in the air over my head while I’m shaking in rage, an axe I wildly swing with my nostrils flared, blind in my fury. I am careful because I know their power. I have hundreds of word scars, dotting my body like moon craters.

Presented or brandished, words are my air. Whether I am shouting with joy or army crawling from one day to the next, it’s often words that I reach out to. But sometimes I forget to inhale. I hold my breath, sure that I can get on without them, until I wait so long that I end of gasping to get them back to my body.

This year has been a difficult one. I am molting. I’ve done it before, shed old skins that no longer fit. Habits, patterns, or trains of thought that could no longer stretch to cover the curves of my body, the angles of my mind, or the arcs of my soul. Molting is painful. Mostly because I insist on hanging on to parts of that old self that don’t fit. I thrust the threadbare self, hoping it will cover me as I grimace red-faced behind it. But if I could just let it go, instead of holding on white knuckled, it would get easier. The words help me loosen my grip.

The hardest part about molting is loosening my grip on the people. No matter how long they’ve been gone from my life, it’s hard to look at a photograph of those that I once loved with all of my heart and wonder when it was that they were lost to me and me to them. For others I can remember the exact moment they slid from my grasp, the irrevocable minute they left forever.

The most important lesson I’ve learned so far this molting season is that people are never truly lost. They are still winding through life’s reddened canyons. And while I may not be there to see it, I take solace in knowing that they have people to help them float along, paddle over rapids, swirl through eddies, or pull them over to the banks when they are too tired to go any longer.

Those that have truly passed are not beyond the reach of memory. The words I breathe, the stems and blooms I carefully arrange can bring me back to them – to the gap in their teeth, their vanilla smoky smell, the soft, tanned leather of their skin. These simple things, knowing the people that you love are happy or at peace, make the metamorphoses just a little bit easier. Loosening a grip doesn’t have to mean letting go.

Back to the words. I’m wondering where they will take me. I’m hoping to fill up a lot more vases. I’m hoping I can line them and follow their shadows back to where I should be. My new skin awaits.