Just a dream

The living room was covered in a blue patterned white wallpaper. The deep blue carpeting was soft to the touch and allowed anyone to walk across it without making a sound. Lace curtain panels framed the bay window, which showed off a tree lined street. Mom sat in her burgundy recliner, a yellow house dress covered in large pink and purple flowers adorned her slight frame. There were three old cardboard boxes sitting on the coffee table.

“Go ahead and look through them and take what you want,” she said, lighting up another cigarette. Rachel and I pawed through the boxes as excited as two kids on Christmas morning. Mom said she got the books from her sister but her eyes were just getting too bad to read anymore. Knowing how much I love to read, she told me to call a friend and take all the books we wanted.

Though pretty absorbed in the sorting of books, I couldn’t help noticing people walking down the street in costumes. “What’s going on?” I asked mom.

“Oh, they are holding a parade down on Main Street today,” mom said. “That must be some of the participants.

“Oh yeah, I heard about the parade, want to go see it?”  Rachel asks. “I know a shortcut.”

“Why not? It sounds like fun,” I said. “Want to come with us mom?”

“Oh no thank you,” she replied. “Just tell me all about it when you get back.”

We headed out the back door and walked down an alley, just chatting about work and books and all we’d do with a million dollars if we ever won the lottery. Shortly we came to a small expanse of grass with quite a large hole filled with water. Bobbing on the surface was a tiny puppy desperately trying to keep its head above water. Reaching down, Rachel pulled the puppy out of the water only to discover there was another one right behind it. Trying to dry them off with our jackets, we heard a strange noise and looked down. There was a chicken in the hole as well. Rachel grabbed it up and set it on the ground along with a nest of eggs. Though the three animals were barely alive, one of the puppies went for the eggs and the chicken screeched at it. All of a sudden a cobalt blue cobra fell out of the sky landing by the eggs. Raising its head, it looked as if it was about to strike the chicken. With a cry of hiieee Rachel karate chopped the cobra, sending it hurling back through the sky.

After making sure the puppies and chicken were sufficiently dry to care for themselves, we carried on down the alley. We’d come to the top of a small hill and could see where the parade participants were gathered. However, the alley was blocked by a fenced in yard. The cyclone fence was topped with razor wire. The backyard was nothing but raked dirt. Not a rock, not a weed, not a flower, not a piece of grass could be seen in this yard. We tried to get through the back gate knowing that through the yard was our only way straight to the parade. But the gate was locked and there was no climbing over it. As luck would have it, the back door of the house stood outside of the backyard gate. Trying the back door, I found that it opened easily. We scurried inside, found the front door and dashed out of it, going through the house so quickly our only observation being the house was dull brown and undecorated like the backyard.

We managed to get to the front yard where a large, old SUV sat in the driveway with the hood up. A man in a baseball hat and brown flannel shirt poked out from under the hood. An old, beat up radio sat on a rusted metal table close to the truck, serenading the man with old rock music. A nondescript woman and a dirty child sat by the table. The front yard has the same raked dirt as the backyard.

“Hey, what the heck do you think you’re doing?” The man yelled. We ran down the hill trying to get away from him before he could catch us. Rachel shouts, “Hey do you know you have better security on your backyard than you do your house?” We laughed and continued running.

We finally made it down to the parade starting point. There were several people standing around wearing multicolored costumes with gossamer wings attached. Many were also carrying wands. We walked up to a short, skinny girl in a green tulle tutu and pink tights and body suit. Her face painted white, large eyes and large lips were drawn in with makeup. She wore a pink bobbed wig and puffed on a cigarette. Walking closer to her, I said, “hey don’t you know they will stunt your growth?” Anger turning her large eyes to tiny slits, she complains about us to a tall fairy with brown tights and brown ringlets who proceeded to have us removed from the fairy parade.

As we walked away from the fuming crowd of fairies, Rachel says, “don’t worry I know a great burger joint just over the hill.”

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Tell me a story

I have anxiety issues. This is not something I normally talk about to anybody. Most of my friends and family don’t know it. I try to hide it as best I can but sometimes I get so overwhelmed that I can’t control it. My heart pounds, my mind stops normal function and goes on a whirlwind tour of chaotic thought, and my fight or flight response kicks in and all I can think about is running away from everything and everyone.

I’ve been dealing with this issue for years. Since I was a kid, in fact. And over the years I have tried many ways to deal with it. I’ve seen a therapist, been on several different medications, tried meditation, yoga, and a number of other ways to ease anxiety. What worked only worked so much. Most, however, didn’t help.  I have learned ways of coping when I get hit with an anxiety attack such as deep breathing and trying to focus my mind on what could have triggered it instead of letting it gallop off with my mind.

Many times panic attacks hit me while I’m trying to sleep. It almost seems like my mind sends out an invitation to every worry, fear, and concern I have and throws a panic party. Over the years I have developed an excellent coping mechanism for the sleep time panic. I tell myself stories. Taking myself out of my own mind and into a fantasy world seems to be the best way to fight off the panic. In the morning, I feel refreshed and a lot of times I know what the panic trigger is and am able to deal with it.

When I first started telling myself stories, I was about 10 or 11 and many of the stories really just involved me inserting myself as a character into one of my favorite television shows. I would come up with wild adventures using the cast and background of popular television shows at the time. I can’t tell you how many times I helped Jessica Fletcher of Murder She Wrote solve a mystery or Jim Rockford of Rockford Files hunt down the bad guy. I had many comedic misadventures with Natalie and Tootie of Facts of Life. Though my stories were original, my characters weren’t. I had a wildly active imagination and it didn’t take long before my stories evolved from shows I watched to my own characters and background.

I would begin my stories by closing my eyes and gazing into the dark. An idea would hit me and I would begin spinning the tale. It wouldn’t take long before I could picture what I was telling myself. Action would play out across the stage of my imagination. Fantastic dragons would bellow and blow out fire, monsters would lurk in the woods, and ghosts would haunt old houses. It was never a dull moment in my world. I could be anything, a brave knight, an even braver princess, a motorist with a broke down car wandering down dark roads looking for help and finding monsters instead.

Many of these stories have gone on to become short stories I’ve worked on or at least story ideas I’ve jotted down in my writing notebook. And though many of my stories really have no ending, as I tend to fall asleep before I can finish the story, my overactive imagination and working anxiety coping skill has generated many wonderful ideas for future stories.

Some days, when work is going bad or when I am having a disagreement with a friend or loved one, I know the day will end on a good note at least when I place my head on my pillow and begin to unwind a tale that no one else knows about. Yet.

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A dream of Heaven

I had a dream last night that I was standing outside a beautiful white house sitting back from the road up a slight slope. The front yard was a riot of color with a multitude of different flowers covering the lawn. The air was sweetly scented as I walked up the slate path leading up to the wide inviting front porch.

The entrance to the house was only protected by the screen door, letting all kinds of delicious aromas dance through the air. I stood in front of it listening to the happy noises inside.

Voices carried to me. Laughter commingled together in a melodious form. I didn’t know why at the time, but the voices called to me. I felt compelled to place my hand on the door handle. I wanted to enter this house and hunt down those voices more than anything. Just as I began opening the door, a voice called out. “Come on in here.” I knew that voice, though I hadn’t heard it in over 30 years. Nothing could have stopped me from entering that house.

In a single instant, the unknown white house was gone. I stared in disbelief at the old living room I remembered from my childhood. The wooden floor where countless cousins and I slept on pallets during summer months, the walls decorated in family photos, the old easy chair where you could find grandpa watching wrestling matches most Saturdays.

I drifted out of the room and down the short hall to the kitchen. There they were, the source of all that joyous noise. My grandma stood in front of the kitchen sink, curtains billowing in the gentle breeze that wafted through the open window, several fresh picked tomatoes rested on the counter while she sliced one onto a plate.

The old kitchen table was almost completely full of women laughing and gabbing and drinking coffee. There were eleven chairs pulled up to the table and seven of them were currently occupied. Some sat with their legs curled up under them, cigarettes dangling from their hands, others held their coffee cups or passed around the coffee pot for refills. All were smiling and enjoying themselves.

I saw my beautiful mama sitting in one of the chairs, her permed hair beautifully combed. She was dressed in her signature summer style of sleeveless blouse and capri pants, one leg curled under her as her sandal dangled from her toes. That rare and beautiful smile playing across her lips as one of her sisters told her an amusing story.

She looked up as grandma spoke to me to pull up a stool and sit. Mama’s beautiful green eyes sparkled as she patted me on the cheek, a gesture of love I remember so well that I ache with longing to feel it again.

Grandma handed me an old jelly jar filled with iced sweet tea and settled back into her place, after she laid out a spread of garden fresh vegetables for everyone to eat. I stood by mom, iced glass sweating in my hand, and observed the party.

The talking was the best thing I heard in a long time. Years have gone by since all these wonderful women congregated in one room. Many had been dead for years, even decades, and their beauty had faded in my mind. But here they all were, together again, as vibrant as they were in the past, talking of family and friends and days gone by. I listened, transfixed, to all the old stories again.

I turned and glanced out the window, my eyes resting on the vegetable garden grandma grew in the back yard. It seemed so much bigger and more plentiful than I ever saw it. In the distance I could make out the silhouettes of several men and knew instinctively that dad, grandpa, and several of my uncles were out there talking over manly things.

A loud bout of laughter brought me back into the room and I turned in time to see my grandma’s wide toothless grin. Oh how I missed that beautifully wrinkled face. I took a drink of tea and stared around the table. It was then I noticed the three empty seats with empty coffee cups before them. Those were place holders for the three living sisters. And though I know the day will come when those seats will be filled and the party will really take off, I said a little prayer right then that it would be a long, long time before this group was all together again.

I could feel myself drifting back to the front door. The group before me grew fuzzy and dim. No one looked up or said goodbye as I vanished from the room. Back outside, the sun shone so bright behind it, the house seemed to glow as if with its own light.

I woke up crying, realizing I had a glimpse of Heaven, and of many of the people I loved and cherished. As I sat there, the dream dissipated. My loved ones dimmed in my eyes and I couldn’t remember the sound of their voices. Their memories were fading in my mind again and I longed to join them, to see those bright, vivid women as they were when they were all alive, and not just some distant memory time glossed over.

And yet, with a smile on my face even as tears streamed down, I realized I was given a beautiful gift. For one brief moment, I was back in time listening to my mama and her sisters enjoy each other’s company again, tasting grandma’s veggies and sweet tea one more time, and enjoying every minute of it.

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Haunted

Why am I so haunted by this particular story? Its birth is brutal, an ongoing labor of over five years. It stalls out, I face an agony of finding the words, finding the next curve of the story line, I find a bit of rest, then the pushing starts all over again.

This story, which I thought I had a straight line on, has run away from me on several occasions. When I think I have a reign on it, there it goes again, crazed as a spooked stallion running madly and unseeing through unknown territory.

Many times I set this story aside, done with it. I would never be able to tame this tale, tame my mind to focus on the prize, a finished, coherent story with a beginning, middle, and end. I’m through, I’m done, I tell myself. No one will ever want to read this chaotic ramble that my mind seems to be vomiting out onto paper. So I set it aside, push it from my mind and work on other ideas.

But in the middle of the night, when my mind is free from the stresses of the day, a spark kindles, a blaze ignites, a fire roars. It hits me, the next segment of the tale and I rush to get it out on paper before my sleep fogged mind loses the thread. And it begins again, this horrible, painful birthing process. Writing is furious for a few days. Ideas hit me, bam bam bam, like machine gun fire. It’s good again. I can see the path clearly and I try to run for it before the story can get out of my control again.

And yet, I lose control again. I don’t know why. I think, I’m not that great of a writer or I’d be able to finish this story. I feel down, depressed, inadequate. A much better writer could whip this idea out and into shape in no time with no dragging. I lose my confidence, my self-esteem. I start to spiral down, push the story aside again. It’s a vicious cycle. Why this story won’t leave me, I have no idea. But it comes back, revives itself, puts me through several more months of torture before it abandons me, leaves me in a heap on the floor, gasping for breath, close to death, just wanting it to end, to be over.

Still, I recover, revive. The story rests. It sits in the dark recesses of my mind as if in suspended animation, waiting for my brain to recover, refresh, so it can bring on the birthing process again. Maybe the next time, it will finally be brought out fully formed, a satisfying tale with all its complete parts brought to fruition, the birthing process complete allowing my frazzled mind some much needed rest. Maybe the next frenzied bout of writing will lead me to the end of the race where I will win the coveted prize of a completed work.

Will I ever be free of this haunted tale?

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Spring reading

The last few mornings have been gorgeous. I revel in the fact that springs is finally here. The grass is a bright green, thick and luxuriant, the new leaves practically glow when the golden morning sun shines through them. The birds sing merrily in the trees as a soft breeze slowly rocks them and the beautiful blue sky guards over it all with only a few white puffy clouds sailing lazily across it.

This time of year always sends me back to my childhood when one of my favorite activities would be to go lay out in the backyard with whatever book I was reading at the time and enjoy the beauty around me as much as I enjoyed the book. My childhood home had a large back yard full of all kinds of blooming flowers and trees. The little grape arbor provided shade when the sun got too hot.

I remember stretching out on the cool grass and reading for a while before my attention turned to the riot of flowers blooming everywhere. I would get lost in watching the bees busily buzzing from flower to flower or listening to the melodies of the birds sitting in the dogwood or cherry trees, trilling away to their heart’s content.

My favorite books to read at that time were mysteries involving young girls around my age. Two that spring to mind are Dumb Like Me, Olivia Potts by Lila Perl and A Horse for XYZ by Louise Moeri. These books were such favorites that I still own copies to this day. They are two of my go-to books when I am feeling that life as a grownup has become impossibly hard and I want to go back in time to a place where the biggest decision I had to make was whether I wanted to wear the green or pink shirt and whether or not I would pass the math test.

I know people who can listen to a song that brings back memories. With me, it’s books. Many books I’ve read are associated with memories whether from who I received the book from or what was going on with my life at the time I read it. Books are physical memories. I can grab a book from the shelf and recall what I was doing, who I was with, or what was happening in my life just by holding it, riffling through the pages, and reading an excerpt or two.

But for some reasons, these memories tied to spring time are stronger, fresher, and more vibrant than book memories from other times of the year. It is almost as if the wind softly whispers to me “remember when” and I feel the need to pull all those old favorites from the shelf and sit outside in the cool morning air, listen to the bees buzz and the birds chirp and reconnect with old friends.

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Write, write, write

There is a small voice in the back of my head that keeps repeating one word: write! No matter where I am or what I’m doing, I hear that voice. Sometimes it is so low it is barely a whisper. And sometimes it is so loud I can’t hear anything else. But it is always there.

I admit I am a timid writer. I am unsure of myself and sometimes wonder if I am even good enough to call myself a writer. I have fears and insecurities about my writing all the time, sometimes to the point where I won’t even go near the computer and avoid paper and pen like the plague. Yet, I still here that voice chant: write, write, write.

The funny thing is, even when I question my ability to be a writer, I still get ideas. They come to me in my sleep, while watching TV, while listening to the radio, while working my boring job, while eating dinner with my family, while in the shower, and while just sitting out in the backyard enjoying the nice weather. Sometimes I’m able to jot them down and sometimes I have to let them pass me by as I have no way to get to some paper. But they still come to me.

The other day, as I sat and stared at the screen trying to get the words out to move my story along and feeling frustrated because nothing seemed right, I could still hear that word in the back of my mind: write!

There are times when I get frustrated with that voice. I try to write everyday but sometimes the words just won’t come, yet that voice still says to write. But sometimes, most times, when I’m feeling down because I want to follow my passion but just can’t seem to find the right direction, I hear that voice and it cheers me up. It’s as if something bigger than myself has faith in my ability to write.

I may never be a best-selling author. Heck, I may never publish a word for anyone but me to read, but as long as I can write, I will. And that voice in the back of my head that tells me to write keeps me focused on that goal, building my self-confidence enough to keep putting one word after the other, forming those sentences and paragraphs until I have told my story.

I may struggle with writing every day for the rest of my life, but I will keep writing. As long as that little voice keeps cheering me on, as long as new ideas keep generating in my brain, I will keep putting one word after the other. No matter how inadequate I feel, no matter how crappy it might sound at the time, just keep putting those words down one at a time and remember: write, write, write.

 

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At a crossroad

I am at a crossroad in my story. I’m undecided on whether one of my characters should be found dead or alive. And I think I won’t to be able to move much farther into the story until I make this decision. Maybe I should flip a coin and decide that way.
I’m not sure why I am having such difficulty making this decision. Probably because this particular character is based off of someone I remember well, a cherished friend from my past, someone I still love dearly. How can I kill off this character and not feel like I am killing off our friendship. Yet, the kidnapping is a metaphor for our relationship, one that went in hiding for years before we reconnected.
I just assumed when I started writing this story that I would find her alive and well, as we have found our friendship again, alive and well. Yet I know our friendship changed over the years and I think that is why I had the urge to “kill her off” in the story. Because in the story, a new friendship is forged while trying to find and rekindle an old one. And that is how I feel about our reconnection. There is a lot of the old, comfortable feelings still there, yet we are adults now and our friendship has changed to reflect the people we’ve become over the years.
It still amazes me how much of myself is poured into my stories and poems. My heart, soul, and memories are written and transformed into these tales. This is the first story where I made the conscious decision to use actual events from my past to lay the foundation for this tale. And I think this is where my struggle lies.
So how do I get past this glitch, pick a direction, and write? I believe that would be just sitting my butt in the chair and writing. Just sitting down and writing with the realization that this is only my first draft, not the final copy, and that anything can change between the two.
So if I decide the character is dead in the first draft, and the reading doesn’t feel right, I can always go in the opposite direction in the next draft. The fluidity of creative writing is one of the reasons I love to write. Nothing is final until I decide it is final. The words are not concrete. They can be easily changed or deleted with no real consequence, unless I forget to save the changes.
The only time the words can’t be taken back is when (and if) I ever decide to have the story published. Until then, I have the freedom to add or delete words, even sentences, as often as I desire.
Problem solved!

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