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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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Worry kills creativity

In these uncertain times, I find myself spending more time worrying about what is going on (or not going on) in my daily life and unable to focus on my creative life.

My creative world, which offers such a wonderful diversion to the tense, uncertain, and stressful goings-on in my real life, has been suffering quite a bit lately as I worry more about paying bills and wondering what the weather is going to do then how my antagonists will fair in their latest battles.

I’ve always been one of those people who, when they can’t find anything tangible and real to worry about, will invent something just to have something to worry about. Creative writing has always been my stress reliever, focusing my mind on something concrete (in a way) and keeping it off all the what if’s that might befall me real or not.

Like I said, writing used to calm my worried mind and take me away from my real world problems, even if only for a couple hours. But lately, real world worries seem to have rooted themselves in my mind, sapping all my creativity while feeding my fears.

I recently read on another blog about peace. It was a great read and boiled down to the key to having peace is living in the moment and not let future what if’s and what may be’s take away from your joy and peace of the here and now.

The live in the moment statement is something I’ve heard over and over again for years, yet I still haven’t figured out how to work it. I just can’t seem to get a handle on living in the moment because I have a terrible time turning my mind off. Once upon a time, I managed a way around this, helping me to put my worries away long enough to at least get some sleep. Now, however, even that coping mechanism is failing me.

When I was younger, I worried about everything, my grades, my parents dying, my friends not liking me. It ate at me day after day, killing what could have, no, should have been happy times. This went on for a while until I discovered this magnificent coping mechanism. Each night before going to bed, I would close my eyes and tell myself stories. I could envision my characters, the scenery, the locations, and the dialog as if I were watching a movie.

Yes, in the beginning, I would focus on books, movies, or television shows I’d seen or read, taking well-known scenes and expanding them until the real show or book was no longer in evidence. As I got older, I began to make up my own stuff, no longer needing to rely on a ready-made scene to get the ball rolling.

In this way, I’ve been able to create some wonderful ideas while keeping my fear and worry at bay. And it worked wonders. Until this year. It seems like real life grew bigger than what my mind could create to contain and downplay it. Now when I try to use my imagination to create, whether on paper or in my mind, real life fears filter in, causing basically what is my own real life horror story.

Yet I know that I was meant to write. Maybe not publish, but write. Be creative, work my ideas. Spin tales like spider webs. I get enough flashes of it to know it is what I am meant to do. A dream I’ve been following since fifth grade, and, I am sure, will be following until my dying days.

I keep identifying problems that are blocking my creativity. Now I need to identify solutions so that my creativity will pour out again. I need to focus less on all the worrying and more on the writing. I can do this, I know I can.

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Finding my writing self in 2014

I can honestly say that 2013 was not my year. In fact, it can be described as one of the top 5 bad years. And even though 2014 is not starting out strong, it still has the shiny new packaging of a year with promise and potential.

There have been a few good moments in 2013, though looking back they are hard to see. I managed to do more personal writing in 2013 then I’ve done in a long time. Though that has taken a back seat at the moment as a new job is making my hours crazy. But I intend to get back to it. I am making it a personal goal to carve out writing time for 2014. Even if I have to forcefully schedule it in every day instead of the winging it write as you think of something style I’ve had in the past.

I have a few other personal goals I want to meet this year, but writing is my main focus. It still shocks me that I don’t write as much as I need to since I am always generating new ideas, paragraphs of writing, and introspective thoughts that may lead somewhere. I realize now that I am not making writing a priority in my life. I am lazy and haphazard when it comes to my writing life and if I am going to get anything completed I need to step it up a notch.

I’m having a hard time coming to grips with how lackadaisical I am with my writing. I remember a time when I would stay up late to finish a story or poem then wake up early to start the next one. I’d blame it on the realities of life, but let’s be honest, other writers have to balance their writing with the rest of their life and they manage to do it without complaining. So yeah, it’s me and my attitude toward life right now. And that is what needs to change.

I need to take control. Take some of these ideas churning through my brain and turn them into something. I need to put my stuff out there and start getting some feedback on my writing so that I can improve. I need to challenge myself, push myself forward, and become the writer I think I am in my head. And I need to learn to do it while juggling all the other aspects of my life and not let it slide by the wayside when something else gets a bit complicated. If I am ever going to be the writer I want to be, I need to start writing, period. Beginning today.

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