Lost Magic

Some of my best childhood memories are of the local library. Mostly, the old library, which was tucked away upstairs in one of the older buildings along my small town’s main street.

I can’t remember when it moved, but I think I was still in junior high, at the most. Maybe it was even earlier; the book I woke up remembering today was for younger readers. I remember that my favorite among the local librarians pointed it out to me, either because she knew that I adored anything to do with magic or because she hoped it would teach me what my mother was failing to, I’m not real sure.

I haven’t thought of this book much over the years. Once or twice it came up and, try as I might, I could not remember the name, only the story. A story which, when I did think about it, disturbed me for a reason I couldn’t quite put my finger on.

You know how, sometimes, you wake up and something that was bothering you is suddenly super clear? Well, usually that is something I’m actually thinking about, not some story from the land before time. But I’ve been working on myself, on my shadows and faults, so I suppose it’s no surprise that a few extras popped up out of the dark to visit me.

Before I tell you about this story, there are a few other things that need to be known. For one, I was not a girly girl. I grew up with boys. We adventured, rode bikes, and had the sort of contests that boys have, like who can eat a handful of gooseberries without making a face (I always won) or who is brave enough to get shot by a BB gun (I was not stupid enough to fall for that one). I had Barbie, but she often suffered from bad haircuts, shark attacks, and stood on the execution line, a sacrifice to story, before G.I. Joe got rescued by the Navy Seals. I was no lady, despite my mother’s attempts to explain why I ought to be. Maybe I liked dress-up, but the thought of dresses outside of those brief moments was appalling.

I thought it sounded utterly boring to hold my tongue. Brushing my hair was a necessity and I didn’t care if I had dirt on my face. I wanted to be outside or reading. I was a horse girl, but not the mincing, prancing diva that runs around barns in expensive boots talking about boarding school. I was the girl that knew how to cut the wire on a bale of hay and knew which ointment was for horse cuts and which was for human cuts and which was good for both. I knew how to saddle a horse and how to pick out their feet and I knew there was no pain quite like having a half ton animal stand on your toes – which is why you’d never find me near a horse without boots on, I don’t care how hot it is.

What I’m trying to say is that I was a tomboy. Dirty, tangled hair, torn jeans, completely unaware that there was a difference between what girls and boys were capable of, just that some people were good at getting to the top shelf and others were better at hiding in small places.

Which is why I’m not what you’d call a feminist of the newer sort, which seems so determined that women need to be allowed to kick all men into the streets like badly behaved dogs. And I may not be a girly girl, but I still like my hair long and I have an LBD because it makes me feel good about myself.

I believe in equality. Stress equality. I believe that nobody is better than anyone. We need women. We need men. We need ladies and tomboys. We need men that arrange flowers and men that know how to shoot guns. We need readers and we need doers. We need poets and we need warriors. That is what life is. Diversity. So. Understand that there is no part of me that believes that there will ever be a time when one type of person can take over the world and as much as I want people to stop getting up in other people’s business and deciding what they can and can’t do, I don’t think me screaming at every guy that calls me sweetheart is going to convince anyone to stop.

And the reason you need to know that I have no interest in the whole ‘the world is trying to sew my mouth shut’ conspiracy is because this book. This book that has been low key haunting me off and on for almost three decades bothered me because that is exactly what it is. A story meant to tell little girls how it is evil to be anything but quiet, clean, and sweet.

Here’s a rough idea of the story. A little witch is going out for Halloween. The wind knows her name and calls her to come and play on her broom, so she does. But the wind gets a little crazy and she ends up taking a tumble and meeting two little kids out trick or treating. She thinks they are witches too, but, of course, they are just playing dress up. She goes home with them and realizes, too late, that the wind has gone and the magic of Halloween has faded.

The children take her home to their mother who, piece by piece, begins to tame the little witch. First she takes the witch’s dress, which is black and full of Halloween smells. “I keep my magic in that,” the witch says, but to no avail, the mother takes it and gives her a new dress. Next comes the hat. The mother takes it and puts it away in a closet. “I keep my magic in that, protests the witch, but she is, after all, only a little girl, witch or no, so mom wins. Next, she is given a bath and the mother comes the snarls out of the little girl’s hair. “I keep my magic in my tangles,” the little witch says, but mom combs out her hair anyway. By the time the next Halloween rolls around, the wind calls out to the little witch, but she can’t really hear it; she’s become like other little girls and dresses up as a princess instead. This is not presented as a horror story. At no point does mom explain to her other children that the little witch might be different, but that doesn’t make her less. Nope. The entire book is about getting this little witch to fit in. And, if I thought my favorite librarian gave that to me with that in mind, I’d be very disappointed.

If I have to explain the blatant undertones here, then I’m a little sad. Just like I was sad when I woke up this morning realizing what sort of book it was and why it bothered me. Little girls should be clean, quiet, and dressed in neat, nice clothes.


No wonder it was haunting me.

So why tell you about this at all? Because, lately, I’ve been thinking about the way other people think I should be. I’ve been thinking about how much of my life was spent trying to fit in. I was always obsessed with witches when I was younger and now I am starting to see why. I don’t want a life where anyone gets to point at me and say I should do this or that. I am beginning to understand that it has never worked for me to try and do anything the way others do it because I’m not like anyone else.

I have made the mistake of giving someone my heart before I truly understood just how much I don’t want to be in anyone’s shadow. I have tried very hard to be like friends of mine, even when it was clear that, as much as I love them, I am very much a little witch that never quite bought the idea of combing the tangles out of my hair or handing over my broom.

And I am not like other writers. I keep trying to figure out how to write like someone else. And now, suddenly, I just want to climb up into the closet, grab my hat, and see what it looks like when I throw the rules I’ve been taught right out the window and run – or fly – for the hills.

I fully believe in learning how others do things. But I’m starting to realize that I’ve never given myself the space to learn how I do things. I’ve always assumed I had to follow someone else’s path because how could my path be the right one. Even as I say this, I realize how unfair that was to me. I realize how imperative it is that I change this. Right now. No argument. I need to be okay with doing things the way they work for me. That includes writing and makeup and love.

I know I’ve been writing a lot of these blogs lately. That’s because I’m figuring out what I really want to write. How I want to write it. In fiction and out of fiction. And, maybe, I’m hoping my journey can help someone else just a little. Because I know what it is like to wake up and realize you don’t really know much about yourself. I know what it is like to wake up one day and realize you’ve spent your entire life trying to be someone else’s version of you.

So there is something I’m thinking of doing next spring or summer. It may happen, it may not, but I have at least part of what I need to do it. I am thinking of taking a solo hiking trip somewhere like the Appalachian Trail. I don’t have a tent anymore, just a nice daypack that I bought for Germany and only managed to use once. But tents and sleeping bags aren’t that hard to get a hold of.

Why do a solo hiking trip? Because I think there are things you can only learn about yourself in the woods. And the deeper into the woods you can get, the better. Doing it alone removes any hope you have of escaping yourself.

Yes, I do get nervous thinking about doing something like this; I am a woman and a woman on her own tends to be seen as vulnerable. So maybe I’ll take one of the dogs with me and do daily checkins along the way.

With an eye on this, I am also looking into photography for my blog and Patreon. I know that I’m not quite done with fiction, but I also know that all this self exploration I’ve been doing lately has made me aware of how much I want to share more than just a story or two. So stay tuned, folks. Things are may get a little weird around here; I’m pulling my pointy hat down off the shelf and planning to get a little dirty.

Just A Little Gift

I have spent at least fifteen years trying to figure out writer’s block. Mine, in particular. I’ve taken workshops, read books, even decided that maybe I’m trying to force a thing which isn’t for me (then tried to quit and discovered I’m even more unhappy) I’ve tried to leave writing behind countless times only to find myself right back here, trying to find the door.

The door. It is this place where, once you walk through, you are in deep flow and it all just comes to you. It is like singing a song in perfect pitch, like hitting that spot in running where you can go for miles and miles and miles without end, the dance where every step creates visual poetry.

Up until this morning, I understood a few things about my writing when it is going well and my writing when it feels like every word is an unmoveable block I have to try and pick up, but what I didn’t understand was a very large, very deep ocean. I knew a few things that helped and knew how I came to be in this place, trying to be a writer. I even knew why it was so important to me to get it back – do we ever forget being in a place where every single thing about ourselves falls into place and works as a single machine?

I’d like to tell you I could have come to this understanding faster, but I’m me and being super, uber stubborn is a part of how I relate to the world. This can be helpful and it can also get in my way. Fifteen years worth of in my way, it would seem.

I’ve spent the last fifteen years trying to do things the way the books say. I’ve tried writing poetry, tried stream of consciousness, tried plotting, tried meditating, tried finding inspiration in the works of others, tried all these things, focusing all this time on the world around me because isn’t that where the stories are? “Inspiration, most certainly, is out there, damn it,” I would tell myself. I was determined to chase it down and drag it home, even if I had to beat it over the head with a stick.

This is where I tell you the secret of the universe and maybe you’ll understand it, maybe you won’t yet. Until you actually see what I’m talking about, you can’t understand it on the conscious level.

Everything you need is inside of you. I know you’ve heard that or seen that around lately. I’m here to tell you it isn’t just a meme.

I’ve spent so long looking outside myself for answers. To the point of exhaustion. I was so determined to find it. Have you ever lost something and become convinced that someone else, no matter how ridiculous it might seem, has taken it? I’ve spent a lifetime trying to find an answer for these feelings of loss. I was a writer. I wrote damn near constantly. Then, one day, it was just gone. And there have been times when I have likened it to dancing or running or driving while telling you that being ‘in the zone’ is always the same, no matter what you are doing.

Here is the first clue to the mystery. In the zone, it doesn’t matter what you are doing. You are doing it with perfect timing, flowing so naturally that it feels like this is what you were born to do and you could go on forever. When you aren’t doing it, you are still living that flow, if you are lucky (or smart) enough to be able to sustain that perfect center and you are still lusting after your current project.

The second clue: It can be consciously sustained, but not by grasping at it. Anyone trying to hold onto something, all tight fisted and tense, is already outside of the zone and trying to kick in a door that only opens outward. Your hands are full of sand and the harder you grip it, the more of it slips away. Funny thing about, sand, though. Holding on to it is as easy as loosing your grip and letting it sit in a cupped palm.

I used to write to music. For me, this is the actual key. A clue to end all clues, should I choose to look at it properly. This is where I came to understand very suddenly and very deeply that what I’ve been looking for was in me the whole time and it was because I was looking for the wrong thing that I didn’t see it.

I was looking for words. For stories. For inspiration. And those things are important, of course they are. But, before them comes something else. Think of it as the baseline in a song. The beat. The rhythm. It can change its pace, but it is always there, under the flow of your life. Yes. Yours. And mine. It is the heartbeat of existence. And it is always there. If you are living, it is in you. Connecting with it is the first and only way to get into that fabled zone.

I’ve been listening to shamanic drumming on youtube, lately. These videos can go for up to ten hours or more. I don’t watch them, I just turn on the drums because it gives me a sense of rhythm. It gives me a flow. And, this morning, while listening to them, I started thinking about how I connect to that part of me. I used to sing. I used to dance. So I understand more about music than most. I was in band and could read both tempo and notes on a page. I know that the tone of a song can change based on that tempo. And here is the AHA moment that I’ve been waiting fifteen years to find.

When I first began writing, my best friend would turn the music on. She always chose it and this was something I insisted on. It wasn’t that I didn’t trust my own choices, it was that she had a knack for picking the things that would set me off. Back then, I’d have told you it was the lyrics that did it.

Oh naive and lovely child that I was. Sometimes I’d like to go back in time and pat her on the head. With a stick.

It was not the lyrics. Those were just words I could grab on to and ride. It was the beat that was actually setting me off. I was learning to dance with the pen. I have many, many times said that phrase. Writing is like dancing with words. Like dancing with the muse. Like dancing with yourself. It was something I did with ease. Like the figure skater leaping into the air and coming down on the ice like a butterfly floating, I could grab onto words and just start spinning and twirling and leaping without any effort at all. And I was doing it long before I started really writing; I used to sing to my infant nieces and nephews. I used to make up songs to fit the beat in my head while out walking my Scottish Terrier, Shannon. I used to rap inside my head simply for the fun of it.

Dancing requires a certain amount of relaxation. You cannot do it if you aren’t listening to the music with your whole body. It reaches out and dancing is a form of letting the music flow through you in visual expression. And every single thing you do, from making the coffee in the morning to going to bed is an expression of the beating drum of of your life.

Too poetic for you? Let me make it a little more clear. You breathe. You have a heartbeat. You live in rhythm with those things, even if you don’t realize it. Most of us are zombie walking along, never recognizing that our life is a sort of song. Connect with the beat and really feel it, then everything becomes a visual representation of that beat. Or vibration, if you will.

I have run around for years looking for stories to tell, feeling like I couldn’t connect with anything and wondering who would want to read it anyway. Because, at some point, I lost the connection to myself. The thing I was looking for all this time was not stories, even if I thought it was. It was the deep connection between myself and those shadowed lands we call the subconscious. What I really wanted was the electric shock of being fully plugged into my own beat. Everything else is just semantics. Writing is my chosen form of expression. But, in that place of being plugged in, I could choose to do anything at all. Dance. Write poetry. Sing. Drive. Because it isn’t and never has been the writing I was searching for. It was the beat. And nobody can take that away from you. It is you. Being in step with it is Nirvana.

The moment I fully connected with this thought was the moment I realized the answer I’d spent fifteen years trying to find had been right here all along. I am not ashamed it took me this long; part of what I feel like I want to do is help others. Not just other writers, but others in general. There are so many unhappy people out there, trying to find happiness in their bank accounts. Too many. But helping requires knowing and knowing requires experiencing.

More and more I think we feel disconnected from our true selves. Call it technology or just that this world has become so externally driven, but I think more and more of us are feeling like life is unfulfilling. When you are seeking happiness in the external, the world become a bleak and lonely place; none of those things you thought you needed brought you lasting peace. No matter what the ad promised you, that thing did not serve to offer up a whole new life. And I’m here to tell you that finding the thing that will is truly as simple as falling back into your own beat, discovering its nuances and learning to embrace them. That will open the door to happiness for you.

This is not about a passing, fleeting happiness. This is not something you need to attain or buy. You already own it. You were born with it. And no matter who or what tries to take it away so they can promise to sell it back to you – because unhappy people will buy anything if it promises to make them feel whole again – it is always yours. It is your birthright and you can have it any time you choose to. All you have to do is look inward. Listen. Find the beat of your heart and the rhythm of your breath. Learn to dance with it in all things. Let all the things you do be an expression of your inner song.

There is a movie called Happy Feet. The penguins are forever in search of their ‘Heart Song’. But one penguin can’t sing. His feet, however, are always dancing. Step beyond the fact that this is a child’s movie and pay attention to the message. If you can’t sing, dance. If you can’t dance, drive. Paint. Write. Find the beat. Then find the thing you can use to express that rhythm. That is where you will find your happiness. And I know. It is human nature to want to argue. It cannot, after all, be that simple. Right? And yet it is. When you are happy, you are in sync. You are dancing. When you are unhappy, you are out of sync and you are falling.

I am sitting here, on my couch. There is a dog beside me, a dog at my feet, and one asleep under the kitchen table because he is just too cool to be with us. It is a late, lazy Sunday afternoon. There is a light song in the background as the end credits roll on the movie I was half watching as I wrote this.

I have been in love so deep that the loss of it was a bitter and terrible poison. I have heard songs so beautiful they made me cry. I have walked beneath trees that were growing before anyone had even discovered this stretch of land we call America. I have been disappointed and stepped on, lifted up and loved. And all of this is neatly strung upon the twined threads of my heartbeat and breath. I see that the whole of my life rides upon the song that is me. So long as I hold to that, there is nothing I cannot do.

Finding Heroes

I spend a lot of time thinking these days. Mostly about money, it seems, one of my least favorite topics. Not because there is anything wrong with money in general, but because I’d rather be thinking about books or adventures or the moon and stars. I am not, honestly, ever going to be the kind of person that finds joy in the material unless it comes in book, dog, or horse form (or cat, if I can ever get back to a cat friendly pack of dogs). Although driving a fast car can always bring a smile to my face.

This morning, I was, as it happens, thinking about writing and how to get better at it. Rather, I was thinking about a man I was listening to yesterday. He had, as a newly graduated business student, decided to become a buddhist monk instead of going off to live the life he’d been brought up to live. He was looking for fulfillment in a world that seems full of unhappy people and he could see that others who had walked the path he was on were throughly disappointed with it. So he decided to chase true happiness instead.

When asked how he had gone about becoming a monk when he’d come from such an unreligious background, he said it was quite simple. He found the monk that was most dedicated to being a monk and shadowed him, imitating his every move; he’d decided that, if this man had found peace, then the student, too, could find peace, but that, in order to find what the monk had found, he felt he had to completely dedicate himself to the model the monk was presenting.

He went to bed at 9 and got up at 2am to chant and clean the temple. He helped the poor and ate nothing but the simple fare provided at the temple. He lived the buddhist monk life so completely and fully that he became a buddhist monk. And, eventually, he found what he was looking for. That wasn’t enough, though; he felt like the next, logical step was to share what he’d learned. So he brought it back out into the world outside the temple.

Being the sort of person that I am, of course this is something I fully want to try for myself. Not becoming a buddhist monk; I’ve found as much spiritual happiness in my hikes through Allerton Park as I ever have meditating and I feel that I’m on a very different life path. I love meditation and often commune with the universe, but I don’t feel the need to climb a mountain and live in a cave. A cabin, maybe, but the solitude I want is the sort for writing, not the sort for deep religious experience. What struck me is that I am a writer that feels at odds with writing, uncertain how to become better and more fulfilled in my chosen career, so I decided to go take a closer look at how other writers I admire work.

This isn’t a new idea; I’ve done it before, but things have shifted and changed. This is true in all things and it is something I suggest everyone do once in a while. What I know I’m capable of has expanded. What I’m willing to do for my writing has changed drastically. What I used to think had to come naturally, I’m now willing to work for, if that allows me to write the stories in my head. I’ll change my entire way of being right down to how I eat, if it will help me understand my writing and maybe decide exactly why I’m still so determined to do this instead of looking for another passion.

Now, I have plenty of writers I admire. Terry Pratchet, Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, and Maya Angelou to name just a few. But, somewhere in the midst of this question – how do these writers write – I came across a secondary question. Who are my heroes? Because writing, riding horses, running, it is all really the same thing in the end. You have a passion, you work for that passion, and the models should all come into the light because, sometimes, it helps to think outside the box.

And something very strange happened when I asked that question. Who are my heroes – real people only, no fictional characters – and why?

I couldn’t answer. Not one name popped into my head. Not one person came up as someone I hold up to the light as the shining paragon of who and what I want to be. Even a second grader can answer this question; it is human nature to have heroes. Yet there I was, nothing but silence as I reached for a name that wasn’t there.

I often listen to audiobooks as I drive. For me, there is very little difference between reading the words and listening to them. I’m fairly sure that this is part of how I ‘see’ things when I write or read or listen. It is often just as vivid and alive as a movie on a screen and the manner of the imput doesn’t much seem to matter.

Today, either because I was a little disturbed by my inability to call to mind a singular true hero – at least one that was an example of what I want out of life – or simply because there is a book I wanted and, lacking the money to buy the hardcover, decided to use one of my audible credits (which often collect outside my attention because I like to listen to the books I already have a few times before moving on).

The joy of this particular book – Waypoints – is that was written by Sam Heughan (star of Outlander) about a journey on foot through the Scottish Highlands and the actor did us the favor of reading it as well. And, treasures abound, he took actual voice notes during his journey and INCLUDES THEM. I highly recommend the book so far, if we can get a little off topic for a moment. In this case, the Audible version offers you something the book itself cannot which is the sound of a man on an epic journey he was very much not prepared for during the raw, real moments when he realizes he might just be in over his head.

Anyway. Call it happy chance or fate, maybe a little bit of both, but I ended up with this book today, listening to this guy. He reminds me forcibly of myself in certain aspects – I am actually quite impulsive and, had I the money, might have stopped halfway through this book to take off on a month long hike in the wilds just because there is such a romantic and wild vibe to the idea of just jumping off that cliff without bothering to look first. As someone who actually has spent time camping and being out of doors on long hikes, I do encourage everyone else to not be like me. Do your research; Mother Nature will have no pity at all on you.

Maybe it was his Scottish accent – I’m partial to a good Scottish voice. Or maybe it was the open, honest way he exposed his faults. He didn’t even try to pretend that his idea had been made in a calm and rational manner. But I found myself falling a little in love with this guy, despite having avoided Outlander based on the knowledge that there is a whole lot of sexual abuse going on. Like me, I’d say this man has a way of landing himself in way over his head and then deciding that, to hell with giving up, let’s just swim like we knew what we were doing all along. Sometimes that works. Other times you end up calling for a rescue and trying to explain why you decided to fuck around and find out.

Listening to him got me to thinking about my life. I do have heroes. My parents, for instance. Both of them had faults and I don’t think that either of them actually got where they wanted to go. Maybe that is why it scares me to call them my heroes. Because success in the traditional sense wasn’t in the cards for them.

Or maybe my idea of success is too limited; they didn’t come from a generation that loved money or fame. They came from a place where owning a house was considered the end all be all goal and they attained that. They were good people that never sacrificed their morals for cheaper versions of themselves. They had a family and they had plenty of reasons to get up in the morning. I know my father was often frustrated with how little we had, in the material sense, but he lived and died as a good man who did not compromise his ideals to make things easier on himself. Even when it was hard, he was honest and kind and generous. My mother was a tough woman and often difficult to deal with, but she was no less honest or hard working herself. They were people who believed in working for what you want and helping others and they brought me up to be the same.

Every hero on my short list has one thing in common. They are ordinary people who had ordinary lives. Some of them, as in the case of a mentor I had when I was very small and learning to deal with a heart defect, had a tragically short life as well. Not a single one of them can be found in a movie. No-one has written a book about them (yet) and they haven’t saved the world – although there may have been plenty of animals and children whose worlds they changed for the better, so that is debatable.

So there I was, listening to this drop dead gorgeous man expose himself as a complete nut who wakes up one morning and decides to hike nearly a hundred miles through the highlands in late fall (trust me, it takes a brave man to do that with training) with zero preparation, and I resonated with him on every level.

He didn’t come from a family of actors. He didn’t have anyone telling him that he needed to follow in their footsteps. Yet here he is, succeeding at it and completely uncertain how to deal with having fans who recognize him on the street as his character. He’s a man I can connect with because I too decide to chase after mad impulses with almost no idea of what I’m doing and, on those rare occasions when people have read my books and see only the writer, I am utterly hopeless in knowing how to respond. And, best of all, he makes me think that maybe it’s okay that I don’t have a million bestselling heroes to list off because, in a lot of ways, that leaves me plenty of space to be the odd, impulsive little duck that I am.

At some point, I found myself driving along one of those long, empty fields that dominate central Illinois in early winter. The wind was blowing hard today and there are empty corn husks rolling over the road. The sky was a wide, perfect blue with few clouds and the occasional flock of long necked geese flying overhead. In the air over the broken, stubbled remains of this year’s crops, a hawk was fighting the wind to stay in place as it hunted for lunch amid the untilled rows. And I felt a deep affinity with this animal.

I have spent my life fighting the current of an ordinary life, a river of wind that pushes me back from my desires and tries to hold me here. Yet, like the salmon, I cannot stop my push for home. It is not in my nature to turn back or give in. I don’t have a hero to name for you. No ordinary woman who grew up trying to chase a crazy dream, no man who found success despite how ordinarily forgettable his family might have been. But I ended the day feeling like I don’t really need that sort of hero. Success isn’t about the amount of suffering you have done. Nor is it about chasing someone else’s version of what you want. Success is sometimes just jumping up and declaring that you are going to hike a hundred miles then refusing to quit when you realize that you weren’t exactly prepared for the journey. Really, that could be a good description of life itself.

I know these posts might seem odd, like I am looking for validation. Really what I’m doing is trying to find my path through the woods. I’m beginning to understand that I can follow the model of someone else for a while. But, in the end, it has to be my journey and I’m going to have to do it my way. Writing these posts is helping me sort out a little bit more of what that looks like. And sharing them with you means I’m not writing in a vacuum. Creating needs the artist first. Then it needs the breath of other people. Or, as Stephen King says in his book On Writing (paraphrasing): First you create for yourself and you do it with the door closed. But, then you have to write it the second time for everyone else and the door open.

Dread Not

Isn’t it funny how often we dread something, drag our feet and complain, only to discover that it is the very opposite of what we thought it would be?

Monday’s. They are the bane of anyone in a job like mine; they are the end of your free time, the day when you have to go back to work and try to be a sensible adult. For me, they tend to remind me that I am not living the life I want – not completely, anyway.

This is what is funny about that. I have a job driving. More specifically, I have a new route and it is more country than town, a welcome relief from last Christmas, when I was stuck in the city and dealing with the ever increasing irritation of fellow drivers facing the holiday season.

Driving has always been a form of creative fuel for me. I do meditate by sitting still, the traditional form, but my favorite meditation is country cruising. At one point, I knew the country roads around my hometown so well that I knew at least six ways to avoid the inevitable floods that cut everyone else off from escaping in spring. Driving was always my answer to any sort of writing block when I was younger. As an adult, it gave me a way to deal with my anxiety, which began to really take hold in college.

So, as you might suspect, I actually do like my job. It isn’t my dream by a long shot, but I don’t hate it. Usually.

This morning, though, every step toward it was full of resistance. Maybe it was the rain that kept me from the forest yesterday or just that my DnD group didn’t get to murder so much as a single orc, leaving me with the sense that my weekend was incomplete. Either way, I was fully against work today. In my head, I was certain that it was going to be an absolutely horrible day and why the hell do I have to work this silly job anyway?

I won’t go any further with my inner monologue of whine. It is enough to say that this is the same voice that made sure I was always at the very limit of sick days during high school (though I had far more reason to avoid school than work). Even though I have long outgrown that kid that would tap out at the slightest sign of a (fake) cough, I still had this stone of dread in my stomach all the way there.

I didn’t really have so much to do, but, at some point, I did realize that the stone had melted away. That is about the time I started thinking about dread and what it really is. Like anger, it is a signpost. It is delivering a message that needs to be translated. This is why driving is good for me; there is a lot of thinking that can be done on the right country road and a whole lot of ideas are born in those empty cornfields.

I have known for a long time that I’m not living the life I want. I have spent a long time trying to decide the best way to move toward that life. There aren’t a whole lot of rules when it comes to creativity that can actually be expected to work on a regular basis. You can’t beat the muse into submission – found that out the hard way – and you can’t bribe it. It cannot be shamed and talked down do. Flattery means nothing and begging will get you nowhere.

In ancient times, Celtic bards were considered sacred, almost monk-like. They were thought to be getting their songs and stories from the divine. They would go into small rooms, cover any windows, and light a single candle in order to ‘hear’ the voice of the divine, the Oran Mor – the Great Song. I probably don’t need to mention that plenty of them were driven near madness; this is not a job for the faint of heart because there is no set path. You can work and work on something and end up with nothing. All too often, artists in all forms end up living an unfulfilled life, angry and bitter, because they just cannot find the answer for their own creative path.

I think my dread this morning speaks to that fear. I like my job. But I don’t want to live out my life as nothing more than a delivery driver. And, when it comes to that, I think a lot of us can understand that feeling. I don’t know how many of us are actually living the dream. In fact, I suspect there are a whole lot of us that don’t even know what the dream is.

I think a lot of us have an idea, but we are fuzzy on the specifics. Or, like me, maybe you built the specifics off someone else’s ideals. I love to write. But I’m not really sure, these days, what sort of writing I want to be doing. I know I need to be walking in the direction of my dreams, but I also know that I need to really understand what that dream is. Do I want to write fiction or take you on real life adventures? Do I want to go back to poetry or is there something to be found in writing a spiritual blog? I can’t completely answer these questions. But I want to.

This week, I’m dedicating myself to figuring exactly what I want. I’m setting myself to certain tasks and plotting out my youtube sequence to listen to those who know exactly what it means to go chasing after a dream that everyone else says is impossible. I want to know what it sounds like and looks like when someone realizes their dreams are diverging from the ordinary model. I want to know how others have found their own way in the creative minefield. And I want to see if I can’t figure out exactly what I want to do with my stories.

And so I put it to you, my friends. What is it you dream of? What did you want when you were younger? What do you still want? Is there some way you can bring that into your world? No-one says you have to quit your job and move to LA to become a rock and roll singer. Maybe it is enough just to buy a guitar, learn to play it, and entertain yourself after work.

Real change can begin as such a small thing. The grain of sand in the oyster’s center. I’ve always tried making big changes because that’s me. I tend to do things in drastic measure. But, right now, I feel like the answer to this daily type of dread, this fear that, a year from now – or ten – I will still be right here, talking about Monday’s and overdue bills, is to take small, certain steps to identify the little things that I can do to have a bit of my dream right now. Even if it is no more than a moment, it is a moment spent moving in the direction I really want to go.

Check Your Attitude

I’m not going to lie. This started out as a very different post about gratitude and how I’ve been getting more and more in touch with how I feel about my life, what I’m grateful for and what I never knew I needed to appreciate. I had it all planned out, which should have been my first clue it wasn’t going to go quite the way I envisioned; the universe has a wonderful sense of humor and its absolutely favorite way to show it is to see exactly what I have planned and see how it can turn it all around. Alas, my abundant gratitude is not today’s story.

Today is about perception.

Mine, to be more clear, since I lack the psychic ability to look into anyone else’s head and tell you how the world looks to them.

I could tell you that I see rainbows and roses everywhere, but I promised not to lie, even if telling the truth makes me look a little like an ass. I’m more of a skull and crossbones kind of girl with more sarcasm than sunshine in my head. It suites me. Unfortunately, I’m also the girl that tends to see things that aren’t really there.

We could call this a hold over from my childhood; I was bullied by family and classmates alike and I tend to be good at picking out nasty smirks, these days.

Well. I say I’m good at it. So good at it that, sometimes, I see that smirk when it isn’t really there.

Or hear it.

This is where I tell you that part of what I’m about to relate might make you uneasy or might make you think differently about me. Someone once told me they were surprised that I could get so caught up in the thoughts of others because their first impression of me was of a woman who does not give one crap about anyone else’s opinion of me. At my strongest, this is true. I have told even the people I love best where to stuff their version of me.

Today was not one of those days.

I believe that part of growing is being able to admit your faults. Now, I have been bullied. I have heard people laughing at me behind my back. I’ve been betrayed, lied to, lied about, and let told that I’m weird. I’m not everyone’s cup of tea. In fact, a lot of people find me too strange to allow and make it their mission to try and change me. These days I let them go ahead and make fun of me because it says far more about them than it does about me. In fact, I’ve found that the way others see you tend to reflect the way they see themselves and has nothing at all to do with you in the first place.

This, of course, can be reversed. How you see others says something about how you see the world. Most days, I see other people as generally decent, but also need a little kindness and, on occasion, a good kick in the pants for being buttheads. We are all stumbling around in the dark wood of life and not a damn one of us really knows what is going on. However, today was one of those (now) rare days when I found myself irritated simply because other people exist.

Someone cut me off in traffic on my way to the bookstore – I needed their wifi to deal with the mess that has become my WordPress blog. “I hate people,” I growled. The car next to me hit a squirrel. I watched the poor thing get tossed into the ditch and there is no way in hell it landed still breathing. “What a jerk,” I growled a little louder, glaring at a man who was driving one of those pickups that always make you question if they even know what a hay bale looks like (Judgy? Oh hell yes). Yet another person was tailgating me and others were beeping their horns impatiently (at me or at someone else, I didn’t know) and all of this was further cranking the wheel of my irritation with the human race.

By the time I actually reached the bookstore, I already had that tingle which says ‘hey, you, better be looking closer at something going on inside.’

This tingle, call it my emotional spidey sense, is a familiar prickle at this point. I’ve always been self aware, but the the first surprise of getting to know myself was seeing just how little I actually knew about the person in the mirror. I decided, at some point, that I needed to develop a relationship with me the same way I would with another person. The first rule is respect and this was surprisingly difficult. Familiarity breeds contempt, they say, and they are certainly not wrong. I’ve made it a priority to listen to myself as much as possible, lately, but, sometimes, I forget about my promise and it rarely ends well.

Into the bookstore I went. The planner I use to track my writing activities is approaching it’s final month and I’ve been eyeing one that is of the same design – while refusing to pay twenty dollars for something that I’m only going to throw away. Black Friday may be over, but Barnes & Noble is turning it into a weekend event; my planner was half off. I could have looked at that and let it be the thing that turned my stormy attitude around.

Funny thing about a bad mood. If you nurture it long enough, it gets big enough you can’t see around it. The planner was half off, but so was my temper. If I get around to that gratitude post, I may bring this back to the table; learning to embrace those small things is key to releasing the older version of me so I can be happy. I did not focus on my luck that the planner, which is beautiful, was both half off and still in stock. I was determined to be grouchy.

I went to the cafe, ordered something small and sat down to work on my blog space. I was half growling, annoyed further to discover the theme I’d originally used for my blog was no longer available. I was working on the banner for the home page, glaring because I couldn’t remember how to make the black box in the middle transparent, fussing over fonts and colors and just being in an outright muggle mood.

And that is when I heard a half stifled, snarky little giggle.

I could take you back to high school right about now. I could remind you what it feels like when a group of someone’s is laughing at you, trying to make it look like they aren’t, and fully hoping you realize they are, in fact, laughing at you. I could bring you back to that sweaty, hot moment of shame that seemed to accompany those moments, even when you’d done nothing wrong and didn’t know why the jackals were giggling. But I’m going to suggest you stay right here with me. Because, for a minute, a very un-evolved version of me was alive and ready to bite someone’s head off right then and offer it up as a blood sacrifice to that nice little corporation sign that has come to universally mean over priced coffee that tastes like sadness, charred beans, and pumpkin spice.

That version of me was born somewhere in between the point of graduating high school and discovering the man that I married was always running me down behind my back. Built of anger and betrayal, it is both oversensitive and aggressive and it is my least favorite mask. That version of me loves dogs and horses and kids and is absolutely not someone you want to laugh at if you are a grown adult because she will leave you hysterically sobbing in a corner somewhere, possibly suffering from PTSD, and unsure if you will ever feel safe out in public again. It is a version of me that I’ve been working to send back into the void; people do stupid, hurtful things because stupid, hurtful things were done to them. They are cruel because that is the only way they can feel better about themselves. Somewhere inside of them, they harbor a seed of self loathing that has sprouted a dark and poisoned tree. And a group of college students is always so ripe with self doubt and fear that it sometimes amazes me they can manage to get out of bed in the mornings.

That’s what this was, by the way. A group of college students in their mid twenties. But, before we visit this group of sleek, perfectly dressed little children convinced that their life would never turn around and bitch slap them (ah, sweet innocence), let’s talk about the emotional alarm tingle of doom.

You see, that tingle was pretty much a full on fire dance at this point. ‘Pay attention, pay attention,’ it said. ‘Take a look at you. Look in, not out.’

Now, there was a time not all that long ago, when I’d have listened… eventually. But, first, I’d have gone full death glare, possibly even unhinged hell angel of ‘you decided to try it, now I’m going to verbally tear your spine out.’ Hell, I was dressed for the occasion; I’d walked in wearing my long black coat and, I’m sure, looking like an escapee from Wednesday (Go. Watch. Now.) because I really was feeling my inner grim reaper earlier.

I’ve spent two years working with this explosive and vengeful side of me. Two years. I still make mistakes; everyone does. But I knew the consequences of letting my mouth speak before my brain was asked for the best course of action. So I did not jump up from my seat to go incinerate anyone’s ego with my fury. Instead, I took a breath. This is still a new thing for me; I have to consciously choose to stop. There is something odd about being bullied. Some people never seem to come out of that dark room where they are regulated to being unpopular and unwanted. Others, like me, decide to take over the room, put on the crown, and declare themselves the queen so that nobody mistakes them for weak ever again.

I got really good, at one point, picking out what people didn’t like about themselves. I never became that woman who puts others down to make herself feel better, thank god. But. If you crossed me, if you pushed me to my limit – which usually involved one of my kids (my little band of outcasts gathered from every corner of the world), dogs, or anything helpless – I would use my extensive vocabulary to flay you alive. Some would not see the problem with this; most of the people who have seen me in this mode stomped across a clearly marked line and right up to the end of my loaded canon. They got what they were asking for.

Just one problem with that. I didn’t get away without a little hurt of my own. Once the fire died down, I had plenty of burns of my own to tend. Once you’ve been bullied, you don’t forget that feeling. It is not one you want others to have to feel. Even if you might think they do deserve it a little. Everyone has a story and a tragedy. Everyone deserves at least a little kindness.

It is not up to me to decide who gets chewed out and who doesn’t. Most people, if they are truly worthy of it, will get that karma at some point or another. Whether they learn from it or not is also not my call. That is why it is called free will and no matter what our government may think, nobody gets to step on that. I have no desire to be the one doing the teaching these days. I’m on a different trajectory. One that includes listening to that tingle and figuring out where I’m coming from instead of worrying about what other people are thinking about me.

So I listened to my inner cricket. I started thinking about the guy who cut me off. I’m not going to make that okay; always check your blind spots and don’t assume the other driver is paying enough attention to avoid an accident. You will be at fault. But. Had he hit me, I wouldn’t have been hurt as we were going too slow and I pay my insurance for a reason. The driver that hit the squirrel couldn’t have stopped; it ran under his tires, not out in front of him and, had he seen and hit the brakes, the car behind him would have hit him going fast enough to make the accident ugly. The tailgater sniffing my tailpipe wasn’t trying to piss me off, they just weren’t paying enough attention. The people honking weren’t honking at me. They were honking at each other for some reason that had nothing to do with me.

My sour mood was not about other people. I didn’t want to leave the house this morning. My bills are pressing on me a little, causing me to worry. I was having a nice little snuggle with my dogs, but, because I’d set myself to getting the blog cleaned up and ready for a newer, better version of my writing, I made myself go out.

Sometimes, you need to let go of ideas of how the day should go. You can (and should) say ‘hey, don’t actually feel like doing that right now’ and let your plans change. This is part of honoring who you are.

I’m not telling you to ignore what’s important. Kids need fed. Bills need paid. But blogs can wait. My irritation was born of my need to spend a day curled up on the couch watching youtube with a good dog. Strange as it may sound, it is sometimes important to rest, even if it means putting something else off. In not listening to that voice, I was disrespecting myself and, just like an overstimulated child, it was bent on being unhappy with every little thing. I was looking for a reason to be angry and I found plenty of them.

Now. About those college students.

I looked up, aware that, whatever they were trying to do for themselves by snickering at me, it was their issue to deal with. Only, they weren’t looking at me. Pretty much the only time any of them looked at me was when I walked past and there was nothing malicious in it. The girl was looking at my hair. It is extremely long at this point and gets a lot of girl attention. You know the kind I’m talking about. Remember those three little girls in Rapunzel that get to braid her hair? That look.

The rest of the kids barely knew I was in the room with them. They certainly weren’t laughing at me. They were having a good time, enjoying their coffee and their conversation and it wasn’t about me.

Let me say that again. It wasn’t about me.

That, my darlings, is what perception is. It is the story you tell yourself and it is wholly within you. It has nothing to do with the people around you, what they are thinking about you, what they are saying, even if they ARE looking at you. Some people would have heard that laugh and taken it as happiness instead of snark. Others would have snapped right up and demanded to know who they thought they were laughing at, causing all sorts of drama to ensue.

Your life mirrors your perception. You see what you want to see. Your perception is born of two things. Today, yes, but also all of your yesterdays. How you behave is directly wired into who you have decided you want to be. This is what the buddhists call the ego; it is how you identify and, good or bad, it is a lens through which you see the world. The beautiful part of this is that you get to decide every single day who you want to be.

Sometimes you get up, realize it is a day for puppy cuddles and mindless youtube. You listen to that little voice and you have a good – if not quite productive – day. Or you don’t listen and get all the way to a coffee shop and nearly traumatize a pack of college students because you thought an abandoned blog was more important than your own needs. Change isn’t easy for me; I resist it on every front and when I get something into my head I often cling to it. Even if it means steamrolling my personal needs.

Perception is directly related to how well we are listening to ourselves. Our ability to deal with the little uglies in the world, like honking horns, traffic drama, and snarky laughter is very much linked to the attitude we decided to put on. It can and will change on a daily basis, if you let it. Hell, sometimes, it changes by the hour. You do have control over it, though. You can listen to what it is telling you and know that, whatever it is you need or need to avoid is part of becoming better balanced in a world that is always trying to push your buttons. Don’t listen and the unheard, unseen voice will choose your attitude for you. It rarely chooses a happy one.

The buddha said ‘you cannot control the world, but you can control your reaction to it’. I think that, if we taught our children to decide, first thing in the morning, what they are and aren’t up to for the day, we’d understand that this phrase isn’t about shaming yourself into better behavior or letting others walk all over us. It is about knowing where you are for the day. Learning to watch and listen to ourselves is a vital part of change; the unconscious get up and rely on who they were yesterday to tell them how to be today. They are on autopilot and this is an empty life lived as a sleepwalker. The person who observes themselves has the ability to choose who they are and what they want out of life.

Today was not a day for me to be out in public. Today was a day to be at home, writing you a little note about gratitude. I wanted to tell you how I made toast lathered with butter and fresh strawberry jam. One of my customers made the jam from her own strawberries and gave me a jar of it after I delivered her husband’s medicine; they were about to leave for Florida for the winter and needed the medicine to show up before they could leave.

Had I been listening to myself, I could have written that story for you today, then camped on the couch in my pajamas watching Dead Like Me and loving the little things. However. I’m living by a new philosophy that is very much based on the Native American belief in using every part of the animals they hunt. Maybe I shouldn’t have left the house. But, in a way, I’m glad that I did; I got a good lesson out of it. In the end, I can’t change the past. I did leave the house. I did have a few little moments in there where I let myself slide backward just a bit. But I can still use that. I still had a story to tell.

Tomorrow maybe I’ll tell you all about those strawberry preserves and how I toasted my bread in a pan on the stove because my toaster vanished somewhere between the house I rented when I first came home, my sad, one room caregiver life in my mother’s basement, and this house, which has become a far happier place than either of the others. Or maybe I’ll take you with me into the forest for a hike. Or maybe I won’t write at all outside my usual three pages. I don’t know because that is tomorrow and, like I said before, tomorrow is going to have to take care of itself; I’m busy with today.

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