Category Archives: Dreams

Creative Spark and Age – Keep your Brain Alive!

So I’m back from my writing escape to Boise, Idaho. While I did return with a lot of work done on outlines, three new ideas, inspiration from a few of the really cool spooky places they have, I did learn something interesting about myself.

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Seriously Boise, well done.

I’m older than 30. I’m significantly older than 30.

I’ve never been coy about my age. Every year and especially every decade that turns for me is an achievement that I didn’t expect to see. I never thought I’d see 30. Then, 40 was unlikely. Now I’m 51, and that’s just shocking really. Wonderful, but perplexing. How did I make it to this age?

I made it here by working hard to address my demons and to come to peace with and even start to embrace my illness. This is wonderful, and it makes me happy when I realize that I am, in fact, 51. That’s just weird.

So here’s what drove it home over the last week. My plan was to hide away in a hotel, no commitments, no interruptions, I asked the lady when I checked in to please tell housekeeping I don’t need them, just blackout curtains, a fridge with enough to keep me alive, and my laptop. I have 15 stories I’m juggling, and I’m anxious to see them bloom. Or bleed. These are spooky stories. I wanted to do what I used to do when I wrote – look at the clock and wonder, is that 4 a.m. or 4 p.m.? I loved that, getting so lost in my art that I had no concept of time at all. Suddenly I’d look up and say, “What is that feeling? Why am I dizzy? Oh, right, food. I need food.” That is what I was hoping to recapture.

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My personal idea of bliss.

Now, getting lost in my work, that’s no problem. I do that even when I write on the couch, as I’m doing right now. Becoming completely absorbed just comes with the creative process. Getting lost in time, though, that’s a different thing. When I was in my 30s, as I painted I could wonder if it was a.m. or p.m. Well, not anymore. My body shuts down around 10. I find myself fading, my brain not up to trying to figure out why my protagonist is near the creepy sidewalk in the first place, (spoiler!) so I just go to bed.

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But for the fire-from-the-sky heat, this would be a fine goth retreat!

At one point, my eyes shot open about 3:30 in the morning because I had an idea. I leapt out of bed and wrote until about 5. I got some good stuff, I felt happy about it, but by about 2p.m. I was useless. I’ll mark this trip as the moment I realized a new limitation on my former habits. But this is not the first time. One by one through the years I’ve watched my body change.

In my late 20s, I wouldn’t even leave the house until 11p.m. because who gets to a club before 11? I’d be out until around 3, and get home around 4. My alarm for work would go off at 6. Getting two hours of sleep is worse than none at all, so I’d just stay up and work through the day, crash when I got home, and I’d recover fine. (This is not while I was drinking. That’s a whole other thing with no fond memories.) Then, when I was around 33 I think, I did this and the next day – even though I was not drinking – I felt hungover and wrung out. It was awful, and I realized well, I can’t do that anymore. It was a major change in my body, an “over-30” wake up call. I would still go to the clubs, but not if I had to work the next day. Huge bummer.

Then, pushing 40, more changes. I could no longer stay out too late on a weeknight or I’d be useless. For someone who’s playtime didn’t begin until 11, now I couldn’t stay out until 11. Huge bummer.

I hadn’t noticed anything new for a while until this trip. Now I know, while I can lose time, I can’t cheat it. My body starts to fade around 10. And my body is the boss. But you know what? This is not a huge bummer. Not at all. These are the changes in a 51-year-old woman who is healthier and happier than I ever could have expected given what I’ve done to myself all these years. Given the number of times I’ve walked to a bridge with no intention of coming back, held a knife tightly and purposefully in my hand, fallen into a manic/depression cycle so severe I spend two days in the hospital. After all of that, I still have my health, my husband, my dear friends and family, Crazy Legs, and…my mind. My functioning, powerful brain that can’t do math like at all, but still.

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                                                                     MATH!

My brain is my joy and my treasure. My looks will fade, my body will change and get more limitations, but my mind, I will keep my mind sharp. If I have that, and my fantastically inappropriate sense of humor, I’ll be just fine.

Another thing I had to accept on this trip, writing fiction is really really hard! I knew that, but I did underestimate how difficult, how much I’m going to have to learn to do it. It’s a whole new world to me, entirely different from anything I’ve ever done.

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So much inspiration!

I got discouraged at one point, so I changed gears and wrote the last article. Yes, I wanted to be sure I didn’t have too long a space between them, but quite honestly, I needed to do something I know. The last article came because I was feeling inadequate. I mean, I respect my readers, no doubt, but I also really needed to convince myself I can actually write.

This new thing I’m doing, this new craft I am years from mastering, is making parts of my brain spark that haven’t in a long time. This blog is my happy place, my comfort zone. “Life Songs” and its poetry, my happy place, my comfort zone. There’s nothing wrong with that. But my new work, it’s causing my synapses to sparkle. It’s also giving me headaches and self-doubt, but that’s part of the process I suppose.

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My sparkling synapse which is the moon, apparently.

So I am 51, I can no longer stay out all night and function the next day. I can no longer stay out late and function the next day. And I can no longer keep my body up creating after about 11pm.

I truly don’t care. I am happy where I am, I am happy with what I can do and accomplish. I am awed that I have lived this long and still have a brain. I have some wonderful memories, I lived a colorful youth. I am not young anymore, but I am not done. Not by a long shot. I have plans and things to create. I have my advocacy and help for the mental health community as best I can, and that alone is a reason to live.

One of the best things about getting older is being able to help with compassion from a place of “Oh, I’ve been there.” I can help in a way I couldn’t when I was 30.

So this past week I wrote and fretted and got inspired by the organ in the Egyptian Theater (seriously, how cool is that place?) and I learned a new piece of information about my body. And that is as cool as a pack of ghost dogs at a race track.

Oops. Spoiler.

Dreams and Regret – It is never too late!

The picture on the left of the banner is me, 1993, 25 years old.  The grey-haired woman on the right is also me, 2018, 50 years old.  Several lifetimes have passed in those 25 years; some very hard lessons learned.

I started to write poetry when I was a child. When I was the young woman with the dark hair, I decided I would compile some of them, and I made a book I called “Life Songs –  A Collection of Poems.”  I did finish, but I put it away and fell into a pattern of self-destruction and failure that lasted for years.  Life Songs died.

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Bound and ready, and forgotten.

But at 50 I began to wonder; what dreams have I let go?  What are the seeds of regret?

My dreams of singing professionally were done, too much whiskey and smoke had taken its toll.  That one hurts.

My paintings are unlikely to hang anywhere, my photography is hit or miss, and having a business to call my own died a premature death.  Don’t go into business with friends, that’s my advice to you.

But there was one thing left, my first love, my greatest love, my sanctuary, my heart, my everything.

Writing.  That I could still do.

It had been 25 years since I put Life Songs together, then I drank my muse away.  I killed her with my hands around a bottle of Jack.

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My muse scribbled on scrap paper. I don’t remember drawing this.

 

I also made the grave mistake of majoring in Creative Writing and taking many poetry classes which put an inner critic in my head I had never had before. Everyone is different, but for me, this was a massive mistake.  

Anyway, as I neared 50, I realized that I needed to complete Life Songs and get it out.  So I read it over, all bright-eyed and optimistic. Then I closed it and stared into space.

Many of the poems were, well, let me put it this way, I separated it into chapters based on content, and I decided that each chapter heading would be a take on “Ten Definitions of Poetry” by Carl Sandburg.  Trouble is, I’m not Sandburg now, let alone at 25, and it went…poorly.  I will not be sharing any of those with you. Oh my, no. So I was stuck again.

Then on a warm summer night, after a lovely meal with dear friends, we began to talk about our projects.  I never had anything to add to these conversations since I had no muse and no art in my soul.  But this night I did.  This night I talked about it, and as sometimes happens when thinking out loud, I had an epiphany.  I am not the same person I was back then.  So why not let the grey-haired lady speak to the dark-haired one?  Choose poems that are relevant or particularly painful or funny and talk to her?  Maybe I could find healing in that.  Maybe I could help another reader find healing or hope or at least know they are not alone.

Maybe I really could finish Life Songs.

And then, just like that, my muse came home.

When I sat down to work, everything came back. The traumas and moments of life, sure, but that’s not what  I mean.  I mean the absolute and overpowering joy of writing, of moving my hands on a keyboard and making the words I want to say appear. I had forgotten what it felt like to write.  It’s like forgetting what it is to taste ice cream or smell freshly mowed grass.

Many of my friends are writers. They post on Facebook, share funny memes, talk about their process and craft. I would be happy for them, but I would also burn inside. I was not a writer anymore. One can call it a dry spell for a while, but after two and a half decades, you’re no longer in the club.

But after I wrote a few pages, and after I started this blog, I was a writer again. I could respond to the comments, laugh at the memes, and talk about my process and craft.

I was a writer again.  I was in the club.

I worked on Life Songs, I thought about it when I wasn’t, I dreamed about it at night.  Then the first draft was finished.  I celebrated with some non-alcoholic sparkling apple cider in a flamingo glass.  It’s tradition.

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1993 -2018 Absolute joy!

Then the final was done. After twenty-five years, I was almost ready to publish.

Now, I don’t know Photoshop or anything like that, and I can’t afford a professional photographer, so I decided to stage and shoot my own photos. I had a good idea what I wanted it to look like and every single prop I used I already had, so I set up a photo “studio” in the dining room, complete with the lights with umbrella things and my husband’s Nikon D90, and got busy.

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Two months and about 3,000 photos later, I got seven or so that I loved, and chose two for the front and back cover.

I sent them to the cover artist my mother-in-law, a professional writer, had recommended, and prepared to upload my manuscript to Amazon.

Then I typed up the title page

Life Songs – Discussions with an Angry Child

by – …….

And I froze.

Belle Chapin is a pseudonym. I started this blog under that name because I was afraid to use my real one. (Belle Chapin was my grandmother.) I was afraid of not getting a job, afraid of trolls, afraid of being so vulnerable.  So I was going to publish Life Songs under that name as well.

I backspaced my real name out, and I typed

by Belle Chapin

And then I cried.  And then I cried more.  This girl is me. This is my life, goddammit. This is my life, my heart, my work.

It took some time with my therapist, but I finally came to a decision.

This girl is me. This is my life, my heart, my work.

I sat down at my laptop and I opened the title page.

Life Songs – Discussions with an Angry Child

by Sue St. Blaine

And then I closed my laptop.

The cover artist sent me the final product.  I opened the attachment I cried so hard I nearly passed out. It was real.

I finished my life’s work.

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So happy I posed without makeup!

The way I’ve lived my life, the choices I’ve made have left many scars and regrets.  I know there are things I didn’t do because I didn’t have the confidence, I was scared, I was drunk.

I was drunk. The seeds of regret are sown.

But it’s been a year since I published Life Songs.  It is sitting on the shelf behind me. My heart fills as certainly as my eyes when I think about it.  I did it.  I finished it.

In a life full of mistakes, this is something I did right.

I wish that for all of you.

 

 

Writing Fiction – How Hard Can It Be?

So I’m going to try my hand at fiction.

I’ve never written fiction before.

How hard can it be, I asked, ducking the objects all my writer friends are currently lobbing at me.

I’ve written poetry all my life, articles like these sorts of things, autobiographical scribblings, narratives based on real events, but never a book with real dialog, pacing, something approaching a point. I’m very excited!

My fear, because if I didn’t have doubt and fear it wouldn’t be me, is that I’ll discover I’m awful at it, like, not where my skills could be polished no, just flat out Jr. High School kid who uses fancy words they saw on British T.V. and overwrought, sledgehammer to the head symbolism except I’m not 13 I’m 51, and that would be so very sad. It would crush me like the bolder of Sisyphus crashing down on his frail limbs while he raised is horror-stricken visage to the heavens above and shouted: “Why have you forsaken me!”

Like that.

This started because I had a waking dream so terrifying, I truly thought I losing my mind and may in fact die. I wrote it up, the whole thing had to be split into three parts, and prepared to publish it here when I realized it really isn’t appropriate for my blog, it’s not what I’m trying to do. So, I decided to write it up as a short story.

Then I realized that I’ve had many nightmares and D.T. dreams that could make really good scary stories if I can pull it off. (D.T. is “delirium tremens” and is the result of excessive drinking that affects the body in quite horrible ways. If you have them, call a doctor, because you need help, my friend. It’s not worth a story.)

I have come up with five that I can flesh out. I’m thinking an anthology. I’m designing the cover in my head and practicing what I’ll say on my book tour.

I laugh, but honestly, if any of my writing was going to make me money, it would be that. I write this blog to give back and because I enjoy it. I wrote Life Songs for my heart, and because it fills me, I believe my royalties total about 50 bucks at this point. To commemorate my first royalties ever, I bought a human phalanx, probably from a man based on the size, and made a necklace out of it. It has a locket that contains a few words from one of my poems. I have never made jewelry before and probably never will again, but it means the world to me, so I don’t care that it’s amateurish. I love it beyond measure.

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 Forever resting on my heart.  Also, it’s legal to buy human bones in the U.S.

Now, it would not hurt my feelings if Life Songs suddenly sold thousands of copies, but I didn’t write it for that. And this blog has a specific mission statement, and there is no way to monetize it. My necklace is just for me, no one else would understand it without a long story. In fairness, most everything with me involves a long story so this blog won’t be done any time soon.

The other book I’m working on, which is decidedly not fiction, is going to be a great deal of work and research and talking to doctors and digging through some hard things from my past. I have no idea when that one could possibly be done, and no idea how it will be received. It will be another that I write for me, and for people with mental illness, and then who knows. Maybe it will hit a chord, maybe it will wither away. But I’m prepared for either.

But scary short stories? Now that could work. And that will be so much fun to write, I think. It feels good to start something new, something I’ve never done. It feels good to stretch myself and get out of my comfort zone. And it feels indescribably amazing to be able to do what I love.

Because the reality is that from getting Life Songs out, to publishing twice a week here, my serious book and my scary stories, to the paintings and jewelry and all creative work, none of this, not one thing, would be happening if I were still drinking. Nothing would have gotten done.

All of these heart-filling accomplishments would be another regret waiting to happen.

So, here’s to sobriety and all it can bring us. Here’s to all the stories it can tell.

What do you want to do, what would fill your heart and help you rise like Phoenix from the flames of turmoil to fly mighty Pegasus to the waiting arms of Zeus?

That, that right there. I really hope I don’t write like that.

 
Here’s a number for you if you are still drinking too much and need help.

National Helpline

SAMHSA’s National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders.
https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline

The Monsters in Our Minds

I have heard there is a scholarly debate around whether “subconscious” is a legitimate or even helpful term.

I thought I’d peek at this from the viewpoint of an enthusiastic layperson, as pretty much a thought exercise. This sort of thing is fascinating to me, how the mind works, how my mind works, how to better understand and make friends with it. I’m curious what all of you think as well.

What started this was a terrible series of waking dreams and hallucinations I had for a few months last year. I was writing it up to be a three-part article but realized it was outside the scope of what I’m trying to do here, so I’m going to make it a short story instead.  I feel that by writing it out, I take power away from it.  Plus it’s just objectively scary, and I think it could make a good story.

Anyway, these visions stemmed from my own mind, from my own fears and loathing, a creature made real from my subconscious.  It was from that dark, repressed place in the back of our minds where things we haven’t dealt with lurk and wait to leap.

It is part of me, yes, but not consciously, something behind that. Something I can’t control until it’s addressed.

“The unconscious contains all sorts of significant and disturbing material which we need to keep out of awareness because they are too threatening to acknowledge fully.”

https://www.simplypsychology.org/unconscious-mind.html

So I found that the term “subconscious” was being reframed in some circles. That the idea of a separate part of our minds that could hide dark or even dangerous thoughts was essentially the equivalent of “the devil made me do it” and needed to be removed as a concept.  I don’t generally defend Freud, but I bristled at this right away.

 

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“You question me?  I am beside myself!”

 

Many years ago there was a fairly heated debate in one of the bipolar groups I was in, regarding how we refer to ourselves – “I have bipolar disorder” vs. “I am bipolar.”

Although I wrote this off as nit-picky, I do think they each made interesting points.

The pros and cons came down to this; “I have bipolar disorder” indicated that it was not who we are. We are standing next to it, maybe even holding its hand, but it is only part of who we are and does not define us.  But those opposed to it felt it was being held at arms distance, that it showed a degree of shame, as in, that’s not really me, it’s this thing I won’t hold.  This is dangerous, it was said, because it allows for “the devil made me do it.”

“I am bipolar” says I own this, it is part of me and I’m not ashamed.  It is not arm’s length from me, it is part of my being. But those opposed to it felt it was making it too front and center, that it was made to be a defining trait that could become a crutch.

Honestly, I have no dog in that semantic race.  I see the points on all sides, but I think it is a waste of our time.  It seems like an excuse to not deal with bigger issues like, how do I get this creature out before it engulfs me, for example.

But I think that conscience vs. subconscious is valid to look at.  It got me thinking about where our dark thoughts live, and how we disavow them.

This thing I saw even in the daytime, was a clear manifestation of my inner doubts and loathing, feelings of worthlessness and burden. I created it and gave it flesh.  I figured it was those feelings and fears lurking in the box in the back of my rational mind that had been ignored for too long and burst out and had to be destroyed by, in my case, a ritual that involved my husband, incense, a symbol of success (my book) and screaming “Fuck you!  I’m not worthless!” until my throat hurt.  But everyone is different.

The debate around the subconscious, or the Id, as I understand it, involves the arms-length argument.  If I keep my demons a separate part of my mind, I have no control over what happened, in any real way.  In any way that I could stop.

The devil made me do it.

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My subconscious, generally speaking.

I never felt that creature wasn’t part of me, I know perfectly well what it was.  But I also don’t feel good about owning it.  It was so horrible and so present that I was afraid I had lost my mind for good.  I was afraid that it was the beginning of watching myself slip slowly into absolute insanity from which there was no coming back.  I was starting to think that this “thing” would literally kill me.

 

It could not physically do so, but could I die basically of fright?  And if I did, would it essentially be deniable suicide?

But if I embrace it, if I stop referring to my demons as my subconscious, if I remove that word and concept, would that be healthier?  Or would it hurt me more, would it make it too present in which case it could stroll back in faster?  And can that even be done, the way the brain is wired?  We can’t keep all of our thoughts in the fore of our minds, it’s simply not possible, I don’t think.

I don’t have answers to any of these questions, as I said, this is really just a thought exercise.

So many thoughts are bubbling up, so many feelings are being addressed, but so few answers. I will, of course, run all this by my therapist, and I might write another article once we talk about it.  But in the meantime, I want to see what you think about it.  I’ve seen that some of my followers on this blog have initials after their names, I’m always excited to hear professional insight.

Whatever the subconscious is called, however it’s conceptualized, I hope that I have calmed it down for the foreseeable future.  The thing that crawled up my bed, the thing I saw in the daytime, the thing that hated me with fire and wanted me dead, scared the hell out of me.  I would very much appreciate never seeing it again.

 

Death, Taboo, and Moving On

Some of my funniest stories don’t necessarily begin that way, and they may not end that way.

Gallows Humor – Explained

I explain gallows humor in that article so I won’t go over it again here, but in a nutshell, it’s finding something unendingly hilarious in otherwise horrible circumstances, things where there really shouldn’t be any humor at all.  It’s a survival technique, generally.

For example, this story begins…

So we went to pick up my dad’s ashes.

My sister, brother, uncle, and aunt went to the funeral home to pick up my dad’s ashes.

Everyone grieves differently, sometimes from moment to moment.  My sister was not in a good place at this point, and I was in full disassociation mode.

Full disclosure – I loathe the funeral industry.  I have nothing but contempt for the business that takes advantage of people while they are in the darkest place of their lives to sell them caskets that cost thousands of dollars that they may have to take out a loan to afford.  There is no reason and no excuse beyond predatory capitalism.

It is with that frame of mind that I walked in and immediately my mind went sproing.  It looked like Barbara Cartland barfed on Laura Ashley, accompanied by the dulcet tones of music that made Yanni sound edgy.

The overstuffed furniture and pillows, the pink and green throw rugs and flower patterned curtains with puffy valances, which looked like a Jiffy Pop dome covered in 1950s wallpaper.

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Pictured – Comfort, apparently.

Already, I was stifling giggles.  It was just so very aggressively absurd.

When we were called into the salesman’s office, my sister and I sat at the desk and everyone else crowded around us.  My husband sat next to me, which ended up being a very good thing.

Before we started choosing the headstone, when the salesman began to speak, I started to lose any semblance of control.  He spoke in this near-whisper, so-very-sincere it practically oozed concern, the kind of voice one practices with a tape recorder to make sure it is just the right mixture of concern and sincerity.  It caused me physical pain trying to keep it together.  Then he poked the proverbial needle into my composure balloon.

He said the word “cremains.”

I had never heard that word before, and it was without question, the funniest thing I had heard ever.  Then he said it again.  And again, with that soothing voice right out of central casting, surrounded by tiny roses that I swear were mocking me, pointing at me with their thorny rose arms chanting “Haha!  You’re trapped!”

My eyes started to fill with tears.  I reached for Chris with my left hand, while my right hand snatched about seven tissues which I  shoved against my face and just, lost it.  I shook with laughter, my whole body lurching up and down and a sound I can only describe as the squeeeeeaaak a straw makes if you pull it slowly out of a plastic lid.  Luckily, everyone interpreted this as weeping, except for Chris who has met me.

In the end, we did what we needed to do, and the salesman handed my dad’s “cremains” to us.  Nothing about that was funny.

All of this is taboo. We have so many around death, but they are things we should be talking about because I know that they can eat at a person, the guilt behind it.

My dad had prostate cancer.  The doctors didn’t catch it until it was far too late.  He lived the best he could during his final years, but ultimately spent the last six months of his life in a hospice.

During this time, Chris and I drove to see him every day.  We left San Francisco for Fremont, about an hour and a half drive, at 4:30 during rush hour.  We did this every day for months.

After a while, I found myself grousing about this obligation. It became an inconvenience, we had to leave work early, traffic is a nightmare, and so on.  Dad did not ask us to do that, it was what I wanted.  But after a while, it became a burden.

When I caught myself thinking that, frowning as we headed to the car, my heart sunk.  How many times did he drop everything to be there for me? How many sacrifices did he make to see me grow up?  I felt terrible.

I got the call from my sister.  We went to the hospice to say goodbye and have an impromptu wake, and I saw my dad lying there, no longer my dad but looked like him. We shared our memories and cried with the staff (dad was a charmer, everyone there loved him) and we went our separate ways to grieve.

The next day, at 4:30, a thought entered my head.  I don’t have to go to Fremont.  We don’t have to make the hour-long drive during rush hour.  We don’t have to do that anymore.

And when I caught myself thinking that, my heart sank.

I was relieved.

I was not relived my dad was gone, that I would never see him again.  I was relieved that my life could slowly return to normal.  That I could finish my work day, come home at a reasonable hour, have a relaxing evening with Chris, plan for Saturday.

I wasn’t relieved that my dad was dead, I was happy that I was alive.

He was in terrible pain, bedridden, couldn’t eat, couldn’t do anything he loved.  He didn’t want to live that way, not even in a hospice with its own very good dog.

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This is Max.

He was an active person, he belonged to so many clubs, this was not life for him.  He was just waiting.  I know this for a fact.

Shortly before he died, dad asked me if I would interpret a dream for him.  He had never done something like that before, a WWII veteran, he wasn’t touchy-feely.  He started to speak very quietly.

“I am in an elevator, but it goes all sorts of ways, up and down, sideways.  The doors open but I don’t get out.  I want to get out, but it’s not the right floor.  So it gets to the top floor, the doors open, and there is such a light in the room.  I want to get out, but I’m scared.  What do you think it means?”

His voice started to tremble slightly at the end, and when he asked the question, he lowered his head, looked over his glasses with raised, fearful eyebrows.  He knew exactly what it meant, but he wanted to hear it.

“Why don’t you want to get out?  That room sounds nice.”

“I’m scared.  I don’t know what will happen.”

“If it feels warm and nice, maybe that’s a good place for you.  A safe place.”

He stared at me for a moment, and then nodded and turned his head.

A few days later he was gone.

He had checked in with each of us.  He wanted to know that we would all be ok, and he wanted us to know that he valued what we are. My brother was an electronic wizard, my sister was levelheaded and dependable, I was the touchy-feely arty person who interprets dreams.

I loved him, I didn’t want him to leave.  But he was in terrible pain, and he wanted to go.  I know that for a fact.  The elevator dream was not exactly ambiguous.

It’s not bad to want one’s life back.  He would not have been happy if we had stopped enjoying the life that we have.

In the end, my dad valued my strangely wired brain.  I believe completely that he would have been as disgusted by the funeral home as I was, and I would have caught his eye, pointed to the plug-in air fresheners that smell of chemical roses, and he would be giggling as much as I.

So please, be as kind and gentle with yourself as you are with your loved one.  Call on whatever it is that gives you comfort, however you cope.  You do not disrespect them by living a good life, you honor their memory.

My dad found his peace finally in his Christian faith.

My uncle asked him what he wanted to pray about.  He replied in an uncharacteristically quiet voice.

“Give me the grace to die.”

 

 

Film and Wonder and Comfort for a Misfit Girl

What are your favorite films from childhood? Some of them stay with us, mark us somehow. The boat scene in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory scared the hell out me, but left a picture of surrealism I didn’t have before.

I have many of these, but for me, there is one that stands alone, the chocolate to my vanilla, Star Trek to my Star Wars, Beatles to every other band ever.

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The Original Series, of course.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Like so many things in my orbit, it has a deeper backstory than just “I like it.”  Considering that I have bonded with a tiny spring I found on the carpet, this is not really a huge surprise.

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I’m not kidding.  I wouldn’t lie about such a thing.

When I was a kid, I was a very tall, very odd, spectacle-wearing, sci-fi loving, bookish, and awkward nerd.  My love of the fantastic, the bizarre, my gallows humor, poetry, and music have been with me so long that I don’t know what came first, the odd wiring in my head or the odd wiring in my head as a response to bullshit.

Music especially was in my veins.  Both my dad and my sister were/are musical, and it was a constant in my life. Sports, military, guns decidedly were not.  But all I saw in movies and TV were that strong, powerful, square-jawed men would destroy all the alien threats.  This is one reason I love The Day the Earth Stood Still, Klaatu is issuing a warning, and the world comes together to listen after a nonviolent demonstration of power, and a sweet ass robot.

But I digress.

The ideas that I was saturated with were that music and art and literature and especially poetry were for people who don’t fight, but the world is safe from tyrants and giant ants because of manly men.  Men with guns.  Men who fart and don’t apologize.

So in 1977, I was nine years old, and my friend’s parents took us to the movies to see this new film, Close Encounters.  Immediately I was hooked.  My eyes were wide, my mouth slack-jawed, my head jutted forward for most of the film, according to my friend’s mother.

The domestic scenes with Roy and his suburban-hell-scape-dwelling family pulled me out a little.  I “knew” all of those people and it was uncomfortable. It’s also best to not think about the fact that Roy straight up abandoned his family, the equivalent of “I’m going to buy cigarettes…” without the ending “…in a spaceship.”

And Roy’s obsession, the creeping, crippling insanity, using art to make sense of it all, and his ultimate vindication was like a soft creature hugging me from behind, whispering “it’s ok, you’re just as you need to be” into my ear.

Imprinting can be as simple as an overheard response as well.  My friend’s parents were hippies, and when Roy and Jillian were driving towards Devil’s Tower and they saw all the animals on the side of the road, my friend asked “Did the military do that?” her mother’s answer was a scoff and an “Of course they did.  Bastards.” A fertile seed was planted in my anti-authority soil.

Much of the film was smart people doing smart things.  The mapmaker recognized what the signal was, the air traffic controllers coolly handling an unknown potential threat, the French man leading the team having doubts about what the military was doing, these were the heroes.

Oh, by the way, 42-YEAR-OLD SPOILERS!

All of this built to the scene that defines the movie for me, the final scene when the aliens arrive. This is the part that grabbed my heart and my mind and every single thing I was and am.

From the second the nerdy looking keyboardist climbed up on the platform, put on the headphones, and started to play the five tones, I was gone. Those five tones, that salutation to this alien presence, the responses from the mothership, that is enough to inspire wonder and awe from anyone with a pulse.

But it was far more for me.  All the soldiers, all the guns, and the only thing that mattered at all was the nerdy keyboardist and the five tones.

Music was the tool.  It brought them here.  And with it, we spoke to them.  Up a major third, down an octave, my language.  My kind made this.  My kind is important.

My kind speaks to aliens.

When the ship opened and returned all the people, some of whom generations of their families had lived and died wondering where they went (I don’t think too much about that either,) and they chose Roy to go with them, I don’t believe I was ever so jealous.  I wanted to go away with aliens who spoke music.  I sang the five tones to myself, sat on my bed doing the gestures, waiting to be taken away.  In a sense I was I suppose, for a little while.

That film, that science fiction film with some troublesome plot points, was etched into me and has never left.

My husband and I finally made it to Devil’s Tower a few years ago.

As we drove towards it, it grew larger and larger, just like in the film.

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Not pictured, drugged livestock.

My heart raced, my mind absorbed every inch of it, every scrape down the sides.  The mountain is sacred to several tribes, so we tread lightly.

https://www.nps.gov/deto/learn/historyculture/sacredsite.htm

We arrived, got out of the car, and there it was right before me.  Near the end of the film, Claude Lacombe asks Roy “What do you want?” his reply is “I just want to know that it’s really happening.”  I felt like that, just for a moment, I felt exactly like that.

I was nine again.

Recently we got to see it with the music performed by the San Francisco Symphony.

Before it started, there was a short bit with Jeffery Anderson, Principal Tubist, outside Davies Symphony Hall, playing the tones on his tuba, the hall responding as the mother ship.

 

 

Those five tones always shake me to my core and fill my heart. I lose a breath, close my eyes, cry.

This film came to me at exactly the right time. It became a comfort and a joy.  I’m 51 years old now, and my heart still beams when I watch it.

I’d love you to leave a comment about what fills you like this, whatever it is.  But if you don’t have something, I encourage you to find it.

It’s not too late to feel childlike wonder.  Not ever.

National Poetry Month – It Matters

April is National Poetry Month.

Does it matter?

It matters to me because I was first and foremost a poet, from my very early days. I was proud to call myself that, it was a title for me, an identity, something that set me apart from others.  I could play guitar, albeit poorly, I could sing, and I wrote poetry. I put my heart on paper and bled my very soul.

I was a bit dramatic.

I don’t remember not writing, hunched over notebooks, scraps of paper, diaries, recording my life and joys and traumas in one of my only outlets.  It was the only power I had, creating worlds, recording events, finding some escape with a skill that, as far as I knew, not many others had.  The fact that not too many people understood it, or valued it, made it somehow more enticing.  They didn’t like it because they didn’t understand it.  They made no effort to understand it.  I still kind of feel that way, actually.

Years later I would major in Creative Writing, with a focus on poetry.  One of the worst mistakes I ever made, by the way.  It placed a watcher on my shoulder I never had before, it silenced my voice, took my muse, and left me a shell of a person.  In fairness, the watcher was the gasoline, but the excessive, crippling drunkenness and black depression was the match that blew it all up. I did not get my degree.

It was not all bad though, it gave me stories I managed to write to long term memory.

I transferred to UC Santa Cruz from Ohlone Junior College in Fremont, CA.  I was accepted with the understanding that I complete in summer session two courses I missed, astronomy and statistics.  Math and I are not friends, it’s just a jerk, actually, so this was not a good thing for me.

Sitting in my seat, I  looked around the room and saw 40-some people, all of them artists, staring at the professor like deer in the headlights, trembling slightly and clutching a copy of “Leaves of Grass” all of us simply not wired this way, all of us taking General Education classes in the summertime.

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They were not clutching copies of Leaves of Grass.  I lied.

That fall semester, UCSC canceled Creative Writing and I, and all the other poets were lost.  We sat under the shade of a tree, dressed in black, shunning the sun the Math majors were prancing in, chain-smoking and silent.  In hindsight, this is a pretty funny picture.

So a quick romp in and out of San Francisco State, and that was that. No more hope of a degree, no more poetry in my heart, a whole lot of booze.

It took 25 years to get this back.  Twenty-five years later I finally got my muse back.

And now, it is National Poetry Month.

Does anyone still care?

I was just at City Lights bookstore here in San Francisco for the 100th birthday party of Lawrence Ferlinghetti.  It was packed with people, blocking the streets, crowding the store, an entire day of poetry readings and positive, glowing, happy energy.  People just beaming, surrounded by like minds.

Some of those people were poets, I’m sure, some not.  It doesn’t matter.  What brought them there was poetry and the celebration of this amazing man and the haven he created.  He just released a new book, at 100.  I have released one in 51 years. I’ll get right on that.

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City Lights Books – A haven for poets and everyone else.

Poetry does matter.  It matters like the air we breathe, like laughter, like tears, like fire, like rage.  It matters to every abused child who uses it to escape.

Worlds are built.  People are created.  Flight and magic and vengeance and mirth made real.

It matters.

Do you write?  Do you want to?  Then write, for crying out loud!  Who cares if it’s good?  Does it make you happy?  Were you filled in some way by writing it?  Then write more. Keep it private if you like, or show it to only those people you trust to hold it gently.

It matters.

If you write and you would like to share it, do put it in the comments.  I love to see poetry proudly offered.  I love to see art of any kind.

I’ve included a link to my book as well.

My advice to you, for what it’s worth, whatever you do, whatever your plans, for fuck’s sake don’t take a poetry class!

Life Songs – Discussions with an Angry Child

Musty Smells and Daydreams

I live in an older building, built in 1927, which has its quirks and issues. Recently while doing some repairs, the plumbers found the pipes are not up to code, so parts of walls in every apartment have been slowly torn apart to fix it.

One of those is in what’s called the “butler’s pantry,” the small space between the kitchen and the dining room. There’s a built-in hutch and decals of crows and branches on the walls. We like the spooky. (We got this place on pure luck – a hand-me-down from a friend. I always feel compelled to point that out.)

Wallpaper Crow kitchen
S’up.

We also love history. This building has a view of the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s called that because it “bridges” the Golden Gate, just a fun fact for you. The people who lived here then could watch it being built.

I would love to see an inside photo of the apartment from around that time. I would love to see how people in 1927 and thereabouts decorated, how they lived, what was new and trendy. I want to know what it looked like, but finding these photos has proven impossible so far. So we painted and decorated it to reflect my beloved 19th Century instead, with additions like a TV and penicillin, and I am left to daydream.

One of the quirks is water leaks so when we noticed the paint was buckled and blistered on one section of the walls we shrugged and went on with our day enjoying indoor plumbing and horseless carriages.

But when the workers cut out part a wall in the butler’s pantry, it caused one paint chip to fall off the wall next to it. My husband peeled it off figuring it will have to be repainted. Then he called me over.

I nearly passed out. Seriously, I gasped so deeply I made myself lightheaded.

Under all that paint, layer upon layer for who knows how many decades, was the most amazing wallpaper. I haven’t researched it yet, so I don’t know when it was put up, but the design looks to be around the 1930s. If anyone knows from the photo, please leave a comment with that information, I will be your very best friend.  Also, I have cookies.

Wallpaper 6 Wallpaper 20190322_090244

She is a faded beauty, an aged but lovely lady patiently waiting to be unveiled and make an entrance. She is water damaged, faded, ripped and pulling from the wall, but I cannot stop looking at her. Wallpaper is female, apparently. I didn’t realize that either until typing this.

Now my head is swimming. What did it look like when it was new? Did it cover the entire little room? Was the hutch painted white at that time, or had that particular crime not yet occurred, so it was still the bare wood it was meant to be?

These people went to a store, chose that pattern, and had it put up. At that time the building had a dumbwaiter and kitchen so one could order food to be sent up, so I’m assuming they did not do their own work. I imagine a small forest of plants.

Wallpaper plant
Not a green thumb to be found in this place now.

What was in the hutch? What dishes did they have? They were likely wealthy so did they have a maid who laid the table?

We are not wealthy, we painted the apartment ourselves. By “we” I mean “my husband.”

I keep going back to look at it, stand back, move close, and touch it with my finger, tracing a line around the palm trees and bridges. It smells musty, old glue and paper and probably mold. It’s a lovely smell, like old books tucked into a proper library. The smell brings so many questions and flights of fancy for me. So much wondering about the people and their lives. Among those lives, my family, going back to the 19th Century. I was born across the Bay, a fact I will forever be bitter about.

Family stories are wonderful, but seeing this relic in my own home, something that, judging by the thickness of the paint layers has been lost for a very long time, it’s like finding a ruin, counting strata to figure out how long it’s been there.

This is how my mind works. This is how I see things. A strip of wallpaper has sent me into a rabbit warren of daydreams and an aching desire for a time machine. But since I don’t currently have one on account of they don’t exist, all I can do is wonder and smile.

Eventually, probably next week, the workmen will come back to patch the holes, and at that time the jig will be up, and they’ll probably have to paint over that spot.

But before they do, we are going to slice that strip of paper out and frame it, and then hang it right in that spot. I’ll walk past it every day and smile since she’s right back where she belongs.

Update!

Well, I had finished this article and we sliced out the paper. Lo and behold, there was another behind it! This one was against the plaster, so it is the original. We cut it out too, and they will both be framed. I’ll share that when it’s done.

Wallpaper 2nd layer 11

 

Perfect Imperfection

At a glass blowing show, in the back of a cabinet, set away from the perfect art, was a proto champagne flute.

It sat on a perfect stem, but the bowl hadn’t set properly.  It was going to be melted down, but I loved it, so I brought it home.

It can’t be used as a glass, so it sat on my dresser.  It existed only to be beautiful to me.  It has no function, it is beauty for the sake of beauty.

 

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Immediately I saw the elegant watery dance of this perfectly imperfect vessel, the ripples on a pristine lake sneakily snatching the moonlight.

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It makes me smile. Maybe it is a kindred spirit.  Perfectly imperfect.

 

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From a twisted glass, a reminder, look for beauty in the broken world, you will find it.

A quiet walk on a peaceful trail, pine trees have dropped branches, dead on the ground.  Brown needles, brown cones, brown earth, brown death.  But tiny yellow flowers pop through, green stems burst from the nurturing mound.  Life begins again.

 

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From death, a reminder, live while you can live the best you can, find the beauty in the perfectly imperfect.

In the end, yellow flowers may grow from your bones, your ash or flesh in the air we breathe. Your life means something, even as it floats away. It will become something beautiful.

Strangely beautiful.

 

“Earthly bound to mortal cares

Greedy death awaits us.”

 

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All of us as one, perfectly imperfect.

 

 

 

Flip the Telescope and Have Fun!

“I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living, It’s a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope. Which is what I do, And that enables you to laugh at life’s realities.”
– Dr. Seuss

Like most kids, I grew up with these books, the numbers and colors of various fish, the color of food one will or will not eat, and of course, the Grinch. To this day, it is not Christmas without Boris Karloff’s endearing lisp teaching me about the preferred size of a heart.

Dr. Seuss is so deeply entrenched in our hearts, my husband and I wrote our vows in the appropriate rhyme scheme,

Will you take her as your wife?
Will you love her all your life?

Will you take him as your spouse,
never treat him like a louse?

It begins

There are a few things I can point to from my very early life that helped to craft my sense of humor (Warner Bros cartoons) my love of 19th Century romanticism (Beatrix Potter) and my deep and abiding love of silliness and poetry, that would be the gentleman quoted above.

Notice anything there?  Cartoon, cartoon, cartoon.

I have never been a big fan of normal. Why look at things from the right end of the telescope? Why look at a rock and see a rock? It’s a tiny mountain, and even tinier creatures live around it, carrying on with their tiny lives and tiny little tandem bikes.

I took this picture a few months ago. It’s a plushy goat’s head with a Hello Kitty bandage on the horn.

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While I was giggling and snapping the picture with my phone, someone asked me what the deal was, why was I taking a picture of it. I ran those words over and over in my head to make sure I heard what I thought I did, and then I said with a shrug and furrowed brow, “Because it’s funny.”

I really don’t understand the reason for the question. The plushy goat head is funny, it made me laugh, I squealed and jumped up and down when I saw Hello Kitty, so I had to have a picture. It’s the telescope the wrong way round, why would I look at the world any other way?

I’m used to those questions though, and the looks as well; people looking at me like I am a Martian here to steal our Danish apple reserves. They are mad for apple Danish on Mars, most people don’t know that. And it’s quips like that that cause people to stare at me all mouth-agape.

I don’t care. I love my world.

Play pretend is important

I don’t believe in unicorns. I don’t believe in any supernatural things. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have fun looking for cloven hoof prints when I go hiking. I suspend my disbelief, that’s all. Try it, you won’t look silly, no one even has to know unless you tell them. Look for the unicorns and smile. I bet you that someone else wants to play too, but don’t think they can because they’re a grown-up.

You know how some games have an age range, “For ages 4 – 8” that sort of thing? You know what doesn’t have an age limit? FUN! PLAY PRETEND!

Yes, play pretend. People may think, adults don’t do that. Wanna bet?

Recently a friend’s kids asked if I would play with them. We set out to catch a dragon. Should you need this information, dragons eat rocks. baby dragons eat rocks, shells, and crispy Cheetos, and lizards eat rocks and shells. We found so many dragons! I got to hear what colors they were, how big, if they breathe fire or not.

I learned this because I asked them, and they told me. And then they asked me what I saw, and I told them.

There is no age limit on fun. You can play pretend with anything.

Fun with photography

I took my own photos for my book because I can’t afford a professional.

I set up my photo equipment in my dining room. I had the background stand, a tripod, and three of those lights with umbrellas.

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Nothing is more fun than the lights with umbrellas.

I staged the props, took a picture, moved a light, took another, lowered an umbrella, moved stuff around. I did this for a couple of months, probably took about 3,000 pictures, and I got about 10 I actually think are good.

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Yes, it’s a shameless plug, but I never claimed to possess an ounce of shame.

I could call that learning a new craft, or practical use of resources, or taking care of business. All of those are completely correct.

But what I was doing, for all the fancy adult words, was playing pretend.

I am not a photographer, I had zero idea what I was doing, I was learning things as I went and had the time of my life.

You want to play pretend, but think you’re too old?  Dude, I’m 51. Nobody is gonna tell me I’m too old, they’re not the boss o’me.

(For those who are not from Northern California, “Dude” is unisex, not species specific, and not specific to biological life.)

And they’re not the boss o’you either.

We have to be adults sometimes, of course. We have to work, pay bills, raise families, whatever your life looks like. But nobody gets to take your imagination, nobody. Your thoughts and dreams are your own.

It’s ok to play, in fact, it’s essential to life and mental health. It’s not a cure-all for those of us suffering, but it can ease the pain, or even help keep it on a leash. Look through the telescope wrong way round. Have fun.

Oh, one thing, a comically undersized umbrella will not protect you from falling anvils. That’s a safety tip for you.

acme catalog
Why does he keep buying ACME?