Tag Archives: writing

Imprints in the Fog – A Halloween Tale

Hello! It’s Halloween, my favorite holiday, so I thought I’d share a spooky story.

Some of this is true; the history, location, thing I found, the man I met. Otherwise, this is a work of fiction. Happy Halloween!

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A disturbing thing happened yesterday.

I decided to go for a walk out by Land’s End, where a long, twisty trail runs through flowers, trees, hillside. Off to the right as I’m walking is the Pacific Ocean, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the foghorns. Since it was foggy and lovely, the horns were playing their tune, such a perfect day.

I kept walking down the familiar narrow path until I got to the long staircase to Mile Rock Beach. It’s a tiny spot, covered in logs and rocks, just a little spit of sand really, but very beautiful, and I had it all to myself.

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I perched on some driftwood and watched the waves crash; it fills my heart to see that. Honestly, I’ll take a rocky ocean with dramatic waves over a calm blue sea any day of the week. After a while I walked over the wet, slippery rocks that join to another little beach, and I found the strangest thing.

There are a lot of old WWII remnants around the City, Fort Point I guess is the best known, but there are random machine gun nests and gun turrets in the Presidio and around, so coming up on a ruin of some sort is not really unusual. But this was different.

It looked like a building that had collapsed from erosion, also not uncommon here. Every now and then you may find a tombstone from one of the old cemeteries, back when they moved them all to Colma. Except they didn’t always move them, some of the tombstones were repurposed, the bodies forgotten. Now and then, they turn up. Renovations at the Legion of Honor went poorly, at least for whoever found the first coffin, and the anonymous fellow no longer Resting in Peace. It’s all part of our spooky history.

But this baffled me. It looked like it had been a bathroom, judging by the tile. The graffiti told me I was far from the first to find it, and a decaying vulture had been there for a while, but I still felt like an intruder.

Since I have photos, I won’t spend too much time describing what it looked like, but what happened, I couldn’t capture on my phone.

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My mind has been cluttered, in fact, I went on this walk to clear it out a bit, so when I heard someone say my full name, Susanne, I whipped my head around to see who was there, and how did they know a name I haven’t used since I was about 11? Occasionally when hiking out here, I’ve come across a man who lives in the brush. The first time I saw him, he was standing by his tent, holding a couple of plastic gas cans that I assume he filled with water somewhere. We both froze, each afraid of the other’s response. I just walked slowly away; he passed me a little while later in another spot. I’ve seen him a time or two since then, but I’m relatively certain he’s corporeal. I wonder who he is and what he has seen out there in the trees and fog.

After a scan of the beach and it’s many hiding places, I convinced myself that my ears played a trick on me. “It was the waves crashing, that’s all. Sussssannneeeeee…a wave, that’s all.” I poked around the ruin a little more, and I found an intact room, plumbing fixtures still attached, one small porcelain sink, but no toilet or shower. I expect they had been on the other side.

I tested the floor, and it was solid. I started to imagine, who used this room? Was it military? It looked like it, and that wouldn’t be uncommon here. But where did it come from? I know the area well, and there was no structure like this up on the cliff. What kinds of things did they worry about, what kept them awake at night? What made them blissfully happy? If this was a WWII bunker, how did they deal with the stress? Although the City was one of the best places they could be during the war.

It hit me as it does sometimes. Most of these soldiers could have been my sons. Now, they’d be 90+ but then, just kids. Just kids in this tiled box in the fog and the horns.

“Susanne….”

I heard it again. I turned too quickly, slipped on the slick tile, and landed awkwardly on my left thigh. I sat there for a moment, very aware how defenseless I was, how vulnerable, when I heard a rustling in the trees, and the sound of feet trying to navigate the moss-covered rocks. My heart was pounding, and I breathed with my mouth open, so I wouldn’t make as much noise. From where I was I stared directly at the dead vulture, all the feathers on its wings splayed out around a neatly picked ribcage. I wondered how often it feasted on human flesh. I couldn’t shake this morbid thought as the squeak of rubber soles got closer, and the pain in my hip got sharper, the fog turned so thick it was light rain, and I couldn’t see much through my glasses. I thought, “That poor vulture won’t get to enjoy me.” I and covered my mouth and laughed quietly at the disturbing thought.

Just then the footsteps stopped. Slowly, and now soaking wet, I scooted down the floor to the opening, braving a quick glance. My heart raced and pounded like a timpani, deep breaths couldn’t calm it down. All around me, going about their business, men made of fog and shadow, wearing uniforms, dissolving in the wind, and reforming, going about their day in silence. I sat with my jaw hanging, in terror and fascination. And then one of them turned and looked directly in my eyes. He saw me. He reached out his hand and said, “Susanne.” then dissolved as the fog billowed, and reformed slowly in front of me, body wafting in the breeze as he regained form, not two feet away, beckoning me to join him. “Susanne.” was all he said. Although frozen, I felt my hand reach back to him, when the fog horns went still, and the little beach echoed with the sound of one lonely trumpet playing “Taps.”

All of the soldiers, including mine, looked around with sorrow in their cold, empty eyes, and then a look of quiet acceptance passed on their faces as they faded into the fog and the horns returned.

I got up as quickly as I could and realized I would be able to walk across the rocks. As I arose, I saw a figure near the cliff, but he was human. A gust of wind cleared the air for a moment. The young homeless man who lives in the brush was standing there with a battered trumpet tucked under his arm. He stared at me for a moment, saluted, and started the climb up the cliff.

Whatever happened to those boys, so many decades ago, I hope they have peace now. That this was just an echo in time. But since there is a sentry with a trumpet, I expect they come back now and then.

I wonder if anyone has ever taken that boy’s hand?

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.

Art, Self-Care, and Celebration

My husband was away this weekend, and since I was on my writing break, I got bored. I needed to do something creative but I didn’t know what.

Poking around in Facebook I saw an ad from a corsetry shop a friend owns. The featured corset was made with the lace from an old wedding gown which was in tatters. I thought that was a great idea. Then I remembered that my first wedding gown is under my bed. I had it cleaned and preserved after the wedding, and it has sat in that box unseen for 31 years.

But it’s much older than that. My dad and my uncle split the price, and my mother wore it in 1954 for their wedding, and my aunt shortly after. When my first husband and I got married, I wanted to wear it too, so a few alterations later, it was ready for the big, extremely ill-advised day in my 20-year-old life.

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The pictures of me are so funny; she looks like maybe we are related but not the same person. Well, we aren’t the same person. I mean, few of us are the same as we were at 20, I don’t think. Unless you are 20, then hey, you do you.

But the dress is not sacred, we split up after five years, so why on earth should I leave it in its box like a mummy in a sarcophagus?

To recap, I was alone, bored, and had a 65-year-old gown with two previous owners including my mom, that I wore 31 years ago and haven’t seen since. Nope. Nothing there to set a person into a spin.

I dug it out from under our bed, brought it into my dining room, and started to unbox it like Howard Carter but with fewer “wonderful things” and deadly curses.

I had forgotten how heavy it is, and how fragile the lace was even back then, and the veil is so huge I sat on it when I was wearing it.

It did not fit. I am a tad larger now. But I found that if I unbuttoned the back I could slip my arms into the sleeves and it looked, from the front, like I was wearing it. It is old and cracked and the pearls are dropping off with each step and something had to be done with it. Something…spooky.

I was alone, and the good camera was with Chris so I decided I would just take some random goth-y photos as selfies with my phone. And then I had an idea. I made a little photo-narrative. I used the plastic skeleton that is in my profile picture, (Ermastus, meet everyone, everyone, meet Ermastus) to be the…

You know, I’m torn here. I am fairly dark by nature, I cut my teeth on Poe and Lovecraft, I’ve always leaned to the macabre, and to me, the Paris Catacombs are beautiful and life-affirming. But not everyone shares that and this page is not meant to upset anyone, so I’m not going to explain it.

Here’s one of the photos that is not spooky.

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You can tell it’s art because the background is black and I’m not smiling.

I do have to explain this though. Part of the process was getting a photo of me in crippling pain; pain so deep and so unfathomable, my mind has left the physical world, never to return. In order to do this, I had to make the faces and body language to capture it (while holding a phone and trying to disguise that I’m taking a selfie,) and after an hour or so of this, something odd happened. I started to feel deeply, horribly, crushingly, depressed.

I took off the gown, put my jammies back on (who are the people who dress in street clothes in their homes?) and left the room. I looked at the photos. Seeing my face and body like that, in an old storied gown, remembering my mother, long gone, my aunt, my first marriage, long ended, every single wound and unnamed pain, and every time I considered suicide…I closed the photos and thought about the void.

Here’s a picture of my cat, Crazy Legs.

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He says hello, but Ermastus is being shy.

This is why it is so important to know how to practice self-care. I was alone, and I would be for two more days, so I did familiar things, ate some leftover gnocchi, sat on the sofa with Crazy Legs, and started to marathon “Parks and Recreation” for I think the fourth time. I love that show, it’s comforting and normal and is not even acquainted with depth. I can do it nearly line for line and I love every single person on it.

I do wonder though, how someone looked at sweet, tubby Andy and said, “Hey, let’s make him Starlord!” But I’m glad they did. I could have watched any of the Marvel Movies too.

After a couple of hours, I was fine. But something very intense had happened.
My art is mainly on the page, and sometimes on canvas or three-dimensional. Photography is new to me, and this sort of quasi-acting is unknown to me, so I was not prepared for what it would do, what it would dredge up.

Holding that pose, over and over and over, pretending to scream and wail, I was not prepared for what that would do to me. Chris has acted, so when he got home he told me that’s what actors may go through; it can really fuck with a person’s head. I only did it for an hour. They do it for days or weeks or more. The body/mind connection is powerful. It can hold emotions that can be triggered by anything, touch, smell, vision, or action in this case. The mind brings it forward, affects the body, and so on.

Now, I did get some beautiful shots from this whole thing, so it was worth it. But it was hard, and knowing what to do to shake it off was critical.

Whatever it is that you do, whatever might bring pain to the surface, you need to have a full toolbox, ready to grab what you need to fix it. Sit down, take stock, and think – what makes you happy, what simple thing can you do to make yourself feel safe? A certain food? An animal, a beloved T.V. show or film? What is your simple joy?

Also, celebrate all the victories, big or small, cute or spooky. For me, I’m writing again, I’m making art, so here’s an alcohol-free toast to all of us!

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I’m in my jammies and no make-up so this is it. I’m only going to go so far with honesty.

Self-Imposed Deadlines and Creative Night Terrors

I am an excitable person. This is not exactly a shocking admission like “I am the Dread Pirate Roberts” or something, but still. Honestly, I’m so excitable and I get so wound up about even the silliest things, it’s sometimes hard to tell a manic period from “that stop light is wearing a traffic cone hat!”

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I was alone when I took this, giggling and saying, “He’s a wearing a hat!” For some reason, no one would meet my eyes.

For the record, if I can sit back and calmly discuss what I’m thinking about, if I can relax and form a thought, I’m just excited, probably not in a manic place. It also helps if I’m not saying things like “This will be the best thing ever and I will make so much money and no one has ever thought of this before and oh my god I need to buy more crepe paper!” all in one breath.

I’m also a bit obsessive. When I find something I’m passionate about, that I feel good about, or is simply fun, it might overtake everything else for a while.

Enter Nightmares and Laughter.

Everything I’m doing right now involves the word “blog.”

“I need to finish an article for the blog.”
“I need to engage my readers on my blog Facebook page.”
“I need to moderate the thread on my blog Facebook page and delete trolls.”

Now, don’t get me wrong, except for the trolls, I am loving this. I get to do a few of my favorite things that do not involve raindrops on roses; I get to write, talk to people, be an advocate or comfort, make people laugh. The only thing that could make this better is if I wrote an article entirely about Hello Kitty.

I’m totally going to write an article entirely about Hello Kitty.

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It’s done. I just wrote it.

My life pretty much revolves around this blog right now.

But there’s more I want to do that I am ignoring.

• I have two books waiting to be written, one has a working title of “Nightmares and Laughter,” because the content is related to the mission of this page. So, not really a skip through the posies to write. The other is an anthology of scary stories, and since I have never written fiction before, that one will take a while too. But if I don’t start it, I will never finish it. That’s just science.

• I have an idea for a business that could be fulfilling but will take a while to set up and whatnot, and probably won’t pay much. Ain’t that always the way.

• And finally, I want to work on some art related to this blog that I think I could sell without disrespecting my vision.

I’d like to make a living doing this manner of thing if I can. But that won’t happen overnight, and it won’t happen if I don’t freakin’ do it.

I’m going to tell you a secret. I wrote an article that I was going to publish yesterday. I wrote it during our heat wave last week, and it was meant to be about how I didn’t feel well, I planned to write it while I was down and talk about that, and how sometimes it’s just hard, but we get through it. And I did write that article. I got it formatted in WordPress, I had all the pictures and the banner set up.

Do you know I actually had nightmares Wednesday night that I had already published it?  I knew it wasn’t good. I reread it and saw that what I wrote was three different articles, including the bones of this one. So I split it up and I’ll finish all of them.

My point though is that I’ve gotten so hopped up on getting articles out that I almost published one I actually had bad dreams about. I never want to publish something below my own standards, I respect all of you too much to do that. Plus I just don’t want my name attached to bad writing.

So I’m neglecting the other projects I want to do.

I love this blog, and I feel good about the mission of it and the hope that I can make a difference in some way. But I’m literally losing sleep to meet an arbitrary deadline.
Another thing that brought me down is that the article was such a Frankenstein’s monster, I immediately thought, “That’s it. My productive spell is over.” My last writing dry spell lasted 25 years, and the idea of having it back only to lose it again was too much.

Then I woke this morning, saw a video about goats that overran a neighborhood, nearly blacked out from laughing, and then immediately found a focus.

This is how I’m going to die.

So my panic has passed for the moment. But while I have some clarity, this is what I’m going to do.

I’m going to take a day “off” from the blog once a week. I’ve even scheduled it because that’s the kind of nerd I am.

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I will try to publish on the Monday and Thursday schedule I set, but if I miss a day that’s fine. I have no editor screaming at me to get pictures of Spiderman.

I would rather be delayed a week than put up something substandard.

This is good. This helps me with my tendency toward “I’m perfect or the world is over.” Babies flyin’ out the door with bathwater, just a big noisy mess.

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I still have that hat!

I love this blog, it means more to me than just words on a page, and I am honored to have each of you come along on this ride.

I promise that I won’t waste your time.

 

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.

 

 

Summer Camps, Musicals, and German-ish Words

Being raised as a Baptist, I know three things well:

1 – Potlucks will always have too many potato salads
2 – Catholics are amused by grape juice communion
3 – Summer camps

My dad’s employer had a camp reserved for them, and we went every year when I was a kid.

Now, when I say camp, I’d like you to imagine please the 1970s/early 1980s suburban camps, with hot meals in the dining hall, large patio with shuffleboard and ping pong. Our tents were wood frame “hogans,” basically a cabin with a canvas roof. Think Brady Bunch with fewer footballs to the nose.

You probably can’t tell, but these are ancient family snapshots.

camp 9

camp 10

There was also a creek to swim in of course. Now, this is the Tuolumne River. If you aren’t familiar, this river is from snowmelt. It is clear, beautiful, and exactly as warm as you would imagine liquid snow to be. But it’s what we were used to and we loved it.

camp 7

One time my sister and I were heading back to the “tent” for a reason lost in time. When we got there we flipped the door flap and there, hanging all upside down, was a teeny tiny bat having a nice snooze. In hindsight, he was perfectly adorable. But 9 or 10 year old me was not enchanted.

I screamed so loudly that the poor little fella sort of shook. The next morning at breakfast, as we all stood in the line for food (no bacon, will the suffering never end!) a few people in line were comparing notes about the piercing scream that came out of the woods the day before. Laughter and jokes commenced as I crouched down further into a metaphorical hole. Bev, as I recall, was zero help.

camp 8
Lookit her…brushin’ back her hair all innocent-like.  

Anyway, traumatized bats aside, it was fun to run around without supervision, to have a “summer boyfriend,” a local boy who once rescued me as my inner tube got caught in “rapids” that put me in very grave danger of bumping slightly into a rock and being annoyed. But I recall everyone on the river bank screaming and my hero running into the very dangerous rapids, grabbing my hand and pulling me slowly out of harm’s way. He was a dreamboat, I tell you.

And then we left and I never saw him again. Such is the life of a song from Grease.

These were good times.

When I was a little older, I went to a Music and Drama camp.

MAD camp was fun; I was around like-minded people, and I got to show off my voice. Next to writing, singing was my greatest joy. The councilors would choose a piece for us, we would practice and do a performance at the end when the parents got there, which was exactly as corny and wholesome as it sounds.

One year they chose “Godspell.” I loved this musical, and I was chosen to sing a solo of “Learn Your Lessons Well.”

Camp
Picture only, since I’m unemployed and don’t have money to pay a copyright lawsuit.

I know this song perfectly, I had sung it before. I figured I could work on other things and just ran the song through my head once or twice. Easy!

Here’s the thing though, this is a rapid, wordy song, there is little time to think. When I got up to sing it at the show I realized that thinking something is not the same as singing something.

I don’t have a clear memory of it except to say that my heart started to pound, my eyes bugged out an inch from my head, and the sweat poured off my body and made a pool on the floor as deep as our freezing cold river. Those last two may be exaggerations but only just.

I got through it. The director told me I repeated a couple of lines, but overall it went fine. My parents and friends said they had no idea that it had happened.

Many years later while I was studying opera (not as impressive as it sounds as I still don’t know how to read music,) I told my instructor about that, and he told me a secret.

When he was applying for his scholarship, he had chosen a song in German that he knew well.

He got up on stage, staring at the faces of the people who would decide if he could afford the Academy or not, and started to sing. Halfway through, his brain simply froze. He listened to the piano between verses hoping to jar his memory but…nothing. So he started to sing again on his cue and simply sang words that sounded vaguely German-ish but meant absolutely nothing. On the next verse he got his brain back from whatever frozen tundra of fear it had been hiding and finished the song perfectly.

He got the scholarship.

He had the opportunity to ask one of the professors how, exactly, had that happened? The seasoned performer told him, “Of course we knew what had happened. Of course we knew you were singing nonsense. But you did not stop. You filled that gap with words that fit the meter and sounded German, the average listener would never have known. Being perfect is advisable in performance, but being able to get past a mistake is truly impressive.”

“Being perfect is advisable in performance, but being able to get past a mistake is truly impressive.”

See? And I’ll bet you wondered how I was going to tie this into my intentions for this blog.

Both of us, in varying levels of importance, froze and could have failed. I did not practice, and he became overwhelmed with stress.

But we kept going and we got through and we did well; we did our best.

Whatever you’re doing, keep doing it. If you fall, that’s ok, get back up and keep going.

Don’t worry what anyone else thinks, because there’s a good chance they didn’t even see you skip a beat.

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.

fiction 4
 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