Picnicking With The Dead

It’s October, so naturally I must write again. I mean, there is nothing about this month that is not cool in some way. It’s full of entertainment for families, for lovers, and so many fans of things that slink in shadows. Creative types are allowed leeway in expression in their film, stories, music, and oh the beauty of those who break free in expression through costume, bless your talented souls.

If your imagination does not stir this month, you are dead inside. Which, this month, should stir your imagination.

This year, best of all, someone had the brilliant idea to fill a gap, a spot where writers have been wanting. If you’ve admired #Inktober or #Drawlloween on Twitter, now there’s #GrimList2019. When I first saw it a couple of days ago, it seemed fortunate as some of my Long Island carnival footage kept popping into my head and I wondered what to do with it. There it was, in the first prompt: “carnival”.

I took two and a half days to finish the first prompt, but I had to learn to edit the pitch of my voice for I sound nothing like a teenage girl, and not quite like a man (but close). I’m an amateur, but I’m learning. The written story is already on my fiction blog.

Which brings me to this post. Not only was it fortunate that I had a little carnival footage, it was also quite pleasing to see the next prompt was “cemetery”. I kept thinking a tour of the local bone yards might be just the thing to lift my spirits about leaving New York, as a tour of cities for the dead was on the wish list for Long Island.

In Staten Island, I saw gravestones made of clay to mark the dead of the first settlers to the Dutch colonies. Their names were crumbling and falling away, on headstones made of clay topped by hand carved angels. My camera is much higher quality now, still too much for me to handle with a great degree of skill really, and I hoped to find nice treasures to illustrate and inspire my fiction.

Our graveyards aren’t quite as rich with history and atmosphere, they reflect more of the prosperity that even early Tulsa had. This town was built on oil and art deco. Even so, there were a few stones crumbling beneath colorful lichens to keep me happy. I could see some angles probably looking lovely in the fog.

Unfortunately, the day was pleasant. There were a few fairy rings and withered, dead trees around though, but there was still the backdrop of a highway and the nearby (comparatively wussy and boring) skyline. Sorry, I’ll shed this “good-bye New York” chip on my shoulder soon, I swear.

We picked Oaklawn, the oldest cemetery in Tulsa, if you don’t count the one that no one talks about under the BOK stadium. The one that apparently people slacked off on when moving the bones, some still being found in construction sites to this day.

The kids had fun. I put Lacy in her hotpants because I didn’t want her disrespecting the graves, but I still I felt odd taking a puppy and a toddler to a graveyard for tourism.

It didn’t feel odd to me when I went alone in Staten Island, even though it was for photographs, just like today. I mean, it’s one thing to be a tourist to the dead, but to bring a toddler who climbs on the fallen gravestones, and a puppy, and actually walk across the bones of strangers? In Staten Island, I took respectful photos at a distance through the iron bars.

Except, it was interesting when I stepped out of the car. This is only emotions I’m going to talk about here, nothing more than a wave of sudden emotional responses filtered through a creative mind (right?), but it was interesting when I finished getting the whole family out of the car and we started walking over the bones of those who have gone before us.

First, there was the probably to be expected feeling of relief at being alive, among so many dead. Similar to walking by a row of homeless people when you’ve been through shit yourself, but are far removed from the struggle now. You know; the relief that comes tinged with guilt and even more guilt when you realize there is nothing you can personally do to help the disaster of a life you are blithely waltzing by.

It’s okay though, waves of emotions had my back. There was an immediate expression of gratitude at the presence of life, of joy at a visit, even if it was the equivalent of watching a cute family ramble down the sidewalk by your window, when chained to your home by ill health. I know that emotion, I’ve had that chain, that’s why I recognized it. And… well, it felt like a response.

I mean, I’m not saying it wasn’t an expression of my subconscious, a way to deal with the presence of death. I am saying that when my daughter started sitting on graves, I started nervously telling her to get off of them, it was disrespectful (while snapping pictures quickly because fairy ring nearby and why didn’t I dress her in something white and flowing?) But, I had the feeling that someone nearby had that “stranger at a distance enjoying your children” (in a good way) attitude.

You know, the one you get when someone’s kid nearby is being a little rude, but they mean nothing by it and it’s kind of adorable, and as you watch the mother’s embarrassed panic you heart just grows warm with memories. Also like walking through a nursing home with a little one just learning to walk, the feeling of those eyes.

It seemed a strange emotional reaction to my own daughter running wild. Yet, I had to recognize that I just brought a cute puppy in pink pants and a little barefoot tomboy to the home of those who would have pleasant memories, if their minds were still there to have them. So, I guess next time I’ll bring a picnic, and maybe a ball for the puppy to play fetch. Because even if it’s my own imagination, it’s still worth having a picnic with.

On Moving Frequently: A Middle Finger

When I said I might post here sporadically, I did not mean with this much time between posts. I should have knocked on wood to not tempt the fates, but here are the reasons. Let’s see how ladylike I can express my frustration.

They could be called good reasons, if you look from the perspective of a woman with an adventurous heart suffering crushing disappointment, but that’s the view of the young. I’m middle aged. I can tell you with the wisdom of my years that it’s a flat-out temper tantrum which the unprofessional writer has the luxury of throwing, but it certainly won’t help my goals.

My goals, like any writer, include to shape the world by sharing my lessons learned, so I will share with you the aspects of my recent non-adventures as they have impacted my life as a writer. Let’s fucking grow together.

That welcome post I did? And the Instagram game? The mind of a writer likes to get all fired up during major life events, and these posts showed that. I had new environments, pockets of culture, and that recurring dream I have that makes me think perhaps I know a little of why Anthony Bourdain was into travel.

And now, I am back in Oklahoma.

I thought I would be in Long Island about a year, or at least through the school year for my son. Nope. And while I was in Long Island, I started a handful of multimedia fiction writing projects, as well as a few non-fiction things related to travel and nature writing, like journaling my attempts to draw crows to my yard and mapping out a series of trips to all the cemeteries on the island to find the most hauntingly beautiful.

I worked hard on a favorite multimedia project that had a plotline where the protagonist ran away to New York. I suppose I can rewrite the project so that the protagonist didn’t run to a new city (because I’m not sure I could pull off a reason to run to Tulsa). The thought is just massively disappointing because I had this vision of a series of flash connected by postcards linked to the story, and it would all feature videos of the old growth forest and saltwater marshlands around Long island, and hopefully some scenes in the city.

I mean, here in Tulsa, we have a lake or two nearby, and a bunch of hard clay and tall grass. Who wants to do a video project of that? Not someone pouting about being yanked around the country, that’s who.

This isn’t the first time I’ve gone to live “about a year” in New York for a sudden return. By sudden, I mean twice Joe told me we had to leave that day because of his work schedule. We had four uncomfortably long road trips in way too short a time with a toddler, a teen, two dogs, and two adults. Twice, we only had one four door sedan. Only a couple of months passed between each move, giving me just enough time to settle in and start acting on plans to make the best of things before uprooting again.

This time last year I was in Staten Island, where I learned that when you move to a city, tourism might not happen frequently. Life stuff can get in the way, but I still allowed myself to use my writing time to daydream of voyages into the city as soon as we had the chance. I did research, drew maps while listening to podcasts of local ghost stories, and threw myself into the words of Poe. When I did get to see where I wanted to visit, I would be able to seize every nuance of atmosphere to fuel my muse.

When I learned we weren’t going to be there a year and would be leaving very soon, frustrating barrier after barrier meant I never got to see Poe’s banister, or walk the streets he walked. I would not drink with the legend of Dilan Thomas’ ghost, I would not walk the bone-laden grounds of Washington State Park, immersing myself in the shadows of a city thick with history and culture like few other places this world has to offer.

In the aftermath of that disappointment, I did the thing I do and found a way to make it feel better by doing research on some of Tulsa’s darker history, planning on finally getting out and seeing the city. When I moved here, I was limited to the bus system for a decade. For those of y’all in proper cities, let me tell you, out here in the boondocks the metro bus system might take you two hours to get somewhere you could get to in fifteen minutes by car. Sight seeing becomes something you do while waiting for the next bus, and all the sights are parking lots. That was then though, and now I have transportation and pocket change.

I learned the downtown Tulsa bus station was bone-laden itself, as a nearby corner was the site of Tulsa’s first official cemetery. Also, somewhere in the area where I used to walk, there is supposedly still a hanging tree from the days of the old west. I found out why Cherry street is named Cherry street, and how the prostitution and bars in the days of the old west supposedly scattered a few ghosts through the area, including in a local new-age bookstore that I’ve enjoyed a few times.

This made me feel better. I even started visiting the grounds of the supposedly haunted Tulsa Garden Center when my laptop crashed, and it had been a couple of months since I backed up to the cloud. I lost all of that research, video footage, and the solid beginnings of a novel.

My disappointment was short lived, because I found out I would be going to Long Island. Instead of recreating my work, I switched gears to planning for a move. We’ve covered how well that turned out. Did I mention that Joe went back? He’s in the same house, just pays less rent because we aren’t there.

In short, I’m a little frustrated. Especially since this bouncing around has not just affected me, my toddler has become beyond a handful, my son’s school year was screwed, and I’ve been left with an amazingly short amount of time and energy to write. Chores are piling up from our homes and lives getting shuffled around. Preparation and recovery from a move are slow with fibromyalgia and a toddler underfoot. Every aspect of my life is showing signs of wear and tear from exhaustion.

I know I can pull it together, I’ve done it three times before in the last year after all. But, I think scaling back on my attempts at writing needs to happen for a little while. I need to focus on my family and home first, so that when I start letting my head roam around, it will be in an environment that’s a lot easier to focus in.

Besides, my muse has been interrupted multiple times, and she’s licking her wounds. It’s time to pull out the bullet journal and pour my creativity into reorganizing my life, maybe dust off my inner domestic goddess. I promised you lessons, and that’s one I’ve stumbled upon. Bullet journaling is not to be taken lightly.

I thought it was a distraction eating into valuable writing time, but it turns out that stuff keeps me running a tight ship better than writing reminders on the bathroom mirror. If I can plan meals and maintain a shopping list for the entire week ahead, I spend less time running to the store. Meals are eaten on more of a routine, often earlier, so my toddler goes to bed at a more reliable hour.

Scheduling tasks means I spend less time fumbling around wondering what all it is I have to get done, a distraction when I’m trying to daydream about protagonists. Little things like that add up, small efficiencies that you don’t realize were helping until they are gone. The “time wasting” part of it is the decorating, and that’s optional (but relaxing).

I’m not sure yet what lessons I’ve learned regarding my writing. I won’t say I’ve learned to stop yearning to seek out and express exotic environments or experiences. I’m not sure I could be disappointed enough for that to ever happen, now I’ve tasted certain possibilities and awakened memories of youthful adventures. The desire is pretty strong.

Besides, I’m unfortunate enough to be cursed with undying optimism, possibly an affliction that many hard core daydreamers must endure. I imagine I’ll just dust off the old ideas of pursuing creepy Tulsa while I look through my aborted projects to see which ones I feel like adapting and carrying forward with as my disappointment fades. I’m used to facing disappointment, it’s part of the curse.

I might even find a few things to film, I really have been enjoying the multimedia inspiration thing. It’s just going to be more of a challenge to find something interesting in the land of flat, dry, and boring. I’m sure I’ll be able to pull it off though. Right after this research about dogs while I play with my puppy.

P.S. – The apple belonged to the people who owned the house we were staying in, it was a discarded, forgotten, battered wax apple that would likely be tossed if they ever got around to cleaning out their storage rooms. It seemed to me to be the perfect metaphor, and I kept it near my writing area until it inspired something. It inspired nothing until I decided to steal it.