Once upon a time, I scribbled out a somewhat cheeky poem about my favorite flower, the dandelion. I wrote it to fellow lovers of the flower, as an in-joke, so it is only identified by a couple of hints in the poem.

Suburban Sunshine

Across the lawn, a man of gold did flow
His grace spoke soft, his strength gave truth
He sang his hope, his pride of glories grown.
But lo, behold, the putrid waves of smoke
Tendrils of bitter lion’s teeth entwined
He fell to monsters beneath soft blue grass
His cries lost to the raw eldritch madness
Into the soft embrace of well-fed soil.

Yeah, it’s not perfect. A couple of lines shake up the rhythm some, I know. Poetry is a skill I need to refine, but today it’s about the flower more than the poem and I’m too stressed and lazy to fix it.

The reference to bitter lion’s teeth is pointing to the dandelion’s common name of “Lion’s Tooth”, a translation from the French-based name “dente-de-lion”. They edible, but can be bitter. Especially older plants growing in full sun, with relatively dry soil. Young and partially shaded plants are quite tasty, I think, as long as the older and more raggedy leaves are trimmed away. The roots are the most bitter, sometimes used as a decaffeinated coffee substitute.

The conclusion of “well-fed soil” is for those in the know of the dandelion’s role in soil repair. The rain washes nutrients deep into the soil. The dandelion’s taproot reaches further in the soil than plants around it, allowing it to thrive by out-competing neighbors.
Then the dandelion dies, and decays, the leaves releasing nutrients back into the top of the soil, along with fresh organic matter and a decaying roots that help aerate and lighten the soil. Sugars and nutrients released by decay allow microbes to thrive. They bond together and to the soil by excreting a glue-like substance. It is this substance that allows healthy soil to clump, a quality gardeners look for when judging soil conditions.

This glue holds the microbes in place, preventing them from washing down in the rain. Their life cycle as they feed on the nutrients the dandelion brought up prevents those nutrients from from washing down after rainfall as well. Other life starts to thrive, starting with those who feed on microbes and moving up to the things that feed on the things that feed on things. So scientificy. So complex.

That little microbe based food-web tunnels through the soil, the glue holds the soil in place. Tunnels stay intact, and the soil becomes more aerated. Easier for water and plant roots to move through. Their lifecycle creates some of the organic material plants need, and the now more nourished plants are more capable of fighting disease and pests.

Things start thriving. The thriving plants grow quickly and overshadow the dandelions, balance is restored. The dandelions die off, their deep roots no longer giving them an evolutionary edge. And you have your boring monoculture lawn of useless grass restored. It takes all kinds, I guess. I suppose bare feet approve.

Burn off these microbes again with heavy chemical use, this all falls apart. The dandelions do not go away. In other words, it is heavy use of fertilizer that leads to dandelion growth in the first place. Mr. Sunshine the suburbanite was organizing his own downfall.

It turns out, the best way to deal with dandelions, and other “pioneer plants” that invade soil with poor conditions is to leave them alone and let them do what they need to do. Use fertilizers 5/5/5 or lower (organics that encourage microbial growth), throw down some compost, and start making friends with your yard’s natural rhythm.

Learn about what the plants are telling you about your soil and how to repair it. Pioneer plants out compete more delicate plants simply by thriving in poor conditions, too many of one kind may be telling you your soil is too acidic, too compact, too dry or wet. Whatever it is your lawn has been trying to scream at you for years.

Often, attempts to eradicate whatever weed plagues you only helps it spread, as soil conditions worsen and grow closer to its niche. The “weed” (a four letter word) thrives until it adds enough organic matter and specific nutrients to repair the microbial imbalance, then the soil becomes nutritious enough that the more delicate plants move in and take over.

All this aside, letting the dandelions and other weeds exist in your lawn means you have a variety of emergency foods and medicines at your disposal, in case something unexpected like a stock market crash or a pandemic comes along. Personally, even when I don’t need it, I love when I identify something useful in my lawn or within walking distance (and away from street pollution). I get a little thrill every time.

Keeping our focus on dandelions, they super high in vitamins A and K, and they have some calcium. This is off the top of my head, but in looking for a link, this information looks pretty cool if you need more information than “super good for you”, and with added science.

They are a diuretic, so beneficial to the kidneys. Unlike many diuretics, they have potassium to replace what your body will shed with all that extra urine. They also stimulate bile production and overall liver health, and all of this by providing the nutrition your body needs for these functions.

There’s a reason it’s been used in herbal restoratives and tonics for centuries, a reason colonists brought seeds with them to help ensure their survival in an unfamiliar land. Consider the journey, often standing room only, everything you carry takes up valuable space. Colonists may have brought an invasive species, but they did so because they considered it critical to keep with them. Those who ate dandelion fared better in general.

Dandelion wine is one of the original wines that brought about the idea that such spirits could be medicinal, preserving the restorative power of spring. Part of the reason some pagan traditions have people consuming this wine at Yule is for the boost, physically and emotionally, that can help you get through the long nights of winter.

I’m telling you this now because of the way I seem to be reacting to a pandemic. I’ve made a couple of jokes on Twitter about everyone playing Animal Crossing, while I’ve decided to experiment with “snake oil beer” brewed from medicinal weeds I foraged.

I also started playing survival games, soon dominated by Fallout Shelter. Next thing I know, I want to start making my own tools and weapons from materials I find, as a creative outlet. We all deal in our own ways.

My point is that somewhere in there, I decided I needed to journal my knowledge of local edible weeds, and I also needed to research their medicinal uses. If I did something elaborate and artistic, something my kids could see and think, “Cool! Mom made this”, then perhaps I could get them interested in remembering the information. I could help prepare my kids in the face of potential disaster, personal or pandemic.

After all, my life hasn’t exactly featured stable incomes and housing, there has been more than one time in my life that I have supplemented the food on our table with foraging. Now I’m finding herbs that are good for boosting the immune system and treating lung conditions right in our back yard.

I turned to herbalism and foraging medicine when I started showing symptoms of illness, when there were too few test kits and too many people going into the hospital and not coming back out. A couple of weeks later, I have a light cough but I’m still standing. Maybe it was the flu. Maybe it wasn’t. Maybe I improved due to the many cloves of garlic I chewed, or my beer brewed from honey, ginger, lemon, cleavers, and dandelion. Maybe not. If I did though, that’s a skill I’d like to pass on to my children. Even if I didn’t, it could still help them some time when life throws them for a loop.

Knowing how to do this is something that I should outline in a way that they will cherish the information, protect it, hopefully across more than one generation. Something in my handwriting, or something that I worked hard on for years. Posters, bullet journals, maybe a book. Hopefully only a curiosity of great-great grandmother’s reaction to a pandemic, and perhaps a window into her overall paranoia and anxiety, but possibly something that they will hang on to and have if things ever turn suddenly way too surreal. So there’s my reason for adding to the variety of the information already at hand.

They should know how to grow food and medicine, in a way that can be free or nearly so, and how to make it palatable. They should know how to use what they can find around themselves, because even if we don’t end up struggling through a worldwide economic depression following this plague, they might find themselves in a situation where the knowledge could help them out a little, and maybe learn to respect nature a little more in the process.

Anyway, I finally found reason to fulfill a lifelong, albeit relatively minor, dream of planting dandelion seeds in my garden to begin cultivating my own strain of domestic dandelions. My neighbor, who kills sparrows because they are invasive and likes to lay down on his lawn and prune it with scissors, will be thrilled to watch me lovingly tend a patch of dandelion-infested lawn. Don’t worry, other useful weeds are being tended to as well.

How to Spin A Shawl From Moonlight

A while ago, I wrote about a magic carpet I made, a blanket spun from the midnight sky and legends. I mentioned that I wanted to spin moonlight and make it into a shawl. If I could no longer sit upon the midnight sky, perhaps I could drape myself in moonlight while I wrote. A little signal to my unconscious mind to release itself in a powerful way, packed with symbolism of the moon. A signal to my inner muse.

Occasionally, I will dye and spin wool into a tangible metaphor, something much more than a simple scarf or hat. The entire time I work on it (the blanket took a year), I contemplate a theme I wish to associate with the project. Then, every time I use the item, I remember its creation and subject. It’s a constant reminder of an extended daydream designed to help me achieve my goals.

For instance, once I dyed wool with coffee and made a thinking cap. If I had problems concentrating during finals week in college, I would wear my literal thinking cap to use in a metaphorical way, tricking the subconscious into helping me instead of wandering to and fro. Of course it worked, or I wouldn’t be talking about it. I was about to fail a class unless I passed a test I didn’t understand the material for, and I got a B. I wore the hat, I was answering complicated algebra problems that I didn’t understand, I was showing my work without knowing what I was doing or why, and I got a B.

In other words, it’s magic. Whether or not it is done by tricking the mind.

To those unfamiliar with the symbolism of pagans, understand that we do not study from a sacred book. We study the patterns found in nature, and use those as a metaphor. Our students are encouraged to spend time meditating on the elements and forces of nature, to use them to find wisdom and meaning in their lives. We look into nature as a mirror, our spiritual experiences are viewed as subjective and a reflection of our unconscious, a primal method of understanding our minds and healing our own psychology.

So when I set out to spin a shawl from moonlight, I looked to the moon as an archetype and thought of ways to tie it to my storytelling, telling myself that I would be more easily inspired and my writing would have more depth when I wore the finished project. The fibers in my hand continually set my wandering mind back to my purpose, the way some religions do with beads they hold as they pray or meditate.

All of my wandering thoughts were framed in the light of the moon. Times away from my knitting, as I cooked and cleaned, ran to the store, watched movies with my love, my thoughts were still colored by the day’s contemplation of the moon and how it ties into story.

The moon is the lover of the sun, transforming the sun’s harsh rays into something softer, more gentle. Traditionally, this is seen as the union of man and woman, woman taking in the light of man and transforming it into something new and delivering it to the world. Action and reaction, cause and effect. We see the moon grow round and pregnant, and then shed its gains and wither, and in that we see the life cycle of woman, we even recognize her tides as connected to the moon’s.

The moon controls the movements of the ocean, therefore the moon has dominion over water. Our blood is mostly water, water is life. It nurtures and relieves us, and it is our tears. We feel a connection between the rise and fall of the tides and the rise and fall of emotion in our lives, we feel our hearts fill with emotion like a shivering puddle, rising to overflowing.

Water as the realm of love, holds shadowy depths where we find metaphors for the unknown, the subconscious, madness, and despair. Sometimes we drown in feeling. We swim through emotion in the light of the moon as the tides pull at our heart, calling us into dreams and reveries under the stars.

This is not just the realm of love, it is also the realm of prophesy, predators, and fear. Under the illusions of moonlight, sometimes we sit alone even in the company of others, falling into a quiet madness. Sometimes the madness will not come fast enough, so we encourage it with the help of a little drink, or perhaps a pill, or both. Through madness, drink, or natural sleep and dreams, the moon is often a gateway to other worlds.

We can become lost in the dark, hunted upon, as the world becomes distorted in shadow. But the path of the moon also brings peace, a quiet and gentle reflection, a time of healing and growth. Some are comfortable in the light of the moon, feeling no fear from the shadows. Though perhaps it is delusion, and perhaps sometimes it is the confidence of one who knows they are the largest monster in the forest.

The moon has all of this symbolic wealth and more, a bounty that any writer can enjoy. The path the moon took me down was pleasant. I jotted down many new ideas and polished up old ones; spending time letting my fiction swoon with emotion, letting truths be spoken through shadow, distorted by mists and moonlight.

My results are a little gory. That would be entirely my fault, and is not the fault of the moon. If I started this exercise as a romance writer, I’m sure I wouldn’t have ended up eating beef heart as part of my research in how to cook a human heart. Though that actually is a love story, I promise.

In fact, the whole Valentine’s day thing has done strange things to me in general this year, and I blame the shawl. I can think of no other reason why I would be designing greeting card covers and playing around with dark love sonnets. I’m even seriously toying with the idea of offering a line of Valentine’s Day cards next year. One that might feature a still life I have planned, if I can get my hands on a photogenic enough pig’s heart.

P.S. – The beef heart. Oh, that enthusiastic slab of flesh was so ready and willing to be a perfect metaphor. I now know that if you cook heart without slicing it thin enough, you will end up with a range of words like blackened, charred, or cracking (that pair lovely with the idea of a wounded human heart), and yet when the meat rests it will still weep blood. This heart in particular was cooked twice and still bleed, I had to slice it to cook it a third time. I believe the thing was auditioning to freak out a murderess.

The end results were wonderful, like steak without getting fibers stuck in your teeth, even the wary men of the house tried some and wanted more. The dogs were thrilled. Next time, I’ll slice thinly before throwing in the skillet.

About The Idea that Brought Me To Tears

If I’m posting infrequently, it’s because I’m lost in notes and a dark nostalgia. Something uncomfortable is happening with my writing. I’m changing my approach in an intensely intimate way. Thankfully, the process isn’t too fast, as it seems to be bogged down by research. I’ve been covered in books since I realized the idea wasn’t flash, it was a novel. Well, except for December. Joe came home early in the month, so I had a good excuse.

You see, it turns out I have an agenda. I’ve got this wild notion to weave in some advice on spotting and dealing with people with low empathy, garden variety narcissists and non-violent sociopaths. My theme will be related to recovering from the damage of having one as a parent. My mother was not, but her mother was, and our relationship has been rough because of it. There are traumas my mother now carries that she’s very protective of, wounds she avoids poking, wounds healed so twisted and raw that they became contagious. She also seemed to teach me how to walk right into danger.

My agenda comes from my initial idea hitting a little too close to some personal wounds. I worked it out though, how to express my personal experiences without having to relive them. Before now, I haven’t been comfortable expressing subjects too close to home in my fiction, preferring to hide my emotions in monsters.

So, I worked out a method that would allow me to develop my idea in a more removed manner than something like freewriting about trauma or unpacking memories. I’m sure others have similar methods, I’ve just never let myself think about it before.

I’m researching and using fiction to explore concepts, building characters based on research and setting them free in story, just like I did with serial killers when I read about profiling. I’m fictionalizing the research, not my life. The difference is the research is now about subjects close to my scars.

These topics result in characters with damage that resembles my own. They aren’t a fictional me, but I empathize with them. Then I can put them through what I’ve learned about being resilient, teach them how to avoid danger and how to heal, in the way that writers are prone to do.

It’s not the emotionally nerve-wrecking idea of using personal experience as the root of creative exploration. It’s removed and theoretical, so less bothersome. It’s also a process I’m familiar with, so it feels safer even if the subjects are a little triggering.

I’m not thinking of monsters now, and yet somehow it seems darker. Tears come sometimes, even when the initial scene I envisioned has nothing but a little girl sitting on a couch, watching a family get ready for dinner. I don’t know how I’m going to explain things to Joe when he catches me weeping at my own writing. I try to cultivate a reputation that I can handle myself, despite the fact that I know he knows better.

P.S. – I highly recommend the book The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout, and the podcast Understanding Today’s Narcissist hosted by Christine Hammond to any writer, of any genre, and in fact, most human beings.

P.P.S. – Okay, so I will be fictionalizing what it is like to be forced to listen to Dale Carnegie on the way to elementary school, but everything else will be pure b.s., and that part might not even make it into the book. It’s so very unfortunate that I’ve decided to require myself to listen to him again, as he’s instructed a key character in being a better sleaze. I might have to drink for it, he always makes me feel so dirty.

The Cat Burglar and the Chandelier

Have you ever met someone and realized they are a living work of art, honed to their specific purpose in such a way that you will never forget them? I hope you have, they are great to keep in mind when you’re writing.

I was fortunate enough in my youth to live on the street, and that isn’t exactly a joke. I mean, sure it sucked, hunger and illness and all that. I wasn’t even there for “the usual” reason of addiction (those quotes are a discussion for a different day), it was a combination of religion, lack of a supportive family, and getting stranded in another state. It was a harsh situation, but I was young, and I ended up in a variety of situations that will provide endless stories and insights into the lesser seen aspects of society.

Like the cat burglar. I doubt I’ll forget him.

I thought of him the other day, when one of those sudden and completely irrelevant and useless type revelations struck me. I realized I was surrounded by police at a party with a possible cat burglar, who may or may not have been laying low for a bit. He must have been shitting his pants. I mean, we all were, because we were high as a kite and surrounded by police, their commissioner, and the mayor of New Orleans. But I bet he was really feeling it.

If you don’t want to year about that particular party, you’re dead inside, but no worries because I already told it right over here, so go take a look when you like. For now, you probably want to know more about the possible cat burglar.

Our little crew was a little different from most of the gutter punks and street hippies around us. We were a collection of street pagans, I was the wandering nature loving mystic and my ex was one of those shock value ceremonialist teenage punks, the equivalent of a republican and a democrat getting married at times. Wingnut was Wingnut, but the point is that all day long we babbled about the nature of the universe like street philosophers, with occasional interjections of Rocky Horror quotes.

This guy Ducky though, I don’t know what he thought about anything. I don’t know if he believed in the occult (I like to dance from one side to the other myself in an eternal self debate between science and mystery), I don’t know if he ever saw Rocky Horror, I don’t know if he was fond of the 80s songs we would sing to keep our spirits up, or much about him at all. I only remember him speaking once, in this story. I was never sure if he was smiling to laugh at our jokes or to laugh at us.

Ducky was not just quiet. He turned quiet into an art form. We found this out one morning when we woke up in our squat, an abandoned play theater in pre-Katrina New Orleans. This was not the typical squat, rat filled and punk defiled, covered in filth you don’t want to imagine. There were some areas of such, behind the concession stand and in the halls leading to the bathroom. The bathroom itself, one of us wandered in and immediately back out and warned us not to go there, we believed him.

The rest of the place, the auditorium with its red velvet seats and the stage still framed by red sliding curtains, was near pristine, save for a layer of dust. It was admired, special. A small place of beauty that those who live on the street seldom get to enjoy. The centerpiece was a giant chandelier, with real crystal adornments, not cheap plastic.

I know that because one morning Wingnut woke up to glance over and see Ducky sliding up a grappling hook going from the banister to the chandelier, making not a single sound as he gently pried off a couple of pieces and slipped them into his pocket, then returned to the banister and unhooked his shady rope of thievery and returned it to a backpack probably holding abundant pilfered treasure.

Wingnut notified us by waking us up to cries of “HOlyShiT!!!” as he ran over, and we jumped up in a panic, rushing over to find a bashful Ducky, who smiled as he proved Wingnut’s story by pulling out the two pieces and clinking them together.

I looked at him and (here it comes, he’s about to speak) pointed out he was pretty short for a guy. Understandably defensive, he said, “Yeah, so?” to which I replied, “The perfect size to crawl into a window.”

(totally not the chandelier in question)

He just smiled. Just smiled and said not another word.

Oh, it all fit together then. The navy clothes that looked like a generic work uniform, able to pass off as a janitor, meter reader, delivery man. The stocking cap was the kind that could be hiding a mask when it was rolled up the way it was, his unassuming manner that wouldn’t draw attention to himself, his desire to quietly follow people more attention grabbing than he was, people who might distract from his presence. Hands to his sides, no flamboyant gestures, never saying anything that would cause him to stick in your mind.

And he clarified nothing. Nor did we ask, it’s not polite to ask questions to people who live on the street. So many people have someone looking for them, questions cause suspicion you might be a private investigator sent by their family, or even a narc. Besides, we knew the kinds of histories people might have when the sidewalk is their pillow. It’s just plain rude to bring up painful pasts as a topic of casual conversation.

But oh, man, the fuel for my imagination to go wild. As I grew older, the possibilities grew a little darker, not everyone who climbs into windows is a loveable type guy. He seemed okay, harmless, but by now I’ve learned how deceptive that can be. Still, I will always admire how he turned being a wallflower into an art form to serve his own purposes. After my little revelation, I’m also amazed at how well he kept his cool when faced with a largish gathering of the local police force.

I mean, wow. He needs to write a book on deep breathing techniques or something. Who have you met, who seems so perfect it’s like they walked out of the pages of a novel?

How To Make A Flying Carpet

I miss my flying carpet. I have a spinning wheel, an old friend named Molly Grue. She is an Ashford Traveler, designed to be portable. I named her after a cook for bandits, a fiercely domestic woman with a temper to raise storms and a love of adventure.

At one point in our friendship, I bought a book on the mythology of the stars. Not just the lore behind constellations we grew up with, but also hints of how the sky was seen by other civilizations through history, and a few tips on better reading the stars yourself. It was a story so beautifully told it filled my heart with magic, and I found myself buying five pounds of wool and shades of dye to match the midnight sky.

To the uninitiated, five pounds of wool is roughly two lawn bags full. The wool I bought was “raw”, unwashed, straight from the sheep, because I enjoy doing things the hard way. I washed it carefully, lock by lock, then dyed it various blues and purples, with only a hint of actual black. I hung it in my bedroom to dry for a few days, turning it every now and then, fluffing out bits for better circulation. This phase took me a week or two.

Next came the blending. Despite a variety of hues piled up around the room, I wanted a solid color, heathered and even; an interesting black made complex by the various tones on the evening horizon. First, I added a bit of mohair for the white of the stars, tossing it like a salad. Then I scattered the wool around my living room in handfuls, the mess came up past my knees. I patted it down and rolled it up, pulling the roll into a rope to break up clumps of color. I repeated the process a few times times.

This did not take an afternoon. It took about a month. After this step came the combing, using two paddles edged with two rows of four inch nails that I keep near the front door in case I need a weapon, but so far I’ve only needed it to comb wool into a fluffy bits like the top of a poodle’s head. The fluff is pulled through a tiny hole in a scrap of wood so that it becomes a rope of compact and even goodness. I rolled this into balls, and it was ready to spin. It took a couple of months.

The spinning itself went relatively fast, not much more than a month. But then I had to knit it. When it was all said and done, it took a year to make, and it was almost the only project I worked on that year. I think I made a pair of socks as well.

That is just knitting, here is the magic that made it a flying carpet.

The entire time, I thought about that book. I was a single mother and a college student, those years were full of late-night study breaks while my son slept. Hours were spent on the porch staring at the sky while I tried to clear math out of my head, then a little time with my wool before bed. This project filled my life with visions of stars and stories that connect all of us, now and throughout history.

It’s a common thing to look at the night sky and feel small. I never really felt that in my youth. I could picture the sky reaching out to eternity, but I felt myself being exactly the size I should be. My amazement was no more or less than when I find a tiny cluster of crystals on a pebble in the road, or discover a green bee.

But that book, I wasn’t just looking at stars anymore. I was looking at myth, legends and stories that guided people through the seasons and across oceans, shapes that held meaning, held culture, were seen by primal man, by honored historical figures, by people I love, by people long gone and will be seen by the yet to be born.

Even better, many of those legends involve spinning. Such a cherry to top off the ever-present wooly metaphors of spinning tales and weaving stories. I guess I am driven by story. Turn the stars into stories, and their weight will come crushing down on me in the low, steady epiphany that drives all the bards wild.

My blanket was circular, like the horizon, with eight spiraling spokes denoting the ever moving path of the stars, shown in those little flecks of mohair. It was thick, warm, and perfect to lay on the ground for some light yoga.

When I sat upon it to meditate, I sat upon the sky itself. I’m sure you can appreciate why it seemed to feel like a flying carpet. You can’t buy metaphors with that much power. It brought much insight and inspiration for a while, until it was lost in one of our chaotic moving fits.

I’ve thought of it frequently lately, as I’ve been too distracted and lackluster for much inspiration. Some time after I moved most recently, I thought maybe a re-creation of the experience might pull me from my funk of moving home, maybe stimulate a few creative juices.

Not the whole blanket, I have other things to do this year. But perhaps a shawl, I could let someone else dye it, but I would spun it and contemplate the moon; a different aspect of the sky to get to know. It seemed an interesting way to stimulate some creativity, so I found a lovely merino/camel/silk blend dyed in a colorway called Twilight. Hopefully, If I pretend hard enough, I will feel bathed in moonlight when it is draped across my shoulders, and it will whisper shadowy stories in my ear.

Greenwood Fiberworks can be found on Etsy.

In the meantime, I have cats to write for, so I also started a scarf in a simple cat’s paw lace, in a yarn I hope Joe doesn’t find the receipt for (the uninitiated are never prepared for the cost of top shelf yarn). Not long after casting on, I decided to listen to “cat lady” music, and figured cat ladies like classical. The combination made me quickly remember a few ladies who may or may not have owned cats, but took in stray children, and a few stray children I knew that never did find homes, and a scene from my childhood with a safe way to express it in fiction. It came to me in a flash that moved me to tears, only three rows into the scarf. That right-brain stimulation is powerful stuff.

These cats may end up opening a vein, as I start wandering through a different kind of darkness, away from monsters and serial killers and closer to subjects more terrifying to talk about, a little less play and a little more drama. Except for the hidden murderess, she could be fun. And there could be a little magic here and there.

Writer’s Feedback Please: Feral Cats

We have dogs, but I am secretly a cat person. I’ve had close to twenty (all indoors). When poverty prevented vet trips, I became petless and stayed that way until I met Joe. Joe hates cats. He keeps saying they are noisy, due to once upon a time being kept up by a stray cat in heat. I keep telling him the dogs are a thousand times louder, but then he starts talking about smells, and what if they attacked his dogs, and so on.

But he’s not here, he still works in New York, so I stared feeding the strays.

We have a cat population so thick, they’ve made their own trails running under storage sheds and between our houses, burrowing under and and leaping over from place to place where the cat ladies feed. I’ve become one of them, but I have an end game. I am gaining their trust and keeping them close.

There are no real birds to speak of here, only a handful in the entire neighborhood have escaped the cats. When I first moved in, I was delighted to find a few snakes and a turtle, signs that wildlife migrates through the area from nearby railroad tracks, and I got excited at the chance to nurture a little urban diversity.

But, the cat colony kept growing. There is no diversity here, just cats and the few birds that have learned how to avoid them. I haven’t seen a bunny in over a year.

There are dogs though, the large, aggressive ones that people in shabby neighborhoods keep to protect them. When I first moved in, I thought the cats had Manx blood and were inbreeding, until I noticed the ones whose tails had healed permanently mangled from narrow escapes. Now I see the limping, the scars.

I love cats, and I love nature, so I want to act, even if I only manage to help a little. I know no-kill shelters are overrun, and I know many of these cats aren’t likely to be adopted, so working with a catch-and-release spay and neuter program seems the best option.

Now, Joe is currently making a comfortable amount of money. However, because of our mutual goals, I’m on a small allowance while we finish paying way too much for this place, so we will be allowed to move it to land (which also means we need money for land). There is no way the cat-hating Joe will help me with this goal, unless I’m also contributing my own funds, then he might think about it.

My own funds being limited, this will be a slow process that might not help much, unless I do the weird thing all the people with real jobs are doing and earn my own money. In my current situation, the best way to do that is with my writing. It will still take patience, in the meantime I can continue doing what I can with my own money to help.

Obviously I can submit my work and use that money to buy the vouchers I will need, but I’m still at the stage where I don’t have much material worthy of submission. I’m working on correcting that right now. In the meantime, I still wish to keep up my fiction blog, and my uninterrupted writing time is short.

Here is where I need your feedback. I could simply do my normal weekly flash, working hard in the background on a novel that features a cat, then self publish and then use those book sales to raise the money. In essence, leaving my blogging out of it, but the project would result in my first novel, a simpler story than the one I will talk about below.

Or, I can blog the occasional cat-related flash with a donation button in the P.S., and possibly weave that flash into a flash novella, occasionally making one of my little films to illustrate some of the flash to promote novella sales. If I did that, the novel I work on could be the idea I already have, character sheets and all, but it has an aspect that I would find challenging as a writer. It’s a little intimidating, and I’ve been either working to developing my skills or been procrastinating, I’m not sure. Both projects would be more complex and challenging this way.

Maybe I won’t be able to raise any money in a decent amount of time, I might end up just paying out of pocket until we eventually move, but I can continue to donate to the cause. Any money I make from either cat project would be donated, forever and ever, amen. It might not end up a huge amount, but I will be doing what I can.

Okay, writing community. What would you do?

Black and White

My experience with photography started with me purposefully taking bad photos to correct them in photoshop, or to find things to play with trick photography. Having a lousy camera never held me back, because it was all intended for the web. Or at least, that’s what I told myself to make me feel better. My limited equipment is really probably why I only ever dabbled in it occasionally over the years.

Now I have a 4k camcorder that takes still images clear enough to enjoy on a large screen. My eyes limit me more than my equipment. I can actually approach photography/videography as a hobby for it’s own sake, even if it’s just to capture things that will illustrate my fiction.

This is all to let you know why yesterday was the first time I’ve ever tried limiting myself to shooting in black and white. I mean, I figured if I wanted a black and white photo, I could just edit a color photo to suit what I wanted.

I so wish I tried this sooner. I’ve been in such a funk every time I look around me and try to find something to photograph. This time of year, the grass is patchy where the summer heat sucks the life out of everything, temperatures in the hundreds over plains full of hard-packed, clay filled soil. Then autumn brings some rain, and a little flush of green, but mostly everything is still a dull olive fading to brown and everything looks a little frayed around the edges.

Taking the dreariness out of our landscape by only seeing it in light and shadow was awesome. I mean, I like dreary, when it has atmosphere. But a color photo needs a little something interesting about those colors, and that’s been a little scarce lately.

Being able to ignore color completely freed me; I began to enjoy interacting with my surroundings. My lousy little trailer (so disappointing a subject after spending the summer in a small mansion) started looking gloriously shadowy, and my lousy housekeeping started looking interesting and expressive instead of embarrassing. That’s fucking magic, right there.

I took my daughter to the park for some fun shots to send to daddy, and the ugly landscape and scenery this time of year didn’t hold me back. I got a ton of great photos of her, and the cracked pavement and tattered buildings were fun to collect along the way. I’m looking forward to more outings with my camera now, and it’s definitely eased my funk.

All in all, I have decided black and white photography is cheating a little, by making the medium simpler to use. And that is fine with me.

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.

The Instagram Game

Oh look, even though my welcome post was more than “Hi, world”, I have another post for you already. Don’t let this set a precedent, I swear my posting here will likely be sporadic, as working on my first book is the priority. My flash fiction blog will still always post on Tuesdays, but I reserve the right to go on hiatus if the novel looms large.

As the stay-at-home mother of an adventurous and energetic toddler, I can’t wake up and do leisurely morning pages. I can’t even maintain an uninterrupted thought. When you throw a new puppy in to the mix, well… I just find it so hard to believe something has more energy than my baby girl.

I’ve found my ways to adapt, choosing my mental focus with my morning coffee and carrying a notebook with me everywhere helps. I find creative projects that allow me to zone out with an eye on my toddler to get that inner muse to start speaking when she won’t let me write. Some pursuits generate more ideas than others, but when we moved we only brought one car load of things with us, and most of my toys (why did I leave my knitting and coloring books?) are back in the trailer.

Except for the 4k camcorder Mom gave me, and my little camera that was used to chase bugs around the yard. No way they weren’t coming to New York. Photography wasn’t really a pursuit that generated a lot of ideas for my fiction, but it is something that I enjoy.

And then I had a fortunate accident. My toddler decided the above mentioned camera I used for macro shots could fly, but instead it fell two stories and bounced on the cement patio below. So, I was limited to a cell phone and a camcorder that I still barely know how to use, and I’m in a beautiful new home within a stone’s throw to a nature preserve. Cell phone photography. The opposite of my quest to see the world in glorious definition.

I decided to see it in the best way possible. At the time, we didn’t have WiFi yet, so it would be easier to get images on my blog, now I wasn’t feeding them through the computer and Gimp for adjustments. Instead, I could try that Instagram thing all the kids are doing, and simplify my editing process. After all, I’m not a professional photographer, and I wasn’t taking pictures of a lot of interesting subjects. Just tarot cards and local plants or insects so I could see them more easily with my horrible eyes. The eyes that made me laugh when editing and I saw the first sentence of this paragraph.

The process of adding a little mood to the photo was so simple, it began to feel a little like a video game to find and collect bits and pieces of the world around me. Kind of like the simplistic form of photography in one of the Sims games, where you go on vacation and get a camera, then it gives you “collections” you fill by having your sim take photos. In the process, you see the game through their eyes. Thinking of video games while taking pictures, specifically the sims where you play real life, started making connections with my creativity, and a little magic happened.

Next thing I know, that experience led to me being a photographer through my character’s eyes, or through the eyes of a private detective investigating them, or a cop investigating their murder. The muse within me lit up, stopped taking photography so seriously, and started playing. Awesome. So much awesome.

Sometimes my daughter is still so distracting that the experience doesn’t flow that well, but the game is a habit that is a constant reminder for my mind to play with my environment without the need to come up with words and phrases; putting the pressure elsewhere, letting me keep my observation focused on the dreary or haunted in the well-manicured lawns of the new ‘hood, finding the decay even when the neighborhood would rather I didn’t, the twisted heart in the gleaming homes around me.

Because no words are needed, talking to her doesn’t interrupt the train of thought as badly. If words do come, my notebook is always handy so I can record the initial idea and then set it aside.

I saw a pattern emerging. When trying to play with my new camcorder, it is all I’m focused on. I enter a calm, meditative state while enjoying interacting with the natural world in any small way I can. The kind of relaxation I try to work into my writing routine, but it wasn’t producing story ideas or words. I’ve had ideas for video projects that might help me promote my writing, but it wasn’t interacting with the writing process itself.

It was the Instagram game that was stimulating my creativity, enhancing my observation and refining ideas for making images interact with my stories. Like playing in adult coloring books rather than attempting to draw a masterpiece. Also, of course, always with me when my camcorder wasn’t.

It made sense. Photographers talk about telling stories with photos, and writers use photos as prompts to help overcome writer’s block. I’ve browsed a few articles on Instagram, but being new to it, I’ve not run across a lot on using it in creative exercises. Yet, it’s happening in one of those synergistic ways that is just magic. I’m thinking about ways to express the element of air rather than how to improve my camera’s focus, and words expressing air are happening right alongside of it.

Naturally I’ve decided every bit of flash must now have a photo from the game, which means that walks with my baby have turned into something that keeps me focused on my fiction rather than the beauty of small treasures in the flowers and hollows of trees, where nature will trap my attention. It’s a perfect fit for the way I’m living my life right now.

RIP, Craigslist freebie camera, my old and dear friend. You will be missed briefly, and eventually replaced with something cooler.

P.S – If you have a toddler and you stop frequently for pictures or writing, be prepared to reward them for their patience with a park or somewhere else to run around wild for a while, or they will not be happy campers, even if you brought along toys and snacks.

P.P.S. – This shit directly led to a film. Like, newbie film student level film.

I’d embed it, but apparently if you are silly enough to pay for an upgrade, it becomes more difficult to embed a video so enjoy your old-school link.

P.P.P.S. – I am working on self photography, and it’s making me feel a little creepy. Because of who I am, this tells me it’s something I need to do more, and it’s time to put my own image out there.