Three weeks ago, the compressor in my A/C went out. And what has occurred since has felt akin to a clusterfuck of what happens when someone who is used to having A/C in the Texas heat can’t cope too well.
It’s been 20 days to deal with this mess. It took a week for the A/C company, who is directed by the home warranty company for my house, to even come to my house to determine if, and what, was the problem. After 3 weeks of being at my absolute tether, and no one between the home warranty company and the contractor they hired to come to an agreement as to how fix the problem, I just went with an outside contractor. Within an hour of my initial call, they were at my house. With in 5 minutes of looking at my outside unit, they diagnosed the problem (which I’ve concluded the original contractor had misdiagnosed). Now, the next morning, I’m having a complete overhaul of my A/C and heating unit.
Adulting sucks. Buy a house, they said. It will be fun, they said. You don’t have to throw money away on rent, they said. Yeah…
I’m not sure if I have the strength to go through a day-by-day account of what I’ve been dealing with these 21 days past. In the June/July summer heat of Texas, my house can average 90 degrees without A/C. Owing to that, I’ve pretty much adopted a nomadic lifestyle, transporting myself and my dog from either hotels, to my mom’s for one weekend, and to my brother’s place for an extended stay, all the while developing horrible eating habits. Perhaps I’m spoiled, but I’ve grown accustomed to my creature comforts. I’ve come to reflect on events earlier in my childhood when my parents would send us out to the country with our elder relatives in the 80s, out in the deep backwoods of East Texas. These are relatives who still had outhouses, were lucky to have electricity, but having A/C was too citified for them. How we survived between that, forced viewings of Wheel of Fortune between prepping a bushel of purple hull peas, I’m not sure. That heat, and this heat of 2021, is not the same. I’m convinced this heat traveled from a different vortex, perhaps from the sweaty, humidity-soaked taint of Lucifer himself. This, what I’ve experienced these last three weeks, is not the heat of my fondly-remembered 80s.
Moving on, A/C techs are here to install a new heating and cooling system that I’m sure is worth more than the current Kelly Bluebook value of my car. All is going well…
And this happened!
And as I was in the process of typing this blog, I heard an odd noise coming from the ceiling, followed by a crunch, looked up and saw a leg dangling from the ceiling of my kitchen.
Yep, someone has partially fallen through my ceiling.
Earlier as I worked on this blog, I honestly wasn’t sure how I was going to end all of this blathering. Seriously, who can currently top this?
At least I can sleep in my house tonight. Despite having a giant hole in my ceiling.
Several years ago, I flew to Baltimore, MD, in order to visit one of my very dear friends in Fredericksburg, VA. Because Fredericksburg is roughly 2 hours away from the airport, and I didn’t want to trouble my friend to come pick me up, I took the Amtrack to Fredericksburg, thus beginning my love of travel by train. Along with not having to worry about a car rental, maps, and the potentiality of getting lost in an unfamiliar locale, the train gave me two hours to relax and get a visual layout of the land without leaving the comfort of a fairly cozy coach seat. Suffice it to say, I was hooked and decided then that I would travel by train whenever the offer presented itself. Unfortunately, that turned into a 4-year wait.
Four years, a canceled train trip between London and Edinburgh, and a pandemic lockdown later, I found myself making plans for Spring Break, 2021. I knew I wanted to get out of Texas, and ironically enough, after experiencing a historic winter freeze in February, the likes of which Texas has not seen since 1989, I was itching to see more snow. And Colorado seemed to be a rather good choice for my next adventure.
Colorado, yes! Ski resort 2 hours east of Denver, yes! And a train trip to get there? Yes, yes and yes!
Enter the fourth worst blizzard in Colorado’s recorded history. Yes?
I was excited to see snow. As a native Texan, and more than that, a resident of Houston, we don’t see snow. The rest of the state gets plenty of the white stuff at oddly weird occurrences, but it’s a well-known joke that while places like Dallas, Lubbock and even Midland gets snow a-plenty, Houston is left standing alone like a forgotten stepdaughter at the prince’s ball. Even during the snowmeggedon that we experienced in February, it still wasn’t enough to satisfy my snowy lust. So, with careful consideration for my spring break plans, I chose Colorado, and a nice little resort in Granby.
It’s worth noting, one of the more famous legends of Granby, Colorado is that 17 years ago, a man who was pissed off at the city council, decked out his bulldozer, in what has become known as the “killdozer”, tore hell through the town, damaged 13 buildings, and caused $17 million worth of damage before putting a bullet in his mouth.
But I digress.
Despite a year of a Covid lockdown and all the different and new guidelines that came with it, I felt perfectly comfortable traveling. Boarding the plane and taking a 2-hour flight did nothing to faze me; outside of the overweight luggage fee I had to pay because despite my best efforts, I always manage to pack too much. Beyond thrilled the day after my school broke for Spring Break, I headed Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston. I expected the flight to be fairly non-eventful until I realized half of the flight was filled with teachers on Spring Break. My row partner was a young, 4th grade teacher from a neighboring district, and she was pretty toasted before we left Houston airspace. Which led me to wonder, what the hell is going on with 4th Grade teachers that left me with one that was so drunk that the other teacher on our row, who didn’t know her, had to tell the flight attendant a half hour before we landed that she was being cut off. All I can assume is that hybrid learning was a real bitch for her this year.
But I digress.
I flew into Denver with the intention of staying the night because the train I needed wouldn’t leave until the next morning. Not so much to my surprise, but much to my curiosity, the blizzard had just started as we touched down at the airport. Every flight I’ve ever taken, and admittedly, that’s quite a bit in my life, I’ve always been able to see the landing strip as we touched ground. However, that’s not the case when a heavy snow is coming down and it’s disorienting when you experience this the first time. At this point, I can say I understood Ms. Fourth Grade’s need for the multiple vodka and tonics beside me.
Girl At The Train Station
But I digress. Being stuck in Denver while waiting on a blizzard to arrive is about as eventful as one could imagine. The next morning, I took a very slow Lyft ride to the train station in downtown Denver. And as far as train stations go, I have to say it was quite exquisite. Granted, I’ve only been in a few, but Denver Union Station really exceeded expectations thus far. I had a quick breakfast of an egg and ham croissant, grabbed a coffee, and carefully boarded the popular California Zephyr through the increasingly heavy snowfall, loaded with as many passengers as the CDC guidelines would allow. The next adventures of Girl on The Train commenced.
And this is where the story actually begins.
The train is scheduled to leave at 9:05am and arrive in Granby, Co about 11:35am. I’m happy to say that we really did leave on time. I felt the train first move about 9:06, although inching our way down the track is probably the better term. About 30 minutes and what I perceive to be about 3-4 miles of track, we come to a dead stop. I see nothing but white outside my window seat. At this point, I’m not alarmed. Afterall, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, they say. It’s snowing and in my head we’re just being cautious. I’m not bovvered.
Thirty minutes then turns into about 2 and a half hours. Some technical glitch on the track (something regarding the switch) is the culprit and technicians are brought in the fix it up. It’s not until about noon that we start moving again. Again, I’m not bovvered. It’s all part of the adventure. My reservations were secure, and the hotel would be there when I get there.
This was all my initial reaction when I was still under the assumption I would only be a few hours late. Let me take you through a pretty accurate timeline of what commenced from there.
The train probably chugged along at what I perceived to be around 20-30 mph through the snow. By one o’clock, we passed a stranded freight train, stopped to check on the crew, because, you know, we’re good Samaritans like that.
After about an hour, as my fellow passengers have grown a little restless, we slowly roll away, and slowly is the operative word here. Again, didn’t feel like we were going more than 20 mph, through various tunnels as we made our way across the majestic Rocky Mountains. And things just got slower from there. At this time, I have come to learn that our conductor is known as “Conductor Chris”, because he starts making several announcements to brief us on the various issues we’ve come across and the various issues we are likely to encounter still. All of which is not helping his peace of mind because, like a dad who has enough, he threatens to turn the train around if he has to tell the passengers one more time to keep their masks on. (Amtrack, btw, is government owned, which fell under the federal mask mandate. Back to the show.)
As we chugged up the mountain, it became abundantly clear the train didn’t have the stamina, or the power to make it through (what was finally being explained) about 5 feet of snow piled up on the tracks. Apparently, in these situations, which I came to learn, a train can just add additional locomotives to their already piled up train, and it will give them the boost. Without ceremony, or an announcement by Conductor Chris, we start going backwards. It is now nearly 3 o’clock.
This is not so much problematic for me as it is for most of the passengers on the train whose sole purpose on the train, unlike mine, is to spend a day at a ski resort in Fraser called Winter Park. Thankfully, the train has not reached a mutinous moment yet, but tensions are rising.
Hotel Sack Breakfast
Between the 3:30 to 4:00pm, calls are made to headquarters, and not surprising, request denied on pirating the locomotive from the stranded freight train we passed 3 hours ago. Honestly, this is getting more amusing. Yet, not so amusing since I realize I am actually hungry and the coffee and breakfast sandwich I had eaten at 8 o’clock that morning has worn off. No bovver, I had my sack breakfast from the hotel in Denver to tide me over. Afterall, I am still holding on to the hope we’ll get to Granby by 7pm.
So, at some point there begins debate about whether or not we should try to make it up the mountain. I know this because the porters are very chatty group of Cathys and have become the archetype disgruntled employees. Afterall, some of their shifts should have ended at noon. However, the debate did not end well for us, because close to the 5 o’clock hour, we start moving backwards again. The debate, obviously, did not turn to our favor.
It’s at this point, Conductor Chris became the epitome of the “Dude, I just work here,” logic. They apparently don’t take shit and he came over the intercom to announce that, in no uncertain terms to remind passengers, he’s not God, he’s just a train conductor, and if they didn’t like it, they were free to contact Amtrak.
I’m not lying. This conversation really happened. And in the meantime, I’m thoroughly amused because it’s not often that I get rich writing fodder such as this.
On top of this, he comes on again to remind passengers that when he’s walking through the cars, please don’t stop to ask questions, because, after all, his job is to get this train safely to our destination, whatever that might be. And if all goes well, we’ll be back in Denver by 7pm.
That, I’m afraid to say, did not happen.
Around this time, it really does dawn on me that I’m hungry. And because the dinning car on these type of trains are specifically for the passengers who booked passage in the sleeper cars (those whose journey began the day before in Chicago, Il) no one is allowed in the dinning car. So, I go to the snack car to find some sustenance until we get back to Denver. Conductor Chris promises us at that getting an additional locomotive for our train will only take an hour.
I was also promised I would be in Granby by late afternoon, but I digress.
Much to my disappointment, the woman who runs the snack car is nowhere to be found. Defeated, I return to my seat in time for one of the porters to gift us with a 8oz bottle of water, a bag of nuts, and a small pack of cookies. I feel I should mention that the cost of my ticket was only $25 so it wasn’t as if I was expecting much more, but by this time I have been on this train for 8 hours. I’m guessing I should be happy with what I have. After all, I’m safe, I’m warm and I have a plethora of pictures and video footage on my camera to play with and edit for my Instagram account.
Should it surprise anyone that we didn’t arrive back to Denver until 8pm? I was, because I was still banking my faith on Conductor Chris following through on his promises. But, what can I say, when it comes to men’s promises, I’ve been burned before.
Yes, at this point I had officially been on the train for 12 hours. And I was right back where I had started.
Back In Denver, part 2.
As soon as the train arrived safely at Denver Union Station, I, along with most of the passengers who were not booked in the sleeper cars, exited the train. I would say about half exited for good. They were, after all, only there for their day trip to Winter Park, and that part of the plan was officially kaput for them. The rest of us who deboarded went into a desperate hunt for food, only to come to the disappointing realization that due to the Colorado Blizzard of ’21, all non-essential shops and restaurants in the 5-block radius of the train station are closed. There is no hope for food whatsoever. Defeated, I took about 20 minutes to walk around the area, in the still coming down heavy snow just to stretch my legs and back. My hips are not happy at this time either due to having spent the last 12 hours in my coach seat.
Prior to deboarding the train, Conductor Chris told us to make sure we’re back by 8:50, because apparently attaching an additional locomotive to a train is a quick fix. I trust him, because afterall, what do I know about trains? Right? Wrong.
Disappointed by the food situation, I go to the snack car again. At this point, anything will do. When I arrive in the snack car, and down the little stairwell to get there, it’s blocked off with carts and a rope. I peek my head around the corner to see a woman sitting at one of the tables, looking as if she’s about as fed up as Conductor Chris being asked the constant barrage of “Are we there, yet?” questions. I’ll call her Gladys, because I can’t remember her name. Gladys spots me, and her snarl intensifies. She says they’re closed for now. I respectively say that I understand, just curious if there’s any food left (because it was announced prior to our arrival back to Denver, the train would not be stocking up on any additional food), and if so, when will she open back up. Gladys wasn’t having it. She reminds me that she’s closed and this is her first break in 12 hours. Alrighty then, message received. I figure I won’t argue, or mention the fact when I came down there 4 hour prior that she wasn’t there either.
But I digress.
By 10 pm, I’m pretty much over it, but my spirits are still pretty high. I have a rather positive attitude and I’m of the mindset of it could be worse. Afterall, one of my Houston friends was aboard the New York train that derailed in December, 2013, killing four and injuring over 60 . I remind myself I’m safe, I’m warm, and I can deal with a minor inconvenience such as this.
Due to covid guidelines, I have my row all to myself, so I recline the seats back, pull up the leg rests and use my coat as a blanket. It’s at this point that a new voice comes across the intercom to announce that he’s taking over the train from Conductor Chris who is off duty and staying in Denver. In fact, most of the staff stayed in Denver. It’s also announced that all announcements at this point will cease because it’s their policy that announcements stop at 10 pm to allow peace and quite for the passengers in the sleeper cars. At this time, all lights dim in the coach cars with the exception of the emergency lights that softly light the paths. I lay my head back down, because my ability to control the situation is beyond me so I might as well sleep.
I think it was around 11:30 that I’m finally aware the train is moving. I fade in and out of sleep for the next few hours. Around 2:30 I’m aware that we have stopped again. I rise and look out the window to see faded lights, and buildings blanketed in snow. I’m cognitive enough to understand the porter speaking to me to tell me we are stopped in Fraser, and our next stop is Granby.
I relax, because it will still be another half hour before we get there. I slowly gather my belongings and await our next stop.
Finally, on the 18th hour of my trip, a little after 3 o’clock in the morning, we arrive in Granby, Colorado. And I, including one other person, are the ONLY people getting off the train. And I have a moment of panic for the first time in this trip as I come to realize I have no way of getting to my hotel. The Granby Train Depot is nothing but a small building with a few benches inside, a ticketing office, and it’s complete closed. It’s also 19 degrees outside. The porter asks me do I have anyone to pick me up and I give a sardonic NO. The man who is scheduled to deboard with me steps up and becomes a gentleman indeed. He offers me a ride to my hotel. I accept, because I have no other options. I also know that if my mother is to ever find this out, I will never hear the end of, but yes, I took a ride from a stranger. And luckily, it worked in my favor. He even lifted my heavy ass luggage into his truck.
But I digress.
The Inn in Granby, Co
I walk through the doors of my hotel, The Inn at Silvercreek, sometime around 3:30am. I walk through the doors of my suite at 3:45. I am tired. I also recognize this is the longest time I’ve spent traveling, the previous record being the 11 hours I spent on a plane from Houston to Germany en route to Ireland several years before.
Needless to say, I went to bed immediately. I had the whole week there in Granby and I would worry about the particulars of my next adventure after a sleep. But all in all, I was safe, I was warm. I had had an adventure.
First of all, allow me to shamelessly plug myself on Instagram by finding me @willowwendy
Now that that’s done…..
New Girl Goals
I admit. I feel a little flaky as of late. It’s hard to explain without getting too into detail about what’s going on in my life. Yes, ironic that when I have the most going on, it’s the one time that I feel the least inclined to talk about it. I suppose I will soon enough. Maybe some things are too personal. Or perhaps once I actually write about it, I’ll never be able to take it back. But such is life. We hold on to the good, and cling to the bad until it cripples all around us. And that’s where I am on certain aspects of my life. When one area goes phenomenally great, the other sinks as fast as that grand ship in the Atlantic in mid-April of 1912. And like the Titanic, my internal band is playing on, clinging to illusion that all is well if I keep playing the calm, somber music that everyone wants to hear.
There are some good things that are going on. Just when I vowed that if I didn’t find job satisfaction this year, I would leave the teaching profession, I managed to walk into my best year of teaching. The irony of it all does not escape me. I’m in a new district, new environment, with a new demographic of students that amaze me every day. I concurrently teach students in my classroom and on Zoom calls. Each day presents a new challenge with not only teaching the mechanics of English, but I fell as if I’ve become Roy, Maurice, and Jen all in the same body as I navigate tech issue after tech issue with 130 students. Moreover, I have a generation of school students who literally have no idea what a due date is, even though I say it, post it, perform an interpretive dance, send a raven, and infuse essential oils in my classroom specifically designed to help with memory. Yet, with all that, I still love my job this year. The irony comes from my coworkers claiming this is the worst year in teaching of their lives. I suppose when you come from such a toxic environment as I did the last four years, I can roll with the baby punches like a true champ. And amazingly enough, I have. My only fear in that arena is that the ball may drop.
Celebrating the holidays in New Orleans
But six in one, half a dozen in the other, one might say. I’m struggling with my health goals. After a small surgery to remove uterine fibroids, weight gain has snuck up on me. I’ve gained like 15 lbs. in the blink of an eye. Yet, even I fully recognize I’ve made some unhealthy food choices as well. Bread is my crack. Pasta is my cocaine. Chocolate is my heroine. I am truly an addict. As before, with my keto journey, it was simply mind over matter. My mind is as squirrely as it can be as of late. What helps is cutting down my social interactions. And even in the time of COVID, you would think that’s simple. But it’s not. I am socially engaged more than ever before because I do not live in fear of the pandemic. I am responsible for my health, and I am aware of all the guidelines. Hell, I’ve often said that children spread disease more effectively than 14th century Europe. Knock on wood, the plague has skipped over my classroom as if I’ve smeared lamb’s blood over the door. A miracle perhaps? Maybe it’s the sage I burn in my room as well. Hell, I’m willing to try anything. Yet, it’s worked. (Have I mentioned knock on wood yet? It’s not like I’m superstitious or anything.)
A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, a wise man once said. On a good note, I’m learning French through Duolingo. I started it back in April when it appeared I would not go back to work anytime soon. I’m close to 300 days so far. I can say I’m reading French well, however, don’t think I can hold my own in a conversation anytime soon.
In the meantime, my writing is still slow. The story is still solid, but I’ve backed my self into a corner of writer’s block with plotting out writing a soccer scene and I know nothing about soccer. If anyone can help, lord knows I’d appreciate the help. I can’t say I understand the dynamics of sports, other than I understand the appeal of athletically buff men of a field of green as I wait with bated breath that they may take their shirts off. The likes of Beckham is surprisingly lost on me. If Johnny Depp was a soccer player, I’m sure I would know the ins and outs of every game and have the companion guides to accompany the season. Alas, I do not. So, I pray as I write this next scene it doesn’t become abundantly clear that I haven’t a clue about sports.
Remember when I said my mind is squirrely? I just discovered the Radio Garden app. I’m currently listening to an FM Radio stations out of Dunfermline, Scotland. I suppose I’m off to find live Soccer commentary.
I’ve taken a chance on publishing a dozen stories that have been previously published into a collection of its own. It brings about an odd feeling because all these stories have appeared in other places over the years, but I’ve finally put it in one collection for sale. Do I think it’s headed towards the best sellers list? Of course not. I have no illusions on that account. But It’s giving me a platform to showcase the stories while I finish up the novel I started back in April, (uh, not really “started” in April. It was way before that, but we’ll leave that as it is).
Either way, I’ve published it and will start promoting it as a trial by fire way of learning some ins and outs of self-promoting and marketing. I was advised by someone to put out a press release. Immediately I had visions of Edina Monsoon in her manic display of PR’s PR call to PR things. I guess we’ll see how it goes. By the end of it, I, too, might need copious amounts of alcohol to get through the process.
I present it here, for all to enjoy. In the meantime, back to writing.
John Lennon once described an 18-month long period of his life in which he was absent from his wife and taken up with a mistress as his “lost weekend”. When I first heard this years ago I thought it was a bit of a copout to describe a time of listlessness and the inability to take accountability for his actions. Now that I’m older, have learned more about what made up his lost weekend, and have come face to face with certain aspects of my life and the toll which everyday adulting has taken upon me, I get it. Only, I’m sad to say, my lost weekend has lasted the last 4 years and I wasn’t as creative as Lennon during that time.
And even sadder to say, during that time, I neglected the aspect of my life which truly gives me that life to begin with. And that’s my writing.
Long story short, I went into teaching. And yes, everything you hear about the horrendous pressures which are placed upon teachers is true. I became an English teacher. I became an English teacher at a socio-economically disadvantaged school. I became a 10th grade English teacher to children who, on average, had a 7th grade reading level, at best. And, to add salt to the wound, I have been an English teacher during the worst pandemic in the last 100 years. Obviously, I go big or I go home. Except, I’ve been stuck at home for the better part of 5 months.
Five long months. And it’s about to get longer as schools across the country are deciding to delay the start of in class instruction.
Me, in my element
The truth of the matter, I really do love teaching. Outside of being a writer, I knew I wanted to be a teacher as far back as 1st grade, in which I would make lists of students in my classes, pretend to take roll and pretend to teach my collection of Cabbage Patch kids and stuffed animals. I just knew I had something in me that others needed to learn, and I needed to be the one to teach it to them. Maybe I still hold that philosophy. However, unlike Cabbage Patch kids and stuffed animals, real students talk back, on most days are disinterested in anything that isn’t on their cell phones, find education pointless in an ever evolving world of Instagram and TikTok fame, and deal with emotional issues that are not at all different than when I was a teenager, it’s just that there’s more of it and far more awareness. So over the last 4 years my teaching philosophy has morphed from something that I have to teach them to being there to support them if shit in their personal lives hits the fan, while teaching reading comprehension and writing. And even as I say that I wish it was as simplistic. Throw in a state mandated test that even I, along with my fellow English teachers, have trouble passing because we see how the test is rigged. My fellow English teachers all have brilliant minds. And most of the time I feel inferior knowing I have only a history degree, yet because I passed the English certification test, I was hired as an English teacher instead. But even with all that, we, highly educated individuals whose cognitive skills are off the charts, sit in meetings and argue over how in the world the test creators came up with the answers they have.
It’s disconcerting to say the least.
But this year was different. We had a pandemic. Or rather, we are having a pandemic. This is by no means over. And state mandated tests were waived. Children and teens are at home for the first time in their lives being held responsible and accountable for their own education. It’s an odd feeling as a teacher watching this play out. Some students are thriving in an online environment because the pressures of being in an American high school were way too challenging (fights, drugs, peer pressures, etc.). I see this and think finally a great solution. For those who are self-reliant to stay at home can now follow an online education. However, on the other side of the coin we have students who are suffering because home life is one disaster after another waiting to happen even before a global pandemic took over their lives. So, from a teaching standpoint, it’s hard to know exactly one’s place in all this when all you’ve known is a scheduled that keeps you busy from 4:30am until midnight worrying about lesson plans, school administrators who don’t know what’s going on in the classroom, whether certain students have eaten lately, or if they have anyone to tell them they love them before they fall asleep.
Teaching is hard. Not teaching, I’ve discovered, is even harder.
Yet, despite being in lockdown in the state of Texas, following social distancing mandates, wearing a mask everywhere I go when I leave my house, and yearning for interaction with my friends and family, I got back into my writing. It’s taken a while, to be honest. I went hard in the paint back in April and made some tremendous headway on a novel I began planning 5 years ago after the death of my father. I managed to knock out about 40,000 words of a planned 120,000 words. Although my concentration has once again been lacking, I am still proud of those 40k words. In the meantime, I’ve made an unbreakable promise to a friend that I have to have this finished within a year. In my head that’s no problem. The talent is never the problem, but I recognize that motivation has been my Achilles Heel. It always has been. I get stuck in patterns of doing something that brings about instant gratification such as binging a new Netflix or Hulu series, (or an old series. During the month of May I suddenly HAD to rewatch all 8 seasons of GOT all over again.) Or, I had to make jam for every single fruit I found on sale at the supermarket (which was detrimental on my part since I went KETO two years ago, but that’s for another blog). Or, of all things, learning French has been my new obsession (currently on a 100+ day streak on Duolingo). Either way, I recognize that I have distractions, and oftentimes I’m my biggest distractor.
However, I am here now. Writing my first blog in over 4 years, forcing myself to commit to writing on the public stage. I’m not sure if I have very many readers still left. This is primarily for my own benefit. A habit begins one step at a time. And it becomes a habit when you repeat it.
So I am writing, I am blogging, and I am publishing (yes, definitely more about that later.)
In the meantime, I hope someone is enjoying my words, and even more so, I hope someone out there is enjoying my new dedication. This is, after all, my personal affirmation.
(I would like to preface this in saying that I attempted to make this blog post about three and a half years ago and it never fully posted. My next blog post tomorrow will explain why, but nonetheless, I felt it was a decent piece of writing at the time. So, I’m completing the posting of it now.)
A New Hope (originally written December 28th, 2016)
The human body is a strange vehicle which encases our souls. That sounded so much better in my head earlier today as I inspected a weird little sore on my thigh near my knee. It was just an infected pore, really. It happens often with no rhyme or reason. It gets red, I scratch it, put some cortisone on it and call it a day. But then I think, out of all the millions of pores on my body (I’m sure I have quite a bit more than the average woman), why did that pore right there chose to volunteer as tribute? It’s a mystery and one I’m sure I’ll never quite figure out.
Well, I will someday, but I’m not sure I’ll be around to share the knowledge of it. Afterall, I would by then have shucked off this strange vehicle of a human body and will most likely be wandering the ethereal plane seeking out the next vehicle to inhabit. I’m a reincarnationist, after all. And what every higher power guides me with wisdom to pick out the next one, I’m sure I’ll be on the lookout for better, thinner, and less acne-prone genes.
One can hope. Perhaps one will never know.
The last time I blogged, aside from that little Super Bowl post, I was coming off of the shock of the passing of Alan Rickman and David Bowie within the same week. What can I say, not much has improved on that front. The year 2016 sucked. ASS. As if the passing of Bowie and Rickman wasn’t a big enough shock, the death of Prince a couple months later really threw me for a loop. You see, me and 2015 didn’t depart the best of friends. I really stared out 2016 with higher hopes. But nope. It had to take Prince. Nothing could beat that, right?
So here’s the deal. And I’m going to try to write this with as much reverence as I possibly can. I’m not a Star Wars fan. I’ve seen the movies, can quote a few good lines and can tell anybody with surprising accuracy the plot of pretty much all the movies. But it doesn’t consume me like other works of sci-fi/fantasy. However, comma, don’t let anyone mistake that for my disrespect for the franchise and what it means to others. I’m a nerd. My nerdiness honors and recognizes the nerdiness in you.
So, when I heard about Carrie Fisher’s hospitalization after the massive heart attack she suffered while flying back to the states a few days before Christmas, I understood the collective gasp heard around the world as the world prayed for her recovery. But, 2015 and the beginning of 2016 left me gun-shy. I felt little hope. I remember looking at my brother and husband and saying, “I bet she’ll be the last one of the year.” Yes, it was a morbid thing to say, but it was realistic. I didn’t want to see it happen. All of my friends, ALL OF MY FRIENDS, are Princess Leia fans. And to be fair, Carrie Fisher fans as well. Yet, as the world gathered for collective prayers for Carrie, as well as prayers for her mother who was worrying for her sick daughter, the world was left venerable to a very unlikely candidate.
On Christmas evening I scrolled through Facebook and settled on a post from The Irish Independent that announced the passing of George Michael. My first thought: what the holy fuck? I searched other news sources and none had picked up on it yet. Obviously it was a mistake. Maybe a bad joke. Perhaps a weird hack on the Irish Independent website. But slowly, and sadly, surely, I Heart Scotland posted about it next. Shortly CNN and Fox picked up on it and I sat on my mom’s couch totally dumbfounded.
Seriously, George Michael? Suddenly dead? From heart failure? None of the words were matching up. In fact, even a week later, the words still don’t seem to match up.
Georg Michael (courtesy of popexpresso.com)
Let’s talk about the 80s for a moment. I am a proud child of the 80s. I entered kindergarten in 1980 and for the next 10 years I relished in everything the 80s had to offer: the weird styles (day glow, anyone?), the toys (the Cabbage Patch craze just to name one), the music (Team Cyndi vs. Team Madonna, then later, hair band glory), the TV shows (where do I start?), the movies (again, where do I start?), the odd politics (the Reagan years), the American obsession with the British royal family – the whole thing. Well, I experienced as much as someone between the ages of 5-14 could experience. I might have watched John Hughes movies, but I was nowhere near experiencing a John Hughes movie life. I was the 80s and the 80s was me.
I even took a class in college dedicated to the 80s. I don’t want to brag, but I made an A.
And boy, Wham! I sometimes joke to others with “Remember, Wham! started out as a rap band.” (seriously, look it up). But say what you will, what wasn’t there to like about Wham? Cute, clean-cut accessible boys with adorable accents and a catchy pop rhythm you could dance to. But like all good things of the 80s, after a dozen or so hit songs, Wham! ended, but George Michael emerged as a powerhouse solo talent and the world never really looked back. And boy, did George throw off those cute, clean-cut shackles. A funny memory I have was getting the Faith album (on vinyl, no kidding) and telling my aunt about the song, “I Want Your Sex.” Horrified isn’t even close of an accurate description of her reaction. I can look back and laugh. And just think, this was only a year before Madonna put out a song with an accompanying video about giving fellatio to a saint. Damn, what wasn’t there to love about the 80s?
(By the way, did anyone realize that Pete Burns of Dead or Alive also passed away this year? That one kind of slipped under the radar.)
The year 2016 was without a doubt the year of the Loss of the 80s icon. That’s all I really know how to describe it. When I started writing this blog, I thought something more poignant would come to me whilst writing, but that’s what I have. Perhaps I still can’t put it all into words. This will have to do for now.
Yet, I want to leave this with a little hope. I ended 2015 with a calendar burning. I won’t be doing that this year. There was definitely a higher power at play other than a calendar. But I will go into 2017 with something resembling hope. To say it can’t get worse is clearly asking for a jinx and I simply won’t do that. (update from July 2020, how little did I know I love some good irony)
Super Bowl Sunday, you say? P-shaw, I say. I’m not a football fan. Hell, I’m barely a sports fan. I can tolerate hockey. Where else are you guaranteed a fight to break out and the crowd stomps together to Queen? But alas, Houston lost its hockey team a few years ago and there’s no other town within decent driving distance in the south to watch a hockey match, thus getting the only tolerable sports fix I’ve managed to accomplish.
But I’m not here to talk about sports. While everyone else is going crazy for the Super Bowl, I decided long ago that this sacred Sundays of Sundays would be dedicated to my favorite Jane Austen adaptation. That’s right, the no less than 5 hours long BBC 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.
Ah, it’s Darcy at his best. And the ONLY Darcy I recognize.
So I’ll leave this here.
P.s., enjoy the pond scene as well 🙂
P.p.s., is this movie really already 21 years old?
After my blog yesterday, I really thought 2016 and I had an understanding. Then I wake up this morning and read the news of Alan Rickman’s passing. Again, fucking cancer. Doctors are successfully transplanting penises, but still no cure for cancer. I am just floored right now.
So, I’m just going to share two of my favorite roles that Mr. Rickman graced us with during his prosperous, yet cut too quickly, time on earth.
As far as the rest of the year is concerned, “Well, I say we get drunk because I’m all out of ideas.” – The Metatron, Dogma
I’m sure I’m not the only one who woke up Monday morning to the news of David Bowie’s passing. Like many in the world, I didn’t know he was sick, as he had not made many public appearances over the last several years. Or if he did, it barely made a blip on the entertainment radar which is overrun with Kardashian/Miley Cyrus/no talent nonsense. So when the illness and passing of a true gentleman and artist was announced, it collectively blindsided the world, leaving many confused with a sudden hole in their existence many didn’t anticipate being possible. Many headlines read “Planet Earth is Blue,” a line from Bowie’s first hit, Space Oddity. It perfectly summed up how we felt. There’s nothing we can do but mourn his passing and celebrate his life. And we truly have to celebrate it. Bowie knew he was dying, and he chose to go on his own terms, even releasing a new album and music video for his fans. Looking back now, the signs were there and perhaps we knew. The difference is we, as a society, rarely see the signs anymore unless they’re wrapped up in scandal. It truly is a sad reflection of humans these days.
I come to write this blog this morning after taking a self-imposed hiatus, in a manner of speaking. It’s been nearly 7 months since my last blog. To put it mildly, the last 7 months have not been kind. To quote another Brit, Queen Elizabeth II, in her 1992 speech to mark the 40th anniversary of her Accession, 2015 “has turned out to be ‘Annus Horribilis’”. And it truly has indeed. I had high hopes for 2015. I started last year with a lot of motivation and inspiration. I started the first few months strong with completing about 30,000 words on the Scottish novel, and then working hard in April with another 22k word short story as I tried my hand at erotica. I had a couple of setbacks on a personal front, with my shitty job and our vehicle not only being broken into and all electronics stolen in April, but then the tailgate was stolen a few months later. It’s those little setbacks that steals the concentration from your art and makes you paranoid about everything. But we recovered and our insurance company came through. Items were replaced. After all, in the end that’s all they are. Just items.
Then June came along and the horribilis continued. I started June with a new story idea. Yes, it’s set in Scotland again. And yes, I have ideas all the time. But what made this one special is that it was finally a contemporary romance idea. Truly a first. I don’t like contemporary. My life has always been about history. I rarely read contemporary. Find me a good, well written history or fantasy and I’m entrenched for days. Outside of the erotica short, every time I come up with a contemporary idea (and there aren’t many), my mind goes into screenplay mode. Which is why I’ve only written one screenplay. To me, I can imagine contemporary on a screen, whereas historicals have such an epic depth that they can only be written in novel format and in no less than 150k words (if I manage to contain it in less than 150k – not so much the case.) So needless to say, I was excited on June 1st when this idea hit me and I sat down to write the outline and set myself a goal of 90k and a 3-4 month timeline. It was going to be a nice break from the slump I had found myself in with the historical writing. I was jazzed and ready to go and my muse was having a field day in her new playground. All was set to be a great summer.
I may have said this before, if you ever want to make God laugh, tell him what your plans are.
My father was first diagnosed with cancer a few years ago. First it was throat cancer, then a few misdiagnoses with lung and bone cancer. Finally it was about a year/year and a half ago that he was diagnosed with liver cancer. Just like all the other cancers he had, he fought and won. I kinda thought it would be the case with this one. So at the early part of June when he called all his kids and told us he wanted to see all of us we kind of had the feeling this wasn’t good. He declared he was going to stop treatment and if he was lucky he had 6 months to live. To our surprise, he called us 3 days later and said the doctor was giving him 2 weeks, if he was lucky.
I’ve never been close with my father. Those close to me know I’ve never hidden that fact. The man who raised me was my step dad and he died of bile duct cancer nearly 15 years ago. I considered losing him the loss of a parent, so when my father tells us he has a matter of days left, it left a numbness I wasn’t quite familiar with. A lot of thoughts went through my mind, not all good. But, I did what any dutiful daughter could do and I was there. I stayed in his hospital room the last 3 days of his life and prayed for him and watch him pass from this world, hoping he will find a good existence in his next one. I’m a reincarnationist, I believe that we are born again in new bodies and this is the life eternal that God promised us. So the only gift I could give him in the end was the hope that he finds a good life wherever he goes next.
I wish I could say this is the only death my family and loved ones experienced this year. Every month after my father, it was someone different. A friend in England passed away unexpectantly, again from cancer, the following month. My father’s cousin, who was a pall bearer at his funeral, died of a heart attack in October. My best friend’s grandfather, the next month, and then, the day after Christmas, my sister-in-law’s mother died in a car accident. There are more deaths, but those are the ones that had the most impact. I’ve begun every month since July praying please, don’t let anyone else die. I know we all have to go sometime, that’s a lesson I learned well when my oldest brother died when I was 15, but I feel there needs to be a break in between. And granted, I know life isn’t fair and wanting something on this level is not within my control. But the muse is feeling this all too keenly and so she’s been in hiding for a while.
2015 Calendars Burning
I ended the year on a very quiet note. I stayed home, dared not venture out and held a calendar burning ceremony in my back yard. My husband and I sat around our fire pit, toasted the New Year with White Russians, watched the neighbors set off fireworks, and at midnight burned every calendar we owned for 2015. We wanted to lift the curse, if that’s what it was, and start 2016 a little better. Maybe it’s superstition, maybe fanciful thinking, but all I knew is that it couldn’t hurt. Bad mojo be gone and bring on brighter, better days for the new year. Amen.
However, Monday came and I had to think on all that had happened in 2015. As I said before, Bowie’s death was a shock. He was someone I had grown up with and I didn’t know how to process a world which no longer had Bowie. But as soon as I read cancer, I wanted to cry. More news came out, and then the video which he made as a final gift to fans surfaced and I realized I’m not as nearly ready to deal with death by cancer as I thought I had. I turned the video on for 30 seconds, saw Bowie in a hospital bed, obviously sick with the blindfold over his eyes and I started having flashbacks to those 3 days I stayed by my father’s hospital bed watching him die. Bowie has never been subtle and every action he ever made had a reason. I don’t think the video was meant to be a nice, cheery sendoff. And perhaps one day I’ll bring myself to watch it completely to discover more meaning and symbolism, but I can’t for now.
Much like the unexpected death of Robin Williams a year and a half ago, Bowie’s death actually brought the world together to remember everything he was as a human and his truly remarkable and generous spirit. No one can say anything bad about him. Everyone agrees he was the nicest man you could have met, gentleman to the core, always up for a laugh, an artist who was always willing to take a chance. That’s a good legacy. One that many of us would be lucky to leave behind.
I’m not quite sure how to end it today, other than I hope everyone has a good 2016. Work on your creativity every day. It’s the only connection to sanity we have.
Around the beginning of the year I joined a self-publishing group with quite a collection of writers who are at various stages of their writing careers. Some have been published for 30+ years, some are on their first title. I’m really enjoying the good advice and information I’m getting through this group and it has been giving me a lot to think about as I make my journey through writing and that final question I’ll ask after I type that concluding “THE END” on my stories: “What do I do now?”
The answer comes with more questions than one might have had 20 years ago. Hell, more questions than one might have had 4 years ago. Self-publishing is finally coming out of the closet in a way. It’s no longer a dark and dirty word it used to be. In fact, many of the writers I lurk around (I don’t really have a lot of experience to share on that loop right now) seem to have the opinion that if they could do it all over again, they would have gotten into self-publishing a lot sooner in their careers. But unfortunately, the world simply didn’t have the resources and technology for writers back then that it does today. eBook and Print on Demand (POD) has opened the world to the written word that can barely even be measured anymore. Anyone can be a writer these days. Anyone can have a book for sale at Amazon. But in the end, what really resonated with me this week was a fellow writer who stated that she was ashamed to admit, but she still needed the validation of a publishing company to publish her book. It got me to thinking about what exactly validation is and why we still seek out this so called validation from others.
The letter Julie Garwood sent me when I was 16.
As many who follow my blog know, I started writing stories as a child, and finished my first 49K word novel by the time I was 17. I was destined to be a published writer and I knew that one day I would get there. In fact, when I was 16 I wrote a letter to my favorite author at the time, Julie Garwood, in which I told her that I hope to see my own books by hers at our local Waldenbooks someday (Waldenbooks has since gone out of business. Told you, this was the early nineties.) Surprisingly enough, Ms. Garwood wrote me back, stating, “Good luck! I hope to see your name on the bookshelves at Waldenbooks too.” I was ecstatic, and from that good luck wish, I saw clearly my life goal. That was the benchmark I set for myself as “validation”. To have my book on a bookstore bookshelf so not only Julie Garwood would see it, but my family, friends, people I went to school with, co-workers, etc, and so they would know without a doubt I was a “real writer”. And real writers have a big name publishing company publish their books.
After high school, nothing much happened with the manuscript I wrote, and it eventually made its way to dust collector as I started college (and eventually dropped out of college). I still wrote, but at this time I was writing fan fiction. Say what you will about fanfic, and I’ll most likely agree. But fanfiction provided something I never had before. Instant gratification and FEEDBACK. Not to mention, I produced some significant volume of words. One fanfic I wrote was 104k words. That’s nothing to turn one’s nose up at, but it still didn’t mean I was a “real writer”. I wasn’t yet validated. I still needed to share with the world my own characters and plots, and show the world my own shelf at the bookstore, which was now at Barnes & Noble, where I worked during that time.
By the age of 28 I went back to college, because that’s the only real “validation” most of society wants to see (but also because I wanted to). I had a great experience as a Creative Writing student and produced story after story. Validation abounded. I had professors praising my work and not laugh too hard when I mentioned I wanted to write genre specific novels. (Sometimes not the best news you want to give your hard and heavy Literary Fiction profs.) I had reached a certain level of validation, but it wasn’t the big one. I still wasn’t on a bookshelf, still not signed to a NY publisher. Still had nothing to show friends, family and…Julie Garwood.
Since graduation, I’ve gone on to publish all my short stories between various print mags, online mags, literary journals, university journals, anthologies and collections. I was perfectly well validated on a lot of personal levels, but leave it to family to deflate my ego like at super bowl football.
When I told my mom I was finally being published in a magazine, she asked with all seriousness, “Like Ladies Home Journal?” No, mom, not that. “Can I go to a store and by this magazine?” No, mom, but you can buy it online. The info didn’t compute. So, no surprise after my 16th publication and a couple of weeks from returning from last year’s RT conference where I was promoting an anthology, that I was introduced by my mom to distant relatives as “trying to be a writer”. Any validation I had, real or otherwise, felt more like a sudden sting. I was in a book, and it wasn’t the first one, but when a couple of relatives asked about what bookstores were carrying it, I had to say it’s available online. There’s an unmistakable look that comes across people’s faces when they realize that your version of successful doesn’t match their version of successful. They really want to be happy for you, but they can’t because THEY have to make an extra effort to understand what YOUR dreams and goals are.
Yes, kids, this is what books USED to look like.
So, here I am, apparently not meeting my family’s standards and still no closer to fulfilling my promise I made to Julie Garwood when I was a 16 year old. I needed to have a book on a bookshelf and the only way to do that is to get a publishing contract. After all, that’s what the last 4 years of my writing life has been about. I’m writing a monster onus in the hopes that a big publisher from New York recognizes me as the love child of Julie Garwood and George RR Martin and sign me to the biggest publishing contract on the planet with an HBO miniseries option.
And then I had an epiphany.
I spent many years turning my nose up at self-published books. Mainly because I had seen a few when they first came out and they were atrocious. I always held more pride in my craft and art than that. I was never going to go that route, because I thought I was better than that. But over the last year my mindset has dramatically changed. It’s hard to say exactly what the turning point was. I think a little bit of it came when I watched a fanfiction writer steal another writer’s work and make millions off it. All that validation I thought I needed, all those whispers in my head that I wasn’t a “real writer” unless a big time publisher published me vanished when I realized that I am in a whole different ballgame than I was 25 years ago. I want to be a writer, I want to be an author. I hope that doing so means I can pay some bills in order to have more time to write. But I don’t want to write based on what a publishing company or editor’s Magic 8 Ball is predicting to be the current trend. I know I’m a good writer. I’m not being cocky. It’s taken me 25 years, a writing degree, dozens of published stories and honest feedback from honest friends to build up the confidence to say that. I’m tired of seeking out validation, because something will ALWAYS come along that won’t be good enough for one person on the planet. I have to change my frame of mind. We ALL have to change our frame of mind and recognize good writing regardless if a NY publisher (who’s probably roped a writer into a contract that has stripped him/her of their creative rights) has published them or not. Musicians self-produce all the time. Kevin Smith got into Cannes with a black and white film financed with a credit card. Why are writers made to feel worse if they don’t have a publishing contract? And is there really a difference anyway?
Oh yeah, writers who self-publish or even go with an independent publisher can’t get their books in Barnes & Noble and/or the you-name-it brick and mortar bookstores in the world. Many writers who have proven track records and monstrous sales who have gone the route of self-publishing for the creative freedom and extra income it provides can’t get their book on the shelves. And knowing such, I see I’m going to keep Ms. Garwood waiting for a while.
In the end, I want creative control over my work. I want my vision to be mine alone. If I fail, at least I know I failed with a story I wrote, not what an editor thinks my story should be based on their bottom line. I never, EVER want to give up the rights to my stories. Some 15 years ago I read Prince’s autobiography. His advice to the world is never give up your publishing rights. (Remember his SLAVE and TAFKAP period?) It always stuck with me. Never say we didn’t learn a thing or two from the little purple wonder.
Self-publishing is a scary thought. And I admit I’m still weighing my options. I’m more confident than I’ve ever been before and have no regrets going forward with it. I’m no longer seeking validation. I’m just going to write and go where the journey leads me and remember to have fun while I’m doing it.
p.s. Don’t mistake my thoughts about publishing house editors as to say books don’t need editing. THEY ALL NEED EDITING. But just be sure you find an editor who works with you and your vision, not against your vision. Make sure that after your editor has given notes, your writing hasn’t morphed into their ideal book verses your ideal book. Remember, write the book YOU want to read. Don’t compromise your vision and art for anything less.