Writing prompt #3: The Pledge

Two weeks late and a bit meandering, I give you this short story I’m calling “The Pledge.”

I’d love to know what you think of the characters and if you’d read more. Thanks again to Angelica for the prompt.

Enjoy.

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I push my bare feet into the familiarity of my cracked red cowboy boots. The dampness makes the worn leather grab them, so I have to pull hard. The sore muscles in my hands twitch in disagreement. It takes thirty seconds, but with his eyes on the back of me and the heavy stone returning to my gut, it’s like an endless looping moment.

Turning around, I see he is as I left him, laying on his back under the green sweeping branches of the old Willow Tree. He has slipped his brown corduroy pants back on, but his chest remains exposed and flushed. His bushy blonde hair and beard, thick legs and arms, give him the appearance of a resting lion. I blush remembering the hunt. He pats the ground next to him and I turn away.

“Don’t go yet,” he says.

His voice smoky and panting calls me back to our hidden spot and my body responds with natural instinct, a betrayal of my true intentions. The warring of my conscience, volleying back and forth, makes me sway in place for a moment. I kick a rock with the toe of my boot and watch it hit a boulder and break into uneven pieces. I don’t know if I can end this, or if I do, what will be left of me.

The rainclouds grow darker and fat drops fall onto my tangled red hair, bringing goosebumps spiraling from my neck to my arms and legs. The soft fabric of my favorite yellow sundress is plastered to my body, outlining its curving shape and my missing undergarments. The rock shifts in my stomach and I lean forward to avoid my boots as I release everything I’ve eaten in the last day on the mossy ground.

Shivering, I recite the “Pledge of Allegiance” in my head, my hand covering my heart in a motion so practiced it could not be restrained.

“I Pledge Allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America…”

In the moonlight, my father’s face looks as if it was carved from an elephant’s tusk, pale white and severe. There is a dark brown evening shadow of hair running in an almost straight line from his ears to his cheekbones, ending in a patch on his pointed chin. His eyebrows are pitched toward his nose in a deep scowl, making his blue eyes almost disappear into his wrinkled face. He spits a glob of foam onto the ground and twirls the hard, white ball in one hand.

I’m standing at the five-sided home plate in our backyard, holding the heavy wooden bat in my small hands. A tall, wispy girl of six, I’m dressed in jeans and a faded yellow t-shirt. My nails are thick with dirt from digging with the neighbor boy for worms near the creek behind our house. I concentrate on placing my weight on the balls of my feet and keeping a slight bend in my knees.

My father brings his arms together in front of his body,  pulling back and lifting one knee, he pitches the ball. Fear overcomes training, I close my eyes and freeze in place. The ball hits me hard on my side and I fall to the ground, tears coming faster than I can stop them. The bat rolls away and I gasp for air.

“Get up.”

He is snarling at me from his raised pitching mound, the anger hot between us. I wipe the tears with my hands, the dirt stinging my eyes. My lungs stab with pain, but I force myself to my feet and stumble toward the bat’s resting place a few feet away. When I bend to lift the bat, the pain makes me cry out. I turn to him, begging with my eyes for us to be done, but he doesn’t return the gaze. He walks toward me, retrieves the ball near my scuffed pink tennis shoes, and returns to his dirty throne.

“Again.”

I place my feet shoulder-width apart and hold the bat, making sure my index finger on the bottom hand is bent around but separate from the other fingers. I adjust the angle and keep my eye on the ball. Don’t look away. Don’t flinch.

“…And to the Republic for Which it Stands…”

Standing side by side, I try to stay in unison with my father’s deep voice as we say the pledge together. He pronounces each word sharp and crisp. When he finishes, he turns to me, tilting my ten-year-old face to his. He is wearing his dark blue army uniform, the special occasion one with the shiny gold buttons and the polished black boots. I don’t know if he is carrying his gun. He grabs both my hands in his.

“Never forget today.”

The seams of my white gloves press into my palms as he squeezes hard. We turn back toward the hole in the yard where Gretchen lay dead and stiff. Dad’s flannel shirt is laid across the lower part of her body and her favorite chew toy, a stuffed mallard with missing eyeballs, is placed in her paws as if she’s holding it. I’m scared she might move at any minute and lunge at me with her wild eyes and sharp teeth.

Dad stands at attention, and I do as well. I’m wearing a pleated yellow dress he ironed with starch and it itches, like bugs crawling on my stomach and chest. I look at the stand of beech trees near the back fence, yearning to play, and he grabs my chin, returning my gaze to the hole. Gretchen’s face is locked in a permanent growl and I swear I hear it rumbling out of her dead mouth. I shiver and squirm.

He slaps me across the face. My neck whips around and I fall to the ground, the smell of rotting dog making me gag. My face burns, my eyes refuse to focus and I puke, a dismal array of undigested oatmeal and orange juice. He pulls me to my feet, my white patent leather shoes scuffed with dirt, and screams into my face of disrespect and disappointment. I can’t see his face. I stammer an apology and return to his side. We stand at attention, the throbbing of my head making me sway, and say the pledge over and over as the stench of Gretchen’s body covers us.

“…One Nation under God…”

He holds my hand as we watch the casket, my father tucked inside, lowered into the ground. The sun is shining bright and the sky is electric blue and free of clouds. Sweat makes the black lace of my dress stick to my skin and drips streak the backs of my legs. I squint and cover my face with my free hand, pretending tears I can’t seem to force.

A soldier, young enough to have pimples on his chin, hands me a triangle of an American flag. It’s heavy in my arms and I resist the urge to throw it on the ground. All eyes are on us, the grieving couple. I’m about to say something when he makes a strangled cough which turns into a heaving sob, his bulky form shaking next to me. He sounds like a fish gasping for air. I keep my eyes on the hole in the ground.

My father and I met him at a car show. He was standing next to a bright red 1966 Ford F100. It had been his father’s truck and he was honoring his memory by showing it. He had long blonde hair pulled back into a neat ponytail and a trimmed blonde beard. He was dressed in a sandy brown suit, ironed creases along the center of the pant legs, and a soft yellow handkerchief folded with three points in the left breast pocket. His smile warmed my body. My dad was impressed and invited him to dinner at our house. We were married six months later, five days after my 18th birthday.

My father loved him, greeting him every time by gripping his arms and pulling him into a deep embrace. They never spoke harsh of each other, only of me. His sobs crescendo, his body wobbling back and forth as everyone watches. The light catches his wedding ring. I should pull it off his finger and throw it onto the casket.

He looks beautiful in his expensive Italian suit with its three round buttons, embroidered silk tie, and pale-yellow handkerchief. He’d polished his shoes for two hours this morning, but they look dull in the brightness of the noon sun. He goes silent and snaps his body to attention. His voice cracks as he leads everyone in saying the pledge my father lived. We all join in.

“…Indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for All.”

I spit the last strings of vomit on the ground and tilt my head back so the raindrops fall on my face. I close my eyes. The ground is slick and puddled under my boots. I should not have come to him again. He wipes my face with soft yellow fabric and folds me into his arms, the scent of him like pine forests and mud. His lips brush my neck, licking rainwater and warming the air. I look at my red leather boots and beg them to walk away.

 

 

 

Writing prompt #2

I’ve been working on my novel for several years, a task which involves writing the same paragraph seventeen times, scrapping it and then crying. I suppose there are other methods, but I like to suffer. Clearly.

As you can imagine, it’s not so fun. It’s work. Self-imposed work with no deadline or guarantee anything will come of it. Soul-feeding and soul-draining work.

Free writing, however, is as fun as I remembered. Letting a story flow, without edit and overthinking, is creative play and makes me feel giddy.

Here is my second free write with Reece Writing. Be sure to read her chilling take on the same prompt.

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Grandmother’s left side of her body is smaller than her right, giving her a lopsided gait and a frailty which compels strangers to want to open doors for her or offer her assistance. She refuses, giving the well-intentioned person a scolding look. This is followed by her story, unpacked in a measured tone, each word well-rehearsed and precise, trapping the would-be good-doer with her piercing black eyes.

We are at Save Mart picking up a cake for her 90th birthday party, a task she did not trust me to complete alone. A tired mother with a sleeping baby strapped to her chest in a colorful sling, and an excited toddler bellowing his ABCs while stacking groceries into towers inside the cart, makes the mistake of smiling at Grandmother and asking her if she needs anything.

Grandmother sits down on the cracked leather seat of her walker, taking a small box of tissues out of the flower print bag hanging from the metal bars, and sets it on her lap. She holds up her left hand, it looks like bones covered in blueish veins held together with greying tissue paper.

“I had Polio at five months old,” she begins.

Her voice is loud for someone so small and I see the woman’s look, the one they all give as she begins her story. Sympathy at first, perhaps even interest, but as she continues, it transforms into embarrassment and then a desperate desire to flee.

“My mother wept for the first five years of my life. She was heartbroken at the imperfection of her only child, this weak and disfigured girl who didn’t smile or speak. My father says my Polio is what killed my mother, but I know it was something more. I felt the truth the moment I was born, and I carry it still.”

If she can keep her audience, the story continues with her two marriages, one good and one bad, her ten children, eight surviving to adulthood, and the three-bedroom house she has lived in all her life. Few people stay for the entire story. If they do, it’s older women wearing long skirts or flowering dresses and they want to hug her after. Grandmother does not permit any kind of touching but will give them a tissue from the box. If they don’t leave, she will begin again.

The young mother doesn’t make it past the story of the first marriage. The toddler screeches and throws crackers at Grandmother as the newborn baby begins to wail and snuffle at her covered breasts. The poor woman apologizes and backs away. She appears shaken and I offer to help, but she’s moving fast away from us, headed toward the opposite side of the store.

“Here’s your cake.”

The woman behind the counter, a 20-something with bright blue eyes and a blond pony-tail high on the back of her head, smiles at us with the box open for our inspection. Grandmother stands and peers inside. It’s a vanilla cake in the shape of a house, frosted green with yellow shutters, and the number 90 written in gold icing on the front door.

“Perfect,” I say.

Grandmother turns to me and scowls, making a growling sound in the back of her throat, and walks toward the glass front doors of the store.

“Nothing’s perfect,” she calls. “Hurry up.”

I thank the woman and pay, balancing the cake in my arms to find Grandmother sitting behind the wheel of her pale blue 1970s Cadillac. The windows are rolled down and her walker sits on the curb next to the car. I set the cake on the back seat, fold up her walker and place it into the cavernous trunk.

“You move like a sloth,” she calls. “You better hold the cake on your lap.”

I retrieve the cake and take my seat, expecting her to slam on the gas, but instead, she’s frozen. Her hands are gripping the steering wheel, making the knuckle bones look as if they will pop through her papery skin. She is staring at a middle-aged man, plain and a bit pudgy, getting out of the white Ford sedan next to us. He returns her stare, glaring with deep-set grey eyes. I recognize the look, but don’t want to.

“No,” I whisper.

“No choice,” she says.

“It’s your birthday Grandmother, and everyone is waiting at the house for us. We could ignore it.”

“Get my walker.”

“Grandmother…”

She stares at me, her black eyes burning and I blush from shame.

“Now.”

I return the cake to the backseat and get her walker. The man is standing at the cake counter by the time we get inside, unaware of what is to come. I wish I was. He is talking to the same girl we got our cake from and she is blushing and giggling in excess. She likes him.

He is wearing faded denim jeans, a button-up grey shirt, and plain brown shoes. His sandy blonde hair is balding in the back, and he has a small trimmed mustache. Grandmother walks over to him and touches him on the arm with her left hand. He flinches and glares at her. I see it flash across his face so transparent I wonder why he’s never been caught.

“Can I help you?”

He is trying to recover, his voice sugary and sweet, but the fear is making him tremble and his temples are wet with sweat. He smirks at Grandmother, the telling grin of a confident hunter, and my stomach burns with acid. Patience, I tell myself.

“I’m wondering if you can help me,” Grandmother says.

“Oh…umm…sure.”

He is staring at the blond girl, her name tag says Angela, and I wonder if she’ll ever know how close she came to death.

“I’ll be right back,” he says.

He touches Angela’s forearm with a finger, a tickling swipe to mark her, and she blushes. How long has he been planning today? How many cakes has he bought in preparation? She giggles at some joke he whispers, and I feel nauseous and sleepy. Grandmother’s voice wakes me.

“I need help getting something out of my trunk,” she says. “It’s too big for my granddaughter and me to handle, but you look strong.”

Her syrupy voice, the one she uses for this purpose, awakens the calling inside me and I find the stillness. My training takes over. I beam at him, making myself smaller and more attractive. I sway my hips as I step into place next to him, placing my arm onto his, steadying him. I stare into those dim eyes, past the monster, to the prey. He blinks and wipes the sweat from his forehead.

“Oh, I can’t thank you enough for helping us,” I say.

“It’s no trouble,” he says.

I lead him to the car. He stumbles a few times, mumbling in a voice low and wobbly. He is confused, his instincts trying to wake him. I’m stronger. Grandmother is waiting at the open trunk. He stares at her and tries to speak, but words are lost to him. He climbs into the trunk and lays down, his arms at his sides.

“That’s a good boy,” Grandmother says.

He unsnaps a hunting knife from a leather strap around his calf and hands it to me. It’s warm and smells musky. I wrap it in a rag and put it into the glove box. Grandmother closes the trunk, stores her walker behind her seat and brings the V-8 engine rattling to life.

“Don’t forget the cake. You should hold it on your lap.”

I do as she says, the weight of the cake box comforting. I resist the urge to open it and dip my finger into the sweet icing. My body feels weak and hungry.

“We will take care of him after the party,” she says. “I don’t want to keep everyone waiting.”

“Yes, Grandmother.”

“You did well, child. You may be ready to do this without me.”

“Thank you, Grandmother.”

She begins to sing a song from her childhood, the words as familiar to me as my own breath. I join in and our rising voices become one.

“When the shadows of the evening creep across the sky,

And your mommy comes upstairs to sing a lullaby,

Tell her that the Bogeyman no longer frightens you,

Grandmother very kindly taught you what to do!”

*Adapted from “Hush Hush Hush Here Comes the Bogey Man” by Henry Hall

Just write already!

A friend of mine started a blog where she is challenging herself to write a short story from a prompt each week. I LOVE this idea and have decided to play along. This will give me some deadlines and flex my writing muscles with different types of stories.

You can find her blog here: https://reecewriting.wordpress.com

Here’s my attempt at the first prompt.

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It’s taken Piper five days to reach the meadow, much longer than if she’d flown. She stretches away the stiffness of sleep and waves hello to a yellow dragonfly waking from his perch above her. He is flicking his two sets of wings, drying off the moisture of the night. The sunlight makes them shimmer with tiny rainbows, like Clea’s wings. Her nose burns and she rubs her eyes.

“No,” she says to herself. “You will not be weak.”

She puts her hands on her hips and squares her shoulders. The sun, round and golden, peaks through the clustered needles of the towering pines, spreading spotlights across the ground, promising to bring warmth with it soon. The forest is quiet and still. She can make out the shapes of the predatory birds of night, full and resting, in the highest branches.

Pulling her mossy cloak tight around her shoulders, she is grateful for its warmth. She smooths her green pants and shirt best she can, but they remain damp and dirty from the nights of sleeping in gnarled masses of tree roots. Her braid has loosened under her acorn cap, and she tucks the wisps of auburn curls back into place. Her boots, the ones she spent weeks crafting from a young white birch tree, are starting to wear thin, sores forming on her pinky toes.

She would have arrived yesterday, if not for a grumpy, and quite angry, little chipmunk. His hole was covered with dried leaves and she fell right through it, landing on his soft back and waking him from his hibernation. She tried to apologize, but he chased her around the forest screeching insults at her for several hours. He was certain she was after his stockpile of hazelnuts. Piper doesn’t even like hazelnuts.

A pair of goldfinch sing above her and she takes a small bite of an almond cake from her bag, it tastes bland and stale. One last climb over an ancient rotting log and she will be among sweet smelling lavender, delicious clover, five different shades of poppies, goldenrods, and daises. She will drink from the creek, the water sweet and ice cold, and feast on wild carrots and miner’s lettuce. Her stomach rumbles, sick of the almond cakes of Fall and Winter, ready for the bounty and joy of her Spring and Summer home.

“You are right tummy, let’s go.”

Securing her pack onto her back, she adjusts her cobweb hand wraps. She used to race Clea here, weaving back and forth, bursting with eagerness to return to the bounty of the meadow. The winner got the first drink of Spring. She smiles at the memory. Clea’s eyes were the color of the sky at dusk, purple with a hint of pink. Were.

Piper shakes her head. She has to concentrate on the climb. The bark is loose in spots, dropping off in sheets without warning, so she must test each handhold and foothold. It’s slow going. She cuts her knee, tearing a large hole in her pants, but she presses on. Hours pass, the rhythm of climb replacing all other thoughts until she reaches the top. With a final burst of strength, she pulls herself over the crumbling ledge.

Gasping, she rolls onto her side, expecting the familiar buzzing of bees to greet her. Instead, she hears nothing and finds the smell is wrong. Scanning the sky, she pulls herself into a sitting position and opens her mouth in a silent scream. The meadow is dead. She rubs her eyes and cries, tears turning into uncontrollable sobs until she faints from exhaustion.

“Hi, yes, yes. Hallo. Good morning. Greetings and such. Yes, yes.”

Piper darts to her feet, sweating and panting, her hands balled into tight fists in front of her. A brown furry creature, with translucent veiny ears, watery black eyes, pointy pink nose and a mass of long whiskers, squeaks, and darts a few inches away from her. It curls a worm-like tail around its plump body and trembles.

“Eich sorry,” it squeaks and hiccups. “Eich is friend. Buddy. Pal. Mate. Yes, yes?”

Piper lowers her fists and sits. It’s a field mouse, one of the many who live here. These are her friends, and she is angry at herself for being so rude. She is about to say so when it inches back toward her holding a small crumbled clover in its pink hand.

“Eich sorry,” it squeaks and hiccups again. “Eich happy to see you. Glad. Pleased. Cheered. Yes, yes.”

“Your name is Eich?”

“Yes, yes. Eich, son of Misha and Titus, brother and sister to many and now friend of you.”

He hands her the clover.

“For you, yes, yes.”

He bows low, his nose touching the ground. When he stands, his whiskers twitching, he smiles at Piper, exposing his two yellow front teeth for a brief moment, before lowering his head into another bow.

“Well, Eich, I’m pleased to meet you. I’m Piper. I do believe we will be friends.”

Eich inches closer, grabbing both of her hands in his and blows warm breath onto her freezing fingers. He smells of fresh mint and spring, and she smiles at him.

“Thank you for your kindness, Eich.”

“Eich has been alone since they left. One. Single. Solo. Yes, yes.”

Piper looks past Eich and sees the meadow. In the center is a hole, not much bigger than the rabbits make, but the ground around it is scorched black in an eight-foot circle. The remainder of the meadow grass has been trampled flat, turning brown and dying. There are no flowers, rabbits, mice or bees.

“Do you know what happened Eich?”

“Fire-breath, yes, yes. Stinky. Filthy. Foul-breath. Yes. His fault. Gone. Departed. Left.”

He shivers and pulls his tail around his body again, glancing toward the meadow.

“You mean something did this to the meadow? A creature?”

Eich squeaks and points to the hole as a ring of smoke drifts out. A sharp acid smell follows. It makes her eyes sting and her head fuzzy. Piper feels fear ripple through her body.

“Eich,” she says. “We have to get out of here. Now.”

“Eich help. Yes, yes. Climb on quick. Rapid. Swift. We go.”

A sound erupts from the hole, a sparking sound, like when lightning hits the ground during a large storm. Piper’s skin bursts into goosebumps as Eich squeaks and jumps. She climbs onto his back, gripping the soft fur around his neck with both hands, and he scampers down the log, along the edge of the meadow and into a bramble bush. It’s dark inside but smells of lavender.

Eich pushes his way through a maze of brambles until they reach a small clearing. He sets Piper into a nest of fur and milkweed pods. She can see little piles of dried flowers, berries, and nuts, and the air is warm. Eich is watching her, flashing his yellow tooth smile again in the dim light.

“Eich’s home, yes, yes.”

“It’s nice Eich. Thank you.”

“Rest now little one. Sleep. Dream. Safe. Yes, yes.”

Piper climbs out of the nest, looking toward the direction of the meadow.

“The thing out there…is it Fire-breath?” asks Piper.

Eich nods, shifting his weight.

“Did it destroy the meadow?”

Eich nods again.

“I need to see what it is. I need to see what destroyed my Spring, stole my Summer and drove away my friends. I have to see it.”

“Eich brave mouse, but Eich no go. Piper stay, too. Yes, yes.”

“You are brave Eich, but I have to see it. I’ll be careful. You rest. OK?”

She strokes the mouse’s head and he snuffles her with his nose. She can hear he is crying now, and his body is trembling.

“Come back, Piper. Yes, yes. Please.”

She wipes his eyes and hugs him around his neck.

“I will Eich. I promise.”

He helps her through the maze of brambles to the opening, and they hug one more time before he scampers back inside. Piper puts her hands on her hips and focuses on the hole about 10 feet away from her. The smell is terrible. She looks in her bag and pulls out a dried rose petal. She folds it until it fits over her mouth and nose, using her cobweb hand wrap, she secures the petal to her face.

She creeps toward the smoking hole, aware she doesn’t have much of a plan. Clea would know what to do. She’d march right over and yell at the thing to go. It would listen too, or Clea would make it. She misses her friend’s fierceness. She misses everything about her best friend.

“Go away!”

A raspy voice calls from inside the hole and Piper stops. She can see a wide green nose poking over the ridge, sniffing from crescent-shaped nostrils.

“Who are you?” Piper calls.

The thing snorts, smoke filling the space between them, but doesn’t answer. Piper takes another step forward.

“Go away!”

“No,” Piper says.

She is surprised by her boldness, but anger makes her heart pound and her body vibrate with energy. She takes another step forward and the thing crawls out of the hole. It’s about the same size as Eich, but nothing like him.

It’s covered in bright green scales in a tight woven pattern from head to tail. Along it’s back is a ridge of spikes, which are golden and cast rainbow patterns on the ground where the sun hits them. It has a pair of tiny wings, similar to Piper’s own, tucked along the side of its body. It blinks it’s large, round eyes at Piper. The eyes are the deep amber color of fresh honey.

“Go away!”

It’s standing on the ridge of the hole and Piper can see it has something under it, gleaming bright in the sunlight, a single golden coin resting between its feet. Piper imagines it must have been hard to pull from the hole.

“I want to talk,” she says.

The thing shifts, trying to cover more of the coin, and blows fire in Piper’s direction. It’s a small flame and she sidesteps it without much effort. The rose mask is working to cover the smell, so she takes another step forward.

“Stop moving!”

It tries to blow another flame in Piper’s direction, but only smoke comes out. It coughs, wheezing and shaking. Piper covers her ears against the sound, until the thing stops, eyes wide in fear, collapsing on the ground. Its body covers the gold coin and it snores, the sound like a swarm of angry bees. Piper laughs. This is what scared everyone away? It’s nothing but a baby dragon, barely able to blow fire, the poor thing.

She walks over to the dragon and touches one of the golden spikes on its back. It’s freezing. She takes her moss cloak off and puts it around the dragon’s neck, covering as much of him as she can. She sits. It would be amazing to tell Clea about this. Her friend would throw her head back and laugh until tears streaked her soft face. This is the second Spring without her, since the accident. She wonders if she’ll ever meet another fairy again. Her nose burns and the tears come.

“Why are you crying?”

The dragon’s voice is softer now, not as raspy. Piper finds his eyes enchanting.

“I miss my friend,” she says. “I’m the only fairy left now…”

“I’m alone too. I fell out of my mother’s bag while we were flying over this meadow. I was supposed to be home, but I snuck in the bag because of the coin. I wanted my own hoard. I’m old enough! I bet she doesn’t even know I’m missing, yet. She’ll never find me.”

He sniffs, smoke rings escaping from his nostrils.

“Why did you destroy the meadow?”

“I didn’t mean to. I was scared and there were so many creatures and they were so loud and…I panicked.”

Piper stands and faces the dragon.

“I’m Piper,” she says extending her hand. “I am pleased to meet you.”

“I’m Snap.”

He shifts so he can shake her hand with his scaly one, trying hard to not expose the gold coin beneath him.

Eich bursts from his bramble bush, squeaking and holding a broken twig in his mouth as he runs. He stops a few feet from them, gasping, and takes the stick into his left hand. He tries to growl, but it sounds strange and not at all scary.

“You better not hurt Eich’s friend. No, no.”

With this, he steps forward and hits the dragon on the nose with the stick. Snap bursts into tears, sneezing smoke and making a moaning sound. Eich looks from Piper to the dragon, shakes his head and lowers his stick.

Piper laughs. At first, it’s a giggle behind her hands with a small shaking of the shoulders. Growing, it bubbles and bursts until she throws her head back, howling and roaring uncontrollable, tears streaking her face.

Eich and Snap stare at her.

Pounding out words

I inhale the earthy, crisp scent of leather, breathing in decades of memories, images flashing like a “This is Your Life” montage from some old TV show.

Riding bareback through the rice fields on my horse, the chocolate-colored reins held loosely in my hands, I sing loudly to an audience of white cranes and brown ducks. I catch my reflection in the water and pretend I’m a fairy queen, my hair wild, riding toward some imagined kingdom created just to honor me.

Sitting in my closet, my teenage heart is broken, I’m writing down the feelings in my pink leather journal. I want to be like everyone else, but I can’t seem to even fake it. I’m doing everything wrong and nobody will ever love me. I’m destined to be alone.

I’m standing in my friend’s dusty garage while Enya softly sings from a tiny speaker, “Let me sail, let me sail. Let me crash upon your shore.” I’m frustrated at my lack of skills, as the leather in front of me doesn’t look as I want it to, but my friend playfully throws a scrap at me and fills the space with a booming laugh. I can’t help but smile.

I’m not any of those places now.

I’m not any of those versions of me now.

I’m in my own garage.

Alone.

My tools lay orderly, waiting for me to begin.

I wet the leather. I pick up a square piece of metal, the letter “F,” and snap it into the handle.

I set the letter carefully in place and hit it hard, just once, with my heavy hammer.

img_3499.jpgI repeat this with each letter, feeling a connection, not only to the person I’m making the leather bracelet for, but to the letters themselves. The sound of the letter, the shape, the history of the words and to the printing press.

I snap one letter into place after another, developing a rhythm of motion.

Letters become words, and words become phrases.

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IMG_3543Letters become words, words become phrases, and phrases can change the world.

I picture early printers, hunched in a dark room, carefully and secretly placing letters into the bed by candlelight, words designed to topple monarchies, to protest injustice and to fight against oppression. Steady hands, or are they shaking hands, place each metal letter, so similar to the ones I’m snapping on and off the handle, purposefully in place with a full awareness of the risks.

Humbled.

My action is so small. Stamping leather bracelets for friends hardly seems worthy of mention, let alone connected to revolutionaries who changed the world with bold ideas and brave actions.

Yet, we all have to do something. Be something.

We all have to believe little things matter because otherwise, it seems so fucking hopeless, a tiny grain of sand in the ocean being pushed by the tides, a speck of nothing in a vast expanse of universes and black holes.

Our actions matter.

Our suffering matters.

I’ve been consumed with grief, the heartbreaking loss of my tiny baby niece in August and now the end of a close friendship.

I don’t know how to deal with these things.

Sometimes I can’t.

I’ve been unable to write, each time I sit down it feels like the words swirl away from me and leave me fearful and uneasy. I take long baths. I sit silently for hours next to the river, rolling rocks in my hands, and watching birds. Yeah, it’s weird.

Stamping leather has become a way to connect with lost parts of myself and to give back to those who have touched my life. Yeah, it’s weird too.

I’m hopeful the writing will come again (I managed this blog post).

New adventures will be there too, as they always are.

There is nothing revolutionary about any of this.

We all have to reinvent ways to conquer fear, to push away grief and to move forward in life. It’s as universal as eating and breathing, yet it never feels any less suffocating or lonely.

But we aren’t alone.

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Interview in the kitchen

IMG_2746Chopped onions, mushrooms and garlic simmer in the pan with a little olive oil. I add a handful of spinach and push everything around with a wooden spoon.

“Here we are in the kitchen of the famous writer,” says my girl.

Wearing her soft white pajamas with gold snowflakes, she points a camera at me and talks in a tumble of quick words, her sweet voice trying to mimic the cadence of the reporters she hears on NPR.

“You may know her from her famous blog, but she is also writing two novels which are sure to be New York sellers.”

She walks closer and I turn, aware of my dirty apron and unwashed hair. The camera is on my face now.

“Can I ask you a few questions?”

“Sure.”

“When you’re famous, will you allow your books to be made into movies?”

“I guess.”

“I know you doubt your acting skills, but if given the chance, would you star in the movie?”

“No. I’d leave it to the professionals.”

“You could, you know.”

“Thanks, but it isn’t something I even want.”

I stare at her through the camera, my tone serious. Teachable moment.

“You do know I may never finish my book, and it may never be published. You know that, right?”

She sighs and smiles.

“You will mom, and you are already famous,” she says. “Because you’re awesome.”

She turns the camera on herself.

“Well, there you have it, folks. A short interview with the famous writer as she cooks dinner. Tune in tomorrow when we interview a leprechaun about the true secrets of the rainbow.”

She walks into the next room and I hear her playing the video back to herself. I wonder what she is thinking as she watches it.

Does she see the bags under my eyes or the way I cringed when she called me “famous writer”?

Does she know how much I fear I’ll never finish writing anything?

Can she possibly understand the enormous feelings her little interview exploded inside me as I cooked a frittata on a Monday night?

Thank goodness the answer is no. She is 10 years old, all she knows is she loves her mother and she believes I can do anything. I’m still a hero to her, someone to look up to, someone to admire.

Like all aspects of motherhood, it’s crushing, suffocating, messy, confusing and fucking wonderful all at once.

I don’t want to let her down.

I’ve always told her she could do whatever she wants in life.

“You are only limited by your own fears.”

I worry I will fail, and she will watch it, and all her hopes and dreams will crash along with mine. She won’t believe me anymore and I will have broken her.

I worry she will watch the video years down the road, when I am gone, sad her mother never finished those books she always talked about.

She is watching me.

She sees me trying, hears me reading sentences out loud to myself, watches me rush to scribble something on a piece of paper, listens as I tell her something new I figured out about one of my characters and hears me cry when I think I’m alone and everything feels too big.

She is watching me.

Fear and self-doubt, like Oden’s ravens, sit on my shoulders. They mock me, tell me how foolish, stupid and boring I am. Famous writer. Blah.

Yet I keep going.

I’m crafting stories and characters and worlds. It’s hours of tedious work, reworking the same sentences over and over until they read exactly as I want them to, mixed with a tiny moment where the magic sends a shiver through my entire body and I feel life pure and whole and without edit.

I don’t know how this story ends, but she is watching me.

quote

 

 

 

Can we talk?

Her bouncy blonde curls hang wildly down to a soft, mustard-colored sweatshirt. She is smiling, and her blue-green eyes, the light of her face, squint ever so slightly.

We lean close, trying hard to fill the space between us with all the things which have happened since we last sat here, our favorite table in the corner, drinking matching diet cokes and sharing popcorn from a red and white bag.

This is love.

The feeling is big, and yet so simple; connection, familiarity, safety.

Our friendship was forged years ago as young girls trying hard to be seen and heard in a sea of middle schoolers. Something drew us close then, but we seem to have forgotten it, or maybe it lay buried under all the things.

Nearly a year ago, while dodging post-hurricane waves in Florida, our hearts opened up and spilled out to one another. Forged in the powerful surf. Tougher than the wind. We remembered.

We used to borrow each other’s clothes, sing loudly in the car, skip arm and arm down the halls, stay up all night talking about everything and nothing.

I want more.

More of her. More of us. More of the space between women which is sacred and holy and fucking amazing. More time to see her fully, all her complexities and contradictions, hopes and fears, everything.

I want more.

A week ago, I left for a writing retreat to this hippie camp near the ocean and the redwoods. I wanted something to happen, sure, but I feared nothing would. Anxiety, like the proverbial devil on my shoulder, whispering all the ways I would fuck it up.

But I didn’t.

I couldn’t.

Magic became not only attainable, but real; with a fairy path leading to a yurt, a unicorn chef who cooked concoctions worthy of the Gods, and a bonfire where truth was spilled out and passed around from one to the other.

The whispers of the ancients, things I know to be true in my bones, rocked me as I stood every morning on the damp redwood deck in my wool socks, the cool wetness seeping in, a hot cup of coffee clutched tightly in my hands.

The breezes would carry bits of conversation from the women inside, voices of strength and of hope, gathered around a fireplace adorned with candles and trinkets from those who came before. A sense of divine connection filled my soul.

I want more.

Since my return, I’ve dealt with rotten jack-o-lanterns, sick kids spewing mucus and whining loudly, piles of laundry, seven million voices in the carpool van all talking at once; the layers of responsibility trying desperately to bury the ancient truth again under all the shit.

I’m terrified another five, ten, twenty years will pass in a blur before I have another moment of remembering.

I want more.

So, my friends, as I stare at you too long, hold you too tight, forgive me. I’m lost in the redwoods still.

I just want to talk.

 

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The Magical Place

 

Searching for something

Almost four years ago, I began this blog to address the feelings of being drowned out and erased by motherhood. It was purely a selfish stab in the darkness.

Hello? Hello? Anybody out there?

Depression’s seed had already sprouted inside, but it would take a year or so before I began to recognize it. By then, the twisting thorny pain had wound itself through every cell, infecting all functions and clouding my vision with inky black lies.

Devouring. Suffocating. Obliterating.

I could not see.

I could not breathe.

I could not move.

This blog became the home for the words I didn’t dare say out loud, my refuge in the darkness. I could type silently the pain and anger I wished would go away, release some of the pressure, and reach my quiet hand up for someone to see.

Some of you read the words and nodded in solidarity, my sisters and brothers of shadow.

Some of you read the words and tossed me tendrils of hope, which I desperately clung to with both hands.

With every word typed and every tear cried, I’ve been ripping and untangling the dense thicket of torment and suffering I’d surrendered to.

Now, with only a few coils still attached, I’m feeling exposed and naked.

Stripped down.

Bare.

I’m free, but lost.

Seen, but scared.

I have no idea what to do next.

Depression became my identity, filling the emptiness up with dark and giving me plenty of lies to ponder and pain to feel. It became my voice; it spoke through me, providing a plethora of excuses to hide behind and inside.

Hello darkness, my old friend/I’ve come to talk with you again

I want to shed the deceitful sense of purpose depression gave me and embrace something new. I long to find the true voice inside me, the one buried by all the layers of bullshit I’ve let define me for so long.

I feel wobbly in this new space and unsure how to proceed.

So, I come here again, to this space of words and ideas. I come with eyes wide open, my heart engaged and my mind clear.

Do you see me? Will you accept this version? Will I?

Our country is so filled with division, misinformation and lies right now. We have joined the rest of the world, in a global sense of unease and unrest. There are so many things happening, so fast, it would be easier to retreat back into my self-pitying hole of depression and hunker down.

But this is the time for action.

The time to declare a new purpose and to find a new voice.

A time to say, I’m still here.

We are still here.

Now what are we going to do?

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My attempt at painting this new feeling.

 

Oh, the messes we make

There is a pile of cut yarn outside my bedroom door, and five stuffed animals hang from the bannister having “flying lessons.” Every box from Christmas I put in the garage to break down, is back in the house in various stages of transformation, surrounded by tape, scissors and markers.

The dining room table is home to a puzzle on week three of progress, and a half-completed robot model. Stacks of books fill every flattish surface, teeny-tiny scraps of paper are cut up and have been thrown confetti-style down the halls, and two tiny plants appear to be in the process of being repotted by someone in the bathroom sink.

The state of my house is not good, folks. It is a cluttered mess of intentions and creation. We are a family who likes to do things, make things, get lost in the “thing,” and what we seem to hate the most is admitting the thing is over.

If the puzzle is put away, it means we didn’t finish it.

If the books are on a shelf, they may not get read.

If we clean up the boxes, the fort will never be completed.

We are a family of potential.

I have been fighting this for a long time.

I would walk around the house picking up all the messes, bitching as I do, and feeling the overwhelming sense of futility as I turn around to see several new “projects” erupting behind me.

It was driving me crazy. Ask my kids. I had become the Cleaning Dictator often yelling “take this shit to your room” and “what the hell is this mess?” and “are you kidding me?”

I’d march around in full martyr-mode, always feeling a sense of being overwhelmed or buried by ALL THE STUFF. I’d throw projects away because I’d get tired of seeing them or throw everything into a closet and slam the door to have ONE EMPTY SPACE.

Part of this battle was because my insides were in turmoil and I needed my space to not be. I needed everything organized, because I couldn’t categorize all the messy, dirty feelings which weighed me down and made it impossible for me to move.

Another part was embarrassment, of imaging what people would think if they stumbled into our “in progress” home on a day I didn’t frantically shove things into closets or drawers. They might think I am lazy or I don’t give a shit about my family.

I was losing my mind over it.

I was on the verge of completely squashing my kid’s creativity, because I could not contain it.

I could not stand it.

Then I started writing again.

My writing is a mess; the characters are unformed, stumbling along trying to become real and struggling with the half-story I’ve placed them in. I’m having to slowly uncover the pieces and letting it be a jumble for now, while I figure out how it all fits together.

It almost stopped me completely.

Twice.

I’m still writing.

I’m accepting this mess is part of the creative process, and I’m trying to explore it with patience and curiosity. It’s hard to ignore the unease it brings, but it is necessary. I am not going to just sit down and write a novel. It is a chaotic, disorganized and jumbled process which requires both ignoring my fears and embracing them.

It’s fucking hard guys.

But doing this, being in the trenches, has made me look at the mess of my house, and even my kids, in a different way.

I’ve always been supportive of open play and creativity, actively fighting to provide them the space and time for it; we drive 25 minutes so they can attend a Waldorf school which is in line with these ideals. But at the same time, I’ve been a nagging bitch about the messes which come along with it.

Contradictions are apparently my thing.

There is a big part of me which would love my house to look like Restoration Hardware; seriously, everything in that store is gleaming and beautiful and fucking rad.

But it never will.

People don’t live there.

Duh, right?

I can’t remove the mess, because WE are the mess. I’d be replacing all the little stories they create with their stuffed animals, all the pictures they draw, all the badges and houses and forts…for some idealistic version of a home I’d probably hate.

I want my kids being loud and crazy and wild.

I want them making shit out of everything.

I want my kids to know their ideas are worth exploring fully.

The dishes and laundry are done. There isn’t anything rotting or smelling bad in the house. It is just projects, crafts and imagination exploding out in all directions.

It is the chaos of a creative life.

There is an important lesson for us all to learn about finishing things, cleaning up after ourselves and respecting the space of others. I’m not throwing up my hands in defeat. There is plenty of work to do still, and I’m sure we can get there.

For now, though, I want to stop yelling and allow more space and time for the messy creativity to happen. I want to stop struggling so hard against it, and learn to give things the time they need.

Maybe I can even learn to love the mess as much as I love the kids who create it.

Probably not.

But I can stop how I react and realize how temporary this all is.

So, bring on the Styrofoam sinks:img_8435The random piles of coins:img_8437Whatever this is:img_8439Bring it on.

Because we live here and this is what we do.

From under my heating blanket

img_8394Three times in the past week, I saw the streetlight outside my front window turn off. Each time, as I sat tucked under the heating blanket in my oversized chair, it struck me as something remarkable.

I’ve lived in this house for over 15 years, and I’ve never seen it happen before this week. I want to say it’s because I’ve had some enormous shift in perspective. It would make my mom happy to hear I have taken her advice, I’m finally slowing down and appreciating everything around me.

The truth is, I’ve been trying to write my book again, and it involves me staring out the window thinking, fighting against fear, until I open my damn laptop and start writing. Then I stare out the window some more.

Sorry, mom.

I wish I could slow down, and in lots of ways I have, but it isn’t in my nature to ever be satisfied with doing the same thing over and over. I’m not restless, exactly, but more curious. I want to test my limits, figure things out and explore, all things I can’t do without discomfort.

The past few months have been filled up, and parts of me feel completely depleted. I have taken risks, driven hundreds of miles, pushed myself past exhaustion, learned to be friendly to people even as they are insulting me, and to trust in my own abilities to learn new skills.

I have gone from feeling an outsider in a room full of artists, to feeling as if I am an amateur who can learn and grow from being around them.

I am accepting my need to create, but also solid in the knowledge it comes with moments of complete panic. I know the perfectionist within me will scream with anxiety often, and I’m learning to be OK with embarrassment and rejection.

Shit.

These ARE sounding like big shifts.

I swear they aren’t.

It feels more like I’m uncovering something which has been there all along, like digging up the old Ewok figure we buried as kids in the backyard some 20 years later. It has been there, waiting, it just took a long time for us to find it.

I’m getting paid to help run a writing workshop, encouraging others to let go of all the bullshit lies we tell ourselves. I am writing with this group of highly-talented women; basically, getting paid to work on my book. It’s the push I need and I’m not wasting the opportunity.

My house is fully decorated for Christmas, and I feel overwhelmed by all the new things the kids acquired. My garage is impossible to walk in, and the recent rain has caused the weeds to grow in the front yard to a level I’ll have to address soon. I’m supporting a friend by eating a very restrictive diet, which forces me to cook a lot, so there are always so many dishes.

All this, and I’m still sitting in my chair staring out the window, watching the streetlamp go out and thinking about characters, unmapped futures, the meaning of true love and thousands of other strands of thoughts swirling within me. I’m battling within and holding sacred this space I’ve been given to create.

This is exactly where I am supposed to be.

Drink coffee and make shit up

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The alarm goes off at 4 a.m. every day. I make a cup of coffee and face the blank screen. I attempt to put words to the pictures inside my head.

It is hard.

The words don’t come quickly or easily and they are often edited by my fears. The layers of resistance I’ve built around me cling tight and bind my arms to my sides.

Nobody is asking me to write this blog.

Nobody is asking me to write my book.

Nobody is begging me to put in the time.

No, that isn’t entirely true. There is a little voice, sometimes barely heard over everything else, which is pushing me to do it in spite of all the reasons I tell myself no.

It’s this fierce little writing warrior nagging at me and reminding me how good it feels to sit and create.

It is me and I it.

It feels both noble and pointless.

It feels both powerful and depleting.

I’m learning I have to fight every day and it may never get easier.

Ever.

I may be fighting for the rest of my life against all the lies and crap I’ve clung to. I may always hide behind the obligations and distractions I use to give myself permission to not do the creative work my heart longs for.

I might never feel brave or bold or fierce.

Yet, I’m still here and my passion and love for writing is too. Every time I get to the moment when the words start to come or a character begins to talk to me, the magic of writing sucks me in and I again remember why I’m not tucked in my warm bed.

Writing my book makes me feel alive like nothing else, yet it is the hardest thing to make myself do.

Playing a game on my phone or folding laundry is so much easier and I get instant payoff, advanced to the next level and clean clothes in the closet.

There is no instant quantifiable payoff for drafting a good sentence. Nobody is reading over my shoulder and patting me on the back for creating a particularly vivid image or getting the tone of my character’s voice just right.

Yet, the feeling is something I crave. It is as if I momentarily tap into some hidden part inside me, usually dormant and buried deep down, but once ignited dances and rejoices openly like a kind of divine freedom.

I want more.

As a mother, I have seen how easily and freely children find this creative high. They draw, paint, sing, dance, sculpt and write with an abundance of carefree joy. They don’t want or need approval. They create because it is as natural as breathing and running.

Then someone comes along and tells them they are doing it wrong or they aren’t any good. Then they begin the painful act of comparing themselves to others.

This is when it becomes hard.

I see it with my daughter. She loves playing the keyboard. She sits at it for hours every day and she is starting to get pretty good. She enjoys creating new songs and learning new chords. There is a passion driving her completely separate from me and perhaps even from herself.

Yet the resistance is coming. I know it. The moment she meets someone better than her or starts comparing herself to the musicians on the radio, she will be confronted with it.

It will be hard.

She will look to me and I will tell her the truth. I’m still trying. I’m still pushing. Once you have a passion for something, it never fully leaves you. You have to keep going through the hard shit, through the tears and frustration and the horrible feeling you are never going to be good enough.

You keep going even if the payoff never comes.

We do it because it feeds our soul. We do it because once we stop moving forward, we allow in depression, loneliness and hopelessness.

She may have to feel all the bad things in order to believe me, but I’m going to be here. I’m going to hold out my hand and tell her to believe and to fight.

The passion driving us needs to be bigger than the forces against us.

We have to find a way to fight, even if the payoff is only a moment of joy.

My desire to create is my reason to get out of bed. Even as the words don’t come and I feel I will never finish this book or any other project, I am happier in the muck of trying than when I don’t try at all.

I’m writing these words because I need to read them and feel them.

I need to declare to myself the truth I know in my heart.

I am a writer.

I am dedicating myself to showing up and putting in the hard work.

I’m exposing all my weakness so I can get stronger.

I’m not allowing myself to succumb to distraction.

I’m acknowledging my fear, but not giving it the power to take me down.

I’m giving myself permission to write thousands of bad sentences in order to have the feeling of creating just one magical one.

I’m accepting it will never get easier, but asserting I will never quit.

I am a writer.

I drink coffee and I make shit up.