When Everyone Tells You You’re a Witch, Eventually You Try on the Hat

I don’t feel well¸ I’d whispered just loudly enough for my own ears to register.

I reached out for the wall beside me, steadying quivering knees, and felt my hand slide southward until it came to touch the floor. I wrapped both arms around my bent legs. In this custodial cocoon, I closed my eyes and searched for a thread of clarity as a new anchor of support.

Another sound my ears captured—their scattershot proficiency even further impeded by the thump of my resonant heartbeat—was a half growl, half moan, also coming from me.

I spoke again in a whisper, directing my words to both recently and long-passed female relatives, If you all think this is funny, I will find a way to make you pay for your merciless amusement. Leave. Me. Alone.

I looked up and scanned the room. It was rich with excavated artifacts—urns, beakers, swords, and tools, skins, sketches, baubles, and bowls. Relics unearthed from the very ground I stood upon—or hunched over, as it were.

The Kilmartin Museum was perched atop a small ridge that ran along the edge of Kilmartin Glen—a stretch of prehistoric sites through the valley of a tiny village in western Scotland. It was here I was suddenly sinking with the feeling of lassitude—which I’m certain brought a smirk of self-congratulations to many of my female ancestors, as the words they shared with me when alive were of the variety that would bring great alarm to most, but were banal and eye roll-worthy to me during my youth:

You’re an old soul—you simply can’t recall your past lives. The tarot cards show this.

Open your ears to the goddesses, don’t put up such walls to their speech.

You are but a vessel—and willing or no, your spirit is an empath and draws the needful toward you.

I’d believed none of it. But partly wished it were true. They believed all of it. And impatiently waited my surrender to their truth.

I’d come for research—to resurrect not only the tangible details I’d need for my story, but the perceptible ones as well. One provided a sense of touch, the other, palpable only by the mind. Many storytellers find that if one can stand in the spot where the tale unfolds, and utilize all one’s senses, countless doors of creativity swing open with ease.

The problem I was encountering was not so much the onset of malaise but discovering that the long distance travel had not shaken the long buried voices of my own dead relatives—those who regularly muttered around me—and they now intermingled with the voices of those I wished to hear more clearly and singularly.

The book I was writing steeped within a warm soup of Celtic mythology and village mystics. The book I’d just finished was fraught with warring witches and fear-filled kingdoms. Death snaked its way through both narratives, just as my familial undead featherstitched their presence uninvitingly through more of my calendric cycle than I wish were true.

Their calls—which were clearly an unmistakable theme in both books—repeatedly stressed, You are one of us. Do not be deaf to the obvious and inevitable.

And although I may have purposefully shut out the opinions my more eclectic family members layered on, I have never been deaf to great books, as they speak to me with more than mere words. They leave countless overarching impressions. When you are the reader of any story, the author prays they have cannily articulated some message to you, and you leave feeling moved by the experience. When you are the author, you hunt for that affecting message. It is oftentimes a slow sweeping away of debris that reveals the structure: the bones, the skull, the spine.

And standing in a multi-roomed hut, jammed with primitive curios, or upon a battlefield, the acrid smoke charred deep into the soil, or beside a cairn, the stones heavy with the grief of thousands of tears, I can barely pick out the tone of my own long ago voiced youthful complaints as I stymie the growing sound of history’s vocal barrage.

I’m not like all of you. I’m my own person, I’d said to some auntie, eyeing me with pity through the wisps of the exotic smoke from her cigarette.

She’d shaken her head. You see it wrongly. You are not tethered to this hallowed ground with an anchor, but rather a tube. One that can act as a channel.

She is right. There is a hurricane of chronicles waiting to be heard. And countless times in my life I have been in the right place and present at the right time where the valves have twisted open. At these moments, I am usually caught unawares and overwhelmed.

Fighting off a chorus of narrators, rich with the urgency of untold tales is akin to skittering down an icy, rock-laden hill. You will not come out unscathed.

As writers in any genre will affirm, there are myriad ways to quilt the patchwork of a story together: spending months or years in a library while pouring over reference books, chronicling dream journals and cherry-picking threads of a narrative from within it, ferreting through new innovation and discovery via disrupters and thought leaders we interview. The list is endless.

But there are those that believe the stories are omnipresent, ubiquitous as the air we draw for each breath. And within our breath is the breath of others. Our task is to tap into the substance of it, the elements within it. We simply unveil that which keeps it muffled from others’ ears.

I had no inkling I would be a teller of tales one day, that I would find a snug fit of comfort stretching beyond the bounds of everyday humans and attempt to build worlds elsewhere. And for an unfathomable amount of time I stubbornly resisted seeing one of those unhuman worlds as it was repeatedly illuminated by others who believed they held access to it and wished to hand me a key.

Those experiences—the ones where I’ve been flooded with the emotions, or voices, or thrumming vibrations that did not belong to me specifically—have more often than not, not been welcome. I don’t know why they appear. Maybe those women are right. Maybe I am an empath. And welcomed or no, some unseen fingers may continue to twist open that wheeled handle despite my trying to plug the spigot. But lately … lately I have wondered why I would willfully eliminate a source of inspiration or guidance. Why would I dismiss a muse as it sits staring into my face, or whispering into my ear?

So for writing’s sake, for the enrichment of story, I will try on the hat—to see if it fits. Fits like a child’s head, warmly embraced within the arms and bosoms of women long passed, but refusing to be forgotten.

~Shelley

For the time being, the blog is closed to comments, but if you enjoyed it, maybe pass it on to someone else. Email it, Facebook it, or print it out and make new wallpaper for the bathroom. If it moves you, show it some love and share. Cheers!

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all gossiped about down in the pub. Or check out last month’s post and catch up.

 

The Strive to be Ahead of Your Time

There is nothing like the joy of bringing something new into the world—something you worked incredibly hard to produce. A baby, a book, a barrel of whisky—they’re all boxes I’ve been privileged to tick off.

The thing that brings absolutely no joy, but is also heavily represented in the realm of the world of production, is the waiting that comes with it.

I am not a waiter.

I am a pacer, a tosser and turner, a nervous finger drummer, and a clock watcher.

I wear out carpets, pound and fluff pillows, and have more scraps of paper containing chaotic time-tables than the TSA currently, as they’re scrambling to fill “no-shows” in their employee work schedules.

Yeah, a bit like that.

And whether I’ve been hauling around a growing human, chattering on social media about an emerging tale, or taking far too many samples from the barrel “just to check its progress,” there is one thing certain about all of them:

They ain’t done till they’re done.

The element of time is something I cannot alter. And altering it is the one thing I wish were at the top of the “to do” list for a few more scientist, physicists, and local crackpot sorcerers.

I’m really not fussed who it turns out to be is the person we all bow down to after he or she has discovered how we can tinker with a timeline to suit our needs, but surely someone is going to wear that sash and crown eventually, right?

For years, whenever visiting universities for my daughter’s college campus test drives, I’d manage to find a way, specifically out of earshot of my “I’m going to help conquer space” child, to have a private conversation with one or two of the professors we’d met. I’d inquire about space/time travel, they then made a wide berth of me for the remainder of the tour.

It’s only now, maybe six or seven years later, that the chatter on that subject is finally one that fills the internet with graphs, pie charts, and spreadsheets made from multi-degreed scientists and not just science fiction authors.

It’s a teensy bit ironic that I’m having to wait for time travel.

Weirdly, just as strong as the desire to leap forward to arrive into the moment of accomplishment, there is another want that travels at its side, in its shadow: the yearning to leapfrog back.

It is impossible to do, of course, but anyone who’s ever endeavored to journey through a long haul production will likely agree that at some point within the undertaking—whether halfway through or at the finish line—you will feel a desperate urge to return. To tweak, to adjust, to unclutter. To reappraise, jigger, and amend.

But again, science is moving molasses slow with their participation in giving us this option. A bit like the speed of a snail with a limp.

And thus we are left with a few paltry alternatives. First—be circumspect with your work from the get go. Second—suck it up and deal with the regrets. Third—hide, Thelma and Louise it right off a cliff, change your name and buy a food truck/mammogram van to fill the need for cancer prevention through comfort food. Call it Two Boobs for a Biscuit. I don’t know. I’m riffing here.

Anyway, the point is that we can’t go back.

We can’t unmeet that man. We can’t revise that chapter. We can’t redistill that spirit.

The results are the results.

The good, the bad, and the ugly. And in some worst case scenarios—failure.

But … what people often misunderstand is that right up until the moment of the outcome is not a colossal waste of time or effort. The result may be called failing, but the rest is called learning.

I know that’s a small measure of comfort when you’re on the precipice of seeing your results unveiled. It brings little relief to those of us in charge of a gazillion dollar mission to Mars that sees catastrophic calamity in its “all done and dusted phase” to have the ability to say, “Well, at least we know what line of code doesn’t work.”

But it’s a necessary and unavoidable part of all progress. Period.

And the concept of ‘progress’ brings us back to the whole idea of time, movement, and achievement. The text missing in this chronology is the word reflection. When our efforts are spent and we’re left with an outcome, sure, we can choose the food truck, but we can also choose the food for thought.

Mindfully revisiting and diligently muddling through a postmortem are key for advancement, for if there is one thing I feel certain of, it’s that I simply do not want to be good enough to keep my feet on the track, I want to keep my feet moving forward.

So yes, the waiting for our books or babies or booze to be complete must be reframed as not stalling out. Reflection and projection might be very capable methods to utilize at these moments. We can learn from our past—and one day, if science will finally hear my beseeching petitions, we can learn from our future. All so that we will not just survive the present, but thrive within it.

~Shelley

For the time being, the blog is closed to comments, but if you enjoyed it, maybe pass it on to someone else. Email it, Facebook it, or print it out and make new wallpaper for the bathroom. If it moves you, show it some love and share. Cheers!

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all gossiped about down in the pub. Or check out last month’s post and catch up.

 

The Need for Meedful Media

The word social is not one I would use to describe myself with. Like, ever. As a writer, I am comfortably cloistered away, far from noise, or distractions, and, most disconcerting to many … people.

Yes, I prefer to be far away from people.

Primarily because people are noisy and distracting. Of course, it’s true, they are many, many other things as well. People are generous, and interesting, helpful and creative, some of them are good at balancing silverware on their faces and can be truly entertaining. And if they could be all those wonderful things without the not so wonderful things, I’d be hooked on people. I really would.

Now the word media is one I rely upon heavily for myriad reasons. My work must be transported through the “agencies of mass communication” in order to be utilized, to provide some worth for others, to be functional and purposeful.

My goal, as a writer, is to find words, string them together into a pattern that either entertains or informs, and move a reader of those words to either act upon or experience something.

It’s pretty simple.

Yet the action of putting the words social and media together, side by side, is anything but simple.

It’s an effortful act of interaction if one wishes to be significant. And that interaction requires the bonding of human beings—to relate, and to be relatable.

Without that engagement, every author’s efforts simply sit on a library shelf, or a bookshop discount table, or in a warehouse somewhere with a bucketful of other unloved, unknown books.

The clincher is, you cannot just shout at people to, “Look over here! Hey! I’m annoyingly loud!” without them giving you an eye roll and going back to grouting their tile with a lot more enthusiasm.

I have worked with people who are slick and savvy at social media. They have studied the art probably with more intense effort than a teenaged boy, who measures and charts the growth of his biceps after each twenty reps of push-ups.

And if you’ve ever been a mother to a teenaged boy, or been a teenaged boy yourself, you may recall that I am not kidding about the “intense effort” applied.

But these clever engineers of awareness campaigns are usually paid professionals. At times, it’s best to employ them. They can be expensive, and regrettably … a little impersonal.

So here is where the paradox lies for many.

One must understand just how important it is to truly connect with someone you’re trying to get the attention of. And oftentimes, anyone marketing a product or idea goes about grasping that attention with the success of a five-year-old relentlessly tugging on the pant leg of their mother while she’s soaking up juicy neighborhood gossip from her best friend down the street.

You will be ignored.

We, as consumers, learn to turn a blind eye against the overwhelming influx of info wash that can at times feel like a fire hose of detritus. We have to. To keep our minds and moods safely intact.

Unless … and this is a big, important word … unless we get a whiff of something that brings value to our lives. Then we pay attention. Then we find some focus. Then we see the worth. Then we spread the word.

Long ago, years ago, when I first started publishing—whether a blog post online, a book in solid form, an essay, a picture, a tweet, a vid—it didn’t matter so much on the format—what I realized quickly was that if I wished to stand out within the noisy, info-saturated platform I worked within, I would have to show up with two things: something fresh, and something urgent.

Fresh, in that you can take old ideas and sharply spank them into something vibrant and sparkly—to appeal to a new set of eyes and ears, and reinvigorate some older ones.

Urgent, in that the content one produces must fill the recipient with a need to share. This is the smartest way to spread one’s work: word of mouth. Same goes for any industry.

If what you offer is something old—something people already possess—they’ll vote you straight off The Gong Show. You’re an amateur with dubious talent.

Connecting to people on both levels—both in content and campaign—requires consistent attention to crafting one’s skill, but also developing sincerity. And you can’t fake that. It’s been tried. It’s transparent. And people feel like taking a hot shower with a bucket of bleach and a wire brush after they’ve been exposed to it.

The timeless and repeated counsel I’ve been given can be summed up thusly: The years, the schooling, and effort you put into your craft should first and foremost be evident. What you write (or make) should resonate. It should amplify the meaningful not the meaningless. If you find it cannot captivate an audience, either go back to the drawing board, or find other employment where you can succeed. Don’t reconcile with offering up poor output. We need noteworthy voices that refuse to settle with generating mind-numbing content.

Then, when that content has been spat upon and polished to an absolute sheen, find one person who believes in it. Then find another. Find two. Be patient. Find ten. Be diligent. Be gracious. Reciprocate. Give back. Be social.

Yes, be social.

Not in the gossipy, drink in hand, playlist in the background kind—the kind I struggle with endlessly. Rather the kind where you contribute to society. To culture. To humanity. To the betterment of someone, somewhere else.

If you’re reading this post, then you’re part of the overwhelming majority of people who are somehow touched and involved in social media. You don’t have to be selling a widget to find this essay applicable—because, widget or not, you are selling something: yourself.

Spread your ideas, pass on your work, share your vision. Just make sure it is worthy and worthwhile to pay attention to.

~Shelley

PS–(In case you missed it!) An important update to all the Robin Gott Doodle Devotees out there! Robin has opened a new site where you can finally and officially purchase some of his finest and funniest work via a website called Society 6. To quote the champ of chuckles, “I know it sounds like some kind of low-budget South African sci-fi film, but it’s actually an online market place for all sorts of design.” Don’t miss out. Check it out here: ROBIN GOTT

For the time being, the blog is closed to comments, but if you enjoyed it, maybe pass it on to someone else. Email it, Facebook it, or print it out and make new wallpaper for the bathroom. If it moves you, show it some love and share. Cheers!

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all gossiped about down in the pub. Or check out last month’s post and catch up.

So Good to Hear Your Voice

Image result for be good and you will be lonesome mark twain free image

I’m smack dab in the middle of reading Mark Twain’s autobiography this month.

Okay, that’s not exactly true.

It feels like I should be smack dab in the middle, but in truth, I’m only stuck inside the introduction. Which, unbelievably, is nearly as long as the book part itself.

I’d say about one quarter acre’s worth of trees was sacrificed for the beginning of this book. And I’m gathering that the beginning of this book was deemed worthy of that slaughter.

Except I’m craving Twain’s words. Not some editor’s. Not some scholar’s. Not some newfound margin scribble from the guy who sat and took dictation. His words.

Mark’s. Or Sam’s. Or maybe he went by Phil on Tuesday’s and every other Sunday. It doesn’t matter. I want to hear what’s inside that man’s brain.

I want to hear his voice.

As an author, and I’ve checked with a couple of others on this bit so you can trust me, we collectively agree that the most important thing we can do for our careers is to develop a unique voice.

A voice that not only spins a good yarn, but does so with a color most folks don’t typically see in their everyday multi-hued spectrum.

Brown? Too drab. Purple? Too flamboyant.

Brurple.

That’s me.

If you’ve got something to say one must next find a way to tickle the auditory hair cells within the cochlea of the people you’re directing your words toward—or if like me and your musings are absorbed in the form of at least one effortful eyeball scanning words across a page, you need to create text that just leaps off that paper and literally spanks the reader across the forehead.

In a really loving spanking kind of a way.

But getting to the meat of your message is important. Dressing it up? Not so much.

In fact, I cannot count the number of times an agent or editor or beta reader of mine has said, “Yuck. Your writing is just dripping with purple prose.”

For those of you unfamiliar with the term, it’s like taking a beautiful roast ham, packing it in a great wad of brown sugar, plastering canned pineapple all over it, wrapping it three times with maple bacon, and then pouring a large liter of Coco Cola over the top of it. Ala Paula Dean.

One ends up with something sticky, sweet, syrupy, and inedible. One also ends up searching for a large bucket of bleach and a wire brush with which to scrub one’s teeth. You’ve ruined what could have been something quite toothsome and savory.

Hiding behind unnecessary words results in confusion. I’ve been lectured repeatedly that it’s best, when trying to cultivate your true and authentic voice, to use your own. Don’t be snatching catchy phrases or snippets of impressive sounding opinions from clever pundits, worldly academics, or The Onion.

Okay, well, yes, I’ll take back that last one. The world could use a little bit more of The Onion.

The problem with this—the using others’ words in place of your own—(that I’ve most certainly discovered first hand) is that when people raise their eyebrows with interest at what you’ve just professed, they oftentimes will ask you to expound, to further enlighten the dark areas of their minds. And when you can’t …

Yeah, you better hope there’s an eagle or a squirrel close by. Maybe an errant This is not a test text that comes across everyone’s screen to save your tuchas.

I’ve become so profoundly aware of this situation because recently I’ve been purposefully surrounding myself with speeches.

Next month I’ve got a couple to give. It’s good to look at the historical soup of a million others. But I’ll quickly point out two that emerged and left me with a measurable thumbprint of thought.

I’ve just finished a book that held a selection of Kurt Vonnegut’s commencement speeches. They’re short, they’re punchy, they’re meant to occasionally have faculty members behind him draw in a sharp breath as he tells the students in front of him what the school has been glossing over for the last four years in their protective bubble.

No doubt within three sentences, you know this is pure Vonnegut.

Last month, I watched The State of the Union address. I’ve seen plenty of others. I know how these work. But these weren’t the words of the individual who was elected to office. Far from it. And I think for the people who voted him into that position, and for those waiting for the much touted promise The presidency wholly and completely changes a person, it was a lost opportunity.

It was purple prose.

Sticky, sweet, and yet altogether flavorless. No meat. No message. No memorability.

No thanks.

There is so much we people hide behind these days. Other people’s words, other people’s thoughts, other people’s ideas. It’s really not impossible to create our own.

It’s intimidating, yes, because we may be rejected or rebuffed.

It’s effortful, yes, because it requires one to formulate concrete thought and opinion, and wrestle with why you want to say these words in the first place.

And it’s humbling because there are bucketloads of moments when afterward we discover just how wrong we are.

But it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. Try to be authentic. Strive to be astute. Reach for earnest bona fide status.

I want people to truly seek out my words, and to have engaging enough words that they will fight through the forest of extra pages of editorial intros in order to get to them.

And like any good firewood chopping Wisconsinite, I know where the good stuff in a tree really is. And I want my books and words and sentiments to reflect that.

Otherwise, it’s all bark and no heart.

~Shelley

For the time being, the blog is closed to comments, but if you enjoyed it, maybe pass it on to someone else. Email it, Facebook it, or print it out and make new wallpaper for the bathroom. If it moves you, show it some love and share. Cheers!

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all gossiped about down in the pub. Or check out last month’s post and catch up.

Rabbit Holes: Some Call it Daydreaming, Writers Call it Work

Aristotle argued that all objects craved their “natural place,”—the geocentric center of the universe. That would be Earth. Okay, well at the time Aristotle was sucking in air Earth was considered the be all end all.

And maybe yes, there exist a few folks who still believe this and are lagging a bit behind with their history homework, not having quite caught up to where the rest of us live—aka more than two thousand years in the future. And within the world of fairly trustworthy science.

Although, to be fair, the science we all believed one hundred—or even one thousand years ago was believed to be trustworthy too.

Until it wasn’t.

Regardless, it was explained to me that ‘Aristotle believed that a dropped rock fell to the earth because rocks belonged on earth and wanted to be there.’

This is from a book currently resting on my bedside table: But What If We’re Wrong? By Chuck Klosterman.

Often, I liken myself to Aristotle’s rock. I belong at my desk, in front of my screen, with my hands hovering over my keyboard, and my eyes effortfully scanning words across a page.

Except thankfully, there are other forces of nature at play (read friends and family) that repeatedly fight Aristotle’s idea of gravity where I am concerned, shoving me out into the world where people and ideas are in mix and at play.

I am not at all a fan of going places where you have to make eye contact with others, or exchange words that add up to more than those in a haiku, or share the same oxygen molecules. This behavior comes about just before birth when whichever deity is creating your personality profile decides you’ll be a professional recluse and switches on the genetic codes for artless, awkward, blundering bore.

But ultimately these opportunities are the catalyst that make the question WHAT IF burble up from the basement of my brain. And that is not an altogether unpleasant feeling.

It starts like indigestion but then belches out with measurable relief.

Yes, regularly I collect data to support the theory that I should simply stay home and away from crowds (read anyplace another person is already occupying), but more often than not, I am wide-eyed with surprise to discover the hidden gems of history, or art, or that people have moved on from wearing elastic waist pants and eyeglass ropes.

Except no. Turtlenecks are here to stay, dammit. (And the earth is the center of the universe … Yeah, yeah, I hear you.)

The WHAT IF question is one I have pinned up on my computer screen. It is the foundation for creative thinking. And creative thinking is the foundation for creative writing. And creative writing is the foundation for paying my bills—as people will not buy books that scream, “I’m exactly like that story you just read yesterday only my characters are Latvian!”

Yeah, not gonna fly.

But how many of us practice asking WHAT IF (insert head scratching query here) in real life? Chuck Klosterman did because he had to write a book where he asked a pile of crackerjack thinkers questions about their level of confidence on subjects like physics, and time, and whether AOL would ever come back into fashion.

And I do it because the thought of copying someone else’s ideas and simply giving them a limp and an accent is about as creatively appealing to my brain as separating all of the lint from my dryer into individual color piles.

Also because I enjoy electricity and food. Again … near carbon copies of other people’s tales do not equate to financial security. And more often than not a lawsuit.

But in real life? I’m not terribly sure I engage in this examination. Not nearly often enough anyway.

And maybe not at all ever—but that would be wholly embarrassing to admit on a public platform so let’s all pretend I didn’t, okey dokey?

This is not some sort of mid-life crisis desperate attempt to fill ever widening, fathomless gaps in my life, but rather just an everyday exercise of whim and whimsy. And okay, maybe a touch of the age thing, but hush—just follow me here.

It’s a fairly effortless task in my working realm, as the sky is the limit ergo, nothing is absurd. I can confidently lean back in my chair and ponder the impossible:

WHAT IF my main character quit his job, won the lottery, or discovered he had cancer?

WHAT IF my guy slowly starts to disappear, or can now communicate with polar bears, or wakes up with knees that can bend fully backward?

WHAT IF he can think himself anywhere, or program the earth to stop spinning, or activate himself to become any element in the periodic table?

WHAT IF every fictional character ever written about comes alive? WHAT IF we discover that our laws of physics only work this way on earth because we’re stuck on some default setting of one on a scale of ten and the answer has been printed on the last page of every IKEA instruction booklet?

Yeah … rabbit holes.

But I rarely spend time going into that warren when I and my life are the subjects for consideration. And it might be fun—if not a little necessary at times.

We’re all full of certitudes in life. We’re sure our political view is wide enough, confident we think with deep consideration, positive we’re slightly above average—at least in comparison to the other yahoos we find ourselves surrounded by.

But what if we’re wrong?

What if I’m not really meant to be Aristotle’s rock?

What if I’m meant to be Aristotle?

If we’re all going to be proven wrong one hundred or one thousand years from now, where’s the risk, right?

Think the absurd. Be the absurd. Do the absurd. Accomplish the unthinkable.

Physician, heal thyself? How about writer, imagine thyself.

~Shelley

 

For the time being, the blog is closed to comments, but if you enjoyed it, maybe pass it on to someone else. Email it, Facebook it, or print it out and make new wallpaper for the bathroom. If it moves you, show it some love and share. Cheers!

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all gossiped about down in the pub. Or check out last month’s post and catch up.

Batteries, Boyfriends, and VW Bugs

This last month I learned a few new things about cars:

  • Jump starting a car battery is dark and semi-dangerous magic nearly anyone can do.
  • Wrestling out and replacing certain car batteries is a little bit like squishing a bloated elephant into a shoebox.
  • YouTube can teach you how to do both and come out mostly alive on the other end of it.

It all started around the time finals were happening for most college students in my neck of the woods with my own college student up to her earballs in textbooks, tests, and giant tubs of Ben & Jerry’s. Nothing alleviates an overheated thermogenic thought process like two pints of Hazed and Confused on a daily basis.

I received a text from said college student’s boyfriend:

When’s the last time you started Chloe’s car?

I scratched my head. Six weeks ago? Eight? It didn’t really matter because that thing was dead. Like unrevivably dead. It would be like digging up Beethoven or Mahler or Schubert and fist pounding on their chests screaming, “NONE OF YOU HAVE FINISHED YOUR SYMPHONY NO. 10!”

Yeah, that kinda dead.

I texted back an emoji shrug.

I could hear Ben’s eyes roll to the back of his head, and I don’t blame them for doing so.

He finished off: I’m coming over with a new battery. It would be nice for her to have a working car when she gets home from school.

I agreed. I also thought that it didn’t really matter if all the car parts were functioning if one did not have money enough to fill it with “go juice.” It kind of puts you in a position where you’re All Hat No Cattle.

But they’re college kids. They’ll figure it out.

I was working at my desk when Ben popped in. “I’m here. I’ve got the battery. I’ll be in the garage.”

“Need help?” I asked.

“Nah. Easy peasy.”

Super. I could keep writing. And I did.

For about sixty seconds.

“Do you have any gloves?”

Got Ben gloves. Went back to writing.

For about sixty seconds.

“Flashlight?”

You betcha.

Work … sixty seconds.

“How bout a magnet?”

Search for magnet: Old toy boxes. Drawers. Next to credit cards, computer hard drives, people resting in my living room with pacemakers.

“Nope. Sorry.”

Ben shrugged. “Never mind. I’m sure that piece will fall out of the engine block eventually.”

I looked at Ben with eyebrows that reached to my hairline.

Back to work. I counted to sixty twice.

“How small are your hands?”

Oh dear lord. I pushed back from my desk. “Let me find some shoes.”

I entered the garage and saw Chloe’s little VW bug with its hood popped. A miniature PAC-MAN of motorcars. Ben, whose height most telephone poles will nod with deference to, was almost in a downward facing dog yoga pose, hovering over the engine block.

There was a lot of grunting going on, but it might have been coming from the bug, as whatever Ben was trying to tug out of it seemed super important for that little roadster to cling to.

Apparently, it sensed the ongoing, effortful labor of disassembly and finally decided to put up a fight. It’s a little bit like going to the dentist for one defunct tooth to be removed and when you finally have a moment of anesthetic clarity, hear, “Oh, good lordy there’s another one. Well, she really doesn’t need that guy for chewing anyway.”

Yes, I think in a blind panic, but what about for maintaining social norms like speaking without sounding like I’m an eight-year-old whose face just met a tree trunk after a bike crash?

“What can I do?” I asked.

Ben explained to me that we just needed to slide the battery into place and then voilà, back to work I go and he’s outta here. Easy peasy.

Except he was finding it just a teensy bit tricky to slide this particular battery into place.

“How come?”

He gestured at the ground which held oddly shaped bits of plastic, metal, screws, caps, and hoses. It looked like the car had thrown up onto the garage floor. “A lot of stuff had to come out in order to remove the battery.”

“I assume all that stuff is essential?”

Ben shrugged. “Yeah, it all has to go back.”

I looked at the disassembled engine parts. I really really hoped he remembered where all the bits and pieces originally lived because none of them were color-coated, or Post-it note labeled, and there were no IKEA directions to be found anywhere.

If it were me, I would have labeled everything with Garanimal tags—like the clothing line my mother used to buy for us when we were little kids. Each piece of clothing had some anthropomorphic animal code attached to it so you could find something that matched to make a set. Make sure the alligator shirt is not paired with giraffe shorts and then feel confident sending that child on off to school.

Yeah, there were a lot of things on the ground that looked like they needed to be remarried to their original partners.

“You’ve done this before, right?”

Ben flashed me a smile and held up his smartphone. “YouTube.”

Oh, good heavens.

For the next three hours we battled with that little bug, trying to slide, shove, inch, hitch, and bang that new damn battery into place. It was like trying to get a cat to swallow a pill. That battery refused to go down.

We, as instructed by the warning words of the World Wide Web, did not tip the battery. Which would have made things so much easier. At one point I suggested to Ben that if we couldn’t tip the battery, maybe we should tip the bug. Seriously. It would have been so much easier.

He did not agree.

At long last, we did manage to get that SOB back into place. In fact, we managed to do it twice, because after the first time—once we’d reconnected all hoses, screws, and pulleys—we discovered a small piece we’d left out on the garage floor. Something akin to an OR nurse tapping an open-heart surgeon on the shoulder just as he’s tying off the last stitch of flesh together and pointing to the pan that still held an essential organ.

But we did it.

Easy peasy.

~Shelley

This thing ready to go??

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The Grave Danger of Being Silent

“Okay, you’ve got to choose one word. And one word only that will describe you and a representation of your life to be carved on your tombstone.”

I was at a writer’s meeting. And this was one of those wretchedly “fun” exercises we did to stimulate creativity, or imagination, or brain damage.

It was my turn. Everyone looked at me.

“Umm … whisky?

NO! was the general shout from all corners of the circle. Most of these people knew me well enough.

The host looked at me with a full measure of pity. A little bit like how I look at the dog after he’s eaten an entire stolen loaf of bread and he’s all swollen and gassy but still looking for more: pathetically.

“No, not whisky,” the host said in patient tones. “Whisky is something more of your life preference rather than your life portrayal, Shelley.”

Yup. Same look.

“Okay,” I said, determined to get this one right. “Then I choose voice.”

That answer got a woefully polite round of applause.

But the more I thought about it, the more I grew certain that it should have received a standing ovation. Because, in essence, it really has been the central theme threaded throughout my entire life—and every day, it grows more paramount.

In about two weeks, my next book will be published. (The Freemason’s Daughter) (disclaimer: Publicists and marketing departments get super cranky if you do not provide easy links to readers or refuse to say the phrase, “In my new book, The Freemason’s Daughter” as the start to every conversation. And let me tell you, it was a monumental challenge to work that one in with my seventy-four-year-old garbage man whilst handing him one more bag full of cat poop from the litter box.

“There are men in it,” I said lamely. Yeah, he was going to love my young adult novel about a sixteen-year-old Scottish girl.)

Anyway, again, in about two weeks, my next book will be published. I can hear all of you muttering the word finally.

And although this book has all the crucial motifs that appear in every coming of age story—the challenges of youth, friendship, love, relationships with six burly smuggling Scotsmen—the keynote theme that rose above all others was this: Where the hell do I fit in?

Now, granted, the voice that uttered this query at least one time in every chapter classed it up a bit with a lilting, girlish British accent, but it is, beyond a doubt, a central examination that needs answering by the end of the book.

And maybe it does get answered and maybe it doesn’t. I ain’t gonna spoil it for all of you. Especially ol’ Cooter Covington who promised he’d buy the book as long as I somehow managed to have the cat experience a fatal accident before he came back next week. But to find out … (The Freemason’s Daughter).

Funny enough, that question was present in my middle grade contemporary novel, DEAR OPL (Dear Opl – You’re welcome), about a thirteen-year-old American girl suffering from prediabetes and obesity who struggles with loss everywhere in her life except on her body.

Before that, I voiced that question as I made the transition from mandatory mother to partially needed parent to occasionally sought guidance counselor who receives messages like, “I’d like to schedule a major meltdown on Thursday evening after my class on linear algebra. Could you clear your schedule and send me a bucket of chocolate so I can have it there while you talk and I cry?”

My job status was shifting. And I needed to redefine some new position I could find fulfillment within.

And, quirkily enough, before all of that, my actual voice was the focus of my entire life. I got paid to sing. Once or twice I got paid not to sing.

The point is, “voice” has been stamped all over my forty-seven years of life.

Which brings us up to the present and the future—to my love for soothsayers and crystal ball gazers.

Because now, in recent months, voice has become a ubiquitous word. Rare is it a solitary strain, buried beneath the weight of larger, louder bodies that attempt to silence it. Rather now, it is a growing collection, a chorus, a rising refrain.

It is the sound of town hall meetings, the chant of protests, the carefully crafted question in a press corps meeting. It is the debate across the aisle, the conversations in the coffee shop, and the gossip over the garden fence posts.

It is the struggle to parse fact from fiction as myriad voices crow with what they believe to be true—or what they want you to believe as true. It is the concerted effort to eliminate the noise, to brush away the flashy and distracting so that you can uncover the naked, unvarnished reality.

Yes, it does exist.

And when we are able to do that—when we are finally able to hear inside our own heads, we will hear that sound that many of us have spent a lifetime ignoring. Our inner voice. The one that never lies to you. The one that says, Do not go out wearing those pants under any circumstances.

Yeah, that one.

The amazing thing is, is that all of those voices are asking the very same question—that one about inclusivity. Where the hell do I fit in?

We all want our voices to be heard, our words to matter, our existence to count. Whether we’re a president determined to believe we are the greatest, largest, tallest, (insert-superlative-here) guy to draw breath. Or we are the lowly chap who’s still trying to muster up the energy to clap as loudly for that president as we watch him wave from one of his golf courses and we finish the leftovers from last night’s TV dinner.

Forecasting the future is dicey work. Asking the hard questions about that future needs to be done—despite the unwelcoming off the cuff response of an extra tiny pointy finger barking at you to “Be quiet!”

Don’t. Don’t be quiet. Find your voice. Raise it. And use it.

Because I’ve kind of grown fond of the idea of having voice on my tombstone. Otherwise, I will have to resort back to the original epitaph of whisky. Although maybe I’ll spiff it up a tiny bit with that lilting, girlish British accent.

She saw the beauty and necessity of hard liquor.

~Shelley

For the time being, our blog is closed to comments, but if you enjoyed it, maybe pass it on to someone else. Email it, Facebook it, or print it out and make new wallpaper for the bathroom. If it moves you, show it some love and share. Cheers!

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor (NOW FOR HIRE- so do go check out his gallery!)–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.