I hope you’ve enjoyed these adventures from my strange and busy life.
I want to thank everybody who has been kind enough to drop by, to leave a comment, to post a link that took me to some great blogs. I had to miss out on the Challenge for a couple of years. I am so glad to be back. The A to Z Blog Challenge rocks!
I write these posts late at night. Now I’m going to put on my fuzzy pajamas, curl up under the covers, and get some sleep.
I don’t understand the fascination some men have for sport fishing. I get the whole Man vs. Nature thing, but what I don’t understand is why some men are willing to sit out there in a lawn chair, in a rowboat, in one of those special chairs on a special boat meant just for fishing, or on a splintered bench covered in sea gull poop out on the wharf. What is so enthralling about sitting there for hours watching the water, waiting for your bobber to go under or your line to jerk? It can’t be the suspense, because I’ve done this myself and aside from fishing aboard a boat, I was bored out of my mind. Of course, I was thirteen at the time. If my father hadn’t allowed me to bring books along, I probably would have refused to go altogether.
By that time my parents were divorced, so on one visitation weekend my father announced that we were going on a fishing trip. Given that we were city people, I assumed that meant standing on the end of the local pier again. Daddy and some people from where he worked had gotten together and rented a boat that would take all of us to the Four Mile Banks off Laguna Beach down in Southern California. I was always up for going somewhere I hadn’t been before, so this fishing trip started to look like more of an adventure. Daddy said we had to pack our gear the night before and get the car ready, because we’d be up before daylight to catch the boat called the Dos Equis and motor out to our fishing spot.
My father worked for a defense contractor, so the people in the group on the boat were also of military or scientific backgrounds. One man I talked to was a chemical engineer. I didn’t really know what that meant, and the problem was I couldn’t ask him because what he did was classified. Little did I know that ten years later I’d be married to a software engineer who would tell me the same thing. Due to his security classification, I never have known exactly what my husband does for a living!
When Daddy enjoyed doing something, he tended to do it over and over again. That’s I got to see Evita twice. I think we went out on the Dos Equis a total of three times. I remember the captain as being a very nice man, silver-haired and tanned really dark from being out in the sun all the time. He liked having me on board. He thought I was good luck. Every time we went out, I caught the first fish, and it was usually a good one. On our first trip, I caught a shark about as long as my forearm. The shark had green eyes! Beautiful peridot green. The captain asked me if I wanted to keep it as part of our catch. I didn’t want such a beautiful creature to die, so I asked him to throw it back. Soon after found a school of mackerel. Every time I cast my line I got a hit. That made me wonder about magic creatures, granting wishes, and good luck.
The one drawback to my good fortune was the fact that my father’s co-workers weren’t entirely happy to have me aboard. I suppose having a kid around put a bit of a damper on their fun. I can’t recall how I found out about the real problem. Other people in the fishing group were making side bets on who would catch the most fish, what kind, in what time period, etc. Having me on board skewed the odds. The people doing the betting thought my good luck somehow extended itself to my father. On our second trip aboard the Dos Equis he caught a sheep’s head. That is one ugly fish, as big as I am from shoulder to hip. It had four teeth as broad and thick as human molars!
Somebody must have said something to Daddy about me. Whatever it was, he didn’t let it interfere with the good time we were having. For once I was enjoying going fishing. That must have seemed like a minor miracle to him. Our adventures hadn’t made a total convert out of me. I still thought fish were slimy and gross. Cleaning them was something I just could not do. I didn’t really like eating them, either. These days I enjoy swordfish, salmon, halibut, and most seafood. I do have one firm rule: if it has tentacles, keep it away from me! Another sign of my good luck: Daddy wasn’t big on squid or octopus either.
On our third fishing trip things got a little too adventurous for me. We were out off the Banks, fishing for rock cod. We had to use long lines with three or four hooks, big chunks of bait, and heavy sinkers. As we’d reel up the lines to check our catch, sharks would come around and try to eat the cod right off our lines. The first time I saw a shark break the surface of the water I just about had a panic attack. This was back in the days when Jaws was still very much in the minds of people who had seen the movie and/or read the book. I went up on the flying bridge to get away from the rail. That turned out to be a mistake. Up that high, I could see both of the thrasher sharks circling our boat.
I wish I had been observant enough to see the pattern in my father’s liking for being out on the water. He spent twenty years in the Navy. He really liked the tide pools down at Dana Point. He loved to go fishing, and he could stand there on the pier staring out at the water for what seemed like forever. I wish I had asked Daddy why he chose the Navy, but that was an easy one. Grandpa and my Uncle Dean had both gone into the Navy Even so, Daddy had a lifelong attachment to the sea. I wonder if such a thing can be passed on from one generation to the next. Whenever I’d get upset as a teenager, or even now when I have my bad days, one of the best cures is to go to the beach and just watch the waves rolling in. There’s something about the sea breeze that blows right through me, carrying away all the negative stuff that’s built up inside. I wonder if that’s how Daddy felt. I wonder if his reasons were the kind of reasons that you just can’t explain. You just sit there, stay quiet, and listen to what comes and goes inside your head.
I wish my father had lived long enough to take my son John fishing, to teach him all about lures and bait and why sand dabs have both eyes on one side. Maybe this summer I’ll take John down to the wharf, rent some fishing gear, and see if I can remember all the things Daddy taught me about baiting hooks and knowing when to pull hard on the rod and when to play out more line. I still have photos of those fishing trips with Daddy. Maybe it’s time I got them out and gave them a place of honor.
“A person attracted to that which is foreign, especially to foreign peoples, manners, or cultures.” YourDictionary.com
In Kyoto you will find 400 shrines and 1600 temples. Of the many larger and more famous temples, Kiyomizu-dera is truly one of a kind. If I had to name just one single reason for going to Kyoto, I would say I had to visit Kiyomizu-dera. This was the number one item on my bucket list. Thanks to my husband’s kindness and generosity, this dream came true.
I’ve been a lot of places and I’ve seen a lot of things, and I’ve written about many of them. This is the first time I have deliberately gone to visit a location where I have already set four short stories. My steampunk short fiction, which appears in 12 Hours Later and the forthcoming 30 Days After, centers around Kiyomizu-dera. If there’s such a thing as a literary pilgrimage, I made one, and it stands out as one of the highlights of my strange and adventuresome life.
The Pure Water Temple stands halfway up Mt. Otowa, near the Otowa Falls. Primarily a shrine to Kannon (aka Kwan Yin), the Goddess of Mercy, the main hall is home to the Eleven-Headed and Thousand-Armed Kannon Boddhisatva. There’s a lot to know about Kiyomizu-dera. Please follow the links to discover fascinating facts about this temple and Kyoto itself, both ancient and modern.
There must have been hundreds of people visiting the temple the day Pat and I were there. People were dressed in traditional kimono or yukata, modern street wear, or school uniforms. When a tour group of high school boys passed by, a dozen manga sprang to mind.
The best times of the year to visit Kiyomizu-dera are springtime for the cherry blossoms and autumn for the maple leaves. Few things are more beautiful to me than the sight of late afternoon sunshine seen through the red leaves of a Japanese maple.
Here I stand on the veranda overlooking a thirteen meter drop. Known as the Stage, the veranda is built from over four hundred cypress boards. The Stage contains not a single nail. Wooden pegs were used instead.
In “A Demon in the Noonday Sun,” this is the spot where Dr. Harrington must protect the Abbot against the anger of Amatsu Mikaboshi, the Japanese god of chaos. The Abbot is sitting in a steampunk wheelchair at the time. Amatsu Mikaboshi keeps blasting it with black fire. Poor Dr. Harrington, a scientist to the bone, has to make a rather sudden adjustment to the reality of Japanese gods and monsters!
This is the view of the Stage from the opposite direction. I stood at the corner on the center left.
There are several shrines on the temple grounds. This is an excellent example of a shrine to Inari, god of rice/wealth. I love those fox figurines. Strangely enough, I could not find a shop that sold them.
Kiyomizu-dera is known for its shrine to Okuninushi, the god of romance and matchmaking. The statue of him makes him look like a tough samurai. Standing beside him is a rabbit that could give the one in “Donnie Darko” a run for its money. The rabbit holds a haraegushi, a “lightning staff” decorated with those paper zigzags called shide.
Now for the rather chilling part of this expedition. The sign below explains the history of the god whose name is never spoken, the one who will punish playboys and heartbreakers. A wronged woman can take a straw figure that represents the man who hurt her and nail it to the cypress tree behind this particular shrine. The god-with-no-name will then bring down some hard karma on the man responsible.
Note, please, that the second thing to scare me in the Haunted House at Toei Kyoto Studio Park was a falling tree. Pat told me later she noticed it was a cypress with a straw figure nailed to it. We didn’t understand that at the time. Now we do!
The ema plaques below give one insight into the hopes and dreams of many people. I was surprised to discover some of them had English writing on them, not just kanji. Pilgrims come to Kiyomizu-dera from all over the world. Most of the plaques we saw had a sheep on them. Still not sure what that was all about.
Here are the three waterfalls that grant particular blessings. On the far right, wisdom. In the center, long life. On the left, success in scholarship. I meant to drink from the water of longevity. Turns out I drank the water for wisdom instead. I suspect that’s probably what I really need!
Soon it was time to head back down the mountain. This took us back along the Sannen-zaka, a narrow lane lined with shops selling maneki neko, fans, mochi, dango, all sorts of postcards and cell phone charms and the items pilgrims might need such as prayer beads.
I bought a hat embroidered with a battle between the God of Wind and the God of Lightning. Pat found a number of items on her souvenir wish list. If you love shopping, you simply must visit the Sannen-zaka. We also enjoyed a singular snack: pickled cucumber on a stick. Legend has it that cucumbers are the favorite food of Japan’s most famous monster from folklore, the kappa. I have to say the giant pickle on a stick was crunchy and refreshing, right up until the moment when I bit into the stick.
When I was fourteen years old, my father got married for the third time. My mother had been wife number two. My parents divorced when I was eleven, so I guess you could say Daddy had observed an appropriate period of mourning for that failed marriage before he decided to take the plunge once again.
One of the many strange things about my father’s third marriage was the fact that I and my soon-to-be stepsister already knew each other. We were on the same volleyball team in high school. My stepsister had the unlikely name of America. People mostly called her Amy. She had long dark hair, big blue eyes, full lips, and a perfect figure. Amy reminded me of how Snow White might have turned out if she’d ended up on the beach in Santa Monica. She was gorgeous and she knew it. The third member of the package deal was my stepbrother Joseph, twenty-one and the black sheep of his family. Daddy put up with Joseph until the day he discovered Joseph had been growing marijuana in a garden shed out back. In 1979 people were a lot less tolerant of marijuana than they are now. Daddy kicked Joseph out. I was fine with that.
Preparations for the wedding included fittings for bridesmaid dresses made of yellow polyester. Sleeveless yellow polyester. In the heat of summer. Over the upper half of these sunny creations draped chiffon circles with a pattern of daisies and greenery. We also had to wear yellow garden hats with bands of similar chiffon. Somebody tall and willowy might have made that outfit look good. All I know is, I wasn’t tall enough and nowhere near willowy. These were the colors my stepmother-elect had chosen, so I did my best. Amy made the outfit look great.
Being a teenager who’d grown up in one dysfunctional family and knew she was about to join another, I had mixed feelings about this whole process. For one thing, my stepmother’s name was Amber. I had a thing for geology at the time. All I could think of was tree sap with bugs caught in it. Ancient bugs at that. Not the most maternal image. Also, Amber was short. That in itself wouldn’t have been a problem, but next to my father, she looked more like his daughter than his wife. Amber and I got along well enough, but then, I only saw her when I stayed at my father’s house on visitation weekends. I recall one day close to the wedding when I was sulking at my father’s house, having a serious internal hissy about refusing to call Amber “Mom.” I don’t know what I was so upset about. It’s not like anybody ever expected me to do that. I suppose we can chalk that one up to adolescence.
The wedding day itself was memorable for moments that have stayed with me like snapshots on my mental coffee table. All of us bridesmaids suiting up and trying to get those chiffon drape things to hang right. All the other women offering to do my makeup. They were all nice people, but in honor of the occasion they went a bit overboard. Makeup and I have never had a close relationship. I’ve worn it for the Prom, for my own wedding, and for a few other important occasions. Watching Amy go at it with enough palettes and brushes to fill a museum made me decline all offers. At that point in my life my father had never seen me wear makeup. Having overheard a few of Daddy’s comments about how trashy Amy looked when she went out on dates, I figured it would be a good idea to cause him one less shock on his wedding day.
The wedding took place in the Methodist chapel on a nearby military base. The guests were mostly people from my father’s workplace, where he’d met Amber. No family was present other than us kids due to Daddy’s people all being in Ohio. (As for Amber’s people, God only knows. I never have heard the definitive truth about her origins.) My father looked quite distinguished in his gray three-piece suit, yellow shirt, and yellow-striped tie. Amber wore a white wedding gown. I was still young enough to find that funny, but I was smart enough to keep my amusement to myself. I don’t know how they managed to find a wedding gown short enough for her. She had almost no waist. High heels and a long skirt that included a train can be a precarious combination. She did make it to the altar without tripping or falling. Amber’s bouquet was impressive, all red roses with babies’-breath and ferns. It made a rather dramatic contrast against her white gown. I had to wonder what possessed her to make us bridesmaids wear yellow and green. We looked like we’d wandered in from somebody else’s wedding.
I don’t remember a whole lot about the service itself, but I do recall wondering if my father was going to keel over. I’d never seen him look so nervous or emotional. At one point I thought Daddy might be in tears. This was really weird. My father had a temper, but he also had a sense of humor. To see this side of him came close to freaking me out. If this was the effect Amber had on him, was this marriage such a good idea after all? We all got through the service more or less intact. There were one or two people among the attendees who couldn’t help crying at weddings.
The reception gave me a perfect opportunity to observe all these people I’d never met before and would probably never see again. My father had been in AA for a good three years by then, but there was a no-host bar for the guests. The punch was that frequent concoction of ice cubes, tonic water and rainbow sherbet. Who came up with that? Why do people think it’s a good idea? It makes you burp and you end up with a frothy mustache. Not exactly the most chic way to party at an event as formal as a wedding.
After the speeches and cutting the cake, people settled down to socializing. I didn’t know what else to do with myself, so I kept busy getting people more coffee or cake and tidying up here and there. I noticed my newly official stepsister Amy didn’t care for the rainbow punch either. She was only eighteen, so she got my new stepbrother Joseph to buy her drinks. It soon became obvious Amy couldn’t hold her liquor. That she was holding any came as an unpleasant surprise to my father. Joseph had enough sense to stop buying her drinks, but by then she’d already been laughing too loudly and sitting slumped against him like some tart from a Victorian gin joint.
What really put the icing on this particular cake was the fact that other people in the wedding party started to notice Amy’s behavior. One of the older bridesmaids, a co-worker of Amber’s, called me over to where she sat at the head table. This lady announced in ringing tones that I was a real lady, behaving myself and helping out like a good hostess should. I suppose I ought to have been embarrassed, but I understood perfectly that she meant to point out Amy’s behavior by complimenting mine. Amy must have caught hell later for getting smashed at the wedding. One would think she’d have had a little more class given that her new stepfather was a recovering alcoholic.
At the end of the day, Daddy seemed to be happy, so that was what really mattered to me. That, and knowing that never again would I be forced to wear yellow polyester.
“Aside from being fun to say, verisimilitude (pronounced ‘VAIR-ih-sih-MILL-ih-tude’) simply means ‘the quality of resembling reality.’ A work of art, or any part of a work of art, has verisimilitude if it seems realistic.” — literaryterms.net
And now for another story from the days when I worked the Northern Renaissance Faire. My husband and I both worked for the fencing booth which was done up like a pirate ship privateer vessel. The booth was quite popular. At any given time we’d have at least six students out “on deck” receiving their half hour fencing lessons from members of our crew. Out front there was a seating area with hay bales where guests could sit in the shade of our “sails” and watch competition-level fencers have bouts on the stage/strip. A crow’s nest rose high above the audience where one of the hawkers or even the Captain himself might stand.
The crow’s nest plays a key role in this story. Every morning our day began with Roll Call. Depending on how big a crowd had already gathered, the person up in the crow’s nest might be the First Mate or one of the other officers. Roll Call was a lot of fun. The audience got to see us all called on by our Faire names and replying in character. On this particular day the fellow calling roll was one of the hawkers, a man with a gift for jokes and word play. Somebody had the bright idea of turning the tables on him. The idea was passed around among the crew. Instead of the usual “Aye aye!” or “I be ‘ere, sir!’ or “Shut yer gob, ye sniveling mumblecrust!”, we replied with a bit more creativity and respect.
“Aye aye, Yer Vastness!”
“Right ‘ere, Your Garrulity!”
“Present, Yer Delightfulness!
“Right you are, Your Splendor!
The hawker up in the crow’s nest kept snorting and chuckling and trying to get a grip. We had a good two dozen people on crew, so Roll Call took a little time. y turn came.
“Mistress Andalyn Fortune!”
I took a deep breath, readied my best projection, and stepped forward.
“At your service, Your Verisimilitude!”
That one did it. The hawker burst out laughing, dropped his clip board, crossed hid arms on the railing of the crow’s nest, and rested his forehead on his arms.
It was fun playing a pirate. People expected you to steal the show.
In Writing Open the Mind, author Andy Couturier describes how asymmetry can help the reader participate in our writing, creating a fresh and dynamic experience. “Since each combination of these dissimilar parts suggests its own meaning, its own interest and power, asymmetry in visual art or in writing encourages participation by the viewer or reader in the fertile process of creation. In a sense, writing asymmetrically is generous, because it gives the reader many different ways to understand, instead of insisting on one, that is only our own.”
I keep all the fortunes I get from fortune cookies. My friends and family know I do this, so they tend to give me theirs as well. Over the years I’ve collected at least two glass jars full of fortunes. I decided to experiment with “writing asymmetrically” by pulling out a dozen fortunes and setting them aside without reading them. I wrote out twelve questions, just going with whatever popped into mind, then printed out that page. I cut up the questions into twelve strips of paper and mixed them up, setting them aside face down in one pile beside the fortunes already waiting in the other pile. I chose a question and typed it in, then chose an answer and typed that below the question. The results can be used for writing prompts, scene dialogue, a personal journal entry, etc.
Q: What makes life worth living?
A: A goal is a dream with a deadline.
(Sound advice. Failing to plan is planning to fail.)
Q: Who knows the secret of eternal youth?
A: You will soon be crossing desert sands for a fun vacation.
(Why does this make me think of Las Vegas or Palm Springs?)
Q: What advice would you give to your granddaughter?
A: Look closely at your surroundings.
(Furniture? Objet d’art? Choosing the most worthy granddaughter?)
Q: How do you solve the problem of time travel?
A: Good fortune is always on your side.
(So you’ll have a good time wherever you go!)
Q: Where can you find true Paradise on earth?
A: You are always welcome in any gathering.
Q: What did the monkey say to the banana?
A: Look for the dream that keeps coming back. It is your destiny.
(I’m guessing the monkey dreams about really big bananas.)
Q: How do you bring a smile to the sourest face?
A: You must learn to broaden your horizons, day by day.
(Some people bring happiness by arriving, others by departing.)
Q: I’ve lost my car keys and I have no money. Now what?
A: You are a lover of words.
(Talk your way out of that one!)
Q: How does one restore lost innocence?
A: An unexpected payment is coming your way.
(If money can’t buy happiness, it certainly can’t restore lost innocence!)
Q: Why are word problems always so confusing?
A: Laughter shall fuel your spirit’s engine.
(My teacher tended to laugh at a lot of my answers, that’s for sure.)
Q: Why are we told there are always more fish in the sea?
A: Little brooks make great rivers.
(This pairing was an accident, I swear.)
Q: What do you get if you cross a rhino with a stapler?
A: Follow your instincts when making decisions.
(First, don’t cross a rhino. Second, don’t do it with a stapler!)
When I was eighteen, my father sent me to spend the summer in Holland with the family of the exchange student who had been my Physics lab partner during my senior year of high school. Thanks to my Eurail Pass, I traveled all over Holland, including the amazing city of Amsterdam. With the help of my Dutch parents, I also made arrangements to take a weekend bus trip all the way to Paris. When they took me to the bus station, my Dutch parents were careful to explain to the driver that I didn’t speak the language. Fortunately, the driver spoke excellent English. Unfortunately, just after my Dutch parents left, the English-speaking driver told me his shift was over. His replacement was a cheerful little man named Ott. Ott’s English wasn’t just broken, it was smashed.
The bus soon filled up with the other passengers, mostly older folks with a few couples, and two girls about my age. Ott had me sit in the tour guide’s seat, the one right across the aisle from him. I felt like a bug plastered up against the big front windows. I did have an excellent view as we drove across Holland, passed through part of Belgium, and entered France. While I was in Paris I saw many of the highlights, the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Sacre Coeur, and the Monmarte. I ran into a bit of trouble on my way into one of the museums. I had already paid the fee to enter the museum, but the tour guide made a fuss about how I still needed to pay it. At that point we had a French woman tour guide who made it plain she did not care for me, purely because I was American. The Dutch ladies on the bus weren’t having any of that. They told me to give my age as seventeen because only people eighteen and over had to pay the fee. Then they rallied round me quite literally as they escorted me into the museum. The tour guide didn’t cause me any more trouble.
On Sunday we were allowed two hours to go shopping. My shopping list was very simple. In addition to a few items for my friends and family, I wanted to buy my mother a gold Eiffel Tower charm. It took me some time to locate the jewelry department, with many “Parlez-vous Anglais?” along the way. Most of the staff were polite enough about saying they did not speak English. Then I found the jewelry department and the arrogant Catherine Deneuve-wannabe in charge. It was clear I wasn’t going to get anywhere with her. I gave the situation some thought, then returned to the attack with new strategy. Just as the saleswoman prepared to dismiss me again, I held up my traveler’s checks, fanned them out, and said, “Parlez-vous American Express?” The saleswoman vanished, replaced by Raoul, who spoke perfect British English. He was quite happy to bring out the case that held the Eiffel Tower charms in a staggering range of sizes. I chose the one I wanted, changed my traveler’s checks for francs, and left that department. Mission accomplished.
By a strange coincidence there was another American girl on the tour bus. She was visiting her Dutch grandmother, who had brought both the American girl and her teenage Dutch cousin along for a wonderful weekend in Paris. When I crossed paths with them in the department store, it was clear to me the girls were dying to run off by themselves. The grandmother looked rather tired. Since my shopping was complete, I invited the grandmother to join me in the restaurant on the top floor of the store. The girls could go do as they liked, then we’d all meet back at the bus at the appointed time. Everybody was happy. The grandmother looked relieved to sit down for a while. While she drank her coffee and I had a bite to eat, she told me all about her family and showed me photos. Later, she was kind enough to take a photo of me in front of the Eiffel Tower and mailed it to me where I lived with my Dutch family. That photo was the gift I wanted to give to my father.
I keep that photo in my office. Every time I look at it, I remember the kindness of those wonderful Dutch people and my many adventures in the City of Lights, all thanks to my father.
A long time ago, in a land far, far away, I worked at the Southern Renaissance Pleasure Faire, aka the Agoura Ren Faire. There’s nothing like wearing Elizabethan costuming every weekend in ninety to a hundred degree heat while trying to talk people into buying the kind of elaborate jewelry they’d wear once or twice, not counting Halloween. That was during the day. At night, after closing, Ren Faire belonged to the workers.
During one of the evening gatherings, I learned how to play Spark in the Dark. I recommend playing it outside, on a summer night, under a sky glimmering with thousands of stars.
Spark in the Dark:
1. It takes two people.
2. One roll of wintergreen Lifesavers. Only wintergreen will work.
3. You can play the game outdoors at night, or in a dark room.
4. Each player puts one Lifesaver between their back molars. Hold it lightly in place. Keep the lips open so each player can see into the other person’s mouth.
5. On the agreed upon signal, both players bite down on the Lifesavers.
Lexico.com defines quandary as “A state of perplexity or uncertainty over what to do in a difficult situation.” This is a perfect description of the difficulties I’ve faced when trying to balance a career as a professional writer with being the mother of two special needs boys.
In 1993 I joined the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association as an Active Member. In 1998 my older boy Michael came into the world at only 23 weeks. That he survived the next three and a half months in the hospital is nothing short of miraculous. The writing I accomplished during that time consisted mainly of the notes I kept in pretty hardback journals, documenting Michael’s growth, his tiny but meaningful milestones, the tests and surgeries and growing list of medications. Once Michael was allowed to come home, life became crowded with doctor appointments and physical therapy sessions. I tried to make the best use of the time available, editing manuscripts while in transit to the various appointments.
In 1998 John came along. Now I had two babies to care for. At that time it was just me while my husband was at work during the day. This is when I developed the habit of writing at night after the boys were asleep. Not the best plan when I wasn’t getting much sleep anyway. John was getting better and better at climbing out of his crib. At age two Michael developed seizure disorder, so I lived with one ear listening for any strange sound that might indicate John had escaped or Michael might be in distress. It’s very difficult to achieve the state of creative trance necessary for writing when one’s attention is constantly divided.
When Michael turned three and was eligible for the Early Start program, one of the benefits was nursing care. Thanks to the RNs who helped out and the support of my family, I wrote Ship Of Dreams. Getting that manuscript research took two solid years, then writing it meant daily labor. I suffered a disk crash that cost me two months’ work. (Words of wisdom: “Finish it!” and “Back it up!”) I found a literary agent who sold the book to a publisher. I’d been having some success with selling short stories and writing nonfiction pieces.
This might sound wonderful, and it was, but it meant struggling against my own fatigue, emotional exhaustion, and what I later learned were the symptoms of PTSD. When your brain already feels like dead coral, it’s almost impossible to summon up the energy needed to string words together. By that I meant just making sense when you’re talking to another person, never mind the effort required for creative writing. How was I going to keep writing? How was I going to complete projects, edit them, and do the marketing work?
There have been many times when I’ve wanted to “do it later.” As many wise people have said, later never comes. Today is tomorrow. I asked myself, “How badly do you want this? How badly do you want to work toward a Hugo, a Nebula, a World Fantasy Award?” The answers to those questions drove me to find ways to do the work even while attending doctor appointments, during hospital stays for Michael, and then facing John’s difficulties.
John had been hitting all the developmental milestones up until age four. We knew he had speech delay. The speech therapist was the first one to suggest we get John evaluated by a neurologist. The neurologist diagnosed John with Autistic Spectrum Disorder. At that time I knew nothing about “autism” other than the really drastic examples most people think of when they heard that word. Mind you, this was twenty years ago when a lot less was known about neurodiversity. I was in shock, frightened, depressed, and overwhelmed. Managing Michael’s care was already a complex challenge. Now John’s doctor and therapist appointments would have to be shoehorned into an already tight schedule. How on earth was I going to maintain a writing career when I couldn’t even manage a regular night’s sleep?
So I learned how to write whenever I had a few minutes. Free writing. Word sprints. Call it what you will. These bursts of writing are manageable, fun, and can be fit into a car ride, sitting in a waiting room, while having a meal in the hospital cafeteria. It’s not always comfortable, and it’s not easy, but practice promotes adaptation. I’ve written a total of seven novels and quite a few short stories. Now that some family issues and the first shock of the pandemic have settled down somewhat, I hope to move forward with editing and polishing these novels.
Living in today’s world makes it even harder to maintain a creative life. So many of us have had to take on the role of caregiver to a family member. Believe me when I tell you it’s essential to carve out some time for yourself, and for your creative work. Somewhere in your waking hours there will be fifteen minutes, thirty minutes, maybe even a whole hour. Use it. Sit down and take a good look at your daily schedule. You may find you have more time than you realize, it’s just a matter of making choices about what you spend that time doing.
I grew up on ghost stories, monster movies, Halloween celebrations, and books about folkloric beliefs all over the world. A cynical person might say all that would leave me predisposed to believe in the phenomenon I’m about to describe. I’d like to think all that research left me with the ability to separate what’s real from what’s only make-believe. My aunts and uncles talked about family ghosts with a mixture of pride and apprehension. However many ancestral ghosts might be haunting Daddy’s branches of the family tree, I defy them all to match the power of pure aggravation caused by my mother’s personal poltergeist.
Ever since I was a little girl, I can remember scenes of panic as my mother rushed around looking for whatever she’d lost that time. Just as we were about to leave for some big event such as a wedding or graduation, Mom couldn’t find her car keys. Didn’t know where she’d put her glasses. The paper with the directions on it had been right there a minute ago. She’d run all over the house looking in some of the unlikeliest places, coming up empty every time. Just when she was about to lose it completely, she’d check her purse or coat pocket or glove compartment or wherever she’d looked first, and there the item would be. Mom had simply overlooked it in her hurry the first time, right? That’s what my brother, my sister and I thought, but things began to happen that made that explanation less and less believable.
The smart thing to do when Mom was in one of her “Where did I put that?” panics was to stay out of the way. After my brother and sister moved out of the house, I’d be the only witness to Mom swearing up and down she felt like somebody was hiding whatever she was looking for and doing it on purpose. Wasn’t me, that’s for sure, because I was in as much of a hurry as she was to get to whatever special event was happening that time. Since I’m an observant person, I’d keep an eye on the items Mom lost most frequently: keys, glasses, purse, wallet, directions, and any special gifts we’d be taking along. Because I kept a close eye on these items, they often did not go missing at all. And then I hit that awkward stage between ten and thirteen.
Some paranormal investigators believe the physical and psychological upheaval of adolescence has a corresponding psychic turbulence that might manifest as psychokinetic activity. Poltergeist activity has been shown to occur most often in locations where a prepubescent or pubescent child of either gender is present. If the child is removed from the location where the poltergeist activity is taking place, does the activity stop? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. As technology continues to develop, investigators get closer and closer to their goal of solid empirical evidence.
So who was causing the problem of the disappearing objects? Was it the poltergeist, some mischievous spirit who just happened to decide my mother made a good target? Was it Mom, running around like a chicken with its head cut off so much that she’d put something down and forget where she left it, so it seemed to vanish? Or was I the cause, directly or indirectly? I never hid anything of my mother’s, and especially not on a day when we needed to get somewhere on time. Did the stress Mom worked up over getting ready for a special event attract the poltergeist? Did all that uproar trigger the response in me that brought on the seemingly poltergeist-based phenomena? Or did the poltergeist come first and get us all wound up and nervous so we created a self-fulfilling prophecy?
Here comes the part that really freaked me out. There were a number of times when I watched my mother put an item into her purse or pocket, her closet or a drawer. Later on when she’d need that item, she’d call me over to look in the exact place she’d put it, and it simply wasn’t there! It’s not like Mom had reason to suddenly move the object, changing the pocket or drawer. Even the possibility of something falling out of her coat pockets was rather remote because my mother favored coats with deep pockets to prevent this exact problem. The point here is as long as my mother had been the one to put the object in its “safe place,” there was a definite risk of the poltergeist making it disappear. If Mom gave the object to me to put on the dinner table or out to the trunk of the car, then we stood a good chance of finding it where I’d put it. My teenage years with my mother were full of all kinds of stress, money and hormones and attitude and the fallout from the divorce. One of the few areas where she did have faith in me was her belief that I had some kind of ability to make the poltergeist back off.
Unless, of course, Mom was behind it all, making those items appear and disappear. Was Mom having a good time, getting her laughs making me believe there was a poltergeist in the house?
I don’t think so. I really can’t believe Mom would have put that kind of effort into a prank that went on for years, a prank that resulted in her stressing out a lot more than I ever did.
So the question remains. What kept making all those items appear and disappear?
I'm a professional writer living in Northern California with my husband and two sons. Fantasy in various forms is my reading and writing pleasure. I'm a history buff, a Japanophile, and I love to learn about language(s). I enjoy making jewelry, using natural materials such as wood, bone, semiprecious stones, and seashells. I collect bookmarks and wind chimes.