Sunday, December 13, 2015

Echo Lake Sale

Need a gift idea for the lover of spooky books in your life who also has a Kindle? The Kindle version of Echo Lake is only 5$ 

Oh, and also, will have more news soon about the new novel, Almost Dark, but have been swamped. I promise, I will not always neglect this poor blog. 

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Poems at Queen Mob's Teahouse

I have a couple of poems at Queen Mob's Teahouse! One I wrote after listening to a podcast with a terrible lifecoach and another is about ghosts, my primary topic always.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Exigencies

The anthology Exigencies, from Dark House Press, is now available from Amazon in paperback and soon will be available in ebook format. I have a short story in this collection and am delighted to be part of such a fantastic collection of writers. Check it out and add on Goodreads!



Thursday, April 16, 2015

Photos

Maybe-not-adventures in the suburbs part who-knows, the "don't worry, these are from March" edition (though it's actually snowing right now, despite a week of boiling heat):




Sunday, March 22, 2015

What Babies Do





This isn't really a coherent essay/blog post. I haven't attempted to make it so. I'm just thinking.

----------

A friend of mine was volunteering at a hospice. She told me about one of her clients, a woman with dementia who did nothing all day but care for a baby doll, which she would wrap in blankets, press tightly to her chest, and rock, humming into its plastic ear. She could no longer speak. She didn't seem to register the people around her or recognize her friends and family members. She treated health care workers and volunteers with irritation. But she loved that doll and woke every morning to find it in the toy bassinet by her bed, expertly swaddled, exactly where she had put it the night before.

All that is left of her, my friend said, is the part of her that was most essential, the part of her that was a mother.

I was pregnant when she told me this, just showing. I wondered what would be left of me when everything else was gone.

-----

Not being much of a "baby person" before I actually had a baby, I would generally greet claims about the ways that children deepened or changed one's emotional landscape with an eyeroll: here we go again. Another person saying that children are the only way to a real, adult emotional life.

You'll never feel love like this! People would say. It's the best thing in the world!

As a person on the other side of the baby/no baby divide, I still mostly roll my eyes, though I understand the evangelical spirit some parents have, and I do agree that a child provides a type of emotional connection and a joy that cannot be experienced in any other way (I have never been a person who much understood pure, uncomplicated joy, but I now get that daily--that's pretty big for me). I just dislike the implication that people without children are somehow less emotionally full than people with. I had a great love and empathy before I had a baby. My life was amazing. My life now is amazing, What I didn't have, though, was thisnterrifying sense of potential loss and fear.

-----

I'm an anxious person, so I spend a great deal of time visualizing every possible disaster. When my husband goes away for weekend Aikido retreats or overseas trips, or even drives to work, I can see all of the ways he could die: car accidents, of course, but also freak falls, random acts of violence, sudden illnesses. This doesn't even take into account the things I think about that are not sudden and tragic but simply part of human life: cancer, diseases that take years to set in, that take away cognition and movement and autonomy. Sometimes I am overwhelmed by all of the losses that I will, without a doubt, experience. We will all lose everything, at some point. It is difficult for me to not be aware of this even when I know it would be better for me to let this knowledge go. There's nothing I can do about it, after all. I've known people who seem to think that if they run long enough or eat enough kale that they will never die or experience the uglier parts of having a human body. I don't want to be that kind of person. I want to make peace with loss.

But I find some losses too unbearable to ever make peace with. My previous experience of fear of losing was nothing compared to what I experience now. When my son Roscoe was born, as he struggled on my chest, his head heavy, his hands fisted, the doctors detected something wrong with his breathing: he was struggling, his little chest making a shallow depression with every breath, his nostrils flaring. They whisked him away to the neonatal care unit.

I had just met him, and now I had to think about the possibility of loss.

He was fine, eventually. But that was only a small taste of what would come later. The fear of SIDS in his early months, a fear that is particularly panic-inducing because of the mystery around it. Now that he's mobile, the fear that he might drop something on his head. When we are in the car, the fear of an accident.

And, of course, he'll soon be going places on his own: to daycare, to school, to friends' houses, to camp, etc. And then, when he's an adult, he will drive away. There is little I can do to keep him safe when I am not there. Little I can do when I am there, too, if I am honest.

Still yet, I am determined not to suffocate him with my own anxiety: I don't equate worry with love. So the trick now is to know the possibility of loss, the inevitability of some kinds of loss, but to move through the world and not be overwhelmed by it.

---------

I think about 25% of my previous position that I would never have children came form anticipating  loss. The other 75% was all of the usual things: no overwhelming desire, a fantastic life already, a desire for privacy and quiet and freedom, fear of losing time to write, etc. But that fear of loss, that was a big one for me. Imagining my pets dying is enough to keep me up at night: how could I deal with the loss of somebody so close to me, somebody who will be the most intimate relationship I will probably have in my life?

Of course, most children are fine. It isn't really death that I'm worried about. It's change and the things I can't control. In the past, I have organized my life so that I have to deal with as little change as possible. I have limited my intimate relationships because having those relationships means the potential of loss, of change. Now, I have a baby: I cannot limit the level of intimacy and care and worry anymore. And I'm glad I can't.

-------

I'm thinking again of the elderly woman with dementia.

At first, this anecdote depressed me. Now, I think about it differently. I identify so strongly with my mind, with my thoughts. But what survived, for her, was her emotional connection to a child, something that is not located in the cerebral cortex, but in the limbic system, deeper in the mammalian brain. She could still remember those days of holding a baby close, soothing their nervous system with touch and murmuring, feeding them, setting them down to sleep. I spent most of last summer like this, utterly out of my thinking mind, all of my self focused on keeping Roscoe alive and fed. There was a freedom in giving over completely to that slow, soothing, instinctual rhythm of rocking and sleeping and waking and feeding.

For a while, this rhythm of life kept the anxiety somewhat at bay. I would rock the baby, wrap him, feed him, and lay him in his crib. `Although I could not control everything, I could do this. I could keep everyday life rolling. I could put the baby to sleep in his crib next to my bed and then wake to him moaning and squirming in his swaddle, exactly where I had left him the night before. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Day Walk



Stop sign reflection


I don't know what this is, but I like it. 

Monday, March 2, 2015

Breathing

Excerpt from an as-of-yet named essay about asthma & trauma: 


Me at 9

Last weekend, I saw a doctor for allergies for the first time in my life. For two hours, he quizzed me about my symptoms, gave me supremely uncomfortable allergen tests which resulted in an eruption of red, itchy bumps along my arm, and interrogated me about my asthma. How often do you use the emergency inhaler? He asked me. He tsked when I told him the answer: every day. Your asthma isn't under control, he said. We need to be more aggressive. He gave me a steroid inhaler, a prescription for anti-inflammatory medication, and told me sternly to follow his directions. 

For years, I've resisted asthma treatments that could have helped me without fulling registering what I was doing or why. I would start a prescription and take it intermittently before stopping altogether. Sometimes I said it was because of the cost. Sometimes I said it didn't work, so I stopped taking it. But really, I never tried. I see now that I resisted these things because deep down, I believed that I should be able to breathe normally, that my asthma was something that I should be able to control myself, and that it wasn't real in the way that other illnesses were. No, scratch that: it wasn't real in the way that other people's illnesses were. 

I can't remember when I first noticed tightness in my chest or when I got my first Primatene Mist inhaler. My asthma is a constant in my memory. I can viscerally remember the feel of the beige Primatene Mist bottle nestled in my palm, that pliable plastic coating covering a class bottle that might shatter if I dropped it on the pavement.  I had dropped mine a couple of times, which was always a small tragedy: it wasn't likely I'd be getting another one any time soon. That inhaler was precious: just seeing released the tightness a notch. 

Not only could my parents not often afford the inhaler, but my mother did not believe that my asthma was real. She had the idea that I was pretending to get attention and to "get high," something I tried to explain was not the case (if anything, the inhaler made me feel awful: my heart beat quickly and I shook, often violently). She was not convinced. She made me drink tea when I struggled to breathe (she was, and is, convinced that all "alternative" treatments are superior to Western medical treatments) and blamed me for not giving it enough time when it didn't work. Sometimes it takes days for these things to work, she told me. You are impatient. 

My breathing only got worse. I remember gym classes, in particular, as a constant struggle. Not only did I struggle to breathe, but I felt awkward performing physically in front of my peers. As I struggled to get my next breath after initial warm-ups, I waited in line to, inevitably, be called last for teams, occasionally with the unlucky team captain showing visible disappointment that they were saddled with me. I couldn't serve a volleyball. I couldn't keep track of the ball in soccer. I never hit a single ball in baseball. Dodgeball was a terrifying exercise in controlled bullying--where else were you allowed to hit whoever you wanted to over and over again? I don't know if my asthma was the reason for my hesitance and timidity in sports or if that developed after, but before long, I started to passively resist gym class. I refused to participate and read novels in the bleachers. 

I have asthma, I told the gym teacher. She asked for a doctor's note. I didn't have one. I'd never seen a doctor before. I just knew I couldn't breathe. 

When I was fifteen, I got pneumonia over the summer. How I got pneumonia in the summer, I will never know, but after two weeks of no medical care, I struggled constantly. The muscles in my stomach and chest ached from the work it took to breathe. I could barely walk. I stayed in bed in my pajamas, unable to get dressed. I had nothing for treatment: my inhaler had run out and my mother was taking one of her sporadic stands against my Primatene Mist use. 

Take Benadryl instead, she told me. It's just your allergies. Just calm down. It's all in your head. I took the Benadryl, which made me sleepy and did nothing for my breathing. 

I can't sleep, I told her. I'm afraid I'll stop breathing. 

You'll feel better when you wake up, she told me. 

I got the feeling that my illness annoyed her. When I was eleven, I'd had a long bout of bronchitis that kept me out of school for two weeks and culminated with me camped out in a sleeping bag on the floor next to the iron woodstove, coughing blood into unmatched socks (we had run out of toilet paper) and shivering violently. 

Get off the floor, she told me. You aren't that sick. 

I couldn't get up, though. I have another memory from this time, though, one of the sweetest memories I have of my mother. I remember her coming in from a drive into town. I opened my eyes at the sound of her voice saying my name. Beyond her shoulder, the television was on, showing footage of the Branch Davidian standoff, before the flames began. Shhh, she told me, her voice soft. She was holding a glass of orange juice. 

She believes me, I thought. She believes I'm sick. I felt a physical wave of relief: her belief was like a drug, it soothed me. After a while, even I had started to doubt myself (and how could I not? The person who had once arranged my entire experience did not believe me.). 

I still felt a shadow of doubt at fifteen, even as I curled up on a couch and struggled to stay awake because I was afraid of dying. 

But my pneumonia did not clear up. My breathing became so labored that I could not stand without assistance. 

I have to go to the emergency room, I told her. She helped me put on my clothes and brought me to the car, where we drove thirty minutes to Wilburton, the closest hospital, and I was admitted for two days. They put me in a children's room. The walls were painted with clowns, balloons, and zoo scenes. What I remember most about that hospital was a great feeling of relief: they believed me enough to put oxygen through my nose and antibiotics in my veins. I had feared that I would get there and they would say, like my mother, that I was exaggerating. I spent my days in bed, mostly alone, reading magazine after magazine. I loved it. 

I don't write about this simply to make an account of parental bad behavior. I'm realizing more and more how aspects of my experience that I've considered "normal" are unnecessarily saddled with shame and self-doubt. When I get sick, I feel not only physically awful, but also ashamed. There's a relief in realizing this and knowing I don't have to feel that way anymore. But still, there's that voice, always. It says doubt. I am trying not to listen to it. 

Friday, February 20, 2015

Bad Romance


(Chris, season one, who would have been butt-hurt if Shandy had not picked him)

This past summer, during a month-long sinus infection, I had my husband take the baby out for a few hours while I lounged miserably on the couch, drinking cup after cup of herbal cold tea and watching television. In my search for something mind-numbing and colorful, I landed on Are You The One?, a MTV reality show in which ten men and ten women, each with a “perfect match” in the group, according to some mysterious MTV matchmaking metric, are left to live in a house in an exotic location and given the challenge to find each match by the end of the season. Each episode ends in a matching ceremony in which the couples make their best guesses as to who their “perfect match” is. Verified matches get to go to a honeymoon suite while the rest of the house works toward figuring out exactly who their perfect match is. As would be expected, drama ensues, usually when a couple with chemistry forms an early attachment, learns they are not a match, and continue to see each other. Are Your the One is hosted by Ryan Devlin, who treats the entire enterprise with palpable condescension. There's something a little dead in his eyes that reminds me of Bob Saget during his tenure as host of America's Funniest Home Videos. For some reason, this combination of challenge show, young people making alcohol-inspired pronouncements of devotion, and a host who seems to be dying inside was like catnip. I watched every episode of the first season in one day. I recently binge-watched season two and I am yet again sucked into the pursuit of true love between drunk people with tribal tattoos. 


(Layton, season 2, at a matching ceremony, wearing a classy blazer without a shirt)

As a 33 year old married mother of an infant, I am not exactly the target demographic for this show. Each episode includes ample footage of these twentysomethings (all in fantastic shape, there must have been some sort of contractual obligation to work out enough to feel confident wearing a bathing suit 75% of the time) drinking neon-colored cocktails from plastic cups (and sometimes straight from the pitcher), drunkenly professing love or at least a desire to go to the “boom boom room,” a room designated specifically for sex which also, disturbingly, has a nigh vision camera. I have never watched a show like this before with any kind of interest. My only other reality show vice is America's Next Top Model, which is at least a reality show about some sort of skill. Are You The One hits a certain kind of sweet spot: it is a game, so it involves some strategy, but it also purports to be genuinely about emotion and chemistry, even if the dialog seems like overheard conversations at a daily frat house party. Sentences such as “I'll be really butthurt if Shandy doesn't pick me tonight” are uttered with wide-eyed seriousness. Some people on the show seem alarmingly checked out, staring off in the middle distance, trailing off in mid-sentence, as though perhaps there is more than just alcohol available in their Puerto Rican mansion. 


(Ellie, season 2, is great.)

Like any MTV show, Are You The One? Is almost intentionally problematic on several fronts. In one game, women in the house were encouraged to match up a male name with a number of sex partners. The lowest number was 9. The highest 100. There were high fives all around for men whose numbers went well into the double digits. It's hard to imagine a similar response to the female contestants. When one woman has sex with two men in the house, for example, she is berated by other female members of the house for not being “real” with the men. Another woman beats herself up for “making the same mistakes” she has made before when she sleeps with somebody in the house on the first night. As much as the show seems to show us college hook-up culture among millennials, the guilt is still heavily gendered and casual sex is frowned upon by the members of the household. Also, it's interesting to note how often black women are left unmatched by the end of the series. Usually, they are singled out for being too "mouthy," which makes one wonder why some equally opinionated white women were still considered desirable

Despite the uglier aspects of the show, there is an underlying sweetness. It seems astounding that any real emotion could come out of this setup, but it does. Men with sculpted brows and perfectly smooth torsos cry in hot tubs about love. Couples who form early attachments struggle with finding that they are not a “perfect match.” Inevitably, at least one couple preserves their early attachment, refusing to “mingle.”  Other people accuse them of not "playing the game," though most of those protests are by people who want to form relationships with one of the coupled. So much naked desperation, so much begging for attention: it's hard to watch sometimes. 

I've been wondering why I enjoy this show. Even in my 20's, I would have found the premise of this show nightmarish (I can hardly get myself to go to a party with people I like: the idea of being stuck in a house with people I don't know is my personal idea of hell), so it's not wishing for my own youth.  I'd genuinely like these kids to find love. But I also wonder about the entire premise of these matchmaking exercises to begin with: can you figure out compatibility with a test at all? And can you know who you are at twenty-one enough to even know what you want from a relationship? 

I long for a reality show about introspective adults trying to find love, but perhaps it would be boring. Maybe that's too much like regular life. 


Monday, February 9, 2015

Day Walk

I've given myself the assignment to take daily photographs in my little suburban gated community, a place where I've often felt drained of inspiration. I grew up in the woods, in places full of green and grass and dapples of sun and the sounds of crickets and crunching leaves and breaking branches. Now, I hear the sounds of people and cars and yard work. Our yard is a small triangle of grass which is watered, automatically, every night at seven in the months of April through September. People I don't know occasionally show up to trim the grass and cut wild branches. A tree sits at the corner of our lot, in front of our porch, and some hedges line the edges of our condo, planted in beds of rock. It is all very manicured. It's the kind of place where our individual spaces are so delineated that I feel vaguely nervous when I walk down some of the sidewalks with the baby, sidewalks that often dead-end right in front of doors, creating strange, frustrating loops.

Still, this is a beautiful place, as aggressively scrubbed of all wildness as it is. I live in Colorado, where the sky is enormous and usually blue. Though this isn't my preferred weather (I miss the damp of Vermont and Oklahoma and Arkansas, the overwhelming sound of crickets, lushness, storms), But I can see why people come here and feel more themselves, more alive. The skyline is dramatic, full of white-capped, jagged mountains and endless endless blue. Rabbits swarm our little gated community: clearly, this was once where they lived, and they've managed to keep living here despite the influx of self-contained gated communities, each one cut off from the next. But sometimes I just can't see it. I miss Vermont's gently sloping mountains and those cold, rocky rivers. I miss Southern Oklahoma, the Ouachitas in particular, damp and noisy and wild.

So I've challenged myself: look for something beautiful, anything, and take a picture of it every day. So now, I take my camera with me as I wheel the baby around the block.





Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Glamorous Weirdos



Recently, I've been re-watching The X-Files, the now-classic horror/sci-fi drama (and sometimes comedy) that aired from 1993 to the early 2000's. It was one of the few shows we watched as a family--my mother, stepfather, sister and I--as my mother was obsessed with aliens, bigfoot, ghosts, and various other paranormal things, all of which she believed in with a fervency that made her treat every episode as a piece of one long documentary about the invisible danger all around us.

I loved The X-Files, too, though I didn't like my mother's insistence on post X-Files searches for lights in the sky or bigfoot in the forest  (we lived in the woods, on ten acres of land, and at night, the sky was busy with stars, the woods full of strange sounds).  I didn't believe literally in that parade of monsters-of-the-week and big-eyed aliens, but I liked what they stood for: possibility. Look at how large and strange the world is, the show demanded. I needed the world to be larger than my isolated, unhappy family. I liked Mulder and Scully, too: they were a couple of glamorous, smart weirdos.



(My sister and I plus kittens)

When The X-Files first aired, I was twelve years old, living in our tiny trailer, sharing the one bedroom with my sister, our room separated only by a cloth curtain from the bathroom, where a travel toilet emanated a constant smell of urine. My parents slept in the living room, where their bed doubled as our couch. The house was full of cats and dirty laundry. We hauled jugs of water from a spring for drinking and bathing water, which was constantly running out. I was eager to escape this place, though I knew I was stuck until eighteen. There was no way to escape physically. I had run through my options many times. Running away was risky: where would I go? I had no social skills to speak of and no close friends and my mother kept us from other members of the family. Plus, if I was found by authorities, I'd simply be sent back home.

So I turned to books and television. I hid in them, planning to be only half-present until I turned eighteen and could escape. So I shifted my focus to the future. When I was an adult, how would my life look? I imagined I'd be like Scully: I'd have an exciting career and a low-level romance with a co-worker. My work and life would be dedicated to understanding what was shadowy. I liked the idea of being a detective because it meant I would spend my life making hazy things clear. I watched The X-Files and Prime Suspect and Homicide: Life on the Street for a sense of what adults did all day.



(Helen Mirren as Jane Tennyson in Prime Suspect)

As we all sat on the small couch, pressed together tightly (I remember distinctly, one hot summer, feeling my mother's sticky arm against mine and looking down to see her dime-sized, puckered smallpox scar), we were in our own heads, dreaming of  completely different lives. My mother both wanted and feared some peek into the mysteries of the world. She had the strange, double belief that aliens might someday come to teach us all how to be better inhabitants of the earth and also that they might come and abduct and murder us. I don't know what was in my stepfather's head: he so rarely revealed his thoughts or hopes. My little sister was probably afraid: The X-Files gave her nightmares. I was thinking about my adult self, far in the future. I was dreaming of my way out.

Watching the X-Files as an adult, I notice how lonely Mulder and Scully seem, their family members and ex-lovers constantly disappearing or dying, their lives devoted to something that isolates them from other people. How badly we all wanted Mulder and Scully to kiss, to declare their love! This was partly because they seemed so damned alone. Poor Mulder, his desire to understand the complex conspiracies all around him blinding him to the one reality that could have made him happy. And poor Scully, full of contradictions and full of loyalty to a person who rarely seemed to see her as anything but a part of his own conspiracy drama.


(this is what comes up when you google "skeptical Scully")

The more I think about it, I realize that I looked to figures who were already much like me and my family: isolated, strange, driven people who seemed unable to function well in everyday life. I watched many shows about "regular" teen life--My So-Called Life, for example--but they never seemed possible. They seemed far more like science fiction than The X-Files. I watched them as one might watch a documentary about another culture: how strange, I thought, to go to parties, kiss boys, and have parents with jobs and houses with indoor plumbing. I could better imagine myself a detective investigating a killer cockroach infestation than I could a regular teenage girl hanging out with friends in my room. Maybe that's not such a bad thing. I'm still a little bit weird, a little bit prone to enthusiasms not shared by the general public, and a little bit antisocial. But I also like those things about myself. There was wisdom in my role models at the time. They taught me to accept my own eccentricities. The X-Files had an underlying argument: people living "regular lives" are not seeing the greater and stranger mysteries that obsessives like Mulder and Scully can see. It was a useful belief at the time for a person living at the margins.


Sunday, January 25, 2015

Recent Pubs!

I have a few recent publications!

My story I'm Coming for the Baby is in the latest Smokelong Quarterly.

I have five tarot poems in the latest issue of Menacing Hedge.

Thinking about starting to blog for real instead of simply using this as a place to report when I've got new work out. Thinking of a few things to write about and also considering this a good place to work through some nonfiction ideas.

Here's a recent picture I took. Hoping to post more of those here, too.