Trying to Remember That Blues Are Colors Too

I’ve just read an article by Abby Norman on Medium called Teach Me How to Feel. It’s one of several ones I’ve read lately that make me feel a little less alone in my struggles. Not less alone in the world physically, but less alone in knowing that depression causes awful pain and suicidal feelings, and that the antidepressants doctors prescribe can shadow you into a shell of yourself that you barely recognize and sometimes despise.

I would include a link to Ms. Norman’s piece for those who would be interested, if I knew how, but Medium is, so far, a strange little place on the web, a strange little club of sorts that I don’t quite understand and don’t think its creators understand yet. I don’t care about explaining Medium’s whys, whats, and wheres. I don’t know yet if I even want to belong there, but I got an invitation a long while ago (marketing ploy, I now understand), so I belong well enough for them to send me reading suggestions. Ms. Norman wrote about the thing I’ve been wanting to write about and trying to share with my friends in these past few months of waking up. She wrote about it so well that I’m resisting the urge to copy large blocks of her piece right here. We all know how wrong that would be.

If I want to say something about depression, I have to write about my own. It’s as similar as all deep bouts of depression are. It’s as different as they all inevitably are. I used to take solace in the fact that I could kill myself if my mental pain got any worse. The closer I got to it, the calmer I felt until the realist in me really understood what it would do to my daughter and my sister, my closest family. There were times when I called myself a coward because I couldn’t leave my daughter that way. I’ve said that to myself lots of times. “You fucking coward.”

A doctor prescribed an antidepressant when my cancer diagnosis came in. I had tried a couple before then, but they always stopped working for me. Cancer was like the ultimate iron rod stuck in the gear. I was in no position to resist trying something new to ease the pain. This new medication pushed me farther away from myself than the others had. It made having to pee my ultimate motivation for getting out of bed. The doctor said it was working because suicide wasn’t foremost on my mind anymore.  My writing seemed to slip away before the date came for my surgery.

Knowing I wasn’t allowed to have reconstructive surgery because my insurance wouldn’t pay for it made me feel useless. Our money-based society makes me feel useless. Doctors inadvertently make me feel more useless.

“You have to get out and do things.”

“I don’t get out and do things because things to do aren’t close and I don’t have the $2.00 to get on the bus and the $2.00 to get back.”

“You need to get out and see friends.”

“My friends are in other states, and another country.”

“You need to get out and make new friends.”

That’s when I agree with them, usually in tears, in order to stop what feels like an onslaught, not only because of my lack of money, but probably because of the depression.

“You have to get regular exercise.”

“I try. I know how, but I have so much trouble getting started. I didn’t use to have so much trouble getting started.”

“Just do it.”

“The medication makes it so hard to just start.”

“That’s not really true. There’ve been studies.”

“Oh. Okay.”

“You should get back to your writing. It’s what you want to do, right.”

“I want to.”

“Then start. Just do it.”

“The medication makes it so slow, so hard. I have trouble getting ideas out of my head and onto the paper.”

“Just start.”

“I’ve begun a million times.”

“Try again.”

“Okay.”

I’ve been writing the last few months because I ran out of the meds around Christmas, and I don’t want to find a doctor I like and then have to change again on June 1st because my insurance and my medical providers parted ways. I can go back to where I was reasonably comfortable and where my records are on June 1st. But really what’s worse? Me feeling so much pain but actually able do the work of writing? Or me walking through jello, anesthetized and reaching for words that slip away behind thoughts of inadequacy as a writer, as a friend, as a person, as a mother?

I’m not sure how well this all communicates. It just feels like more than enough for now, for anyone who wants to read it. It didn’t come out the way I wanted, but I don’t want to edit the heart out of it and I don’t want to read it over again. It’s true and it’s not me holding the important part inside like I usually do. For now, that may be all that matters.

 

Short Tale Shrew’s Spring Writing Contest Winner (It’s Not Me)

Photo by Re Harris

Photo by Re Harris

In my quest to keep on writing, I searched for writing contests here on WordPresss, not just on the internet in general, as I’ve done before. That’s how I found Short Tale Shrew.

This site hosted a writing contest this Spring — one hundred words on the theme, rebirth. From their post about the contest and its rules: “In keeping with the spirit of spring, all microfiction stories must be based loosely on the idea of “rebirth.” This could entail a literal rebirth, a spiritual one, or simply “rebirth” as a metaphorical concept. We don’t have any additional stipulations for content: simply incorporate the idea of rebirth in your story somehow.” The entry fee was $5.00, the prize was $50.00. Here’s a link to the winner and a runner-up that caught the judge’s imagination.

I entered the contest with this story that I shared on Words One Hundred after it lost. I see where the judges went with this, and I now have another answer to my question about realism and flash. To stretch as a writer and work harder on telling newer, more compelling stories, I need to focus on melding the two to my satisfaction. And I think I can — if I can remember this concept while I’m actually writing and editing.

Another lesson learned. Readers have to find some thrill, something to excite them in my work, and no one can put it there but me.

And no more entry fees for me. Can’t afford them. I have two more stories out (one without a fee and one with), and that fee and this one to STS were a good faith wager on myself with a few unexpected dollars saved this month. I’ll let you know how the next one goes. They extended the entry deadline to May 25th, which made my hustle to get it in by the original April 18th deadline seem weird. I dread the very idea of an extra month spent waiting, but my daughter actually likes that story and thinks it’s fun (?!!), which bodes well for it having been ready to go without the extra time to work on it. My fingers are crossed.

 

I May be Done with The Walking Dead

Since it began, The Walking Dead has been one of my favorite tv shows. A couple of years ago my grown-up daughter stopped watching it. I’m more sensitive than she is, so it’s been strange to her that I continued to tune in to every gut-wrenching episode, recovering and decompressing with Talking Dead after. But I hung on and enjoyed the storytelling and the acting, even if so much of it made me avert my eyes, and so many times made me want to avert my heart.

I’m not a lover of everything zombie, as a lot of fans are. I appreciated the realistic study of humanity under intense pressure. Yes, for those genre-haters out there, it is quite possible for a story set in the zombie apocalypse to delve deep into what makes us do the things we do, and how the person we were before informs who we have to be today — that is, if our former selves don’t just disappear.

I always looked forward to this show, but I don’t know if I can watch it anymore. Talking Dead isn’t even helping me feel better tonight. The way the panel keeps telling me this Negan guy is a great character, chills me to the bone.

I love Jeffrey Dean Morgan as an actor, but his character reminds me of bullies I’ve unwillingly looked in the eye at various times in my life, bullies I lost to and am probably too cautious these days because of. Those bullies nearly drained the will to live out of me. Morgan played that kind of bully so well in tonight’s season-ending episode, that I felt like his fist was in my throat. My stomach churned so hard, my jaws tensed so tight as he spoke. I thought I might be sick. And through all his scenes I felt such post traumatic stress, like I was thrown right back into my own real life horror show. I don’t think this character is fun. I find his “sense of humor” painful. I don’t need to experience him to learn that the zombie, or any other, apocalypse can make a person hard, maybe make a hard person into a monster. Some horrible things may have happened to this character before we met him. I already get that.

If my life wasn’t so tangled up now, in desperately needed ends not meeting, in government-induced WTF, and the high emotional price of feeling things too deeply, well maybe I’d want to see what happens next and root for the characters I came to love. But I don’t expect to be happily married next season or to have made a loving nest of new friends here in Chicago who would buoy me up while this show knocks me around. I just started crying again while writing this. Tonight the shit hit too close to home.

My daughter wasn’t a wuss when she couldn’t take it anymore. I’m certainly not a wuss for giving up now. And yes, I know it’s just tv. But that shit still hurt. I can’t be the only one feeling like this.

On Another Earth

As an exercise, I used the three contest words in another 500(ish) word story. One Drop in The Sea of Love is the obvious entry, so with this one I tried more for fun, writing out the first paragraph as a riff without really thinking about it. I just finished the tweaking and editing. Hope you enjoy it.

On Another Earth

On picture day at her school, eight-year-old Georgia had been warned not to mug for the camera. She did it anyway. Her mother, Amandine, tore the mailed proof into tiny pieces (discarding them into different trash cans on separate floors of the downtown mall), then tried to have the photo redone before it was sent to every personal news outlet on earth. But Georgia’s cross-eyed, bulgy-tongued, ‘fingers pulling from both sides of the mouth’ grin would be traveling the ether alongside beautiful glossy photos of sweet little darlings who had learned well and done as they were told. The response would be quick, the embarrassment intense as reaction upon reaction piled in. The Book of Faces would never understand this. Amandine knew she was going to get a letter.

It was bad enough when someone’s camera was on the fritz and the ministry acted as though the world might end. A purposely ridiculous likeness could bring a fine. They were both getting low on their specially blended, Ideal Personal Color lipsticks– Amandine’s multifaceted plum with highlights of poppy and the subtlest touch of gold, Georgia’s translucent age-appropriate honey mixed with pale peony pink. How would they be able to buy lipsticks and pay a fine?

Amandine decided that this time Wyatt should be the one to admonish the child. Georgia hadn’t been listening to her mother for weeks. Perhaps the father so chiseled that he could do no wrong could get his daughter to stop pretending that unkempt and weird were actually viable options in life. That silliness was for history books. Modern Life took one’s visage very seriously.

If Wyatt couldn’t get the child in line, Amandine had one more idea. She’d seen an advertisement the other day for something called an Outer Layer Converter. One of its settings enabled the wearer to look good in every photo taken during a twenty-four hour period, from studio shots to selfies– perfection, no matter the angle. The thing was pricey, but there were low interest beauty loans for big ticket items like that. Anything to keep The Book of Faces happy and off their backs.

Amandine was jotting down notes about this at her desk, when little Georgia pushed through the front door, smiling as splendidly as she hadn’t for her school photo. With her bookbag and mary janes left haphazard on the the front hall carpet, the girl sidled up to her mother’s chair and pushed a sheet of glossy paper across the glass top desk, gliding it toward her mother with ceremonious glee. She said, “Look, Mommy.”

Amandine turned over the paper to find the brilliant face of her only child wearing her best graceful smile.

“They didn’t mail the proofs, Mommy. They passed them out at school today. Daddy and I played a trick on you.”

Amandine’s happiness dulled the impulse to scold. She embraced her daughter, pondering the effect a bit of her Hair Away cream would have on Wyatt’s Bald Be Gone.

In the Loop

Photo by Re' Harris

Photo by Re’ Harris

The lack of response to yesterday’s post (and its only one view) fills me with angst. Shaking off that feeling, of not understanding or really knowing anything, is quite a job. If life is going to feel that hard, I’d rather be writing. I think.

The imaginary commenter in my mind says: Of course I’d rather be thrilled by a piece of writing! How can you not know that? If you have a talent for words, why would you bore me with a faithful recounting of some wretched person’s experience? I don’t care if you part the clouds a bit in the end, it doesn’t fill my main requirement for spending precious time: Show me something new. Not new because you just thought of it — but new. Figure it out!

My imaginary commenter is very outspoken, often cruel. She ignores praise and isn’t necessarily honest. She’s borne of pure emotion, the kind with the power to obfuscate facts so there’s no way for me to judge her veracity. Still, there’s the chance that what she’s telling me is right.

She also tells me to stop writing if I don’t enjoy the act of doing it as an end in itself. Everything about that scares me. That’s where my questions come from — fear — which implies neediness, which drives away comfort, which breeds… you know. I’m in this loop, wondering if I should just stop. Anyone else there, too?

Flashy or Plain –Which One Turns You On?

Four kind comments came in to last Friday’s post where I asked for help with a 500 word story I want to send in to a writing contest. The $100 prize would come in handy for the small necessities I’ve been doing without lately.

Utilizing their feedback and that from my sister and my daughter, I replaced the original story with a new revised version. I’ll take that one down in a week or so unless I can come up with a flashier story to submit to the contest. Something tells me that more flash may have a better chance in today’s world. But, of course, I don’t really know.

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Flashy Photo by Re’ Harris

What do you think? If the writing quality is equal, is a flashier story the one you’d rather spend a little time reading? Or do you prefer realism and emotion, a “style” that almost appears not to be one?

PS: Saturday evening, after receiving a certain piece of mail, my focus turned again from the writing I want to do, to the struggles going on in my life. I want to try to keep writing, but composing and revising is difficult for me when the hardness of the world intrudes on my emotions. This post is me trying not to curl up in response, the way I have been. This is me trying to stay out in the world. Regularly adding stories to Words One Hundred is my main target, though. That will add up to both practice and perhaps getting to communicate with friends. It’ll be great if that works out. My best to you all.

One Drop in the Sea of Love

While trying to get back to my writing, I came across this contest at MashStories.com. The prize is $100 (oh how I can use that!) and the rules are few — mainly a 500 word limit, and the use of this quarter’s words within the story: converter, mug, happiness. 

I’ve been a no-show here for quite some time, but if any of the friends I miss so much come across this, and could spare a few minutes to give impressions on what I’ve come up with, I’d be very grateful. Any thoughts at all would help me decide if this is too little, too much or just plain boring. Or if I should choose a new subject and just start over, which has been a prominent theme in my life for quite a while now.

Thanks in advance for any help you can give. My love to you all.

One Drop in the Sea of Love

Ivy stood in the farthest corner of the garage from Abner. He was underneath the car removing its catalytic converter, flouting the law, thumbing his nose at the EPA, risking a fine.

“Half the scientists say one thing. Half say something else.” He said that to her with a straight face. “Liberals pretending the world’s dying… If it’s that bad– time to give up anyway. I’m gonna drive a car that works the way its supposed to.” She thought he was behaving like an ass and almost said so, but that felt like giving up on him. She wasn’t ready.

Ivy had emailed links about global warming gleaned from university websites, offered evidence on how the world’s skewed environment already affected their own area, even pleaded for their baby’s lungs to make it more personal, but mountains of misinformation were standing between truth and Abner’s heart. He’d always been strong. Now he’d crossed over to hard, battered by the gulf between their hand-to-mouth reality and the lost luster of his dreams for success. He wasn’t talking things through with her anymore or finding comfort in his family. She sensed herself simmering in the distance between them, too tender and unsteady, as if the best part of her had broken and was setting wrong.

She listened to him under the car, willing away science with a hammer to make himself feel superior, or remind himself of his strength. She braced herself, suppressing her ache, stitching her family together for the moment until she could decide if their happiness was going to be out of the question.

That evening, she made soup. He lingered in the garage, then paced the front porch, hands deep in his pockets, face contorting, head tossing now and then for punctuation as if arguing with himself or working out a problem. Ivy kept a wide berth until dinner was ready.

They sat at the kitchen table. In his high chair, baby Carl nibbled crackers and slurped cooled noodles and carrots Ivy proffered on his little spoon between sips of juice from his mug with the no-spill lid. Abner went on about the merits of movies on television later. When he paused, Ivy realized she’d stopped listening.

After Carl slurped another spoonful of noodles, her eyes met Abner’s, whose gaze fell over his soup bowl. A low, wet, sound clenched in his throat.

She was so used to arguing and contradiction that she stared in silence, anticipating the phantom guilt that often followed.

He sucked air into his lungs, hard, as if pulling something back inside. “I said, I can watch that Hugh Jackman thing. The one you’d like, without blades in his knuckles.”

Ivy reached for him, curling her fingers around his, and said, “Okay.”

After dinner and the cleaning up, they put Carl into his playpen with the fluffy blanket and his purple bear. The baby yawned as his parents settled together onto the sofa to watch a romance unfold.

This Thursday in March

I’ve been away too long, lax in communication on my blogs, more than behind in email correspondence. I let important work pile up and haven’t yet answered gentle, inspiring letters that make me smile. (You know who you are, my dear patient friend.) I haven’t been ignoring friends and pressing work in my head, but how would they know? I have to get used to writing things down again, all the thoughts I still have.

I tried to explain in Apology but that expression felt so small afterward.

Still, I keep deciding to ‘talk’, receding afterward into my corner while reeling from the enormity of making a plan, making a sound, being heard. That’s why at this moment my frozen burrito has been in the microwave for more than an hour after the bell pinged. I got a rush of inspiration to do something, then refused to leave my chair until I at least finished this one thing.

HitRECord_outdoors_fraeulein

So here it is: Six or seven years ago, I wrote a few pieces of music in Garageband. Two are actually kind of decent, I think. One, “Luminaire”, has a little synth bit running through it that I played myself. The other is called “This Tuesday in March” and it’s all choices of preset loops, editing, and affects. I just put the songs on Joseph Gordon Leavitt’s site, HitRECord. I like the collaborative nature of the site and the fact that if anything makes money from being there, each contributor earns their portion. My artist friends should check it out and see what they think.

Here are direct links to the songs:  “Luminaire”     “This Tuesday in March”

Whew. My hands are shaking a little, but I got through this. I really don’t want to be a stranger. There’s too much to say.

Love, Ré

My Pink Ribbon

IMG_0409_2

After my shower I stand

after scrubbing, buffing,
massaging lotion,
dusting powder,
plucking out hairs I don’t want seen,
creating finer lines, a smoother chin

after doing what I could to polish and make fine —
despite the shock of the word obese
spied in my medical record,
despite knowing how the fierce though misguided protection
of the starvation lie my brain sends to mouth
threatens my plans
from health to size eight —
I linger at the mirror after courting precarious beauty,
rueing the false security of sugar, butter and flour,
wearying of all my hungers
while pop culture’s firm admonitions circle me and taunt.

I stand, not wanting to look at my misaligned breasts, but needing to,
knowing I can live with less
and flourish

but wanting more

wanting Angelina Jolie’s means
and self-assurance — or just
a man who wants me the way Angelina’s wants her:
seeing my best first,
loving me through my worst and all my pain.

I stand by myself, calling courage,
angry that I need so much
to simply bend at the waist and look again.

When I’ve bared these breasts to the doctor and his intern’s young eyes
trained on my case to learn as I learn my lessons too,
I speak, but they don’t understand that the subterfuge of the padded bra cup
doesn’t address my fear.
It’s easy to be naked before doctors now —
not easy to say I like to be on top.
Subterfuge only postpones the moment I’m unsure of.
I don’t want to hear them say that if a new lover sees my misshapen breast and recoils,
he isn’t worth my time.
How could they not know how I dread that happening
when that moment is more tender than these …

bending from the waist in my bathroom, naked
hoping magic has occurred,
knowing that if magic was possible
it would have taken away the cancer before surgery mismatched my breasts
leaving the sculpted one to hang shorter,
it’s dimpled scar winking like a more twisted siren’s call
mocking my desire for breasts that look pretty
or at least nondescript,
while I live.

I lived.

Remember that
I tell myself,
spit it at any man who recoils,
spit it at him despite the pain of dismissal.
Attraction and the feel of me in his arms should be enough.

I live

calling up courage
to let the weight of life wash through me and bear me up
as I fumble through it for strength I’ve found and lost before.

I live,
wanting to sing it to myself now
soft,
a personal hymn I can hold tight
or choose to share
like the sight of me now
— sculpted for future’s sake, not art’s —
without courage or comfort,
but inching my way to those far planes.

The Wait

photo by Ré Harris

photo by Ré Harris

Waiting for life’s next chapter can be exciting, whether you’ve been laying groundwork with a tingle of anticipation or letting things fall into place as they will, like leaves in autumn. That sort of waiting and often the Birthday or Christmas kind, holds a sweetness for me or an umami thrill that has glided me over bits of the road that have shaken my chassis and blurred the scenery for a bit. Sometimes the very idea that the future isn’t written in stone has helped me over times when I’ve been broken on rough road and can’t see much of anything.

I’ve had an immense capacity for waiting, even in dark moments. But darkness intensifies what seems like patience in me, turning it into a grotesque version of anticipation that irritates and provokes like fingernails on a chalkboard, and hurts like lost love.

When the waiting is very dark I’ve sometimes written about it here. Often my capacity for patience and ability to see that light can follow dark has made it seem that I’m saying something different than I am. My poetry especially often says things to people that I hadn’t intended. I’m working on accepting that and on getting better at saying whatever it is I think I want to get out in my writing. Today I’m going to try for bluntness.

Before Thanksgiving, I needed to redo a mammogram. Soon after, I had to schedule a needle biopsy. The earliest date they could give me was December 28th. Waiting for that sort of thing through the time of year I take to heart and usually enjoy at least half of the time, made me feel like I was receding, like I didn’t belong. I took some solace in knitting simple pieces for family with soft yarn, and making cocoa butter/shea butter bars and basking for a while in hopes that the pieces would come out right and be welcome. Mostly my world grated on me. After my post referring to Lincoln, I found it hard to write anything and hard to escape.

The biopsy showed cancer. Monday I go to see a surgeon, knowing that early detection is a gift of sorts. I know this because I had an even earlier detection on the opposite side over twenty years ago. No chemo, no radiation. This time there’s talk of radiation, but I know from years of paying attention and reading and medical shows on TV, that I need to wait for the surgeon to get a look inside and see exactly what’s going on. I know about margins and things. I remember understanding the doctors when my mother went through ovarian cancer even when other family members needed clarification on certain points. I feel pretty confident about my outcome because of all the things I know already.

My N.P. was surprised I didn’t have questions. I won’t have answerable questions until I’m presented with real choices before or after the surgeon has a look. When I get to Monday’s appointment I will want to talk about anesthesia, because the local I had for that first biopsy so long ago wore off in the middle of the surgery. The idea of the smell of cautery in an operating room (which I hadn’t thought of) would have made me sick to my stomach before that. After it, not even the nurse’s rushing to stand behind me, massaging my temples and speaking to me softly as I cried, can soften the memory of the smell and the feel of it.

I hate waiting. I suppose I’ll seem patient while I do it for however long it takes to know that I’m done with treatment and things look good again. However I might look, I don’t anticipate feeling patient.

I have information. I have a good understanding of ‘doctor speak’. I’m immensely grateful for the healthcare republicans think I shouldn’t have if I can’t pay for it myself. I’m grateful for family and friends.

I try to be a grateful person, but I’m not good with hearing how strong I am. (And I’m so sorry now if I’ve pissed anyone off in the past by telling them that during their dark times.) Although I’m grateful for my strength, I’m pissed off that it doesn’t look or feel like what it is when I’m using it. Maybe I’m just pissed off period. I understand that people have gone through and will go through worse times than this one is for me. But whether I get my regular writing mojo back tomorrow or much later, I’m interested now in getting in touch with my inner pissed-off chick who’d rather scream about this, whether anyone wants to hear it or not.

I wrote a short poem on Words One Hundred about how some of Christmas Day went for me (a very nice time for the most part) even though the undercurrent bleeds through even when you’re having a good day. I’ve been trying to begin a post about how to make the cocoa butter moisturizing bars because I remembered to take a picture, but I don’t know when I’ll get that up.

I want to be an artist who throws color at the canvas and only cares that it’s right, not that it’s pretty. I want to write whatever the fuck I want, if only the words would come to me. I don’t want to write about the cancer, but if I think I need to, I will. It’s a part of life; it deserves ink. Mostly I just want to be free to be angry and not hear how positive thinking and glitter ponies will make the road easier. (‘Glitter pony’ being my euphemism for “there’s always light at the end of the tunnel” and “remember God never gives you more than you can handle”, etc.) I’ve got positive thinking covered. My friends know that.

My stuffed bunny is threadbare (yes I sleep with one — want to make something of it?) But if anyone tosses me a glitter pony (and isn’t too young to know better), they better be sure to duck so it won’t hurt when I toss it at their head. I’m thinking of retiring the bunny my daughter gave me so long ago and replacing it with a squooshy brown bear or another rabbit, brown and lifelike, to be soft and warm with me under the winter covers. I deserve that.

And one of those tiny key lime cheesecakes from the Magnolia Bakery that recently went up to seven dollars (that I could eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner.) I’m trying to talk myself out of getting only one or the other for this month’s splurge. Because I deserve that, too, despite water bills and taxes and everything else that doesn’t stop coming just because I’m having a hard time.

I’m grateful that we haven’t had much snow here this winter, the streets and sidewalks are clear, and I’m sure-footed as I make my rounds.

I told you I had positive thinking covered.

Now it’s time to roar before the quiet and the waiting allow too much of the dark in. Because there is dark, and I don’t think positive thinking means I should pretend I don’t feel it.