Finally, A List of the Rules

wood-721871_1280Writing these rules down won’t change the mind of anyone who believes in them and holds them close to the vest, like Reince Priebus, but for a moment, it felt good to think that it could.

1. “It’s your job to make me feel very comfortable while I listen to you, as if upsetting me is the farthest thing from your mind. Only then might I consider your points. But remember, don’t say or do anything I might view as weakness. That brings out my dark side and it’s hard to hold it back.

2. “Smile. This is important. I don’t have to smile, but sometimes I smile at you to be dismissive because it can be very effective and its meaning can be hard to prove if you want to build some sort of case against me. You have to smile, but make sure you never smile like that.

3. “Groom yourself in a way I consider acceptable. Don’t pretend you don’t know what I mean — I assume that you bathe and launder your clothes, but we are both aware of popular culture. You know the ideal you should be aiming for.

4. “Be careful when you try to change a thing. I may find your passion unbecoming, and the thing you want to change could just be a tradition. We have those for a reason.

“If you ignore any rule listed above, it will only cloud your point if I disagree with something you say. Then I’ll have to respond by explaining, in great detail, why I refuse to listen to you. Or, if I don’t want to take so much time, I may respond with a disapproving quip, or that dismissive sort of smile. Remember though, that I may disagree with your point no matter what, because it will probably be wrong. I am amazed at how often that happens.

“Lastly, remember I don’t respect people when I’m aware of them following rules, like sheep. It’s up to you to figure out how to follow these rules so I don’t notice. How I love watching you try. For some reason, you always seem to get it wrong.”

George Clooney’s Bed

Sometimes I use a scene from my life or an off-the-wall idea to practice creative writing here — in the same way any other writer would. Feedback is always welcomed and appreciated. Your impressions help me grow as a writer. 

          I dreamed again last night after a lonesome stretch, but woke uneasy after George Clooney came to nap and found me in his bed. He’d given me a heartfelt talk the last time he found me there, keeping his calm and explaining why he needed his space to be predictably his own. He had touched my wrist and given me that one last time as a buffer to help me cope (being kind enough not to say the icy word ‘over’ out loud), but he was cold now, and resigned, pacing at the foot of the bed first, then lying down on the other pillow as if he had no choice. I saw a hardness form inside him and knew the safe place for me was gone.

         I collected myself and stretched my pain into a little smile to soften it, hoping to signal sanity and melt his anguish as I prepared to leave. He averted his eyes and kept kindness and praise to himself as if he suddenly knew those things would kink into the situation, like spores, and grow weedlike into more of the same. I was ashamed to be his bad penny, who burned the kindness he had left between us before he knew better.

         His presence had comforted me in so many dreams before this, ones where I needed respite from spies who wanted me dead, ones where the things chasing me had no form, just intent to harm. This morning reality tainted another of my hidden corners. I want it to stop. Without George to listen or let me cuddle when night threatens to eat me alive, the tender parts of me threaten to disappear behind artificial shoulds and shouldn’ts. Why can’t I be safe while I’m tender? Why do I have to stew until I’m more than done, but toughened into a thing that bares less and less resemblance to who I was?

         I don’t always need to hide in my dreams; sometimes I fight and win. But tonight, if I’m able to sleep, I hope that dreams can be erased and repainted in warmer colors. Or that someone willingly takes George’s place and let’s me feel safe and quiet and myself when I need to, in those times when I need a bed that isn’t my own.


Am I Chicken Little?

This may be a somewhat disjointed post, but words haven’t been working so much in the hands of this writer for the past few weeks. I hope that letting my newly focused political thoughts fly helps me settle down so I can think past current events and get my heart back into my work. (PS 8/21/16: I’m sorry for not spell-checking and proofreading this more carefully before hitting publish. It reads better now.)

Science and research have always fascinated me. When I was about six, I discovered a third grade science book in the school library that was written and printed during the 1930’s. It had a dirty, frayed yellow cover and some pages of its stories, the anecdotal lessons and science projects of a young class and its dedicated teacher, were dog-eared and torn, but it was the one I wanted to take home and read. A few of my classmates scowled at it. “That’s not even a story. It’s a school book!” “You’re gonna use your library card for that?” Even the teacher looked at it and asked if I was sure. I was. This is how I saw that book:

  1. It had science lessons I could understand.
  2. I appreciated the detailed pictures drawn and colored in a way that I liked.
  3. I could tell it was from the time of Shirley Temple’s earliest movies, so I knew it was from a time long before I was born. (It turns out that I’ve always been fascinated by history, too.)
  4. It seemed as though I was the only person who appreciated the value of that book, and I thought it would eventually be thrown away if I didn’t save it.

I wonder if a skilled researcher could examine and explain why I abhor theft, yet still have no remorse for having told the teacher I lost that book even though I still have it in my possession to this day. It makes me wonder if that dichotomous bit about myself, along with everybody elses comparable little bits, helps to explain why society has its ongoing problems with fairness, justice, prejudice, and all the little things that come together into big things that call into question the dealings of all our bloated organizations.

From government to corporations, from our so-called justice system, including law enforcement, to even our watch-dog organizations, newspapers, charities — I have uneasily accepted that I can never be 100% sure of the decency or veracity of anything or anyone. Yesterday I stood in the supermarket and reached for an organic product, on sale with a coupon attached to the front of the box, and wondered what kept the company, or any company, from putting something conventionally grown into that box and simply calling it organic. I know that not every thing told to me is a lie for one form of profit or another, but the insidiousness of the deceit when it occurs, throws nearly all things into question.

I remember my feelings of pride when one president put solar cells on the roof of the White House, and my sadness when the next president saw no value in that gesture toward a less oil-dependent future, had them removed for roof work and not put back once the work was done. Now corporations like Monsanto copyright the DNA of their genetically modified seeds and dare farmers to buy seeds from their company every year or keep every strand of that proprietary genetic material out of their crops, lest they be sued. Monsanto’s tyranny is especially loathsome in other countries like India. How do I vote with my dollars if Monsanto and other corporations are successful at keeping GMO labeling off food? How do I vote with my dollars when its hard to know the ethical history of the products I’m choosing from?

I also wonder why it’s okay that people with severe food budgets can’t vote with their dollars because it often costs more to buy foods labeled organic, non-GMO, or Certified Humane. Corporations probably point to the volume of their sales as proof that the public doesn’t care about such things. That would be another in their endless cascade of lies.    

From the time I first heard it, I thought the foremost tenet of the medical profession was, “First, do no harm.” For some time, I thought society should apply that thought to everything. Imagine if lawmakers examined this concept before they made decisions about, I don’t know, making changes that could poison a city’s water supply? While doing research for this post, I found out that although the Hippocratic oath contains more than one passage that could be seen as similar, the one about first doing no harm isn’t a part of it. There are actually some medical professionals who take issue with that simple sentence. I’m not sure that the very idea of chemotherapy goes against, “First, do no harm.” Chemo is one of the choices science has given to patients. I think a better understanding of “First, do no harm” is to realize that doctors should give their patients all pertinent facts without emphasizing their own bias. It turns out that more doctors than we know push certain treatments in order to feel better by doing more and more even when the odds of success are low and it could rob their patient of the opportunity to die mindfully, if they so choose. (I saw an episode of Nova that revealed a lot about doctors’ struggles with this.) Anyway, the fact that any doctor would dispute the wisdom of “First, do no harm” shows why my idea of applying it to all we do as a society would have no meeting of the minds that would enable the concept to change society for the better.

I want my vote in the coming election to count toward the change that would make my country work better and improve the lives of its citizens. As a black person in America, I want the Black Lives Matter movement to be properly heard and to continue to illuminate the issue of inherent bias in our justice system for as long as the movement is needed. I want the people of my country to talk about race intelligently, with truth as our guide, as we work to make the system work fairly for people of color and for anyone whether they are economically blessed or economically deprived.

 I recently saw a film on Independent Lens called American Denial, that taught me a lot about the heartbreaking reality of racial bias in America. It made me angrier and sadder about the Trump campaign’s and the Republican party’s embrace of coded language against people of color, as well as the clear language and attitudes against us that they blatantly use to court votes from outright racists. What could they do while in office to set back social justice movements that need to work within the system in order to make it better? Considering that society as a whole still has so far to go, and the fact that so few of us agree on the facts, much less the directions solutions to our problems should take, what are we supposed to do if we want change? Should we blow up what we have and hope that what rises up in its place this time is better than the vision of power corrupting absolutely that shows its face to us around every turn? I understand that Trump’s supporters also want change, but why am I supposed to trust or respect that branch of change when it’s wrapped in the cloak of racism along with other vile things?

I’m upset that President Obama has made too many concessions to the so-called other side in the attempt to make at least something work in Washington and to govern not just those who voted for him, but to also fairly govern those who hate that he ‘wasn’t born in America’ and that he ‘founded ISIS,’ and hell, even those who simply hate him because he dared to govern while black. I like the man at heart, but his love of the Trans Pacific Partnership makes me cringe. I don’t get it, but I don’t regret voting for him, not for that or for missteps with foreign policy decisions where I wonder if any move without precognition would have brought better results, considering the rancid seeds Bush and Cheney sowed in the Middle East during their stint in the White House.

I don’t hate Hillary Clinton or think she’s always trying to pull something, but I hate that she’s been a centrist for so long that the only thing I feel comfortable expecting from her is that she won’t send out roadblocks to social justice. I don’t think that after the debacle of her husband’s misfired clampdown on crime, she would want that same sort of tainted legacy. I do think Hillary learns from mistakes she’s made and ones she’s seen close up. But I voted for Bernie in the primary because the changes he called for were the ones I wanted to see happen.

The part above, where I talked about my respect for science and history and research, has informed my vote for this presidential election. By the time of the next election, I hope that the intensity of this year’s movement for change has spurred on decent people with better than average IQ and Emotional Intelligence to challenge the two-party system and give us a true choice of unencumbered candidates. But for now, right now, I don’t trust that Trump can’t get elected.                       

With his recent speech imploring black people to vote for him despite his love of Rudolph Giuliani’s wrong-headed and failed notions about black neighborhoods and crime, and his recent appointment of a race-baiting opportunist to a high-ranking position in his campaign staff, Trump telegraphs that he wants to stop the honest discussion of race in America. We’ve barely begun the conversation and he wants his constituents to know that he’ll help keep it that way. He thinks I’m stupid enough to ignore that and believe he wants to fight for me. A Trump presidency and the possibility of continued Republican majorities in congress, with their sometimes tacit but always visible approval of the racism and dangerous lies the voters they court believe about whether or not my life matters, feels like something that could happen. Together they could block the kinds of progress we need in favor of keeping the status quo of racism that makes the mere sight of a black face a signal of danger in the eyes of a stressed police officer. Taking for granted that this huge step backward can’t happen is the first step toward making it so.

I realized today that I’m not like Chicken Little, afraid that the sky is falling because I misconstrued some little thing. Our constitution has given us the electoral college which makes it possible for a person to be elected president without receiving the majority of the votes. I’m a black person in America and in the 2016 election, to vote my conscience for the children I know and for the child my daughter wants to have someday, I have to remember the 2000 election where the Supreme Court chose George Bush. I have to remember that change is a slow process because human beings are flawed beings. I have to remember that when Trump tried to court my vote in front of the, I presume, lily-white crowd that came to see him, they were strangely subdued when he talked about ‘helping’ me; they didn’t shout out in exuberant agreement; they didn’t scream, ‘Yeah!’

I have a lot of reasons for not wanting Trump to ‘represent’ me, and I loathe the thought of him ‘representing’ my country in the eyes of the world, from our allies to the people who already hate us. I hope that everyone who is eligible to vote in this election, and able to drag themselves to their polling place, does so. I hope that non-racists outnumber Trump supporters at the polls and come together to elect someone who isn’t him. Hillary Clinton isn’t the worst we can do. Trump has shown us that. I have hope that she might pleasantly surprise those of us who would have preferred Bernie Sanders. I have hope that she won’t feel like a placeholder to me once she gets started. I need to hope because I’m tired of reality punching me in the face.



On Poking the Bully (Donald Trump) With a Stick

Photo by Re Harris

You don’t poke the bully you work for unless you’re prepared to run. If you’re ready to leave your job you can find a way to tell them off and then quit, or you can ignore the ridiculous things the bully wants until they fire you. If you’re really angry and not afraid of the fallout, you can try sabotage, but that’s tricky and messy. Playing the bully’s game spreads their stink onto you. That doesn’t make anything better.

When I was employed during the holidays a few years ago, at a certain skin care boutique, my work became a little easier after I decided I’d rather be emotionally healthy than spend another second worrying about meeting my boss’ rigid expectations. I didn’t know what I would do if I was fired before my term of employment was up, but I knew that my headaches and the knots in my stomach were sinister signs of what her abusive management style was doing to me. I was already afraid of poverty. I needed to stop being afraid of her ability to plunge me further into it.

This manager, who was half my age and behaved like a bad parent as if someone had told her that’s how successful managers lead, ignored my progress and brought things to a head for me on the day she chastised me dismissively over her shoulder fifteen minutes before I was scheduled to leave the floor. She went on and on about my offense — having the multitude of gift sets and their prices listed on a piece of paper in my pocket, and daring to refer to it. I can’t tell you how many customers were pissed off about the product prices not being clearly marked. I wanted to be able to help them properly.

“Customers don’t trust you when you do that,” the manager told me. She either missed or didn’t care about the dejected look on my customer’s face as my sale was taken away from me and the polite personal attention I was giving her was replaced by my manager’s rehearsed, ubiquitous spiel. 

Tears welled in my eyes as the sales I made that day were ignored in favor of admonishment for meeting that specific customer’s needs. I didn’t let them fall until after I left the store. I don’t know how I did that. But later that evening I stopped caring. I would say it was a product of depression if it hadn’t made it easier to work the next day. I was lighter and, as I remember it now and analyze it, it feels like the logical reaction of someone who has lived with bullies for most of their life and finally realized that they need to wrest the power away from the ones who try to control them in the future.

My mother was a bully. I know now that she fit the profile of a narcissist and I realize that she is the main reason that I recognize Donald Trump so well. You could never win an argument with her by using facts, and if you showed sensitivity, she read it as weakness and dismissed you if she was feeling benevolent, or went in for the emotional kill with outrageous lies stated as fact. My dad echoed this behavior when it suited him. Once, he wanted to hit my mother with a dining room chair, and I stood between them hoping he wouldn’t do it if I refused to move. When the fight began I situated my little sister in the back bedroom with earphones and her kid’s cassettes so she wouldn’t hear the ruckus, then put myself in the middle of my parents’ mess. When my mother told me to call the police, even though dad was a cop, I did. The way he smirked at me when I finished the call cut me almost as much as his words: “You can’t think for yourself, can you?”

I’ve met bullies in all walks of my life. A couple of years ago my surgeon even turned his bullying on me as I sat naked from the waist up and made the mistake of agreeing with his easygoing medical student on a certain point. The student seemed to be one of the healthiest people I’ve ever met, because instead of being flustered by the bully, he smiled and shrugged off the attempted abuse. My surgeon turned on me then, stating that being fat wasn’t doing me any favors. I immediately shrank and hated myself for it. It’s still not easy for me to go up against a bully, but it feels better now to be in the mindset of not taking shit from anybody.

All this is to say that I’ve always known that Donald Trump was a bully. The stink of it is all over him and I don’t trust bullies to tell the truth, to care, to honor agreements or to treat anyone with respect. I’ll leave it to experts to explain why anyone but someone dependent on them would actually trust a bully.

So why does anyone believe that Donald Trump didn’t know his wife’s convention speech contained sections plagiarized from a speech made by Michelle Obama? How does this not sound like something he would sanction? And to all those who say that it must have been the speech writer or writers who threw Melania Trump under the bus, so to speak, and decry the  meanness of it: remember that bullies also bully their families. The family depends on them so they pretend not to see the bad behavior or they explain it away, or laugh it off. If her husband had anything to do with the speech, Melania would never tell us. But consider this: If you were a speech writer for Trump, would you poke the bully with a stick by hurting his wife? There are better ways to try to sabotage a campaign if you’re so inclined.

Donald is so simple-minded that he may have thought no one would notice the plagiarization, or maybe he thought the ruckus could work in his favor and he could misdirect his way out of trouble with his base the way he always has when he’s been caught. Doesn’t his base love to stick up for him when the news media call him out on his crap? What did the bully have to lose by sending his wife out to give that speech? Not a thing. Bullies thrive on the belief that they can’t lose.

The only way to beat a bully is to see them for what they really are. If we look them in the eyes, smile, and shrug them off, we can all be healthier. But it seems that many of us think that if the bullies are bullying for us, we’ll be safe. When has that ever been true?

Don’t Tell Me to Shut Up

IMG_20160321_140439I feel the stress in the part of my neck beneath my ears. It radiates around my throat as I write this, approximating a fist closing around my larynx. Ever since childhood I’ve noted this inner constriction when I dare to speak about constructive communication, human decency, or empathy, and found myself wholly ignored or, as happened again this week, treated as though I had no right to respond to boorishness.

A stranger, a writer named Mike Essig who I mistakenly followed on Medium, posed a question after an open discussion he was having there about rape. I can’t research the specifics because he blocked me. I tried to unfollow him before realizing he had removed his own content from my feed and saved me the trouble, so I’m glad about it, even as I wish I could share his question here exactly as he posed it, for the sake of accuracy.

From my memory, he asked this: “If a woman drinks alcohol until she is incapacitated, and she is then raped, does she bear any responsibility for what happened to her?”

Although I realized that he had some preconceived notions, from the lengthy discussion that had come before, I thought he was a man who respected women and wanted to expand his understanding by asking questions and considering the views women were kind enough to share. Some came away from the conversation still thinking this about him. Others were so irate that they, according to him, labeled him a misogynist and worse. When he wrote another article lamenting that the conversation had devolved in that way, I found the courage to add my views about that and his original question.

In his universe, he thought what I wrote supported his point (you can find my piece here) — that his original question was actually a veiled statement of his unwavering point of view. To my surprise he sent me this as a private message on Medium:

“I agree. I only limited the question to women because they are the ones who have embraced victimhood. If your son gets drunk and wrecks your car he’s responsible. If your daughter passes out drunk and is raped, she is a victim. Actually, they are both just irresponsible and stupid. Mike”

His words felt like a punch in the gut. I found his analogy vile. For a moment, I wondered if he thought I was a man and this was the sort of solidarity that some of them share. But instead of responding in that vein, I composed myself and addressed the flaw in his logic by sending a message through the email address he shared on his Medium profile. (Because I couldn’t figure out how to send a private message, one of quite a few things I can’t figure out about Medium.) I responded with this:

“I can’t for the life of me figure out how you sent a private note to me on Medium (my tablet doesn’t show me prompts on Medium that others insist are there, and hitting reply took me to the public publish page), so I’m sending this email to respect your wishes and keep this conversation private.

I’ve seen you make the sort of analogy in your note before, and it distresses me because the two situations you mention have something in common, but aren’t equal. Your supposition works better stated like this: If my daughter or son gets drunk and wrecks my car, she or he is responsible. If my son or daughter gets drunk and a predator rapes him or her, they are victims of a crime that should be prosecuted, even though they must also learn how to deal with a world where they are not safe when they are incapacitated.

I’ve heard that young brains aren’t fully developed until well into their twenties. All I know is that in the instance of a crime against my offspring, my role as parent dictates that I compassionately help them come to terms with the fact that they must learn to live with what happened to them, and help them move forward and try to live a healthy life.

I did not write my piece very well if the passages you highlighted were all you took from it. I know it can be difficult for strangers to feel the kind of compassion I mention above (I remember you writing something about what you would do to a perpetrator if one of your daughters became of victim of sexual violence, so I sense that you would have that compassion for a family member), but that difficulty between strangers, and the dangers of it, was what my piece was about.

No one wants to be a victim. What we all want is to have not been violated. So if safety is the goal, we should try something other than a thing done historically to people who have been raped. The problem with itemizing instances where the person harmed is supposedly to blame for facillitating the perpetrator’s actions, is that it benefits the criminal — definitely not society. Victim-blaming doesn’t help us make people safer. It has never helped anything.

Re Harris”

I thought long and hard about sharing this man’s private message from Medium, but decided to cross that line because his words have added to my reluctance to trust what I see, and they illustrate the different faces some of us show in different places, like politicians do. Or maybe they just illustrate the point that I am sometimes a bad judge of character.

Anyway, I’ve come to terms with the fact that nothing we share electronically is really private, but I’ve decided not to share his awful response to my email. I know that I can, but at the moment, it feels wrong. Suffice it to say, he roundly chastised me for responding to his words, and made sure that I knew he was, in fact mired in the view that drunk women ask for it and don’t deserve “sympathy” (a word I never used.) He also made it clear that he uses the word empathy without understanding what it means. And he buried the ubiquitous non-apology of, “If I misunderstood …” near the end of his, much too long if he really wanted to be out of the conversation (that he started), rant.

I tried hard not to feel that grip around my throat as I processed his diatribe, but I feel things deeply, always have. I’m writing this to fight that grip. And to say out loud that people like this jerk may be able to trick me at times, but when they tell me to shut up, I won’t. I might just get louder.

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.”


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?