You were always on the cusp of things; between
Aquarius and Pisces; between
families blended; between
lightest light, and darkest dark; between
feeling too much, and too little. A shield,
perhaps, to guard one from the other.
Or maybe you were the extremes, not
the between; the edges of you far
from the cusps of your duality. I suppose it depends
upon the when of things. The cusp you were born upon pushed,
and pushed, until it had no choice but
to push back, springing with such force you landed
back at the cusp
where you died
on the cusp of spring and summer
on the same waxing crescent of the moon.
At first, it’s a dog-paddle, all
kicking and flailing and taking on
too much water. Slow. Slogging. It becomes the breast stroke,
less effort. Sustainable. Getting nowhere fast, so you move into
freestyling the long stroke,
poorly. It’s all about rotating your arms and
paddling your legs in time with
breathing. Learning to coordinate all three. Exhausting.
Gratifying, and you backstroke for a time,
catching your breath. Watching the clouds, the water always tugging,
tugging you back. Tugging you down. Making you swim and swim and swim because
there is no end to the water. No land. No shore. No raft or boat or log to cling to,
just the water’s lazy promise, “I will drown you if I can. I promise. Oh, I vow.”
And so you learn to tread water, for
those times you cannot swim. It’s that or succumb
to the water always whispering, always whispering, always
We were on the beach again
you and I
I saw you, but only out of the corner
of my eye. When I tried to look you
weren’t there. Not gone, just
It’s not only on Mother’s Day, it’s when I see mothers
with their kids, brothers
with brothers, sisters
with brothers; my own kids, together. My nieces and nephews.
Thanksgiving and beach vacations and picnics and Tuesdays. It’s
a commercial and it’s
a song. It’s a show you would have liked.
It’s a sceintific article and a law passed and a pandemic you’d
have found fascinating. It’s being too often quiet
with my own thoughts. It’s this time of year.
The beach was empty, but for we two,
the blue sky noisy with gulls and the sea rushing, and you
vanishing somewhere between.
Peekaboo. I see you. Like when you
were little, your naughty grin full of snips and snails and
puppy-dog tails; your blue eyes more like violets
than the sky.
*Don’t be naughty! Cheeky monkey.
This is supposed to be Virginia Beach Dollbaby Week, seven days of ocean music and cake, laughter and writing. There is no beach this year, no beach house, no hugs, but we’ve not let that keep us completely apart. Like most of the world, we’re making due with Zoom. Cyber Dollbaby Week isn’t the same, but it’s enough.
Tuesday night was Medicine Card night. My card was Beaver.
The gist of it was, stay the course. Finish the project. Bring the dream to fruition. This, of course, I attributed to Death and the Mason Jar. But…
I’m working diligently. Every day. 10:00-3:00. It’s taking me longer than past manuscripts, but it’s such a conglomeration of all my skills, all my experiences, all my past writing, that it’s taking more out of me, and more out of my brain. Yet Beaver spoke to that part of me feeling like it’s taking way too long, fearing doors closing before this story gets a chance to walk through. But…
I look for connections. Everywhere. I usually notice when they come up, these coincidences that don’t feel like coincidences. As it happens, last week, Frank and I took a drive up Route 7, past the old house on the river, up and up, all the way to Massachusetts. I was amazed by the number of beaver dams I saw along the way. Granted, in the still-wintry landscape, they stood out more, but I noticed them. I pointed them out to Frank, who hadn’t.
Then this week, before Medicine Card night, a sister Dollbaby put up a hilarious video of a woman reading, Barbara’s Beaver Needs a Barber.** And then, a couple of hours later, I pulled Beaver out of all 48 cards in that deck.
I could have let it go there, as an odd but whatever experience. That’s not me. If there’s a connection, what purpose is there in not thinking it through, right? I take Beaver’s point about staying the course, finishing the project, but that was too simple to leave at that. So I did a little more digging, and found a few more messages from Beaver:
- Seek alternatives to challenges in life.
- Refuse to be cornered, trapped, or caught off guard.
- Work together. A team effort. Appreciate that the coming together of minds creates a unification that is far more effective than individual efforts.
- Strengthen the foundation on which you stand, or build a new one. To continue on old foundations could mean opportunities missed.
- Beaver is a symbol of never giving up, even going to far as to change its environment to suit its needs, the needs of its family.
Not everything is about my writing, or Chris, even if those are the two places my brain automatically go. While I will finish my project and be true to my dreams for it, I feel like the message here is one I’ve been mulling over since the world changed.
We are in strange times, and it didn’t begin with the pandemic. It won’t end with it either. As Semisonic sang: “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” When 2020 rolled in, I had the overwhelming feeling that this was going to be a big year. One of profound changes. Then wildfires blazed in Australia, Impeachment proceedings began, a Democratic lineup more diverse than any we had ever seen before (even if it did boil down to two, older white men, and then one) came about.
The pandemic has changed the whole world in a very universal way. It’s not something happening to someone else, or somewhere far off in the world. It’s our every day. It’s scary and frustrating. We miss our families, our social lives, our freedom. It’s worse for some than for others, but that’s nothing new. Despite all the ineptitude, the selfish deciding there is an expendable category of humanity, the waste of resources and hoarding and fear, I can’t help feeling this tremendous sense of hope.
Humanity may have screeched to a standstill, but the world hasn’t. She spins. She grows. She fights. And maybe this is what Beaver was trying to get me to see, to act upon. To seek alternatives, strengthen foundations or build new ones. Not just me, but humanity at large. Nature is warning us to knock it the hell off. We need to change this current environment to suit ALL our needs, her included. Every animal, plant, bacteria is connected in ways most never even consider. We are family. Every one of us. Our planet included.
We can make this change happen, now. We’ve proven we can make the adjustments, see through this lens. We can adapt. Slow down. Do without. There are those rallying to keep everything “normal,” to keep others down, to diminish and dismiss anything not in their ken, but they’re nothing new. They’ve been rallying since the dawn of humanity, through every culture, every era. There have been times those rallying were able to do horrible wrong. Let this not be one of those times. Let it be, finally, the time we come together, really together. Compromise and compassion. Creation and assistance. We must respect and support one another in every way we can. Refuse hate and greed in all its forms, whether it be politically, socially, or environmentally.
We are the many. The loving, the compassionate, the respectful, the giving. I truly believe that. I’ve seen it, over and over, even from those who don’t believe the way I do, in the things I believe in. The fools fighting hardest against reason are loud, but I don’t believe they are the majority. They’re puffer fish, peacocks, cobras spreading their hoods to make us think so. It has worked often enough to make us believe in their power over our own. It’s time we stopped letting that trick work.
So, yeah…I got more from Beaver than, “Finish the damn book.”
Your mileage may vary.
**While this one is hilarious, there is at least one other in the series that crosses the line into bigotry, and I can’t in any conscious recommend them because of that.
Last night I dreamed you were
an astronaut, and I
was responsible for hooking you up to
your lifeline. I couldn’t get it quite right.
A plastic barb was stuck in my cheek, but I
had no hands left to pull it out. You were floating
away into the blue, brilliant sky. No lifeline, and
I scrambled, pleading,
begging for the scientists all around to help me.
But for the one who
pulled the barb from my cheek, they
didn’t even look my way. He
held it out for me; I had
no hands left to take it. So
he dropped it at my feet. I
grabbed for it, letting go of your lifeline, and
you flew away.
(I 100% had this dream. Not a word of embellishment.)
When I started writing Death and the Mason Jar, I had four primary characters around whom the story revolved. The cast of characters, as well as minor ones, came from all over the globe, as would be necessary in a book that deals with death and the imaginings of what comes next. It’s funny and dark, and poignant at times. I love this story more than I’ve ever loved any other (although I think I say that a lot.)
In the course of the story, the characters brush across old gods and folklore–who also need a place to go when they’ve been forgotten, the only true death of such beings–and one of them was a Jewish trickster character that I loved so much, he ended up being a character.
This hasn’t sat well in my writerly brain.
I’m big on diversity in my work. I don’t want everyone to be generic, or Italian/JerseyGirl/Connecticut housewife. As long as I’m not appropriating a culture, writing everyone as people, not as “insert ethnicity/ culture here,” I feel like I’m good. But I moved from writing a piece of folklore personified to a real being with a past and a motive and complicated culture. Long before the recent RWA and American Dirt fiascoes, this character has been making me squirm. Since these events, I’ve thought even harder about him, about his evolved place in my story. I’ve even dug in my heels (as some writer friends and my daughters can attest to) and declared I wasn’t changing my story to suit this uproar.
But I’m changing my story. My character. Not because I fear the uproar, but because I agree with it wholeheartedly, and have from the moment my character stopped being a folktale and became human. It took all that’s been happening–and will continue to happen, I hope–to push me into truly seeing it.
I’m keeping the character’s basics, and changing his ethnicity to one more in keeping with my own background. The result excites me entirely, because I can keep his backstory, his motives, his actions, but now they have more depth, because it will go from the poignantly obvious to the poignant question. The expected unexpected, as Agent-of-wonder Janna taught me. What had sadly become a caricature of someone I could never have done justice to is suddenly, and with only a few changed details, real and whole and entirely right.
Everyone else stays the same. Roland Nader, Emmet Bautista, Maria Violetta Teresa Abundante. And Aggie, with her mason jar. Writing them isn’t appropriating a culture or events I have no real experience to write authentically. They’re right. Absolutely.
The evolution of this book has been nothing short of astounding for me. It frustrates and thrills and teaches me something new on a(n almost) daily basis. I’ve said it to others and I’ll say it right here–if this one doesn’t top The Bar Harbor Retirement Home for Famous Writers (And Their Muses) I don’t think anything ever will. (Though I think I might say that a lot, too.)
I dreamed of you last night, We
were at a backyard party, and you
were with some friends:
A gym-bro, rather large, and bearded; his name
was Inga. There was also a girl
who had long, rainbow hair. I didn’t
catch her name, though she tried to tell me;
It was too noisy. You were busy monkeying with
your backpack, with something inside, pointedly
avoiding the introduction.
You never spoke, though Inga did. He was
quite insistent that I get his name right, while the girl
played with her hair, wanting me to see every
vibrant color, her smile sweet and kind of shy. It was important that
I like her, I could tell. And then off you all went,
the three of you.
You waved over your shoulder, barely
looked my way. Avoidance was always
the first clue, one I missed the last time around, but watching
you walk away, I wasn’t scared. I didn’t insist
upon seeing your eyes, or what was in the backpack.
I knew it was okay. You were okay. (It’s hard for you
to say good-bye, I know. Me too.) Just
anxious to be off, having checked in with your Turtle.
Be free, my boy. Be safe and
brave, curious and
as difficult as it is to say good-bye,
keep checking in. I like meeting your friends.
(I write my way, I write my way, I write my way to you.)
When I was a kid, a girl was either pretty but stupid, or smart but not-so-attractive. While there is absolutely no truth in that, it was believed by the masses and thus, “true.” I was undeniably pretty; so, by such standards, undeniably stupid. I didn’t feel stupid. Not all at once. But the truth of the masses, perpetuated by the practices of elementary and middle school*, wore me down. By high school, I was a bonafide ditz. Or so I thought.
*Rarely called on in class or praised for right answers, encouraged to take classes like steno and typing rather than science or math. Etc. Those of you in my age-range will know the drill.
It took a huge amount of work to get past all the crap ingrained in me from the day I was born–and this is not a dig against my parents, but society at large. Women of a certain age and older, maybe a little younger, will understand. Some will never get away from the whole “girls aren’t as smart as boys” thing, and all the other stuff girls were or weren’t. I worked hard, and I did it, but it left scars. One of them is being a huge skeptic.
There. I said it. I’m a skeptic. I realize I present as the sort of whimsical being who believes in fairies and ghosts and magic and all kinds of psychic/superhero powers.
But I do.
Because I am a whimsical being. There is magic/ghosts in everything I write. Tooth fairies lived in my rose garden. All the neighborhood kids knew that. We left bread and butter out for the fae folk at key points in the year, read the story of Persephone, Demeter and Hades every autumnal equinox, decorated the trees for the animals at the winter solstice. The kids were taught to never step inside a fairy ring. I made herbal “potions” everyone swore by, and spoke charms while I crafted them. The kids and I made dream pillows every autumn (something I still do, though more sporadically, with my grandkids.)
But I also knew it was the crows eating the bread and butter (the crows in the neighborhood loved me. It’s true! I fed them daily, and ours was the ONLY garbage can on the block that never got torn apart.) I don’t believe in Gods, or Goddesses. I do believe there are some plusses to herbal healing, but the spoken charms were fun wishes akin to those made on birthday candles. And the tooth fairies? Well, I confess now to all those children who left notes for their fairies in my rose garden, I was the one answering them; tooth fairies did not, in fact, live in my garden.
But I don’t NOT believe in any of it, either. Because…who knows?
Round and round she goes. The skeptic comes from never-ever-ever again wanting to feel or appear stupid. I spent too many years negating my own talents, thoughts, and aspirations. Skeptic has a place in my brainspace, because there’s believing in everything with blind faith and utter devotion, and there’s, “Now wait just a minute there, Janet.”
There is a whole lot about our world, our universe we just don’t know; modesty may be for suckers, but no one can ever accuse me of hubris. I discount nothing, not even fairies. I just need proof before I’ll truly believe they’re real. I know where my skeptic was born, and as much as I understand she’s yet another aspect of the scarring done to my little psyche, (and my not-so-little one) her place is to be respected.
I can be whimsically skeptical, or skeptically whimsical. I can take part in a cleansing, burning ritual on the beach and feel the beauty, the bonding without the need of specific oils and herbs. I can watch my words go up in smoke, and know it’s speaking them aloud that eased the burden, not burning them. I love to read cards (I have several decks) because of how it makes me think, it creates connections I might not otherwise have noticed. I enjoy listening to a psychic tell me all about auras and chakras and speaking to the dead while picking out the holes in her reasoning. I can dream of my son and feel it was more like visit; feel it, but not know it, because what happens after we die is a mystery no one, not even those who’ve died and come back, knows for sure. And I’m okay with that. I like how those dream visits sit in my heart, in my brain. That’s enough. I like imagining it’s fairies eating the bread and butter, even if I know it’s the crows. I like paying attention. To everything.
What I believe or don’t believe doesn’t matter even slightly where the actual truth is concerned. I believed I was stupid. Society saw my pretty and believed the same. But you know what? My mom saved my report cards, and she gave them to me a few years ago. I was mostly an A/B student all through high school. I spoke four languages. It was confidence I lacked, not intelligence. Though, I do admit math was never my strong suit; I was also never encouraged to it, so…yeah. I get a pass.
There you have it. I’m a skeptic who writes about ghosts but doesn’t necessarily believe in an afterlife. Now, pardon me while I go write my story about how Death collects souls in a mason jar. In my pajamas. Where’d I put that tiara? I guess the fairies must have run off with it. They do that, sometimes.
(I’m not sure why this never published; I apparently wrote it back in August. In light of my recent brain-singing comments, it seems to be time.)
You are carried on song
like winds, inexorable. I might avoid
the radio, but the music
finds me anyway. In commercials,
while at the grocery store. Snips that cling to
synapses and sparks inside my head. Playing
over and over. Bands you listened to, Songs
you loved, sometimes those you never
even heard. Songs that speak
to me of you. Starry, starry nights, the
lights to guide you home, light up your bones,
You shut up and dance, bid hello to darkness, when you’re
lost and alone, and
sinking like a stone, to join the black parade. Lyrics and
drums and guitars and keyboards, they
play nonstop. Nonstop. Non
Long ago, before you were the ghost always hovering,
never within reach, when it was another ghost
always hovering, never within reach,
it was the same. Music
undid me, and did me up tight. Kept me
sane. Kept the tears coming so I’d not
drown in them, held inside.
Music speaks. For the living, and
the dead, the young and
the old. The happy and the sad. The same words
caught inside ears, wiggling and worming into brains
interpreting every note, every word, to its own