Retreating

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A writer’s weekend away
Was exactly what I wanted,
But you might have mentioned
Your condo is prehaunted.

It’s a real distraction
To have noises in the night,
And the patting on my leg
Gave even me a fright.

But beyond the Scooby scares,
The worst thing for an empath,
Was the pervading sadness
Lingering in the guest bath.

Despair so deep, it broke me.
I had to pack up and leave.
I fled for home in tears–
It took three days to grieve.

So….thanks for your largesse?
I really appreciate the thought.
I won’t be going back to work
In the Condo of the Lost.


My husband, the Navy vet, tells me that sea stories always start with “This is no shit, man…”  I didn’t think that was an elegant title, so I went with “Retreating.”  I’ve had odd experiences before in my life, but this one topped them all. The pressure of an unseen hand on my leg woke me.  The electrical appliances and lights did a lot of flickering and malfunctioning.  My spare battery pack wouldn’t take a charge (I’m using it right now, it’s fine again).

The hardest part, though, was definitely the emotional imprint left on the place.  I don’t know the whole story, but I can guess.  It still seems very sad, but it no longer seems like my tragedy, as it did while I was there.

I did manage to get some work done, but not nearly as much as I’d hoped.  Next time I get a weekend free, I’m staying in a nice generic hotel, preferably built very recently.

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The F Word

 

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Today? I wrote for kids.
Fairies, elves and dragons.
Tomorrow, I’m writing horror
And this might sound like bragging–but–

I will use the F word
In so many creative ways.
Noun, verb, adjective, interjection…
I can F for days.

Some will get the vapors,
Others just turn up their nose,
But when you’re writing messy life
The underbelly has to show.

In my real-life conversation,
I don’t F this and that with ease,
But my characters F an awful lot
When faced with extremity.

I guess what I’m saying is
You can’t sanitize real.
My pretend people have to tell you
Exactly how they fucking feel.


It’s sort of funny to me how people extrapolate what and how you write to your own personality. They expect Steve King to live in some sort of Addams family monstrosity, when he’s really someone’s Grandpa and puts a sheet on his couch so the dog doesn’t get hair all over it.

The imagination is an amazing tool, and you don’t always get to pick which doors fly open in the middle of the night. I have these flawed people come to me nearly fully formed. It’s my job to put them in situations and see what they do–and it’s not always nice. *shrug*

Shaming Our Mothers

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When my son plays by himself, I shamelessly eavesdrop on the running commentary.  It’s often funny and charming, and it gives me a window into what the quirky little guy is thinking or feeling that day.  Once, with his little plastic animals, I overheard one animal tell another this:

“Now you have to go home and see what your parents think of your bad choices.”

This was said with more than a hint of satisfaction.  Naughty Critter was definitely in for it, and Sensible Critter was enjoying it.

No matter how old we get, that still resonates.  If you have (or had) any kind of relationship with your parents, you care what they think about your choices.  You want them to be proud of the work that you’re doing.  You want to take your mom to the Oscars and watch her enjoy How You Turned Out.  It’s normal and loving to want your parents marveling at your good choices.  (For ease, I’m going to shorten “parents” to “mom” here, but it could be either or both.)

But…. what if your art pulls you in a direction that you think your mom isn’t going to like?  Writing books for children is in this way an easier choice—nothing controversial, few opportunities to use f#%*, nothing to ruin Thanksgiving.1  I have several books for children in the works, and it’s nice to know that my mom will be able to read these without feeling like she needs to have a “talk” with me.  Writing for adults, about adults, gets a lot trickier.

When I’m not writing for children, I’m writing psychological horror stories.  If I’m being honest, they are better work.  The dark humor and complexity of these stories is something I’ve worked hard at, and it shows off the best of what I can presently do as a writer.  And…that’s the problem.  Aside from issues of readership, where people have trouble separating different types of work, how do I tell my mom I’m going to publish a story collection called “Bitches and Dead People”?2  Will she get the vapors or will it be Tuesday?  It’s probably somewhere in the middle, but here’s some things to think about.

Your mom is not actually a satellite of you.  We spend our whole lives thinking of our mothers in terms of how they relate to us.  The child’s narcissism in relation to his parents never really goes away.  Because of that, we forget that our moms had (and still have) lives that do not revolve around us.  She was probably reading The Clan of the Cave Bear series and enjoying those sexy, sexy Ayla/Jondalar scenes while you were at elementary school.  She might have even snuck a peek into that “50 Shades” book.  She probably enjoys other things we are completely unaware of, like pina coladas and getting caught in the rain.  Let your mom be a fully formed, three-dimensional person in your mind for a few minutes and see that you don’t necessarily know much about her.  There are big chunks that aren’t filled in.  Don’t presume that there aren’t.

Moms have a past and they have made their own bad choices that they don’t share with us.  Let’s be really clear, we do not want them to share this unless it is an extremely important teachable moment.  That is all I’m going to say about that.  Just no.

You can’t parent your characters into behaving as your parents would expect them to.  My mom has opined that curse words are the refuge of the lazy.  When I am writing humor, or an opinion piece like this, I think that’s probably mostly correct.  If I work a little harder, I can come up with something just as funny or precise or better.  When I’m writing fictional dialogue or inner monologue, though…well.  My characters did not have the benefit of this wisdom.  They are Flawed, and it shows.  If I sat with my Flawed people and fretted, “Oh, my, what will people think of the naughty language, oh dear,” my Flawed people would also be Unbelievable.  I can’t parent my characters and chronicle their true selves at the same time.  They are gloriously broken and that’s what makes them interesting.

Censoring yourself because of what you think someone might think is proactively timid.  I don’t know what my mom and dad are going to say to me when and if they read my work for adults.  They don’t have to read it—my mom doesn’t like horror stories anyway, so maybe she won’t read any of it, or I’ll just print out the ones that aren’t especially scary for her.  That’s her choice, though.  Maybe she’ll tell me that she thinks they’re terrible and belong in the trash can.  That wouldn’t be nice, but it would also be disrespectful for me to presume that I know what’s good for her.  This is where we have to be adults, two of them, and say, “You might not like this, but I hope you can appreciate it.”

As a last thought, I called this little thing “Shaming Our Mothers” for a reason.  Most of us would rather not, and we spend energy trying not to be an embarrassment to the people who love us.  Maybe, though, we don’t know what that means in the one place where it’s meaningful.  Let your mom be a real person for a minute, and then give her the chance to decide whether she’s shocked and disappointed in your bad choices for herself.  It might be surprising for you both.


1 Hey, I’m not saying it’s impossible.  Maybe your character has three heads and Aunt Linda is part of that “One Head” movement, and she decides to create a fuss over the turkey and the stabbings commence.  It’s just a lot less likely.

2 Hi, Mom!  Guess what?