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If obliviousness were a respected skill, by now someone would have awarded me an honorary doctorate in it.
Walking along the hallway of the home where I’ve lived for a decade. Stop in surprise. “Hey, how long has that wall sconce been there?”
I’ve spent most of my life living almost exclusively inside my head, so I am proud of my recent accomplishments. Nowadays, each day I experience the outside world, for many minutes at a time. (The minutes are not consecutive. But still.)
Several decades ago, a friend gave me a mug for Christmas. It was covered in cat drawings. (Drawings of cats, not by cats.) I was surprised, because that friend was not known for kitschy or cutesy. I glanced at one frolicking cat on the mug, forced a smile, thanked my friend, set it aside.
The mug sat in a cupboard for ages, until I came to appreciate the camp value of having a cat mug. I began to drink my public coffee in that mug. I carried the mug with me around offices, into meetings, probably even as a volunteer in my kids’ classrooms. It turned out to be a hell of a sturdy mug. All those years, all those trips out in the world, hardly a chip to be seen.
Only very recently, washing the mug, I realized.
Those cats aren’t frolicking. They’re having an orgy.
I can’t tell you how many people noticed. My obliviousness extended to other people’s reactions to my dirty cat mug.
Lots of creative peaks for me these days. I’m writing daily, with results I’m excited and proud to share. I’m getting into drawing – and cartooning – and some of those pieces may see daylight soon.
I love the creating and I love the sharing of it.
But. Every day I wake up less enthused about marketing and promotion. As long-time blog followers can testify, these have always been sticking points, so by now my enthusiasm is in minus territory.
Until now, I haven’t minded the formatting demands of self-publishing. The list-making, i-dotting, t-crossing parts of me have enjoyed it, sometimes.
However, given my current creative spurt, I am way way behind in making my work available as ebooks or print-on-demand volumes and I don’t expect the situation to change any time soon.
And yet. I want people to read my writing. So. I’m going to post more of it here.
The Short Fiction menu atop this page has now got several stories and I’ll be adding more each week. Ish.
DDsE used to have its own daily blog. I’ll be re-instating that as soon as I finish editing the 7th in that 9-novella series.
While I was writing this, seventeen bizillion other pieces of writing went on-line. Still, I hope you can find the time to read some of mine. And I hope you enjoy them!
When my beloved cat Leo disappeared, I got myself on a listserv that sends me photos of cats in shelters near where he vanished. Leo’s been gone more than 3 years but I still get those daily emails. I can’t bring myself to unsubscribe. I need to acknowledge the existence of all those cats. Few will get outside again. Locked in cages that reek of bleach and strangers. Not in my emails but in the shelters are just as many dogs, of course. Plus all the “exotic” animals.
I’m taking my first drawing class. (Teach old dog new tricks. Tap unused parts of the brain.) Our final project is themed This is the way the world ends. I put some of the shelter cats in my drawing, from my email dated November 25, 2018. When I went back to finish the drawing four days later, 1/4 of the cats were gone (the unshaded/white cats in my poster). No longer in the database. Maybe some of them got adopted.
Not long ago, I discovered how much I enjoy presenting my work to an audience (thank you, Out Loud Santa Barbara!) and I’ve been looking for other ways to do that. So I was jazzed to hear about a call for submissions for a couple story-telling events. Except.
Heart-warming. They want heart-warming personal stories.
I did much wracking of ye olde brain to come up with some. Any. Still trying. Heart-warming isn’t a tag in my memory filing system. I’ve missed one submission deadline; maybe I can conjure some heart-warming in time for the 2nd.
Meanwhile, I happened upon the last notice for a contest that would close in hours. Write a 500 word story using a theme of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Why, I had just been ogling the fantastic woodcuts by Lynd Ward in my own hardcover edition… I’d never entered a writing contest before but this sounded like fun.
A story made a quick ascent from the depths and I got it written and submitted with an hour to spare. I don’t know details of the contest (when they decide winners, are there prizes, blah blah); for me the event made a terrific writing prompt and now it is over. (Lately I’ve been trying to separate my writing from outcomes.)
Below is the story I came up with.
Heart-warming… heart-warming … … … hmm …
You are in danger! Unimaginable danger. Run. Hide. Now!
I don’t believe in God or luck, yet here I pray to both: let someone survive to find this warning. If one survives, then others might and perhaps those few can keep it alive. It. Us. The human race.
Stop reading this until you’re safe. Get away from other people. Look no one in the eye. Let no one get close. They need to be close to take you over.
The first irony. The only hope of saving what’s left of the human race is to isolate every survivor.
Here’s another. I did what I did for the good of humanity.
My ambition was always to make a lasting contribution. I would dedicate my extraordinary intellect to do science so important that my name would live forever. My focus was the human mind, a stimulating challenge. Despite centuries of scrutiny, understanding of consciousness remains elusive.
I happened upon an obscure study. In it, the author detailed a modestly clever experiment to locate consciousness. What was remarkable was that one subject died during the experiment and the researcher tracked consciousness — after death.
An absurd claim, yet something in it spoke truth to me. I couldn’t believe it but I couldn’t let it go. Eventually, I tracked down the author, retired from a third-rate academic career. I still cannot confirm whether he was collaborator as well as victim.
I was not trained to respect instinct, so I dismissed the uneasiness that swept me when he answered his door. I now know that feeling well. It is the first sign that a gate is open nearby.
Within each of us is a gate to a beyond. I have not determined whether that place is our afterlife, but it is a wild treacherous place we cannot enter or survive. We can only live with our gates locked tight.
His gate was ajar.
Horrible things wait on the other side. They wait to cross over and take us. They are — evil. I have never used that word except to describe them.
Get too close to an open gate and your gate opens, too. Another thing comes over, another human is lost.
The author had long been a recluse, struggling to lock his gate again. His efforts to warn me away used too much energy and attention. They took him while I observed. His eyes went blank, swiveled, discovered me with a flash of hungry curiosity.
They’re slow when they first come through. I ran away that day.
I’ve studied them ever since. I’ve slept too little and learned so much. But not enough. Their spread has accelerated. Suddenly they’re everywhere.
Some of us seem to be immune to them. Perhaps we can hide, repopulate, come back against them.
If only I had sounded an earlier alarm. Perhaps someone would have believed. I thought I could solve this problem without destroying my work, my reputation. Instead, I kept their secret.
Now that my kids are grown, with their beliefs and choices so clearly out of my control, I begin to acknowledge how big an illusion that was – my sense that I could control who my kids became. Oh, sure, of course I shaped and influenced and taught and trained. Through the things I did, the things I didn’t do, and the things I wish I could do over.
I still catch myself trying to influence. Here in my 60s, for the first time I’m discovering how to be peaceful and open – and I catch myself hoping that this will inspire my kids to try to get to this point earlier.
I’m discovering how to be grateful, and how to cut people a break. People including myself. I catch myself scheming about life lessons, how best to share these perspectives with my toddler granddaughter.
After I catch myself, I fill with peaceful futility. I can’t. They won’t. Not through me, anyway. They will live their own lives and come to their own realizations and it is through living step by step that they will get to wherever it is they are going.
The other day, writing at my favorite coffee joint, I couldn’t help but eavesdrop on a young family and got reminded how stressful I found it, being the parent of small children. The struggle to say no and don’t constructively. We don’t hit, sweetie… Let’s give that back, it belongs to him and he wants it back …
Which sent me on a stroll down an overgrown memory lane.
My ex-husband and I agreed that we didn’t want our twin toddlers to play with toy weapons or watch violent cartoons. But it turns out that anything could be turned into a gun or sword if you held it right. One day our son brandished some innocent construction toy, yelling, “I got you. I killed you. I’m Batman. I’m a Power Ranger.”
Baffled and frustrated, his dad demanded, “How do you even know about these things?”
Our son replied, “Kyle’s underpants.”
Kyle was another kid at the pre-school, which had a communal diaper-changing area.
I’m deep into – yet not half-way through! – the fantasy series The Wheel of Time. This is a famous, much-loved series of 14 books (plus 4 or more offshoots) that started publishing in the early ’90s and is now moving to TV. In it, a group of teens discover that they and their world have a repeating destiny. They must leave their isolated, Shire-like home to become key players in the current round of an ages-long battle between good and evil.
My reaction at this point is an overwhelming Meh.
Some people complain about Jordan copying Lord of the Rings. Indeed, the first book shows heavy Tolkien influence, and also borrows important stuff from Dune. But Jordan soon takes us into his own rich, complex universe. (Ironically, Jordan may have also been borrowed from. He has a plot thread of scheming royals who play a “Game of Houses”. In name and details it’s quite like the “Game of Thrones”. Did Martin borrow from Jordan? Did they both borrow from some other source?)
I don’t know when or if I’ll keep going* with this series. Jordan has fashioned a great world and I love that the women are as strong and important as the men. But my favorite characters are not getting enough page time, some key relationships bore me, and the plot intricacies are leaving me, well. Meh.
I’m feeling the weight of all the books I have not yet read that I know to be truly great. This series is fine, no negatives, just not strong enough positives. It is taking time I’d rather put elsewhere. Also – I dunno why – it bothers me to pay full price for books when the author is dead and I don’t know who gets my money.
I’ve read the first five books in The Wheel of Time:
FYI, toward the end of the series, Jordan grew ill, brought in a co-author, then died.
*If you had a similar reaction by the end of book 5, but kept reading and are glad you did – let me know!