“Flight”: A Short Story

July’s always been a magical month–the high days of summer, berries galore, twilights that last until 10pm–and this year it’s kicking off with a pretty great start: a short story of mine published in Bards and Sages Quarterly.

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This is my first piece in print, which is pretty exciting. It’s about a little girl and her little brother and some troublesome powers he’s developing. Here’s a short excerpt:

The bell on the corner store door rang as we walked in, holding hands. I am always supposed to hold Mateo’s hand when we go to the corner store and can’t let go until we are inside. Mrs. Oberlin smiled at us and Mateo let go and ran up to her counter.

“How are we today?” Mrs. Oberlin said. She stood up slowly from her stool and reached to the shelves above where the caramel sits. Mateo stuck out his hand, his other arm clutching Pepita.

“No, Mateo,” I said. “No caramel today.” If he had a caramel Lucia would smell it on his breath, feel it on his sticky fingers, and she would know we had left without permission.

Mrs. Oberlin smiled at Mateo. “Another time then.”

Mateo didn’t say anything but didn’t put his hand down either.

“You’d better listen to your sister, young man,” Mrs. Oberlin said, putting the jar back on the shelf.

Mateo kept his hand out.

“Mateo, no,” I said.

He lowered his hand but I could tell something was wrong. The pout on his face turned to a frown. I watched to see if his chest was rising and falling but it wasn’t. His cheeks turned red as he held his breath.

I grabbed his hand.

“Mateo, let’s go.”

“No comic books today then?” Mrs. Oberlin said.

I didn’t answer because I was pulling at Mateo, trying to get him to move. “Mateo, come on.”

Mateo ripped his hand away and stomped on the floor. As his foot came down, the jar of caramels came whizzing off the shelf, just past Mrs. Oberlin’s head. She cried out, which frightened Mateo. He cried, too, and five more jars came flying off the shelves and crashed on the floor.

Mrs. Oberlin was screaming now. I wanted to tell her it was alright, to please be quiet, but I heard a rattling noise and looked up and saw all the jars shaking on their shelves. Mrs. Oberlin was pointing at Mateo and clutching her chest. I grabbed his hand and we ran out the door. Behind us, the rumbling stopped.

I usually have a terrible time writing endings, but for this story, the ending came first. I saw a picture of the last scene in my mind’s eye and developed the rest of the story around it. (What is that scene? Sorry, you’ll have to read the story to find out.)

It must be said—my writing group was absolutely instrumental in shaping this piece. It’s a much better story for their edits and advice. Folks, don’t write in a vacuum. Go find some like-minded people and share your work.

“Flight” is featured in the July 2017 issue of Bards and Sages Quarterly. The print version is available on Amazon, and you can get the digital version (in multiple formats) at Smashwords.

The Chair

I’ve been working from home lately, which basically translates to writing brilliant copy while wearing sweatpants.

We’ve always had a dedicated office space—in theory for both of us, but in reality for my own use. We’ve finally gotten it to the point where I’m pretty happy with the setup: organized bookshelves, art on the walls, a comfy chair for reading, a beautiful teak desk inherited from Byron’s aunt. All in all, it feels like a “real” office space. Official, intelligent. Important Work Done Here.

The only problem: the chair. We’ve always used a dining-room chair at whatever desk we’ve currently had. It’s moderately comfortable, it fits the space, and—it’s biggest perk!—it’s free. For the most part, it works fine.

That is, it works fine until you find yourself actually sitting in it for eight hours a day, and your body slowly but steadily develops a curved shape from slouching in it.

But still—mostly fine. It served its purpose. Do you know how much office chairs are? It seemed extravagant, and honestly not necessary. I don’t know how long I’ll be working from home; why invest in something that may not get much use? The dining chair worked. It was worth the discomfort to save that money.

(Never mind the fact that a new chair WOULD get use. For writing. Never mind that fact.)

Finally one day I was trying to rub a knot out of my shoulders and thought, “Ok. Enough is enough. I need to buy a damn chair.”

So Byron and I braved IKEA and bought a damn office chair.

And ooooooh. You guys. THE DIFFERENCE IS INCREDIBLE. The moment I sank down into that cushioned, lumbar-supported bliss, I kicked myself for not buying it sooner. This isn’t even a fancy chair. It’s an IKEA office chair. But an IKEA office chair beats a crappy not-an-office chair any day.

Look, whatever makes-your-life-better item you’ve been holding out on, for whatever reason—just go buy it. Order it off Amazon, go to a store. Just do it, now. This is my gift to you. Permission to buy Your Chair, whatever that may be.

Toby

This week we had to say good-bye to Toby, our cat of nine years.

We adopted Toby from the local humane society when he was about six months old. A tiny cat with a Maine Coon ruff and a bright-pink nose. We’d later learn that his nose acted as a sort of warning device. When he was stressed or excited, it was so pink it was almost red. When he was happy and calm, his nose turned so pale it almost blended in with his white fur.

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He was meowing a lot at the shelter. We thought, well, he’s stressed out, he won’t do that at home. We were wrong. Toby was probably the most vocal cat I’ve ever met. He had a whole range of meows, going from a tiny little noise we called a “murple”, to a shrieking, ear-burning witch yeowl. It could be…challenging, to say the least.

To match his meow, he had the loudest, most melodic purr in the whole world. Some days you’d hear him at the opposite end of the house, all by himself, purring.

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When we brought Toby home, he hid behind the shower curtain for three days. We thought, ok, he’s not going to be a lap cat. That’s alright. Then one night he was up on the couch with us. The next, briefly on a lap. Before long, Toby was a nothing-but-a-lap cat. He absolutely loved to snuggle, and if it wasn’t convenient for you, tough.

In the mornings, I sit on the couch and journal with a blanket over my knees. He demanded to crawl under the blanket. (Which I’d have to lift up for him—his method of getting under a blanket involved hitting it repeatedly with his paw. Super effective.) He’d sit in his little fort, purring. When I worked at the computer, he’d sit up in my lap with his paws draped over my arm. When I’d curl up for a nap, he’d curl up against my stomach. His favorite? If you had your legs stretched out with a blanket over them. The space created a hammock that was perfectly Toby-sized. He’d stretch out long, sticking out his front legs until they almost reached your face.

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He taught us that he liked to play fetch. One day he carried a toy over in his mouth—one of those plastic “fur”-coated mice that rattles a bit when you shake it—and dropped it on the couch. We didn’t want to play, so we tossed it away. Seconds later, there was Toby again, with the toy. It didn’t take long to figure out what was going on. You could throw a mouse across the house, and he’d bring it back at a run.

We quickly realized that Toby had a lot of anxiety when left alone all day, so we got him a kitten. Cecilia was probably three months old when we brought her home. It took Toby about a week to warm up to her, but the two quickly became inseparable. Almost every afternoon, you could find them napping together, wrapped up around one another.

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Every once in a while they’d have “silent cat battles”—the most epic fights, but totally devoid of any hissing or meowing. The only way you’d know they were happening was when their tumbling bodies crashed into furniture.

Toby loved to groom. He groomed Cici all the time (sometimes against her will), and the dog also came under his line of fire. His humans, too. He’d sometimes lick your arm until it hurt.

I have a friend who works in special education who jokingly diagnosed Toby with autism. Semi-jokingly. There may have been some truth there. He did respond really well to her deep-pressure calming techniques.

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We weren’t sure how he would handle the dog. Any dog that visited in the past, he’d run and hide in my closet. And he was nervous about Louie at first. But the two quickly became friends, batting at one another and playing. If Louie got too rough, Toby fought back. It wasn’t uncommon to see the eight-pound cat chasing the 25-pound dog through the house. They liked sleeping near each other, usually just barely touching—a paw extended, booties bumping.

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We usually had to lock him up at dinner time because he was always interested in the food on our plates. Cheese—he’d lose his little mind over cheese. Tuna, of course. If I wasn’t paying attention, he’d steal shelled pistachios out of the bowl. Oh, and peanut butter toast. Every morning he begged for my peanut butter toast and tried to steal the scraps. (Sometimes successfully.)

Toby made me laugh. Always.

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He got sick about two months ago. The medicines helped for a little while. But when he stopped purring, we knew it was time.

There won’t ever be another cat quite like Toby. He was a total weirdo, our special little guy. All the hours I’ve spent writing, Toby was there, sitting on my lap, curled up on the desk. Just happy to be near me. My friend.

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“Home”: A Short Story

Oh hey! My first published piece came out this morning in Allegory eZine.

Here’s a little taste:

The Jeep rumbles through humid backlands and I count the mosquito bites on my right hand: four, just that I can see. Goddamn Louisiana. Why anyone would voluntarily live in this armpit is beyond me. I hate when the missions take us out to Hicksville, USA–but that hate is wasted, since that’s where we almost always go. The kind of people who have the kind of things we’re after, they live in places like this, where minding your own business is the law of the land.

Three of us out today. Me in the backseat, Jim and Rambo up front. Rambo isn’t his real name, of course, but that’s what he calls himself. Stupid as shit, but good at his job and a good driver, too. He’s driving now. Jim’s in the passenger seat with a walkie-talkie, waiting for more directions. The land flying past has been getting less swampy, more forested for the past couple miles. We’re close, but until we get details from Command, this is just a bug-ridden joy ride. And we don’t get paid unless the mission is a success.

Read the rest online (for free!).

This was a fun one to write. I woke up one morning after having a super intense dream… and then immediately went to the computer and started writing. The story was already about 60% complete—all I had to do was figure out the ending. Which is NOT how I usually come up with story ideas, so all in all it was a weird experience. But I’ll take it.

The pile of rejection slips is paying off. Just gotta keep pluggin’ away.

Oh thank sweet baby jesus the 2nd draft is done

I finished. It’s done. 33 chapters. 84,681 words. I ended up rewriting the entire last third of the book. It took me far too long (three years OMG IT TOOK ME THREE YEARS) and it induced all the rage but it is done.

I’ve gotta say, based on this experience? Second draft = WAY harder than the first.

Is it any good? I’m not sure yet. My eyeballs are spent, I need a new pair.

But it’s done. The 2nd draft is done. After a long nap and several drinks… it’s onto the next step.

Unknowing

I’m approaching a new birthday, a new age to remember: 32. Solidly in the 30s. For a long time, everyone your age is pretty much doing the same thing. School, birthday parties, first relationships, first jobs. And then at some point in your 20s, things begin to diverge. And your 30s…well, it looks different for everyone.

Some people are married, some single, some divorced. Some have kids. Some have decided they’ll never have kids. Some buy a house; others happily travel the world. Some are stay-at-home parents. Some climb the corporate ladder. Some HAVE climbed the ladder and realized the view from the top wasn’t what they wanted after all. Some are still trying to figure out what they want to do. Who they want to be. It’s only when you make choices and narrow down the path that you really start to see all the possibilities.

One thing you realize as you get older: no one actually has it figured out. Even the people who seemingly have all their shit together are pretty much making it up as they go along. And how could it be any other way? You’ve gained experience, sure, but there are still new ones being thrown at you.

Lately I’ve been getting the question, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” Or some variation on the theme. The truth is, while I organize everything else in my life—finances, meals, parties, excel spreadsheets, bookshelves, closets, spice drawers—I’ve never focused on long-term plans for myself, my career, my growth. There are always surprises you can’t foresee. Some of the best choices in my life started as opportunities that fell into my lap. If I’d had everything planned out, would I have been open to them?

Weirdly, the older I get, the easier this unknowing is to accept. Limbo is temporary; there’s always an end. Always new adventures, new laughter, new joys. I’ve been spending a lot of time in the yard lately, and every day there is something new bursting forth from the earth. Today a hummingbird landed on the blueberry bush, feet away from me. We considered each other in the sun before she flew off. The only thing my five-year plan holds is to hold time and space to regard a hummingbird.

I don’t have it all figured out. I never will. Thank goodness.

2016 Favorites

I woke this morning adrift. Last day of 2016, a year I thought would be MINE MINE MINE for the taking. Instead, it was a year of heartbreak and heartache for pretty much everyone. For me personally, it was a year of transition. Change is good; transition is tough.

I felt the need to be intentional about the upcoming weekend. The end of one year, the start of the next. It seemed whatever I did would set the tone for 2017.

Which is silly, of course. This arbitrary marker of time. I look out the window at the gentle snow drifting past the cedar trees. Nature hasn’t gotten the message that it’s time to turn a new leaf. She’s still in the middle of winter.

Still though, it’s never a bad time to start fresh, to shake off the dust that’s been gathering and set new intentions for a better tomorrow.

I almost wasn’t going to do my favorites this year. All I want to do is look FORWARD, move on, no looking back. But that would be a disservice to myself, and to the year past. Because while, collectively, it wasn’t our best year, there were still some bright moments.

Movies

This one didn’t get the best reception, but I loved Hail, CaesarI grinned the whole way through. No, there wasn’t much plot, but that wasn’t the point — this was a tribute to movies of yesteryear, to the so-called “Golden Years” of Hollywood. It just made me happy, and sometimes that’s all you want out of a movie.

Plus, it gave us this glorious moment:

Oh! And how could I forget the new Ghostbusters? Another delight, from beginning to end. (And even better for the fact that it enraged the Internet Trolls.)

Books

Already mentioned — but if I have to pick just two, it’d be Station Eleven and The Fifth Season.

Oh, and an honorable mention to Calvin and Hobbes. I spent the majority of the year reading through the full anthology. Is there anything better than snuggling on the couch with cocoa, a cat and a comic book? So many years later, the friendship between a boy and a tiger still makes me warm and cozy inside.

Music

Whenever I needed a pick-me-up this year — a “HELL YEAH YOU CAN DO IT” boost — this one got cranked up.

But looking back at my most-played songs of Spotify, there’s one other that dominated.

I remember playing this one on repeat on New Year’s Day last year, and it just never stopped. Something about this song just gets me. I missed the opportunity to see them in concert in 2016 — fingers crossed I’ll get that chance this year.

Moments

Oh, so many.

Sitting in the meadow at Hedgebrook, in the full early-summer sun, watching the tiniest frog make his way through a forest of grass.

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Dancing so hard at my sister’s wedding that the next day my arms were sore. Apparently, I throw in a lot of arm moves while dancing.

Successfully reaching Sperry Chalet after a strenuous hike through Glacier National Park. (And NOT being eaten by a grizzly bear.)

Watching the sun set over the Pacific ocean during my first-ever backpacking trip. Watching the tide roll in the next morning.

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Experiencing the odd zen-like sensation of riding on the back of a scooter through Ho Chi Minh City.

Sitting in the shallows of the Gulf of Thailand, gently picking up sea urchins and setting them back. Watching hundreds of tiny crabs form perfect circles of white sand.

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Exploring a quiet cove on Lopez Island with friends. Exploring a snowy lava field outside Bend, Oregon.

Taking my mom, a life-long Beatles fan, to see Paul McCartney in concert for the first time ever.

Watching a hummingbird build her nest outside our bedroom window, getting to see the eggs hatch and grow and fly.

All those and more — that’s what makes me realize it wasn’t a totally lost year.

Food

Ina Garten’s baked risotto –- my go-to comfort dish this year.

A veggie torta — side of rice and beans — from the taco truck in our neighborhood. TACO TRUCKS ON EVERY CORNER PLEASE.

There were so many intriguing, new-to-me dishes in Vietnam that it’s hard to pinpoint just a handful. Vietnamese coffee, of course, with a dollop of sweetened condensed milk. A stir-fried dish of fish sauce, peanuts, shredded green papaya and beef lung. (I know, I know, but it was GOOD.) Dozens of dishes of chè, a pudding-like dessert.

Top of the list though: an ah-maz-ing seafood feast in the Night Market on Phu Quoc island. Crab with tamarind sauce, grilled calamari, sea urchin with peanuts and lime, mantis shrimp, all washed down with light beer, eaten under neon street lights with scooters going by. Heaven.


Look for the bright spots. Spend some time today thinking of yours from the past year. I promise, it’s worth it.