valentine nuttiness

Happy Valentine’s Day, inklings.

I say that a bit tongue-in-cheek. The husband and I do cards and sort-of flowers: He brings them home, gives them to me, and then they live in the bathroom behind closed doors because Pippin thinks they’re her salad. Some years we go out on a Valentine’s date, but it doesn’t always work out. Especially since there’s now a kiddo involved. 😉

Me, I can’t quite get past the origins of Valentine’s Day, which have nothing to do with romance and everything to do with death. Even so, I still like to have fun with it. So, in the spirit of that, here are some of my poetic Valentine’s Day tweets from this morning. Just goofy stuff, but I hope they give you a chuckle. Some feature favorite movie and TV characters!

Courtney’s Twitter-Ode to Romance

Roses are red
Violets aren’t blue
I think you’re cute
Here, have a gnu

Roses are red
Cat noses pink
Cats don’t care about
Valentines, I think

Roses in bed
Breakfast in vases
Makes for the very
Oddest of cases

Roses blood-red
Spiders can bite
Here’s to delicious
Halloween frights

Wait, what?

Noses are red
Fingers are cold
This winter weather
Is getting so old

Except here in Oklahoma, where we’re having spring temps

Roses are red
Violets are blue
Just like your fingers
I chopped up for stew

Roses are red
Star Wars is cool
Scrappy young Rey
Ain’t nobody’s fool

Roses are red
Star Trek is neat
Riker likes Troi
So he turns on the heat

Roses are red
Thor wants “ANOTHER!”
Gets dirty looks
From Loki, his brother

Except SPOILER ALERT Loki is actually a frost giant

Roses are red
Dean loves him some pie
Winchesters go hunting
And monsters will die

[Dean randomly dies in the shower again]

Roses are red
USA has no luck
#Election2016
Already sucks

Roses are red
#amwriting is fun
But I need time away
Out in the sun

preferably in Maui

Roses are red
My final decision:
Netflix has ruined me
For normal television

TAH-DAH. 😉

If you enjoyed that and want more, I got really into the characters part of it all and wrote a Valentine Ode to Villains. Since Valentine’s Day has upon it the stain of death and evil and whatnot. 😉

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in 2015 i read 47 books. what about 2016?

2015’s Reads, 2015’s Faves, and Projected Reads for 2016

Books I Read in 2015

I’ve starred the ones I enjoyed most, and following the list you’ll find brief notes on each of those faves. My goal for 2015 was to read at least 50 books. Missing that mark by 3 isn’t too bad. And I beat last year’s tally of 45, so BAM.

In the grand scheme of things, it’s not important how many books I read, just that I’m intaking story and enjoying myself. But having a number goal keeps me focused on reading during the times when the sheer pleasure of it isn’t quite enough. I don’t know if other people go through phases like that, but I’ve been dealing with more of them since the depression hit. My yearly competition with my past self helps me get through the rougher patches. It’s a useful coping mechanism, keeping that little extra bit of joy in my life when I need it most.

Anyway, without further ado or adon’t, here’s my 2015 list:

1. Plague of the Dead by Z.A. Recht
2. More Than Human by Theodore Sturgeon *
3. Queen’s Own (Valdemar: Arrows of the Queen, #1-3) by Mercedes Lackey (*)
4. Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt *
5. Stellar Science-Fiction Stories, #7 edited by Judy-Lynn del Rey
6. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle *
7. The Walking Dead: Rise of the Governor by Robert Kirkman and Jay Bonansinga
8. From a Buick 8 by Stephen King
9. Legends II: Shadows, Gods, and Demons (Vol. 1) edited by Robert Silverberg (Robin Hobb’s “Homecoming” *)
10. The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss *
11. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (Chronicles of Narnia, #3) by C.S. Lewis
12. The Day I Met Jesus: The Revealing Diaries of Five Women from the Gospels by Frank Viola and Mary DeMuth *
13. The Silver Chair (Chronicles of Narnia, #4) by C.S. Lewis
14. The Horse and His Boy (Chronicles of Narnia, #5) by C.S. Lewis *
15. The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis *
16. The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis *
17. Prophet by Frank E. Peretti
18. Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King *
19. 77 Shadow Street by Dean Koontz
20. The Moonlit Mind by Dean Koontz *
21. The Lurker at the Threshold by H.P. Lovecraft
22. Beyond the Shadows (Night Angel, #3) by Brent Weeks
23. Resist the Devil by Watchman Nee
24. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
25. The Marvelous Land of Oz by L. Frank Baum
26. The City by Dean Koontz
27. The Harvest (The Heartland Trilogy, #3) by Chuck Wendig *
28. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
29. Rite of Passage by Alexei Panshin (*)
30. Ozma of Oz by L. Frank Baum
31. A Demon in the Desert (Grimluk, Demon Hunter Book 1) by Ashe Armstrong
32. Red Rain by R.L. Stine
33. Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
34. Pastrix by Nadia Bolz-Weber *
35. The Road to Oz by L. Frank Baum
36. Three Slices by Kevin Hearne, Delilah S. Dawson, and Chuck Wendig *
37. House by Frank Peretti and Ted Dekker
38. Catwoman: Selina’s Big Score by Darwyn Cooke
39. The Whirlwind in the Thorn Tree (The Outlaw King, #1) by S.A. Hunt
40. Protector by Becca J. Campbell
41. The Walking Dead: A Larger World (Vol. 16) by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, Cliff Rathburn
42. The Walking Dead: Something to Fear (Vol. 17) by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, Cliff Rathburn
43. Nightwalker (Dark Days, #1) by Jocelyn Drake
44. City of Lost Souls (The Mortal Instruments, #5) by Cassandra Clare
45. My Life as a White Trash Zombie by Diana Rowland
46. Even White Trash Zombies Get the Blues by Diana Rowland *
47. Hounded by Kevin Hearne *

The Faves

More Than Human by Theodore Sturgeon
–a great story with unexpected twists
–cramazing character development
–classic sci-fi
–a writing style that turns the reader’s imagination into a co-storyteller

Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt
–utterly engrossing and heart-breaking
–McCourt’s style is so vivid and immediate, I felt like I was right there living it with him through the whole story.
–made me keenly aware of my own privileged upbringing; expanded my world

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
–HOW did I never read this book as a kid?!?
–SO GOOD
–in the vein of C.S. Lewis, which means brilliance & excellence in imagination, theme, message, story

“Homecoming” by Robin Hobb in Legends II: Shadows, Gods, and Demons (Vol. 1)
–Hobb’s story gets my vote for best character-development of this year’s reads; I’m just a sucker for the redemption of the snobby, spoiled, rich-girl type 😉

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
–GAH THIS IS SO INCREDIBLE
–some of the best fantasy I’ve read in YEARS
–almost read this too fast; it’s truly UPDA
–can’t wait to read Book 2 this year!!!

The Day I Met Jesus: The Revealing Diaries of Five Women from the Gospels by Frank Viola and Mary DeMuth
I don’t talk a lot about my faith on social media. But I will say this: “high church” has done the world a disservice by painting women into a powerless, subservient, subjugated role for the past two millennia. Whether you’re a believer, an atheist, or an agnostic, Viola & DeMuth’s book challenges what you think you know about the Christian Bible’s treatment of women (especially in the New Testament). I can’t imagine anyone reading this book and not finding something that surprises or even shocks them — in a good way.
This book about women is a wake-up call.

The Horse and His Boy (Chronicles of Narnia, #5), The Magician’s Nephew (Chronicles of Narnia, #6), The Last Battle (Chronicles of Narnia, #7) by C.S. Lewis
–simply a pleasure to re-read as an adult
–beauty, truth, challenge

Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King
–classic King, thrilling and excellent from start to finish
–HOW does the man manage such perfect character development?!
–loved the female characters in these stories — such powerful agency!

The Moonlit Mind by Dean Koontz
–classic boy-and-his-dog-in-creepy-world Koontz
–dark and gritty, captivating and ethereal

The Harvest (The Heartland Trilogy, #3) by Chuck Wendig
–another UPDA
–sucked me in from page 1 & refused to let go
–excellent wrap-up to the trilogy
–really hope to read more stories set in this cornpunk world!

Pastrix by Nadia Bolz-Weber
–another non-fic that all of my fellow Jesus-followers need to read
–insightful, heart-breaking, heart-warming
–this book will offend a lot of Christians
–I loved it. 🙂

Three Slices by Kevin Hearne, Delilah S. Dawson, and Chuck Wendig
–loved getting another *slice* of Miriam from Wendig
–perfect intro to Dawson and Hearne, made me want to read more of both
–cheese?!?
–delightful

Even White Trash Zombies Get the Blues by Diana Rowland
–thought I loved the first book in the series until I read this one
–rare that a sequel upstages its predecessor, but this one does
–fun, “fresh” (LOL) take on zombies
–MC Angel’s voice reminds me of Sookie Stackhouse
–will read more in series

Hounded by Kevin Hearne
–fun frolic of a druid story
–reminded me of Expecting Someone Taller by Tom Holt
–loved the characters’ voices
–at first distracting but then fun to puzzle out the Gaelic names as I read

Runners-up:

Queen’s Own (Valdemar: Arrows of the Queen, #1-3) by Mercedes Lackey
–rich, detailed world-building
–enjoyed seeing how the main character’s growth determined the intricacies of the plot

Rite of Passage by Alexei Panshin
–yummy to read some classic sci-fi with a strong, scrappy heroine!

Q: What’s in store for 2016?

A: IT’S ALL ABOUT THE LADIES.

Right now, I’m reading Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke. It’s a humdinger of a novel, penned in Jane Austen style (in A.D. 2004, mind you) and clocking in at 1006 pages. Uffda. I’m unused to reading this style of doorstop anymore, so it’s slow going and takes a lot of concentration. BUT it’s a fabulous challenge and a great read. I’m loving all the subtly sarcastic asides about early 1800s British culture. And reading these characters is like watching a movie. And it has magicians and fairies. Just fun.

Projected reads this year include: Jade Kerrion, Tana French, Susan Kaye Quinn, Marissa Meyer, Kiera Cass, most of the female authors listed here, Delilah S. Dawson, Cidney Swanson, Carrie Ryan, and Julie Hutchings. After these, I’ll turn some attention to Wendig, Gaiman, Hearne, King, Koontz, Yancey, and others.

Why all this focus on female authors? Because I realized some time back that I read mainly male authors, and I want to support my sisters of the written word. Plus, women’s voices simply aren’t heard enough, and I want to redouble my efforts to hear them. I’m exited to hear them, to discover the nuances of their words and imaginations, to let their sounds thread through my soul in new ways. The gentlemen will have their turn, but for now, it’s the ladies who get all my love. 😉

Happy reading in 2016!

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a #talesfromblackfriday short story

Hidey-ho, lovelies!

Today is so-called Black Friday here in the good ol’ USA, and I have many opinions about it. I shan’t delineate them all here. All I’ll say is that I’ve never participated in Black Friday, and I never plan to.

Also, I wrote the following short story, the tone and content of which should tell you enough plenty about my Black Friday thoughts. 😉

So. Here ya go. Happy reading!

Oh, and I wrote this story in a series of tweets. Because Twitter’s kinda my thang.

BOOYA.

blackfriday

When You Look This Good, Nobody Cares If You’re Murderous

by Courtney Cantrell

I stumble into a crowd of shoppers. They brandish hand mixers like pitchforks. Unholy light flickers in their eyes.

Atop a La-Z-Boy display, a man in Target red screams, “THE SPECIAL BEGINS NOW. MAY THE PRICES BE EVER IN YOUR FAVOR.”

With yips and barks, the crowd surges forward. They carry me with them. A man goes down under a sea of trampling feet. Someone’s mixer tangles in my hair, pulling me into a nightmare aisle of pink and Barbie.

I have no mouth, and I must scream.

In their shiny boxes, the Barbies turn to look at me. “WE GIRLS CAN EAT ANYTHING,” they chorus, blood in their teeth.

Whimpering, I lunge away. A woman grabs my arm and swings me toward the Barbies. “They just want to play, dear.” Her eyes are big and blue and flat. Painted on.

Like the dolls’ eyes.

I try to pull away, but she pushes me into the Barbie boxes. A cascade of inarticulate limbs and blond hair washes over me. I fall to the floor. Inside their boxes, the Barbies claw at the clear plastic. Their fingers are razor-sharp talons, shredding plastic. Those talons slash toward my face. Toward my eyes.

“WELCOME TO #BLACKFRIDAY,” say the Barbies.

Moving jerkily, a Ken doll crawls into the mêlée. Followed by another Ken. And a third. They’re attached to each other.

KENTIPEDE.

Baring bloody, point-filed teeth, the Barbies whisper in chorus, “MEIN LIEBER DREI-KEN.”

I scramble backward. My back hits somethng solid. I look up. Life-size Santa doll stares down at me with solid black eyes.

“CHRISSSTMASSS ISSS COMING, PRECIOUSSSS,” says Santa. Maggots squirm from his lips. “I SSSEE YOU WHEN YOU’RE SSSLEEPING.”

Darkness closes in. I feel the Barbies’ teeth and claws sink into my flesh. There’s the stampede of shoppers’ feet as each clamors for their portion. “BEST DEAL,” cries the Kentipede. “90% OFF LONG PORK.” Barbies giggle.

The crazed retail vultures descend on me, slavering. “HAPPY HOLIDAYSSS,” hisses Santa. I hear discordant jingle bells.

Then, nothing.

Nothing.

Nothing.

THE END

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#NaNoWriMo When You Have No Freaking Clue What Happens Next

Hile, wordslingers!

With neither ado nor adon’t, Ima splat you right in the face with a lemon meringue writing advice pie. It’s November, and that means NaNoWriMo, and though I ain’t perticipatin’, I know there’re plenty of you crazy kids out there who might need a little scribbling inspiration as the end of Week One approacheth. So here y’all go:

This Hoopla We Call Writing

Writers are people with ideas. Or so the story goes. Most of us, when we sit down to start writing, don’t seem to have much trouble finding something to write about–after all, if we didn’t have the idea, we wouldn’t have sat down to write in the first place. (This might be what’s called circular logic, but I’m gonna go with it anyway.) (Also, this might not apply to the dreaded monster known as Undergraduate Thesis Paper; but in this case, if the list of ideas grows short, there’s always coffee and foolhardiness.)

Hitting The Wall

But I digress. (Shocking, innit?) We writers are people with ideas…except when we’re not. The initial sit-down-and-start-scribbling-like-mad ideas are not a problem. If you’re reading this blog, chances are you’ve got that covered. But what happens after the first bout of hectic, joyous franticness fizzles out?

Oh yes, you know what I’m talking about. Don’t you dare shy away. Make eye contact with me, kiddos! We’ve all been there: You’re slashing away with your pen at that bountiful pad of lined, yellow paper. You’re hammering away at those keys as if they’re tiny square culprits who drank the last of the milk and stuck the empty carton back in the fridge. Things are flowing, story’s moving, characters are sparkling–and BOOM. Dead end. You smash face-first into a wall, and you’re pummeled by that most horrid of questions: What happens next??? You don’t have a clue, because you. Are out. Of ideas.

Part of the solution to your difficulty is that most horrid of pre-writing exercises, The Outline. But that’s another story and shall be told another time. What we’re concerned with today is ideas, and we’re going to turn to a seasoned pro for advice on where to get them.

Elmore Leonard Gets Ideas…

In “Making It Up as I Go Along” (AARP Magazine [don’t ask], July/August 2009), Elmore Leonard describes some of the ways in which he generates ideas for his stories. Considering his novel-pub cred (Get Shorty, Three-Ten to Yuma, Out of Sight, and Rum Punch, among many others), I figure the man probably knows what he’s talking about. So take a look at some of these and see if any of them resonate with you:

…From Photos

Leonard describes how the main character of his novel Out of Sight started life as a photograph of a woman deputy marshal holding a pump-action shotgun.

eleonardAs some of you, my darling readers, already know, I am a very visual person. I can see myself picking up a magazine like National Geographic, thumbing through to an article about some 19th-century adventurer, and feasting my eyes and my creative brain on the sepia-fuzzy image of a hood-eyed man in a weather-beaten hat. Maybe he’s wearing a heel-length overcoat and carrying a pack. BOOM again–but in a good way, this time. Suddenly, I have a character named Mac Finchley, and he just stepped out of the magazine pages and into my dead-end chapter–to do what? Shoot my main character in the leg? Build a fire and cook supper? Juggle spoons? Release two badgers and a wombat? The possibilities are endless, which means the ideas start piling up and the story can roll on, dude.

…From Other Writers

When Leonard needs spare style, he reads Ernest Hemingway every day. When he wants to flavor his prose with humor, he picks up Richard Bissell.

Me, I turn to Stephen King when I have trouble with characterization, and to Tad Williams when I need a refresher on world-building. In my opinion, though, it’s best to use caution when reading other writers specifically for help with your own writing. Especially when you’re reading one of your favorites, it’s easy to adopt that person’s style instead of developing your own. It’s natural to imitate what you love. But if you focus on finding your own voice and remain aware of your literary surroundings, you should be able to glean what you need from other writers without transplanting their entire crop into your own creative field.

…From History

Moonshine and the library gave Leonard the seeds for his novel The Moonshine War.eleonard2 Speaking of war and not-so-shining historical moments, I have long thought that the epic battles described in the Bible’s Old Testament provide great framework for battle descriptions in fantasy stories. And in ancient Roman tradition, a slave whispered “you are only a man” to the great leader as he made his triumphal entry into the city; in my novel Rethana’s Trial, I turned this bit of real-world history into a character’s final test of manhood. Humanity’s past abounds with facts and people and scenes that will spark a fire of what-happens-next in your mind. Grab a history book, open it to a random page, and let what you read be the next challenge your characters face. How does the real-world snippet “translate” to the world of your story? How will your characters handle it? Let them tell you.

…From Real People

Leonard based a fictional judge on a real-life friend in the judicial system.

For my novel Shadows after Midnight, I needed someone to get my main character into a heavy metal concert without a ticket. On the day I wrote that scene, I happened to be texting with my friend Bryan, who listens to the kind of music my MC was hearing. Jokingly, I asked Bryan if I could put him in my book. He said sure–and suddenly, my MC had the knowledgeable insider he needed, complete with a T-shirt bearing the name of Bryan’s favorite heavy metal band. Later on, it turned out that Bryan had information my MC was desperate to get, which moved the MC and other characters halfway across the country.

So look around at your friends and family and see who possesses the traits your characters might need to move your story forward. You know these people–their habits, hang-ups, foibles, and faces. Once you start pondering, I promise you’ll find you know exactly who is going to help your characters take over the world. Of course, you should always ask permission before you assign a real person the role of Evil Overlord, lest you acquire too-intimate experience with a lawsuit for defamation of character.

______

So there you have it, sweetlings. A few ways to generate ideas that will poke, nudge, prod, or blast your story forward when you’re stuck. But plenty of other options exist, and I don’t doubt you’ve thought of some while reading this post. The mental block of what-happens-next can seem as intimidating as a 2001 monkey-hysteria space-monolith. But it need not lay you low. Use some of Leonard’s methods to generate some ideas, or follow some of the methods that have worked for you in the past. (Share them in the comments! We all need ’em!) You’ll be skipping gaily around that monolith in no time. Or at least hacking dementedly away at it with a hammer and chisel.

To wrap up, a few particularly enjoyable and helpful quotes from Leonard:

“Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.”

“Dialogue, in fact, is the element that keeps the story moving. Characters are judged as they appear. Anyone who can’t hold up his or her end of the conversation is liable to be shelved, or maybe shot.” (I, Courtney, heart this one with gusto.)

“A photo of a woman marshal with a shotgun, and a prison break, gave me what I needed to write a love story.”

“After 58 years you’d think writing would get easier. It doesn’t. If you’re lucky, you become harder to please. That’s all right, it’s still a pleasure.”

May we all be able to say that after 58 years. 🙂

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poem: coming full circle (@fullcircleokc)

And here, dahlings, my ode to Full Circle Bookstore, my favorite bookstore in Oklahoma City. I penned the first draft on one of my first visits to Full Circle after moving back here from Germany in 2007.

The poem is a snapshot of that evening as the husband and I sat and perused and listened and relaxed. A little bit of magic touched the universe that night.

coming full circle

the smell of new books is intoxicating
like the sexy blood-rush scent of a man’s cologne

why do we want to breathe so badly?
i must live here

we wouldn’t have to sleep
on the skinny patterned rug in front of the fireplace
we could lay out an air mattress
tuck it behind bookshelves during the day

a ring of ethereals
perches of movie theater seats
and plays celtic music
a girl gets up to riverdance with the flute

while my fingernails tip-tap the
(intoxicating) rhythm
on my take-home box of fettuccini from up the hall.

Courtney Cantrell
 
 

me with full circle's own pearl the buffalo on the night of the poem's birth

me with full circle’s own pearl the buffalo on the night of the poem’s birth

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i write because mirrors have voices

Hile, inkslingers, ne’er-do-wells, and sundry,

I’ve been neglecting the blog again of late. But I have good reason. A depression low-point struck, and I’ve been self-medicating with Netflix. Also, I was sick with another of my lovely sinus infections, so it’s taken me a bit to bounce back from that.

But I’m trying to get back to bouncy-trouncy-flouncy-pouncy-fun-fun-fun-fun-fun, hence my choice not to indulge in ST:Voyager tonight but wet my writing whistle, instead. (Ooh la la.)

“Here, drink this,” he says.

Last month, Herr Chuck the Wendigo (as I like to call him [read: I just made that up]) issued one of his weekly writing challenges: 1,000 words on why we write. Since I tend to drink up whatever the Wendigo hands me (and yes, this maybe should frighten all of us), I am taking that challenge and frolicking with it.

(Ooh la la.)

Why I Write

I write because mirrors have voices.

You can walk past a mirror and not even notice it. From the corner of your eye, you might catch a glimpse of movement, but it’s not enough to give you pause. You keep going, focused on wherever you need to be, whatever you want to do, whomever you intend to see. The mirror stays behind, hanging forgotten on the wall or sitting blind-once-more on the shelf or waiting silently in the windowframe.

(Windows and eyes can be mirrors, and we sometimes forget this to our peril. But that is another story and shall be told another time.)

You can walk past a mirror and barely register your own reflection.

But I write because mirrors have voices.

I walk past a mirror, and it screams at me.

LOOK.

Stop, writer, and LOOK.

See yourself. Stare into your own soul, and pull something out of there that you would prefer not to see. Turn that thing over in your hands. Feel it. Touch it the way you’ve never touched anything else. Dig your fingertips into it and feel the pain…

…because, oh yes, you might pull that thing out of yourself, but it remains connected to you as though by vital umbilical cord. That thing in your soul sends and receives, and so do you. You press that thing between your palms, and you set off an agonizing resonance. The thing in your soul that you don’t want to see, that thing is pain. But your job is to fiddle with it and poke it and prod it and see what makes it squeal.

You don’t want others to see that thing, either.

But your job is to show them, writer.

Take that resonating pain and make them feel it, too.

They might not perceive it as pain, but it’s still your job to show it to them.

That’s the only way you’ll ever write something real.

That’s the only way you will ever be real.

I write because mirrors have voices, and they tell me to pull out the parts of my soul I would rather keep hidden and bare them to the world.

Everything I write is, in some way, a reflection of myself.

Every character I write carries around a little part of me. (This maybe should frighten all of us.)

(Sometimes the voices of the mirrors sound suspiciously like the voices of my characters.)

I write because mirrors have voices, and they tell me to dig deep and unearth what makes me real and use it to craft something real for someone else.

I write because mirrors have voices, and they insist that I Make Things.

* * *

When I ignore the mirrors…when I walk past them and stare anywhere else and refuse the glimpse of my reflected movement…bad things happen.

That thing in my soul? It turns surly when I ignore the mirrors. If I’m not writing, that thing in my soul goes dark and sucks in light. It sucks away joy and interest in life. It saps motivation. It leaches me of any desire to interact with other people.

When I ignore the voices of the mirrors, what happens to me looks an awful lot like depression.

* * *

During the times in my adult life when I wasn’t writing, I didn’t like myself very much.

* * *

I write to soothe the thing in my soul.

I write to Make Something Real in fiction, in the hope of touching people I would never be able to touch otherwise.

I write to like myself.

I write to be who and what I am created to be.

I write to quiet the characters who demand I tell their stories.

I write because mirrors have voices.

 

iheartwords

________________

Why do *you* write?

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what is her back beach

And now for something that only I might find funny. But I do confess I laughed so hard, I cried.

I recently had the toddler (2 years, 10 months) leave Ed a voicemail message. The audio is utterly endearing and cute. But I was in stitches reading the Google Voice transcription:

“Hey. And yeah, Hi. Hey, got it, call me. Hey, Yes, Hi Blooms Here it is and hi hey. Les, Hi Sara of it. Yeah, Hi Ed, It’s Yeah, it’s tyler perry mass HI bye HI. Hello, doing. Thank you. Hi Ed, Donahue, west, but calling to see you, alright bye bye, bye bye HI I don’t, right ohh, Hi, it’s set. Okay, bye love. Colorado dot Bob, Ed mcelroy back. Hello You. Okay bye. I have, I just, hey message, Hey it’s me. Hello. No, but HI Well, ohh but either camp control. I don’t doubt it alright. Bye, alright so. What is her back beach. I kayaking with G that shows how that came Please. Good morning Yeah, okay as far as I get to know if this message is over. Pouring so hope you enjoyed that. We are headed to you already have and After I drop her off possibly and Carlos Carlos friends are going to come, finish the coffee needs So that’s what’s going on the plane. We love you. Yeah man, Bye, I.”

So.

  • Tyler Perry mass
  • Donahue
  • Colorado dot Bob
  • camp control
  • WHAT IS HER BACK BEACH
  • kayaking with G
  • finish the coffee needs
  • that’s what’s going on the plane
  • yeah man.

I ❤ modern technology so much. : )

finishthecoffeeneeds

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Here is my depression. Let me show you it.

“Wear a smile on my face, but there’s a demon inside.”

–from “Jekyll and Hyde” by Five Finger Death Punch

Don’t Google or YouTube that. (No, seriously. Don’t.)

I don’t for a moment think it’s a literal demon. Let’s just get that out of the way right from the start. I haven’t invited anything in, I haven’t been messing around with Ouja boards, I haven’t opened any metaphysical doors I can’t close. When I talk about having a demon, I’m not talking about being possessed. Because I’m not.

The “demon” is a metaphor.

So is the dark cave. So are: the quicksand, the black dog, the She-Hulk, the dark cloud of doom, the shadows closing in, the sludgy ocean. All of these are metaphors for the thing I’ve been dealing with that’s called depression.

This has been a long time coming

(and the cards are stacked…).

I’ve been disgnosed with depression, and I am now ready to talk about it.

Depressive Tendencies

As a teenager, I suffered depressive episodes during which I just wanted to curl up and stop everything. There was a lot of crying in the bathroom. I chalked it up to academic difficulties in school, relationship difficulties with friends, relationship difficulties with parents. Hormones. When I was 14, a psychiatrist told my parents I was “well-adjusted.” I took that to mean I could rest on my psychological laurels. Turns out I was just a good enough actress to fool a therapist.

In my 20s, I struggled through a long depressive bout that (I believe) resulted from my inability to say “no” and give myself the alone time I needed to recharge and recenter myself. Self-care has never come naturally to me; it’s always been Put Others’ Needs First, Second, and Third. Things improved when I learned to respect my need for solitude — and when I learned to require others to respect my need, too. Peace entered in when I listened to my spirit saying gently, “It’s okay to say no. It’s okay to take care of you. It’s okay. They’ll be just fine without you. Go do you for a while.”

I got better. I made the life choices I needed to make when I needed to make them. I became a full-time writer. I changed my eating habits and turned myself into a runner. It’s amazing what writing and exercise do for my spirit. There’s really no comparison.

Family History: Depression’s Descendant?

I won’t overshare here, because some things are not mine to share in public. Suffice it to say that there’s a family history of depression and anxiety. Nature or nurture? I believe it’s both, and that both get passed down through the generations. I have a great-great-grandmother who tried twice to stab her husband to death. Her daughter beat my grandfather. And so on and so forth.

Whatever it is, it goes back at least a hundred years. It gets diluted with each successive generation…like a poison poured into a glass of water, poured into the next generation’s glass, and the next, and the next. It’s diluted — I’d venture to say we can’t quite taste it anymore — but it still sickens us ever so slightly.

I fear for my daughter. I want her glass of water to run clear and fresh and pure. I know I can’t protect her fully. And yet, I refuse to give in to fear. “There is still hope,” as the elf-saying goes. I haven’t lost that.

Or rather, I lost hope for a while, but I’ve regained it.

The Demon Called Depression

On Death

I’ve never been suicidal.

Oh, there have been times when I wanted to be dead. The pain was great, and I wanted it to stop. I didn’t want to kill myself, never even pondered methods. I didn’t want to die, I just wanted to be dead because I wanted the pain to stop. And because I’m a Jesus-follower, I knew that part of what Jesus promises is “no tears” after this life. I desperately yearned for the “no tears” part. The “no pain” promise was for me, and if ever someone wanted it, I did.

So I prayed for God to take me — in a painless way, preferably while I slept, so I wouldn’t have a clue what was happening. I prayed he would comfort my family and friends after I was gone but reassure them they’d see me again. In the meantime, I would enjoy the lack of pain and sorrow.

But never once did I consider ending my own life. Was I still suicidal, since I was asking God to end it? I don’t know what the professionals would say, but I don’t think I was a danger to myself. I thought of myself in the light of the apostle Paul, who said, “If I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really don’t know which is better. I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me. But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live” (Philippians 1:22-23).

If Paul could talk about wanting to rest with Christ, why couldn’t I?

Downward Spiral

From 2012-2015, I plodded on through a rough pregnancy, delivery, and post-partum recovery:

  • Mentally and emotionally, I was a mess because I spent most of the 9 months terrified I would miscarry. (I suffered a miscarriage in 2006; looking back, I have no doubt that a major depressive episode followed, possibly outright depression.)
  • During my first trimester one of our cats died unexpectedly and in a shocking way. (A botched spaying basically led to internal bleed-out and heart stopping). I grieved her loss as only a terrified, exhausted pregnant woman can. I haven’t really gotten over it yet.
  • I only threw up once the whole pregnancy, but from 10 weeks on I spent every moment feeling nauseated. Eating and drinking were anathema (unless I felt ravenous). Somehow, I managed not to get dehydrated.
  • During labor and delivery in September 2012, my tailbone broke. Thankfully, I had an epidural, so I didn’t feel it. But I heard it. And after the epidural wore off, I felt it. I felt it until, oh, April 2015 or thereabouts.
  • Four days after delivery, I visited the ER for ultrasounds on both legs to make sure I didn’t have blood clots. (I didn’t.)
  • Six days after delivery, I visited the ER again for an impacted bowel. I swear, you haven’t lived until you’ve had a cute little 20-something girl pump soapsuds up your–
  • Well, you get the picture.
  • Somewhere in there was a UTI.
  • Two months after delivery, I discovered that my toenails had died and gotten infected. Apparently this can happen as a result of physical trauma, because the body pulls resources from non-essential systems. They took a year to grow back normal.
  • Hair loss.
  • Baby weight that still hasn’t come off.
  • (Percocet for broken tailbone post-partum) + (sleep deprivation while caring for newborn) = hallucinations
  • Re-injury of back (torqued sacrum, to be specific) in June 2014.
  • 11 months total of physical therapy for spine injuries.
  • All the stress, frustration, worry, and guilt that go along with being a (new) mother.

And the stress, frustration, worry, and guilt refused to let up. Instead of decreasing, they increased. They turned into anxiety and anger. By January/February 2015, I was pretty sure something was seriously wrong.

Duh, you might say.

But have you ever been so close to a situation that you couldn’t see the truth of it? That’s a rhetorical question, because I know the answer is “yes”; not seeing the forest for the trees is pretty much a constant of the human condition. With everything I dealt with from 2012-2014, maybe it should’ve been a logical conclusion that I’d spiral into a major depression. But you know what? Maybe not. Maybe it wasn’t so obvious.

Maybe I’m just a good enough actress to fool myself in addition to fooling a lot of people around me.

Maybe my smile looked genuine enough in the mirror to fool even me into believing that a demon hadn’t taken up residence inside me.

Decision

About six months ago, I realized I felt angry pretty much all the time. I also cried a lot. I had no desire whatsoever to be around people. I didn’t want to leave the house for anything. I couldn’t get to sleep. I couldn’t stay asleep. I couldn’t wake up in the morning.

My thoughts were not normal for me:

“I can’t do this (read: anything, really).”

“I didn’t sign up for this kind of life.”

And, most telling:

“My daughter deserves a better mother than this pathetic one she has. I can’t do anything right by her.”

“God made a mistake when he made *me* a mother.”

Without getting deeply into theology, I’ll tell you this: the idea that “God Commits Errors” is not part of my belief system. If God chose to make me a mother (which I believe he did), then his choice was not an error. Intellectually, I was confident in this as Truth.

Emotionally, I railed at him for inflicting me upon this beautiful, innocent child.

My anger increased. And, to make a long story short (too late), most of that anger was nonsensically turning in the direction of that beautiful, innocent child.

That, my dear friends and neighbors, is unacceptable.

For her sake, if not for my own or my longsuffering husband’s, I had to change.

In May 2015, I saw my general practitioner, who agreed with my self-diagnosis of depression and prescribed Zoloft.

Defining Depression

Depression is sitting in a dark cave, curled with with your knees to your chest and your arms wrapped around your legs. You’re terrified to move, because if you move, Things Will Get Worse. You don’t know how or why, you just know that they will. You’re curled up in this dark, dank, miserable place, and you cannot see an exit. Your eyes are wild and wide, but you cannot see even the faintest hint of light. You are incapable of movement. You are incapable of reaching out or calling out for help. Somewhere deep inside, you hope that someone will reach in and wrap their fingers around yours and tug gently. If that happened, maybe you could follow that gentle encouragement back to its source, back to the light and the warmth and the real. But very few people know how to reach in like that. And even if they do, you find that all you can do is twitch in response. You can’t actually move enough to follow them anywhere.

Depression is a dark cloud of doom that hangs slightly behind you and overhead, always just out of sight no matter how quickly you turn to confront it. It never goes away. It follows you everywhere. It blocks out warmth and light. It is an invisible, intangible jailer, and it mocks you.

Depression is like you’re trying to use one potato to peel another potato. *If* someone offers help and you accept, you find that they’ve handed you another potato.

Depression is Sisyphus.

Depression is running through a dark, foggy forest full of pitfalls and sharp rocks and trees that reach out to grab you. A black dog with blood in his teeth is chasing you. You can’t outrun him. You can’t outsmart him. You can’t hide from him. Every time you throw a terrified glance over your shoulder, HE IS RIGHT THERE, tearing at your heels. You scream, and he howls in triumph. You can feel his damp breath and smell the rot that follows him everywhere. And no one can keep him off you.

Depression is a sweet voice pulling you further into the darkness with seductive whispers.

Depression is a rough, gravelly voice that beats you down with the “truth” that you’re not good enough, you’re a terrible person, if people really knew you, they would hate you, you’re worthless.

Depression is the She-Hulk, a rage always boilling beneath the surface, and once she breaks her bonds, you can do nothing to stop her. She takes over, grows to insane proportions, and destroys whatever is in her path.

Depression is quicksand grabbing you around the knees and pulling you into its suffocating embrace, and you can’t apply the anecdotal “fix” of stretching out flat on top of it and “swimming” to safety.

Depression is a vast, sludgy ocean that sucks you down and contains no life, and you can’t see a shore or lifeline anywhere.

Depression is dark shadows overlaying everything you see. (For some people, this is literal.)

Depression is a demon that lives inside you, an invisible disease of your will and emotions. The demon makes you smile when you don’t feel like it. The demon makes you participate in activities you don’t want any part of. The demon uses your body and your face like a meatsuit, playing at human life with the goal of keeping up appearances. The demon doesn’t want anyone else to know it’s inside you. The demon acts human so that no one will find out that it’s devouring your internal organs, eating you from the inside out. Only sometimes does the demon show its true face — and then only when it knows that the witnesses can’t (or won’t) do anything to cast the demon out.

“Depression is a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. Also called major depression, major depressive disorder or clinical depression, it affects how you feel, think and behave and can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems. You may have trouble doing normal day-to-day activities, and depression may make you feel as if life isn’t worth living.

“More than just a bout of the blues, depression isn’t a weakness, nor is it something that you can simply ‘snap out’ of.

“A variety of factors may be involved, such as: biological differences, brain chemistry (neurotransmitters), hormones, thyroid problems, inherited traits, [and] life events.”

–Mayo Clinic

Dealing with the Demon

The day I got the prescription, I started taking Zoloft. My doctor warned that it would be weeks before I felt a difference, if I felt one at all. It could be months.

Maybe wishful thinking or psychosoma took over, but I swear I felt an effect within two-and-a-half weeks. There came a weekend where I looked back on the foregoing week and realized that I hadn’t cried or even felt like crying. Another week, and I found myself putting on real clothes and washing my hair and taking the toddler to playgrounds. By June, I wanted to be around people. In July, I found myself more active in our house church, and the sudden influx of family for a reunion didn’t send me into the fetal position.

Best of all, I was exercising patience with my child.

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors “increase the extracellular level of the neurotransmitter serotonin by limiting its reabsorption into the presynaptic cell, increasing the level of serotonin in the synaptic cleft available to bind to the postsynaptic receptor.”

–Wikipedia

Zoloft is an SSRI: Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor.

I remember learning about those in college psych classes. On exams, I never had trouble recalling anything I’d learned about them — because they sounded so poetic. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. The words flow off the tongue in perfect sibilants and labials, consonants forming a lovely rhythm. The “reup-” diphthong encourages a perky, upward motion of the head as you speak, as though the word itself on your lips is part of the treatment. The entire phrase is a poem of the soul, designed to move forward, move along, move on, get past this, leave behind all the dullness and lack of melody.

These drugs I’m now taking, I used to think they were poetry.

I’m not a professional counselor, but I’ve had counseling training, and I’ve been in a position (by necessity) in which I’ve counseled others. Some of those others have suffered from depression. I took care not to offer anything in the way of “professional” advice; I always pointed those individuals toward the fully trained, the licensed, the practiced.

Still, I sat only on one side of the “desk.” I settled myself in the “chair” instead of on the “couch.” I functioned as counselor, not client. I was the listening ear and the shoulder to cry on — not the one to speak or to weep.

Now, suddenly, *I* am the one with the disease.

It is a weird and humbling experience, and I don’t like it.

It isn’t poetic or perky at all.

Suffering from depression represents yet one more fracture in my illusion of control. (All sense of control is an illusion; if you don’t believe this, you’re still in illusion’s grip. I recommend the red pill.) Maybe I didn’t offer advice…but as long as I sat in the chair instead of lying on the couch, I could at least fool myself into believing I was master of my situation. That belief, though ever tenuous, has now crumbled. I’m not adrift, as I remain in possession of my firm foundation, but I’m still at a loss to reconcile Who I Think I Am with this ill person who requires anti-depressants in order to function.

Like I said. It’s humbling.

Which isn’t a bad thing. Humility is never a bad thing. And through this whole experience, I am learning greater sympathy and empathy toward others who experience depression. That’s not a bad thing, either.

It’s just such a strange thing to acknowledge consciously and intentionally that I have a mental illness.

I have a mental illness.

I have a mental illness.

Decision

I do not say that I’m mentally ill.

Mental illness is not something I am, it’s something I *have*.

Just like I *have* neurocardiogenic syncope, premature ventricular contractions, a milk allergy, arthritis, scoliosis, hypermobility, and chronic sinusitis.

I am not these (mostly invisible) diseases and conditions. I have them, but they do not define who I am. I must deal with them on a daily basis, but they do not determine the nature of my person. And they certainly do not decide what direction my life goes.

(Speaking of those other conditions, though, I’ve noticed a pleasant “side effect” to the anti-depressants: I haven’t been experiencing nearly as many premature ventricular contrations since I started taking Zoloft. Instead of three per day, I’ve been feeling maybe three per week. This lovely development has led my cardiologist and me to cut my beta-blocker in half, with the goal of eliminating it altogether within the next few months. Since beta-blockers have some fairly onerous side effects, I am all in on getting rid of them.)

So. I’m not mentally ill. I have a mentall illness. It’s more than just a semantic difference to me. It represents my acceptance of this but also my determination not to let it rule me. I am not subject to depression. I do not belong to depression.

The demon does not own me.

Direction

I am aimed at and headed toward healthy.

When my doctor gave me the Zoloft prescription, she said, “We do not call these your ‘happy pills.’ If anything, we call these your ‘normal pills’ — because we’re trying to get you back to what’s normal for you.”

With her help, I came to realize that I’ve dealt with depression for at least three years, likely longer. The more I think about it, the more I wonder if I haven’t had some form of depression since the miscarriage in 2006.

When you’re just just trying to live your life from one day to the next, it’s difficult to step back and see the big picture (see: Forest for the Trees Syndrome again). It’s even easier to tell yourself this is just a temporary setback, I’ll get past this, it’ll be fine, tomorrow is another day, ad infinitum. But finally, I am seeing more of that picture and realizing that I’ve been treading water, close to drowning, for a lot longer than I’d realized.

The good news is, the dark cloud no longer hangs over my head.

The black dog no longer nips at my heels.

I have a potato peeler.

My organs are regenerating, and the demon’s presence has weakened.

I still have bad moments, bad days. In fact, as I write this, I am coming out of a particularly bad week. I missed some exercise days, and that has contributed to the lows. I also just published a novel 20 years in the making, and it took a lot of extra oomph I really didn’t have. But I gave it anyway, and then I crashed*.

The dark cloud no longer hangs over me, but I know it lurks beyond the horizon.

The black dog no longer nips at my heels, but sometimes I can still hear his howl.

My potato peeler isn’t always sharp.

The demon has weakened, but it’s still there.

I can hear it waiting.

And so, I do what I must to take care of myself.

I take time for me. Alone time. Writing time. Workout time. Friends time. These are all separate times, and I take them. It means being away from my family. So be it. I am a better mother and wife when I take time away from them.

I take my exercise. I run. I zumba. I don’t yoga as much as I’d like, but I’m working back up to it.

I take my meds. I’ve always had an aversion to taking pills. But I don’t mind taking these little blue ones at all. They make me feel that much better.

I take a step back. When emotions start to get the better of me, I take a step back and ask myself what I’m doing and whether I need to step out of the room. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. Either way is okay.

I take these healthful resources because I need them.

This is where I am. No guilt.

I’ll stay here for as long as I need to.

PicsArt_1436986271278

*Vegging in front of the TV, watching “my boys“. They’re great therapy.
; )

P.S. I will see a therapist at some point, but I’m not quite there, yet. In time.

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Dare to write the darkness. Also: ain’t no such thang as writer’s block.

“Everyone has talent. What is rare is courage to follow the talent to the dark place where it leads.”

–Erica Jong

Once upon a time, I got stuck and needed rescuing, and the above quote pulled me up out of the sucking quagmire.

*squelches*

Now, my darlingest readers, in order to help you understand just what happened, I must take you back in time to a place fraught with danger and derring-do, abysses and adventures. ‘Twas a place both frightening and fabulous, and feckless wanderers found themselves fettered in both frying pans and fires.

Yes. Yes, you guess correctly, my ingenious inklings.

It was The Climax of a First Draft.

The climax of Elevator People, Draft 1, to be exact, and I had a sad. The whirlwind of writing-insanity was drawing to a close. I’d overcome the heady challenge of Beginning, Middle, and Near-End. I yearned for the Twitter cameraderie of wordsprints and communal writing procrastination. I’d dropped like a stone from my keyboard-pounding mountain peak and found myself wallowing in the Valley of Deep Post-Climactic Sorrow.

That happens sometimes. I get past the story’s climax and lose interest. I’ve written the denouement so many times in my head, it’s a chore to type it all out where other people can actually read it. I mourn the time when the story was fresh and exciting and the blank page, while intimidating, sparkles with the beauty of unmarred potential. I get sad and go off rummaging around for sparkly new things.

But the only thing that lifts me aloft again is writing itself.

So, finally, I shed my mourning veil and stripped off my black mourning bands. I delved into Elevator People once again, and with the most enthusiasm I’d felt for the story since Chapter 5. I was typing merrily along when suddenly! Out of Nowhere! There Came a Great Ginormous Wall of Writer’s Block! Zounds and Oy Vey!

I struck and was stuck. For, dismayingly enough, that Great Ginormous Wall was composed of Dark Stuff I Didn’t Wanna Write.

Lest you misunderstand me, dear inklings, let me assure you that I don’t usually balk at writing the Dark Stuff. When I was 15 and completing my first novel, I killed off about 40% of humanity at the beginning of the story. A teenage psychopath attacked the protagonists halfway through, and the climax involved the main character’s boyfriend getting shot and bleeding out with his head in her lap. (Muy tragic, n’est-ce pas?) That’s fairly gritty for a 15-year-old, conservative Christian kid. “Dark” can be relative, that much is certain.

Writing darkness in light

Writing darkness in light

So. I’m not afraid of the Dark. But on that blockety-blocked writing afternoon, I got to a point in the story where I knew the Dark Stuff was coming. I looked at my computer screen, watched the cursor blink at me a few times, and said aloud, “I don’t want to write this.” I closed the file and walked away.

(Figuratively speaking. In reality, I probably just popped over to Facebook and switched my brain off.)

A day or so passed, and I didn’t go back to my story. Why? I simply didn’t want to. That’s all there was to it.

But then a new day dawned, and it brought Twitter, and with Twitter the quote I’m going to make you read again, because I’m feeling all vignettey right now:

“Everyone has talent. What is rare is courage to follow the talent to the dark place where it leads.”

–Erica Jong

Sometimes, synchronicity just reaches out from whatever dimension it lives in and slaps you right upside the noggin.

“Okay, fine,” thought I. Story 1, Courtney 0. Whoopee, that’s what I get for not doing my job. So instead of staring up at the Great Ginormous Wall of Dark Stuff I Don’t Wanna Write and slumping into dejected discouragement, I girded up my loins (yikes!), pulled out my trusty sledgehammer, and pounded my way through that wall until rubble surrounded me and a thick haze of dust lay upon the air.

I followed the talent to the dark place where it led, and I wrote the Dark Stuff because that was where the story needed to go.

I have come to believe this as truth: There is no such thing as “writer’s block.”

Let me repeat:

There is no such thing as “writer’s block.”

There is I’m Not Focused Block.
There is I Don’t Care Enough Block.
There is I’m Not Giving Myself Permission Block.
There is I Am Plain Too Lazy Block (this one gets me, too).*

And there is I Don’t Wanna Write The Dark Stuff Block.

But sometimes, you just gotta suck it up, gird your loins, put on your Big Girl Panties, and DEAL WITH IT.

Don’t shy away.
Hold your head high, grit your teeth, buckle down, and rubber-cement your buttocks to the chair.
ART HARD, GORGEOUS.
Art hard through the Dark Stuff.
Write the thing.

Not every story will need to go to that Dark Place. But some of them will. (I’d venture to say most of them will. Truth, even beautiful truth, is a scary, vulnerable place.) And when your story goes there, writer, don’t hide. Acknowledge your fear, but don’t be skittish. Don’t quit. Do as I say, not as I do: don’t let it make you quit for even a day! It’s too easy to let one day turn into two, then four, then twenty. That Great Ginormous Wall of Stuck (read: FEAR) gets higher the longer you let it stand.

Every time you give in to fear, that Great Ginormous Wall gets thicker.

Write the Dark Stuff.
Let it flow.
Let it be what it needs to be.

Your story will benefit–and you’ll be stronger for it.

*There are other forms of so-called “writer’s block,” but they are another story and shall be told another time.

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passion

all i can think to say

this is the capture
and the crystallization
of a thought concept idea emotion
and all the talk around it
     illustration with words

the one thing
to brighten darken collect and sing
crisp the breath
the mind
emboldened to lay aside all reservation
     just before the now

deliver ye unto me
the fresh cut the distinctive taste
singular pleasure
texture on the tongue
raw volcanic sensation
remaining locked in a moment

     just before the now

no quarter given
relinquish our original
yield up to me the whole
and witness the transformation
from love to always
from made to right

     promise me the wine of undiluted delight

               and i am yours.

Courtney Weger Cantrell
July 2, 2015

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