A Stillness of Space

When I left Albuquerque just before the state-wide lockdown, the leaves were about to pop on the cottonwoods and I’d just seen my first dandelion. Nearly every day, I walked my neighborhood, investigating what was newly sprouting. At the risk of sounding dramatic, I tell you this: I adore Albuquerque springs. When the wisteria blooms, and the hummingbirds thrum, and the cacti shoot up brilliant red and purple flowers, THEN it is spring, glorious spring.

Ahem.

ice melt
Ice melting in the junipers

The decision to leave Albuquerque came fast. Rumors a lockdown was about to happen were all over social media and, while rumors are rumors, I had a gut feeling it was coming. It made sense. New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham has struck me as being on top of things since this outbreak started. It’s likely she’s helped prevent a lot of infections with her quick actions. Unfortunately, no (wo)man, and certainly no state, is an island during a worldwide pandemic, and infection numbers are still rising there, like everywhere else.

So why was I leaving?

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Brave irises

I knew I couldn’t spend the lockdown in ABQ alone. I was already having issues with anxiety and I knew isolation would be a problem. I also knew I’d have more needed resources (i.e. family, food) in Superior, my hometown. So away I went, mourning the spring I wouldn’t see and nervous as all hell to be traveling during Covid-19.

I took a lot of precautions on my trip home: I packed all my own food; I used a Clorox wipe each time I got gas–on the pump and on my hands; and I slept in my car instead of a hotel. (I’d always considered my Camry roomy until I had to sleep in the backseat. Oof. My LEGS were dying to stretch out. I want a van before the next pandemic rolls around.) Normally, I’d never sleep in my car while traveling. Too dangerous. But I never felt unsafe. There were plenty of other cars and trucks and loads of semis at the travel center I chose off a toll road in Kansas. It was a misty night, but not gloomy. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I felt connected to the others parked there that night, but perhaps there was solidarity in the proximity. There were certainly moments of stillness that felt uplifting despite everything on this strange night in an even stranger month.

While getting gas the next day, I got sneered at for using the wipes. A lot of people, especially in the red states I traveled through, still weren’t taking the virus seriously. (Though at a station in Logan, New Mexico, a handwritten sign telling customers to use gloves and wash hands afterwards was at all the pumps.) But what did I care if someone laughed? I had no desire to get infected or potentially pass around the virus. Since returning home, I’ve quarantined myself and will remain that way for the time being. Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers has given the “safer at home” order. That means, well, stay at home if you can. And I can. For now.

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A windful of time

Which brings me back to here. To now. In northern Wisconsin, where spring is more of an idea–a wistful hope perhaps–rather than a subtle and then bountiful blooming like it is in Albuquerque. Snow storms are no stranger to Aprils here. And they happen in May and June. Our four seasons are: winter, winter-lite, mosquito-summer, and sometimes, oh sometimes, a drawn-out fall. Blessings.

When I did finally venture outdoors, I had to look hard for signs of spring. But seek and you shall find: A few green sprigs of grass, a weed or two under the fall debris I cleared, a brave patch of irises poking up, and a few knuckles of peonies just visible in the topsoil. It’s not a lot, and shortly after I took these pictures we had another inch or two of snow.

But soon enough there will be more. Each new plant, each new sign of spring, an offering from that space of stillness we all carry inside. I suspect a lot of us will be needing that space, turning to it in little captured moments.

A bud. A song. Look, there, a windful of time.

 

 

Writing prompts from the end of the world

Some awesome writers have been offering prompts for fellow quarantined writers in these unprecedented times. I found this one on Twitter today:Screen Shot 2020-03-17 at 5.48.41 PM

I didn’t end up following it exactly, but when I saw it, I figured I’d give it a shot. I mean, why not.

I haven’t been reading or writing for almost two MONTHS. For good reason though. (I was sick and couldn’t read.) And, now? Well, I’ve been having a bit of trouble concentrating. The Coronavirus pandemic has my attention, along with my financial situation and health and …. We’ll leave that alone.

Since this virus may last for months, we need time away from the chaos. Time to regenerate. To breathe. To create.

Writing prompts seem like a good idea.

Kathy Fish, who is probably one of the greatest flash fiction writers alive (and also the kindest) has been offering prompts. (Checkout her Twitter.) Aimee Bender started today, but I’m sure there are many many more. If you see some, let me know.

Stay safe, people. Good health to all.

 

My response, for kicks.

Surprisingly, the anxiety–the acute needless fear of the future, the brain looping, looping, looping, on, always on, that endless tract of worst-case scenarios, that jailer for your mind–is what saved her.

From walking outside into the bright blue. From meeting that woman with the shy smile. From touching that door handle with the smear of post-nasal drip.

No, she was too tired to leave her house that day, made half-crazed by the need for sleep.

She imagined vapors in the streets, particles, dirty, clinging to the skin. The fingernails. The shoes.

To shoes? She eyes them, quietly lying at the door like innocent pups. Eager for use. No worries about wear. No idea of the contagions underneath.

Is it on shoes? Is it in the air? Her neighbors, she has noticed, have gone dark. Blinds drawn. Did they take off for …

Where? The mountains. The Mexico borders. Dreamscapes. Cabins. Second homes. The rich, always the rich, causing the problem, then leaving it to others to fix. Servants to buy their food, their lives.

Shocking how little we have that matters. Medications to keep us moving. Medications to love and endure. But stop. No need. I will send love. To you. You that woman with the shy smile. To the old man breathing his last. The athlete on a ventilator. And to the woman at the bus stop who hugged herself because there was no one else.

 

 

On purpose at the end of a (previous) year

Editor’s note:
I wrote this a month ago but didn’t post.

December 2019
At the end of this year, since Vinny died, I can say there have been days I cried piteously, days I cried embarrassingly, days that I cried quietly, or days where I barely cried at all. But I cannot say I’ve had more than one or two days without tears. I’ve cried because I’ve missed him. I’ve cried because his death got tangled up in emotions about people in my life who are no longer around. And I’ve cried because the very last moments of his euthanasia did not go well (something I hid in other posts, other comments). When I say that this haunts me, I mean that it really fucking haunts me, in the terrible way only hauntings from beloveds can; in the night, in the shower, in the waking hours before dawn, I see him again, I see what happened, and there I am in the horror of that moment.

And well. I don’t wish to think on it any more.

At the end of this year, I feel like I’ve come up to the edge of something hard and precipitant. I can touch its hollow back, hear its long, low echo as I knock about the panels. It charges the room with electricity, and my hair, long enough, stands blown back. But I cannot for the life of me see this hard-edged thing. There has been a change. Yes. And I know my life is at a crossroads. But where do I go? To the north? To the sea? Do I try for a house? A new job? Do I write when I feel it gets me nowhere?

I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know.

So I take a walk. I contemplate. I think on matters of impermanence, of repeating moments. The walks in the fall leaves crunching, as they were when I was a kid on my way home from school. We are here for such a brief blip of time. Be happy, I tell myself. BE HAPPY. Is there no other answer for what one should be?

There must be. For I feel this line of thinking leads to a sort of quasi-Dorian Gray, forever pursuing my most debased emotions in the search for pleasure–a soul’s secrets etched on an old passport photo now hidden under my bucket of change.

Well, then purpose.

At the end of this year, I search for purpose. Let’s try that. Let’s go forward into the hollow echo with that.

Logline, longlines.

Been trying my hand at a logline for my book, Wonder Gone Missing. I’ve been using “Save the Cat! WRITES A NOVEL” as a guide. I have to say, if you have a long twisty plot in your own book, Save the Cat! can really save your keester.

I’ve been working with their recommendations this afternoon. It’s too much to explain ALL of them and probably a copyright issue as well, but the author recommends starting your logline with: “On the verge of …” So that’s what I did. Then I tried to fit it in a tweet.

Well, guess what? #MissionAccomplished.

Except: I can’t fit in #logline, which seems sorta essential for someone to see it some day. Like it in a pitmad competition or something along those lines.

Oh, well. I’ll keep working it. I must say I find my book a little on the ugly side when it’s down to one sentence, but here it is:

LOGLINE:

On the verge of losing her sanity after her brother’s suicide, a grieving sister becomes entangled in a cult; when she discovers her brother had a child with a cult member before his death, she must examine her family’s own cult history to escape with his daughter—and her life.

UPDATE: I can fit this all into one tweet:

On the verge of losing her sanity after her brother’s suicide, a grieving sister becomes entangled in a cult; when she discovers her brother had a child before his death, she must reexamine her family’s own cult history to escape with his daughter and her life. #logline

UPDATE 2.2: I found some that started with “when.” Was fun to play around. Better? Worse?

When a grieving sister takes a job at the New Mexico Library of Wonder, little does she know she’s about to entangle herself in a cult. When she discovers her brother had a child in the cult, she must reexamine her family’s past to escape with his daughter and her life. #pitmad

Are you working on a logline? What did you find helpful?

Pet Cemetery

Photo on 2-28-17 at 4.14 PM #4Sunday was a hard day. I was cleaning out my old apartment–something I’ve been dreaming about for a long time–but instead of feeling a sense of joy and new impending adventure, I was mourning my wonderful cat, Vincent.

He died about two weeks ago. So I’m leaving the last place he was alive before I’ve had a chance to fully process his loss. And while I loved all my pets, Vinny was the one who felt like a part of my sense of self. Lynn and Vin, a friend used to say. How could it not be?

I know I did everything I could for him. And I know I did more than most people do for their pets. But it doesn’t matter. He’s not here. And he’s not coming back.

We had a good last three days. He was feeling better from intravenous fluids. The night he got back from his last hospital visit, I slept on the floor next to him and he put his head on my heart and he stayed that way, cuddled into my side, for most of the night.

I was hoping to have another week or two with him. But the next day he started sneezing, then coughing. By nightfall, it was clear he was having difficulty breathing. During end-stage kidney disease, you can have too much fluid in your lungs and drown. I knew I had to make the call.

His last morning, he showed me his belly as best he could, looking for a little more love and comfort. And then it was done.

I wrote him an obituary (posted below) in the days leading up to his death. It feels a little silly, but Vinny wasn’t your usual cat. I wanted people to understand that. And I needed to say goodbye.

 

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Albuquerque—This is a young Vincent, my beautiful cat-kid, (aka Vinny, Vinny van Gogh, Mister, Vinster, Small Fry, Buddy, and, most recently, Mouse). He died October 14, 2019. He was about 16. All loved pets leave an indelible mark on our lives, but, if we’re lucky, there’s that one who nestles into your heartspace with astounding ferocity. For me, that was Vincent.

Vincent came into my life while I was living in Brooklyn. He was six years old and very sick. His previous owner, a person remembered only as Evil Esther, had neglected him. I took over his care, but eventually every single tooth had to be pulled due to prior malnutrition. Once he started to recover, his lionhearted love became clear to everyone. Soon people began asking me if he was up for adoption. He wasn’t. He moved with me to Wisconsin where he lived five mostly healthy years and enjoyed (almost) every minute of it.

Vinny loved people and hated to be alone. When he moved to Albuquerque, he fought off his first of many pancreatitis bouts, surprising vets with his recovery time and time again, though his quality of life was never quite the same. Throughout it all, he befriended everyone he met. We often took walks around the apartment complex without a leash where he enjoyed saying hello to passersby. Vinny was never afraid to make a new friend. He introduced me to dozens of neighbors over the years, many I ended up knowing by name, a few quite well. He was briefly dubbed mayor of the complex until poor health forced him to resign. Some of his amazing abilities were even mentioned anonymously in an article in The Morning News: https://themorningnews.org/article/the-last-dying-cat

His favorite food was chicken lunchmeat, and he used to pace in front of the stove impatiently whenever someone was roasting a bird. When he was still young, he loved to race with me down the hall to get into bed. During his final hospitalization, the vet tech told me he had been hugging everyone who held him—as was his way. A prior vet tech used to draw hearts on his bandages and tell me, “Only for him.”

Vincent’s medical bills have been … well, you might imagine. Then imagine some more. But if a cat can be grateful, I think he was. He was loved by so many, and I would adopt him again in a heartbeat. I love you, Vinny. Please come with me in my heart wherever I go.

 

 

 

 

Procrastinating and Getting Ahead with the Query Letter

morpho1
The blue butterfly–a symbol of transformation and wonder, a key theme in my book.

I’m about a third of the way through the second draft of my novel, (which I’ve always imagined with a cover of a blue butterfly), but I’m hoping to have a solid query letter BEFORE I finish the book.  I remember how exhausted I was from the writing process after completing my very first book–and how little tolerance I had for writing the requisite queries and synopses. Maybe by completing the letter early, I’ll actually properly query the dang book, which is my third attempt at a full-length manuscript and my second novel. (I gave up after about twelve queries on my previous books for a variety of reasons best left in the sand.)

Anyway, the query letter. I feel like publishing it, though I’ll definitely get feedback before I send it out, and I suspect it will change often in the months to come. It’s an urge I’m going to honor because it feels like a victory just to be this far along in the process.

So here she be:

Dear Agent X:

I’m sending my query for WONDER GONE MISSING, a novel complete at 96,000 words. (Yes, I’ll add personal agent stuff here.)

In the desert city of Albuquerque, cult expert and underemployed philosophy professor Sandrine Novak, is haunted by her brother’s recent suicide and a spate of gruesome murders of homeless people. But when a friend and mentor, Alonso Alonso, offers her a job at the New Mexico Library of Wonder, she feels like she’s getting a second chance.

Full of strange and curious objects, the library is a dream endeavor. But then Alonso goes missing, and she learns both he and her brother were entangled in a cult devoted to the feminine divine. As she searches for her lost friend, she must reexamine all that she knows about her family’s own history in order to uncover the costly secrets both her brother and Alonso were trying to keep. Along the way, she encounters a socially awkward perfumer, a chain-smoking librarian, and a non-believing Buddhist nun.

Part detective story, part tale of a grieving sister, the story looks at the wonder and meaning of everyday life. WONDER GONE MISSING is suffused with mystery, the grim realities of modern existence, and prophetic visions of what it means to truly live without fear.

Eh?

Probably going to change some things. I need to find comps, and I’m thinking now I might want to focus on a murder that happens midway. Then again, maybe not.

I’ll keep playing with the letter. And working on the book.

 

 

 

 

 

The Mirage at the End of the Road

I’m at about 73,000 words on WONDER GONE MISSING–my desert novel of wonder, grief, and cults–and somewhere, oh somewhere ahead, is the ending. It’s like those mirages you see on the highway in the summer heat: The closer I get, the farther away it seems.

mirage dali

The thing is: I WANT this ending. I’m craving it. There’s nothing quite like the feeling the next day after you’ve completed a first full draft on a long project. Hell, it’s pretty good after a short one too.

But that ending, like all perfect endings, is an illusion.

Dali, perhaps, would agree. He created his own Mirage in the desert in 1946. When I look at the piece, I see all our hopes and desires somewhere in that elusive forever. Dali’s take on the piece is that it’s a metaphor about love. Venus (the woman) is reaching for the flower on Apollo’s head to symbolize the mirage of perfect love. What’s incredible to me is that this image was created for a company called Bryan Hosiery.

It’s an ad!

Hey, Matilda, what’s that hosiery Dali liked?

Bryan Hosiery.


Right, right. Gotta buy some after I get off work. My stockings have a run.

I think the piece is pretty spectacular. But it’s also not really well known/appreciated because it was created for money–as if money tainted it somehow. Funny how people like to apply this idea whenever it suits. Most works of art find their way into our lives BECAUSE someone paid for it. (The Last Supper paid for Da Vinci’s real supper, y’all). And what’s more: we usually we don’t appreciate the art we get for free either. Your great-uncle’s ice fishing stories he wrote one summer on a whim because he thought writing was a breeze, come to mind.

But at any rate. It’s a good thing to remember. Perfection kills the process. Perfect is the unreal. It’s the mirage we keep searching for. But, in the end, there’s only travel and pushing forward.

Drive on through the mirage, my lovelies.