My bossy muse returns

The muse’s latest look (all images from pixabay)

My muse and I have a love/hate relationship. She’s a shapeshifter, and she isn’t known for her sweetness or patience, so I’m not sure what to expect when I open my writing room door.

I know she’s there because of the howler monkey roaring at me from the banister of the outside staircase (and I don’t live near a jungle). “Shoo, shoo,” I order, flapping a hand. I slip past and shut the door before the beast tries to bite or groom me.

A glaive

The muse is sitting on my futon, flipping a knife, a pistol-thing in a holster at her hip. Against the wall rests a double-bladed glaive that looks like it could take my head off, maybe twice. My instincts tell me to take my chances with the monkey.

“How’s the book coming?” She arches an eyebrow. Sarcasm leaches from her pores.

I lean on the door, arms crossed. “I had a hectic summer.”

She puts her boots up on my coffee table. The knife spins above her head, and she grabs it out of the air before it stabs her. “I’ll give you a pass… this time. But I want some progress. You’ll be participating in NaNoWriMo this year – 50,000 words by the end of November.”

I wrinkle my nose into my “stinky-smell” face while panic flutters in my chest like a caged sparrow. “You realize that November is tomorrow. I haven’t prepped. I haven’t even signed up. I barely have an outline. And need I remind you, NaNo is a ton of work!”

“So, get over it.” She practically rolls her eyes. “You’re a writer. Writing is a ton of work.”

“I know, but I’m having trouble even envisioning this story. Your suggestion of goblins and shapeshifters isn’t clicking. It’s not my thing.”

“Trust me.” She gives me a sly grin full of evil, musey intent.

“Can I fire you?” I ask, only half-joking.

She ignores me and sheaths her knife. “I want you to add elves to the mix.”

“Elves?” Now she’s struck a nerve. I pretend to gag. “That’s your solution? Ugh. I don’t even like elves. Their too Tolkien, too… elfish. I love Tolkien, but… ugh. I’d feel like I’m writing a spin-off. Ugh, yuck.”

My muse sighs at my immaturity. “You don’t write spin-offs.”

I still can’t get the elf-taste off my tongue, but since that sounded like a compliment of sorts, I cease gagging and plop down beside her. “Thank you, but elves?”

“What do you have against elves?” She tucks a lock of hair behind her pointed ear, and I groan. “It’s not like I’m insisting on dwarves.”

“Dwarves? As in Thorin and Balin, or gnomes with red hats? Even worse! Thank you for not ruining my life. Elves are bad enough. Yeesh.” I’m starting to feel incredibly cranky under all this pressure. “And what’s with the gun thing? I don’t write guns either.”

“It’s a pulser.” She pulls it from her holster and rests it on the table. “I’ll leave it to you to figure out how it works as well as its limitations. I want you to stretch, Peach. Write something different, something challenging.”

I slouch and put on my grumpy face. “Shapeshifters, goblins, and elves, oh my.”

She smirks and gives my shoulder a hearty shake before rising to her feet and grabbing her glaive. “Once you get started, I’ll help. It’s my job.” She opens the door, and the howler jumps into her arms.

While she clomps down the stairs, I stand at the banister outside my door. Through the dense trees, dawn’s thin light is green and liquid. The monkey barks at me from my muse’s arms, and another annoying thought pops into my head. I have to ask. “And I suppose one of the settings is a jungle? You know I’ve never lived in a jungle.”

“That’s called research,” she yells and glances at me over her shoulder, wicked half-smile curling her lips. “Have fun.”

She fades into the forest. I shut the door, open my laptop, and google NaNoWriMo. Ready or not, time to sign up.

***

My blogging time will be a bit sparse this month. But I’ve got some ideas up my sleeve too. Elves? Really? Happy Writing!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An update… Life rolls onward

Mom in 2014

My brother Justin and I arrived in Colorado to whisper our goodbyes to our mom.

It turned out that she’d contracted E-coli, and while the illness raged through her intestines, it also caused kidney damage and cardiac complications. In her already weakened state, it was draining what was left of her strength.

I sat vigil in her hospital room, slept on a bench, aided the amazing nurses, and after 9 exhausting days in intensive care, my mom’s health began to improve.

In the meantime, two hours away, my dad contracted E-coli (I learned later that CNN reported the outbreak). Justin and I were on double duty, driving, caretaking, and cleaning! The old codger refused to go to the hospital, and he was strong enough that we decided not to drag him there by his ears. He remains at home and is recovering.

My mom is still terribly frail but has been moved to a rehabilitation center as a step toward going home. I remain hopeful and will be facilitating her transition home and then moving them both to senior housing near Justin and me as soon as space becomes available.

I’m home for a few days and then back to Colorado this weekend. Life has been topsy-turvy, the blog suffers from neglect, best-laid plans are in shambles, but I have no regrets for being part of my mom’s last weeks or years, whatever comes. Writing? What’s that? Haha!

Blogging will be sporadic during October as I travel back and forth, and I’ve been contemplating a few changes for the new year – all fun writerly stuff! I hope to visit everyone during this brief respite at home, but I don’t expect I’ll post frequently until things settle down. Thank you all for your kind wishes and concern. I have thought of you often over the last two weeks.

 

The Miracle of Reading

pixabay

I had another post prepared for today… but then a miracle happened…

I showed up at Tornado Boy’s house for two days of “Grammy Time.” Kindergarten doesn’t kick off until Tuesday and preschool ended early, leaving mom and dad in a lurch. When I walked in the door, I received my usual whirlwind of hugs, but the first question out of the tornado’s mouth was, “Do you want me to read a book to you?”

Not Legos, no request to build a spaceship or visit the park, no plea to use his old grammy as a jungle-gym. Nope.

“Do you want me to read a book to you?”

“Why, sure,” I replied, fully expecting a play by play narration through a picture book or a four-pager of his own creation.

I sat on the couch, and he climbed up beside me, tucked in tight, and opened Dr. Seuss’s Hop on Pop. Then page by page, he read me the entire book.

As I listened, I saw the world open up to him, a new superpower revealed, a lifetime of learning and adventure, of Treasure Island and Harry Potter, of Vonnegut and Cussler, Tolkien and Homer. He read to me slowly, sounding out the words, and he didn’t want my help when he got stuck. He was reading, and he too knew that something momentous was happening. He too recognized the magic in the letters and their sounds.

Just ask Jennie Fitzkee (A Teacher’s Reflections) about the power of reading aloud. We’ve read to Tornado Boy since the day he was born, and the local library has become a place of endless exploration. It’s paid off as another child discovers a world of imagination within his grasp, the miracle of words.

Grammy was so happy she could have cried. Then we played Legos, built a spaceship, went to the park, and wrestled. And he read Hop on Pop to me two more times.

Some favorite quotes about reading:

A book is a gift you can open again and again. —Garrison Keillor

To learn to read is to light a fire; every syllable that is spelled out is a spark. —Victor Hugo

Books are a uniquely portable magic. —Stephen King

I would be most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves. —Anna Quindlen

Wear the old coat and buy the new book. —Austin Phelps

I have always imagined that paradise will be a kind of library. —Jorge Luis Borges

Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read. —Groucho Marx

 

Hunting Waterfalls, and other stuff

It’s August and the summer is flying by!
My backyard is beckoning.

It’s time for a technology break
as my hubby and I hunt Oregon waterfalls.

We need to get some yard work done too,
and honestly, these guys aren’t much help.

Time to join neighbors for the picnics and festivals
that we cram into our itty-bitty summer.

Wishing you many lovely days ahead.
I’ll “read” you in two weeks!

Separating Immigrant Children from Parents

This child was not removed from her mother at the border, but her cries demonstrate the stress these children are under even without being separated from their parents. Time Magazine cover.

This isn’t a political blog. And yet there are times when it’s vital to speak out and use whatever platforms we have available. This is such a time.

The US is in the midst of a moral crisis as the Trump Administration continues a border policy that results in the systematic abuse of immigrant children. Many Americans, of both parties and of all faiths and walks of life, are horrified, and we are doing what we can to support these children and their families by sharing our outrage, time, talent, and treasure.

There are some people who insist that these children are just fine. And physically, that may be true. But that comment conveys a lack of understanding about the emotional development of a child and the impact of extreme stress on these young lives. That’s what I hope to address in this post.

I used to work as a mental health counselor for children ages 0-5. Many of my cute little clients were from unstable environments where they were exposed to periods of prolonged stress. My goal as a counselor was to work with parents to reduce stress levels for the child by enhancing stability and predictability in the home, by fostering a sense of safety and trust in caregivers, and by strengthening the parent-child bond. This was the work of creating healthy, happy, socially successful children.

A bit of biology:

Under stress, the human brain is flooded with a hormone called cortisol, which puts the brain on high-alert for a fight, flight, or withdrawal response. In well-adjusted adults, once a stressful event passes, the cortisol levels go down and the brain resumes normal functioning.

Unlike adults, children don’t have the life experience to manage high levels of stress successfully. They require the support of a nurturing caregiver to process stress and regulate emotions (to manage that cortisol). This is often accomplished through cuddles, soft assurances, and tender minding. Over time, this repetitive loving support teaches children how to manage stress on their own.

Why is this important?

Because children’s brains are still developing. Young children who are exposed to prolonged stress can experience a PERMANENT elevation in the baseline cortisol level in their brains. This can cause difficulty with emotional regulation, difficulty calming down, hyperactivity, withdrawal, and difficulty with concentration and learning. These challenges can persist into adulthood and make life much harder to manage successfully. The good news is that prevention is as simple as a loving parent.

(For more on baby-brains, here’s an old post called Why Love Matters).

Many of the immigrant children entering the US come from some of the most dangerous countries in the world. After a frightening journey, they arrive in an unfamiliar land where they don’t speak the language and don’t know where they will end up. They are severely stressed to begin with, and the only thing that they have to hold onto, the only thing that gives them any sense of safety and dependability is mom or dad’s hand. When that is ripped away, trauma is piled on top of trauma.

The US immigration policy of separating children from their parents is damaging to these children and shameful on the part of the US government. It subjects mothers, fathers, teenagers, children, and babies to unnecessary trauma and debilitating stress.

Please be aware, too, that many of these people are seeking asylum, which is LEGAL in the US. Under the current policy, they are considered guilty until proven innocent.

And this crisis is not over by any means:

1) Though children are no longer being removed from their parents at the border (for now), there are thousands of children who have been separated from their parents, and there are no concrete plans in place for reunification.

2) The Trump Administration’s zero-tolerance policy is incarcerating parents regardless of their family circumstances, and by law, children cannot be jailed for more than 20 days. What happens when the 20 days are up?

3) Keep an eye out for efforts to terminate parental rights and put young children up for adoption. Parental rights can be terminated if a parent doesn’t keep in contact with their child. Deported parents who don’t know where their children are or parents who are unable to maintain a relationship due to incarceration are at high risk of permanently losing their children.

A tough immigration policy does not need to be cruel.

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” – Hebrews 13:2

My Bossy Muse

My muse. Image purchased from shutterstock

I’m polishing up the last bits of Soul Swallower and Legacy of Souls when I hear the clomp of my muse’s heavy boots on my writing-room stairs. I haven’t seen her since September 2016 when she gave me an ultimatum about finishing up The Rose Shield series. It was that or she was going to quit.

Well, I finished it in the spring of 2017 and took the summer off to rest. Instead of popping the cork on a bottle of champagne, she hired a mercenary muse, and abruptly my break was over. The guy was a hulking brute with a bad attitude and worse breath. And not only did he expect me to get writing, but he forced me to exercise.

Amazing artwork by Peter Pham

I can’t imagine what this visit is going to bring, and I brace myself. The door opens and the muse walks in as if she owns the place. She’s decked out in her clunky boots, and she’s carrying that magical staff that I still don’t know how to use since she never shares.

“You haven’t written sci-fi in years,” she remarks, having read my mind. I hate it when muses do that.

“I’ll bet you stopped by to congratulate me on the new books,” I say with a smug smile and flash the yummy covers. “They’re just about ready to go.”

“I’m not here to pamper you, Peach. That’s your husband’s job.” She settles onto a metal quasi-throne with rusted pipes that suddenly materializes against the wall.

I grimace at the contraption. “You know, I hope that’s not permanent. I just cleaned the place up after the bats!”

She ignores me and leans forward, elbows on her knees. “I’m here to talk about the next books.”

“What next books?” Oh, oops. Yeeesh. I wince. “Oh, yeah. Um…”

“Exactly.” Her eyes are blue today and they shoot icicles into my skin. “You’re a few weeks away from finishing the latest series, and you haven’t even thought about the next one.”

“I’ve been really busy!” I cross my arms and huff. “And it’s not like there are any real deadlines.”

“Except mine.” She raises an eyebrow. “You know I have other authors to manage. And there are plenty more in line looking for some guidance.”

“Looking for a taskmaster more like it,” I mutter under my breath and give her a fake smile. I know she heard it or heard me think it. “I can’t believe you have other authors. I thought you were all mine.”

She rolls her eyes. I scratch my head and blow out a breath. “Sorry. You’re right. I haven’t even thought about the next one, and I’ve got nothin’, zippo, squat. I don’t even have a starting place. I need your help.”

“That’s more like it.” Her shoulders relax now that I’ve been thoroughly cowed. “I want you to start thinking about shapeshifters. They’ve been on your mind.”

It’s true. “I can think about them.”

She narrows her eyes at me, but gives the wise-guy comment a pass. “And goblins.”

“Shapeshifters and goblins?” I twist my face. “That’s ridiculous. They don’t go together. I need a new muse.” I laugh but she doesn’t. “You can’t be serious. Are you serious?”

“You can make it work. I want betrayals, lies, manipulation. I want you to make things miserable for your characters and then make them worse. I want twists, flaws, nobility, and redemption.”

I don’t know what to say. My muse has totally lost it. What comes out of my mouth is, “Okay.”

“Good. Three books, two years. It’s a gift.”

I calculate the time frame in my head. It’s not bad. But shapeshifters and goblins?

She gets to her feet, tall and powerful. “Congrats on the latest books, by the way.” The metal throne thing disappears, and suddenly she’s changing, her form taking a new shape. A shapeshifter? She winks a feline eye and pads out the door.

The wheels in my head start turning…

pixabay image compilation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The best-laid plans of mice and men…

Tornado Boy and Big Foot

…often go awry.

Well, I’m back to blogging after 19 days away, and a little Steinbeck seemed appropriate.

My best-laid plans for a memory-making family reunion fell apart as my parents canceled at the last minute due to health concerns.  That kicked off a bit of rushing around and a series of phone calls, new arrangements, and a beach rental we couldn’t back out of. Revised travel plans followed and, in August we’ll all head to my parents’ hometown in Colorado for another attempt. Airfare, hotels, rental cars, and long drives will end in a whirlwind visit since many of us used our vacation time for the reunion that didn’t happen.

But all was not lost…

When best-laid plans invariably
go awry
we cancel what we can
and with nothing pressing to do

we pack up and drive west
anyway
where too late to cancel
the beach house beckons

across the dunes of marram grass and wild roses
warm sand sifts like finely ground pepper
and the waves curl in hungry white ringlets
chase and soak us in our rush to shore
springtide cold despite the sun and kite-flying winds


we build drip castles with moats and bridges
a path for goblin scooters and pit for trapping zombies
guarded by trolls magicked into stone sentries
we collect crab claws and broken shells,
brittle sand dollars and mysterious arm bones


we build a Zen garden with scavenged rocks
balanced in crooked towers on striated sand
and the wind carves gullies while overnight strangers
add to our stones and our garden grows

tea with cranberry honey and birthday cake ice cream
carousels, waffle cones, and oysters on the boardwalk
bonfires, chocolate and marshmallow s’mores
board games and card games, stories
where mermaids sing of magic potions and wings
before the tide fills our holes
sand on the floor, in our beds, between our toes

and nothing pressing to do but
eat well, laugh well, and sleep well
all because
of best-laid plans
gone awry