September Hiking

One of my favorite hiking trials hasn’t seen me more than twice this year. With summer now officially over (and summer classes behind me and fall classes yet to start), it felt like the right time to get out and get my hike on. As I always do, because I am the Queen of the iPhone photo (7,362 and counting), some pictures from this afternoons hike at the Summit.

 

Looking for a beta readers

I am looking for beta readers for a novel I wrote awhile ago. It all started with this piece I submitted for a (now-defunct) blog called Fiction Five Hundred. The blog featured stories of no more than 500 words. I submitted the piece below in September 2010. Holly’s story surprised me and I found she needed to tell me everything, so I wrote it for her.

 

New Year’s Eve  

The dark shadowed her movements as Holly walked resolutely towards the edge.  The wind, cold and wet, blew her straight black hair around her face whipping strands into her eyes.  She pushed them back uselessly.  The salty tears mixed with the rain as they ran down her face.  In her black silk dress and red leather boots, the cold cut her to the quick.  But her goal tonight would not be deterred.

At the ledge that ran around the roof she paused.  The images in her mind assaulted her; the red tie on the white carpet, the discarded shirt.  A single gold stiletto sat on its side hidden under the bed, kicked off in a fit of passion.

Holly placed one hand on the small wall in front of her and placed her foot on top.  The twinkling lights of New Year’s Eve sparkled down below.  The last day of December was a turning point, a time for a new beginning.  She stood now, unsteady but determined poised for fate’s hand to set her free.

The images weren’t the only things fogging her brain tonight.  The sounds sent her stomach churning in revolt and she grabbed onto the rail of the fire escape next to her.  She could hear them as clearly now as when she had been frozen outside the bedroom door.

“You know I want to,” he said.  

“No one will ever know,” she answered.

The other images, the ones she’d buried deep inside herself, would remain there.  If they came forward now she’d take the final step to her destiny.  She needed a few more minutes.  This was the only way to rid herself of the pain.

The faces of her children swam before her.  Instantly her eyes overflowed; this time with love instead of pain.  Two cherub angels, they were too little to know what their father had destroyed.  He had destroyed all their lives.

Charismatic and handsome; cunning and manipulative; Holly reflected, he stopped being her husband and became a man she no longer knew.

He betrayed me.  Holly let go of the railing.  If you do this, he wins.  

Her father’s voice answered in her head.  “You’re a strong woman, Holly Martin.  For your children, you have to survive.”  

“How do I do this alone, dad?  If he really knew me, he wouldn’t love me,” she said aloud.  If she trusted him with the truth, it would destroy him.  Their life would be eaten alive by her secrets.

“You’re not alone.  I’m here.”   Was that enough to live on?  She could get down from this rooftop and go home and hug her children.  Somehow she could be the mother that they deserved again.  This didn’t have to be the end of everything she had.  

“Holly!” Conner screamed running towards her.  “NO!”  Startled, Holly turned towards him.  The heel of her boot slipped.  Before she could right her balance she felt herself falling over the edge.  

There would be no return.

Body shaming and the way we put each other down

A few weeks ago, I was participating in a conversation on social media about finding clothing for different body types. The majority of the people in the conversation were talking about not finding great clothes in larger sizes. Believe it or not I understand how that feels, even though I am petite and thin.

The thing that bothered me most about the conversation was that I was told my opinion didn’t matter. I ‘didn’t understand’. I am 5’6 and wear a size 0-2 depending on the manufacturer. I have long legs (another thing that made me ‘not understand’). Everything I say next will have some people rolling their eyes; I can eat what I like, I don’t obsess over exercise (in fact other than a few yoga sessions I haven’t made an effort to juggle exercise into my schedule in months). I can not help the way my body is. My weight hasn’t changed since I was in my early 20’s (I’m about to turn 42).

When I expressed that its hard for me to find clothes sometimes; often they don’t make a small enough size (because companies keep adjusting the sizes to accommodate the growing American waistline, the sizes at the very bottom of the spectrum get pushed out and stop existing). People were confrontational, and a little rude. Why do we do this? Why isn’t my opinion still a valid one just because I am experiencing the opposite end of the spectrum from someone else?

I’m certain having a weight issue is very hard, and takes an incredible toll on self-esteem. I’ve seen others feel frustrated because the clothing company doesn’t make something in their size, or they simply don’t cut the style correctly for their body shape. I do empathize with that, and I wish companies would recognize that there are a lot of people in the world and we are all beautiful and we all come in various shapes and sizes.

But it is disheartening to be told what I’ve experienced doesn’t count, and that other wish they were as lucky as me. My experience, in essence, is the same. I feel frustrated that I can’t find jeans that fit right in both waist and leg. That I feel like I have freakishly long arms that a lot of tops in order to fit right elsewhere means I show wrist a lot. Why should my experiences be less valid that yours? I’ve been called names for the way I am walking stick among them. That is just as hurtful to me whether you choose to believe me about it or not.

I recently watched the Brene Brown special on Netflix and started reading her book Daring Greatly. She talks about vulnerability and has studied shame for over 15 years. I haven’t gained enough insight to be able to understand why people put others down. Maybe they want to build themselves up, maybe they truly believe they are the only one who suffers through the same issues. I think enough is enough. We have to stop body shaming, parent shaming, not-good-enough shaming. The only thing we are doing is reinforcing the idea that someone isn’t good enough. I am good enough, you are good enough.

My quote for my senior yearbook was “Be kind. Everyone you meet is fighting a tough battle.” Maybe it’s time we focused a little more on kind and a lot less on a battle.

A week of insanity

In the last week we have received 2 feet of snow. I double checked. We DO live in Seattle. We haven’t been plowed out of our street because the city doesn’t have a plow big enough to handle the amount we’ve gotten. The kids (and I) have missed 4 days of school now and even if the college was open tomorrow I couldn’t get there!

For a city that doesn’t receive snow this has been a bit of a disaster. The bread aisle at the grocery was empty by Friday afternoon, the milk case looked anemic and forget about finding eggs. However the donut and ice cream aisles were still in good shape. People’s priorities were out of whack! (Always go junk food. You need the fat content to stay warm in case the power goes out!)

I grew up with snow like this from November to sometimes as long as April. But some of my neighbors don’t even own snow shovels. I’ve been shoveling paths for my dog in the backyard (the same as my dad used to do for my childhood dog).

All this snow has sent me straight back into childhood. Next up, hot apple cider!

She was supposed to offer advice, instead the doctors words were complicated

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Yesterday, I went to see a ENT specialist (ear nose & throat). For years, I’ve had ringing in my ears and it had finally gotten to the point where I’d had enough. Whenever I went to see my general doctor I filled out the ‘why are you here’ form and marked ‘ringing in ears’ as one of my symptoms. No one ever commented on it, and I admit, I never brought it up. I should have. Now that the ringing has gone on so long, there’s nothing that can be done.

Not that there is anything you can do for tinnitus anyway. There’s no medically proven cure or help for it. I was told to try to find something that distracts me from hearing the ringing, like ocean sounds, or rushing water in the background. I ordered a sound machine that hopefully might help. If nothing else, one of the settings is woodland/night which would sound like nighttime on the east coast, and that is one of my favorite sounds. Crickets and cicadas.

The unexpected part of the visit to the doctor came after she did a full hearing test. With ear bud like devices firmly planted in my ear I said the words I heard and acknowledged the beeps. I really thought nothing of it. Just a standard test for someone with ringing in their ears. But what the doctor told me has significantly thrown me.

I have mild hearing loss in my right ear.

This is why my right ear rings. They go together and there’s nothing to be done about either one. I do not listen to loud music, I don’t go to very many concerts, or to the movies. I have never been around firearms, so where this has come from is a mystery. And so very unexpected. From now on, every year when I get my mammogram, I also will need to book a hearing test. The doctor wants me to be checked yearly to track any decline, and should I experience sudden diminishment or loss of hearing in my ear I should come back immediately.

I am so stressed out by this, I’ve already triggered a migraine. I was annoyed enough that there’s nothing to be done for the ringing, which at times makes me feel like I am going crazy, but the loss of hearing on top of it seems cruel. I know there is plenty that can be done if I do lose hearing in that ear. In London, a friend had hearing aids in both ears and you could not even tell she had them. Things are not like the past, they are so small now, no one would notice unless you told them. But at my age, I am still young, and this has really thrown me.

Cope and move on is what my mind is telling me, but it’s a little harder for the rest of me to manage. It is not the end of the world. I am not sick, or hurt or anything more terrible that plenty of others face. But it is perhaps a shot at my vanity.

So if you ask me something and I don’t answer, I’m not ignoring you, I really just didn’t hear you.

We should read things that make us cry, here’s why

When we read something, often we do so for fun. A lighthearted book can lift us into a better mood, provide entertainment, and frequently serve as a departure from everyday life, if only briefly. But here’s why I advocate for reading things beyond the lighthearted, beyond the fluff. This is why you should read something that makes you cry, feel, makes your breath catch, and makes your heart beat faster.

In the last month or so, I’ve a lot of books about the military. Not so much on military history (as yet), but on the stories of my generation and the generation after me. The compelling stories of the cost of war, what everyday soldiers, marines and people in the very thick of things go through. I have no relatable experience to draw from to understand what a war is like. I only know that for me, 9/11 will be my generations Pearl Harbor. I know exactly where I was (at work) and exactly how that day unfolded (with my boss running from his office to let our small group of 5 know what was happening.)

I started reading personal stories of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan because of something I am writing. My character is a former Army soldier. While his past service only plays a small role, understanding what military life would have been like for him, helps to define who my character is now. I am nothing if not thorough in my research. Accuracy is one of the things I try to get right even in the imaginary worlds I create. Details matter.

It was in reading these books about personal sacrifice, that I started to have a deep appreciation for everything that these men and women give. I have always believed in and supported those who fight for our country (my dad was in Vietnam before I was born and saw most of his friends die. That is not something I can ever understand.) Two of my cousins are/were Air Force. One has chosen to make it his career, and as I type that it reminds me he’s not much younger than I am, and is close to hitting his 20 years in already.

We should read these stories to get an understanding of what these people go through. I believe most would shrug off the mantle of hero. They are simply doing their jobs. But to me, as someone who does not risk my life every day, they are heroes and more. They fight for my freedom to say what I think, and live a free life. These heroes should be celebrated and read about. Even if I do not believe in the unending war we cannot seem to get out of, I will also 100% have the back of the person who puts themselves front and center to the danger. That is what every American should do. Find fault with the people behind the war, not those on the front line. I’ve spent 6 years living as an ex-pat in Europe and traveled to 23 countries in the last 14 years. Not everyone enjoys the same freedoms that we do.

Everyone should read a book that makes them think beyond themselves. I have thought of the people in the following books almost daily in the weeks since I read them. I encourage everyone to go to the library or bookstore and pick them up. Take five minutes out of your world to inhabit a little part of theirs.

The Fighters by C.J. Chivers

One Bullet Away by Nathaniel Fick

The Good Soldiers by David Finkel

The Things They Cannot Say by Kevin Sites

Sacrificing interests

I realized yesterday that I hadn’t picked up a paintbrush since April 30th. For someone who once was pretty active in this department, it surprised me. This is the last painting I did:

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I’ve been so busy writing I’ve forgotten about my art. This is the way it usually goes in my brain: Have flash of character or story, or both, and cannot stop thinking about it. The character, usually a pain in the ass, will not stop talking to me. While cooking dinner, driving on I90, and grocery shopping, this character (or sometimes more than one) continues it’s little conversation in my head. I’ve been know to write whole chapters and sequences of dialogue on my phone, random receipts and anywhere else. I talked about this in my last post.

So here’s the tally since end of May on the writing front. Completed first drafts: two, both in edits, and beginning bits and pieces of a third. WIP 1 has 102,373 words. That needs some serious editing to get down to a manageable length. Written May22-July18, 2018. I like the story (and the research for this book including into How to Disappear was seriously fun. I learned a lot should I ever decide it’s a good idea.) I just finished the second WIP that brings one character from the previous piece forward. He’s a tough cop with a serious soft spot for his kids and a certain woman who proves to be hard to pin down. She has a complicated past, one she’s just not ready to let go of quite yet. For research I read I Love A Cop. This one is sitting at 98,738 words. I like the witty back and forth (my main character, Meg, is a feisty, rather smart-assed journalist, who has a serious penchant for drunk dialing her ex-husband.) It needs a few tweaks so this word count will go up. They say anything over 100,000 words is a tough sell, but dang it, if that’s what it takes to tell the story then… I started this one August 7th and finished it three days ago.

Like I said, the characters YELL AT ME at TOP VOLUME sometimes and don’t let me accomplish anything until I tell their stories. This happens a lot. Back in 2008-9 I spent many a night after kids were in bed sitting at my desk pounding out a two-book series. I still love those characters and frequently have What Would Kara Do moments. I queried it around for awhile, had beta-readers, and it received positive feedback but has yet to be published (the typical story of a struggling writer).

I’ve already written premise and a couple of chapters of the continuing story of my journalist. I’m currently digging into background research for the second main character even though he is not currently military, his past life influences some of the choices and plays a role. I’ve started reading lots of military stories including more unusual behind the scenes ones like Grunt by Mary Roach (which I’m finding hilarious because of the authors dry humor in certainly unfunny situations). On my bookshelf at present (among others):

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I’m a bit of a freak about research. If I say they get on a plane from DC at 10:30 pm and fly to Seattle and the only option is via San Fransisco, then that’s the way my character gets to Seattle. Accuracy as much as possible brings realism to the story in my opinion. Sometimes I make myself insane trying to get details like a cop’s work shift cycle correct. But then again, I hear voices so…

I mentioned to an IG friend of mine (you can see her art at PricklyPearArtAtx) that I hadn’t painted in months, and she mentioned she hadn’t written in a year since getting wrapped up in her painting. I wonder if it’s like for other creative types as well. You fall into something you’re enjoying and all other creative pursuits go by the wayside. I’d like to find time to paint again, but I know the upcoming months are going to be crazy (school, homework, kid management, a very needy dog, life). I’m just hoping I still have time to write. I wrote day in and day out for a few years and then suddenly stopped for a few years. I’ve only really just come back into obsessively writing in recent months. I would hate to lose that again (though I’m sure my family would enjoy not seeing my laptop glued to me 24/7. I even bring it when we go camping, because: voices.)

What creative outlets do you enjoy? Do you sacrifice one for another?