The Problem of Otterness: A Fable for the Restless

The lake marsh had become a peaceful, bounteous place; the animals no longer worried for their next meal or for their safety. Wolves barely came by anymore, and the deer only nibbled the tree leaves and tamped lovely paths to the water’s edge. Even the trees had conveniently died and their smooth bones reached like skyscrapers out of the placid waters, homes for the tree swallows.

You know what they say about ease and idleness.

Not surprisingly it was an otter who first became… dissatisfied. Or perhaps the word is disgruntled. Or confused. Or certain. Otter felt in herself a strange disquiet. Like a belly that, even stuffed, wasn’t filled.

Otter realized: I feel uncomfortable in my fur and in this thick, luxurious tail. In the pit of myself is a wrongness I can’t quite put my paw on, but it’s wrong to my core, it’s thwarting my happiness.

Otter wasn’t sure what the solution was, but the problem was clear: otterness. Otterness was the problem.

Otter lay down on a mossy rock and cried in the warm sunlight, free of predators. Into her haze a busy sound began to prod… slapping tails, gnawing teeth, and the papery crashing of a young tree, then the scraping of weight against old leaves as a trunk was dragged: the constant carpentry of beavers. Otter sat up with a start.

Inspiration struck.

A furry paw smacked a furry head. Otter ran around in circles of triumphant joy and nearly fell into the water. It was exquisite revelation. It was like pulling heaven down by a white wispy beard and grumbling a complaint in His face: You got me wrong. I’m so… beaverish. Otter looked at her fine grey fur and thick tail, despising the cuteness. Otter ran a tongue along the petite teeth, the useless teeth.

Surely there had been a mistake. Otter should know. Otter felt beaverish through and through, and Otter came up with a plan to make things right.

Some beavers were chewing on a particularly thick tree when Otter came by.

“I wouldn’t stand there if I were you,” warned a grey-haired beaver. But he’d been chomping and had a mouthful, so it sounded more like Ah woodna stan air wiff ahh eryoof and was punctuated by bits of wood spit from his mouth. How beautiful they looked to Otter, those huge, yellow, useful teeth. That should be me, thought Otter. But the beaver, being old, probably wouldn’t understand, so Otter did not share her thoughts.

The old beaver shook his head at Otter’s insistence on standing in the very path of a Buckeye tree that was mere bites away from plummeting.

The sharp crack of wood prompted the beavers to take cover. Otter stood with her eyes tightly closed, paws clasped, resolute. The tree came right at her, was going to fall directly on her, crush her.

Suddenly, from behind, a young beaver plowed into Otter, shoving her out of the way just as the trunk slammed into the ground like a gavel, throwing up a cloud of dirt and leaves and skittish ducks. Beaver and Otter tumbled end over end and were tangled in the smaller branches of the fallen colossal.

Beaver smiled his huge toothy smile. “Whew! That was close.”

Otter blinked.

Beaver asked, “You hit your head or something?”

Otter came to herself. “Gar! Now I have to start all over, thanks to you.”

“Huh?” asked Beaver.

“I want to be a beaver.”

“Beavers get out of the way when trees fall.”

“Duh, I wanted it to crush my tail flat like yours. Then I was going to pluck the hairs out.”

“Sounds painful.”

“Not as painful as being an otter.”

“Huh,” Beaver said. Huh was the perfect noncommittal when he didn’t know what to say. Then he added, “There’ll be other trees to fall on you, no worries.”

But Otter did have worries. Big trees were rarely felled, which meant waiting. Not like she was waiting for a pleasantry. This tree business was seriously frightening. And her other problem: what to do about her tine-like, ugly teeth that were only good for eating fish, not felling trees? Unjust and unfair were her dealt cards, and the more Otter thought about it, the madder she got.

Being mad is a potent motivator.

Otter convinced her beaver friend to chew on a mature tree. He had to enlist help, and it still took them almost three weeks to get through it. This time Beaver didn’t push Otter out of the way, and the tree crashed right on her tail. Otter screamed and flailed her arms. Her eyes bulged and her paws pushed ineffectually at the huge tree.

“Get it off!” she managed, though hyperventilating fiercely. In their haste to free Otter, the beavers dragged the trunk instead of rolling it, and ripped the tail clean off.

***

“You were lucky not to bleed out,” said her new friend the beaver.

Otter rolled her eyes. “Where’s my tail?”

Beaver looked uncomfortable.

“I know it fell off. I want it anyway.”

For a pregnant moment the only sound was Beaver’s nervous tail, thumping against the forest floor. Huh could not help him now, though he desperately wanted to try it.

“Huh?” Beaver asked.

“Where’s. My. TAIL?”

Beaver licked his huge teeth and took a deep breath. “I hung it on a tree… Hawk took it.”

Otter’s response to this piece of news could be heard well into the forest depths, stopping animals short, drawing ears to instant attention, tightening haunches like ready bows for flight. Such a fit no animal had ever before thrown.

But when no threat manifested, all went back to their business. Otter’s tirade so took the life out of her she fainted back into the leaf bed, comatose. Beaver kept vigil, certain Otter would die of despair. But inside Otter was counting the cost, deciding whether or not to give up. Otters don’t, you know.

Set within Otter was an unrecognizable creature who did not match the reflection in the water and who was now officially disfigured. Could it get any worse?

***

By and by Otter became a beaver. Otter insisted on being referred to as “Beaver,” which was very confusing, especially to the younger animals and transients.

“Hey, uh… You. Your… thing fell off,” buzzed a dragonfly, a recent migrant to the marsh who didn’t know the story and thought he was being helpful.

Otter glared and stomped away.  It fell to Beaver-who-saved-her to duct-tape the piece of tire to her stump whenever it fell off, which was often. Beaver also whittled her a new set of teeth when her old ones broke off or got soggy. All very inconvenient, this.

Even with all the beaver accoutrements, Otter’s insides still felt empty. But being a beaver took so much work, and there were the marsh meetings Otter called where she made passionate speeches about the problem of otterness, or gooseness, or duckness, or any number of other problems. Like hawks: they had to go. In all the work to be done, all the self-manicuring and re-training into beaverness, Otter was so distracted she didn’t have time to think.

But the movement caught on. At first the animals came to gawk at the cobbled creature who waved her paws around and defiantly cursed whatever powers be, who challenged the status quo. “Should we not all ask ourselves if we are what we want to be? Are you satisfied?” asked Otter-beaver. Most shook their heads, no.

“Well then do something about it,” thundered Otter-beaver, and she was quite the orator. Before long, animals were mutilating themselves left and right. Everyone had a problem. The sounds of the marsh evolved. Gone were the primitive whacks and slaps of work. No. Mostly there was talk, complaints, advice, how-to’s. Entrepreneurs and savvy thinkers took to collecting tire pieces and making wooden teeth, antlers, fake rabbit tails from milkweed strings. The marsh was a busy, busy place.

…a harried, frenzied place where not a lot of thinking went on, not a pollen-sized piece of true joy could be found. Just a trade: one dissatisfaction for another. Otterness for psuedo-beaverness and all the complications thereof. No doubt a real and tangible discomfort existed in Otter and in the other changeling animals– a yearning for wholeness or satisfaction, for more, for less, for peace. A real and tangible discomfort existed in Otter. And still does.

The end.

I have seen all the works which have been done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and striving after wind. What is crooked cannot be straightened and what is lacking cannot be counted.  Ecclesiastes 1:14, 15

Godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment.  For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. 1 Timothy 6:6,7

 

Swimming Over the Moon

I’ve decided, now that I have three years swim-parent experience, swimming is a sport about the following: 1. conquering your fears, 2. conquering your flesh, 3. extreme repetition, and 4. pressure. As a child, the extent of my swimming was the drowning preventative offered by the local pool. I had no idea there was a whole world of splashing and angst and sweaty bleachers where parents wring their hands and tap their feet like speed-jacked jazz musicians.

Gabe, Coach Mike, and his buddies.

Setting: the sweaty bleachers. I mention this is Gabe’s third year swimming. “And he’s here?” says a mom. I didn’t tell her he was here last year too. Mom-pride, rein it in.

Getting to the Great Lakes YMCA Zones swim championship was an achievement Gabe coveted in his first year swimming. Like I said. We were new. Zones was the pinnacle, so when the kids were told to make goals, a Griffiths makes them lofty. (Gabe’s dad ran the Boston Marathon just 5 years after his first 5K.)

I watched the coach’s face as she read Gabe’s goal, saw her body language. It laughed to the other coach standing nearby. It said, let’s be reasonable. Gabe didn’t make it to zones his first year swimming, but he did make it his second year. Gabe’s second year he was under a new coach, pictured above. If there is even a speck of work ethic in a swimmer, Mike draws it out. For Christmas Mike has the kids swim 10,000 yards (5+ miles). I’m convinced Gabe would swim the English Channel if Coach Mike told him he could do it.

Swimming is set up so that no matter how fast you are, there’s always someone breathing down your neck. Or more aptly, swiping at your toes. The races, called heats, pit like swimmers against like, and you’re ever-reaching for a better time, a personal best. There are harder and harder cuts to make, exclusive meets for which to qualify. This past weekend we swam the zones meet at Bowling Green State University. The hotel stay meant “team building,” aka romping the halls like a gang of street thugs. Who wouldn’t get heady on a cocktail of zones-glory, camaraderie, relief (the season’s almost over), and independence (parents? what parents?). “It was the best time I’ve ever had,” said Gabe. You’ve heard the expression over the moon? He was, we all were.

Mom-delight, I won’t even bother to rein it in. 🙂

In this book David and Goliath, Malcom Gladwell writes about a dynamic I find true in swimming and in life: courage is acquired. “Courage is what you earn when you’ve been through the tough times and you discover they aren’t so tough after all.”  This dynamic explains how Blitz-era Londoners handled life so casually. It explains Stonewall Jackson’s near mythical moment when he sat upon his horse while bullets whizzed by him, earning him the name. In both cases the courageous ones had been through brutal experiences and had come out the other side, stronger.

Desirable difficulty is the phrase, and it quantifies the boon that is swimming, and perhaps all athletics, to young people.

Desirable difficulty is this: People who’ve been through hell, find the temperature wasn’t as bad as they’d imagined it would be. In other words, the fear of the future is actually worse than the future itself. Gladwell states, “We are all of us not merely liable to fear, we are also prone to being afraid of being afraid, and the conquering of fear produces exhilaration…”

Exhilaration. Well, if that doesn’t define Gabe and the other zones swimmers…

Gabe about to swim a relay split.

Throughout the season swimming places fearful moments squarely in front of a kid and then the kid must watch the horizon event come closer, closer. He’ll feel the curl of fear in his stomach, perhaps puke it up when he enters the pool. The swimmer must face the fear and step onto the block of his own volition.

Over and over again.

For the 1650 race (that’s a mile, friends), I had the honor of timing. The 11-year-olds who were about to jump in that pool– they were facing fear square on. But I was also there when they touched the wall after the 66th lap, exultant. They swam through the fear and came out the other side. Gladwell seems to describe swimmers when he’s describing surviving Londoners: “…the contrast between the previous apprehension [of swimming the mile] and the present relief [of surviving it] …promotes a self-confidence that is the very father and mother of courage.”

The father and mother of courage: whatever we face that scares us. Makes me want to jump up off my couch and run bull-style into a public speaking engagement… or onto a dance floor. Makes me want to recruit kids by the hundreds into a sport or challenging activity.

…makes me want to smile at the weekend we just finished, to thank Coach Mike and all the RYD coaches for the work ethic they promote, and the swim parents who work tirelessly to provide the celebrations of a year well-spent.

 

Thankful for a great swim team!

A Jungle Fable, Microcosms Entry

 

On a dismal November day an election was held to determine who would rule the jungle. This jungle was, in fact, a great laboratory in which a grand experiment was taking place. Only two animals ever got traction as rulers: the donkeys or the elephants. This went on and on in a sort of power tug-of-war.

The elephants were colossal, fat beings that could and would crush small creatures. Laws annoyed them, for they got in the way. The donkeys, preferring not to be called asses, were burdened creatures. They carried around other people’s treasure, redistributing it and enacting lots and lots of laws to legalize their ends. As often happens in contests, winning and holding power became more important than governing the jungle. So many promises the elephants and donkeys made… so many broken.

Ticked off and exasperated beyond belief, the animals panted for something heretofore… insane. An animal unlike the donkey or elephant, wily, vicious, depraved but powerful: a businessman. He swept into the jungle on storms of discontent provided by the donkey-elephant wars and made a great, great victory, a huge victory. He said he was an elephant but no one believed him or gave a rip. Only a donkey or an elephant could wear the crown. Some rules must be followed. Others broken. A businessman knows this.

Into the jungle he came roaring. And tweeting. Donkeys and elephants alike underestimated him, and this gave him an edge. The businessman wouldn’t read their scripts, wouldn’t play by the jungle rules. He invented new rules and resonated with scores of jungle animals.

A businessman presides over the jungle now.

The moral of the story: Rules are for chumps, not Trumps.

The end.

*Every Friday Microcosms offers a unique writing challenge. They supply genre, setting, and character, and you supply the flash fiction, up to 300 words. The judge is usually the previous week’s winner. They offer voting options– you can vote for your favorite piece, and every week, the judge chooses a favorite line out of every entry. That’s author love, I tell you.

This week I couldn’t resist. I’m really too busy, but the prompt got me thinking…

Prompt: laboratory/fable/inventor

Fiction: Hear No Evil

If this doesn’t inspire a story…

I decided to try my hand at the assignment I gave my 13 & up class this week: 500+ words using one of the seven basic plot types and using the picture to the left as a prompt. Confession: I didn’t decide on a plot type first. The picture was inspiration enough. I just began writing. I can totally tell I’m in the middle of C.S. Lewis’ sci-fi book, Out of the Silent Planet. I did have trouble wrapping this up though, and I believe it’s because I didn’t settle on a plot type or have a plan. As usual, I wrote myself into a corner. Too-much-time later, I figured out an end. Good thing I spend lots of time driving. It’s great for plotting. Now that it’s done I believe it falls under the plot type tragedy.

Hear No Evil

All prisoners wore red; it was mandated. Years ago, some clever administrator dubbed it the perfect prison garb, as red did not exist naturally on Zoya. Making the cloth was costly. First, the larvae had to be imported from their native planet. They were freeze-dried for the journey, then defrosted and spun in oxygen-rich vacuums– a noisy affair, as the larvae screamed in agony during the process. Weavers were always of an earless species, as was thought humane.

Once the larvae were unspooled, the cloth could be brought into the light. Then it was sewn onto a prisoner where it reacted with the epidermis, creating an even deeper, unnatural hue. Milan had laughed as they stitched the suit into the cerulean skin of his ankles, figuring he’d tear it out the first opportunity he got. They sewed it into his pink wrist flesh too, and his neck.

That hurt.

Thankfully he didn’t have ears, so he didn’t hear his own screams. He did note, however, that his mouth opened and closed and a great rush of air pushed out his throat. He’d seen others do it before, so he knew he ought to be embarrassed. The administrators tricked him. He didn’t figure on them stitching a seam up the sides of his legs and torso, embedding the live threads into his heart. If he tugged even slightly on the loose string at his ankle, he immediately felt an excruciating pain in his chest. The red suit would stay, and Milan’s life as a free citizen of Zoya was over. They let him keep his home in the Mottled Wood, they even gave a stipend for his pets. Pets were good for combatting depression, they said. Pets didn’t talk back or criticize. A man with pets might be rehabilitated.

The first step toward rehabilitation was to admit guilt. This Milan would not do.

Every day a representative from the Zoyan Mental Health Services would knock on his gate at precisely 2:00 PM, tea-time in Zoya. Milan was expected to put out tea (they provided it in the stipend, ginger as he requested). The representative sat on the wicker chair, Milan on the floor cushions. His kind never used chairs. They were to talk about his feelings. Was he sorry yet? He’d eaten company property, after all.

How was Milan supposed to know they took seven years to digest? He never would be sorry, he told them. The larvae were delicious.

Milan was sentenced to Indefinite House Arrest.

“What if I leave?” he asked, with his usual sass.

“Anyone with ears will hear you a mile off,” answered the judge, “We provide you the tools and the environment. Rehabilitation must be a personal choice. Free will above all else.” The judge pointed to the Zoyan crest of an eagle as he said this.

“I’m not free,” complained Milan.

“You’re free enough.”

Milan, wanting to make the best of house arrest, decided to make a pet for himself. The ones they provided were lame: a toy rhino and a pillow beetle. To grow what he wanted required a special solution. Luckily, the library delivered, and he was easily able to make the solution once he had the recipe. The other ingredient wasn’t easy: his big toes, chopped off at the first knuckle. They grew back of course, but it was a slow process. He had to wear white cotton socks and slides around the house until the healing was complete.

Every day he stirred the jar, noting with satisfaction that after ten days the toes dissolved and stretched like yeast dough and began to resemble an offspring of the phylum Chordata. The representative nodded in appreciation. “Coming along nicely,” he said, “Art is good for rehabilitation.”

“Yes,” Milan agreed.

“How does it make you feel?”

“I’m not sure yet. I’m still growing it. My feet hurt.”

“Yes. Well, I assume you’ve been adequately provided for?” The representative nodded to Milan’s pets and the jar.

“Oh yes, after this it will be enough,” Milan assured him.

“What are you making?”

“A penguin.”

“What’s that?”

“You mean you don’t know? They used to live on Earth. You are human, yes?”

The representative, clearly embarrassed at not knowing, changed the subject to that day, Milan’s last day on the job making the very fabric that now enveloped his skin. Milan threw up his hands. “Even if I apologize, I’ll wear this suit forever. What’s the point?”

“At least you’d be free to leave the house.”

“I stand out like a zit.”

“Only on Zoya. You could eventually leave.”

It dawned on Milan that leaving was precisely what they wanted him to do– once the larvae were digested of course. Though the representative was sipping tea and engaging Milan in talk, his attention kept returning to the glass jar. Milan pretended not to notice. When the tea was gone, the representative, a naturalized human, bowed to Milan and thought his farewell. For a human he could think quite coherently. Most simply could not separate their inner thoughts from those they wished to send as communication. It was a drawback to having ears.

Milan wondered if being assigned to him was a sort of departmental punishment. Though he had no ears, Milan could imagine how difficult it was for the representative to ignore the tormented calls of the larvae as his system digested them. The screams went on and on, like a siren, so Milan was told. He heard nothing. The rhino’s ears had been lanced, and the bug didn’t have any, but his new pet… through the thick glass Milan could see the tiny mouth opening and closing. Was that what drew the human’s attention?

Milan eyed the glass-encased prisoner. A stubby wing struck out and hit the glass. “I don’t receive you unless you think.” Milan tapped the side of his head as if that explained everything.

Already it didn’t seem to like him.

Milan sighed. “Do you hear them too?”

In answer, the penguin banged so hard on the glass that it quaked on the table.

“I can eat you too, you know,” Milan said, “And I wouldn’t be a bit sorry.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Volcano Hike: Mt. Liamuiga

dsc00548

Mt. Liamuiga, aka Mt. Misery

A rust-ravaged truck would take us to the base of Mt. Liamuiga. After the 45 minute drive through St. Kitts, our 2+ hour ascension hike would begin. Behind me lay the Adventure of the Seas with its hushed hot tub waters and attendant waiters, plush deck chairs, everlasting soft-serve ice cream cones…

What had I done?

Across from us sat a young, solid-looking couple. How can you tell a woman knows exactly what she’s doing in the wild bush? By the handkerchief expertly tied around her tightly braided hair of course. Best I could do was a half braid and a camouflage ball cap. Pieces of my unruly hair already stuck out like wild feathers. This couple read the reviews too; they’d run half-marathons, Tough Mudders, trail races, etc. I sensed oncoming disgrace.

Then another couple climbed in the truck. Surely they hadn’t read the reviews. Both were older, somewhat heavy, and the woman– her overlong, manicured nails would never survive the crags and crevices we’d have to grasp in order to heft ourselves to the top of the 3,792 foot volcano. I simply could not imagine her completing. Thank God, I thought. I won’t be last.  

How does one have such ruthless, Darwinian thoughts on a cruise vacation?

Part of the fun of cruises is choosing your excursions. Amongst the taxi tours and beach visits, the volcano hike stood out as something different. We are lovers of different. The hike was labeled extremely strenuous, but on a cruise “strenuous” is taking the stairs rather than the elevator. So how bad could it be, this extremely?

Bad.

Trip Advisor used phrases like “way harder than described,” “you are looking at the ground most of the time so you don’t die,” and “of the 60 [hikers] only 15 made it to the top.”

Or this, my favorite:

This is the hardest thing that I have ever done and I have biked a century, hiked mountains in Italy, Wyoming, and Montana. The best way to describe this is extreme hiking. Imagine doing Stair Treadmill for 2 hours and you are ready. Don’t take this for the scenic photo ops, no this is for people who love extreme challenges.
I took this tour from Celebrity cruise and they described it as extremely strenuous. That does not really describe it because you get the impression that this is just really tough exercise like running on a treadmill. No!! The elliptical machines don’t prepare you for this…   – Krsna T January 5, 2017

I’m a review-reader because I believe in being prepared, whether I’m buying a product or putting my life in the hands of a St. Kittsian Bushman to guide me up a volcano. I like knowing what’s coming. In this case knowing what was coming struck fear into me that I wouldn’t be able to finish, that I’d fall and break a leg (that was in one of the reviews), that I’d have a heart attack or (more likely) a panic attack and stop up the whole group, that I’d have to hold my pee for inordinate amounts of time (also in the reviews).

These fears plagued me especially because of a previous, extremely-strenuous hike I took in West Virginia. My hiking company: Bob, a marathoner, Luke, a soccer player, and Gabe, a swimmer. The three of them bounded up the mountains like billy goats on amphetamines while I straggled behind, heaving and gasping and feeling like a zombie.

Though I run five miles regularly, a set of stairs winds me. A part of me thought maybe it was foolishness, this volcano. The opposite pull was the idea of letting Bob down, of looking a challenge in the eye and letting it beat me. Let me be clear: Bob puts zero pressure on me. Bob wants only my happiness but he’s often stuck because I’m happiest when I don’t feel like a wimp. What to do? I decided to train for my cruise vacation.

dsc00558

A wall of roots and rocks.

Before, I worked out with less-than-average intensity. With the hike looming, I became a fitness honor student. I Googled How to train to climb a mountain. I ran faster and harder and longer. I found HIIT routines and used weights. I even surprised myself by losing weight. “Good,” said Bob, “It’ll be less for you to pull up the volcano.” He was right. Much of the volcano is pulling your body weight up the rocky and root-infested face.

Excursion day. At first, Bob and I were in the slow group. When our guide called experienced hikers to the front of the pack, I could not in good conscience go. We were put in the second group, which was also the last group. At the first rest stop I had to use the “bush room.” This put us as the last two hikers of the entire group. I noticed the guide breathing as heavily as I, and it comforted me.

At the next rest, the lead guide said we were short on time, that we’d have to split up and he needed two climbers for the fast group. I raised my hand. Bob looked at me, wondering if I’d lost my mind. We were sized up and chosen to go with the experienced climbers. Was I afraid? Yes. But I was more afraid of missing the summit.

As the trail morphed into walls of rock and roots, I felt rather billy-goatish myself, though I breathed louder than a dragon. My walking stick became my best friend, grinding blisters into my palms but relieving some of the pressure off my legs. I focused on my next step and my next, and… bam! Rest stop. Bob and I, by placement of where we sat as we began the next leg, were in the front of the experienced climbers, right behind the guide. Now I really felt compelled to push. I didn’t want to hold up people behind me.

dsc00554

Do you see that sweat?

Can I tell you what a delight it is to do hard things I can do? Just like little Anna said that day at Whipp’s Ledges, when her mom offered a hand over the slippery rocks and Anna declined because she wanted the full glory of her accomplishment. I love vacation. I love rest. But unearned rest is sloth.  I speak from both sides of this issue. I remember complaining to Bob about how awful running felt, the whole time.

“Try running harder for sections,” he advised.

“That’ll just make it even more awful.”

“No, that’ll make the other times feel easy. If you don’t ever push yourself, the whole run feels hard. Push yourself and you’ll get the reward of an ‘easy’ stretch.”

But I didn’t want to hurt. Hurting stinks, so I kept plodding along at the same slow pace for my runs– until Mt. Liamuiga gave me a reason to push myself. What I gave in extra effort, I got back in ease later. And the whole process was more fun. Yikes.

Truth: the hike down was harder for me than the hike up. I’d expended all my energy fighting gravity for 2+ hours, when it came time to pick my way over the slick roots and rocks, my legs were jelly. No one talked on the way down. Not only were many exhausted like me, but total focus was required “so you don’t die.” At the bottom of the trail we were cheered by the folks who’d turned back at some point. (That’s what all the extra guides were for.) Also waiting was a spam sandwich on white bread with iceberg lettuce. Bob had one.

dsc00557

A kiss at the summit.

The rest of the cruise was as you’d imagine…  take one before you die. C.S. Lewis said it best: A pleasure is full grown only when it is remembered.  …it [the experience] was nothing. Now it is growing into something as we remember it, what will it be when I remember it as I lie down to die, what it makes in me all my days till then – that is the real [experience]. -excerpt from Out of the Silent Planet, the book I’m working through with my 5000 Words class.

dsc00568

St. Maarten

dsc00508

Formal night

Set featured image

The Quiet Room of no Social Media

I’m not one of those planner-bloggers. I write what I feel, when I feel it. When I post I’m basically throwing you a real-time snapshot of my mind. I may be feeling a bunch of things, but when I post I’m shining one of those thoughts and offering it to you.

For me, posting has been a sort of reaching out. I post and then I wait. Did anyone like it? Was anyone moved? Who agrees with me? As much as I’ve tried to stop it– my writing, specifically blogging, is a quest for affirmation/connection masquerading as an essay.

A thought occurred to me this morning as I was having my “devotions.” I put quotes around them because they’ve not felt very devoted lately. A dark night of the soul sort of thing, but my internal ravings led me to consider: if Gandhi can fast from food, I can fast from social media. And wouldn’t it be freeing? Not to wonder who liked my posts, who liked my status, my picture, my buffed-up, shiny words? Yes. I decided. Freeing indeed.

I usually scroll through Facebook while I eat my lunch. I’m not sure what I’ll do while I eat, but I used to do something before. It’ll come back. Maybe I’ll taste my food. Time travel back to 1990 wasn’t an option, so turning off notifications will have to do. I’ll be writing my novel in the quiet room of no social media. That’s my real-time plan. Once I have it finished, I’ll come back to beg for beta readers.

Till then.

Locker Room Talk

I love writing about overcoming. It feels like I’m having a locker room talk with myself. Not the kind Donald Trump has– the kind like this:

My family makes fun of me because I listen to things like this all the time: in the shower, while doing my hair and make-up, pretty much any time I’m not actively focused on something else. When I hold planks I play these sorts of YouTube videos. They distract me. Ever since I was young (12ish), I wanted to work harder than everyone else. Talent is a lottery. So are looks. Even brains. But anybody can work, went my thinking. I was sorely just an anybody, so I focused on the one thing I could control: work ethic.

“She works harder than any of the guys,” my coach mentioned to his friend. He thought I couldn’t hear, as I was attempting giants (see video below) on the bar next to him. The best compliments, the truest, are the ones they don’t mean for you to hear. That’s how I feel about affirmations. If you’re telling me because you want to pet me, I don’t believe you. If you’re whispering to your friend I work harder than any of the guys, I dare to believe.

And to think? Harder than the guys. The tomboy in me smiled at that thought.

Today is one of those days I don’t feel right. I’m so wrong I can’t concentrate. I want to do what I’ve committed to (write my novel), but with no extrinsic motivation like a time clock or a boss or a bar coach, I’m left to motivate myself. And today– I’m not feeling it. So I write about not feeling it because at least I’m writing. Only writers can see how much sense that makes.

I said in my resolution post that life will throw you down, that it’s our job to get up. How you do that will look different than how I do that. This is how I do that. I can’t hear my characters whisper their feelings because my own are yelling. Anne Lamott was once told, “You think everything that happens to you is interesting.” I fear that is the lot of a writer… but what writer sits down at her laptop and thinks Today I’ll write about something superbly boring… ? No one thinks that. We all think we have something interesting to say. Or at least, we dare to hope.

An invisible bar coach sits beside me and reminds me that I can still work hard at my craft. I do wonder though: what does Stephen King do on his off days? He says he writes every single day of the year. Christmas. Birthdays. Down days. Knowing what a liberal he is, I wonder if he picked himself up by his bootstraps and wrote great prose the day Donald Trump won the presidency? Or did he mope around the house? Or play motivational videos and distract himself until he felt right again? I’d love to know.