Listen to My Story!

There is a story that is out there, acting like a grown-up, getting read aloud like some sort of literature. And I wrote it. I wrote a story that someone out there, who I don’t even know had to read. Aloud. Professionally. Probably more than once, that poor woman.

I knew this was coming at some point, but when I woke up this morning and saw the notification on my phone screen that it was real, it was here and real, everything stopped. And then I avoided it.

Okay, so I have been writing a book. You’ve likely heard this from me for about 5 years or something. I mean, I’ve been tinkering for like 5 years, I’ve been actively writing this book for about a year now. It started out as me just writing down things that happened around me that I thought were funny. And I was on a PTO, which is like a PTA but not as official or something so a lot of my stories revolved around the fun (and trouble) we got into in the PTO. And then I started talking to people here in Colorado who had similar experiences to some of the more dramatic stuff and I decided that I needed to fictionalize it all and write a whole stupid book about it. Except now my book has gotten bigger than that. Now it’s about friendships and whatever.

However, I was asked if I could condense some of the PTA stuff into a few thousand words that could somewhat come together as a story for this podcast. So I did AND SOMEONE WHO DOESN’T EVEN KNOW ME HAD TO READ IT! How crazy is that? I feel so powerful.

I also feel a little like an impostor which is why I just stared at the notification this morning and then ignored it for a couple of hours. I mean, if I had to read my own writing, that’s one thing, but to hear someone else have to do it made me feel secondhand embarrassment for some reason. I eventually listened to it and I feel good. It sounds normal not in my own voice. All of this is not selling the podcast is it? Okay, ignore this paragraph.

So a woman, who is named Julie Niblett, who I didn’t have to guilt into anything, read my story, amazingly by the way, and it exists out there like a real thing. And you should all listen to it!

https://pendustradio.com/humor-satire/kicked-out-of-the-pta/

A Ghost Story!

A couple of weeks ago, I put together a thing about ghosts, thrown together from a few of my blog posts for a project and then decided to go a totally different way (which is coming soon, I’ll talk all about it when I know more). But my ghost story has been sitting there all gussied up in a prom dress with nowhere to go, like a ghost in the attic looking out the window in longing wait just wanting someone to pay it some attention.

I release you, ghost story.

Legitimate Ghost Science

The thing about being broke and watching House Hunters is that you start playing the game, What would I do for a real house? Would I live with a demon? I think I could totally live with a demon if it came with an attached garage.  And theoretically this is true. Theoretically you’d put up with anything for more space and a dishwasher. But the reality is sleepless nights silently praying for the banging in the walls to stop in an apartment that smells vaguely of urine. The tradeoff is the exposed brick, original hardwood flooring, and natural lighting throughout in a desirable neighborhood downtown.

I lived with a ghost, so I know a lot about ghosts. Well, at least I know something about living with a ghost.  That’s because I was haunted once and I think it might have been by the ghost of Molly Brown. You know, from the Titanic? I know, it seems weird, but hear me out. I lived in a super haunted apartment in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Denver. My friend and I moved in there together. My friend, Vicki, not Molly Brown; Molly was already there and a ghost.  Vicki’s not a ghost.  

This apartment was walking distance from, what we later found out, was Molly Brown’s house. We did know her house was called Molly Brown’s House, but it was also 1996 and Titanic hadn’t come out yet, so we didn’t really know who she was. I guess there was a musical about her, but it took Kathy Bates to really bring the whole thing together. I did know that her house was a museum, but beyond that, I didn’t put too much thought into it. 

Vicki and I were much younger than we are now. No gray hair between us. We were 19. And like most 19-year-olds, we ate raw cookie dough and corn out of cans we’d buy from the convenience store on the corner. We were obsessed with The Beatles and Weezer when they still had Matt Sharp in the band. We were either going to start a comedy troupe or a rock band. Maybe both even though I still don’t know how to tell a joke or play the guitar. 

The day we moved into the Denver apartment, was a mixture of sweat and relief. We spent a good six weeks apartment hunting from Poets Row to Five Points and everywhere in between. The only other thing available was a small, windowless basement of an old Victorian home with a shared bathroom and a pull chain toilet, so walking into the sunny living room on 14th Avenue felt like a dream. Jenny, a mutual friend that Vicki and I knew from work had a corner apartment in the same building on the 3rd floor that looked out over an alley and an empty parking lot. I parked in the lot once when I couldn’t find street parking, and the parking lot police gave me a $150 parking ticket and a big orange sticker on my windshield that took me 3 hours with soapy water and a razor blade to get rid of. Jenny just paid $50 a month for a parking pass to avoid any of the hassle. That always seemed like a rip off to me. 

So, the day we moved in, The Beginning, we were greeted by the welcoming sunlight that spilled in from two large windows on the south wall. There was a rumor that the building was built as a hotel for businessmen in the 1920s. There was a defunct dumb waiter up the center of the building, still accessible from the bathroom and adjacent hallways through clear windows. That dumb waiter probably had its heyday more than a few decades back, but now it was just a dusty smelling hole filled with old beer bottles and used syringes and see-through windows that looked into the neighbors’ access windows, located in their hallways and bathrooms. It only just occurred to me now that my neighbors quite possibly saw me naked, but to be fair to past me – and future me that will inevitably lay awake tonight thinking about it in horror – my neighbors seeing me fresh out of the shower was the least awful thing about the Denver Apartment.  I mean, there were bullet holes in the bathroom tile. Vicki and I brushed it aside telling everyone who came over, that it gave the place a little character.  

You know when you see something paranormal going down and you think, Yeah, I’m just going to ignore that? It doesn’t work. 

Only hours after being courted by the sunny afternoon sun, bouncing off the original hardwood flooring in the living room, Vicki and I held each other in the dark in fear on that very floor as rattling chains and moaning laughter and slow, even footsteps walked up and down the original hardwood hallway. We cried and stayed up all night praying to the ghost of John Lennon to protect us. 

I walked out to my car the next morning to see that it got tagged on the street, right in front of Molly Brown’s house. It wasn’t like a spray paint tag, but it was a very threatening scribble in the frost on my back window. This has actually happened twice in my life. Both times being right as I moved into a new place. Maybe it’s a guardian angel that hates me. Maybe it’s a ghost who was a fan of Ghost trying to tell me I’m in danger but doesn’t have a penny to roll up the wall, so he has to scroll it out in the early morning windshield dew. BITCH, he writes in whatever crossed realm magic he has summoned.  Perfect! he thinks, she’ll know what that means

I think I may have summoned these ill-willed ghosts through the Ouija Board as a teen and then they never left me. 

When I was 13, I developed body odor and an obsession with the Ouija Board. I think in that order and at the same overnight visit to my friend, Lauren’s house.

Sara, Lauren, and I met in middle school art class and in between drawing circle people and perspective cityscapes, the two of them spent every class, willingly or not, listening to my unverified theories that perhaps all of Def Leppard were deaf and way into cats. I also spoke loudly on my conviction that West Coast hip hop group, N.W.A. was named after an airline. I’m pretty sure the girls had some bet going between them over who could stand my idiot stories the longest without laughing. Maybe there was a can of soda on the line. Whatever it was, I eventually infiltrated their clique of friends like Ebola, spreading my ignorance and lies to the furthest reach. Miraculously, I was never beaten up. 

The year was 1989, possibly 1988 but we’re not going to squabble because when I start doing the math on my age I begin to sweat and grow even older. It’s like that merry-go-round in Something Wicked This Way Comes, all fun and games until your skin wrinkles and dusts off of your skeleton into a pile of ash and sadness. 

At a sleep-over at Lauren’s house, we had just finished watching a rented VHS copy of The Exorcist which, even at the time, we all knew was a bad idea, but none of us wanted to admit it out loud, so we decided to dress up in Lauren’s new dresses from her trip to San Francisco earlier that summer and at that precise moment, I realized that I officially needed to start wearing deodorant. I’m convinced it was fear manifesting itself in physical form, like Freddie Krueger shredding up the pits of Lauren’s new dress with my onion-like stench. I’m a true friend and said nothing about it. We also decided at this time to pull out the Ouija Board and talk to dead people because I think a Magic 8 ball told us it was destined. This would not be my last Ouija Board experience, nor my last attempt to talk to dead people. They have apps now. 

“Only use two fingers, like lightly put them on. Actually, they shouldn’t even really touch it, just like hover.”

“But it needs our energies to work, or something doesn’t it? How’s it going to work if we’re not touching it? We need to touch it.”

“Yeah, like if we didn’t need to touch it, it’d be channeling ghosts all the time!”

“What if it’s channeling ghosts right now? I don’t think I want to do this. You saw what happened in Exorcist. Even the smoking priest couldn’t handle the demons that came from the Ouija Board.”

“He smoked. That’s what the demons were mad about. The smoking. He was probably faking the whole thing anyway. He was a stunt priest.”

“Can we get on with this? Okay. Two fingers, touching the pointy thing, but lightly. And don’t push it. I’ll know if you’re pushing it.”

Will you know though, Lauren and Sara? I thought to myself as I sat oozing B.O. into a dress that wasn’t mine.

To be honest, I probably pushed it, but I don’t remember doing so. I remember being spooked and engrossed in the story playing out before us, letter by letter, of a boy named Kenneth who was killed  – hit by a Coca Cola truck on his way home from the mall – or something equally as adolescent, and forced into an afterlife of parlor tricks and fortune telling. 

I’m afraid ghosts are becoming too kitsch. Too trendy. Too hip. It’s all fun and games until I pull out my ghost app at a party and then I’m what, too old for this? The ghosts don’t care how old you are, Heather. 

One night in the Denver apartment, as I stepped out of the shower – you’re welcome, Apartment 10 – my cat, who was standing on the towel rack on the back of the door jumped onto my naked, wet body in pure fight or flight mode as I grasped out desperate to find a towel that I could wrap around me as an impromptu cat shield. 

I opened the door to the bathroom, the cat tore off around the corner leaving scratch marks in the floor and as I looked up, at the end of the dark hallway, I was staring eye to eye with a Victorian woman, dressed in a white Victorian gown, and you could tell that she wasn’t real, it was like looking at a hologram. But she stared at me as she moved into the bedroom – my bedroom – slamming the door behind her. 

I never used that bedroom again. I spent the remainder of my residency at the haunted Denver apartment sleeping on the hand-me-down loveseat in the living room. I should’ve known that room was evil from the start. There was a creepy mirror glued to the wall that you probably didn’t even have to play Bloody Mary in front of to get the ghost in it to come out to say hi. 

You would assume, knowing my obsessive interest in the paranormal, that I would’ve, at some point in my life been down to play a good old round of Bloody Mary. In case you don’t remember being a teenage girl at a slumber party in the 80s, Bloody Mary is more than that disgusting drink with clam juice and vodka. Bloody Mary was a “game” where you would stand in the bathroom with the lights out, close your eyes and chant “Bloody Mary” three times and when you opened your eyes, you would see a murdered girl in the mirror, standing behind you, looking at you. I know that we joked about doing this at several parties, I don’t actually know if any of us ever went through with that third “Bloody Mary”. Maybe the game was invented after someone drank three Bloody Marys and was trying to refocus and reassess their life decisions alone in the bathroom as we all do, when your face looks bloated and weird and you realize you’ve had too many Bloody Marys. 

My interest in the paranormal is in jest only. When put into an actual situation where there may be a ghost, I’m not as cool as I pretend to be.  I’ve lived with a ghost and lived to tell the tale. It’s my party story. But, ghosts are trouble and not something you invite into your home as a joke. I’ve watched The Exorcist. I’ve seen how that plays out.

I remember once at my grandma’s house, my sister, Julie and I decided we would try to summon Mary. It was the afternoon, what could go wrong? We’ll never know because I couldn’t go through with it. Not even in the middle of the afternoon.

The slumber parties I remember the most are the ones where we tried to scare each other. Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board was a favorite and I always wanted to be the one levitated so that I could feel envied for being so magical and airy. I never levitated. And then there was the Ouija Board which I’m not sure whether it worked or not but when I was a middle schooler, I’m pretty sure I would sometimes push the little triangle thing to see how far I could get my friends to believe. This is probably what has angered the ghosts. 

One day a guy knocked on the door at the Denver apartment and said he used to live there and asked if he could use the fire escape. I said “yes” because I was 19 and stupid and he came in, went down the hall, into the ghost’s bedroom, and right out the window onto the fire escape. I should’ve asked more questions. That guy was probably also a ghost.   I had to go in the room to close the window behind him and I think the ghost woman touched my hair. I don’t know. That was the last time I went into that room.

The thing about living in an apartment is that most of the time, you can easily blame all strange noises on the neighbors. Was that a demon growl or just Chubs, the bulldog that lives next door? Was that a ghost in the hallway or just Brian upstairs, rattling his chains for some reason?  Kitchen cabinets slamming? Earthquake. It’s like living in complete ignorant denial. Icy hand caressing my back? Roaches probably. See? People in apartments, for the most part, ignore it. This is probably why all horror movies happen in houses. 

I’m not like those normal apartment people. I assume everything is a ghost. One time, my husband had his headphones on while he was humming a song in the kitchen, only I didn’t know it was him at first. He sounded like a ghost haunting. I heard a ghostly moan that paralyzed me with fear, something I hadn’t felt since the Denver ghost. It was just Billy. 

Maybe I should get my own ghost show, filmed in night vision green where I go around in the dark investigating moans. Holding a device that sounds like it’s detecting dead bodies in concrete, my glowing eyes looking concerned, I’d say to the camera, “Hmm that could be actual paranormal, could be a dude in headphones humming along to The Lemon Twigs. I’m going to take an EVP here in the kitchen, Sheila, you go investigate the hallway”.  I was watching a ghost hunting show once and they were using their iPhones to communicate with the ghosts. I do have to say, from being an expert in ghost apps, I think they might not detect real ghosts. Like, the ghosts that appear on your phone screen look like they might have teleported in from an 80’s movie. The 3 Men and a Baby ghost looks more ghostly than these app ghosts. I did have one app that cost like $6.99 that probably talked to real ghosts but then it wouldn’t update anymore, and it would just crash my whole phone, so I had to delete it. 

I think the perception we have of ghosts and demons is wrong because, in my multiple apartment hauntings, it’s the ghosts you see in white that are the demons. The dark shadows that just lurk in the corners, minding their own business, they’re fine. They’re not Harry Potter dementors or those things that took Carl away at the end of Ghost.  But these are probably irrelevant examples regarding house ghosts, because all of my hauntings have been apartment ghosts. You have to admit, it does seem more likely that bad stuff happens in houses. And hotels. What do apartments get? A bum rap, that’s what. And a shared laundry room that ne’er-do-wells sometimes break into in the middle of the night to steal your laundry, but I’m not 100% convinced the laundry thing wasn’t just the neighbors across the way exacting petty revenge. Back in my haunted Denver apartment, a man used to sleep down in the laundry room and he would yell at you when you turned on the light. I don’t think he was a ghost. 

If I had the hacking skills and smarts, like Mr. Robot, I would totally find out how to scare people using the microphone on their laptops. I would target my friends too, like “Hi, Michelle. It’s me, a demon. Nice shirt. Go Broncos!”. Friends would be the best prey because I already know their weaknesses and I have a vested interest in their reactions. I feel that’s important in a prank.  “Hey Vicki, the guy from the laundry room is standing behind you in your blouse.” Somebody teach me these practical skills please. This is what kind of ghost I would be, by the way. A chain rattling, spooky sounds ghost that apparitions out of a friend’s cupboard. I hope that there’s a ghost wardrobe department and I can be ghosts from various decades. Like 60’s hippie ghost, Salem witch trial ghost, caveman ghost, because I don’t think there’s enough of those talked about. Standard white sheet over the head ghost. Headless horseman ghost. The styles are endless. This is probably what ghosts are, they just scare us because it’s hilarious to them. 

But are ghosts even real? I’ve lived in a couple of haunted apartments, one that was the scariest apartment in the world. But logically ghosts make no sense, and that is what makes ghosts so scary. For all we know they could just be an alternate universe overlapping ours where they’re as weirded out about me as I am about them. In this universe, I’m sitting on a couch, in their world, I’m a weird half vision in the hallway with messy hair. 

Here’s the thing. I know, scientifically or logically or whatever ghosts don’t exist. Like it doesn’t make sense. I also very much believe in ghosts. Because I’ve seen them. I have lived with ghosts. I don’t wish living with a ghost on anyone no matter what the interior design perk it may come with. And yet, at the same time, I don’t know how it’s possibly a thing. There’s a whole scientific thing about energy transference and how energy doesn’t just go away; it has to go somewhere. And where else would it go other than ghosts and Ouija Boards? But I also get the whole thing about how an energy field being off in your home because of negative ions or leaking water pipes, or something else that makes scientific sense, our human brains interpret this fluctuating, abnormal, unbalanced energy as danger. But, since we can’t physically see danger, our brains form hallucinations trying to make sense of the whole thing and we see ghosts. Or something. But I’ve seen ghosts live in the ghost flesh and if what I saw was only my mind’s hallucinations, my brain deserves an Oscar. I looked that Molly Brown ghost in the eyeballs. 

But ghosts have to exist. I seem to be a vessel for ghosts. I have the ones that hate me and write nasty messages on my car windows, and there was that one time that I’m pretty sure Elvis visited me in my kitchen and dumped a cabinet of Tupperware on me while “Heartbreak Hotel” played on the radio. There was Molly Brown, who I don’t really think was Molly Brown. I looked her up, she seemed like she was a really cool lady. And we have the same birthday.  Denver Apartment Ghost was not a cool lady. I refuse to share my birthday with Denver Apartment Ghost. She smelled like pee. 

I sat down to pee last night and I got hit in the head by my son’s plastic, Halloween sickle that was propped up behind the bathroom door. That’s how Death is going to take me. Not slicin’ and dicin’ like some garden variety Freddy Krueger; the Grim Reaper is too sophisticated for such dramatics. He’s just going to jump scare me into a heart-attack on the toilet. Like Elvis.

Now, if I would have met my eternal demise then and there, we would be in quite a pickle. The obvious, number one reason being no pants. I probably want to be wearing pants when I die. Secondly, my bathroom is a disaster. Like biohazard zone disaster. I should probably take some Scrubbing Bubbles to the sink soon and like, a flame torch to the rest of it. I can’t be found naked and slumped over in a bathroom that resembles a truck stop. It’s embarrassing. Not only for me, but future generations that have to relive the humiliation in stories told and retold ’round the campfire in vivid detail.

I’m going to need a cleaner. Like a personal assistant but also super loyal that will take care of all of my indiscretions before the news teams and nosy neighbors arrive to find all my photoshops of Prince as a ghost in purple undies on my laptop. This might be hard to coordinate though because, as my super loyal personal assistant life restorer, you’d have to be on call for like, ever, because I don’t plan on ever dying. I’m going to be like one of those Twilight vampires with the glittery skin that live well into their 1,000s. “Sorry for waking you, kid, that wasn’t a ghost, that’s me walking the hallway at 3:00 AM ‘cause I can’t sleep. I’m too busy worrying about neighbors seeing the cat attack me while naked in the bathroom last century. Yes, the wailing moans are me as well. Go to sleep, Renesmee.” The easy thing to do would be to just keep my life together while I’m alive, but let’s be honest, this is not a skill I currently have on my resume.

Now that I think about the logistics of this, someone needs to call up TLC, this is the show idea! I need either Theresa Caputo or Zak Bagans to team up with like, Oprah and the What Not to Wear team to come in with a camera crew and sort me out. They can help me throw away my underwear with the holes in them, sort through my emails, vacuum, make friends with current ghosts already in the building, etc.

See, I base a lot of my knowledge of the afterlife on what I’ve seen in the movies, mostly Ghost and Beetlejuice and here’s the thing, once you’re a ghost, you’re stuck in the clothes you died in. I don’t make the rules. So, do we want comfort or haute couture? Like, do I have to walk around in Gucci the rest of my life? Is this why you see so many ghosts in ballgowns? Or am I okay haunting the halls in my sweatpants? Do they make gowns in sweatpants material? These are things I need to find out. Dying on the toilet will still be a problem, but that’s what you hope your family is for. Emily Dickinson’s family published her poems after she died, I’m just trying to get mine to agree to pull up my pants.

This could be my new life path. Live in a way that won’t embarrass me when I die. Although, what kind of life is that? It’s boring.  Maybe I would have a better shot if I live my life preparing those around me for my embarrassing ghost phase. Like I’ll just be openly weeping in the hallway at various times throughout the day and adding photoshopped pictures of Prince to my email signatures.

Please, someone’s just gotta pull up my pants…  

How late is too late to make friends with your neighbors?

3 years ago, I moved from Los Angeles to Denver with my husband and our kids. Immediately upon moving in, we met a nice couple that live next door who are around our age and have a daughter that looked around the age of our youngest son. I say “met” but it was more like a wave! and a “let me know if you need anything!”, but I was excited. New friends!

If you ask anyone here, the difference between people from LA and people in Denver has to do with ability to drive in the snow and uppity liberal views or whatever Chad on NextDoor was yelling about. But no, Chad, after growing up here for 20 years, moving to Los Angeles for 20 years, and now being back, I can tell you with extreme confidence, the difference between people in LA and people in Denver is not that, and is too long for my silly little blog post today, but in relation to the above mentioned neighbors, people in LA, while sometimes a little flaky, are pretty much your instant best friends. You say “Hi!” to someone and you’re now best friends who get pedis and mimosas together on a Wednesday and you know more about each other than your own family within like, a month! Here in Denver, people are more overtly friendly, like, they make eye-contact with strangers and wave at you like they know you, which is a serious, “you’re about to get mugged or worse” red flag in LA (that I’ve had to unlearn or relearn or however it works) but they wave at you here and say hi right in your eyes and offer up help and then they disappear back into their lives for the next three years and even though you offer to drive them to school drop off when you see them standing by a car that won’t start in the snow, or you leave your cell number and a cute little note on their door with a smiley face letting them know you were delivered a package of theirs by mistake, you never make it past the friendly waves and the how are yous. There have been no mimosas. There have been no pedis. Apparently I don’t know how to make friends the Denver way. I mean, I grew up here which is probably why I’m so awful at it. The last year doesn’t count because of the pandemic, but still.

It could also be that when we first moved here, after the waves and the offers for help, the above mentioned neighbors were outside throwing a frisbee around and it hit my window. The window I was sitting at. And to exert my space, to let the frisbee owners know that this is my lawn, I went “LA” on them not knowing it was them. And by “LA”, I mean, meanly stink-eyeing them out the window for their transgressions rather than acknowledging the innocence of the mis-catched frisbee.

Anyway.

Judging by the moving van and the photographer taking pictures of the outside of their house today, they’re moving. Don’t they know about pandemic mover’s remorse? It’s a thing. Look it up, Christine and…Chris (I don’t know his name, so he’s now Chris). I had plans for us, Christine and Chris! Chris and Billy (my husband) would be friends by the power of John Elway since they both like the Broncos. I know nothing about Christine, except she dresses in cute dresses so, of course we’d be friends.

Did they think about any of this when they made their plans to leave? Did they remember my uber services? Did they remember that I had a package of theirs? That I kept it safe from porch pirates for god’s sake?? That I wrote a note with smiley faces??

Should I approach them? Demand a friendship? Follow the moving van in my car? Haunt their house like the Brady kids taught me??

Today has been a dark day. How dare they.

“You have controlled your fear. Now, release your anger. Only your hatred can destroy me.”

I’m tired. I am so relieved that Biden and Harris won, and I am tired. I am tired of fighting with people who don’t want to do anything more than fight. I woke up this morning so tired because it wasn’t over. Day 4 or something and it wasn’t over. 

And then it was. And I cried. And they werent the tears I cried 4 years ago Oh god, not those tears. The tears of 4 years ago were of pain and of fear. Today, they were tears of relief. And then they were tears of glee. Glee in that I don’t have to watch a train I’m on falling off a cliff while armed guards wearing beards and wrap around sunglasses spit and yell at the passengers who dare scream. 

And then I cried because of Kamala Harris. I cried because, as a woman, she represents us. As Gen X, she represents us, and for the ladies of color, she very importantly represents them. And no one knows struggle more than a woman of color. And this cry we cried today, it’s so different from the one four years ago that came from the window of my neighbor, a black woman. A wailing cry that broke my heart. 

No. Today is different. The cry and then the breath. And then the party. The joy! The girls in Nevada who are celebrating because their mom is set to be deported in a few months. The joy of the lady in NYC whose great grandfather fought for voter’s rights in Florida. The joy I feel that I don’t have to fear for my children’s futures. I don’t have to fear that my kids won’t live to see their futures. 

And the block parties all over the country. Filling the streets and dancing. We haven’t been this happy in YEARS. They’re saying it looks like V-Day. 

And apparently these are things I have to tell my beloved dad who has somehow bought into this whole cult of personality situation that terrifies me. I mean, we all have that uncle, but my dad?? 

My dad is the person I will start a war for. My dad has raised me to be the kind, empathetic, parent that I pride myself to be. My dad who I will not allow a bad word spoken of. My dad has gone to the dark side and I’m like Luke holding him up and begging him not to take off his mask. Or something. If those two had a better relationship it would make a better analogy. Just go with it. 

How did we get here as a country? I know where I stand, I need a government that cares for everyone, especially the vulnerable, but that’s clearly not what over 70 million people need. Like my dad. And what is it? Because I can’t think of anyone that would be a worse person to represent my country than Trump, and yet, here we are. My dad is way more Biden than he ever has been Trump, yet he’s leaving MAGA-like hate comments on my posts and I toggle between hoping he’s been hacked and also hoping I can figure out why he’s feeling the way I did 4 years ago. And he’s making these ignorant comments and my friends are on attack. And that’s my dad and I cannot let it happen. 


I’m fine with blocking randoms, but I have to protect my dad. And he has vastly opposing views. And I have to understand how he’s gotten here. I’m done with fighting. I refuse to engage with magats. No more. Today was a day for zen and continuing from here on out. But then my dad came in and I’m here. Any other family member is for the wolves, but my dad who I would take a bullet for…. You’re killin’ me, Smalls.

BCWP: He doesn’t reply…

First post of the Book Club Writing Prompt, which is an awful name, do not put me in charge of naming anything. I randomly opened up the book I just finished reading and chose the first sentence that popped out at me as a starter sentence.

(The Girl Before, JP Delany, pg 328) I will start a 15 minute timer and see what dribble comes out.

He doesn’t reply at first, letting the question hang in the air

– JP Delany, The Girl Before

He doesn’t reply at first, letting the question hang in the air, the thick, musty air. The whole house felt too heavy, too dark, too humid and stale. And he just sat there, looking at Melissa, Melissa looking at him, a standoff of wills.

“Can I open a window or something?” I tried not to say out loud but the air and the awkwardness was threatening to crush me. “You know, I’m just going to take this to the car, don’t mind me.” I stammered as I stood up and grabbed a half filled box from the table next to me.

“No, stay, Nancy. I’m obviously the one that’s making this whole thing weird right? You’re feeling weird? Nobody else in this room is feeling weird, just you?” Sam had that same cartoon voice he always had, the same jokey cadence to his voice, but I’m pretty sure he wasn’t kidding. And it terrified me. His eyes bearing into my soul.

So I ran out of the house. I didn’t know what else to do. Stephanie followed me outside. “Kind of intense in there, huh? He’s just having a bad day, I figured I’d give them a minute, you know?”

“Steph, I don’t know if we should leave Melissa alone in there.”

“It’s their marriage, they don’t need us butting in.”


Okay. Timer’s up. It’s boring but it’s actually able to fit into a scene I’m working on on something else so, I’ll fix it up and consider it progress. Hopefully tomorrow’s little 15 minutes is longer and more fun.

Writing to Write

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

I’m sure I’ve mentioned this at least one hundred times, but I’m in the middle of writing a novel and it’s hard and I keep finding myself in the corners I’ve written myself into. Mostly because it’s supposed to be a funny book and I increasingly end up instead scrolling the internet and reading the news and feeling that feeling in the pit of your soul that’s a mixture of fear and anger and overwhelming anxiety. And I’m playing Hall Monitor to my remote schooling children which mostly consists of me yelling at them to get back to class. I need a whistle. And a bottle of sparkling rose’.

I did finally score some yeast this week so if I can remember what I wanted to bake back in the Tiger King era of lock-down, I can maybe get back into the normal part of all of this. Or at least a jovial part.

But! The most rewarding ritual that has come out of this train wreck of a year has been the once a week writing group zoom I’ve become a part of. It’s fantastic and my favorite part of it is when we chose a starting sentence and go off into our own world for 5 minutes and come back and read whatever came out of us. I love it. Mostly because it’s writing to write, and it has nothing to do with the novel that’s just sitting there starting at me from a tab at the top of my screen. The anticipation it must feel rivaling me and my Tiger King yeast.

So in this vibe of writing without, you know, writing, I’ve decided to do my own little writing prompts game. I’ve planned it all out. I’m going to grab the current book I’m reading and on the current page, I’m going to pick a sentence at random and set my timer for however long, maybe 15 minutes, and see where it takes me. And I’ll do it out in the open, here on my blog in the event anyone wants to do this with me. We’ll call it The Book Club Writing Prompt, or something. I’m bad at titles. So if you want to follow along, that’s how I’ll tag it. If you want to write with me, link your posts in my comments so I can read them!

I just finished the book I was reading last night and haven’t chosen a new one yet, so my first post will be from that book, The Girl Before by JP Delaney, which was a good read, by the way.

He doesn’t reply at first, letting the question hang in the air

The Forever Tourist

Photo by Kait Herzog on Unsplash

“I’m going to paddleboard at the lake this weekend, I’m so excited!” The grocery store lady told me as she loaded the groceries into the back of the car.

“Oh fun! What lake?” 

She froze for a split second and looked at me with her face all scrunched in confusion and I felt a little like a time traveler or something that just asked what a computer is. 

I grew up here. Just down the road about a mile and a half. I lived the first 20 years of my life here. And then I moved to California for another 20 years and now I’m not from here anymore. All the local references have been wiped from my brain. I remember none of my life here. I don’t remember any of the local things, lexicons, street names. All gone. But I can distinctly remember what the lilacs in my grandma’s garden smelled like. And the feeling of the butterfly landing on my bare thigh when I was 5. I remember what a crawdad feels like when you pick it up out of the creek and the itchy feeling of wild grass hitting your bare shins in the summer. I remember the way an early Saturday morning in springtime smells and the way the mountains look on a clear day. I remember picking those little navy colored berries out of evergreen bushes and getting tiny, microscopic splinters in your thumb. I remember the smell of Leah Farrell’s basement. I remember the afghan Mrs. Teemsley had on her couch that day we found out where she lived after the principal died, and asked to hang out with her for a while. I remember the dried food on the black wrought iron chandelier that hung in the house my mom was renting. I remember the clogs I was wearing when I was 3 and I remember stretching my legs out straight ahead of me on the couch so everyone would see the heels on the clogs when I was having my picture taken in the den. I remember hanging out at the bowling alley with all the other kids whose dads were in a league and making hickeys on our necks with those rubber poppy things from the vending machines. And then in the summer, I remember hanging out at the softball fields with all the other kids whose dads were on softball teams and buying candy from the snack tent thing and hiding under the bleachers and getting sand stuck to my sticky fingers. I remember telling Heather Staroscik I was allergic to water because I didn’t want to run through the sprinkles and I remember watching “V” at the sitters house waiting for my mom to come pick us up. 

“I thought you were from here” someone will always say. 

I am and yet I don’t know how to make that relevant. My memories don’t include anything practical, unless twisting your ankle in a snake hole is practical. I remember the way my pink room would turn peach in the early morning sun. I remember reading Huckleberry Finn on my bed looking down the hallway to the stairs. I remember thinking I would remember that precise moment for no other reason but to see if I could. I remember trying to fly off the fireplace and I remember thinking it was possible if I thought about it hard enough. I remember eating a walnut from a glass dish at Christmastime and hating it and having nowhere to spit it out. I remember reading a book in the living room about a ghost while it rained outside and I remember the way the turquoise and red line printed on a shampoo bottle jumped into each other when you looked too close. I remember the feel of the knitted blinds in my parents’ bedroom and I remember prank calling 911. I remember where I was when Freddie Mercury died (in the backyard playing paddle ball with my sister) and I remember where I was when Ronald Reagan was shot. I was at someone’s grandma’s house. I think. The house was blue. I remember that my 4th grade teacher moved to the United States when she was a little girl and learned to speak English by watching Sesame Street and reading comic books. I remember the smell of her perfume. 

Isn’t it like that with everyone, though? Who could possibly remember the name of the street some lake is on? The name of the video store that sold beta and vhs? Where the fish store was that smelled like cigarettes. I just realized that the cigarette smell is so much a part of my memory of it, that I expect fish stores to just smell that way. And I suppose they do not. 

And if I’m no longer a local because I don’t remember where the haunted farm was or that it even existed until I got lost one time trying to get to the Butterfly Pavilion and happened upon it, where do these memories belong? I know the wild grasses and snake holes were in the field behind my house, but that particular field isn’t this vast space full of my childhood anymore, but only a small strip of overgrown land behind some houses I barely recognize. Or it was last I drove past it. I don’t like going over there anymore. 

So no, grocery lady, I don’t know what lake you’re talking about, but it sounds really fun. And I’m going to nod my head and pretend I knew of a second lake that’s even cooler than your lake and I was making sure we were thinking of the same lake. You know, so I look cool. Like a local.

Singularity

5th grade was a really important year for me, I’m learning. Except I’ve known it. The books I read in 5th grade have stayed with me for a long time. I remember exactly what seat I was sitting in when I read The Bridge to Terabithia. I remember what seat I was sitting in when I read Where the Red Fern Grows. I remember making the diorama for The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. I do not remember my 5th grade teacher, but, looking at the list of books we were reading, I do think she might’ve been going through some soul searching. And good for me.

There has always been one specific book that settled itself so deep within my soul and yet, I couldn’t for the life of me remember the title or author or any detail google-able enough to light my path. All I could remember was it was about twin brothers and one gets locked in a shed in the backyard of some house and when he comes out, he’s significantly older than his brother. And it has perched itself on the edge of my brain like a dream that slips out of focus as soon as you realize you’re thinking about it. I had spent years looking it up, asking everyone I knew if they had ever heard of it and I ended up with no leads, no one that had ever read such a book, nothing. A ghost book. Maybe it was a dream.

UNTIL!

I asked my Facebook friends. No one, as expected, had read it. I was about to give up and declare myself the new author of a cool book I knew I had read but no one knew of. My own Yesterday. And then a friend named Nissa, who I imagine has read every book ever written by this point goes, “Is it Singularity by William Sleator?”

I doubted it. For one thing, I didn’t recognize the title. I didn’t recognize the author. I know I had never seen the cover.

The only other brief fleeting feeling I had was that the cover was blue and someone with a badly drawn face was naked, which didn’t make a lot of sense to be on the cover of a book I was reading in my 5th grade classroom, 4th desk from the front, 2nd row in on the right. The description of Singularity sounded vaguely like the book I was remembering, but like, vaguely? I didn’t remember a toothy eel or whatever those Saved by the Bell looking boys were trying to make me look at, but there was a lot about this thing I couldn’t remember, so I bought it on the off chance I could close that chapter and move on.

And then I forgot about it.

Until yesterday when I was putting my kid’s Harry Potter book back on his bookshelf. (Side note: Thankfully we already own all the HP books and I don’t have to make the moral decision to financially support that woman’s horrific viewpoints or make my kid stop at book 6. Anyway) I saw Singularity sitting, dusty on the shelf and having just finished a book, I knew what I had to do. I had to finish what my 5th grade self had been yelling out to me subconsciously for 30 something years. I decided to read the book to find out if this was the thing I couldn’t let go of, but could never find.

It’s a funny thing that where you were at at the age of 11 can be exactly where you’re at when you’re 43. It was the year that I knew I wanted to be a writer. I have written poems and stories since I could pick up a pencil, but when I knew was in 5th grade. When I wrote a book about witches that my teacher turned in for some contest. And I won. Only a couple kids from my school were able to go, and I was one of them. The Young Writer’s conference. I didn’t go, but that’s for another day. The point is, I knew. I heard my dream crack into focus that year. The same year I fully realized my love for reading. The same year I read Singularity by William Sleator.

And here I am. 43 years old. In the middle of a pandemic, locked inside my house for the past 3 months, even though we’re officially allowed to leave. Here I am. 43 years old. Thriving in quarantine, reading a book for young adults about a boy who voluntarily locks himself in a shed for a year or 3 hours depending, and thrives.

Here I am, having read a book that has haunted me for 30 something years and was as completely enjoyable today as it was 30 something years ago. Here I am, remembering that I really, really want to be a writer. Here I am, happy that my brain saved every tidbit of that book that it did.

Except I could’ve actually lived without this.

The Back Garden

Day 2. You know how Picasso or whoever went through his Blue Phase? Maybe this period will be known as my House Phase.

Something about this picture, the white picket fence? The tree? Something about it reminds me of the warmth of being completely lost within the pages of To Kill a Mockingbird. Like, I feel the same feeling about this picture that I had when I was reading that book when I was 15 or however old I was. Normally white houses give me the creeps, like a feeling of trapped angst. It’s like a past life trauma or something. Texas Chainsaw Massacre, wasn’t that house white? I don’t know. They all look like you’re going to walk into them and it’s going to be dark inside, and you’ll be surrounded by a smell; that mixture of urine and stale cigarette smoke, and like, mildew. The kitchens all have that white painted wood cabinetry with cut out embellishments and the paint is so thick that it almost feels sticky. I hate the very thought of it.

This house doesn’t give me that feeling though. This house makes me feel warm and childlike. I want to wander in that back garden and pretend I’m in a forest. I want to explore and pretend that I’m in a different time.

This art project is probably not going to improve my drawings all that much, but it is forcing me to slow down. To stare at an image again. To figure out what that image wants to tell me. And I love that it’s giving me a chance to explore that in a medium that I am not personally invested in the outcome of. I highly recommend it if you’re trying to figure out a way out of a creative block.

On to the art

Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash
Lol

The Art Challenge

Everyone is doing some kind of learn a new hobby thing right now, and I’m finishing my novel right now. But I feel like I need a creative outlet that is not writing, and not sewing because I just made a gazillion masks and I need a smidge of a break on that. And more thread.

You know what I can’t do that I’ve always wanted to? I cannot draw. I mean, I can pick up a pencil and make some lines on a paper, but my skill level hasn’t improved beyond 6th grade. So I’m doing it. Everyday, I’m going to look at a picture of something, and I’m going to draw it. Maybe I’ll do it for a month, maybe I’ll get bored of it after 3 days. BUT, I’m going to attempt it. And then I’ll blog about it so I can look back and see if I got any better. Or get a good laugh. Hopefully that gets me out of my head enough that I’m able to write my way out of a very serious issue that is popping up in my novel that I absolutely do not know how to tackle yet. The reason I ever started writing is because I had these very vivid images in my mind when I was a kid and I wanted to put them out into the world somewhere and I couldn’t draw what I was seeing. So I would write it down in exacting details, just to get it out of my head. And then I fell in love with it.

So, today is day one.

I found this picture of a red house in a field. The colors in this picture lured me into a feeling, like that creative bubbling feeling, so I decided I would draw this. Looks easy enough.

Photo by Luke Stackpoole on Unsplash

LOL

Nailed it.