Thanks for all the Fish

Allow the pictures and flattery to hypnotize you into thinking this blog post is NOT boring. You’re going deeper…

Dear readers, followers, and random people who stumble upon this page,

Hello, again, and thank you.*  Why am I thanking you?  Why, because you’ve been helpful, of course.  Let me explain.

Yes, I know I’ve been absent for a while.  Some of you are probably wondering where I’ve been, or even who I am, since you may have forgotten you followed me in the first place.  So here’s an update of sorts on life in general.

Gulp, indeed.

Gulp, indeed.

Much like this blog, I’m behind on everything.  I have “To do” lists in six different places, including my bathroom mirror (thanks to Tommia’s Tablet for that idea and making my fingers itch for my guitar).  The system is working, but more than ever I’m aware of how little time I have in a day.  It seems incredible that fifteen years ago I found time for hiking, flute practice, homework, video games, chasing rabbits around a yard, writing, household chores, and reading all in one day.  I never estimated in the time cost of daily house maintenance, bill paying, work (and the fatigue that comes with), and basic hygiene until I was an adult.  I’m grateful lately if I manage to get to the dishes and comment on blog posts.  I’m still wondering if I’m sick or if this kind of fatigue is (gulp) growing up.

Despite my seeming inability to get anything done, I volunteered myself to beta-read another writer’s fantasy novel.  I’m honored that they’ve entrusted me with their passion and hope I’m living up to the challenge of giving them an honest critique that focuses on their strengths and helps them improve any weaknesses.  They have beautiful prose, an engaging story, well thought world rules, and intriguing characters, so for the most part it’s fun!  I feel confident that their story has great potential and can succeed in the market once it’s been fully polished.  It’s exciting to be one of the people with an opportunity to read it before that happens.

70791025362491234jXnnLdSuc

There’s a bonus to beta-reading I hadn’t expected, though, in how I approach and view my writing.  Rilla Writer has an excellent piece on how beta-reading can help us improve and see the snafus in our own work, and it’s part of a larger set of articles on how writing fan-fiction can improve writing skills.  Beta-reading has helped me see the positives in my writing while simultaneously helping my inner editor focus on what’s really important, and that it’s not the end of the world to have to go back and fix something.

I also learned something else about my writing process from Nanowrimo, where the lovely 4amWriter was gracious enough to keep me company (pssst…she also writes some useful posts on overcoming writing block and the dreaded inner editor that have been useful as well).  It’s true (too true) that I often write long-winded passages of explanation, and that particular fact drives me crazy and often stops me from writing.  Yet if I let that part of myself do the writing when I’m not sure what the exact words of dialogue are, I can see what I want to express and how to reach that point with greater clarity.  I’ve come to see my “telling” vice as a way to create a detailed outline, and to get to the point of what I want to say faster than staring at my computer screen hoping meaningful dialogue and action will spill out of me.  I’m starting to see my first drafts as fleshy outlines, and I’m finally okay with the fact that this is how my process works.  Having these two experiences means that I’m ready to face Camp Nanowrimo with less dread, and that I can tell my inner editor to be silent (for now).

TOHPuZN

No more of this timid bunny stuff. Although, he is adorable.

I’m facing the “adult life is scary” terrors head on for the first time in years.  Not just with lists, mind you, but with verifiable action.  Maybe I am tired, but a recent vacation has helped me focus on what really matters.  I recently got a retirement plan in place, and I’m submitting to a health physical for life insurance tomorrow.  I cannot express what a relief it is to feel as if I am doing something to secure my chance of a future (or Mr. Wonderful’s in a less than desirable scenario) where I won’t have to work until I die.

Some of my nearest and dearest are also buying houses.  I’m excited for them, but I’m a bit envious, because I’ve been putting off saving for one until I’ve reduced my student loan debt further.  The tie-up of a recent story (hurray for archeology and character building!) by jmmcdowell solidified my longing and resolve to start saving, and a sudden urge to dig out my chalk pastels and rekindle my past led to obtaining a newspaper and wistfully eyeing the market, which was when I realized while staring at an ad (and a bit of internet research): I qualify for those home-owning programs.  All this time I thought I had to be, well, poorer.

I am a bit nervous.  With this spate of life changes, I also went to the doctor.  They called me a week and a half ago in one of those “Call us back, now,” fashions, but I haven’t been able to get ahold of them since.  I suspect that means one of my tests came back and that all is not rosy on the health front.  On the other hand, everything I was tested for is treatable/fixable, and it’s nice to know that maybe this “tired” junk isn’t what getting older is supposed to feel like.  Hopefully I’ll be able to contact them tomorrow and see what the ruckus is about.  Let’s hope that whatever is going on doesn’t kill my ability to obtain life insurance.

It's a book cover.  With a scary needle...that inspires me to get a flu shot so that I can avoid more scary needles.

It’s a book cover. With a scary needle…that inspires me to get a flu shot so that I can avoid more scary needles.

Well, at least I’m sure that I’m not the victim of a flu epidemic.  Thanks to Carrie Rubin at The Write Transition who tipped the balance with a timely Facebook posting after my parents chronic reminders and being sick of being sick failed to inspire me, I did get a flu shot this year, so while my coworkers call off work and stumble about desecrating trash cans, I’ve been symptom free.  By the way, have you read The Seneca Scourge yet?

Then there’s life in general.  A special thanks to Goldfish, who is truly a Fish of Gold, for reminding me that it’s never too late to think about other careers or moving, even if I am stubborn and afraid of change.  I believe you can surmount the worst, Goldfish.  Oh, and it’s your fault that my chalk pastels and sketch books are coming out.  You post so many pretty pictures and descriptions of art that my pessimistic jerk-brain can’t come up with excuses fast enough.  Thanks for all the fish, without the so long part.  You know what I mean.

You light up my world, in your uh, water bulb.

You light up my world, in your uh, water bulb.

I blame all of you.  You know, in a thankful, you’re all awesome sort of way.

 

*There are more of you, of course, and I’m sorry if I missed you or didn’t manage to squeeze you in.  Some of you are really prolific and it’s hard to keep track!  You’ll get your day soon, I promise.

It’s That Time!

It’s that time!  By that time, I mean NaNoWriMo time, of course.  After all, I announced my intention to take part when I started my blog last November.

I should be writing by now, as it’s 20 minutes past midnight here.  I was supposed to have my dishes done, eaten something, and taken a shower by now.  I was also supposed to be dressed in my writing costume, candle lit, and tea by my side (I recently developed a writing ritual to cue my mind into the fact that it’s time to write).  Instead I am writing a blog post for the first time in months.  Procrastination is a wonderful thing isn’t it?

The good news is I signed up a few days ago and I have some steadfast, wonderful writing buddies.  There’s Mr. Wonderful, who has been outlining his novel for well over a year, but who hasn’t written a word, so I’ve roped him in with me so he can get a start.  I might be procrastinating because a part of me doesn’t want to start until he gets home from work.  There are some wonderful people I’ve been introduced to by the threads, and a couple of my lovely fellow bloggers.  If any of the rest of you are playing and want another writing buddy, feel free to find me by looking me up by the same name I use here.

Now, a completely meaningful tangent (I promise):

Pre-kindergarten, I used to envy my siblings.  You see, my siblings got to go to school, and one of the best things about school, besides the fact that theirs’ made them a birthday cookie every year, was that it was the mystical far away place that taught children to read and write.  I had somehow, even at this young age, and probably due to my mother’s influence, picked up on the idea that words were some of the most important, beautiful things ever, and that knowing them would lead to big, special things.  Many children draw, but I used an incredible amount of scrap paper scribbling straight lines of cursive e’s and pretending that I was writing stories.

When I was six, my teacher told us all to write an essay on what we were going to be when we grew up.  I sat, petrified by the concept of the monumental task of deciding what I was going to be when I grew up.  Something about how the task was presented led me to believe that whatever I decided now, I would be stuck with forever.  What if I chose the wrong thing?  I watched all of my other classmates blissfully announcing that they were going to be firemen, or police officers, or ballerinas, and got more and more anxious.  Finally my teacher stopped in front of me and asked what I wanted to be, and suddenly it hit me, “I’m going to be a writer!” I blurted out.

A few short hours later, in the grocery store, my mother asked me how the day went, and I told her that I’d decided what I wanted to be when I was big.  I repeated my earlier declaration.

“…but you can’t be a writer,” my sister interjected, “I’m going to be a writer, and I decided first.”

“You can both be writers,” my mother told us when I became visibly crestfallen, probably thinking that one of us would probably change our minds at some point and it would be a non-issue anyway.

I think she underestimated our tenacity and passion, but she was right about one thing: this year my sister and I are Nanowrimo buddies.  I wish her the best of luck and wonderful discoveries and fortitude.  Most of all, I wish her joy in her story, because being lucky enough to read some of her earlier works, I know she has what it takes.

Best of luck to the rest of you, too!

Getting Into a Kitchen is Easy, It’s the Getting Out That’s Hard

It was 7:30 AM when I got the phone call.  I was barely conscious, having laid down a few scant minutes before.  I’d stayed up all night watching television with one of my roommates and then, long after the light seeped through the blinds, communing with Safran, who had first appeared to me a couple of weeks before.  I was completely obsessed with her already.

To be honest, I didn’t really want a job at all, but going jobless is a luxury only the rich can afford, or those with rich, helpful family members.  I am, and have, neither.  At that point I’d spent four years of my life cleaning hotel rooms, three months prepping and dishwashing at my university’s food service before I was forced to discard the job because there was no work in the summer and what work could be had was only part-time, two and a half years being a front desk clerk (“Guest Services” is a job-title that should be viewed with extreme suspicion), and an awkward five months at fast food when I couldn’t stand being a desk clerk anymore, and hey, they were paying $9/hr.  Of the jobs, I was too meticulous to be efficient enough to clean 20-45 rooms a day in eight hours, food service was the only one I remembered fondly, and fast food would have been acceptable despite some of it’s obvious and not so obvious drawbacks if the married owner hadn’t kept making passes at me.  The concept of further customer service filled me with dread, and I wanted only to hide in the back room of somewhere, anywhere that I didn’t have to cope with strangers who looked at me as if they’d just discovered a louse, or men who asked me if I’d tuck them in.  My last two jobs had given me daily panic attacks; the idea of finding a new daily nightmare was terrifying.  I’d begged a month of freedom “to work on my novel” from Mr. Wonderful after finishing my bachelor’s degree, but that was all I dared.

Dishwashing, Safran urged, you have to know something about kitchens and cooking.  At least you could observe the people, pick something up.  Why not?  So I filled out an application.  I could hide in the back of a restaurant and everything would be…

Sane.  Logical.  Safe.  Kitchens are none of those things, of course, but I didn’t know that at the time.

I picked up the phone, and listened foggily as the Chef explained that he’d like me to come in for an interview.  I wasn’t lucid; I could almost hear the doubt in the man’s voice as I stumbled in my effort to find coherent speech.

I had to scoop up some wrinkled, already worn clothes off the floor for my interview.  The slacks and blouse I’d bought for interviews would probably discount any idea that I was willing to do a dirty, wet job, but it hadn’t occurred to me to do laundry the night before; no where else I’d put in an application had called me back yet.  “I’m applying to be a dishwasher; I shouldn’t look too nice, right?” I asked Mr. Wonderful dubiously.  “Yeah, sure.”  He rolled over and went back to bed, not exactly the most reassuring response.

I sat in the kitchen’s office for a half hour, feeling apprehensive as I contemplated a post card pinned to the wall of a female model’s thong-clad derriere.  I think this is a bad idea, I told Safran, quite possibly the worst I’ve ever had.

She laughed.  You have to pay the bills, she reminded me, and I grit my teeth at her, give it a chance.

Maybe they won’t hire me.  I mean, I haven’t showered, slept, and I’m wearing clothes that are so crinkly they’ve obviously been laying on my floor for over a week.  I’m so tired I can’t string a sentence together.

Safran and I continued to argue.  She wanted this badly.  I wanted to run out the door, far away from the indication of potential sexual harassment that was taunting me.  I contemplated getting up and walking out the door, and then the Chef walked back in.  My escape plan was foiled, blast!

“Is this only a summer job for you?” he asked, and “Do you have any other jobs you’re considering?”  No, and well, okay Barne’s and Noble obviously wasn’t calling me back to sort books in a back room, and I wasn’t interested in driving to another city every day, especially in the eight months of the year when the weather would make this less than desirable, to dye t-shirts even if it would pay almost twice what this job was offering.  When I’d handed in my application at the t-shirt dyeing place, the atmosphere had been cold, concrete, and thankless.  I’d had to sign a statement saying that I understood that the job might cause permanent lung damage if I was even offered the job in the first place.  Yuck.

My answers to those two questions were apparently all that was required.  There was nothing rigorous about this interview.  I wondered why he’d even bothered to see me in person in the first place.

“Can you start today?”  I looked blearily at my application, handed in the day before.  It did say that I could start today; if I said otherwise now one answer would be in conflict with the other.

“Sure.”

Now I had less than a half hour to run back to my house, find my paperwork, and return with proof that I was a valid human being and tax paying citizen before breakfast went into full swing and the Chef had no time for me (kitchen hiring tip: never call on the Chef during busy hours; it’s a sure way to count yourself out of the hiring pool).  That was easier said than done, but at last, after reading all the manuals and signing all the forms, I stumbled home at noon and attempted to grab three hours of sleep.

On Thursday, June 14, 2007, I was blissfully unaware of what I’d just gotten myself into, but I was about to find out.

 

On a related reading note, both of these blog posts contain gems of truth about the restaurant industry, including some of the reasons why we may simultaneously hate and love our jobs:

10 Things You Learn at a Food Service Job

Hard Work Pays Off

Camels, Kitchens, and Executions

In most of the pictures I’ve seen, the camels look like they’re smiling.
I found this image at Wikipedia, and its rights for use say: Approval for the use of this photo can be found at Dubai construction update Part 7 Page 12 at Post 223. Imre Solt’s exact statement is: “I, Imre Solt, put all my images found on the Dubai Construction Update sites on the GFDL (GNU Free Documentation License). I agree to the terms that my images may be freely redistributed and used, that they may be freely modified (and modified versions may also be freely redistributed and used), that any redistribution must include the full text of the GFDL itself, that the work (and modified versions of it) must be attributed to me (the creator), and that the images can be re-used for commercial purposes (as long as the use is under the terms of the GFDL and that the full text of the GDFL goes along with the work). I acknowledge that I cannot withdraw from this agreement.” He gave this statement on 17 August 2007.
There, I’ve fulfilled his wishes, I think.  Thanks, Imre Solt.

The novel I’m currently working on screams for more information on various subjects, and not just in the sense of underlying metaphors, mythologies, or fairy tale roots.  The following are just a few of the things my book and characters insist that I’m woefully naïve about, need to experience, or better inform myself of.

  1. Sometimes the fact that I seem to have a passion for characters that live through disturbing circumstances leads me to grisly places.  Lately it’s taken the form of reading books like Public Executions and watching videos on the holocaust and other atrocities.  I find this simultaneously depressing and inspiring.  I also think my capacity for the morbid might be going out of bounds.
  2. Some experiences can’t be gained by reading about them, especially if one is seeking a novel description or understanding.  How does a camel’s fur feel or smell?  Do they have slitted eyes and how do their pupils respond to the light?  What does their gait feel like?  Do they yawn or have any other movements or expressions I should know about?  I know I can’t afford to put off my book until I can arrange an expedition across the desert, but the most I can summon from my “knowledge” about camels seems to be that they have humps for water storage and that having one spit on me isn’t desirable.  Then there are all those questions about the desert itself.  I lived somewhere that was technically desert once, but that hardly included miles of rolling sand dunes and blistering heat, and my family stayed in one place and had the bonus of running water and electricity.  The best I’ve been able to do in terms of authenticity so far is give myself a case of mild heat stroke at work before going home and writing the account of my character’s experience with it.
  3. Safran’s father was a culinary expert/genius in his time, and he passed his love for the craft and some of his knowledge to her.  This might be the stumbling block that breaks me.  Sure, I can console myself with my first hand experience of the way kitchen crews gossip and play, and the basic principles of how cooking works, but today’s kitchens and food stuffs are a poor representative for what I’m trying to create.  Think for a moment about the differences in food availability, storage possibilities, and wood burning stoves (I’m guessing) of long ago vs. the flat tops, gas powered burners, ovens, and fryers of today.  Also, how does one scrub a pan if a soup or sauce burns or crusts?  Would the scrubber use a piece of hide, some sort of brush or sponge?  What would the dishes and pans look like and be made out of?
  4. “Feral” children.  See my blog post A Perspective on Feral Children for a rambling explanation on why this is so important to me.  In brief, when I pursue this topic I feel I not only have to be aware of things like critical periods of development, the different circumstances which create feral children, their role in previous media, and not only the length of time the child was deprived of normal society, but when in their lifetime the deprivation occurred.

My list isn’t comprehensive.  These little issues are only the beginning, and I can’t even begin to express how much admiration I have for authors who actually write historical novels, science fiction, or thrillers with legal and psychological ramifications.  My mind boggles at the idea of writing a textbook.  How do you do it, writers?  I must confess I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed.

Choice

Ambivalence, that overworked device

Springs and cogs, stressed and wrought, imprecise

Mounting pressure as grit clogs the gears

Choices grind against the thrall of massing fears.

 

Armies marching toward the eve of dread war,

Clashing on bloody field reap injuries sore.

Still specters rise among the dead, seek hallowed light:

A haunted mind, besieged, knowing not rest or flight.

 

Perhaps if this barren land were just a dream

I could rip out the thread that binds the seam,

Separate the scraps and find peace in between

A haven where none would dare to intervene.

 

Treaty implausible, so it seems, for contending ideals,

Fractured dreams.  Yet if to one I grant the prize, the other appeals,

Oh, with fervent cries!  Can I suppress this other wish, stand steadfast;

Please, might I deny, forget…accept that now the die is cast?

Dichotomy

Although, cheerfully, I am feeling better, the muse that governs blog posts appears to be lacking.  I hope that will change soon, else I shall have to force it.  Oh, all right, I usually force my blog posts, otherwise shyness would prevent me from posting anything.  Perhaps I’m merely feeling lazy?

In the meantime, I found this old poem I wrote for a class assignment when I was fifteen, and because I feel a desperate need to post something I’ll offer it to you now with the age caveat (otherwise I’d probably be too embarrassed to post this, too).  Its never had a name before, but I suppose Dichotomy is appropriate enough.

 

Behold the fiery gold of the past day,

Shining rare and bright along the way.

It bursts from soul and fire and spirit free,

Shines brilliantly out for all to see.

 

There meek and quiet stands its twin

Afraid that just to show itself would be a sin.

Its colors silver grey like the moon

It wishes peace to come all too soon.

 

The silver struggles violently with its soul

As the moon in silence wanes and becomes full.

The fire crackles far and burns new ground

Uncaring of the people it does astound.

 

The gold leaves its ashes far behind

It leaves the fertile soil for others in its mind.

The moon spills stars across a velvet sky

Then shrinks below the horizon with a melancholy sigh.

 

The sun will sink; the moon will rise again,

Rays of light will die and then begin.

Silver beams thrive off the burn of day

Ashes that are often far too grey.

 

And when the two do thrive side by side,

Here there one insulted; the other cried.

Where molten lava poured from ‘neath the ground

The raindrops pour and transform it to a blackened mound.

 

But then when ice does freeze one to the bone

The heat dares to save it all alone,

And so one and both do help to save the cause

To discover that without one ‘twould be a loss.

 

And so despite their troubles and their pains

With each other they would make far more gains.

Their time would be by far the best spent

Adding to one another’s accomplishments.

 

If everyone all the same would be

The world would pass its life in misery,

And same would be if all their time was spent

Trying not to be different.

Shameless Free Advertising

An Edit:  When I wrote this post I was apparently reading too much into one of the contest runner’s comments.  The news is the contest doesn’t actually start until March 10th.  I apologize for any misinformation or confusion.  Now there’s more time to practice, right?

I thought I’d let my fellow writers in on an opportunity.  Tomorrow, probably sometime in the afternoon, NPR will be announcing its Three Minute Fiction Contest (3MF for short), Round 8 on All Things Considered.  You’ll probably have about a week, maybe two after the announcement of the contest to get your entries in.  There is a new challenge each time, and there are rules and guidelines, so pop over to the highlighted link above for details.  If, after reading through the information, you still have questions, pop over to the Facebook page, where your lovely fellow contestants and 3MF will do their best to answer any pressing queries you might have.

Dear readers, you may be wondering why you would bother doing such thing.  For one, the contest is a fun way to challenge oneself and stretch one’s writing muscles.   Writing a short story may take less time than a novel, but there’s the added issue of choosing the appropriate words, dialogue, and squeezing a meaningful message or image into a much smaller space.  In short, writing a short story can be an excellent exercise in pruning superfluous fluff or developing any writing skill one feels might be lacking.  Ah, intrinsic motivation!

Of course, if you’re a finalist, your story will be published on NPR’s website.  If you’re the winner, it will also be read on air, and (this is just a guess from previous rounds) you’ll probably get a copy of the judge’s book and an interview with him.  This time the final judge is purportedly Luis Alberto Urrea.  I know, I know: it’s not exactly cash is it?  When I entered the contest the last round, all I really wanted was to set a goal for myself to write a piece, to a set criteria, edit, hone, and submit it well before the deadline.  Winning wasn’t really a dream of mine; I just wanted to write a short story for once and limit my tendency to ramble on.  I should tell you, though, that despite what I believed initially, a follow up piece on previous winners of the contest revealed that they’d reaped unexpected rewards, including, in at least one case, a reputable agent.

I really do suggest, if you’re looking for a positive, helpful, and enjoyable writing community, that you stop by the Facebook page as well.  I’m very fond of that charming mixed batch of strangers (and no, they don’t mind newcomers or healthy competition), so make sure you’re nice!

Ahem.  I may have gotten a little excited.  I’ve been waiting for this a while, you see, but I do hope to see some of you there.  Hey, I think the contest is open internationally, to published and unpublished authors.  Did I mention that?  Or that I might not be around as much as usual for a week or two while I weep tears of frustration over my keyboard?

Okay.  Shameless free advertising accomplished.  Have a wonderful day, people!

Update: I appear to have been mildly misled or confused.  They do usually announce these things on the weekends, so I’m thinking they meant Saturday afternoon.  I suppose we’ll see, but it’s soon either way.

A Perspective on Feral Children

“Contempt prior to investigation is what enslaves a mind to Ignorance.”

–William Paley

“Few people are capable of expressing with equanimity opinions which differ from the prejudices of their social environment. Most people are even incapable of forming such opinions.

–Albert Einstein

“Everyone is a genius.  But if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

– frequently attributed to Albert Einstein, but this may, in fact, be false.

 

Safran’s first impressions of the girl were of a form shrouded in shadow; she named her Nyx, after the goddess of night.  The name is more of a reflection on Safran, and the place she was in when she encountered Nyx, than it is on the character of Nyx herself.

The goddess Nyx, daughter of Khaos (Chaos, air), is an imposing, if little known figure in mythology.  A quick purview of most texts on Greek or Roman (Nox) mythos grants little more than a few paragraphs, and most of that information is little better than a family tree.  She is listed, however, as one of the first gods; Homer claims that Zeus himself feared her, and from Homer’s account of the matter, we gain the insight that her rage is roused at a threat to one of her many children.  In this instance, the child was Hypnos (sleep), but Nyx also is reported to be the mother of the Fates, Furies, Thanatos (death), Hemera (day, dawn), among many other well and lesser known gods.

Nyx the character bears little to no similarity to her namesake.  She does not spawn sleep, death, or any other form of destruction, but holds instead a steadfast fascination for life and its nurture.  Still, for all the reader knows, Nyx might as well have come from chaos itself; Nyx is a “feral” child.

“Feral” children isn’t a term I particularly care for, hence the quotation marks.  Certainly the phrasing implies that the child has grown without the care of society or cultural influence, and while this is true, it also infers the unpleasant image of a hirsute, scrambling, animalistic “raised by wolves” individual, who is only waiting for the right specialist to come along and reform the unfortunate “creature” into an “acceptable” human being.  We, as “civilized” beings, seem to decry the idea that these people cannot be simply molded at whim into gross approximations of ourselves.  After all, how can anyone know the true definition of happiness, if they have not experienced our version of happiness for themselves?  Aren’t we doing them a favor?

I doubt it.

The depiction of feral children in fiction and film has often been dramatically removed from reality.  It seems inevitable that the child, who is usually somehow lost or abandoned in the woods, only to be raised by some animal group or another (wolves, anyone?), will be stumbled across by some well-meaning companion who will strive for, and eventually secure, their assimilation into society.  Few authors bother with that pesky “critical period” of language development, where any child not exposed to speech before the age of seven becomes increasingly unlikely to be able to string sentences together, especially in a grammatically correct or complex way.  I prefer to believe that this is a result of the brain’s plasticity, or the ability of the human mind to shape itself to its best advantage for survival in any given environment.  After all, if a human loses a finger, then the brain will eventually incorporate the space used for the mobility and sensations of that finger to add increased support for the other four fingers on that hand.  So, when a child is not exposed to language within a reasonable time span, they use the brain space for other, more pressing, environmental concerns.  Whatever the case, profoundly abused and neglected children, such as Genii, to name a famous example, display dramatically different results on tests of brain activity from those of normal children.  How is a child, or even an adult in such a circumstance, to appear normal?

Should we even strive for that?

Hopefully, if one is a parent or mentor of a child that is different, either from mental illness, some cognitive “impairment”, or other disorder that may impact the ability to act in line with social norms, one attempts to do their best to ease the child’s struggles, to give them the best hope of a normal life, and to give them the tools to achieve happiness in spite of the fact that the child is unconventional.

At first, I didn’t understand Nyx at all.  I tried to force her to be what she was not; I did not bother to see who she was as a person, or who she was meant to be.  I’m ashamed to say that I bullied her, that I cajoled, and screamed, and begged, all in the name of turning her into something she was not, and will never be.  I loved her in my own self-serving way; I told myself I wanted her to be whole, and “normal”.  She could grow and change, all to fit my whims and needs.  I did not think to embrace her strengths, or to offer her the nourishment to become the best version of herself.  I tried to beat her into the shape that fit a common mold.

For a very long time, I missed a valuable lesson.  Maybe it is a truth.

When I discovered that Nyx fit the label of “feral child” I sought more information on the topic.  I was horrified to discover how they had been described, viewed, and designated throughout history; I was traumatized by their fates.  The picture painted was far from rosy, even if humanity sometimes viewed them in a tragic romanticized haze.  What galled me the most was the “scientific” view of the differences in brain activity.  It was one thing to use feral children (“the forbidden experiment”) as an argument for nature vs. nurture, but quite another to argue that they were mentally deficient, either as a result of their circumstances or because they were plunged into said circumstances because their parents resented their handicaps in the first place (I say it’s a shoddy excuse for abuse or neglect, and the parents’ excuses unverifiable, and probably hogwash, at that).  The implication placed in the tone and phrasing of these reports was that feral children were somehow less, simply because their talents and skills did not expand to the scope of linguistic skill.  Yet few of the children in the videos and texts displayed a lack of intelligence; they seemed, to me, to learn at a remarkable rate.  One child, purportedly, indicating a disdain for cooked food when it was placed in front of him, jumped in a nearby water supply, and caught his own supply, tool free, in less than five minutes.  He offered to share.  Some children displayed astounding climbing, running, and jumping abilities. In fact, most humans living in a first world country today would stand a scant chance of survival if placed in similar conditions to those that these children lived in before their discovery by neighboring townspeople.  If you’re wondering, none of these children were adopted by animals, although they might have learned some skills by observing them.  Does that strike you as lacking in intelligence?

What is intelligence anyway?  I’ve yet to see a test that accurately measures intelligence.  It seems, honestly, as if the tests measure how well we’ve adapted in an educational sense to a particular culture and society in relation to our age.  There are other ways of viewing the world, of adapting to it, of interacting with it.  Those of us who “fit in” may have difficulty understanding the perspectives and actions of those who are different from us, and comprehension becomes an even more demanding task when others cannot communicate with us in the way we are accustomed to.

All of us are a little bit different.  Sometimes, if we are lucky, our differences are seen as skills rather than deficits.  Can you imagine an environment or situation where schizophrenia, or Asperger’s, or any number of other supposed issues might be positive adaptations?  Do you think there might be skills or thinking patterns associated with depression or other conditions that may actually be helpful in certain fields of study or activities?  Or perhaps, aren’t there things that these people teach us, ways in which they make us better simply by existing and being themselves?

I no longer want to force Nyx into that mold.  The way she sees the world is unique and beautiful.  I refuse to propagate the idea that there is only one right way to be.  Barring certain unsociable acts (e.g. murder), individuals, even cultures, who are different from us broaden our scope of thought and perception.  They grant us new lenses from which to view the world, and enlighten us as to the variability, adaptability, and resilience of humanity, and in fact, life itself.

 

An Excerpt

The following is the first part of Chapter One of my untitled novel.  The story is raw and young yet, despite having danced through my head for the past fourteen years of my life.  I will not be posting the entirety of the work, unless, of course, having finished it, and gone through multiple rewrites and edits, it fails to find any favor with the publishing and editing “gods”.  Before anyone reads further, I owe those who stumble across the blog a DISCLAIMER: this is not a pretty novel.  It is a dark fantasy, and as the word dark suggests, its nature often tends towards the shadowy ends of life that some brighter spirits may find unpalatable, depressing, or even morbid.  There will, at times, be descriptions of a bloody or violent nature, or representations of psychological turmoil, and if things of this sort tend to upset you, please skip this post.  Those of you, however, who enjoy fantasy or fairy tales may also be aware that fairy tales were not originally meant for children as they so often are today, but were actually often gory, visceral, very adult affairs.  The fey themselves, originally, were far removed from the tiny, sweet, pixie-dust spraying creatures represented in popular children’s cartoons today.  My novel was not originally intended as a salute to these old tales; I had diagramed the plot and was several chapters into the effort when I finally realized that I was rewriting a classic plot.  I had created such convolutions that at first the pattern was unrecognizable even to myself.  I knew I had borrowed from mythology in the overarching theme that an attempt to thwart destiny very often creates the destiny that was so feared in the first place, but I was not aware that I was recreating one of the first fairy tales I ever read.  It’s ironic, perhaps, that my efforts to avoid blatantly stealing a plot led me to a more couched, hidden one, but there you have it.  I spent a tremendous amount of time second guessing myself but ultimately decided to run with this unforeseen development.  If I am going to exploit one fairy tale, I might as well pay homage to some others in the meantime.

Deep breath.

—1—

            There was a monster, her grandmother would begin, and that monster lived all alone, walled in by stone, circled by sand, and magic, deep magic, for only the very best and brightest of magicians could hold such a savage beast at bay, away from the fragile world, and if their magic ever failed, and that monster got out, why, that would be the death of them all.

The monster had skin like rotting onions, and its fangs and claws perpetually dripped with the blood of hundreds of maidens, for that was what a monster like that liked to eat best of all.  The monster did not just eat its victims, no, it tortured them, and when it had tortured them, it drew out their entrails while they, too exhausted, too badly used to scream, simply watched, and when it had done that, it drained their blood and slaked itself on it.  The floors of that place where it lived, cried her grandmother, the very courtyard, lay thick with the dried out husks of its victims, so that with every shift of the monster’s feet one could hear the crunch of brittle flesh and bone.

“It pains me to talk about it,” her grandmother would insist, but she would tell the tale to anyone who would listen, and she would tell it often, as often as she cried for more tea to sooth her listeners’ souls and warm their fragile hearts, and her granddaughter would bring it, and pour it into the little porcelain cups that her grandmother’s daughter, her mother, had given her when times had been better.

Today the granddaughter gently set her cakes, delicately iced and resplendent in roses and vines on the lace tablecloth, and let tea cascade, a steaming, fragrant waterfall, to a rippling pool in the company’s cup.

“I’m such a gentle person, you know,” murmured her grandmother apologetically, while lifting a stray handkerchief to blot elegantly at her eyes, “and this story does pain me so.  But you ought to know, dear, you really ought to know.  Having daughters of your own and all.  I’ve heard there’s a man who pays extravagant prices for young girls, pretending to offer them honest work, so that he can slake the monster’s bloodlust.  And you must know the truth, the whole truth, so that you and your daughters never fall prey to such a dreadful fate.”

“Why, how horrible!” gasped the guest.  “Can such a thing really exist?  And to think of…of, well…to think of someone actually feeding it.  People, I mean.  It’s so crude.”

“Oh, yes, my dear, I quite agree.  But apparently it’s the only way to appease the thing, to keep it from testing the limits of it’s cage.  And there are so many greedy low people willing to accept the money and look the other way, you know.  People not quite so refined as yourself.”

“Or yourself, of course, Ebba.”

Ebba, the grandmother, smiled and nodded sagely in acknowledgement.  “It’s very kind of you to say so.”

“And yet I still don’t understand.  If such a thing exists, why not simply kill it and save us all?”  The mother of young girls, aroused at this news of a new threat to her children, insisted, it seemed, on being skeptical in hope of defending her small progeny by the simple act of denial.

But her host had other ideas.  “Exists? I assure you, Charlotte, this creature is as real as you or I.  Nine years ago, in the most hostile and barren of the king’s land, he had a fortress built, so hastily and out of whatever stone he could find that it looks, from a distance, like a mottled vase botched at the pottery wheel.  He surrounded it with three walls, and covered the outer one, too, with so many spines and needles and blades that it bristles like a porcupine.  There are no doors, but I’m told instead that the laborers who built it were commanded to seal it while still working within, and when they brought the monster to it’s prison, the laborers were still there.  Well, you can guess what happened to them.  My son was…”  Ebba stared, mournfully, at a pink rosette that beckoned cheerfully from a confection on her plate, and Charlotte, struck momentarily speechless, waited helplessly for her to continue. “…But I’m sure you are wondering why anyone would do such a thing.  Some say that they were sealed in to distract the monster long enough to bind it still further with spells.   As to why they don’t kill the thing, well, it simply cannot be killed.”

Ebba’s granddaughter, returning, unnoticed in her absence, and disregarded at her reappearance, offered up a tray of miniscule cucumber sandwiches and fluffy pastries to Charlotte’s elbow.

“It cannot…” whispered the guest, oblivious to the child at her side, “…die?”

Ebba sniffed, fidgeted uncharacteristically with a silk napkin, elaborate with azure embroidery.  Finally she conceded, “Perhaps it can die.  But no one has ever been able to destroy it.”

They were all silent for a moment: Charlotte, suddenly seeing shadows at the base of her tea cup, and Ebba’s clouded eyes fixed intently on her guest’s face.  The child’s arm trembled, her fingers quivering with exhaustion, but her eyes saw only night growing in the cracks between the floorboards, sliding out from underneath the tablecloth, growing in the folds of her grandmother’s skirts.

Belatedly Charlotte recognized the dimness gathering in the hollows of her saucer and realized what it meant.  “Why, me!” her voice did not sound like her own, it was so forcedly gay, “But I’ve completely forgotten the time!  It’s quite late, and your tale so engrossing I didn’t notice the dark creeping up on us.”

“Oh, but you’ll stay for supper, I hope?  An old lady like me, by herself in this house, gets lonely with nothing but spiders for company.  I’d be delighted if you would stay, my dear.”  The tiny plates on the shaking tray rattled ominously, and Charlotte glanced over at last, surprised, to be transfixed by the oddity of a small shivering being entirely swaddled in cloth, and clinging desperately to it’s tray.  It bends it’s head, she thought, as if readying itself for the blow of the executioner’s axe.

“I…”  Charlotte appraised the mysterious creature again, forgetting for the moment the question at hand.  “Who, may I ask, is this, then?”  And hearing the distressing chatter of plate and glass, she swept the platter and its contents from it’s bearers grasp to a safe resting place on the table.

“A servant,” Ebba replied briskly, and did not mention blood, as she had so often that evening, or the way it drew, in this case, bonds between her and the child she spoke of, “who is now dismissed.  No doubt she has other duties that need looking after.”

Ebba watched her daughter’s child only long enough to insure that she turned around and headed for the door, but Charlotte saw the child peek over her shoulder as she passed the door jam, and guessed that the child could see less of her than she could see of it, despite the billowing linen, like a shroud, that held it together.

“Her face…”  gasped Charlotte, a few moments later, when she thought the apparition was out of earshot.

“Yes.  So unfortunate.  Deformed from birth, I’m afraid.  And clumsy with it.  She falls often.  She keeps hidden most of the time.  Out of shame.”  Ebba was empathy personified.  “You won’t gossip about her, will you?  It must be so hard, to have such a countenance.”

Charlotte nodded dutifully, disoriented by the horrors she had glimpsed that last hour.  “Of course.  I wouldn’t wish to hurt anyone.”

“Thank you, my dear.  But won’t you stay for dinner?  I don’t believe you’ve given me an answer.  You hold me in exquisite suspense.”

Ebba smiled, but the darkness caught in the folds of her chin and the cracks of her teeth so that to the eyes of her guest she frowned and grimaced at the same time. I’ve gone morbid, Charlotte guessed, from that sordid tale.  First the child and now this.  She found she was gripping the leg of the table in an effort to keep herself from bolting out the door.

“I…I appreciate your offer, but…my family is waiting for me.”

“A pity.”

“Yes.”

“Perhaps another time?”

“Of course.”  The reply, a moment too late for courtesy, and Ebba’s cloudy eyes became thunderheads.

“Allow me to show you out then,” coaxed the gracious host.

I’d like to blame…

myself.  Gluten-intolerance.  Random bouts of illness.  The restaurant industry.  The chaotic nature of fate.

Does it matter?

I haven’t been keeping up with this blog like I said I would.  I haven’t been doing much writing, either.

When I started my novel for what felt like at least the hundredth time, I wrote the first four chapters in a month, one a week, a page or four a day.  I wrote the next two chapters the month after that, and chapter 7 was finally finished sometime that August.  I think.  I started the current rewrite in December 2009.  I “finished” chapter 12 last week.  Less than thrilled by my lackluster progress, I’m now back to trying to buy a ticket to forward my novel along by plane.  This covered wagon nonsense is getting stale.  So are the hard-tack biscuits.

If I could eat biscuits.  Sigh.  Well, that’s one explanation for why everything in my life seems to be on standby.  After the first 15 years of non-stop headaches and stomachaches, my body realized I still hadn’t gotten the message and decided that, hey, maybe organ failure would be a more pertinent clue.  I remained oblivious, so my body escalated its tactics.  By the time I finally got the idea that, hey, something was seriously wrong, I was doing my utmost to simply remain upright at work without passing out and tumbling into a fryer or landing on a flat top.  Mr. Wonderful was carrying me to bed, propping me up while I took showers, and putting up with the fact that I was too exhausted to brush my teeth despite my “delightful” descent into cigarette and coffee addiction, because hey, funny thing, smoking helps mitigate some of the symptoms of Celiac disease and gluten intolerance (even if your body is still destroying itself from the inside out).  Smoking was the only thing holding my wildly swinging mood in any sort of check, and coffee was the only way I could function at work.  I frequently couldn’t walk without limping because my joints kept swelling up.  It was a daily struggle to remember where I was and what I was doing, never even mind why I was there.  I couldn’t play video games, or look at a television, or even read a book, because I couldn’t concentrate and it was too exhausting to hold a book open or push the buttons on the controller.  Besides, bright light was excruciating, and staring at a neon screen even more so.  Mr. Wonderful kept having to grab my hands to keep me from itching all of my skin off.  I spent all of my days off staring at walls for hours until I heard my husband’s key turning in the lock and started wondering where the time had gone.  I couldn’t sleep despite the exhaustion, and when I woke up I felt worse than when I had gone to bed.  Eating was almost impossible.  I ate once every seventy-two hours, watching my body distort into an emaciated wreck and hating it, but food tasted terrible, and swallowing and chewing were only achieved by conscious effort.  Besides, I had to plan for an extra half hour after every meal just for the after effects.  I’d look in the mirror and see a pregnant skeleton, protruding belly and ribs.  I wondered if I was anorexic and didn’t know it.  How could my stomach be so out of proportion with the rest of me, especially when I hadn’t eaten anything?  Surely I had to be seeing things, but I always felt even worse after I ate.

My doctors were as clueless as I was.  Worse, they thought I was a hypochondriac, because they’d ran me through every battery of tests they could think of, and I’d come back with praise worthy blood pressure and blood tests that looked like they were taken from a medical text book for the ideal numbers.  They recommended that I get some more exercise.  I began to believe it was all in my head, too, or that I was simply weak, and my job was too demanding.  “My job is killing me,” became my favorite joke, and then I started repeating other little phrases: “I think I can,” to myself, “I’m fine,” to inquiring friends, coworkers, and neighbors, or to my husband when he found me passed out on the floor a few too many times.  There was “You’re just lazy” and “Just get up and do it”.  Honestly, though, I wanted to know why I couldn’t find a single speck of joy in anything I used to love or care about, and that was probably the worst thing of all.

If you think this sounds like an excuse, it’s because it is.  I’ve been gluten-free for about eleven months now, and every day seems like a miracle.  I’ve done more in these past eleven months than I did in the five years of my life previous to that point.  Everything except writing.  If you look at the dates above, you’ll see I wrote over half of what I’ve written of my novel so far while I was still ingesting gluten.  Part of that was because trying to work was so painfully aggravating to the condition that I was reaching for even highly improbably chances of escape.  Ah, motivation.  The other part was that writing was the only thing I had ever cared about that still gave me any sort of satisfaction, and I needed that “fix”.  Oh, yes, I did.  The point remains that, despite the fact that writing was a struggle, I still did it anyway.

The past few weeks I’ve had a cold.  So what?

The restaurant is still a grueling, exhausting environment, getting more precariously stressful, it seems, with each passing day.  Every Tuesday, I’m honored with the dubious task of making pizzas and breathing in the swirling flour clouds.  Every workday, one of my employees will inevitably ask me to taste some sauce or some other something whatsit that has been thickened with roux.  If I’m lucky I can usually find a way to bow out, but usually, foolishly, I accede, only to reap the consequences later.  My job, and my own stupidity, are quite literally killing me.

I got roped into this job because I listened to a story character, who insisted that I needed to learn to cook and exist in an industrial kitchen environment if I was going to write my novel with any degree of authenticity.  I can’t quit, because I thought it was a great idea to go to college at one point, and now I have a great deal of crippling student loan debt that I can’t pay if I accept a lower paying job (which is all that’s available at the moment), even if it’s for my own health.  I went to college because gluten intolerance was wreaking psychological havoc, and after I learned quite a few things about dealing with that havoc, I decided that I wanted to share the relief with other people if they were willing.  Besides, knowing basic human psychology has got to be great for writing convincing story characters, right?

It’s days like these when the threads twisting throughout my life, interconnected and overlapping as they may be, feel like a noose closing in around my neck.  Writing gives me a sense of euphoria, accomplishment, change.  It doesn’t matter if I am ever published or if my novel ever nets me so much as a dollar (although both would be nice, no denying); I simply like the work and the way I feel afterwards.  Ah, there’s my ticket.  Best prepare to board the plane.