All the Things I Couldn’t See – Part Two

After my friend moved away I was forced to move on and grow up. As much as I didn’t want to admit it, from being around him, I was changed. I had developed a new openness toward accepting others, and my sense of humor had been tinged with his particular brand of sarcasm that people were drawn to.

I became more confident in myself, made new friends (including my best friend and co-founder of this group Lori,) stayed out too late as teenagers do, and even started hanging out with a boy, (that boy I was pining for way back at the beginning of this story) that I had always been afraid to talk to.

Lori is my best friend and closest confidante to this day. I eventually married the boy I was afraid to talk to.And my friend from the beginning of the story took his own life.

The same afternoon I tossed my high-school memories into the sky with my graduation cap, I heard the words that have never stopped resonating.

“He’s gone. They think it was suicide.”

I remember that second, in hearing those words, I didn’t know how to speak. I had to think how to keep breathing past the pain swelling up in my throat. The why and how and where of what happened were details unknown, things that I grasped at for any possible explanation. I didn’t find them.

What I did find were ghosts disguised as memories, shadows of conversations between my friend and I. When I thought about the things we talked about when we were together, I could think of maybe a thousand times he’d spoke of this very thing, and my thinking surely he hadn’t meant that. Or he had meant it, and I had chosen not to hear. Those ghosts of words ripped at me like claws shredding through a silk sheet.

I cried through my entire graduation, on through the graduation party in the gym and everyone thought it was because I was sad and sentimental over my high-school years. I never told anyone the real reason for my tears that day until I typed this sentence just now.

In the weeks following a trickle of information made its way back to me. I learned that my friend had lost his scholarship and moved to northern California, where he became involved with a group of squatters, gay drifters who were synonymous with break-ins and drug abuse. A few weeks later I heard that my friend had overdosed on a combination of cocaine and barbiturates. When they found him he was so unrecognizable it took them three days to figure out who he was.  He died strung out, alone and unknown.

It felt like a bad dream. It wasn’t possible. The person I knew was loved and beloved, he was light and confident and intelligent and funny and happy. I tried to imagine the events that had led him to his end, and I found I just didn’t want to.

I hated myself for not forgiving him, for not answering his letter. I hated him for taking his own life. I hated a world full of judgement that forces people into hiding from their true selves and God for knowing and allowing it all to happen.

My friend lived and died in a time and place where tolerance for different lifestyles was virtually non-existent. I listened quietly as people’s words floated around me about his choices, about it being inevitable because he was left to his own devices. My stomach churned as they shook their heads, condescending thoughts dripping out of their mouths. He should have never… His parents should have…It’s really no surprise…

I hated those words and those people with my whole, young heart. And yet, outwardly I agreed with them. I clung to the beliefs of the people inside my very narrow world who were piously confident and shrewd about what happened. In my heart I wanted to scream out that no-one had the right to judge someone they had never even considered worthy of knowing. But instead I forced myself into believing the lies. It was the only coping mechanism I knew, and it was the virtual turning out of a light.

Not long after I turned out that light, I closed a door. I tossed the notebook with the book I had half-written into the trash.

Yes, it is possible to forget another person.  You can force someone out of human consciousness. But they are never actually gone.

For nearly twenty-five years I was living with shattered pieces, shards of him and love and hate inside my heart. I did forget my friend. I thought it was the only way for me to exist. But he wasn’t really gone. He just showed up in other ways, other places I couldn’t see.

When I came together with this little group of friends to start writing again, all the things he gave me, all the things I couldn’t see before came trickling slowly into awareness. Around my 36th birthday, I started writing fiction for the first time in over 20 years. It was a revelation. It felt like truth, reincarnated. I, for the life of me couldn’t figure out why I had ever stopped doing it.

One day I wrote something off the cuff and it was about him, only I didn’t know it.  It was completely random and unintentional, so much so that I didn’t even recognize it was anything other than a piece of fiction. It took someone who knew nothing about me or him or anything that had happened in the past to see a distinct pain between the lines.

A light turned on.Once it was brought to my attention, the realization that it was him and why I wrote it came to me in small, quiet happenings, like a series of opening doors. I found traces of him in the most random of places:

In my odd, eclectic taste in music.

In the nicknames I’ve given the people I adore the most.

In my ability to use sarcasm as a healing device, to mask disappointment and pain.

In my innate desire to reject anything that the majority considers quality, trustable, popular, or truth.

In passages I’ve written that seem to have come from a voice inside my own head that wasn’t my own.

In the way that new ideas spill out into my dreams, urging me to use them for some Greater Purpose.

To be perfectly honest, once the memory came back into my peripheral, once I realized I had never actually moved on, it hurt like hell. I had uncovered a well of love and hate and guilt and regret so deep, I felt haunted by it. I felt consumed.

Last summer I ripped out my heart time and again as I relived and tried to capture all the memories of him- good and bad- in writing. I typed out scenes with my eyes closed and then deleted them. I slammed my laptop closed. I laughed and I smiled and I sighed and I cried.

I started to question everything, all my likes and dislikes, all the decisions I’d made, everything I thought I was defined by before. It’s a funny thing, bringing up a repressed memory. It forces you to question things you had never considered about yourself, to evaluate your worth.

I had never let myself experience that kind of pain, and something I couldn’t fully explain. It was searing and deep and it ached in my heart even as I went on about my normal life. But at the same time it brought a quiet clarity; the slow demolition of ancient brick walls. One, solid brick at a time, I pushed the old beliefs away, and slowly I began to see the truth.

What happened between us, the hate and the pain and the love that caused me to force him out of my heart had nothing to do with the way he chose to live his life. Not when he was alive and we were friends, not the day I hated him for leaving, not the day I found out about his death. I was young and sensitive and naïve, and I pushed him out of my heart for nothing but self-preservation.

Nothing that happened between us, love or hate or pain or regret, would ever be more important than the gifts he gave me.

It was obvious I had lived with a half-closed-heart for way too long.

I had no choice but to forgive both of us.

***

At the point I started writing this post, though I knew I wanted to put it out into the blogosphere as a sort of virtual release, I was unsure how to conclude it. This morning I was talking with Lori via text. She was telling me about a physical therapy appointment for the back pain she’d been enduring for months. I said:

“I’m praying it works for you. Being in constant pain can definitely siphon one’s ability to stay in the light.”

I read my own words and the realization hit me like a brick. Pain has its place, it has merit in the way we move through our lives, it brings understanding and sympathy. It even empowers us to act with new motivation. But at some point we have to let it go and move into the light.

Today I’m officially letting go.

This has been a long road, and this post has been a long story, and for that I both apologize and thank you for staying with me. Every word written here is for one purpose: To urge you (and me) to take all the chances we’re afraid to take.

Please, if you are reading now and there is something on your mind and your heart that you know, you KNOW you need to do, to change, or to start, or to stop, or forgive, or to say:

Stop reading now, this second, walk away and go do it.

 Life is too short to live confined by pain and regret.

Today, start being the you the world has asked you to be.

Till Next Time,

~C

To My Wonderwall,

I am grateful every single day for the light you helped me to find, and the way it continues to shine.

 I’m sorry I never said goodbye the way you deserved. I accepted you for you, always and completely. I’m sorry I never said those words out loud. I’m sorry with every ounce of my being for the way I tried to forget you.

 I forgive you for leaving the way you did.  And I forgive myself for all the things I couldn’t see.

~C

Fruit Flies…and An Announcement

Yep. You read that right. This post is about fruit flies.

It does, after all, follow Lori’s tomato sandwich story. And what comes after fresh produce inevitably? Fruit flies.

Our group resides in Northern Utah and this time of year is known as harvest season. So many wonderful fruits and veggies for the taking! In early autumn I become kind of a fruit-stand spaz and try to hit every one of the local farmers stands within 20 miles of my house. I’m a serial produce buyer.

Needless to say over the past six weeks I’ve been collecting (and consuming) fresh peaches, apples, pears, onions and garlic from a variety of different micro climates in my area. Not to mention harvesting the tomatoes, peppers and raspberries from my own garden.

And with all the lovely, delectable foods come the fruit flies. Hundreds of them. Some are the usual, tiny gray variety, others are fat and darker in color. We found a sort of striped-looking brown one in the pantry the other day and I wondered if I had inadvertently discovered a new species.

The fruit flies at my house are ethnically diverse and rich in background and history, because they have hitchhiked on the journeys of produce from a hundred different farms. They have found refuge in the warmth and plentiful fruit of my kitchen.

I’m like Nelson Mandela for gnats.

For awhile I tried to be cool about it, shrugged and said that bugs are part of life. Had the live and let live philosophy, don’t sweat the small stuff, exist in my natural environment sort of mindset. Because I’m cool and green and open like that.

Except that I’m not.

Right around the time I found a fruit fly hovering around my toothbrush, just after flicking one off the rim of my coffee cup, the cool and green and open Cindy went far, far away. The anxiety-ridden, control-freakish germaphob manifested in her place and I went:

“Eeeeeeeew! THERE ARE A THOUSAND BUGS LIVING AROUND ME.“

That night my husband agreed that the ethnically diverse fruit flies had become like the 28 year old chain-smoking gaming-fanatic that won’t leave his parents’ basement.

It was time for them to go. He went to the almighty Google for answers.

“Trick them with yogurt or apple cider vinegar in a cup,” it said. “Create a funnel with paper around the cup. They can crawl through the hole but they can’t find their way out. Collect the fruit flies and simply throw the cup away.”

He went to work on finding the ingredients and designing the funnel. He, being the mechanically minded perfectionist that he is spent so long designing and re-designing the funnel that I (watching Parenthood, drinking an apple ale and trying to forget that vagrant bugs were in every room) became annoyed and said,

“Seriously, they are fruit flies! How complicated does it need to be?”

Proving me both stupid and wrong.

BoromirWe set out the cups of yogurt and apple cider vinegar. The fruit flies did not climb into the funnel, the colonies did not disappear. Some flies did not even leave the refuge of tomatoes and peaches, ripening on the kitchen counter. They “simply” gathered around the rim, as to enjoy the wonderful new smell. They seemed more relaxed than ever before.

You don’t think fruit flies can get more relaxed? Well, I’m here to tell you they can.

So now not only is my home a safe haven from frost for refugee fruit flies from many lands, I’m providing them with aromatherapy. Hell, next I’ll probably open a fruit-fly gluten-free bakery and yoga studio.

Probably the colonies at the local fruit stands have created mythical stories about a ginormic bug saint who arrives with reusable, eco-friendly shopping bags and exalts the faithful to a land of warmth and manna.

I got to thinking about their hanging out around the veritable hot tub of aromas. The fruit flies didn’t know we were trying to trap them, and frankly I don’t think they cared. The cup smelled nice and rotten and yeasty and so they went there. They didn’t go: “Wait! What if this is the wrong choice? What if following these horrible, wonderful and enchanting smells will eventually lead to our demise?”

They just DID it. And for the fruit flies that landed at my house, it worked out pretty well.

Even if I had kept my mouth shut and my husband had designed the Ultimate Fruit Fly Snare of Death and they had ended up at death’s door, I’m pretty sure they would have been okay with that too, because even death is an inevitable part of the fruit fly version of Who Are We Supposed to Be and What We Are Supposed to Do.

At this point you might be asking yourself what fruit flies has to do with writing. (Or maybe you don’t care, either of which is okay. We accept all kinds here at WTF.) The answer is nothing, (other than the fact that I’ve swatted like seven of them away while writing this post.)

The answer is also everything.

After a year of getting in my own way and a summer spent deliberating what the point was to my life, I decided I was just going to stop taking everything so seriously, just be who I am and start writing the novel I’ve always wanted to write.

And yeah, it might not turn out in my favor. I may drive myself insane trying to figure out the three different timelines I’ve created. I may waste an enormous amount of time and then decide to move on to bigger and better things.I may die in utter euphoria, in a pool of warm yogurt.

But you know what? Maybe it will turn out in my favor.

And for that reason alone I have to try. To put all other unnecessary things aside and do the thing I was born to do. To write the #*$(&! book!

I’m at a point in my life I truly have no choice other than move forward purely on instinct. Kind of like the fruit flies. (There goes one now.)

*sigh*

Alright, fruit flies. I owe you for one epiphany. You can hang around until I find a better place to ripen my peaches. But if I see you giving one another massages, so help me I’m calling the exterminator.

Till next time,

~Cindy

Moxie Monday: Boundaries

boundaries

I remember my first introduction to the word boundaries. I was in Kindergarten and there were boundaries to the playground, an invisible line I wasn’t supposed to cross. It was meant to keep us safe, to guide us toward where we needed to be. I quickly learned to follow the rules.

When my husband was in the Navy, boundaries were only crossed with a card which I was required to carry. There were checkpoints, rules and regulations. I got used to these types of boundaries as well.

But there is one type of boundaries which I never got used to, those which I put in place myself. Personal boundaries. For reasons which we don’t discuss I never did create personal boundaries. I allowed myself to be walked on by just about everyone I knew. I ignored myself and I allowed myself to be ignored. My feelings, ideas, opinions, thoughts, and needs were put second to everyone and everything else. I was not safe; there were no checkpoints.

As I’ve become acquainted with other creative types, I have noticed that many people discount, what should be, their personal boundaries. They become people pleasers; they change their life to fit around the lives of those around them. That doesn’t work for ANYONE. It makes us depressed. It stifles the growth of others. We BECOME a lie. We do NOT fulfill our purpose. We are stunted.

My advice is this week’s writing exercise.

Make a list of your personal boundaries. Decide now what type of life you want to live.

Let me give you a start:

1. I deserve to be spoken to with respect.

2. I deserve to have my voice heard.

3. My feelings and opinions are valid.

4. I can trust myself to form my own opinions, and find truth.

5. I am worth self-care.

These are just a few, but it’s a start.

How about you? Have you set your boundaries? Where will you start?

Only a Glimpse…

“Sweet dreams,” I said kissing the wisps of blonde hair on my four-year-old’s head.  I padded barefoot out of her room, quietly closed the door and leaned against it with a sigh. It had been one long day, week, month…summer. I was in some kind of foggy murk and had been for more than a week. I just wanted to collapse into my bed and, like every other day that week, forget that the day existed.

But my husband was waiting outside with the telescope. So I trudged downstairs.

Actually, it was my idea. Earlier that night I heard the words come out of my mouth, heard my own ask him to set it up, because it was the first clear night we’d had in awhile. They were my words,  but sounded so far away and unfamiliar, nearly unrecognizable to the weary soul inside. My husband was kind enough to take heed and trust them. And so I had no choice but to trust them too.

night skyI poured myself a glass of red wine and left the tepid warmth of the kitchen, stepped out on the deck into the night. It was warm, but a soft breeze was stirring the branches. The coolness of it lifted the heat away from the warm wooden planks of the deck floor. Rhythmic chirps of a hundred crickets sent a pulse into the night like a summer heartbeat. My husband, sitting at the telescope, looked up and smiled at me I closed the door.

“You…” He said, grinning, “are going to love this. Come on.”

I sat next to him on the chair he’d pulled over, squinted one eye and pressed the other softly against the lens. A faint blur of golden light streaked upwards, then disappeared.

“I don’t see anything,” I said, lifting my head. “There was some light, but it faded.”

“It moves fast.”

“What? What is it?”

“You’ll know when you see it. Here, let me find it again.” We traded places and he peered in, barely moving the lens around. “Here. Here it is.”

I sat again in the chair, moving slowly as not to bump the telescope out of place. This time when I squinted and looked into the lens, A reddish-orange circle appeared at the bottom corner. I moved my hand up carefully, turning the focus knob to sharpen the image. The circle became redder and clearer, and the outer edge was surrounded by two, rust-colored ghostlike rings, only they were circling the shape vertically instead of horizontally.

Saturn.Saturn

I held my breath. It was only in my vision for a half second before it rose to the top of the lens and out of sight. I sat up. My husband was sitting next to me, watching and waiting for my expression. We smiled at each other like we’d just uncovered some kind of ancient secret. We traded and he found it again, and eventually I figured out how to move the telescope so I could follow it myself. We took turns taking half-glimpses of it like little kids peeking through a doorway at Santa Claus. After a short while, it sunk below the trees on the horizon and we could no longer bring it into view. So we sat silent in the soft, late-summer night, thinking about our discovery.

We, ourselves had caught sight of something we’d only heard of since we were young children. We’d seen photographs of it in books, watched documentaries about planets on PBS, but now, with a hundred-dollar telescope we had seen it for ourselves. The events of the night had changed my perspective, and the murk I had been maneuvering through cleared, if only slightly.

In my desire to become my best possible self, to find purpose and Grace and enlightenment, I see Saturn too. I get short, vivid surges of knowing what I am born to do, and it’s so powerful I feel like an unstoppable force moving toward it. There is no question. There is proof. It simply is. For a half-instant, I am all powerful. And then it moves out of my peripheral and I am sent searching through darkness again.

Sometimes, I can’t find it on my own, and I am blessed enough to have people in my life like my loving husband to help me catch sight of it again. And sometimes I find it myself, without even trying. It is there, a constant, even when the murk of life prevents me from seeing it.

The vision of what we are meant to be is Saturn in the telescope. We chance upon the vision sometimes and for a few fleeting moments, what is within us is clear and true. But because we are human, easily distracted and set off course, it moves away from us. We must keep searching, sometimes led only by blind faith in possibility.  But it is there… we know it in our hearts, and every time we catch a glimpse of it that knowing becomes just a little stronger.dreams27f-1-web

If we hold a desire in our heart to one day, reach out and touch those lovely rings of light, i.e. live the dream we’ve been dreaming, we must keep searching. We must surround ourselves with the people and things that will help us reach our truest selves. And most importantly,we should never give up believing in things we can’t necessarily see.

They are not only possible, they are certain.

So keep searching. I will if you will.

-Till next time

~C

PS: This song goes with this post beautifully, if you’re inclined to read to music like our group. We like to connect songs to stories, of all kinds. 😉

Moxie Monday- The Summer of Letting Go

My turn for a Moxie Monday post is long overdue, and there is a good reason for that. I’ll do my best to explain.

I’ve been referring to this three-month stretch of sun as the Summer of Letting Go, long before I had a grasp on what that would mean. But somehow, in spite of my ignorance about it, those words have proved themselves inside and out. This summer:

I discovered, relived, and let go a small piece of my history.

I let go of regret at things undone, unspoken, undreamed.

I let go of thinking that any human being understands love, in it’s fullest. We are all just trying to love with the tools we’ve been given. Sometimes that is nothing at all.

I let go of the notion that magic does not exist. It exists with our without us believing in it. All we have is the decision whether or not to let it in.

 

I let go and let go and let go, until I was empty of all feeling. And then I rose up and did it again. It’s not over. This is likely to happen again and again until there is nothing left to confine or define me. Only then will can I say I have once and for all let go, and be free.

It has been a beautiful, unthinkable, boundless summer. And it has been a heartbreaking, weepy, arduous one as well. It is for this reason that I’ve been avoiding talking about my goals, my strength, my strategy. At times, I literally had none. And you know what? For the first time in my life, I’m okay with that.

I say this to the world with more intent in my heart than anything I have ever planned to do or be.

Today, I will follow my heart.

 

Till next time,~C

 

Moxie Monday – Becoming the Stereotype

Why is it that writers have a reputation for being scattered? Tortured, isolated, weird… even crazy?

I have been writing professionally and otherwise for years. Anyone who knows me will attest that I’m really not this way at all. I’m a pretty organized and tidy person. I’m fairly social, have friends of all types in various places. And well, yeah, I’m weird. But no weirder than any individual in her own unique humanness. weird writer

Since starting this group with my co-bloggers, I’ve met writers of all kinds. Some of them have been odd and scattered, live like hermits and spend sleepless night torturing themselves over things that only exist inside their heads. Yeah, we do that sometimes. But guess what? It isn’t just writers baby.  That personality type fans across the spectrum of people in all types of careers.

(Right now there are messy accountants. tortured homemakers, weird city planners closing their eyes and saying, “Thank You.”)

So how come writers get the stigma?

I’ll tell you why. Let me illustrate with the events of the past week.

I had plans to finish my longstanding book this summer. I’ve had the story in my head nearly 8 years. It’s something I’ve coined as “bigger than me.” Meaning, I was given the gift a great idea, and need to do the story justice in writing it well. It has driven me to take classes, read books, basically fine-tune my skills as a writer. It’s because of those things that I’ve taken several breaks from actually writing it. I’ve come a long way, and this spring I deemed the summer of 2013 as “The One.” The summer I would finally finish writing my book.

Like most writers, I’m constantly juggling three or four (or more) new ideas in the back of my mind. My Muse is pretty prolific in the offering up of new and beautiful things that inspire me to put pen to paper (or…fingers to keyboard.) It’s all very lovely, and it leads to some pretty major distraction. But I had a plan. I sat down late one night and made a list:

Stories That Have Been in My Head Since the Dawn of Time That I Plan to Write.

There were thirteen. It was a little jarring. I felt a little like a schizophrenic patient whose psychiatrist has just discerned all her various personalities. But no, even this didn’t send me reeling into that dark writer stereotype.???????????????????????????????

I bought six thousand notebooks. (Okay, well like fifteen) I made some nifty labels that represented each of my ideas,  told myself I had a handle on my Multiple Story Disorder. Every time a new idea came into my head, I’d simply write it down in the appropriate notebook. It worked beautifully.

I was on a roll. I pulled on my big girl pants and went back to the outline for my current project. I tightened it, improved it, and forged forward. I filled a couple of plot-holes. I even wrote three new scenes. Nothing was going to stop me now! Yes. This was shaping up to become The Summer.

And then the Muse asked me to dance.

I wrote something for the blog, just off the top of my head. I wrote it so flippantly, it practically didn’t even cross into the conscious part of my mind. But an idea emerged from the words I’d written that was downright life-changing.

Over the course of the next few days I realized what I wrote was not just fiction. It had deeper meaning. It was a story, pieces of my past that I had long tucked away. Parts of me left undiscovered. A story that begged to be explored, learned and eventually retold.
As soon as the idea became clear, I knew it was something that shook my very foundation as a writer, as a person. It was what I needed to write this summer.

tortured writerDespite my social personality, my organized outlook, all the beautifully detailed plans I had to finish my book, I became all the ugly writer stereotype. I stayed up all night jotting down memories and sorting out scenes in my head from over 20 years ago. I’d torture myself, second guessing whether I should even be writing this story, and how much of it was truth. I turned down friendly offers from friends so that I could spend my spare time writing. My normally tidy house became a neglected wreck, and the creativity I use to run my household and manage to work a little on the side was all spent on channeling this new story.  (Luckily, I have been blessed with an extremely understanding husband and fairly adaptable kids. And I’m self-employed, so no chance of getting fired.)

So there it is. I proved the stereotype. As a writer, for an entire week I was scattered, tortured, isolated, weird and crazy. I’m not always that way. Not often, even. But such as it is.

Writers don’t want to be type-cast any more than any human being does. But sometimes, we do it anyway. We’re willing to pigeonhole ourselves into the label, participate in the behaviors that “define us.” Because writers, like other artists (the ones who truly care,) will do whatever is necessary, stereotypes or no, to produce something meaningful.

That blog post brought Writing the Fire more publicity than anything else we’ve ever posted here. The things that came out of my mind as a result of it are some of the most powerful things I have ever written. And yeah, I was (and am) a little bit crazy in the process. But lets face it, sometimes it takes torture to get truth. Isolation to get creativity.

Crazy to get art.

Till Next Time,

~C

PS: If you liked this post, head on over to The Muses Library. It’s an invaluable resource if you’d like to learn more about, indeed why writers are crazy.