Wealth

I turn 53 years old today; I have $25 dollars in the bank.

In many people’s perspectives, I am not doing this whole adult thing very well.

I have to disagree, sweetie.

Let me list the reasons:

I am healthy. Other than a slight touch of hypertension, which is a result of genetics and beyond my control, I’m doing really well physically.

I struggled with depression and anxiety my entire life. I have that shit under control now. Sure, the Black Dog howls every now and then but, fuck that mutt. I hold the leash, bitch.

My marriage is stable and solid. Probably more now than ever. We have grown up together and are partners. I have his back and he has mine. What more could one want?

My children love me but, more importantly, they like me. They enjoy just hanging out with me.  I respect them as adults and they do the same with me. They’ve come to terms with having a weird mom and now actually relish in it. It’s a point of pride that their friends are jealous of our relationship.

My writing career is still chugging along. Sure, I don’t have an agent yet or on any big Book Lists but Past Nik would be amazed at all that we have out there. In the past 6 weeks, I have put out 4 titles. FOUR. And, most importantly, I am working on other stories. With even more ideas in the wings. My creative juices are flowing, baby, even if my estrogen levels are flatlining.

So, in spite of only having $25 in the bank, I’m rich.

There are many out there with fatter wallets that would envy such wealth.

 

 

The One About Day Jobs

Want to hear a writer joke?

Hey, how do you piss off a writer? 

Ask what they do for a living.

It’s funny because it’s true.

We’ve chosen a profession that doesn’t pay well. At least, that is the reality for the majority of us in the inky trenches. The last royalty check I received was less than $10.

Woot Woot! Ice cream is on me! But only the cheap brand, okay? I’m not pulling in Breyer’s kind of lettuce.

So, unless you’re like my friend, Dana, who is an oncologist searching for the cure to breast cancer, or you’ve got a Sugar Daddy/Mama Patron, you’re working a crappy day job to make ends meet.

You’re not alone.

I have thirty years of crap jobs listed on my resume. Only two of them were any fun. The rest were all minimum wages for minimum effort. Hell, if I were to time slip back into that part of my life, I probably wouldn’t even remember how to do most of them.

When I got the gig where I’m working now, my boss took me out to lunch and said words that I’ll never forget: “98% of this job is just showing up. So, just come to work, do your job and don’t go crazy like the last one did.”

Like the last one did? Oh, it’s one of THOSE kinds of jobs.

But, here I was, nearly forty years old, transplanted back to Tennessee, starting over from scratch, in yet another bullshit job that was going to take me nowhere.

I had a decision to make. I could either slip into a dark depression OR I could use this time to write stories.

I won’t lie; I fell into a depression. It’s my default mode.

But I think it was that Big 4-0 birthday that pulled me out and gave me the kick in the ass to use this time wisely.

I’ve been here for 15 years. I come to work, I do my job and, in the downtime which makes up 75% of my day, I write. I’ve been blessed with Time. And I don’t take it for granted.

So, don’t let your day job make you feel less of a writer.

The next time someone asks you, “What do you do?” look them straight in the eyes and say:

“I create worlds from nothing but ink scribbled onto paper. I make people laugh. I make people cry. I give people hope when they are sitting in a hospital waiting room as their loved ones fight to survive. I tell children that there are monsters in the dark with sharp teeth and ripping claws who want to eat them and then I tell them how to kill them. I provide diversions for people when they are sitting on the bus or sitting on the toilet. I am a writer. I am the bridge between Mythos and Logos. What do you do?”

I was a weird kid

Recently a friend on Facebook posted a challenge: Name something dumb you believed as a kid.

Oh, gurl. Let’s start with Kindergarten.

  • I was asked to play an Indian in the Thanksgiving Day play. I freaked out because I thought that feathers grew out of Indian’s heads and, ergo, I would have to grow feathers out of my head. I became so hysterical about the idea of growing feathers out of my head that  my mother had to take me out of Kindergarten. Yeah. I was a Kindergarten drop out. Something my mother never let me forget.

 

  • I also thought that when a person died on television, they used terminally ill patients so they could have a shot at stardom or people on death row as part of their sentence.

 

  • I was told that if you sang at the dinner table, Satan would drag you down to Hell. This idea plagued me. I worried what would happen if I accidentally started humming a tune at the table? Did that count? I could envision the linoleum of the kitchen floor bubbling from the heat as the hellfire cracked through, opening a hole so that Satan could drag me down to Hell. Someone also told me that if you heard someone calling your name three times, and if you answered it, Satan would drag you down to Hell.

Satan turned out not to be the great threat I imagined he’d be.

 

  • I believed that bats turned into people. I had seen it in an old black and white movie and that made it real as far as I cared. I was 7 and tried to check out a book from the school library about bats to further research the phenomenon. The librarian said the book was too hard for me and challenged me to read it. I did and that got me slapped in gifted classes and my road to Nerdom was solidified.

 

  •  When I was 9,  a babysitter told me that according to Ancient Tennessee Law, if you found a horse in the field and it had no saddle, you could take it home. Well, we happened to live in a stone cottage that was surrounded by fields. And, I knew where there was a horse. My cousin, Mandy and I went out today, put a rope around the horse’s neck and took it home.  My mom and aunt came home from a beer run to find a horse in the garage. I remember her screaming, “THEY HANG HORSE THIEVES, NIKKI!”

She made me take the horse back, Ancient Tennessee Laws not withstanding.

 

  • My grandmother, a backwoods country woman so don’t judge her too harshly, once told me that if you took a sponge, you could “wash the color off a black person and they’d be snowy white underneath” because it was the ‘mark of Cain’. As a kid, that idea fascinated me. I desperately wanted to sneak into a funeral home and test it. Ya know. For science.

 

  • As I got older, I was a diehard believer in all things weird. UFOs. Aliens. Loch Ness Monster. Ghosts. Bigfoot.

Ah, Bigfoot.

When I was in elementary school, I started up a Monster Hunters Club. We entered   a Cryptozoology exhibit in the yearly science fair. We won an Honorable Mention. My teacher, Mrs. Tarkington, even allowed the club to perform a play where Trent Ridley put on a furry parka, we hunted him down and then autopsied him, throwing guts and bones into the classroom.

Mrs. Tarkington retired after that year.

us

 

 

 

The One Where I Slap Down a Youngling

I was honored to be asked to write a few columns about writing for Kristin Kindoll’s Writing Goal Group. She wanted them to inspirational and give advice on a few of the things I’ve learned about the writing life.

Here is one of them.

So, one night, while hanging out with some writer friends, drinking, talking shit as one does, this little 20-year-old thing, says to me, “Hey, Nik, do you regret waiting so long to start writing?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, like, you didn’t really get started until you were, like, you know. Old. In your forties. Aren’t you afraid you waited too long? Like, you should’ve started sooner?”

Because of the outright rudeness of the question, I was stunned and I think I sputtered out something like, “Yeah, I guess so?”

But I’ve had time to reconsider my answer.

*Insert the noise of cracking knuckles here*

Listen up, sweetheart.

The Arts is one the place that maturity is a freaking asset, sweetie.

While, yes, I will admit that I wish I had the vigor and energy that I took for granted as a lithe twenty-year-old but, as an artist, the years I’ve acquired have given me flavor and insight.

Oh, sweet beautiful thing. With your flawless skin, white teeth and high metabolism, you don’t understand life. Not yet. Not until you lived it.

It’s a cruel paradox.

It’s only after you’ve been through the fire do you understand the heat.

There is a perspective that comes with being able to look back on life in the rear-view mirror that you simple cannot have until it is all in the road behind you.

And it is from this, the best and greatest stories are born.

Do I think for a second that Past Nik would have understood regret? Absolutely not. She had read about it, watched movies and seen it from the outside but she had never felt it.

Now, I get it.

I can see all the hurt I caused my mother. The cutting words I hurled at her never caring about damage it did because I felt that the truth was all the mattered.

As if I understood what the truth was at twenty.

She died at 49; I am currently 52 years old. I have outlived my mother by three years.

And I have regrets.

I have been pregnant, went through labor and delivered children. I was a mother. Not the best one I could’ve been, I know. I suffered through years of depression where I was only a shadow mom. I had no money to give them what they needed and I have so many regrets.

I have 30 years of crap jobs that led nowhere but several that gave me some great stories.

I have traveled to different countries and lived in foreign lands where going to the grocery store was traumatizing.  I once bought toilet paper thinking it was butter because I couldn’t read the labels. That taught me compassion.

And it took the passing of time to wear away my body so that I was no longer beautiful. To be a woman who is overlooked and unseen. That taught me to be myself because, fuck it, nobody else really gives a damn anyway.

While you are still swept up in the maelstrom of life, whipped around by youthful indiscretions and casual cruelties, I am outside the dance. I watch it, a chimera of Adult/Child and I can see all the movements.

So, the answer to your question, my sweet, gorgeous, simple child, is no. I do not wish I had started sooner.

I started exactly when I needed to become the person my stories need me to be.

Hidden

I have a cat named Mushashi. He is, in a word, nuts.

When we got him, he was maybe 8 weeks old. There were two of them. Beautiful, fluff balls. White and black Himalayan kittens with huge blue eyes. We only meant to adopt one kitten but when we saw how attached he was to his sister, Yasuko, we knew we couldn’t separate them. She was fierce; I didn’t worry about her at all. But, Mushi…I could tell he was different. He needed her. I don’t know what happened to him in those first few weeks of life that made him such a cautious, scared kitten but, whatever it was, the damage was deep.

Those first weeks, I never saw hide or hair of him. He ate, drank and went to the litter box like a ninja.

Eventually, he’d pop out of whatever dimensional rift he hid inside to play with his sister. But only in secret. The moment he was spotted, POOF! Back into the shadows.

He is eight now. He is still the King of the Introverts and spends 20 hours of his day in my daughter’s room under her blankets. But whenever my Shy Boy appears at my feet, meowing for a scratch behind the ears, it is a treat as much for me as it is for him.

This morning, while sitting at my desk trying to conjure up words, he burst into my office, chasing a sock. He tossed the black raggedy thing up in the air and caught it in mid flight. Falling to the ground, he’d clutch it to his tummy with his claws, his tail wagging in triumph. He’d jump up, pushing the sock away and the chase began again.

He didn’t notice me so I froze, kept silent and just watched him. It was glorious to see him so free, so alert, so CAT. I wanted desperately to say something, tell him how wonderful it was to see him so happy and just how so goddamn cute he was!

But I didn’t. I knew I couldn’t. It would break the spell.

And then I wondered if this is how God must feel sometimes. Desperately wishing to connect but knowing that if one word was uttered, the spell would break and everything would turn to dust.

That must be incredibly lonely.

 

 

ECK!

Real quick: Brian found a weird, soft, small squishy ball on the floor. He picked it up and showed it to me, “What’s this?”

I looked at it and immediately flashed back to a childhood of roaming in the woods.

“THAT,” I said. “Is a well fed tick.”

“What?”

“Yep, when they become fully engorged they fall off and go into a stupor.”

Brian dropped it and, in the most manly voice a former USMC sniper can muster, said, “ECK!”

I have been giggling ever since.

 

P.S.

“What should we do with it?” he asked.

“Burn it.”

“What?”

“When we were kids and found ticks like that, we’d burn them. They pop like little blood bombs. POP!”

“ECK!”