Everybody is writing their 2020 wrap-ups. Listing all the things they did or wished they had done this year. All the bad shit that happened in 2020. A few of the good things.
Man, just thinking about writing down ALL THE THINGS that happened in 2020 makes my belly hurt.
Not because of any trauma from 2020. Actually, my year was okay. My family stayed healthy. We all kept our jobs. I am stoked that my commute was cut down from an hour to five minutes. I’m especially happy that I have a toilet all to myself!
It’s because I don’t really process time all that well.
I’m like a dog, I guess.
I just see today. This minute. What am I going to do in the next minute? And the next one. On and On.
Which really sucks when it comes to planning.
So, I scrolled through my calendar to see if anything majorly impressive happened this year.
So, in no particular order, here it goes:
I do remember February. I screwed up my ACL, fell down a flight of stairs, got a UTI and a hemorrhoid. February really sucked.
I signed up with a marketing team who signed me up for a ton of podcasts and interviews. That was fun and I met some really interesting people.
My Pilates routine took a big ass beating from February thru April. Luckily, I’m back on track for hiring small blonde women to torture me for an hour.
I learned that my job easily translated to a work from home position which made me very, very happy!
I released the Jake Istenhegyi Omnibus, Volume 1 and 2. I also sent a new version of Sherlock Holmes and the Shrieking Pits into the world.
I wrote of bunch of stuff but damned if I can remember what they were, if they went anyhere, or if they are just moldering on my harddrive.
So, I think my goal for 2021 is to be more mindful not only of what is happening today but to keep track of all the things that has, will, or could happen.
Man, that sounds like a hot steaming cup of no fun.
Last Thursday, I received an email from my cousin, Shannon, asking me if I wanted my mother’s china.
How my cousin that I only see at funerals and sometimes we cross paths in Krogers came to have my long deceased china is a mystery but shit like that happens in the South.
I told her that I would take it off her hands and to leave it in a box on her porch. I would come by and pick it up. We’re still in a pandemic, people.
I bring home a small box that reeks of cigarette smoke. There are cloth and paper towels that are saturated with the lingering stink of my Mother’s cancer sticks. Inside, was not china plates as I was expecting but very fragile crystal glassware.
I decide to do some research and see exactly what it was I had inherited.
From the maker’s mark, the pattern, and the year I guessed my mother first received this wedding gift (1963-64), I was able to pray to the Great God Google and found out a few things:
The glassware was made by a company called Rosenthal Porzellan.
The pattern was called Shadow Rose.
The company was founded in 1879 in Bavaria.
Everything was rosy for the companyuntil the Nazis came into power and even though Rosenthal was Catholic, he was still Jewish enough to be a problem. He was forced out of his own company.
In 1941, when the Decree on Companies of Deprived Commercial Enterprises was adopted, the “Aryan” management intervened with the help of JOSEPH GOEBBELS to continue the use of the Rosenthal brand name.
Come the 1950’s, Rosenthal’s son took over. It was during this time that the company was based in Nuremberg (yeah….that Nuremberg) and by 1997 the company was 90% owned by Water Wedgewood. Currently, the company is owned by Arcturus Group and based in Selb.
So, anyway, that’s the story of how I inherited my Mother’s Nazi stained glassware.
Does the lone dirty spoon you find in the sink after you’ve already started the dishwasher feel left out? Like it didn’t get to have a spa day with heat rinse like the rest of its silverware brethren? Does it feel unclean and “not daisy fresh”?
I never really understood the premise of the tv show Bewitched. So….let me get this straight. First of all, how long did Darren and Samantha know each other before they got married? I mean….how do you keep the fact that you have supernatural powers that flip the bird at all the natural laws of physics under wraps? He basically married a freaking GOD. How did he not know? And, after finding out his wife can pretty much wriggle her nostrils and do all the things, why did he not use this? Quit his job and live a life of luxury? On the flipside, what the fuck Samantha? You have miraculous powers and are descended from a line of magical beings and you’d give all that up for the life of a charwoman? The only explanation for this insanity: Stockholm Syndrome. Because you could never convince me that Darren’s D was all that.
And speaking of Stockholm Syndrome, Marge Simpson. It’s the only thing that explains why she stays with that fat slob. OR unless they are bound by a suicide pact because they accidentally murdered Hans Moleman and have to stay together to make sure neither of them squeal.
And, yes, the irony of having these thoughts while doing the drudgery of housework is not lost on me.
Man, the Universe can really kick you in the ass, can’t It?
Many moons ago, when I was a much younger Nik, I was having a very bad day.
My life was not going in any direction.
I had just graduated high school, gotten a job which paid $4.20 an hour, lived with my parents (which I did until I got married), had no social life outside the fantasy worlds inside my head, and was absolutely miserable.
I remember it was a Saturday*. I didn’t have any plans other than sitting around in my favorite chair and thinking about how I’d had already lost the race before I’d even gotten my sneakers laced up.
To be honest, I was contemplating suicide. Not my first time. Actually, back then, it was more of a past time.
There was a knock at my door.
It was a friend from high school. Nancy Phillips. She was a red headed firecracker. She was going to college and getting her life rolling. I hadn’t seen her in months.
“Hey, so I had the weirdest thing just happen. So, I was at this bookstore and this wooden plaque fell at my feet,” she said, handing me a bag. “I knew it was meant for you. I gotta go. Bye!”
And she was gone. I went back to my chair and opened the bag. It was a wooden plaque with a sailboat on the ocean at sunset. It had a quote from my favorite book at the time, Illusions, The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah by Richard Bach.
It read: YOUR ONLY OBLIGATION IN ANY LIFETIME IS TO BE TRUE TO YOURSELF.**
The little gift really perked me up.
Now, Fast-Forward to NOW.
I’ve been having a lot of Big Thinks lately. I’m on the verge of my 55th year on this planet and, frankly, I think I’m due for some Big Thinks.
I’ve been reconsidering a lot of things. Trimming away some dead branches and finding new tribes.
But the biggest thing that’s been haunting me is whether or not to continue with this crazy dream of being a Writer.
You have to stop and think about whether or not this is really worth it? Why am I doing this? Why am I spending so much time and energy on fluffs of wordy farts?
I’ve got maybe 20 more years in this meatsack.
Do I want to spend it making up shit?
Do I want to leave behind boxes and boxes of manuscripts, notes, newspaper clippings, books, books and MORE books for whatever poor bastard is left to clean out whatever hovel I finally crawl into to die?
Maybe I should let go, leave behind childish things and do something more adult. More responsible. More useful. Because, face it, if I were to roll up to a car accident, the only thing I’d know to do is tap the poor bugger on the shoulder and say, “So, wanna hear this cool idea I have for a screenplay?”
So, should I give in? Give up. Just realize that I don’t have what it takes to make it as a writer. Maybe I did, a long time ago, but I’m old now. I don’t have the strength, the stamina or the goddamn connections,*** to make any of those dreams that Young Nik had so long ago.
It’s a question that has been haunting me because, goddammit, I don’t know what else to do other than make up shit! It’s what I am. It’s encoded in my DNA.
Anyway, much like that Long Ago Nik, I’ve been sitting around, brooding. Maybe not quite so dramatically to include suicide but, I haven’t exactly been a lot of fun to be around.
And then I got a *DING* on my phone.
It’s a message from Nancy.
Like I said at the beginning of this.
The Universe can really kick you in the ass, can’t it?
*Nancy, if you ever read this, I hope I’m not misremembering this story. And if I am, well, so be it. This is my life, my blog, and I prefer to remember it as such.
**I wish, dear readers, I could show you a picture of this plaque. I still have it. It used to hang next to my desk but, since the move, I have no idea where it is. I spent 30 minutes in the hot box that is my attic, going through boxes, and found nothing. Well, not nothing. I found some cool stuff that I forgot I had and plan on hanging because, ain’t that just the way?
***And, Fortuna Help Me, I don’t have it in me to kiss anyone’s ass enough to make connections.
I was surprised since it’s a Sunday and I had specifically cleared this day to spend with my family since it’s Father’s Day.
I checked my phone and on my calendar it read:
That took me a second to digest and then I remembered why I left that memo to myself.
Six months ago, my horoscope said that this year would be full of changes and that I should check back in on this date and ask myself, “Are you still in the same place?”
January Nik was feeling a bit down in the dumps and decided to put the Astrological Guides to the test and marked it down on her calendar to ask herself that very question.
“Are you still in the same place?”
Whoa, doggie. Let me count the ways.
Since January, we have skirted WWIII, a global pandemic has shut down most everything, Australia caught on fire, Trump is still Trump, protests and riots over systemic racism and brutality inherent in the system, and we’re still waiting for the Murder Hornets to invade.
But, let’s focus on me.
Let’s check in physically. I am currently 10 lbs lighter and an inch or so tighter thanks to Pilates. The blood work from my last physical was the best it’s been in years. My IBS has been pretty stable since working AWS (more on that later). Menopause is still doing its thing but that’s inevitable. I’ve been trying new recipes and eating healthier so that is also a big bonus plus.
Psychologically. Ugh. Well, that’s a bit of a roller coaster. Some days I am feeling pretty good, full of hope for the future because I am basically a romantic optimist. And then other days I go online, check the news and social media, and wish the Four Horsemen would just ride through and finish this farce once and for all.
On the Creative Front, I go from a manic burst of writing and dreaming up New Exciting Projects!!! to a sluggish, what is the point?, editing and reformatting old projects. But I don’t stop because….Reasons.
OH! and I’ve also been accepted into a Bachelor’s degree program at University of Virginia. (First I have to do this stupid Bio101 online course because my math classes didn’t transfer but that’s a cinch.) I’m excited! I’m having my first advisor meeting on Zoom this Monday. I’m aiming for a Bachelor’s degree with a focus on Writing and Psychology. What I’d like to do is be able to take this training and use the power of Story to help people with mental illness or social problems. It’s a lofty, romantic and probably impossible goal but, what the fuck, I’m just killing time otherwise.
Regarding the Day Job, oh hell! I could never have imagined in a million years I would be where I am right now. It is SO SWEET. I wake up, roll out of bed, slap on some day old jeans and a t shirt, grab a cup of coffee, go downstairs to my home office, log onto my work PC and COMMUTE IS DONE! And, best of all , I have found that I am a viable and needed part of the office team. I never felt that back in the Before Covid Times. I used to worry that everything at work would go to AWS (alternate work space) and I’d be booted because, I felt, that I couldn’t do my job online. My days consisted of processing paper contracts and going upstairs 2-3x a day to “check the box” and see if there anything there for my department.
And the Covid 19 Pandemic hit and we were forced to change with the times. Departments scanned and emailed their contracts to me and I would route them to the appropriate signers. Weirdly, this caused my department to become more communicative with each other. Before this, my bosses really didn’t know what I did because, if I were doing my job correctly, they never saw the problems because I checked and fixed them before it ever landed on their desks.
So, this is a Freaking A Plus for me.
And I love staying home. I can do my day job, keep my housework under control AND even work in my stories. AND NEVER WEAR A BRA!!
On the family front, we’re doing fine. Frankly, the quarantine hasn’t really affected us socially. It’s one of the upsides of being hermits. We’ve got our online worlds, books, movies and Netflix. Fuck, this is paradise!
So, I’m feeling pretty good.
And then I remember what is happening outside my gilded, secured walls.
And I feel a mixture of fear, anxiety and, quite frankly, embarrassment that I’m in a better place now than 6 months ago.
But maybe even all of that chaos and change is for the best.
Birth is a messy thing, painful and not very polite.
I hope we can say that, in six months, we are in a better place.
I use to consult it every morning after catching the bus to work to get an idea of what sort of day was ahead for me so I could get ready for it. It was a strange way of arming myself to do battle with the day.
I haven’t looked at it since the Covid 19 lockdown.
In February, before all the shit went down, I was feeling very low and I started consulting my tarot cards. Again, it’s a harmless psychological crutch. I don’t think my cards have any sort of magical divining powers; I use my cards in a purely Jungian vein. Taps into subconscious archetypes, helps me to see outside of my head. And, back then, I was in a whirlwind of despair, lost and lonely.
I haven’t even thought about flipping a card in months.
Isn’t that weird?
You would think that now, of all times, NOW is when I’d be consulting oracles and looking for some sort of supernatural signs.
But, I don’t feel any compulsion to do look for comfort in any kind of magical thinking tricks.
Where I do find comfort is turning off the TV, logging off from internet and going outside for a walk. The sky is blue, the trees are blooming, grass is thick and green. Birds are singing and squirrels are effortlessly leaping from tree to tree like trapeze artists. The air smells like honeysuckle. There is a cool edge to the wind to remind me that winter is not exactly done and to enjoy the warmth, sweetie and remember: weather can change on a dime in April.
When I stop doom scrolling and look outside, I am reminded that Life is all around us.
And, as long as there is Life there is Hope.
Maybe that’s why I don’t feel the need to throw the bones to scry what might be happening down the road.
Now, I feel still. I listen to the wind. And I am content to wait.
My son works at a Big Grocery Store chain. Today he told me this story.
“Have you ever heard of a Brazilian Wandering Spider?” he said.
“They are deadly as hell and, worst of all, they sometimes hitchhike in shipments of bananas.”
“Big Grocery Store has a policy on what to do when we find one. They have to close the store for three days to fumigate. And guess what? When I was on vacation last week, they found one in my store.”*
“But it was dead so they didn’t close the store. I guess they figured it didn’t have friends.”
“Jesus. That’s crazy.”
“But you know what I kept thinking? Because everything is so crazy now, can you imagine suiting up, putting on a mask, gloves and everything, to go to the store only to be told, “Sorry. The store is closed.” So you ask, ‘Why? The Covid Virus? Has someone gotten sick?’ And somebody in a hazmat suit says, ‘No, sir. Spiders.’
Because, frankly, Spiders make everything worse. Even in 2020.
*before you tell me this is an Urban Legend, he said they had pictures of the dead spider.
I just looked over last month’s post and, man, OH MAN.
Simpler days, amirite?
I’m currently on “encouraged” isolation. Meaning, the Powers that Be have asked us to work from home if we have the ability to do so. I have my work laptop so I can do some things but a big chunk of my Day Job is still very much addicted to the Paper Teat. Documents need to be printed and signed. Old School. It’s frustrating. So, 20th century. I am working out what days I will go break quarantine to go into the office and push contracts through the bureaucratic colon.
And speaking of colons. People suddenly, insanely, obsessed with their buttholes. Fighting over toilet paper. Who knew that would be the straw that broke our collective backs? The lack of a buttwipes.
That’s not important. And that’s not why I’m here, typing out words on this worn out keyboard. I want to talk about something very dear to me. Something that maybe holds a key to help a lot of people endure these next few weeks of isolation.
So, here it goes.
A friend of mine recently posted on social media that he was trying to find a reason to keep writing. The pandemic had really forced the issue, in his mind, on the uselessness of fiction. And I was like….HOLD THE FUCKING PHONE.
The uselessness of Fiction? What the everloving gobstopper are you talking about?
No, don’t. Just shut up. Let me talk. If there is one thing I know to be absolutely TRUE with the big ol’ Capital T is that STORY is important. Especially in times like these were people are scared and feeling hopeless. Our entire species is built on story. That makes Storytellers like me and mine crucial, sweetie.
Here’s a slice of truth: Humans working from a place of fear are dangerous animals, my friends. Open up a history book. Just flip it open and you will find hundreds of examples of how badly Humans react to fear. No matter how educated or civilized a person is during times of plenty, the Angry Monkey is just waiting to leap, howling, scratching, tearing, its teeth rending others into shreds to get to that last roll of TOILET PAPER!
And that time is now. People are dying. Lungs are rotting away. People are scared and they need something to shine some light into the darkness.
And here is where I want to climb on my rock and shout out to my people. To my tribe. To the Story Tellers out there.
“THE WORLD NEEDS YOU! THEY NEED STORIES. THEY NEED HEROES. THEY NEED DIRECTION. THEY NEED LAUGHTER. THEY NEED TO SEE THAT THE DRAGON CAN BE SLAIN! THAT PEOPLE CAN BE GOOD, KIND, AND COMPASSIONATE AND, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, WE CAN WIN!”
So, get out there. Write those stories. Show the future that we are good, kind, compassionate, clever, fantastic, and most of all, HUMAN.
Well, this month has been particularly fucktacular.
Let me recount the ways this month has kicked my ass. And in some ways quite literally.
I hurt my ACL. I take full responsibility for this. Inside my head I still think I’m a vibrant 30 something and not a rickety 50 something. I pushed myself too hard at Pilates one Saturday and took two very strenuous classes back to back. And then took another class on Sunday. By Tuesday, I had a weird, soft, hurtful lump behind my left knee. I showed it to my trainer, Kayce, and her eyes went wide. “That’s your ACL, honey. Let me look at that.” She tested my leg in a few ways and sighed, “Well, it’s not torn. What did you do?” I told her how I took Cardio Sculpt and a Suspend class back to back. “Are you a special kind of stupid? I’m a champion gymnast and I wouldn’t take those classes back to back!” So, yeah. I had to take a week off from Pilates.
On Sunday, I fell down some stairs. One second I was standing there at the top of the stairs that lead down to the garage, holding an armful of recycling, and then next thing I’m BOOOM BOOOM BOOOM BOOM BOOOOM, my feet up in the air and my ass banging down the stairs until I landed on the concrete garage floor. The door slammed shut behind me so no one in my family heard me. I sat there, stunned, angry and scared. If I had hit my head and died, my last words would have been unprintable. I slowly crawled up the stairs and found my husband. “Hey, I fell down the stairs. Look at my back, would you?” He, of course, asked me all sorts of questions as to how/why/what happened.
I got a UTI. A fucking urinary tract infection. I haven’t been feeling quite 100% lately, I’ll admit. I was putting it down to just winter doldrums and sinus issues. And then I woke up and my morning piss was frothy. Well, that can’t be good. And then the burning started. Like, my vagina felt inflamed and every step was like rubbing the tinder together. At first, I figured, hey, maybe it’s just my soap or my new fabric softener. And then I got a fever. Shit. So, I ordered a UTI test off of Amazon (YEP! AMAZON!). I got it the next day and took it as soon as I got off work. SHIT. When it tested positive, I scooted over to the Little clinic at Krogers (because my doctor couldn’t see me for a week and I SURE AS FUCK was not letting my crotch goobers wait late long). I got there 45 minutes before closing, paid my copay, pissed into a plastic cup and waited. Yep. A UTI. “Wow. I’ve never had one befrore. This is my first one,” I told the Nurse Practitioner. She sighed and said, “Really? Welcome to be a woman. Take these pills for seven days, drink lots of water and ignore that crap about cranberry juice. It’s bull.”
To add to the torment, a few days later, I got a hemorrhoid. ONE. HEMORRHOID. Just one. This little, painful, eruption on the right side of my asshole.
Then, Tales to Terrify rejected my submission. It’s a good story, too. It would make GOOD RADIO.
To wind up these first 10 days of February, I’m fully drowning in a midlife depression. I’m questioning every life path I’ve ever walked down and want to burn the whole damn place down. I’ve gained five pounds and fully undone all the progress from Pilates. All of it. I’m back to being the fat fuck I was before I started in July.
Everyone I know is succeeding and prospering. Getting new jobs, new relationships, new opportunities to go higher and higher. I’m happy for them but, goddamn, when is it my turn? Maybe it will never be. Will I be okay with that?
So I give myself a little pep talk. “I can can wallow in this bile OR take a higher road. So what if none of my stories ever make any money and I never find ‘success’. So what? That shouldn’t matter. Not in the end, anyway.” I have to focus on that. The Higher Perspective of creating what I want, enjoy the passion that comes from that and stop poisoning it with any sort of external validation.
Once I get over this need for recognition, I’ll be good.
Soon, I’ll get back to Pilates, lose this extra weight and get back on track.
And I’ll be even better once my gooch boogers clear up.
I don’t write books for kids. It’s not like I have anything against kids. Frankly, I think they’d like my books although I suspect parents and other adults in a supervisory position might disapprove.
And I tried once to write a children’s story. It’s about a boy who tries to save his mother from Death by stealing the Crown of Feathers* from under her pillow. Unfortunately, it turns her into an undead thing and he has to consult three witches to help sort it all out.
While writing it, I consulting with my daughter who is far more mature than me.
“So….do you think it would be okay if I let the Zombie Mom eat the boy’s dog?”
“Okay. How about if she eats the Grandmother?”
So, even when I try to write something for kids**, it all turns out weird.
Which gets me to the point of today’s post.
I was at the annual Dickens of a Christmas festival in Franklin, TN selling books with the Middle Tennessee Author’s Circle*** when this little girl, maybe 9 or 10 years old, comes into the tent and says she likes spooky stories.
Fingers point towards me.
She gravitates instantly to my book, The Problem at Gruff Springs, a Weird Western story.
Her mother tries to push her towards another book. It has a unicorn on the cover. “Look, honey, fairy tales!”
The girl rolls her eyes and picks up my book so I go into my Spiel.
“That story is about Alan Pinkerton who is sent to look for stolen Confederate gold and finds that there are some horrible things in the mountains. Mainly cannibalistic trolls.”
The girl’s eyes widen. “Cannibal trolls! This is the one for me!”
The girl’s mother looked at me with even wider eyes.
“There is no sex or cursing however there is violence and, well, cannibal trolls.”
“This one. I want this one!”
And the mom paid and the kid went home with my book.****
*It’s an Appalachian folk tale. Look it up.
**Even though I think kids like weird and morbid stuff.
*** Truth be told, I was TRYING to sell books. Mainly what I did was stand there, feeling like a freak on display. “Oh, look. So, that’s a Writer, in the wild? How odd.”
****And I spent the rest of the afternoon trying to remember if there were any curse words. I did remember there is a scene with the troll queens pendulous breasts swaying about. Jesus. I’m going to hell.
Yesterday, I spent my Saturday doing all the Responsible
Adult things. Laundry. Housework (a bit more deep cleaning than usual with
Thanksgiving looming next week). Groceries. Paying Bills. ALL THE THINGS!
By the end of the day, I told myself that I would spend
Sunday doing Creative Things. My mind flew in all sort of directions about all
the THINGS I would get done. I went to bed feeling hopeful and excited.
And then the day came.
I stared blankly at my List Of Things To Do and felt my guts
I started it with some baking. Blueberry bread. Hey, it’s
I fiddled with my printer which for some reason no longer
wants to do its ONE DAMN JOB.
After giving up, I pushed the traitorous printer aside and
sat down at my desk.
After taking a deep breath, I decided to do something easy.
Let’s get those wheels turning by doing some journaling. It’s spreading ink on
the page. That counts, right?
I love journaling. It’s a way to talk out problems and
finding answers. Sometimes, it is like your subconscious can find a way to talk
back to you. There is something magical about it.
I started writing about my latest battle with Imposter Syndrome.
How I haven’t written anything since October 1. And the panic I’m feeling because in a week, I’m
supposed to talk to a writers’ group about my adventures of being a writer. HA!
Who am I to tell anyone about BEING a writer?
And that’s when my subconscious chimed up, “Ah, there’s
the problem, isn’t it, Love? That adverb. BEING. That’s a passive a To
Be verb. And WRITER? That’s a noun. Nouns are active so snip that down
to WRITE. Not Writer; nouns aren’t active. They just sit there. You need
to clip that and just use the active verb. WRITE.Just write something.
Anything. Don’t worry about it being good or if anyone will like it. Just grab
that Silver Flame and mold it into something NEW. ACTIVE. Get moving.”
And that’s what I did.
Here it is.
I don’t know if any of this is good or is just another post
about me whining, but I did it.
At least it is a start.
My last story was finished on October 1, 2019. It’s called Brother Marvel’s Old Time Revival.
And, until today, when I sat down at this cold keyboard, I haven’t written anything since.
It’s not because I don’t have ideas. I have a whiteboard looming over me with a list of projects. Looking up at it, I can hear it whispering, “For chrissakes, just write one sentence, a paragraph, anything! Get those wheels rolling!”
Here’s the rub: There is a part of me that desperately wants to stop. To never write another word, sink into mediocrity and just stay still.
Perhaps it is because I am too content.
I have a job that pays my bills with a very small spillover that allows me to buy books and pay for my Pilates addiction. Thank the Muses I don’t have to live on my royalty checks. The last I received from Kindle wouldn’t pay me a cup of coffee.
I made the rounds at a few book fairs this year and was grateful to make my table money back. However, if you really wanted to be anal about it, if you consider the overhead involved in putting on those shows, I am drowning in the red.
At this moment, my writing career is a classic case of diminished returns.
If there is no monetary incentives, why keep at it? Or, considering the lack of writing I’ve done lately, why do I even worry about jumping back on that horse?
Why am I even wasting my time bitching about it?
Because in the end, it doesn’t matter how much money you made or how many times you were published. In the end, IT DOES NOT MATTER.
What does matter is answering this question truthfully:
ARE YOU HAVING FUN?
If you answered, no then STOP. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. Just STOP, get off the horse, dust yourself off and find something else.
Now I don’t have some rose colored perception about the writing life. I don’t expect it to be a mile a minute, raucous adventure zone cavalcade of fun fun times. It’s hard. Soul sucking, frustrating and depressingly hard work with sometimes little to no rewards (see the royalty statement paragraph above). Your work will more than likely never be read, be forgotten or, God forbid, your work will stay unfinished and molder in gut like a tumor.
So, if you’re not having fun. If even on your best days when the story is flowing like lava from your fingertips and the Word Genie is throwing a rave inside your head and you aren’t having fun, then stop.
Stop and find something else. Because, dammit, there’s no reason to clamp your knees around this bucking horse if you can do anything else.
And that’s it, isn’t it? Can you do anything else?
If I were to quit right now, go to school, and become something professional, profitable and respectable, the entire time I would be thinking “How could I turn this into a story?”
It’s how my brain works. I think in metaphor. I search for stories. I look for connections in unlikely things. I think sideways. Like Janus, I see both sides of the door.
I guess, maybe, I’m a little nuts. Perhaps, too organized a thinker to be diagnosed as schizophrenic but, in a way, I think all creatives are a little cuckoo for coco puffs.
Maybe that’s why I’ll keep on writing.
Not for money. Not for some kind of fickle fame. I’ll do it because it’s what I am, what I do and how I keep sane.
So, with that in mind, let me give my apologies. In a few years when my corpse is laid out on the cooling board in the morgue, I apologize to the poor soul who somehow ends up with my boxes of unfinished manuscripts, unpublished dreams, indecipherable journals and files named ‘future story fodder’.
I’m sorry. I couldn’t help it. It’s just how I was made.
But, until that, hopefully, far away day, you’ll need to excuse me. I’ve got some new stories to tell.
I was eating lunch when a news article I read suddenly popped into my head.
“CANNIBALISMCOULD SOLVE WORLD HUNGER”
And, I started thinking about it and, ya know…it would but how do we as a culture de-stigmatize the idea of eating people for food?
“Well,” I answered myself. “What if we had a very select people and isolated them, kept them well fed, healthy and completely ignorant that they are not so much a country but a herd. And when they are ready to be culled, we just take a few.
“Think about it. We could push diets on certain selections of the population in order to make them taste a certain way. Some meats could be leaner, some fatter. Some more seasoned and some less so. We could even have some conform to an idea that they won’t take certain medications so that they could be our “free range” or “organic” crop.”
And then it hit me. Oh, shit. What if it is already being done? And it’s AMERICA that is the cannibal food herd?
Think about it. All the diet crazes. We have some parts of society who are absolutely fitness crazy and others who are slobs to the point of being stupid. Some who are healthy, vaccinated and full of preservatives and a bunch of those who are unvaccinated.
“But how would they know when we are ready to be culled?”
That’s where Fit Bits come into play. And what about those “biometric” exams we have to take to keep our insurance. Our phones taking count of each footstep and calorie you’ve burned. All of it just another way to keep track of the herd
It all makes sense.
Excuse me but I’m going to unplug before the Farmers find out I’ve figured it out.
I just finished watching the documentary, Curse of the Man Who Sees UFOS and all I can say is, “There but for the grace of God, go I.”
I was around 11 when I first started seeing UFOS.
We had just moved into a shitty shoebox of a house, 800 square feet, no air conditioning, wall heaters that were likely to burn the house down than keep us warm. That winter, we slept in our clothes, wrapped inside sleeping bag, under bedcovers. We kept a plastic cup on by the tub to scoop up cockroaches as they floated up from beneath the bathmat when we took baths. I remember killing a rat the size of a small cat in the kitchen. Our neighbors were a religious family. The oldest brother and sister used to sneak inside the tent my sister and I had in the backyard and make out in it. Further down the road, there were addicts and sex workers. Fights and gunshots were common.
And that was just the chaos outside.
Inside, my family was starting down a very dark road. Mom and Dad started using pot and drinking heavily. They were bankrupt, I later learned. Working 40 hours a week but making barely enough to cover costs of living. There were lots of Hamburger Helper dinners and mayonnaise sandwiches for lunch. Poverty is like cancer, make no doubts about that. It’ll destroy everything.
And then there was me, on the brink of puberty. In the midst of a biological chaos of my own. I started my period, got breasts, all while my parents were smoking pot and fucking in the front room and I tried my best to keep my little sister from watching it.
I was a very lonely kid. Anxious, nervous, constant stomachaches.
And that’s when I started seeing the lights in the skies.
I stole money (that’s another story for another time) and used the stash of quarters to buy UFO magazines from Tradewinds, a convenience store/fish and bait shop down the road. I loved those pulpy pieces of trash. I didn’t just read them. I devoured them. They were my Bible. Back then, I still had a child’s belief that books were sacred. If it were printed, that made it true.
And, God, did I need it to be true.
The Space Brothers. That’s what I called them. They were just lights in the skies. Just lights. I never saw metallic ships or anything like that. Just lights. I remember watching them zig zag across the night sky like Junebugs on a string. I remember once, telling everyone to start acting crazy to see what it would do. The light actually stopped, as if confused to our antics and when I pointed and shouted, “LOOK!” it zoomed away.
Oh, yeah. It wasn’t just me. My sister and my cousin who stayed with us sometimes also saw them. Or at least, they said they did. I don’t know if they remember it the same way. More than likely, they saw them because I saw them.
Then, they bled over to other parts of my life. I started seeing the lights other places.
The school district I was zoned for sucked so we lied and used a family member’s address so I could keep attending school where I had been going before the move. That also meant I had to have a babysitter and catch a bus to go to school.
Every morning, as I would climb onto the bus, I’d look over my left shoulder and look up into the sky. There was a light. It made me feel important, protected, not alone.
As time went on, I would still see the Space Brothers. Usually when I was somewhere and felt out of my element, like on a date that wasn’t going well or out with people that I didn’t really connect with, I could look up and there they’d be. A light in the sky. My own cosmic posse.
I don’t remember when I stopped seeing them. Perhaps, when I stopped needing them. Or, more likely, these invisible compadres took on other forms, other obsessions that tried to fill the lonely hole inside of me.
I don’t know.
But, what I do know is that, for the grace of God, I am not a middle aged, beer bellied, cackling, white haired man, on a documentary, screaming at the sky, looking for friends.
I was at dinner with some friends last weekend in Alabama. We were all decompressing from our first day of busting our butts selling books at the Huntsville Comic con.
Bobby Nash told a story about how he was approached by a woman who went on and on about a book she had just read. She wanted to know what his influences were, what did he mean by certain passages. He had to confess to the woman that he didn’t remember the story. “I’d written that ten years ago!”
James Neathery, a leather worker and cosplayer, was aghast. “What do you mean? You don’t remember your stories?”
So, I thought I’d do this public service announcement.
Hello. My name is Nikki and when I’m done with a story, I am DONE WITH IT. After it is finally out there, published, cemented to paper, bound between covers, I rarely think another thing about it.
2018….2018….where did the time go? What did I do this year?
Chrissakes, I can barely remember what I did yesterday.
I really did get a planner. It’s a really fancy one. Leather cover and all kinds of really, really intimidating pages.
And I was really, really good at keeping at it until February when I got depressed and then got a dog.
OH YEAH! I got a dog. Freya, my support dog. She’s my black dog to fight the Black Dog.
I released a lot of stories this year.
Pretty proud of them I learned that my brand is Cheap, Quick and Weird.
Shirts are coming soon!
I had a booth at the Southern Festival of Books which is something I can now check off my Bucket List.
A film I wrote, ANGEL BAR, won Best of Genre at the 48 Hour Film Project awards.
Look at these beautiful people!
Brian and I got matching tattoos.
We’re THAT couple.
I got a haircut.
And I’m letting it gray naturally. #cronepower
The only real stain on 2018 was that I lost my friend, Richard Emerson. He was always in my corner and believed in my writing aspirations. I miss you, Richard. I hope you’re whole, happy and in peace wherever you are.
You dapper old boy!
And now onto 2019. I have so many things I want to work on. So many stories I want to tell and, hopefully, if the stars align, there will be a VERY MAJOR ANNOUNCEMENT before the new year ends.
I’ve been blocked lately. I need to get back to work. I want to get back to work.
When I crack open a new journal, click my pen and declare, “Okay! Let’s write a story!”, I feel deep inside me a great exhalation, as if this inner, bored muse is saying, “Yes! Finally!”and is so grateful that I’m finally getting back on track.
And that’s good, right?
But then there is another, thicker voice that lazily counters, “Ugh….. but why? Which story is worth the effort? Sure, you’ve got ideas. Kudos but, face it, you know it’s not going to go anywhere. Have you checked your Amazon numbers lately? When was the last time you received a royalty check? All that time invested in something and for what? What’s the term? Diminished returns. That’s it. Think about it. All the time and energy you put into it and what do you get back? Isn’t it more fun to pour a drink, kick back and watch Netflix? Hey, there are lots of shows you need to catch up on. OH! and your DVR. All that stuff you’ve been socking away to watch later. And podcasts. Have you checked your podcasts lately? Anything new? Or all those library books you still have checked out. Maybe you should read them. You really should do more reading. And researching it. Have you done enough research lately? You need to see what is hot on the market. What is selling. You should write that. But, first you need to do research. Not that it really matters. Face it. . Past your prime. You don’t connect to the people anymore. What do you know? What can you actually say? You had potential but wasted it chasing invisible ink dreams. You’re too old. Seriously, have you looked at yourself lately? You should go to the gym. That’s a good idea. Go to the gym. Doesn’t exercise revive brain stuff? Or is that alcohol. Yeah. Have a drink. All writers drink. It’ll loosen you up so you can do more research or read or something. But, first a snack. And a drink.”
You get the picture.
So, how to fight the shadow troll inside my head that echoes every vile doubt that I’ve ever heard from others or, worst of all, conjured up myself?
Remember that first voice? The one that sighed, happily, FINALLY!
I focus on her.
And I remember the flush of excitement when the words are rushing through me.
When the story takes on its own life and I feel like a passenger, a scribe, clacking on my keyboard, just a witness to it all.
And then that finishing stroke. When the story is done and I know it’s done. That ending crescendo that leaves a lingering note of music on the page.
I remember the times someone had told me that my story brightened up their day, gave them a life or just took them on an adventure.
Because when I take my ego out of the equation (and it is my ego that is focused on the bottom line rather than the finishing one), magick can flow through when I left myself open and be a conduit for story.
That’s when I know I’m ok. I’m not a waste. I’m doing EXACTLY what I’m supposed to be doing and if the story sinks to the bottom, never makes a goddamn dime, and is only read by a handful of people, that’s is ok.
Perhaps they were the only ones meant to read it in the first place.
There’s been a lot of changes in my life recently.
Not so much changes in my life but in the lives around me. Coworkers I’ve been sharing the misery at the day job for the past 15 years retiring, friends moving away, and all the usual stuff that makes one start thinking about where they are and if they want to still be in that place during the next solar cycle.
So I decided to do something and look around for a new gig. I wanted something more in tune with me and what I wanted for my future.
And I thought I had found it. It was small publishing house in Nashville. NOT RELIGIOUS, which is a miracle (no pun intended) and they had posted a job that I would be perfect for so I joined up on this online job site, filled out a freaking resume and sent it off into the cyber ether.
I’m not going to lie. It felt a buzz of excitement I hadn’t felt in ages. I started fantasizing about getting the job and how great it would feel to be doing something I love and making new, interesting friends and how my world would just blossom and everything would just start coming up Nik.
The next day, I waited for an email. It was the caffeine that kept my hopes up. I kept replaying the fantasy, over and over again. Getting a new cool job. Quitting this shitshow. Oh, man, I was gonna love quitting.
But the email never came. What I did get was a fuckton of spam phonecalls.
And the job?
Yeah. Suddenly, that job wasn’t on the website.
But the spam? That shit kept on coming.
So, I got got. Just another victim of Hope laid out by the Internet.
Meh. C’est la guerre.
My day job is soul sucking, lonely and has absolutely no future but, what the fuck. It pays the bills.
There’s always the Great American Novel dream, right?
Damien Echols came to town to push his new book, High Magick.
For anyone not familiar with Damien Echols, here is the backstory in a quick pinch: in 1994, he was sentenced to death for the satanic ritual murder of three 8 year old boys. The evidence used to convict him was his reading habits (Stephen King), the weird obsession of Jerry Driver, the local juvenile officer who was convinced that Echols was the kingpin of a Satanic cult, and the confession (multiple ones since he kept changing his story) of a teenage gas huffer who had the IQ of a child.
He and two other young men who were also convicted but given life sentences were finally allowed to leave prison in 2011 if they all agreed to an Alford plea which said that although they still professed innocence, the State had evidence that could convict so…..yay? Basically, it was a way the state of Arkansas could say, “My bad.” without really shouldering any blame.
All in all, it was a travesty and the more I read about it, I end up gnashing my teeth and wanting to renounce humanity to the dumpster.
Seriously. How fucking stupid?
Worst of all, the murderer(s) of those little boys went scott free. Even if the motherfucker popped up today and said, “Hey! I did it! Yep, it was me!”, Arkansas couldn’t touch him or her because of the Alford plea deal.
It just ….oooooh….my head spins.
Anyway, back to what I wanted to talk about.
So, Damien Echols came to town to push his book, High Magick, A Guide to the Spiritual Practices That Saved My Life on Death Row. He is a professed ritualistic magician and, I can tell you after listening to him speak, he is utterly void of bullshit. Whether or not you believe in Magick, he does. Wholeheartedly. And, most importantly, he truly believes it can help you as much as it helped him.
I’m not a newcomer to the idea of Magick. I’ve done a few Sabbats and spellworkings. I don’t think I’m bragging when say that I can throw a mean Tarot spread.
But I have to admit, my head spun when Echols claimed that he spends 7-8 hours a day meditating and doing Magick.
7-8 HOURS. A day?
Riddle me this, Batman: Who cleans your toilets? Who buys your groceries, sweeps the floor, walks the dog, work a day shift and come home to make dinner?
I don’t want to sound like Martha giving Jesus a hard time about not helping out with the housework but, damn!
How do you take care of the nuts and bolts of earthly existence when you spent 1/3 of it converting with the Machine Elves that run the Universe?
Do magicians have a staff?
Because, I can tell you all this right now, THIS witch does her own damn shit.
Or maybe I should get those freaking elves to lend a hand.
“Are you ever afraid about writing horror stories since you live in the Bible Belt? Are you afraid of what people might think about you?”
I answered, “Hmmm, no. Although I have been called out as a witch many, many times, I’m not afraid. What I am amazed by is how many of these very same people will come to me privately and ask me to hex people. They never want me to heal or bless. I think that says more about them than me.”
At my last physical, my doctor called me his most boring patient because, other than hypertension and cholesterol, I was healthy for a 53 year old.
A week later, I get a chirpy little message from someone in the doctor’s office, “Hey, your blood tests say you have hypothyroidism. You need to come in and see about treatment. Okay, bye!”
So, a little backstory: 8 years ago, I was really, really sick. My heart was beating like a hummingbird. I couldn’t sleep. My bones felt like they were vibrating inside my skin. I just felt crazy. After a week or two of testing, turns out I had hashitoxicosis. In a nutshell, my body was attacking my thyroid and it was fighting back. In doing so, it was shooting out T-3 and T-4 hormones like a Gatling gun and causing me to become hyperthyroid.
I was put on beta blockers and a few months and blood tests later, I was deemed Thyroid Healthy.
But I wasn’t. Not really. The damage had been done.
The trauma from that past sickness had taken its toll and now it wasn’t playing the game anymore. Give it props; it had chugged along on three cylinders for 8 years before throwing up the white flag.
And looking back, it makes a lot of sense. The depression, crushing fatigue and weight gain that I’d been blaming on menopause or faulty brain wiring was really caused by a fucked up thyroid.
What does that mean for me?
A lifetime of synthetic hormones to replace the ones my Bad Butterfly refuses to give up.
So, I’m going to use this space not only as a soapbox to shill out my books but also as a place to plot my journey dealing with this new turn in my life.
Maybe I can shed some light into someone else’s life.
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.
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.
Sunday morning, slightly hung over and I’m in the shower. I hear a familiar voice inside my head.
Muse: Pathos is the bedrock of comedy.
Me, rubbing conditioner in my hair: Uh huh.
Muse: And that’s why Call Me Kat is doomed to failure.
Me: I haven’t watched it. Have you?
Muse: Don’t need to. All the evidence is right there in the trailer. Awkward but lovable girl quits her job and starts to live her dream of running a cat cafe…shenanigans ensue. Where is the conflict? Where is the sadness? In a comedy, you need to torture your main character probably even more than in a drama. The only difference is that in comedy, you’re twisting the screws for laughs.
Me: But Call Me Kat is basically a rip off of Miranda and that show was a blast. How could it go wrong?
Muse: True, Miranda was good but do you remember when you stopped watching?
Me: Somewhere in the third season. It wasn’t funny anymore.
Muse: And that’s because Miranda was happy. She got her dream beau. Before that her comedy was based on how large, awkward, and socially inept she was. Her friends ridicule her and every adventure is a set up for humiliation. It was hilarious!
Muse: And this Kat show is starting at Miranda Third Season.
After weeks of rolling about in the pits of despair, I finally pull my head out of my butt and started writing my latest story, Crown of Feathers.
Full disclosure: I wrote a really quick 2000 word version of this about 2 years ago. I’ve always meant to go back to it.
The premise is simple: A woman is dying and three local hedgewitches known as The Sisters, are brought in as a last ditch effort to save her. Alas, they tell the family that her death was inevitable and that the crown of feathers beneath her pillow was proof positive that she was destined to die. The grandmother is told to make arrangements and so she leaves her grandson, Eli, to take care of his mother.
In an attempt to save his mother from the clutches of Death, Eli steals the ‘crown of feathers’ that has appeared beneath her sickbed pillow.
The next morning, Mother is out of bed, in the backyard, chasing chickens and ripping off their heads with her teeth.
Eli Kohl has twenty four hours to make things right before his Grandmother comes back with an entire buffet of family in tow.