Friday, April 26, 2013

Afraid Again . . . Naturally

I am afraid. Again. An ordinary woman with extra ordinary concerns, surely more than the average female.
            The fear comes to greet me each time a child prepares to fly-be-free. Anxiety bids me to taste it and I obey, cannot resist though I know the flavor hasn’t changed, has not improved one whit since the last time.
            Afraid’s mouthfeel is that of rust, peat moss, a scab slicked by a child’s tongue then dried by the wind. Burnt Sienna Crayon flaked on a box grater. A crushed cigarette eaten with no water to wash it down.
            Is all fear—of life, not death—like this? Suffocating, strangling? Causing one to quake like corn kernels in a heated and covered pot, skittering frenetically in order to avoid death by drowning in high temperature olive oil (not canola oil as it is really RAPEseed oil).
            Surely death, or considerable damage at the very least, is inevitable if I grant my fists permission to unfurl. Instead I clutch my balled hands in my lap, relocate them after a time to beneath my thighs so as to prevent their becoming manacles around her delicate wrists, the means by which I hold her here, close to my heart, gasping for breath.
            All I want is one person to acknowledge my angst, recognize it as a higher form of love. I need someone to watch me cup my hand over my mouth to silence my sobs, my keening. Will someone please applaud as I murmur, “You can be anything, accomplish whatever you set your mind to. I’m sure of it.”
            For eighteen years I’ve known this was coming, the severance of a second umbilical cord, this one invisible—a rope of me, her, her papa, and God—encased in a gleaming moist sheath which is love. It thrums with the possibility that each goodbye may be the last. Unseen hands tug the strand from “gone forever” to “wildly successful and full of joy.”
            Someone please fetch that box over there, the one lacquered almost black with open heart pink satin lining. Inside I’ll arrange the grayed strips of paper which when ordered correctly read: I can take better care of her than she can, He can.
            Now I need a brick, a hammer, or a gun so I can obliterate the square in one fluid WHAM! Next I’ll locate a sheet of diaphanous yet metallic vellum and a pen with silver ink. At the dining room table I’ll make loops and swirls on scratch paper to guarantee flow then I’ll form calligraphy letters big as baby fingers: I TRUST. After I trim the statement, the affirmation, I’ll fold it again and again till it’s the size of a vein, a whisper.
            Where is the wee velvet box my husband snapped open on a pier over the ocean two decades plus ago? I’ll tuck my trust wisp into its white satin cleft, let the lid bite shut then nestle it at the bottom of a fireproof chest hidden in the secret place. Surely it, she, will be safe then . . . 

Friday, April 19, 2013

*Write Now*

"How many thumbdrives did you put your manuscript on?"
            I pressed my tray table up, locked it, then turned to face my husband.
            "Four. No, five."
            He raised his eyebrows a couple times. "Is it good?" he said. "Your book?"
            I shrugged. "I think so."
            "And it's ready? You're sure?"
            I looked out into the night, peered down at the sprinkle of lights that was Colorado Springs.
            "Yep. It's ready. I'm sure."
            He squeezed my hand. "Cool. Give one to anyone who'll take it."


In bed that night, I flipped through my Writing for the Soul conference binder. I paused at the page titled, "20 Things a Writer Should Never Do.” I counted my transgressions on my fingers, then toes. I ran a finger across one of my palms, noticed how it was slicked with sweat. I glanced at my husband. ESPN SportsCenter lit and darkened his sleeping face.
            I shoved the covers down and swung my feet onto the plush carpet, tiptoed over to my brown and pink Hello Kitty tote bag. I unzipped the back pocket and dug under business cards, tampons, and lipglosses to find one, three, five jumpdrives. I cupped them in my left hand and opened my suitcase with my right, found my Monday day-of-the-week undies and folded the thumbdrives inside.
            "Not yet, guys," I told the bundle. "You're not ready, not even close."
            I switched off the bedside lamp and slipped back in bed, drew the silky sheets and pristine down comforter up to my chin. I squinted at the mini-chandelier above me. Moonlight twinkled on the crystals.
            "Thank you," I said in a wee voice.


Friday after breakfast, I shook hands with my first appointment—a lady agent. I forced myself not to stare at her basketball-looking hairdo, tried not to think about her biography. "Handpaints hobbit models in her spare time.”
            The woman drummed her French-manicure on the table between us.
            "So. Do you have a sample chapter?"
            I stuck my trembling hands inside my Hello Kitty bag, produced a packet of what I thought was my best work.
            The hobbit painter tapped the table with a red Bic pen as she scanned my work. She didn't look up when she spoke.
            "Too much telling," she said. She turned a page. "Not enough dialogue." She nudged the chapter back to me. "You write in passive. Stop."
            She removed her rainbow, polka-dotted reading glasses and leaned toward me, attempted a smile. I tried not to stare at the parentheses ditches on either side of her mouth.
            "Honey, it's like you typed out a phone conversation you had with your best girlfriend. Don't tell me what happened. Show me. Put me in the room with you."
            She looked past me, raised her hand. "Next."


I stopped in front of the woman who reminded me of Maude, a television actress from way back when. Her eyes seemed kind. The placard in front of her read, "Christian Writers Guild Mentor."
            I breathed deep through my nose. "You busy?" I said on the exhale.
            She sat straighter, patted the empty chair beside her. "Sit."
            I sat, rooted for a lipgloss in my Hello Kitty bag, pinked my lips.
            "So?" she said.
            "So I brought my manuscript here."
            "And the lady agent who decorates Frodos told me I write passive, that I don't use enough dialogue."
            She pinched at the pleats in her slacks. "How long did it take?"
            I sighed. My lips flapped. "About two minutes."
            "No," she said. "I meant to write the book."
            I huffed. "That's just it," I said. "It only took six months. It just flowed out of me, like pee.”

            I peeked at her from under my lashes, to see if I'd offended her. She didn't blink.
            I tilted my head. "Oh, what?"
            She plucked the cap off her pen and used it to clean under her nails.
            "That happened to me too," she said. "Did you think because it just came out of you, it was great? That it was a gift from God?"
            She chuckled and lifted my chin to close my mouth.
            "Guess what?" she said in a whisper.
            I spoke softly too. "What?"
            "That's not a book. That's your first draft."


I was late so I tiptoed in and found a seat in the back row of the Saturday afternoon "Thick-Skinned Manuscript Clinic.” Jerry Jenkins and his assistant stood at the front of the classroom on either side of an overhead projector. They wore white labcoats, had stethoscopes around their necks.
            Jerry held up a red pen, waved it like a conductor’s baton. "This," he said, "is my scalpel. And now, I cut."
            He bent over the projector and read silently for a minute or two. Finally he glanced up.

            "Okay," he said. "First to go are the helping verbs. Eliminate words like is, was, am, were, etcetera."
            He marked, read, and slashed some more, then turned to face his assistant.
            Andy made red stripes all down the page. "No -ing verbs," Andy said. "Weakens the writing."
            Jerry hovered beside the projector. He grinned as he drew looped lines through modifiers.
            "Why use three adjectives when one will do?"
            Andy tapped the overhead surface. "Not to mention, 'tall, dark, and handsome' is a cliche.'"
            He looked over his shoulder at the screen then back down at the transparency, crossed out two more phrases.
            "As are 'white as snow' and 'old as the hills.'"
            Jerry examined the writing sample again. More red. The page seemed to bleed. Up near the front of the room, someone whimpered.
            "People," Jerry said. "You've got to omit needless words. Trust me. Less is more."
            At the bottom of the piece, Jerry paused. He grinned and drew a smiley face, tapped the transparency.

            "This is great," he said. "'They buried the farmer in his overalls with the dirt still under his fingernails.'  I like that, like it a lot."
            Andy approached the screen in front of the room and pointed to the smiley face sentence with his pen.
            "Plus this is where the story really starts, don't you think, Jer?"
            Jerry stroked his goatee. "Good point. Who cares about all the stuff up top? This is your first sentence."


On our last morning in Colorado, when I went to put on my Monday day-of-the-week panties, five jumpdrives clattered as they hit the white tiles in front of my bare feet.
            "What was that?" my husband said from bed.
            "Five thumbdrives hitting the bathroom floor.” I waited.
            "Five?" he said. "You didn't give any away? Not one?"
            "Why not?
            "They're not ready. I mean—  The book's not. I have to go home and start over, omit needless words, add more dialogue, stuff like that."
            "You sure?"
            "Yes, I'm sure. Believe me, I am very sure."

Friday, April 12, 2013

Don't Fence Me In

I wept the day our next door neighbors fenced in their backyard. I hid behind our dining room drapes so they couldn’t see me from their patio where they watched the work crew toss rolls of chain link from a pick-up truck bed to their mowed twice weekly grass.
            “You lied,” I said softly, “when you promised the green spaces outside our homes would always be wide open, when  you told me the story of how years ago everyone on the street swore they’d never put up fences. ”
            I dried my eyes with my t-shirt hem and moved into the kitchen, ran water to do dishes. I bet she’s punishing me, I thought, because last week I wouldn’t say for sure if I thought OJ murdered his wife Nicole or not. I shut the water off and tugged on rubber gloves.          
            I’d seen my neighbors’ daughter in Kroger’s awhile back with her boyfriend, his sleek young arm a dark circle under her blonde bob. Was he the reason my neighbor had taken such an intense interest in the trial and maybe he was why the girl had moved out sobbing last week. Was she even done with high school yet?
            “No daughter of mine . . . Not in my house!” The declaration, a lion’s roar, had rattled my insides.
            I removed my yellow gloves and returned to the dining room window where I pointed my words at the mom.
            “She doesn’t resemble you at all. Bet no one ever tells her she’s the spitting image of the blue eyeshadow gal on the Drew Carey show.”
            The next day I watched from a second floor window as the neighbor woman used a yardstick to space out forsythia pots inside the shiny silver boundary.
            I sighed through my nose. “Now you see me, next year you won’t.”

Friday, April 5, 2013


The roar outside my structure is deafening. I hate the way it makes my skull tight, my sternum vibrate. I hunker into a shell shape, plug my ears, rock back and forth. The lion is hellbent on supper—muscle, bone, marrow—mine. I am an at-risk target, neither young nor old, not even ailing. Worse, I am alone, almost silent in my vacillation: fight or flight.
            “Easy pickings,” purrs the beast. His spined tongue trips as he speaks a language foreign.
            I was informed years ago that it is good to be hunted. It means your contents, spiritual, are worth consuming, important to destroy lest you accomplish something for the other side, the other lion. It’s a comfort though not particularly substantial at the moment.
            As black becomes blacker, I formulate a list of things I long for: a shield, a sword, a stronghold (or wood and nails to build one). A circular boundary replete with knife-like thorns would serve me well.
            An hour later, searching through the one book I have in my possession, I realize I am Thomas. Daily I long for something I can see, something I can touch. I am the father of the possessed boy as well, begging, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.” I am Jacob even, my hip aching from midnight’s wrestling match.
            The canvas gives as the lion brushes it.
            “Be gone!” I tell the cat. “You can’t have me after all for I am not alone, not anymore.”
            The whisper of paws in sand moves away. After a minute I hear my breath leak out, notice my shoulders freefall. My flesh feels loose, raw, and at the same time full of power. I find a stone to serve as a pillow and finally I am able to sleep.
            The morning is silent when I peek out my tent. Ten feet away, lying on his side, back to me, is the lion. I snap my fingers. Wait, watch. He doesn’t move. I approach him, encircle him slowly, noiselessly. He sleeps the slumber of Sheol. His eyes are shut but his mouth is not, cannot, for it is wedged wide around my pillow rock.
            I shake my head and marvel. “So that’s who I am,” I tell the morning. “Of all people, how did I manage to forget him?” I stare across the desert to where a knuckle of dawn light, mango-colored, rises out of dry stubble. “I was, I am, Daniel, in an earthly tent instead of a lion's den, but still.”


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