Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Things We Carry: Part Three

Examine the box at the back of your mind’s closet. You know the one. The things you don’t miss. The things you want to forget. These things also shape us. They carry with them stories. The dark places we don’t want to revisit.

Why is horror such a successful genre? Easy. It invites us into the dark closets of other in order to flush out the demons we all recognize. We don’t want to face OUR demons but we can do so with someone else’s from the safety of the movie theater or our sofa.

The dark places aren’t meant to be forgotten. They aren’t meant to be brooded over or allowed to fester. That creates instability and bitter anger. They are meant to be handled gently, with care, and let go. Like thin skinned balloons they are released in the air, one at a time, and once high enough, they crack. Pop! Disperse.

Some of us root around in other’s closets to find boxes of baggage. Some of us wallow in our own. Others lock the door and bask in reflected sunlight from others because the shadow of our secrets won’t allow us to absorb the light of freedom. We smile. We try. We fail.

What are the dark things you carry? Think hard. Have you let them go? Have you made peace with your demons? We will never be perfect and some things are impossible to forgive or forget. But we can face them, look them in the eye and see them for what they really are. When that is done, they lose power and they can be let go. Unfortunately we are also the dark things we carry.

Let them out into the open. They lose their power that way. Write about them. Expose them. Show them who’s boss.

Happy Halloween! Go be something fabulous, frightening or freakish. It’s your one night to be anything you want to be.


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Things We Carry: Part Two

The things we carry are also intangible. These are more important. These are the memories and the stories we carry. These are the things no one can take from us. They require no luggage, no extra plane space. They are fibers of our being, woven from experience and shared over cups of tea, pints of beer, and slices of pizza. These things are irreplaceable.

The stories. It’s the STORIES that make the THINGS we carry so important. Stories are embedded within the things in our lives. We all carry stories and ultimately it’s stories that connect us to place and things and the stories connected to those places and things draw us back and make it so hard to part.

Things don’t matter. They’re just things. This is true. Stuff can always, always be replaced. It can be given away, stolen, cast aside, destroyed or enshrined. Stuff is just stuff. But the stories connected to those things live forever. I will always see the small, crystal serving dish my grandmother served canned cranberry sauce from every Thanksgiving and think of her. My mother now serves canned cranberry sauce from it. The thing itself is worthless. If it broke I would be sad because it is a tangible connection to my grandmother and Thanksgivings past. BUT the STORY is always there, in my memory and the memories of all nine of us cousins. When the dish itself is dust the story will be here, circulating from the mouths of our children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews.

Do you see WHY that old plastic stirring spoon you couldn’t throw out after your great uncle died means so much? It’s not a bit of plastic; it’s a conduit for memory. It’s a portkey for story. We don’t deliberate over boxes of things to sell, store, or carry for fun. It’s not beer and skittles when it comes to downsizing. It’s arduous and heartbreaking. Yes, we always have the stories but the things are the grounding wire, the roots to our ever expanding branches of memory. To have the THING, be it actual, representational, or pictorial, is to have something to touch and transport. Think of the china, the platters, the plastic spoons as time capsules, not stuff to be tossed after your death.

And should the time come when you must leave everything behind, don’t bemoan the fact you’ve lost stuff. Mourn, yes. It’s necessary and cathartic. Then remember. Remember the stories connected to those things. THAT’S what is so important about the things we carry. That is why we carry them in the first place.

What do YOU carry, Dear Reader? You’ve mentioned things that root and ground you. Some of you have even told me you’ve left everything before but kept those things that rooted you to the past and acted as anchors for the future. Think of the stories. What do you carry?

Happy Wednesday,

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Things We Carry: Part One

Many, if not most, of you have heard of Tim O’Brien’s masterful work The Things They Carried. I’ve read most of it in excerpts thanks to multiple college English and literature courses. It’s a beautiful, haunting tale of the Vietnam War told through the eyes of a young soldier and the seemingly endless list of things he and his platoon carried with them into battle. Things both literal and figurative. Things both tangible and metaphysical. Ever since I read it I’ve wondered: what do I carry? If people could see the things I carry would I look like Marley’s ghost, dragging long chains wrapped ‘round my ankles and arms? Or would the things I carry gossamer behind me like moonlight on the sea?

The things we carry are important. They are the things that make us, mold us and shape us. Some things we have a choice in carrying; other things were forced on us, shoved upon us, never asked for. We can choose to cast those things aside but they will forever haunt our steps. In the physical sense, the things we carry root and ground us to where we are, where we’re from and where we are going. 
Never before have I thought so much about this. Never before have I had to.

Last week I blogged about trying to find order in the chaos of a big move. Since then I’ve come across the term “new normal”. I thank a dear friend for that. Establishing a new normal is an ordeal. For my friend it has been in the wake of her first child, for me, the surrealistic venture of uprooting and replanting.

New city, new vibe, new place.

Both frightening and enticing.

This past week I’ve contemplated the things we carried with us, the things we deemed necessary enough to travel 200 miles with us. What of the things we left behind? We kept them for a reason, didn’t sell them, but there wasn’t room enough for them in the moving van or in the house.

The things we carried:
One book shelf worth of books.
Old dishes, tea cups and saucers.
A messenger bag of writing ideas, article prompts and no less than three rough drafts.
50 record albums.
Every Tim Burton film we own and three copies of Star Wars, the original (**only**) trilogy on VHS.
A box of tea.
Three binders of torn out magazine pages of craft ideas, product designs and printmaking techniques.
The cat.

Of course there’s more. Like my husband’s favorite painting that looks more like Louis XVI dressed as a Christmas tree topper than the “Archangel Gabriel” as it is entitled. The print of one of Tolkien’s drawings for The Hobbit that has hung on a wall in every house or apartment I’ve lived in. A hand written note from Madeleine L’Engle.

My great aunt’s sewing machine.

We are the things we carry. They are outward manifestations of our inner lives. Why else do we buy particular brands? To look a part, true, but also because on the inside we carry aspirations and dreams. We, like the Tardis, are bigger on the inside.

Much, much bigger.

Thank you ALL for sharing with me the things you’ve carried with you from moves as well as from loved ones. It’s been a wonderful experience learning I’m not alone in this bizarre transition to the “new normal”. Have a wonderful week!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Magic of Recognition

The box was labeled “Kitchen. Heavy. Fragile.” Lifting those Blue Willow dishes onto the counter had a profound effect on me. The morning sun was seeping into the kitchen and the light fell just “so” onto the familiar pattern. The white counter created a blank canvas that allowed my eyes to form a picture so comforting that I had to pause and smile.

That simple act of recognition fortified me. I knew from that moment that I was going to be OK, that we’d made the right decision to move. Crazy. A box of dishes, old and chipped grabbed me by the gut and said, “You’re fine! You’ve got this!”

Sometimes all it takes is a glance, a chance encounter with something from your childhood. A memory, a smell, the taste of gingerbread as leaves begin to fall. Our minds work with our emotions and senses to create a sense of well-being. I “knew” this but I suppose it took the act to solidify the truth of it.

Holding those dishes during supper remind me of my grandmother and my mother, Seeing them on my open shelves relate comfort. Inanimate, fragile, one day shards of dust they anchor this gal to the here and now and the reality that, regardless of where I find myself, I am still “me”. Location can’t change that. Loss of something I thought I couldn’t live without doesn’t erase a piece of me.

Things. What is it about them that help us hold on? Since we’ve moved I’ve often wondered about the people who lose everything, who have nothing familiar to shift from lost house to new home. I used to be able to say I could do that. It can’t be that hard. It’s just, as I have to remind myself, stuff. 
But, oh how we don’t really know how much of our comfort is wrapped up in a chipped tea cup, a well-thumbed novel, or a photograph of our father. When they aren’t there, we flounder. When they are, however, they smile down from new shelves and out of strange windows to whisper familiarity in the midst of the unknown. Those people who lose everything and soldier forward, pick up the pieces, and retain their sense of self I admire. I applaud. I am in awe and if you, Reader, have ever found yourself in that situation, if I was there, I’d hug you.

I need recognition from inanimate things. I need that silent welcome home.

Have you ever uprooted your life and sought solace in something familiar? A book, a poem, a song? Perhaps a photograph or a statuette of a squirrel. For me, it was a mixed up set of Blue Willow dishes. You?

Enjoy the rest of your week and your weekend,

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Importance of Routine

For the past few years, my husband and I have enjoyed starting our off days outside with a cup of coffee. Unless it’s just stupid cold, you can find us pajama clad with warm, dark goodness on whatever morning finds us at home together. I’ve even garnered a small but loyal group of Instagram followers who consistently tell me they look forward to seeing what coffee cup I’ll feature next. In the upheaval we now call Savannah Move 2014 (or my personal favorite, The Great Hampton Exodus) that lovely routine was disrupted.

A lot.

As in “lost for almost two weeks”.

We danced when we found the box with the coffee pot. I may have sang a bit of Handel when I discovered the French press and the tea kettle. Finding quality, whole bean coffee was another challenge soon remedied by my husband who ventured to Perc Coffee Roasters a mere two miles from our house.

Suddenly there were familiar sounds and smells amidst the chaos. The coffee grinder echoed off the galley kitchen walls. The coffee maker needed no reminder that its job was to create liquid goodness. Oh how I smiled when we made that first pot of coffee in our new place, poured it into familiar mugs and sat, outside, at the rickety little cafĂ© table I wouldn’t trade for anything.

As a writer I understand the concept of routines and why it’s so important to establish them. When it comes to professional pursuits I can convince myself that it’s imperative that I train my muse, my creativity and my brain.

Why is it so hard to do the same for more important things? Honestly, I had no idea how much I needed those mornings outside with coffee in a mug with silly pictures. How much I needed to sit outside, shielded from the world by some form of patio, in my jim-jams.

Routine is not just necessary to train your muse to show up every time your butt lands in your writing chair. It’s also not just something you do so you can check it off your never-ending to-do- list. Routine tells us everything is OK, ensures that we’re not crazy, flipping idiots. Routine says, “Hey, you might be living in some chaos right now. Life may be a bit topsy-turvy. Heck, everything may be going to hell in a hand basket and it’s all your fault BUT there’s still tea to be had.

I mean, think about it: why DID Arthur Dent need that cup of tea so badly? He needed something familiar, some normality in the face of the violent upheaval of his hum-drum existence.

(Image found on Pinterest)

We NEED routine. We need things that whisper of normality even if nothing is familiar. It may take a while, but little by little, those old routines will establish themselves in a new place. Slowly but surely my soul will come home again.

What routines do you need in your life? Do you stick to the same routines in your writing, your mornings, your drive to work?

Happy Wednesday,

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A Simple Cup of Tea

The Need for Ritual

Something truly amazing happens when you take that magical first step towards the realization of your dreams. The world opens up. People appear to help you. Doors begin to open.

Sounds like rainbows and unicorns doesn’t it?

It’s not.

In fact it’s hard. Very, very hard. We left an area where we’d lived for the entirety of our married life. An area where we’d established ourselves, made friendships, had weekly routines that put us in places where we were known, cared for, and loved.

Twelve years ago I moved away from the only home I’d ever known. I packed up my bedroom and moved 200+ miles away to start my adult life in Savannah, GA. For two years I called the Hostess City of the South my home and then, without warning, my wandering soul tugged me back Atlanta-ways. And now I’m sitting here, in a shaded courtyard, back in Savannah, this time with a husband and a cat in tow.

I thought this time it would be easy.

I thought this time it would be a piece of that proverbial cake.

I was wrong.

It’s been tough, Dear Reader. Because of health challenges, this is the first time I’ve had a full time job in five years. We downsized to half (read that HALF) the living space we were used to. My husband has yet to find a job and parking in Savannah is anything but a dream. We are still getting the house in order, still trying to piece together the things that came with us and wondering where some of what was supposed to come ended up. Many nights I wake up and wonder, “Am I just %^*$*^$ crazy?”

The positive: 

1. I HAVE a full time job and I LOVE IT! Seriously. I have never, ever been able to say with 100% conviction that I love my job until now. It’s a gloriously cheerful boutique kitchen shop smack in the heart of the historic district, right outside one of the busiest tourist spots. It’s maddeningly crazy but after two weeks I STILL want to one day own my own shop. I must be doing something right.
2. The owner of our carriage house is awesome.
3. My boss is fracking amazing. 
4. We live 20 minutes from Downtown Savannah and 20 minutes from the Atlantic Ocean. 

Yes, Readers, it IS a wonder to watch your dreams come true. A crazy ball of mixed emotion wonder.

It took me a while, but I finally understand why it’s been such a hard transition this time. Over the past twelve years I’ve established rituals and routines that give my psyche the much needed recognition of “this is life and this is good”. When most of everything you own has either been sold or packed and left behind, it’s hard to find your footing. Yes, it’s just stuff but we are -for right or wrong, better or worse- connected to the things we carry. We’re thrown off balance when the things that anchor us are lost at sea. I found myself seriously wanting to go back. What brought me back to sanity?

A simple cup of tea.

The sound of water in a kettle, the clatter of sugar spoon against porcelain, the smell of a bag of green tea. Nothing profound. Chances are you’re thinking, “It’s tea. Big deal.” When the soul is thrown into a tail spin it is, most definitely, a big deal.

I’m discovering many things that are grounding, things I always took for granted: a playlist for an as yet unwritten novel, a particular series of books, consuming ridiculous amounts of Chick-Fil-A, country music from 1998. Rituals. We need them. And it doesn’t matter how petty, how ludicrous, how insignificant they may seem to others. If a cup of tea can calm my nerves and give my soul the assurance that I am in the right place, that I am HOME regardless of my surroundings, then it is a most important thing. It deserves recognition and it deserves a certain solemnness of enjoyment.

Thank you for your patience, Dear Reader. Forgive my long absence. Tell me, what rituals bring you back to your soul-center?

Happy Tuesday,

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

IWSG October 2014 - Writing/Inspiration

It's time for another post of the Insecure Writer's Support Group. Click HERE to find the links of other amazing writers and read their thoughts and inspirations. I promise you'll get something of value from each and every of the posts, even if you're not a writer.
Writers like to complain. We’re too busy to write, uninspired, blocked. We really like to bemoan the fact we must keep a day job in order to fund our addiction to words, ink and page. We wait tables, preside over court rooms, change diapers, fix computers and sell avocado slicers all while dreaming of convalescing in Cornwall with nothing to do but write. Our souls are wandering Victorians, idle in life, loaded in bank account and over-flowing with the time it takes to both write and read works of poetry and prose. And because this fantasy avoids reality, we cross our arms, poke out our bottom lips and refuse to write until “situation perfect” is achieved.
            The truth is that perfect situation will never come. The most important lessons a writer can learn are these: start where you are and no experience is wasted. To the writer, all of life is research. Our writing steeps in the flavors of experience when we are willing to open ourselves up – become vulnerable – to each and every moment life hands us. It is a frightening proposition; nobody likes to be vulnerable. Nobody enjoys grunt work, third shift or digging ditches in the rain. In Texas. In August.
            Life is experience and experience is what readers look for when they pick up a new novel or download a short story collection. The reader asks, “Will this story give me something to take with me, to keep in my database for future enjoyment and reference?” Perhaps more than that, the reader is looking for someone who understands his circumstances, her particular situation. How can we as writers hope to understand a plight or offer an escape if we ourselves have not lived beyond our writing room walls?

            Experience lends believability to even the most fantastic legend. Let yourself absorb the emotions, the five sense of every moment you live through. Allow life to be your encyclopedia, your Google. Don’t shy away from new or scary. Say “yes” until the doors stop opening and you’ll not only uncover experiences which will help you create stronger characters and deeper story lines; you will also discover someone stronger, braver and more beautiful than you could possibly imagine: yourself.
I apologize in advance for not being around the IWSG this week. I will read as many as I can as soon as I can. Today is moving day and we're hauling all our stuff (and ourselves) 200 miles away. So, if you don't see me for a few days (or a week) that's why: I'm rearranging life!  Have an awesome week! ~ Jen