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An Ancient Tome

I wrote a paper on JRR Tolkien for an independent study while in school in London thirty years ago. Time is beating the crap out of me, no doubt. So I wanted to travel to Oxford to have look at a few original sources kept in the University libraries.

One of my professors proudly supplied me with a pass. However, I did not realize there were limitations to the pass. Much to the horror of the librarians, I was drawn to a restricted section full of ancient tomes. Most were locked behind glass. That should have been a hint.

There was, among those moldy old books, one left unintended written in a script and language I could not decipher. On impulse, I picked it up thus earning my lifetime banishment from that library.

It was totally worth it, despite the possible apocalyptic horror it might have unleashed. Oopsie.

In the  moment I touched that book, I felt a surge of energy pulse through me. Possibly  brought on by the horror of the ruddy security guard sputtering at me. I prefer to believe that electrified pulse came from the book itself, the book wanting to impart its contents to someone, anyone.

All books are magic. I have no clue what was in the book I came across, be it spells of a lost power or possibly a transcription of some church records. I never could find out. My escort, the one that unceremoniously threw me out of the library into the rain, only lectured me on how rude Americans could be and would hear no excuses from me.

I only had my imagination to go by. I think the script was Gaelic of some kind. It possibly came from a monastary but I don’t even know how old the book might have been. I did not have enough time to examine the vellum. Might it have been crafted of human skin? There was a time… but such parchment would not hold ink for so long. Well, unless there was some evil enchantment at work. Definitely a possibility.

My imagination crafted that old restricted book into a grimoire, a spell book for the darkest of sorcerers. And so filled my nights with horrors for years after, some demon force chasing me across time and space.

Now, I seek a way to defeat the dark magic unleashed on me by that ancient tome, to tame or banish the demons that rose with its powers. Sadly, books of miracles, are so rare. Well, I never could find one equal to the demons that haunt me so I decided I would write one, an Idyll. I am running out of time. I can’t hold off those demons  much longer.

I do apologize if my jaunt into the restricted section of the library ultimately leads to a zombie apocalypse. Awkward.

Mind the Gap

London 057Last night I dreamed I returned to the United Kingdom. I always meant to go back there, to live there for a time once more as I did when I was at University.

The last time I visited, I took my  fourteen year old daughter. That was thirteen years ago. We enjoyed such an adventure. There was no plan. We traipsed around England, mostly staying in London, exploring freely.

London had changed a bit since my school days, but not so much as to lose that ambience of long endurance and that incredible air of fable. Time still seemed in long supply, and I believed I would return again. I did not factor in the world going quite so utterly mad.

london night lights bridge

My dream revealed a withered and dying United Kingdom, a divided and broken land, its culture and people utterly vanquished.  South Kensington, the place I had lived as a student, was lined with crucified bodies, heads on spikes. Masked men wearing  black robes patrolled the streets, heavily armed. In my dream, they turned to carrion birds to feed on the ashes of the land they conquered. It was horrifying. Perhaps, a symptom of playing too many video games and reading too much dystopian fantasy.

I woke up weeping for its demise more than I would for my country of birth. I rolled out of bed in the night’s darkest hours before dawn and immediately took to my computer to seek plane reservations that I might return there before my visions could come to fruition.

I believed I was awake in a bright morning to find my reservations well in place. I packed and gathered my passport and arrived in London. No, I had not awaken from my nightmare. The UK was still there, but it felt dead, like a movie set more than the real place.  I told myself it was the hour of the day, and entered the tube station at Piccadilly Circus.

People packed into the platform and that gave me comfort. Here they all were, citizens of London, waiting for their train. The train came and true to nature, the people queued up to enter as a mechanized and polite voice reminded them.

“Mind the gap.”

No one did. By the time I boarded the train, all of those people disappeared into the gap which for me was a simple step and for them, an unscalable chasm. Then I awoke to my life once more, and I wrote this blog post. Let this only be a nightmare. Please, world, mind the gap.

2019 And the Pig Pug Pagan

5BA59A78-B6B3-4C46-BEE0-B510F72BD4A2It’s been a long, dark year. But I see a brand new light beckoning at the end of long tunnel full of monsters and fears.  Without the valiant efforts of my pug, I might have fallen to despair. My daughter started calling Frankie my Pig Pug Pagan for reasons I can’t understand. But she became the guardian of my life and soul more so this year than in her first three years at my side.

Life threw a few curve balls, opened some doors, slammed others shut, and in all the pain and confusion, my writing improved. I look forward to querying my book in the New Year.

Mothers and Daughters

A644879B-C9C9-4F11-BF3F-3FDE5D82F44DWow, this is one of the most complex relationships, is it not, ladies? I have a difficult relationship with my own mother and a very close relationship with my daughter. All three of us share a challenging trait. We all suffer from severe depression. All of us are survivors of various traumas.  My daughter and I have made great strides in conquering our demons, but both of us will likely be in some kind of therapy for the rest of our lives.

All The Things We Don’t Speak About

While my daughter drives toward a bright future in New York to start 2020, my mother remains in the hospital six weeks after a serious suicide attempt. No one calls it that, but it is what it is. We are not supposed to speak about these things, are we?

My mother faces multiple physical battles and one very large mental one. The doctors had not expected her to survive the complicated surgery in her weakened state. She did. She can’t walk and her heart is badly damaged, making her physical therapy challenging.  There is no dignity in a rotted body, and trying to recover from such self-inflicted harm. It’s the fear of jumping in case you survive that dissuades me in my darkest moments. I can’t quite see the darkness that caused my mom to let go and step off the ledge.

And she is determined to return home, away from the constant vigilance of the nurses and doctors who care for her now. Not to live but to die. Nothing is as awful as trying to save someone from themselves.

For years, my mother self-medicated, drowning out the demons of her own mind in bottles of gin and vodka. She still sees mental illness as shameful and so refuses to engage in any long term therapy. Years ago, after my daughter had been in therapy for six months or so, my mother asked how long I intended to let my teenage daughter use a therapist as a “crutch”. It made me so sad.

My mother is wrong. Seeing a therapist, seeking out help with a group like AA, joining an online group to talk about issues, taking medication to stem the worst of the despair, is not wrong and it is not a crutch. It is necessary.  And it is nothing to be ashamed of. And for many of us, it is the only way for us to rejoin the dance of life again.

Clinical depression is a monster without a cure. It must be met and dealt with or when life delivers one of its hard knocks (a guarantee – life is hard, sometimes for no reason at all), the monster will devour its host. I wish my mother would find the light before her last breath in this life.

On Christmas Day when we visited, she seemed to be getting so much better. She was sober for the first time I could remember in years, and she seemed determined to return to life. But three days later, she was slipping again. I hope 2020 will see an end to her pain, one way or another. She won’t have much life left, no matter what the doctors do, but I wish she could see the end of her days in the light, and not give over to the horrors of her own mind.

My daughter and I got a lot of help from the book, Lost Connections by Johann Hari last year. It may not be “the answer”, but it does help one feel less lost, and not alone.

In a sick world, it is almost impossible to be fully sane. Reach out for help. Yes, there will always pain in life, but there is joy.  And everyone deserves redemption, happiness, and purpose.

The Beautiful Game

img_0070My demons did a fair bit of throwing themselves against me and pitching fits, trying to tell me that I didn’t matter, that the world would be better without me. I hit back and scattered them to the chaos courtesy of Liverpool FC.

Loving to pull out victories in the last seconds of the game, they kind of mimic my life. Where I think I am defeated, in the last moment, I take another shot on gaol. Yes, a Premier League football team represents the endless light in my darkness.  They end 2019 on a long, freaking winning streak, adding three new trophies to their tally, and improve the most beautiful game there has ever been with such creativity and incredible collaboration. This is one of my many joys.

ChampionsOfEuropeI still watch the magical highlights of the game at Anfield against Barca where Liverpool recovered from a 3-0 loss to advance to the final of Champions League (which they won) with a 4-0 victory.  The crowd singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” seers my soul with such light. It’s just a game, some say, but for Liverpool, it is more.

For me, this night, New Year’s Eve is not the end of the year. It’s just a date on the calendar. My year begins in August with the beginning of the new Liverpool Premier League season, and ends the night before their first game of the next season. So while others make their new year’s resolution, I am still on my journey of the year.

 

The Angel and My First Guitar

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More than forty years ago, I rose after sunset on a Christmas Eve, my mother fretting that I would be sick on Christmas and loudly blaming her younger sister, my Aunt Ann, for my illness. We were visiting my grandmother in Florida so no snow, the chill in the air limited and only present due to my breaking fever.

I was nine years old and I wanted a guitar more than anything in the world. My aunt worked with the band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, at the time, this being the mid-1970s. Watching Allen Collins and Gary Rossington play enthralled me to the point that everything else in the world disappeared. What I wouldn’t give to be able to make a bunch of wood and string make such music. A year or so before that Christmas, Ronnie Van Zant asked me if I was going to be a musician.

A musician? Oh, no, my mother would never allow it, but in that moment, I wanted it so much, almost as much as I wanted to be a writer. My answer came out quiet with despair.

“Girls don’t play guitar.”

I shuddered to hear myself say such a thing. At the time, girls did not play Little League either. Around the year of this question, I had become the first girl in my neck of the woods to play Little League baseball. Maybe, I could play guitar as well.

From about the age of five until after puberty, I despised being a girl because of all the things I was told girls did not do. I was violent about the whole thing, a bit insane really. The diagnosis was “severe gender dysphoria”.  Any dress bought for me, I immediately tore into unwearable shreds. Anything pink burned in the fire place. I did not talk to girls or play with them.

All my friends were boys, but I knew just as they did, I was not one of them. I must have cried when I answered Mr. Van Zant. Yes, I wanted to play the guitar. I did, and I could too.  I had long traded yard work for piano lessons from a neighbor woman, and I could already read music. I had checked out books on guitar chords and frets so had in my mind how the thing was managed.

I don’t have my own recollection of this conversation. My aunt told me the tale. Ann told me Ronnie had laughed at my answer. She could not recall what he said to me, only that it challenged my notion about girls not playing guitar. Ronnie charged Ann with my musical education and she took this seriously. It started with the departed Janis Joplin and continued with the recently emerging Patti Smith and on and on.

So that Christmas I wanted a guitar without much hope of getting one. For me a guitar was much like the Red Ryder BB Gun in A Christmas Story. Not that I would shoot my eye out, but it was not a thing for kids, and most certainly not for girls as far as my mother was concerned. However, that year, I asked for nothing else.

I had a back-up plan. The angel I spoke to every night before I went to sleep suggested it, and I filled a piggy bank with coins I earned raking leaves in the fall and pulling weeds in the spring. I was still too young to babysit which would be more lucrative in years to come, but I could work. I had peddled my bike all the way to the local music store that past summer, a good three-mile track from my house.

I had priced out guitars. The amount might as well have been a million dollars for all the good my savings would do. Even for the six-string that the long-haired salesman told me would be a good “learning” guitar for a kid.

I told my angel I needed a miracle. I did not think my parents could afford something so dear, not when it was hard for them to afford our food every week. The angel agreed about the miracle but not about the guitar. The angel is like that.

Aside from the guitar, I often prayed that I could be recreated as a boy. Then I could play football and my parents would love me more. I wouldn’t seem so weird if I was a boy, I told the angel. Boys always seemed to be allowed more accommodation and tolerance for oddity than girls. If I had been a boy, I reasoned, maybe my parents would even want me to have a guitar.

On that Christmas Eve, my mom was losing her shit because we were so late for church. It was Christmas Eve, and I was listless, pale, hair unkempt, and I probably needed a bath. There was no time for our usual grandiose fight to put a dress on me. Clean corduroys and one of those Christmas sweaters no sane person would be caught dead in on any other night than Christmas Eve were shoved onto my body.

Everyone else had already gone to the church, and it was me and my mom. She caught hold of my arm, this tiny woman of incredible strength, as she pulled me out of my grandmother’s house and into that old station wagon. Everyone else had walked to the church, but there was no time and no parking and I had no strength in my legs.

I remember being a bit frightened as my mom pulled that old clunker of a station wagon into a space that seemed too small, all the while cursing the disarray of the parking situation and that she had not finished her pecan pies or whatever she was contributing that year for Christmas Eve dinner. I said nothing. My mother carried a lot of weight on her shoulders. As strict as she was with me, she was nothing compared to how my grandmother treated her. I understood exactly how insecure and unsettled she felt before the eyes of a woman who never approved fully of anything my mother did.

My mom was not in the least bit concerned that I might be an incubator of viral plague. Her faith was pretty insane. It was Christmas. Whatever noxious illness I might have would not take out my grandmother’s church congregation even if I was cultivating some zombie apocalypse virus (a real possibility considering how I felt that night).

I remember it was hard getting out of the car because mom parked so close to the car in the next space. The next moment claimed a memory that will echo through my life until its end, one of those rare moments. The music coming up from the church in the twilight of that winter’s eve froze time about me. My angel was singing from the body of some child.

“O Holy Night” rang through the night, and all else became silent. I took my mom’s hand. For the first time, I heard the lyric. I listened to the soul of the musical composition as a whole and felt with certainty that only divinity could inspire such a thing.

Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth

A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new glorious morn
Fall on your knees
O hear the angels’ voices

My mother and I entered the church behind the choir as the rest of the voices joined the child who had begun the song. It was glorious and I wished it to go on and on. It did not. I fell asleep on the hard pew in the back of the church. All and all, it was the best church service I ever attended.

I kept a jumble of images of the rest of the night, the giant Santa Claus at my Great Aunt Glenn’s house, my dad wearing a Santa hat that matched the one my Uncle Gene and my Uncle Jim had worn,  watching How the Grinch Stole Christmas on a tiny television on the glass sun porch that overlooked the St. John’s River, a quilt that smelled like bourbon and tobacco smoke thrown over me by one of my relatives as I lay on a wicker couch, the sounds of my cousins playing, my little brother almost falling in the river, and his laughing at my mother’s distressed reprimand of him. My brother’s dearest wish at that age was to fall into the river, and I think he finally managed it by the next Christmas.

I slept on a Christmas Eve, maybe for the first time since I had been old enough to understand about presents and magical flying reindeer. My brother tried everything to keep me awake as I was supposed to help him listen for the bells that announced the arrival of Santa and a sleigh carried by aforementioned flying reindeer. I passed that baton onto him that Christmas.

The song “O Holy Night” filled my dreams displacing all the dancing sugar plums and commercial rot that once infested my childish mind. Something spoke to me, too deep, too big, too strong for my spoiled nine-year old mind to comprehend, but the angel assured me it would come to me in time.  It did but not in a way mortal words can express.

The guitar waited for me under my grandmother’s massive tree that Christmas morning.  I could scarce believe it. In the night, I had accepted that my parents could not afford such a present, and that I would be happy with whatever given to me. That made it all the more splendid. I doubt I bothered with my stocking or other presents. I picked up the guitar, half-hearing my aunt tell me the boys from Skynyrd had helped pick it out and tuned it for me. I began to pick out the notes for “O Holy Night”.

The angel smiled at me in his knowing way unobserved by the rest of the family. He was quite smug about it, really, and so I stuck my tongue out him, silly mortal that I am.  I do not think anyone heard the tune I picked out, but my heart filled with the song. My favorite song. Forever.

December – Knight of Wands

img_0155The last card for the drawing of 2019 is the Knight of Wands. This heralds creative success. But my, if that is so, November’s Strength put a high price on it.

 

A Difficult November

I worked tirelessly on cleaning up my book for querying as my mother lie dying. She will not live to see it published so I read it to her out loud, not knowing if she even heard it. November really tested faith and hope dealing out despair in pairs.  I have never seen my father look so defeated. Or my brother so angry.

Mental illness and addiction are demonic. That awful cry of how do you save someone from themselves? The story of how my mother brushed up to death (again) is not one I am ready to tell at this time. She has survived a major surgery but remains hospitalized unable to walk or even sit up on her own. She has weeks, possibly months, of PT and rehab to pass through with a body that is so weak that she faces long odds. I know she won’t live much longer but I hope she can find some light before the end so it is not the darkness that takes her.

I cling to the things that make life feel bearable. The routine of work. My writing. Liverpool FC. Time with family and friends. But all feels weighted. Looking for good news in the New Year on the other side of a long and dark road back to the light.

 

November 2019- Strength

img_0073On New Year’s Eve 2018, I did a tarot drawing with the cards my daughter had given me for Christmas. For November, the drawing was Strength. And I will need it for the battles to come.

October in Review

October shook me like a hurricane. I can’t even talk about it or write about. I have some intense anger and frustration I am still working through. Thank heavens for Liverpool FC.

Liverpool continues to impress so that has been a welcome distraction. However, I can’t blog all their fixtures. Their one sad moment came against Manchester United where they tied 1-1.  Liverpool looked flat and tired, a rare look for them. However, considering their schedule, it has been impressive all the matches they have won. 

img_0070There are too many fixtures. Jurgen Klopp is right. For top EPL teams, the fixture list is insane. Some painful decisions must be made by FIFA. None will be popular. The best solution (to start with) is to cut the EPL down to 18 teams in order to remove four fixtures per team from the schedule. This ensures that the teams are the very best in football.  Yes, EPL players make a lot of money but this fixture list destroys the best players. It’s too much. 

I know this causes a lot of heartache in the fan base. Economic problems for the lower leagues. But something must be done. I hate to see such superior players have their careers cut short because they are only getting two weeks off a year.

In November

So I will let the book go for a last read by two beta readers. I do believe the first queries will fly early in December. If today’s revisions go well. I will need strength to battle through my dread at putting my book out there after pouring heart and soul into my writing over the last few decades, writing so many stories and books that were of varying quality.  I will need to persist.

 

Liverpool vs Leicester City

Liverpool 2  Leicester City 1

Milner_LiverpoolThe drama queens were at it again for the second time this week. My heart is barely beating. It went down to the whistle as Liverpool pounded out a last second penalty kick to continue their record-breaking winning streak.

Echoes of our mid-week Champions League win against Salzburg pervaded the pitch. Brendan Rodgers, Liverpool’s former manager, brought a hungry and talented Leicester team to Anfield. They made a tired Liverpool work for every inch.  They even carried it a bridge too far with a penalty on Mo Salah that sent him off injured. Quite worrying. Thank heavens for the International break. I need a rest. I think we all do.

The ever-reliable, Mane, put us up by one in first half. Late in the game, Leicester drew level and I thought, well, that’s that. Then a clumsy challenge on Mane inside the box in the 94th minute gave us a free kick. Milner cleaned up and Liverpool continue their unbelievable winning streak. Anfield remains an impenetrable fortress.