Time, Hackers, Projects & Watching

I’m late to the party. It’s been a busy few months.  Time is always my scarcest commodity. I sit down to write today and notice the calendar on my wall is still on January. Ooops!

I’m four months into the new year before starting the traditional New Year blog entry. Okay then, make the best of it. I’ll start a unique tradition of writing my New Year post in April, after having given myself a few months to see how the new year is working out!

Thoughts on a New Year

new yearI don’t do resolutions. I’ve never been very good at them – so it seems ridiculous to set myself up for failure in that way. The popular weight loss/diet objectives are lost on me. I know myself better than that!

The other cliché self-delusions drop to the side and disappear as well – no get-rich-quick schemes, no rearranging my personality, and I’m certainly not going to promise to be nicer to others or better at anything!

Marking time is a way for us to analyze and understand ourselves and our world. The New Year, like a birthday or wedding anniversary, can be a time to celebrate where we are, the gains we’ve made; or it can be a time of sadness, marking the loss of others from our lives or the promise of potential we failed to fulfill or attain. It’s a ritual we love. A way of considering who we’ve been and where we’re going.

So, here’s my takeaway:  I’m satisfied with last year and ready for the remainder of this year. Here’s to a new chapter in the book of me that is still being written. Happy Belated New Year!

A Plague of Hackers

Hackers, who I’m convinced are either the evil Jinn of legend or demons from the pits of Hell, have plagued me relentlessly this year. My Yahoo and WordPress accounts are inundated with Acacia Berry Ad emails or other such nonsense with links that friends, coworkers and readers inadvertently open. So, a note to all, I Will NEVER send you links in an email or post a post with ONLY a link. These high-jinks are the work of evil invaders! Beware and do not open or follow!

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I’m fighting this horde of evil attackers as best I know how. My accounts have so many levels of protection that I need a notebook filled with directions to use them!

Several friends have mentioned the linking of various social media accounts as an entry point for the evil Jinn. Others say certain astrological signs predestines one to attack! There are tons of crazy theories out there too! Me? I’m simpler than that, I’m here to use the technology not to spend all my time chasing down the forces of evil.

So, I’m hopeful we’ll soon assign this problem to some of our greater minds for the solving. You know, the same guys who figured out how to kill the zombies. Maybe in the near future we’ll be able to buy a Demon-destroying Hacker Survival Kit. With luck, it might be on the market by the end of the year!

Projects Public and Private

A writer works on projects both public and private.

The Blog is a public project – ideally, a straight-from-the-gut type of endeavor that gains a readership due to style and quirkiness as much as content.

Professional Bloggers may disagree with me, along with those in the business and marketing communities, because they see the Blog as the newest, most powerful form of written media in the modern world. They are entitled to that belief. However, as an old fashioned journalistic writer, I see the Blog as a different entity – one as much about style and positioning as content and relevance. It is immediate, live in real-time, and Public by nature.

Literary or images (16)journalistic work – such as short stories, essays, memoirs, and novels – are by necessity private projects, requiring hours of alone-time staring out windows and writing three sentences a day for months on end.

A good window is well-known to be the number one requirement for a successful writer. Mental illness, alcoholism, and creativity are always fighting for their places in the kingdom hierarchy (and it’s anyone’s guess which of them wins on a given day), but the window is always the King.

I’ve spent the past eighteen months in front of my window working on those private projects. Writing, crafting, editing, re-writing pieces for publication. It is a consummation that continues and makes me realize the need to apologize to my blog readers – forgive me this time I must take away from public writing.

Thank you for continuing to read when I do post – I will try to write a few more pithy, remarkable pieces for your amusement as time permits!

warningWarning! Writer at work! Periods of delirium and a general withdrawal from human interaction may occur.

 

Watching: It’s What Writers Do

I have a new GSM at work who is delightful and funny. (He’s also intelligent and witty…ahem, in case you’re reading this Charles!)

He prides himself on accurately “reading” people and has mentioned this skill several times.  Of course, always a good sport, I felt it necessary to test his abilities.

I asked him last week to share his impressions of me. There were some interesting revelations, but the primary thing he said that struck a chord was that I enjoy 55“watching.”

It was a profound observation because on my “day job” I perform in a vibrant, peacock stage personae. The Colleen of the sales floor a very different person from the Marissa of my writing career. Score a solid point for Charles! Most people are blinded by the false eyes on the feathers and miss the deeper truth of who I am as a complete person!

I cannot remember a time before watching was central to my character. I watch and listen and pay attention to everything. It’s what I did before I ever understood that it’s what writer’s do. It’s one of those “things” that makes a writer different. I believe it might be the most integral and important skill to develop as a writer.

Language, mannerisms, movement — all are necessary elements of story. And all writing is in some sense story. Consider the trend in recent years toward “Creative Nonfiction” in the journalistic realm. Even our news stories are STORIES! We want a little back story, some dramatization of events, and some quirky personal details with our news now, Thank You.

The man burglarized an apartment and stole a necklace, but was quickly arrested by police no longer satisfies our hunger for story.

Instead:

The young man with biker tattoos on his left arm, a sleeve of skulls and roses, stalked the Burrows house for three hours before finally making his move. He pulled the heavy rock from the bag, smashed the picture window in the living room to bits, then crawled inside, snagging his jeans on the ragged glass. The pearl necklace, Mrs. Burrows most prized relic from a long-dead grandmother, was on top of the cherry chest. The culprit snatched it up and ran down the hall and out the back door. He was apprehended a block away by police. A concerned neighbor wburg2ho heard the glass break dialed 911 and reported the incident just in time.

Now that, folks, is news the way we want to read it! We no longer want reporters who reports the facts. Rather, we want writers who make the facts interesting by way of story techniques. This requires the skill of watching, the ability to see the most minute of details, and then the further ability to transfer what was seen by the writers eyes and imprinted in his brain to the reader.

A Writer learns as a child does – by mimicry. A tone or dialect is heard, sounded out, memorized, and then recreated. The details of a scene – the type and location of a tattoo, the style of clothes someone wears, a particular twitch or movement – are noticed, memorized, recreated. The nuances of everyday life, people, and culture are captured and frozen on the page for others to share.

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Isn’t it amazing how our eyes watching become the seeing eyes of another?

Isn’t it wonderful that we are able to capture the world inside and outside of ourselves through words. Then, share that with other people regardless of time and place. How very beautiful is the eternal.

Happy Writing, Happy Living… Marissa

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Life At A Given Moment

“… the meaning of life differs from man to man, from day to day and from hour to hour. What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment.” ~Viktor E. Frankl in Man’s Search for Meaning.

What is the meaning of life? What is the meaning of MY life? Does my life have meaning for anyone other than me?

I read the book, Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor E. Frankl about a year ago during a period of questioning. I believe it’s a book everyone should read at least once – not because it answers the “big” question, but because it changes the way we ask that question and others like it. Frankl shifts our focus to the deeper longings hidden in these questions of existence and meaning. He also gives us a new perspective from which to view ourselves and others. The idea of a fixed destiny changes and mutates under his examination.

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Last week I wrote about thoughts on mortality and the personal situation that led me to those thoughts. This week, I’m happy to report that the doctors found no evidence of cancer and I am doing well. So what did I learn from my cancer scare? Some surprising things actually.

I learned that I don’t have as many regrets as I expected. There was no great need to go make amends for the past or apologize to people so I could die with things “made right” in my life. I’ve always tried to live as if today were it, which means I try to apologize and make amends as I go. Still, you always wonder if you’ve done the best you could. No one wants to be that person on their deathbed filled with a thousand regrets and tons of bitterness. The cancer scare helped me see that I’ve made right those things within my power to make right – the lingering “unfinished” things are there because they are beyond my ability to fix. Sometimes an apology and forward movement are the best one can do.

I also realized that I’m fairly happy with who I am and the experiences that make up my daily life. My primary regret was the books I haven’t written — and that was a surprising epiphany! I’m not sure if it’s because I believe my words are that important or if it’s about needing to leave some type of legacy behind. Just that I kept thinking: “Crap! I thought I’d have more time to get these things written!” The thought that my projects would never be real and see print bothered me terribly. There was a sad sense of leaving something unfinished and not completing my purpose. It was an odd but enlightening experience that brought writing back to center stage as a primary focus of my daily life. (Who knows? Maybe that’s exactly what it was intended to do!)

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Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life to carry out a concrete assignment which demands fulfillment. Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated. Thus, everyone’s task is as unique as is his specific opportunity to implement it. ~ Viktor E. Frankl in Man’s Search for Meaning

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Photo Credit: pensive by James Shepherd

Meditations on Mortality

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Sweet William by Barbara Moignard

 

Springtimes have needed you.
And there are stars expecting you to notice them.
From out of the past, a wave rises to meet you
the way the strains of a violin
come through an open window
just as you walk by.

~ Rainer Rilke, from the First Duino Elegy

 

There was a graveyard I visited regularly with my grandparents as a child. My grandmother would go tend the graves of loved ones (possibly her parents) while I picked Sweet William in small bunches and put on the graves without flowers. I loved the delicate beauty of the petals, their velvety texture and intricate patterns. It seemed the most natural thing in the world to pick them from the edges of the cemetery and place them on graves that seemed lonely and untended. A child’s belief that putting something pretty there would make it all better.

The cemetery was a beautiful and peaceful place to me (other than the painful annoyance of the little sticky burs that always found a way into the side of my sandals or down into my sock). The quiet stillness enthralled me as a child before death or graves held any real meaning. Visiting the cemetery was one of my favorite things to do.

It’s been a long time since those cemetery visits – I turn 46 tomorrow and I was not even school age back then – but I can remember what it was like when death was just another word that meant nothing in my mind and heart. A grown-up word that made people sad and nothing more. My child self living free and joyful without the understanding of mortality.

 

^~^~^

 

I worked as a property-sales manager for a small local cemetery from 2003 to 2005. I was responsible for all facets of the business operation – designing advertising, making product sales, solving customer issues, meeting legal requirements, overseeing burials and entombments, and maintaining good relationships with the mortuaries and their staff. I took the job expecting to be “creeped-out.” I ended up loving the place and becoming friends with the clients we served and the morticians with whom I worked.

I listened to all the personal stories of my clients and attended every funeral service on our grounds. I was a quiet presence, standing nearby at graveside or sitting in the last row of a mausoleum service, listening and watching, making sure everything was as perfect and well orchestrated as it could be. This was the respect, the care we provided to those trusting us in their final rite of passage. Honoring that trust mattered deeply to me.

Two years in the death care industry gave me a new understanding of death and dying. It also provided a glimpse of the actual job of professional body disposal carried out by morticians and cemeterians. Overall, death care is a business much like any other, but there is a level of respect and compassion present in the workers that is seldom found elsewhere.

What did I learn?

At every burial there are people crying, but their tears come for a variety of reasons – as many due to regret and self recrimination as for love and loss.

 

^~^~^

 

Twenty-two days ago a harsh, burning pain developed in my left shoulder and armpit. A random “share” on Facebook with pictures of example breasts showing cancer signs sent me to the internet to look up my symptoms. What I found there terrified me into a hospital visit…

I was in the E.R. five days after the first symptoms appeared with a swollen left breast, a “mass” of unknown origins, and a great deal of searing pain. The diagnosis was Mastitis of unknown origin, and I was given high strength antibiotics and a referral to a local surgeon.

Today – the infection is gone, the swelling has diminished, and the pain is much duller. I go for a mammogram and ultrasound tomorrow to start the diagnostic process. I am hopeful that it is something small and easily solved, prayerful the word cancer will not apply to me. I’d like a little more time, please, to experience this thing called life.

 

^~^~^

 

My first thought was that out of all the panic scenarios and insane phobias I’ve imagined in my life, out of all the ways in which I have feared dying, the thought of possible breast cancer never even crossed my mind! How like life to throw something at you from left field!

My second thought was of not wanting to leave my husband, my children, my grandchildren. Worry that I needed to teach the kids more, maybe I haven’t prepared them as well as I should have, and a myriad other things having to do with all of them being okay or not.

My third thought was the shock of realization that I might soon take my last breath, that it could end so unexpectedly, the lights go dark, and thought – emotion – feeling – sentience just STOP.

Awareness becomes the split-second adrenaline rush of panic, fight-or-flight in a state of indecision, anxiety…and then quiet. Then, thoughts of all the stupid and important things you’ll miss: McDonalds pancakes, the way a breeze feels, the way your children call you mama, sun on your skin, books on the shelves you haven’t read yet, grandbabies in your lap, poems you’ve only half-finished, snuggling beside your husband at night, the dogs always underfoot, the projects still half-done and disorganized, you and you-you-the you that is the personal I-the I that has likes and dislikes, cares, loves, needs, gives, feels…. living.

Life in all its deep complexity. The small moments and the large that make up a life….that make up your very unique and personal life.

 

^~^~^

 

You recognize the fallacy – you have been living all this time as if you were immortal, but you are not. Your specific time here is finite. There will be a last day, one day.

Suddenly, so many daily things become unimportant. The core relationships in your life and the core things in your personality become everything all at once.

You realize you will not miss your job only your calling. You cannot justify money as a motivator for anything that matters only the hope, safety, opportunity it may buy.

You wonder at the speed of days, how they have passed you ticking like a rush of water over rapids. You reach to capture them, slow them, but they drip through your fingers and out of your hand. ~

 

 

Passionate Art

  

“One should never write just to avoid being silent…. I feel a writer MUST write what is in his heart, and if there is nothing there of strong content or passion, then he must LIVE and EXPERIENCE before he can truly write….writing is, after all like art, simply sharing our passion with the world.”      ~from a letter to my mother, April 2001 
       
Today, I found an old copy of a letter written to my mother ten years ago. Reading the letter reminded me of the exuberant passion I’ve always felt toward writing as art and my sincere, consistent belief that “one should never write just to avoid being silent.”

 I believe that the best writing comes from deep belief, sincere passion, and a strong connective tissue between the writer and the written. These qualities allow great writing to transcend the particular time of its creation.

A writer suffering deep loss, of a child or spouse, will put that loss into the words of a poem or story. It is an intimate loss to him, but it is also a common experience, a shared sadness among other human beings. He will articulate the loss, others will read and identify with his words, the poem or story will always be his but will also become an independent identity in many ways. It will outlive him, or keep him alive, in coming centuries depending on your view. It has its own permanence.

This permanence, or legacy, is part of arts truth, so to speak. Most people can name a few classic writers and artists without great trouble (Shakespeare, Hemingway, Van Gogh, Rembrandt), but how many could name current artists? Very few could name the current Poet Laureate or a current popular painter. Artists understand, to some degree, that their work may well have more meaning and be worth more value in the future. A writer writes now with an eye focused a decade away. An artist creates now with the understanding that his canvass is more permanent than himself.

The artist is a creator. He excavates his emotional soul and pours deep truths onto the waiting page or canvass; he dissects and maneuvers the universal realities he sees as he lives, recasting and reworking them into a timelessness that becomes art. This art becomes a flexible representation of the universal passion of humanity and endures because of that kinship. He creates a legacy, an oeuvre, for himself that will eventually be all that remains.

Art is steeped in the history of it’s time of creation to some degree, but that is more reference point than anything else. The language, dress, and backgrounds’ may change, but the faces and voices are timeless. Eyes look out hauntingly with fear or joy, action takes place with a certain tone or with laughter. The experience is universally human regardless of the time period.

Great writing, like all great art, will show us a truth we know in a way we didn’t know how to express. The combination of new insight along with recognizable, enduring truth gives us an “ah-ha” moment – a moment in which we become one with the words and the writer, one with the art and the artist.
 
 

 

 
 

 

 

Regret

Regrets are bitter-bright emotional remnants that hit us with pain and sadness at each recall.

When I was younger, I ran around screaming that I would live my life in such a way as to be free of regrets. My image of the rocking chair on the porch did not have me sitting there feeling bad about the past. I perceived a more enlightened view – one in which I understood that the life I led was my own, built to create the individual I was intended to be. There was no room in the picture for sadness and regret over the past. The past was simply the pavement of the road to the future.

In that vein of thought, I quoted the catchword of the day, “Carpe Diem,” and determined that I would live bravely. I would attempt things I was sure to fail at, I would try things that seemed unusual and “not for me,” and I would be courageous when my instincts told me to fear. This philosophy led to some interesting exploits and adventures, especially during my twenties, as I rampaged through the world on my glorious mission.

But, I would “LIVE!” And, of course, I did live loudly, boldly, tenderly, and attentively for many years. I was very good about writing letters, remembering to send birthday cards, and doing minor niceties for those I knew and loved. I cooked Thanksgiving dinners for the neighbors, took in several stray and injured animals, and donated to numerous charities and worthwhile causes. I also lived vibrantly loud. My hair was the whitest-blonde available in a bottle, my magazine writing was a battle against injustice or a call-to-arms for the downtrodden, my poems spoke of grief and loss from the depths of my soul, and my relationships included people from every scale of life and living. I was trying new things, tackling new fears, overcoming old phobias, and living wide-open and unashamedly. (Dying my hair black was courageous, but BAAAD! And maybe I should have waited on the tattoo…and I probably shouldn’t have moved to Florida….) My internal fears became a propelling force moving me ever forward on the road to becoming…I was LIVING!

And, then, when I was in my late thirties, my grandmother died. It had been several years since I’d seen her. She developed Alzheimer’s disease right after our last visit. She was the second grandmother to experience the devastating disease. And, me….Miss. Courageous, I hadn’t been able to deal with the loss a second time. I had stayed away because the pain of who she had become in the illness overpowered my memories of who she’d been healthy. I needed to have the memories of the healthy, strong, wonderful grandmother she’d been. The only woman I’d ever known who I truly believed knew every answer that mattered. I lived at the other end of the state then, I was busy, life was moving forward – it was easier to pretend she was at home and life was normal for her, as it had been. She was frozen in a happy time and place in my mind.

Burying her was not as difficult as understanding that she was gone. There would never be another letter from her advising me to do the right thing and to trust God. She would never cook pigs-in-a-blanket for me again. I would never be able to drop by and talk with her about my confusion, or enjoy the beauty of her humming as we were hanging out laundry. Those things were over. In reality, they had been over for years, but they had remained a memory-possibility in my mind until the casket disappeared into the ground that rainy day.

Death has a way of ending the lies you tell yourself. It also has a way of reminding you of your own truth. I left her funeral with a sense of regret that I’d never known before. I was ashamed of my cowardice, my unwillingness to overlook my own pain to be there for her. The self-reproach was only made worse as I realized she would have forgiven me, would have understood and not been angry or hurt at my inability to see her so sick. She had a strength within that enabled her to love and forgive others unlike anyone else I’ve ever known.  I was her granddaughter, my mind screamed; I should have been that strong too.

And there it was…regret.

 

 

Revenge Served Cold

Excerpt from RAIN: A Collection of Short Stories (1999).

The gentle summer rain danced like poetry across the old tin roof of the trailer. Most of her life had been spent in trailers, or “mobile homes.” It was a fact she despised. It seemed like she would never escape the trailer parks that marked a poor person in the south. She always thought there would be a better time, a time when she’d live in a fancy house on a large, open piece of land. That was the dream inside her brain and heart so many years. The dream that pushed her further and deeper into perfectionism and goal-setting. The dream that, when it failed to materialize, pulled her backward into a spiraling depression unlike any other dark thing she’d even known.

She reached those pinnacles of success at different times. Lived in nicer apartments and even a few houses through the years, but it never seemed to last. There was always some disaster, an unexpected health issue or a job loss, which led her back to the less expensive dwellings and lower-middle-class neighborhoods.

The trailer park was its own special phenomenon. It existed under a thousand different names in a thousand different small towns, but Sasha knew the truth, it was the same creature underneath. You could always count on the basics: a drunk living down the road, rebellious teenagers wreaking destruction on nearby mailboxes, a few pedophiles and peeping toms, angry spats between the neighbors that had slept with one another’s mates, and at least a few old people relegated to the mix, usually without any family that visited – unless there was still some money to be had or a car to borrow.

Sasha (more formally, Sashuanna, an Indian name that no one could manage to pronounce correctly) realized she had become the very stereotype she’d always hated. She was now the 50-year-old, standing on the back porch of a trailer, a cigarette held between her long red nails, wondering how the hell she ended up back where she started. Luckily, she knew the bitterness that came to mind in the vision of the stereotype didn’t really belong to her. At least, not yet. She had a plan. Her lips parted in a half-smile as she thought about the future. This would end…in just a few more days, she’d say goodbye to trailer parks forever.