A Mother’s Confession

She’s dying.

Death had already made himself quite comfortable at the foot of her bed, patiently waiting like time. Still. Calm. He has a distinct scent, Death, and is always with us now. He’s the only other in my mother’s life. She has no one but us.

I lift her easily in my arms to set her by the window. Death has helped me by making her light. She loves looking out the window at the big oak, older than she, that seems to be molting; she loves the way the leaves, orange and red and brown, have blown against the side of the house and won’t let me rake them.

“Leave them,” she smiles at the pun.

Still clever, I think sadly. What will I do when Death carries her away?

She seems to have a tad more energy today. Restless, even.

“I have something to say to you,” she says quite frankly. “There’s something I need for you to know.”

I breathe in the emanating dankness that Death carries like a cloak, and I suddenly realize that whatever she is about to say is what has been keeping her here.

She knows something.

Death knows it too.

I’m the only one in the dark.

“You were so tiny,” she began, “too little to remember.” She stared beyond the oak, the leaves, the horizon.

I waited for her to go on.

“You’ll hate me when I’m gone.”

“No,” I responded immediately. “Never. I could never hate you.”

“I’ve killed people,” she said.

I gasped and sucked Death’s scent into my lungs. Of course, he knew. This was his business, after all.

“What?” The word escaped my mouth before I could help it.

“You heard me, girl. I killed them. I may not have done it with my own two hands, but I killed them all the same. There was a man I knew who took care of these things. I paid him. I told him what I wanted. He made it so.”

She wasn’t making sense. This woman, who had cared for me, who’d raised me all by herself with no help from anyone… this woman I adored, who sacrificed much for just the two of us… she’d never killed anyone.

I looked into her dark brown eyes and knew by her thousand mile stare that this was not the dementia that had started to steal her from me. She was remembering something as real as the ground beneath and the sky above.

“They were mean,” she paused for a moment, took a breath and added simply, “and there needed a killin’.”

I sat down.

“The house next door held nightmares that never ought to have happened. Those God-forsaken walls kept their secrets. The man… a hurricane. His wife? A whisper of a woman, but just as guilty. They ought not to’ve had any children. Some folks just don’t merit it.”

She turned from the window and looked at me now.

“It was them, I had killed,” she admitted. “They had a sweet… sweet baby girl. Kept her dirty. Skin and bones, poor thing. Didn’t talk. Didn’t smile. Dahlia, she was called. Didn’t deserve her.”

The room grew suddenly cold. Death had walked over to testify to the truth of it. He took my mother’s hand in his.

“I gave the man every dime I’d saved. I kept a plastic container with all my extra money I’d earned from my sewing under the flour in the cellar. I gave him $67.12 to hand that baby out the window to me and beat them both to death with a tire iron. They were too drunk or high to fight back.”

I put my hand to my mouth in horror, as Death wrapped his arm around her shoulder.

“We doused the house with gasoline and burnt it to the ground.”

She looked up at me. She wasn’t sad. She wasn’t nettled.

“I took you, and we got outta there.”

Death took her face in his hands and looked at her as she looked at me.

“And now I’m going to Hell for it because I’m not even sorry. Never spent one sleepless night over it.”

I started to breathe rapidly as Death turned her face toward his. He leaned in to kiss her… I knew she’d go quickly.

“I love you!” I told her in a panic as their lips met, and he whisked her away.

 

Sickbed Confessions – By Kate Bellomy

Each wheeze and cough that came from my mother made me cringe. I ached when I looked at this once beautiful woman; a woman who fought my battles, who protected me, who showed me the ways of life, who taught me how to be a person in this world, and who was once so strong, and now was now so weak and losing her battle against cancer. I fought back the tears when I looked into her aqua eyes and wondered when they would shut for good.

When I got the news of my mother’s illness, I left my life in Chicago and moved back to live out the rest of her days with her. My father gone and my sisters grown, I was determined to be the hero to her that she always was for me.

I remember one morning, one cold rainy morning, the type of morning when you wake up and beg to stay in bed cuddled up with a cup of coffee and a book, I awoke to my mother softly crying in the other room. I rushed to her bedside “Mom” I called out as I gently shook her. She rolled over to face me, her blue eyes puffy and red, she had been crying for a while. “What’s wrong mom?” I asked her, fearful that her answer would be the one I had been dreading for the last 8 months. She was dying and I couldn’t bring myself to accept it even after all the changings, the bed baths, the feedings, the hospital visits. I was a wreck when my dad died and now I was losing my mom, my best friend too.

“Come on mom, let’s get you up!” I changed her into comfy clothes, obviously projecting my current ‘let’s have a lazy day’ mindset onto her.

I sat her in her chair and pushed her into the dining room next to the kitchen table to wait while I made breakfast for the two of us, pancakes for me, pancake shake for her. Before I left her chair she grabbed my arm and when I looked at this precious woman’s face I saw the sorrow that she had been holding back. “What is it mama?” I asked again.

“I’m sorry that I have burdened you. I am sorry that I was the one who made you give up your life. I am so proud of you, and I can’t thank you enough”

Tears welled up in my eyes, “oh mama” were the only words I could breathe out without completely losing it. I was fearful that this was her last cognitive day.

We finished breakfast just as the rain cleared up and I decided it might be nice to get some fresh air and visit her beautiful lilies in the garden maybe for the last time. I pushed her as she hummed sweetly, a song that she had been singing to me since I was a little girl

“you are my sunshine…my only sunshine…” she hummed these two parts over and over again because these are the only two parts she could remember. I chimed in with ‘you make me happy when skies are grey, you’ll never know dear, how much I love you…’

I walked around the chair to take her hands into mine and while softly sobbing sang the last verse ‘please don’t take my sunshine away.”

My mother sat a little straighter in her chair and looked me in the eyes. “Kaitlin, I need to tell you something. A secret I have been holding onto for the last 40 years…”

I had heard stories before around the hospital of patients who have one last moment of clarity before taking their last breath, I figured this was hers. I sat upon the stone bench in the garden that my dad had built us girls when we were small. I looked into her eyes and for a moment saw my mother’s eyes, the ones she had always had before the chemo, before the cataracts, before the glasses…

“you’re not going to believe me when I tell you this” I was confused but begged her to continue. “When you were born, you were very very sick. You only had days left to live and I was desperate to find an anything that would cure my poor baby. I sought out the advice of a witch. I was never one to believe in such things, but as I said, I was desperate. She gave me a potion that would tie your life to mine”

I shook my head in disbelief and knew that this was indeed not her moment of clarity. “Mom, it’s okay. I’m here. Should we go back inside?”

She touched my face and continued on with this fabricated story. “In my time of desperation, I swallowed the potion in one gulp as I stood over your nearly lifeless body. All of the sudden your skin began to glow once more, your cheeks became rosy, and you smiled for the first time in your life. I knew the potion must have worked and I was so happy. But I never thought of what was to come for your life. I did my best to keep you safe and I tried so hard to make sure your life was full of adventures. I am sorry I was so protective, but you see, it was for good reason. I am so sorry my love…my sunshine”

“hey hey hey,” I said as my mother hung her head and began to weep. “Mom it’s okay. you were the best mom anyone could ever ask for I love you so much!” I was determined to make our final words sweet and comforting ones.

My mother knew I didn’t believe her story, and she gave up trying to make me. We returned inside when we felt the early afternoon drizzle sprinkling down from the dark grey clouds.

When I put my mother to bed that night, I sang my song to her. “you are my sunshine…my only sunshine….”

My mother passed away that night in her sleep. I knew she took her last breath because I awoke suddenly gasping for air, unable to breath. I looked down and saw my once taught skin wrinkled and slightly blue. I touched my hair, what once was long brown curls, was now short white frizz. I tried so hard to get up and get out of bed, but I could no longer move my legs. I couldn’t feel my body. I felt like I was a floating head lying in the bed that I slept in my entire childhood. I tried calling out but the screams in my head resulted in no more than a whisper. I was alone. I was dying. I knew I had only moments left and I thought to myself, she’s gone and now it’s my turn.

 

Madness in 500 words or less

Our challenge this weekend was to write about madness in 500 words or less.  Can you relate to this madness?  Let us know!

 

The alarm is set; the math begins. Simple arithmetic, really—if the alarm is set for 7:00 A.M. that’s a solid six hours of sleep. I’ve operated on less.

And hey, I’m not exactly tired right now, so why don’t I take a look at Facebook for a second? Knock out those flashing lights on the top of my phone that will drive me crazy.

And you know what? Now that I’m through with that, I might as well do some more reading in this novel here. Why not? It’ll help me get to sleep.

Oh, lord. It’s 3:00 A.M. ALREADY?! Okay, no problem. Let me adjust this alarm to… 8:00 A.M. Okay. Five hours of sleep. That cuts down on the time I have to get the girls ready for school, BUT… well, they don’t need a shower, right? I think they took one yesterday. Yeah, that’ll be fine. What’s another day?

8:25?! Are you #$%@-ing KIDDING ME?! Why didn’t my alarm go off!? What the hell, Samsung?! Oh. Oh, I see—it was set for P.M.!!! Gah! Okay, school starts in 20.

Let’s see.

Okay—I can just wear my pajamas, so I don’t need to worry about me. If I don’t brush the girls’ hair, that saves a few minutes. Is there some kind of bar or fruit I can toss at them for breakfast? Banana! Perfect! Okay, clean clothes. Um… Yeah. The four year olds pants are all clean, and they still fit through the waist of the eight year old. Can they pass as capris? Capris it is! No matching shoes? No time! Flip-flops! ON! NOW!!!

Okay, out the door. Bell rings at 8:45 and it is… 8:47!!! RUN, GIRLS, RUN! First days of school, tardies don’t count. Right? WHO CARES, RUN!

Okay, got the girls to school alive, and that’s what counts. AND… oh, crap. I have a meeting at 9:00!!! WHY DID I SCHEDULE A MEETING AT 9:00!? I’m still in my pajamas, for the love of all that’s holy! If I run home, I can change. I’ll only be five minutes late, tops. No time to brush my teeth, but mouthwash works miracles! And a splash of cologne here and there. Fine. Everything is fine. Out the door…

And…

I didn’t account for traffic. Sorry I’m 20 minutes late. I respect you, I really do!

Oh. Speaking of respect—I didn’t tell me secretary I’d be in to the office later because of this meeting, did I?

Shoot me. Just shoot me now.

3:00 P.M. At least I get the girls from school on time.

Small victories.

We’re home. And… I… am… dragging. Just watch some TV, girls. While daddy takes… a….ZZZZZZZZZZZZ.

Huh? What time…? 7:30?! Looks like pizza tonight. Again.

Yeah.

Well, at least the girls are in bed on time.

More small victories.

9:30. Time for some video games and TV for dad!

And bed—let’s see, alarm set for 7:00. Nice—a solid six hours of sleep. Simple arithmetic!

Madness in 500 words or less

Our challenge this weekend was to write about madness in 500 words or less.  Here’s my shot at Madness.  Tell me what you think!

MOUNTAIN MADNESS

We live alone in this empty valley, surrounded by the mountains that hide us and hold us as captives.

Mama used to say that those mountains made the wind. She said if I listened, I could hear them breathe.  “Watch,” Mama’d say, “and you’ll see the sun melt the snow and feel the cool breezes that fill the valley and it’s that wind,” Mama said, “that makes those trees knock on our windows with their knuckled little branches.”

In the morning we’d stand outside and look up at those tall mountains. Their crowns are so sharp it’s like the earth has teeth.  It’s as if those white peaks could chew a hole in the sky and reveal all the night time stars if they wanted.

Mama used to love the mountains. “They protect us,” she’d say as we stood in the afternoon sun. “They keep away the storms.”

But now, Mama says there are monsters that live up in those sharp places. Terrors, she calls them, with black eyes and quick claws. Hidden away, they wait in caverns and under the rocks.  “At night,” Mama says, “they come out with the wind and the cold and we should be afraid.”

Mama says our fear will keep us safe. “Fear will remind us to stay inside.”

So, every night, when the sun falls down and the moon appears like a silver spike pounded into the sky. Mama tells me to lock the door.  “Blow out that candle,” she whispers like the breeze and reminds me to put out the fire and close the curtains and be very quiet.  “Do it!” She lifts her voice like the wind through the trees and shrieks at me from behind her closed door.  “Do it now!”

“Yes, Mama!” I say. I whisper so the Terrors don’t hear me.  “I will, Mama,” I breathe so the mountains don’t close their teeth on our little house and chew us to bits.

Since the monsters have come, the trees have grown strong and now they pound on our windows like fists. Wind rushes like splintered ice down the chimney as I sit here beside mama’s locked door.  I shiver under the blankets and listen to the valley disappear into the darkness. I listen for the growl of hungry monsters and the silent sounds of mama breathing behind her door.

She’s not been out of her room for months. She said the mountains have cast their spell on us.  “We are damned,” she said when she closed the door on me.  “Hopeless,” she called out and turned the lock.

And since, she only talks to me through the door. She reminds me to be quiet.  She tells me to hide.  Mama used to love those mountains but now, she only shrieks like the wind.  She only calls to me from her own dark cave, warning me to be afraid.  “Always be afraid,” Mama says.  “Only your fear will save you from these mountains.”

 

Madness in 500 words or less

Our challenge this weekend was to write about madness in 500 words or less.  This was not an easy challenge since madness can encompass so much.  Let me know what you think about this!

 

“Hey, y’all… for the finale, let’s stack all fifteen of these Roman candles on top of the Blossom Blasters with the M80s underneath and see what happens!”

“Hell, yeah! We can turn this plastic bucket upside down and load it all up on top of it to make ‘em go higher!”

It took us ten minutes to put together our masterpiece on top of a 10-gallon plastic bucket turned upside down. Beau took the blunt and lit the thing while the rest of us ran off a ways. Half the neighborhood kids stood around watching us like we were escaped mental patients fresh out of pills.

The first Roman candle filled the dark sky with a green burst about thirty feet in the air. Definitely an impressive beginning for the end. Two more blasts followed with blue and gold flowering out above us. I looked over to Betty Lou, the lights brightening across her face, her smile brightening across my own.

Yeah, she was into me.

The Blossom Blasters lit up underneath the Roman candles which were all catching heat at once. The circular package sat like a crown on the bucket with the cherry bombs below, and the first barrage shot out, its tail lagging lazily behind it before it exploded into a fountain of fire in a rainbow of colors.

Betty Lou took my hand.

That first burst was a game-changer.

That bucket didn’t hold.

The whole platform was on its side in a nanosecond, and all hell broke loose.

The first indication that the whole enterprise was going south was the Roman candle that whizzed by my head and missed my left eyeball by about an inch and a half. After that, it was pure, unadulterated madness – the things everybody’s mothers warn them about coming true right here.

Right now.

The Blossom Blasters still shot the explosives fifty feet – just not into the air. Now they were shooting randomly in all directions and mushrooming everywhere… in the trees, against the sides of our pickup trucks, into the barn… The base was now spinning 360 degrees about three times a second, so there was nowhere to run, but we sure as shit couldn’t stay. Roman candles became their own Special Forces death squad, ricocheting recklessly in every direction. The M80s blew holes in the pasture big enough for the cows to fall into.

I stood like a statue watching Armageddon until Betty Lou had the presence of mind to yank my hand in a zigzag pattern toward the tree line.

Good ol’ Betty Lou.

We zigged. We zagged. We yinged. We yanged.

We made it.

I don’t know where everybody else ended up or what damage the mayhem may have caused, but I can tell you that when she pulled me in for a kiss, probably for the first time in my life…

 

…I saw fireworks.

 

Writing Prompts for the Flying M-Inklings

Here is our writing prompt for this week. Our challenge was to create a new response to the following prompt:

First line: Manipulating people is so easy. I almost stopped doing it; almost.
In the text: I can’t help it. I lie all the time.
Last line: Sometimes it’s best not to go home again

Our next submission is from Daisy Rain.  Let us know what you think!

Manipulating people is so easy I almost stopped doing it. Almost. In my defense, I’ve always tried to use my powers for good and not evil. Well… almost. There was the time that I flirted with the guy in the repair shop so he’d replace the window in my car for free. That was admittedly self-serving, but I had just started waiting tables, and I really couldn’t afford it. And maybe I did leave him a fake phone number, but he could’ve been a weirdo or something. You can’t be too careful in this crazy world, right?

 
And there was the other time that I convinced my boss that my grandmother had passed away so I could go to the Foo Fighters concert even though my grandmother is very much alive and will likely outlive us all. She lives in Pasadena, drinks like a largemouth bass, and plays bingo every Tuesday.
 
I can help it — I lie all the time.
 
This latest episode, though, may be enough to make me change my ways. I should have known that it was a bad idea to join that dating site. But I let that free trial offer expire, and my credit card got charged, so what else could I do?
 
Talk about manipulation.
 
I met a cute guy from Eastvale, of all places, which is probably a half hour from my hometown of Norco, California. Not glamorous, I know, so I tell people I’m from the Hollywood Hills. In hindsight, I should have gone camping with my friends in Yellowstone like they asked me. But this guy was a screenwriter and had just sold his third script to Warner Bros. He told me that the picture on my dating profile looks so much like the main character he pictured in his mind as he was writing his latest movie, and he just has to meet me.
 
I feel kind of bad that I put up an old picture of Kate Hudson on the beach when she was younger, but here we are. His picture looked like something Michelangelo carved out of marble in case anybody was wondering.
 
So instead of packing up my camping gear and heading east, I bleached my hair out in my bathroom with that box of Clairol Born Blonde that I just knew would come in handy in such a time as this, threw some clothes in a bag along with my best padded bra, and headed west. If things go south with chiseled-out-marble-man, I could always run back to Norco and stay with my mother, right?
 
We met at an Italian place he suggested. I parked my Impala around the corner because that bumper really is just about to drop off and the passenger side door looks like the Grand Canyon — although the window that got replaced for free still remains. In any case, I made it there only ten minutes late, which isn’t too bad for me, and started looking around for anyone who looked like he could have made a toothpaste commercial.
 
And I looked.
 
And looked some more.
 
There were only six people in the entire place. Three of them were about a hundred and ninety years old.
 
One may have been a hooker.
 
One was the bartender.
 
And there was one bloke sitting by himself in a booth by the window. Not precisely a stunner. He stood up and walked over to introduce himself.
 
“Gloria?” he inquired.
 
I looked back over my shoulder expecting somebody named Gloria. Then I remembered that’s the name I used.
 
I turned back to him, “Yes! I’m Gloria. You’re Bruce?”
 
“I’m Bruce!” he exclaimed.
 
I swear to God, he was twelve. There’s no way this guy even has a driver’s license. His eyes were level with my padded bra. He needed to brush his teeth. He must have left those broad shoulders on his bicycle. This embryo in no way, shape, or form has ever written a screenplay. He looks like he doesn’t even own a pencil. I’m pretty sure I’m going to be the one paying for dinner.
 
Sometimes it’s best not to go home again.

Writing Prompts for the Flying M-Inklings

Our writing prompt this week was a challenge.  Every day we’ll be posting a new response to the following prompt:

First line: Manipulating people is so easy. I almost stopped doing it; almost.
In the text: I can’t help it. I lie all the time.
Last line: Sometimes it’s best not to go home again

Our next submission is from Brandon Paul.  Let us know what you think!

 

 

Manipulating people is so easy, I almost stopped doing it. Almost, but I didn’t.

After the car accident that changed my face, it changed my thinking too. I realized that there isn’t anything I didn’t want. There isn’t anything I can’t have and there isn’t anything I won’t do. It’s true.

And for that, I’ve become a deep pit that no guilt can ever “ll. No one can ever give me enough love or attention that would satisfy me. No single person can be God to me and that’s fine because I don’t believe in any gods. 

Last year, I took a taxi to the airport. I used airline miles from a person I’d never met and flew across the country, landing near the golden shores of the west. I walked along the sandy coast and looked out at the endless ocean. I sat on the borrowed chair of a stranger and enjoyed his meal. I half-heartedly listened to his story, all the while, watching wave after green wave rushed in toward me.

“Headed northwest, eh?” The man asked. “Which part?”

“Canada,” I lied. I can’t help it; I lie all the time.

“Well, I’m not going that far,” he said, “But I can take you as far as Seattle. I’m on the way home to see my parents.” 

“Seattle works,” I nodded, taking a bite of a soggy sandwich. “I’d sure appreciate the lift.”

A wallet full of stolen credit cards helped with gas on our journey. My reserve of blow kept us awake as we passed by seaside shanties and towns colored with peeling paint. Salty air filled my lungs. Cool winds lifted my hair through the open windows. Seagulls screeched and cried. They warned me to stay away but I ignored them.

At the rest stops, in the shade of the towering evergreens, we inhaled more white powder. We emptied our bladders and took to the road again.

“Who’s out there waiting for you?” The man asked me. “Where will you go?”

“A brother, named Harry,” I lied. “Works in “nance. Has a place all set up for me.”

“You must be close?” the man said.

I nodded. “Yes,” I said, lying again. “Very.”

“I had a younger brother once,” the man said. “Wish I could see him again.”

I nodded again, seeing my own reflection in the window. “I’m right here,” I whispered so softly that only I heard the words.

Turning to look at the man’s familiar face, I saw the ocean reflected in his grey eyes. I saw the years that he wore in silver hair around his temples, the wrinkles starting up on his hands. I saw time that I’d never get back. Time I’d never be able to manipulate or change.

I looked forward to the blue sky and asked the man to stop in the next town. When we arrived, I shook his hand, waved goodbye and, from the side of the road, I watched his car disappear into the foggy distance.

Seagulls cried above my head, they cried for themselves and they cried for me. It was too late, I realized. Sometimes, it’s best not to go home again.

Writing Prompts for the Flying M-Inklings

Our writing prompt this week was a challenge.  Every day we’ll be posting a new response to the following prompt:

First line: Manipulating people is so easy. I almost stopped doing it; almost.
In the text: I can’t help it. I lie all the time.
Last line: Sometimes it’s best not to go home again

Our first submission is from Colby Stream.  Let us know what you think!

Manipulating people is so easy. I almost stopped doing it; almost. 

But then how would people learn?

I walked down the busy sidewalk, searching for my mark. The email had come in that morning. Anonymous, but clear: the mark would be sitting in Bakersfield park around 9am, enjoying coffee and a newspaper. The email contained one attachment, a photograph.

It didn’t take long to spot him on the bench. He looked to be mid-40s, sandy brown hair that was beginning to thin. Nothing special.

I took a seat next to him on the bench and gave him my best pretty girl smile. I tipped my coffee to him, “Nice morning.”

He nodded back, and then looked down at his paper.

It only took 10 seconds for his eyes to flick back over to me, then quickly back to the paper. 

I pretended to ignore him for the moment, watching him from the corner of my eye. His eyes flicked over to me again. They stole snatches here and there. I sipped my coffee while he did so.

Finally, I knew the time was right. I cleared my throat.

“I can’t help it,” I said to him. “I lie all the time.”

“Eh, er. Sorry?”

“I said I can’t help it. I lie all the time. You know what I mean? You must know.”

“No, I, er. I mean, no. No, I don’t.” 

“Oh come now, Lee. We both know you do.”

His eyes grew wide as he processed my words. Then he folded up his paper and grabbed his coffee.

“Excuse me, I’m sorry,” he said and began to stand.

“Lee, sit.” He sat, seemingly surprised with himself. Like I said: easy. 

“You and I are going to have a little chat.”

“A chat?”

“Yes, about Sandra. You know what I mean, yes?”

He swallowed, nodding slightly. He looked to me like a child in the principal’s office. Someone who knew they were breaking the rules of the game, and had now been caught.

I clasped my hands on one knee and turned towards him. “Here’s the thing, today is your lucky day. Sandra knows you’ve been lying, and she’s asked me to take care of you.” 

He flinched slightly.

“But that’s not what makes you lucky. The particular work I’ve been asked to do today is a little more … well, let’s say, restrictive than I’m used to. That’s why today is your lucky day.

“Most people in your situation leave my conversations with one less appendage.” I glanced at his crotch and back up to his face, giving him my best pretty girl smile. 

“What do you want?” he asked, barely above a whisper.

Pathetic.

“Sometimes,” I said, once again modifying my voice to fit the purpose. “It’s best not to go home again.” 

“Not go home?” he asked.

“Yes, that’s right. Sometimes that’s best, don’t you think?”

His mouth worked, as if digesting the words. After several seconds of strained silence he responded. “Yes, yes. I see what you mean.” He stood, leaving the newspaper on the bench, and began to turn away.

I picked up the newspaper, knocked his coffee to the ground, and skimmed the pages. 

So much sadness in the world, I thought to myself, but at least there’s one less scumbag in my city now.

After turning away Lee began walking — to where yet, he didn’t know — all the time mumbling to himself over and over, “Sometimes it’s best not to go home again. Yes, that’s right. Sometimes, it’s just for the best.

Before I Had Kids

Warning to all who enter our building, the water seems to be contaminated!

Seriously, there are at least six women in our school who are expecting babies, all within months of each other. Saying it is in the water may be an understatement. We are completely surrounded.

No joke.

Of course, when you have even one pregnant lady around, all the women within 100 feet chime in with their stories of bringing life into the world, imagine what it is like with five or six. Whole lunch time conversations revolve around weird food cravings, stretch marks and random strangers touching their bellies, breast feeding vs. bottles, the struggle of getting out of bed; the good, the bad and the horrific of being pregnant. You know the drill. Then the conversation switches to all the birthing stories. Any new mom-to-be in the room now fears for her life with these tales of woe. Even I have shared the beauty and horror of my child birth experiences. It is like showing off a medal of honor. But all this baby-ness has had me thinking about what life was like before I had my children.

Insert magical harp music and daydreaming sequence here.

It seems like so long ago – a completely different lifetime. Of course, I gained so much more than weight when I became a mother. Let’s be honest though, I gave up a lot too.

Before I had kids…

I could pee alone.

Honestly, I can’t even remember the last time I was in my own home and I was able to go to the bathroom without an audience or an interruption. Why do children think that this is an excellent time to talk to their mothers?

During Spring Break my twins were outside playing and I was working in the kitchen. I looked out the window at them, realizing that they were completely occupied with their friends and games. So I said out loud to myself and to my husband who was sitting on the couch, “I should go to the bathroom right now! I’ll be able to pee all by myself!” I raced into the bathroom (I am so serious, I ran in there), closed the door, unfastened my pants, sat down just to hear my son yelling, “MOM!?!?!”

“YOU HAVE GOT TO BE FLIPPIN’ KIDDING ME!?!” I yelled to my son on the other side of the door, not mad but just utterly shocked. “Don’t you dare turn that knob, boy! Your father is sitting on the couch in the living room, WHICH you had to pass to come in here! Why are you NOT talking to him?”

Silence.

I sat there in shock. Not a minute passed by and my daughter is turning the door knob.

“MOMMY?”

“NO! JUST NO!” I shout through the door. “Do you little people have supersonic hearing? Did you hear my zip go down from clear outside!? Talk. To. Your. Father!”

More silence, though I half expected little fingers to wiggle under the door.

I sat there, even though I was finished, just taking in the quiet of my bathroom wondering why anyone in their right mind would want to join someone as they are taking care of business in a bathroom. These children must be crazy! And why, why is it that they don’t inflict that crazy on their father? Why does he get to pee alone? Yes, I am a little bitter about this. It’s quite unfair.

Oh the simple bliss of peeing alone; what sweet memories those are!

I could eat a piece of chocolate (well, any treat really) without feeling like a prisoner with illegal contraband.

I have to stash small amounts of my favorite treats so the kids won’t find them; I squirrel away Lindor truffles behind the canned goods in the pantry and bury my favorite kind of Girl Scout cookies at the bottom of the ice bucket in the freezer. If I don’t hide them, my children will find them and will devour them. And I am pretty sure they don’t even taste it. It just gets inhaled!

Can I get an Amen? I know I’m not alone on this one.

I remember when the kids were small and I had received the most delicious chocolate bar for my birthday. I was thrilled and terrified at the same time. It was going to taste delightful, but I knew if my children saw me eating it, there would either be pouting with sad puppy dog eyes to guilt me out of it or smiles mixed with eye lashes being fluttered leading to more than half of my present being sweet-talked away from me.

NOPE! This called for stealthy mom moves!

So what did I do? I did what any normal woman would do for chocolate. I made sure the children were preoccupied, checked to see if the coast was clear and quietly I hid myself in the pantry to break off a chunk of that beautiful chocolate bar. There was no way I could have eaten the whole thing at once. I mean, really, what mom can be out of their children’s sight before they start hunting her down? Besides, that supersonic hearing thing that children apparently have, works for the wrappers of anything yummy as well.

After I enjoyed that one small nibble, I slowly inched my way out of the pantry and carried on as normal. Criminal actions for sure, but if that means I don’t have to give away that last little bite, it is worth it!

Selfish motives? I’m not a selfish person, but sometimes I just need something that is all mine.

I could sneeze without wetting my pants.

There was a time in life when I did not fear sneezing. Or coughing for that matter. Or laughing. Or hiccupping. Those were the good old days, where my only worry was the occasional snot rocket or booger escaping from my nose, because I am a known snorter.

I remember seeing my mom and grandma working away in the house or walking along somewhere, suddenly you could see on their face that a sneeze was coming shortly. What do you suppose the very first thing they would do was?

If you answered cross one leg over the other, then you are correct! Most likely you are a mom!

I thought this was the funniest and strangest thing when I was young. My mom would say, “Just you wait until you have kids! It’s your fault that I have to brace myself for the possibility of a leak!”

Yep, okay mom. Sure.

Then I gave birth to not one, but TWO bladder boppers! My body stretched out in ways I didn’t even know the human body was capable of and nothing felt right anymore. The first time I sneezed after they were born, well, it was a brand new experience. I sneezed like I always had sneezed before. However, my eyeballs got as big as Frisbees when I realized that I needed a different pair of underwear and perhaps pants too.

Now I find myself crossing one leg over the other before I sneeze. It’s just a natural reaction in protecting me from the prospect of leakage. Of course, now my children laugh at me.

Surely, this is the circle of life.

I could have a phone conversation without having my home erupting into a state of emergency because the Zombie Apocalypse is upon us.

The telephone rings.

It’s for me.

It’s the Food Ministry Director from church.

            This should be a quick and easy conversation.

“Hi there Twila.”

“Yes I heard that she did have the baby.”

“Oh that sounds like they have a healthy baby boy on their hands.”

“Sure thing, I can definitely take them a…. Are you kidding me? Stop licking you sisters’ face! …meal to them. What night is needed?”

Children, you have been in the same house with me for the last three hours. That is 180 minutes. In that time, you have had no interest in what I have been doing, no toys were losing parts, World War III with each other was not eminent, you were not at the brink of starvation, all of your limbs were fully attached, nothing had been sucked in to a black hole in the universe and yet, as soon as my attention is on someone who does not live in this house YOU suddenly need me because all hell seems to be breaking loss.

WHY?

To my family and friends – apologizes from the woman who appears to be on the verge of insanity during most phone conversations.

My heart belonged to me.

That’s right, people, my heart is not my own anymore. Same goes for my mind. I have lost both organs to the humans that call me mom. Every mother out there knows that the love you have for your children can never compare to any other love in this world.

My heart bursts with joy at the sight of my children’s sweet faces. It beams with pride when they have accomplished something they have been working hard on. And my heart melts into a puddle of goo when they want nothing but time, cuddling in my arms.

They are the first thoughts that pop into my head each morning and they are usually the reason that I can’t sleep at night. I worry about them doing well in school. Are they being kind to others? Are they making good choices? Are they using their manners and loving those they come in contact with?

Sadly, the same heart that holds so much love breaks when they are sick or hurt or need to be punished. As they grow up and start to make their own choices, I can only hope that the qualities I have instilled in them will hold true. I pray they make choices that will make them happy and successful, as well as making me proud. No matter how old they are, this will be my struggle. They will forever be my babies. I will forever worry about them. Forever pray for them.

Still, with all I gave up, what I gained outshines the rest. I will give up my chocolate bars and my alone time to pee, having a normal grown up conversation and the ability to sneeze without having an accident and I will give up a good night’s sleep because of worrying if it means that I get to hear these humans call me mom.

 

Katie headshot

Katie Weise a school librarian with two kids of her own — twins. She’s currently working on a memoir about her eating disorder, and devotes Wednesday nights specifically to writing.

Nanny Cam

I crouched over a computer in the darkness of the basement. It was still early morning, my family dead asleep.

The computer had one purpose: store video from the nanny cam placed in my son’s room.

 I’d placed it one week ago while he was at Saturday’s Baseball practice. It sat on his desk, disguised inside a candy dispenser. From the vantage point it captured all but the entrance.

 I heaved a breath, anticipating what I might find. I had begun to suspect, and had looked for clues, but only recently had thought of this plan. I had to know. Had to find out.

 The recording began right away with me standing in front of the camera, waving my hand like an idiot. Then I duck out of the scene and wait.

 And wait.

And wait.

 Do you know how many dead moments there are in our lives? My god. They went on forever. Dead moments of no one in the room. Dead moments of listening to music. Dead moments of sleeping. Dead moment after dead moment.

It wasn’t until Thursday that the moments came alive.

 Why couldn’t I use the smartphone to track his activity, you might ask? Because it’s impossible; that’s why. The kid never parts with it. When he’s showering it’s in the bathroom with him, locked behind the door. When he’s sleeping, on the other side of the bed, nearest the wall.

 And even if I could get my hands on it, I expect it would be locked. Nobody these days with a secret to hide leaves their phone lying around without encryption.

 Ask for logs from the cell phone company, you suggest? Not on my cell phone plan. One of the downsides of him paying for his own device.

 So I had to resort to the nanny cam.

And on Thursday evening it happened.

 I can’t even bring myself to write about it.

I shutdown the computer and hung my head. After several moments I heaved another sigh, this one out of resignation. I finally hauled myself upstairs, one slow step at a time. I poured myself a cup of coffee, got in the car and drove. I didn’t know where I ever intended to drive to; I just drove.

And I’ve never been back since.

Colby HeadshotColby is a leader and internet marketer. He’s also the wizard of the web here at Flying M-Inklings. And he owns a miniature poodle; she’s the only guard dog he needs.

Subterfuge

Ever since I’ve been confined to this damn wheelchair, I can’t really change my scenery all on my own. I have to get the attention of some orderly, raising my hand and waving someone over if I’m not near a call button.

Don’t get me started about why I’m even here in the first place. It has something to do with the krauts, I know it. I enlisted with my friends, we fought, but they sent me home when I got injured. Hence the wheelchair. But why they had to put me in this place, I’ll never know. I guess they view anyone with fighting experience as a threat.

They being the government—I know they’ve been taken over by those fascist sons of bitches. So now they’re wrangling all of us who know something about what’s going on and sticking in us in these miniature concentration camps. I don’t know what in the hell they’ve done with my wife and kids, though. But I’m going to find out.

I pretend I don’t know what’s going on. It’s safer that way. They try to drug us here so that we’re sedated, easy to manipulate and control. That’s why half the people in this hell-hole just stare out the window, drooling and shitting themselves. I do it, too, but it’s strategic on my part. I stay fresh by putting the pills under my tongue then spitting them in the latrine.

They try to confuse me by sending in people who claim to be my family—children, wife. Brothers. Even a buddy or two I know is over there fighting them. They do a pretty bad job of rounding up lookalikes. Get this—for my five year old daughter, Joan, they brought in this 50 year old woman. 50! Why they think I would fall for that is beyond me. She sure knew a lot about me, though. Things I thought only Joan would know—nicknames we gave each other, stuff like that.

But you see how devious these people are? They have eyes and ears everywhere! That’s why I have to stay alert, vigilant. So I sit and stare out the window, I watch the world, but I’m tuned in. I see cars going by—CRAZY looking cars, I think, but you know those German engineers. Driving way too fast, of course.

And the people on the sidewalks, they’re all walking around with communication devices of some sort. This is how the Jerry’s keep track of everyone; know what’s going on everywhere. But they get kind of complacent, looking at those damn things. Running into each other, never even looking at each other.

Oh, one day, listen to this—one day, that so-called “look alike,” you know the one they try to tell me is my daughter? God, this is so funny—listen. She came to see me. Talking to me like I was an idiot or a baby or something. She talked about my wife. Kept calling her “mom.” Can you believe that shit?

Anyway, I suffered through this for, I don’t know, 30 minutes? An hour? Hell, it felt like eternity, with all that inane babble. That doesn’t really matter. It’s what happened when she left. She wasn’t too happy with me by the time she walked out of my room. She never is, really. Sometimes I play along with this whole thing, just to make life a little easier. But mostly I don’t give them the satisfaction.

Like this day I’m talking about, I didn’t say a single word to her. I mostly just glared at her. Growled a bit.

Apparently it really upset her, because she said something about “texting” her brother. I suppose she meant my son, but who knows. And don’t ask me what the hell “texting” means—it has something to do with that device she makes calls on and gets random bits of garbage information on.

She storms out of the room, looking at that thing, rubbing it with her thumbs. I knew she was parked across the street from my window, so I inched up close to it and shoved the curtain to the side. I wanted to see how mad she was—it was the most entertaining thing I’d seen in some time.

She comes clomping out in those high heels, like she was trying to drive spikes into the concrete. She was practically steaming! But still looking down at that damn device. And she steps right out into the road and one of those ugly cars just blindsides her like a linebacker! Oh, God, I still laugh about it! She was hit by one of her own! HA!

Some camp guard posing as an orderly had to come in and restrain me, because I damn near fell out of my chair busting up. I mean, can you believe that? It’s like the most beautiful ironic poetic justice shit I’ve ever seen!

A few days later they tried to make me go to this lady’s funeral, like I care about this spy posing as my “daughter.” It was completely pointless me being there, because I couldn’t stop myself from laughing when they wheeled me up to her casket. It upset a lot of people, I could tell. But what do they expect? I’m gonna cry or something? Over some Nazi fräulein, posing as my daughter? Please! I mean, come on, how delusional do these people think I am?

 

Cody

Cody is both a writer and a pastor, and the only Flying M-Inkling Emeritus. He’s an idea generator, partly borne out of his eclectic reading style; he’s willing to discuss any of those ideas with anyone who wants to listen.

Microbiology for Writers

Right now, your cells are dividing and multiplying.  They are tirelessly synthesizing protein and breaking down waste.  Right now, your cells are working on a masterpiece and, from one writer to another, this prompts me to ask:  shouldn’t you be doing the same?

Inside your cells are microscopic structures called organelles.  They each have a specific function that is needed to help a cell survive and thrive.  As writers, we have the same features.  We may not call them organelles and they may not be tangible objects, but they do work in similar ways.  They are the tool box that we must have to function as a writer.  

  • Cell Membrane:  This is the semi-permeable barrier that surrounds a cell.  It allows certain objects to enter and leave the cell such as proteins and nutrients.  As writers, we have to put a membrane around ourselves when we write.  We must close out parts of the world so we can concentrate and think and create.  We must sometimes block out phone calls or television or certain websites on the Internet.  We must form a semi-permeable barrier that holds in the ideas and releases the distractions.  It’s an important survival tool for a writer.
  • The Nucleus: This is the brain and the heart of the cell.  It houses genetic information and controls the functions of the cell.   When we form an idea, a story line, an inspirational verse, our heart and mind become connected to the piece.  Every chosen word has our fingerprint on it.  As a writer, we must use both feeling and thought to express ideas.  Without the nucleus, we wouldn’t survive and neither would our work.
  • The Endoplasmic Reticulum:  This is an extensive network of flattened membrane sacs that are used for transport and storage of life sustaining protein.  This would be the place that writers transport and store their ideas and words.  Without life experiences and memories, our work would fall flat.  We need an Endoplasmic Reticulum to transport and store our memories, our feelings and the words we want to use.
  • The Golgi Apparatus – This organelle processes the protein, enhancing it with fats and sugars. This is the tool that writers use to add depth to their writing.  Details are added, characters are flushed out and color is revealed.  The Golgi Apparatus will make your work memorable.
  • Mitochondria – This is the main site for the cell to create energy.  Writers need energy and this tool can be used to give excitement to your work or creative energy to your body.  Remember that you enjoy writing. Remember that you need to feed your body and your mind.  Replenish and when you do, put some energy and excitement into your piece by keeping the idea of the Mitochondria close at hand.
  • The Lysosomes – these are extremely important organelles as they contain powerful digesting enzymes.  When other organelles wear out or waste is found in the cell, the Lysosome has the power to break it down and remove it from the cell.  Use this feature carefully.  Don’t let it destroy your ideas or your motivation.  Don’t let it discourage but use it wisely as your editor, as the tool that will help to tighten your story.  It is okay for some things to be removed from your work.

The organelles inside a human cell are microscopic miracles and so are the talents of a writer.  We all function differently; we all produce something unique and yet we all have similar tools that we use to churn out the written word.  We think thoughts that others don’t think.  We push ourselves when no one is standing over our shoulder, demanding a product.

From the very inner workings of your cells to the limitless possibilities of your mind, you are a writer.  You are driven and filled with thought.  You, my friend, are a miracle.

Brandon headshotBrandon Paul owns notebooks. Lots of them. In every size. And in these notebooks, he writes. In 2014 he used these notebooks to write every day of his 38th year; in 2016 you’ll get to read this book. Stay tuned.

Say Something or STFU

Always write with a message.

Every piece you publish should have a message, a purpose behind it. A piece without a purpose is just words.

I need to say up front: I’m not talking about free writing. You should write just to write, but you publish with a purpose.

Why a purpose?

Your readers give you their time; don’t waste it.

‘Purpose’ can be wide and sweeping:

  • To get to know a character. People love connecting with people — even fictional ones.
  • To educate.
  • To persuade.
  • To entertain.

The other week I started an article, but couldn’t finish it. I put it away, as I often do, to let it stew. A few days later it hit me: my article had no purpose. It just listed events going on in my life;it didn’t have any real meaning behind it.

What you publish isn’t a Facebook update about your life; don’t pretend it is.

A lot of people write articles about their life and they do so successfully. Those articles have purpose: to connect the writer to the reader. To tell a story.

Mine didn’t have that purpose. Ultimately, I wanted to educate and persuade, but the way I staged the piece didn’t accomplish that purpose.

I had to rethink the structure; structure serves purpose.

When you struggle with a piece; when you just don’t know where it’s going; when it doesn’t feel right — what’s the purpose? Does your structure support that purpose?

If you can answer the first question and answer ‘yes’ to the second, purpose and structure may not be your problems. Keep seeking the problem. If, however, you can’t answer the first or answer ‘no’ to the second — now you know the problem and can fix it.

And if the piece doesn’t have a purpose?Don’t publish it. If you want to build a reader base the cares, you have to follow the most basic rule: say something, or STFU.

Don’t publish it.If you want to build a reader base the cares, you have to follow the most basic rule: say something, or STFU.

If you want to build a reader base that cares, you have to follow the most basic rule: say something, or STFU.

Colby HeadshotColby is a leader and internet marketer. He’s also the wizard of the web here at Flying M-Inklings. And he owns a miniature poodle; she’s the only guard dog he needs.

Confessions of a Sister

Eighteen months into my life I was gifted a sister. I don’t remember receiving this gift, but the moment was captured in a photograph. Mom and dad placed her on my lap, my chubby arms wrapped around her, with mom on one side of me and my grandfather on the other. The look on my face is simple and complete adoration. My mom said that I told everyone who met my new sister for the first time that she was ‘My Baby”.

It was nice always having a playmate; someone to be silly with and share a laugh. We made up games, played pretend and explored the world around us. We were rarely apart. I remember vividly a night that a thunderstorm was roaring outside.

Read more…

6 Tips for Living a Creative Life

Creativity, maya angelou quote

Note from the Editor: Writing and creativity. They just go hand-in-hand, don’t they? That’s why we’re republishing this piece from Shannon’s blog. Find the original here. (And be sure to check out her other stuff while you’re at it.)

When you think of a creative person do you visualize a person with pots of paint and brushes and canvases? Maybe it’s somebody who writes daily and publishes poems, stories and books. Do you picture a photographer or a clothing designer or an architect? Those are the types of people my mind used to conjure up and for the longest time I thought I wasn’t a part of that group of people.

But I wanted to be, so I gave myself permission to be.

I write. I have pots of brushes and paint. I am learning to take pictures. Sure, there are things I don’t do. I mean, I dress pretty conservatively. I am not famous for my work—in fact most people don’t know how much I love art and crafting. I don’t dance. I don’t have a creative job.

But I have a creative soul and I can live a creative life. Anyone can if they want to–if that’s how they decide to define their life.

Some creative people are innately talented, but the rest of us can live creatively in a general sense. Being creative can be a lifestyle, a way of living, a way of perceiving the world. We are creative, not just because we do digital photography or create beautiful landscapes but because we are interested in new ways of operating, in thinking in new ways, and don’t feel constrained by other people’s expectations of how we should live our lives.

That is what creativity is about.

Sometimes I don’t feel creative. I feel flat. And dull. That’s when I know it’s time to remind myself to pay attention to my creativity and not neglect it. Here are some proven practices I’ve learned that help me live creatively.

Six Tips for Living a Creative Life

1. Get Out of That Comfort Zone – Comfort Zone can sometimes be a dirty word (phrase) to me. There is no courage or progress in a comfort zone. Sure, sometimes I need comfort zones, but not if I’m going to be creative. This can be as simple as reading a book, magazine, or blog that is not the type I typically read. I learn so many new things and learn about different (and usually very interesting) kinds of people when I do this. Maybe getting out of your comfort zone means trying a new kind of food, or adding a new color to your wardrobe. Get a little uncomfortable for a while to see where it leads.

2. Creative Pages – By now you probably know of Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way. I honestly have not read the book cover to cover but I do practice a form of her creative pages. She teaches that we should begin the day with three pages of long-hand stream of consciousness writing. I can tell you that three pages can get to be a lot for someone with my attention span but I can do two! Cameron says the purpose is to get all that “angry, whiny, petty stuff” written down. She says it “miniaturizes our censor, calming us down, cheering us up, inspiring us, consoling us and emptying ourselves of disturbing distractions”. I don’t know what it means to miniaturize our censor, but I know when I do this practice I start the day with a pretty clear mind. I tend to write out my concerns, frustrations and roadblocks, let them go, and address my ambitions for the day (or life). Since my handwriting can’t keep up with my thoughts, I have to slow them down to process them. It’s a calming kind of brain dump that settles me and helps me articulate what I want, what my thought processes are, etc. I don’t ever re-read what I wrote—just cram it onto the page and let it go. I also never re-visit the writing, but start a clean, new page the next day. Usually, I maintain the creative pages practice for a week or two until I don’t feel the need for it anymore. I can always start it up again when I think it will be helpful.

3. Idea Books – I always have a couple of notebooks that I use for doodling, to save ephemera, write down quotes I find, jot down ideas that come to me, start post ideas. These notebooks can get messy but that’s ok—they’re just for me. Yours might be streamlined and ordered. Whatever works for you is fine, as long as you have a place to keep track of all your creative thoughts. Sometimes I forget great ideas I’ve had or forget a quote I thought was amazing (life is distracting, you know) but when I thumb through my notebooks, those ideas come back to me. It’s energizing and gets my creative juices flowing again.

4. Design an Environment that Encourages Creativity – I move from the kitchen table to my work space upstairs because a change of scenery is nice, but when I really need to buckle down, I go upstairs. Even though I have to do my not creative 9-5 work up there, it is a creative space that reminds me of the things I like to do when I shut the 9-5 down for the night. It’s colorful and probably too busy for most people, but it feels good to me, so I do better work. I hang fun artwork, quotes that motivate me, pictures of people I love, and knick-knacks that make me smile. Sounds like a lot of office cubbies, doesn’t it? The point is, any work space should make you feel good. Maybe that is neutral and sparse, but hopefully nice. I am always boggled when I walk into somebody’s work space and it is a sensory deprivation chamber. I am highly suspicious of those people and wonder how they manage.

5. Engage in Creative Practices – Practice makes perfect—or at least makes you better at whatever you’re doing, but practice is also a lot of fun. If you’re a musician, you know that you’ve got to get past the hard stuff in order to make beautiful music. Then it feels great! As you engage in the creative practices you love, you improve or re-connect to your true self. I belong to a fantastic writers’ group to read other writers’ work and try to improve my own. I am hosting a crafting party with a friend to meet new people and try fun new techniques. These types of activities keep our creative juices flowing and keep us engaged in our creative interests and our creative lives.

6. Find Inspiration – I don’t think this is cliché. I do seek out lessons and inspiration from creative people and I love learning how other creative people live and work. I also really enjoy celebrating other creative women so I feature them here on Salt Lick Lessons in the relatively new Really Cool People series. I make no bones about the fact that they inspire me and that I would like to be more like them. It is so much fun to feature them so other people know about them too. Let me know if you know somebody I ought to include!

There are other things that matter like staying healthy, getting enough sleep, and being social. Try one thing you haven’t tried before like an Idea Book or Creative Pages and see how it helps you be a more creative person.

How do you practice living a creative life?

Shannon-Signature12

 

 

Shannon HeadshotShannon maintains her own blog with her daughter, Brittan. Called Salt Lick Lessons, the site provides fun and helpful resources, tools, stories and ideas of all kinds.

Helminthes*

With the light came the sound of the church bells.  The distant clang rose alongside the sun and the birds, like tiny, hungry angels, began to sing.

People came from miles around.  Wagons rolled in on wooden wheels pulled by sleek strong ponies.  Farmers laid down tools; hunters returned their guns to the brackets on their walls. Women in bonnets and girls in calico dresses stepped down from carriages in their patent leather shoes.  The ground trembled slightly with all of the excitement.

The sound of the bells continued.  Black and gray birds swept the sky, directing attention to the white church steeple; confetting the air with joyous wings and open throats.

We sat under the cherry trees and watched.  We wondered why they came all clean and dressed.  We wondered where these traditions started.  But then we smiled.  We knew that it didn’t matter.  

Bodies are bodies made of skin and bone; made of water and waste.  Made of carbon and hydrogen and chlorine and delicious sodium.  Living things are chemicals that react and nothing more.

In fact, if we screw up our eyes, we can almost see each person as a blur of moving molecules.  Their forms held tightly together by microscopic electrons that cling to one another.  We used to imagine a magnet so strong that it would sever the electric charge.  It would satisfy the covalent bonds and those once firm bodies would crumble and spill across the floor in a million marble shaped atoms.  

Then, just by moving the magnet, we could recombine those pieces into a new species; a strange, dynamic animal that was stronger.  Perhaps it would be made of all bone and less vulnerable skin.  Instead of dying so easily, life could renew and fanciful ideas of heaven would not be needed.  

So, instead of condemning the people, we actually pondered their possibilities.  We catalogued the way the available elements could be combined.  We considered the outcome of playing god but then we laughed and thought otherwise.  

The metallic clang of the bells soon disappeared into the infinite blue.  The day star blazed from its kingdom and we, my brothers and I, began to eat the white blossoms from the tree, aborting the future red cherries one perfect petal at a time.

The service must have begun for a calm settled over the valley.  The birds fell out of the sky back into the open fields and only the occasional swish of the horse’s tail could be heard.

As the flower petals began to break apart inside our bodies, the chemicals changed and reformed.  One life gives life to another.

Then I saw them near the corner of the church; all the new caskets lined up.  One by one, they rested against the walls the way saints might line up communion.  Similar to my brothers and I, those funeral boxes were just empty vessels, waiting to fill themselves with flesh.  We did wish, however, that they wouldn’t use those terrible things.  We wished they would just throw the bodies into the pre-dug holes and we would busy ourselves by taking what molecules we needed.  

But then again, it didn’t matter.  We laughed once more as we crept back down the trees and began to burrow into the ground.  We sang our songs as we wiggled our own bodies into the dirt.  Each of us telling the next, dust to dust, earth to earth. The cycle never ends.

(*parasitic worms)

Brandon headshotBrandon Paul owns notebooks. Lots of them. In every size. And in these notebooks, he writes. In 2014 he used these notebooks to write every day of his 38th year; in 2016 you’ll get to read this book. Stay tuned.

On Writing

I think you should know: I am a hypocrite and also I have had two glasses of wine.  These two are not closely related, but they are both things that are happening right now, so I thought you should know. This is a piece that will explain how the most important thing to do is to just write. To really sit your butt down and just get it done. This writing piece was scheduled to be complete two weeks ago. I have not, until now sat my butt done and done it. So that explains the hypocrisy; the pinot grigio explains itself.

In this piece of writing, I am going to convince you to let go of all your inhibitions and just write. I will convince you to disband all the myths about how academic and challenging writing is. I will convince you that you already have all the skills you need to start. Prepare yourself. You are about to be convinced.

People come at me with a lot of nay-saying about the possibility of their own writing:

What would I write?

Why would I write?

I wouldn’t know what to say.

I am no good.

What if I write and it is really bad and I die and someone reads it and thinks less of me?

These are all futile concerns. They aren’t getting you anywhere. (And you are a person that is going places.) They are not thoughts that fuel and drive you; they are roadblocks and should be treated accordingly. You need to overcome them. Swerve right around all these doubts. Entertain only the thoughts that move you forward as a person.

The way I would encourage you to think about writing is as a next level kind of speaking. Do you talk to people? Do you tell stories to people? Do you explain things? Congratulations, you have all the stuff of a writer. Just put it down. Start there. Certain classes, teachers, or experiences may make you believe that there is something special, a formula, a set of requirements. This is not true. You as an intelligent person have already spent hours upon hours retelling, shaping, analyzing the true stories of your life. Don’t let the nay-sayers take that from you. Don’t let them take or diminish what you already own: your own stories and knowledge. You have the power to write and you should start now. After you finish reading this. You are not entirely convinced yet, and this will be a total in irrevocable convincing.

What you will notice is you need to make a set of decisions about the things you are saying. This will perhaps feel overwhelming and difficult. Good. Get over it.  Writing things down will feel permanent, like you need to do it absolutely correct. That feeling is dumb. I would suggest not feeling it. This is like day one at the gym and it will burn, which is good because you are building muscle. Mind muscles. (I hate that phrase, I think it is stupid, but perhaps it will be helpful not only to you but also to the meatheads who are reading this.) What is most important is that you get in that gym and start. Day one hundred of this, where you start feeling strong, is what you are aiming for, but you can’t get to day one hundred without day one.

You probably learned about writing in school. This was a bad idea, but I am not going to hold you responsible for that. Nothing against English teachers, I am in fact one of them. These writing experiences often fog the actual beauty of writing. They prioritize correctness and knowing, when they should value discovery and thought, questioning and wondering. School assignments seldom inspire the thrill of creation: sometimes after writing a piece I feel like a god, muscles dripping sunlight, standing over my new weird little being. It is the same buzz I get from solving a math problem. This is what we hunt; this is why we write. Because whether we feel like it is ready for someone else to read or whether we feel like it finally is well written enough to get off our mind and throw away, there is a sense of completion. You’ve done something, more accurately you’ve made something. As I complete this piece, I am more likely to experience a slight headache than to experience euphoria. No matter. What matters is I spent my time thinking deeply, creating, problem-solving, having fun in a game that I’m inventing as I go. Writing isn’t work; it is play and those who convinced you otherwise were wrong. I know I’m a hypocrite, but they are idiots.

Nic HeadshotNicholas Darlinton is an 8th grade reading and writing teacher. He also heads up the Scholastic Arts & Sciences writing contest in our area, making him the biggest Flying M-Inkling advocate for literacy.

4th Grade & Fiction & Flying M-Inklings

11157370_10206640868363199_2812322510871669922_o

When I was in 4th grade my friend Chad and I started writing books during recess. Chad was a more enthusiastic storyteller than me, so he took the lead and I helped fill in the details. I was the designer. While he wrote, read the stories to me, and asked for my input, I transferred the finished works into my much prettier handwriting, onto cut, folded, and stapled pages, with illustrations placed just so. There were thoughtfully spaced margins, covers drawn in colorful felt tip markers, title pages, and page numbers.

We wrote book after amazing book together. Mysteries, adventures, more mysteries, no romance, animal stories, and of course, more adventures, until Chad started getting teased for playing with girls. Then he moved away. And, of course, I quit filling in the details.

I haven’t written, or helped write, much fiction since. I don’t feel like there’s much of it in me.

To that point, what do I have in me as far as fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and memoir? What do any of us as writers have within us?

Our writers’ group, the Flying M-Inklings, is exploring that question with the writing exercises we do. Every Saturday when we’re together, we draw a prompt from a box, with great names like In the Belly of the Beast, The Argument, and Ways of Seeing, and we write to the assignment for a designated amount of time. We’ve described the space where we meet (the Flying M).  That was amazing because somebody described the place from the bathroom (they’re really crazy bathrooms).  Somebody else wrote from the point of view of the ghost of the person who originally owned the building when it was a garage. I wrote as a mouse who lives in the wall.  We’ve written a list of unrelated sentences about a character we might be writing about.  We’ve introduced a new character to our group by describing and explaining them, and we’ve shared an argument as an unbiased observer. One person wrote as an unwilling audience to a phone argument while in a bathroom stall.  Somebody else witnessed the argument after a fender bender when the car’s passenger innocently gave a peck on the cheek to her unsuspecting driver.

Sometimes we feel truly challenged by the exercises. Other times they’re a piece of cake (sorry about the cliché, Daisy). Regardless, it’s been fascinating to see what each of us does with the prompts and it’s uncanny how our unique voices come through. If the responses were put into a pile and we read them anonymously, we’d know who wrote them.

I know, for me, it’s been a productive and enjoyable exercise. I’m thinking about how to frame things more creatively, how to think about a character or a place, how to demonstrate an idea clearly without forcing a reader to bridge the gap–those types of things.

It’s a little bit like being with Chad in the 4th grade again. When I meet with my group to write, it’s like being with friends at recess. They’re more enthusiastic storytellers so they take the lead on their pieces and I help them fill in some details. We work on a blog together so we consider images and layouts. We are writing piece after amazing piece. Books, essays, blog posts, memoirs, poetry, and of course, more blog posts. If anybody’s teasing us, we don’t know about it or we’re not paying attention. Either way, we’re having a good time. Maybe if I stick with this group long enough, I’ll end up working on a book again!

Shannon HeadshotShannon maintains her own blog with her daughter, Brittan. Called Salt Lick Lessons, the site provides fun and helpful resources, tools, stories and ideas of all kinds.

The Starless

In what was assumed to be the terrible silence of space, the world searched for a source.  Using more than scientific equipment; using stories and heavenly signs, the world ‘found’ a creator.  It was not a man or a woman or some alien being, but an awareness; an invisible force that was said to rotate the globe and warm the lands.

Questions were asked and eventually an effort was made to explain how life began.  It was decided by some that something or someone must be responsible for the conception of a planet.  It had to be this voiceless unknown that gave pure mystery a grounding.  It gave speculation a plausible foundation and a believable beginning.

The presence that set the world in motion was realized by those select few individuals.  Some had ears that could hear what couldn’t be heard.  Some had eyes that could see what couldn’t be seen.  And they were, most of them, intelligent and well spoken.  They wrote and in their writings, convinced others of what they had experienced.  Visions were transcribed; dreams and feelings were all written out as simple facts and not as the insubstantial workings of the chemical minds that produced them.

And the words both confused and excited a population.  They were simple messages that worked their way into the ears of others.  They were risky ideas, but also intriguing and mysterious.  They made just enough sense that they must have been true.  The unexplained coincidences that people shared and the correlations they had with life must surely be a sign of god.

Hence, a religion was born.  A shared belief grew into being that sought to rule the world.  And as with any assemblage, a symbol was chosen to represent that belief.  Some physical representation had to be found that anyone would recognize.

A star, as you might imagine, worked well.  A five pointed design that was aesthetically pleasing and yet easy enough for one to draw.  Soon, everyone was wearing a star.  It was worn around necks and over wrists; tied to strands of hair and painted on eyelids and punched though the fat of cheeks and the lobes of ears.  The star became the sign that defined the individual.  It was the belief that from the intense and endless silence of space, an omniscient deity was watching them and waiting.  A terribly powerful god, it was told, gave favor to those who accepted the star as their own symbol and as their true identity.

And the stars were beautiful.  They shone like the heavens and the eyes of everyone who looked upon them glittered. Not only could a symbol carry a religious meaning but could also mark one’s place in society.  Soon the religious began carrying stars with them at all times.  They made sure their symbol decorated their home and their body in an effort to prove their belief.  And those who did not have stars were sought after in hopes of selling them a powerful belief along with an attractive star.

“Join us,” the ones with stars implored, “and believe.”

They stood on corners, waving their 5 pointed symbol to passersby.  They welcomed strangers into elaborate buildings so that they could share the secrets of the universe.  “Take a star,” they urged.  “Even if you don’t understand all of the mysteries and wonder of god, take this symbol upon your body and you will be blessed.  Never remove it for fear that those without stars will be cast out in to the silence of space.”

“We will be cast out?” the starless voices asked.  “Our bodies will be thrown into the expanse of the universe?

“No,” said the star marked.  “When you die, the essence of you, the feelings inside you will evaporate like water and drift out past the clouds, into the emptiness of space.”

“How can that be?” the starless asked the unfathomable question.

“Because prophets of old have foreseen the fate of those who do not believe.  Your essence will drift into emptiness and eventually into the fire of the sun and there you will be forever in agony.  Therefore, we urge you to wear the star!”

Some who feared this, wore the star.  Some who saw that power was obtainable, wore the star so that they could rise in rank and favor.  Some wore stars to retain their families and friends who gave no room in their lives to the starless.  And some wore it with pride, reaching out with all of their feelings toward the moon and the emptiness of space, in hopes of finding solace in the feeling of a god.  They, all of them, wanted to believe in the possibility of something greater than themselves.

As the words were carried across the globe, they were changed and modified.   Additions were made to the words until the star marked began to seek deeper answers.  To the profits and seers, they often asked out loud, “How can we be saved from death that rapidly approaches?  Will our god rescue us from the pain and finality of our own destruction?”

The ones who could see what can’t be seen and the ones who could hear what can’t be heard answered them without hesitation.  “If you wear the star, you will live forever.”

“Forever!” The star marked rejoiced, repeating the word that tasted too good in their mouths.

“However, your bodies of flesh and chemicals will indeed fail,” the words were quickly written.  “But if you are faithful and true, you may continue to live in prosperity and good health in yet another form.  Upon your passing, the essence of your being will escape like smoke and go on to live forever in a state of purity and glory, for those who embrace the star will certainly be saved.”

The star marked touched their stars that they wore around their necks and over their wrists.  They stroked the stars that were tied in their hair and punched through the fat of their cheek and the lobe of their ears and they smiled the smiles of the faithful.

And those who remained starless were looked upon as hopeless, vilified as evil and pushed toward the outskirts of society. They let others believe what they would and instead wondered at the vast expanse of space and questioned the true workings of the world.  They lived out their lives just as the star marked, but without either the fear of a vengeful god or the anticipation of a heaven that may or may not truly exist.

For to them, the idea of god was so incredible that it was nearly uncontainable.  For something that could do so much, a deity could be anything or it could be nothing.  The starless found that with only speculation as proof and stories labeled as truth, they could not buy a star.  With only imagination and the stir of chemical feelings in their starless chests, they simply could not purchase the idea of god.

Brandon headshotBrandon Paul owns notebooks. Lots of them. In every size. And in these notebooks, he writes. In 2014 he used these notebooks to write every day of his 38th year; in 2015 you’ll get to read this book. Stay tuned.

Books Were Made for Lovers

Is it just me or can you relate to this? Have you ever felt happiness well up in your chest when you find out that one of your favorite authors has a new book coming out? Do you ever feel like that or is it just me?

I can tell you that my chest fills with heartache. Not heart break, but heartache. Yes, joyous, bursting heartache! I can’t wait to rush out and find the beautiful book on a bookstore shelf and take the copy that sits in the very back, way behind the other copies. I want the one book that hasn’t been picked up by some ignorant person, flipped through and then set back on the shelf.

No, I want the unopened book. I want to be the reader that creases the spine. I want to leave my finger prints on the pages and let my eyes trail over the fresh words. I want to be connected to my writer’s thoughts.

It’s a private thing, you know, books and their readers. There almost nothing that compares to the relationship between a good book and the one who enjoys it. It’s almost intimate the way our eyes touch every word, drawing out the story line-by-line. Our hands curve and cradle it like it’s precious; our fingers turn every page in anticipation until the images grow in our mind’s eye and a different world appears before us.

Books were made for lovers, you know, but not for the monogamous. Sometimes they will satisfy you for a week or maybe a month but hardly forever. Some are so amazing that you can’t put them down and before you know it, morning has come, the book is finished and you are tired from a one night stand.

But great writers always leave us wanting more. We may move on to other authors, we’ll peruse short stories or magazine articles. We are hungry for another connection because good writing is addicting. Too soon, we find ourselves yearning for the next good story and that’s why I get so excited when one of my favorite authors publishes a new book. I look forward to the reconnection over a new adventure. I’m hungry for good writing.

So, if you aren’t reading any good books now, it should be your mission to find one. Don’t give up on your search for the next good read… I can promise it’s out there waiting for you.

And as a side note, if you ever get a chance to meet an author you’ve enjoyed, don’t pass it up. Tell them that their hard work is appreciated. Tell them that you’ve enjoyed their story and look forward to the next adventure.

Brandon1

Author Kate DiCamillo – The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane and many others.

Brandon2

Author Markus Zusak – The Book Thief and others

Brandon3

Author Audrey Niffenegger – The Time Traveler’s Wife and others

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brandon headshot

Brandon Paul owns notebooks. Lots of them. In every size. And in these notebooks, he writes. In 2014 he used these notebooks to write every day of his 38th year; in 2015 you’ll get to read this book. Stay tuned.