Update and Hard Questions

I’m still here. The move took a lot out of me, and I’ve had a hard time getting back into writing (“my own” writing, that is; I’m still writing for clients).

Today, I realized what the main problem was. There are issues I am passionate about, but I am not the best person to write about them, at least not now. Others are doing that work, and doing it well. The amount of research it takes me to write on certain topics is overwhelming, unless I’m ghostwriting and someone is providing the information I need. So I had to step back and focus on what I’m good at right now.

I asked myself some hard questions: What am I both passionate AND fairly knowledgeable about? What unique experiences have I had that would make me a good person to write about certain topics? How can I learn more and make myself one of the BEST people to write about a topic? Who would want to read about this topic, and how can I make it even more interesting for them? And how can I combine some of my best topics in a new way?

I will probably write more on how I feel about this. Later. Right now, I have a number of “finished” pieces that need to be revised and either submitted somewhere or posted here. Client work keeps me busy, but I know I need to make time for my own work as well.

Have you recently learned something new about yourself as a writer? Or about your role in your chosen path in life?

Happy 2020, friends!

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Paint as a Badge

Things have been busy here, mostly because our family will be moving from Fort Myers to Tallahassee next week.

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Along with clients’ projects, I have several projects of my own I need to finish. But first, we need to get moved and settled! This has involved repainting some objects in our current rental home. Even though they’re just household objects, nothing special, I enjoyed it. I’d forgotten how much I loved having paint on my hands.

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I wear the paint on my hands like a badge.

Is it a childlike “I made something”? Giving imagination a body of my choosing, with skin and substance. It stands, glossy, gazing back at me.

Humans desire immortality, something that will continue after we’re gone, proclaiming, “I lived. I had substance. I made something.”

I stand at the sink and wash my hands of dust, the stuff that makes me mortal. The paint, which beckons to immortality, remains.

Anole

My ode to the lizards who share our world here in Florida. Contrary to popular belief, these lizards are neither chameleons or geckos; they are called anoles (ah-NO-lee). There are brown and green anoles, but the brown ones are more common.

For more information about sensory issues, click here. There is a lot available online, but unfortunately most is about children.

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Anole

The brown anole clings to the sill, rigid as a sentry in his dusty armor. Neck straight, tangerine fan quivering beneath.

My pulse stops racing as I watch. I shed a layer of tension with each breath. The anxiety builds up so easily now: The twitching when someone chomps gum or talks around a mouthful of food. The turbulence in my skin. Clothing that becomes suddenly restrictive. The fight or flight from enveloping chatter.

I thought I was antisocial, bad-tempered, and difficult. But now I know it has a name, this thing which makes me shrink from the smells, from the slap-slap of flip-flops hurrying nearer, from impending sensory overload.

Some days, I can take a lot; others, very little. Today, the breathing, chomping, and nearness of strangers pushes me over the edge.

The shop gets smaller; I escape to the heat and humidity. I let myself merge with the balmy air, my limbs shaking and tingling as the adrenaline drains away.

A lizard basks on the handrail. Like me, inviting the elements. Though I keep a respectful distance, I feel her dry, papery skin on my fingertips, vitality coursing underneath. Still as the world bustles around her, she will effortlessly leap and dart away at the first sign of danger to find a new place of peace.

My daughter says the little one on the lanai at home is named Sofia. Sofia has parents, a baby sister, and a teacher. A lizard dentist and firefighter live there too. We talk to them, and I believe they understand.

She says Angel, a magical lizard with wings, lives in a palace. I long to hear her story and beg her to share some of her magic with me.

“Greener” in Times of the Islands

Great news! My short story, “Greener,” was published in Times of the Islands, a local publication I’d been wanting to work with. You can read my story in the first link, and you can learn about all of TOTI Media’s other publications at the second link (my story is in the current edition of some of those too).

https://toti.timesoftheislands.com/dm/2019/may-jun#page/50

https://www.totimedia.com/

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Titans of Florida

Thank you for your patience. Among other projects (my own and for clients), I’ve been working on a series of essays about birds—some long, some short. I want to send most of them to magazines for publication, and I’ll post others here as well.

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Titans of Florida

“The scariest predators here aren’t the alligators—it’s the birds,” says the guide in Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, gesturing toward a great egret standing in the shallows.

The bird’s gaze penetrates the water, and its long white neck undulates from side to side as the muscles coil. The head darts down and emerges with a seatrout skewered on the sharp, yellow bill. The bird tosses the fish into the air and swallows it whole, the lump inching down its quivering neck.

The guide explains that wading birds eat several fish per day, with the blue herons having a strike success rate of 70%. “Imagine what it would be like if they were bigger!” he says with a laugh. With a guttural croak, the egret spreads its wings and flies off.

The birds used to be bigger.

When the Isthmus of Panama formed at least 2.8 million years ago, connecting North and South America, eight-foot-tall, flightless “terror birds” marched north, probably following their prey (they may have come even before the land bridge was formed, via small islands). Titanis walleri settled in Florida, sharing its previously unchallenged position at the top of the food chain with wolves and saber-toothed cats.

Finding itself suddenly in shadow, a small mammal would have looked up to see a colossal form towering above it, with a long neck ending in a 20 inch skull with a massive hooked beak. Instinct would prompt the mammal to run, but to no avail—terror birds could run up to 30 or 40 miles per hour. The bird would strike, severing the animal’s spinal cord or crushing the brain stem, and feast on the paralyzed mammal.

No one knows for sure what led to the terror birds’ demise, but it probably involved a combination of several factors, including competition with other predators, habitat loss, and climate change.

The egret lands on a sandbar and looks around with a self-satisfied air, its rippling reflection stretched before it. To the fish and frogs, the terror bird lives on.

* Egret image courtesy of Skeeze on Pixabay.

Three Elections

I hope you all are having a great start of the year. I haven’t posted in a while. I have been working on a few research-heavy essays that I hope to finish soon. (One involved a heavy stack of books from the library.) I plan to publish at least one of them elsewhere, but I may post another here. For now, here is something I wrote on November 2nd, 2018.

Photo/map is courtesy of Grist: https://grist.org/article/we-broke-down-what-climate-change-will-do-region-by-region/

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Three Elections

Deadlines loom, but my attention and my mouse stray to Facebook, searching for event updates and political news. I fear going to bed on election night with the feeling that I didn’t do my part in preventing this cancer, this madness, from growing. I have scrolled past canvassing events, citing other commitments and activities with my daughter as an excuse, when the real reason is fear and the feeling that no one wants me showing up on their doorstep. Instead, I’ve spent weeks signing and posting petitions and sharing “Andrew Gillum for Governor” ads on Facebook.

Today is Friday, four days before the 2018 midterm election. I have just forwarded my signed nonpartisan agreement to be a poll monitor. Yesterday, I attended an online training and printed out the materials. I wait for the organizer to assign me a time and place. In the grand scheme of things, it is nothing.

I voted for Andrew Gillum in the primaries without expecting him to win. Everyone assumed Gwen Graham, a competent but non-progressive former congresswoman, would be the Democratic candidate. I was okay with that. But when Gillum surged ahead in the polls that night, I felt as if Bernie had beaten Hillary. Andrew Gillum, mayor of Tallahassee, had openly challenged the NRA and was fighting for universal health care.

His Republican opponent associates with racists, parades his wife and kids in Trump-toadying ads, and votes in ways that do not match his rhetoric. Having no platform of his own, he resorts to trash-talking Gillum and hoping Trump’s support will save him. Unfortunately, it may work.

Right now, they are pretty much tied.

Social media teems with support and hate for both. DeSantis supporters accuse Gillum of being a socialist and a thief. Commenters tell each other to take their meds, get their heads out of the sand (or another location), or go stuff themselves. Each side considers the other un-American. I rub my temples, heat up a third coffee, and attempt to write.

In five days, it will all be over. No more ads. No more signs. Fewer emails and requests for money. Who will win? Across the country, Republicans are suppressing votes. Will discrimination triumph? If the Democrats win, will hate crimes increase or decrease? Will the militias across the country start a civil war?

Two years ago, I went to bed believing that Hillary Clinton would win the 2016 presidential election. Because I was living in Prague, the votes would not all be in until morning, and there was no reason for me to stay up. At 4:00 a.m., after waking up from nightmares several times, I decided to turn on the computer.

It was after 10:00 p.m. back home in Florida, and the votes for the western states were still being counted. My stomach turned when I saw the map. Florida had gone red by a tiny margin. They had chosen hate, misogyny, and complete instability, if not insanity. I grew sicker by the minute as more results came in, adding more and more red to the map. When the awful truth became apparent, I composed a Facebook post in which I expressed my intention to wallow for a few days and then bury myself in my work, my books, and my family during the upcoming administration.

I did not stick to that resolution. How could I? News of hate crimes, broken international relations, and our new president’s general incompetence filled my news feed. Our nation needed all of us.

Eight years before that, I stifled a cheer as Barack Obama won the 2008 election. I had admired him as a Chicago senator and eagerly supported his campaign. Though many were disappointed in the results, I sensed an overall air of optimism. Some people who had voted for McCain still saw Obama’s win as a positive step forward for the country, especially in regards to race. If we have a Black president, racism must be over, right? Of course, this did not turn out to be the case.

Obama’s inauguration day was a ray of light in a dark period of my life. Though I later disagreed with many of his policies, for that moment, everything was right. Optimism about the future reigned.

In less than a month, I would be on a plane to Europe, and I would stay there for both of Obama’s terms.

Lilac Season

Thanksgiving is coming up, so it seems a fitting time to post this tribute to my grandmother.

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Lilac Season

I was worried the cold would kill them this year, but they’re blooming—light purple, white, pink, with a fragrance you can smell from across the street. Lilacs are a highlight of the year for me, not only because I love their smell and promise of warmer weather ahead, but because these lilacs remind me of the ones that grew behind my grandma’s house. I have never seen any others like them—one tree bore the usual light purple flowers, but the other two had dark purple and fuchsia. I used to clip a sprig of each color and stick them in a vase for the house.

My paternal grandmother’s name was Dorothy, but her co-workers at the justice building and the police department called her Dot. I can still see “DOT,” cross-stitched on plastic canvas in pink and white yarn. I have a mental image of her desk covered with cross-stitched accessories: the pen holder, tissue box cover, name plate. Cigarette ends stained with dark rose lipstick. Back home, her Siamese cat, Tai, who didn’t like anyone but Grandma. Chrysanthemums and peony bushes lining the driveway. The familiar smell as I entered her house from the garage. Tai’s blue eyes glowering at me from under the couch. The bay window crowded with plants. The 100-watt smile of Aunt Pauline, Grandma’s older sister, who had moved in with her.

Grandma didn’t like to cook. Instead, she took me to Arby’s on Monday evenings for dinner, and we would talk about school, friends, and whatever was going on in our lives. Thanksgiving dinner was an exception—then she went all out. Gradually, she allowed me to help and taught me how to make the deviled eggs and cranberry relish and to cut radishes into roses. After doing my part of the cooking, it was best for me to stay out of the way. One year, Grandma’s partner gave me a photo of his childhood farmhouse and asked me to do a pencil drawing of it for him. He later gave it back to me, framed, and I won a blue ribbon for it at the county fair.

I remember Grandma when I sew because she taught me how to make the finishing knots. “Hide a knot like it’s a secret,” she said. Besides sewing, she used to cross-stitch, knit, and crochet.

One day when I was fifteen, Grandma had an aneurism. She was in a coma for a couple of days, during which I visited her in the hospital, told her I loved her, and begged her to be okay. It didn’t help, and she passed away. It was a huge shock for me because she was only sixty-two years old and I never had a chance to say goodbye. For years after that, every time I got a migraine I was terrified of dying in the same way. As I grieved, I struggled to remember what she had told me about sad tears and happy tears before her own mother’s funeral.

Several years earlier, Grandma and Aunt Pauline had started a recipe box for me—a small plastic box full of index cards on which they wrote some family recipes, including the cranberry relish and deviled eggs. I continued to make the deviled eggs each year for Thanksgiving and other family gatherings, following the recipe by memory—or so I thought—and they became my specialty. Imagine my surprise when I reread Grandma’s recipe and discovered that my recipe had evolved over the years into something completely different from hers. And I felt extremely guilty for thinking that my own recipe was better.

I miss Grandma and wish I could talk to her. But now that it’s lilac season once again, I can smell the flowers and let all the memories flow through me, proving she’s still here and always will be.