Election Blues and NaNoWriMo

Like the rest of the country, I am on edge, watching the votes filter in, worried about how close this election is. I’ve bounced from project to project to project in a house that supports that. No one here has batted an eyelash when I piled shelves, toilets, doors, and sinks in weird places. I’m de-1990-ing a couple of bathrooms to wait out the rising pandemic numbers and the vote count.

If we’re going to have to stay home and not be around anyone all winter, we might as well like the house. Or that’s my theory as I dive into things I have been annoyed by, but living with for years.

My computer is not cooperating with my IT know-how. I’m viewing it as a sign from the universe that writing should be delayed for a couple of hours. I decided to give my latest novel a push with NaNoWriMo, and I already had some written, so I think I can meet this goal. 🙂 (NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month. The goal is to write at least 50K words in November.)

For my US readers, hang in there, and don’t be divisive. We all have to still exist together at the end of this process.

Odin yielding to all of the snuggling.

Much love, Jessi (and Odin the German Shepherd)

Poetry: Closet Chair

For eleven months now, I’ve had PTSD, following a violent attack, and my panic attacks are not really going away. It’s not a pretty thing that people want to know about or discuss. We’d all really rather I were normal–whatever that word means.

I really like hiding away in my closet when anxiety creeps in. It’s the quietest place in the house, it’s not so bright there either, and I feel safe in the smaller space. I know it’s odd. Just try to explain your habit of freaking out in your closet next to the impractical shoes to someone you might want to date. It makes you really popular, in case you’re wondering. It’s more of a fifth date confession.

My boyfriend really sees who I am in this closet, the good and the bad. And recently he did a beautiful thing; he put a giant beanbag in there for me.

Closet Chair

The beanbag’s overstuffed and too big for its spot–

a chair for you and a bed for me.

Beige microfiber, in full fluff just below the lowest hanger racks.

It cradles my whole body, hugging me when no one else will.

It’s one of the nicest things anyone’s done for me.

You didn’t try to drag me into the light, puffy-eyed and sniffling,

where you could pretend this isn’t happening.

You didn’t impose a timeline on my recovery,

never treating my panic like it’s fleeting.

You pulled up a chair and invited me to be comfortable

while in pain.

Like a spouse settling into a hospital chair to wait out the night,

you settled in like you’d stay.

In the beanbag for two in my closet.

Poetry: Some People Are Worth Melting For

I gave the context for this poem in yesterday’s blog post.

Some People Are Worth Melting For

Little eyes are pouring salty waterfalls at us.

“Olaf can’t talk to me anymore!” she wails.

I didn’t know that she even cared about Olaf, or his battery-powered repertoire.

His prognosis is grim to her.

His vocal cords have cancer, and his remaining time is a few crossed-off calendar days.

I propose a thorough surgery to restore function.

He didn’t get this way from chainsmoking, and we can fix it.

She questions the consequences, the scarring, the methodology.

“There’s no seam near the button! Don’t you think this is a delicate procedure requiring laparoscopy?”

We hash out an entire exploratory surgical plan,

yet no one can turn off her lacrimal glands.

“Lilly? What else happened today?”

Her lip quivers. And I also perform heart surgery.

Indie Publishing: How to Handle Inappropriate Messages

So, you did it. You published a book! Congratulations! And your author photo is on your site, and you look professional, well-kempt, maybe a little hot.  Good for you!

At least, good for you, until some random person finds your photo on your author page or your website. And you’re new to this, so there are not 200 messages sitting in your author inbox. In fact, that guy who just messaged asking to be your significant other (maybe a little more crudely) might even hurt the response rate on your Facebook page if you ignore the message. *beats head into desk*

You have a few options. You can respond politely thanking people for their interest and then direct them to your latest publications. It’s a response and can be a form one that you copy into those messages. Maybe you’ll get some sales, too? I’ve got my fingers crossed for you. Maybe that’s the end of the weirdness.

You can also just not engage. You’re an author. You’re probably a recluse who wants minimal social interaction. Why on Earth would you invite conversation with a cretin? People know authors are not going to respond to messages promptly. We’re tempestuous and creative and introverted. But it might not be the best decision for your business.

So, you decide to send the information about your book to the weird person. And now you’ve gotten a dozen messages you weren’t looking for. Somehow you’re this guy’s poetess and angel and who knows what else. Why can’t he even spell your name correctly?! I’ve heard about women in my writing community who had actual stalkers who found their address, about people who created new profiles to get around bans, and about unsolicited pictures messaged to authors.

And you might be thinking, This isn’t Tinder! It’s my professional page. Why?! First, you can always respond to those pictures with a microscope emoji. Just sayin’. And second, all jokes aside, it’s a good idea to just ban people who look like they are headed in that direction before they get the chance to continue. You don’t have time for that, and chances are good that someone who can’t spell your name probably isn’t going to appreciate the word “phoneme” in the first chapter of your book.

The goal is to sell books. So, keep that in the front of your mind when navigating messages. If the harassing messages don’t stop, then make them stop. Ban the sender. You have writing and marketing to do. Don’t engage if it isn’t helping you reach the goal. Good luck, and I wish you an inbox with raves about your book and no misspelled compliments about your hair.

 

Indie Publishing: Book Dedications

Let’s talk book dedications. They are a little bit like tattoos. Once they are out in the universe, that one moment is there forever, for all to see. I didn’t realize what an issue this was until I was newly divorced, and many of my would-be suitors thought they’d order a copy of my debut novel–dedicated to my ex-husband. Oh, the hell I was given and the blushing that ensued. *facepalm* I thought, at least his name isn’t on your arm. You didn’t tattoo your wedding band on, Jessi, so there’s that.

I got more cautious on round two, dedicating to my kids. I’m always going to love my kids. No one will give me hell for that dedication. Phew. 

Round three: After my attack, I was diagnosed with PTSD. The people who held my hands during panic attacks and talked to me when I was at my most unstable got the dedication. Crabb and Alexander are friends who didn’t leave my side. Their faith in me was unshakable when I wasn’t sure I would ever be better than I was at that moment after my attack.

So, how do I pick which people get the dedication when I have been surrounded by a bounty? I start thinking about which people fit with which book’s themes. It’s not a gratitude list put into emphatic order. For me, it’s about which person fits into a slice of my life that belongs with the book.

Do I have to dedicate books from here on out to every friend and family member I’ve got, skipping men like they’re faithless and ephemeral? No. I don’t.

Would I dedicate a book to a significant other again? Absolutely. I’d do that all over again. Those people are already tattooed on me whether anyone can see it or not and whether they choose to stay in my life. I don’t care what anyone thinks about that. 

Dedications are my arm sleeves; they’ve got a hell of a story, too. And I won’t erase a single one, though I easily could hide any from future readers. I hope if you write your own, you write it like it’s in stone and in you. One author to another, I’ll admire your tattoo.

 

Poetry: 1 in 8

1 in 8 girls who witness domestic violence grow up to experience it.

I saw the tsunami coming for my daughter when I read that.

And I was desperate.

Those are not her stars!

I threw the tea leaves back.

Braced against the shore, I wrapped myself around her.

I drew a circle,

summoning generations of women who endured

punches, burns, neglect, and misplaced blame.

Men made us invisible shields for their egos,

and now we hold the line.

We inscribed “Never Again” on her soul

and shared our grimoire.

Darling, here’s what we bled to learn.

Here’s when to run.

 

**Author’s Note: I read the statistic in my first line in a book that changed the way I fought PTSD, The Body Keeps the Score. And that statistic made me desperate to change my life, to heal, and to be stronger than anything else that came for us. Now, I like to think about the strong phoenix women who are raising even stronger women as we show them that we come back more formidable than before.

Poetry: Odin

While I have been quite vocal about my struggle with PTSD following a break-in and attack, I haven’t mentioned one of the most surprising changes in my life since last October. I have fur children now. They came with the boyfriend, and I was not at all sure about having dogs. I’m almost certainly destined to be a cat lady. I have a library. I like cardigans. I know how to knit. I’m their kind!

IMG_20200821_090701835But Odin, this giant German Shepherd who’s almost my height when he jumps up, began guarding me when he met me. I didn’t know that’s what he was doing, but he laid in front of the doors of the rooms I was in. And then he laid in front of the spots I sat down in. And he slept on my side of the room between me and the door. All of that was enough to endear him to me, whether or not I ever showed affection like normal dog people. You know who you are, baby-talking, pet-cuddling dog lovers.

My significant other knew I was a lost cause when he found me cuddled around Odin, using him for a giant pillow because he’d taken up post, guarding me again. What I didn’t know is that Odin had been alerting my boyfriend when I was having panic attacks. (I frequently hide away where I feel safe and where my children won’t see me falling apart.) And Odin nudges and yips at my boyfriend, shepherding him to where I am, when I have panic attacks. He’s not a medical dog. He’s not been trained. He’s just one smart, caring creature. And he’s making me feel safer and cared for, even though I was deeply skeptical. So, naturally, he got his own poem.

Odin

My reluctant, four-legged guardian watches over me,

my own foo dog at the steps of the temple.

He’s certain I’m terrible at protecting myself.

So, resigned,

he’s at my bedside,

then nosing me down the stairs,

shepherding me to the rest.

I can tell he thinks I don’t know how to belong to a pack.

And I didn’t ask for a guardian,

but I feel the weight of his judgment.

“Look, Odin, I only just had a pack choose me back.”

 

He chuffs, sure that my brain is broken,

because he doesn’t know about hearts.

But his presence is something I can bet on,

his waiting by the window is sure

…when I have gotten used to everyone leaving.

 

 

 

Poetry: Hyperacusis

I used to watch all of Marvel’s movies. They were a shut-up-and-take-my-money situation. And you could bet that I would read or watch most things involving super powers, mutations, or human evolution. I found it fascinating. I remember one show that depicted super hearing as part-super power, part-curse.

And I can confirm the part-curse bit. Since the break-in and attack last year, I can’t turn the world down. My therapists say it’s a PTSD symptom: hypervigilance, hyperacusis. And sometimes it’s hell. I don’t watch those movies anymore without my kids pleading to watch together, noise cancelling headphones, a drink in my hand, and subtitles. My kids pre-open their candy so that the plastic doesn’t crinkle next to me. We’ve all changed our lives in little ways to co-exist. I wear the headphones and run four miles a day, sometimes sequestering myself when the day has been a bit too loud. They tone it down when I cringe at something like cabinets closing in the kitchen. Today’s poem details living with this super-curse.

Hyperacusis

I think someone is hitting our counter.

And I ask you to check downstairs.

And I’m so sure I’m right.

I argue until you show me…

that the sound only happens when the dog breathes out.

 

YouTubers blaring that we should “smash that button”

make me want to smash my eardrums.

I can’t think around it.

 

I flinch when you hammer a stud into place.

And I’m back against a door with it splintering around me,

buying my family more time.

 

So, you find me now before you hammer, drill, nail, sew,

decibel warnings far below the prescribed level litter our days.

You hand me noise cancelling headphones

like a life ring for the drowning.

 

And I hold on.

 

I ask you each time, “Will it ever get better?”

And you always say yes.

I don’t care if it’s truth or a lie

or only what you believe.

It’s enough.

Poetry: Challenge Accepted

One of my friends recently quipped that I’d have to go back to some of my hellish previous circumstances to keep writing beautiful poetry. (Of course, I said, “Hell no. I’ll just keep writing novels.”) And then he suggested that I stop writing poetry if I started writing about lint. Well, you know, my brain wouldn’t let it go. And I was sure I could make even lint interesting. 😀 Here’s the product of that brief poetry exercise. And I don’t think it’s my best work, but I was constrained to the topic of lint.

Zoom In

Nothing is the same

now that you’re here.

Even my lint screen yields tiny clues.

Darker than before.

More sand. More dust.

And dog hair–Sighs–

Layers of dog hair.

And it’s cleaned more often,

you know, before it’s a fire hazard.

If you change something so small as a lint screen,

I wonder what the rest of the world sees.

Hell and High Water: A Second Glance

One of the things I like about offering previews of poems is getting to provide a bit of context where I wouldn’t otherwise get more than the lines on the page. “Noel” is a poem that is made richer with context.

If you’ve never dated an author, you might be lucky. Authors spend a lot of time in their own heads. And when I am in a relationship, I can see the possible futures branching in all directions, detailed like novel plots. I’m not clairvoyant; they won’t play out exactly like I imagine. (Boy, could I have saved myself some trouble if all of my imaginings were accurate!) But they feel real to me. And many of them are futures I might work toward, fulfilling my own prophecies.

I dreamt after a particularly heart-wrenching breakup that I had a new child who faded from existence in front of me. I dreamt “Noel”. And that dandelion ghost still sticks with me.

Noel

My darling boy with dimples pitting either side of your crescent-chasm grin,

espresso eyes alight with mischief.

My sensitive nerves, the coiled springs under my skin, fill you,

and your hair hints at the overwhelm,

wild in all directions.

You release my hand after your too-short legs clear the Goliath stairs.

You run full tilt at your dad

who wears your grin

and waits with open arms.

You run like he might change his mind

about another round of “Up-Up”.

 

And he has, my poor love.

He unbelieves us.

You scatter before my eyes.

My so-solid boy.

Like you are made of dandelion seeds

and only my stubbornness shields you from an out-of-faith gale.

I fall to my knees.

And you fade.

You were Noel because you were Christmas every day.