In 2005, Tiger carried me over the threshold of our first single family home. The rental was small, and at $2450 a month it didn’t leave much for furnishings. We picked up a couch at Ikea, I don’t even remember the name of the style, just that we couldn’t pronounce it.
A little more than a year later I had a stroke on that couch. A few months after that I began writing a novel in the same place. In February of 2007 I wrote “The End” propped up against the couch’s cushions. It became a favorite place of mine. The marshmallow-y blue pillows held my laptop perfectly. Eventually, my rabbit editor learned that treats came more readily when he joined me on the couch. I wrote in the mornings, usually with a warm but unattractive robe over my pjs and the rabbit by my side.
We moved. We moved again. We moved again and again. We took the couch with us. When we finally bought a house we splurged on grown-up furniture. It didn’t come from Ikea. It wasn’t nearly as comfortable as my blue couch. I wrote there, but I found myself back on the blue couch, now regulated to a rarely used room.
The cushions tore, but I was superstitious and kept the couch. Our last move came in the middle of my embrace of minimalism. I got rid of antique family photos, heirlooms, and art. I kept the couch. It went back into the most used room, and I went back to writing on it each morning. But one tear made another, and I knew the couch would fall into piece during the next move, one that would take it several states away.
What I saw when I looked past my laptop, most mornings for the last decade or so.
I posted it on craigslist, free to a good home, expecting no one would reply. I steeled myself to face facts, cheap couches don’t really last more than a decade. It needed to go to the dump. Instead last week a family came. They recently made America their home, traveling from the war-torn Middle East. They took a table and two chairs, a TV stand, an arm chair, and the blue couch. The torn cushions didn’t bother them, they were happy to cover it with a sheet. They thanked me for helping their family. I welcomed them to our country and wished them the best.
I miss that couch. Not going to lie, I was up at 5:41 this morning and knowing I didn’t have a blue couch with a rabbit sitting on the end made it harder to pull myself in front of the laptop. But the rabbit was there in the living room, happy to sit next to me on the newer, but still not-quite-comfortable, couch. I wrote, because couches aren’t magic, hard work is. But I’ll always smile when I think about the twelve books that came from ten years of good writing on that couch.
For almost eighty years someone left a bottle of cognac and three roses on Edgar Allan Poe’s grave each year on his birthday. The wonderfully Gothic and slightly spooky story is close to one he would write: a shadowy figure in black formal clothes commits a mysterious act on a dark winter’s night. When the tradition stopped in 2010 I admit that I briefly entertained thoughts of heading out to his grave in Baltimore. It wasn’t that far away, and I’d fallen deeply under Poe’s spell at the tender age of sixteen when I read Annabel Lee.
Edgar Allan Poe, madman, genius, poet
Unfortunately, the pull of my warm bed was too much for me to overcome, but a trip to the Edgar Allan Poe museum went a lot smoother. There are actually a number of Poe Museums scattered across the country, but I started with the formal sounding “Edgar Allan Poe Museum” in Richmond, VA. Housed in the oldest house in the state (built in 1740, almost six decades before Poe was born), it contains a strange collection of artifacts and memorabilia.
I was impressed by the Virginia Star quilt on Poe’s bed and the chair he sat in. While the first edition manuscripts and antiques books were impressive, seeing the furniture his family owned made him come alive to me. A lock of his hair and old photos felt haunting, as if the museum was trying to grasp at the life of the man with only a few precious things. His sister’s piano, his trunk, and a chart of his sad family history all felt like threads when I wanted a rich tapestry.
I’m obviously not alone in that desire. Outside the two historic buildings, a third more modern structure is devoted to modern artwork that depicts Poe and his work. The most disturbing offer was a portrait done in the artist’s blood. It wasn’t the media that bothered me, but the deplorable smell. Upstrais, in a small attic room painted in a similarly sanguine color images from his stories were displayed along with the modern diagnosis for the characters. Most were psychological, depression was common but there were physical aliments as well, The Fall of the House of Usher may have been a horrible curse, or perhaps it was Lupus disease.
Edgar relaxes against some vintage furniture inside the main building of the museum.
Jupiter enjoys a shady spot in the garden, but does not enjoy being photographed.
Two darling cats came and went freely, sitting on antiques and ignoring roped off areas. Named Pluto and Edgar the pair are part of a trio of black kittens found mysteriously inside the garden.
The end of the garden, a place to sit in the shade.
The garden is fairly perfect for that sort of thing. A small space with bricks and a tiered fountain bubbling, at the end a brick columned shrine to Poe holds his bust and vintage iron wrought seating. Poe himself had a black cat, as well as a tortoise shell cat who enjoyed riding on his shoulder.
It was facts like that, tiny humanizing things, that made the museum worth the trip for me. In South Carolina I learned about Poe’s brief military service, and listened to a tour guide swear that the real Annabel Lee was a local girl. In Philadelphia I toured the hotel hallway that inspired the Raven and heard about how he created the detective novel. But it wasn’t until Richmond that I found out about Poe as a person, with a dramatic dysfunctional family, lost loves, and a life outside of his work. I’m glad someone is working to preserve it.
The costume worn in the first Indiana Jones movie. New the garments cost a few hundred dollars, with their history people pay $25 just to look at them, drop them off at a charity shop and you might be able to write $10 off your taxes. What’s their value though?
Editing is hard work that leaves you slightly scattered making it difficult to come up with a blog post that stays on topic. Thus, here are the very random thoughts about worth, value, museums, and mermaids swirling in my head.
The exhibit started with the costume worn by Harrison Ford and then showed the famous Ark of the Covenant, before moving on to ancient necklaces, a series of stone carvings, and the first map. It was hard to tell the movie props from the actual artifacts. I started by wondering what was real, and then immediately wondered why it mattered. Does the experience an item provides make it valuable?
While the exhibit was meant to showcase actual archaeologists and explain their work, most attendees clustered around the props, costumes, and movie memorabilia. Are those items not as much of a representation of our culture as the real things kept under glass? Popularity certainly didn’t seem to be related to the archaeological value of the item on display. Winding my way around the exhibit I found ample room by the ancient pot shards and antique photos of actual digs but barely enough space to breathe next to the crystal alien skull props. Does popularity define value?
One exhibit box showed an ancient shell necklace and a modern diamond engagement ring, explaining that the two are roughly equivalent. Both are items that were/are considered precious by their culture but are actually easily obtainable. Diamonds are a common stone; their scarcity is a marketing device. Shell necklaces impressed ancient people without the means to travel to the ocean, but today they’re tourist trinkets. Yet somehow, both diamonds and shells were used to signify relationships. Does the value of a thing reflect the value of what it represents?
One of my editors told me to work on world building, to tell more about how the mermaids live, how their world works, if people know about them, and so on. But while the main character is a mermaid, she doesn’t want to be. She deliberately shuns mermaid culture, choosing to learn about biology, history, and life on dry land instead. For her the value of any mermaid item would be less than the value of any human item. Regardless of representation or popularity, individual beliefs about an item change its value…but only for the individual. I don’t like diamonds, but that doesn’t mean they’re worthless. Museum goers would rather read about special effects than the rosette stone, but the stone is still extremely important. So maybe usefulness determines value?
When I moved I gave up a lot of useful things. Decorative cupcake stands I loved but rarely used, more plates and dishes than most families needed, and a vintage sled un-ridden in years, all went to another home. While I still thought they were valuable, they didn’t have a place in my life anymore. The last year or two have been a season of shedding for me. I want more experiences and more time with the people I love, but I’m not keen on having more things. At the same time I want to be sure I’m keeping what matters. I wish I had an easy way to judge the value of a thing.
I decided to mark the turn of the century with an epic New Year’s Resolution. At midnight in 1999, I proclaimed I would run a marathon in the next year. I didn’t know how far a marathon was.
It’s 26.2 miles.
I still haven’t made it.
Running deceives a lot of people this time of year so if you made a running resolution, here’s most of the wisdom I’ve learned in 16 years and countless miles since then.
A runner is real when she takes her first step.
You can run on a treadmill, a track, a street, the beach, or in the woods. Don’t be ashamed of running or put it off until you reach some mythical size or shape. You don’t have to go fast or far, there’s no magic distance or speed that makes you a ‘runner’.
Back in January of 2000, I started running without a plan or any direction. I wish I had used the Couch to 5K app. The program begins with a manageable walk/run program. Running portions start out around a minute, and a pleasant female voice tells you when to walk. It’s a great way to get started and in 8 weeks you’ll be ready to earn your first shiny medal.
Medals are important.
Not because they look good on your wall, but because achieving a goal is a great feeling. My first goal was the 2001 Walt Disney World Marathon. I didn’t train well, so I didn’t do well. I managed to finish a Half Marathon. That shiny medal makes me feel accomplished whenever I look at it. Pick a race and train for it, doesn’t matter if it’s a cheap road race or a fancy destination race, running toward something keeps you on track. I’ve become a fan of virtual races, where you run on your own and submit proof of your race (a snapshot of the treadmill’s display is enough) to get your medal mailed to you.
Find your motivation.
I love stories – on tv, radio, podcast, or book. I’ve turned that into my running motivation. I have TV shows I only watch on the treadmill that pull me back to the gym. My latest addiction is the Zombies, Run! App. In each 20 to 40 minute story I’m Runner 5, charged with running for supplies or to ensure the safety of Abel township – the only piece of humanity left after the zombie apocalypse. The running goes at my own pace and the story comes between my favorite playlist.
There will be setbacks and triumphs
I’ve had plantar fasciitis in both feet, a hip flexor sprain, and runner’s knee. My runner partner for 2001 Marathon was injury free until she fell and broke her arm heading to the starting line. Running can make you feel like an elephant, huge and plodding. But it can also make you feel like a tiger: powerful, graceful, and strong. Your runs won’t always be hard, some days they’ll be effortless. A few miles can give you a mythical ‘runner’s high’ where the endorphins in your body make you feel better than ever, then the next day a few steps will bring you to tears. If you’ve decided to start running stick with it on the bad days, push yourself through the tough times, because the best miles are the ones you haven’t run yet.
And everything else:
5k = 3.1 miles, 10k = 6.2, a half marathon is 13.1, a full marathon is 26.2. Vaseline is great for spots that rub. A little caffeine before you run can be a nice boost (I like Coca-cola, some people like coffee). Dress for the outdoor temperature minus 20 degrees. You should be cold when you start out. Drink lots of water. Don’t run on a full stomach. Run safe – tell someone where you’re going and when you’ll be back. When you pass someone say “Oh your left”, just like Captain America does.
A combination of holiday doldrums, editing stress, and my first cable subscription in years led me to re-new my acquaintance with stories I hadn’t watched in a few years. In between editing and unpacking boxes I plopped down on the couch to revisit old favorites, shows I once stopped everything to watch.
But a funny thing happened while I was away: the stories changed. Characters I loved started behaving in unbelievably strange ways. I expected things to get back to normal after an hour or two, but slowly I realized this was normal now. Strong female characters became emotionally crippled shells; decisive heroes became hesitant. Two shows embraced the same bizarre story-line where a villain raped the hero only to become pregnant and avoid all punishment.
I can imagine how it happened – in some boring conference room writers surrounded a table, fiddling with pens and rapidly cooling coffee. One of them looks up with excitement to exclaim ‘I’ve got it!’ and the world of characters and circumstance I found so watchable becomes a mess, the story so far away from what it had been that I don’t want to take part any more.
How far back would I have to go to fix the problem? How many paragraphs of dialog, how many scenes? I could change something subtle or maybe it needed a drastic push like cutting out a character completely or moving them all to someplace new. Picking a new path isn’t easy. Every decision I don’t like, every plot point that makes me cringe, is someone else’s favorite. From where I sit choices are regrets but to another person they’re a triumph, a story I should love.
It’s hard to know which perspective is right because often the out of control past writer is yourself. Great choices sour in the light of reality, things spiral out of control. You find yourself someplace you never expected to be or suddenly dealing with circumstances you never thought could happen. Don’t waste time lamenting how it should have gone. Move forward, try something new, don’t spend energy on the future that wasn’t. Work to make the story better and make a new ending for yourself.
Sometimes stories go the wrong way. It’s up to us to rewrite them. The story doesn’t have to be about your biggest mistake, it can be about your biggest victory – the way you turned a mistake into the best decision in your life.
I struggled to write this blog post, starting from scratch three times before I came up with an idea worth sharing. In the middle of those attempts a friend-I’ve-never-met dropped me a link about her Prime Minister to distract and inspire me. I didn’t understand all the humor/humour but I realized that moment, that interaction, was what I was struggling to capture.
I’m moving. Again. I swore the last move would be my last. I expected to settle down in my small, historic town and surround myself with friends. But my friends don’t live here. They live in Canada, the Northeast, the Northwest, Florida, and overseas. I’ve developed a collection of like minded, brilliant people who inhabit the globe. There are people I’ve known for years that I’ve never seen in person in New Zealand and Iceland, France and California. I could find someone to go to lunch with in great snowy plains of the Dakotas, the Midwest, or even Seattle but I struggle to do that in my own town.
I grew up with the idea that you make friends through volunteering or your job, but that never quite worked out. The people I volunteered with weren’t interested in getting together after the task was done. The civic groups I served didn’t check on me after my car accident or hospitalization. I couldn’t talk about the things they liked: football, church, or hunting. They didn’t understand the things I liked: running, fantasy novels, and comic book movies.
The people online did. The phone calls and emails, posts on Facebook and message boards provide me a constant sense of support and friendship. A new paradigm is emerging and the people around me don’t quite understand how it works. My relationships with people I’ve never met are more fulfilling than the ones with people I see every day. Dinner with someone I’ve only chatted with online turns into an evening with no pauses in the conversation, no struggling for topics, but the ten minutes before a meeting stretch on as I scramble for something to say. Thank all the gods for the weird weather we’ve been having.
So I’m moving to a city that’s served by three major airports with lots of chances to travel. Being in a small town, trying on that dream of buying a house and settling down was important, but it didn’t fit. I’m terrible at home maintenance, and a menace in the garden. I’ve killed countless seeds and plants learning that all those things I once dreamed about don’t really work for me. I’d rather be back in the city taking belly dance lessons than in a garden struggling to grow a tomato.
I’m ready to go back to the good and the bad, the crime, traffic, and high prices. I expect I’ll complain about them soon enough, but for now they seem like a small price to pay for the opportunity to go to Drag brunch or spend my Sunday at a museum. I’m going back to DC, purging all the things I acquired to fill my suburban home. You’ll find me at the Smithsonian Folk life festival, the Scottish games, the Romance Writers of America meetings, and every dance class I can fit in. And sometimes, you won’t find me at all, because I’ll be flying to meet those friends I haven’t ever seen. I know we’ll have a great time together.
Many people will tell you how to win at National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). They’ll quote best practices and articles, talking about support networks and plotting. All of that is very good advice. But I’m here to tell you that even if you don’t follow any of it, you can still ‘win’ at NaNoWriMo. And by winning I mean end up with a book contract.
The end of 2013 was a hard time for me. My father died, my mother had serious health issues, I was hospitalized, and my heater broke in the middle of a snowstorm. The NaNoWriMo deadline had long since passed, but I realized if I didn’t challenge myself to get writing my creativity would drown under all the stress. I needed a challenge, even though the next NaNoWriMo was months away.
Anti-Rule #1: NaNoWriMo happens when you make it.
If November is a bad time for you, start your novel today or any day. If you like the discussion boards and support of a writing team NaNoWriMo Camp starts in June and August. It brings the same support and fun as NaNoWriMo in November with none of the holiday obligations pressing down on you. A lot of the teachers in my life prefer NaNoWriMo Camp in June when school is out for the summer. I planned to start my personal NaNoWriMo challenge on 2/1/2014, but got excited and started writing on January 27.
Anti-Rule #2: You can start with something you’ve already worked on
After my life stabilized and the heat came back on, I realized I hadn’t written, really written, in months. Starting a new story felt too overwhelming so I grabbed a six-thousand word opening inspired by this image:
Photo from EPBOT.com one of the coolest blogs I know.
The story of a teenage mermaid fighting with her mother while tracking down a serial killer took off in my imagination. I saw the piece not just as a YA mystery, but as a platform for talking about feminine power. I repeatedly watched the mermaid scenes from Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides:
The mermaids there were exactly what I wanted – desirable, otherworldly, and deadly. Young women are often admonished against expressing their sexuality and told “good girls don’t do that sort of thing”. I wanted a character who struggled with her own powerful sexuality, who wanted to fit in but was constantly swayed by strong emotions the world didn’t expect her to have.
Her name is Danika. Her friends called her Danny, and for my private NaNoWriMo I thought about her every day. I challenged myself to two thousand words a day for each of February’s twenty-eight days.
Anti-rule #3 Finish your novel when it’s done.
I kept writing through March and into the first weeks of April. (Danny first appeared on the blog in April.) It turned out that I wanted to write more than the NaNoWriMo prescribed 50K words. I wrote about Key West disguised as Danny’s beach-side town Playa Linda. My Aunt’s house on Stock Island became Danny’s house. My favorite high school books became her favorites. I filled that manuscript with a thousand sunny details of life in a tropical town while the cold winter months passed away.
Anti-rule #4 Edit whenever you want!
NaNoWriMo focuses on getting the words on the page, so the rules tell you not to edit as you go. That means leaving something in place that doesn’t work and trying to write around that mistake. For me, it became too confusing to write chapter 10 based on what I wanted chapter 8 to be instead of what it was. I’d rather go back and rename a character than keep a list of things to correct when I’m done. I enjoy re-reading my work on Sunday night, planning out what scenes I’ll write for the week and making little changes. I don’t want to give up that ritual.
Anti-rule #5 Don’t stop when the manuscript is finished
People joke that NaNoWriMo should be followed by National Novel Editing Month, and I agree. When I finished the Mermaid manuscript I let it rest for a month before doing a first edit. Then it was sent it for a beta read. That caused another round of edits, which were followed by two rounds of paid edits, one with a college student for YA voice and one with the amazing editors at Quail School Media. Finally it felt polished enough to send out to editors.
Bonus Conflicting Anti-rules –
Don’t leave your manuscript in a box.
Start something else!
While the editors were reading The Mermaid and the Murders (the current working title) I started another manuscript. More than a year after my personal NaNoWriMo finished, the Mermaid and the Murders was out on submission and I did my best to forget about it.
Months passed and I never managed to put the story out of my mind. So this November, I threw in my hat for the real NaNoWriMo focusing on a a cozy mystery about a group of quilters who dabble in magic spells on the side. As my story reached 10,000 words, I got news that meant I would need to bend those NaNoWriMo rules again.
My mermaid book, that rule-breaking not-really- NaNoWriMo manuscript got a contract. Right in the middle of the real NaNoWriMo I recieved my editorial letter. I’m excited to dive back into the world of mermaids and I’m happy that my (personal, not at the right time) NaNoWriMo was a success. If you’re participating right now, I hope you succeed. If you’re not participating, remember that any month can be NaNoWriMo or, if you don’t write, any month can be the one you accomplish your goal.
Happy Pagan New Year! Among Wiccans and Pagans the year ends at Harvest (Samhain) and enters a period of rest and restoration. The dark winter months are for sleeping, getting stronger, and boosting the ties between family and friends.
I’m not completely Pagan. I grew up mixed. Dad told stories from every Pagan God he knew, while Mom dutifully took us to an Irish Catholic Church each Sunday. Neither religion stuck very hard, but Halloween-time always feels like a giant end-of-the-year bash. That’s why my blog gets a new look each November – the New Year means a new format, new colors. And, of course, I make a few resolutions:
Edit less, write more
Last year I published my first novel. I never expected there to be so much editing. Rounds and rounds of edits, each perfecting the story just a tiny bit more. Editing is largely a process of subtracting for me, taking away overused words (apparently I’m addicted to ‘just’) and removing stray ideas that don’t really contribute to the plot. I tend to think of editing as the opposite of writing, an act of ‘uncreating’. It makes my work better so I would never want to stop editing all together, but once you start looking for things to get rid of you find more and more of them. Last year was the first year since I began writing in 2006 that I didn’t complete a new manuscript. I edited several. This year I’m looking to balance my editing with creating.
My blog schedule evolved from ‘when I think of things’ to ‘worry about it twice a month, get it done whenever’ to the lovely 1st and 15th schedule I put in place in 2014. I don’t always hit the exact date (spoiler alert: I’m writing this on the 2nd), but having a fixed time on the calendar helps me plan for better posts. I toyed with the idea of going to a 1st, 10th, and 20th schedule, but I don’t want to fix something that isn’t broken. Instead, I’m going to add a third blog post around the 20th of the month.
Share what I read
That new monthly blog post will be about books. I read three books a week, but I tend to keep it to myself. Selfishly, I hope sharing what I read will bring me more recommendations and help me find new authors to love. Authors are warned never to give a bad review and be cautious about saying anything about anyone in the industry, so you’ll only hear about the books I like.
Play with new ideas more
Like the Queen of Wonderland sometimes I believe six impossible things before breakfast. A jumble of characters, scenes, and ideas rattles around my head but I stop them from getting out by worrying about the details. Will the story be interesting enough? What is the heroine going to do with her time? Where’s the bad guy? I’ve long lamented the 20,000 word mark, where good stories seem to die. All those 20,000 word pieces feel like a thing left unfinished, a black mark on my to-do list that can never be crossed off. This year I want to look at those pieces differently. I want to see them as an exploration, one that doesn’t have to result in 90,000 polished, published words. I write in two lengths: 600 word blog posts and 100,000 word novels. (The first draft of the sequel to Under a Blood Moon came in at 150,000 words.) I don’t know when writing became a one-or-the-other thing for me, and I don’t like it. I’m giving myself permission to write shorter, write weirder, write sweeter, etc. etc. etc. Play with the ideas and see where they go, instead of locking them away because they might not work.
I have a lot of great plans for the next year. I’ve started a new contract with Wild Rose Press (more on that when it’s official) and there’s a long list of fun writing projects that need attention. A second not-much-shorter list of life projects needs attention too. As we say goodbye to the bright autumn sunlight and prepare for the long, dark days of winter I’m excited about the things ahead. I hope you are too. From my hearth to yours, best wishes and bright blessings for the New Year.
The Jefferson Hotel opened on Halloween night in 1895. With towering marble columns decorated with intricate fruit and a alligator pond by reception, the posh hotel was anything but typical. From the gentleman’s lounge and smoking room, to the soaring ceilings and stained glass every detail of the property spoke of Victorian splendor. I was lucky enough to spend a romantic weekend at the recently restored Jefferson, a weekend that quickly became a research road trip.
After a recent renovation the historic property replaced the live alligator pond with marble alligator statues.
If you ask the front desk staff or the concierge they’ll tell you there are no ghosts at the Jefferson. Oddly they all use the same phrase “Isn’t it a shame? Ghosts would be fun.” The repetition seemed forced and when I caught a younger employee on break I learned why. Employees are strictly prohibited from speaking about the ghosts, which can cause a problem for guests.
Six years after the hotel opened bad wiring lead to a fire that nearly consumed the building. While the press reported no fatalities, ghost stories from the sixth floor seem to indicate otherwise. Or perhaps the ghosts come from the March 1944 fire which claimed six lives? In either case, guests report footsteps running up and down the halls, the sound of childish laughter, and televisions that turn themselves on and off in the middle of the night. The staff member I talked to experienced all of these things, each accompanied by the acrid smell of smoke.
The Grand Ballroom hosted hundreds of parties and cotillions. It remains a popular wedding location in the modern era. Apparently one party guest refuses to leave. A security guard described the specter as a tall, thin woman wearing her hair up and a dress with a full skirt. The uninvited guest appears in the early morning hours. She can be seen clearly in the mirrors on the far side of the room, but disappears when the guard walks to where she would be standing.
The Grand Ballroom’s mirrors, no ghost lurking in this photo. (That I can see.)
There was one ghost story that the employee I spoke to refused to support. A famous comedienne recently claimed to see the ghost of a female slave in one of the hotels guest rooms. The employee pointed out that the hotel was built long after the end of the civil war, so clearly that ghost isn’t real. I’d love to agree, but it seems equally likely that a modern woman wouldn’t know the difference between the dress of a slave and the clothes worn by a African American woman at the turn of the century.
The staircase said to inspire the famous staircase scene in Gone with the Wind.
With its hand carved fire places, fine leather furniture, and gold leaf accents the splendor of another era remains at the Jefferson. It’s hard to say for certain what else has remained. As an author I can see a thousand ways to turn the Jefferson into a new version of the Overlook (the hotel from Stephen King’s The Shining). In fact, I outlined that story before my romantic weekend even ended.
As I type these words a gentle rain falls softly on the world outside my window, unlike the rain last night, that one tip-tapped on the roof until the middle of the morning. We haven’t had a good soaking rain yet, one fierce enough to get this Florida girl to open an umbrella, but there’s a hurricane on the way, so it’s coming. The anticipation is hard for me, the anxiety, the questions no one answer, and the powerful reminder that human beings are not as powerful as we imagine.
Hurricane Joaquin, photo from NBC News at http://tinyurl.com/pjko3c2
I’ve lost track of how many hurricanes I’ve survived. I remember the bad ones. Frances hit just before DragonCon, causing the most surreal sixteen hour drive of my life. Andrew ripped away houses leaving brown scars you could see from the highway no matter how fast you went. Charley chewed through roofs and every other house wore a blue tarp for months. Erin arrived the day a surgeon removed my wisdom teeth. With limited water and no electric, I developed an infection and passed the storm hallucinating with fever.
Despite the hardships, I’ve always appreciated the raw power of the storm, the beauty of it. My father and I would head to the beach after the all clear, searching for treasure churned up by the waves, watching the wind rip the foam off the surf. One our way home we’d stop and help people. One year I helped my favorite pizza joint take down the heavy plywood that kept their windows safe. Before the storm came we helped neighbors batten down the hatches (literally) and put away possible projectiles like lawn furniture and ornaments. After it hit, folks with generators run extensions cords to refrigerators down the block, and people smart enough to have a gas water heater offer hot showers. Communities can come together in a magical way after a hurricane.
Hurricane preparations always make me rearrange my priorities. Mentally packing my ‘go box’, a five gallon plastic bin I’d grab in the event of evacuation, makes me realize what matters. None of my clothes are important enough, nothing from the kitchen except food. The electronics only matter because of the things on them – family photos, manuscripts, scanned copies of documents we’d need to file insurance claims. The jewelry maybe, especially the few things I’ve inherited, but if it meant getting out in time or being trapped I’d leave it behind. I’d pack my quilts if there was room but even my prized 1938 sewing machine could be replaced. Hurricanes remind us what matters most.
Someday I’d like to write a story about a hurricane, stealing pieces from my childhood like the way we went outside to play as the calm eye of the storm passed over us or the chemical smell of rainwater purified with exactly eight drops of bleach in each gallon. At age four I struggled to count the drops exactly, at fourteen I poured the much more dangerous lamp oil with confidence. Now I’m the one searching for batteries and picking out canned food, closely watching the forecast to see where it will land. It’s hard, but not impossible. Once you’ve lived through a storm, it becomes a part of you, especially the bad ones. You realize you have it in you to survive, to help others when the sky is falling, and move forward when the storm passes.