Thursday, February 25, 2010

Yours for the Taking: A Mini-Manifesto.


Welcome. You're here. You're alive. So now what'dya do? 
You go on, 
you allow yourself to make mistakes. 
You keep yourself from making some of the bigger ones. 
And you love as many people as you possibly can, 
for who they really are. 
You pull out all of the skeletons in the closet, 
and you keep as many from getting back in as possible. 
You find the deeper meaning, 
not just in life, 
but in others. 
You forgive as much as you possibly can, 
and be thankful that you didn't get hurt worse. 
Life isn't about being perfect, it's about being perfectly yourself. 
Letting all those around you see it, 
and revel in the glory of all that is around you
and in you. 
It's all there, 
and it's all yours for the taking.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

February Varitation: Fourth and Final

Well, folks, this is it. This is the last of my rebellious posts for this cold and cruel month. I hope you liked them, because I sure as heck got a kick out of writing them. I've been working on François since 2007, when I lived in that great swampy southern state. It was refreshing to plumb the depths of his character, even if it was only in these small little glimpses of his story.

I would dearly love to write up more little stories in the future, and I certainly plan on doing so. But not right now. Unfortunately, real life is getting in the way of my fun, so for March I will be sticking more closely to the assigned format of this blog, which I am sure Miss Lucy will be glad to hear.

Fear not, though, for when my freedom comes in April I will be right back to dredging up old characters and stories and breathing life back into them. Until then, dear reader, enjoy the last of François Boudreaux.

No. 4: Change

Despite what he thought, François was never truly alone in his swampy home. True, he had Marguerite and he adored her, but there is only so much company one can get from an alligator, especially a dead one.

No, François had other companions. He never saw them, but he knew when they were around. He had first heard them after he was shot and killed. When he woke up in his own bed, instead of the bank of the swamp or in the strange grey cavern, François could hear the whispered voices drifting down the hallway. He followed them to their source and discovered a part of his home that he had never seen before.

There, in the shadows of a bookcase, François made out the edge of a door frame, but just the edge. The rest, if there was any, disappeared into what François was sure was an outside wall. He certainly hadn’t noticed it before he died, and he suspected he was insane when he had first heard the voices issuing from the phantom door jamb.

Although he would never admit to it, François had become somewhat lonely after being brought back to life nearly three hundred year ago. He secretly looked forward to the voices calling out to him. Sometimes they whispered strange spells to him, and other times they told him what was happening in the world beyond his sheltered home.

This particular day, the voices were shouting. There was a presence in the swamp, they told François, a presence that he should welcome. He hated to hear it, but they told him that the time had come for him to venture beyond the bayou and, they added, to stop being so lazy. When the voices had stopped, François went out and waited with Marguerite growling at his side.

François watched, amazed, as the mists parted. A boat was coming through the fog, his fog that he had conjured to keep people out. Still, he could do nothing but watch and hope that this wasn’t another ghost. He allowed himself a small groan thinking about the last time he had dealt with a spirit; he would rather die again than have anything more to do with ghosts.

The boat came closer as the fog cleared and François couldn’t be certain, but it seemed that the figure in the boat was holding aloft an umbrella. The sun broke through in dancing rays and lit upon the soft blue fabric of a small ruffled parasol. It was a woman sitting calmly in the stern of the boat, quite a startling contrast. The boat was battered and in need of fresh paint, but the woman sat like a queen on a bier. One pale arm rested on the rudder, the other held the parasol. François could just make out the hint of red lips smiling from underneath the shade it cast on her face. The boat bumped against the bank and the woman stepped lightly onto the shore.

“Monsieur Boudreaux, I’ve come a long ways to meet you.” Her voice was eerily calm, considering she was talking to a man in dry rotted clothes and who had a zombie alligator at his side.

François was wary, but he heeded the voices and silently commanded Marguerite not to eat the visitor.
“Who are you, and why are you trespassing in my swamp?”

“My name is Charlotte Foxtrot, and I have a proposition for you.”

Um, I guess I should say François is copyright to me. Be decent, don't steal.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Introverts Unite...Or Not

Happy Monday. Did you recharge over the weekend? If you did, how was it accomplished? Did you party with friends or hide out at home?

My weekends consist of time with the husband, dinner out, reading, watching movies, writing, and finally washing socks so my feet don’t freeze. Did you notice all of those are relatively solitary activities? It’s not that I dislike people. I like people. Well, I like 99% of people 99% of the time, but I am a shy introvert.

I dub myself misanthropic because it was the title applied to me by people who didn’t understand why I brought a book to all public appearances. I went through years when family, teachers, and coaches harangued me about my preference for solitude. “Socialize with my teammates,” they’d say after I’d already been on the softball field with those women for twelve hours. Literally. The last thing I wanted was to go back to a shared hotel room or out on the town. But I was kicked out of the door and was thoroughly miserable the entire time. It wasn’t because of the other people. It was because of me.

At first I blamed myself for the perceived defect. It was, after all, considered negative by many people. School graded us on participation, but I went an entire semester in a college class without speaking, which cost me half a letter grade. At my wedding, despite being ecstatic I was marrying the best man on Earth, I was terrified of so many people. I told the photographer to stop taking photos of me. On the wedding video you can see me balk when I walk into the reception and see so many faces. I never did the wedding speech though many people insisted I should. With these judgments and social snafus, naturally, I thought I was messed up. Some chip was missing in the design.

Only in the last few years have I accepted that being a shy introvert is a normal personality, one that doesn’t require shock therapy and celebrity telethons. I found a career in museum collections that lets me be alone for hours a day. I write, which is an introvert’s dream. My husband mercifully understands the anxiety attacks before social gatherings.

The internet lets us introverts find each other without fear of hives or hyperventilating. Shrinking Violet Promotions is a fantabulous blog that affirms Myers-Briggs “I” are not subhuman and destined for career failures. In fact, the featured authors are pretty kick-ass. I also love their Introvert’s Bill of Rights. I wanted to stand up and sing “Hallelujah,” but that would have attracted too much attention.

I met New York Times bestselling author Maggie Stiefvater at her book launch for Ballad. She was gregarious and captivated the crowd. I was shocked when she admitted she’s an introvert. She even did an interview with Shrinking Violet Promotions. We introverts have good company, if we decide to accept it.

Are you an introvert or extravert? Shy or outgoing? Whatever you are, embrace it. Don’t force yourself to change. You are magical the way you are.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Words: The Wound & Wonder.

 "No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world."
--Dead Poets Society.

There is a power in words, in how we use them, in how they are heard, and especially how they are interpreted. Sometimes words strike us in the exact time and way that we need to hear them. We take them to heart, internalize them, use them as a source of motivation or change. Words spur us on, help to shape us, make us think, and sometimes to even make us act.

We are not aware of the power of our own words. It is only in the past several years that I have begun to realize that sometimes what I say actually gets across to someone. Often, that moment occurs when I have said something to someone without ever expecting them to take them to pondering them in their heart. I don't often realize that what I say to someone can help them. So often I feel like I am unheard, that people don't listen to me, brush me off, or don't take me serioiusly. But then, then there are those rare sparks that happen when least expected.

My last semester of college was hell, (for more than one reason). I was struggling thru one of my classes in particular. Had it not been for three of my friends who were struggling with me, I doubt I would have handled it as well as I did. When the last day of the class came about, oddly enough on Cinco de Mayo, my three friends and I went out to celebrate our victory of survival. Over our margaritas and quesadillas we talked about how we made it thru one more semester as wannabe graphic designers. It was at this point in the conversation when my friend whom was sitting across the way from me remarked how she was loathing the very idea of taking the class. Then, she said, her encouraging smile emerging, "But I remembered what Lucy said. She said she was looking forward to it either, but that she was "going to keep an open mind about it." And that's when I decided to stop being so negative about it and keep an open mind. And you know what? It worked! We each said that were going to learn something from [our professor], and I did! All because I remembered what Lu said."

(A brief pause in my verboseness to point out that I had completely forgotten I had said anything of a sort. Needless to say I was struck dumb with the idea that someone had taken what I had said and put it to use for themselves.)

Ever since that outting I have been paying more and more attention to what I say, how I say it, and to whom I am saying it to. I have also been listening, (a very useful tool I have honed over the years), and seeing how other people use their words to impact others in a positive way. In retrospect, I can see how many times in the past I have said incredibly hurtful things to others because I wanted to hurt them and knew that I could wound them with my words, (I'm a Scorpio, what can I say?). So using my verbal power for good, not evil, is a much more complex and challenging endevor. One I am constantly learning more and more about.

Essentially, what this all boils down to is the cliche phrase that my algerba 1 teacher in high school would use relentlessly: "Say what you mean. Mean what you say."

Not as easy as it sounds, but nevertheless an honorable concept. I'm still learning to put those words into action on a daily basis. Still sometimes it is hard to just look at someone and tell them, "I love you", "Go away, you're pissing me off", or, even more hard, "I need your help". We're such a proud species, it's hard to say what we want when we want to say it. And yet, we continue to try. Sometimes, (often times), we fail. But everynow and then, we succeed without meaning to. Oh sure, there's plenty of negative consequences to saying and meaning, but, I'm going to keep an open mind about it. And I hope you will, too. :)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

February Variation: 3

No. 3: Storm Light

It was an oppressive heat; the kind that makes you want to lie down on the ground and give up, just die.

Someone had said that to François Boudreaux once before, many summers ago, when the heat was heavy in the air. She had been afraid of him, understandably. He was a real sight. Everything about François was lanky; his frame, his hair, his speech, even the mouldering clothes fell limp on his limbs. He sat completely still in a filthy lounge chair, draped across it like a rag doll.

The air was as still as François. The girl watched him nervously. She hadn’t meant to go that deep into the swamp, but the place was like a maze and she had become separated from her friends. Evening was only an hour away when she happened upon the dilapidated mansion. It sat on an island that was almost too small for it, like the swamp had been eating away at it for a long time.

She had asked him how to get out of the swamp to which he replied that she couldn’t, at least not until morning. He had told her it was dangerous at night. “Besides, chère, there is a storm coming.”

She was terribly afraid of him at that point, she thought he was crazy. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky for miles and miles. Her kayak was only a few feet away, resting on the bank; she could easily get to it. She stood and looked at the pale sky which had taken on a peculiar yellow hue. “Some heat, huh? Kinda makes you wanna lie down and die, huh?” She regretted her choice of words as soon as she had uttered them.

François chuckled softly and almost musically. “I’ve died once, chère, I don’t recommend it.”
She turned to run but found her kayak sinking into the murky waters. A cool breeze stirred the hanging moss as the clouds overhead swirled and darkened. She knew then that she wouldn’t be leaving the swamp.

“I’ve been calling this storm all day.” François was standing, leaning languidly against a rotting pillar of the porch. “It really is too hot. My poor Marguerite has had to stay under water for days and I’ve been lonely.”
In response, a throaty rumble sounded from the waters of the swamp and the air turned frigid.

François had all the time in the world to sit and look back on memories. The heat, this oppressive heat seemed to make them bubble to the surface of his mind. He smiled lazily. He knew what to do about the heat. As the storm clouds gathered he wondered if he could lure in another snack for his dear Marguerite.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Magic of the Stolen Quote

Family is in town, so I give you a Presidents' Day cop-out:
"I find that friendship is like wine. It is raw when new. When riped with age it is the true old man's restorative cordial."
-Thomas Jefferson
"Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other thing."
-Abraham Lincoln
"Life is certainly only worthwhile as it represents a struggle for worthy causes. There is no struggle in perfect security. I am quite certain that the human being could not continue to exist if he had perfect security."
-Dwight D. Eisenhower
"Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan 'Press on' has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race."
-Calvin Coolidge
"We have got but one life here.... It pays, no matter what comes after it, to try and do things, to accomplish things in this life, and not merely to have a soft and pleasant time."
-Theodore Roosevelt

Thursday, February 11, 2010

50 Ways to Spread the Love

1. Leave uplifting, encouraging comments on someone's blog/facebook/myspace.
2. Declare your love to the world via twitter .
3. Write a (cohesive) love nothing but song lyrics.
4. Give someone flowers randomly; Don't let them find out who they're from.
5. When getting your daily dose of java (i.e. coffee, not script), pay for the person behind you.
6. Wink.
7. Leave beer on someone's doorstep with a note from 'The Beer Fairy'.
8. Do cartwheels down the hallway of your place of worship.
9. Have a bubble blowing contest with a five-year-old.
10. High-five a senior citizen.
11. Laugh until the tears come.
12. Kiss your Lover in front of resturant window.
13. Dance in your car. No, really! Make sure other drivers can see you.
14. Bust out in your own rendition of "All You Need is Love". In public.
15. Propose to your best friend with a dandylion ring.
16. Have a picnic with a homeless person.
17. Go fly a kite. No, seriously!
18. Better yet: Teach someone to fly a kite.
19. Send a mass txt message out to all of your friends telling them how they are wonderful and worthy of great love.
20. Call your grandmother!
21. Donate something. Anything: time, money, clothes, food, books.
22. Pack a shoebox.
23. Make a time capsule for your children. Write them a letter about yourself.
24. Make a mixed cd of ridiculously sappy love songs.
25. Write your Mother/Father/Loved one a letter of gratitude.
26. Write a letter of forgiveness to someone who has hurt you deeply.
27. Have an old-school slumber party with your friends. (Dye each others hair, wear wild makeup, enact bad horror movies!)
28. Create your own destiny. In photoshop.
29. Practice the long lost art of a Thank-You Note.
30. Write a letter to someone you hate, telling them how much you love them.
31. Blow kisses to complete strangers.
32. Instead of emailing fowards, email real letters.
33. Create an 8.5x11 in kick-ass collage of positivity and hope. Leave it in the waiting room of a Doctor's Office.
34. Cut your hair, donate to Locks of Love.
35. Babysit for a new Mom. (She needs the nap!)
36. Visit & Share @:
37. Ride down the road. Pick out a house. Write down the address. Send them an anonymous postcard.
38. Write a love letter to the universe, stick it in a random library book.
39. Bake experimental cupcakes with your best friend.
40. Donate blood.
41. Take ridiculous pictures with your friends while interacting with public statues.
42. Make a large sign that reads, "THANK YOU". Leave it at a war memorial.
43. Plant flowers in someone else's empty flower pots.
44. Make a fort in your backyard. Invite friends. Tell scary stories at night with a flashlight.
45. Learn how to dance. Waltz/Ramba/Tango/Salsa/Swing. Perform in the food court of your local mall.
46. Smile.
47. Make a list of your oddities. Vow to nurture and love them.
48. Pick a friend. Make a list of as many positive adjectives you can think of about them. Deliver it anonymously.
49. Re-learn the joys of fingerpainting; re-teach your friends.
50. Name a star after someone whom you love & inspires you.

Magic Car Ride

Sometimes... if you time it just right... that long car ride to some-place-you-usually-dont-want-to-go can be magical.

have a nice drive ;)

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

February Variation: Take Two

Ah, winter, that sullen season; dark, dank, and depressing. But February offers a glimmer of hope with that bright jewel called Valentine’s Day. The mirth of spring finds foothold in the cold snow and winter loosens its grip on our spirits with the promise of love.
And you’ll find no more mention of it in my corner of this journal. Instead, I want to offer something a little darker, a life line to others of a more Lovecraftian frame of mind.

And why? Why would I taint the sparkly and wonderful writing that has come before in all the posts of this journal? Simple. This is how I make magic. I am a story teller. And this is my strange little tale to balance against the glow of Love’s holiday. After all, what is light without dark?

No. 2: The Elsewhere

The sound of water lapping at the shore stirred Françios from his sleep. He couldn’t recall the last time he had listened to the waves on the beach; but then he remembered that he hadn’t been on the beach in years. The memories of the summer days in Calais throbbed briefly in his mind and then began to fade as the lapping grew faint. The sound diminished until it was nothing more than what one might hear in a garden pond.

He slowly became aware of a growing cold, the kind of chill that hurts down inside the bones. He tried to move his arms, to shield himself from the gelid air, only to find that he was unable. Panic bubbled up inside his chest. He willed his limbs to move, silently begged them. His body was leaden and unresponsive. The panic and the cold began to mix deep down inside him.

Then he heard the last thing he ever expected; someone, or something, was laughing. However, it was not so much laughing at him, but rather for him. The laugh was almost childish, almost innocent.

“He is confused.” The small voice behind the laughter trickled down the air around him. “He doesn’t remember.”

All the while, he lay there, truly and indeed confused. For the first time since his waking up, he looked at his surroundings. He was in something like a great gray cavern, vast and utterly empty save for him and the haunting voice.

“He will remember.” This was a new voice; it was old, strong, and…matronly? This was a female voice, but not like any woman’s voice he had ever heard before. There was power behind that voice, and even though the panic threatened to tear him apart, he listened willingly to that voice.

“He a strange one, ‘dis pale man.” The powerful voice spoke and it seemed a thousand other voices whispered behind it. “We never had a one like him, foreign to our water and to our ways, yet unhesitatin’ to defend us from his own kind. We will keep him.”

The sound of lapping water returned and grew until he was sure he would be swallowed by the enormous wave that lurked just outside his field of vision. The roar of the tide nearly deafened him, or perhaps he was hearing his own heart beating desperately for escape. Just before the noise and the fear consumed him, he heard the laughing voice and the old woman sing together.

“Don’t be afraid, shè. You just returnin’ top side.”

It was always the same dream. Whenever François bothered to sleep, that dream always came to his thoughts to remind him why he was still here in this detestable swamp. François was about to break open another bottle of cheap wine when he heard the unmistakable sound of a large body scraping against the bank and dragging itself closer. He had to smile, despite himself. He walked onto his decaying porch and let out a soft, lilting chuckle. For a moment, he wondered what poor soul had stumbled into his swamp before meeting a sticky end.

“It’s just you and me, Marguerite, ma chère. Just you and François Boudreaux, and this whole swamp is ours.”

Monday, February 8, 2010

Retreats, Part II: The Half Day Sabbatical

Are you starting to wear down? Are you caught in the February doldrums, getting through the day on sugar buzzes from confectionary hearts and early Cadbury Eggs? Are you ready to garrote Punxsutawney Phil the Groundhog? I hope you aren’t. But if you are, I know how you feel.

In college I recharged by taking half day getaways. I drove to scenic outlooks and gazed over the mountains. I loafed in a town where no one knew me. I gave myself permission to stop doing and focus on being.

I never spent much money; those were the days when gas was a buck a gallon. I never went to the spots people said were ‘must sees’ or did the things that were ‘must dos.’ I did what I thought would soothe me. I followed my impulses, and I reconnected with my creativity.

I went to art museums and found paintings or photographs that touched me. I sat down, often on the floor, and just looked. I waited until I saw a story in the art. Then, I wrote it.

I sat alone in a crowded room and watched the people. I sat by a window and observed people scurrying to their classes, jobs, and dates. I lost myself in poetry.

The point was always to follow my gut to somewhere out of the ordinary. If you listen, yours will tell you where you need to go. (Listen to your gut, not your stomach. The latter usually led me to Krispy Kreme. Trust me, carb-induced bliss wears off half way through the dozen.)

Before the month is out, try to give yourself a Valentine’s Day gift of three hours when you are still. Include what brings you joy, whether it is singing, hiking, praying, or meditating. Take time to contemplate you, not your problems or obligations. Get away from dust bunnies, stacks of newspapers, beeping cell phones, blog readers, prattling commercials, or whatever else fills your precious moments of free time. Then, for a few minutes eliminate all “work,” even reading and writing. Picture this: “sabbatical” is linked etymologically to the one-year rest for fields prescribed in ancient Judea. For a few hours, let your hands lie fallow and your heart renew.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

February Variation

Happy February, dear reader! Hey, did you know that February comes from the Latin term februum which means "purification?"
Purification is a rather strong term, so let's just call it a new beginning.
I'm starting something new this go 'round, deviating a bit from the established path. But fear not! There is still magic at work, although it may be a stranger variety than what you are used to.

No. 1: In the Fog

The low grumbling of a far off beast made the man jump, salty sweat stinging his eyes. The bayou was dangerous even in the hot brightness of day, but at night… at night the place changed. Solid land melted away moments after it was traversed, leaving only cold, dead water. The bayou was a deadly deception after sundown.

And now, here in the middle of a muggy night, he was making his way back to the safety of hard earth. Wasn’t he? Surely this was the way he had come?

He was sweating madly now despite the coolness of the air. Coolness? While his skin burned with the effort of avoiding murky pools, his lungs pulled in harsh, stabbing breaths of rapidly cooling air. Yes, it was getting colder. His racing mind paused for a moment to consider the mechanics of this. How could humid, Louisiana summer air suddenly drop to wintry levels?

Like the morgue, he thought. The memory of visiting the parish morgue five years earlier was plucked from his mind; so vivid he was blinded, stumbling over the uneven ground.

When his head cleared, he lifted himself up and in the light of a fast waning moon saw the fog rolling across the waters. It moved swiftly outward from the inner recesses of the bayou, like it was being forced in front of something even colder, even more menacing.

Again there came the low rumbling noise, like a great beast lurked hidden just behind the white wall of fog. He ran, not knowing where he was running. All he knew was that he needed to put as much distance between him and the unseen guttural groan as was possible. The wall was in fast pursuit, and he scrambled madly for footing in the soft earth of the swamp.

He was just too slow.

The white blanket of the fog bank enveloped him, wrapped him in cool nothingness. It seemed to swallow everything, surroundings and noises both. His own heaving breaths came silently out of his throat. He whimpered on the verge of hysterics when his feet suddenly felt hard solid ground beneath them. He was out of the bayou and onto the packed dirt road that ran along side it.

He laughed and his tight shoulders sagged with relief. Stupid superstitions, he thought, I’ll ring Vergil’s neck for putting me up to this. But I saw it, I saw it.

The sound of a heavy body scraping against land stopped him mid-step. All around him the fog grew colder, denser, and began to reek of rotted meat. He was frozen in place, hardly daring to breathe. The throaty rumble of the hidden thing echoed around him, confusing him; he didn’t know where it was.

With only enough time to let out a strangled yelp he fell, leaving little swirls of vapor in his place. Heavy jaws clapped shut and the great weight of the beast pulled itself back into the bayou.

A lilting chuckle rippled the fading mists. “Ah, bonne fille.”

Monday, February 1, 2010

Retreats, Part I: The Snow Day

A foot of snow dumped on my hometown this weekend. For those not from the South, a foot of snow means “batten down the hatches and buy out the bread, that’s a shit load of snow!”

It wrecked my weekend plans. Until this morning’s treacherous drive to work, I hadn’t left the house since F

riday night. Normally, prolonged confinement makes me stir-crazy. (Picture the mayhem of Clue meets unemployed Dick in Fun with Dick and Jane.)

When stir-crazy, I think of things to do:

Make chili (but a wonderful friend did that)…

Shovel the walk (but a wonderful friend did that, too)…

Make snow angels (but I’m too annoyed at the white stuff)…

Enjoy winter sports (a new meaning to the Great Wall of Slush).

I decided it was time for a snow day retreat. I shut out the news and gloom and I didn’t make lists. I opened up the curtains, put on a pair of fuzzy socks, and crawled under a blanket with a cup of hot tea and a book. Instead of being snowed-in on my couch, I was romping through Sweden. And I wrote.

Having a good, old-fashioned, kid-like snow day with few responsibilities and lots of imagination seemed like magic. I felt like my fairy godmother had bippity-boppity-booed up a blizzard just for me. It made me think of what other ways I can create a magical retreat in my hometown.

What sorts of magic did you make during your snow days?