Category Archives: Thinking it Through

Getting rid of the itch

First Campaigner Challenge

This first challenge was, well, challenging. The assignment was to write a short story (or flash fiction) of 200 words or less, beginning with the words, “Shadows crept across the wall.” To make it more interesting, we were to try to (a) make it 200 words exactly; (b) use the word “orange” in there somewhere; and (c) end with the words, “everything faded.”

I’m pretty sure my feeble attempt below doesn’t qualify as “fiction.” It does, however, qualify as “short,” coming in at exactly 200 words, which should make up for the lack of a title, which I don’t have because my brain is fuzzed.

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“Shadows crept across the wall…”

I hear naught (naught?) but my fingers drumming on the mouse pad. My muse must have drifted off.

“Shadows crept across the wall…tippy-toeing like little cartoon burglars…”

Cartoon burglars? Really?

“…stealing what little light remained within the…” Within the what? Within the courtyard? Gymnasium? Bathroom?

I know! A prison cell! A bunch of prisoners in orange jumpsuits… but not all of them in a prison cell, packed in like a bunch of college students in a phone booth. No….a prison exercise yard. It has walls, it’s outside, so there could, believably (maybe?) be shadows creeping across some walls. Without doing any extensive research, though, I can’t think why those shadows would be creeping across those particular walls…surely there are other, more important things for shadows to be creeping on.

Like, in a forest, dusk approaching, the air cooling, getting heavy with dew, settling silently on the forest floor as shadows creep in slowly, malevolently muffling the sound of footsteps…

Again, really?? Where’s the conflict? The subtext? The plot?

The point?

“…malevolently muffling the sound of footsteps behind me. I turn and come face-to-face with a prisoner in an orange jumpsuit.”

And, then…YES!

“…everything faded.”

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Wall Boinging does Not a “Plan” Make

I’ve been 60 years old for almost two weeks now, and I’m discovering that turning 60 is the equivalent to pulling up stakes and moving to another continent. I find myself in an unfamiliar culture with different goals and objectives…and different priorities. This move from one decade to another has, quite unexpectedly, brought confusion, disorientation…and a questioning as to how the heck I got here in the first place. Like Dorothy, I’ve come to after hitting my head on a birthday, and I find myself in the middle of Oz, but without Toto to administer a much-needed reality check by peeing on the yellow brick road.

In short, my comfortable complacency has taken a hike, am-scrayed, gone bye-bye. And with it, all sense of direction.

I’m ashamed to say that I’ve never been a goal setter, which is turning out to be somewhat problematic. For the first time in my life, I’m really feeling the absence of a “plan.” And, I haven’t the first clue on how to make one up. Even if I knew how to make up a “plan,” I’m not certain one “plan” would be enough in light of how many things I’d like to accomplish. Therefore, I find myself living haphazardly, to say the least, boinging off one wall or another, trying to decide how and where to invest my precious (but aging) resources. I’m at a crossroads, yes, but instead of having three directions from which to choose—left, right, or straight on—I’ve got a hundred, minimum. And there’s a road sign with an arrow pointing at every single one, saying “turn here.” None of those road signs sports a destination, either, like “write book – 15 miles.” They just say, “turn here.” And, I can’t stay where I am because I’ll get run over by somebody a lot smarter than me who does have a “plan.”

The irony is that one of the more positive aspects of getting older is finally having time to oneself (which I’ve written about here before, so this particular neurosis is not totally unexplored). But, I think it has finally sunk in, become more fact than fiction, that while I may have more opportunities for quality time, the quantity of time itself is diminishing. I feel a lot of pressure to use it wisely—and as a result, panic begins to bloom like adolescent acne.

And with the panic come the voices.

“You’re taking all this wayyy too seriously.”

And, “What’s the point…you won’t succeed anyway.”

Followed by, “Whadaya doing? You haven’t got time for all this thinking.”

But, the voice that does me in is the one that says, “You’re gonna neglect your hubby, and then your marriage’ll go straight to the south pole and you’ll grow old and die alone, and have nothing left to show for your life.”

Sheesh. And I thought my five-year-old grandson talked a lot!

If I’m totally honest with myself (and it does happen from time to time), I’d have to admit I should have seen this coming. I do know how to count, after all. I just didn’t think it would be so, well, real. Or so immediate. After all, it seems like it was just yesterday that I was 59.

And at 59, you think you have all the time in the world…

With Age Comes Honey West

Today is my birthday, and to celebrate, I’m going to do something I’ve never done before. I promised myself a few years back when I was younger–and not as panicked as I am now–that I would step out of my comfort zone at least once a year and try something classified under the heading of “daring-do stuff.” Sort of like a bucket list, only without the bucket, since I didn’t make a list limiting myself to specifics, like jumping out of airplanes (not in a million years) or climbing Mt. Everest (“because it’s there” is not a good enough excuse to climb something taller than a stepladder). It was just a simple promise to myself to broaden my experiences. Now, one would think that turning 60 would be dangerous enough to get me off the hook for 2012. It is, after all, something I’ve never done before (and won’t do again, a fact that I’m a bit ambivalent about, actually). And, it definitely gets me out of my comfort zone, as my 50’s were very comfortable indeed (I had, obviously, ten years to get used to them). But it doesn’t count because it’s not voluntary…I have no choice but to become 60, because that’s what comes after 59.

Therefore, for my one deliberate act of daring-do for 2012, tonight at 6:30, I am going to travel across town and boldly walk into a Gun Shop (I bet you thought I was going to say “strip club” but I’ve already done that). Before you snicker and tell yourself you could walk into a Gun Shop with one hand tied behind your back, please be advised that (and this is the daring-do part) not only am I going to walk into a Gun Shop, I’m going to actually pick up a gun and actually shoot it.

It all started when my husband walked in from work one day and said, “how’d you like to get your concealed handgun license?”

“Huh?” I eloquently replied.

“Your concealed handgun license,” he repeated, wide-eyed and expectant.

I thought about it for a minute, and let the import of the question sink in.

“Huh?”

I have to admit, I’m not sure I want to do this. It surprises me that I’m more hesitant about this than I was about climbing on a motorcycle twelve years ago, which could be because (a) twelve years ago I wasn’t as smart as I am now, or (b) my definition of “living life with gusto” has undergone a subtle, albeit definite, change, probably because of (a) above. Either excuse would give me license to back out, but I’m not going to do that. I’m going to keep my word to myself, boldly trudge forward, pick up a pistol, and, hopefully, avoid shooting my foot off.

To put this in its proper context for those of you who haven’t read my very short–but succinct–“About Me” page on this blog, I live in Texas. The land of cowboys, tumble weeds, Judge Roy Bean, and, yes, concealed handgun laws. To be honest, I haven’t given the issue of the right to carry a concealed weapon much thought. I’m a very trusting person (spelled n-a-i-v-e) who believes that everybody who carries a gun on their person, in secret, out of sight, unbeknownst to anybody else, has been thoroughly and properly vetted as a Pillar of Good Citizenship. Probably more to the point, though, since the issue is a pretty polarizing one down here, I’d just as soon stay on everybody’s good side, especially the good side of those who carry concealed handguns. In this case, ignorance is bliss.

Anyway, once my brain rebooted itself and I began to mull it over, it occurred to me that before I took to carrying one around in my purse (or strapped to my thigh, like Honey West), I’d have to know how to shoot one. I mean, isn’t that sort of a prerequisite?

Which brings me to the apex of my discomfort with the whole idea…if I learn how to shoot a gun, handle it safely, accept responsibility for it, I take the risk of becoming obligated to educate myself about the whole right-to-carry issue. I just might actually have to jump off the fence, form an opinion–an actual well-thought-out opinion–with facts to back it up. That gives me the willies just thinking about it.

On the upside, that gives me two daring-do’s for 2012, making 2013 a bye.

Home is Where the $ Is

My husband ducks every time he hears me say, “you know what we ought to do?” because he knows that “we” is the royal “we,” meaning, “you.”  The man’s not stupid, unfortunately.  After thirty years of marriage, I think he’s finally caught on…he no longer takes me with him when he picks up nuts, or bolts, or fertilizer (voluntarily, anyway), because I’ll want to look at bathroom vanities, or medicine cabinets, or countertops.  We’ve lived in our house for sixteen years, and theoretically, it’s time to consider remodeling, or at a minimum, updating.  All the experts say so.  (You know, I quote experts all the time, but I’ve never actually met one.  For all I know, they’re just part of a larger Propaganda Program designed to keep the masses in check, of which I am but one mass).

Last year, we replaced the oven because the door wouldn’t stay shut (which was problematic, even if I don’t cook) and just a couple days go, we installed a new dishwasher because the old one was making noises suspiciously like those encountered on the deck of an aircraft carrier.  We’ve recently re-painted, re-carpeted, and re-roofed.  But, up to now, every change we’ve made has been in the name of maintenance.  What I’ve been battling against for the last decade or so is pressure from unseen (and no doubt, internal) forces to upgrade and improve the already more-than-adequate amenities in my home, just for the sake of upgrading and improving.  And, being the self-aware savant that I am, I have finally asked myself the obvious:  “What the #@$! for?”

There seems to be an unspoken competition in our society that pits the Haves against the Have-Nots against the I-Have-But-I-Want-Mores, and I sometimes find myself right in the middle of it, yearning for bigger and better.  Why?

Because society tells me (and I may be the only one hearing voices) that I’m foolish, unless I look at my home and see a real estate investment.  My mom and dad grew up during the Depression and WWII.  Back then, owning your own house was considered part of the American Dream.  It meant roots; always having a roof over your head, and a place to raise a family.  They didn’t think twice about marking up the door jamb between the kitchen and living room with tick marks that provided a lasting record of how tall the children grew from year to year, because they were in it for life.  It didn’t occur to them to worry about how much those tick marks might affect a resale.   It was a memory-maker.  It was their Home.

House ownership is hailed as one of those all-important financial steps one needs to take to provide wealth and security down the road.  It’s an investment, the experts say.  A tax break.  As the single largest asset on our personal financial statement, it behooves us to use it wisely.  According to that credo, we’ve got to worry about maintaining its market value.  When we paint, the esoteric tastes of civilization as a whole must be taken into consideration.  We can’t put up a carport because it won’t blend in with the landscape, and we can’t put a Slip ‘n Slide on the landscape because the grass’ll die.  We’ve got to protect it, nurture it, and make it grow, so, when we sell it at the peak of the residential real estate market (which, if we are very wise—not to mention clairvoyant—we will), we can reap enough profit to put down on a bigger and better house, further enhancing our net worth.  And, updating the kitchen or bath will help us do that, the experts say.  In short, using our house as our home severely undercuts it’s potential to secure our financial future.

Plus, the bigger the house, the higher up on the social strata one appears to be, which, come to think of it, may just be at the root of it all.  A house is a status symbol…it tells others who we are, and the bigger it is, the wiser, the more popular, and well-to-do we look.  It tells the world that we are A Force To Be Reckoned With.

Well, bullpuckey.

I’ve decided that enough is good enough.  My house is my home.  I’ll have to find something else to prop up my ego and self-esteem, not to mention elicit the envy and veneration of all.

But, to do that, I’ll need a bigger closet.

The Role of Ambivalence in the Decision-Making Process

I’ve got a decision to make.  It’s one of those decisions that no matter which way I go—left or right, yes or no—chances are excellent I’ll regret it.  I’d like to totally ignore it (as I do everything else I don’t want to deal with, under the impression that whatever it is will just disappear into irrelevancy), but I’d probably regret that, too.  It’s a lose-lose-lose proposition in my mind, which means I just can’t win.  And, if I can’t win, I may as well surrender – it’s just a matter of choosing the option I’m willing to regret the least for the rest of my days.

The life changing, do-or-die question is this:  Should I, or should I not, attend my high school reunion?

Yeah, I know…that’s a toughy.

On the plus side, I wouldn’t have that far to go; it’s a relatively short drive from here compared to, say, Canada. But I wonder if five hours and the cost of a hotel room are worth subjecting myself to the possibility of ridicule, censure and/or total anonymity.  What if the only three people who knew my name don’t show up, or worse yet, don’t remember me?  What if it was all a nightmare and I just think I graduated…in the bottom half of my class?  What if I’m the only person there who’s been divorced?  Or failed to finished college?  Or doesn’t own an island in the Pacific? What could I possibly have in common with these people, besides an English teacher?

The mature, pragmatic side of me says a lot of people there will be feeling the same way.  It tells me that we’re all adults now, with spouses, children, and grandchildren.  We’ve all had our tragedies, triumphs, successes and failures.  We all look ugly naked.  But, the insecure, childish side (really, the more discerning of the two) knows that the moment I hit the door I’ll magically morph into the introverted, socially gawky teenager I used to be, which will not be an attractive sight – I’ll be a 59-year-old girl with big hands, big feet, and acne.  I’ll be intimidated all over again by the popular kids, the cheerleaders, the football jocks.  I’ll feel left out because I never joined the drill team.  Or ran for student council.  Or got A’s.

So, I guess it’s just a matter of time, waiting to see which side of my ambivalent personality comes out on top.  Of course, if I’m lucky, I’ll still be arguing with myself until it’s too late, which, come to think of it, is the one choice I could live with.

Which smells just like (dare I say it?) a win for both of me!

Who Do I Think I Am?

I’m an imposter.  A fake.  A phony.  A phony fake. I call myself a writer, but I’m really not (which, come to think of it, makes me a liar, too).

This thought comforts me when I can’t think of a blasted thing to write.  It means I haven’t failed.  It alleviates the pressure to perform, which begs the question, where is the pressure coming from?  I don’t have deadlines.  There’s no one pacing impatiently outside my door, waiting for me to finish my latest tome.  No one’s livelihood is dependent upon whether I write today or not.

So, where the devil is all this pressure coming from?  Why do I feel so antsy?  And so guilty?

Truth is, or at least part of it is, I don’t want to give up again.  I have a tendency to stop running when my side gets that sharp stitch in it, or when the track starts up hill, or when the rain comes, or it gets windy or cold.  I quit.  I run out of gas.  I run out of stamina, endurance, faith.

Is that’s what’s happening here?  Am I losing faith in myself? Or just in the imaginary idea that writing is what I’m supposed to be doing?  Writing has certainly given me a purpose…sort of.  It’s given me something to work toward; get better at, and maybe that’s the lesson here.  Maybe this whole writing dream isn’t supposed to end where I think it should.  Maybe I’ll never be published, and maybe it doesn’t matter.

I’ve been told that people need to set goals if they are ever going to be “successful,” a relative term, in my opinion.  Up to now, I haven’t set any…no, not one, at least not on purpose.  I may have set a few (and accomplished a few) purely by accident.  So, why is it so important to set one now?  Well, I suppose it’s because even Paul had a finish line he kept his eye on.

I know we all have a finish line.  I just don’t know what or where mine is.  It’s too far away to see anything but fuzz and fog.  Perhaps the secret in goal-setting is to have many finish lines, closer in, and closer together.

And just maybe the value lies in the travel, not necessarily the destination.  Maybe all that matters is what I learn during the process.  How I grow from it.  What if it’s just the process?

Okay – no more guilt.  But, what about antsy?  Why am I so antsy?

Because I have things to say. I just have to figure what and how to say them.  If only for myself.

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