In fact, I have nothing to say

I have a reason for neglecting my blog for nearly two weeks, and it is a good one: as soon as I posted again I knew it meant I had to get back on track with my weekly updates. Perish the thought. However, when nellOrex contacted me today to let me know, “I consider, that you are mistaken. Let’s discuss. Write to me in PM, we will communicate,” it was time. That sort of impertinence has to be answered.

I’m also turning into a mildly insane cat lady. Harper emerged from the light pouring through the blinds like a deranged angel out of heaven, and I took a picture and posted it on Facebook. There are probably more interesting things I could put on my social media page, but this is also the only one that demands food at six in the morning by batting my face. At that point you have to make an active decision to love or hate. I love, therefore I post.

I actually have more to talk about than my cat, if you can believe it. In fact, this is officially an art update. For Christmas I bought my entire immediate family the same present, and then had to cover that fact by including a drawing of each of their family units. Behold:

With the most people, Mom and Dad’s picture (top) is also the cartooniest. For years I’ve gifted them with a drawing of the family in front of the fireplace in their house in Havre (not every Christmas; only those years when we add another face to the crowd), but since they only just moved into their new house this summer, I still haven’t figured out where the new normal family pose shot is going to be. I had to feature the house instead, conveniently saving me time on drawing. I also drew my brother-in-law too tall, forgetting that my own brother is the tallest in the family. Sorry, IT Guy.

You’ll also notice that magically shrinking and growing children showed up in both my sister and my brother’s pictures. Like the Grinch’s heart, Miss AB in the striped shirt is two sizes too small, while Fairview, holding a picture of her little sister, looks like a third grader instead of a three-year-old. That is, however, the best picture I’ve ever drawn of my sister-in-law. I wish I could bottle that sort of effortless skill. I’m starting on a new project (more on that later), and I could sure use it.

Finally, this was the last present I drew for Christmas. This family has essentially adopted me here in Fort Wayne. They’ve fed me, run me through tabletop Zombie campaigns, binge-watched “Stranger Things” season 1 at least twice just so I could catch up, helped me escape an evil AI, and given me my first (and probably only) hockey puck. Go Komets!

 

Another yearly redux

Merry Christmas Eve Day! It’s still dark where I am, but I can see the horizon starting to lighten into a more promising blue as we travel further into Montana. This half of the trip has been infinitely better than the first half, and if I didn’t have to go through Chicago to get here, I’d probably do it again.

I updated the art for “The Reason for the Season.” I always meant to have a real illustration around this poem, but it took Christmas coming around again to get me to do it. To read the full poem, go to thestoryfolder.com/poetry/the-reason-for-the-season/.

December/Christmas 1995

Ostrich Boy sat two seats over.

I was aware of this because I hated him, with every bit of little goody two shoes that I was. We were making Christmas ornaments and I was busy spooling yarn around a cardboard square, making a sheep for the family Christmas tree. I acted like you’d expect (I lived in mortal fear of disappointing the adult figures in my life, and cried whenever I earned less than an A on any of my assignments), but I had a streak of stubborn independence; it seems appropriate that I chose to make a black sheep on this particular day, rather than a white one. My hands were sticky with glue from my tissue paper wreath, yarn fuzzies coating the pads of my fingers, but my mind was five feet back and to the left, where Ostrich Boy sat coloring (very badly, I thought) the back of his own wreath. That wasn’t even the assignment.  I watched him from the corners of my eyes, scribbling hard with a colored pencil.

I thought of him as Ostrich Boy because he’d used the description himself. Born at two and a half pounds with something wrong with him (I remembered the two and half pounds but not the something wrong, because he’d brought in a licorice bag for show and tell that weighed as much as he did when he was born, so he said), he wore leg braces and said that he ran like an ostrich, which was true. He had gumption, but also one of the most manipulatively sniveling personalities I’d ever met. He was not the good little boy that I thought disability kids were supposed to be. He laughed at the expense of others, joked to be cruel, and I’d once heard him actually curse. Yes, curse. To my eight-year-old ears, this was the pinnacle of bad kid behavior.

But the worst part – worse than any swear word, worse than the grin, than the leg bracings that gave him a free-pass to the former – was how he used tears to his advantage.  As the youngest in my family I implicitly understood that crying for effect was a deeply unfair strategy. That was dirty pool. You only cried if you meant it.

Earlier that week he’d called Jessie four eyes. Jess was popular because she actually deserved it, wore glasses and a kind smile, and the insult had been pathetic. Four eyes was the cop-out insult. But then his insults always worked like that: innocuous on one level, mean-spirited anyways. He had grinned, the boys at his back had laughed (idiots), and Megan had jumped to her defense. She was a four eyes too and Jessie’s best friend, so it was her fight for the taking.

“You’re stupid.”

As retorts went, this was bad. Still, we were all good girls and in the middle of the hall, so no one dared to actually say “a butthead” where a teacher might hear it. I backed her up with a mean laugh (it was supposed to sound mean, to let her know she had done good), and Megan cocked her hip and smiled.

His eyes welled immediately. Unbelievable, except that it worked.

Megan dropped her hip and quite suddenly I was in a hall full of doves, all cooing their condolences.  Tim (big, athletic, and sometimes a jerk; I nearly wore him down while playing tag once – with two older siblings my endurance was something to behold – but he called time-out a couple of inches before I tagged him and used it as a breather before simultaneously shouting “Time in!” and sprinting away; another height of criminality in the third grade) pushed off the wall to see what was wrong.

I saw it in their faces. Here was this poor kid, two and half pounds at birth, runs like an ostrich, and suddenly we were all remembering that his life was unfair. With his eyes pricking red, it became an easy thing to forget that he called Jessie four eyes, squinted when he smiled (like a rat planning something), and laughed when other kids tripped.

When the consolation session had finished, when he turned back into his usual, wretched self, he swiveled on a braced leg, caught Tim’s eye, and I know – I know – I heard it, said, “They are so damn stupid.”

(Though “I know” is, admittedly, something of an exaggeration. He was quiet enough that I’m not entirely certain how the insult went. But I know I heard “damn,” even if I didn’t know exactly who are what he was condemning to eternal punishment in hell.)

“Did you hear that?” I demanded. There was a general outcry when I leaned in to Megan and explained in a hushed whisper (he said “darn” only the bad way, I swear I heard him), but the scandal settled way too quickly for my taste. I wasn’t hurt on behalf of the popular girls (I was friendly with them but not friends; I didn’t know how you got into that group and it wasn’t really worth it if you weren’t in automatically ), but I couldn’t stand injustice. It roiled up hard anger right at my forehead, deep behind my skull where most of my headaches start, because he manipulated everyone and I was the only one who saw it.

So I was sitting there, the day melted mostly away and the end of school ticking closer, watching his hand scribble, scribble, scribble, when brilliance struck me so suddenly it actually made my eyes twinkle.  Not that I had a mirror to see, but if smart aleck cleverness can show up on someone’s face, it had to have just showed up on mine.

The best part about being one of the good kids is that no one ever sees you coming. The third out of three golden children my parents had had the good fortune (or perhaps fortitude) to raise, I had come to realize that being good meant you got away with more. I rarely got in trouble; usually because I didn’t ask for it, but sometimes just because being smart was about being clever. I pulled out a piece of paper, hid it between my desk and my lap, and wrote the word “crybaby” with my left hand, disguising my handwriting. I could smell the glue from my fingers, several inches from my face as I kept my body scrunched as far into itself as possible.

“Oh!” Kelly said, leaning with remarkable and unexpected speed over my work. Her hair swept sharply forward, accusing me. “That looks really cute!”

I startled very quietly (a trick I’d learned growing up with a brother who liked jumping out at me from dark corners), and all the pencil did was punch a hole into the paper.  She didn’t see, which was good.  Friend or not I remained smart about this. I knew, even then, that the only way to keep a secret was to make sure I was the only one keeping it.

For a moment I couldn’t think of what to say.

“Thanks,” I finally remembered.

Fortunately, Kelly returned to her work, which involved pulling bits of red tissue paper off her fingers. She plucked at the green when she was finished, and I was safe to wait for opportunity to knock.

“Would you please pass me the—”

I pushed the glue over without looking, because I couldn’t bear to let anyone stop me. Sometimes sinning is as simple as keeping up your momentum.

Ostrich Boy stopped scribbling suddenly, and I became keenly aware of my own heartbeat. Not the beat itself, but the way it made breathing difficult. He looked at the result of his mess of an art project, and when he took himself and his purple pencil with an ostrich, ostrich, ostrich walk to the pencil sharpener, the time to make my move was officially nigh.

I followed him to the back, alibi in my hand (my own pencil, in case anyone asked what I was doing), and I made sure with a subtle side glance that no one was looking. Mrs. Anderson – wonderful, with blonde hair, a smile that crinkled her face with amusement, and a way of answering any question you could think of to ask – was nowhere to be seen. In truth I was watching for her, because the deepest shame I could imagine involved her finding some reason to be disappointed in me. Justified though I knew my cause to be, it would kill me to get caught.

I was very smooth. The note went into his desk as I passed, slightly crushed, but that fit the handwriting on the lined paper. I couldn’t look at him when we crossed, but I smiled at no one, pleased with myself. The sharpener made a scrumming noise that vibrated through my hand, and I went back to my seat. Nonchalant. Casual.

Ostrich Boy found it way too fast.

I sat down with all my organs in the wrong place. I actually had to pass him as he discovered what I had done. I hadn’t counted on that. I expected him to find it later, when I wasn’t around to smile or start or give myself away, but I still couldn’t stop the tugging of my mouth. Success (yes!), but I was still feeling my heart press my lungs to the front base of my throat.

“Hey,” he said suddenly, throwing up the note to Cody, who sat behind him. “Who wrote this?”

Eject, eject, eject, and my breath was crawling backwards into my esophagus. He was not supposed to show it to anyone. He was supposed to take the note to heart, feel bad, and then move on with his life. This was not how it was supposed to happen.

Cody took it, then passed on note and the question.  “Who wrote this?”

Tim took it. They were all gathering around his desk now, and my heart beat a hard ba-THUMP into my ribs, pounding as the boys passed my seat to get to his.

But my ploy had worked.

“It was Sean,” one of them decided.

Sean was actually meaner than Ostrich Boy, with the disadvantage that he had neither the guts to swear in school or the leg braces to make everyone his friend. He was also well-known as the worst kid in class. With the worst handwriting.

Shane let go a “hmph” of breath through his teeth, and agreed. “It’s Sean.”

Tim (and at this moment I couldn’t stand Tim), said: “It has to be.” Size meant authority and this, as much as the crappy handwriting, made it true.

Mrs. Anderson called them both to her desk, Sean claiming innocence the whole way, but no one believes the boy who cried wolf. I was clever; I was safe. They never saw me coming. Never even dreamed it might’ve been me.

And I felt the guilt start to coil deep and snake-like into my stomach.

Merry Christmas Eve!

What’s the reason for the season? Why, you are, of course:

The Reason for the Season

Based on a sermon my pastor preached last year. Also, I cheated entirely when “illustrating” this particular poem. All I did was rip a photo from publicdomainpicture.net* and then blacked out some of the background to make the words more readable. Now that the play is over my body has given up the ghost and I’m dealing with a pretty severe cold (runny nose, aches, chills, a cough that actually hurts). However, it was important to me that I post this on Christmas Eve, so a cheat this year it is.


*http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/view-image.php?image=67167

Vwa-LA

I promised my editor an update today, so here it is: hello.

Alas, I wanted to have something much better to post today, but this will have to do. In my (dubious) defense, life has been crazy – in a very good way, but crazy nonetheless. I’m part of my local theater’s “A Christmas Carol” which has been running every weekend this past month. We have two more shows left (tonight and tomorrow) and I have no idea what I’m going to do with my free-time once I have some. Write chapter three of Small Town? Answer some of my brother’s snarky comments? Write a novel and become an overnight success? Time will tell.

Actually, since I have nothing remotely interesting to say, here’s a related project that’s been keeping me busy the past week:

This is a gift for all my cast mates, plus a handful of the crew. Hopefully none of them watch me on The Story Folder *takes a moment to weep* or, uh, surprise? You’ll get your copy tomorrow.