Diary

080315_End_of_self_sequester

The End of Self-Sequester

 

080315_End_of_self_sequesterPart 1: Finding a goal worth the risk

Part 2 to be posted 8/15/15: How to hit the reset button after creative burnout and disappointment

The effort of maintaining a public persona births special kind of exhaustion. This weariness finally caught up with me, overwhelmed me. I slowed and quieted. My blog posts became fewer and father between until they stopped entirely. My social accounts focused on trivial games or industry updates. I ceased Facebook entirely. I made no new videos, scheduled no social events, published very little.

At the start of the year, I rigorously challenged my assumptions of myself and my place in the world. When I could have succumbed to the down flow, instead I gathered smart, supportive people around me. I read thought-provoking books, tested out new theories and models of living.

Once fully vetted, I latched on the passion I know that will not only sustain my family, but also meet my needs of challenge, art-making and intellectual engagement.

So now is the time to come out of hiding, to show and speak and share again the project I have been privately pouring my heart and mind into. Yet, I tremble and pause.

Always, there is a risk when you step into the arena.

What if I fail? What if what I create isn’t as good as I hope it will be?

My twitter profile describes me as “hopelessly happy”. How true and easy this was when the stakes were low, when there weren’t other people depending on me for their paychecks, then my failures weren’t so painfully public, when all I needed was to show up on the job and be slightly better than the schmo’ on my right.

I come from a cowgirl family. We get back on the horse after a fall. We feed the animals before we feed ourselves. If the gelding kicks you in the chest and breaks your ribs, as it did to my mother, you shut your mouth, finish your chores and go take a handful of ibuprofen.

You do not feel sorry for yourself. You do not cause any additional burden for anyone else. You take care of things and do what you have to do. If you fail, or if you drink, or if you feel pain, or if you drink, you hide it away and we all pretend not to know about it – out of respect for you.

I’m proud of my cowgirl family, of our tremendous strength and resolve. I am so thankful that I can take a hit and stubbornly stand to try, try again.

Yet also, I need help. And if I hide my losses, I may not fully commit myself to the next big win. So here we are, at the edge of yet another arena.

I close my eyes, take deep breaths and visualize bravery. Pause. A small voice whispers: It’s safer to stay on the sidelines, to do regular work that brings the regular paycheck, to apologize, acquiesce, condense, quiet.

No. That is not the life I’m built for.

It’s good to be back in the saddle again.

deep_thaw

Deep Thaw: Escape, Endurance and Bobcats in the Colorado Rockies

deep_thawThis story was intended to be told live, on-stage at a Moth event in Seattle. Despite my recent foray into mental stimulus drugs, I still managed to miss the date and lose my chance to tell my story. However, since I’ve been practicing these lines over and over as I drive around town, I figure they have to come out somewhere. So here, for my blog readers’ pleasure, is my story of survival in the Colorado Rockies. Trigger warning: References sexual violence and failed justice systems.

 

The Moth story prompt was cold.


When the freezing chill seeped its way through my truck cab, into my sleeping bag, and through my four layers of clothing to wake me from my sleep for the 15th time that night, I realized I might not make it to sunrise. At just past midnight, I sat up as though slapped, blinking in the dark. With a move now well-practiced, I clambered into the drivers seat and turned the key in the ignition. It took about 5 minutes for my truck to warm up. Another 5 for the heaters warm the cab to something survivable. I left the truck running an extra minute as indulgence, eyeing the gas tank now less than a quarter full, before shutting it off and falling instantly back to sleep. 15 minutes later, the cold conquered once more and I repeated the process.

I had pulled my truck off an unnamed forest service road deep in the snowy cleavage of a couple Rocky Mountain peaks a couple hours outside Denver to make camp. It was early March and temperatures plummeted after sundown. I was alone.

I’m a tough camper girl. My mother took me camping every other weekend in the Pacific Northwest where I grew up. Later, I backpacked through the Middle Atlas Mountains in Morocco and spent solo days in the Yellowstone backcountry. I’m not afraid of a little discomfort, wet and chill. However, the frigid Colorado winter rendered all my previous camping experience obsolete. I had no idea what I was getting into. I hadn’t bothered to bring a tent, thinking it would be warmer in the truck. My sleeping bag boasted a -5 degree rating, which had kept me toasty in mild Washington. With three layers of fleece I should be fine, right? Had I done any research before leaving, I would have learned that the National Park Service was forecasting -40 degrees for my area that night.

But I haven’t done any research. I barely knew where I was. I had simply put my finger down on a map and driven there. I didn’t tell anyone where I was going and didn’t ask for any advice. That was the whole point. I wanted to get as far away from people as possible.

A few weeks earlier, I turned 21. I celebrated with friends by drinking a single shot of something buttery and sweet. I still see myself there in that Denver dive bar, tilting my head back and laughing with my friends – one of those shimmering memories when life neared perfection. A week later, I was raped by a gentleman poet.

You may be confused as to how a gentleman poet may also be a rapist. I assure you, this threw me for a loop as well. So disbelieving was I that I shut down during the act, became something small and quiet. He drove me home after, told me to lose my friendship would be the worst thing ever. I wandered, dazed, into my building and went to bed. I stayed there for three days and three nights.

On the fourth day, a friend who had wisdom in such things, sat gently on the edge of my bed and asked if I wanted to report it. He asked without asking me what happened. He simply knew.

This wasn’t supposed to happen to me. I’m a good girl. Not only that, I view myself as infinitely powerful and mighty. If I say yes, it happens. If I say no, it doesn’t. As well, I had recently made a deal with God that should have exempted me from this kind of trauma. While I had accepted that religion and I don’t go so well together, I still had strong faith and an authentic joy in my belief of a God of Love. So, I would quit youth groups, prayer workbooks and shocking sermons and instead gave myself in a life of service. I had left college and volunteered at AmeriCorps. At the time of my rape, I was earning about 15 cents an hour working at a detention center tutoring emotionally and behaviorally disturbed teenage girls during the week. I spent weekends on environmental cleanup outings.

Self-satisfied holiness practically oozed out of my pores. I had also conveniently avoided all questions of how I would support myself in my grown-up years while claiming the life of a pseudo-saint.

So you can see, this wasn’t supposed to happen to me.

On that fourth day after the rape, that gentle friend of mine led me out of my room and to the local hospital. I was taken to a room filled with strangers, where I was stripped, laid back on a table, and asked to point to all the placed the poet’s penis had come in contact with my body. Everywhere I pointed, they scraped off a layer of skin and plucked exactly three hairs. To survive this humiliation, I simply left my body. I hovered up near the fluorescent lights with some imagined angels and watched the scene like it was on TV. Prime entertainment.

When the crowd filtered out, I entered my body again to pull clothes over shaky limbs and take a ride to the police station.

They made my friend stay in the lobby, took me alone to a little grey room with a steel table. There were two cops. They asked me to tell them exactly what happened. I told my story from start to finish, sentence cohesion causing me difficulty as now I’d been awake for days. They brought me papers to press charges.

“Wait, I said,” remembering what happened at the hospital. “What happens exactly if I press charges?”

The cops looked at each other. One left the room. The remaining cop acted out another scene I was certain I’d seen on TV before. He paced, he yelled, he puffed out his chest, he banged his fist on the table. He told me if I didn’t press charges, the man would certainly rape ten more girls at least and it would all be my fault. I stopped making sentences. I cried. On cue, the second cop appeared, told his partner to take it easy. Cooed at me. Told me he knew I was tired. He knew it wasn’t my fault. Just sign right here sweetie and we’ll take care of this. I signed.

After another week of interrogations, a request from the hospital to repeat the exam since they lost my rape kit, and well-meaning advocates that asked me to tell them everything again, and again, and I could I please start at the beginning again, I finally got word that the prosecutor declined to take my case. My word against his. Too hard. The good cop told me I could still feel like I was raped if it made me feel better. The advocates disappeared, no longer returning my calls.

I returned to my room, thought of dying. Instead pulled out my map, closed my eyes and put my finger down. Kelsey Creek. No shit, really? I squinted at the map, confirming my name peeking out from under my fingertip. Amazing. Kelsey Creek it would be. As long as it was remote enough to not encounter a single, horrible, human, I would be happy.

In my freezing cab that night, I could have surrendered. I could have closed my eyes and let the cold be my excuse.

Instead, I popped up like a jack-in-the-box every fifteen minutes and flipped on the heater. At dawn, I had just enough gas left to make it back down the mountain, so I decided it was time to get up and get moving. Desperate for fresh air, I opened the truck door and poured my many-layered, chilled-to-the-bone self onto the ground outside, landing on my hands and knees.

There, not eight feet away from my face, stood a stunned Bobcat.

My heart stopped. The bobcat blinked.

In all my travels, I had never seen a wild cat. No other animal strikes me as more magical, terrifying, elusive. My body trembled and cracked, but I willed myself to stay as still as possible so as not to startle the beast.

He stared me down. White rimmed his wide eyes. Black tuffs of hair topped his ears. His spotted legs stood braced, ready to sprint.

I blinked. He spooked.

I sprung to my feet and gave chase. Adrenaline surged through my veins. It could not have been instinct that spurred me after the beast, as surely such an instinct would have killed off my ancestors long ago. Rather, a deep desire to keep eyes on this animal as long as possible, spurred me to sprint across the ice-covered snow. Had I any breath, I would have yelled, “Don’t go.”

The bobcat pulled ahead, turned beneath a large boulder outcropping. Somewhere deep in my fuddled brain, rational thoughts surfaced one by one, popped like bubbles on the surface of my consciousness.

Don’t wild cats attack from above?

This bobcat looks smaller than I expected.

What if his mother is above me on those boulders?

My feet came together. I stood watching the wild cat bound away. I climbed the boulders, thinking perhaps I could see where he went. The cat disappeared into the white, but when I climbed the outcrop, my breath caught in my throat. The morning sun crept over the eastern slopes, turning the sky a wild red. Thin clouds picked up the color, placing lines of hot pink kisses over head. The grey snow lightened, reflected the color. I felt as though I had tumbled into the glittery end of a child’s kaleidoscope.

From my perch on the rocks, my little brown truck looked so small and lonely in the vast white forest. I jumped down and ran to the cab, started up the truck and rocked my way out of the snow trench that had formed overnight. As fast as I dared, I drove down those winding roads, heater blasting, desperate to find someone, anyone, whom I could tell about what I’d seen on the mountain.

balance

Balance: The Art of Mixing Pleasure with Business

balanceThe start of the new year provides an excellent excuse for life planning and goal prioritization. As Queen of the Epic Spreadsheet Collection, the past couple of weeks I have indulged is a great many flights of fancy, carefully tracked to specific metrics. From my time in the corporate world, I picked such pearls of business wisdom-ish such as what gets measured gets done and if everything is important, nothing is, and 20% of your effort provides 80% of your results, plus many more. The supposed infallibility of data seduces me.

In writing fiction or memoir, I dwell in grey areas, expound on emotion. Aside from word counts and deadlines, there are few definite qualifiers in the artistic world. How glorious to know when you are on track, when you’re doing good. Numbers comfort me. Proof. Evidence of achievement in my creative endeavors, even if qualifiers of quality and value still elude me.

So let’s set our creative goals for 2015 using all our best business practices, shall we?

Metric of success for 2015:

  • Create works that touch the hearts of readers, inspire empathy and increase the amount of love, understanding and pleasure in a meaningful sample of the human population.

No. This is no good. I can hear old boss #23 pushing me to define a “meaningful sample.” Does this mean ten people? One hundred? Ten thousand? How will I create a baseline for empathy and track the change? Try again.

Metrics of success for 2015 – take two:

  • Publish three original blog posts on my site per week.
  • Increase web traffic by 100% each month.
  • Multiply social media following by a factor of .1 each month.
  • Write a minimum of 500 words per day.
  • Write 20,000 words per month.

Clear. Concise. Easily measurable.

Also….

Meaningless.

Worthless.

The gurus tell me to visualize my success. Closing my eyes, I see that backlog of blog posts published on time. I see the little number on my Google analytics dashboard proving my internet popularity. I see all the pings and dings on social media alerting me to new followers.

I see myself pushing back my cramped shoulders and groaning from hours spent in front of the computer. I see my eyes glazing over and my ADD kicking into high gear, the garbage truck out my window suddenly riveting. I see myself jump up at 2:10pm, grateful for the task of picking up kids from school to save me from my drudgery.

When asked, what did you do with your life, I might be able to prattle off a list a metrics such as I increased my unique web visitors by 300% in a two month period, or I published 100 blog posts in the year of 2015, but so what?

Perhaps it’s not what, it’s why. Why did you do with your life.

Aside from grammatical awkwardness, that is harder to answer. Hm. Back to the spreadsheets.

Hiring-marketing-assistant

Job: Author / Publisher Seeks Marketing / Admin Assistant

Hiring-marketing-assistantI’m hiring! Incredible projects pack my calendar for 2015 and I can’t do it alone. I’m looking for a clever person to join me and assist with marketing and administrative projects.

Projects you’ll be a part of:

  • Book Lush promotions
  • Kelsye.com campaigns
  • Launching a new press
  • Social media campaigns
  • Publishing projects for Kelsye’s clients
  • Review reader management
  • Webinar management and marketing
  • Client communications
  • PR and blogger outreach
  • Administrative tasks such as mailing, working with spreadsheets and internet research

Mandatory skills and traits I’m looking for:

  • Organization and self-motivation
  • Basic social media skills
  • Strong desire to learn new things
  • Interest in books and publishing
  • Positive attitude (or amusingly clever snark)
  • Proven ability to work on detailed, multifaceted projects
  • Excellent grammar
  • Comfortable learning new technologies

Training provided! You bring your brains, creativity and skills and I’ll show exactly how I run my social media, marketing campaigns and project manage publishing clients. This is an excellent opportunity for someone with basic skills looking for direct experience on live campaigns and book projects. While the super powers listed below would be great, I’m really looking for someone smart and pleasant that can grow with the projects.

Super powers that put you at the top of the list:

  • Writing ability
  • Desire to be an author yourself
  • Graphic design skills
  • Experience with WordPress
  • HTML knowledge
  • PR experience
  • Prior marketing positions
  • Publishing experience (for self or others)
  • College degree

Nitty Gritty Details:

$20/hour – independent contractor

10 hours a week to start (Very likely would expand for the properly skilled person.)

Work from wherever you want. (With the exception of kick-off training and occasional check-in meetings.)

You need to have your own computer and a reliable internet connection.

Sound awesome? Don’t delay in applying. While I’ll leave the application open for a week or so, if the right person applies I won’t delay in hiring. I need help ASAP.

Apply here.

Know someone perfect for the job? Share this page using the social share buttons.

Year in Books: Spotlight on Authors I worked with in 2014

Hello bibliophiles! What an incredible year in books it’s been. Since leaving Writer.ly in Abby‘s capable hands, not only have I been able to write my own books, I have also been lucky enough to work with a diverse group of talented authors in assisting their publishing and book marketing efforts. Here is a spotlight of authors I have worked with this year, as well as a sampling of their incredible works. Happy reading! XO, Kelsye

 


8d2e0d59-8161-49ed-ac6c-5ef5360efb00Isthmus

Historical Fiction by Gerard LaSalle (Published by Avasta Press)

Lush, richly-detailed story-telling at its finest. It is 1860 and revolution is erupting throughout the world over universal emancipation. In the midst of it all, a young woman travels Boston with what is left of her devastated and bankrupt family. She traverses a hostile terrain on the new Panama isthmus railroad. Get ready for a convenient ride through the jungle. An inconvenient assault. A run for you life. Get Isthmus on Amazon.

Tip: Start the series with Widow Walk, an award-winning historical fiction novel set in the Pacific Northwest.

821b7992-9506-40f0-865e-4640b7bb41ff

I Kill Rich People 2

Literary Thriller by Mike Bogin (Published by Avasta Press)

The thrilling follow-up to the first book in the IKRP series tells the story of Spencer, the renegade sniper. Terrorist, psychopath, or patriot; what drives this elite US Army combat sniper to turn his sights on America’s billionaires? Has he lost it? Can this shocking shift be a new patriotism? GetIKRP2 on Amazon.

Tip: Start the series with the controversial book that started it all, IKRP1.

 


 

Even more wonderful authors and books from diverse genres…

 

By Scott Berkun

by Scott Berkun

Memoir

By Anne Leigh Parrish

by Anne Leigh Parrish

Literary Fiction

576d5660-c9fe-4aff-8777-c521323ab6e7

by Birgitte Rasine

Photojournalism

by Abigail Carter

by Abigail Carter

Contemporary Fiction

By Chris Strausz-Clarkby Chris Strausz-Clark

Science Fiction

by Tom Kelly

by Tom Kelly

Mystery

by Flip Brownby Flip Brown

Business Non-Fiction

by Howard Hale

by Howard Hale

Technical Non-Fiction

by Rachel Bukey

by Rachel Bukey

Mystery

We’re just getting started! If you are interested in working with me in 2015, please contact me here. If you are interested in Avasta Press, please add your email to this list.

adderall

Adderall and the Woman: One Writer’s Experience with ADD Drugs

adderallMy mother and sister have a certain way of saying my name when I screw up.

Oh Kelsye.

Their voices dive on the hard vowel sound at the end as opposed to the usual rising lilt. Just writing about it puts the sound in my head. The sound of certainty, of the way things are, of what we know to be classic, classifiable Kelsye crap.

I forgot to do my chores.
I didn’t turn in the homework I finished.

Oh Kelsye.

I locked my keys in the car again.
I dropped out of design school in the middle of my final quarter.

Oh Kelsye.

I’m moving to a new city for a new start.
I’m moving to a new state.
A new country.

Oh Kelsye.

I’m starting a company.
I’m quitting my company.
I’m getting divorced.
I’m getting married.

Oh Kelsye

 

 

Now watch me sitting alone in the doctors office at age 35, completing my ADD evaluation and crying into my double cappuccino. I was late for my appointment, of course, but they took me anyway, handed me a stack of paperwork clipped to a board and ushered me into a sterile room.

How often do you lose track of the location of your keys or phone? Rarely, occasionally, weekly, daily.

Do you have difficulty finishing projects?

Do you find yourself unable to concentrate when other people talk for a long time?

How often do you wait until the last possible minute to tackle big projects?

And on and on. These things I’ve thought defining traits of my personality, and my own great failings, listed as symptoms to an identifiable disorder. A treatable condition.

Treatable?

I’ve known about my ADD for years. I was diagnosed a long time ago, during my split from my first husband. But I am not some behaviorly-challenged schmuck. I’m super smart. Certifiably smart! Pretty arrogant as well. So much so that I think my intricate system of to-do lists, calendaring and sheer willpower could save me from myself. Coping skills. I’ll deal with this the natural way. No drugs. I’ll simply think faster, speed up to compensate.

My senior year in High School, I found that I was getting a C in AP calculus. Royally pissed off that I could get an A on every test but still be marked the dreaded “average”, I marched into my class and demanded to know what was the issue.

“Sure,” said my teacher. “You ace the tests but you haven’t turned in a single homework assignment.”

“Can’t we just base my grades off the tests? It shows I understand.”

“Nope. You have to do the work.”

Sit still and do row after row of repetitive problem. Panic. No possible way could I do that. Screw you.

I continued to get A’s on every test, forgot everything within a month and took a C in the class.

As an English teacher in my 20’s, each week I confronted a stack of essays from 180 students that required comments and grades. That stack of papers would sit on the corner of my desk for two days as I worked up the courage to confront it. I couldn’t sit through a single essay without losing focus and having to restart at the beginning. Willpower wasn’t working and I couldn’t negotiate my way out of this one. I turned to booze. One glass of red wine could narrow my focus for ten or so essays. A careful balance. Too much alcohol and I’d start drawing smiley faces and personal confessions in the margins. Too little and my brain would drift away. I learned the art of the balanced buzz, thankfully young enough that my body could recover quickly.

In my thirties, I found that I could multi-task myself into oblivion. Powering through a career in marketing, starting and running my own company, all while raising kids and keeping a creative writing life going – no problem. Zoom. Zoom. Zoom. Caffeine and stress were my greatest allies. Until I realized I spend days, years, spinning at high speed and racking up accomplishments, but barely aware of the life I created for myself. When my once a year vacation was the only week I could accurately remember from the year prior, I knew I had to slow down. I don’t want one memorable week out of every 52. This is not the life of my choosing.

Meditation. Journaling. Running. Careful dietary intake. A big career change and renewed attempt to “buckle down” and “really focus” on what was important.

A few months ago, sitting in my home office, struggling with the projects in front of me,  accepted that something wasn’t right. Life is hard, but it doesn’t have to be this hard every day. I finally have all my big checklist items ticked off. Deep love and happy family life. A big dog and city house. My books being published. Good earnings in a freelance career doing what I love. So why did I dread work each day? I couldn’t even imagine a better set-up than what I had. If everything around me is near perfect, perhaps the problem is me.

My husband’s glorious health insurance provided me a way out. Just go and hear what the doctor has to say, I told myself. See if there is something to try. Get… gasp… help.

Now I am one of those statistics. Adult woman on ADD medication. Adderall, for those that are interested.

The first couple days I suffered terrible headaches and blinked my way through the nights. My body adjusted and the next two weeks flew by in a glorious blaze of productivity and focus. I wrote and completed a novel draft in a single month, one day clocking in 12,000 words.

After a month, I see that the medicine is not as strong as when I first began. My mind is wandering when I sit down. I want an afternoon nap again. From what I read online it sounds like it may take me some time to find the correct dose for me. We shall see. Superwoman might be unsustainable, but perhaps I don’t need to go back all the way to the beginning.

In checking my daughter’s grades recently, I found that she was getting behind in her language arts class due to reading requirements. This makes no sense. She reads at least one book a week. When she finds a new series she likes, she can read three a week. When I asked her what was happening, she explained how she hasn’t turned in her reading logs.

Reading logs?

“Yeah. We have to write down our page count after every reading session. I can’t keep track. I just read the books. It’s too hard to remember to write down the numbers each time. They should just give me credit for reading the books and not worry about the logs.”

There is already a certain way I say her name, almost as a family joke, when she forgets to put on pajamas, or loses her phone again, can’t sit still. That stops right now. She’s not faulty. She’s fantastic. We both are.

wander

Those Who Wander Find Themselves: Three Peculiar Days in Alaska

wander10/26/14 Train from Anchorage to Talkeetna

Despite the early morning departure, drunken revelers in full Halloween costume fill my train car. Not quite in the mood for their unapologetic reverie, I retreat to the dining car.

Silver landscapes slide by my window – snowfields boxed in by white-capped mountains, rivers gray and still as steel, pale slivers of fog stream between stunted evergreens.

“Moose on the left! Moose on the left!” says the conductor.

I swivel my head to catch sight of mama moose and almost full-grown calf galloping away from the tracks – that odd gait that looks more like falling down but still seems to move the beasts along awfully fast.

I order a signature scramble, which arrives as a glorious heap of eggs, bacon, potatoes, onions and cheese. The concoction sends off a delicious steam than fogs my window and turns the world outside a lighter shade of dreary.

Back in Seattle, my husband’s truck won’t start. I didn’t think to leave behind the keys to my car. His anger sparks and we volley back and forth in texts. He rails against my late-paying clients, about our apparent poverty. When he says that all I do is stroke male egos for a living, I swear at him and tell him not to text me again until he calms down and is ready to apologize.

I put my phone to silent and try to ignore it, shoveling big spoonful of cooling breakfast into my mouth. My phone thrums and vibrates. A quick glance at the messages tell me I still don’t want to talk to him, so I put my phone on airplane mode. I can still snap pictures of the scenes outside, but I can now pretend that this little world around me is all that exists.

I hop off the train at Talkeetna, a small town that serves as base camp to Denali. At the river park, the ice slides by in the water making a sucking scraping sound. Cheeks red with cold and fingertips starting to tingle, I make my way to my log cabin, drop my backpack and call my husband. We growl at each other first, but soon soften and yield. We manage to end the call with love; such is the luxury of a young marriage.

At dark, I steal away to the Fairview Inn bar, chat with bearded men, order a $5 local stout and retreat to tall table to capture lines in ink. When the man in a flannel shirt hauls in a stand-up bass, I know this is going to be a good night. A flyer on the wall says that a girl will sing – Hannah Yoter. My guess is she’s the brunette in the corner with the red lipstick the earrings that dangle. That’s about as dressed up as you get here – aside from my person, with my carefully contoured make-up, manicure and white furry vest. It suddenly dawns on me how ridiculous my fitbit is here. At least I had the good sense to order a local beer instead of a red wine. Of course, later I want a bourbon, but a smart girl paces herself.

In the span of a single song, new people have packed this bar wall to wall. My quiet writing retreat transformed into party place. I feel so conspicuous with my tall table to myself and my journal open before me. The barkeep has removed the big round tables from the main floor. I watch a girl standing on the edge, balancing a drink in each of her upturned palms. I should leave. I’m not really a party person. Or a crowd person. Or a girl alone in a party bar person. I jostle the young people around me for space to put my coat back on.

Miss Yoter starts in on a Doc Watson song that I love and stuns me still. Doc Watson? She follows with “Valerie” and I take my coat back off and hang it on my chair.

The violinist’s girlfriend asks to join me. She’s alone, save for her new boyfriend on the stage. I watch the singer moon at the violinist, the violinist moon at his girlfriend, and his girlfriend jump into the arms a yellow-bearded man that appears out of nowhere and yells her name. The violinist looks everywhere except for at his girlfriend. The singer smiles, takes her voice a little lower.

A young bush pilot buys me a Crown Royal. The second time his hand touches my back, I turn and face him full on. “I am about the farthest thing from single a girl can get. Sorry.”

“Damn,” he says. “Oh well!”

“I’m sure there are lots of single girls here. Saturday only comes once a week. I won’t feel bad if you go talk to someone else.”

“I’m talking to you! Cheers!”

When the band breaks, we chat about choosing life in Alaska, about reading Into the Wild, about how sometimes the things that seem the most insane to others are the most sane to you. He shows me pictures of his plane, pretty little thing painted blue and white, with a name I’ve sadly forgotten.

We’re interrupted by two brunettes who want to know if the book on my table is a guest book and if they should sign it. Yes, I say, you should definitely write in this book. Here’s what I find when I check the pages later:

We’re here!

We’re queer!

The Hulk sisters wuzz herr!

Their names are Kelly and Chelsea. From Palmer. I tell them my name is Kelsye and they scream in delight. Kelly composes a secret handshake on the spot, ending will a finger wiggling move she calls salmon spawning.

“Salmon spawning sisters forever!” Chelsea takes a staggering, half-step back, right into the arms of the bush pilot.

I slip out unnoticed, hunting aurora borealis. A faint emerald glow appears on the Northeastern horizon, rising as though green steam from the black forest. If it reaches the intensity so often seen in photographs tonight, it won’t happen for many hours. I wrap my arms around my chest and walk back to my cabin under a sky crowded with stars.

10/27/14 Talkeetna to Anchorage

I take the once a week train back to Anchorage. The members of yesterday’s Halloween party stand like zombies on the platform, red-eyed and remarkably quiet. A few minutes before scheduled departure, a pretty little blue and white plane buzzes the depot, tips it’s wings. I leap, wave and whoop. The pooped partiers send icicle sharp glares my way. A woman still wearing her curly Victorian wig, but with ski parka instead of gown, puts her hand on her head and whimpers.

I laugh and leap and wave again as the plane loops around. This is my life right now!

This is my life right now.

Darkness falls in Alaska. When I look out the train window, my own reflected image blurs into the shadowed landscape. The evergreens are scrubby here, as though malnourished dwarves compared to the towering giants of my beloved Washington. Birch trees stretch tall, like naked white legs standing on overgrown lawn.

My trip will come to a close. I must exit solitude and kneel again at the altar of my computer. Calendars. Meetings. Deliverables. A gnawing terror scrapes at my heart. My official work in Alaska done days ago, I could return home tomorrow, but I choose to stay a few more days to prolong the strange. I must work, connected to the Internet and clicking away at the my laptop at the far end of the hostel dining table. But when work ends, no dogs will whimper for food, no kids will text for pick-up, no laundry will lay about in piles for me to ignore.

Instead, I have a date with my new Alaska friends to go to a roadhouse that specializes in bacon and bourbon. In other free hours I will layer on faux fur and quilted down, pull on gloves and boots, head out to wander down frozen streets. I will take my meals in cafes where I will order local standards unknown to me (reindeer sausage?) and drink countless cups of coffee from thick-walled ceramic mugs.

Suddenly it is dark, dark in Alaska. An inky black presses against the train window. Forward motion may only be assured by the bump and sway of the rail car. We may have launched into a Miyazaki film, the train rolling through a tunnel into the populous spirit world for all that I know. A pleasing sensation.

10/28/14 Anchorage

Back in Anchorage, I fail intentions to wake early to catch up on email and sleep a full eleven hours. My anxious mind and unceasing ambition make it so I can rarely rest completely. Sleeping late is out of the question. Naps, though highly desired, end up fitful and unsatisfying. Yet in Alaska, I have found sleep. Even with the time zone change, I sleep through my alarm. Come afternoon, I may lay back down and slumber another hour or three.

The girl sharing my bunkroom at the hostel is a champion sleeper. I wonder if it’s her gravity pulling down my eyelids, and pinning me to my bunk. All rockets must fire before I may break orbit and escape our warm room.

I take a late breakfast at Gwennie’s Old Alaska café – the place where they leave the entire pot of coffee on my table. Glorious. Turning to client work, I open my journal to a blank page and mark down my task list. A chorus of opinions negotiates in my mind, padding and stripping my to-do list. Anxiety gnaws at my stomach. How will I get this all done? My hard-earned peace from this long, wandering weekend slips away from my spirit with frightening speed. Panicked, I sit straight, tell myself to breath. Look around.

Prince’s “Doves Cry” plays on the speakers positioned behind the stuffed bear and fox diorama. Two grizzled, bearded men at the corner table mumble the words and bob their heads.

I smile. This is my life. This is my life.


A few select photos from my trip to Alaska…

 

finding_my_footing

Finding My Footing

finding_my_footingI fail being alone.

Camper in the woods – just my dogs and me. The fates occupy all members of my immediate family with business trips and family trips. My mother grants me the use of her splendid white camper perched on white steed of a Chevrolet. I retreat to an abandoned corner of a state campground with one purpose – I will finish my book proposal revisions.

The transition from racing publishing diva to quiet, thoughtful writer does not go well. I’m a wreck. I don’t want to start working. I do everything else instead. I walk the dogs. I eat. I nap. I throw the ball. I drink tea. I drink wine. I play a game on my phone. I walk the dogs.

I start up my computer, then power it down, terrified. Perhaps my brain is broken. Or what if I’m just lazy and lacking in character?

I lock the dogs in the camper to walk alone. My camp is near a small river, at Rainbow Falls where the opposing riverbanks bend together like the thighs of a modest woman, forcing the water through a turbulent triangle. I walk alone to hear my own feet clop along in rain boots, steps heavy as a cow. I walk alone to quiet any nagging needs, to stand perfectly still and listen for croaking frogs and dropping leaves.

“You’ve completely forgotten how to be alone and unoccupied.” There’s no one around. I say the words out loud like a crazy person.

When I return to the camper, I go to sleep, dogs pressed in on either side of me. I don’t work that evening, but I no longer look at my phone, or eat, or pace. Ten hours I sleep.

Come morning, I wake my fine fellows and walk them out on the trail I spotted yesterday evening. Wide and straight, an old railway bed turned public trail, the path fades into infinity before and behind the spot where I catch it at “Dryad’s Rest” crossing.

A different world from the golden autumn I enjoyed last night, silver fog swallows the view. Dewy spider webs drape over branches like Christmas garlands. I clip-clop along behind my dogs, the companion thud of my rain boots against the back of my calves again make me think my steps sound like a giant, lumbering cow.

My 100-pound dog with the useless back legs follows his spritely brother down a ravine. While the younger dog climbs the slippery slope back to the trail with bounding ease, my big, black dog slides on the grass and mud and lands squarely on his rump at the bottom. He whines.

“You went down there. You can get back up.”

I walk away, assuming my fading steps will compel him to rally and figure his way. This doesn’t happen.

He shrieks and whimpers like a toddler, delicate, high-pitched cries I’ve never heard come from his rough throat. I stomp back and peer over the edge His eyes shine at me like yellow diamonds.

“Shit.”

I find my way over the edge and down the slide. It’s the damn marsh grass, wet with dew. The entire side is slicker than buttered plastic.

I say a little thanks for my cumbersome rain boots as I land with a splash at the bottom of the ravine in half a foot of muddy water.

“Come on, Zeus,” I say, wedge my palms under his haunches and heft his weight up and forward.

Once on top of his feet, he makes the climb with minimal shoving and pushing on my part.

At the top, back on the trail while I wipe the muck off my hands onto my jean, I look across to the pasture on the other side. Three rust-colored cows stare at me. They stand so perfectly aligned and spaced that I expect them at any moment to take a slide-step to the left, say ooooo, and start a do-wop routine.

“Hi, cows.”

I fall in behind my dogs and we clip-clop back in the direction of our camper trailer.

Back inside, peeled free from boots and raincoat, I sit at the little table with my coffee and my laptop. I feel better somehow. I open the file, scroll to where I left off, and begin to type.

 

crafting_challege

Do I Really Have to Move Today? Crafting Challenge in a World of Comfort

crafting_challegeI am a runner, so are so many other writers. Perhaps we run for clarity, or concentrated problem solving, or even for the lovely void of thought that may open and swallow us whole after a certain timespan of feet pounding on pavement. I run because when I do, suddenly I have arms, I have lungs that fill and burn and push and pull. I have legs and they are strong!

Not training properly for my recent half-marathon might have been a sub-conscious strategy. What would happen if I faced a challenge that wasn’t easy? What would happen when I hit a wall, or when I felt real pain?

Comfort infuses my life. I wake at reasonable hour, push button for instant caffeine, slip on whatever for the five-minute drive to drop kiddo off at school. Entrenched in my cushy chair in my home office, gazing out a window at golden morning light, probably not even wearing pants, I push the button to power up my screens. Snacks on my right, coffee on my left, big dog plopped over my bare toes. Hours pass.

How easy it is to forget you dwell in a body when you make a living using solely your brain, with occasional interfacing with the physical world through minimal hand movements.

My husband and I each bought those Fitbit bands to track and encourage daily movement. A minimum of 10,000 steps sets the bar. No sweat. A couple walks around the neighborhood gets that done licitly-split. If I make it out for an actual run, I’ll soar past the goal.

Imagine my horror when I discovered that some days I didn’t even come close to the goal of 10,000. After a day of click-clacking away, a casual check of my steps revealed that I barely broke 2,000. In fifteen waking hours, I’d only walked the equivalent of four laps around a high school track. No wonder my flesh seems to be filling and softening. No wonder fatigue comes over me so easily.

Regular runs help, but still fall short of some primal need. Yes, better fitness habits and routine improve not only my body, but also my mental health and over-all productivity. The tightened muscled in my thighs and calves provide much pleasure and pride. But soon those neighborhood jaunts feel ho-hum. It’s difficult to reach the void, to push hard enough that those little anxieties and concerns quiet down so that breathing may receive the full attention it deserves.

“I also know how important it is in life not necessarily to be strong, but to feel strong, to measure yourself at least once, to find yourself at least once in the most ancient of human conditions, facing the blind, deaf stone alone with nothing to help you but your hands and your own head.”

From Into the Wild

So I sign up for a half-marathon, even though I’ve only been running four miles at a time. The day before the race, some strange compulsion overcomes me. My plans for eating lean proteins and fibers falls flat. My husband brings home a box of day-old donuts for the kids. Cutting out 1-inch “tastes” at a time, I somehow manage to eat two entire maple bars, a jelly donut and a bear claw. In the evening, I drink two glasses of red wine. I do remember to hydrate, sucking down water whenever I think of it. I’m not a complete idiot.

Morning of the race I realize my horrible food choices have completely backed up my system. Oh well, I’ll just have to carry it with me.

I squeeze into hard-working compression pants, wrestle a sports bra over my torso and make the drive into the countryside for the race start.

Can I do this? I think I can do this.

Alone in the tightly-wound pre-race crowd, my nervous thoughts ping-pong around the corners of my brain. There is no guarantee. It will be entirely embarrassing if the aid team has to carry me off the course.

The race begins. I force myself to plod, to not let insecurity or intimidation spur my pace to match those of the runners gaily lopping by me.

This is easy, so easy. But I’ve only gone two miles. Eleven more to go.

At the five-mile marker, I’m certain a mistake has been made. Surely this is about halfway, more like seven, right? My GPS confirms 5 miles, but my legs beg to differ.

At eight miles, after I’ve passed the much anticipated turn-around point, my earlier insistence on plodding pays off. The crowd around me thins and slows. No one passes me anymore. I pass runners one by one.

At 12 miles, my legs feel like spaghetti noodles, but still keep cycling. I pass everyone – fit or flabby, male or female, young or old, gliding along on endorphins and relief. You made it this far, just don’t think about what you’re doing or how you feel and soon you’ll be at the finish.

There it is! The clapping crowd, the giant arch, the man with the megaphone. I kick hard, knock off a couple more runners before crossing the line, just because I can.

Walking somehow seems more difficult than jogging. Standing is worse. I can’t even think about sitting down. Another runner hands me a big red cup of water.

“Good run,” he says.

“Yeah,” I say. “You too.”

But really we’re saying, I just did that! You did that too! Wow! Life is amazing! Wow! Everything is awesome! I am awesome! Wow!

After I’ve stuffed myself on halved bananas and sample protein bars, I limp back to my car to head home. When I get out of my seat after the hour drive, my legs barely bend. I hobble like the tin man up my front steps.

My husband and kids nod at me, say good job. I don’t think they understand the depth of what I’ve just accomplished. The endorphin high I shared with the other finishers clearly does not transmit through proximity. I feel as though returning from war. There was this thing and I didn’t know if I could do it. I tried and it was really hard and then I did it. Everything is awesome!

I go to bed at 7 o’clock, very well aware of my body and still delightfully incapable of deep thought.

The week comes. I sit again at my comfortable desk. I plan, strategize, implement. I market, compose, organize. I think. I click, click, click.

Thursday morning my skin crawls. I can barely sit still. I can’t focus at all. I go for a run, eight miles. Ahhh, that’s better.

As an encore event, my husband signed us both up for a Tough Mudder the very next weekend, a 12-mile course containing 20 terrifying obstacles. I haven’t trained properly. My legs are strong now, but I have no idea if my arms can lift anything heavier than a venti green tea. Can I do this? I don’t know. I think I can do this.


 

Notes: This post was inspired by this brilliant piece by Matthew Inman (The Oatmeal). The half-marathon was the Beat the Blerch. Very fun. Do it with me next year! The 12-mile obstacle course was Tough Mudder. We finished moderately intact. Three days later, I’m still blowing mud out of my nose.

lessons_about_memoir_writing

Six Lessons about Memoir Writing

lessons_about_memoir_writingThis is a guest post by bestselling memoirist and friend Abigail Carter.

Abigail attended a writing workshop in Sonoma hosted by Theo Nestor, author of Writing Is My DrinkWhat follows are the lessons she learned about memoir writing at this retreat.

1. Ask the questions

One of the things I was reminded about in the workshop, and the reason I was there in the first place, was to formulate the basis for the book. It really comes down to a couple of pointed questions. The tip that Theo provided was to “adopt the attitude that your life is important and ask the question, “If you were really important, what would you be writing about?” What is the most essential thing you need to share through your story?

When I think about what I should be writing about in relation to the house, I think about what it is the house means to me, which I can more or less summarize in one word:

Sanctuary.

I get lost in another time reading Betty’s books and visiting her house (weirdly, I still think of it as her house and not mine) provides me with a similar escape. The moment I enter the house, it’s as if I have opened the door of the wardrobe in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, into a whole different world. I can physically feel myself relax. I get excited about cooking, and writing (with pen and paper), about curling up on the couch to read a real book.

In my regular life, I spend hours behind my computer only to stand up after hours of addictive-like behavior feeling dazed and foggy, and my only reprieve comes in the form of a small dog who incessantly leaves her toy at my feet for me to throw.

I refuse to hook up Internet access at the house because I know the moment I do, its magic will be lost. I need Vashon to remain my escape from a plugged-in world into a time where life was simpler, or at least lived in real time.

2. Dance into your writing

Tanya Taylor Rubinstein was one of the day’s speakers and she speaks from the perspective of a solo performance artist. My favorite moment of her talk was when she began to wiggle around the stage, doing what a writer might call a “five minute write” but in oral story form as she waved her hands around and did a little twirl and a wiggle. “It’s a whole different way of coming at the story, and if you’re stuck it might help you.” She then had us find a partner, look them directly in the eyes and tell that partner a story about a moment that changed our life. To stay in the moment, I told my partner the moment I found the Vashon house and she shared with me a powerful story of the moment she discovered she had breast cancer. By the end of five minutes I knew I had made a new friend.

3. Be “Passionately Confused”

I also liked Theo’s idea that you must be “passionately confused” about your topic. Here the question is “what is the obsession that is imbedded in your story?” What are you curious about? It is this questioning that will make your memoir compelling because as you discover answers, your reader will as well. This is the crux of memoir, the transformation of the narrator. The narrator at the beginning of the story cannot be the same as the narrator at the end and you must be clear about what that shift is. Candace Walsh, another of the speakers backed this idea up when she advised to “live the questions now. Live your way into the answers.”

As Theo spoke and the other speakers, Candace Walsh and Tanya Taylor Rubinstein continued their workshops, I began jotting down ideas about what the themes in the book might be: slowing down, motherhood, spirituality, my relationship to money, healing, food, feeling overwhelmed by life, marriage, sex.

4. Let your subtitle frame your subject matter

Another of Theo’s points was that the subtitle of a book often frames the overall idea embedded within the book, kind of like a thesis statement in an essay. It sums up the essence of what a memoir is really about. Examples of this include: “Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison” and “Poser: My Life in 23 Poses.” I’ll be living my way into writing the subtitle too, it seems.

5. Fame/writing memoir won’t change you

The excitement of the day was a talk by Anne Lamott, who shared her own brand of wisdom. I have long admired her work – poignant, humorous, thoughtful, and slightly sarcastic, and maybe it was because she was recovering from the flu, or something else is going on with her, but I found her words to be threaded with sadness. She told us to not expect the writing to change us, or perhaps it was to not expect fame to change us, it wasn’t quite clear. I do believe that the process of writing memoir does change you. If you follow Theo’s wisdom on the matter, writing memoir is all about the transformation.

So perhaps it was the fame thing. I have never cared about fame, and if anything I shun it. What I seek is the change in a reader who has read my work. A transformation, a comfort, a healing. It struck me as I sat in that huge hotel ballroom how many stories were represented there – hundreds of big, tragic stories that each sought an outlet. To be a memoirist of Ann Lamott’s fame must take a certain amount of strength of spirit, a sense of responsibility to those stories. What came across to me was how fragile Anne Lamott is, and how fame must be debilitating to her in a lot of ways.

6. Carry a pen and paper at all times

I did like her advice to always carry a pen and paper wherever you go and was charmed by the idea that she writes on her hand and then “transcribes her hand” when she gets home. I am horrible with writing little things down, maybe too busy living in the moment, to remember to stop it and jot it down on a piece of paper and so I felt somewhat lacking without my Moleskin and Montblanc.  Still, I so admire her turns of phrases, her metaphors and no doubt, her jotting is where they come from. Time to get a notebook and a pen!

And so, I came away from Petaluma percolating with new ideas and resolutions to jot, which was my goal for the weekend. I also made some lovely new friends who I look forward getting to know, at least inside this screen, my little virtual 2014 world.