Mindfulness and the B Word

iStock_000006823591XSmallIt’s alarming enough to have something growing on your body that’s not supposed to be there without the added joys of waiting for a professional to tell you what it is and what should be done about it.

Several times in my life, these stowaways have required a biopsy. So far, most have been benign or at least precancerous, and they were handily dispatched. Right now I’m wearing a bandage on my left temple while a recent removal is healing. It’s benign, which is one of my favorite b-words.

But don’t fret—I’m not here to get all TMI about icky skin things.

It was the wait that got me thinking.

I’m sure it’s not intentional on the part of the office staff to leave me hanging overnight to call about test results in the morning. Not the first time that’s happened, either. But there I was, alone in the house with a message I couldn’t return, an answer I didn’t have.

I did the human thing for a few minutes and worried. What if I wasn’t lucky this time? I’m from a family of fair-skinned people who have dermatologists on speed-dial. What if it required more treatment, more cutting, more money I didn’t have?

And then it hit me.

I’m alone in the house. My husband works from home. I’m almost NEVER alone in the house. And there I was, wasting that precious time and energy with worry about something I couldn’t control. Something I didn’t know. Something I couldn’t, at that moment, know, unless I felt like getting my stalker on and paying a visit to the dermatologist’s office, and perhaps the local jail.

I smiled.

Then I bopped around the house doing my bad Annie Lennox impression, had a conversation with a few of my characters to work out a few of their issues, then sat down to edit for the rest of the evening, without a thought that my style of reading aloud would bother anyone.

If I’d spent that evening coiled like a spring, regardless of the test results, I’d have regretted it. Learned from it, maybe, but regretted it.

Score one for living in the moment and not letting the worry win.

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Real Life into Fiction

Typewriter - Once upon a timeThink about your favorite novels. There might be a ripping good story and great writing, but I bet it also stars characters that leap off the page. Even if the characters inhabit a fantasy world and have two heads and green fur, they feel as real as the person sitting next to you. That being feels…real to you. You care what happens to she/he/it. Ever wonder how writers do that? I can’t speak for all writers, but here are a few secrets some of us use to take our real life experiences into fiction. Continue reading

Flash Spring Forward

431px-Bundesarchiv_Bild_183-C1015-0001-012,_Tokio,_XVIII._Olympiade,_Ingrid_KrämerIt’s been a while since I flashed you. So here are a few of my contributions from Friday’s Word-a-Palooza and barn-raising also known as 2MinutesGo at JD Mader’s blog. As usual, only lightly edited for your protection. ‘Cause that’s the way we roll. If you’re in a writing mood, maybe you’ll come by next week and play. Or at least read the awesome, awesome writing going on there.

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Once a Pantser…

Typewriter - Once upon a timeEver since it dawned on me some thirty years ago that the short story I was writing had the potential to be a novel, I’ve been an enthusiastic and dedicated pantser. I’d follow some interesting characters around, taking notes, until something resembling a narrative arc bubbled up. I’d follow that thread until the story was told and then on subsequent drafts, shape it together into a plot, like a lump of clay on a potter’s wheel. (And no, I did not just think about Patrick Swayze in Ghost. Okay, I did.) Continue reading

Thump

Cardinal_2I am a dreamer at heart. There. I’ve admitted it. I’ve tried to deny this for years, doing the practical things humans do, fretting about getting good grades and finding the right mate and how to keep a roof over my head and food on my table, marching in painfully uncomfortable lockstep with the other grownups. I put that uniform on when I need to—food and shelter are not to be sneezed at—but the wool itches and the vest constricts my breathing and let’s not talk about how the crotch rides up on those ridiculous trousers.

Right about the time I began to worry whether I’d let the uniform become a permanent part of my epithelial cells, sort of like a Simpsons character, this weird little cardinal started attacking my back deck.

Male Northern cardinals do this sort of thing, I’ve heard. They are territorial, especially during brooding season, and when they see their own reflections in shiny things like windows and car mirrors, they think it’s a rival bird and attack. Over and over and over again.

We named him Napoleon.

I did the things people suggested to make him not see his reflection. Decals on the windows, dangling distracting strips of things from the glass…everything short of covering the sliders with white sheets, which the spouse nixed. I’d rather have a thumping cardinal than a husband grumbly that the lack of natural light coming into the house might kill his cacti. And his mood.

Eight months later, well past normal brooding season, he’s still flinging his winter-fluffed body into my windows. But in the beginning, my little dreaming heart wanted to tell stories and make meaning out of it.

My first flight into the nature of his arrival was that he had come to teach me something. About perseverance, perhaps. Or how to survive getting hit on the head over and over and over again, a common way of life for freelancers and indie authors.

Thump.

Next I entertained the possibility that the meaning was a little more subtle and archetypical. He represented something. A message from a friend, sent on a wing and a prayer, perhaps. (I apologize for that. No, I don’t.)

Thump. Thump.

Then I attempted communing with him. While waiting for my coffee to brew in the mornings, I’d inch up to the window, watching the proud set of his banged-up beak, the determination in his shining black eyes. He liked the sound of my voice, or at least did not fly away from it. At this point, Husband considered that I might need professional help, or a hobby, but I ignored him. Instead, I went deeper and imagined his story. I let him tell it from his point of view. In the first, he had come to save me from my itchy, semi-permanent uniform, a sort of cage I’d locked myself into and did not realize I could leave. Next, and I admit I might have been a little loopy that day, maybe from the repeated percussion of a determined cardinal banging up my house, he’d been sent by a Disney princess to be one of those magical cleaning birds but was continually frustrated that he couldn’t get inside the window.

Thump. Thump. Thump.

I latched wholeheartedly onto the next theory, relayed to me by several Facebook friends. Some say that an appearance of a cardinal means that you are getting a message from a loved one who has died.

Then I was all about what the message might be. From my mother-in-law, watching over us? Telling me to clean the house and fretting that my husband is too thin? A friend who likes that we’ve hung one of his paintings in the hall and hopes we’re happy? Someone else? Don’t get me wrong; I appreciate the love from beyond, but those windows are going to need some serious power washing come spring.

I know that my time with Napoleon on this plane is limited; I know that some think I’m making too big a deal of what might be a simple avian instinct gone awry. But his presence gives my little dreaming heart something to thump about. And now, instead of rattling my imagination for meaning, I spend a little time with him, send out a thought-beam of kindness and compassion, and say, “thank you.”

Flashy New Year

ghostwriterThe intrepid souls gather from across the globe to write for a couple minutes and toss their innards on the virtual walls…or just play around for a while. Because it’s fun, right? And fun is good. Until someone loses an eye. If you’d like to read some great spontaneous flash, check out JD Mader’s website and maybe next Friday you’ll come by and help us break the blog. Here are a few of my pieces from this week. As always, lightly edited for your protection. Continue reading

12 Blogs of Christmas – Dianne Greenlay

Dianne Greenlay photoToday’s 12 Blogs of Christmas contribution is from Dianne Greenlay. Take it away, Dianne.

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Hello everyone! I’m delighted (and more than just a little bit in awe) to be part of this group of talented and very entertaining authors in our “12 Blogs of Christmas”, conceived and assembled by my friend and bestselling author Martin Crosbie. By now, you have met several of these brilliant authors, and today it’s my turn to entertain.

I’m the author of the award winning action/adventure QUINTSPINNER SERIES , and also of THE CAMPING GUY , a humorous short story, which is an award winner in its theatre script version. I live and write on the Canadian prairies, home (most years) to 6 or 7 months of winter. Yeah, we never put our parkas away, just in case. (Is it any wonder that I fantasize and write about pirates and adventure in the sun splashed tropics?)

I chose to write my first novel over learning to play the bagpipes, and my husband is grateful. I love to hear from my readers and you can find me at www.diannegreenlay.com, or on twitter at https://twitter.com/DianneGreenlay or even at my Author page .

And now onto my Christmas blog. Wishing you all a wonderful holiday filled with good friends, good luck, and good books!

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Getting Into The Christmas Spirit …

Bah, Humbug!

To steal that popular line, it is Hot Stuff Hubby’s summation of what he also refers to as “a Hallmark Holiday”. The rest of us call it Christmas.

For anyone who has anything for sale, the Christmas retail season is like bottled oxygen to an astronaut in a Space Station – absolutely necessary in order to survive the rest of the year.

Not a particularly religious man, Hot Stuff nevertheless laments the overshadowing of the original intent of fellowship and gratitude of the season, with that of a glut of retail activity.

Personally, I love the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season. I think I must have been a magpie in a former life because I love all things sparkly – twinkling lights, reflective ornaments, the ropes of flashy tinsel, diamonds (ahem, are you reading this, Hot Stuff?), and such.

I love Christmas music, especially the more traditional carols and hymns perfectly harmonized and performed by choirs – I feel no shame in humming along out loud as they are pumped out of the speakers in the mall stores; I thrive on the smells of Christmas baking – sugar and cinnamon, butter and raisins, warm gingerbread – and can often be seen hanging out around the local bakery counter until the clerks get a little nervous at my continuous presence; and I take personal pride in decorating my home and yard as though it were a marker for NASA to be easily seen from outer space.

But this year is a little different. You can read more and find out why here.

Flashback Fiction

Typewriter - Once upon a timeThe first one’s free. That’s the ticket. Then you’re hooked like a trout on JD Mader’s line. He’s a catch-and-release kinda guy, so you come back again for the tasty bait. And again. And again. Each two-minute (more or less) flash fiction freewrite you share on his Friday Unemployed Imagination blog feeds your hunger to try another. Maybe next week you’ll come by, test the waters, and settle in to see what swims by. Check out the alchemy a ton of awesome writers created this week on 2 Minutes. Go! Here are a few of my entries, lightly edited for your ingestion.

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1. 

The cigar smoke stings your eyes and makes you want to puke, so you lie and tell your grandfather that you need to go to the bathroom. Of course he does not protest or go with you, and with his steel-sharp focus trained on the field of horses, he waves you off with a wrinkled hand. You remember your polite-young-lady lessons, smooth your dress, and excuse yourself into the aisle, counting the rows so you can find your way back through the women with hats and mothball-reeking men in plaid shirts, puffing away and yelling to each other in Yiddish. You pick out a few words, and they are not nice ones. As you’re looking for the little drawing of the stick figure in a skirt, a froggish-looking man with a piece of paper clamped in one hand cocks his head and gives you a smirk. “Hey, little girl,” he says. “What’s your favorite horsie?” You blink at him. The horses are pretty, and you liked the sound of their names, like music, as the announcer called them off. You remember Bluebird, because you once saw a bluebird on your window, and it reminded you of Disney movies and happiness. Because that’s what people say about bluebirds, and you want to be happy and not have to smell cigar smoke and mothballs anymore. You tell him. His smile crooks at one corner, and he scribbles something on his sheet of paper and hands you a piece of hard candy wrapped in cellophane. Polite-young-lady lessons demand a thank-you, and you do not disappoint him. But the candy wrapper is slick with sweat and also stinks of cigar. In the bathroom you flush it down the toilet, watching it swirl and wishing you could also disappear that easily.

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2. 

Bad enough that the wind, roaring for three days straight, fuzzled up her thinking. But now she had to make the list. She dreaded it, put it off until the last minute, until the supermarket crowds were so thick and intimidating she contemplated calling the whole thing done and ordering takeout for Thanksgiving. Yet onward she trudged, feeling the weight of guilt from generations of women before her, from her late husband’s family, from miscellaneous siblings, cousins, great aunts and such who depended on coming to her house for dinner. She hadn’t yet found the strength to tell them no more, that someone else would have to take the mantle next year. She sighed, made more coffee, and sat down to scratch through the items she would need. Butter, because there was never enough. Canned cranberries, for that one cousin’s boyfriend who refused to eat sauce he couldn’t slice. Brussels sprouts. She stared at the two words, feeling her eyes burn and a catch in her throat. He was the only one who ate them, yet she couldn’t bear not making them or even writing them on the list. With a long, deep sigh, she called the task complete and grabbed her purse and coat.

Halfway to her car, the wind kicked up harder, and before she realized it, the list slipped from her fingers and skated off on the breeze. No, she thought, starting after it. “No!” As if her voice alone could stop nature. But up it floated, lodging between the branches of a tree. And she stared, feeling helpless, feeling the bite of the cold air against the open collar of her coat. She would never remember everything. She’d forget the flour, the butter, the canned cranberry sauce…the Brussels sprouts.

“Can I help with something?” a man’s voice said. A small yip confirmed that this was the man who’d moved in down the block a few months ago and often passed by her house with his handsome spaniel, the two carrying on a private conversation.

She gestured with a gloved hand as if that could explain it all, from the effort it had taken to write everything out to the phone calls coordinating who was bringing what to the emptiness of the house she’d shared with one man for seventeen years.

“Brussels sprouts,” she said on a sigh, unable to tear her gaze from the bare branches that held fast to her slip of pink notepaper.

“Oh, you’re out?” he said. “You should come by our house. My sister makes enough of those for an army. I’m sure she could spare a few dozen.”

She turned then, and smiled at him. “I might just do that.” She thought of the throng of people who would be ringing her doorbell in a few days. And realized that no, definitely no, she did not want them there. She’d have to suck down some pride, but that would be better than putting up with the memories.

“Hey,” he said, as the spaniel brushed against her leg. “Are you all right?”

She shook her head at the same time she attempted to force a smile, and his eyes were so kind. “Apparently not.”

He seemed to take her in for a long moment before he said, “Tell you what? Grab hold of Daisy’s leash for a sec, and I’ll see about getting that thing out of those branches.”

“Thanks, but no. The tree can keep it.”

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3.

Even from across the field she can see that the dog is happier now, with land to roam and children to herd. There’s a jaunt to his step, joy radiating from ear to tail, and she smiles, but she can still feel the ache in the pit of her stomach for the reason she had to let him go. She couldn’t give him the life he deserved, and she was too selfish and broken to realize that at the time. To think she expected him to save her from loneliness and a man who did not love her. That’s simply too much pressure to heap on an Australian shepherd, even a hardy one. The woman who owns the farm whistles and calls him by his new name, one that suits him better, and he comes running. He pulls up short in front of her. Sniffing at the legs of her jeans, her battered sneakers. He looks up. A sweet whimper escapes his throat, eyes so big and brown as he presses his body against her calf. Like he remembers her. Like he remembers that it was not her fault and feels badly that despite the chunk he attempted to take out of the man’s leg, he was not enough to run him off. “Can I visit for a while?” she asks the woman as she kneels to scratch behind his left ear. And the woman pats his head and tells her to take all the time she wants.

Thump: Flash Fiction Hangover

Cardinal_2The Flash Fiction Friday Fandango and Fiesta Bake-off on JD Mader’s website keeps getting better and better. More writers join; more magic happens. If you want to read a bunch of great instant flash (just add phosphorus), check out what everyone wrote this week. My three two-minute pieces, some a little longer than two minutes, are here. Note: no small red birds were harmed in the writing of these stories.

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