The Importance of Anger

My word for the year is Ignite.

Burning shit down this year.

And it feels incredible.

A dear friend shared an article with me several weeks ago from The Book of Life. It was about how depression may not simply be profound sadness. The author suggested that depression "is a kind of anger that has been unable to find expression, that has turned in on itself...”

I skimmed it, nodding my head, and thought, That makes sense.

I read it again much more slowly and felt a deep stirring. I sat silently with this new perspective for a few weeks.

“…we have been taught, probably since earliest childhood, that it isn’t very nice to be angry. Anger violates our image of ourselves as kindly and sympathetic people. It can be too painful and guilt-inducing to acknowledge that we may feel furious and vengeful, not least towards people whom we otherwise still love and who might have made many sacrifices on our behalves.”

I have anger.

It scares me.

People might be afraid of me.

I might be afraid of me. 

I might burn my bridges and turn to ash if I express my anger.

“…we might be bad at getting angry because we haven’t seen examples of successful expressions of anger around us. We might associate the word with volcanic crazed destruction, as dangerous as it is counter-productive. Or else we might have lived for too long surrounded by people who never dared to raise their voices and bitterly swallowed every hurt instead. We have not learnt the art of a controlled and cathartic conversation.”

Anger doesn't have to be crazed.

Anger is real.

Denying it will breed sickness and dis-empowerment.

Misplaced anger can be turned out onto people who don't deserve it.

“The way out of this sort of depression is to realise that its alternative isn’t cheerfulness, but mourning. Mourning is a useful word for it indicates a focused kind of grief over an identifiable kind of loss.” 

I wasn't sure what to make of this "mourning." Was I supposed to cry about my stuff? I was annoyed by this solution. Crying is great, but it wasn't time for that anymore. 

In the same stretch of weeks, I participated in imagery as part of an unrelated creative exercise. Imagery is a relaxation tool I use regularly. Another person reads a script and guides you into a dreamscape of your own creation. You breathe deeply, relax your body and follow along to a recorded voice. You don't talk back. It's all in your mind. 

People use it to relieve anxiety, get answers to questions, and connect with their intuition. I love it because it gives me the chance to find the truth that wouldn't otherwise reveal itself. In this instance, I was using it to explore my creativity.

Without my everyday thoughts getting in the way, I was led on a journey to meet the Queen of Fire. I was asked to walk toward a door in a landscape of my own imagining. Mine was a non-descript door on a blank canvas of pure white, almost fake-looking. The facilitator's voice whispered, "Now open the door. What does your queen look like?"

In my mind's eye, the door blew apart in a fiery blast. I looked down at my scaly dragon body. I had willed the door to be gone, and in its place, there was charred earth split by glowing molten rock as far as the eye could see in every direction.

The awakening took my breath away. Watching the churning cycle of earth being heated and cooled was cathartic. It was clear that I had been boxing up anger in an attempt to be neat and polite. I wanted to be together and stable, not ranty and riled-up. 

But am I riled up, and there's no need to be apologetic about it.

My word of the year, the article, and the guided meditation all pointed to a more complete me. One who acknowledges anger and transmutes it into raw power and informed decisions.

Rather than keeping my dragon chained up in the dark, I'll fly on her back, running my hand over the spot between her ears while she roasts patriarchal bullshit in her flames. 

My Great-Grandfather Was a Blogger

I'm a family history nut. Name a period of history and I'll tell you where each of my ancestors was at the time and how they might have been involved.

I don't have many pictures or physical documents, but after visiting an aunt who treasures those things as much as I do, I was able to touch old songbook pages, look at handwriting, and hear stories about those ancestors.

One of them is my great-grandfather, John. His mother (featured in this blog post) was a God-fearing woman who had three husbands and thirteen children. Every photo I have of her contains a Bible. John was born and raised in the South. I've been told he was a formidable man with a photographic memory. He taught at a singing school and published his own songs of worship.

My great-grandfather with his first wife and daughter

More interesting than the songs he wrote, were the pamphlets he published and distributed. He was the blogger-type of his day. He wanted his voice to be heard, so he recorded the things that weighed on his heart and mind, and then shared them with anyone who cared to read it.

It's surprising that I can find commonalities between my guiding philosophy and his. I'm decidedly irreligious because the damaging judgmental parts of the doctrine and culture outweigh the inspiring parts for me. I am deeply in love with divinity, goodness, light, and even gospel, though.

We both used our voices to educate. We just came at it from different places.

It was touching to find that fiery passion drove him and a lot of my ancestors to use their voices this way. I had claimed that for myself. Now I have gratitude for all the people who came before me, too. I see that I've built my truth on their foundations. I'm even happier to have left a record of my voice for posterity, as well.

In contrast to the "Damning the Wicked" messages of my forefathers, if I published a pamphlet, it would be called:

You Are Worthy of Joy

My modern-day interpretation of hell is believing that you're irredeemable. It's letting the uninformed opinions of the masses stamp out the embers of joy, hope, and delight that still glow.

Instead of worrying about burning in the fires of that hell, light a match and throw it over your shoulder every day if you have to. Heap love and kindness onto the flames until you are the violet flame of transmutation. 

It takes a while to overwrite false programming. One of my mantras is:  Joy isn't something you have to earn. Your worth isn't tied to your actions. 

One of the women I follow online Christie Inge says, "Worthiness is intrinsic. It can't be proven or earned." The more I seek, the more I find modern-day teachers like me who are working to spread a different message.

If I listen to the voice that feeds my discontent and reminds me of my purpose, it says, "You don't have to stand there trying to hold back that river.  You are every little drop in that river. You are the river. You are all the water."

2017 Scene and Story #6

I love this picture because:

1. The progression from left to right shows the decay, the full bloom, the tender petals about to open, and the potential marigold all in one shot. 

2. I felt proud of how still I needed to be to take a clear shot. It was a special moment for a caffeine-junkie with anxiety.

3. The rich fiery colors against the cool gray planter make me smile.

I took dozens of pictures this month. I count that as another win for my developing love for photography. 

Here are a few more buds and blooms: 

For all of 2017, I'm joining Sarah from Paisley Rain Boots and Lee from Sea Blue Lens for a monthly Scene and Story Linkup. They are my photography inspiration!

2017 Scene and Story #5

It had been raining for days, and it would continue to rain until there was widespread flooding in our region.

One afternoon for about an hour though, the sun reached through a break in the clouds. When the quality of light changed, everyone in the house turned their faces to the windows. They started moving a little faster.

It was as if we had all been on slo-mo and only just realized it.

I grabbed my camera and took one of my kids to the park. I'm not sure we spoke words. We slid on our rain boots and left.

This is the series of photos I shot while my son scouted for photogenic wildlife and jumped in puddles.

This is my favorite. It looks like heaven to me:

The light is hopeful. The varied green tones are refreshing. 
This picture is what I want my brain to feel like on the inside.

Spring Day Haiku:

More happy snapshots 
of a short, glorious hour 
the sun remembered

A squirrel playing peek-a-boo

For all of 2017, I'm joining Sarah from Paisley Rain Boots and Lee from Sea Blue Lens for a monthly Scene and Story Linkup. Visit them and all the other contributors. They are my photography inspiration!

It's My Face

I'm in a journaling group. One of the prompts was to write about your physical body. I was prepared to stretch boundaries and discover things. I never made it, though. I came to a screeching halt at my face. I've been journaling about it for days. There's a lot to say.

There's a popular term called Resting Bitch Face or Bitchy Resting Face. I have to admit I lost my mind laughing when I heard it years ago. I totally have that.

I own it.

But I like to call it Stoic Russian Mennonite Face. Half of my ancestors were Russian Mennonites. You know why they had those faces? They had been kicked out of country after country because they were pacifists. They believed people should be able to choose baptism for themselves after a certain age and that church and state should be separate. At the time, rulers were aligned with religions that baptized infants. My ancestors were a threat to social stability. Mennonites and the like were seen as radical and dangerous.

Every few decades, they'd settle in a country, work the land, contribute medical service or other labor in place of going to war. Eventually, the governments of the day would take their developed land, change the rules and say fight or leave. Most would move on, newly destitute. Others would stay and be sent to work camps or killed.

They led simple lives and believed that simplicity, toughness, and self-reliance made them better people. Imagine a Mama who just gave birth to her tenth child and is filling the outdoor oven with fuel by hand to get the fire to just the right temperature and bake bread for her family. She'll scrape the burnt part of the bread and make coffee from the scrapings. Bitchy. Resting. Face. 

Compared to that upheaval and diaspora, my life is cake. I still have "stuff'" though. I'm getting older. The laugh lines are mixed up with the stress cracks in my forehead. I have a zillion things going on in my head at once. Sometimes that's because of mania, but most of the time, it's due to motherhood and being a writer. 

Thinking about if my son has pink eye, scraping peanut butter out of the nearly empty jar, having a spark of an idea for a novel, and listening to my daughter tell me about her day all at the same time looks like hostile anger on my face. I can't help it. 

After days of writing about my hangups with my face, the most important discovery I made was that it's one more arena where I don't have control. It's one more chance to practice getting my respect from me, and me only. I can't control how people see me. I have to remember that I'm whole and I understand me, and I don't need other people to do that for me.

I've been labeled a snob, spacy, cranky, aloof, stuck-up (my perennial favorite), and bitchy because of my facial expressions. Oh well. I can't be me and contort my face to other people's liking. 

I also have no control of a culture that celebrates pleasing, demure women. I am that person sometimes and I recognize when it works in my favor. Other times, I let the gray grow out and eschew makeup. I yell at my kids in public (when it's absolutely necessary) and I see people scurrying away. 

I even kinda like it. I put on a large flowery mental housedress, cross my arms and flex my peasant-born man-back. I curl my top lip enough to look unapproachable and think, "Ya, this is my face." It's the best way to fully accept the shadowy parts of my nature and that feels fantastic.

Because this post wouldn't be complete without photos:

This is one of my great-great grandmothers. She had 3 husbands and 13 children. 
Isn't she pleasing and demure? 

(Not a Russian Mennonite, but every picture I have of her contains a Bible. 
Her son and grandson would go on to become outspoken evangelists in the South.)

2017 Scene & Story #4

This photo is my favorite for the month.

First, I love seeing my husband cut stuff, weld, and use tools and fire to make things. I don't normally intrude on his workspace just like he doesn't hang around my laptop. He's different out in the garage. When he's doing physically strenuous work, he breathes heavily and walks like a predator. It's fun to peek at him in that element. I see his intellectual and emotional strength all the time as the dad to our kids. The intellect and fortitude it takes to plan these garage projects engage a different part of his brain and it's awesome to me. 

In the picture he's grinding down a weld on a part of the jig he's using to keep everything "Straight, Centered, and Level," he said, while he reworks his motorcycle frame. Part of the jig is from a friend. He bought the parts for the rest of it and painstakingly planned how to join the pieces. The amount of preparation needed to keep things straight, centered, and level while he tears down and rebuilds something requires focus. 

Also, my word of the year is Ignite. Every idea is like a spark. Most fizzle and disappear. Some burn a freaking hole in my shirt. But every once in a while, one spark will ignite a fantastic flame. I left the comfort of my desk to capture birds with my lens, but I saw this blazing intensity and couldn't pass it up.

For all of 2017, I'm joining Lee from Sea Blue Lens and Sarah from Paisley Rain Boots for a monthly Scene and Story Linkup. Visit them and all the other contributors. They are my photography inspiration!

What I Miss About Homeschool and What I Love About Public School

Almost two years after deciding to enroll our kids in the local public school, here is the state of the household.

What I Love About Public School:

I have greater stretches of uninterrupted time to myself. My time planning homeschool lessons and activities is replaced by helping with homework, but my time is more compartmentalized, which has helped me be more productive.

Having our youngest son in a classroom of other kids allowed us to confirm that he was struggling in specific ways compared to his peers and get him the right kind of help.

My kids' teachers are phenomenal. Their schools are remarkable. For all the strange illogical decisions we make as a society about education, the adults around my kids are balanced, compassionate, and well-educated. 

It reminds us that we're proud of the ways our family is unique.

It's a pleasure to watch school policies evolve for stronger children.

It's a pleasure to see teachers innovating in a kid-centered atmosphere.

What I Miss About Homeschooling:

Organic work/play/sleep balance.

More time for art, friends, and food.

Being in the family "cocoon" gives you security and contentedness. From that place, creativity springs and curiosity is fed.

The absence of hypermasculinity and status-seeking behavior . . . 
This has been one of toughest things to "undo." 

I used to have an entire category of homeschooling posts on my blog. I could share those experiences forever because I think it's a great idea to question how we do things. Raising kids is kinda one of the most important things. 

Public school has been a good thing for my family.

I continue to ask, "Do our kids still talk to each other? Are they still themselves? Are they hardening their hearts in unhealthy ways?"

My mantra for parenting revolves around 2 things:

Knowing Who the Boss of My Family Is


Understanding that we'll become good at the things we spend the most time doing. So we ask, "What do we want to be good at?"


2017 Scene and Story #3

This robin graciously let me snap dozens of pictures while he flipped over fallen leaves with his beak and tested the weight of dried twigs.

There were several robins out that day, braving the gusty cool air. This one caught my eye because his rusty red coloring was extra rusty.

He was watching me as I documented his afternoon activities. He was a little puffier on top of his head and on his breast, which gave him a worn out, roughed-up look. 

When he found this weathered crabapple still attached to the branch from last fall, I captured this image just before he flew away.

I imagined him savoring the fermented fruit alone in his dilapidated nest, wishing he hadn't neglected his robin wife who had left him as soon as it was warm enough to seek out a new nesting spot.

Of course, he was wondering why a human was sprawled out on the driveway cradling a used DSLR camera instead of making bread, vacuuming her minivan, or doing other useful human things. 

He probably imagined me opening the image files on my computer and squinting my eyes at the screen hoping to see more in the pictures than was actually there.

He surely smelled my frustration and noted the extra puffy crest of hair on my head, which warned him that I was having a rough day. 

I wasn't - having a rough day, that is. I just tend to look like that sometimes. I enjoyed watching this birdie for a while and promptly ordered a nicer lens for my camera. Next month: sharper images, in better light!

I'm on a journey to take more intentional photos and have joined my friends at Paisley Rain Boots and Sea Blue Lens for their monthly Scene and Story Link-up. Check out their inspiring images and blogs from the heart.

Two Halves of the Apple, Chapters Two and Three

Chapter 2
Breath of Life
Adam – 1996
The nurses were terribly silent as they handled the baby. None of the usual comforting comments for the mother, just hustle and focus. Rianne waited - dread building in her chest. She didn’t even know what to ask to find out what was wrong. The doctor attached some tubes and a mask to her baby while giving quick orders to the nursing staff. She watched them rush her baby out of view, too far away from her arms.  Her husband would have no idea that their first child might be lost to them. He would still be waiting to hear the good news.
She could hear the instruments and voices just twenty feet away, but she went inside herself.
She pressed her lips together, swallowed hard and began to pray: “Dear Lord, you know how long I’ve been waiting for this boy. I don’t know why you’ve given me his perfect soul in this body, but please give him life. Let me leave this hospital with him in my arms.” Tears wet her cheeks, “Please, don’t let this be how his story ends.”
Then she thought of the empty farmhouse she and Jake would return to and how they would bear this loss, barely able to speak through their grief. Guilt and sadness were already choking her.
Rianne kept her eyes shut, as if unwilling to leave her prayerful state until she felt a hand gently brush the hair back from her forehead. She opened her eyes to see another nurse smiling gently. The eye contact was compassionate and uncharacteristically long for a busy nurse, but there was something greater in his eyes.
“Rianne, I’m Elazar. You’ve been so strong. Rest and know that your son is in good hands.” As he spoke, he turned his head toward the team of people working to coax Adam’s underdeveloped lungs into life. Under the giant fluorescents and heat lamps, the light was nearly blinding from her bed.
There were so many hands laboring for one goal, and this did give her comfort. Elazar did not leave her side, and all at once, Rianne knew her prayers had been answered when a precious cry from Adam’s lungs cut through the heavy air. Watching the doctor and nurses rejoicing, Rianne wept tears of gratitude. The only words she had were “thank you,” but Elazar was no longer there to hear them.
Two days later when she and Jake cradled baby Adam on the threshold of their home, Rianne glowed with happiness. Together they vowed to guide their sweet boy with love and gratitude befitting his miraculous beginnings.

Adam – 2010
 “Adam, is your shirt pressed? Dad’s already warming up the car.”
“No one’s gonna see the shirt under my robes anyway.”
“I’ll know. And we’re going to Gran’s after mass for your brother’s birthday lunch.”
Adam wasn’t going to risk extra chores by making everyone late to church. He mostly ironed his shirt, rolled his eyes and helped Danny into his leg braces. He’d need to carry his little brother piggyback if they were going to make it from the back porch through the snow to the station wagon in time. He couldn’t see Danny’s grin, but as he backed up onto his brother’s bed and said, “Climb on, man.” Danny practically leaped onto his back. For a kid who had trouble walking Danny could be incredibly strong.
Giggling down the hallway, the boys stopped by the kitchen table to smuggle a couple of extra biscuits with ham and then braced themselves for the biting winter air on the way to the car.
He didn’t want to slip on the ice, but he had to be quick. Adam was pretty sure his dad would’ve started driving down the gravel road to church with or without him. His dad would’ve just rolled down the window a little and shouted for him to run alongside the car and make a jump for it if they’d been a second later.
Not only had the Franks never missed a Sunday mass, but they were also usually one of the first families to fill a pew. The boys went to St. Anthony’s school. Adam was an altar boy and shared the candle lighting, bell ringing, and the water and wine preparation duties with several other boys. Since Adam’s family was a constant fixture on Sundays, even when it wasn’t his turn to serve, sometimes the priest would make eye contact with him in the congregation and give a little nod. This meant he was to leave through the side door and come back in through the vestibule in robes and ready to fill in for someone who hadn’t shown up. 
His favorite job was to ring the bells as the priest held the chalice up with arms outstretched overhead. The set of six gleaming brass bells made a joyful noise to signal the consecration and presentation of the Eucharist. When he was feeling like a smart-aleck, he’d ring them over and over until he could barely contain his laughter. He figured fun wasn’t so bad. Irreverent, maybe, but not bad.
After his duties as an altar boy and the long drive out to Island Grove, Adam was eager to spot the chimney sprouting from the green roof of Gran’s old white farmhouse. If this were a summer get-together, they’d be helping Gran pick out a chicken for supper. She’d walk through the yard kids trailing behind her. Since she fed the chickens every day, they weren’t disturbed by her presence. If Adam or any of the other kids went into the pen, they’d scatter. She’d reach down, pick one up and hold it firm as she left the pen. Then they’d all walk to the stump with the hatchet- Gran with the children trailing behind once more.
Cradling the chicken, in a swift movement she would grab its feet and string the chicken’s head between two nails forming a V shape in the stump. She’d produce a knife out of nowhere to cut the head off, throwing the chicken out in the yard to flop around. The most fascinating part to Adam was how quickly a dozen cats would materialize at the sound of the knife hitting the stump. The mewling and hissing started an instant later. They knew better than to go for the chicken itself, so they battled over the chicken head.
As it was, there would be meat, potatoes, and fruit pies made with the fruit Gran had put up the previous season. Danny always asked for Texas sheet cake for his birthday, so his mom had made that the night before to be brought along to Gran’s the next day. Adam didn’t know any other life, but even so, he felt pretty lucky to have the family had.
As soon as the days warmed up, he would leave early in the morning on his three-wheeler, take the fishing pole, ride up and down the hills, do some fishing, ride over the creek and back again, and come home at dark.
Newton wasn’t the kind of town with enough opportunities for all of its young people. It joined the scores of other small towns that were sadly no longer economically viable after the age of technology. Adam would graduate high school and then head north to Chicago to start his life.

Chapter 3

Gabe and Abram -- Another Plane of Existence
“Did you just rewind that guy’s life?”
Abram shook his head like it was a ridiculous question. “Nah, I’m just showing you the replay of the celestial record. I’ll cut to the interesting parts.”
            I hesitated to ask another question, but said, “Why?”
            “Do you want to watch him learn to tie his shoes and blow out every birthday candle?”
            “I mean, why are we watching him at all?”
            “You and I are meant to inspire this young man to carry out his life’s purpose.” Abram produced a scroll of paper out of thin air and unrolled it with a flick of his wrist. “This here says, I, Adamah do solemnly swear to… blah, blah, blah.” He was getting impatient. “I’ll summarize it.” He scanned the scroll quickly, running his finger along the lines of script, “He promises to find Eve, love her, and follow her into death.”
            “How do we help him from up here?”
            “Oh, we can’t interfere. We can plant seeds in his dreams, throw in some symbols, repeated phrases, and such.”
            I nodded with a look of utter confusion, trying to catch up to what I was supposed to understand.
Abram added, “Even if Adam and Eve find each other, and make these choices for themselves, without Michael’s faith, it’ll all be lost.” He drew a long puff from his magical cigarette and gestured to the screen.

Changing Focus

Sue Monk Kidd said that a novelist needs to write her own story over and over until it's thoroughly understood. Then she can let it go and start making new stories. When I read that I thought, "Ohhhh, that's what I've been doing."

I recently changed the focus of my blog and the spirit of my work. My goal is no longer to find joy through the bipolar lens. 

I found it.

I kicked over trash cans, wrestled demons, got quiet and still, cried some, lost loved ones, and shared my experiences in the process.

Although I still carefully manage my mood disorder, it's not the biggest part of me. It's there, but it doesn't lurk in the shadows. I dragged it all out into the light so I could properly see it. It has been demystified, accepted, and incorporated into this beautiful life.

I'm ready for something more.

For the last year, I've been working on fiction more than anything else. I've written several short stories and a novel. Writing is still the best therapy for me. It's the best chance I have to express myself and be a whole person. 

To celebrate my new trajectory, I'll be starting a beta reader group for my novel, The Eye that Never Closes.

It's 80% finished. I have 27 chapters and a complete story, but there are still a few knots that need to be smoothed. I have worked with a developmental editor already. I'll hire a content editor, a proofreader, and a cover designer in that order. 

When those steps are complete, I'll put the ebook on Amazon for sale and also hire a print-on-demand service for people like me, who still want to have pages to flip and dog-ear, and then smooth down with their fingertips the next time they settle back into that world.

In the meantime, I started another series, because it is ready to get out of my head. 

Check out the first chapter of another book:  Two Halves of the Apple

The idea behind this work is that every story has a God and a Devil. Every story has an Adam and Eve. It's inspired by imagining my brother and my uncle, both recently deceased, hanging out on the other side of this existence, continuing their spiritual journey.

By sharing my writing in non-traditional ways, publishing it myself, and stamping it with my own name, I'm circumventing the process of waiting for someone else to decide it's important. The stories are important because they bring me joy, and my wish is that other people who will gain something from reading my fiction will find it and pass it along.

Two Halves of the Apple, Chapter One

Before I died, I was pretty happy. I had a new Jeep and was heading off to college.
I died suddenly in a freak accident. I had no idea my journey was just beginning.

My name is Gabe. In my human life, I was pretty good looking. I played football and got good grades when I felt like it. For my nineteenth birthday, my parents surprised me with a red Jeep. It was a little beat up, but it ran. It might not have seemed that great to some people, but I knew how hard they had worked to save up for it. It meant the world to me.
They ran a diner in town and worked all hours of the day and night to make ends meet. They’d come home tired, sore feet, half-asleep. What I always thought was, How can they be so happy when they work their butts off all the time? After I had died, I understood that they loved their job. They liked feeding people, having their own business, and having a place in town where people could gather and connect.
It wasn’t my job to be watching out for them after I died, but I couldn’t help it. I looked in on them every once in a while to make sure my mom still had pies in the oven and rotating in the glass case. I knew that if ever there were no more pies, something was terribly wrong.
That’s how she told people she loved them. Birthday? Have a lemon ice box pie. Wedding? Have a chocolate mousse pie. Only son leaving for college? Serve a dozen pies for all his friends to gorge themselves on while they played lawn darts and spent one last Saturday afternoon together.
You had to look harder at my dad to figure him out. That was something else I didn’t realize until after I was gone. He was always there. He didn’t bluster or talk a lot. He didn’t bake pies or give extravagant gifts. He was cooking for people. Omelets were his specialty. He was taking care of his family. He was repairing something around the house or the diner. He was mowing the lawns for older neighbors who couldn’t do it themselves.
He was teaching me to be like him, too. When I was about 14, he shook me awake while it was still dark. I had planned on sleeping as long as I could since it was Christmas break. I rubbed my eyes, and he was standing over me dressed in his winter coat and boots. He said nothing. He just waved me on to follow him out into the hallway.
When I stumbled into the hallway, he handed me my snow pants and the rest of my gear. Then we went outside and crunched over the snow, still bluish in the pre-dawn light. We each grabbed a shovel and started clearing off the neighbors’ driveways. We started with the elderly folks who’d need their meal deliveries. Then we worked our way up and back down our little rural road just outside of town.
After I had died, I thought of that little road as a satellite to the main part of town, a place where you couldn’t get away with any mischief because Harriet was always peering out her front window. Bernie was always in his recliner pretending to watch t.v., but really seeing who was out and about. Everyone took care of each other. Things were simple there surrounded by corn fields.

The night after my going away party, I couldn’t sleep. I had this feeling my life was balanced on the head of a pin. I figured every kid who was about to leave home for the first time felt that way. I was antsy. I slipped out the back door and stood on the grass. Folding my arms, I looked up at a full moon.
            I knew I’d miss this place and it wouldn’t look the same to me when I came back. I was going to school in Madison, and I’d be the new kid along with a thousand other new kids. I’d probably look pretty “country” to everyone there. For old time’s sake, I threw on my boots caked with mud from the last time I wore them to fish in our pond. I walked the ATV out a ways from the house and fired it up.
            Motor sawing through the night, I took off across our property heading for the tree line. The wind in my face would forever be linked to a wild grin. I was caught up in the moment and may have been going a faster than I should have. I wanted to take a jump off a small moonlit hill, so I revved the engine and went for it. I was living every boy’s dream.
            When I realized the brakes weren’t working, I tried my hardest to turn it around before I got too close to the tree line. I failed.

I knew I was dead right away. I hadn’t anticipated how quickly I would understand so many things. No panic, just peaceful recognition. When my parents found me, there was nothing that could be done. I had broken my neck and died painlessly.
            I watched them try and make sense of their time without me. My mom got out her supplies to make a pie. She tapped her fingers on the counter for a minute and smoothed her hair. She put her supplies back in the cupboards. My dad had been crying in the bathroom so that he wouldn’t upset my mom. When he came out, they almost collided in the hallway. They grabbed each other tight and collapsed to the floor in a mess of grief.
            The interesting thing was that I wasn’t too sad. I had the sense that they would heal in time. Things were they way they needed to be. And that was the moment I found myself on another plane of existence.

It was emptiness, but not in a sad, lacking way. It was neutral, light, and full of hope. There was no floor and no ceiling as if to emphasize the limitless possibilities.
            I walked around slowly on what seemed like an invisible floor, fearing I’d plummet to who knows where with each step. I called out, “Hello.”
            A man appeared sitting with his legs crossed. He was older, gray-haired, and had one arm across the back of what I imagined to be an invisible chair. The other arm was propped on his knee holding a cigarette. He was smoking like it was his job. He was the kind of man I wouldn't have readily approached when I was alive.
            He barked, “Sit down. You’re making me tired.”
            I scratched my and thought, Should an angel be smoking? Is he an angel?
            “Let’s get this over with. I’m Abram. Your mentor. Here we go.”
            “What are we doing?”
            “It’s easier if we just do it. Trust me.” He didn’t look me in the eye, just stared straight ahead into the nothingness.
            He continued, “Everything starts with these two. You’ve got Adam.” He put out his left hand, “He’s the man. And you got Eve.” He put out his right hand. “I know what you’re thinking. They’re not very creative with the names around here.”
            I wasn’t thinking anything, but I kept my mouth shut.
            As if there were a perfectly clear movie playing in front of us, we saw a huge split screen. On one side a young man, Adam, I assumed. On the other side, Eve.
            “These two need to meet, and soon.”
            “What happens if they don’t?”
            “Then we have to do this all over again in a hundred years. Let’s see if we can’t help ‘em along.” He laughed a rasping smoker’s laugh.
            I stole a glance at Abram’s cigarette. I was still fascinated with this concept. He hadn’t flicked off the ash, yet the cigarette hadn’t burned down at all either.
            He slapped me on the side of the head. “Pay attention. This is important.”
            The man and woman on the screen were walking toward one another, each with a friend. It looked as if they might physically run into each other. They were steps away from impact when Abram stood up from his invisible chair with the cigarette dangling from his mouth.
            I leaned forward anticipating a big moment when the screen went blank.

            “No, no, no,” he said shaking his head, “I should rewind things for you some.”

How Writing Fiction Helps You Grow as a Person

You create a world.

Although my writing has fantasy elements, any fiction writer is in charge of making a map, populating it, and moving those people around on the map, so they interact in interesting ways. Every character will have a sliver of resemblance to a real person, even if it's the villain who seeks to destroy the earth. That evil lives somewhere deep in a true-life beating heart.

It's daunting to be in a dozen heads at once. 

You have to play out scenes in your mind to imagine how each of your characters would react in their voice and with their worldview. There is no greater exercise in empathy. Joanna Penn of has often said that she believes people who write dark novels are some of the healthiest people emotionally. I think she's right because you have to acknowledge the shadow elements of your own nature. In doing so, they aren't as scary.

You might realize you have a serious comma problem.

I use Grammarly to check my grammar. Not only do I forget half the needed commas, but I also overuse the word actually to a startling degree.

You're forced to find new ways to recharge your creative battery.

Inevitably, a writer will begin scraping the bottom of the idea barrel due to burn out, a crisis of confidence, or the dreaded block. Writing my first novel felt like I was standing in front of a cartoon merry go round and each of those obstacles was slapping me in the face again and again. Turns out, that's normal. I took up new hobbies, rediscovered old ones, and avoided words altogether for days until something sparked, and I returned to my fictional world.

You have to get over yourself. 

When I hit publish, there will be no parade down Main Street in my honor. Although it will mean one of my life's goals has been achieved, no one will care (except my husband, because he will not ever be asked to read another draft of that story). I will build a fan base organically, write more books, and eventually make some dollars. 

Getting over yourself relieves a heap of pressure.

When you figure out no one will bat an eyelash when you say, "I'm a writer," it's oddly comforting. To you, it's a huge part of your world, so you imagine horrible criticism, destroying your reputation, and other outlandish scenarios. If the book stinks, you can remove it from Amazon, and/or write a better book next time.

You start to see yourself as the protagonist (and sometimes the antagonist) in your own life.

Your life is a story that you are writing, full of turning points, dark nights of the soul, calls to adventure, tragedies, and happy endings.