Welcome! I have started this online journal in the hopes of satisfying 2 goals; One, an outlet for creative expression, whatever may come of it. And two, an online freelance writing portfolio. I have promised myself to put down as much as I can - and here it will be.

I might have a poem or story to share, I might need to vent away on a particular subject or I may have just discovered the meaning of life. Who knows? Some will be serious, some light, some pointless and silly. Some will be writing just to write. But, hopefully each day I can be inspired by something going on. Most entries will be a little of this, a little of that. And most likely, they will not be continuous from day to day, unless I am working on a longer story that I want to break up into daily snibbles.

Like I said, anything and everything in this mind of mine, for good or for bad. It will all end up on here sooner or later!

I would honor your opinions of my endeavor and the pieces that arrive here. Feedback is crucial to my success! If you have any constructive criticism, just want to say you like/don't like, or that it affected you in some way...that would be fine. Quite nice, in fact.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Random Memory

Giving Her Away

The white of her dress flows down past her smooth ankles, covering most of her feet but for the tips of her fancy ballet shoes; a hint of sparkle and shine peek out from the hem, leading you to believe they would dazzle in the sunlight. She taps a toe of one of these magnificent shoes on the carpeted floor, fast and rhythmic.

She is nervous, and she wonders why.

This is her big day! She should be full of elation and excitement, yet it all feels...wrong. She is somehow melancholy and nostalgic, sad for what she is leaving behind. Homesickness, she realizes, comes close to what she feels, and what an odd emotion for the day. Covered in sequins and tulle, organza and beads, this ought to be a cause for celebration, for one does not don a fifty pound dress for just any old day.

The driver turns into the church parking lot and pulls to the door of the vestibule. This is it. The bustle of the bridesmaids is hurried and chattery. They are all late and there will be a hustle to organize from this moment on. There is an air of rushed expectancy.

Yet she feels glued to her seat. Her well-dressed father is perched next to her, a large grin on his face. He is looking intently at her, ready to go, yet she can’t get up. She wants this day, she loves this man, but she knows that once she leaves the shelter of this vehicle, she will become another person, her heritage lost…she will have in essence entered the witness protection program, changing her name, her address, her complete identity. What she is now, she will never be again…and the thought overwhelms her. Her past transforms to present and future here today, and her tears are barely contained over the revelation of all that will be over. Her family is changing.

Her father, recognizing that she will not stand up, covers her hand with his. He gently squeezes it for reassurance, for he knows that this is a penultimate moment in her life, being one in his, too. He is giving up his “baby”, his first-born, entrusting her to another caretaker. He will be giving her away in minutes, in a simple ceremonial gesture, symbolically handing her over to her love, to her new family.

Her beautiful veil flows down around her left shoulder, and flowers sit idle, gracing her lap. The light twinkles off her every bead and sequin, shining so bright, that there appears an aura around her frame. She is a vision in white, and he has never been more proud of her than today. She has found a steady, smart and truly good man to share her life with and that is every father’s wish come true.

Time has been stealing his family away, year after year, taking it one phase at a time, though always handing him a new one in return. This would be his new reward, watching her take her place in life, watching her bloom ever further into the woman she is becoming, and it all starts here, today.

Her mind is also on what she is losing, but also what she has done that she can no longer take back.

Her family could be called dysfunctional, but most could fit that description. Dysfunctional is the new Normal. She admits to matching the terrorizing description of “terrible teenager,” ungrateful and lazy. She has never really known how good she had it, until this moment. Her parents gave her everything, and she gave back nothing in return. She was a dreadful daughter to them, and now she was moving on past them, never to have the opportunity to redeem her actions.

She was torn, knowing she had a tentative relationship with her father, whom she was more like than she would ever admit. Toward one another, they remained emotionally closed off and hard-headed, stubborn and stoic, angry and cold. Better apart, they enjoyed a more mature relationship with others. Though, her and her mother had problems as well, anger welling up consistently and hurt feelings abound. The household was usually a screaming, emotional and grudge-holding mess. Yet, leaving it all behind, the comfort and the safety net of their home and love felt so difficult today. She enjoyed their company, being part of the family and sharing in their experiences, however disjoined. Tomorrow morning she would wake up in the company of her husband…and no one else.

She had no idea why this saddened her so, and why it was all hitting her now…moments before she was to walk down the aisle. She was barely holding on to her composure, staring down at the flowers in her lap, seeking control in the arrangement of peach colored roses. This was baffling! More than anything, she wanted to leave, to start on her own, to have her own space to organize and enjoy. She was chasing down real freedom! And she was afraid to let it capture her.

The car was empty, except for the two of them. He watched her studying the bouquet, trying to understand her melancholy mood. This was not usually a pose you would ever find them in, mostly concerned about their own selves. But he stayed quiet and looked at her until he realized she was not going to glance up.

He then took her face in both hands, and she looked up at him staring at her so directly she thought she would burst from the intensity, and before she could look away or feel awkward from the attention, he said, “This is the last time I can ever call you Cheryle Collins.” He faltered toward the end of his declaration, tears slowly rolling down his face. He looked as sad as she felt. Him using their family name, her soon to be maiden name, was far too much for her fragile state and she dissolved into tears, her lower lip trembling. In his last act as direct father, he kissed her on the forehead and pulled her up to stand with him. She was moved in his endeavor to make this moment so special. He couldn’t have known it would have this effect on her, and it seemed to make him even more emotional. Overcome, he started to lead her out to the waiting ceremony, but she grabbed at his hand, at that moment wishing she could take back all the grief, all the difficulty and hurt feelings she had ever caused him, caused them all, and said, “I love you, Daddy.”

She cried all the way down the aisle, most people assuming her demeanor as the usual tears of happiness and overwhelming emotion. In truth, it was for those reasons, but also nostalgia, love, and the sorrow of loss…the loss of her childhood, fading with every step closer to her love.

Her father quietly crying in tune beside her, walking his daughter home, every person they walked by succumbed to their own level of emotion, as if a magical spell settled over the crowd with their passage. By the time they reached the altar, the whole church was sniffling, brushing away tears – even the stoic priest.

He took his daughter’s hand and faced her, for the last time as her provider and guardian, and kissed her cheek. He squeezed her hand, full of emotion and told her he loved her. Her response was renewed sobbing, and a choked iteration of the same sentiment as he physically placed her hand in her fiancĂ©’s own.

Transfer complete, this moment slipped away so quickly. She was now part of another immediate family, and it all happened with the simple passage of her hand. The ceremony underway, she glanced over her shoulder at her father, taking solace in her mother’s embrace and smiled at him. She was filling up with love and warmth, beside her soul mate, surrounded by her extended family and friends, feeling as if this was where she truly belonged. It all began to feel so right. Trading one phase for another, this was the beginning of a new relationship, a new emotional bond; a friendship, with her parents, and it all starts here, today.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Random Memory

The Jump

I look down. Fear overtakes my every nerve, prickling and bristling them, cascading down from my neck to the small of my back, crawling down my calves, settling in my toes.

The water looks surprisingly gorgeous from up here. Clear and blue, with a hint of green. So clear that even from here, I can see a fish swim through my field of view.

How deep is it? The clarity of the water muddles my instinct. Because I can see the bottom, it feels too shallow. It looks to be about 20 feet deep. But knowledge of this river supersedes my basic instinct, and I know it must be safe. Knowing and feeling are two very different things.

My senses previously focused on the water below, I become aware of a far away sound; a loud, pulsating, unrelenting sound. It echoes and bends, wobbles and distorts. It’s as if a warning bell has sounded in the distance, but the intended recipient has left their hearing aid on the bedside table. It becomes a distant, distorted version of the original; curious, yet no longer urgent. As haze distorts vision, so this sound feels; blurry. An eerie and peculiar property has attached itself to the noise and I find myself wondering what it is. A distraction to my plight, nevertheless haunting. I tip my head to the side, the better to receive this intriguing signal. I close my eyes to blot out the glaring sunlight and it all feels so familiar. Like waking from a dream, the source and meaning float before me, waiting to be grasped.

I stand there on the sharp rocks, letting the edges poke into my bare feet. It helps me to surface from the state I am currently swimming in. No water surrounds me as yet, but my awareness is as such.

Breathing in the clean air and turning my head around, I open my eyes to the sound of many people behind me, in both the literal and figurative sense, egging me on; needed encouragement for the task at hand. My focus swiftly returns to the beautiful blue-green current beneath me.

I ask myself: Why am I doing this?

For money? No.

For fun? No.

For glory? Yesssss.

I am wondering if my silence belies my fear. Though, in reality, my wide eyes, pinched breaths and shaking hands betray the truth.

I am afraid of jumping.
“Friends” taking residence behind me, threatening to push me off that rock if need be, I start the mental countdown. My hands are clammy and sweat beads off my forehead.

Typical signs of fear.

And I am acting oh so typical.

This is me – the fearful girl who shies away from any adrenaline pumping good time – irrationally afraid of the anticipation of pain. Not the pain itself, but the anticipation, mind you. Silly, really…parking on the bench for a reason so dull. Still, I do worry about my poor neck breaking and ending up in a wheelchair for the rest of my life. Then, I might have something substantial to worry about.

Incessant and irrational thoughts whirl through my head, making me swim in a sort of panicky state. Some part of me tries to counter the barrage of flooding cowardice. It tells me to “just jump! Get this over with already; you are making it worse than it has to be.” So calm, this scolding part of me that I would realize later was my subconscious mind, the only rational part of me. I want to listen, but the prickling nerves in my feet seem to have somehow fused with the rock below. I feel paralyzed and surmise that this is yet another part of me, the irrational part, displaying to me in a wheedling voice just how life would be if my poor, precious neck did, in fact, snap. “See? See how this would be? This is crazy! Don’t go! I won’t let you!

All of this drama in mere seconds, yet it feels like I am drowning in time, wishing I could be stronger and just make a rash decision for once. “Jump! Jump! Jump!” An old-school rap song commandeers my visceral sound system, ringing in my brain to overload.

The mild breeze flows around my quaking body and ebbs me closer to the edge. I feel the warm sun and imagine the cool water surrounding me, and it is encouraging. I feel a rush of audacity overcome me and…

I jump.
Hands in the air to propel me away from the mass of quartz, I push off with my last effort and soar through the sky. I see in my front facing view, the beautiful vista laid out before me, moving higher and higher with each passing second, in my slow motion descent. Now, all I can do is worry, and feel...and hope.

I have already traveled thirty feet and at this moment, I worry if my push off was adequate. The rocks slope down and out toward my entry point, so if I did not give it enough, landing on them would be inevitable...not to mention, terribly painful!

Another ten feet finds me close to my destination. Looking down, the surface of the river is approaching and I point my toes to enter the water gracefully. My arms directed to the sky in an effort to become as thin as a knife, I pray my skinny profile will aid in escaping the jagged shelf. Holding my breath, I let the water envelop me, hoping to feel nothing but that, and I am now fully underwater, surprisingly unscathed.

The water is cold, but I am prepared for that. I strive not to gasp with the shock, taking on gallons of fresh water in the process. Successfully holding my composure, the reflex passes.

Happy to be alive, I take in the familiar scene; for this is my favorite part of the jump. Plunging downward to the bottom of the clear river, my fingers pinched to my nose, I am surrounded by a flurry of tiny blue-green bubbles, so delightfully bright from the sun; swirling and effervescent. I look upward to see the aqueous blur of the sky and the dark, hulking mass of rock directly to my right. I am intimidated by its unyielding presence and ask myself why we always choose this mountain to hurtle off, year after year. It has become a rite of passage in our disordered family.

Time feels suspended here in the depths and it is so quiet, after the muffled rushing of my plunge and passage through the water subsides. I wonder if I have enough air to make it back up. My outstretched toe has finally found the bottom, a flat table rock more than thirty feet down, and as more of my body collides with it, I push off with satisfying relief and bolstered courage, all thrusting me upward to retrieve said glory.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Arachnophobic Girl, Part 2

So, we all know by now that I have a fear of spiders. Big Deal. I can get over it, right? It's just a silly mind over matter exercise.

Exercise #1: Repeat after me...
They will not hurt me.
They are smaller than me.
There are no spiders in the Northeast that can kill me.

When not confronted with the cause of my fear, I can be tough. I can will away the fact that I need therapy for the sight of an eight legged creature that weighs less than an ounce. Then, I go and do some research on particular spiders to find out if, say, they really weigh closer to an ounce, and the merest glance at an arachnid sketch makes my scalp tingle. Mind over matter?

Then I find one like this in my house, a wolf spider. Ok, again, big deal. We all have to deal with that unpleasantry quite often. Some kill the little beasties, others, like myself, play capture and release. For, while I do find spiders terrifying, I also find them fascinating creatures. If you look really close at one, preferably behind glass, you will see all sorts of interesting features. Their eyes, all 8 of them, are different sizes. The hairs all over their bodies, the "fangs" they have ("the better to EAT you with, my dearie...") and the structure of their legs. The up close view is neat, but quite intimidating.

We have a collection of these Wolf Spiders somewhere on the grounds, and as all spiders like to do, they try to find a warm place in winter. I believe they hibernate most of the season, but if the temperature exceeds 50 degrees, they are back on the prowl.

Our house providing the warm place to lounge, every fall and spring we can expect these beauties to jump out and scare us at any moment. Usually the moment you have started to think they might be gone for the time being. Halloween is a hoot! They pull out all the stops on their very own holiday, leaving us in stitches at their hijinks.

And they are fast! Wolf spiders are so named because of the similarity in hunting styles to it's namesake. It's fast, stealthy and it's eyesight is fantastic, for a spider. Needless to say, it makes them incredibly hard to catch. Especially with a small glass jar and a shaky hand.

I gleaned this fancy tidbit just today:

"Wolf spiders can be found at night by using a headlamp to see their eyeshine. Relatively few spiders have eyeshine."

That is utterly disgusting to me. Blech. Eyes flashing in the night? *shivering in disgust*

And, who does that, anyway? Yuck. Nice hobby.

I do appreciate their beauty, but you'd be hard-pressed to find me gleefully digging in the dirt at night, headlamp on, with the express purpose of excavating a very fast and predatory spider. Not even for Fear Factor...sorry, Joe. I'll sit this one out. Oh, the nightmares I would have!

I think I handle the normal, everyday capture of these wolf spiders pretty well, considering. Though they always shock the heck out of me. I had a hard time last fall because the babies were on the floor constantly, just learning how to roll over. I had to swoop in and extract a few quick and large monsters before they overcame and ate my children.

Well, at least I thought they were large at the time....

In the spring of this year, we had a good season...only a few spiders so far to relocate. If they are past a certain size, I make Mike walk out to the yard or garden and release there. Hopefully, they might smell dinner at someone else's house from there and not return to Casa Ertel.

The spider we did find, the reason behind this whole long-winded article...I made Mike take all the way to the end of the driveway, which required the quad and some shaky nerves on his part. That should tell you something!

We were knee deep in our baby clean-up routine that night, clean 9 bottles, 4 sippy cups, 3 highchairs, dinner dishes, dinner table, living room...I don't really need to give you the whole run down. It was alot! I was washing dishes for about an hour and we were just finishing up. We were standing in the kitchen, talking about the day...and I heard him choke. I looked up at him. My back was to the sink I was just at for hours, and his eyes were riveted to the spot directly behind me. They were almost as big as dinner plates! I knew something was bad since he rarely reacts.

I jumped away from the sink, turning around in midair (what it felt like!) and scanned the drying dishes for the source of his immediate fear.

Then I saw it.

Pictures could do no justice to the hulking form poised on the back of the sink edge. We recognized it immediately as a familiar wolf spider...but it was, by far, the largest one we have ever seen, or since...thank God. It just sat there. Waiting. Projecting menace. It was about to pounce on the cat, I just knew it.

We just stood there, in shock, not believing a spider this big could exist, let alone be in our house and crawling over our freshly washed dishes and bottles. Oh, the emotions I felt...Disgust, fear, shock, disgust - did I mention that one already? Wondering how long it had been in the house? How were we going to catch that sucker? And if we didn't catch it, would it be crawling all over the kids and us overnight while we dreamt of sugarplums and excessively large and hairy tarantulas? Oh, the horror!

We did capture it, after much drama, between restrained squeals and screams...from the both of us. True to its family, this big one was a Speedy Gonzales...and proved tough to catch unharmed. A small jar is usually used to house the many specimens until their transport outdoors...this spider did not fit into it! Unbelievably, we had to use a large mouth Mason jar for its home and Mike drilled holes into the lid so he could stay with us awhile.

He sat on the counter while I made dinner and breakfast and lunch...though not for him. I considered throwing in a mouse, if I could find one...but thought better.

I stared and stared and stared...being so large, his every detail was easy to see...and I am surprised to say, he was beautiful.

As Serendipity would have it, my niece's birthday was the next day. Surprisingly, she likes snakes and spiders and other creepy crawlies...the bigger, the better. Her party was to include a man who works with these types of creatures and he was bringing all of these things into my sister's house! She was so excited. She happened to come over the day we were lodging our new friend. She went wild! She wanted to let him out so we could play with it. Oh, she can't be MY niece!

Jinx sizing him up - she looks somewhat afraid!

Disclaimer here...I know that by any-other-part-of-the-world standards, this would be a baby, but for our neck of the woods, in OUR house, it was a gargantuan. It was big enough for me!

While researching, I found this out a few months ago too: ""Arachnophobia" is derived from the Greek "arachne" (spider) and "phobos" (fear). The Greek word was derived from the name "Arachne," a maiden in Greek mythology whom the goddess Athena turned into a spider after the girl, a skilled weaver, challenged Athena to a weaving contest." Mythology is pretty cool.

Not that it helps me much.

Knowledge isn't always power - it just gives my imagination more material to work with. When I can conjure up even more scenarios about what's under my bed while I am laying in bed, it's never a good thing. Why else would they say "Ignorance is Bliss"?

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

I won! Kind of....

So, I may get into trouble here...of what kind, I have no idea.

I chose to "double blog" this one, meaning on both of my sites, since it is so important to me.

I have a favorite author...his name is Dean Koontz. You may have read some of his books, or maybe not. He's not for everyone, as my mother tells me every time I try to get her to read one, but I adore his writing style. The way he can create atmosphere, provoke philosophical thought and restore the faith and the profound beauty of the human race - he's a mesmerizing story-teller. You forget where you are for hours. He's got some skills, and a mansion in California to prove it! Point is, the guy's amazing.

Recommendation: Two newer ones of his called "The Darkest Evening of the Year" or "The Good Guy"....or two older ones called "Lightning" or "Watchers". I can go on and on...but if you like these and come back for more, I can talk more then. ;)

I guess part of the reason I am shamelessly plugging is for the props; in fear of reprimand, I'm hoping this makes the blow a little softer.

Anyhoo, I entered a contest on his web site titled "Trixie's Super Dog Contest". See, Trixie was Dean's beloved "Doggie Daughter", and they lost her to cancer last summer. I agonized with them and their loss, until Ruger passed...and his website is part of the reason I have made it this far through the grieving process. He keeps her memory alive by writing books and newsletters as her...it's super cute and if you ever get a chance to check it out, Trixie's part of his website is here. (Yes, that's me, sucking up again, hoping to shave off time in the slammer for the forthcoming criminal atrocity.) Trixie was an awesome Golden Retriever who was trained and served as a Companion Dog for a disabled person (working through CCI or Canine Companions for Independence). After a few months in service, her joints started to act up with the increased effort and she was retired to live with the Koontz family for the rest of her life. Trixie has three books out now, with more to come...but her newest just arrived, titled "Bliss To You: Trixie's Guide to a Happy Life". Adorably written and is a great lesson in living a more simple, "dog-like" life.

Dean frequently writes about Goldens in his books since the arrival of Trixie and I think that is what sealed the deal for him as my favorite author. He is a genuine dog lover, a dog "person", I have called them, and without meeting him, I like the guy already. So, knowing how he feels about Trixie, and knowing it matched my feelings for Ruger, it seemed inevitable that I would enter this contest, telling him about our baby.

The contest asked you to write about a heroic virtue of your dog, in 75 words or less. That is a serious challenge. I had so much to say, it was hard to condense all I felt about him, everything I wanted to convey in a mere 75 words. I took it as a writing challenge to tell the world about Ruger. So, I condensed a previously written poem, written the week after his death, to the minimum requirement. I included a picture and sent it along to be judged. Prizes were offered to the top 3 winners and then also to 7 runners-up. My only hope was to have the poem published on his site. That way, the legacy of Ruger would have another venue.

After fretting for 2 weeks, I learned that there were almost 500 entries to the contest. I thought..."well, that means I have no shot in the world!" I figured my poem would get lost in the pile and not make it's way back out. Today, I found out who the winners were...and....

It wasn't me.

BUT! I was a runner-up!

Since there were so many entries, so many good ones, Dean himself chose to increase the amount of winners to 5 Top winners and 12 runners-up. And I became one of them! Yay! Go Ruger!

I'm actually surprised that I did win, because after reading the top 5, all of the dogs were of the kind that had overcome serious adversity. It wasn't a writing contest, it was a "super dog" contest - what makes your dog a super dog - all about the dog, not the writing skills (my bad) and the winners were quite deserving. It makes me happy to see so many devoted pet parents out there. I'm happy to be in such good company!

I think the most exciting part is that Dean himself read my poem, actually sat down and read something I wrote, and then chose it to be one of the winners. That gave me goosebumps. My writing Idol read and accepted my "submission"; Wow. I think that just made my year. I'm not proud of myself very often, but I have to say that this made the short list.

Second, and most importantly, it means he connected with the feelings I expressed about Ruger, that he understood what we were going through. I wanted so badly for the poem to be posted, but only the Top winners were given that honor.

SO....and here's where I go to jail...I'd like to post it here. Let me say that I believe this poem now belongs to Dean Koontz and his sponsors (I wasn't sure what the rules would be for the runners-up, if I still lose the rights), and I am posting it here, giving them full credit for owning it. *crossing fingers* ...and I hope that's enough for the legal mumbo jumbo types... I wrote it, but it belongs to them, but it was never posted, so hopefully they will go easy on me for that very reason. We'll see! If I stop blogging for months, you'll know what happened...

After much ado, here it is - my tribute to Ruger...in 75 words or less.

Our Gentle Shepherd

Reminiscent of a great maned lion
Our Gentle shepherd traversed his life with quiet pride.
Obedient and strong, strong-willed and gentle,
Regal to the very end
He showed us how to live
More than ever in the way he died.

Silently suffering, never betraying his demanding illness
Those last sweet kisses we were privileged to enjoy
Imparting lessons in passion, innocence and play
The purest form of instruction one could ever hope to receive.

In honor of Ruger, our sweet baby boy
We miss our child more than words can describe.