Creative Process

Routine, I find, is both a comfort and a discomfort.  Stripped of all routine when I first became ill, I floundered about looking for some order to the resulting chaos.  I longed for a routine, like a navigational device, to help me define exactly where I was in all the madness.  (Still compass-less I’m afraid.)

At the same time, I fear a numbing sameness – a morose monotony of nonsensical repetition.  I remember doing anything to break the boredom – taking a different route home from work, turning my lessons upside down, or rearranging the classroom – anything to invite new energy.

I feel the same about writing.  It is seductive to find a comfort zone and stay there – convincing myself that this is perfecting my craft, however; I suspect a trap.  Ego, I’ve noted, likes to sabotage.  Exploration is the only way to expand creativity and ignite revelation.

Let me illustrate.  Take a simple thought:

I cried because I was alone
then opening my eyes
discovered another
also alone
my image in the mirror.

Possibly interesting concept, dull delivery.  The image craves development.  One thing I have been experimenting with (wherever possible) is removing pronouns, or any references that personalize my poetry.

loneliness cried
opening eyes
discovered another
also alone
mirror image

Well, this is better, but sounds like a flowery way of saying misery loves company and that’s not the essence I wanted to capture.  What if I do some word/concept association?  Will this help me expand my ideas?

loneliness – feeling of rejection, abandonment, not belonging, desire unrequited, left out
crying – tears, release, unable to contain, unrestrained emotion, grief
open-eyed – awakening, willing to see, open to possibility, searchingdiscovery – new appreciation, renewed hope, joy, alternatives, perspective
other – outsider, relationship, communion, community, connection
alone – isolated, cut-off, solitude, retreat, respite
mirror image – reflection, reversal, commonality, empathy/sympathy, not alone

Not sure this helped, but I’ll try putting it back together using the associations.  Maybe I’ll play up the personification.

Loneliness,
abandoned and rejected,
grieved unrestrained,
then willingly,
hesitatingly,
opening to possibility,
discovered hope,
connection,
in solitude –
not alone.

I like this better – the message is more satisfying.  What happens if I turn the whole thing upside (taking liberties, of course)?


In solitude,
connection
discovers –
hope, and
possibility –
opening.

Hesitatingly,
willingly,
unrestrained grief
abandons,
rejects,
loneliness.

Wow – I like this even more.  I feel as if it is an invitation from the soul to grieve.

I challenge you to explore and expand your own writing.  What hidden messages await your discovery?

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Death Threat

“Viewers are cautioned that this next report contains images that may be disturbing to some.”

Naturally, I turn toward the television to see what all the fuss is about.  Photos of a crime scene where two women have been brutally stabbed to death are plastered across the screen along with images of the hotel they had been staying in and the victims themselves.

“Uh, Ric,” I manage to utter before sheer terror takes over me.  Not only are we staying in the same hotel, but the two women are occupying the same room we had originally been assigned.  When we’d arrived, just days before, and found there had been a double booking, we gracefully offered to move rooms.  What if we hadn’t?  Suddenly, I feel deadly cold.

“Maybe you should stay at the farm tonight instead,” Thor suggests.  The ‘farm’ is a small rural property we have purchased for our retirement.  As the house needs repairs, we decided to take a vacation at this nearby resort in the meantime.  Ric has to return home on business overnight, which means I will be on my own.

“No, the report says the police have a suspect in mind – a drifter who has been seen loitering in the nearby town.  The farm is too isolated.  I’ll be safer here with people around.”

Somehow, in the deep middle of the night, isolation feels more pronounced.  From where I lie I can see the outline of the door to our room and try to reassure myself that the deadbolt will hold.  I pray the double sliding doors in the adjacent room are secured enough to prevent an intruder.  I must fall asleep at some point, because when I awaken it is morning.

Relief floods me.  Daylight brings a return to normalcy, sanity.  All is well.

I have a quick wash and throw on some clothes, deciding to catch breakfast in the restaurant.  This suite we are staying in has two rooms – the bedroom, which is accessed from the outside, and a living/dining/kitchenette area, which is accessed by the pool area of the resort.  A short hallway with a bathroom separates the two living spaces.  It isn’t until I pass through into the kitchen area that I notice the intruder and I stop short.

Standing well over six feet tall, he is a giant of a man, with a disfigured face and scarred hands.  Like a rabbit, I freeze, assessing the situation.  In my mind, I picture the exits, both locked as far as I know.  How long has he been here?  Do I have time to unbolt the door before he’d catch me?

As if reading my mind, he flashes a pass key.  He works here, I realize.  Remain calm, I counsel myself.

“Am I going to die?”  I ask willing my voice to remain steady.  “Because if I am, do you mind if I have one more cup of tea.  Tea is my favourite thing?  Could you allow me that?” An element of surprise is my only hope of defense.  It worked for me once during an attempted mugging.  The would-be assailant stepped in front of me and demanded money and cigarettes.  In my nervousness, I laughed and said: “Do I look a smoker?”  The ruse worked long enough to let me dart away from the mugger and yell for help.

He doesn’t answer, just glares at me with that menacing expression, reminding me who’s in charge here.

“If it’s about sex, I’ll do anything you want, no need to get violent.”

“It might get rough.”  Do I detect a hint of bemusement in his voice.

“That’s okay, but I’d still really appreciate that cup of tea.  Can I make you one?”

“No, I don’t want any damn tea!”  but he doesn’t move to stop me and he’s dropped down onto the couch now, stretched across it, his legs splayed out over the end, his massive belly displaying one long scar carved into his side, and I realize he’s removed his shirt.

Cautiously, I make for the sink, feeling like I’m moving in slow motion.  His voice stops me.

“Why’d you have to put lanolin on the food tray?”  His voice is mournful, gravelly, and if I didn’t know that my life is in danger, I might l have laughed out loud.  My mind races:  He must work in food services.

“I didn’t,”  I stammer.  “I mean…I don’t use lanolin…don’t even have any.”  Then, sensing the opportunity:   “Somebody would do that?” I play the sympathy card.

“Makes my job damned near impossible,” he mumbles.  “Makes me angry enough kill!”

So we’re back to that.  Is that what happened to the two young women?  They greased the dinner tray?

“Hurry up with the tea already; I don’t have all day.”

He closes his eyes for a moment and I examine his face.  An unfortunate soul, really, I think.  Large, beefy jowls, and a bulbous nose that likely indicates years of alcohol abuse.  A scar covers one eye socket, and his lipless mouth seems to hang open unaware of itself.

Just as I turn again towards the kitchen, a light tapping on the door precedes the entrance of an entourage of people.

“Housekeeping, Miss.” A woman bustles in carrying freshly pressed and hung laundry.  “Where would like these?”  Behind her comes another housekeeper bearing clean towels, and a team poised to clean.  “Is this a good time?”

“A very good time!”  I turn to see that the hulk has gone.  Did he slide away?  I wonder.  Did anyone see him?  I direct the clothes to be hung in the bedroom closet and smile with genuine gratitude for the disruption, but keep my council.  He may still be hiding in the suite.

Two young teens then barge through the now open door and buzz around delighting at everything in the room.

“Excuse me,” I say to them.  “What are you doing?”

“This is our room!  We just checked in!”

“This is my room,”  I can feel the anger rising up in me.  I have had enough disruptions this morning already.  Things are beginning to feel surreal, and I just want some peace to recollect myself.  “There has been a mistake.  Leave!”

The doorway fills with what must be the rest of the family:  a man and woman and four more children.

“Check-in,” I tell them, ” is not until four o’clock.  The room is still mine.”  I had forgotten that today was check-out and the realization brings me new hope – I might get out of this alive yet.  I have work to do.

The family and housekeepers all leave with the exception of one little straggler.  I start to give him directions to the lobby, then realize he is too little to understand, so I walk him down the hall instead.  As we approach the reunion with his parents, I see that Ric has returned and is approaching the building.  The nightmare is finally coming to an end.

I turn back towards the room, anxious to get packed up.  I see him in my peripheral vision as he steps out of the shadows.  I stop.  Surely he won’t accost me here in the hallway, with people around.

“Did you see my scars?” he asks, eyes turned away.

“I did,” I respond unemotionally.  What can he possibly want me to say?  Like the wounds you left on those poor young women, I think.

I hear Ric’s approach and see the killer step away.  Should I tell my husband? I decide not.  Ric would react protectively, and could end up getting killed as well.  I greet my husband warmly, and turn our attention to the task at hand.

Car loaded, Ric pulls toward the exit just as a police vehicle drives in.

“Stop here.” I command, rolling down the window and catching the driver’s attention.  “The man you’re looking for works in the kitchen,” I tell him.

Then I signal for Ric to drive away and wake up.

It’s all been a dream.

Adjusting to Life with ME/CFS

(Originally published October, 2014)

The news from the doctor was not so good today, or maybe it is that this news was no different from past visits, but my mind can only absorb the hard stuff in stages.

“I seem to be getting worse, not better.” I told her.

“That’s how it is often how it is with this disease,” she consoled. “Sometimes you have to hit bottom before you start climbing back up.”

th.jpgI read my growing list of concerns: sleep remains a problem; eating is often accompanied by pain and abdominal swelling; I have painful swelling in my groin; breathing continues to be difficult; and my legs are unreliable.  Headaches, heart palpitations, sweating when upright, dizziness and flu-like symptoms.  I shake if I try to do anything standing, such as chopping vegetables.  I feel like I’m not getting anywhere.

She nods with each item, recording it in her files, and occasionally asking for clarification. “All typical symptoms,” she attempts to reassure me.  “Set a timer for standing:  try seven minutes.”

“Barely time to prep food,” I mutter.

“Buy food already prepared,”  she suggests.  “And make sure you are sitting with your feet up for meals.”

“Not the table?”  Eating at the table with my husband was the one bit of normalcy I was trying to hold onto.

“Do you have a lazy boy?  Try using it for meals.”  I do not have a lazy boy upstairs.  I will have to eat in bed.

“Set a timer for phone conversations and visits; they are also exhausting.”  I have noticed.

I have been tracking my daily activities, symptoms, and energy levels.  She scans my past four weeks:  nothing but chaos when I examine it.

“I see T.V. quite a bit.”  she shakes her head.  “T.V. is too draining.  Limit it to one hour per day.  Preferably commercial-free.  I’d rather see you writing than spending time on T.V.”

“It is a lot of noise,”  I agree.

In answer to my unasked question, she continues:

“Lying flat with your eyes closed is the best.  Listening to soft music is okay, and maybe books on tape if reading is difficult.  I also think it is time you consider using a walker.  Definitely a wheelchair when you go out anywhere.”

“Will I get better?”

th-1.jpg“In a year you might see a return of energy, but not likely more than twenty-five per cent – hardly enough to consider working.  It takes time.”

The crushing in my chest when I leave is emotional.  You will have to grieve the life you have lost, I remember my therapist saying.  Today, I understand her warning.

Home again, I crawl into bed and try to breath through the heaviness that bears down on me.  Sobs release some of the oppressiveness, but I know it will linger for a while.

Healing is a shift in perspective, I always used to say.  Where is the new perspective here?

Well, I tell myself, Look at the bright side:  I won’t have to worry about wearing make up for a while, so my skin will get a break.  And I’ll have time to let my grey grow in without anyone noticing.  Think of the money I’ll save on clothes.

My twisted sense of humour always comes out at the worst of times.

If talking tires me, then maybe I’m going to learn to be a good listener.  That can’t hurt, right?

And wait!  Didn’t she say she would actually prefer it if I wrote instead of watching television!  You mean, maybe for the first time in my life, writing can become a routine and not an ocassional self-indulgence?  th-2

Could it be that in the very moment I lose my legs, I gain wings?!

Ah, life!

The Kingdom

The King sat at his favourite lookout pondering his life.  He rested his chin on the large gold ring that adorned his index finger and adjusted his ermine cloak around him, as a chill ran over him.  An omen?  he wondered.  He sighed.  What is the matter with me?  My queen loves me…well, at least when she’s not preoccupied with all the other commitments she makes.  Not many kings can say that.  

He looked out over the vast valley below him, and couldn’t help but feel pride that all this belonged to him.  A mist hung over the village, but it was early yet, and all that would soon dissipate and the sun would shine once again on his kingdom.

My son is off at University, bettering himself, his thoughts continued.  What more could one expect from a future King, even if he is forty?  I just wish he’d settle on something!  The King sighed again.  The chill came once more.  Maybe I’m coming down with something.  I’ll have to call the Royal Physician.

The mountains that surrounded his kingdom were now emerging from the fog,  He loved these mountains.  They were like old friends that never faltered:  strong and bold.  He could stare at their magnificence all day.

He continued to take inventory of his life.  My daughter is as a princess should be:  beautiful, articulate, kind;  I just wish she would come down from that tower!  Admittedly, he’d locked her there years ago, after that awful incidence with that man – and a peasant, too – but she wasn’t getting any younger, and, well……  He sighed again, looking heavenwards.  So much for one man to manage, God.  

At least my kingdom is at peace. The thought warmed him.  He loved his people.  He loved their industry, their loyalty, and above all, he loved it when they were all content.  It had been over thirteen years since they’d suffered any strife.  He didn’t want to think about those times.  Four years the battle had gone on, and while they won, they had also lost so much.  Ah, well, such is the price of war.  

The King shifted his position.  He was feeling it again:  the restlessness.  He hated this sensation; it made him feel as if he wasn’t in control, and he couldn’t abide that.  Two weeks ago he’d sent the Royal Page out on a mission to find something to cure this abomination, but the boy had not yet returned.  Blasted child!  the King thought to himself.  I should have sent a man. Or maybe a woman.  But who else could be trusted?

Wrestling with his thoughts, the King failed to notice that the sky had cleared and the valley was now in full view.  All was not calm.  There, in the middle of town, stood an eight-foot-tall dragon, breathing fire, and lashing his long spiky tail in a wide, destructive arc.  People were fleeing in droves, their cries filling the air.

At first, the King thought it was the cry of the morning birds he was hearing, but soon he recognized the sounds of panic.  Alert once more, he spotted the source of the problem.  What the…..?  “Guards!”  The King was up and running.

A call went out in the castle, and all available knights mounted their steeds in a race to save the kingdom.

But this was no ordinary dragon.  He moved with the agility of a trained martial artist:  eluding the knights lances, and scorching them as they passed.  Within the hour the streets had cleared, and no one dared approach the beast.  It looked as if the town was lost.

Then one lone figure stepped out from the shadows.  Bare legs and arms revealed the slender figure of a young woman.  Clad only in a deerskin tunic, her hair pulled back in tidy braids, she held what looked like a tree branch at her side.  She approached the dragon from the side, and all gasped as the dragon caught the young woman in his peripheral vision.  Ten feet away, she stopped and nodded slightly to the beast, holding her hand up, palm towards him, as if in greeting.

The beast groaned, but seemed to settle.

The woman spoke a few words that surely only the dragon could hear.  The dragon let out a howl, and the crowd screamed in response, but the young woman remained calm, gesturing to the crowd to stay back and be quiet.

She took another step.  The dragon shifted its weight, angling slightly towards her.  The crowd held its breath.  The King too.

Then the young woman did an extraordinary thing.  She sat down.

The dragon sat down.

She stretched out her legs, and leaned back on her arms, in a state of repose.

The dragon stretched his paws out before him, and laid his head on the ground before him.

The young woman then laid herself down and gently rolled over, closing in on the dragon.  To the amazement of all gathered there the dragon didn’t flinch, in fact, some would say later that the dragon itself, moved towards her, but the King was so excited by what was happening, that he didn’t see any of that.  He’d run off to the stables to get himself a horse.  He needed to meet this dragon-tamer, and now!

By the time the King caught up them, the young woman had mounted the back of the dragon, who was contentedly munching on the tree branch.

“Stop!”

The dragon and his rider blinked in unison, turning their heads to find the source of this command.  The woman whispered to the dragon and he stopped eating.  She stayed where she was.

“Your Majesty,”  she bowed her head out of courtesy.

“What is going on here?”

“I am Sheboygan, and this is my friend, the dragon.”

“Your friend!  Did you cause this destruction?”

“Oh no!”  protested Sheboygan.  “I have no desire to destroy your kingdom.  I noticed that the dragon was missing and I came in search of him.  That is all.”

“Explain yourself, young lady.”

“I am Sheboygan,”  she repeated with authority.  “I live beyond the woods, near the body of water over there.”  She pointed to the west.  “The dragon is my neighbour.  I know him to be peaceful and loving, but when I saw he was gone, I knew something must be wrong.  So I came in search of him.”

“If this dragon is peaceful, why did he just threaten my village?”

“He didn’t mean to, your Majesty.  He was only looking for food.”

“For food?  What does he eat, children?”

“No, not at all.  He is vegetarian.  He eats only the fruit and berries of a particular tree.  But sometime in the night, all those trees were cut down.  He must have been awfully hungry to show such anger here.”

The King started to say something, but found he was at a loss for words.  A vegetarian fire-breathing dragon?  Who’d ever heard of such a thing?  Was he dreaming?!

“I don’t understand. Who would cut down those alleged trees, and why?”

“You’ll have to look to your own people, King, to answer that question.”  And with that, dragon and rider ambled off.

The King, who didn’t like it when things happened without his knowing, called an immediate meeting of his advisors.  While the men were assembling, the King spotted his Page sneaking in through the a side door.

“Halt, there!  I’ve been looking for you.”

The Page looked exhausted.  His hair was all array, and bits of twigs and leaves clung to his tunic.

“What is this?”  the King demanded, pointing to a saw the young man was holding.  “What have you been up to?  Cutting down trees, perhaps?”

The young man couldn’t tell a lie, especially to his ruler.   Holding up the saw, he proclaimed: ” I was finding a cure for your restlessness, you Majesty.”

“Yes, yes I’d say!” remarked the King.  “Effectively so, and you almost caused me my kingdom.”

“Oh, no, Sire!  The dragon was harmless!  I swear!”

“Well, you certainly shook things up young man.  Now tell me, who was the young woman that saved the day?”

“Sheboygan?  She’s a friend of mine, Sire.  A very worthy young woman.”

“Worthy, indeed.  In fact, I’d say the two of you are just what this kingdom needs.  Clean yourself boy, and get some sleep.  I’ll be expecting yourself and your young maiden friend at supper this evening.  Now go!”

With that the King spun on his heels and strode into the council chambers where his advisers were gathered.  “Gentleman,” the King began, “today marks a time of change, and as with all change, there must be death before there can be rebirth.  While we have known peace in this kingdom for some time, we have also grown stagnant, and that can be a problem unto itself.  Today, in a time of real need, no one was able to rise to the occasion and defend this kingdom but one lone young woman.  None of our forces, and certainly none of you, were of help.  It took the energy and willingness of the young to make a difference.”

“But, your Majesty, the dragon was a formidable foe, even our best knights could not defeat him.  What were we to do?”

“The dragon appeared to be an insurmountable force, but you, like many of us, were fooled by appearances.  I pay you to see beyond appearances.  Your job is tell me what is really happening.  I have not felt at peace for sometime, and I now realize why :  I have been depending on men whose heads are in the sand, men who are not informed enough to give me the right advice when I need it.”

“But, your Grace…..”

“But nothing.  This dragon has lived on the fringe of our community for some time, yet none of you took the time to find about it.  A young woman did what none of you, and a legion of men could not!”  The King’s anger was rising, the veins in his neck popping as he raged.  “From this moment, you are all demoted!  I’ll let you know your new positions, when I’ve had time to think.”

Heads hung in shame throughout the room.  The men daren’t look at one another, knowing full well that what the King had said was true.  They had been lax.  They had wiled away their days with trivial activities, sated with complacency.  The King was right; they deserved to be disciplined.

“In the meantime, I have found myself two new advisers, and we shall be welcoming them at a feast tonight.  Busy yourself with the preparation, and make it fitting for a young woman and man of their nature.  Have the Royal Guest rooms prepared, and make arrangements for the young woman to be properly attired.”  Then on second thought, the King added:  “No, scratch that.  Let her come in the style she chooses.  Find appropriate entertainment.  Now be on your way.  I must advise the Queen.”

Solemnly, the group of men began to disperse.  They were not happy with the outcome, but they knew their King to be just.  In time; all in good time, they told themselves.

“Oh, and would someone please remind the Princess that the door to the Tower is no longer locked, and suggest that she might want to join us.”

* * * * * *

Part II – “The Valley”

One Woman’s Quest

My Christmas present to myself this year (2011) is this blog.  Writing is so much more to me than just words on a page.  I have kept a journal for as long as I can remember, however; these past six years, as I have sought to redefine myself, I have let it go.  Consequently, I have experienced a sense of disconnect, like something has been missing from my life.  Lately, the restlessness has escalated and I find myself waking in the middle of the night, wondering at the source of this angst.  Last night I put pen to paper.  It was like reuniting with an old friend.  Today, armed with the gift certificate from Chapters that my son gave me for Christmas, I hit the book store.  I had in mind a particular book I wanted to buy for him. I didn’t find it.  What I did discover was a daily meditation book entitled, The Tao of Joy Every Day: 365 Days of Tao Living, by Derek Lin.  I picked it up, along with a few other books I thought other family members might enjoy.  In line, I opened The Tao of Joy and began to read.  My son may like this book, I decided, but this one is for me.  On the ride home the commitment formed itself:  with each day’s focus I can reflect and write.  The goal:  to find myself back on a spiritual path that sustains me; to regain equilibrium in my life.