The Lingering Conflicts of a Leftover Life

I left Sayre when I was 18, and that was nearly two decades ago. It was a month after I graduated that my dad and my friend Joy helped me load the U-Haul in front of the rent house I had been living in and head two hours East to Oklahoma City. There are parts of me I left in that town. I buried them in the cold red clay and walked away. Discarded pieces of the person I used to be and no longer wished to remember.

Just like that I moved into a rent-controlled apartment in a not so nice neighborhood with no friends. I lived by myself and nearby distant cousins; family members I did not know that well, truthfully. The city had close to a million people in it, and the town I had just left had fewer than 2,500. Geographically it was about two inches on a map. But those two inches were a world apart.

Those first few months I drove back at least once a month and visited my friends, but eventually I did not even do that. That town became like a faded photograph, a memory that I could once connect to with ease had now become an image I didn’t see myself in at all.

The parts of me I left behind, those parts were what people remembered about me. As if by shedding them and leaving them there I was making sure those were my trademarks.

Ideologically I could not be further from that scarred girl who drove off to the big city to live by herself and go to college. I knew that the only way to grow was to push myself as hard as I could to be the person I wanted to be. I used to drive into the center of the city and then find my way home to my lonely apartment each night. Before GPS and cell phones I knew that the only way I would be able to get around would be to memorize the layout in my head. Along the way I would see signs advertising jobs and I would apply. It didn’t take long and I had a job, I made new friends, I started college. Then, I got married, graduated twice, bought a house, had a kid.

And I didn’t really ever look back.

There are still good people there. People I care about and people who know the core of who I am. But I haven’t been back to visit in years. My parents live outside of town so I will go and visit them and then return home all without setting foot inside the city limits.

I think now that I have avoided having to reconcile the “me that was” with the person I grew into. They are two sides of the same coin. I could not be who I am now without her, but there are days I have a hard time facing her. And she is intricately woven into the fabric of my hometown and the people that I grew up with.

So, to ignore her, I blocked them out.

This probably would have been the end of it. I might not have thought that much more about it, in fact, if it weren’t for what happened last night.

Last night there was a tornado that started near my parents’ property and their home and traveled just a few miles to the East and into the neighboring town. I realized that even though I have no claim to this land anymore that it still hurts. These people, many who I grew up with, were suffering and I felt bad with them. I wanted to let them know how sad I was or how it hurt to see someplace I had been so many times as a teenager left in ruins.

I felt myself wanting to share in their collective pain. But how could I? After all, I was the traitor that left and no longer had ties to the town. I was the one who had done nothing but peripherally stay current on social media with all of the people who had once been close friends. What right do I have to share in their pain and their agony? Who am I to offer empty words of sympathy?

While I do not know if I have a right to lay claim to the pain and sorrow that I am feeling right now, I want everyone affected to know that I feel your loss too, and it hurts much deeper than I would have believed.

I See You

Being an artist is about being raw and true to yourself and to your vision of the world around you. It requires you to be both fearful and fearless simeltaneously. I tell that to my students all of the time, but they are just words. I had forgotten what it was like to live in that limbo of being brutally honest, yet hidden in the depths. I had forgotten what it meant to be someone who creates because there is no other alternative.

You see I couldn’t stop creating if I tried. It’s built into me, into my genetic code. My grandma was the same way. Up until the arthritis curled her hands and bit into her hips she would sit for hours and paint or sew or crochet or string jewelry: anything to help create something in the world. 

She passed away this week, and I didn’t realize until then how much braver she was than I ever gave her credit for. I had spent my life looking at her through one lens, that of grandma. To me she was someone who raised her family and lived a typical housewife existence and who loved to craft as a hobby. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I loved her any differently because of this perception.

I just didn’t see her. I didn’t appreciate her fire, didn’t see her as a young woman who put her dreams on hold only to go back to college later when her children were grown so she could follow her dream. I didn’t see how much courage it would have taken for her to do this, to branch out into a world she didn’t really know and go back to school with people half her age in order to learn more and grow as a person.

After school she took her art on the road, going out with the items she created and putting them up for people to look at and criticize. This is the hardest thing for any artist to do, and she did it with grace and style. She never lost her love of her art or her desire to create.

One painting has always stuck with me. It was a Bengal Tiger standing in wispy blades of yellow grass against a coal black sky. His eyes were not filled in but he stood strict and at attention, his entire body poised against the unknown. When I was younger I used to stare at it for hours and beg her to finish. She never would. She told me once she just wasn’t sure if she could. I didn’t understand it then, couldn’t understand why someone would invest so much in something they could not finish. I understand now. In fact, I’m fighting with some of my own demons on my unfinished stories. This painting is with me now, a constant reminder to not leave things undone.

I was going through pictures after the service and all of a sudden I saw my grandma as she had been, a fully formed person. There were smiles and laughter, tears and doubts, and through it all the story of her life. The story I had always missed because I couldn’t take off my glasses and adjust my view. I see it now, though. I’m sorry I missed it before, Nene.

I see you now.

Picking Apart a Scene

I’ve been working on the new story now and it’s getting to the point where I need to pull apart and completely revamp a scene. Long story short, I added in another character long after the beginning and I need to find a way to get her fully integrated in the front half of the book. I don’t know why I work this way, but that is often my process.

Right now I keep going back and forth between what I need to do and what I want to do. I need to completely gut this scene and only take away the vital elements. The problem is over the last year or so I’ve grown attached to it and I don’t want to change it. It’s hard to create something from scratch and then tear it to pieces and rebuild it.

Think about how attached some people get to Lego sets they build. Now magnify that. Yep, that is what I’m going through right now. I need all of the luck you can toss at me.

The good news is that the new character, Orele, is pretty bad ass. I like her, and that lessens the horrible feeling that I have in the pit of my stomach when I sit down to write.

I Lost Heartsy

I had intended to spend yesterday working on my book. I’m trying to wrap up a storyline and merge in the elements for the next book. Weaving plot points around my characters in a believable manner is something I love to do, and in fact is one of the things that keeps me writing. I have an office that I share with my daughter’s art supplies. She is usually happy to paint and create while I write.

The day’s plan, however, went astray as soon as my daughter walked up to me with tears in her eyes.

“Mommy, I can’t find Heartsy.” She sobbed.

Heartsy is her latest stuffed animal cohort. She has no less than a hundred of them, but she randomly picks one out to be her favorite. This one was a white dog with blue hearts that her uncle had won in a claw machine.

And he had apparently gone MIA during the night.

To many kids stuffed animals are just toys to be played with, but to my daughter they are real living creatures, which was evident when I told her that I would help her look for him as soon as I was able to save what I was working on. Her tears grew heavy and she started heaving in great giant sobs.

“He’s alone and he’s scared and I have to find him right now.” Her voice was begging with me as she clutched my side.

“I know baby, I just need a second.” I tell her trying to calm her with one arm while simultaneously clicking on the save icon on the computer with the other.

“I’m his mommy. I have to find him. You would find me if I were missing, right?”

And with that, I was done. I closed the laptop and stood up. “Of course I would, baby. Tell me, where did you last see him?”

With that we set off on an adventure in cleaning and discovery that would last us until that evening. We found him, but along the way we found several different toys she’d thought she lost, a few pairs of socks and underwear the cat had hoarded under the chair, and the favorite toy of my 20 year old cat who had passed away a few months before.

Sometimes I’m very hard on myself for not writing and not completing my goals, but yesterday was a day of discovery that I needed on a different level. Without even meaning to we had a fun day of laughter and playing and imagination.

In the words of Ice Cube, “It was a good day.”

…and the walls came crashing down…

You probably don’t know me from Adam.  Or, if you do, you don’t know all of me.  I section myself off and very, very few people know what goes on in my head.  However, I think that is about to change.  That’s because they say that if you want to know a writer’s soul, you need to read their work.  While I have published some things, I hold a lot of it back.  No more.  Even the work that can’t get published or that I haven’t put out into the world much is about to find a home here.

This is the place where I make my stand, where I take a scalpel and slice my soul bare.  I had a very important person in my life once tell me that was the only way to make a connection as a writer.  She said I had to take a chance and open my wounds all the way up and bleed them out through my pen.  She died, and for awhile I forgot this.  I shut it away in one of my compartmentalized selves and locked the door.

Writing is not just something I do on occasion, and it’s not just a passing fad.  It is possibly the most important thing about me.  It is my purge, my way of coping with the world when everything seems out of control.  It always has been.  I’ve never used drugs, I’m not a big drinker, and for awhile in my teenage years if you’d asked I would have said my outlet was sex.  But that was before writing, before I found a way to sort my life in words.

These characters are not real, and yet they are.  I create them from aspects of people I have met over the years.  It could be something as simple as the way a man rubbed his stomach when he spoke or the confused tilt of someone’s head when I said something that took them by surprise.  I distill the essence of what these people are and try to incorporate those aspects into my stories.  It doesn’t mean the events are real.  In fact, events that happened in the written world probably have never happened in the physical world.  The foundations for these are built on a grain of truth and then expanded through a highly active imagination.

Pull up a chair and stay a minute. While you’re here, read something.  I hope you enjoy them. If so, leave a comment or send a message. If not you can leave messages too, but be constructive. You can call something shitty and trash it, just don’t be surprised if I tell you to fuck off.  It’s kind of who I am.

So, here it is people, take it or leave it.  I’m not sure how many of you will read this.  I have no idea if it will find an audience.  I just know it is something I have to do.  For too many years I have not been using writing as a means of purging my inner demons.  Instead I’ve been building up walls.  Now it is time for me to tear those walls down…