Persistence

I like to think I’m not as prone to anxiety as I used to be but over the last couple of weeks it reared its’ head. Not in a huge lion’s roar kind of way but through exhaustion from battling allergies and worrying about my bank account. And every so often one nasty part of me would yell ‘Shut the f**k up!’ to the other part that keeps saying I’ll get through this. And I say nasty when in reality that part of me is scared. And although Fear is a constant companion, and I know I’m supposed to put in the back seat and not let it drive, it sure puts up one hell of a fight for a position up front.

But this morning as I was out walking my dog, I had a thought pop into my head: I can work the part-time schedule that I’m building and use the rest of the time to focus on my writing. It’s what I wanted to do all along and now I’m in a position to do that. I’ve got two delivery gigs to balance things out with one bringing in money very week. So what I’m trying to do here is tell myself I’m working things out.

The reason the above thought popped into my head is that I had a terrible thought before that: feeling guilty and stupid for writing in the first place. I mean, just when I think I’m truly over that type of thinking it rears its’ ugly head. It’s been dancing around the edges for a while and I’ve sensed its’ presence. But to actually hear it was something that kind of threw me for a loop. Yet when I write it down and read it back to myself, it deflates it and makes me realize it wasn’t a lead weight, but a balloon filled with hot air and bullshit.

The problem I have with even writing something like this is that I don’t want to think like this at all. Yes, I avoid it like the plague knowing full-well it will come back and bite me in the ass big-time. So I don’t want to actively avoid it but at the same time, I don’t want it to overwhelm me either.

What do you about this kind of crap then?

I think I want to do a Lady Gaga after the Super Bowl: ignore the heck out of it and just keep doing what I need to do, and what I want to do.

And quote this in honor of not only Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), but all women who keep going no matter what: She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.

Breast Cancer the Ravager

This week is breast cancer prevention week and I’m sure this rant is going to piss someone off but I’m going to say some things here that need to be said.

First, if you’re not aware that breast cancer exists and that women die from it every single day, then either you’ve been living in a cave cut off from the rest of the world for the last forty years or so, or you’re a total ignorant moron. But if you don’t fall into either category then there is no need to promote breast cancer awareness.

I’m the daughter of a woman who died from it in a very painful and brutal way. It will be fifteen years this October since my mother died and there is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about her in some way. Seeing this breast cancer awareness-prevention bulls**t brings up all the nightmare-memories of her battle with the disease. And the s***y thing is people, treatment hasn’t really changed in the last fifteen years. It’s still surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation or in plain English, you get cut, poisoned, and burned. And if you’re lucky, you survive all that and the cancer doesn’t come back. But my mother didn’t survive that, and she suffered in ways I still have trouble talking about after all these years.

So whatever you do, do NOT badger me or bulls**t me about breast cancer awareness or tell me to do this or that to promote awareness or prevention. If you want to do something about breast cancer financially, donate to organizations that directly fund research into the disease. And please do NOT tell me to wear pink or buy pink s**t or anything else. NONE of that will cure this f*****g disease. And none of that s**t has even gone towards making treatment any less barbaric than it is. Early detection can save lives but know this: women still die from this damn disease every single freaking day. And death from this disease is not pretty or peaceful. It’s brutal and ugly in ways that will give anyone nightmares.

And because of my mother, I’m well aware of my risk factors though I don’t have some of the same ones she had. But ask me about my anxiety levels when I’m waiting for mammogram results. Ask me about the anxiety I feel when I check myself. Ask me about the anxiety I feel when I think about what I would do if I found out I had this s**t inside me. I keep it well-contained but trust me, it’s there. And I don’t hide my head in the dirt by not checking myself or getting mammograms but mentally and emotionally, I have to prepare for it and battle the dragon of anxiety with nothing but a pen knife.

I don’t want anyone to be touched by this grim-reaper of a disease though I honestly don’t know of any single person who hasn’t been touched by it in some way. And you shouldn’t have to have direct contact with it to be aware of its’ horrors, or feel intense rage that treatment hasn’t changed in over half a century.

My mother said during her last round of treatment that she was living a half-life at best. Her body had been so ravaged by the treatments and surgeries that there wasn’t much left in her. So that’s what breast cancer is to me: a ravager. A ravager of bodies, and a ravager of souls. My soul still bears the scars of what I witnessed, and will never forget. My anger and pain are just as fresh now as they were fifteen years ago because memories so horrible only ease off with time, but they can come back with a vengeance in a single heartbeat.

This is what talk of breast cancer awareness and prevention does to me: it reminds in a very brutal way that this disease is a ravager of both victims, and those left behind. Don’t be afraid to face that ravager, but don’t say that the ravager doesn’t exist, or that it isn’t as bad people say it is. Trust me, it’s worse than you can ever imagine if you haven’t tangled with it personally. So let’s take this awareness-prevention bulls**t and burn it to a pile of ash. Then let’s take those ashes and give birth to a new phoenix that will someday cure this damn disease.

Four Seasons of South Texas

It was on this day in 2011 that the San Antonio Express-News published this little essay by me. Yes, it was my first publishing credit.

Here it is again:

I have heard many times that there are only two seasons in South Texas: hot and not so hot. I don’t believe that because it does get below ninety degrees after September and the trees do change colors.

But how do you know the seasons have changed?

I know it’s Spring when I see the first bluebonnets along the side of the road. Spring is a sea of wildflowers and trees budding out along with grass turning green. It’s mornings that have a bit of nip in the air and afternoons that are warm but not too hot. Though if you’ve lived in South Texas for more than a year or two you know to be on the lookout for that last cold front that drops temperatures fifty degrees in one afternoon along with a blast of cold rain. But once that last cold front moves through, it’s blue skies and sun all the time.

Then there is summer, the most famous season in South Texas. Summer is blazing blue skies with a side of haze, and humidity that makes you want to wring out the air. That first blast of heat ignites a burning desire for cold drinks, water parks, and fun. The grass is green if we’ve had rain and brown dust if we haven’t. You see yellow lantana blooms along with hibiscus and bougainvillea in every planter in the city. It’s the smell of barbeque, cold beer and margaritas at every party. It’s ice cream and raspas, shorts and flip flops. And if all else fails, you can find someplace with air-conditioning to get out of the heat.

Fall comes later in this part of the hemisphere though you know it’s here when there’s a chill in the mornings and the afternoons aren’t as hot. It’s traveling through the Hill Country and seeing the trees changing color and the grass turning to light-brown and swaying in the fall winds as you drive to the Hill Country. Then there’s that first blue ‘Norther cold front, and the burnt dust smell when you turn on your heater for the first time. It’s also time to put away the flip flops and pull out the socks.

Finally, Winter comes. Temperatures stay below burning-hot and above bracing cold unless a cold front has blown through. Winter is snuggling in coats as you shop or take in the lights on the Riverwalk. It’s also abundant sunshine on Christmas so kids can go outside and play with all their new toys. It’s bright blue sky, star-filled skies at night, and tamales and sweets at every party in town.

The seasons do change in South Texas in sight and smell, sound and delight. And all you have to do to see that is look at the changing colors and savor the delights of each season. And remember, the cold never lasts more than a few days.

Unlike the heat….

Deep Breath

Yesterday I was trying to get out a blog entry but I was battling nerves over a slow job (which has picked up again), changing weather (my body really hates that), and a lovely visit from Aunt Flo (hence the wicked PMS that had me wanting to cry my eyes out over the last few days). I got off a couple of rants but deleted them because the negative energy was draining me worse than the triumvirate already affecting me.

This morning it’s cold though dry so no real complaints here. The body isn’t hurting as bad, but Aunt Flo is still being a b***h and she’s early to boot. But my mind is clearer and I’m calmer than I was yesterday.

It’s all well and good to get pissed off and angry about things, but I can’t live on that or even run on it for any length of time. For me, there’s not much of an adrenalin kick like I think there might be for some people with anger and pissy moods. That anger and pissiness can fire me up but not in a good way. The tension that grips my whole body is just not worth the battle for me. I walked away from a big source of that kind of crap last year and I certainly don’t want to go back to it.

Many years ago, I was in the doctor’s office about to get a big shot for something. The nurse started off by telling me it was going to hurt but that she wanted me to try something to help with that. She told me that the normal reaction to pain is to tense up, but that’s bad because she told me that deprives a muscle of oxygen. That deprivation of oxygen tightens the muscle even more and increases the pain. She told me that when the pain hit to breathe deeply instead, to focus on getting oxygen into the muscle and making it relax. So I cleared my mind and when that first pinprick of pain hit, I breathed deeply and focused on getting oxygen into the muscle she was injecting the shot into.

And you know what? It worked. The pain let off a heck of a lot sooner and I walked out of there having learning something very valuable. And it’s a lesson I continue to learn each and every day.

For a long time, I kept this to myself and there were times I almost felt ashamed for thinking that I could breathe and focus like this to alleviate pain and tension in me. Why the shame, you ask?

First, because things like meditation or focused breathing is ridiculed or criticized heavily. I have been terribly sensitive to this criticism and felt that I was wrong to even think that this would help. And I think a lot of the criticism is that this is some kind of cure-all. No, it’s not. But it can help and that’s worth it right there.

Second, there’s a feeling that I’ve battled over the years and that was feeling like I didn’t have a right to be happy, or be calm inside myself. That sounds stupid, I know but when you feel your personal time and energy is under attack that’s how it can twist up and cut you up inside. And I think that’s a problem for a lot of people as they do feel their personal time is under attack, or that they have no right to it at all.

My father used to tell me you can’t run on anger-and-meanness forever and he was right. I’ve gotten to the point now where if I feel myself twisting up inside that I know I need to make a break with it. Yesterday that meant crawling into bed for an hour and letting my body rest. Once I rested up I felt better, and as my head began to clear I realized that I’d been twisted up inside and that something had to give.

And I’m glad that after that brief respite I got back on track and came back to this measure of calm.

Present Versus Future

I’ve always had a bit of conflict when dwelling in the present too much. The conflict comes from hearing that you have to think about your future while trying to get through your present life. But to me the future is a big blank most of the time. Yeah, I’d like to think of myself in the future sitting in some nice house somewhere writing with my dogs and cats around me. Maybe that will happen, or maybe I’ll be an old woman living in a little apartment eking out a living until I croak.

My parents always said they were never good at saving for a rainy day (aka, the future) because they didn’t think they’d get a future. And they didn’t as both of them didn’t make it to the magical retirement age of sixty-five or have anything remotely like the so-called ‘golden years’. I wonder if somehow, sub-consciously they knew they weren’t going to get that. And I wonder if they felt as conflicted about thinking about the future as much I am. I have a crazy feeling they may have shared some of my sentiments.

Now, I’m not saying it’s bad to think about the future or try to prepare for it in some way. It’s good to save money when you can and let yourself daydream about a nice easy life after a lifetime of scuffling for a buck, as my father used to say. But I think for a lot of us reality sets in and we know that life loves to dump a huge bucket of crap on us on a regular basis. We also know things don’t work sometimes, and that sometimes the end comes a lot sooner than we ever think it will.

One time, when my mom was going through one of her many rounds of cancer treatments, I was outside with her on the back patio hanging out with her while she tended to her plants. She asked me why I was spending time with her when I could have been off doing something of my own. I just said this to her: “Do I have to tell you why I’m here right now with you?” She didn’t answer that question, and it never came up again. We didn’t have to talk about the fact she was living on borrowed time, and that we had been living with the certainty of ‘when’ the day she was diagnosed with cancer. So in turn, I focused on just days both good and bad and tried not to think about the inevitable. Because for me, there wasn’t much I could do to prepare for that end other than face it when it came.

I’m not saying I have a downer on the future as I know things can change from one day to the next. I hold steady to the belief that things can, and do, turn for the better sometimes. I know that life is series of ups and downs and that you just ride them as best as you can.

But I will confess to having moments where I just want to sit and have a good cry over not knowing what’s going to happen next. Some of that comes from residual anxiety I still deal with, some of it is fear that still bites me in the ass every so often, and some of it is just plain old stupidity on my part. I tell myself I made my decisions and just need to work with them. It’s like right now, my delivery gig is still slow after three weeks so I’m looking at other options. I don’t know if I could go back on the phones, but I’m not going to approach a change as if it’s just trading one set of problems for another. Because any way you slice it, nothing in this world is completely problem-free. Things are always up-and-down at some point in time and there are no guarantees either way.

A good piece of advice I’ve been hearing is to diversify if possible. And the reason I say that’s good is that it gives you possibilities if something slips up. I like the idea of possibilities as you know and I like the idea of finding and or creating them. So as I work through my anxieties here I seem to have found something that can help me.

Lesson here: get through the day but don’t let anxiety rob you of thinking about the future.

Basic Editing: Verb-Tense Style

Over the course of this year, I will be presenting entries on things that I encounter as a writer and editor.

In English, verb tense can be defined under three basic headings: past, present, and future. What you’re writing will in turn determine what tense your verbs are going to be in. But how do you know what tense to use, and do you have to stay strictly in one tense? The answer to that question depends on what you’re writing.

Let me start off with an example from yesterday’s blog entry:

(The possibilities bit I got from the movie ‘Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan- Admiral Kirk to Saavik: “As your teacher, Mr. Spock, is fond of saying, there are always possibilities.”)

Now in the original edit the word ‘got’ was ‘get’. It wasn’t incorrect to use ‘get’ but the word ‘get’ put the sentence in present tense and I just didn’t think it sounded right. To me, ‘get’ sounded like I literally found the quote ten minutes ago when in reality I’ve known this line of dialogue since the movie came out in 1982. So, the quote has been with me for a long time and ‘got’ conveyed that.

A reader probably wouldn’t see the difference between ‘got’ and ‘get’ like I did but when they read it their mind would process what I wanted them to almost subconsciously. You don’t want a reader to have to slow down and think about what you’re saying past a certain point.

Another thing from yesterday’s blog entry was this:

Finally, you can believe in the good of the world

Let’s look at the verb ‘can’. I use this present-tense verb because I wanted to make a definitive statement. If I had used ‘could’ then it would have turned the rest of the sentence into an either/or statement. It’s not so much about time here but about intent. So verb-tense isn’t so much defined by time itself, but by what you want to communicate.

The above two examples were from a non-fiction work. In fiction, shifting verb tense doesn’t work but why is that?

English isn’t just a phonetic language in terms of what you can physical hear with your own ears, but what you can hear in your head. As you read along with something, you’re hearing the words in your mind. So if something doesn’t read well, you’re going to notice.

Let’s look at some examples:

I went down to the corner store where I pick up some apples to take home.

In this sentence, we start with the verb ‘went, which is past-tense. Then the next verb is ‘pick’, which is present-tense. Past and present are colliding here because of this: did the subject of the sentence already go down to the corner store and if so, how could they pick up some apples if they’ve already been to the store?

How can we rewrite this sentence?

We can keep it entirely in the present-tense like this:

I go down to the corner store to pick up some apples to take home.

Both verbs, ‘go’ and ‘pick’ are in present-tense. Now, I’m not fond of the usage of ‘to pick’ as it’s a bit clunky to me. But it works because it says why I am going down to the corner store in the first place.

Or we can go into past-tense:

I went down to the corner store and picked up some apples to take home.

Both ‘went’ and ‘picked’ are past-tense verbs. The sentence communicates exactly the two things that I did. And because both verbs are past-tense and singular, the subject-verb agreement works.

So as you can see here, when it comes to verb-tense it’s not always just about past-present-future, but what your intent is. Or as I like to say, it’s all about the context of your overall piece of writing. What are you trying to communicate here and what’s the most effective way to make your point? My advice there is to listen to what you’ve written then fine-tune it to where it’s clear and concise.

Unconventional Faith: Two Roads to Possibilities

I arrived at the term ‘unconventional faith’ via two roads:

The first road was when I turned forty and realized that I’m a survivor. And by survivor I just mean that I can take care of myself. It may not be pretty or neat or smart at times, but I’m still alive and not in jail or homeless so that’s a start. It’s a good thing to be able to take care of yourself and no, it doesn’t mean you have pride stuck up your ass. I used to have that thrown in my face a lot when I was younger and it really hurt. But after I turned forty I threw that into the trash and burned it. I’m not perfect, but life hasn’t always handed me a basket of lemons. More often than not, I got handed a bucket of steaming s**t and had to carry it even though the smell damn near made me gag.

The second road was a year later when I realized this: everyone else is just as full of s**t as I am, but that I’m not a bad person. This came to me after listening to a phone call with my supervisor in which she told me I should have known better. I didn’t f**k up the call completely though I could have been a bit smoother. But hey, nowhere in my job description did it ever say I had to be absolutely perfect on every call. And after that session, I realized that I didn’t have to be perfect, nor kick the crap out of myself when I wasn’t.

So these two things, survival and lack of perfection, came together in me after I’d left my phone gig for the great unknown. I told myself that I could always think my way out of a situation and that my solution didn’t have to be perfect and most of all, I didn’t have to kick the crap out of myself if I messed up. Yes, I’ve made mistakes since and had boo-boo’s and trip-stumble-and-fall. But each and every time I’ve picked myself up and kept going and somehow gotten through it.

The term ‘faith’ to me was a bit sedentary. I felt like you couldn’t have faith and action together though that may not be what people meant when they talked about being patient and waiting for things to get better. I don’t expect things to be perfect and all hunky-dory. I expect things to be good most of the time but also that sometimes things won’t work out. But during the times that things don’t work out, I won’t fall to pieces and beat the snot out of myself.

And that last sentence is an indicator here for me of the wall I still keep hitting when it comes to thinking about faith.

Take last Friday for example: I had to go get my vehicle registration renewed because I let it expire and got a ticket for it. I got to the tax office and discovered I was missing a piece of paperwork. So I drove back home and each time I felt myself wanting to take a kick at my backside or break down and cry, I said ‘no’ to both. First, I told myself that kicking and crying wouldn’t accomplish a damn thing and second, that going back for paperwork wasn’t the end of the world. And three, that if anyone judged me for being a bit of a doofus then that was their thing, not mine. It was the last thought that brought things into perspective for me because I reminded myself that in reality, no one really gives a s**t if you f**k up. You may have people in your life that will mouth off at you but trust me, five minutes after they walk away they’ll have forgotten what they mouthed off at you for in the first place.

But I think the most important thing here is that there are always possibilities. That’s the road I’m on now, a road where there are possibilities no matter what. So that’s how I would describe faith: believing in possibilities while working on finding them.

(The possibilities bit I got from the movie ‘Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan- Admiral Kirk to Saavik: “As your teacher, Mr. Spock, is fond of saying, there are always possibilities.”)

Be a Self-Rescuing Princess (or Prince)

For 2017, I only have one big resolution: be my own self-rescuing princess.

First, I’m not saying that you can’t depend on anyone in your life or anything near to that. What I’m saying is start by believing in yourself, and not just believing that you can do something, but knowing that if you don’t then nothing will get done.

When I think of Self-Rescuing Princesses I think of the first one I ever knew: Princess Leia from ‘Star Wars’. Think about that key scene in the first ‘Star Wars’ movie (aka, Episode 4: A New Hope): they’re trapped in the prison block and she blasts their way out of there not caring that’s a garbage chute. She saw what had to be done and did it and didn’t get paralyzed thinking about how they were going to get out of the garbage compactor.

And guess what: THERE’S NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT!!!

There is nothing wrong with taking care of the business at hand without thinking about what happens after that. Over the last six months in my semi-hand-to-mouth existence, I’ve learned to just get through the day and deal with whatever comes along. No sense in tying myself up in my knickers worrying about next month or next week or the next day. Because I have learned (finally!) that if you stay calm and don’t kick the crap out of yourself while standing like an idiot wringing your hands, you’ll figure something out.

And if someone doesn’t like your solution: f**k them. Unless you’re breaking the law, or being mean or cruel, or causing destruction and mayhem, you’re doing just fine. I know that we all spend too damn much time worrying about what someone else might think, especially those with diarrhea of the mouth. Stay away from them if you can and if not, do your best to put a toilet plunger over their mouths. I know that sounds crude and ugly but even if it’s just an old voice in your head do what I just told you. Because when you stop worrying about shit like that, you’ll be better off.

So what I’m saying here is that you can be the heroine (or hero) of your own life. Maybe you won’t save the world but you’ll be taking care of yourself and most of all, do it with kindness. As my father used to say, it doesn’t cost you anything to be nice to someone. And I can tell you when you’re nice to someone they’ll be nice to you in return. And don’t poo-poo that either: I interact with people on a daily basis and let me tell you, I’ve never had someone come back at me like they want to take my head off. And even if they had, I wouldn’t let it get to me. You can rescue yourself and help other people along the way, even if it’s just by being nice to them, and yourself.

Closing the Book

Like many of us, I’m ready to close the book on 2016. For me, it wasn’t as bad of a year personally as some in the past. I mean, I got off the phones and haven’t had to go back to them yet. So major life-goal accomplished there.

The year was rotten in terms of famous people dying though I think the loss that hit me the hardest was Carrie Fisher’s because she was such a personal icon for me. She was smart, tough, and incredibly funny. She was also honest and brave, and I still want to be like her when I grow up.

Another way the year was rotten was the election. I’m still holding out hope the Orange One will be impeached and that Congress will go full-on Democrat in the 2018 mid-term elections but the battle that has begun is going to be one for the history books. In fact, I’ll make a prediction that the battle to de-throne the Orange One and the Neo-Nazi contingent will make Watergate and Bill Clinton’s impeachment look like walks in the park. Personally, I hope all the dirt comes out once and for all and people stand up to the Neo-Nazi’s and put them back in their cages where they belong.

But for me, 2016 proved that I could eek out a living without wrecking my health or sanity. For seventeen years I’d been told I’d never make it off the phones. Yes, I live cheap and scrape by but when I think about the alternative, or when anxiety rears its’ ugly head, I stand firm in my decision. This decision was similar to the one I made in 2010 when I left my job. Now back then I was just flat-out exhausted in every way imaginable and I needed to be there for my dad. But for both times: no regrets.

So all you can do at the stage of the game is close the book, and change the calendars and burn the old ones if you want to. But most of all, open a new book for the coming year. Put a new calendar up and light a candle inside yourself and keep the flame going no matter what.

Good News, But Let’s Go All the Way

Yesterday US Army Corps of Engineers announced that they will not grant an easement for the Dakota Access Pipeline. Yes, this is very good news and a huge thank-you to all the protesters who stood their ground. The battle has only just begun because of the incoming presidential administration but that group of bastards has been put on notice, and the protesters haven’t left.

What I can’t understand, other than the fact it is just blind, dumb ignorance, is the opposition to alternative clean forms of energy. Oh, I’ve heard the arguments that you’ll be throwing people out of work and so on. People get thrown out of work all the freaking time in the coal-and-oil business because they’re cyclical. They boom and they bust because in the end you’re just burning dead dinosaurs. There is no evolution or advancement of this technology and most of all, burning those dead dinosaurs destroys our planet. Alternative forms of energy such as solar and wind don’t destroy the planet and two, they’re technologies that can evolve to become more efficient. Someday, a solar panel the size of a microchip may power a house. But only if enough people get their heads out of their asses and start putting money towards this. This would mean funding education and collecting taxes from rich oil billionaires who have spent decades evading them while polluting our planet.

Yes, I’m a raging environmentalist and I make no apologies for it. Coal and oil had their day but over fifty years ago we learned how much damage they were doing. And if you don’t give a shit about your fellow human beings present or future generations, then fuck off. Because right now, the coal-and-oil industry is saying that and continues to do without impunity. To me, they should pay for the damages they have caused and fund their cleanups.

Now of course I’m sure I’ll be called a hypocrite because I don’t drive a hybrid or electric car or have solar panels on the roof of my apartment. To that I say fuck you, too. Because of the battle against these technologies the vast majority of the population doesn’t have access to this nor the financial means to do so. But that doesn’t mean I can’t rage against it.

Last night, they danced on the plains of North Dakota. Today, is the beginning of the next phase of the battle. And to quote from one of my favorite movies of all-time, ‘Casablanca’: “Welcome back to the fight. This time I know our side will win.”

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