I just finished reading Stephen King’s newest doorstop, 11/22/63.  It’s a story about time travel and the Kennedy assassination, and one of the themes is that the past fights hard to stay the same.  Yesterday, I couldn’t help thinking that the present (particularly my present) will roll over anyone (insert “me”) to stay the same.

I visited the Animal Shelter yesterday to discuss volunteering.  The gal at the desk asked me what I’d like to do.  I said anything that needed doing.  She signed me up to work next Monday afternoon.  I walked back out to my truck in a daze.  I’d been in the building a good seven minutes.

On the drive back to town I kept telling myself, “You can do this.  It’s one afternoon.  It’s doggies and kitties.”  But, the anxiety started low in my gut and crept up to my throat.  Where was all that positive, life-affirming determination that shot me out of Minneapolis and back to Marshalltown with a vision of My New Life?  Stuck under the depression that’s since arrived, I imagine.  It was as if a part of me fought hard to stay the same.  Because the same is known, safe.

Later I went to Wal-Mart.  To start beautifying my little apartment and make it more my home, I asked my mom to help me purchase a storage cabinet for my bathroom.  Always happy to have something concrete to buy for me, Mom agreed.  I found a reasonably priced one online and had it shipped to our local store.

“Some assembly required” meant a box full of boards (Not boards, pressboard—the next step up from cardboard) and a big bag of hardware.  I’m pretty handy.  I mean, I’ve got my own drill, for heaven’s sake.  So, I wasn’t too concerned about putting an over-the-toilet cupboard together.  The instruction manual neglected to mention fronts or backs of any of the pieces, so I “assembled” the thing three times.  By then the anchors were tearing out of the pressboard, and even Gorilla Glue wouldn’t keep it standing up.  After five hours of wrestling with the thing, I gave up and took it back.  At least I got my money back.

The present took one last jab this morning.  As I was cleaning the pieces of my CPAP machine, I poked a hole in the hose that connects the machine to my face mask.  I stood at the bathroom sink, holding up both ends of the hose, watching water squirt out the hole, and I thought.  “Okay.  I give up.”  I can’t afford any more accidents (I fell on the ice out side Wal-Mart and also getting into my truck) or medical issues (an old shoulder injury is painfully back in town and there’s some gynecological shenanigans going on in my nether-regions).  I get the message.

But, there’s a part of me outside the current depression that’s getting steely-eyed.  I can feel her reaching for the Uzi.  Entropy may be a powerful force, but so is the Bad-Ass.  I’ll regroup and rethink while the depression grips me.  But, after that.  Yippy-Ki-Yay, Motherf*****.

Books I Read in 2011

It’s a short list, but I’m thrilled that I’ve tackled some “adult” novels and non-fiction.  I’m also finding that Juveniles rarely hold my attention, even though they’re easier for my ECT-fried brain to digest.  I just end up wanting to slap those pouty, whiny teenagers silly.  Oh, well.

I didn’t include all the books I started and stopped.  Lots of those.

Hoping to get even more books read in 2012!

  1. Greene, Bob. The Life You Want.  Oprah’s body guru on fitness, weight loss and “happiness.”  Some good stuff.  Nothing you haven’t heard before.
  2. King, Stephen. Full Dark, No Stars.  Four novellas.  Excellent King.
  3. Larsson, Stieg.  The Girl Who Played with Fire.  Wow.  The movie of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was my introduction to Larsson, and I had to try to read the books.  To my delight, this book slipped through my reading disability like water.  Love the protagonist.  Love the setting.  Love the bad guys.  Love it all.  Must have more!
  4. Martin, George R.R. Wild Cards, Book One.  Shared universe anthology about folks in the 1950-1960’s with genetic mutations—the making of superheroes and supervillans.  Interesting.
  5. Meyer, Stephanie. Twilight.  Okay, okay, I succumbed.  In my quest to read juvenile books, I had to see what all the fuss was about.  I must say I liked the book’s clumsy, sweet Bella much better than the wooden, petulant actroid that played her in the movies.  But, there was w-a-y too many longing looks and brushing of the lips with cold fingers.  Even for me, the Heaving Bosom Queen.
  6. Oates, Joyce Carol.  We Were the Mulvaneys.  Set in the 1970s, this is an amazing study of the disintegration of a strong family after the daughter’s assault.
  7. Ouspensky, P.D. The Psychology of Man’s Possible Evolution.  These are transcripts of five lectures that outline the Gurdjieffian method of raising consciousness and spiritual development.  If you dig spiritual evolution, an interesting read.
  8. Pullman, Philip.  The Golden Compass.  The first book on my list of “Juveniles”.  I loved the world Pullman created—so much like Earth, but with interesting differences.  There are two more books in the series.  I’ll probably read the next one.
  9. Rubin, Gretchen.  The Happiness Project.  So-so memoir by a whiny New Yorker trying to cultivate gratitude.  She does offer some good ideas, though.
  10. Shpano, Noam. The Good Psychologist. Interesting protagonist, interesting psychology.
  11. Smith, Dean Wesley and Kristine Kathryn Rusch.  Enterprise: By the Book.  One of the early novels based on the Star Trek: Enterprise series.  A good plot.  Interesting for this Trekker to see how the characters are handled when no one knew them very well yet.

Return of the Bad-Ass

This morning I got up on the good side of the bed.  And I didn’t even know I had one.

Life in general is taking a turn.  Our family is slowly finding a new rhythm without Dad.  My incision hurts less all the time and water aerobics is morphing back into something enjoyable instead of torture.  I have a plan for combating the respiratory infections that have plagued me the last couple of years.  My bipolar disorder is quiet for the time being.  And my new doc planted some motivational seeds to take up the weight loss banner.  Again.

It’s the return of the Bipolar Bad-Ass.  Thank the stars!  It’s been a couple of months since I felt this strong and clear with some sense of direction and the energy to follow through.  I quit whining about not having the perfect coffee shop to do my word smithing and planted myself at Muddy Waters.  This is where I first started writing again after my bipolar collapse.  The folks there know me, welcome me and treat me well.

I checked out two juvenile books at the library, on the recommendation of my friend, Joa, the Children’s Librarian, and put my name on the waiting list for Stephen King’s new book.  My ECT-fried brain is a lot like my stiff arm after surgery.  The muscles and skin ache and resist stretching, but they have to be worked in order to function.  I haven’t read anything in awhile, and I need to.  It’s part of my Training.

I pulled out my calorie counter, Clean Eating magazines, food journal and started paying attention to my intake again. Hearing Dr. Brown say “I know it’s hard, but you have to do it anyway” felt good.  I needed to hear that the obstacles in my way don’t really matter—the obsessive compulsive behavior, the fears, the wanting.  They are serious, and they are real, but I have to find a way to set them aside.  At this moment, I’m determined to lose 20 pounds (Yikes!  Did I say that out loud?).  I don’t know how long that will take, but there it is—my starting goal.  In black and white.

Of course, my mood will shift.  The depression will waft back in and blow my resolve.  But, I’m going to try to keep focus during the next episode.  And if I can’t manage that, I’ll try to get back to Bad-Ass Training sooner rather than later.  But, today is what I have, and today I’m in Training.  Today, the Bitch is Back.

Bad Clowns

My creative projects seem to be managing far better than I am at the present.   While I continue to slug it out with all the usual bipolar symptoms and pitfalls, my novel, Callinda, keeps writing itself; new greeting cards appear on my worktable; and a collage I’ve wanted to do for years hangs on my wall.

To the Muse in my ear who refuses to shut up, to the hands that paint and snip with a mind of their own, to the part of me who plugged into the Cosmic Creative Source the day I was born and never looked back, I say thank you.

And now, for your creepification, my new collage, Bad Clowns.

The fear of clowns, or coulrophobia, is the number 3 phobia in the United States.  Only the fear of needles and spiders beats it.  Think about it.  A grown man in disguise around little kids.  Eew.  Remember John Wayne Gacy?  Remember Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning performance as The Joker?  My man, Stephen King, knew exactly what he was doing when he made his monster in “IT” a clown.  No one understands what scares us like Stevie, and his icy little fingers are ruthless.

For me, Santa Claus (at least the department store kind) is just another clown.  My three-year-old self knew instinctively to stay away from that lap.  So, if you ever take your kids, nieces, nephews, grandkids, or friends’ kids to the circus or want a picture of them with Santa, and they start whining and digging in their heels, do me a favor.  Don’t tell them they’re being silly.  Don’t scold them and force them to make nice to the funny man.  Just hold their hand and slowly, carefully, back away.

I got this icky rubber stamp clown from my favorite vendor, Teesha Moore.  I knew someday, he’d be central to my Bad Clown collage, and here he is.  I also cackled non-stop while “editing” these Pictionary cards.

I thought busted and bloody-looking balloons would help create the atmosphere of evil and danger.  What do you think?

The central clown figure started out as a teeny, tiny photo of a circus troupe from the 1920’s comprised of midgets and dwarves.  I took the face of one of the clowns and had my print shop blow it up 1000 %.  I transferred that vague image to the canvas, then used paint, chalks, ink and markers to make him my own.  I like that he doesn’t scream “EVIL” but that you know there’s something definitely wrong about him.

I found the plastic clown cake decorations at an antique store a year or so ago, and I knew immediately they’d end up with nails through their heads.  Yeah, that’s the way I roll.  I’ve been saving scrap of circus advertising and early images of clowns for years.  It was a wonderful feeling to put them all together in one disturbing place.

Ahh, how’s that cotton candy tasting?

The Voice of Home

♦ ♦ ♦

Writing is not life, but I think that sometimes it can be a way back to life.

Stephen King

My brother introduced me to Stephen King’s The Stand when I was in nursing school.  It was summer, I had a bad cold, and I devoured the book in a week.  Since then, I’ve read everything the man has written—long, short, good, bad, fiction, essays, whatever.  It’s not that he’s the best writer in the world.  It’s that when I read his words, they feel like home.

I love his potty humor.  I love the gross-outs.  My mind moves with the same cadence, grooves on the same rock and roll music he so likes to sprinkle through his stories.  His characters act the way I would act in the same situation.  His voice is my voice with more testosterone.

Before I knew the name of what ailed me, I always read Steve when my depression bottomed out.  He was the ultimate distraction, like sinking my sore brain into a warm bath.  When I couldn’t get out of bed, when I couldn’t sleep, when all I felt was nothing, I could still read Steve.  I think it’s safe to say his books kept me alive back then.

After I had ECT (electro-convulsive therapy), I lost the ability to read.  I could get through short magazine articles, but even those wiggled out of my grasp sometimes.  Words floated by my eyes, unconnected, empty.  I would start to grasp meaning at the beginning of a sentence and lose it by the end.  I was terrified, furious, desperate.  I talked to a high school reading teacher I know.  She said I sounded like her kids with attention deficit disorder or with certain kinds of brain injury.  She said I had to re-teach my brain to read.  She told me to get junior high-age,  non-fiction books because there would be fewer words on the page, pictures, and lots of white space.  She told me to read out loud and to take notes.  She told me to set a specific goal before I started reading—a page, maybe—then to stop when I reached that goal. I did everything she told me to do.

The first novel I read cover to cover after ECT was one of Steve’s.  I remember getting to the end of the first chapter of Under the Dome and crying.  Of course I could read Stephen King.  If anyone could bring me back from scrambled-eggs-for-brains, it would be him.  My brain already knew his rhythms, his vocabulary, the way his characters walked and talked.  He took up residence so deep and wide he couldn’t get fried out of my brain.

So, when I tell people Stephen King is my guilty pleasure, that’s not true.  He’s a buoy in Dark Water.  He’s a lighthouse reminding me where Home is.  He’s part of my sense of faith, a thin string I unravel from my heart and launch into the Void.  He’s also the first entry on my Bucket List—

1. Coffee with Stephen King.

Gosh, I hope he drinks coffee.

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