Do you remember how the trees used to whisper to us? In the summer time, free from school and homework and responsibilities, we used to run outside, to the park or to a neighbor’s house or to our own backyards, and the trees used to rustle in the wind, chanting soft invitations to us. “Climb us,” they said. And we did.

Do you remember that? I do.

Do you remember how magical the world felt then? We read books about talking lions or about dragons and we believed, really believed, that there was such a thing. That somewhere in the world there might really be short people called hobbits, or that once upon a time there were princesses and castles and monsters to be slain. That magicians could cast spells and that out there in the greater world there was both mystery and danger, but we didn’t feel afraid. We felt alive.

In those days, you would look out your front door and you didn’t just see a sidewalk, a street, your mom’s car or the mailbox your dad installed with a distinct lean to the left. You saw the sky. You saw the grass with its infinite shades of green, vibrant colors bursting across the lawn. You saw a pulsing energy spread across your entire field of vision, like the universe was breathing right there in front of you. You saw raw possibility and you saw life.

These days it’s all about responsibility. The have-to’s and should-not’s. Where did the wonder go? Don’t you ever ask yourself that? The magic—did it just dissipate?

And it’s not that the dog or the kids or the job, the car, the leaky radiator, the project for your boss, the promise you made to lose ten pounds—it’s not that these things don’t matter. They do. But somewhere in the mess of what you have come to call the “real world” you forgot all about the things you used to believe in.

We called it “make believe”, and isn’t that ironic? No one made you believe, but you did believe. You believed Santa Claus was real, even that one Christmas after your older cousin tried to spoil your fun by telling you “the truth”. You believed in the tooth fairy, even when your dad woke you in mid-switch-a-roo, tooth in one hand and dollar bill in the other. You believed in Neverland, even though Peter Pan was just a movie. You believed in magic, even as your mind began to grow up and the so-called rational part of your brain began to dismiss this particular belief as childish.

Even now, you want to believe again. You can admit it to me. We both know it’s true. You want to believe.

Don’t you remember?

I’m sure you do. You probably even remember me, the magical voice inside you. The kid within the kid. The part of you that still believes in old world mysteries and secrets that unlock the magic in your everyday world.

Come on, now. You remember me, don’t you?

*Written for the 500 Club.

I sat in the waiting room with Darren, my legs crossed and tucked underneath me. I think it’s some sort of defense mechanism—reverting to a more child-like posture because I felt vulnerable, that kind of shit. In better days, Darren would have been quick to point it out and advise me as to the psychological significance of it. I couldn’t wait for him to be done with Intro to Psych.

He was there because I was there and I was there because of my mom.

He saw this as a two-fer: a fascinating opportunity to be close to a real-life case-study and the chance to woo me by playing the part of the supportive male friend, all at the same time. I was just too exhausted to tell him to fuck off, so he came.

He sat down next to me and flipped the end of my ponytail, a particularly annoying habit of his. I scowled. He smiled sheepishly.

“She’s going to be fine,” he said.

I glared at him. I was in no mood for anyone to be blowing sunshine up my ass. He didn’t seem to get the hint though and playfully nudged me while leaning in conspiratorially and whispering, “I mean it, Kourtney. She’s going to be just fine. You’ll see. I have a—”

“A what, Darren? A sixth sense? Jesus.”

“Okay, okay,” he said. He rose from his seat, looked back at me with a pathetic, please-ask-me-not-to-go look on his face and then shuffled off toward the vending area. I should have told him to let me come alone. He would have put up a fight and I would have had to endure the agonizing wait for information by myself, but there are worse things.

I don’t know why I let her talk me into living with her. One semester, she said. Just one. I’m a junior now. She’s no more mature, no more grown-up than she was when she left me with my grandmother on my fifth birthday so she could try her hand at cocktail waitressing in Reno. The biggest difference is that she’s graduated from the small time to bigger, badder, meaner, messer, harder things.

These days it’s snow.

Call it whatever you want. Blow, coke, c, nose candy. It all means the same thing. Cocaine.

I got home from study group to find her strung out, laying in a puddle of her own vomit in the middle of the goddam living room floor. There was a dimebag on the coffee table next to what had recently been 4 or 5 lines of coke. She’d been smoking and sniffing. She barely had a pulse.

Snow. It sounds so pure, so natural, so wonderful. Children play in it. It feeds rivers. It is a beautiful thing.

But that’s what she does, my mother. She perverts the beautiful, profanes the sacred. It’s what she’s best at. My curse is that I cannot bring myself to just let her die alone.

I knew Darren was right, knew she would pull through. And she did. This was just the first of many storms. And it would be a long, brutal winter.

*Written for the 500 Club.

I can make no promises about posting this week.

Normally, I try to post 1-2 times per week. That’s my goal, at least. I know how you worry about me, so even if the content isn’t the absolute best you’ve ever read on the web, I want to make sure you know I’m still here, still writing. This week, however, I am on holiday and I intend to enjoy every minute of it.

That said, I might pop up again and I might not. Either way, you should assume I’m just fine and (probably) having more fun than you.

My mind is reeling. That sickly dizzying feeling crashes over me again and I wretch, heaving. But my feet don’t stop.

It hardly makes any sense to me. I don’t know what’s going on, don’t know why it’s happening. He was so insistent, though. He told me to run. “Run away with ya’self,” he said. “Run into them woods and keep on ‘a runnin’ until one of us gits ya or ya git away.”

I had met these bizarre instructions with a blank stare.

“Time’s a tickin’,” he said through a toothy grin and then he laughed, a hacking guffaw, his big belly rolling under his too-tight shirt and his whole frame rocking back and forth until tears formed at the corners of his eyes. He patted his gun absently and that’s when I decided to run.

That was some time ago. At least I think it was. It feels like it was hours ago, though it couldn’t have been. The sun is still high in the sky.

My back is soaked, my shirt clinging to me. My temples ache with lack of water. My feet have blisters, I can feel them. With each step I imagine them expanding until they grow so large and tender, so full that they will pop right there in my shoes, the juice inside them absorbing into my socks.

To my right and some distance back I hear the laugh. It’s hearty. Happy. It chills me to my bones.

I was just asking for directions, for crying out loud. Just stopping to ask where I was. I was lost. I didn’t see the gun until he had me cornered with it. I didn’t understand when he shoved me into his truck. I still don’t know when or why he called the others, but I can hear them, their dogs barking, their footfalls in the brush. They are coming.

And I run.

Up ahead there is a small creek bed. It is nearly dry, only a sliver of a stream weaving its way along the broken path that once ran much deeper. I imagine water, hoping that in seeing it, in wanting it, it might somehow appear.

I make it to the edge of the creek when I hear a sound, a twig breaking, a stone crunching, some other such woodsy indicator, and it is alarmingly close. I turn to my left abruptly and there he is. The bastard with his gun. He has it leveled on me.

“Knew you’d come to the creek,” he says. He was smiling but there was no joy in the smile.

I raised my hands. “Please,” I say. “I don’t know what this is about, but please. There is no reason to be rash.” My breath is winded. I struggle to speak in smooth sentences.

“Rash?” he says. “I ain’t bein’ rash. I been plannin’ this for a while, mister. Just ease on down to the ground.”

I kneel. He flips the safety. Oh God, I think.

Run.

*Written for the 500 Club.

I wrote this a while back and it’s worth mentioning that I feel more fondly of my muse these days. Writing is coming along and I’m well into my current project. But the fact remains that writing is work and there are days when I want to, or at least know I need to, and struggle to find the right words.

No offense to you, Violet, darling (my muse—don’t ask), but there is some truth to the rant that follows. Enjoy this extremely cynical take on the writer’s struggle.

*   *   *

The title says it all.

Inspiration is a fickle muse. She’s flirty and terribly tempting, but not reliable at all. Take tonight, for example. I want to write. I desire it. I find myself not only feeling like I should be plugging away at what I hope will one day be a novel, but actually wanting to make some progress with it. However, Inspiration eludes me. She text-messaged me earlier telling me that she was already here, sitting at my computer waiting for me. When I came in the door from work she waived and gave me a shy smile, promising not to move until after I’d worked out.

Fool that I am I listened to her.

Now I’ve worked out and eaten and she is nowhere to be seen. She left the apartment. She didn’t even bother to pen a quick post-it to tell me when she’ll be back. I have no idea who she’s with tonight, but she’s a party girl with extremely loose scruples so there’s really no telling.

Whore.

I say all of that to say that you cannot count on her. You simply can’t. Even at this moment, writing a post for my humble blog, I am willing myself to write and trying desperately to be witty and interesting. God knows my muse isn’t here to see me through. She’s probably doing Jell-O shots right about now with some guy named Stew who fancies himself a young Salinger but thinks he needs weed to write anything decent. Ten-to-one she’s rolling him a joint this very minute. Seriously, the girl is no good.

But the written word, that you can count on. So I write. I write when I feel like it and I write when I don’t. Inspiration comes and goes. It’s great when she’s here—everything you put to paper feels like magic—but I can’t let her run-around ways keep me from being productive. That’s my goal, anyway. Admittedly, it’s much easier said than done.

I’ve written before about my impressions of the truth. The truth is rarely cuddly. It’s often hard to speak and hard to hear. It’s a slippery devil, making it horrifyingly easy to mistake personal bias for truth. But when you hear it, if you’re open to it—and that’s one hell of an if—you know it immediately.

Truth is funny that way. It’s self evident to those who want to find it. To those who simply want what they think to be true, truth is the unicorn of the mind. A mystical, magic beast they endlessly hope to see, but never seem to manage a clear view of. At best, they see her hind-quarters occasionally through the trees as she runs from them, frightened of their hunter-like ways as they tread noisily through the forest.

And really, that’s not all that different from catching a glimpse of a horse’s ass.

Truth can’t be made to fit into your impressions of what it should be. It just is. Either you accept it for what it is or you don’t. There is no middle ground. None at all. Zip. Zero. Zilch.

No human has mastered the truth. As profound and irresistible as the truth is when you see it and know it, as available as it is for those who seek it, as simple as it is for the humble to uncover it, it is a vulnerable thing. It’s so easy to super-impose your own impressions over it. It takes incredible diligence to allow it to just be without trying to make it into something more convenient for you.

I love the truth and the truth scares the hell out of me. I try to speak it as often as I can, but my own ego often gets in the way, cluttering my mind and making a mockery of the truth I claim to be speaking. I attempt to deliver the truth gently to the people in my life I love and end up smashing them over the head with it, my message far more harsh than I meant it to be.

Truth is tough.

And still, truth is the only real thing out there. Simple truths are the sweetest, most beautiful, wonderful things in the world. Complex truths will make you shake to the center of your being. Truth is genuinely awe inspiring. Compelling. Frightening. Motivating. Paralyzing. Binding. And earth-shattering.

It’s a hell of a thing.

Today I finished Lonely Werewolf Girl (by Martin Millar) for the second time. It has become one of my favorite books.

I don’t often re-read books. In fact, it’s extremely rare. It’s not that I don’t want to re-read books. I re-watch movies all the time. In fact, I typically enjoy a movie the most on the second or third viewing. Were I to make a list of books that I think would be fun to re-read, it would be long. But the fact of the matter is that the list of books I want to read for the first time is also long, and as much as I like cozying up to a familiar story, I enjoy exploring a new one even more.

So I don’t often go back to books. But I came back to this one.

It would be hard for me to tell you why in a blog post. All three of the words in the title of this post are not only relevant to Millar’s book, they are key to the plot. How could I possibly explain their connectedness in such a short amount of space without confusing you or sounding like an idiot? Answer: I can’t.

Maybe you have no interest in Werewolves. Maybe you’ve never heard of Martin Millar. Maybe you aren’t even sure you know what laudanum is. Even if all of that is true, if you like a good, engaging story, you should read this book. Hell, I’m half tempted to pick it right back up and dive into it for a third time. Eventually, I will.

For now, though, I have a date with a girl with a dragon tattoo.

What forest? The one behind all those trees?

I was out to dinner with a good friend last night. I told him about my recent feeling of restlessness and my desire to escape the corporate grind. “I just wish I could make a living writing,” I moaned.  He nodded sympathetically.

I explained why I feel the way I do, content with my new position and new boss, but still wishing I were doing something more creative. I told him how the stories in my head need to be told. They want to be told. I explained that I think I’m a competent storyteller, and he agreed, nodding again. He was a good listener, kind and supportive.

I finished my tale of woe, the working class man’s struggle for deeper meaning and all that shit. Then he asked slowly and gently, “You want to write?”

“Yes,” I said with profound desire resonating in the single word.

“Well, then,” he said, “I think you should…write.”

He asked if I was working on the book. No. How about the blog? Nuh-uh. Journaling? Doing research? Story boards? Doodling? Nope.

He wasn’t insulting in his feedback. Really, he was only telling me what I already knew, what my girlfriend has told me many times, what I needed to hear again from another voice. If you want to accomplish something, start making moves toward it. You aren’t going to finish a book, he said, without working on each and every chapter, page by page, paragraph by paragraph.

He was right.

Today I’m thinking about how tough it is to write.

I’m not talking about coming up with ideas or characters, or writer’s block, or about trying to get published, or even about developing as a writer. I’m talking about carving out the time to sit down and (literally or metaphorically) put pen to paper.

I’m dating someone, someone who I love very much. I love spending time with her and, frankly, I’m selfish about it. I don’t like ignoring her so that I can write. I have a full-time job, so I can’t write during traditional work hours. Nope. I have to hide away with my laptop after hours or on weekends in order to get any work done on a story, post or what might one day be a book.

I don’t like that.

The real bitch of it is that I want to write. I feel driven to it. I desire to write, to tell stories, to communicate truth in some way that will stick with people. I don’t care about being a famous writer or a rich writer, just a good writer—good in that I don’t butcher language and good in that my message is worth something. A good message.

I believe it is important for me to write. That I need to do it. It’s therapeutic and it’s also something I feel meant for.

But I work all day and I come home and the war inside me wages. I want to relax, to spend time with the one I love and to wind down, but I also want to write and feel an obligation to. I’ll never finish the book I don’t start, you know. Other people come home from work and feel no impulse to do more work, save the typical around-the-house kind of chores. I feel compelled to produce literature. It’s weird when you think about it, and more than a little overwhelming.

And that’s how I feel some days: overwhelmed. That’s how I feel today. Ironically, while this certainly isn’t literature, the act of writing this post means that I have written something today and will make it easier for me to go about my day and spend time with my girl and also feel like I was true to that inner part of myself that must, whether I feel like it or not, write.

Of course, the writing monster doesn’t sleep long. He’ll be hungry for words again tomorrow and I’ll have to feed him again or risk his sometimes rough treatment of my delicate psyche. I tell you, life would be easier if I had no ambition.

“It seems to me the the quality that separates the popular from the unpopular—the one and only quality that Eddie Prior and Cameron Hodges had in common—is a strong sense of self. Eddie knew who he was. He accepted himself. His failings had ceased to trouble him. Every word he spoke was a thoughtless, pure expression of his true personality. Whereas I had no clear picture of myself, and was always looking to others, watching them intently, both hoping and fearing that I would catch some clear sign of who they saw when they looked at me,” (Joe Hill from 20th Century Ghosts.)

I’ve just finished this book today. It has left me pensive and reeling in all the right ways. When I read Joe Hill‘s first novel, Heart-Shaped Box, I did not know that he was Stephen King‘s son. I’m glad I didn’t. I like Stephen King and believe that he is a good writer, a talented man whom I’ve spend hours with via his fiction. That said, he’s not Salinger.

Brief interlude:

I’m about to make an over-the-top statement. I’m warning you before hand because it’s a doozey. It’s something that you may roll your eyes at or huff as you read. I would like for you to prepare yourself, bearing in mind that I know the extreme nature of the claim I am making.

Interlude concluded.

Joe Hill may well be the Salinger of horror fiction. His characters feel as real and fleshy as John Irving‘s. His dialogue is well crafted but believable. He weaves themes and images and phrases in and out of his stories with seemingly effortless grace. It is a thing to behold. Consider me a fan.

The above quote is a wonderful example of the kind of stuff a reader will run into if in the company of the talented Mr. Hill. Read that paragraph again. Now think about it for a moment. Does it make your head spin? Does it force you to take a closer look at yourself than you might be comfortable? Are you likely to find yourself haunted, at least for a bit, by the implications of what you just learned about yourself?

Exactly.

And that’s a line from a fucking ghost story. Brilliant. I highly recommend it.