When Cross-Dressing Didn’t Have a Name

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I would not have read Earth As It Is had I not been friends with Jan Maher since our days on an AOL message board together. I probably never would have heard of it. But I did hear of it and I did read it, and I’m here to say you should read it, too.

Earth As It Is presented me with one of the most complicated character studies I’ve ever encountered. Charlene Bader comes to Heaven, Indiana in 1945 and sets up a hair salon to which all the women in town quickly gravitate, and for many years they continue to come there—some weekly, some monthly, some only a couple of times a year. Charlene, initially an outsider in an insulated small town, becomes a part of Heaven’s tapestry. Like a mother confessor, she listens to these women’s secrets but shares them with no one, unless, of course, everyone already knows them. But Charlene herself has a secret, and we as readers learn it in the first chapter while the townspeople remain ignorant. Charlene is a man.

I won’t detail the hows and whys of Charlie Bader’s evolution into Charlene Bader. I leave it to the book to skillfully and gently take the reader there. I will say, however, that as reader who is also a writer, I found myself wanting to know how Ms. Maher had navigated her way through the dark spaces of a character who came of age in the 1920s, had married, then slowly evolved into the woman we come to know in Heaven. In those days (as if these days are all that different), one didn’t share such a horrible revelation with anyone for fear of being run out of town or worse. It was a secret tightly wound into the psyche.

This is a brilliant tale which could have easily slipped into the grotesque, but Maher handles every character, every situation, every nuanced detail with the simplicity and grace which a setting like Heaven, Indiana deserves. I came to love and admire Charlene Bader. A short way into the book, I looked to the end to see how many pages there were to read and came across the “Book Club Guide.” I read the first question. “What does the title Earth As It Is mean to you?” I pondered this question as I read, and when I finished, I realized that although my initial take on the title—that everything that happens in the story is earth as it is, life as it is—may have been in part on point, I had missed it. But never fear. Ms. Maher supplies the answer in the end.

MY TAKE ON STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI

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So, here’s what I thought of The Last Jedi. I didn’t love it. I haven’t quite figured out why because I think it will end up #2 on my Star Wars favorite list, but there you have it. I started crying when Luke kissed Leia on the forehead and didn’t stop until after I got in my car. It still makes me cry because my Star Wars is over. If Carrie Fisher hadn’t died, she would have been left for episode IX, but we know they’re going to have to off General Organa somehow. Sigh.

Kudos to Rian Johnson for finally getting the whole balance-in-the-Force thing right. The prophecy of “The Chosen One” always bugged the crap out of me. “The Chosen One will destroy the Sith and bring balance to the Force.” That’s like saying the Chosen One will kick the kid on the left side of the teeter-totter off and bring balance to the teeter-totter. Or let’s keep the sun shining 24 hours a day. We need the dark. We need to recognize the darkness deep within us if we are to remain whole. If the prophecy had said, “The Chosen One will destroy the Sith and save the universe,” I wouldn’t have an issue with it. But it says “balance,” and you can’t have balance on a scale when only one side carries any weight.

Adam Driver was brilliant. That first scene with Snoke (the scene without Rey) where Snoke smacks him around verbally and tells him he’s still a child and then the closeup on Driver’s face where he looks like a child with that pout—great. Daisy Ridley—doggedly carrying on the seeker’s role and doing it well. Carrie Fisher—I wish we’d had more. But Luke, beloved Luke, ripped apart and desiring nothing save dying on that island to put the Jedi to rest for good. I love the conflicted ones, and Mark Hamill played that conflict right up to its razor edge.

I want to see it again and again. There’s so much going on, I suspect it will take several viewings to catch it all.

To That Guy in High School

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Dear Jack H,

You won’t remember me, and even if you do, you won’t remember what you did to me. This is how it is. Men don’t remember these things because they are of absolutely no consequence to them. But more than 50 years later, I do remember. I remember you and what you did. I even remember your full name without having to refer to our yearbook.

I was a sophomore, new to the school and the kids in the school. You were the football star and vice president of the student body. I was nothing and you were everything. We sat in French 3 together, you behind me for no logical reason except to do what you did—one of the things you did. I have forgotten all my French pretty much entirely, but I haven’t forgotten you.

You would sit behind me and pull one hair out of my head nearly every day that year. My hair was down to my waist, medium blond, and for a reason you couldn’t give me every time I would ask you, you’d yank a hair out. You thought it was cute, funny. I found it intrusive.

And then there was the other thing. I’d made this teal, corduroy, wrap-around jumper in Homemaking which tied in the front. I wore it often because it was comfortable and I was proud of my work on it. You would approach me, and I knew what was coming. You’d pull the bow and leave me with only the single knot holding the jumper together. That was more than intrusive; that was threatening. I asked you to stop, probably in that flirty way girls do because we don’t have the power to haul off and sock you in your pretty jaw. You never did.

You were a predator. There, I’ve said it. I don’t know how you turned out as a man, but as a senior in high school, you intimidated me with your power and your position in the student body and your good looks. Insignificant as all this may sound, I was an innocent child in many, many ways, and you preyed on me. I hope you rot in hell.

Sincerely,

The girl who sat in front of you in French class in 1965

The Bitch

My mother was a bitch. As simple as that. She had no love in her at all. She didn’t understand the concept. It wasn’t a part of her tool kit. What she felt for my father was lust, not love. It ruined their marriage. They never divorced, but for my father it was loveless.

 I quickly learned as a child not to do anything to make her unhappy.  She downplayed my intelligence, my abilities, encouraged me not to look too far afield for satisfaction, to accept less than I wanted.  She taught me basically that I was worthless and had no business striving for anything worth anything. So I failed. I failed at life and I failed at hope. I failed at ambition and I failed at discipline. She took tasks from me that she thought were beyond my abilities to complete which left me believing I couldn’t complete anything.

I gave up somewhere in the ninth grade year of my life. I’d managed to remain hopeful until then, but at some point that year, with everything going for me, I turned away and surrendered to the meaningless, the pointless, the mundane.

Don’t tell me a certain generation of parents were like this. Don’t excuse her sad excuse for parenting as okay. It left me at 68 years old a failure at everything including the thing I would love for anything in the world to see succeed. I don’t promote the books I’ve written, the books I’ve slaved over to make shiny because telling people I’ve got something I made that they’d really want to enjoy is abhorrent to the child in me whose mother said I “just missed the boat on being a genius.” Leaving a child feeling boatless and not smart at all.

I’m glad she’s dead, and I will never apologize for that.

Hypervigilance

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To most, “hypervigilance” is but another word amongst millions of words. Likely, it’s a word few people use in their daily life. But for those of us with an anxiety disorder, hypervigilance is the thing that paralyzes us with fear. Imagine.

I had the resonator in my car’s exhaust system replaced the beginning of February. The place that did it had great reviews on Yelp and came recommended by a friend whose opinion I trust. (No, this isn’t about the muffler shop, not really, but read on.) A month or so later, I noticed my car had a clicking noise when I shut it down. Immediately fight-or-flight kicked in.

What’s that noise? What does it mean? Lots of cars click. It’s the metal contracting, isn’t it? I have a new metal thing in my car, and this is the first time I’ve driven it in warmer weather. That’s got to be it, right? I can’t take a car back to a muffler shop and say my car is clicking. It’s a stupid reason. All cars click. This is the sort of inner dialogue I must always invoke when confronted with fearsome things. This is what hypervigilance leads me to.

So I decided it was likely a normal thing and let it be. Well, sort of. You see, once a thing is revealed under the influence of hypervigilance, it doesn’t simply “go away.” And letting it be? Well, forget that. The refrigerator turning on and turning off has been known to send me reeling. And that’s a set of noises I have carefully catalogued as “normal.”

I “ignored” the clicking for a little over a week. Then a few days ago, I had reason to get out of my car while it was running, and I heard (oh, those pesky, hypervigilant ears of mine) the same sound that had sent me to the muffler shop in the first place. (And in my defense, let me say that I hadn’t heard the sound initially—the guy at the smog check place had originally pointed it out to me.) I freaked. I’d had the new resonator for just over a month, and it already broke?

This led to an overnight anxiety attack. I decided I’d call the shop in the morning, get a feel for their response. That would allay some of my fear. The guy at the shop said he couldn’t tell me if continuing to drive the car would be safe unless he saw it. Okaaaaay…

So off to the shop I went yesterday. It turns out the clicking sound which others might have noticed or might not have noticed, but which I dismissed because my coping mechanism convinced me it was a dismissible thing turned out to be the very thing that caused the mechanic to decide to replace the original resonator. Not the sound I thought sounded like the sound that had triggered the comment from the smog-check guy. The click I’d dismissed!

This is what hypervigilance does to those of us disabled by anxiety. I see things and hear things and smell things that set every nerve in body off on tangents I wouldn’t wish on an enemy. So I share this because most people don’t “get” anxiety and tend to tell those of us who do to relax and that everything’s fine. “Don’t worry about it,” they advise condescendingly. Sorry, that’s not possible in my universe.

What the Heck Is “Witch Lit”? Meet Wendy Steele

Today, I am thrilled to share one of my favorite people and authors with you all—the fab Wendy Steele. Wendy’s latest is The Naked Witch, and I’ve asked her to tell us a little about herself, her writing and this genre known as Witch Lit.

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Hart: So what is Witch Lit?
Wendy: Borrowing the basis from the genre Chick Lit, heroine-centered narratives that focus on the trials and tribulations of their individual protagonists within a modern world, coping with work and home life and with a soupçon of humour, substitute ‘witch’ for ‘chick’.

H: Why Witch Lit?
W: Women read more fiction than men, so why not? Who wouldn’t want to read about a female protagonist who can destroy three coconuts on a shy…on a bad day? The basis for the genre may be borrowed from Chick Lit but you won’t find witches pining for love, though they’re not averse to a shapely buttock and a chiseled jaw line. For the past decade, magical realism has showcased vampires, werewolves and a popular school for witches. Now it’s time for real magic and real people.

H: Tell us a little about yourself and your writing.
W: I’ve always come home from days out and holidays and written about my experiences. I dabbled with children’s stories and poetry in my twenties, was inspired by a writing workshop in my thirties and spent three years writing my first novel. My first published novel, Destiny of Angels—first book in The Lilith Trilogy, was in 2012. Since then, I’ve published a further novel, three novellas, had short stories published online and in anthologies and read my stories on my YouTube channel, Phoenix and the Dragon. My first Witch Lit novel, The Naked Witch, is available to pre-order.
I live in mid Wales with my partner and cats and am a member of the Cwrtnewydd Scribblers.
I teach tribal style belly dance and perform with Tribal Unity Wales.

H: You describe yourself as author, wise woman and goddess. What does that mean?
W: Though the three labels overlap, these words sum me up as a person. Author is writer, story teller, inspirer and teacher. Wise woman is dance teacher and witch, treading her own magical path. Goddess is woman, mother, writer, dancer and healer.

H: I spent several weeks in Wales many years ago, and I found it to be a rather magical place. What influence do the mysteries of Wales have on your writing—both of Witch lit and your other magical books?
W: Where I live has had a huge impact on my writing. I live on a hillside in mid Wales. Above me is a Bronze Age settlement site and below me, the River Grannell circuits my land. We have our own riverbank, a perfect place to sit and soak up the beauty of the Welsh landscape. I often sit on my ‘beach’ by the water, thinking or writing, allowing the river to bring me down ideas from the mountains. The idea for The Standing Stone book series came directly from my new home.


Welsh myths and legends have also played a part in my writing. The Mabinogion contains the stories of the past, the beginnings of the Taliesin traditions and stories. Some of the stories I knew, but many I read with fresh eyes. Storytelling traditions are important in Welsh culture, as are poetry and singing, and I love to include them in my work.
In Destiny of Angels and Wrath of Angels, the first two books in The Lilith Trilogy, Angel Parsons lives in the south of England but has a holiday home in Wales, big enough to invite her friends to join her for the Equinoxes and Solstices.
In my Witch Lit novels, Lizzie Martin in The Naked Witch (UK link) lives in Essex, but she discovers that the family she misses so much are living in Wales. In the second book, The Orphan Witch, Lizzie and her best friend, Louise set off on a road trip, travelling along the coast and through the mountains below Snowdonia.

H: Yummy. I’d love to hear more details about The Naked Witch (US link).

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W: Lizzie Martin lives in Romford with her fourteen-year-old daughter, Rowan. She enjoys her job as a receptionist and typist at an old established, family-run company. She clothes herself from charity shops in vibrant, joyful colours with matching headbands she makes herself. Colour is Lizzie’s armour, and she uses it to hold at bay the emotional angst caused by her ex-husband, Josh, whose girlfriend is barely out of her teens, her mother who has the sensitivity of a crocodile, and the big bad world from which she tries to protect her daughter. But today Edward Brown—her new boss—has asked Lizzie to ‘bare all’, and become more corporate. For Lizzie, swapping paisley for pin stripe is like asking a parrot to wear pea hen. Meanwhile, as Edward Brown retakes his position as head of the law firm, Lizzie has to choose between her job and her integrity, cope with an unexpected stay in hospital, continue seeking the truth about her father’s death and juggle two new men in her life. There is hope though. At the bottom of the garden is a little wooden shed that Lizzie calls Sanctuary. Within its warm and welcoming walls, Lizzie surrounds herself with magic.

H: Tell me, are there certain things a witch should carry about her person?
W: I can’t speak for every witch, of course, but a bottle of good lavender essential oil, safety pins, a notebook and pencil, a ginger sweet and a stone or shell from the beach are always in my handbag.

H: Do you have to be a witch or a pagan to enjoy Witch Lit?
W: Not at all! It’s always the story first for me, and Lizzie’s battle with her head and heart is a compelling one.

H: Where can we find out more about you and your stories?
W: My website is a great place to start www.wendysteele.com.

Further links to Wendy include:
Twitter: https://twitter.com/WendyWooauthor
Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/destinyofangelsnovel/?fref=ts https://www.facebook.com/WendyWooBooks https://www.facebook.com/TheStandingStone
Amazon author:
http://www.amazon.com/Wendy-Steele/e/B007VZ1P06/ref http://www.amazon.co.uk/Wendy-Steele/e/B007VZ1P06/ref
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=216391838&trk=nav_responsive_tab_profile
Goodreads author:http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6548666.Wendy_Steele
YouTube channel: The Phoenix and the Dragon https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCw3ee9CuNdek9ZC1Im8I_iA

The Shadows That Guide Me

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I am a seat-of-the-pants kind of author. I used to outline, then put all my scenes on individual cards, and only after that would I allow myself to start putting words to paper. It worked fine. It also stole a great deal of time from actually writing. To be fair, it did speed up the process of getting the words down, but there were always those scenes that ended up being something completely different from the original plan, necessitating changes in the subsequent outline/cards.

With my most recent book, Protector of Thristas, however, I had a few pages of notes and a minimal amount of 4×6″ cards when I began writing, and as I wrote, the notes grew and the cards stacked up until the entire story had unfolded on the page. I found this highly stimulating intellectually and creatively and decided that with the next book—my current work in progress—I would simply start writing, filling in the cards and the notes as the story evolved in my mind.

My muse has encouraged this behavior. She manipulates the characters and story like puppet shadows, allowing them to become real as they and their plot lines take full form on the page. These shadows swim around and through me while the story gains momentum, and I follow them, picking up their bits of ghostly threads to weave into the tale. The only downside to this method is that I spend half the story asking “How the heck does it end?” (Endings, after all, require setting up, and how can one set up what one doesn’t know yet?)

But here’s one thing I have learned about myself after writing four books—I always figure it out. Whatever “it” may be, the answer comes when it’s meant to come. And if the answer I get doesn’t fit the previously completed narrative, then I have to regroup, rewrite and run a little faster to catch up with the shadows who have moved on without me.

I love those shadow creatures, and I love hosting them as I tell the story as they’ve told it to me. Now, I’m not advising every writer to use this method. It’s chaotic as a box filled with kittens and twice as bloody if you let down your guard. But if you, like me, revel in the magic of that chaos, then you’ll understand how the shadows guide me.

One Book or Two?

I have found myself recently running a back-and-forth in my head surrounding the efficacy of splitting the final book in the Lisen of Solsta series into two separate volumes. I’ve just passed the point where I would break it, and I certainly do not have enough “story” apparent in my remaining notecards.

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But here’s the thing. The number of notecards left to be brought to life in the text has little relation to the amount of writing left to be done. My notecard system (previously described) continues on in an abstract configuration until I begin to narrow in on the sequence of events noted in a single card. Then that card, like a living cell, splits into two, into four, into eight—you get the picture.

So, do I have two books in this story? Or, will I end up with but one, slightly longer than the last but not long enough to split up? Stay tuned. Only time will tell.

Carrie on, Courageous Sister

Two events stand out in my life from 1977—I read the third (and what I thought of as final) book in the Dune series, Children of Dune, and I saw Star Wars at the Chinese Theater in Hollywood on a Thursday afternoon with two friends. Both moments contributed to what eventually became my Lisen of Solsta series. The first because upon finishing it, I threw the book across the room and declared, “If Frank Herbert won’t write the book I want to read, then I will.” (Upon re-reading the book, I discovered it was actually pretty good when I didn’t make my personal expectations impediments to my enjoyment.)

As for Star Wars, what can I say? The ads and teasers left me thinking swashbuckler in space. Swords and young people swinging across chasms? I was on board before I ever saw it. Months later when I set out to write “my” story (you know, the one Frank Herbert didn’t write), I chose a female hero because I thought it was time for as many Princess Leias as there were Luke Skywalkers.

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Carrie Fisher died today, and I’m one of thousands, if not millions, recording their feelings for posterity about this woman who stood proud and never attempted to hide her reality. And her reality was often brutal. Standing as an icon to geek-dom while still in her early twenties, struggling with addiction and then facing the diagnosis of bipolar disorder—she could have played her little violin, and all her fans would have fallen in line to pity her. But Carrie Fisher wasn’t a violinist, and she declined people’s pity. Instead she wrote. And what she wrote!

She wrote biographical novels about her relationship with her famous mother. She wrote memoirs about life in a brighter-than-light spotlight. She wrote one-woman plays detailing her battles with the iconic life of a princess, drugs and mental disease. Rather than run away from these things, she celebrated them with humor and fearless reflection.

I suffered a few losses of my own this year (previously documented), but when I learned of Carrie’s passing, although not unexpected, I cried and realized her loss leaves me as empty as those other losses do. May the Goddess bless her on this new leg of her journey, but damn it, I had so wished to read her take on flat-lining on a plane.

2016 Sucked in More Ways than you Think

For most of my friends, 2016 will be remembered for the shock they felt when the candidate for president of the United States whom a good many of us felt was thoroughly qualified failed to get enough electoral votes to take office in January 2017. And, to be honest, that shocked me, too. For me, however, 2016 sucked for other reasons.

In September of 2015, my best friend was diagnosed with stage IV parotid gland cancer. Neck and mouth cancers are among the most difficult to treat because they are rarely discovered before they have metastasized (hence, the stage IV) and oncologists and other medical professionals tend to throw everything at the cancer (and the patient) because they apparently have no idea how to stop it.

My friend’s prognosis was six months from diagnosis. She began chemotherapy late in November and within a couple of days had what at first appeared to be a horrible reaction to the poison they’d pumped into her system. On a Sunday morning she called me, painfully distraught. “I feel so sick,” she said. “I can’t take care of the cats. You have to come and take them to the shelter.” And then she named a nearby shelter that she believed was open on Sundays. I asked her if she’d called her doctor. Being the stoic, controlled Midwesterner that she was, of course, she hadn’t. I told her to call the doctor and I’d figure something out with the cats.

When I hung up the phone, I came apart. She was so sick that she was ready to dump her beloved cats? How could she do that? And I was not going to take them to a shelter. I couldn’t. They’d be euthanized.  Given the fact that one was eight and the other thirteen or fourteen, they’d never get adopted. Hyperventilating and crying, I called my neighbor and asked her to go with me to my friend’s house. Then I called and begged my sister (who lived nearby) to take the cats on a temporary basis. I brought my cage to keep them in, and my sister, after conferring with her daughter, agreed.

We couldn’t catch the cats that morning. My friend had already headed to the ER at the on-call doctor’s insistence, and my neighbor and I retreated back to my house to regroup. In the early evening, my friend’s neighbor called me. She’d been to the hospital and seen my friend, and my friend had told her to tell me in no uncertain terms that when she got home there’d better not be any cats in the house. Frightened, feeling threatened by the effects of a disease that wasn’t even my disease, I headed back to her house, picking up my sister on the way. Two of my friend’s neighbors showed up, and they succeeded in corralling the cats, and my sister and I transported them (and the litter box—apparently part of the offending problem connected with the cats—along with their food) to my sister’s house.

It took two months to find a home for the cats together. My sister never once complained about caring for them or the intrusion they were on her life. But that’s my sister. In those two months, my friend came home after three days in the hospital where they discovered three masses in her brain—likely the guilty party in her aversion to the cats. Her second chemo treatment was delayed with the plan being to see how she did, and if she felt well enough after, the younger of her two cats would come home. (I didn’t understand that either. Why not both? Only a little extra work. But there was a lot I never understood.  It wasn’t my journey, and I could only watch.)

She had her second chemo treatment between Christmas and New Years. Unbeknownst to me and those treating her, she’d developed a severe case of diarrhea on Christmas Eve. She hid it from me to protect my anxious psyche; she hid it from her medical team because, I believe, she didn’t want to delay the chemo any longer. She was strong, determined, ready to take the cancer on again. After the second round of chemo (a cocktail, I might add, that consisted of three most potentially powerful anticancer drugs available), the diarrhea became so bad she ended up in the hospital and stayed for a week-and-a-half. She never went home again. From the hospital she went into “rehab,” and she stayed in that nursing home until her death eight months later. She survived just over a year after her diagnosis.

I had two directives.  The first was my own.  “Keep her safe.” That meant nursing home care. The second directive came from her early on in her stay in the nursing home. Recognizing that she’d likely never leave, she expressed to me her fear that she’d run out of money if she stayed after her Medicare ran out. So, to keep her there, to keep her safe and to keep her from using up her savings, I contacted a company that manages getting the aging on Medi-Cal (California’s Medicaid) to ensure long-term care. There were three of us “watching over” my friend, but none of us could take on the 24-hour-a-day attention we knew she’d require. I took care of protecting her assets. Another one of us saw to selling her mobile home and its contents because all of her income would become “share of cost” with nothing left for the rent on her space or any other expenses. I will always owe this woman a debt that cannot be repaid.

For several months, March through July, I wondered why we even kept her in the nursing home. I mean, I knew I couldn’t have her stay with me; my anxiety disorder wouldn’t let me sleep if she were there. She understood that. But still, she was stuck in a place where most everyone is suffering from some form of dementia, and she wasn’t. There was always someone yelling all night long, and that made it hard for her to sleep. I should have just bit the bullet and brought her home with me, but as it was, I was getting sick (fever, chills, lack of appetite, sleeping all the time) about once a month for 5 or 6 days. I couldn’t take care of her with that going on. (Whether these bouts with illness were merely a product of stress or related to an actual physical cause will soon be determined as I go through testing and referral to a specialist.)

She died on a Monday afternoon late in September of this year (this awful year of 2016) around 4 p.m. It was peaceful and quiet, and I felt privileged to be present. And then came the business matters. She’d organized everything well, so it was fairly simple to close out various accounts and disappear her from the system. The year is nearly done, and all that’s left are her taxes, which can’t be done until next year anyway.

Oh, and my cat died two weeks ago. 2016 sucked.