Let’s talk about my hair

(Since everyone else seems to want to).

So I’ve been getting gray hairs since my late twenties. Back then, it was a few hairs here and there, something to joke about, oftentimes plucked out, only to be replaced virtually overnight. Not a big deal, though.

It wasn’t until my mid-thirties that they grew numerous enough for me to feel compelled to cover it up with hair dye. But I wasn’t consistent about it–I’d do it three times a year, maybe. Part of it was laziness–who wants to deal with that stinky muck?–and another part of it was, Oh, who cares?

Well, it turns out quite a few people have some fairly strong opinions about it.

I’m in my mid-forties now, and I made the conscious decision about a year ago to never dye my hair again. That slow and steady turning of a few grays a year has accelerated rapidly in the last few years, and I have just as much gray as light brown. Again, the decision was part laziness, part rebellion against the societal pressure for women to preserve their youth and beauty no matter what the cost. Fuck that, right? Yet I was still a little nervous and chose to keep that last box of hair dye in the bathroom closet. You know, just in case.

The reactions I’ve gotten over the past year have been interesting and various, depending on age group. Younger people (35 and under) invariably don’t give a shit. Why should they? To them, I’m already “old” anyway. It’s beyond their noticing.

The only exception to this was some youngish person asking me one day if my gray was natural or if I dyed it gray.

Excuse me? Why on earth would anyone dye their hair gray on purpose? Oh yes, I was informed. Apparently it’s a trend now among the younger set. Lucky me. I’m “trendy” without even trying. And yet I found myself a little miffed, too. Sorry, kid, but you gotta earn those grays. How dare you youngsters try to usurp that privilege! Stick to pink and blue and green, will ya?

Those older than me (50 and up), men and women both, seem to adore it. I can’t get through a single shift at my cashier job without some customer commenting on my hair:

“Wow, your hair is beautiful!”

“Is that your real hair color? It’s gorgeous!”

Gratification ensues. Finally, after a lifetime of hating my limp, mousy hair, it decides to become my friend in midlife.

One older man waxed rhapsodic about my hair–and other women in general who let their gray out naturally–for a solid five minutes. He praised the natural look and criticized that “horrible pharmacy red” that women of a certain age tend to dye their hair. This man has become my champion.

Interestingly, it’s women around my own age who are visibly distressed by my decision. A particular family member seems almost angry: “You’re too young to have gray hair!” Others have commented how “brave” I am to show my true colors. I find both of these reactions a little sad, and yet I’ll still defend the notion with my dying breath that a woman (and men as well) should do what makes her feel comfortable in her own skin. Hair, make-up, liposuction, even plastic surgery. As long as she’s doing it for herself, and not for some one else or “society”.

But that’s where it gets sticky.

The truth is, if I didn’t get any favorable responses, if my gray hair came out in uneven patches or was yellowy and ugly, rather than the lovely silver I inherited from my mother, if I had an unfortunate face, I’d probably dye it. Hell yes, I would!

So that last box of hair dye still sits in the closet, dusty and waiting. You know, just in case.

gray hairs

 

 

 

Fifty by Fifty

It’s been a weird couple of weeks, as I’ve dealt with some personal funks that’s caused some highly philosophical musings, such as: what’s the f***ing point, anyway? I couldn’t focus on writing, so I decided to take some time and just do whatever the hell I wanted to do. Important things like long walks, napping in the middle of the day, and listening to music I love. Reading books, as always. Some not-so-important things, like aimless TV watching, and tooling around on Facebook, Pinterest, and You Tube. It felt good to indulge in a little bit of time-wasting.

But it’s time I pulled myself together, because the truth is I’m not happy unless I have some concrete writing goal. Since I suspect the source of my funk has been Time itself, as in, the swift passage of it, my youth in the dust, and my perception of having nothing to show for it, I devised a goal that would help me look forward to the arrival of the next decade. Namely, the big 5-0, less than 5 impossible years away.

hourglass

I love writing short stories. Why not try to write 50 stories by the time I’m 50? If I let myself count the 16 stories I’ve already written (some here on the blog, the rest on my hard drive), that leaves 34 to be written. That’s roughly 7 stories a year.

I can do that.

Here are my parameters: they have to be completed stories, not sketches or fleshed out ideas. They can be flash fiction, or short stories of any length. They don’t have to be submitted for publication anywhere, or posted on the blog (unless I feel they’re good enough to do so). They just have to be written. They don’t have to be perfect, but they have to be the best that I can achieve. They can be about anything, in any genre. They have to please me.

If I do this, I think hitting fifty won’t be so formidable and depressing, but rather, an achievement, a culmination of a creative goal I’ve set for myself. If I don’t quite make it, that’s okay. The point is to keep writing as if I will. It’s the act of writing itself that’s always gotten me through the tough times, no matter what it is.

Time flies, as I can attest, so I better get going!

 

White Elephant

flag-elephant

Let’s address the red, white and blue elephant in my digital room, shall we?

I’ve made it a point not to write about politics on this blog, for various reasons. Blogs can certainly be a podium for one’s opinions on just about anything, and I applaud those who use their digital space to make their (thoughtful) voices heard, no matter what side of the fence they’re on. But apart from re-blogging an article some time ago that rang true for me, I’ve decided not to use this space in that way.

That doesn’t mean I don’t have definite opinions or strong emotions concerning the current state of politics. I’ve spent my fair share of time watching, reading, and discussing current events from various sources (NOT the internet), with various people, and in various states of rationality. But one thing I will not do is rant on social media, no matter how angry, fearful, or frustrated I become. For one thing, I don’t think it will do one iota of good; for another, it would waste a lot of energy I’d rather be spending on creative pursuits.

What I have been doing is reading with interest how my writing and blogging peers have been dealing with their volatile emotions since the election, and for the most part, they’re pursuing constructive, empowering actions rather than ranting or crying in their beer (which, let’s face it, sounds tempting).

One writer listed dozens of untrustworthy websites that possibly reported “fake news”; another writer is re-evaluating her entire writing life and learning all she can about the government, the political process, and the law, after a lifetime of basically being “asleep” to politics (guilty here, too). Others are using their writing to affect change and spread awareness, in whatever way they can.

All of these are useful ways to channel the concern and passion we all feel toward people and events that seem so beyond our control. And I suppose that’s what I’m getting at: we can’t control everything that goes on “out there”. What we can control is how we conduct ourselves and our reactions to stressful events. I know people who are so upset and on fire about what’s happening in Washington, I’m afraid they’re going to develop an ulcer. Ulcers, people.

So what have been doing differently in response to all this? Well, nothing really. Nothing different, anyway. I’ve never been an activist. I would have loved to attend the Women’s March on Washington, or even the smaller gathering of over 1,000 people here in my hometown on the same day, but alas, I needed money and was at work. I get up in the morning and get my daughter ready for school. I wrote two short stories in the past month that have nothing to do with politics. I’m planning my daughter’s 8th birthday party. I do the laundry, help my husband cut vegetables for dinner, wash the dishes. I don’t feel that I’m ignoring anything or hiding my head in the sand (though again, that sounds tempting); rather, I’m focusing on the things I can control, things I never want to take for granted and would fight to protect. In other words, I’m getting on with it.

Please note, I said I’m “getting on with it”, not “getting over it”. I don’t think, for me, there’s any getting over what happened in November. What I’m suggesting is, please don’t make yourself sick. Don’t let outrage take over your life. Focus on the things that have personal meaning, and work productively on the things that can be changed.

I’ve been reading in my town’s newspaper that the League of Women Voters is becoming more active in my area in response to the upheaval that’s taking place. Dare I say I’m tempted to join? It would be wildly out of character for me, and yet, these are wildly out of character times. One of the more positive things I see coming out of this whole thing is that people are paying more attention, becoming more involved in their communities, and banding together to protect the things they hold dear.

And that, my friends, is a good thing.

 

 

Labels

label

So I’ve been doing this writing thing for many years, beginning in my early twenties when I feverishly wrote in my journals, discovered Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg and decided to make it my practice, and penned fantasy stories about kings and priestesses, war and magic. It was, and continues to be, my “thing”.

I spent most of those years writing in private (I was a “closet writer” for a long time), and then later only showed my sister my work, or posted as an anonymous writer on Fanstory. It’s only been in the last 8 years or so (since my daughter was born) that I decided to become a “real” writer: write everyday if I can (even if I don’t feel like it-just show up); revise my work; and submit it to magazines and contests. I wanted to take myself seriously as a writer and try to sell my work. I even began telling other people that I was a writer (that was big). I started the blog over a year ago as a signal of my serious intention, to share work and meet other writers and bloggers.

During that time, I had one short story place in a fairly important contest (The Memory of Oranges, in the Writer’s Digest Annual Writing Competition in 2013), and an essay published in a Chicken Soup for the Soul book in 2015. I’ve earned a total of $225 for my writing, and a little bit of personal glory (and much-needed validation) for those two successes. I’ve had over a half dozen other stories rejected countless times. That’s okay-it shows I’m trying.

But something’s been bugging me for awhile now. Just what kind of writer am I? Am I a hobbyist or a “professional” writer? From certain sources, it seems you’re either one or the other. Either your writing is simply a hobby because you only write when you feel like it, or don’t approach it like a “real” 9-5 job; or you’re a professional because you are making a living off of your writing. Well. I certainly don’t make a living off of my writing, and I’m not a copywriter or journalist or even a writing teacher. I’m a cashier.

On the other hand, I bristle when others suggest writing is my “hobby”. It’s not like knitting, or stamp collecting, or gardening. It’s not something I do in my free time; it’s something I make time for. There are plenty of days I’d rather be sitting on my couch eating ice cream and watching Netflix, but I don’t. I’m getting out the notebook or firing up the computer to get something down. I finish stories, and I send them out. I’m very slow at this, because sometimes I can’t write everyday. But I do it, and will continue to do it indefinitely.

In another life I worked as a tax preparer for an accountant. We had lots of clients who filed a Schedule C for their small businesses. If the business recorded a loss for three years in a row, in the eyes of the IRS, that wasn’t a business. It was a “hobby”.  I don’t consider my writing a business because I’m not making any money with it, so I suppose in the eyes of the law my writing is a hobby.

And yet, it’s not. It’s more than that. It’s not my job, but it’s my work. It’s my practice, my discipline, my lifeline to meaning. And yes, someday I’d like to be published, and I’d certainly love to make money off of it. That’s definitely a goal. But I’d still do it even I didn’t accomplish that. I can’t not write.

So where does that leave me? A professional hobbyist? An aspiring professional? Do we even need these labels? I write, therefore I am a writer. That’s the only label I need.

Dream Weaver

dream-catcher

I often use dreams as inspiration for my writing. Once in a while, I’ll have this long, complicated dream, and while I’m dreaming it, I’ll think, Wow, this would make a great story! When I wake up, I simply have to write it down and capture this brilliance! But upon waking, that dream-like state where everything make sense evaporates, and I’m left with the thought, “That was the dumbest thing ever.”

But once in a while, a dream or a piece of a dream will inspire a story. One of my first short stories I ever wrote involved a dream where my daughter Lilly was surrounded by lions. I was so terrified, but it turned out that they were afraid of her. She was stronger than I gave her credit for. It inspired a story I called The Lion, in which a mother kills a vampire for its blood to “cure” her disabled daughter. The mother had the lion dream one night; she hatched the plan to kill the vampire to “save” her child, but she realizes in the end that her daughter is perfect the way she is. The vampire wasn’t the lion; her daughter was the lion. I didn’t post this story on the blog because I don’t think it’s very good, actually, but I learned to take cues from my dreams to inspire stories.

I’m working on a story right now that is based on a dream I had sometime last year. I was thumbing through my notebook looking for inspiration when I came across the entry describing it. It was another dream about my daughter in which she and I were at a carnival. I turned away for one moment to buy ice cream or cotton candy, and when I turned back, Lilly was being led away by another woman. She was luring her away from me with candy or something, and Lilly didn’t hear me calling for her. The woman turned to me and said, “We’ll teach her what she needs to know.” And then they were gone and I was left sobbing on the ground.

So I basically lifted that whole scene from my dream and wrote it down, but that’s all I have right now. I have no idea who the woman is or what she’s going to teach the child or why she took her. It may not be about that at all; it might be about how the mother deals with the loss and the lack of answers she has. I’m not sure, but it will be interesting to find out.

Most of my dreams are silly gibberish; but I do think our unconscious minds have a way of speaking to us. Sometimes, I can pull out a gem and polish it up for a story.

If you’re a writer, do your dreams ever inspire stories?

Pressing the Bruise

Despite my previous assertion that I probably won’t be writing as much as I’d like to for a while, I’ve managed to write another short story. This reminds me that sometimes the writing comes easier when I’m not trying so hard. It also helped that I’d sketched this one out a few months ago, and it was now ready to be fleshed out.

It still needs some work, but short story revision has never been as arduous for me as novels; and when I feel it’s ready, I’ll send it out on the usual round of submissions. I like it. I’m pleased with how it all came together for me as I began writing. Outside of this, however, I find myself questioning the fact that it’s another horror story. Looking over the short stories I’ve written over the past few years shows me that more often than not, what comes out of my mind is murder and mayhem. Which isn’t a bad thing in itself–many writers have done quite well in the horror genre. What puzzles me is why the blood’s been flowing through my work lately.

While I’ve read a good portion of horror fiction over the years–Stephen King is a master at the short story (check out Full Dark No Stars), and the dark, erotic fiction of Anne Rice shaped me at an early age–it’s not what I usually reach for these days. It’s certainly not the direction I saw myself going in when I started out. I wrote strictly high fantasy for a long time, and thought that’s what I’d always write. And while I still love those characters I created in lands I made up, I guess I’m just growing out of it. I find it much more interesting now to write stories that take place in this world, albeit with a supernatural twist.

But more and more, when I sit down to write short stories, I’m drawn to the dark places of the human heart. I want to scratch beneath the surface and dig down into the muck of human desire, hatred, fear, joy, and the monsters they conjure up. I guess I want to confront the specter of death itself, something that horror fiction does very well.

Death defines us, of course. I’m at a stage in my life where mortality is more than a rumor, where aging parents remind me everyday of where it all ends. I’ve never felt more alive because of it, never felt each precious moment more fully, never been more aware of how ephemeral it all is. Perhaps I’m scratching an itch. Or rather, I’m pressing on a bruise just to feel the pain, and to relish it. Maybe it’s a phase. Maybe not.

Whatever the reason, I’m not going to shy away from it, or worry about what people are going to think of the stories that come out of me. To embrace and explore the darkness: to me, that’s what makes life interesting.

At least on paper.