The Death of America (2)

Part 2 of 2 – Read the first part of the story here.

Almost every day, Curt watched for America to come to the fence. She was hungry because Greeny never let her have her full portion of food. So, he enticed her with pieces of bitten apple. And he made sure Greeny saw it. America always left the fence when she saw Greeny move. Slowly, Greeny would saunter up to the fence, the queen of her estate. Curt would close his palm and ignore her. Once, he held out his hand to her and asked, “You want some?” To his surprise, Greeny actually moved as if she would take it! As she bared her old teeth, attempting to nab the piece of fruit, Curt pulled his hand away. “Go on, you old nag! Nobody wants to feed you.” He muttered to himself, “…sorry excuse for a horse,” as he tossed the piece of apple away and called to his dog. The sound of heavy hooves arrested his attention, and Curt turned back to see Greeny had rushed to the center of the field where America stood and was kicking and stomping her relentlessly. Curt moved toward the fence as America tried to get away from Greeny, but the jealous horse followed close, kicking and stomping in a fit of temper. Curt looked toward Renard’s house, but he knew no one was home. Curt was convinced Greeny needed to be stopped, but what could he do?

“Stop it, you old nag!” he yelled. As America turned at the sound of his voice, Greeny kicked the spirit out of her, hauling into her right flank. It was a magnificent kick, and America responded by limping out of the way. But Greeny wasn’t done. ‘That beast is gonna kill her,’ Curt thought helplessly. The unwelcome idea that he was somehow involved in this beating caused him to squirm inside. So, he got his dog and went back to the house. He didn’t let Spike out for the rest of the day, and that evening America limped into her stall.

Over the weekend, Curt noticed a horse trailer parked in Renard’s driveway. On Monday, Curt saw America in the field by herself, her leg wrapped in a bandage. Soon Curt saw Greeny and J-Trey in a connected field, divided by a fence. Separated from her, Greeny watched America intently. Curt took advantage of the injured horse’s peace by buying a bag of baby carrots and giving her one each day. He told himself it would help her recover. Curt didn’t care that Greeny watched him feed the little carrot to America each day. His hatred and disgust for the mean animal in the distant field remained steady, so that his benevolence toward America grew. Soon the bandage was removed, and she looked none the worse for wear. Greeny and J-Trey were returned to the field, at which time Greeny ignored America and America avoided Greeny. So far so good. But the first afternoon Curt came out to give America her carrot, Greeny trotted up to the fence expectantly. Curt called to America and walked to another part of the fence. America didn’t even look at him. Greeny blew through her nostrils, as much to say, “You’re trying my patience, you moron, but I’ll condescend to forgive you.” And Greeny followed Curt along the fence line. Curt allowed her to approach him, and then he closed his fingers over the carrot in his palm and pushed the horse’s muzzle away with his fist. “I told you. You’re not getting this, you old nag.”

Curt knew what he was doing. As much as he despised Greeny, he knew he was egging her on. And Greeny responded with all the enthusiasm of a jealous, old horse. She galloped toward America, who abruptly bolted toward the fence gate near the Renard house, looking, no doubt, for her owner’s protection. But both Renard and his wife were away. Greeny got in a few kicks that day, but nothing so severe. America, flush and well-fed, was able to outrun her and keep her distance until Greeny tired.

The next day, when Curt tried again to gift a baby carrot to America, Greeny did not come to the fence. A ripple of elation ran through his body, as America looked at Greeny and at the carrot. He knew she was hungry. Her belly had grown used to being full during her convalescence, and now Greeny was eating her portion of feed again. At first, Greeny refused to take notice of the man standing at the fence line. She turned her back on him and nibbled the grass. Timorous, America stepped toward Curt. Greeny lifted her head and sauntered over to the fence, placing herself between America and Curt. He lifted the carrot and tried to call America to him. Greeny snorted, a comment on his pathetic attempts to undermine her authority. Curt walked the fence line and called to America until he finally gave up. He whistled to Spike and made his way to the back door, mistaking Greeny’s meandering gate toward America as a sign of placid acceptance. But he heard the terrible crack and turned in time to see that Greeny had kicked America in the face. America stumbled back and took off. Greeny chased her with the energy of a colt. She was in a full-blown tantrum, as though the days of watching America receive special attention from Curt had finally amassed into a raging fury that was overflowing her old, bloated body. Curt knew there was nothing he could do. The game was growing old. He came inside and threw the rest of the bag of carrots in the trash. He didn’t like carrots anyway.

One evening, after Curt had ceased to pay any mind to America or any of Renard’s animals, Mary Emma and her mother paid Curt a visit. It had been raining most of the day, but the rain had finally stopped. So, he grilled some hotdogs, and they lingered outside as the sun was setting. As the two adults talked, Mary Emma ran around the backyard with a half-eaten hotdog until Greeny came up to the fence. America, too, had seen the food in Mary Emma’s hand. She stood some distance behind Greeny, hungry but not hopeful.

Mary Emma, seeing the miniature horse approach, stepped toward her with the piece of hotdog. Curt jumped up immediately. “Get away from that old nag!” he called to his granddaughter, his tone so sharp that Mary Emma immediately dropped the hotdog into the mud and backed away from the horse. Curt hurried toward Mary Emma and reached her at the same time as her mother, who drew the child away.

“She’s a mean rascal,” Curt explained. “Don’t feed her and don’t rile her.” He eyed Greeny, and Greeny eyed him.

“Go on!” he told her. He spit, picked up the muddy piece of hotdog, and threw it in the direction of America. America jumped back as though she was afraid of the object hurled at her. But she was too hungry not to try for the food. Greeny stomped, reared, and ran  at America. Curt didn’t wait to see what happened. He followed his daughter and Mary Emma into the house.

It was the weekend, and the Atchleys were out of town for a day. The horses were left to themselves for the night, and when the morning came, America was nowhere to be seen. Renard and his wife returned home that afternoon, and, still, America didn’t appear. Like a spry horse, Greeny trotted cheerily around the entrance of their barn until Renard went out to investigate.

As the evening came on, Curt stepped outside to give Spike a chance to relieve himself and noticed several men were gathered about the miniature horse barn. Something heavy had been hefted unto the back of Renard’s truck; the tires sank deep into the wet soil. Greeny watched from a separate field in the back. Curt didn’t notice when Spike slipped through the foliage in his yard and headed to where Renard’s backfield met Curt’s property. But J-Trey saw him and galloped and danced about in the backfield when Spike barked a greeting to the young horse.

Renard, still standing in the bed of his truck, heard the barking and straightened to look over at his neighbor.

“Here, boy,” called Curt. “Spike!” The dog ran back to his master, who pulled him back into the house and shut the door.

And the moral of this story? Using your influence to stir up strife between innocent parties as a way to get back at someone you feel has wronged you only results in harming the innocent. When you think it’s all over, it will come back to haunt you. The shorter version is: Harboring envy for your neighbor will end up killing America.

The Death of America (1)

(Part 1 of 2)

Renard Atchley owned more than half the land down Cotton Bole Road. He owned an old softball field, two old barns, and acres of pastureland where his goats and standard horses roamed. He owned a swimming pool, a tractor, and a little, yappy dog. His wife had her own sports car, and if that wasn’t enough, one of his two miniature horses had just had a foal. The baby miniature horse was irresistibly cute. And when Curt Johnson’s four-year-old granddaughter, Mary Emma, came for a visit, she wandered over to the fence that divided Curt’s yard from Renard’s to see the darling. It just so happened that Renard was in his field at the time. When he saw Mary Emma stretch her little arm through the fence, he motioned to Curt to pull her back.

Renard wasn’t a mean fellow, nor was he a bad neighbor; he was just gruff in his manner. Curt might have seen the sense in Renard’s warning to keep Mary Emma from the new horse, but even while he called on his daughter to help him guide the protesting child away from Renard’s foal, he grumbled to himself. “Crotchety old —… Must think he’s the mayor.”

Curt suffered from a bit of envy. He himself owned only a two-acre lot next to the Atchley land. His land was kept a bit wild and overgrown. Trees and bushes surrounded his house, and he liked it that way. It gave him privacy. But it was a stark contrast to Renard’s well-mowed, sprawling fields. No, Renard had never been a favorite of Curt’s.

To make matters worse, Renard kept his eye on Cotton Bole Road. He stated openly to his neighbors that he didn’t want any riff-raff down his street, and he would hint that there were already one or two living there who didn’t meet with his approval. Renard’s “policing” of the street was the eternal burr of unrest that stuck in the seat of Curt’s already ruffled britches. Curt felt deeply the insinuation that he was one of the “riff-raff” on Cotton Bole Road. Whether this was true or not—certainly, Renard had never stated such to Curt—it planted a seed that would culminate in the death of America.

America was the mother of the newborn miniature horse. She had been bought before it was known she would foal. She was added to Renard’s assortment of farm animals to be companion to Chestnut Green, a miniature horse that had been retired from a pony-riding company. Greeny, as she was called, had been Renard’s for well over a year. She fascinated onlookers, but Greeny was old and had been retired for reasons other than age. She had turned ornery and reticent toward people, especially those who had the nerve to pet her. She would turn her backside to any who tried, and there was no pleasing her. Even Renard felt he had his hands full dealing with her distrust, and he concluded she needed a friend. Perhaps another miniature horse might teach Greeny to trust people again—or tolerate them, at least.

America was brought into Greeny’s field to share her estate, and Greeny began, at once, a series of bullying tactics to humble America. Greeny was alpha, and it was her mission during the day to press upon America her dominance. America was not to eat or drink or be afforded any human attention or pleasures a miniature horse might enjoy on the Renard property. Everything was Greeny’s. Unless Greeny granted her the leftovers, America would suffer. Greeny enforced her rules on America by using her front legs to kick the new horse about. In the first days of America’s introduction, Greeny followed her around the field, kicking her repeatedly. As America moved away, Greeny would triumph for a spell, then come at America again. Renard put a stop to this behavior by separating the animals, reintroducing them, then having to separate them again. This went on for a time until America became sufficiently cowed. Once her condition was known, a longer separation occurred—in which Greeny won the field, only to have two horses share the field a time later. Still, motherly America remained cowed, and Jolly Trey, or J-Trey, was too spirited and young for old Greeny to keep up with. Greeny magnanimously ignored J-Trey and basked in the joy of her one aim in life—to show America she was the boss.

Sometime after little Mary Emma’s visit, Curt was walking in his yard and saw Spike, his pointer-foxhound mix, playing with J-Trey. Not that Curt knew the foal’s name, but he smiled as he watched the foal and dog run the length of the fence, turn the corner and run along the border of his land. Back and forth the animals ran, and when the pony would stop and stare, Spike would pant and stare back until the fun began again. Curt watched until he noticed Renard’s car roll out of his driveway and up the road in front of Curt’s property. Renard lowered his window, and Curt walked up to his neighbor’s car with a grin. The entertainment between his dog and his neighbor’s foal had spread a good feeling over him. He expected a similar reaction from Renard, but Renard looked all business. Curt’s smile slid from his face as Renard pointed to Spike. “Your dog is gonna wear out my horse. I’d appreciate it if you’d stop him from chasing J-Trey.” Then Renard nodded, approving his own message to Curt, and drove away.

Curt called his dog to him, and, as he did so, the force of Renard’s reproach hit him. Spike didn’t obey at once, and Curt hesitated until he noticed Renard’s car had come to a stop at the top of the road. The car waited there, so that Curt yelled to Spike with unaccustomed firmness. Spike wasn’t used to being yelled at, nor was he used to be called the names Curt called him. As Curt in uncharacteristic brusqueness brought his dog to heel, he was distinctly aware that Renard was making sure his orders were being carried out. The anger in the pit of Curt’s stomach sizzled and fomented as he brought Spike back up to the house. He fumed as he listened to Spike lap his water on the front porch.

Curt Johnson fumed for days each time he led Spike out into the yard and the foal innocently trotted up to the fence. He fumed until he allowed Spike to go out during the hours when Renard and his wife were away from home. He stayed on the porch as the dog and the foal ran the fence line—back and forth like the best of pals. Watching them, Curt experienced a sense of triumph, but that soon turned into resentment with Renard. Renard had more, and Curt had what he had. Complaining to the county about a pompous, arrogant neighbor who wouldn’t let your dog get his energy out was fruitless. Curt thought about this one afternoon as Spike played chase with J-Trey along fence facing the road front. Curt was standing on his property near the fence line and was rolling a small apple in his hand that had dropped from one of his wild apple trees in the backyard. He took a bite from it. It wasn’t nearly as sweet as the ones at the supermarket, so he spit it out and dropped the apple. The little apple piece landed near the fence, and America’s nose came through the wood to test the object. She stretched her neck but couldn’t reach the apple, so Curt walked up, picked up the piece, and approached America. Timid but interested, America didn’t jerk back or show her hide to Curt, like Greeny would have. She took the piece of apple and ate it.

Curt took up the apple and bit off another piece for her, which she took tamely. “You’re not a rotten apple, like that other horse,” he said. And then he added, “like some people.” Just as he finished speaking, Greeny horned her way between him and America. Curt had seen how Greeny bullied America. He gathered another apple beneath the wild tree, and rubbed it on his pant leg to clean it off as he returned to the fence. He bit off another piece for the horse and called to America, “Here, girl.” He completely ignored Greeny. America looked but did not approach. Greeny remained stationed between them, but did not take the offered apple. Greeny turned her back on Curt, and as he stood at the fence and watched the two horses eye one another, he told the ornery horse, “You’re a rascal, you know that? You’re just like your owner.” He tried a couple of times more to cajole America. He whistled to her, but she wouldn’t even look at him. Her eyes stayed fixed on Greeny. Curt held out the apple piece long enough that Greeny, at last, sauntered away. Cautiously, America stepped toward Curt, and just when she would take it from his hand, Greeny bound toward her. Curt took a step back as Greeny lifted her legs and began to stomp at America. She kicked and she stomped until poor America was halfway down the field. Curt hated Greeny, and all the anger and resentment that had welled up in him for Renard seemed to fit nicely into the disgust he had for this mean animal. He called to Spike, and they went back into the house. But that was the beginning of the end for poor America.

Death of America’s conclusion will be posted next week. Stay subscribed!

The Luxury

“Mama, do you think there is luxury in Heaven?” Fiona looked up from her mom and dad’s bed, curled up in the warmth of the laundry pile that had just come from the dryer. It was a chill winter morning, and she’d raced upstairs to her parents’ room the minute she was up. The master bedroom wasn’t completed yet. The window frame was boarded up, and the walls were unpainted. There were blankets on the plywood floor to keep feet from catching splinters. Still, it was a couple of degrees warmer upstairs.

As her mom folded her dad’s white t-shirt, laying it across the foot of the bed and smoothing out the wrinkles, she smiled. “I suppose there is nothing but luxury in Heaven. Why?”

1940s Girl in the Garden by Shawna Mac (Licensed: CC0 Public Domain)

Seven-year-old Fiona rolled in the warm, soft fabrics fresh from the dryer. “Because I love luxury,” she said, burying her arms beneath a pile of clean socks and underclothes. “Mama, I think this is the most luxurious place on earth!”

“What? Sitting on underwear?”

Fiona giggled and sat up. “No. I mean, being in your big bed in this new room with all these warm clothes and… and being with you!”

Fiona’s mother placed another folded t-shirt on the stack, came around the bed, and scooped up her little daughter into her arms. Sitting on the edge of the bed, she cuddled Fiona and kissed her.

Fiona wrapped her arms around her mother’s neck and kissed her back. “Isn’t it luxurious, Mama?” she whispered, the heat of her breath against her mom’s cheek.

Mama looked down at her Fiona, looked into her trusting, dark eyes, and answered, “It is, baby.”

The Treaty with Edie

Rilla sorts out writer-ish things with Edie, her rather critical inner editor.

Rilla: Okay, Edie. We’ve been working together for some time, and I think you need to understand something I’ve figured out about me—us.

Edie: And that is…

Rilla: I write for the joy of it. I truly believe we’re not seeing eye-to-eye on this, and I need you to get onboard so I can finish The Zorce Collection.

Edie: Meaning, you want me to stop being honest? You’d rather I didn’t tell you the uninteresting, unpolished, unprintable things you write are trash and need to be burned?

Rilla: Yeah. Pretty much.

Edie: I can do that. In fact, I have no problem letting you wallow in the mire of your own dumb compositions.

Rilla: Now Edie, you’re a good editor. You’ve saved me from a lot of mistakes, I grant you–

Edie: And this is the gratitude I receive for being there for you at all hours? All hours! Because you know I wake you in the middle of the night so you can know about that typo in the comment you posted yesterday! Who else would be as concerned about your image? Protecting you has been my top priority for over thirty years now, and all you can say is, ‘You’re a good editor, Edie, now shut it’? I see how it is.

Rilla: That’s not what I said, Edie. Nobody’s doubting your loyalty here. I don’t want you to quit; I just want you to look at our work as a personal reflection rather than a marketable product.

Edie: ‘Our work.’ Thank you; I appreciate that. So, you’re saying the trilogy you’ve been wrestling with for years is now a personal reflection? You’re going to spend—who knows how many—years to complete three books, and then you want to stick it in your little diary and call it a day?

Rilla: Yes. That is exactly what I mean.

Edie: (jaw-drop) What a waste of your life! Why would you want to do that?

Rilla: It’s simple. I need the freedom to write what I want to write without thinking of who’s going to look at it and what it’s going to make them think. We did that last time, remember? Where did it get us?

Edie: (nodding) I see your point. We’ve been trying to peg this story down for almost a decade.

Rilla: Ugh. Don’t say that.

Edie: Well, it’s true. But, I will admit, you’ve been able to eke out a few good stories, even while you were blocked.

Rilla: Thank you. So, what do you think? If we work on The Zorce Collection as a reflection of our life rather than a product, how would that change the approach?

Edie: Well, obviously, I wouldn’t have to stop you mid-scene to ask if the scene itself is really necessary.

Rilla: Yes.

Edie: The dialogue could be as long as you want it. The word count wouldn’t matter.

Rilla: Yes.

Edie: Ooo, here’s a big one: I wouldn’t have to alert you every time you divulge something that hints at your own painful experiences.

Rilla: Bingo, Edie. That’s the one that’s holding us back.

Edie: So, are you calling this a memoir now?

Rilla: Absolutely not! This is Casey and Ivan’s story. They need to be able to speak, and they can say what they need to say much better if they don’t have a self-conscious author in the mix second-guessing and censoring herself.

Edie: I see.

Rilla: What do you think? Can we give this a go?

Edie: You know how I despise that long-winded garble you call your style. Will I have to wade through that again? I refuse to work with you unless I can still rip apart the scenes that don’t speak the way I think they should.

Rilla: I’ll make you a deal; if you’ll give me time to get the scenes out on paper, I’ll take you page-by-page, through the section when we’ve finished. You can clean it up to your heart’s content.

Edie: It has to be crisp. You know that’s very important to me. Clean and crisp.

Rilla: Well?

Edie: I’m willing to try it. Anything to get this monstrosity out of our head.

Rilla: Thank you, Edie.

Edie: And when we’re done, who knows? Maybe you’ll want to publish it anyway, and…

Rilla: No. Edie.

Edie: I don’t see why. Can’t you just think about that an itsy-bitsy bit?

Rilla: No. We write The Zorce Collection, and it’s done. That will free us to work on (whispers name of fully-written children’s story draft).

Edie: Ah. Yes, that’s been dangling there for some time.

Rilla: Are we agreed?

Edie: We never agree, but I will concede with this one set of stories–which is all I’m giving you!

Rilla: Good enough.

“Get off the Internet” Challenge

Last week’s short story, Disconnected, was prompted by a little experiment here at home. I promise; we were not plugging our brains into any USB ports. The challenge for our family for five days was to get off the Internet.

We rely heavily on the Internet to work and communicate, so the goal we set was to get off distracting media, like Youtube videos, tv shows, movies, and game apps. Even social media was not to be used for scrolling through posts—there had to be direct communication going on. (One concession was made: music could be listened to while work was happening.)

That first afternoon, I learned how much I rely on a screen while I’m eating. I usually eat lunch well after lunch because I get carried away with my work in the mornings. That quick bite is usually my time to catch up with Facebook and Youtube subscriptions. When I sat down to my sandwich, I felt the lack of a distraction. I was unentertained.

The withdrawal from watching shows or movies wasn’t as hard on me as it was on the kids. They were used to watching videos about cats scared by cucumbers and videos about making chewing and eating sounds to see if the listeners found it calming. They didn’t even have the videos of people commenting about the videos with the chewing sounds. Riveting, I know, but they had a hard time prying themselves away from the video-watching.

There was a great amount of unrest in the family atmosphere for those few days. I found it enlightening. Basically, because we didn’t have a device to flee to when a small conflict surfaced, the conflict became an actual annoyance. Fortunately, the conflict was then resolved sooner. No one could escape into their video-watching hidey holes to forget about it until the next confrontation.

The best thing that came out of our few days was sitting down together and talking. We played more board games and made more jokes and got in more arguments. It was great fun! And without the screens, we talked more at meal times. Interestingly, we didn’t eat at the table; we ate in the living room, where the seats are more comfortable. So, picture us in the living room not watching TV. Can you picture us? We’re sitting on the comfy, cushiony chairs, and we’re talking and eating. Novel, right? I think I understand why the Romans ate their meals reclining on couches. Seriously, has no one noticed that dining room furniture, in general, is not that inviting? Why do we make our eating room so stiff when eating is a pleasant activity and should be surrounded by all kinds of pleasing things in keeping with its… pleasantness? We also have our Bible study in the living room, so it became an easy transition from eating to reading together.

All in all, I think it was a great challenge. I stopped mulling over how I could effectively fix other people’s problems online and stopped caring how many plates I could fill on Diner Dash to move up to serving shrimp tempura. Instead, I became, naturally, more aware of doing nothing. I found myself breathing deeply and relaxing and just being. Doing nothing meant I had time to connect with me, which is so important, and which I tend to forget to do when my nose is stuck to a screen.

I hope you, too, will think about how you can spend your day being a little more connected—to yourself and to the people living right beside you. What do you like to do to keep connected?

Disconnected – A Short Story

“Excuse me, lady! I’ve gone offline. Can you report for me?”

“Yes, I will do that promptly, sir.”

“Thank you. My mind is… scrambled. It’s never happened before!”

“I’ve heard of brain servers going offline. I recall one contact, Crusoe, who was stranded for days. I will send a request to him, too, asking what you should do.”

“I’m thinking, what if it’s a bad code–I’ve contracted a bad code? I feel so… I can’t breathe!”

“You are probably experiencing a feeling of panic, sir. It’s important to stay calm in emergencies like this.”

“But there’s nothing reading my mood, my vitals! No timed anxiety serum!”

“I understand your situation, and I sympathize. I have finished filling out your report and submitting it. Please wait while I process Crusoe’s response… He advises you to resort to manually communicating until your connection is fixed.”

“I’m doing that! See, I’m trying–but you see how–how lost I am…”

“Yes, it’s disconcerting. I reported you for harassment initially because of your behavior, sir; you looked straight at my eyes.”

“I don’t want to get arrested for harassment! I’ve been disconnected! I’m thinking without autoreview!”

“You need assurance you’ll be fixed soon. I understand. I’ve copied the form and reported your disconnection three times already. Goodbye, sir.”

“What? Are you just going to leave?”

“Yes. Goodbye.”

“Uh–but I need you to think this through for me! I’m going to go crazy without–Wait… My connection has been reinstated. My serotonin levels are being adjusted. Vitals are all returning to normal. Now I will forget that dreadful conversation by watching a humorous video.”

Cuppa Update

The trending tea for my palate this season is turmeric. Traditional Medicinals has the best blend, Organic Turmeric with Meadowsweet & Ginger. It has a mild, comforting fullness of flavor that never disappoints. Second best is Celestial Seasonings Teahouse Organic Ginger and Turmeric. CS’s blend is all about pep and spice to meet the day. Still, my go-to on chilly mornings remains peppermint tea, which warms my thoughts.cuppaupdate

The other day, I pulled out some dried mint leaves from the freezer to steep. At some point, my eye started to itch. I rubbed it quickly, and the sensation became a troubling burn at the base of my eyeball. The burning gave off a fumy freshness, and my eye began to weep. I ran over to the sink, as any goofus would do when something’s burning, washed my hands, and doused my eye repeatedly with water to try to dispel the peppermint oil. You oil users know what happened; the burning spread from one side of my eye to the other. I could not pry my eye open. I couldn’t see out of the other eye, either, because it was wet with tears.

No one was home, so I dabbed at my good eye and, with concentrated Lamaze breathing, I searched for “pppermint pil in eye.” My browser had my back; it gave me a link to a wealth of advice on what a bad idea it is to put essential oils in your eyes. If I hadn’t been converted before, I was now. Still, the warning wasn’t as helpful—hee-hee-hoo—when I was hoping for a solution.

Dear reader, the solution was to soak my poor eye in carrier oil—as is always the method with potent essential oils. I made a pool of olive oil in a cloth and attempted to dunk my eye in it. There was immediate relief. I used at least a half cup of Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil to dunk my eye and dab the peppermint away—because my eye deserves only the best. I was so elated that I could still see after all that minty fire!

Did this bad experience with peppermint turn my stomach for the tea? Let me tell you, that tea was amazing.

3 Points of Writing & the Universal Rule

My brother, a musician, named three properties that become his focus as he works to craft a piece of music. They are: the key of the piece, the tempo, and the kick pattern.

“Making sure the song is in the right key is essential,” he said. “You would be amazed at how changing the key of the song can change the entire feeling.” He talked about some songs we both knew and how they didn’t work the same way with a key change. “This especially goes for songs that modulate for a build at the end. It can be catastrophic for certain song structures.”

“The second thing I experiment with is the song’s tempo. I have songs I struggle to keep from being too slow or too fast.” He talked about one of his slower songs, Give In. “I played with the speed of that one for quite a while. Any slower and it lost its intensity, but playing it faster took away from the serious mood.”

“The last thing will probably sound shallow, but it’s not. It’s the kick pattern. And I’m not talking about the beat of the drum so much as the pattern in the listener’s head. You want them to anticipate when the drum is coming, even when the sound isn’t there at all. The listener needs that. But you don’t want the pattern to be predictable, either.”

As he talked, I realized the method to his music was the same method I use to improve my writing. Instead of using chords in a key pattern, I’m focused on the structure of the setting. The setting of the story houses the mood, the atmosphere, the foundational guidelines of my piece. Without it, my work has suffered from being too ambiguous or lifeless. I’ve changed the setting suddenly, and it’s ruined my whole story.

Tempo is obvious. I’ve discussed the importance of keeping the pace of a story in the forefront of a writer’s mind—not letting the characters slip into reveries or flashbacks at the wrong moment, making sure there is a goal the story continues to move toward. Even the simplest digressions can have an impact on the way your reader perceives your work. Some digressions bring your reader into a closer connection with the experience you’re sharing, and some digressions confuse, and even polarize, your reader.

Lastly, there is a pattern created by the writer in every story. Sometimes it’s called the voice or the style of the work. But it’s more than that. It’s that unspoken rhythm of thought the reader recognizes and latches onto. This is comparable to the kick pattern of a song, I think. Certain stories ooze personality, the story’s own flair, from the first word. Tolkien had a beautiful sense of this. Mary Shelley played around with it in Frankenstein. (Personally, I think she overplayed it.) Maximum Ride held readers with a snarky, hard-edged flow–not just the dialogue, but the storyline itself rattled with that teen angst pattern. These three examples are easy to pick up on, but all literature of length sits within a pattern that the reader subconsciously recognizes and expects to continue throughout the work.

My brother opened my eyes to this universal rule of the artist: We don’t mold the message alone; we mold every pause between. From the dead spaces to the underlying matter, we orchestrate and riddle out the kinks, so the listener can get to know the work without needing to know why it resonates.

Quiet in the Barn

One of the hangups of being a responsible person is not knowing when to say, “Okay. I need some time to myself.” I deny myself the time to write. I admit it.

When the kids were young, I would hunker down over my keyboard until 1 or 2 AM, aware of nothing but the story. I would live and breathe, some days, to get back to my characters. And I felt guilty for that. Numerous people would tell me, “You’re going to miss this time in your kids’ lives. Treasure it.” I wish I could’ve treasured it more because they were right; I miss the times when they were little. Now I do. When they were little, I just needed a break! Every stage of life is different, and in that stage I was running from my kids–trying to find a moment to think, trying to shut the bathroom door to pee, trying not to burn supper while addressing the Battle of the Toddlers #7,008 in the other room.

Then the kids grew up, and I found the solitude I needed holed up in my walk-in closet (yeah, I talked about that once). When we moved, I missed that closet. I tried the next closet for awhile, but the magic was gone. I returned to writing at night, but I could see my kids were doing a lot of emotional growing up. When Mom was typing in the quiet of the night, that became the time they could have just me with no distractions. That was the time to ask, “Who am I, Mom?” and “I have these things I want to do in life, Mom, and I don’t know where to start.” How could I deny them that personal, introspective one-on-one time? (Don’t get me wrong; there were a few times I, flat out, did.) I had to put my writing aside and hear them–really listen to their needs. I fed their spirits, and I’m glad I did! But I went hungry sometimes.

After I stopped feeding myself the time and the space and the quiet I needed, I began to miss it less and less–which is the same as saying I missed me less and less.the barn

In four years, Lord-willing, my kids will be moving on. Leaving the nest. They’ll still need me, but it won’t be in the same role in which I’ve identified myself for most of my life now. I’ve been looking in the mirror lately and wondering who that person is looking back at me. I thought I knew her, but as I see the empty nest looming, I’m intimidated by her. What are her expectations? Who is she, and what are those dreams she’s been trying to tell me are in her heart? I’m already regretting the time I haven’t spent feeding her spirit, helping her find the place to start.

This past weekend, I took her out, just the one of us. My friends let me stay in an apartment over their barn and get some quiet time. I laughed. I cried. I was scared, but I still wanted to meet me. And there, I found my story. My characters had been waiting for me. If they can pick up where we left off, I know I can, too.

First Relationships

From the series Breathing Life

A young student at co-op started cleaning my table before I’d finished eating. Realizing I wasn’t moving my food, she politely said, “Excuse me; I need to wipe this table.”

I scanned my area for the usual crumbs, and there weren’t any. I told her, “All clean here!”

She hesitated, the wet wipe hanging limply from her fingers. “But I have to wash here.”

I explained to her that it was her job to wash away dirt and food, but there wasn’t any dirt or food.

She nodded and walked away, but her expression told me she was still perplexed. She was supposed to wipe down the table, and she had not done that. What to do! What to do!

We humans tend to do things because we are told to do them. This behavior begins before we have the maturity to understand the reasons behind what we do. As we get older, we begin to study the principles and concepts we live by. (The sheep-like behavior remains only if we feel pressured to conform or lack impetus to change.)

This account of the first man and woman was not written to teach Adam and Eve; it was written to teach a people who were becoming a nation. They needed to understand where they’d come from and what was expected of them. So, the Author of Genesis 2 sets down a major principle immediately after Adam makes his observation about the woman God had made.

“Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” – Genesis 2:24

Image by Keriography. Used by permission.

Two relationships are mentioned here. Leaving father and mother refers to the parent-child relationship. The second relationship is a union between Adam and Eve.

The first man didn’t have a mom and dad to leave, and neither did the first woman. So, why does the Author record this rule right after Adam meets Eve? It’s a reminder to me that Adam and Eve are not the audience.

Every word expressed by a writer is made to say something. A writer’s challenge is to deliver a message or concept so that the reader can grasp it, examine it, and, hopefully, use it. The audience is always there in the back of the writer’s mind, the impetus for him/her to change and develop the approach to better communicate with the reader.

Reviewing what I know about the audience of Genesis 2 – a fledgling group of Hebrews who have escaped slavery in Egypt – I can gather they are undergoing a reconstruction. They are developing their own civilization, and the covenant between this first man and first woman is crucial. This marriage covenant is the cornerstone of their societal development. They are a nation establishing laws, rituals, and procedures that will be more advanced than any of the neighboring peoples around them for many centuries.

According to this passage, the marriage relationship takes precedence over the parent-child relationship. The Israelite nation under Moses was organized according to the twelve tribes of Jacob. Sons inherited tribal land from their fathers (and, in some cases, their mother’s first husband’s tribe). This land could be rented out but would always return to the family tribe. So, a son’s relationship with his father and mother was tantamount to his identity as a citizen of the nation. His relationship to his family was extremely important, but this passage makes it clear his relationship to his parents was not to eclipse the union of a man to his wife. This honor in the marriage relationship is depicted in Adam’s feelings toward Eve.

“And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.”

She is bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. She belongs with him as he belongs with her. She is his companion in life. (Parents are not a person’s life companions, though they hold an honorable position.) Knowing she is made the same as he, his natural behavior toward her would be to treat her as he would treat himself. Her flesh is to be his flesh, meaning he would not want to harm his own body, so he would not harm hers. He would not shame himself, therefore he would not shame her. He would not deprive himself of physical and emotional care; he would not deprive her of that same care.

It’s a basic understanding of a relationship that spans millennia, and that principle is expressed in two sentences. Amazing, isn’t it?

Writing Tip Recap: A writer communicates the message best when he/she keeps in mind the audience to whom it is being written.

This is the last of the Breathing Life series. You may wonder why verse 25 of Genesis 2 is missing. After studying it, I came to the conclusion it fits perfectly with the thought flow of Genesis 3. So, I will keep that for a future series.

For a list of the posts, check the “Breathing Life” page.

*Featured image by Keriography. Used by permission.

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