Hulk Smash

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I saw an anaconda on Saturday. Even coiled behind glass, it looked fresh from a nightmare. As we took the kids along the many sights at the Game and Fish expo, I couldn’t help but wonder why God made the anaconda. Surely this thing didn’t exist in the Garden of Eden. Maybe it was some evil mutation that came from the curse.

The archery experience made me feel better. Like the target was a giant snake.

After grocery shopping the next day, I thought about all the exhibits we saw…the snakes, the animal skins (I’m not happy with whoever shot the raccoons), the hunters mingling with the conservationists. There was even a booth for those who wish to live in a self-sustaining community. All this swirled around my mind while I was leaving Fry’s, a few cars behind a guy who was dropping his girlfriend off for work. He took about five minutes to dig her purse from the back of his truck. His black truck with purple skulls on the tailgate. The car in front of me got tired of waiting and drove around the truck, much to the consternation of the skull-guy, who raised his arms at the car as if to say, “How dare you get impatient with me.” He took a few steps after the car and mouthed a few unsavories. Thoroughly entertained, I waited while the skull-guy handed the girl her purse and kissed her goodbye. Before he climbed inside his truck, he shot me a dirty look, threw up his arms—I think he even said, “Sssssssssssss”—at my, ummm…patience? The he drove off while flipping me off.

Mutation?

Is it the curse festering inside the man? I’m not sure life outside the Garden is always diagnosable. How was your weekend?

Naming your future

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My parents named me Sherry because they liked that name. I looked it up a few days ago in my Character Naming Sourcebook. It means from the white meadow. Very funny. I suppose God had a good chuckle when another Darwin was branded with a name that matched the ghostliness of their skin, from a long line of ghost-skinned Darwins. Our meadow lacks melanin. The branch of us that now live in sunny Arizona battle sun damage and skin cancer and the meadow is more red and scarred than white now, and despite the Native American bough that joined our family, most of us still resemble the white meadow from which we came. Is a golden tan too much to ask for? Could it be the name?

A few of my Bird relations have been accused of looking a little beaky. My Bird Grandparents sang a lot of gospel; their timbre was sweet and they perched on their front porch to enjoy many evenings. My Grandma tweeted at me once.
William Wallace lived up to his name which means Protector. Did his parents have a premonition, or did he become his name?
What about you? Did you become that which defines your name? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments below.

Caged Birds

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An old memory surfaced the other day as I walked the halls of the retirement home, my day job that’s actually a night job. The old ghost goes like this: I was eight, maybe ten years old, and walking through a drug store in Cottonwood with my mom. An elderly man shuffled along the pain-killer row, his head and neck bent down, his feet unsteady in his orthopedic shoes. From some mysterious place, a surge of compassion washed over me and I begged God to let me help old people one day. I’m not sure where that came from, but a little over a decade after finding I didn’t want to go where my Design degree tried to lead me (and after forgetting my strange plea in the drug store), I found myself working in a Retirement Resort to pay the bills until I figured out where to go next.

Late into the night when my duties slow, I pen novels at that desk now–someday I may write about the retirement place. Here are a few of the greatest hits from the grandparent generation.

A few weeks ago, a resident called me, concerned about an alarm in his Apt. I checked my pager and Teltron panel—my link to resident emergencies, medical and smoke—silence on my end. I’ve been working there 17 years—“alarms” can mean anything.

The first thing I noticed when I entered his Apt. was his fabulous collection of art supplies—there’s something about seeing a living room stuffed with easels and canvases—you know a working artist still has things to say about life. The second thing I noticed was that all familiar beep you don’t fully appreciate until you become a parent—I smiled, weighing my words. “It’s your TV,” I told him. “The beeps are to censor swear words.” He thought that was strange—probably because he’s an artist who thinks the world needs to hear a little more of life, but I was just thankful for the good laugh we had before I left.

Hattie (*code name*) was one of my favorites. She owned a bird named Sweetie. To be perfectly honest, I’m not a fan of caged birds; they have wings—they should fly. But my job is to take care of the residents and I grew to love Sweetie. One late night while immersed in a book—before I decided to put them down and write my own—Hattie called in a panic. Sweetie had escaped her cage and was flying around her Apt. in a fury. She had damaged her wing. I hurried down the hall and called my husband because unlike me, he’s a fan of caged birds and talked me through the process of doctoring Sweetie’s wing—once I caught her. Instead of chasing her down, I just waited until she landed on her own, then Hattie helped hold her still while I slathered her wing in something goopy (I don’t remember what). Hattie’s last few years were difficult ones for her; she was locked in her own cage of illness, but Sweetie was her faithful companion. If Hattie needed to leave for the day, she clutched Sweetie’s cage to her side like a purse full of treasure. Sweetie sang to Hattie, bringing her comfort through many anxiety-ridden days.

Like I said, I could complete a book with my experiences with retirees, but the catalyst for my writing career began with Bessie (*code name*). Bessie had developed Alzheimer’s disease, going from clarity one day to mental nightmare the next, rapidly declining from what has to be one of the worst diseases to haunt mankind.
She got to where she couldn’t dress herself or ask for a glass of water, but that same mysterious force that prompted my childhood prayer simmered inside Bessie as one last gift. She couldn’t form a complete sentence, or remember the right words for anything except one—a bible verse. Many if I remember correctly, but the one she gave me in her sweet chirping voice came the very night an idea for my first book nestled inside me:

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11.

This THE DAY my artistic fingers starting itching like crazy for an outlet.

Ten years later, the experiences with Bessie and my Grandpa (Dementia) inspired a short story now published in an anthology praised by a few of the most respected Authors of faith. The interesting thing about that is it’s a novel categorized as speculative fiction—the genre described by our traditional friends as the most “out there” and “unbelievable” of all genres. It is “out there”, but when you put all the pieces together—a retirement home, two people who have lost their minds, a caged bird who sang to her lady, the spontaneous prayer of a child and a genre thought to be for only those “weird” people—God can work with anything and anyone, and seems to have a preference for telling His most powerful stories from the least expected places. Maybe because the logical part of the world has forgotten that truths, no matter the magic that touches it, can’t be caged.

Wink

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While in college, I learned that my hair was really red, no—dark blonde, but mostly brown. My face is long too, or slightly oval by some angles; with most plays of shadow and light my lips are thin, but to those who stand where they can see smiles at the corners, they’re cupid-bow pink. All this I learned while posing for a painting class for extra cash.

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The popular Dove commercials reminded me about this experience and the whole beauty phenomenon; if I go sans makeup and let my hair fall in all its natural wildness it’s cool, because people will catch the angle of God’s love on my face if they take a minute to see from His light.

Because that’s what God’s artistry is–His wink reflecting in our gazes the moment they collide with imperfection. 

Time Is Not The Enemy

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Evidently, our attention spans have gotten so short we don’t want much depth in entertainment anymore (according to a billion quick articles)–we just want hook, thrill, and on to the next. This is true to some extent, but I don’t think this trend will last. Or if it does, humanity will go mad with this frenetic pace, unable to find meaning within the blink of an eye.

That’s probably why, when my husband and I took off for Sedona for the weekend to celebrate our anniversary, I forgot my deodorant. And my glasses (for reading a super fast-paced but depthless book before sleep), and….a shirt to wear the next day. Let’s see, there are the kids to get ready for the Grandparents, the two books I’m preparing at once (shall we say fast-paced depth?), the day job with the crazy hours responsible for making me sluggish much of the time.

Did I mention this was the FIRST time J and I have taken anything more than several hours off to celebrate our anniversary? In SEVENTEEN years? Year after year, we say we can’t afford a whole weekend, well–one of us, or both, I think it was J, but I don’t remember who because I’m too busy doing lots of fast-paced stuff, decided we needed to slow down a bit. And slim pocketbooks can become idols if we’re not careful.

Deodorant or not.

It was awesome. We took in some art, a church built in rock, and were able to walk leisurely. That’s an ancient word for relaxing.

Upon return, I realized it was time for the annual trying on of the wedding dress 100_4179day for Chloe. She wants the dress now. But this one thing to wait for, at least, will help teach her that NOW is not always good.

Hope is good though. And deodorant.

Happy Monday. May it be leisurely in all the important ways.

Sail

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Before I tuck my son into bed at night, he must leap. He stares me in the eyes and waves his hand at me, “A little farther back, Momma,” he says, bending his legs while I mini-shuffle away from his Spiderman blanket where he stands.
I hold out my arms and he launches through the air like the Sail Cat, arms and legs reaching for the feathers of flight. His body, it keeps growing and gaining the solid weight of active boy, but I’ve decided to let him leap as long as I can catch him because in that one second of air, I hope that moment will nestle in his memory bank like a seed, rooting him in the joy of soaring on full faith.

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Authentic

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At twenty years old, I plunged my hands into an exquisite block of clay and shaped it into a smaller version of my parents’ scroungy cat, Tigger. Tigger was a giant fluffy orange tabby—possibly the most beautiful cat that existed. But I should have sculpted Chicken.

Some say you can’t tame a feral cat, but my Dad succeeded with Chicken, even charming the cat so much that Chicken would jump for his lap before he had a chance to sit down. Chicken was a miracle—a product of the efforts of a cat whisperer—if it wasn’t for the chance meeting of those two, that scroungy thing would have more than likely become coyote food.

It was with confliction that I shaped Tigger’s pointed ears and sassy face with my instructor’s voice in my ear, telling our class that fine art was not the stuff of happiness and cutsie things like cats; it was struggle, pain, oppression. To be honest I felt a little insulted that happiness was thought to be a bad influence on fine art.

For my next project, I adapted my charcoal sketch of a model into a raised oak panel; she was stripped bare much like a college student is when catapulted from their childhood home into a world of influences, vulnerable to all those things they haven’t learned about yet. I grabbed the large file and shaved the wood until her likeness came through; I ran her through the jigsaw, hoping the boldness of a woman uncovered would please my instructor. He was kind, but not overly impressed—I hadn’t made her story live and breathe yet.

I’ve walked longer in my adult shoes now, and have been down some of those galleries adorned with dark art. Picasso’s Guernica commands its station on the wall—I’ve never been in combat, but if anguish was a spirit, I imaging that’s what it could look like—as I gaze at the stark contrast between shock amidst a bleak existence, I can empathize, having experienced my own battles: a sick child, an excruciating season of slim finances, the sudden loss of my father. So yes, this dark art is Relevant.

A battle weary people are indeed worthy of a voice. Most of us don’t make it through childhood without feeling like an outcast at least a dozen times. Fuzzy cat sculptures don’t tell that story.

A happy painting I would gladly hang on my wall. Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose by John Singer Sargent.

A happy painting I would gladly hang on my wall. Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose by John Singer Sargent.

If my nude sculpture was still in existence, she would have acquired a good many scars—her jaw would be tight, and her hands damaged by a few more decades of sun—her belly marked with signs of new life—that’s not catering to a certain group of critics who declare happy art unrealistic, it’s the bold truth. But does it end there? I hope not, because the shadows that keep us under the model’s heel only lead to bricks in the hands of violent protestors and knives for words. I’m not sure if all I want to look at are scars.

Sculpting is for finding the story. Filing is for smoothing out the rough edges, not for arming naïve students with half-truths, although I imagine my instructor would have approved of Chicken—a would-be-dead cat who found redemption—who knew?

I wouldn’t want to hang the Guernica on my wall, but Chicken—that would have been a great reminder of hope.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:5

 

P.S. Wake is free today and tomorrow. Go here to get it. If you like YA Dystopian fiction and, well….art, you may like Wake.

The Circle

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Sometimes I wonder where all the lost things go…like the Dead Letter Office, is there a place in between tears for misplaced wedding rings and beloved toys?

After a particularly successful Show and Tell in elementary school, I left my beloved Miss Baker on the playground. All the way from the Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama, Miss Baker was both an historical figure (one of the first animals launched into space) and best friend to me. When I hurried back to the bench where I left her, it stared at me cold and empty. Stolen, perhaps? In my mind, she was priceless–who wouldn’t want her? But she was mine. I cried a thousand tears for her.

For some reason I can’t remember, I told this story to Chloe when she was four. Being an aficionado of monkeys herself, she immediately burst into tears, heartbroken over my childhood loss. Every so often, she would bring it up in conversation, this injustice that simmered in her heart whenever we talked of beloved things.

After my work schedule tripled this month, leaving Chloe with pools for eyes every time I stepped out the door, that old memory kindled in her heart, and when I came home from work one dark morning in the hours of zzzzzz, she had completed a gift for me.miss-baker

A brand new Miss Baker, sewn from her sweet fingers and the depths of her heart.
I don’t know where Miss Baker went that day on the playground, but she has come back to me in a much more precious way than she did the first time.

Us

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In my world, multi-tasking is necessary evil, but let’s not forget that it’s still evil. I used to think something was wrong with me when I had trouble jumping from one project to another. If I have ten pots on the stove, most of them will turn out “okay”, you know what I mean? But if I have one or two…they usually turn out great. That’s why I only paid attention to about two subjects in school…those ones usually turned out great, heh.

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A few people called me names like lazy or unmotivated. One teacher in a particularly evil class thought comparing me to my older, high achieving brother would help get me interested in his class. Every. Day. In order to cope, I ignored that teacher for the rest of the year, accepting a lower grade so he would just leave me alone. Thankfully, most of my feelings about being different were assuaged when I became a writer. We study personalities, psychology, and culture in order to write accurately and as many of us will tell you, finding out how many ways people are wired is like holding a homemade chocolate cake in your hands—it all suddenly makes sense.

Just to be clear how unwise it is to pressure people to fit in the same mold, here’s an illustration: In one of my classes, we were told if we didn’t achieve higher rankings in the subjects we struggled with, we’d be scrubbing toilets at McDonald’s. I have two things to say to that.
1. I’m not, even after burning a certain textbook from a certain class.
2. Why do we continuously demean the blue collar class with comments like that when we know we couldn’t survive without them?

Maybe lessons from unwise leaders are the rocks in the hands of protesters—I’m not talking about the peaceful protests about civil rights—I’m talking about protesting issues and/or methods that are less normal—things that seem unjust to those who have never seen the beauty of a homemade chocolate cake. We know this type of protest when it does nothing but divide people further.
These are people who think those two odd pots on the end of the stove are useless, never fully tasting them to see how much they could complete a meal.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
 Matthew 5:9