A New Hope

While I may not precisely prescribe to the preconceived pontificating of the pulpit, I firmly believe that there is a One–somewhere in the Universe–who will maneuver players into positions and yet, allow them to make their own plays.

But what of the game to come?

Well, Dirty Birds by a touchdown, first.

AND second–and much more impotantly–that Icarus has depth perception.

More to follow I’mean quite sure.

ZAC

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This One is for the Dreamers…

Earlier today, I had the bad fortune of a good friend.  Earlier this month, I had the good fortune of a bad friend.

A few weeks ago, I was visiting few people I had not seen in some time, and one of my old friends had brought her child.

At least I think it was a child—once the girl began to speak, even the most unenlightened could hear the echo of an old soul in her young voice.  I was chatting happily with someone who is literally one-fifth my age, and I can honestly say that it was one of the most stimulating conversations of which I had partaken in months.

That was, at least, until the child’s mother stepped to the plate.

“You know, she reminds me a lot of you when you were her age,” the mother stated, plainly and without any warmth.  “Don’t worry, though.  We’ll beat it out of her.”

Undaunted, the little girl was prattling on, while I struggled to maintain the pace.  I was nodding at all the appropriate points, and would even occasionally toss in a vocal agreement or two for encouragement, but my brain was wholly consumed with a question:

Did the mother mean it literally when she said she would “beat it out of her?”

I honestly did not believe then, nor do I believe now, that the little girl was in any physical danger.  If that was, in fact, the case, then another question—far more sinister in its implications—slithered into my mind:

Was I a mistake?

It’s one thing to regard oneself as a failure, but even then at least one can honestly say an effort was given.  It’s completely different when one is pronounced a failure but reassured that it was nothing that he or she did, removing hope along with causality.

Over the years, I had grown accustomed to the occasional barbs of prejudice, of conformists regarding me with everything from curiosity to outright disdain.  I have shouldered my fair share—and possibly more—of disgust and disappointment on the faces of those with whom I interacted.

But to be told I was nothing more than the remnants of an experiment gone wrong, of a tactic which misfired—that was truly one of the greatest horrors that I have ever endured.

For the second time this year, the anger over the remark had dissipated almost as soon as it had appeared, replaced, again, by something I never thought I would feel for this woman, this mother:

Pity.

I was sorry for her, that she saw intellect as something which needed to be eradicated rather than encouraged.  I felt sorry for the little girl, knowing the struggle that she would face as she grew older, yet sure that she had the strength to weather the storm.

Come to think of it, I believe that was the last day I saw the sun in Atlanta, until today, when another friend—a different friend—joined me for a light dinner of heavy Mexican food.

Conversation wandered as usual, and we came around to the topic of social programming, specifically those policies instituted by President Johnson (and others of political influence in that era.)  Topics such as these are not uncommon in our dialogues, although tonight’s chat seemed to be touched by… something.  I did not know what that “something” was—it was just at the tips of the edges of the fringes of the idea of the talk—but I knew it was there.

We talked about the rise of the Common Core (and the real difference between 3+3+3+3+3 and 5+5+5) and the death of the Socratic Method.  We talked about how a society requires structure and architecture to function, to survive, to endure.  I pointed out that societies also need the dreamers, the “greater fools” who aspired to something greater, something more… something.

But you can’t have that in society, he had said.  The hive cannot function without its drones.

Unfortunately, my friend is right—we have started to lose our way, and we have fallen into the trap that seems to squelch the individual for the sake of the group, and we have forgotten how to be individual and inclusive simultaneously.

We need to reclaim that skill if we are going to not only survive, but thrive.  Both as individuals and as a group we must be able to dream and think, not just one or the other.  Our society will seek to carve away the ones who dream, they are nothing more than the remainder of an equation, and must be discarded to make the machine fall into balance.  It seems that with each subsequent generation, there are fewer dreamers, fewer “greater fools” to sell short and buy long, to risk everything on the chance that there might be a better way, that there might be another way.

I am one of those dreamers, those greater fools.  And to all the other ones out there—including that little girl with whom I had such a stimulating conversation—you are not alone.  Don’t forget how to dream, and don’t worry if you dreams actually come true.

All that means is you get to dream about something new.

-ZAC

The Story Behind the Story: The Little Mermaid

The Story Behind the Story: The Little Mermaid

I had chosen a while ago not to do a “Story Behind the Story” for this particular chapter. In light of Friday’s ruling that legalized same-sex marriage across the country, I reversed my decision, At its core, My Life As a Fairy Tale is a combination coming-of-age story and love story; it was my intent to demonstrate that simply because one “comes of age” in one aspect of his or her life, there always remains room for maturity and growth in others.

For those of you who are unaware, My Life as a Fairy Tale, while not an autobiography, draws more heavily on my own life experiences than the other works in the collection.  Nowhere is this truer than in the final installment, “The Little Mermaid.”

I am married to a wonderful man who made an unfortunate mistake.  He is facing those consequences now, and while I am not proud of what he did, I’m incredibly proud of how he is handling it now.  In all honesty, I do not know if I could do the same should our situations be reversed.

It was also the only story to be conceived, drafted and written, in its entirety, after my husband’s departure.  I would love to know how this occurred, but to this day I cannot remember writing it. Then again, I cannot remember a lot from those days.

Obviously I have a mother, and I also have a friend who slightly resembles “Jack,” though to be fair, there’s a reason the supporting characters seem two-dimensional and flat: I wanted them that way. The story, the entire novella in fact, is not about Jack, or the Mother, or Artemis, or Hestia, or the Dwarves.  It is about the Narrator and, to a slightly lesser degree, Prince Charming.

The day that my husband went away to start his “time”, I actually was naive enough to think that it would be very stressful, but nothing I couldn’t handle.  After all, I can handle anything, right?

I can only imagine that I was feeling one-tenth of what he was feeling.

“The Little Mermaid” is both my favorite and my least favorite story from the novella. It was a thrill to write, but a struggle of sorrow all the same.  As an author, one of the most difficult tasks I must undertake is to open myself up to the entire deluge of sensory input, memory recall, and intuitive ideas, during which I must identify and connect two seemingly disparate thoughts into a concept which I must then transmit, through words, to the reader.  As with the other installments in My Life as a Fairy Tale, the plot and the characters are inspired, to varying degrees, by people I have met in my first four decades of life.  For example, “Jack” grew out of a friend who allowed me to read the manuscript aloud to him during the process, allowing me to hear not only the rhythm of the words, but to also allow my ears to catch mistakes that my eyes had grown accustomed to seeing and therefore missed.  The only real connection between those two people is a single line of dialogue.

Likewise, the other major-minor character, the Mother, has very little in common with her real world counterpart.  She is not so much a villain as she is a foil: a force that is working in an opposite direction than that which the Narrator wishes to travel, but it is not done through malice. Are not mothers naturally inclined to protect their children, rather than push them in harm’s way?

Societies, like people, also come of age – they reach a point where they have grown into a self-sufficient, viable social organism that is capable of standing on its own.  This has happened since the very dawn of history:  families became clans, clans became tribes, and tribes settled down and became villages.  The villages grew and became towns, and then they grew some more and became cities.  Eventually, the city would become a city-state, and from there we would see the birth of a country.  Countries would soon become nations, and then those sovereign states would begin to join in alliances with the ability to cross borders as wide and as vast as the oceans which make up two-thirds of the planet.

Friday’s decision by the Court was simply an indication of that growth.  And while there are many people who are in apoplectic shock over the ruling, even their mightiest bluster cannot change the fact that the United States of America grew a little bit on that day.

And, just like the Narrator discovered in My Life as a Fairy Tale, there’s still room for more growth.

Something Stressful This Way Comes…

So there are three ideas before me:

Something Redneck This Way Comes: The Continuing Adventures of Big Red

My Girlfriends Have Always Been Goddesses (the follow-up to Observations)

The Mistress of Passion – which has always been intended as a prequel to the overall Legends of the Ancients series.

Each has there benefits and and each has their liabilities.  Yes, Big Red is fun to write, but the point of view is actually a new concept that, despite my excitement to explore, will be brutal on The Editor.

I have all the momentem needed for Girlfriends, but it also requires tapping into that “painful” set of emotions which, while necessary to the creative process, doesn’t really feel all that great.

Mistress has been lingering for a LONG time, but it will kick off a series that may take me YEARS to complete, and I’m not entirely sure I want to go that long without my Un-Beauty Queen or my Goddesses.

Yeah.  I know.  Totally first-world problems, huh?  So, I did something very productive this weekend:

I spent five hours picking out a new font for the website.

Thanks for the Birthday Wishes…

…but my birthday is actually in December.

I know, the Great Almighty Facebook said it was yesterday, April the 5th.  And I truly am grateful for all the birthday wishes, and the fact that they came yesterday rather than on my actual birthday does not make them any less sincere.  I mean, we celebrate Christmas on December 25th, when it’s all but completely known that date was chosen by the early Church in order to hijack the existing pagan celebrations, and that Roman censuses were taken in the summer, right?

(We are going to give Artemis a shout-out for actually calling me and asking WHAT THE HELL? There’s a reason she was the first of The Goddesses.)

So why did the Great Almighty Facebook say that yesterday was my birthday?  Easy.  I changed it late last year.

Last December, I was not in a good place.  Let us review:

  1. It was the first birthday after my husband was incarcerated that I would celebrate,
  2. It was a “milestone birthday”, one which I never thought I would see, considering the health issues that I have battled since I was 20,
  3. It was also an informal “due date” for some tasks that I had set as a stepping stone to “leaving Atlanta correctly”, and I was already running four months behind on the timeline, and
  4. Lastly, on that day, I was informed on that day that I had caused people “certain people” so much pain over the past four decades that I could, and I quote: “apologize from now until eternity and never make up for what I had done.”  (I have never claimed to be perfect, but the the fact that I could not ever possibly make up for what I had done led me to, naturally, not even try.)

I mean… SERIOUSLY?

So, yes, on my “real 40th birthday”, I wound up crying myself to sleep, taking a Xanax and an Ambien (both prescribed by a licensed physician) at 3PM in the afternoon, cancelling the plans I had made that evening with two of my closer friends.  And yes, I preemptively changed my birthday on Facebook so, quite honestly, I wouldn’t have to deal with all the well wishes I knew would come, because that would have required me to pull from a very old skill set—one honed at the knee of a master during my years on the W.A.S.P.-County-Club-Circuit: duplicity.

I would have had to put on a mask, pretend everything was okay, say thank you, yada yada yada, and to be perfectly honest, I was sick of doing it.  I loathe duplicity.  Things weren’t okay.  In fact, things were about as bad as things could have gotten given the circumstances.  And while I could not control what was happening, how I felt, or the fact that the one person I was genetically programmed to believe would have soothed my sore soul actually wounded it further, I could control the influx of messages from well-meaning people who did not deserve what would be, quite possibly, the worst unintentional emotional backlash of the twenty-first century.

I do not say thing to garner sympathy; these were trials that I was meant to face.  This was the fire that would temper my mettle in order for me to not only survive but succeed at what lay ahead in my life.  While my husband was learning lessons at the hands of strangers and The Authority, I too was learning and dealing and coping… and most importantly, I was living.

There was/is no malice in my actions; it was simply a desire to be, at that time, a little less connected to the world at large.  Those days have passed, and for those who posted on my timeline yesterday, for those who saw it and texted me, and for Artemis who, once again, called me on my shit—thank you.  Your friendship(s) mean/have meant the world to me, and while I may not always say it, I’m grateful for the role(s) we play in each other’s lives – no matter how big or how small or how frequent or how rarely we see each other.

Sincerely yours,

ZAC

NonSequiter

For the record, this is not the first time I’ve moved the celebration of my birthday to another time.  When I turned thirty, we celebrated in the spring because on the first day of December of that year, my grandfather passed away, and the last thing I wanted to do was have a celebration of anything other than his life.  So to the spring it went, and you know what?  No one got really pissy over it.  It actually makes me think that I’ll do the same thing when I turn fifty; we shall have to wait and see.

The Work Behind the Work: Big Red and the Wetsawannakah County PTA

You can totally blame my mother-in-law for this one.

A couple of years ago, the three of us were vacationing in the Savannah area, and I had inquired, upon learning that she had read the first version of the book, which story was her favor—

“Big Red.”

I didn’t even have the question fully out of my mouth before it was answered.  To be perfectly honest, in the beginning, Big Red was a one-shot.  It was a chance to inject humor in levity into what was becoming, on many levels, a work of complexity, intensity, and in some places, sorrow.  But I really didn’t think it had the bones to make it more than a single story, so I shelved the idea, and put it aside, until…

“Big Red.  You have to do more of those.”

Please note, as I did at the time, that she was not asking me questions.  She was making statements.  With the subtlety of an anvil falling on someone’s head, she continued to reinforce her point so I started to roll the idea—an idea I had not yet considered—around in my head.

Outside of the story told in The Ballad of Big Red, what was she like?  She obviously has a mother (we see her in the first story), and a daughter (who is also seen…well, not so much “seen”, but I digress).  Where did the daughter come from?

The strangest thing happened.  Big Red’s life started to open up before me, not all at once, and not in sequential order, but over the next few days, I began to piece together different experiences (some of my own, some of others) and the end result with this character of (previously unknown) depth and (previously undeveloped) personality, who I had relegated to a short story and walked off.

On the drive back to Atlanta from Savannah, while my husband and his mother chatted away in the front seat, I was curled up with a spiral notebook in the back, jotting down titles to stories, and blurbs to later jog my memory enough to where I could write.  By the time we stopped for lunch (I think it was Macon), I had already decided which would be the first story to tell (B.R. and the P.T.A.), and I related it orally to my mother-in-law over lunch.

Big Red had started to tell me her secrets, and then one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite screenwriters (Steven Moffat) suddenly made sense:  “When a character begins to keep secrets from the writer, that is when the character becomes real.”

I sat down, shut up, and took notes.

It should be noted that my mother-in-law and I recently took another road trip together, and I came away from that trip with another Big Red story based on some of our adventures on that trip.  I think we’ll call it “Big Red and the Elmdingle Divas.”

ZAC

The Work Behind the Work: Observations

Nearly every single person who has read the titular story from Observations from a Third-Story Window has either assumed, asked or insisted that I penned this piece as an homage to my marriage.  While I will admit that there are some similarities between the two characters in the story and myself & my husband, there is actually one simple fact that exists which proves that the story, when written, is not about my own personal life.

I wrote the story two years before I met him.

The concept for the story—I choose to call it “accidental voyeurism”—had been knocking around in my head for quite some time.  In the vein of “dance like no one is watching”, I wanted to see what it would be like to witness the entire life-cycle of a relationship, but never once interact with it.  Even I will admit, however, that the description of the characters does land a tad close to home when it comes to their (supposed) real-life counterparts, so over the past several months, I have stopped the outright denials, and have agreed to a less firm, but still vague stance:  it may very well be about the two of us, however, I didn’t know it at the time.

Is everyone happy now?

This piece is one with, I believe, the fewest revisions.  It stands pretty much as I wrote it over five years ago, and it is one of my all-time favorites.  Its title was an easy choice for the overall collection, and I also think that it sets up the collection quite nicely – establishing the underlying theme which, if you look hard enough, you can find in each and every story.