Got Compassion?

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An original piece of my artwork inspired by two beautiful compassionate children – Pippa and Sunna

 

“Oh I don’t know, Tourette’s can be kind of fun. I knew someone with TS and he would throw the “F” word around all the time,” the stranger said with a laugh.

Silence. Suddenly I was bombarded by the image pain of Jake sticking his finger down his throat hundreds of times a day. I was reminded of the time I stood in the kitchen doorway, unknown to him, as he repeatedly punched himself in the stomach, tears running down his face. He was six. I recalled the angry stares of strangers who judged him every time we were out. And I felt my words stick in my throat as they so often do.

Sadly, this is a scenario that has played out in many forms over the years. I have since learned to speak out for Jake and other people like him who live with the suffering that accompanies Tourette’s and OCD. I can assure you none of them are having fun.

When Jake was diagnosed I was under the impression that his biggest problem would be peer bullying. Kids can be cruel. What I have learned instead, is that adults tend to be the worst bullies of all.

Over the years I’ve wondered about this. Why, when adults have so much more life experience, are so many lacking in compassion? How do they justify such insensitive remarks?

As adults we tend to inhabit our own space, both physically and mentally. The longer we remain earthbound, the easier it is for us to grow cynical and care less and less about the “big” world, concentrating instead on our personal lives. Unless a person’s life has been touched in some way by disability, and special needs, I think they just don’t get it. Instead, they are driven by the media’s skewed stereotypes.

All people with Tourette’s curse. False. Less than 10% are afflicted with coprolalia – a tic that causes them to use obscene language. I once met a twelve year old boy who was deaf because one of his tics was to box himself in the ears. I’ve seen a fifteen year old girl in a wheelchair because one of her tics was squatting while she walked. Hilarious,right?

All people with OCD are neat and are germaphobes. Just give them some hand sanitizer and all is well. False. Jake’s OCD immobilizes him at times, making him unable to leave the house. He struggles every day with repetitive thoughts and fears, causing him severe social anxiety. Good times, yeah?

Clearly, there is no humor in these conditions or any others.

So what’s different about how children process these differences. I think that children are simply more connected to the world than we are. They are newer beings on this Earth and are naturally curious. They haven’t been media-trained in the ways of callousness. We have so much to learn from them, and such a responsibility to protect them from becoming hard-edged.

But I think it’s important to note that compassion is more than just caring. As connected Beings we all need to practice empathy more than sympathy. And if we allow ourselves to reconnect with our spiritual side (not religious – that’s completely different and man-made), we will realize that it’s our natural state because we are all connected.

So how about you? Got Compassion?

Character Soundtracks

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Me listening to one of my character soundtracks

Music moves me. I’ve always imagined my life as having a soundtrack playing in the background. Seriously. I’m sure it’s just a result of my being an 80’s mixtape kid combined with my former career in music store management. Whatever it is, it’s still hanging on even though record stores and the 80’s are long gone.

When I’m working on a novel, I have a habit of creating a soundtrack for my characters. When I am writing that character, I listen to her music to get into her head. It really helps. Plus it’s fun to figure out exactly what kind of music my character would listen to. I’ve found some very interesting songs researching my books.

As an audiophile it just makes sense to me that my character would be defined by her music choices. And for me it’s the lyrics. The type of music is not as important as the sentiment. On any given playlist you could find Johnny Cash alongside My Chemical Romance. It just depends on the character and the character’s mood.

It’s hard to write a novel and not write parts of yourself into it. So my characters will always reference music and use it as a way to process parts of their lives, give voice to their emotions. It’s very natural for me.

If you’d like to hear one of my character soundtracks and you happen to be on Spotify (which I highly recommend) here’s a link to a playlist I created for a character in one of my books. I won’t give you a character analysis, but you might just get a peek into another world if you listen to Anna’s music.

 

 

Writer’s Block

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View from the ranch at Texas Writer’s Retreat

Writer’s block. We’ve all experienced it, and chances are we will again. But just remember, it’s a block, not a wall. Blocks can be jumped over, moved, or built upon.

While attending (that seems such a formal word for such casual, intimate gathering of writers) the Texas Writer’s Retreat a week ago, I had the opportunity to get to know John Grogan, author of international bestseller Marley & Me, and The Longest Trip Home. I’m always surprised when I meet  people who have a certain celebrity status because, more often than not, they are just normal people – well as normal as writer’s can be. 🙂 And John was no different. Very down to earth and full of great stories.

Over several dinners and glasses of wine, John shared some of his insights on writing. He encouraged us all to read an essay in The New Yorker by John McPhee, Draft No. 4. The essay gives a great tip for dealing with writer’s block. I won’t spoil it here because it’s well worth the read.

More than anything, just keep writing.

 

 

Just Keep Moving

*This post is honest. It is painful to write, but I feel that it needs to be said for those who can’t say it.

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Jake on a very bad day

My son bears the weight of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) daily, but this post is not for him. This post is for the parents and loved ones who must learn how to live with OCD as well. I do not wish to take away from the burden he carries; believe me, I have seen him crippled by this intrusive, invisible bully and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

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Half a day’s worth of gloves

But I am here to acknowledge the others who are involved in this journey alongside them. I am here to remind you that we, too, face a bully. However, our bully is easily recognizable every time we pass a mirror.

How often have you retreated behind the safety of a closed, locked door and screamed into a pillow? How many times have you been blinded by the hot tears of frustration as you drive anywhere just to get away? And how familiar is the feeling of guilt that gnaws at you for all the times that you lost it, yelling at your son out of anger? The emotional turmoil is unrelenting.

I have slammed doors and punched pillows.

I have felt so much pent up rage that I’ve resorted to hitting my thighs with fists clenched so tightly that my nails have drawn blood, just so the bruises on my legs hurt more than the ache in my heart.

I have escaped the tension with a few too many glasses of wine. And then slept through my sadness.

I have sat outside my son’s door listening to the quiet of him sleeping, pretending that he’s just like everyone else. Enjoying the silence maybe a bit too much.

 I have driven to an abandoned lot, turned the music up as loud as I can and screamed until my throat was raw and I was out of breath.

And each time I’ve berated myself with ugly, angry words.

The same kind of sharp words I have heard my son use on himself on his worst days as he curls up in his chair, the chair that is off limits to the rest of the family because we aren’t clean enough, and cries until he has nothing but shadows left inside him.

The same words I save for the days when I hate myself most. You are worthless. You are a burden. You can’t even help him. Loser. I can’t do this anymore.

 There are times that I think if only I had done this instead of that. Said these words instead of those. Maybe things wouldn’t be so bad for him. Maybe he would be better. Maybe I’ve made it worse.

I make myself physically ill worrying over the things that I think I did wrong. But the truth is that on any given day, I’m doing the best I can. My best may not be perfect, but I. Am. Trying.

There is a song in the Sondheim musical Sunday in the Park with George that really resonated with me one day when I was out trying to walk off the voices in my head that were telling me how wrong I was.

Stop worrying where you’re going – Move on.

If you can know where you’re going, you’ve gone.

Just keep on moving.

 I chose and my world was shaken- So what?

The choice may have been mistaken,

The choosing was not.

You have to move on.

 As parents and caregivers of kids with special needs, it’s easy for us to forget that the best thing we can do is to keep moving.

Some days we will move backwards, tripping over yesterday’s mistakes. Other days we will move forward full of a hope we can barely see. But the only thing that matters is that we are moving. We may not know where we are going, or how we are going to get there, but we will get there.

Yes, we are exhausted. We are overwhelmed. We are heartbroken. We are afraid. We are angry.

But we are here. We are here and we are moving.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Master Magicians

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Where the magic happened

As I go through my notes from The Texas Writer’s Retreat I’m finding all kinds of gems. The one that really hit home today was from Joe Clifford’s session on setting.

“We trade the magic to learn how to create the illusion.” -Joe Clifford

As young readers, we found ourselves escaping into various worlds created by our favorite authors. Narnia. Camelot. Middle-earth. We walked through fantasy lands in search of nothing more than adventure and story.

As we discovered our own words, and began to believe that our stories were worth telling, we found ourselves reading the same books again, only this time we were searching for something more, something hidden between the lines that stained the page, the visions that bloomed in our minds. Instead of asking who, what, where or when, we toyed with why, and how.

We wanted to understand how the author got from point A to point B, and why he chose either point to begin with. We started to dissect the stories, stripping away the colorful layers of adjectives, exposing the veins with actions coursing through them, and studying the organs, both minor and major so that we could understand the anatomy of the story. And in doing so, we began to hone our craft, and create our own magic.

Perhaps the only magician we have is the artist. -Anais Nin

We are master magicians. Page performers. Word wizards.  It’s who we are. It’s what we do.

 

I’m off to cast a spell on some unsuspecting characters now.

Peace,

Ginger

 

Texas Writer’s Retreat 2017

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Last week I attended my very first writer’s retreat. It was very intimate and included sessions with literary agent Elizabeth Kracht, and authors Joe Clifford and John Grogan. Other retreats will be hard-pressed to live up to the Texas Writer’s Retreat at Pine Creek Ranch.

One of the first sessions was with Joe Clifford, author of December Boys, Junkie Love and Lamentation, to name a few. He focused on the importance of knowing the setting in order to create truth in your writing. The details will then give verisimilitude to your work.

He challenged us to create a piece using the setting of the ranch. Here’s mine:

Go Big or Go Home

I am sitting on the floor of a quaint Texas ranch house decorated in the finest Asia has to offer. Above Panasonic, the god of TV, sits an ornately carved statue of Buddha guarded by two Chinese dragons. Each wall offers an escape into another world. Hanging wooden masks seem to poke their heads through the veils of time and space merging two unlikely cultures. A bull’s filigreed skull hangs above the doors exiting to the front porch reminding me that I am in Texas.

Once outside the sound of a distant gunshot announces the symphony of late afternoon birds trilling alongside the chuffing of the resident horses, and the chirping of the crickets that lie hidden among the pines. A naked oak dips her moss covered limbs to me in the whispering breeze—an invitation to be here now. I feel an urgency take hold of me – an aching to let this peace soak into my pores—a repository for the days to come.

I close my eyes and I am nowhere and everywhere at the same time. This moment is a big piece of a small part of me that has been crying out for a place to belong. I am embraced by my tribe, both human and wooden.

If Texas is a place where everything is bigger, I must be colossal. The tree soaked landscape surrounds me and yet I tower above it all. I am a tall tale waiting to be told. I am big and I am home.

Stay tuned for more writing tips, and stories from the retreat.

This House Is Not a Home

 

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There is a place I know that feels a little too much like home. It’s a house of mine I rent from time to time, but it isn’t home. I’ve visited it so many times that I know it well.

It could easily become my home – if I let it.

But that is something I won’t do.

Each time I visit I struggle to leave; there is a familiarity that is comfortable, like a warm hug. But that hug quickly becomes a smothering embrace, threatening to dissolve me.

I go to this place kicking and screaming, fighting against it, and yet, I continue to show up.

I don’t like this part of me – the part that visits this place. But the older I get the more I realize that it’s just who I am. I am a person who lives in two separate places at any given time. I am a person who puts on a smile while I am at my home (as much as I can), but who wears no masks at my other house.

The other house is a house of darkness where no masks are needed because there is no one else there to be bothered by my countenance.

The other house is desolate, lonely, and dark. Hardly a place that a person would choose to visit. Instead, it seems to choose me. In some kind of Amityville-esque way, it haunts me and consumes me.

Thankfully I have a home – a real home – filled with those I love who wait for me. I worry that one day they will choose to close the door and leave me stranded in the echoing hallways of my other house, having grown tired of my extended, and frequent vacant-tions.

Here’s what I want them to know.

I see you trying to figure me out and help me and “fix” me. And I am grateful that I mean that much to you, but there is nothing you can do. The darkness is in me, and I am the only one who can fix the broken switch.

And I. Am. Trying. This is not a place I want to be. Know that. Above all else, know that.

Being who I am I feel too much. I think too much. I bruise too much.

Sometimes life is just too much, and I feel like I’m suffocating.

That doesn’t mean I want to die.

In fact, it’s just the opposite. I want to live. God how I want to live.

I want to be the free spirit I am. To explore and dream and create and shine.

But there are moments in my life that break me. And these are the moments that send me to my house to be still. To retreat. To repair.

I am here.

Though I may be far away, I am here.

Though I may be there. I am here.

Wait for me. I am here.

 

 

 

The Keepers of the Magic

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Merry Christmas from The Keepers of Magic

This year Christmas will be very different in our family. For the first time in almost 19 years I don’t have to do as much sneaking around. Before your mind wanders to a wonderland that is clearly not G-rated, it has nothing to do with another man. Well, it kind of does – another man and an elf.

The magic began 18 years ago in a flurry of glitter and, well, more glitter, when we celebrated Jake’s very first Christmas. And from the very first sprinkle of those silvery star pieces, I was hooked because you can’t have magic if you don’t have glitter.

The build-up to Christmas was always epic, and, quite frankly, stressful. Did I spread enough glitter? Did I read all the stories I should have? Have I imbued my son with enough Christmas cheer to last through all the year?

It seemed that each year a new tradition was added on to the growing list. And as stressful as it all was making sure that we didn’t leave anything out, seeing the look of wonder on Jake’s face made it all worthwhile every single time.

And then his little Einstein brain started to question things. He was eight. I had a brief period of mourning, and then I got pregnant with a new believer to take his place. Just for the record, that’s not why I got pregnant, it just happened to work out that way.

Unfortunately, now my youngest, Nick, age 10, no longer believes. And since I no longer have my baby pocket, all I can do is accept the fact. So this year, Mario, the house elf, is no longer magic. Nick is fully aware that we would place him in his positions before we went to bed. However, now that he knows our trickery he says it makes more sense. There were several times that Mario failed to move during the night. Maybe because Mom had a glass or three of wine and forgot…who knows. Now Mario moves when any of us remember that he’s even around. The lack of magic and sneakery has robbed Mario of his fun. And believe me, that is a suck.

The Christmas Eve tradition of reading The Polar Express and listening for the bells is no longer the same. Yes, we will read the book. And yes, we will ring the bells, but the magic has diminished. For the past 9 years about an hour or so before time to read the story, Jake would begin to complain of a stomach ache. Oddly enough, when it came time for the family to gather and read the story building up to the finale of going to the deck to listen for the bells, Jake would excuse himself to the “restroom” downstairs, slip out back and wait for the cue – listen…can you hear the bells? And then in the quiet of the night we would hear a faraway jingle. Nick would gasp and look at me, and I would fight back tears as we both acknowledged that the magic was still there. Not once did Nick question the fact that Jake wasn’t around. We were very good at playing it off.

But this year we will read the book. And we will all walk out on the deck. And one of us will shake the bells just like every other year. Why continue with the tradition if no one believes? Well, our belief still exists, it has just shifted. And this year, since Nick’s belief has shifted, we will welcome him into the fold of those who are Keepers of the Magic.

There is so much in this world that is anything but magical. So those things that have the potential for magic, the potential to make someone smile and believe, we must continue to recognize. As I see it this is one of the single most important jobs there is. Magic slips away so easily in this world of fear and hatred. But as Keepers of the Magic we take every opportunity to remind others that magic still exists, and we go out of our way to create that magic for others.

So, Nicholas, this one’s for you. Welcome to the club!

And, just for the record, my side job is still Glitter Fairy.

 

Simplicity 8009

How do I keep the

threads of you from –

knotting my mind

your own ways they say.

And you’ve sewn the

edges of my thoughts with-

out of my mind I try

to make patterns,

make cuts, and folds,

make sense

of layouts that aren’t my own,

and tangling edges

from scraps that don’t match.

This measurement’s off –

sizing too big

for my figure

it out they say.

Too short,

too long,

too much.

Before you cut,

before you stitch,

before you sew

many directions

that lead to the perfect

fit that feels

wrong for my frame of reference.

I tug and adjust

only to find that

my fabric is out of style.

Lesson Learned

I promised myself with this site that I wouldn’t commit to a certain schedule of postings. Instead, I write when the muse hits. And I write about whatever I’m compelled to write about.

Tonight I feel like writing about high school. Or at least a certain aspect, for me, about high school.

I went to an all girl Catholic high school. My husband thinks that sounds very Britney Spears-Baby-One-More-Time-plaid-skirt-knee-socks and all that.

Thank God he didn’t know me then. I was more Mary Katherine Gallagher from SNL.

Yeah, I know. I didn’t smell my hands after shoving them in my armpits or anything like that, but I wasn’t exactly oozing sexiness either.

I graduated in 1985 – the year of “We Are the World”, New Coke, and Back to the Future. I had my group of friends that I hung out with – a mixture of my BFF’s from school and my theater friends.

An interesting side note – in my school we were segregated from the get-go by our “intelligence”, which was determined by a test we took in 8th grade. We were divided into A1 and A2, B, C, and D groups. Yes, those letters represented our grades. Looking back I realize how horrible this system was.

I was in the A1 group and spent most of my time worrying about getting “demoted” to A2 or worse. And being put into preselected groups like that allowed certain assumptions to be made. People in A1 were supposed to be super smart. People in D group were the party girls. Now I’m not saying I had any specific thoughts one way or the other, but any type of separation tends to promote stereotypical thinking.

High school is cliquey enough on its own. I think most of the cliques just happen naturally, as a result of interests and bonds made pre-high school. Whatever the case may be, I remember making assumptions about people based on outward appearance, the way they handled themselves, where they lived etc. All unfair, but natural for most.

The cheerleaders had it all. Confidence? Check. Good looks? Check. Boyfriend? Check. Life was perfect for them. Or so it seemed to me. No one was dealing with problems like me. I lived in a bubble filled with low self-esteem, an eating disorder, a parent who was dying, and ongoing financial problems (I drove a Gremlin for God’s sake!).

I remember going to our 20 year class reunion and talking with everyone. Of course by this time we were all older, and I remember thinking how cool it was that people from the “popular” group were talking with me. Then I had a good laugh at myself.

In talking with the girls, however, I began to realize that I had more in common with them than I thought. Most of the girls that I saw as perfect because they were pretty and popular, had just about as much self-esteem as I did back then. They were just a lot better at faking it than I was. And many had some pretty heavy things going on that I was completely oblivious to.

Sometimes I wish I could go back and get to know the ones that seemed “out of my league”. I think of all the friendships I missed out on because of the high school mentality we must all find our way through.

I’ve gotten to know several of these girls from high school through social media, and I am very grateful for that.Now, more than ever, I am aware of the fact that all of the drama is a part of growing up and finding your way to the truth that we aren’t really all that different from each other. We are all cut from the same cloth. And I truly believe that the sooner we recognize that as a race, the sooner we can make this planet the beautiful home it is meant to be.

This post is dedicated to all my Saint Vincent Academy sisters, especially to those I never got to know.