Mandatory Year-end Blog Post 2016

2016 started rough. I was still working on the first draft of my memoir, and writing a book is hard, y’all. This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done (and I once managed to get my car out of a snowbank using nothing but McDonald’s bags). I feel like a wizard should show up to tell me I’ve fulfilled my destiny or some shit. Except I’m still revising a little, so the wizard will have to come back sometime in 2017.

Honestly, I haven’t done much this year besides write, read, watch Kimmy Schmidt, and eat insane amounts of wintergreen Life Savers. I have a super glamorous life.

 

Top Five Most Viewed Posts

What Does Being Stalked Look Like? 

Last year, my parents found several rolls of undeveloped film. When they developed them, we found a whole roll of pictures that were taken while I was being stalked. While working on my memoir, I pulled out all the pictures my family has of just before and after this time as well. Seeing a visual timeline spread out like that hit me harder than I thought it would. It was like watching my life fall apart. When I shared some of those pictures, I didn’t think people would be very interested in them. I’m still not sure why this post was so popular. Maybe it helps drive home just how young I was. Maybe people just like seeing me in tie-dye (I know I do).

 

When Supporters Strip Rape Victims

header imageVictims are often stripped of their voice. Because of fear or shame or people who won’t listen. It’s important to allow them to speak about their experiences, on their own terms, without projecting our own assumptions onto them.

Sometimes I write a post because I’m frustrated with a trend. This was one of those times.

 

The God Who Suffers

God knows what it’s like to be abandoned by the people you love. God knows what it’s like to be falsely accused. God knows what it’s like to be humiliated and shamed. God knows what it’s like to suffer.

While I don’t fully understand the Trinity (who does?), I have a much deeper appreciation for it. I’ve grown more attached to the crucified Christ through that.

 

What Does Forgiveness Look Like?

What does forgiveness look like when you’re still broken? When you’ll never not be broken? How do you forgive someone who doesn’t think they did anything wrong?

If you ever get down on yourself for being slow to forgive, just remember it took me 15 years just to get started. (Bonus: Y2K fantasies)

 

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Creeds

Credit: Steve SnodgrassChristians all over the world, in different traditions that wouldn’t normally agree on much, stand up together on Sunday mornings and as one body recite the same words Christians have recited for centuries. And that’s a powerful thing to be a part of.

More evidence that I’m some sort of denominational Frankenstein’s monster. (See? I know the monster’s name isn’t Frankenstein. How impressed are you right now?)

Next Steps for My Book and Dirk McPecks

editing

At least I’m not afraid of red or taking a ridiculous amount of notes. I am a little afraid of commas.

I’m sitting here, glasses on, burned coffee beside me, and water dripping off my hair and down the back of my shirt because I’m not going out today, so who am I trying to impress? Right now, I’m taking a break from tweaking that book I’ve been working on because that’s all that’s left. Tweaks. (Don’t tell me that’s not a fun word.)

The major revision work is done (I hope) and now all I’m doing is reading through it one more time to fix all those times I changed tense for no damn reason at all or typed something redundant or got a little rambly. And I’m realizing I suck at titling chapters, so we might have to crowd-title that shit, y’all.

Next step: My family gets to read it, and then tell me all the things I got wrong so we can argue about it until someone feels bad and buys everyone else a pizza as an apology. (Really, I’m just in this for the pizza.)

Next, Next step: I’ll start contacting people who are in the book (well, the ones I’m sure wouldn’t hang up on me if I called), just to give them a head’s up and the option of using a pseudonym. So, if you think you might be in my book, start thinking of clever pseudonyms like Dirk McPecks, but you can’t use that one because I already called dibs.

Honestly, I’m a little jittery about that part. I know not everyone’s going to appreciate being written into a book, even if all I’m doing is talking about how awesome they are.

This is my super fierce editing face. This is the face that writes, "Dammit, Kristy! Nobody wants to read about this shit," in red ink.

This is my super fierce editing face. This is the face that crosses entire pages out and writes, “Dammit, Kristy! Nobody wants to read about this shit,” in red ink.

Next, Next, Next Step: Beta readers. After I’ve “done the right thing” and contacted everyone on my list, I’ll go through and make all the name changes I need to make, then turn the whole thing over to a group of beta readers. I’ll get some feedback, and I’ll go through another round or two of revisions based on that. Maybe all the beta readers think that scene of my family eating dinner was too short. I could add more. Maybe they all think that Bible study scene is the most boring thing they’ve ever read and why, God, why am I putting them through this? It’s not like I can’t cut a scene or two and replace it with something else. A lot of things happened and hardly any of those things are included in the manuscript right now. (See how I used the term “manuscript” there? That’s how you know I’m super legit. It could even be argued that I’m too legit, but don’t worry. I won’t quit.)

While my family is doing their read-through, I want to get together a list of beta readers. I’ve already had a few people express an interest, but I need a few more. If you’re interested, please let me know. If you’re not interested, but you know someone who might be, please check with them. Ideally, a beta reader is someone who will give me both positive and negative feedback. What works well? What doesn’t work well?

Why does everything I write come across like a sugar-crazed, hyperactive 14-year-old wrote it? This. This is why.

Why does everything I write come across like a sugar-crazed, hyperactive 14-year-old wrote it? This. This is why.

Next, Next, Next, Next Step: This is where I freak out because the beta readers have my manuscript and they’re all reading it and judging it and judging me, but that’s okay because I’ll get over it since I know having more eyes on it will make it way more awesome than I could make it on my own. Then I’ll get all emotional and start crying because I can’t believe people volunteered to read my book and I love them all so much and I want to bake them cookies.

Next, Next, Next, Next, Next Step: One last read through. One last round of line edits, which result in me googling comma usage and chewing on my pen because why aren’t comma rules more straight-forward holy crap English is the worst! And then I’ll start querying agents and I’ll mention my very large family who will all buy my book, so who needs a big online platform?

I’m excited and anxious and a little nauseous. And suddenly very aware of how much I abuse the word “and”.

The thing is, I’ve been saying, “I’m going to write books” since I was eight years old. When I was eighteen, and all that stuff with the stalker happened, my life took off in an unplanned for direction. I always meant to write this book, and now I have. And, whatever happens next, I’m going to chalk that up as a victory.

Now What? Q&A About That Whole Book Thing

If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you probably know I finished the first draft of my memoir.

I know a lot of writers don’t like to talk about their WIP, but whatever. I’m not one of those writers.

Since I’ve been talking about working on it for over a year, and since it’s such a sensitive topic for some people, I figured I ought to answer some questions I’ve gotten.

When is the book going to be published?

I have no freaking clue. A first draft is just a first draft. It’s nowhere near ready to publish. The next step is to revise the shit out of it. After that, I’ll revise the shit out of it some more. After I’ve revised all the shitty parts, I’ll recruit a few beta readers. They’ll go through each chapter and point out all the shit I missed so I can go through another round of revisions.

Are you going to self-publish?

Maybe, but probably not. That would be a lot of work. Never say never and all, but I’d prefer not to self-publish. I think life would be easier for me if I tried to get an agent and went with traditional publishing. But that’s all way down the road.

Celebratory grilled cheese

Celebratory grilled cheese

Does your book have cuss words?

Fuck this question.

Is X in your book?

Maybe. It’s a first draft, so most things are still up in the air. I can tell you there will be:

  • a stalker who wants to marry and kill me
  • church folks who are sort of OK with that
  • church folks who aren’t as OK with that
  • shitty theology
  • slightly less shitty theology
  • boys
  • girls
  • LOVE THAT’S SO FUCKING BEAUTIFUL AND THEN TRAGIC AND THEN BEAUTIFUL IT WILL MAKE YOU WEEP UNLESS YOU’RE A HEARTLESS ASSHOLE
  • vodka
  • sad shit
  • funny shit
  • purity culture
  • feminism
  • God stuff
  • me and my dark humor and snarky comments that spew out of me at inappropriate times
Don't be an asshole

Don’t be an asshole

Can I read your draft?

No. Well, unless you’re in my writing group. If you are, then you’ve already read some of it, so why are you asking stupid questions like this?

What the hell are beta readers?

They’re people who will read through my revised draft and give me some feedback, from a reader’s perspective. They are not proofreaders.

Can I be a beta reader?

Probably. You have to be willing to give me feedback, which might include telling me entire sections of my memoir are pointless. And you can’t be too emotionally invested in the story because I need to know how a reader who starts the book not giving a rat’s ass about me as a person would respond to it.

If you’re interested in beta reading and you aren’t a close friend, family member, or someone who knew me as a teenager, leave me a comment and I’ll contact you when I’m ready (and also, you’re pretty and smart and awesome).

I took a picture of myself when I finished that draft, but I look crappy in it so here's a picture from a different day where I somehow look all smug while sitting on a kid's swing set.

I took a picture of myself when I finished my draft, but I look crappy in it so here’s a picture from a few weeks before that where I somehow look all smug while sitting on a child’s swing set.

Hey, Kristy, am I in your book?

Maybe. Are you concerned about that? Well, guess you shouldn’t have been such a shit head then.

OK, but seriously… if you knew me when I was a teenager or in my early 20s, you might be in the book. It’s hard to write about two years of my life and not include the people who made a significant impact. I can’t say who’s going to be there in the end (aside from my immediate family members). Some scenes that are in the book right now might get cut; some might get added. Aside from a few key players, I really don’t know who’ll be there and who won’t be.

If you do wind up in the book, don’t worry about it. I’m not going to surprise my friends. (Like, how shitty do y’all think I am?) I’ll get ahold of you and see if you want to read over any scenes you’re in. If there’s something in there you have a major issue with, we’ll talk about it. If you don’t want your real name in there, I’m fine with disguising your identity and handing out pseudonyms.

If you don’t like me, you’ll automatically get a pseudonym. I’m writing a book about events that happened in my life. During some of those events, some of you were total dicks. But I’m not going to be a dick about it and out you. So settle down.

Writing in the Mud

Credit: OuadiO

Credit: OuadiO

A while back, someone asked me a question on Facebook. She wanted to write about some traumatic experiences in her life and was looking for advice on how to write through the pain. She wanted to know how I did it.

I didn’t have a great answer for her then, and I don’t have a great answer now. What I do have is a little more experience with it and I can at least give her and others an idea of what they might be getting into.

People who want to write about their own traumatic experiences have challenges that go beyond constructing an interesting sentence or getting dialogue just right. If anyone thinks they’re going to stay snow white while rolling around in the dirt, I’m here to tell them they’re kidding themselves.

Memories Bubble Up At Inconvenient Times

A few months ago, I was cruising down the road, singing along with Taylor Swift (What? Don’t pretend those songs aren’t catchy…) and this image of my sister packing up her doll hit me with the force of a thousand End Times preachers. Now, I’m not a weepy person or anything, but I cried my way through the rest of the song and then tried to pull myself together before picking my kid up from school.

Why did that happen? Because memories unlock more memories. The doll thing wasn’t some deep, repressed memory or anything like that. It’s just something that happened and I haven’t thought about it since it happened. Right now, I’m writing about that time period, so all of my memories from that time are spread out on the desktop of my brain, all nice and easily accessible. And sometimes the contents spill out a little.

It’s not a bad thing necessarily. The doll memory went into my draft and it feels like an important scene to have in there. But if you aren’t prepared for random memories and sporadic weepiness, it can make life a little difficult.

You’re Going to Get Angry

Well, I get angry at least. Sometimes I’m following along on my outline and I get to an episode that just really gets my goat. So, I just go on ahead and write my “Who the fuck do these fuckers think they fucking are?” draft to get it out of my system. I don’t even go back and read most of these drafts (most of them are handwritten and mostly illegible anyway.)

I use anger as a defense. If I’m angry, then I don’t have to feel anything else. After I get the fuckitedy-fuck-fuck-fuckers draft out of the way I can peak under that blanket of anger to see what emotions are really there. Insecurity. Shame. Loneliness. That’s what I need to write about because that’s what’s real.

It Can Be Hard to Transition Back and Forth

Have you ever watched a movie with a sad ending or finished a book that left you feeling sad? And when you walk away from that book or movie, does that feeling sort of linger for a while sometimes?

That’ll happen if you write about your own life too. When you get past the initial anger, when you tap into one of those memories, when you start writing the words you were meant to write and touch those old emotions, they’ll linger even after you step away from the keyboard.

It can be hard to transition from writing an emotionally charged scene and your present day life. I have to write when my kids are out of the house. It’s impossible for me to tap into the emotions I need to explain what it was like to sit around and wait for a murder attempt while my kid is pestering me for just one more handful of chips.

My best advice here is to give yourself space. Sandwich writing time between things you love to do, or things that you know help pull you out of an emotional funk.

Sometimes You Have to Live to Write Another Day

I was working on a chapter today that should have been pretty easy to write. While some bad things happen in it, it’s not nearly as bad of an experience as some of the things that happened in earlier chapters. But it’s turned out to be a difficult chapter to write.

I got to about the halfway mark and felt myself getting just a little too wound up over the whole thing. I could have pushed through (and likely wound up with a second half full of me dropping the f-bomb into every sentence), but I decided to just set it aside. Obviously, I need to process those events a little more before I can write about what happened the way I want to. Maybe I’ll do better with it tomorrow. Or next week.

I think it’s better to walk away temporarily than to sacrifice my mental health to hit a daily word count goal.

You Can’t Expect Other People to “Get It”

Writing about past trauma is straight up emotionally exhausting. To me, life in general is pretty emotionally exhausting, so I’m just doubling up on it. Basically, my job right now is to re-live my own life (actually, just the worst parts of my own life.)

Even for the people who know what I’m doing, I can’t really expect them to understand why I start crying about Taylor Swift all of the sudden. (Like, how do you explain you’re crying over a doll that got packed up 16 years ago?)

Nobody else can see the memories that are playing out in my head. So, maybe I’ve just written about a particularly frightening thing that happened and my emotions are especially raw. And then someone does something extra obnoxious right after that. It can be hard to remember that the other person has no idea what kind of emotional whiplash you’re going through.

You Might Find Unexpected Things

I thought I knew my story. I lived through it, after all. What writing about it has done is give me perspective. That goes beyond just the facts of what happened.

What happened was wrong. And it was frightening. And it was traumatic.

But that’s not my whole story. There’s also love and beauty and forgiveness there, and I didn’t expect to find any of those things.

Before I started writing this book, I knew that I’d been stalked. I knew that my life had been threatened. I knew that I’d had to leave my life behind and start over. That was my story.

Now, I know it’s not just my story. It’s our story. I don’t just mean my family either. It’s a story that everyone who was involved shares. It’s the church Elder’s story. It’s the police officer’s story. It’s my friends’ story. Yeah, the things I’m writing about happened to me, but I wasn’t living on some desert island at the time (though, that probably would have made it harder to stalk me).

The difference between my story and our story might not make a lot of sense to anyone, but it’s a profound shift in the way I look at it.

If you write about your own life, you can expect to find your own surprises.

Writing in the Mud

Writing about painful experiences is dirty business. It’s hard. There’s no getting around that.

And sometimes it feels like all you’re doing is scooping mud, shifting it from one place to another.

And people might walk passed you and ask, “Why would anyone want to sit around in all that muck?”

But I hope that if you do choose to move mud around, you’ll look down one day and see some patches of green. Because you were never just moving mud. You were gardening all along and how could you expect a garden to grow if you aren’t willing to get a little dirty?

Mandatory Year-end Blog Post 2015

Well, I did some stuff this year.

I read a lot of books and a couple of them made me cry. (Not, like, wimpy tears, like tough-badass-bitch tears).

My sister and I took a trip that wound up being weirdly therapeutic and obnoxiously humid. (We both cheated on our low-sugar diet during that trip. Actually, I’m still cheating on it 6 months later… so, oops? Also, my jeans have shrunk.)

I did a lot of writing. Some of it didn’t totally suck. (Some of it totally did.)

I drove an hour just to see a giant crucifix at a Catholic shrine with my hardcore Anabaptist, ex-Catholic mother. (It was pretty great.)

Cross in the Woods

I’m too lazy to come out with a clever segue (really, what’s going to top a 28′ tall Jesus?), so here’s the top 5 list.

Top Five Most Viewed Posts

That Time a Fellow Church Member Wanted to Murder Me

I wasn’t sure what kind of reaction I’d get to posting this and almost deleted the whole thing, but writing this post was one of the best things I’ve done. It opened the door for me to work on some issues I’ve had on the back burner for a long time and I’ve heard from people who say it’s helped them not to feel like they’re alone in what they’re dealing with. I’m currently about 3/4 of the way through a first draft of a memoir that covers this period of time. I definitely wouldn’t be working on that if I hadn’t gotten so much interest and support after clicking that PUBLISH button on this post back in February (and then going, “Oh shit! What did I just do?!”) Sometimes being reckless and impulsive pays off, kids.

image(2)

“I noticed something in my family’s church mailbox. It was an obituary that had been cut out of the paper. He’d replaced the person’s name with my name. The police couldn’t protect me. My church council refused to even believe I was in danger. I didn’t want to just wait around until he murdered me or my family.”

 

A Halfway House for Post-traumatic Church Disorder Survivors

Sometimes I feel ridiculous for being afraid of churches. Like, what, are the pews going to come to life and drown me in the baptismal? (Actually, that does sound pretty freaky…) I wrote this to both poke a little fun at myself (this is an accurate account of how I visit a church) and as a defense against all the people out there who love to get all up in my business and tell me to park it in a pew. The reaction I got to this post was surprising. I had no idea there were so many other people out there who feel the same way I do. I don’t know what the solution is, but it’s a real problem when so many people are scared of church when they’re not necessarily scared of Jesus.

14926229827_a9d4ada8c6_k“I’ve gotten some flack for not attending church, but where do you go when church isn’t a safe place?”

 

 

 

 

Faith in the Eye of a Shitstorm

I said it on Facebook, and I’ll say it here, I really think this post was popular because it has the word “shitstorm” in the tile. You are all 12-year-olds and I love you.

“I’m supposed to say those hardships strengthened my faith. That I felt closer to God. That it gave me perspective or I had some sort of epiphany. But none of that happened. I didn’t feel closer to God. I felt ignored by God.”

 

 

True Love Waits (a little while)

Hey, everyone! It’s the post about sex! (We’re all still 12, right?) The 90s Youth Group Kids are all grown up now and some of us are a little scarred by our old purity pledges.

Love By Freely Photos“We’d garbled the gospel until it sounded like purity pledges and elevator pitch testimonies. Grace wasn’t in our vocabulary.”

 

 

 

Why My Stalker Was Never Arrested

After I wrote the first post in February about that whole stalking situation, I spent a good chunk of 2015 exploring that time of my life and trying to figure out how it could get so bad. I’ve done a lot of homework this year. I’ve dug into theological reasons (OMG, y’all, stay away from Christian Reconstructionists), cultural reasons (I’m so glad Y2K isn’t a thing anymore), and legal reasons. When people ask me about being stalked or make comments, usually they want to know about the legal reasons, so I wrote this post to explain that side of things.

“The activity in my case escalated very quickly from harassment to death threats. His attitude moved from wanting to have me to wanting to kill me in a matter of weeks.”

 

Funky Caves and Seasonal Depression

I get depressed every year around this time, though I don’t call it a depression. I say “I’m in a weird mood” or “I’m in a funk”.

It generally starts around Halloween and ends sometime in January or February, which really sucks since it stretches out over the entire holiday season. You try hiding out from stressful situations during the holiday season.

I don’t know if it’s because I’m from Texas and I’ve never psychologically acclimated to the snow and lack of sunlight we get up here in the winter.

Maybe it’s because every Fall I catch the cold that doesn’t end.

Maybe it’s because I’ve had rough Fall/Winter seasons in the past, and I just expect something terrible to happen around this time of year.

All I know is it pops up every year. Some years are easier than others. I had an extra rough time last year.

It’s a good idea to practice some self-care when you know you’re about to head into a depressive season.

So, what am I doing to prepare? Oh, you know, just writing about the most horrible things that have happened to me. Because that’s healthy.

At the beginning of Lent this past year, I decided to write a memoir (I know, it sounds too hoity-toity for me, but it’s basically just a short auto-biography of a specific time in a person’s life). I wrote over 30,000 words during Lent. I wrote every day I could physically write.

I pushed through neck spams, which led to those terrible headaches, which led to sprinting to the bathroom before I threw up on the floor, which led to days spent in bed.

I recklessly pushed through painful memories, which led to me throwing a Bible, and telling my kids I needed to change my shirt so they’d leave me alone in my room for five minutes so I could have a little cry, and calling my sister one night to cry about something that did not affect me at all.

I kept trying to write at the beginning of my kids’ summer break, and I finally snapped. There was no way I could sit in the kitchen and write about receiving death threats while my kids were pestering me for just one more handful of Ruffles. I decided the best way to preserve my sanity was to take the rest of the summer off.

It was such a good move.

In July, I read through what I’d written during Lent. It was just awful. It wasn’t even mediocre. The stuff I’m writing now is mediocre. The stuff from before? That shit was standing in the snow with threadbare mittens, staring in the window, hoping Mediocre would throw it a crust.

I know why it was so terrible. I was stressed out about what the people will think. I was writing too fast. I was pushing myself too hard. I was forcing myself to re-experience all of these emotions I’d spent a good half of my life stamping down. I expected myself to experience a billion different repressed emotions at the same time, and then write something beautiful.

By this time I was way too invested to just give up. So, I decided to completely scrap that first draft and start over.

But, first, I spent August binge-watching Doctor Who because I needed to get out of that pit and breathe for a while.

In the middle of August, I took a break from the Doctor and wrote one chapter of my second draft. This time, instead of starting at the beginning and diving straight into all that unpleasantness, I started at the end. I wrote about where I am now, compared to where I was then. The writing wasn’t great (it was still a first draft of this particular chapter), but holy crap was it better that the stuff I wrote during Lent.

After that, I took the rest of August off. I taught my kids how to play Go Fish and War. Then, I had a long talk with one of them about how to lose without causing a scene.

I wrote another chapter a couple of weeks after school started back up. And another chapter almost a week after that.

Some days, I sit down and I can crank out 3,000 words. Some days, I can handle 100. Some days, I can’t handle any.

I’ve given myself permission not to be a martyr to this project. If I’m not emotionally in a good place one day, I’ll skip writing. Or I’ll write about something else that’s not as emotionally demanding.

During Lent, someone suggested maybe I should stop writing if it was bothering me so much.

The thing is, yes, it bothers me sometimes. Sometimes it makes me feel defeated and traumatized all over again. But, sometimes it makes me feel victorious. Sometimes it feels like a song. Sometimes it feels like giving birth to myself (which honestly strikes me as more than a little creepy, but still). Sometimes it feels like a middle finger to the world, screaming, “You tried to take me down, but I’ll still here, bitch!”

My sister and I went cave exploring a few years ago. We only brought one flashlight with us, and of course, it went out when we were about halfway into the Ape Caves lava tube. Luckily, the tube is just a straight shot in or out, without any side passages to wander down. Writing my story is like that. It’s like walking down a dark tunnel, toward a light I know is there. I just have to move slowly, and try not to trip on my way out.

I think it’s a good idea to keep writing through this season of funk I’m heading into. The pain is going to be there no matter what, but you know what? It feels good to do something productive with the funk.

Maybe I’ll write everything down and just bury it in my drawer. Maybe I’ll try to get it published. I’m not going to worry about that right now. That’s the kind of pressure that helped trip me up last time. For right now, it just feels good be productive and use the pain instead of letting it use me.

Don't worry. We made it out of the cave.

Pictured: People who are not professional spelunkers. (Don’t worry. We made it out of the cave.)

 

We Tell Stories

Dad walks in and strides straight to the Commodore 128. He never changes out of his work clothes before dinner.

I’ve finally learned not to attack him the second he walks in the door, so I walk into my bedroom and shift the piles of papers under my nightstand for a couple of minutes, an eternity for a 9-year-old.

I pick up the piece of notebook paper that’s sitting on top of the stack. I pinch it at both top corners and hold it at arm’s length as I walk back toward the dining room. I don’t want to wrinkle it.

Ground beef sizzles in the kitchen.

I stand beside the heavy computer desk Dad built out of solid doors. He isn’t typing right now.

“I made you a book cover,” I say and hold out the paper.

It’s a rough drawing of an old, bearded man and a boy. The man sits on a log and has his mouth open while the boy sits on the ground, looking attentive. In balloon letters, I’ve written “The Grand Master of Lore” at the top.

He takes the picture.

“Do you want to use it?”

“It’s good. It really goes with the story. I might change the title, though.”

“I can erase that part and write it over again.”

He keeps the picture on his desk.

We are not a literary family.

There’s nothing special about us. Dad works in production and Mom stays home. We’re like every other family in this dusty, country town. We’re just as unwealthy and uncultured as anyone else around here. A little better off than some, a little worse off than others.

We are not a literary family.

Except, we are.

The room that should be our dining room is full of books. We call it the library. There’s no Tolstoy or Woolf here, but it’s still a potential avalanche of words.

We are not a literary family.

Yet, my mother writes poetry and my father writes fantasy. My bedtime stories are The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and The Iliad.

We have no pedigrees, no connections, no education.

We do have words, though.

We write down the things we’d never dare to say out loud. We transform ugly moments into lyrics that float. We can escape the mesquite trees and cracked mud to go anywhere we want. To any time we want. Nothing is too fantastical.

I don’t quite do that yet. I write about talking hippos and magical giraffes that escape from the zoo. I write poems about fat cats and apples.

I may be too little to ride these rapids, but I see how powerful they are. How powerful the people who learn how to navigate them are. I want to be part of that, even if it’s just drawing a book cover.

I want to be one of those people.

 

“Mommy, does your main character have any pets?”

I turn away from the monitor to answer my 9-year-old daughter. “I haven’t given her any.”

“I think she should have an alien dog as a pet.”

She knows just enough about the novel I’m working on to know my main character isn’t quite human. Though, an alien dog wouldn’t exactly work.

“Maybe,” I reply.

She leaves for a while and I try to re-focus after the interruption. I shouldn’t have tried to write while the kids were home.

She comes back a few minutes later, holding a sheet of copier paper in front of her. She presents it to me.

“I drew a dog for your character. See? It has bat wings. Do you like it?”

I laugh and she scowls at me. She thinks I’m making fun of her. I’m not.

“It’s good. It really goes with the story.”

Excerpt: One Year Later

August 2000

I loll somewhere between bored and buzzed. I’m lounging in the bed of a truck, waiting for Jill. I’m still living in the world of southern August nights, so I hadn’t anticipated the rapid temperature drop. I only have my grey pleather jacket, and it’s not enough.

Later, Jill and her mother will ferry me to a warehouse store to stock up on genuine Up North clothes. They’ll steer me through rows and rows of depressing Carhartts toward the discount hoodies and gloves and hats and no, I can’t imagine I’d ever need snow pants.

But for now, I’m freezing my bony ass off while Jill’s off in the woods with some guy. Meanwhile, I’m in the bed of a truck passing a bottle of Schnapps with her guy’s brother (who keeps bragging about his Britney Spears sunglasses) and a couple of other boys I can’t place.

They tease me for lighting a new cigarette with the end of my old one. I’m a chain smoker, they say. I don’t care. These repetitive actions harness all my nervous energy. Inhale, withdraw, exhale, flick.

I doze off and wake up to someone moving near me. I keep my eyes shut and repeat the mental mantra, “Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!” I’m in the middle of the woods with a girl I met two days ago and a group of drunk boys whose names I didn’t even catch.

There are no safe places. There are no safe people. I already know this.

A coat falls over me and one of the boys moves back to his end of the truck bed. “What?” he asks whoever’s snickering, “She was shaking.”

I pretend to sleep until Jill returns. I’ll cry over this later as I try to process why anyone would give when they could so easily take. And it’s so, so easy to take when everything valuable has already been taken. What do I care if someone scavenges the few crumbs of myself that are scattered in the dirt?

Instead of devouring what little is left, he gives me the coat off his back, which is more kindness than anyone has shown me over the past year.

Jill and I see the boys a few days later on campus. I try to figure out who had covered me up. I don’t have any luck, but whoever it was has earned a loyal friend in me. That’s all it takes to earn my loyalty these days. Just don’t rape me and we’ll be BFFs for life.

 

This is a short excerpt from a work-in-progress. I would appreciate any feedback (positive or negative).

Purpose in Memory

“The worst part of holding the memories is not the pain. It’s the loneliness of it. Memories need to be shared.” – Lois Lowry, The Giver

I’ve been thinking a lot about purpose lately. I believe that everyone has some path in life they’re meant to follow. I can’t even begin to justify my belief and I won’t offer an apologetic for it here. It isn’t a “God has a purpose for you” kind of thing. I’ve always believed this, and I’ve always struggled with the idea that I’m not doing what I’m supposed to be doing.

All of our lives revolve around a theme. Maybe you call it a passion or a calling, but it’s all the same. When you evaluate your life, what overarching theme do you see?

I always thought my theme was helping others. But, how? I’m not exactly a “people person”. When I laid my life out in front of me and really looked, I saw something different.

I remember. That’s the theme of my life. I remember.

It’s why I’ve always loved genealogy. It’s a little like resurrecting the dead and forgotten.

It’s why I love history, hoard old photos, and can’t get enough of listening to people’s stories.

It’s why I write.

About fourteen years ago I was driving down to Kansas by myself. I stopped at some outlet bookstore and bought several books on tape from the clearance table. The Giver was one of them.

In one scene, Jonas becomes angry with some boys who are playing war. Jonas had just been given the memory of what war had been like. The rest of his community has forgotten. They’ve forgotten what it’s like to be hungry or to suffer. In the process of blocking out these memories, they’ve also forgotten how to love.

I’ve gotten some advice over the years from well-meaning people. Forget the past. Live in the present. Focus on the future. Always, always, always march toward the horizon and never look back.

My Facebook feed gets flooded with similar statements in pretty fonts. Forget the bad. Forget what came before. Stop thinking about yesterday and live for today.

Why does it have to be one or the other? Why can’t we continue moving forward while carrying our memories with us?

I’ve tried to forget. I’ve told myself, “Suck it up, buttercup. Move on.” It was a crime against my own nature. It didn’t work. It left a path of destruction in my life, and I regrettably touched others with some of that. I went around whining, “I’m not doing what I’m supposed to be doing” for years, and I was right. I’d cut myself off from what defines me most.

Forgetting my past didn’t work because there’s no giant eraser we can tackle the past with. Just because you aren’t actively looking at something doesn’t mean it isn’t still there, hovering behind you all the time.

I’m not saying it’s healthy to dwell in the past. But, we don’t have to completely ignore it either. There are lessons to be learned as well as people and events that shouldn’t be forgotten.

I’ll be honest. I was afraid of going back there. OK, so it was more a mix of fear and anger and shame that kept me from looking back for so long. Sometimes we see our past as some labyrinth-like cavern with a creaky sign that says “THE PAST” scrawled out in blood. We don’t want to get lost down those twisting passages, with no light to find our way back out. What if we get stuck down there with the boogeyman of our past emotional states?

When I started spelunking through my life, I expected a difficult trek. And some of it was. But, I came to so many places I’d been afraid of that weren’t nearly as bad as I’d made them out to be. I even found a lot of spots that were pretty fun to climb through and (dare I admit) made me laugh. And in some tight places I found something I really didn’t expect to find buried down there. I found some forgiveness—for others as well as for myself.

Like Jonas’ community, I’d cut myself off from some of the pain, but in doing so I’d cut myself off from all of the good stuff as well. There are some pretty awesome people and memories hiding out in my past, even some pretty great memories of people who hurt me later on. For me, losing all the good isn’t worth being able to block out the bad.

That might not be the case with you. Maybe you’re afraid of climbing around in your own past. I can understand why some people wouldn’t want to risk it. But, you have to understand there’s no such thing as my past and your past. All of our caverns intersect at various points along the way. In many ways, we own a shared past.

So, maybe that’s my purpose. Maybe that’s how I’m supposed to help other people. Maybe I’m supposed to remember some things for all of us. Because none of us should be forgotten. Because we can’t let our communities sacrifice beauty and love to block out our painful memories.

 

Writing About Uncomfortable Things

“A priest once asked me a very smart question, which I’ve yet to answer, or have only answered in small increments: What would you write if you weren’t afraid?” – Mary Karr

I recently came across this quote from poet and memoirist, Mary Karr. It was close to midnight, the only time my house is quiet enough to think. I rummaged around in the stack of crap beside my computer and found my notebook. At the top of a clean page, I wrote “What would you write if you weren’t afraid?” and started a bulleted list.

When I ran out of steam, I reviewed my lengthy list and realized I’m afraid of everything.

I don’t lack material. I lack courage.

Relaying facts doesn’t usually bother me. I’m not so open about what it was like though. I’ve always held that close to my chest, leaking out just enough anger and pain language to let people know I’m not actually a robot. Even saying, “it hurt” or “I was happy” is such a cop out because life is always so much more complicated than that.

But, good God, if I write honestly what will people think? (That I’m unhinged, probably.)

I’m mostly afraid of writing things that would make other people uncomfortable. They’re important words—foundational even—but we’re all supposed to pretend our mistakes and messes never happened. That’s the polite thing to do, right?

But how can you say “this is who I am” without saying “this is what I did”?

And I’ve done some messed up shit.

But why oh why would you ever write about those things, Kristy?

Because it’s the truth. Because without those things I’m presenting an incomplete picture. Because whether I write about it publicly or not, those things still happened.

That foolish, reckless, selfish, impulsive, pigheaded, injudicious, impatient girl, they’ll say.

She’s just trying to shock. She’s just stirring the pot. She’s just being rebellious. She’s just [insert motivation here].

I guess they can say what they want, just like I can go on ahead and write things that make them uncomfortable.

And we can all just deal with it.