Welcome to Hereabouts!

“You think there’s more to the story?”

“The story, no. Stories are always simple. The truth, that takes work.”


Welcome to Hereabouts, home to Westfall, A Queen’s Ransom, and Ivan the Brave.

Long Reads

Westfall – Ever have one of those dreams you can’t get out of your head? Ever have an immortal faerie king take over your life? 18-year-old Rose plans to do something about it. (Warnings: violence and violent deaths, some sexual references and language, politics)

Quick Looks

Short Stories – Shorter works with rhythm, rhyme, and occasionally reason. (TV-PG)

Poems & Songs – Verse and rhyme in both fiction and memoir. (TV-PG)

The Real Life Personal journals on writing and life. (TV-PG)

Scripts & Screenplays

A Queen’s Ransom A trickster princess disguises herself as a traveling harper to save both her fiance and the kingdom from a tyrannical father’s last request. (Warnings: fantasy violence, some adult themes, death)

Ivan the Brave – In this tale about faults, family, and forgiveness, a simple prince faces off against a cunning sorcerer to save his mother and a princess from the Underworld. (Warnings: fantasy violence, death)

The Midnight Dance – With the fate of their home hanging in the balance, two unlikely detectives travel to a distant kingdom, where the king offers reward to any who can tell him why his daughters’ shoes wear out overnight. He’ll also readily dole out death if they fail. Is this a conspiracy of cobblers or something more sinister? (Warnings: fantasy violence, death, manipulation)

Other Musings

Thereabouts – Cabin fever, but stuck wandering the web? Check out my writer’s blog on Weebly.


Images by Pixabay and Unsplash

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Bags: A Train of Thought Exercise

I leave my mind in bed most days. She’ll catch up to me around noon.

(Why must school begin in the morning when the mind is still asleep? Better not to question the source of wages.)

I have become a lady of luggage, a bearer of bags. Like my mothers before me. An inordinate number of tote bags are mine—inordinate if there were anything not ordinary about owning so many tote bags in one’s thirties that the closet has it’s own space for them. In that space is another bag, a bag for all the bags.

You, dear reader, might not be there yet, but you can see it coming, tote by tote, can’t you? The bags, they mean you’re settling.

Settling can be unsettling. Settling too—You can feel yourself filling the corners at last, putting the suitcase away. The space in the closet for the suitcase is just behind the bags.

But I have become a lady of luggage in other ways, me with my totes and my backpacks and all my other bags.

For one thing, it’s never one thing. Never one bag, that is. Sometimes it seems so, but in that one bag? Another bag. And in that bag a small pouch for coins (a pouch is another bag). Folded with it is a bag to save the sea after grocery shopping, a bag to hold the notes for work, a bag for the pictures, and the cards, and the CDs—these last ones for work. Each night before a workday, when my mind’s finally awake, I arrange the bags, bag by bag, thought by thought.

My work is running. In place sometimes. My work is clowning. Without the nose. I teach smaller versions of the rest of the world, but only the good things. Only what’s in the bag I’ve brought for them: The world in bite-size pieces, all of them sweet and candy-colored and fun to sing and say. It’s important at that age.

The bag for lunch break stays in the office. There is food and money and money for food. The bag for after work stays in the office. Sometimes it sits at home in the stairwell instead, just inside the door, because there must be a shower first (my work is calisthenics some days).

On foot, by bike, by train, by car—the wheels especially help carry so many bags. So many necessary things, all kept separate but together, all with me.

The candy-colored songs and stories for the small ones are good for me too. I can’t carry the bags of burdens all the time. I have to put something down to make room. And when I come home, I leave the bags at the door and clean up before I look at them. Then I get back to them, unpack them, one by one.

With this age and this new epithet, I’ve started to place my problems in bags. It’s part of my puzzle-piece self. “This goes here,” so it can fit. At home everything has its place. It’s allowed to move, even leave with me, but only with me.

And what if I leave it somewhere—somewhere out there especially? It happened this week. A CD left in the player I had to go back to. I’d lost a piece of myself. I could feel the weight missing.

Necessity calls for it, the risk of losing a bit of the self to keep the self going, because we all have to go out sometimes. We can’t leave everything locked behind a door.

My other half has made an office of his car. Midnight he’ll remember, some file he had to fax, and he’ll go out and pop the kei car trunk (narrow as a filing cabinet, it’s perfect). He’ll hold his phone high as a flashlight, skip and hopscotch fingers over cards and files (counting, or humming the song he’s searching for). He doesn’t mind putting it all out there, neatly in rows behind the back seat (sometimes across that too). I wonder if anyone stops to admire it, a well-ordered office in a car. He works so many places—a full-time job but in parts—so it must be this way. Daydreamer, keeper, collector, but he’s neat when he must be, neat for others. Nothing’s neat in the apartment. In his safe space he sprawls, as he should.

But I snatch a stray page off the backseat as we pull up to the mall. Just a receipt. It goes in a pocket. (A pocket is another kind of bag. Even clothes are a kind of bag.) It’s just groceries. Nothing shameful. (I remind myself a bar of chocolate now and then is not shameful.) But I’ve always been like this, like my mother, private.

Perhaps that’s the heritage of the luggage collectors. We could put it all in one place. We could let it mix, just remember, “It’s in there somewhere,” and take it with us. But privacy is valuable, even in public. Personal privacy, that is. What if, I ask myself, I need something and my hands are full (of more bags, suppose), and so what if I have to ask someone, “Could you get such-and-such? It’s in the bag with the stripes” (or the one with the spots, or the black one with two zippers, or the red one but in the outside pocket). Maybe I don’t like what they’d see digging, or don’t like that they’d see. Maybe that’s why our bags get decorative: “Look at the outside! Lovely, yes? The inside is surely the same. Don’t look in!”

It’s a strange shame. Not shameful, of course, but I’ve seen bits and pieces. I see them all the time. I put them together. I make a brain for myself in my apartment. I make a story from what I see in the world. I make the wrong story sometimes. I know I do, and I try not to make the pieces of others into anything without asking. But I often fear others will, and I fear what they’ll do, with these stories in their heads I’ve never seen, never been.

(I’ve been in the past, hurt by assumption. It’s part of the puzzle of being human. I’ve shared bags too, lent space, had them torn, some parts stolen, treasures lost. It has to happen at least once before thirty. I’ll be okay. So will you.)

But that is why these private bits of me, pulled from the puzzle, traveling with me to the outside, too precious to lose, to private to show, too wrapped in Matryoshka layers of caution—this is why they all go into bags. The bags might get worn and scuffed and shapeless, not so neat as the boxes and shelves of my puzzle-piece world at home, but they can stay.

A few years ago, lost in a grocery store, I was adopted by a Japanese woman. She told me over dinner, a hot pot, that I was born in the year of the ox. The ox is strong, walks straight, and pulls burdens. I would feel naked, she can bet, without my bag. I don’t believe in the Zodiac, but I believe the truth when I hear it, so that day we agreed: Not that I’ve minded the rarity of going out to ride a bicycle with a back unbent (I’ve had back trouble for time immemorial), but it does feel strange, feeling light when the weight is just my own. I unconsciously take on burdens. Ox-like (domestic?) or Bull-like (stubborn), because I’m feel sheltered, even happy carrying something.

Our conversation wanders over different dishes. Santa Claus is popular in Japan. The subtle reasons why? He looks like Hotei, a god of fortune. He carries a sack, loves to laugh, brings gifts.

Others gods of fortune do too. She tells me about Yebisu, deaf god of fishers and jolly mascot of beer. (The kana for “ye” is nigh obsolete. In modern Japanese it’s pronounced “e” but some ears remember.) Yebisu carries the seabream (mascot of the first town I lived in this side of the Pacific). This one is red. He has no legs but has a boat, and he’s honest. I have no boat yet, but often bad knees.

Her point is, not all bags are burdens.

I think this job is good for me, the one that brings candy-colors and juggling to bright places and makes the fresher faces of the world laugh. The shape of me includes my baggage: I cover and carry and keep; but not every parcel borne needs be a burden.

You have 10 seconds…

You have been blessed/cursed/saddled with the ability to see a million universes at once, but only you in them. So you can affect the immediately future, choose which universe to exist in, at any time, based on these choices. You’ve had this ability all your life. You’ve gotten used to it and it hasn’t driven you insane (yet).

You’re not the only one either. There are whole schools, monastery-type places where people go to be alone with themselves and a few others. They train themselves in self-study. They study history, politics, psychology. They’re called upon by world leaders and scientists, safety valves. They can tell what will happen in 10 seconds (what could happen, that is) in their immediate surroundings. It’s overwhelming to be outside the monastery, but some students have the knack for it. Others find a wood cabin somewhere and turn their backs on the world. It’s quieter.

Not you though. You want to do something with your life. You have no idea what, of course. Sometimes the stuff you see is pretty terrifying. You can die in other universes even, but that line will just sort of blip out. You learn to watch for the blips, to not make the choice that kills you. When you sleep, you dream of universes where you’re still awake. Sometimes there are people in the other universes. The ones you like, you look out for in your own universe. The ones you don’t, you avoid as best you can. If you’re lucky you’ll never meet them in this one.

But it’s dangerous, being what you are, being “out there” among the people. After all, you’re valuable. And the ones who want your help don’t always ask nicely. After all, if they punish you, you get to know pain in a million worlds, fear a million different outcomes. Still, you have some advantage. You can see exactly one step ahead, so long as it’s a ten-second step.

You don’t know what will happen at the end of things. Are there threads of this strange weaving that will end in old age? Still, you want to do something. You wonder if there’s a you somewhere raised to not care, just as petty or selfish as you feel brave and altruistic. What if you become that person? You try not to listen to the doubts.

And one day, one day after a month of lonely wandering, you run into someone going the same way and, well, they seem to know your every move before you do, but you can read them too. You begin to wonder, are they anything like you?

What happens next?

Words: A Train of Thought Exercise

Use your words.

Kindergarten. Ready to scream. I know I’m right. Four years on the planet, but I’m right. I read books. No one else does. They can barely say the ABCs. ABCs are boring. Where’s the Gray Squirrel? Let’s sing that one. It has the word swish in it. That’s a word that needs examining. Like sweep and switch and swing. There’s something about swish that needs cataloging. But for now, you need to know that I’m right and someone is wrong.

Use your words. 

Nicholas put his pencil in the can point up. I hurt my hand. Do something. He did it wrong and I hurt my hand! Your words are better than mine. Make it right!

Nine years later, my mother teases me. “Nicholas, do you remember him?” I lean over her shoulder and peer at the photo album. (Back then we still had photo albums.) “You had a crush on him,” she says.

I distinctly remember mutual loathing.

~~~

Use your words.

I don’t have words for this. I don’t have words for the fear that makes my fist. I don’t have words for my brothers who run around making noise, while my mother is simmering, simmering and building pressure. Soon she’ll explode. I don’t have words for this. I don’t have words for why I hit first.

“If you’re angry, use your words.”

I don’t have words to say I don’t have words for this.

~~~

Use your words. 

I have notebooks and notebooks and drain a pen a week. I write stories. I read them aloud. They are my words, borrowed from others and rearranged. I read to my brothers. We’re better now. The anger was wrong. I was wrong. Now we’re better. I find the words I know will make them laugh. I’m better at words, but I don’t have them all yet. I’m storing them in these pages.

I have a notebook for school. (It’s set straight on the table in each class. Pen and highlighter beside it. Not the pen I drain each week. Not the pen that’s really mine.) I have a notebook and a folder and a binder of loose-leaf paper. I have a textbook, sometimes two, for each class. On my lap I have my notebook. I have my pen. I have a backpack full of books I’m reading. I’m not sure which it will be today, so I brought them all.

“What do you think?”

I raise my hand first. If I answer first, I won’t be called again. I can get back to my words. They’re about far-off kingdoms and traveling alone, but with friends in the end. And there’s a villain. He’s evil ’cause I said so. He has minions: a dragon, an army, a woman who looks like the protagonist only evil. She’s in every story. I’m trying to find one without her.

“Your stories are so good. Write me one!”

I write my first fan fiction without realizing what it is. It’s not for me. It’s for a friend. She wanted one to tell her about the loner, the outcast, the one who’d be redeemed.

~~~

Use your words.

I don’t have words for this.

“He keeps saying I should lose weight.”

“Maybe he wants you to be healthy?” Not my words. But I don’t have words for this. It’s what my mother would have said. These words feel wrong. They don’t work.

So she starts crying and I tell her she’s loved despite rather than because. That’s a mistake. I’m no good at this. I don’t have the right words yet. I don’t know how to say “Ditch him. He’s toxic.”

She gets scared of demons sometimes. I play a flute and trip down the hallways and scare them away. I don’t need words. I have feelings. We meet at those places sometimes.

But I wish I had words.

~~~

Use your words.

I don’t have words for this.

“Happy birthday.”

I don’t want the hug but he gives it. I don’t want the flowers either.

She says, later, “He bought flowers for you?”

“I don’t want to date him.”

“Then why did you take the flowers?”

I didn’t know how to say no. I don’t have words for this. He says we’re friends. Says he’s waiting. (We’re not friends. He’s not waiting. He keeps visiting, giving, reaching.)

My real friend, the one I’m bad at helping, is good at language, but not her own. Good at helping too.

She beats him up where I can’t see. Calls his mom. Sends him home. Like he isn’t twenty-three.

~~~

Use your words.

Use your words.

I don’t have words. I borrow them.

I am not a creator. I am not a nurturer. I can’t put my hands in dark soil and make life. I can’t coax the leaves to the sun. Every story told is just a retelling. A rephrasing, rearranging. All writing, I’m told, is like that. It’s hard to believe. Books seem like miracles. I horde them, even the ones I don’t like, like saints’ knuckle bones.

~~~

And what am I?

I’m a puzzlepiece person. (A side effect of feeling you never fit is to make things fit.) Find the thing. Find the space. Believe it will fit and it will. Turn the world around you around in your head. Here, no here, no here, no there. Move this, stack that, rearrange those. There. There would work, but it needs something. So you buy a basket, a shelf, a hook, a frame. It’s not a frivolous expense. You fill a bag at the dollar store with plastic to build schema outside your head because you have trouble keeping the ones inside it. It’s not frivolous. It’s necessity. It needs to fit or it can’t stay. You turn around when you’re done and feel calm. Everything’s fine now. I can think. I know where things are and I know where I am.

A place for each thing. Everything in its place. You have to believe there’s a place. That’s the only way you find it. It won’t exist if you don’t.

~~~

I am learning (slowly) to find the words. To make the words I can’t find. To pick up the scraps and fit them together. What is an eddy? What is a stone? A stone in the eddies. I like the sound. A stone in the rush of the water. Wearing away? Wearing smooth. No rough edges. Cool, unmoving. A place for everything. Everything in its place. Can I be as sturdy as that stone?

I use my words to find my places and things. People are harder than places. People are harder than things. You can’t make people fit. You can’t make them do anything. They don’t have measure, nor weight, not by the usual standards. Some do sit heavy, like stones in the gut, when they come around. Anchors.

I don’t move much when they come. If I can’t leave the room, I won’t move at all, won’t think, won’t write, just wait for them to leave. My thoughts are pressed up in the corners, on the shelves, with the books. My brain mimics the space. There’s not enough space to think ’til they go. I call it my cave.

I was a wreck when we moved to the new apartment.

We. That is, me and the daydreamer. Problem-solver. Born teacher in the wrong body, he complains. “No one hires men to teach kids.” Brokenhearted daydreamer. Is there a sadder thing? I’ll believe for us both: Someday the world will let children believe men care about them too. Someday he’ll find work as more than a foreign tutor, more than a local CSR. Dreamer day and night. I’ll write them down, all those dreams, won’t let them die.

“What’s wrong? Can I help?”

Also: Dragon-slayer, storyteller, lion tamer, the storeroom of hugs and quiet days with books and trickster heroes we watch safely from afar. Kids love him. Bright-eyed, bristle-beard man, tall as a tree, thin but for the middle, perfect place for a pillow. (Everything in its place. My head on your stomach, a book in your hands. Another in mine.) Improviser. Innovator. 

But he can’t help. His world is in his head, nebulous, numinous, the thoughts of this monk with a keyboard and a cane. A world of words and names and stories. He is the clutterbug. Five things will fill his desktop. The sixth is lost three inches away. I find it for him. Rearrange everything in neat little lines. Next week item three will be lost, six inches to the left. His world has dark soil in red-brown pots and green leaves reaching for the sun. It’s wild. Wild things don’t stay where they’re told.

But my world?

My words were all packed up in boxes and uprooted from the floor. Pillars have shifted. The roof sags. Too much space. No props for thoughts. No shelving. Nothing to mount a frame to. Falling without a parachute. Falling while sitting on the ground. How do you explain that? Use your words when they’re packed away?

“What’s wrong? Can I help?”

I say, “I don’t know.” I usually say, “I don’t know.” What I mean is, “I don’t have the words. I can’t borrow any. My books, my music, my movies—the places where all my favorite words fit—they’re too far away. Raw feelings ache and throb and sting. If you touch me, I’ll shriek.”

~~~

We move and there is a new apartment. I hang curtains the first day, start building the walls of my new mind.

Outside, I plan my paths carefully. Words are important now more than ever. I make lists before I leave the house. Another country. Every eventuality. A trip to the store? A list. An errand? A list. Somewhere new? A list. And if something unplanned happens, I go mute. “What are you doing here?” is easy to understand, shouted in any language. Hatred is easy to understand. Anger. I don’t have the words even in my own language. How can I answer? I don’t. The glare storms on and forgets it never asked my name.

In a way, it’s a relief, living here, where the words are different. I can look for the words that match in the little book I carry, in the app on my phone, by chance on a sign. There’s some reprieve when I meet someone who tests the waters, tries to speak, learns the words I know, uses those words, adds a few more, a little at a time: A teacher.

A teacher with a book: the first impression on my schoolchild mind. Forget the pencil and the atrocity of four-year-old Nicholas. I don’t know anything anymore. Just give me a teacher and I’ll be fine.