The haunted house – Part II

One of the small doors which led from my bedroom into the storage space beyond the curtain wall had been left hanging open about three inches. Again, a foreboding presence pressed fear into me, imprinting it on my brain like a brand on a calf’s skin. I could never decide whether to stare at that blank line of darkness or to look away, pretending it wasn’t there, so I alternated techniques. Staring at the space invited more fear. Looking away simply moved the fear into my imagination.

The fear and dread never abated over the years I slept in the attic. They grew worse with time until they seeped into my dreams, leaving me with nightmares I couldn’t distinguish after a while from the reality of living in that dark room.

Possessed things–animals and humans both–entered my dreams and stalked me relentlessly with their slack jaws and empty eyes. There were times I got so tired of fighting that I longed to just lie down and let them take me. Dreams of haunted buildings became fixtures of my sleep.

Many times I woke up only to see clumps of clothes on my floor and illuminated by moonlight or starlight transformed into dead animals slowing being reanimated. Sometimes I dreamed I woke up and, relieved, would begin to get out of bed only to find my nightmares being reiterated in what otherwise looked like “normal” life. I fought to wake up. I failed.

Meanwhile, Sunny developed night terrors. At unpredictable intervals she would sit bolt upright in bed and emit prolonged, blood-curdling screams.

Without understanding how, I knew the terror emanated from behind one of the curtained-off walls–the western one. I even knew in what portion of that dark area the evil dwelled. I dreamed of it–saw foul power oozing from that area and attacking me and my family.

For a suspenseful read, you can purchase my novel Sage Courage in print or ebook at Amazon.com.

The haunted house – Part I

The farm house stood mostly straight but the wind blew right through the north walls during the bitter, humid Ozark winters. We arrived at the twenty acre farm when I was six. The parents started remodeling the rotted-through, creaking place from the first day.

My brother Steve and I went up the bare stairs to explore. My sister, Sunny, was only two years old and stayed with mom. The attic reeked of disuse. Its unfinished walls and ceiling were dusted with cobwebs and someone had tacked sheets of styrofoam to the ceiling joists. Several of these styrofoam rectangles had come partially untacked and leaned down into the room.

Another owner had built curtain walls so the slope of the roof line ended abruptly at about four feet, leaving long, triangular spaces running invisible beyond the scope of the living space.

We stared around. I tried to put a brave face on it as I wanted my own bedroom but it didn’t work. After thirty seconds or so, my brother and I simultaneously felt a threatening presence billowing into the room. We screamed and bolted for the stairs, not stopping even when we got to the main floor, not stopping until we found mom and touched her like she were home base.

Mom shook her head and assured us there was nothing to fear. Dad, the handiest handy man around, finished the stud walls and ceiling with Sheetrock and tape and mud and the bare plywood floor got covered with carpeting. I watched the furnishings being carted up the stairs with dread and explained to my mother I was fine sleeping in the living room. This was not an effective ploy. That night, after dark, we went upstairs. Mom tucked us in and prayed with us.

The attic was not wired for electricity so an extension cord ran from the lamp, across the room, and down the stairs to an outlet on the main floor. Mom left and I waited in rigid silence until the light went out when she unplugged the extension cord. There would be no relief until morning.

For a good read, you can purchase my novel Sage Courage in print or ebook at Amazon.com.

Dementia

Laughter cannot stop it
Love does not slow it
We tried grief, a sense of betrayal–
We raged.

Still, everything we held precious grew porous
The edges slipped away
Scrabbling for purchase, we forgot

Memory, the ephemeral of which we are composed
That beloved dog’s name

The dog herself
Our fifties–never before remarkable
Retreating through the past

Erasing as the marker moved back
Identity disintegrates

Spouse and children ghosts
No names

Pull away
Apart
Where is
No


Photo copyright Hold Fast Photography 2016

A tale of true terror


So it’s Monday and I’ve promised myself to post a blog once a week and Sunday is The Day and it came and went (I have excuses, I promise!) and now it is Monday and after an extended period of navel gazing I have come up with a whole lot of Not Much on my mind.

Good. That’s over with. I had this insane urge to write a really good run-on sentence so now we can get down to it. I’m afraid of marketing. Well, that’s not strictly true. Let’s try it again. I am terrified of marketing. Closer. One more go. If given a choice between marketing and, say, a stint at Guantanamo Bay… You get the idea.

I read an article that really hit home a few years ago. Following an intensive Google search just now, I cannot find the article (frustrating!) but I’ll summarize. The commentator said one of the biggest differences between the iPad and Kindle Fire was that when the iPad was launched Steve Jobs did this huge, glitzy unveiling to a wowed audience while the Kindle guy (no idea of his name) muttered, “Here, take this,” and threw a couple Kindles at the crowd while failing to make eye contact.

I identify with Kindle Guy. Every cell in my body is urging me to secretly publish my novel “Sage Courage” and then run and hide. My body cells may not be as wise, however, as the synergistic output of my brain which tells me I should look into telling people about my novel and explaining to them why they would like to buy it.

My fingers have frozen. I find myself looking out into space and picking at some dead skin on my arm. And all because this was the paragraph where I was going to tell you, Dear Reader, about what I wrote.

Deep breaths. You can do this, Heather.

I wrote this nifty horror novel called “Sage Courage.” My faithful pre-readers have dubbed it a page turner, enjoyable, loved it, etc. Seriously. I had one reader tear through it in one sitting and come up for air (and food) only after the last page.

This paragon of entertainment will be available in Amazon in ebook and print formats August 16, 2016. Like, next week. 

Now I’m going to go throw up a little.

On lists: Resizing the ego


Every morning excepting Shabbat I write a list. The lists are, without exception, ridiculous. Take for instance this morning:

Water spider
Curate library
Blog
Walk dogs
Pay bills/budget
Paperwork
Format novel for publication
Critique story
Journal
Free write
Write on current novel
Job ap
Paint trim
Meditate
Solicit reviews
Work on marketing

As can be seen at a glance, this is not all going to get done today. My tradition is to work all day after writing my list and then castigate myself at the end of the day for not getting the whole thing done.

I am going to propose a theorem: Self-castigation for failing to do the impossible is not a recipe for success.

And a corollary: Assigning oneself impossible goals is a failure of the ego.

I am not a literary Evil Knievel, jumping my motorcycle of concepts over the Grand Canyon. I am not a Hercules of lifestyle, able to clean out the Augean Stables of my life in one day. So why do I write lists which assume I can or should?

Yesterday I was reading my Siddur and came across a blessing for “releasing the bound.” Immediately I wondered what binds me. The question invited the answer. My ego binds me. My assumption that I either can or should accomplish the impossible every day is egoic.

What is the effect of trying to accomplish the impossible every day, the threat of self-castigation hanging over me at every turn? It is a diminishing of my energy. I spend valuable resources on setting impossible goals and then hating on myself when I fail.

What if I spent all that energy on being happily productive, I wonder. With the thought, my spirits lift and I feel renewed purpose.

We have circled back to Buddhism, the spiritual tool for ego-reduction. I’m off to meditate. But first, I believe I will water the spider.

Rage against the machine, O lilies

No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon…And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. –Matthew 6:24, 28-29

“Hello, my name is Heather,” I used to say many times a day, “and I’m a nurse with your insurance company. I’m calling to see if you’re doing better following your stay in the hospital.”

My introduction completed, I would eel my way into a conversation about my client’s health and begin to identify problem areas to be addressed. I sat at my desk in my home office and listened, asked targeted questions, and finally provided education and direction.

“That’s something you should call your doctor about immediately,” I would say to one man. “It would be better to take your blood pressure medications after your dialysis treatment,” I explained to another client. For another, I would teach about the importance of gentle, daily exercise and frequent hand washing for chronic lung disease.

The theory underlying this occupation is elegant and, at least on its face, an excellent example of the capitalist concept that financial constraints can drive moral solutions.

First, the problem. Profit margin for health insurance companies is dependent on the health of the insured population. In any population, acute and chronic illnesses will require health care expenditures. However, there is a statistical difference in the amount of money required to pay for a bunch of sick people who are “compliant” with health care directions and a similar bunch of people who don’t understand how or aren’t motivated to care for their health.

The market-driven solution is to provide expert education and support to sick people. Advice and a helping hand cut costs.

The long and short of it is I was a very good nurse to my clients at this, my last job. Also I was a lousy employee. There was a time during the span of my position when the productivity requirements made by my bosses became impossible to meet. Or–perhaps not impossible. It would be more fair for me to say the demands of administration conflicted with my ability to do what I thought was best for my patients.

I experienced a period of despair. I needed this job. It paid well and it allowed me to stay home with my brood of teenagers with their predilection for drama and danger. Following despair came fear and with fear the flight/fight instinct kicked in.

My “solution” was simple. I would continue to provide each of my client-patients with the best I had to offer and ignore productivity expectations for as long as my company would keep paying me. In the recesses of my rebellious mind and in the crevices of my proletarian heart I rejoiced to “stick it to the man.”

In retrospect, I see every lengthy encounter with a client, every time I made six calls to advocate for someone instead of one, every time I raised my middle finger in the direction of “productivity,” I deepened the grubby hole where others could bury my career.

In the proud tradition of Don Quixote and Vladimir Lenin, I chose to joust with the capitalist windmills. My patients loved me. I made a difference in a lot of lives. At least once a day I said something or made a call which facilitated better health for a client. In the meantime I’m sure my supervisors noticed my distinct lack of interest in the finer points of the art of volume.

In March of this year my care management company failed to win a contract renewal with the insurer. By late May the new company had hired most of my coworkers while choosing to decline my services. On the first of July I became officially unemployed.

Over the last few weeks I have discovered that more of my self-image was based on having a job than I thought. I have become depressed. I have concluded my normal self-confidence was just a clever ruse to cover up my basic inability to be a “good worker.”

I cannot argue I was ever a bad nurse to my patients at any of my jobs ever. But I do see a bit of a pattern of defiance against administration when the chips come down.

Currently a few shocks are running through my brain in parallel. I have fully realized there is a stark difference between being a good nurse and being a good employee. Damning evidence has emerged that the Democratic National Committee rigged the primary. And I’m reading Russell Brand’s book “Revolution.” You, dear reader, are smart enough to see where this is going so I’ll stop ranting and end with a question: When did doing the right thing get subsumed under the financial bottom line?

Insanity and blame

It takes a strong brain to go on. I blame myself for being depressed. I blame myself for falling through the rabbit holes in my consciousness and finding myself in moods which don’t much mirror reality. How does one describe the taste of blue?
Some aspects of my consciousness are unavoidable. Some aspects are optional. Sorting my states and impressions into those two piles is the work of a lifetime.
I’ll make a proposition based on the statements in the first paragraph: depression and alterations in perception are unavoidable. Spending my precious energy on blaming myself is optional.

It takes a strong brain to go on. I’ll not weaken myself today with optional negativity.