Posted in writing

The 2020 Sailor’s “Gam”

As a kid I often imagined my bedroom into a boat. I planned to sail away in solitude and self-sufficiency…

I would stockpile “important” things in my room—often things I wasn’t allowed to have in my room (food!)—in preparation for my imaginary cast-off, and I would invest quite a lot of thought into (and derive quite a lot of pleasure from) this made-up scenario of having everything I wanted within reach at once. Before the word “Prepper” was even invented, I was practicing it with my play.

Fast-forward some decades, and I get to play “Boat” for real. Setting aside for a moment the horrifying reason why FOUR BILLION people are Playing Boat, I’m kind of acting out a kid-fantasy here. And—Bonus!—the invention of the Internet in the interim makes it even easier to “nest” contentedly in my home.

I feel that same sense of harbored hideaway–though the “important” items have shifted in form.

Forty years ago I was curating a different set of belongings, a different perspective of priorities–though with some definite overlaps. Back then I gathered up my teddy bear Toots, my blanket Pinky, my Nancy Drew collection, my diary, “Mr. Sketch” scented markers, flashlight and sleeping bag, Fisher-Price medical kit, a Triple-A “triptic” flip-book of maps, the contraband snacks… The Lutheran hymnal (filched from my parents’ shelf under the misapprehension that this was the “holy-and-important” church-book)…

My Kodak Instamatic camera and our Fisher Price tape-recorder (because even though I didn’t yet know the word “journalist,” I wanted to document my expedition)…

And stationery. I intended to write home.

Why am I reminiscing about this? Because suddenly we are living in the 2020 Pandemic, and we are SUPPOSED to Play Boat, all of us. Stock up with whatever you consider “essentials” and stay self-sufficient while hunkering down at home. We “go ashore” to provision (properly masked, gloved, wiped, and sanitized) and then we stay aboard our own boats. With only our own shipmates.

Toilet-paper jokes abound: this has been THE “panic purchase.” Inexplicably.

(By the way, that plaque was in my bathroom before the Great TP Privation of 2020. Just think: we can tell our awe-struck grandkids how toilet paper used to be so expendable we’d festoon teachers’ whole yards with it!)

Fortunately, I do have TP. And coffee. And laundry soap, eggs, deodorant, coffee creamer, kitty litter, prescription meds. Mini “Cutie” oranges. We haven’t been to the grocery store for more than two weeks, so the bananas are gone. And I’m out of Diet Dr. Pepper.

But we do have a new electric teapot, and we’re trying different teas. We have two-player games. I walk, in increments of time measured by “Outlander” episodes (I promised I’d ONLY watch when I’m on the treadmill!—Yes, I bribe myself). I have a “puzzle mat” to roll up an in-progress jigsaw and preserve its pieces from our cats. I’m working my way through archives of New York Times crosswords and a cache of logic puzzles on my iPad.

And hey, Toots is still aboard!–>

And LOTS of books.

No stationery, perhaps, but still an urge to write.

I’ve been posting blurbs on FaceBook every day, jokingly labeling them as entries in a “Captain’s Log”— carrying on my game of imagining my home into a boat. (An anchored boat, to be sure; my Google Maps cheerfully reported I traveled six miles in March.) It’s a string of the little goofy observations about Isolation Life (Day Twenty-Seven, by the way)….

Like trying to swipe open my grocery list at the store but my phone’s “facial recognition” doesn’t work with the mask. Or that our 2020 Home Projects list is unexpectedly done—so now what? Or how my mom & I exchanged pics of our propped-up feet and TV screens, watching the same Netflix show “together.” Or that my daily social life consists of greeting the mailman and UPS guy through my glass door. Or which is the more important protective gear when we took the motorcycle to the store: the helmet, or the mask? Or the difficulty of conveying an emotion with the “masked” emoticon. Or What the hell DAY is it? (With the follow-up: why would it matter?)

On the high seas of the nineteenth century, a cry of “Sail ho!” on a whaleship often augured a GAM–a social ritual of pulling alongside another ship to exchange news and mail.

But what is a gam? You might wear out your index-finger running up and down the columns of dictionaries, and never find the word. Dr. Johnson never attained to that erudition; Noah Webster’s ark does not hold it. Nevertheless, this same expressive word has now for many years been in constant use among some fifteen thousand true born Yankees. Certainly, it needs a definition, and should be incorporated into the Lexicon.

Herman Melville’s Moby Dick

These days, of course, you can find the word in twenty seconds on Dictionary.com or practically any glossary short of UrbanDictionary’s. And if you pause there with your hand on that mouse… You are, in fact, possessed of the mechanism of the modern gam. (Possessed by it, perhaps—but that’s a whole different conversation.) That’s right, let’s hear it for Zoom gams, because my boat-ride could feel a lot more isolated than it does.

Posted in IdahoAuthors, writing

Setting Sail: the Launch of a Serial Novel

I’ve been writing “creative nonfiction” for years–-my Master’s thesis in poetry, essays (for introspection), freelance articles (for pay), and  this blog (for joy)… But I haven’t touched fiction-writing since I was a schoolkid.

Until last summer, when I did.

Not sure exactly why, but this person called Gayla wanted to go whaling, so I let her. And she turned out pretty stubbornly not to fit in to the century in which I’d placed her, so I threw in a little time travel to explain her. She’s a whaler wearing a sports bra instead of a corset—an anomaly in more ways than one.

Time & Tide by Kana Smith
She’s still growing, and I’m still writing her journey. I’ve been releasing one chapter at a time to a small circle of friends and family who have been reading along (and keeping me writing!) and I got to thinking that it’s the READERS who really make this art form work. If I’m writing in a “black hole” by myself, I’m not going to last for long–and that would be a bummer, because I’d never find out what happens with Gayla.

So I took it into my head to publish as I go, rather than waiting (for what?) to finish this whole tale. Charles Dickens published many of his works as serial stories in the newspapers of his day… I’m no Charles Dickens, but I do have this great medium we call the internet. So here we are.

And I have an idea that blogging about the book as I write it (and as readers receive it) might provide some interesting introspection into my own writing process–so I’m hoping this becomes bigger than just the book.

All that said… I’m launching this book. Before it’s anywhere close to finished. As of this writing I’m at 67,636 words–and I’m not posting all of those today. But I’ll start with Book One and a teaser to Book Two, and I’ll invite you along for the ride. Along for the read.

And none of this is set in stone (I go back to edit as I get to know Gayla and her story) so I very much welcome critique and feedback. In fact, I’m more interested in what doesn’t work than what does–because that’s what’s useful to a writer. I’d love to see my online community function like a larger version of the “workshop” classes I took for my Creative Writing degree. I’d love to grow in my craft and become a better writer. I’d love to see where this story takes me. Will you sail with me? It’s a free book… if you have patience to wait for an ending!

Time & Tide

whale tail

Posted in writing

Playing Sims (and Questions of Free Will)

It’s a little like writing fiction, or at least that’s what I tell myself is appealing about it.  If you haven’t played with Sims (I hadn’t before this week), it’s a simulation game where you get to create and dress up little people, build and furnish their houses, send them to jobs, prompt them to interact, and so on.

Sims
At first glance it seems like a pretty limitless array of options for play, given the many different objects you can place, and the many different ways your little people can interact with those objects… But the inherent limitations to its interest have already become eminently evident.

There’s no creativity, and no content, to the actions and interactions here. I can make a Sim “read fine literature,” but there’s nothing really to be gained from it. (Why am I not picking up my own book instead?) I can make a Sim “phone a friend,” but there’s no content to the conversation. (Why am I not picking up my own phone instead?) I’ve imagined different personalities and proclivities for my various characters, but that’s only in my head. (Why am I not picking up my own piece of unfinished fiction instead?)

In short, the shine has already worn off my little game. It made me think, though, that I understand God a little better. Sometimes people ask why God gave us Free Will when he could have made the world perfect by orchestrating everything himself. Well, I can give you one good reason: it’s tiresome telling your creations to go potty or eat a sandwich so they don’t make a pee-puddle or fall over from malnourishment. It’s not interesting or fulfilling to make them do everything they do.

Okay, that’s the flippant answer, but it’s a peek at the bigger one. Writing fiction is more interesting than playing Sims, because it doesn’t have the limitations—I can create everything about the world, the relationships, the conversations. Having children is more interesting than writing fiction, because (these days) the people I’ve created say and do things without any orchestration from me, and they’re always interesting and surprising.

KermitWhen my daughter squeezes me in one of her long-lasting hugs, it’s rewarding because she did that on her own. I didn’t click a “hug button” to make her do it. Similarly, God made us to love him. Voluntarily. Without being compelled, which would make the “love” meaningless. I know I do a shoddy job of it overall, but I like to think God delights in every moment that I do turn to him (like asking for help against my alcoholism)—the same way I delight in spontaneous affection or requests from my offspring.

Well, the game—and the weird role of “playing god”—got me thinking about all that. But there’s still one more question of free will…

I’ve already determined that this game isn’t rewarding or fulfilling, and yet… I keep orchestrating my little people to meet each consecutive task and challenge presented to them. I can’t seem to put the damn thing down.

My addictive personality pops up in far more areas of life than just my alcoholism. I’m an all-or-nothing girl. This week I’m obsessively playing with my Sims. The couple weeks before that, it was “Words With Friends” (a glorified Scrabble set—though at least that has the virtue of requiring some mind-exercise). For a couple months this summer, I was obsessively working on the first 59,000 words of my nascent novel—which has since been sitting virtually untouched while my mind has skittered across other serial obsessions in the intervening months.

writer's blockThis morning my husband challenged me to find a way to get my mind back to the book—“or even a blog-post”—during this rare day-off-both-jobs. So I’m here with laptop open and coffee-cup to hand, with a DVD playing of the “writers’ commentary” on one of the Hobbit movies (I think I’ve mentioned that writer/director Peter Jackson is one of my story-telling heroes—I always feel inspired by the “how-it’s-made” extras on these movies). I Am Writing.

My phone with its insidious Sims-game is out of reach on the charger, and I am determinedly wielding my Free Will against its compulsive draw. (Let’s be honest–the reason it’s on the charger is because I was glued to it all morning.) I Am Writing.

And I’ve just opened up my computer file of “Whaler’s Wife” (working title) to see what I can make happen.

I can be stronger than my addictions (even the silly ones). I Am Writing.

Posted in Lists

Drawing up a gratitude list 

November is a popular month for gratitude, given the holiday that’s named for the emotion, but my motivation this year is a little different. I’m grateful that October is over! “Isn’t that the same thing as being-in-November?” you ask reasonably. Well, not precisely. 

The thing is, almost every major Drama, Trauma, and Tragedy in my life has happened in an October–leaving me with a superstitious fear of a “cursed” month. Add in the fact that those events (ranging from loss of a job to loss of a spouse, from severe complications of childbirth to last year’s vacation in a psych ward) have left me with a lot of unpleasant “anniversaries” in October–and it’s just a rough month. 

I literally spent the month praying that I could get to November 1 without anything awful happening–aware that if I did, it would be the first time in about a decade.

It happened! I broke the streak and got all the way through October without an Awful Event of any kind. I’m very nearly giddy over it. And helping with that reaction is the fact that I got my mental-health meds adjusted a couple weeks ago, after realizing I was on a downward slide toward Depression. I’m emerging from the haze of lethargy and indifference and feeling increasingly like ME again. (Witness the fact that I’m back here writing again–a silent blog is a danger sign with me.)

All that said… I’ve been on a sketching-kick, specifically a gratitude list. So although I’m usually one to express myself with words, today I’m offering my “gratitude album.”


I’m grateful for the man who married me. His voice puts a smile on my face, and his laugh lights my world. He has loved me (and prayed me) through some of my worst. It’s a joy and an honor to be “Mrs. Smith.”


I’m grateful for a job that keeps me challenged and interested, and where there’s room for growth.


I love RV-living, and our cozy little home. I’m grateful to live so comfortably!


I’m grateful for Vertical Church, and my church-family.


I’m grateful that I grew a pair of bright, vibrant, good-hearted people. (Readers, too.)


I’m grateful for modern medicine, and my mental-health meds!


I’m grateful for COFFEE!


I’m grateful to live in Idaho.


I’m grateful for my Ma, who has continued to love me no matter what.


I’m grateful for my teddy bear, Toots, who has been a comfort for more than four decades. (Here with Jon, who sewed Toots an Army outfit.)


I’m grateful for Open Adoption, and that the boy-I-grew has such a fabulous family.


I’m grateful for BOOKS!


I’m grateful to have my driver’s license back, and for the car Jon bought me when I got it back. I so appreciate being able to drive myself to appointments and work rather than hiking everywhere.


I’m grateful for open roads and motorcycles.


I’m grateful to be Sober! This is my owl-sticky-note marking my favorite page of the Big Book. “If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are halfway through.”


I’m grateful for my health. Crohn’s Disease has been in remission for 16 years, and I’m healthier than I deserve to be, given my alcoholism. God is good.


I’m grateful for my great Sis, who shares many of my memories (and quite a few of my quirks). And a grand welcome this week to her new daughter!


I admit it–I’m grateful for my iPhone. 


I’m grateful for challenges–like learning to ride.


I’m grateful for seaside vacations!


I’m grateful for a guy who fixes things… and builds things, and COOKS things!


I’m grateful for FUN!


The back of Jon’s helmet is a reminder for the road-of-life… I’m grateful that God has ALWAYS had my back.

Posted in Mental Health

Spooks & Sparklers

I’m still a little haunted. On my psychiatrist’s chart, that condition is spelled out “P-T-S-D,” but I think “haunted” is a better descriptor of the experience.

As much as I’ve tried to process it, my brain still doesn’t entirely know what to do with some of the sights, sounds, and experience my memory contains. I’m speaking specifically of the morning my second husband committed suicide, shooting himself in the head while I stood face to face with him. That stuff-in-my-head bubbles up uncomfortably with some triggers, and surfaces in nightmares. I don’t do well with seeing people shot on television; Jon has become expert at changing the channel with just a breath of notice. And he’s great at the gentle wake-up when I’m whimpering in my sleep.

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fireworks from our RV roof last night

Jon has his own PTSD trigger, thanks to his combat role in Desert Storm. Let’s just say he’s not a fan of fireworks—especially the whistling rockets that sound “just like incoming SCUD missiles.” Our RV Park is situated right next door to a semi-pro baseball stadium, where they set off fireworks regularly after games. We have notes on the calendar about fireworks-nights, just so they don’t catch Jon off guard. Four nights this week. I think he was only half joking when he asked Monday if he could return fire.

Fireworks don’t usually cause me trouble, so I was surprised Sunday night when they caught me off guard—I had already fallen asleep, and woke panicked to what I thought was gunfire.

The next morning I tried an exorcism-by-ink. Not tattoo-ink this time, but writing. I wrote out absolutely every detail I could remember from that Sunday morning, from when I woke up until when my mom arrived (having driven 300 miles in record time) a few hours later. I wrote about every sight, sound, even smell I could dredge out of my memory, and put it all on paper. I wrote out every piece of conversation with the 911 dispatcher, emergency responders, and detectives. I wrote about my living room, after it had been released from its “crime scene” status—the man removed by EMTs and the gun removed by police, but every other bit of “evidence” still remaining. I re-lived the whole thing on purpose and wrote thousands of words. It felt therapeutic. I guess time will tell whether it helped.

imageLast night I faced the fireworks in sort of the same way. The city’s holiday display is usually staged in a park upriver from us, but this year’s flooding rendered the usual spot too soggy, so the Fourth of July fireworks were moved to the fairgrounds right next to the ballpark and our RV park. I climbed up on our RV roof when I heard them start, and washed the whole show, rockets blooming beneath the nearly-full moon.

It was beautiful. And while I was looking at the whole picture, I wasn’t bothered by the resemblance to gunfire-noise. I’m hoping my therapy-writing will serve the same purpose. Big picture: I was face to face with Keoni when he fired that bullet, but I wasn’t hit. He broke my heart that morning—but hearts have amazing capacity for healing, and my life today is filled with love and joy. Today when one of his sayings flitted through my mind, I felt amused instead of uncomfortable or angry. Maybe that writing is doing its work.

Posted in Motorcycle, On the Job, writing

Learning Curves

Home Depot bucketSitting in a “town hall meeting” of Home Depot employees last week, several of us broached the subject of training with our store manager, Jeremy. The Home Depot offers some incredibly structured online training modules (I’m especially grateful for the interactive “Cashier’s College” that helped me weather my first days at the register!) but several of us felt our on-the-ground training had been rather haphazard. Invited to critique our experiences as employees, we gave voice to what we saw as gaps in the training process.

Jeremy is a master at the positive spin, and he proved as much in the town hall meeting. While he acknowledged the concern and validated our experiences, he also spun our critique into a pep-talk of a learning-moment. “Well, it IS a do-it-yourself store,” he said with a laugh, after acknowledging our concerns, and sharing the challenges inherent in employee training—“and sometimes that do-it-yourself culture will apply to learning too.” He talked like a teacher, speaking of Pushed Learning (like the online modules that are “served up” to the learner) contrasted with Pulled Learning (when you seek out the new knowledge for yourself).

Essentially he was inviting us to consider whether we’re content with limiting ourselves to what gets served up on a platter, or whether we want to take charge of our own experience. I came away feeling inspired to demonstrate that I AM invested in my own learning.

image
An orange-apron learning-journey… saying goodbye to the Garden register

It was a timely pep-talk for me, because I’m embarking on a whole new learning-journey with my move from cashiering to the Service Desk. While I’m excited about the move, I’m all too aware that it’s a steep learning curve. There’s a whole new (complex) computer system and a load of new procedures and services for me to master before I’ll be effective there.

All in all, it’s the perfect time for me to feel inspired.

I applied some of the same attitude to last weekend’s three-day motorcycle class. The classroom segments were definitely “pushed learning,” but the range practice required more. No one is guaranteed a completion card just by taking the course—in fact, several students failed the skills testing—but I can happily report that my completion card will be in the mail this week, and I can officially add the motorcycle endorsement to my license when it arrives.

In order to accomplish that, I had to get past the step-by-step verbal instructions being shouted to us and feel the bike. Stopping. Swerving. Weaving. Cornering. (This is a venue where the “learning curves” are literal curves!) Continue reading “Learning Curves”

Posted in writing

The “Dead C” Scroll

image
a dead-calm scroll, on Home Depot buckets

I just changed out the roll of receipt-tape in my cash register, and there’s a surprising amount left. I’m sitting in Home Depot’s garden section in a Dead Calm (that’s my “Dead C”)—and now that I suddenly have a small scroll of paper to hand, I’ll write.

I was trying to occupy myself by re-reading the state’s motorcycle manual on my phone-screen, but that had me going cross-eyed. Sitting on an overturned orange bucket by myself had me going bug-eyed… with boredom.

I’m apparently a person whose brain wants to be busy. When I’m alone I read a book while I eat, and turn on the news while I drink morning coffee. If I’m not engaged with people (times like now) I have to be engaged with something. The part of this job I dislike is when there’s down-time. I’ll be standing out in front of my register doing calf-raises and balancing on my toes, smiling away at… nothing.

image
the only person in the Garden department…

Last night with thunder and downpours outside, the place was a ghost town in the hours before closing. I had something in mind that I wanted to blog about, but I can’t seem to compose in my head until the words are being put down—whether onscreen or on paper (or on-scroll).

The thing is, my mind meanders a lot, and it’s only after I’ve “captured” some of the wild words that I can start taming them into some sort of shape. Letting the words stampede in my head just doesn’t serve any lasting purpose—they run me over and leave me trampled in my own mental dust with just a vague impression that something worthwhile might have just come through, if only I’d had the wherewithal to rope it in.

imageThe screen on my register told me earlier today that “Escape is not allowed at this point.” What a thing for a work-computer to say to me!

I humbly disagree. All I needed was a roll of register tape and a pen.