Tattoo Girl, part 13

Well, it’s been a while since we’ve heard about the Tattoo Girl and her beloved cat Mr. Mittens.

This post is standalone, but if you’d like to read earlier installments, please see links at the end of this post.

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Recap:  the most recent episode (from last August!):

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At times Jaime dreamed about depredation.  In her dream she walked in a landscape laid waste by nuclear warfare, by drought and pestilence, by anger and arrogance and technology gone mad.  Awaking suddenly, feeling mad herself, she would find Mr. Mittens plopped atop her bedcover, stretched out in a “C” of cat, soft fur tingling her fingers, alleviating her dream panic.  White patches of his tuxedo-patterned coat gleamed in summer’s pre-dawn dimness.  Purring.

Still, it was hard to shake a feeling of waif-ness, of abandonment, in a barren landscape of dreaming.  Frightening.  She rejected the idea of a sleep-aid that might numb her against further dreams.  These dreams were anything but cursory; Jaime thought they might be trying to convey something critical for her to understand.  Mr. Mittens seemed to sense this as well.  She began to draw images from her dreams, sketchpad at bedside, pencil making long bristly scritches of comprehension.

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Now on to a new episode:

Working with Corey turned out not to be a problem.  Once Jaime realized she didn’t need to think of Corey as a potential dating partner she found it wasn’t hard to share the temporary manager position at OfficeCo.  In fact, it was better than being alone in the job.  There was always another mind to direct the queries to.  “I’ll check with Corey and get back to you,” said to a recalcitrant vendor.  Or, “I’ll have to see if Corey has any thoughts on this,” said to an employee (“associate”) who wanted more time off.

Corey turned out to be a level-headed person.  In the three months that they worked together in the role of manager that Nathan had vacated, there was no drama, and you could say things went well.  Jaime sometimes wondered about Corey’s past, and she thought about asking him more about what had happened during his incarceration.  But it was too much.  Too much to ask.  Too much to tell.  So she stayed away from the subject.

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There was one drawback to the whole arrangement; three months went by and she’d still not gotten serious about another job.  Lying awake at midnight she scolded herself for not doing more.  She met Nathan for lunch at a vegan lunch spot around the corner from his new office.  This was his dream job at Amazon.  She almost didn’t recognize him.  At OfficeCo he’d worn jeans and plaid shirts.  Here he was in khakis and a polo shirt.  Gone were the heavy ’90s-style glasses; instead he wore a pair of sleek green and purple frames.

“Nice glasses,” she said, after they’d said hello and sat down.  Behind her words she heard:  have you really changed?

“Ah,” Nathan said, and one hand flew up to adjust the glasses, as though he wasn’t quite used to them.  “My girlfriend’s idea.  I like them, though.  Getting used to the look.”

Girlfriend.  This was new, too.  Why was Jaime the only one who wasn’t moving forward?

She studied the menu.  “What’s good here?” she asked.

“A lot of us eat here,” he said.  “Any of the soups, the Thai salad . . . I like the portobello sandwich. It’s like a huge burger slab, but it’s all mushroom.”

Jaime perused the menu. Mmm.  Eating vegan was like visiting a better version of her life.  A better version of herself.

“The stir fry is good too,” Nathan added.  The server came, and Jaime ordered the portobello sandwich, Nathan ordering soup and a side salad. All around them were the techie-bright stars of the New Economy.  Groups of five or six sat at tables nearby, mostly men, a few women among them, all seeming young.  Jaime felt a little dated.  Here and there were non-white faces, mostly Asians and Indians.

“I might as well tell you,” she said.  “The job’s going fine.”

Nathan nodded.  “I thought it might.  Remember, I said you’d be a good manager.”

But that didn’t mean she liked it, Jaime realized. You get stuck in something and you just never noticed there was more out there.  She said, “And you?  Life looks good.”

Nathan shrugged.  “Can’t complain.”  They talked a little about what he did at work (document review), about how he had met his girlfriend (match.com), what they did together (bowling and board game night at the technical bookstore nearby).  The food came, and the portobello sandwich was even better than she had hoped.  The aroma was woody and spicy and reminded her of lost dreams.

When she was a little girl she had spent all day outdoors.  She had tumbled in the dead-end woods at the bottom of the hill from her house.  She had played at the open playground in the next block over, she had gone for ice cream bars at the little grocery a few blocks away.  She hadn’t worried about what other people thought of her.  She had had friends, but she didn’t judge herself by popularity.  When questions were asked in class she raised her hand without fear.  She hadn’t been bothered by what other people thought.

But then. Her mother remarried after her dad died, away in that first Gulf War.  Before the marriage she and her mom were close, there were a team.  Her mom was sad, sure, but Jaime had been only six when her dad died, and somehow her mother made it okay to go on.  But the stepfather, that was when things had gone bad.

Her art, her art.  Could she somehow make a living that touched on her art?  It seemed a long shot.

“It’s good to see you again,” she told Nathan as they parted outside on the sidewalk.  They’d gone over the girlfriend (“she’s great, makes me laugh”), the job (“learning a lot”), and two seconds on Jaime’s job (“same old, same old”).  “Let’s meet again,” Nathan had said.

Jaime resolved to start making some decisions about her life.  Next time they met, she’d be moving forward too.

Tattoo Girl – Part 1 here.|Part 2 here.|Part 3 here.| Part 4 here.|Part 5 here.| Part 6 here. | Part 7 here. | Part 8 here. | Part 9 here. | Part 10 here. | Part 11 here. | Part 12 here.

Have you ever felt “stuck” in your life?  What do you do to get “unstuck”?  Thanks for visiting!

February 2018

Do you feel like we are beginning to move into spring? The rain, the slightly warming temperatures, the gradually lengthening days, all suggest we’re just around the corner from winter’s end. If you’re like me, you may celebrate each month for its own loveliness. A little late, I posted my author newsletter for February this morning. Happy writing!

Theresa J. Barker

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At my desk this morning. About 7:00 when I got up this morning, I heard the smallest sound of raindrops tapping on the roof.  I was delighted.  I know, I know, rain can be dreary and made you feel blue.  But for me, the sound of rain is one of the most pleasant sounds on Earth.  What is is about the tap-tap-tap sound that makes me feel so delighted?  I think it’s the feeling of being enclosed, enveloped, surrounded by a natural curtain of rain.  It’s like being in one of those old-fashioned four-poster beds from the 1800s, those Dickensian beds, where you draw the curtains all ’round (to keep in the heat, I suppose?).  Cozy.  Snuggly.  Hearing the sound of rain is like that for me.

I am enjoying the poem by Margaret Atwood, “February.” It…

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What you see when you are at home

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Photo by Theresa Barker.

There is a “lost” spot in our yard, which borders on a natural ravine, a spot that has for years been a neglected place in our neighborhood.  It is technically part of our property and part of a neighbor’s property and adjacent to city-owned street right-of-way, and none of us has had the time or attention to clear out the invasive ivy and Himalayan blackberry, let alone the recently run-wild nettles – which, while being native (unlike ivy and blackberry), can still make a place hostile and inhospitable to other plants and living things.  I’ve made a few half-hearted attempts, as have some of my  neighbors, to the improve the plantings in this spot at the end of the street, but only sporadically and with more hope than intent, to be honest.  The place sits under a very nice old and mature cedar tree, which makes the ground despairingly dry for other plantings.  It’s a hardship to water, being at some distance from the rest of my yard, and all along I’ve hoped my attempts (a few sword ferns here, some native Oregon grape there) would somehow take hold and reclaim the ground from the ever-persistent-but-nasty ivy vines and blackberry canes.

Last year came the “breaking point,” in that the nice cedar showed signs of drought from Seattle’s more-and-more dry summer climate – ugly brown spots, branches, and needles in its green sheathing.  If I didn’t want to lose the ceder, my organic-fertilizer-service told me, I needed to give it at least an inch of water per month during the summer, even though it is mature.

Sigh.  Reluctantly but with determination, I dragged the hose out to the end of the street, put the sprinkler on at the base of the tree last July, and I saw that my ferns and Oregon grape were still there, although looking a bit beat-up.  Well, I thought, at least this way I’ll get more water on those plantings and maybe they’ll strengthen up.

But.  Mostly what happened was that the nettles advanced even further up the ravine hillside, and thready choking morning glory suddenly sprang up, winding its encircling stems around the existing native shrubs, snowberry and Oregon grape, encouraged by the water, apparently.  Downhearted, I pulled the morning glory (avoiding the nettle stalks), and at the end of the summer I determined that this year I’d get some native plants over the winter (bare-root, low-cost, from our local extension service) and do a much more thorough planting to reclaim the area.

Those were my intentions last fall when I put in the order for the native plants.  Fast-forward to last weekend when the plant pick-up date came around.  Here we were, in 30- to 40-degree weather, some snow flurries still, and the idea of planting the dozen or so plants I’d bought seemed very unappealing indeed.  But the reality is, you have to put them in within a day or two of pickup, or they suffer terribly and their chance of thriving is greatly diminished.

I have to tell you, I didn’t feel like going out and first, clearing the area of on-ground detritus and leftover invasive vines and stalks, and then digging up holes in the root-seized dirt under the cedar tree.  Ugh.  I’d rather . . . bake cookies, watch a favorite movie, go for a run, work crossword puzzles in the warm kitchen, write a letter to a friend . . . but those plants weren’t going to put themselves in the ground.  (How I wished for a magic wand to whisk them, Mary-Poppins-like, into the ground, and water them in to boot!)

Still.  I would set aside an hour and see how far I got.  That’s what I told myself.

So, I got organized, brought out the tools and wheelbarrow and extra planting soil, went to the spot and took a look.  What a mess.  All the fall leaves, dead twigs, an old water-soaking hose (unused), sprigs of baby nettles, tendrils of ivy vines coming up over the edge of the ravine . . . what a mess.  Sigh.  Nevertheless, I started to rake the ground in little places around the plants I wanted to keep, and guess what?  – it started to look a bit better.  Pulling up the nettle shoots, peeling back the ivy to the rim of the ravine, it started to look even better.  Okay.  Those five Oregon grape I planted last fall from a friend’s surplus still looked great, and the old ferns and tall Oregon grape I’d planted 3-4 years ago were looking pretty hardy, if a bit beaten-up (broken fronds, etc.).

An hour went by.  Two hours went by.  I gathered a large pile of sticks and broken-off branches, which I made into a little thicket at the front of the site – intended to signal would-be human trespassers that this was a planting under rehabilitation.  (I also have posted signs on nearby trees asking people to respect the habitat restoration, since sometimes pedestrians think they can get into the nearby city park this way – it’s a strict drop-off and technically private property, but they try it anyway.). I planted 20 salal and Oregon grape plugs, added some potting soil to the uncomposted earth, watered it in, and . . . voilá!  It’s starting to look quite nice.

What am I writing all this today on my blog?  Thinking of how reluctant I was to even tackle this project yesterday, I remembered that, for all my desire to do something else, once I got started it felt really fulfilling.  I gained a lot of energy from seeing the improvement.  And, it reminded me of the times I just DON’T feel like writing.

This space has been neglected for years.  And years.  A few stabs at trying to improve it, but not regular attention, no sustained caregiving has been done.  And, not surprisingly, nothing beautiful happened there.  But like my writing, if I buckle down and give it attention, if I take care of it, and if I just get started, I enjoy it and feel fulfilled by the result.  And . . .  something lovely happens.  After all, I started out thinking I would spend an hour on the planting yesterday, and 3 hours later, I came to a point where I was ready to call it a day.  The time flew by.

What does all this say to me?  So many times I hesitate instead of starting my writing.  I think, oh, I’d rather do something else.  Something in me feels like it’s too hard, that nothing will come out of it, that I’d prefer to do something more fun, etc.  Just like this planting.  But now I can remind myself, I can whisper:  If you just get started, something wonderful will happen.  Give it an hour.  Once you get started you’ll feel much better, you’ll probably enjoy it!

How about you?  What are you reluctant to do?  Do you have tasks that you wish could be done by magic?  How do you feel when you start to write?

Aside:  a cat story that I wrote at my retreat last week

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Cats have it made, she thought.  Sleep all day, get up to eat and then sleep again.  Look adorable all day long.  It wasn’t as hard as she thought to use Crispr for gene editing.  When she woke up and saw herself turning into a cat, calico with green eyes, she immediately leaped around the room and started to lick her fur clean.

I wrote this story as an exercise to write a 55-word tale.  It’s hard to write a story that short!  But inspired by cats and my friend and fellow blogger Luanne’s adventures with her cats, I wrote this fun story about turning into a cat via the new gene editing tool CRISPR.  Luanne has the most amazing cats and cat adventures, as well as writing wonderful poetry and stories about her life.  My story reminded me of Luanne’s work!

And, wouldn’t it be fun to be a cat – just for a day?

Thanks for visiting!

What you see when you are traveling

Photo by Theresa Barker.

I’m staying for a few days in a nearby sea-front town, partly for a conference and partly to get some of my own writing done.  The conference ended yesterday, and because I had organized the conference and was the main administrator, when morning dawned today and the conference was over, I felt suddenly free to pursue other activities.  I nearly holed up in my hotel room to work on my writing, but then a little voice inside me said, “Come on, you should go out.  Find some adventure to participate in!  You can come back and write later.”

That was how I found myself waiting on the ferry dock for the next sailing.  The weather wasn’t great; it was overcast and in the low 30s (F).  In fact when we got to the other side there were tiny specks of snow fluttering in the air, though it never quite got as far as snowing properly.

Still, it was something to take a boat ride across a major waterway in our region, and as I stood on the deck of the boat watching the little town ahead, our destination, gradually growing larger, the town’s individual buildings becoming more distinguishable as we neared the ferry slip, I found myself suddenly imagining what the seafarers back in history might have felt like as their boats skimmed through the water, sea birds soaring overhead, waves making a “shush” sound as the boat cut through the water.

When I got back to my lodgings I realized that even though it was not a huge “adventure,” at the same time it felt good to be out and away from everyday tasks.  I hope you have a chance for a small adventure soon!

Aside:  a story for Dahlia

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In the garden of good and evil there grew a tree.  It was one of Dahlia’s trees, but it did not know it.  The tree had a base in a black dirt circle and its leaves were flying green swans of composure.

If you spoke to this tree it might tell you a story.  “I am a madman,” it might say, thought nothing about this tree was at all human.  The curved-sluice bark matrix of its trunk, the twisted matrix of branches like spider fingers stretched upward, the jutted forks of its form, none of these were of a human nature. Nevertheless, “I am a madman,” the tree might say, and it would flutter its leaves violently as though buffeted by impossible winds.

And you, standing by this tree asking it a question, in the garden of good and evil, who are you?  Are you the woodcutter with an ax to chop it down leaving only a stubby gashed stump and the pain of a lost limb in its place?  Are you a gardener who seeks to nourish its growth with rich compost and tea fertilizer that makes the tree even stronger and more fertile?  Are you the scientist who comes to study its nature and to solve the many little puzzles that make a tree a tree, the engine of chlorophyll and sap-running?  Are you the folklorist who comes to uncover the buried story within the tree, the sage of a generation of generations of trees that has led to this one, this imperfect yet perfect tree that grows in the garden of good and evil?

Whichever you are, stay for awhile in the shadow of its branches.  Watch it change in the light of an ever-moving sun.  Listen to the brush of a breeze in its branches.  Feel the sense of nutrients being drawn up through its roots to make life bloom at the tips of its branches.  Then perhaps one day it will tell you its secrets.

My friend and fellow blogger Dahlia finds the most amazing trees to feature in her blog.  This week at the conference we were given an image of the painting by surrealist Joan Miró called “The Farm” (above), and asked to write for almost an hour using the image as a starting point.  When I saw the tree in this painting, I instantly thought of Dahlia and some of her very original and unique trees!

Thanks for visiting!

Do you ever feel like not writing?

Photo by Theresa Barker.

There are mornings when I’ve looked forward to having time open for writing, and then the morning comes and I feel . . . . blah.  I really can’t understand why it might feel so great to look forward to a block of time without other commitments, and then when the time comes, I shy away from writing.  What’s up with that?

Feeling that way this morning, I did some journalling to try to engage that reluctant part of me, and what came up was this:

  • “I’m afraid to start writing something that might not turn out the way I want.  I’m afraid I’ll be disappointed and I’ll think it wasn’t worth it, and I might as well just save myself the time and do something else.” OR
  • “What made me think I’m a writer at all?  I should just give up before I ruin something else I’m writing.”

Where do these feelings come from?  I have written things I love and that feel beautiful and creative and wonderfully artistic.  But at a moment’s notice that nasty little critic inside my head jumps out, or simply lags back, and whispers crummy little things in my brain.  “What made you think you were a writer?”  and that awful one, “Why even try?”

This struggle has been with me a long time.  Last week I decided to try a nonverbal approach, just for a change.  I sketched the little thing in my brain that was keeping me away from writing.  And this is what I came up with:

Sketch by Theresa Barker.

What are these?
1) The first one is a cloud, or a miasma, that sticks to the back of my brain predicting failure.  It says, “Oh, don’t even start, you’ll just be disappointed, even if you think of a story that is promising, it’ll never work out that way, you know how it goes…just do something else instead.”

2)  The second one is a beast, which roars at the inside of my brain after I’ve been writing, “See?  It is a failure!  You ruined it!  No one’s going to want to read this.  Why did you even try?”

Auuhhh!  Harsh!  With these two entities inside my head, no wonder I shy away from writing!  Who in their right mind would go up against these two naysaying voices?  You’d want to save yourself from this kind of abuse, right?

But.

When I’m feeling really hesitant, I try to nudge myself to talk to the voices, usually through journalling.  I try to say something like, “I know you’re afraid we won’t be successful and creative enough.  You’re trying to protect me, and that’s okay.  But I really really want to try to make some new art, I want to try to be creative and bring something brand-new into this world.  How about if we give it a try and gently see what happens?”

Sounds strange, huh?  But if I step back and ask myself, do I want to write?  Maybe I should just quit and do something else permanently?  – I always come back to YES, I do want to write, I love the feeling of newness and spark that comes out of it, and even the “bad” stuff isn’t the end of the world.  It only seems like it before I start.

Do you find yourself hesitating before you write?  Do you wish you could just write without fear?  Or, are you always ready to write without a feeling of reluctance?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Thanks for visiting!