Story Trumps Prison and Death

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Not too long ago my father-in-law passed away. He had one of those slow wasting diseases that makes those who grieve him say things like “at least he’s not suffering anymore” partly because we lost him by tiny increments months and almost years ago. He had not been able to get out of bed or have much of a conversation with us for a painfully long stretch of time as his liver shut down from damage inflicted by gout medication, of all things.

Jim wanted to be at home through this process and my mother-in-law did everything she could to care for him. As he got closer to the end, I worried that she was alone too much. I remembered how lonely it could be in the house with my father after he became unable to respond to us.

“I have my books,” she said. “I do enjoy getting into my stories.”

And in that moment of discussing death and loneliness I had my reason to keep writing.

Don’t get me wrong. My mother-in-law doesn’t read the kind of books and stories I’m writing. Vivian loves to read what my father-in-law called ‘bodice rippers.’ She is into Christian romance where the woman is out on a ranch fending for herself very nicely, thank you, with a hole in her heart she doesn’t even know is there until Mr. Unbelievably Good Looking comes along to fill in with his ever so strong manliness.

These stories worked for her as her husband slowly slipped into a place she could not reach him even as he lay next to her in their living room on a hospital bed. Who am I to judge?

And, in all honesty, I picked up one the other day and thought Mr. Unbelievably Good Looking might make a good read if I let myself enjoy a bodice ripper now and then.

After my husband’s dear mother told me of her joy in books my eyes opened once more to why it’s important for me to keep telling my stories even on the days when I know no one is listening. Some day I might be speaking to someone in great pain who holds onto words like a raft. Someday someone on her way to work might fill with gratitude for those words like I did while listening to Neil Gaiman’s ANANSI BOYS. Maybe I’m full of pride and hubris to think I might be able to offer such a gift. But it also feels a crying shame to not try if writing it holds me up and has the chance to hold someone else up, too.

Mr. Gaiman, the author I have loved most in recent months, has something to say about using stories in this way:

“If you were trapped in an impossible situation, in an unpleasant place, with people who meant you ill, and someone offered you a temporary escape, why wouldn’t you take it? And escapist fiction is just that: fiction that opens a door, shows the sunlight outside, gives you a place to go where you are in control, are with people you want to be with(and books are real places, make no mistake about that); and more importantly, during your escape, books can also give you knowledge about the world and your predicament, give you weapons, give you armour: real things you can take back into your prison. Skills and knowledge and tools you can use to escape for real.

As JRR Tolkien reminded us, the only people who inveigh against escape are jailers.”

I don’t know if I would use the words ‘prison’ and ‘weapons’ to describe how I feel about this crazy ‘real’ world I live in where those I love die in ways I would not choose for my enemies. But I do know that the stories I read and also those I write make the sun come up on the darkest of my days.

And to that end…

If you have an interest in making your own escape into the sunlight in this dreary winter time, I have an idea for you. On February 1st from 10am to noon, I’ll be teaching a short class on creativity and how it connects to the divine. I’ll be using principles from the book the Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron.

Here’s the address and a link to the book. There is no cost. I’d love to see you there if you are interested in creating a world of beautiful escape for yourself and others.

http://www.amazon.com/The-Artists-Way-Julia-Cameron/dp/1585421464/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1390748294&sr=8-1&keywords=the+artists+way

Puyallup United Methodist Church

1919 West Pioneer Avenue

Puyallup, WA 98371

Getting Back to My Roots

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“Are you having a midlife crisis?”

Two male coworkers asked me this at work this week when I came back after vacation with radically different hair.

“No,” I said. “It’s a mid-life acceptance.”

I remember Larry the hairdresser in his little shop by the hospital where my mom worked when I was a teen. He picked up a strand of my naturally blonde hair one day and said, “People pay a lot of money to have hair this color.”

My sister and I were fascinated by his comment.

“Why?” we asked our mother afterward in the car.”Why would people pay to have our hair? Why don’t they like their own?”

“Because it’s a nice color,” she said or something like that. It’s been a long time.

I never realized how much that lighter than wheat color had become a part of my identity until it started to slide into the dishwater realm. Not brunette. But dishwater. This happened after I turned 25 and it shocked the bejeezus out of me. I started out at a stylist with just a few highlights to brighten it back up, trying to ignore how I had sworn as a younger woman that I’d never be a bleach blonde.

And then, as time went on, I began  to understand what Larry was talking about. I, too, was paying a lot of money to get back to what I looked like at 14.

Recently I looked my roots in the mirror and told myself to give it up. Give up the money spending and give up the identity I had as a child. The hairdresser matched my hair to a light brown shade and then colored those peroxide locks to help me make the transition.

People have been shocked. They don’t know me. I’m a little sad to think that’s because I have been fooling them for the last 10 years at least, and it feels good to come clean. There is something powerful in getting older and changing beyond what I could have imagined in Larry’s hair salon.

And the biggest irony? People are also saying I look younger. Go figure.

Karrie with Critters

The once upon a time natural color. I’m not strong enough to post those teenage pics.

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The before picture with those pesky tattle tale roots.

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Ack. I couldn’t help but think of Hermione in the movie version of THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN. “Is that really what my hair looks like from the back???”

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Revised color from the back.

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Note: I know. I said I would not write again until February 1st but I had this story to tell. I’m still working on reshaping the blog but it looks like I’ll be posting at the same time from here on out. I guess I am not able to stay quiet for a whole month.