Spending 2019 with Gilbert & George

All of this began as literary methadone to come off of the BBC production of Sherlock. I wasn’t ready to for the series to end (series 5 isn’t even filming) and so I turned to Arthur Conan Doyle’s original works by downloading the entire Sherlock Holmes collection. It pacified my cravings and I feel reading the older works by one of the best helps me as a writer by expanding my horizons. I also got to experience London in the late 1800s from someone who was there.

It’s taken me ages but I’m nearly finished with it. Now, my addiction has transferred to English writers from 100 years ago. Luckily, there are many options to feed my Anglophile literature problem. Keeping with the theme of compilations, I’ve turned to Gilbert and George. I haven’t met them yet or read any of their writings, but I think we’ll be on a first name basis before too long.

Gilbert, or G.K. Chesterton as his name appears on the cover of his books, has been on my mind since my other favorite BBC program of a character he created, Father Brown. I’m excited to read the original Father Brown stories and branch out into his other nonfiction works like, “What I Saw in America.” He is a Christian writer and I can’t wait to get his slant on life by comparing and contrasting it with today’s world. The book contains plays, nonfiction, fiction, and essays – at a little over 6,000 pages, it should hold me for awhile.

George, known better as George Orwell, is the other. 1984 has been on my list for ages, and with the way America’s government has decided to off-road in a minivan in recent times, I am looking forward to his thoughts from the past. His other titles also intrigued me – “Down and Out in Paris and London” sounds like something directly up my alley.

I plan to comsume vast amounts of tea as I jump feet first into the past with these two English blokes and their perspectives. 

I wouldn’t wait up if I were you, but I’ll leave a light on.

The First Time

“I think you’ll really like this one,” my high school boyfriend said to me as he handed me an old tattered copy of The Black Shrike by Alister MacLean, a Scottish author, published in 1961. My family was leaving for our yearly retreat at the cottage on Lake Huron and I was in need of a novel. He assured me it was an adventure book and a real page turner. I had no idea what a shrike was, let alone any color variations of it, yet I trusted his recommendation. 

I would be in my thirties before I found out a shrike was a bird. It had nothing to do with the title. Then again, maybe it did?

I remember sitting on the beach, sun tanning in a bikini on a towel when I began reading. A few paragraphs in, I had to stop for air.

Oh. My. 

I was only 17, but astute enough to be completely blown away by MacLean’s writing style. As someone who had not yet experienced alcohol or sex, this was the literary equivalent to both of my vices. His words hit me like a shot of expensive high quality vodka and washed over me like the first touch of a lover’s naked skin against my own.

I was hooked.

I tore through the book as if someone else was paying my bar tab and it was a passionate one night stand that would end with the sunrise.

The story is told by John Bentall, a scientist who was also a secret agent for British Intelligence. He got pulled to a top secret mission with a co-agent, Marie, who was to pose as his wife, much to John’s chagrin. The duo get sucked into a treacherous web of lies and double crossings, complete with a bait and switch minefield. The ending has so much of a twist that you’ll find yourself upside down on the last page, wondering what on earth just happened.

John was a loner, like myself, and his bluntness combined with a parched British sense of humor, need for the truth, flawed logic, cunning intellect, and ability to push through anything by sheer determination melted my heart. If he were real, I’d have dated him.

I got serious about writing in 2016 and looked to authors who came before me for inspiration: Alister MacLean was at the top of my list. I read Where Eagles Dare – my German came in handy for deciphering the play on words in the title – the flawlessly executed banter between the two main characters delighted me as both a reader and a writer. The Blake Shrike never left my beach bag this summer, as I re-read it for the third time – this time through the eyes of an author. I’m still amazed at his ability to craft words and scenes. I wish I could share a drink with Alister, picking his brain about life and writing. I’d love to know his inspiration for this story, but he died when I was in elementary school.

I may never hold a candle to my writing hero Alister, but I’d certainly love to try.

An excerpt from the second chapter:


But there’s no perfection in a very imperfect world: the locks on the bedroom doors of the Grand Pacific Hotel were just no good at all. 

My first intimation of this came when I woke up in the middle of the night in response to someone prodding my shoulder. But my first thought was not of the door-locks but of the finger prodding me. It was the hardest finger I’d ever felt. It felt like a piece of steel. It was a dully-gleaming .38 Colt automatic and, just in case I should have made any mistake in identification, whoever was holding it shifted the gun as soon as he saw me stir so that my right eye could stare down the centre of the barrel. It was a gun alright. My gaze travelled up past the gun, the hairy brown wrist, the white coated arm to the brown cold still face with the battered yachting cap above, then back to the automatic again.

“O.K., friend,” I said. I meant it to sound cool and casual but it came out more like the raven–the hoarse one–croaking on the battlements of Macbeth’s castle. “I can see it’s a gun. Cleaned and oiled and everything. But take it away, please. Guns are dangerous things.”

“A wise guy, eh?” he said coldly. “Showing the little wife what a hero he is. But you wouldn’t really like to be a hero, would you, Bentall? You wouldn’t really like to start something?”

I would have loved to have started something. I would have loved to take his gun away and beat him over the head with it. Having guns pointed at my eye gives me a nasty dry mouth, makes my heart work overtime and uses up a great deal of adrenalin. I was just starting out to think what else I would like to do to him when he nodded across the bed.

The Black Shrike, by Alister MacLean



A Different Kind of Card for Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day is always hard for me, as a woman who can’t have children. 

Picking out a mother’s day card for my mom and mother-in-law is bad enough. I always feel uncomfortable in that card section and the sticky sweet sentiments make me gag. It’s like happy Christian pop rock to my shaded rock ‘n roll soul. It’s not me.

After watching friends have kids – and listening to their sordid stories – I realize that motherhood is not this idyllic 1950’s ad campaign concept. It’s my understanding that although there are precious moments, there are far more vomit/poop/tantrums/utter chaos/cringe worthy moments. It feels weird to gloss over all this with a flowery mother’s day card. The day is to celebrate moms, no? 

I decided to do something different a few years ago. I sent my mom and mother-in-law emails in lieu of cards, with a short blurb. The sentiment? Happy Mother’s Day and thank you. 

For my mom, I thanked her for being strong. She raised us without any extended family support, without a church family, and had no help from my father in terms of child rearing. She really went at it alone. I thanked her for all she did in those early years that I didn’t notice then.

I thanked my mother-in-law for raising such an amazing son. With his dad constantly traveling for work, she too raised her kids alone. I told her that I know my husband turned out so well because of her influence on him – his kindness, love for animals, and amazing cooking abilities.

I got replays back, both of them thanks in return. My mom said she got teary eyed. I heard from my sister-in-law that whatever it was that I wrote, really made an impression on my mother-in-law.

I challenge you to write a thank you card rather than a Mother’s Day card this year, especially if Mother’s Day is difficult for you. And if you are a mom, you know how much a simple thank you goes to such a thankless job.

Take a moment to thank them for their beautiful sacrifice and acknowledge their impact in your life.

Birthdays of 2018

November has officially arrived in my world and brought the chilly air with it. A mere few days ago, I was sweating on my lunch walk, basking in the warm sunlight, thankful for the last sweet days of summer. It’s a reminder that winter is near and a new year will begin soon.

I spent 2017 being introspective with my project of picking a theme each month to focus on, and with the roller coaster ride that was my year, it gave me an anchor for my restless soul. By keeping my focus on the Lord, I was insulated by the current and sparks 2017 created: I am still standing.

With 2018 not far away, I wanted to do something else as a year long project, but with less focus on myself. I wanted to take the lessons, trials, and encouragement from this crazy year and apply it to others. I also wanted to focus more on my writing to benefit others. How could I accomplish that?

The idea had been rolling around in my head for awhile, but in 2018, I am going to put pen to paper and make it happen. I will send a birthday card, snail mail, to those in my world. The card will be a blank cardstock with a personalized message to the receiver. Store bought birthday cards are super expensive, blandly impersonal, and are usually thrown away. I hate those. The ones I buy are from Hobby Lobby, 48 for $10, which comes out to 21¢ a card. In some cases, I also plan to send a postcard – another perk of living at the beach. If it’s thrown away, so be it. If it’s kept, I hope it will bring a smile, a comfort, and a tangible reminder that someone was thinking of them on their special day.

I have this knack for remembering dates, I love writing, and this may be a great way to reach out to others. It also keeps me on a deadline.

I’m excited to do this, and if all goes well, I may make this an every year thing.

My Writing Routine

As a writer, unless I have a pressing deadline or project – or become spontaneously inspired – I don't have much of a routine. I know. I'm working on changing that.

I read this book that revolutionized my writing approach. Free writing and pomodoro timing was a brand new concept to me that I quickly worked into my writing habits. Free writing made the first chapter of my book possible, as I had all these stories and research to sort through – I was able to organize and write simultaneously.

Pomodoro time was essential to my technical writing course with all the reading and essays to write. It gave me a sharper focus, running against the clock knowing I could take a break soon. Without these skills, I would be struggling.

My sitting room is where my iMac lives and all of my writing takes place there. It's decorated in minimalistic Ikea furniture and stays uncluttered. The walls are cyan, my favorite color, and it has a calming effect on me. Pictures of my ancestors are everywhere you look.

For blogs, I write in a WordPress window. My book, and other large projects such as proposals, are conceived in the best word processing program of all time, Scrivener. While I feel that I have barely scratched the surface of all its bells and whistles, it continues to amaze me at what can do. The composition mode is my favorite: a beautiful background of a field in Germany with my writing overlayed on a page – nothing else to distract from the words at hand. It gives such clarity and focus. I'm not sure what I would do without it.

As for the routine, I simply need to write more and on a regular basis, not allowing weeks to slip by with no words on a page. My new job has helped to give me space to explore this, luckily, as time is at a premium in this season of life.

Writing Challenge Day 26: Things You’d Say to an Ex

When I was younger, I’d have written a soliloquy about this, covering the chasms of emotion and trying to hurt them with my words as much as they hurt me. Having grown up a bit and moved on, that is no longer the case. I know exactly what I’d say:

“How are you?”

I mean this not as the common American greeting; I’d want to know where they were in life. What people, events, and experiences shaped them since we last spoke over a decade ago? I’d want to know how they really are; without the facade of social media or a monotone “Fine” which is what I got the one time I asked an ex how they were. I would want to dig deep into the condition of their soul, and yet stay detached as an outside observer.

I don’t believe I’ll ever get the chance to ask, but I sometimes wonder what it would be like if I could. Chances are, their memory of me is so dim, it may not even register anymore.

April in Review

April proved to be a month that was loaded with opportunities for confidence. We bought another house and plunged further into debt. The confidence to carry that took quite a bit of gumption to pull off, especially as we closed on our new house and the reality of how much I owe literally hit home. But here I am, still going strong. Even more so that we have a buyer under contract.

The money situation really bothered me, so instead of fretting over it and waiting for disaster to hit, I proactively sought a part time job. This job is one I held previously and left because the stress was too much with the panic attacks that followed. But the money is really, really good and the management deck is reshuffled; I’ve been reassured by a trusted supervisor things are better than what they were back when I was there. I don’t have a sunset date on this gig, but I know in my heart it is only for a season. While it looks like our house will sell, I am still taking the job. The money coming in will fund my upcoming adventures, investments (stocks and house projects), and above all, used to further the kingdom of God. That will be determined as the Holy Spirit dictates.

I lacked confidence in a couple of areas: our new garage floor was in a sorry state of grime and dirt. The cleaner I bought was complicated to use, and my test patch only frustrated me further. And so I stopped. Not so much confidence there.

I did find myself consistently praying to God for provisions, a buyer, and friends who are struggling against unfair odds. My relationship deepened with the Lord this month for sure. I completely relied on Him. I pray this does not go away when things get easier.

With all the big life stuff that hit me this month, I feel I did pretty well with confidence. I hope this carries over into the months that come.