I am an associate professor of human services at a regional Midwestern university. I am also a writer of fantasy and romance, hoping to get traditionally published. I have one husband and am owned by four cats.
I want to feel effervescent, like Max Richter’s recomposition of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons: Spring. Effervescent means bubbly, but not in the sense of a bubble bath with its larger, comforting bubbles. Effervescence is fine, tiny bubbles, fizzy bubbles, sharp on the tongue when drinking sparkling water. Where bigger bubbles sing like whales (if they could), effervescence tinkles like fairy bells and giggles.
Today is not an effervescent day. It has been gloomy all day, with a tendency toward light rain. I am not effervescent today, not even bubbly. I’m cold coffee looking for ice so I can chill. If Vivaldi composed this day, it would be the Fifth Season: Blah. The opposite of effervescent.
I don’t know how to make myself feel effervescent, or maybe I do. The right company can make me feel effervescent. A crush can definitely make me feel effervescent. Enough hilarity would make me feel effervescent. (As a nerd, I have some go-tos for this: Galaxy Quest, Middleman, Shinesman, Young Frankenstein). Hypomania makes me effervescent right until I’m clutching my hair and yelling “Make it stop!”, so I don’t want to go there. I definitely prefer the other methods.
Right now, in the middle of a rainy work day, I’m going to have to settle with not being effervescent. That cold coffee isn’t bad with a little cream and ice.
Feeling uninspired today, I decided I would try the prompts that are now packaged as part of WordPress. And as you can see from the above, I got a doozy.
I’m all about big audacious goals, showy goals, big reward goals. Intoxicating goals. Probably comes from being one of those honor students who got external validation in the form of praise and trophies.
There’s one little improvement that would increase my quality of life, but thinking about the improvement itself makes me want to sit in the middle of my living room and cry.
It’s cleaning my house.
My house is about what you’d expect with two bookish types working full-time who hate housework. I have writing as my pressing hobby; Richard just hates housework.
Our house is cluttered. Despite the fact that this house is over twice as big as the one we moved out of eleven years ago, it’s just as cluttered. We just got more stuff to fill the space.
I feel like my writing would be better if I didn’t have to look at so much stuff and move it aside so I can sit down. Having a clean house would feel like a holiday!
I have to start somewhere, and there’s just so much stuff and I can’t throw any of it away. Maybe if I (and/or Richard) pick one room at a time and have a sorting basket nearby. Think of places to put the clutter, places that make sense. Don’t put the clutter in yet another pile to be sorted eventually. Proceed to the next room, which hopefully doesn’t have new clutter piles from the last room cleaned. Phew!
It looks like maybe cleaning the house isn’t a “small improvement” after all.
I mean that title metaphorically, not in the coffee sense.
I have become sleepy lately (extending the metaphor). No Big Audacious Goals, just work and writing on a novel I’m afraid is sleepwalking across the countryside. No exciting plans this summer. No tempting opportunities. Nothing that gives my soul a psychic jolt of caffeine (this extended metaphor is getting silly).
I know I should be able to wake myself up, but inertia is so difficult to break. Which is why I need an assist from the Universe. I want this to be a good morning wake up, not a wake-up call in the colloquial sense, or a wake up and smell the coffee. A good gentle shake, or a cat plopping on my chest. Or fireworks, I’d take fireworks. Or someone yelling from the doorway.
In the meantime, I will see if I can make myself that metaphorical coffee.
I will hit 60 in a couple of months. It’s been hard to listen to music, because I keep gravitating to the music I listened to when I was younger, and I get a flood of memories that distract me from the moment. Sixty is a lot of years to remember, and remembering makes me feel old and dizzy.
I’ve read cocooning in the music one is familiar with is a tendency that starts in middle age. Or maybe it’s a Boomer thing. Today I’ve broken the habit and play music I’m not familiar with, because I have cushioned myself in the familiar. Singer-Songwriter music from the ’10s instead of the ’70s. No more dredging through my childhood.
Perhaps this is a key to not letting the big milestone crush me. For I feel like it will crush me, like I will wake up the morning of my birthday and the weight of all those memories will obliterate me. I was born before Kennedy was shot, an event my students don’t even recognize, much less identify with. September 11? They don’t identify at all.
I think the key is moving forward, to save the golden oldies for meditative afternoons when I don’t mind dredging through my past. This is not that time. This time is for something new. The playlist is different, but I’m getting into it. Maybe I won’t get crushed by my past when the time comes.
I just found a prompt on Loomly the other day (Loomly is a social media manager like Hootsuite except more user friendly and much cheaper) that suggested, just as I’ve seen suggested on TikTok, that ‘everything is content’. One should present what one is doing to the millions, thousands, or (in my case) dozens of followers on social media.
I have problems with this. First, not everything someone does is ‘on message’. People expect a theme to one’s presence. On TikTok, @alexisnicole usually forages and makes amazing recipes with her wild crafting. @bdylanhollis cooks vintage recipes with often hilarious results. @dontcrossagayman tells his everyman hero stories about his interventions with bigots and creeps. They stay on message.
Second, not everything someone says should be out there. I have chronic bipolar depression. I know I can occasionally say “I’ve been dealing with depression,” but what I can’t do is go through a stream of consciousness about what it feels like to be depressed. That’s too much. I can’t ask my readers to be my therapist.
I must admit I struggle with content. I seem like I write all over the place, from reviews of apps to snippets of poetry to progress reports on my writing to my own personal experiences. If I have a message, it’s “This is what it’s like for me as a writer.” Part thunderstorms, part computer programs, part coffee, part cats, part violets. I hope it works, because I’m trying to stick to the good content.
I’m sitting in the campus Starbucks, which is in the library, perhaps the coolest Bux in the US (or the nerdiest). My semester is over, which means flowers and warmer weather and more relaxed schedules are ahead of me.
I’m sitting in one of the coveted low upholstered chairs, which is what the early bird gets to sit in. The short table fits me perfectly, and I’m set up to write. Except I don’t feel motivated to write.
I have a novel to write on, and I’m on the first draft. All I can see is the imperfections — to where I’m reading the first half and putting huge comments on it. I haven’t even written the second half. NaNoWriMo and other guides suggest one gets the first draft written first, then edits.
I look up from my computer where I’ve been staring at the screen, and a tall, slender young woman sits in the chair across from me. Not one of my students, but I know her. She shouldn’t be here; she’s not real —
“Just because you wrote me doesn’t mean I’m not real,” Leah Inhofer points out as she pushes a wayward blond braid back. “I hear you’re having some problems.”
“Not really,” I say. “I just need to motivate myself.”
“Partially true,” Leah comments. “You need to motivate yourself. And you’re having problems.” When your character is a walking lie detector, lying to them is inadvisable.
“I don’t know if I like what I’m writing,” I confess. “I’m not even done writing, but I want to revise it. And I don’t know how.”
“First, you need to develop me and Baird better. Yeah, we’re sneaking around a bit at first, but we end up in love. Make us believable. Make our dilemma hefty enough that my pregnancy puts us in a spin.”
“You can’t be too much in love at first, or else there will not be the tension. You need to doubt the other person, not want to impose. Catch up to yourself before you admit to being in love.”
“I see where you’re coming from.” Leah leans forward to whisper. “It’s not like I know how Baird would be as a father. He seems so — clueless. I suppose that comes from having been born three years ago.”
“Was he really born, though? He’s a Nephilim — it’s more like he showed up fully adult to his birthday. Not like how your baby’s going to show up.”
“Just what I need. Morning sickness.” She takes a deep breath. “Boy or girl?”
“Girl,” I assure her.
Leah pumps her arm. “Sweet. Another generation to break the mold. My mom’s going to be thrilled.” She makes a sour face. “Will my mother ever forgive me for believing in the Maker religion?”
“Let’s just say you’ve given her a lot to think about.”
“Good. I should go find Baird. We’ve got a few minutes before my dad misses us.” And she stands quickly, braid swinging, and disappears.
I am just coming out of a depression. I don’t remember going into it, instead easing into it as if it were just a change of season.
I reminded myself that I was not feeling depressed. There was no self-flagellation, no remorse, no desolation. That was the big lie — that my reclusive behavior, my flat affect, and my resignation to being (in my eyes) a failure wasn’t depression.
Telling my colleagues that I was fine if they asked me if anything was wrong (and they asked me at least three times) was another lie. I am known in my workplace as being bipolar, and thus I feel I have to be on my best behavior lest they think I was going to the hospital again. I told my colleagues again and again that I was doing great, and maybe I even believed it because the temporary bubble of positive attention (that I felt I didn’t deserve) buoyed me. But then I fell back into the grey of my life this last winter.
It’s only now that my mood has risen with the Spring that I discovered how low I had fallen. I have depressive tendencies in Winter, but I didn’t expect to have fallen to the place I was this winter. The scale said I’d gained weight; I didn’t pay attention to my looks. I did very little. Too many times, I accepted negative self-talk as the truth about myself.
What could I have done differently? First, I could have caught the mood change sooner. I need to find some signs of the doldrums before they become depression. Second, I could have been more honest with myself and others, and maybe I would have accepted a medication change. Third, I could have been better to myself, but only after the first two were in place.
Bipolar Disorder is a weird disease, seeking balance in a body that wants to go to extremes. In fact, I am watching now to make sure I don’t tip in the other direction toward hypomania with its endless elation and debilitating restlessness. This is my life, and it’s not that bad. Maybe the biggest lie is the stigma I surround myself with that isolates me.
A week later, Brock and Leah sat in the livestock barn, hiding from the rain, which had broken out as they finished trimming the hooves of the Welsh Mountain sheep. The two sat on old folding chairs swiped from the Commons building.
“Leah, are you okay?” Baird asked as the rain hammered the metal roof.
“You keep asking me that!” Leah stood up and peered out the door at the rain. “I’m okay.” She didn’t want to talk about it — the feeling of foreboding that settled in her bones like a chill she couldn’t shake.
“No, you’re not,” Baird observed. “If you were okay, then you’d be able to laugh at me being so clueless.”
“I’m okay!” Leah turned away from Baird.
“What’s the matter with you, Baird?” Leah turned to him, hands on her hips. “Why are you getting into my business?”
“I’m not getting into your business,” Baird shouted, standing up. He sat just as quickly, burying his head in his hands.
“Baird, what’s wrong with you?” Leah asked, standing and striding over to Baird.
Baird raised his head. “I’m not used to snapping at you. I’m not used to snapping at anyone. But it’s part of my nature, this anger. And I’ve learned to ride herd on it, to become a person instead of the soldier they tried to make me. I’m not the calm, meditative person you think I am.” He paused. “Or I am, but it takes work. Like right now. I know there’s something wrong — you look pale and wiped out. But you won’t talk.”
Leah sat back down, pulled her chair closer to Baird. “I’ve been feeling like something bad is going to happen for days. I’ve not talked about it with you because I’ve not talked about it with anyone. I don’t want anyone to think I’m crazy.”
“You think anyone here would think you’re crazy? We have Trees that give talents, and if I heard correctly, Josh foresaw the Apocalypse, didn’t he?”
“But that’s just it.” Leah fidgeted with her hair, taking it out of its hair scrunchie and pulling it back again. “Josh’s vision quickly made sense because the Triumvirate announced they’d attack us and kill Lilith. But we have nothing to tie my vision or my foreboding to. The vision looks nothing to do with Barn Swallows’ Dance if it means anything at all.”
“You need to tell someone. What if it means something?” Baird reached for her shoulder, then pulled his hand back.
“You don’t understand.” Leah raised her hands in resignation. “My parents grow increasingly uncomfortable about this place. They’re not comfortable with their talents, or with the presence of the Nephilim —“
“You’re telling me.” Baird snorted. “Oh, sorry — go on.”
“I’m afraid —“ Leah paused, staring down at her hands.
“Afraid of what?” Baird prompted.
“I’m afraid they’re going to disown me. For being what they’re afraid of.” The words came out in a rush; their weight lingered.
“They wouldn’t disown you, would they?” Baird asked to break the long pause.
“If they thought I willfully walked away from God, they might,” Leah fretted. “I don’t even know if I believe in their God anymore.” Leah fell silent, waiting for their God to strike her down. Nothing happened.
“Who is your parents’ God?” Baird asked, clasping his hands.
“Well, God.” Leah snorted. “Ok, the Christian God.”
“Do humans believe in other gods?” Baird leaned back in his chair, ready to learn more about humans, a thing he pursued with enthusiasm.
“Well, Aasha Kaur’s Sikh, and she calls her deity Ek-Ongkar. The Hindu have a pantheon of Gods and Goddesses, and Jeanne and Josh believe in nature spirits. But I can’t —” “You can’t believe in another God?” Baird guessed.
“Because our God is — “ Leah sighed. “It was comforting to grow up and feel we had the lock on salvation because we’d been born to the right God. It’s not so easy now, living at Barn Swallows’ Dance with so many beliefs.” Leah turned to Baird. “What do you believe?”
“Many of the Nephilim believe as the Archetypes do — in a creator we call the Maker.”
“Well, that’s original. But then again, we call our God ‘God’”.
“Anyhow,” Baird raised his eyebrows at her, “We don’t worship so much as acknowledge the Maker, who we believe constructed your world with its geography, its climate and weather and seasons, its ecosystems, and the Archetypes, held apart from humans by their immortality and their task to hold humans’ cultural underpinnings safe. And then They left to create another world.”
“So no sitting in judgment?” Leah asked. “That must be nice.”
“No. They’re pretty hands-off.” Baird cocked his head and listened — for the rain? Or for Leah’s father?
“They? I thought there was only one Maker,” Leah groused.
“The Maker has no gender. Or both genders. Nobody really knows.” Baird shrugged. “We haven’t heard from Them in thousands of years. Many thousands of years. We observe no rituals, we don’t pray. We are not the people of a deity.”
“That must be a relief.” Leah put her hands on her hips. “Beats being disowned by your parents for something you have no control over.”
“You need to tell someone. Besides me, that is — “
“I can’t tell Luke. Luke is — well, he looks at me like he knows something he’s not telling. I feel judged by him. It would be as bad as telling my parents.”
“Is there anyone else you can tell?”
“No. It would get back to my parents.” Leah grimaced. It would be so easy to let go her burden were it not for that.
“Okay,” Baird said. “Back to trying to make sense of the vision. Have you seen any visions since the one?”
“No, just the one. I feel like everything’s about to go wrong, however.”
“Back to the vision. What exactly did you see again?”
Leah shifted in her chair and closed her eyes, recalling to herself the vision. “I saw two lines of people facing each other, some in light armor, some with weapons. No guns, and as far as I could tell, no bombs. Just swords, and maces, like this was going to be a big man-to-man fight. They stood there, glaring at each other.”
“Did you recognize anyone in these lines?”
“No, but now I remember a man who commanded one line, pacing along the line, galvanizing them. He stood tall, and he taunted the men and women in line. Let me see — he said, ‘Do you want to be worthless? Do you want to be diminished as — he said some four-digit number — was? Do you want to be walking dead, trying to slit your own throats? We can stop this!’”
“That’s further than we’ve gotten before. What were they wearing?”
“To be honest, they looked like they dressed for a street fight. Or a gladiator ring. Both, kinda. Like I said.” Leah felt the dread like a miasma again. “Can we not talk about it?”
“I don’t know if we have that luxury, Leah.”
Leah tried to read Baird’s face, came up with concern and something she thought was puzzlement. “I just need to quit talking about it now.”
“Ok,” Baird said. “I’ll let it drop for now.” He looked out the door; Leah’s eyes followed his, and she noted the rain had stopped. “Let’s see if we’re needed in the food forest to pick fruit.” They left the barn and walked silently toward the food forest, through browning grass sloppy with rain.
Some people spend years in Zen meditation to reach what the professor has attained at the end of a school year: An empty mind.
My brain is empty. I am no longer looking forward to the end of the year — it’s just there. Next week I will sit in office hours looking at my gradebook and giving exams. I will grade the exams. And then I will be done with the semester and … nothing. My mind will consider “What’s for lunch” an unsolvable calculus. My only emotion will be relief. If I even have an emotion; many times I just sleep for 23 hours straight.
I’ll have a week of numbness to get over the oncoming train, which is the end of the college school year. Not so much mindfulness as mindlessness.
And then there will be summer semester and 20-some interns to supervise. But at least my days are more relaxing most of the time.