Change is in the Air!

For the past few months, I have been MIA from my blog. To be honest, I’m not sure that I will get back to regularly posting anytime in the near future. I hope my readers understand, but life has changed quite a bit. It’s weird, really . . . I never used to embrace change so freely, yet since my move from Virginia to Vegas in 2016, my life has been one change after another, especially when it comes to work.

First, there was the transition of teaching in an entirely new school district with different routines and policies. It also included a shift from high school to middle school. I thought a change in grade level would be good for me, but instead it was career-ending. I was not cut out for 6th graders . . . or the fact that academic and behavioral accountability was so lax. It felt like glorified babysitting. The educational system does little these days to push students to achieve. Having grown up in a time where you got the grades you earned, with a mom who stressed excellence and teachers who cracked your knuckles with a ruler as incentive, I simply felt I was no longer suited for the field of education.

Next, I tried my hand at self-employment offering my expertise as a freelance editor. As anyone who has ever attempted to build a business knows, getting the word out and luring in customers (especially repeat customers) takes tremendous time and effort. I did eventually see progress, but it was too little too late. I was killing myself by working around the clock with very little income to show for it. The rate of growth I did achieve unfortunately did not keep pace with my rapidly depleting savings, and it became obvious in August that it was time to throw in the towel unless I wanted to incur significant levels of debt. I actually hung in there longer than I probably should have, but I kept believing in the old adage that “it’s darkest before the dawn”. I kept thinking that the next month would produce some magical breakthrough. Could I have turned the business into a success? Possibly, but when and at what personal cost? I think I made the right choice.

In mid-August, I accepted a position with a local casino working as a Guest Service Ambassador. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever done. It’s fun and low-stress. One guest pointed out that the job parallels that of a bartender in that everyone confides in me, sharing health problems, loss of loved ones, family issues, gambling habits, etc. as I walk around making change and servicing slot machines. Many of the guests are regulars who seek me out and ask for me by name. Some consider me their good luck charm. The environment, the guests, and my friendly coworkers are helping this introvert to pull her head out of the sand and embrace interaction. Though the pay may not be what I earned in previous positions, it is enough to keep me out of debt, and I am no longer killing myself trying to make ends meet. This is the first job I’ve had in years where I don’t bring work home with me. My time is just that . . . my time. Now that I’ve had a few months to relish that fact, perhaps I’ll get back to working on my novel. Maybe the next change I’ll experience is that of a successful published author. Time will tell.

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Solitary Confinement

Oh, the way my mind works! Sometimes I find things so humorous and other times I veer to the dark and morbid. This post is definitely the latter. It was somewhat inspired by the play my theater students wrote a few years back, as well as the RagTag prompt (trace) and the Online Writer’s Guild prompt (the silence woke her). Feel free to let me know if it weirds you out as much as it does me.

The silence woke her. Silence was not a sound she was accustomed to, not anymore, not since she’d been committed. It unnerved her. Why on earth was it so quiet? She lay completely still, waiting . . . for a moan or a scream, for the pounding or shuffling of feet, for some flurry of activity. Nothing—there was nothing! Should she move? Go investigate? She was afraid to, afraid of what might be happening beyond the door to her room.

Her mind worked through an array of possible explanations. Perhaps everyone, doctors and nurses included, had been drugged. Maybe they were all bound and gagged or they had been killed by some mysterious intruder—or, more likely, by someone who knew the inner workings of this place. But if they knew about this place, they would know about her, and nothing had been done to her. . . Good Lord!—that prompted an even worse thought. What if she had done something to the others and just didn’t remember? She’d had lapses in her memory before. That was part of the reason she was here. The other part was that she suffered frequent, yet unexpected bouts of aggression often precipitated by loud noises and chaos. Had she snapped once again and harmed the others just so she could sleep? She couldn’t be sure . . . but she had to find out.

Her palms were tingling and slick with perspiration as she placed them on the doorknob. With her heart pounding in her chest, she slowly turned the knob and peered through the crack. Other than the flickering fluorescent lights over the nurses’ station, everything was still.

She stepped into the hall, looking left then right. The corridors were empty. Moving cautiously toward the nurses’ station, she glanced over the counter. No one—no one was there. She moved behind it, venturing into the supervisor’s office which was dark except for a handful of monitors displaying the common rooms and the rooms of the more violent patients. All the images were alike in one way—the rooms depicted were devoid of their usual inhabitants.

She suddenly bolted down the hall, throwing one door open after the other, finding each room empty. They had all disappeared without a trace. She was utterly alone.

Finally stopping at the main entrance to the building, she sank to the floor in desperation. She stared through the glass façade into the vacant parking lot and trembled convulsively. She couldn’t go out there. Looking over her shoulder, she felt just as intimidated by the vast emptiness within. It reminded her of something the therapist once said: that it was clear she was just as afraid of herself as she was of others, and that sooner or later, she would need to decide which fear posed the greater threat.

It seemed that time had come.

My Recurring Nightmares

They have been ravaging my sleep on average three times a week for the last decade—horrible, vivid nightmares. These nightmares are and are not based on reality. Yes, I was a teacher for nine years and during those years, my patience and talents were seriously challenged. That doesn’t mean that it was all bad. Honestly, the first seven or eight were pretty gratifying for the most part. True… the hours were long and the workload was overwhelming, but I did love my students (99.9% of them anyway), and they usually loved me (maybe not at the time I was teaching them, but always in retrospect). Many of them still stay in touch, and I love that. I love to see how their horizons are expanding, where their interests are leading them, and what they are accomplishing. It makes me so proud to see them holding down jobs, going to college, and/or raising children. I feel blessed that they want to share those things with me, and I wouldn’t change my role as teacher for anything.

My last year teaching was, however, another story altogether. It was traumatic… but then, I had switched from high school to middle school and it was, as they say, “a whole nother ballgame”. It seriously did me in—which is why I am now freelancing. If the nightmares had started during that treacherous time, I could certainly understand it. But that wasn’t the case. My nightmares started just before my first full year teaching… I think. I don’t recall having them during student teaching or even when I taught summer school just after graduation. Hmm… now that I think about it… that may be the cause. Summer school was a bit of a challenge—not quite like middle school, but still a challenge.

As for the nightmares, they do vary. Sometimes I am sitting at my desk trying to do something as simple as take attendance only to look around the room and see that none of my students are paying attention to the task at hand. Bellringer activity… what’s that? Ms. V, you must be tripping! No work is being done. Students are desk hopping, making it next to impossible to get an accurate attendance. Students are even getting up and leaving, forcing me to follow them out into the hall and call them back much to their amusement. Sometimes I am standing in front of the class teaching in earnest, only to realize that no one is listening. Again they are moving around the room. They are talking to each other and tuning me out. Some are sleeping. Others are throwing things. Occasionally, a fight breaks out or a student cusses me out… usually just as an administrator comes in to observe.

I wake up stressed, in a cold sweat, and feeling completely exhausted. It all just seems so real. I think it is par for the course with the teaching profession though. I know other teachers experience this phenomenon. Maybe it is a form of stage fright. If you think about it, teachers are performers to a certain extent. Part of the job is to entertain… or at least engage young minds enough to instill knowledge. My question is this: when will my nightmares end? This week makes a year since I stepped inside a classroom, and still my nightmares persist. Is it too much to ask for a good night’s sleep?

Ragtag Daily Prompt: nightmare

Vanishing Act

I’ve been a stranger to my own blog lately, and I’ve missed it. Every day I wake with the intention of writing, but I have been so busy editing that I never seem to find the time. Looking at my site, I see people have still been visiting occasionally, probably wondering where in the world I went. That, coupled with the Daily Post Prompt (disappear) inspired this weird, slightly disconcerting post. Have no fear though. I am still alive and well, just busy. I hope to get a better balance soon. I am a work in progress—as is this freelance gig.

Vanishing Act
She felt herself slipping, drifting away. Not all at once. No, it was a gradual process. At first, she was just busy. There was always something that needed to be done, someplace she had to be, someone depending on her. And she wanted to get it all done, she wanted to be there, she wanted to provide for those who needed her.

It was too much though. She couldn’t pull it off in the long run. She was exhausted, and day by day, she lost her will, her drive, her spark. Her energy was quickly being depleted. She was shriveling up—into a ball, a deflated balloon, a shell of her once vibrant self.

She locked herself away. She tried to sleep, but she couldn’t. She was too tired. The room spun. She tried to plan a comeback, a revival, a rebirth… but she simply couldn’t think straight. Her mind was in a fog. She tried to remember what she had done before, where she had gone, those she loved…but her mind was a blank. She didn’t know any of that.

The only thing she knew now was that she knew nothing. She didn’t know who she was anymore. She had simply disappeared—from the world, from those she loved, and even from herself.

Daily Post Prompt: Disappear

Bestowed with Blessings and Curses

I admit it! I am extremely blessed. The good Lord has bestowed upon me a great family, some awesome friends, and the opportunity to pursue my dream job. My brother and his fiancé even came to visit earlier this month, and we had an awesome time together. Being self-employed, I could take the time off to spend with them. And what a pleasure it was! I don’t remember the last time I laughed so hard. The downside is that my mom and I live so far away that visits with family are rare these days. Still, we love where we live and consider ourselves blessed that every day in Vegas is sunny and bright. Our daily mantra is, “another day in paradise”. What’s not to love?

As for the pursuit of my dream job… well, that is a work in progress. I am definitely not what I would call a success story—yet. Work has been pretty steady the last month or two, where in the past, it could be sporadic. That proves I am on the right track. Some weeks I have had so much work that I have found myself editing around the clock for days on end, which is why it has been so long since I’ve last written a blog. I’m not complaining. Quite honestly, I tend to stay up reading half the night anyway. It’s my escape, my joy, and the reason I am pursuing this job in the first place. The only negative is that I am still not making the money I would like, and my reserves are disappearing way too fast for my liking. Should I stress? Hmm, I’m not sure yet. I like to think, with the considerable growth I’ve seen lately, that my bank account will blossom once again. It is spring, right… the time for growth? I choose to be hopeful and optimistic.

There are other blessings I’ve been bestowed with at this stage of my life. Nearing fifty, I have acquired confidence, wisdom (I think), and a sense of peace. Age also comes with other benefits… and curses. I am beginning to think that I have been pierced by a double-edged sword. Said sword is not Excalibur… it’s Menopause, or at least the beginning of it. While it comes with the plus of seeing some unmentionables taper off, it has brought along a major challenge. I wonder… how in the world am I supposed to be able to focus and accomplish great things when I am being bombarded minute by minute with temperature fluctuations? I am literally freezing and pulling on a sweater one minute and on fire the next. I mean, really. Before I can even zip up my fleece jacket, I am peeling it off again. It’s so frustrating. This blessing is turning into the ultimate curse. I used to be the type to always wear socks. I couldn’t stand to feel the slightest breeze on my feet. Now, I give great thanks for the cool tiles on the floor. They have become my saving grace. I can’t sleep even when I have the opportunity. Pulling the covers up, then kicking them off. Turning the fan on, then turning it off. This has become my nightly ritual. My mom, of course, laughs as she witnesses my outbursts and tells me that payback is hell. Yes, I do remember, as a teenager, accusing her of making me live in a morgue. The air conditioning was always running, the fan was always on, and our house was so cold that my breath would fog the air. Well, that’s how I remember it at least. I can only hope that the good Lord will bless me once more and make this battle brief. And hopefully, there are no other unexpected curses waiting around the corner.

Daily Press Prompt: Bestow

Facing Intimidation

It was not some faceless and unknown boogeyman wreaking havoc on my life. I knew who my stalker was, which on one hand made the situation easier to handle while on the other added a whole new element of fear. The man harassing me, leaving me nasty notes, walking my property at night, and entering my home uninvited was a neighbor. At one point, I had even considered him a family friend. Of course, it did take me a bit to figure that out. I mean . . . who wants to suspect a “friend” of turning your world upside down? Who wants to believe a “friend” is capable of turning on you that way, of scaring you? Though I was lucky to finally figure out who was terrorizing me, it was disconcerting to wonder how long it had been going on before I was even aware, of how I could have been so blind. What had I overlooked? Why hadn’t I been suspicious of his character all along? Even now, years later, I can’t answer those questions, and that makes me wonder if such a thing could happen again. I suppose that is just one more reason why I remain a tad reclusive. It was one more event in my life that proved to me there is danger in trusting others.

Though I have a solid respect for those who serve in roles of law enforcement, being the victim of stalking gave me conflicting opinions there too. I can’t say enough about the officers who showed up at my house time and time again to take statements and ensure that my mom and I were momentarily safe. It was comforting to be told they would patrol the neighborhood whenever they were in the area. Several times I came home to find a note on my door stating that they had been by, walked the property, and noted all seemed to be in order. The officers really went above and beyond to make me feel protected. The detective assigned to the case was a different story. Logically, I know his hands were somewhat tied, that he could only do so much. The department didn’t have the budget or manpower to run DNA tests and such, at least not quickly. His words were scary though. Perhaps he was too blunt when he told me that until I was raped or murdered, I was a low-priority case. Now, I know he wasn’t telling me that to be mean or rude; he was simply being honest. He didn’t want to give me false hope. He didn’t want me to let my guard down. He wanted me to know I was in for a long battle.

I was one of the fortunate ones. After a year of turmoil, my situation just simply disappeared. During that year, I had done everything in my power to seek justice. I contacted the National Center for Victims of Crime to seek help and resources. I called the police each time there was an incident. I regularly called the detective to keep him interested. I got legal representation. I remained hyper-vigilant and documented everything. I pushed for my stalker to be arrested, even though I knew there wasn’t enough concrete evidence to hold him just yet. I wanted him to know that I refused to be vulnerable or intimidated, that I would fight back. Eventually, he backed off. He even moved a few hours away. I’ve seen him twice since then. The first time I was walking my dog and saw him parked at the end of the street (which, of course, scared the crap out of me and once again made me question my safety). The other time we passed by each other at the mall, both of us with our families.

With time, the sense of fear and powerlessness faded, though I still remain extremely vigilant; I am always aware of my surroundings, always looking over my shoulder in public and such. For those of you going through similar situations, I hope your situations resolve sooner rather than later, and without significant harm coming to you. I urge you to get all of the assistance you can. Call the police for every incident, contact the National Center for Victims of Crime, get a victim’s advocate, take out protective orders, etc. It is hard enough to be a victim; at least, be one who fights back. I wish you all the best.

Daily Post Prompt: Faceless

 

Branches on the Tree of Humanity

When are we finally going to realize that we are all connected? Each of us is merely a branch on the tree of humanity. Some branches are more externally vibrant than others, full of green leaves and flowers, while other branches may appear to be barren or brown. Too often we try to sever those limbs for fear they are diseased; we are afraid they will infect us, bring us down, or make us look bad. But think for a moment. If we are all part of the same tree, isn’t it just as possible that we can pass our strength and nutrients to those in need? We all have the same roots. The same things lie under the bark of all the branches.

Let’s do what we can to save the whole tree, for if we keep cutting, we may one day find there isn’t much left. Stop trying to hack away the parts we don’t like. Stop fumigating and spreading insecticides and pesticides. Instead, let’s fertilize the entire tree with tolerance and kindness, so that as a whole we can reach toward the sun with invincible roots that no storm can shake.

Daily Post Prompt: Branch

Anything but Typical

I could be wrong, but I don’t think of myself as typical. Boring, yes. Typical, no. I am an introvert, and though I know I am not the only one to fall into that category, I believe I take it to the extreme. An old friend of mine used to call me a hermit; I much prefer to stay in my shell. Truly, I could be a recluse. Give me a good book or television show, and I see little reason to leave my safe cocoon of home. Give me sweat pants or comfy pajamas, even better. It’s not like I feel compelled to dress to impress.

My mom worries that should something happen to her, I would be all alone, devoid of friends because my reclusiveness eventually turns people away. People ask me to do things, and though no fault of theirs, I find it difficult to engage. If you are my friend and actually see me outside of the house on a semi-regular basis, consider yourself special. I rarely even venture out to see family. I know; it’s weird, right?

Lately though, when mom has managed to drag me out (usually to a restaurant or casino), I have been acting very atypically. I’ve found myself talking to strangers. I am not usually the one to strike up conversation, but I haven’t been shrugging it off either. Mom says I now talk to people more than she does, and she is a complete extrovert. I think this unusual phenomenon is due to the fact that I am talking to strangers; I know I can interact and perhaps experience some stimulating conversation and then walk away. These strangers will make no future commitment on my time. I actually like to talk when I’m interested in the topic and feel I have something to say. In fact, family and close friends sometimes find it difficult to shut me up. How is it that I can exhibit these two contradictory traits, being both a hermit and a chatterbox? I think the answer must lie in the fact that I always talk a lot. I just usually talk to myself.

So I ask: am I typical or atypical? I’ll let you be the judge.

Daily Post Prompt: Typical

Frisson of Doubt (short story)

As I have been struggling for what seems to be forever with writer’s block, I decided to use the Daily Post prompts from this week (above, restart, dim, premonition, imagination, and congregate) to consider my novel from an alternate perspective. Hopefully, this will re-engage me and I will be able to finish my manuscript in the relative near future. 

She sat on a bench overlooking the rows of headstones, trying to gain some perspective. Off to her right, mourners were congregating around a freshly dug grave. As she watched them, slightly intrigued, she wondered what those who might have observed Stanley’s service had thought about her and others in attendance. What revelations might they have gleaned? More importantly, what had the trained observer, Detective Freeman, been able to ascertain?

Though a slight breeze touched her skin, it couldn’t dim the stifling and smothering sensation she felt. The only question was whether it was the heat and humidity or her dark and depressing thoughts that left her struggling to breathe; more likely, it was a combination of both. Was it her imagination or was Detective Freeman specifically and intently focusing on her? Sure, he seemed to be pursuing leads in multiple directions, yet she could almost feel him breathing down her neck. In response to that notion, she automatically glanced over first one shoulder, then the other, but there was no one behind her.

She tilted her head to look at the canopy of tree limbs above her and took a deep, steadying breath. She inhaled and exhaled, slowly and deliberately, in an attempt to calm her nerves. There was no need to be concerned, no room for doubt. It was merely the unusual circumstances that had her unnerved.

Stanley had apparently had his share of secrets and if not enemies per se then certainly disgruntled or annoyed acquaintances. Still, he appeared overtly well-liked. His death, now known to be murder, was a shock to all. So what was to account for this tingling shivering that was trailing up her spine, the pervading premonition that she was caught in an intricate web, about to take the fall?

She once again scanned the crowd at the nearby funeral. She scrutinized them one by one, observing stance, body language, and expressions of grief. Were they all genuinely saddened or were some just putting on a show? She wondered at the decedent’s cause of death. Had it been from natural causes? If not, if he or she had been murdered, which of the mourners would she suspect? Whose actions appeared to reek of guilt?

As she watched them, she pondered her own behavior. From watching them, what could she learn about her own actions and the impression they gave? How should she behave in order to deflect Detective Freeman’s attention? She knew without a doubt that he would be back to question her again. He was thorough and dogged in his pursuit of the truth. She had been as truthful as she dared. Thinking back, she wondered if her responses might have been misconstrued. Had the truthfulness of her answers made her appear cold, calculated, or perhaps guilty? Just contemplating that made her breath quicken and caused the pounding in her temple restart.

She was no better off now than she’d been when she arrived at the cemetery today. So much for gaining a clearer perspective. With one last look toward the aggrieved, she peered toward Stanley’s grave. Then she rose from the bench and proceeded slowly down the path toward her car.

Daily Post Prompt: Above

 

Suspicious (A Valentine’s Short Story)

She was suspicious of his motives. Really, men just didn’t approach her. She wasn’t the type of girl who normally attracted the attention of the popular guys, the extraordinarily good-looking guys, or the athletic guys. On occasion, she would get asked out by the sweet yet awkward nerdy guys, but usually even if they noticed her, they were too shy to ask her out. It wasn’t that she was fat, ugly, or unintelligent. She wasn’t any of those things. Though she definitely wasn’t glamorous, she was pretty in a natural, earthy way. Fussing over makeup or designer clothes just wasn’t her thing; rather, she was more the fresh-scrubbed, girl-next-door type who was most comfortable in jeans, a t-shirt, and a ponytail. She never saw the need to draw attention to herself, yet socially inept didn’t quite describe her. It wasn’t that she couldn’t make small talk and interact in group settings; she just never really saw the point. Happiness to her was sitting on the sidelines observing others or spending time alone reading a good book, exploring nature, or experimenting in the kitchen. Those were solitary activities; maybe they didn’t have to be, but for her, they were. Solitude made her happy. She liked her own company and her own hobbies.

Now here was this smart, handsome, and out-going guy intruding on her solitude. What was she supposed to make of that? Sure, they had known each other for a while, but they were acquaintances, nothing more. There had never been any indication that they would ever be more than that; except, according to him, he had been interested in her from the start. He said he found her intriguing and elusive. The more she tried to blend into the scenery and avoid detection, the more he thought of her as a mystery, a puzzle he felt compelled to solve.

The most confusing and suspicious part of the whole thing was that he didn’t ask her out on an ordinary, run of the mill date. . . No, he asked her out for Valentine’s Day. Who does that? She was having trouble figuring out why he had asked her out at all, and he asks her out for Valentine’s Day. More than that, he refused to take no for an answer. He told her he had it all planned and wanted to alleviate her concerns. She didn’t have to dress up or make herself up into something she wasn’t. He wanted to go out with her, the girl he said he knew. All she had to do was say yes and be ready when he picked her up. He promised that she would have fun. He all but begged her to give him a chance. What was she supposed to do?

Since he swore he was showing up at her door no matter how many times she said no, she figured she had two options: she could let him show up to an empty house or she could give in. She decided to test his word. She was ready when he arrived, dressed in her standard jeans and a sweater. Her hair was in a ponytail, and she did not wear makeup. She dressed like she would for any other event outside of work. To her surprise, he was casually dressed as well. He didn’t take her anywhere fancy either. He said he wanted to prove to her that he had been paying attention and that he really did know the true her. He drove her to the nearby park and pulled a blanket and picnic basket out of the backseat of the car. Knowing that she liked to cook, he had wanted to fix her dinner: homemade pizza, pasta with pancetta and veggies, and a fruit salad. Because he knew she loved nature, he chose to eat in the park rather than intimidate her by inviting her to his home. They ate in a lovely spot overlooking the pond. After they ate, they strolled some of the paths and fed the ducks. Then he told her there was one more part to their date. He took her to the bookstore where they meandered through the shelves discussing their favorite books before sitting down to have coffee and dessert. He had managed to incorporate all of her favorite things, normally solitary things, into their date. He showed her that they had those things in common and that he really did like her for her. They talked more in that one night than all of their previous interactions combined, and she was suspicious no more.

Daily Post Prompt: Suspicious