Musings on Expectations

I once was (and, in all honesty, still am to some degree) a creature of expectation. Perhaps it was part of being a dreamer – I spent so much of my time with my head in the clouds or in a wistful  future, I wove intricate little plans for myself of what may be, would be, and could be. I hoped and dreamed up a world of wonders for myself and my family, a world away from the hurt I had grown accustomed to, and I wove into that world a certain degree of expectations about who I am.

My name means “lamb” and my mom often called me her little lamb. She thought I was innocent, sweet, and pure – and I think I tried to be all those things for her. And for me, because more than anything I wanted to be good. I wanted to be nice, to treat people kindly, and to be the best person I could be.  Hell, I still want these things!

But then there’s the other side of expectation – you build yourself into what you expect (or believe others expect) and if you fall short of what you envisioned you would be, well, your world comes crashing down around you. The same goes of expectations of others – if they fall short, or even do something other than what you had expected or dreamed they might do, in your fairy tale version of the world, you feel crushed. You taste and feel disappointment. And what maybe should have been sweet, is bitter simply because it was not what you had expected.
I spent a lot of my childhood waiting – waiting for the promised camping trip, fishing trip, swimming pool visit that never happened. It broke my Mom’s heart to see her kids waiting on the porch for a father who never showed. He forgot, things came up and he simply forgot to tell us he couldn’t come, or he thought it was the next weekend – he would make it up to us with an even better trip – a trip that usually didn’t happen.
The excitement turns to disappointment, which turns to a feeling of sadness, to self-doubt. If Dad doesn’t want to see me, what does that say about me?  I saw other dads pick their children up from school, and I felt envious, because I didn’t really know what it was like. You know, to have a dad pick me up and lift me into the air with that look of joy and pride I saw in those other dad’s faces. You know, the look I see in my husband’s eyes when he spins my daughter around in a circle and they fall into a heap giggling.

So my hopes became tinged with an expectation for disappointment and sadness. An expectation that I would always be Rachael the Unloved. That when someone forgot something trivial, perhaps it meant I was still the Unloved. The Unimportant. 

Now, I’m old enough to know it doesn’t mean anything. Children are precious and a gift, and that Dad didn’t make time for us, well, that was and is his own baggage. There were other things going on – of course – a child can’t even begin to understand the worlds and relationships of adults. But I don’t need to make excuses for him, or judge him, or even waste a moment caring. It was what it was.
But, all that being said, I want to leave my expectations behind me. It’s obviously an ongoing battle, that I believe I am winning (some days are better than others), but progress is progress!

So, here’s my final version of my poem on Expectations. You may have seen earlier drafts, but I decided they sucked – er, um, what I mean to say, is – I decided that they were a little too rough around the edges. So, I may be deleting them. If you read and preferred a previous draft, feel free to let me know and I can send it to you.

Otherwise, here it is:

Okay, I should say that one might get the impression that I am emo or depressed from this blog.  But I should state – writing is cathartic for me. If I feel a moment of disappointment, or a worry of expectation, than writing about that pain, fear, or guilt – well, the mere act of writing it down, getting it on the page and out of my head – that is as good as a sigh of relief. It gets out and lets me get on to thinking about better things.
Like, how nice it is sit in this moment, with a happy heart, listening to my daughter’s breathing over the monitor and the keys clacking as my husband works next to me. Thinking about the run we just finished, the life we are leading, and the places we are going.
And in this moment, this moment without expectations? All I can think is that I have a truly wonderful and blessed life.

Ten Years and some change

So my husband and I just celebrated our tenth anniversary. It was the most fun we’ve had in quite some time. We ate, we drank, we walked by the beach and marveled at how far we’ve come.

All in all, the last ten years have been nothing short of amazing. My love for my husband has grown over the years – I have seen him emerge from his teenage years into a responsible, caring, silly man. And now, seeing him with our daughter and pursuing his dream to be a doctor? Well, that love has become even more intense. He can still make me laugh, even as he drives me insane.

Still Guilty of PDAs after 10 Years

On a completely different note, my own life seems to have gotten a bit off track.

I am not really a medievalist anymore. I like to say I am, but I don’t live, breathe, and eat the medieval world and literature any more. I am not reciting Old English to begrudging college students like I once imagined I would be doing at this stage in my life. My dreams of being a writer are, well, active, sure, but I am not being paid to write (not yet, at least).

What happened? Where did that spark, the love of all things old and medieval go? Nowhere. It’s still here. It all comes down to money – I don’t have it!

Then, these last few weeks, well, I’ve just been feeling tired. Not a type of tired that sleeping will cure. It’s been a bone-tired, stretched-too-thin exhaustion, that has made me feel close to breaking. Is it pushing myself to read and write, being a mom, and working full time, and just feeling like I’m not quite doing anything justice? Is it fear of what may come, what might not come, and the failure that now is so much closer?

Perhaps. Or, maybe it’s that I feel like I’m spending a lot of time on things that don’t really matter. I’m watching my daughter grow up and I feel like I’m missing it. I get back from work and I am too wiped out to write, recently, or do much of anything.

Maybe it’s just that I truly needed this vacation. Vacations are good for the soul after all, and this one certainly has been. It’s let me get back in touch with me, not the tired, frazzled, cranky person I felt I’ve become become. I feel like I need to let myself become more grounded and centered again. I need to find that focus on the positive in life, rather than how short I am falling from where I want to be. Or stressed by those things outside of my control.

All in all, I’m feeling a lot more at peace, thanks to a vacation and visiting family. I have a lot of self-discovery and struggling to do, but that’s okay. I’ll figure it out. Or I won’t. And that’ll be okay, too.

Family 

Queries, Synopses, and other forms of masochism

Wow. So, I have been thinking about the querying process for quite some time. I did my research and narrowed my list down to only those agents I think would consider my novel and its genre. And that was disheartening. Not many agents are accepting horror novels from first time authors. But I did not let that dishearten me! I am the Rambler! I am ever optimistic.

So, I carefully made my list, gathered from the 2012 Writer’s Market book (a must have, really). I then took my little list from the book and researched each of the names on each agent/agency’s respective website, and watched as the list narrowed. Agents were no longer accepting submissions. Or, they were no longer accepting submissions in my genre. Or, they just weren’t taking any new clients. Completely understandable, really. And my list shrank even more.

That was five months ago. I looked at my list, and I wasn’t disheartened! I am the Rambler, after all, and cheerful optimism in the face of adversity is my thing! So, I decided to write my first synopsis of Waking Dreams, even as I stared at my itty, bitty list of prospective agents.

And about five months ago, I decided to go through and finish my third edit of Waking Dreams instead of finalizing my queries – which was a good call. It really needed it, and I think I smoothed out some relatively rough areas. Once I finished that third edit, I approached the synopsis and querying process with renewed vigor. After one week, I was still staring at an empty page. Okay, that’s not entirely true. It had the following written, in beautiful typeface, the font painstakingly chosen after the course of hours:

Synopsis of Waking Dreams
a novel by R.R. Wolfgang

It looks really, pretty, right? As pretty as simple words on a page can be, when you’re not trying to shock or awe someone with your graphic aptitude (of which I have none). But I was pretty pleased with myself.
Anyway, I spent a lot of time researching how to write a synopsis, how to write a query letter, and finally, I did what I really needed to do – I just started writing. Then I deleted everything I had just written, turned to my husband and said: “This sucks. This really really sucks. Why does this suck so much?” (Note: there may have been a few expletives in the above bit of dialogue. Maybe. Okay, there were a lot of expletives.) 
After about ten minutes of groaning at my keyboard, hitting my head against the keyboard (quite literally, I’m afraid), I finally decided to poke around my files. Lo! I found a file dated from January entitled “Synopsis”! I was thrilled. I opened it eagerly, thinking I would be able to escape the pit of self-loathing I had somehow crawled into… Only to discover yet another blank, empty page staring back at me. This page didn’t even have a title.
Sighing, I went back to my real synopsis, deleted the gibberish brought about by my head-banging frustration, and set down to it. It took a while, and I had several breaks to run out and get the “This sucks! My synopsis sucks sucks sucks! What does that say about my novel? Gah! This sucks!” – but, eventually, I finished the first draft. 
And, after another week, I am happy to say that I did submit my very first query yesterday. I am relatively pleased with it – I say “relatively” because right after I hit send, I decided I should have kept the paragraph in about the background to Waking Dreams, but, c’est la vie. It’s done, baby! I am not expecting anything of this very first query, but it feels pretty good to have submitted it! 

Writing, Parenting, and the Struggle for Self Improvement

Well, I am feeling increasingly like a real writer, mostly because I spend most of my free time (when I’m not chasing Amara, cleaning house, doing laundry, running errands or just sleeping) writing.

While writing the story, “Under the Shadow of the Moon”, I went through my usual process:
1. Wrote the story, feeling absolutely brilliant and clever.
2. Edited immediately after, still impressed with my own cleverness and astounding writing acuity.
3. Waited the requisite minimum of three days (I call this the “Three Day Rule”) to let the story sit.
4.  After the minimum of three days passed, I began the real round of editing. At this stage, I usually question my sanity – I mean, how on earth could I possibly have thought myself incredibly clever having written the drivel and inanity that streamed across the page? 
5.  Waited the required time it takes me to remind myself that there must be some merit to the story, if I took the time to write it (and enjoyed the process).
6.  Final step? I rolled up my sleeves and finished editing it to the point I was happy with it again.
Even after the editing process is complete, I usually have a number of improvements to make, but that’s actually awesome. It means I’m improving, and really, isn’t that the goal of being a writer? Heck, being alive?
Part of my renewed vigor at writing is because I enjoy it and, even when I’m not writing, I feel like I am a writer. I owe it to myself to do something I love, to hone this skill, and to show Amara that it’s okay to follow your dreams, even if it takes you a long time to get where you’re trying to go, or maybe never get there at all.

Sometimes it’s just about the journey.

And that really cuts to the crux of it. The other driving force behind my renewed vigor has a lot to do with my goal as a mother. To show my daughter that it never hurts to put yourself out there, even if the criticism can be stinging. When it comes down to it, we do have some choice in how we respond to those negative voices outside of our head. We can grow from it, or choose to let it stop us from being who we want to be. 
We actually had a conversation about this a while back with Nick’s folks. Times change, and each parent tries to do their best raising their children. I know I will (and probably already have made) many mistakes, as all parents probably feel like they do.  My story as a parent is still being written, but I hope in the end I will succeed at my primary goals as a parent:
1. Love.  My primary goal is that Amara know she is fiercely loved.  I want that love to carry her and fill her with confidence, because in being loved and in loving, she can go anywhere and be anything, with a happy heart.

2. Confidence and Fearlessness. I want Amara to grow up unafraid. I don’t mean I want her to ignore danger or the wisdom being aware of your surroundings brings (see the Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker). I want her to have the courage to be herself, in spite of the many obstacles life may throw at her. I want her to know that fear should not be a driving factor in her life choices – whether it’s the fear of failure, fear of the unknown, fear of your own voice, or fear of breaking the mold. Fear shaped my childhood, and grappling with fear has shaped my adulthood. If I can give her the confidence to follow her dreams and the ability to recognize the inhibiting effects of fear, well, I’m on my way.

3. Compassion.  Compassion is a difficult one to teach, but it really starts with recognizing your own feelings in every equation, then adding empathy to the mix. Everyone is fighting their own battle. It’s easy to get caught up in our own day-to-day struggles, and to fall into the “This is so hard.. Why did x do y and hurt my feelings?” We live in our heads, experience our lives through “me-centered” lenses, and we have to acknowledge that our experiences factor into who we are and how we see things. But we also have to realize that we are just a small piece of the equation. To really experience empathy, you have to break out of your own head, and imagine what it’s like to shoulder someone else’s burden for a while, and see if we are still upright.  Everyone crashes. Everyone hurts. Everyone laughs. Everyone cries. Everyone has someone who loves them, and everyone loves someone so much it hurts. If I can help her see how connected we all are…
4.  Let her be her. I don’t want Amara to be some “better me.” Mostly, I want her to be her. I want to let her discover the world, enjoy it, feel the grass between her toes, and show the world who she wants to be. Does she want to dance? Then, by god, I will move the world so she can dance. Does she want to sing? I will do what I can to make that dream come alive. Does she want to do martial arts? Soccer? Write? Whatever path those two little feet take, you can bet I will do my best to clear the way – but not stand in the way. Nor will I turn into a “helicopter parent.” When it comes down to it, she’s the kid and I’m really along for the ride.

So, those are my four primary goals. Who knows what the future will bring. I just know I’m a pretty lucky mom.

-The Rambler 

A Grieving Love

So, I was a pretty morbid kid. By all rights, I’m a pretty morbid adult.  As a kid in 4th grade, my first novel was a horror/fantasy novel by Dean Koontz, called Twilight Eyes.  By the time I completed 5th grade, I had read almost everything Dean Koontz and Stephen King had published (except “It” – as a ten-year-old girl reading about the rape of a 10-year-old girl… I had to wait more than a decade before I was able to pick that book up again). As an adult, I enjoy writing horror and graphic violence doesn’t bother me.

I have been spending a lot of time recently thinking about the person I want to be for Amara. It’s been a constant journey, one that started as soon as Nick and I decided we wanted to have a child. Now that she’s here and becoming a little person so fast, it’s all the more real. I need to start modeling better behaviors for her, so she can see me trying to be the best person I can be.

The other day, feeling completely at peace and zen-like (possibly because Amara was still asleep and I had a full night’s sleep and coffee), I stepped out of the shower, and suddenly remembered a poem I memorized as a kid with my older sister:

Too Late
by Nora Perry

What silences we keep, year after year
With those who are most near to us, and dear!
We live beside each other day by day,
And speak of myriad things, but seldom say
The full, sweet word that lies within our reach
Beneath the common ground of common speech.

Then out of sight and out of reach they go —
Those close, familiar ones who loved us so;
And, sitting in the shadow they have left,
Alone with loneliness, and sore bereft,
We think with vain regret of some fond word
That once we might have said and they have heard.

This is the cruel cross of life — to be
Full visioned only when the ministry
Of death has been fulfilled, and in the place
Of some dear presence is but empty space.
What recollected services can then
Give consolation for the “might have been”? 

For some reason, stepping out of the shower with the entire poem ringing in my head with such clarity after more than two decades, I realized how much this poem shaped me to be the person I am.  It is a large part of why I feel compelled to be grateful. Yes, I memorized ‘Too Late’ after I watched my godfather (one of the best men I ever knew) fight a losing battle to cystic fibrosis and how that affected my godmother, the amazing and kind lady I still call aunt. It’s impossible as a kid not to see the power grief has over your loved ones. The grief etched in their eyes, the lines on their face, that hollow ache in their voice… It makes you very aware of the fact that you can lose people you love. I have already written pretty extensively on my fear of loss (see my post Letting Go), so I won’t go into that more here.

For those of you who know me, you’ll probably notice I apologize a lot and say “thank you” a lot. For those of you who’ve known me a while, then, you’ve probably heard me say “I love you”, because, heck, I do. If you’ve tolerated me for more than a few years, then by, gosh, you can bet I think of you fondly.

But my epiphany left me with a whole new view of myself and the narrow way I view love. By allowing loss be my impetus to express love, I have created a world in which loss is the very center of my world.  How much more morbid can you get? While loss and sorrow may have shaped the person I have become, a person I am happy to be, I am no longer that sorrowful Raven, feeling “alone with my loneliness”.  I have friends and family, and I daresay they know I love them.  And yes, it is important to me that the people in my life know that I love them.

I am thankful for all the tools that shaped me to be the kind, compassionate, and loving (if very flawed) person I believe I am (ok, endeavor to be) today.

But a love based on loss is a grieving love.  It predicts the end – it knows and fears what will come (not what may come). If loss is your center, the end will always be inevitable. It knows all joy is fleeting, and is waiting for the final hammer to fall. All relationships are tumultuous. But I want more than to be waiting for the end. I want the joy I have in each friendship, each moment, I want that to be my center. I want to express love simply so each person knows that they are loved, not because I fear that I may never have a chance to express that love again, in the worst of worst worlds.

My daughter, my husband, my siblings, my daughter’s godparents, my in-laws, my friends – they all have my love, and I find joy and peace in that now. There is no sadness or worry anymore.

Just joy. So, thank you, Nora, for giving me focus, but I won’t be needing you anymore. I won’t be afraid of the might-have-beens anymore, because I am living in the here and now. From here on, I will do my best to just be.

-The Rambler

Under the Shadow of the Moon

As promised, here’s another short story. I hope you enjoy!

Under the Shadow of the Moon
By R.R. Wolfgang
The girl stepped out from under the canvas shelter, pulling her cloak tight around her shoulders and tucking her hood against the heavy downpour. A quick survey of the mud-covered street told her there was not much to see here.  Rust-colored shacks, doors closed tight against the wind, and only the dimmest of light seeping from behind closed shutters and doors. Each shack looked nearly indistinguishable from the shack next to it.
The girl was lost.  There was nothing familiar about this place.  Try as she might, not a single memory came forward about this place or about anything from more than the moment before. She did not know where she was. She did not know who she was.  She remembered nothing. The more she tried to pinpoint any single memory, the more it flitted just out of reach.
Perhaps this should have been unsettling, but it wasn’t. It wasn’t anything. 
The girl was cold and her boots were wet through and through. She looked down at her pale hands, stark against the boring brown of the mud, and back up into the clouded skies. In that moment, a knowing seeped into her being. This was a desolate and unkind place.  It reeked of unfriendliness. Anger. She had to get away. Far away.
Instead, the girl was caught in the middle of the lonely road, not sure which direction to go.  Until something caught her eye. There, rising into the night’s sky along the Eastern road stood a tree like nothing she could have imagined. Even on a dismal day like this, it defied the bland grayness of its surroundings.
The contrast of its full branches against the dark skyline behind it should have been ominous, but somehow it wasn’t. The shimmer of the rain on its leaves somehow made the tree shine against the dark gray of the clouds. It seemed surreal. Otherworldly.
With great resolve, she set her jaw and made for the tree.  Its thick branches would certainly provide a safer cover than any hut in this town, if her gut was to be trusted.
As the girl slogged through the ankle-deep mud, she was surprised that she had no desire or inclination to knock at any of the passing doors. Perhaps there may have been a friendly face behind one of those doors – but she doubted it. There was no laughter in this place. Even when she strained to hear, there was nothing. Under the sound of the heavy rain, there was only an equally heavy silence.
No, behind each door, something grim waited. Not for the rain to stop, but for the last shades of light to disappear beyond the horizon. Only then would the doors open. A chill shook her small frame then. She did not want to be near this place when true night fell. So she walked.
After what felt like hours, the girl finally left the town behind her.  The road to the tree still stretched far ahead.  While the tree itself had grown against the horizon, it still seemed so far away. And although she could barely feel her feet, the girl forged ahead, forcing one foot in front of the other until the monotony of it was mindless.
As she walked, a numbness seeped into her being. Each step became increasingly difficult and the girl felt those little memories dance further and further out of her reach. Daylight was all but gone and some unknown fear tickled at the back of her mind. She glanced back over her shoulder.  The town was now a good distance behind her, but something seemed profoundly wrong about it. It stirred.  For a moment, it seemed as if each building rose from the ground and shook the rain and mud from its wooden frame. Could that be possible?
No, it must have been her imagination. She shook her head and looked again. There. A ripple that spread from one house to the next until each building seemed taller. And then they moved.
The girl tucked her hood back over her hair firmly and tried to run.  It was like moving through honey.  The tree continued to stretch farther and farther into the sky. At some point, the rain stopped and the sun set, but the tree still shone in the night. Its branches bent and twisted to some unseen and unfelt breeze, reflecting the glow of the moon.
The closer she drew, the brighter the tree grew. Bathed in its light, the girl forgot how numb she felt. She forgot the nagging fear of the monstrous town that shambled behind her.  The tree stretched out ahead of her, above her, and spanned wider than the road by more than ten times. She could smell it now – a clean smell of earth, leaves, and grass. It smelled alive.
The girl approached the magnificent trunk and now, underneath the thick foliage of its branches, she felt safe. Just then, the ground vibrated beneath her feet. She did not have to look behind her to know that the monstrous shacks were closing in around the tree. She felt them, all those rambling shacks, their anger and rage pulling at her. They wanted her to give in. To give up. She dared not turn and look, for fear of what she would see. In seeing, she knew, to her very core, she would cease to be.  So the girl did not turn – she did not look behind her.
Instead, the tree drew her to it. Some soft melody sang to her from its branches and leaves.  Although her ears still felt a roar of silence, she heard the music.
Finally, the girl was close enough to touch the tree. Only then did she see its true form. It was breathtaking. The bark was of a silver hue that, even lacking her memory, she believed she had never seen before. It glowed – not the glittering of rain in the fading daylight – it was the tree itself that shed light. Veins of silvery light traced their way intricately down the tree’s form. It was as if the tree had captured the very essence of the moon.
Again, somewhere in the distance, she heard that whisper of a haunting melody.
The ground shook again and this time the tree shook with it, a brace of its silver leaves falling towards her. Lost, the girl felt sad. She had led the town here, to this beautiful tree. It could protect her, she knew it, but at what cost?
The girl raised her hand and gingerly touched the tree’s bark, she closed her eyes and she fell…
                        …into the nothingness.
Ssssseellllleeeeeennnnnnnnnaaaaaaaaa….
The girl heard something and her eyes shot open. Her neck and back ached. She could feel that. In many ways, her body still felt numb. She blinked and sat up, stretching her arms and yawning. She was still under the tree, but the world around her had changed. In fact, the tree had changed. It was still as majestic as it had been a few moments ago, but everything was different. 
It was a few moments, wasn’t it? 
The tree… She touched the tree. That was the last thing she remembered. Yes, it was all she remembered.
The bark was no longer silver and gray, but a rich brown and gold.  The leaves were a brilliant red, shining a coppery glow in the bright rays of the sun. The girl leaned back into the soft wood and felt immediately at home. She had been afraid of something, but she couldn’t quite remember it. Much like she couldn’t remember anything else. She looked up into the thick net of branches and foliage and reveled in the soft bark at her back.
She heard that music again. Yes, she had heard it before, if she could just remember where. The tree shook, and she felt a rhythmic thumping. A fear rose in her throat. Something was so familiar about that rhythm, that melody. She just couldn’t quite place it.
The tree hummed then. She felt it. In its wordless song, it told her not to be afraid. It would protect her. She leaned back and felts its roots embrace her. She felt warm for the first time as she closed her eyes and fell once more into the nothingness.
Ssssseellllleeeeeennnnnnnnnaaaaaaaaa….
The girl woke again feeling profoundly unsettled. Something was different. Something was wrong. The tree rattled and shook, and in the night’s sky, the branches were nearly devoid of its once brilliant foliage. The bark was silver again and she felt the cold seeping back into her skin.
“Please,” she screamed at it, even as she realized no words left her mouth. Her fingers sank into the bark, pieces falling away at her fingertips. She felt nothing. “Please, tell me what I must do.”
The song came back to her again, closer, with its haunting sadness. She fell against the tree, eyes swimming with tears, she tried to speak again.
“Please, tell me what I must do to save you.”
She thought it answered her, but she did not understand. It breathed the word into her soul, a word etched with sadness and hopefulness.
Live.
That didn’t make sense. Did it want her to run? Where to? She didn’t know where to go. She closed her eyes against the tears, feeling the soft, brittle branches embrace her as she held its glowing silver bark in her hands. She felt the ground shake again, and the tree shook with it, just as she fell into the bright light of the moon.
SSSSseellllleeeeeennnnnnnnnaaaaaaaaa….Ssssseellllleeeeeennnnnnnnnaaaaaaaaa…. Sssselleeeennnaaaa…
That sound it was familiar. She heard it getting closer and closer, louder and louder. Yes, and the music, that drum beat, so familiar. So loud. It was so shrill. Her head swam and she tried to push her eyes open but just couldn’t.
It was too hard. She tried to open her mouth to scream, but again, no sound came out.
SSSSseellllleeeeeennnnnnnnnaaaaaaaaa…. Sssselleeeennnaaaa…
SELENA!
The girl opened her eyes, and, as the world sped up around her, she remembered.
“Oh, my baby, thank god,” a woman cried as she wrapped her arms around Selena’s shoulders. The ambulance hit a bump, and the whole vehicle shook slightly.
“It’s okay, Mom,” she said, stroking her mother’s silver-red hair. “Everything’s going to be okay.”
Through the small shaded windows of the ambulance, Selena could see the warm glow of the moonlight.  And she felt safe.


On This Day

On This Day
By R.R. Wolfgang

Here I sit, quill in hand, and I am aware. I feel at peace. I feel everything. The quill is light in my hand, its feather soft against my cheek. As I write, I feel and hear the scratch of the nib against the parchment. I feel the smudges of ink drying on my fingers. I feel the breeze drifting through the window, and close my eyes. For a moment – just a moment – I almost forget there are bars in the window, casting long shadows on the solid dusty granite floor of my cell.
Still, today, I tell myself I do not see the bars. Today, I feel the pen in my hand and know that soon I will be free.
Of course, I could write these words with a thought, a whisper or thrill of my mind, but then I would not feel the lightness of the quill or the dry parchment. I would feel nothing. Still, a voice in my head rages at this mundanity. It rages at my fate.

I am, after all, Queen Syrices. I have a myriad of other names, of course. The Dread Queen, Dark Queen, Queen of Shadows, and of course, the Deathspeaker. The list of my pseudonyms was read aloud at the Grand Hearing, along with the list of my alleged crimes. Some charges were fair. Perhaps even just. I could deny the charges, like so many do, with their dying breath crying their innocence. But I know who I am. I know what I am, and I know what I have done.

Kin-slaying. That was the first of my charges, and the most egregious, according to the laws and customs of this land. Of my land. I cringe to even write the word. It haunts me. I did not speak the word that ended my sister’s life, as I was accused. But I might as well have, for I did not speak the word that would have saved her. I saw her death in my dreams, as true a dream as I ever had, but I said nothing. I did nothing. And in my inaction, I condemned her to a death both long and painful.

As an apprentice in the Arts, I was taught the same rules as my brothers and sisters at the Academy. There is no greater power than to know what the future holds. To know what is to come, what will be or what may be, to hold a person’s life in your hands – there is great power and great responsibility. For every vision a wizard sees, the wizard has a choice – to pluck from that vision the truth and to give the subjects of the vision a chance to change their fate, or to follow the darker path. The path of inaction – to see a death and do nothing. That is murder, according to the laws of my people. By those laws, I might as well have cast the ill-fated spell that ended my sister’s life.

Of course, my guilt in her murder is relative. While I did not speak the word that killed my sister, I can truly say that if given the chance, I would have. I would have weaved a spell of such agony and treachery, she would have been days dying, not mere hours. Dear Cherys, she would experience the sorrow, helplessness and rage I felt as I watched my beloved people die. The people she had condemned to death, for nothing more than a title, a ruined building and a silver circlet. I would have killed her with my own hands, if given the chance. I would have reveled in the warmth of her blood running down my hands, staining my gown.
But that opportunity never surfaced. Years went by, and not once did she send a message, magical or otherwise. I glimpsed her in my dreams at times, the only magic that she allowed me to keep. And eventually, my anger diminished and I felt sorrow at her death.

Regicide. That is another of my charges. Did I slay King Gerad? Yes. Yes. Many times yes. And with great pleasure. I killed the ignorant pig, and his cousin, and even his wretched mother. I spoke the words, the Words of Death, in plain view of my hand-maids, the cooks, and the guards. Even the stable boy probably heard me through the window overlooking the common yard.
Yet not one of those souls did anything to stop me. It took three breaths to chant the full Words of Death, and not one soldier raised a sword, not one laid a hand on me, or shouted a word of interruption. Perhaps they, like the king, did not realize my magic had returned. Or, perhaps the rumors of my magic had spread to them and they feared me. I like to believe they, too, felt relief when that man and his pitiful family choked on their expensive wine, and died in a pool of their own vomit and blood.

By that act, I bound myself to this fate. The fate of all magic-wielders in these dark times. Some say the king looked beyond the dark stain of magic when he chose me as his queen. I know for a fact, however, that he chose me after looking upon my visage in the scrying pool of a hedge witch. A witch he later had murdered for the crime of using magic. I was fated to be his queen, she had told him. The most beautiful woman in all the lands. I like to believe this hedge witch had seen her own death. That somehow, she believed that by sending King Gerad to me, she was sending him to his own death.
Of course, King Gerad began his courtship quite politely by asking for my hand in marriage. But his reputation as a mage-slayer proceeded him and I refused. I knew him to be a tyrant who used his magicians for his own ends, and killed all those who would not bow to him.
Somehow, each refusal made me all the more enticing. I captivated him. Perhaps I was that obstinate nag that needed to be broken. Perhaps he was simply curious to see if he could deceive the High Sorceress, rumored to be the most powerful wizard in the whole of the Thirteen Lands. To this day, I do not know what he hoped to achieve. Any soothsayer he hired no doubt told him of the many weavings this future would hold.

Yet when King Gerad came humbly into my throne room, and kneeled before me and the council of wizards, something seemed changed. When he presented that ring to me, all those years ago – oh, how it sang to me! Such a bittersweet tune. And the auras weaved such an intricate net, veins of silver and gold twisted together around the most brilliant ruby I had ever seen. I was instantly intrigued. More than intrigued – I was enchanted. I had never seen a magic quite like it. To this day, I do not know how my sister managed that spell. She could not have been alone – how many of my brethren, my sisters, how many conspired with her? I asked that question many times over the years, and I cannot fathom the answer. What did the king promise them? Riches, power? Or, more likely, that he would free their beloved from captivity?
Still, when he gave me the opportunity to try the ring, I could not resist it. Every fiber in my being screamed a warning, but how could it possibly be a threat to me? There I stood, in the middle of the Wizard’s Hold, dozens of wizards, witches and sorcerers there to come to my aid. What hurt could possibly come from trying on one tiny ring, just to feel and explore whatever magic it might have held?

But as soon as that ring was on my finger, I was powerless to remove it. Nor could I use my magic to stop what happened next. I watched, helplessly, as King Gerad’s men and his own wizards destroyed everything I loved and held dear. I, the High Sorceress of the Wizard’s Hold, watched my Hold, my Alabaster Tower destroyed. My sister, Cherys, was paid her fee and rose in my place as the High Sorceress of the Wizard’s Hold, and the few wizards and witches remaining. To this day, I do not know if they rebuilt my Alabaster Tower.
After that day, I became the king’s prisoner. Later, his captive queen.

Of my many sins, no doubt you wonder if I regret the murder of my King? He brought ruin down on everyone I held dear and opened my eyes to the pleasure in the world of darkness.
So, my answer is no. Even at the brink of peace, I do not regret killing that man. I remember it with glee. Many of my wizards looked to me, waiting for me to speak a Word that would save them, but I found I had no voice to speak. If I had been able to undo that spell, well, the king would have been dead sooner, and I would have more friends in this world. But I could not undo that spell, try as I might. In the end, it was through the king’s own folly I escaped my bonds, not through any craft on my part. He became wary of the empire my sister was slowly rebuilding and sent for her death. I could have told him of the consequence of his actions, but I did not. I rejoiced when I dreamed my dream, and planned my revenge. Had he truly expected the bond to hold, after the sorceress who cast the spell died, taking all her magic with her? Did he really, after all these years, know so little of magic? Or did he tire of life?
Do I regret what I did afterward? Yes. I suppose I do. That charge brings a new sorrow, a new guilt. I cannot explain my actions, any more than I cannot excuse them. With my eyes open as they are now, I can only say that this last charge – this I do regret.
Tyranny. When King Gerad’s guards fell to their knees and swore allegiance to me, I cannot explain the darkness that filled my soul. Here were my captors, either silent observers in my abuse, or men who spat on my skirts when the king was not looking. These people had brought sorcerers and witches to the common hall and made me watch as they tortured and murdered them. And now, bowed at my feet, they expected mercy?
I granted no mercy that day. I heard the tales and whispers around the city and the countryside. I knew it was called the Red Day. They say I made a crown from the teeth of my victims and a bodice from the skins of the guards. That on that day, the blood of my enemies came to my hips, and I drank from the bitter pool. Those are crude, silly lies. I did no such thing. There was nothing left of the men and women I killed. Nor did I bathe in nor drink the blood of my vanquished enemies.
Their deaths were quick and hollow, those guards and maidens who laughed and threw food at my fallen brethren. At the time, I thought I relished each kill. In truth, I was no more happy when I went to bed that night, surrounded by my new guards, and my loyal handmaidens. My sleep was fitful, but I awoke and my rage was still unquenched. I sent my men, sworn by magic and true to my soul, out with warrants for all the lords and ladies loyal to my dead husband. Oh, my men were fast. They beat the horses of all the other rumor-mongers.
When the lords and ladies arrived, expecting a fine ball in honor of the king’s anniversary, how surprised they were! I alone greeted them, on my new alabaster throne, surrounded by unfamiliar faces.
I lined the walls of the castle with their corpses, of course. As anyone who reads this little missive already knows. Contrary to popular opinion, I did not kill the pregnant mothers or babes. No, only those of age were on the end of my Word.
I think it was years before my rage subsided. My handmaiden, my closest confidante, she warned me I was becoming soft. That my softness was a weakness in this world, but I do not believe that is so. I suppose my end began when I remembered my Master’s voice once more, telling me of the Rules of Magic. When the memory of the screams of my friends dying slowly became mere echoes. When I no longer saw their blood on the walls every time I closed my eyes. Only then could I begin to remember what it was to have friends. To love. To feel the joy of life.
If that is a weakness, I am glad I weakened. I am glad that I no longer wake up each morning, wondering whose death will be on my conscience by the day’s end. This morning, I woke up before the sun and felt relief for the first time in a decade.
Ah, there is the gentle tap at my door. Dear, timid Arcimen has come for me. As he promised, he has brought me my judgment. A small vial of simple crystal resting on a velvet pillow. He also brought a chalice filled with the Akiarian wine I so adored while I ruled as the Dread Queen. Dear boy. So brave, but I could see his hand shake as I reached towards him. I took the vial but waved away the wine. I saw no purpose in ruining such a lovely wine with the bitterness of this foul cocktail. I uncorked the vial and downed the liquid with one drought.
As Arcimen promised, I feel it working immediately. Gratefully, he relieves me of the vial and backs carefully out of my cell, locking it firmly behind him. I cannot help but smile. Even today, I am feared, in a cell, in the highest tower, engraved with magic solely intended to keep me inside. But that does not bother me. Not today. 
I fear that I must lay down soon. The quill grows so heavy in my hand, but that is of no matter. In writing this simple missive, I have but one simple wish.  

Know this, dear Reader – on this day, I, Syrices, the Deathspeaker, will finally be free.

News! Stories to come!

Whew, it has been crazy busy in this Rambler’s world, and will be for the next few months, but I’m beginning to get a pattern down for this whole mom/writer/career person/wife/runner thing. I think. We’ll see what new ailment throws a wrench in my plans of productivity!

I do have one new announcement. After much thought, I have decided to make my short stories and other creative endeavors available on this blog. I will label each short story, so you should be able to find them easily, if you would rather get straight to the fiction.  I will also set up a paypal account. If you like what you read and want to see more, feel free to donate (although, you are under no obligation to do so!). Time is short, but if it looks like people want to see more, well, I’ll carve out the time and write more! Otherwise, I know we’re all scraping by, so just enjoy. 
I will publish the first story in the next few days. As always, thank you for reading!
– The Rambler

Three years and some change

It’s funny, the things you can find when you sift through the backup files from various old computers. You can find old pictures that you thought you had lost. Half-finished notes, poems, a tidbit of an email you thought you might send before you thought the better of it, and just let it sit there.

Or, you can find a little document, only 24 pages in total, entitled simply “Open Letter.” It seemed innocuous enough, so I opened it. Six months of entries, here and there, some longer than others, but they all started the same.

Dear Mom

The hurt, so far removed now, bled on the page.

In each letter, I danced and skirted around the words, like I still do. I couldn’t say “Dear Mom: It’s been eleven days since you died.” No, I couldn’t write those words. I thought it, I know I did. But my fingers wouldn’t type those words.  It was always something like “since you found peace.” Since you passed. Since the light touched your face and I knew you were finally free.

Do I believe all of the above? Yes. I sincerely do.

When I bought flowers this past March 4th, do you know what I told the flower clerk? I told her I was looking for an arrangement for a particular friend, and the arrangement couldn’t have carnations. My friend hated carnations. I caught myself right after the lie slipped my lips. Why did I say that? Even I was confused at the time. I felt at peace when I was surveying the flowers, so why did I lie? Was it to avoid the expression of sympathy, the sadness, the tears? Or is my problem with the word itself? I felt silly correcting myself, especially since the look of sympathy was all the worse for the lie. *sigh*

Dead. You are dead. You died three years ago. Dead. There. I said it. More than once. It is just a word. Of course, most of you know me. I am silly and old fashioned. I know words shape us, as much as we sing and plug our ears with our fingers we know that sticks and stones may break our bones, but words will forever scar us. Or mold us. We are the words we come to love or hate.

But really, I need to own this word. It cannot hurt me, to speak it, leave it, or lay it out in the open. So, for another installment in my open letter, I write the following:

March 20, 2013

Dear Mom:

It has been three years and sixteen days since I last held your hand, kissed your cheek, and laid next to you. I still miss you. The hurt is still there, but it no longer feels like a gaping empty vastness of all the things that might have or should have been. I see you now when I close my eyes and think about you. I don’t see the sickness, the illness, the pills, the morphine patches, the syringes full of liquid sustenance. The hurt and shame you tried to hide because you couldn’t face the fact that you needed someone else. I don’t see that anymore. 

I don’t see your death. Or you dead.

I remember it, but more than anything, I remember you, Mom.  I remember the Mom who hovered like a giant over me, who could protect me from anything. I remember the way you laughed with your whole soul, and I felt the world open up before me. I remember the walks and the banter and the singing, and the arguing. I remember the white-lipped look of rage you got when someone hurt one of your babies. It used to embarrass me, that look, because it invariably meant that someone was about to get a piece of your mind. And everyone in earshot was going to hear it.

A part of me couldn’t say the word “dead”, couldn’t really think it, because there’s that part of me that doesn’t believe you’re dead. I held you in my arms. I saw your chest fall that final time and I heard the release of your last breath. Yes, this is all true. 

But in the corner of my eye, I still see glimpses of an almost six foot woman, close cropped graying hair, in a pink sweater. Sometimes she’s on a bike, sometimes just crossing the street, or picking up a piece of garbage on the side of the road, and I stop and take a second look. The woman is never you, but there’s often something so familiar in the scrunched shoulders and a look of hurt in her face. When I see her, I smile, because I feel you. I bet most of the women think they’re encountering a crazy lady, smiling at them as if she knows them, but you know what? To hell with ’em. Some of them, well, they smile back.

Literally speaking, you are dead by all modern concepts. I have your certificate of death. But much like the medieval period, there is factual truth, spiritual truth, and symbolic truth. And as St. Augustine once intimated (if memory serves me correctly, since it has been many years since I read De Civitate Dei), I do believe factual truth is the lesser of these truths. Why?

Because I still feel you in the earth, in the grass beneath my feet, in the wind, in the sun shining on my sweet daughter’s face, in the joy I feel when she points to the sky and yells “Buh! Buh! Buh!” at the passing birds. You are free. Free of all the hurt, guilt, pain and sadness you carried with you. You are free. I knew it when I saw your face relax, a smile tickle at the side of your mouth, and the pained look that I had seen on your face for so many years finally melt away. I saw that peace when you died.

And Mom? Wherever you are, there is one thing I do know for sure – you will always be with me. And I will always love you.

Your loving daughter, now and until the end of time,

R. 

Editing, Queries and other Torture

So, I have two beta readers attacking, er, reading the current draft of Waking Dreams (WD). This is exciting and terrifying all at the same time. On the one hand, their thoughts and comments will most likely (1) enlighten me to  all the things that seem so clear in my head, but maybe didn’t make it to the page; (2) perhaps identify any character or plot weaknesses; and (mostly) (3) Just give me perspective on the book from unbiased eyes.  On the other hand, the whole process is terrifying as I wait to see just how awful people think it is…

But being me, I’ve already started mapping out my next project (with the tentative title “Shieldmaiden” or “Chooser” – I tend to wait until the work is done before I really decide on the title).  You know the saying “Idle hands are the devil’s playground” – so, moving forward while I wait for my amazingly wonderful beta readers to slog through my draft.

And, since my thoughtful husband reminded me that I should probably begin mapping out my submission details for WD before rushing full throttle into Shieldmaiden/Chooser, I’ve started a laborious spreadsheet that includes all my agent research. After reading the 2012 Publisher’s guide (an absolute MUST), and selecting the agencies likely to be open to a work such as WD, I began my online research of those agencies. Holy crud. I have my work cut out for me. After a total of three hours, I have 6 agencies on my list, with all submission requirements, contact info, etc. My goal is to complete my list within the week, and then, by the end of February, begin sending queries. We’ll see how that goes!

Happy 2013?

-The Rambler