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J. J. Brown, Wordslinger

"I Sling Words As I Go Along."

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fear

Isolate

She couldn’t draw in enough breath.

Panic was at the edge of her consciousness – what if she couldn’t get air into her lungs?  It felt as though they had been cut in half, that she had already maximized their capacity.  Then why was she so short of breath?

Voices became a blur of sound.  His voice, however, was distinct, sexualizing her body, targeting her breasts.  She wanted to cry.  Why couldn’t he stop?  Every protest she lodged at him was met with even crueler comments.  So she had given up.  He either did not hear her distress or, if he did, simply didn’t care.

The weight she had lost had crept back.  She lost interest in looking feminine.  Her baggy, over-sized t-shirts were now preferable to the blouses she had once found joy in.  Being invisible seemed safer, somehow.

But she wasn’t.  Because he still saw her as his target.

And the man next to him wasn’t stopping him.  The man next to him was looking at her with desire, not for herself, for her essential humanity, but as an outlet for his own needs.

Can no one see the terror in her?  Are they so used to the first man’s abusive nature that they see nothing wrong with it?

She didn’t know.  Worse, she didn’t know if she could trust them.

Previous installment: Target

Next installment: TBA

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Target

She thought, Am I real?

The hard wood of the chair dug into her ass – it felt as if her bones could reach right through her muscle and skin. The bowl of curry – once steaming hot – had begun to cool, untouched, before her. So she supposed she had to be real, at least for this moment.

He was still talking, the words a dull drone of sound, familiar and repugnant.  Was this really her friend?  She had asked him to stop so many times.  But he didn’t.  Instead, each request had only seemed to spur him on.  She wanted to not be sitting across from him.  Wanted to be home, wanted to be safe.  Feeling trapped.  Unsafe, not seen, not heard.

Targeted.

She pulled herself back into the present, willing her gaze to fall anywhere but on the men at her table.

“…..oops, she heard me,” he was saying to the man next to him.

She could feel her face redden, the muscles tightening into a grimace she knew no one would see.  Could see.  Her lungs felt caught in a vise, the pressure a hard weight on her sternum.  She couldn’t breathe.

Can this just please be over? Should I stay? Should I leave? If I leave, they’ll mock me. If I don’t, this will not. Stop.

She had always felt safe here, before.  It was not her preferred choice of hang-out, but even home could be too much of a good thing.  One needed to get out, to experience life, to interact with new people.  To be in an environment that was not familiar.

She was beginning to regret that decision.  Being solitary only hurt when you wanted love.

Were these people her friends?  Couldn’t they see that something was wrong?  Or was she to blame for his words?

How could she be surrounded by people she knew and still feel so alone?  Would they take his word that he was joking?  Because of course he wasn’t.  She knew.  This knot in her stomach, the rock on her chest, her constant checking for escape routes told her otherwise.  She was his target, he had chosen her, and she didn’t understand why.

But this other feeling.  That one she did understand.

Isolated.

Next installment: Isolate

So, I’ve been thinking a lot about chances…..

…….and its cousins, opportunities and risks.

We go through life making choices that present us with one or all three.  It’s up to us to decide whether or not the outcome is worth it.

There’s a lot of fear that goes into making that choice and that’s okay.  Fear of the unknown is what helps us be alert to red flags or, in extreme situations, keep us from harm.  And fear is a good survival instinct.  It lets us know that maybe there’s a situation out there that’s too much or too dangerous for us to handle.

But you can’t let fear be the ruling factor in your life.  Stopping before you even start or because of thoughts of failing is fear.  You can’t let the possible negative outcomes determine your choices.

If you have a dream to write a novel, go write it.  Don’t let your real-life responsibilities slide, but do make the time to write every day, even if it’s 20 minutes.  Set a time and just do it.  Same thing goes for any other creative form.  Or if you want to add to your skill set in your field, if it’s medicine or law or cooking.  Add to those skills.  Make the time.

You have a dream.  Accept that there’s fear in making that first step and push through it.  There will be failures and false starts and rejection and obstacles.  Stick with it.  The only thing you have to fear is fear itself.

So, it’s the first day of March……

……..and it got me thinking about how the word ‘march’ is not only a noun, but a verb.  It’s not just the name for a month (or a person), but it’s also an action.

The month of March, therefore, can be interpreted as a month of action. I know what it is to be stuck, to not know what direction to go in. What’s difficult about it is that there are so many choices, that we often freeze. We feel paralyzed and panicked and end up staying in the same spot. We are so scared of making the wrong decision that we end up not deciding, which in itself is a decision.

The only true wrong decision is to not decide and remain stuck.

So make a decision and move forward. March forward.

If you realize the path is wrong, change direction. Just keep marching forward.

Eventually, you’ll find your way. You’ll find that the panicked and stuck feeling will fall away and you can breathe easier. You’ll feel lighter, more buoyant. Your energy will come back and you’ll find excitement at your favorite activities that only a few weeks ago, felt dull and routine, boring and stagnant.

Pick a direction, make a decision and go forward. March forth towards your goals and dreams.

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So, I was reading my favorite Shirley Jackson novel…..

…….the terrifying, subversive ghost story, The Haunting of Hill House, while waiting for a friend at my local wine bar. I was finishing up my dinner and was completely engrossed with Jackson’s prose.

“Hello!” came a voice at my elbow and I jumped with a yell, that immediately turned to giggles from both of us. I love scary stories, but don’t often get spooked by them.

This startled reaction was a first for me, as any and all who know me know that I am a lover of horror and supernatural fiction and non-fiction. It also reminded me of how Robert Wise had a similar action while reading the book.

In the audio commentary of the The Haunting (1963), Wise recounts how he was reading the book in his office. He had just gotten to a particularly tense scene when writer Nelson Gidding (who was working in the office next door) burst into the room. Robert Wise “jumped about three feet off the chair” (1) and realized that if the book could inspire such a reaction, then it should make a fine picture.

True horror doesn’t come from gross out imagery that is shoved into our faces – granted, it makes for a squeamish, shocking effect, but it’s also desensitizing. Horror comes from fear of the unknown, that which hides in the shadows and cannot be fully seen. What we can’t see is far more frightening than what is seen.

Shirley Jackson knew this – in reading The Haunting of Hill House, one is never entirely sure if the house is actually haunted or if it is Eleanor who is the haunting. This ambiguity is what lingers in our minds, why we can’t let go of it and why it haunts us. It’s also why some stories, like Jackson’s novel, take on a life of their own and become part of our language.

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(1) quote from the audio commentary by Robert Wise

Recommended Reading:

The Haunting of Hill House – Shirley Jackson
A Head Full of Ghosts – Peter Tremblay
‘Salem’s Lot – Stephen King
Hell House – Richard Matheson
Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier
Picnic at Hanging Rock – Joan Lindsay

So, David Bowie once said…….

………“If you feel safe in the area you’re working in, you’re not working in the right area. Always go a little further into the water than you feel you’re capable of being in. Go a little bit out of your depth. And when you don’t feel that your feet are quite touching the bottom, you’re just about in the right place to do something exciting.

I read this quote by David Bowie shortly after his death. It stayed with me, the way things do that make a strong impression. Some of my best creative output came about during the worst times and least secure moments of my life. As long as I was sitting in front of my computer, stringing words together and giving scenes and characters life, I was okay. Whatever was happening outside my little home became easier to handle and navigate. In short, regardless of the uncertainty of my future, my art allowed me to give voice and find strength.
However, as I reflected on Mr. Bowie’s words, I realized that maybe he wasn’t talking about the discomfort of the physical world, but the discomfort of our individual interior and emotional worlds. The analogy of water that Mr. Bowie uses can be interpreted in many ways. Swimming is the most immediate symbol – in order to become a competent swimmer, one needs to learn the basics of swimming. To be a competent or even a competitive swimmer, one had to be willing to push past fear and go into the deep end.
The other image of water that made itself clear to me was the subconscious, as in, “What lies beneath your conscious self?” What, indeed? What we fear the most, about ourselves, our loved ones, our worlds, is generally buried under the busy-ness of every-day living. A lot of times, we make ourselves busy so as not to address that which worries or scares us the most. It’s natural to want to feel safe and secure, but it can also hinder us from making the necessary changes in our lives that would bring us peace.
Embrace that discomfort and that fear. Get out your sketchpad or journal. Just let it all out onto that page, whether it’s haiku or musical notes, oil or watercolors. Let it be what it is. There is no judgement between you and that page – remember, this is for you to express yourself to yourself. Share it only if you want to.
Artistic expression is not just about romance and beautiful landscapes and silly love songs and enchanted cottages. It’s also about the flip side, about the things that scare us, make us angry or sad. The arts can give voice to both our light selves and our darker selves, what Carl Jung would call the Shadow.

Recommended reading:

Man and His Symbols

The Red Book

*****
Editor’s Note – this blog post is also published concurrently on Citizens Journal Ventura County.

And now, a word from Amelia Earheart…….

“Adventure is worthwhile in itself.”

Amelia Earhart, aviator
July 24, 1897 – July 2, 1937

So, I’m thinking about pirates…….

…….of the argh! and avast, me mateys! type that roamed the high seas on tall ships. I’m not exactly sure why, because historically speaking, they were not people to trifle with and often left a great swathe of blood behind. Perhaps it’s that sense of adventure that seems to accompany them, the call of the open sea, the wind ruffling through one’s hair as the sun beats down. Human survival against Nature’s unforgiving trials.

Whatever the case, I’m thinking about pirates. Both men and women chose to pursue that life going back hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Rather than focus on Hollywood’s sensationalized ideal of pirates, I’m thinking of several factors never fully explored. What drove them to piracy, to eschew convention and respectable society to embark on voyages that did not guarantee safety or security?

Whether it was Anne Bonny or Blackbeard or Ching Shih, they were not born pirates. Was it circumstance and personality that led them to their profession? Money, or lack thereof, that tore them away from their families? Was it survival or a choice freely made? Resentment of not being able to find their true calling due to rigid caste and/or societal rules?

I don’t suppose there’s any one solid answer for the pirates of the past, or those of contemporary times. I suspect that it may be a combination of many things that drive them to it.

Still, I’m thinking about pirates, the ones of yore, the type modeled from and idealized by the Hollywood Dream Factory. Their tall ships fascinate me. I wonder what they thought or dreamed about in the quiet moments on the ocean. Whether they had any regrets about or spared not a thought at all for those whose lives they altered forever.

I’m thinking about pirates. I’m thinking about two very different stories that have not seen the light of day in many years. I’m thinking about how pirates are actually incredibly symbolic metaphors for change, natural, man-made and maybe even supernatural.

I’m thinking about pirates.

And now, a word from Anais Nin….

“I must be a mermaid, Rango. I have no fear of depths and a great fear of shallow living.”

Anais Nin, author
February 21, 1903-January 14, 1977

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