For the Love of Chrome

My teenage years were a decade past the death of the muscle car era. I lived within driving distance of a handful of racetracks, one of them, Daytona International Speedway. It didn’t matter if it were cars or motorcycles; where I grew up racing was a part of life. The sound of a high-powered high-performance engine has always caught my attention. I dreamed of having a car like a 1969 Pontiac, a 1968 Charger or any year Chevelle—but never did because of the expense. My draw to these high-powered machines is still present.

The first time I rode on the back of a bike I was about 8 years old. The experience was, at that time, the scariest and the most thrilling of my life. My next real automotive thrill came when I was 14. My step-dad had just finished rebuilding his AMC AMX. We had gone into town and on our way back he pulled off the side of the road and made me get into the driver’s seat. I was thrilled and scared as he went over the basic things that I should always check before pulling out on the road. The mirrors, my seatbelt, verifying the car was indeed in park.

He had me pull out on the road, which was at least a ten-mile straightaway, and I tried to drive like a young person who is trying to show responsibility and maturity— driving very slowly. However, that was not the scenario I found myself in. Instead, I think he wanted me to experience the power of a strong engine and also see how I would react to it. He instructed me to gas it. I gave it a little gas, exceeding the speed limit by about ten mph.

“No!” he said, “Put the pedal to the floor.”

When I didn’t respond quick enough, he reached over and pushed my knee until the pedal did indeed hit the floor. Holding on to the wheel with both hands in a death grip, I was thrown hard against the seat, shock tingling through my body. I glanced down at the speedometer as it crested 90 mph. And instantly, the ride was over. He made me pull over as we entered the 25 mph zone and switched places with me again. He never explained to me why we did that. I thought it was some sort of test concerning my license but there was never talk of that.

With that brief few moments behind the wheel, my love of engines and muscle cars grew but I kept myself at a distance. Girls didn’t drive them or work on them. I was allowed to hand tools over and ask questions, but with the impression that I wouldn’t understand these things anyway. And even if I did, they would do me no good.

I had one car that was barely considered a muscle car and that was my orange Datsun 280Z. God, I loved that car. The two-seater coupe was fast. Ridiculously fast. But the engine wasn’t modified for it to go fast for long and I repeatedly blew the radiator doing over a hundred leaving radiator fluid all over my windshield and having to pull over until the engine cooled. I had to have the block fixed once from when I cracked it. It needed a dual over-head cam to keep it from overheating (or just me to not push it anymore). Over time I couldn’t justify the expense and that car was always costing me something (everything from car parts to speeding tickets).

The world of cars is still a mans world and most likely will always be. But there are girls out there who dream of pushing the limits—not just of society but of big V8 motors. There are those of us who love the smells of the racetrack and garages. There are those of us who turn our heads to the sound of a beefy engine or do a double-take when we see a truly beautiful car. There are those of us who love to drive fast but hold back because it’s unladylike. We are closet gear-heads who have learned to love from a safe distance. I recently started writing a novel in which my main character is a teenage female mechanic back in the 1980’s. Her setting is different than mine as she is allowed and encouraged by her father to pursue her love of engines, fast cars, and racing. She gets to live my dream.

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A Jealousy of Dysfunction

I’m going to admit something I’ve never admitted before. I am jealous of people who possessed a good, decent, and normal upbringing. I’ve spent some time wishing I had that one key thing which ripples across the surface of so many facets of a lifeline. I know that having a normal upbringing wouldn’t have guaranteed me success. I know I wouldn’t be the person I am today without my flawed upbringing. There are some wonderful things I might have missed without that dysfunctional sidecar.

I’ve had to learn interpersonal communication skills as an adult that I should have been taught as a child. These things would have helped me with everything from developing and keeping friendships to being successful in the workplace. Some of these missing skills would have made me a better parent. These tools would have helped me make better decisions and choices in my life. I would have avoided some heartbreaks.

I would have succeeded in life much sooner.

Yet, when I look back at my life, I am grateful for the things I went through and the things I experienced growing up. Yes, life could have been easier for me. I have mostly learned the hard way, sometimes the hardest way. I am glad that I’ve made it as far as I have and wonder if I had been brought up differently if I would have been able to reach the same level of experience that I currently have.

So, while I wish that my growing up had been in a nurturing, close, loving and supportive environment and while I wish that I had been taught all the profound moral values while being surrounded by knowledge and diversity, perhaps by being the child of University Professors or Business Professionals, I accept that I was not involved in any of these things. I accept that what I wanted and what I needed were two different things. I’ve accepted the life and challenges that life has brought. Rarely has my life been easy but neither has it been so difficult that I couldn’t figure it out.

While my upbringing lacked, my adulthood has been an active process of learning and growing and creating the life I want. My adulthood has been the classroom where I taught myself, searched for truth, filled the voids, fixed the holes and learned to develop a resilience to my dysfunctional sidecar. I’ve learned to grow through what I go through. I’ve learned that a lifetime of self-improvement is more valuable than having a cookie cutter foundation and wasting it anyway.

I feel like in the end, I probably turned out the same. I just have a heavy rich suitcase full of unique experiences that are better than any I come up with for one of my fiction stories. These experiences will pepper everything I write, every character, every scene, every motivation and for that I am grateful. So, while a part of me is still a touch jealous or envious of those with great childhoods, I am glad for the variance in our society, knowing each of us can take control of the handlebars and lose the sidecar, anytime we want to.

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My Writing Life–Every Word is Worth it

Writing is one of my favorite things and my love of words started at a young age. Not things like poetry, but the language itself. I am still fascinated by the way the words themselves are formed. I am awestruck by the variety of ways words can be transformed into sentences and subsequently into stories. In school, I loved the Dictionary games and deciphering a word’s meaning based on its parts. In one elementary school class, I remember memorizing the prepositions. (Yes all of them, in alphabetical order and I am still able to recite most of them.) I was very proud of myself for these things, these odd abilities.

I got an old desk when I was around 10 years old. I loved that desk and would “set it up” so that I could pretend to be a writer. I had stacks of paper and pens and pencils. I had managed a handful of office supplies; a mini-stapler, some tape, and a pair of scissors. I remember sitting there for hours creating. My step-dad who was never very encouraging questioned me about my new behavior followed by the lecture that “Writer’s don’t make any money and it’s not a good job option.” Finishing his lecture with the comment that my handwriting was awful.

To say my dreams were subdued by this incident is, to say the least. I allowed my dreams to crash themselves and break on the shore—evaporating into thin air. I did work on my handwriting though but I never really wrote again. I even had to be pushed to write basic things like letters or thank you notes. Not because I didn’t want to but because it hurt too much to write. It broke my heart when I tried.

I didn’t really have to face that fear again until high school, at which point I ended up with a decent English teacher who pushed just hard enough to stir that dream again from its sleep. It wasn’t much, but I wrote again for a little while. And then, life happens as it does and I wasn’t able to write and didn’t allow it to take precedence. That is until my late 20’s when I went back to college.

I probably wasn’t as serious about college as I should have been. But it did stir that urge to write again and this time pushed a need to read along with it. That was nearly 20 years ago and my commitment to writing has been mainly sporadic until about 4 years ago when I started down my own road and paved it with self-education. Since then, I have read 17 books about writing (and am currently reading 3 others), Read and watched interviews, read blogs about writing, watched webinars, participated in a handful of writing groups around town and (most importantly) have been writing like crazy. It’s been over a year and a half that I have written every single day. Even if it was just for ten minutes, though most of the time I write for at least an hour or two.

So now my love of words comes full circle. I still play dictionary games but now it’s usually trying to find the right word. I try to spice up my preposition and verb choices. I put all the things I have learned into practice as I work to improve my prose and write better stories. I have learned to trust my voice and not listen to the little nagging voice that attempts to tell me that it’s all awful and that there is no point to it. Although, (it might be right), I have been writing steadily for 4 years and have not been paid one cent for my time even though I have technically written several novels worth by now. Who does that? Works for free? But it’s what I love to do. It brings together all the little parts that mean nothing by themselves.

Now, as an adult, I sit at one of my two desks to write. I have one for the organic writing (long-hand) and one for editing and word-processing (my computer). For the first time in my writing life, I am finishing stories and sending them out for submissions. I have a handful of helpful readers who give me feedback so that I can focus and tighten what I am trying to say. My final drafts are far more interesting than my first drafts and I suspect that is the way things are supposed to be. I love the writing process and that love has surpassed my love of words. My work has evolved, grown, and improved along with me. I am proud to say that every word has been worth it.

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My Dad was Mr. Rogers

I was separated from my father at an early age. It was a combination of divorce, circumstances and over 3,000 miles. This was in the 1970’s and I ended up being what they called a “latch-key kid”. What that meant essentially was that my primary caregivers (mom and step-dad) worked so much that I was left alone at home with instructions to keep the door locked and not let anyone in. The concern was that I would and could possibly get snatched up. We lived in Florida and at that time, there were children all over the state being taken mostly from public places and mostly because the parents turned their backs for only a moment. That was all it took.

 
I missed my fun and kind father, despite the strange things my mother told me about him and why he left. I remembered him wearing a sweater and his black hair was parted on one side and laid obediently next to the others, swooping to the opposite side. I had a few pictures of him. He looked like Mr. Rogers to me, only less gray.

 
I ran across the show one morning and began to fantasize that this is why I never saw my father because he was too busy making this caring show for all the kids in the world. So he was too busy and important to come to see little old me. I could see his face every time the show came on and it brought me a little closer to him. It eased my pain. It comforted the scared little girl who felt alienated from the entire world. Since he could not come to me, I would go to him every day and watch him interact and teach me things from inside his tubed box.

 
I must have known in my heart that it was just something I made up. I don’t think I told anyone. I might have told mom, to which I am certain she must have told me how ridiculous that was. I remember being devastated when my step-dad lost his job and was home for a few weeks and I was told to stay in my room and not allowed to watch their TV. I missed seeing my dad and my alienation grew.

 
I ended up seeing him twice over the years between 5 and 16. Once when I was about 6 or 7, not too long after both of my parents were remarried and once when I was 11, just before my grandfather died. Both times I remember him changing his shoes when he got home and putting on a button-up sweater. It doesn’t matter if this part was true or happened, it happened for me. The fantasy in my head played it out over and over again. In my mind, my dad was Mr. Rogers. And if as an adult I had to compare him to an iconic figure, that would be the one. Even though I rarely saw my father during my formative years, he was always with me, always guiding me and always told me he loved me.

 

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A Cleaner Slate

This month I started a new exercise in my writing program. (I believe I picked it up from James Scott Bell.) It’s called the “10-minute warm-up” and it starts off each time with the phrase “I remember…” This exercise has done more than just get my writing muscles warmed up and jump-kicked into action, it has also been eye-opening each time I do it and I am discovering new corners of my memories that have been previously ignored.

 

As I get older, there are always moments from my past that stick with me. Oftentimes these moments have either negative connotations or ended up having negative or very unintended consequences. These feelings leave a sting on me and mark me by never letting go. Regrets, I think they are called. Anyhow, doing this lesson has allowed me to look past the moment, around it, under it and giving me the ability to now uncover little things that lay dormant in the corner like dust bunnies waiting for me to sweep them out into the light. These new perceptions and freshly unearthed feelings are becoming something more…some bigger part of a once narrow picture.

 

While currently these memories and images are becoming fresh organic writing fodder, I am also experiencing a wash of healing and acceptance. This is an unexpected outcome of this exercise. One I was not warned of, but I like it. It’s the satisfaction of cleaning and the gleam of a hopeful future instead of the constant hopeless memories that tug at me daily. It is the resurgence of newness and freshness, a cleaner slate to work with.

 

Besides writing every day, this exercise has produced the quickest and most fertile results. I feel like I just leveled up, found a key I have been looking for, or found a satisfying answer to a nagging question. Relief for my regrets while heading for results.

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Brain Sputtering

I look at the clock. The arms don’t seem to be moving and the digits all look identical. Something inside me pushes against time, wanting everything to just hurry along. Does anyone have time for all the bullshit little things that we have to do and sit through each and every day? All the tedious things that seem to take forever? All the dreaded things?

I am not sure how I came out of that place, but I know it happened slowly as I sifted through my own mush and bullshit. During this period, I had to constantly remind myself to slow down, after all, what was the big hurry? Is it weird that I had to teach myself how to enjoy life’s every moment? Shouldn’t that just be a built-in part of being human? Shouldn’t that just be a given? Yet my anxiety-ridden nature could do nothing of the sort. I had to just get to the other side of things and quickly. The pattern was most noticeable with watching movies. I could watch a film I know I had seen and in some cases not remember a single moment of the film. I discovered the problem was, since all I was thinking about was getting through it, I rarely paid any attention to what was going on. At first, I thought the problem was my memory when really it was my lack of focus, my desire to just “get through it”.

I am not sure if it relates but I also battle a touch of dyslexia. I loved words so much that I fought back my constant poor choice of which letter was correct b p d or q (which ironically still happens frequently when I type). I find that both my hands and my mouth will betray me and either say or write a word that sounds similar to the one I want to use but is utterly incorrect. I catch it a lot when I am editing a piece that I have written really fast, my brain sputtering out a placeholder so that I can get the right word in the right place later. It happened all the time in my earlier years and I was dubbed “dingy”. It doesn’t help any that when I have this “verbal dyslexia” in public I get so embarrassed that I giggle uncontrollably. Ah, but what is life without all it’s little flaws and inconsistencies?

I have never had any kind of treatment for these brain misfires of mine. In my late 20’s, I luckily followed a path to study Psychology and in a storm of self-repair went through a wide variety of self-help books, classes, and therapy, shedding light and doing remodels of all the glaring personal blemishes that covered my interior walls. I also took my love of words for a walk and have challenged myself to improve my speech and vocabulary. Improving my typing speed has been the most challenging. After over a year solid of typing every morning at the computer for at least 20 minutes, I have not yielded any noticeable improvement in my speed or accuracy. That part is disappointing. Perhaps in another couple of years…

Oddly enough the one practice that has helped me the most is to just be grateful. I just stop myself for a still moment, close my eyes, take a deep breath, as I let it out I allow myself to smile. As I open my eyes I remind myself to just enjoy the moment. I don’t know if anyone else suffers from or experiences these things. I don’t know but I am guessing at least some of these things are familiar to most from time to time. I try to always smile, even through the bullshit. I try to enjoy every moment. Some days it’s harder than others, some days there is just too much bullshit and we all just have to do the best we can to get through it as quickly and painlessly as possible. No matter what though, I always have time to be grateful.

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Photo by Seth Doyle on Unsplash

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A Black Crayon

 

The smell of crayons always takes me back to my first childhood memories of creativity. Crayons were almost always available and easy enough to use though I was never “that kind” of an artist. To this day, I love the way the wax slides across the paper and catches every bump or imperfection both in the paper and from the surface underneath it. I still love the smell of a fresh brand new box and can hear in my head the sound of the paper being torn off as the crayon leaves itself behind on the paper.
The black crayon was always my favorite. I saw it as the most useful of all the colors because you can use it to outline anything, like the way a tattoo artist or coloring book does. It creates the lines and structure of your focus. It conducts your direction like the line on a road. It is the color of ladybugs and window frames.
Now as an adult, I get to show my grandkids the cool things one can do with a crayon and I love when they think I have some sort of magical powers. “How do you know how to do that Grandma?” my grandson Lucas will ask, his voice filled with wonder. “Because when I was your age, I practiced,” I tell him smiling.
I hope he always sees me as magical, just as I did my first box of 64 Crayola crayons, the cool one with the sharpener in the back. The box was so much better than that smaller, plain, nondescript box of crayons that mom got me before that, which broke, randomly melted, and honestly did not even write the same as the Crayola brand. I remember feeling rich when I opened that package on Christmas day! I am sure that it came with a coloring book but I have long since forgotten what book that could possibly have been.
I do remember emptying the entire box on a regular basis. I used the four inserts to arrange the crayons in color coordinating patterns, resulting in the colors beaming back at me like some confused sort of rainbow. Crayons, in some ways, symbolize my first OCD moments, which as an adult continue to play out in my color coordinated closets and pantry’s, outlined in black. I manage my OCD with a strong dose of writing and have long since traded my crayons for pens and my drawings for stories.

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