About Ali

Personal posts about Ali Cross, including personal insights, stories, family, etc.

How to Be Authentic (the simple version)

| About Ali

A couple weeks ago, I was sitting in the ladies’ church meeting. I love them, but they’re usually a pretty sedate affair. We sing a hymn, have a lesson, share insights and spiritual experiences, stuff like that. One day, my favorite teacher surprised us with a little something outside the box.

Still, I felt reserved and careful, like I was holding myself back. Which, honestly, is typical of how I often feel in life, not only in church.

Instead of a hymn, we sang the 80’s song “I’m Walking on Sunshine” by Katrina and the Waves (who I’ve actually seen in concert! Woot!).

 

At first, we sang the song as church women. It was nice. It was fine. But as we sang this free and liberating song, something inside me kind of snapped. But in a good way. I decided to have fun. I decided not to think about where I was or who I was with, but rather who I am.

I let all my inhibitions go, and sang.

Now, I don’t know if everyone around me made the same decision at the same time, or if my example had something to do with it, but suddenly this whole classroom filled with benign church ladies was a-hoppin’!

And that’s when I had an epiphany.

In order to be yourself,
you have to let go of your inhibitions.

It sounds easy, but most of the time we’ve been holding onto those inhibitions like they’re our shield against the outside world. Heaven forbid someone think we’re weird, dumb, or … gasp! … fun.

I’ve been trying to let go of mine. So far, I’ve only been about 80% successful, but it feels good to be trying. Hey, that means that 20% of the time I’m feeling more like my true, authentic self. I’m free. I’m alive.

I am weird. I am a goof and a dummy. I am all kinds of awkward and while I might not be fun, I’m having fun. And man, that feels good!

So play along with me, my friends. Try lightening up a bit, and let your bad self shine.

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The Return of Ninja Mode!

| About Ali, About Writing

If you’ve been with me long enough to remember me as the Story Ninja (capable of kicking outlines into line, sneaking up on bad guys and writing a story with stealth and awesomeness), then you remember Ninja Mode!

On January 3rd, my sweetheart David was diagnosed with choroidal melanoma – a type of cancer that sits on his retina. The past two weeks have been a whirlwind! We learned that the cancer was bad, and had probably spread to his body. So the hunt for the cancer began in earnest and we tried to prepare for the worst while hoping for the best.

We were blessed and the BEST IT IS! The cancer appears to be limited to his eye–we are so relieved!

I’d been considering blogging less in order to WRITE MORE BOOKS, but I love blogging, so I’ve had a hard time deciding. But David’s diagnosis has forced me to truly evaluate how I use my time and with so many more doctor appointments added to the mix, it seemed the best decision was obvious.

For the time being, I’ll only be posting author-ish stuff like book news and appearances, etc. I hope you’re okay with that. I realize I may lose some of you who like to read about my dealings with Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue, but I hope you’ll understand. One of the things we must do to minimize our symptoms is minimize our stress. You know how difficult that can be! But when something can be removed from your plate–well, you should do it.

So I’m going into Ninja Mode, my friends. It’s time for me to focus on my family and WRITE A LOT OF WORDS! I plan to bring you not one, but SIX books this year!

Visit me on my Facebook Page if you want to stay in touch! Much love to all of you! <3

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Bullet Journal For the Win!

| About Ali

I’ve always been a list girl. To-do lists, shopping lists, routine lists, cleaning lists … if it’s something with steps, I’m all over it. David gave me my first “real planner” back in 1991. It was a Franklin Covey planner and it was awesome! I used Franklin planners for years after that. All the way until the iPhone, I think. I tried every app and system known to man, but there’s something about the writing of things that’s cathartic, revealing and informative. Electronic lists and planners simply wouldn’t cut it.

So back to paper planners, I went. I tried the Franklin planner again, the Happy Planner, and others. And then, back in April of 2016, I tried a bullet journal. And it was a game changer.

A bullet journal is a master-list keeper of sorts, that can be anything and everything you want it to be. Check out bulletjournal.com to learn more about the method as it was originally intended. I think the best approach is to study the method, and then allow yourself the freedom to discover your own method.

Once you get looking around, you’ll find a plethora of bullet journal examples, many with art that will blow your mind. I am not so crafty as all that. I like it, I just can’t do it. Plus, I don’t have the time. But if you’re anything like me, you’ll love seeing examples of other people’s journals because it will help you inform your own choices. Which brings me to today! I want to share with you my 2017 journal (at least the first one, I expect I’ll use two to three this year) and the method I’m currently enjoying.

When I started using a bullet journal, I bought a grid notebook for $5 at Office Max. It’s was a good journal, and a great first one as it helped me discover if the bullet journal (BuJo for short) method was going to be a good one for me.

Now I use a Leuchtturm1917, medium size hardcover A5 notebook with dotted pages and I LOVE it. The feel of the hardcover book, the weight of the pages, the quality of the binding–these are the reasons I love this notebook.

I don’t have favorite markers or anything like that, but I am absolutely addicted to the G2 Pen, 0.38 ultra fine point. and this handy caddy is perfect for mobility around the house. I also use the Leuchtturm pen loop so I can keep my pen with my book at all times. Last year I did whatever color notebooks I felt like at the time. This year, though, I think I’ll try to keep to one color (I already have two of the raspberry journals above, so raspberry it is!) I think it’ll help keep my storage uniform and well, the “order” of it appeals to me.

Okay! Pardon the poor picture qualities, but come take a look inside my BuJo!

My first attempt at art. And the quote to shape my purpose for the year.

I chose the word THRIVE as my focus word for 2017. I want to do more than just survive in my hurty body, ya know? If I can’t make IT do the things I want it to do, then by golly I’m going to do all I can to enjoy, love and succeed at my life despite it. I’m going to THRIVE.

In preparation for the new year, I worked through guided coursework created by Kim at Sublime Reflection. The life categories and top ten goals here are from that worksheet–though now I’ve refined them a bit. Mainly, my top TWO goals are to 1) Draw nearer to God and 2) Treat my writing like a full time job. (Which I should have been doing for a long time now but have always fallen short of.)

My master calendar (titled as a nod to the Doctor). It carries on over two more pages.
Master task list and a place to corral gift ideas.
A “Happy Home” spread to keep track of home cleaning routines. One of my goals this year is to discover “Me-Friendly” routines that I can stick to.
Movies, TV & Books tracker to give me a spot to jot down what’s coming out that I’d like to check out. I put “Favorites” on my list of pages I wanted to create but now I can’t remember what it was supposed to be for. Time will tell!

I’m the president of my sons’ lacrosse club, so I’ve included a place to track notes and spending. I wish I’d also included a schedule of games and such. The coolest part about BuJo’s is that I can add in a LaX calendar ANYWHERE. I’ll add it to my index (another reason to love the Leuchtturm because it comes with a built-in index and numbered pages – otherwise you have to create your own) and maybe even add a tab for easy access).

My writing spread is probably my favorite and the one I’m most eager to start using. It’s got a place to track the projects, their genre, series, projected and actual release dates. And it also has a pixel calendar to track my daily word counts throughout the year. This is purely for fun. I have a goal of writing four thousand words a day, which is totally do-able for me, I’m just bad at getting my butt in the chair and doing the work. So I want to track my progress in a pretty way just for kicks and giggles.

A place to collect blog ideas and categorize them – then schedule them. The calendar didn’t quite turn out as planned. Oh well. It’s all a work in progress and perfection is NOT the aim of the game.
A Book of Mormon reading map! You could easily do this for the Bible or any other scripture or text that you want to read this year! And of course my super simple January titlepage, with penguins I cut off a super cute Christmas card I got this year.

Weekly spread! It gives me an overview of what I can expect from my week and the tasks I must accomplish.

I made my January titlepage and calendar before I remembered that I really like to use Washi Tape to define the start of each month. I made little tabs (you can sort of see them on the left page in the image above) so the page is easy to grab. I do this on each month, seasonally color-coded to some extent for easy visibility. It’s very handy! Except when you put it on AFTER you’ve done your spread, it messes with your pretty text and what have-you. Note to Self: Remember to add the washi before creating the monthly layout.

An example of a daily spread with a place for scheduling on the left and journaling on the right.
An example of a Saturday/Sunday spread.

And there you have it! I hope some of these ideas help spark ideas of your own and they’re helpful to you. I highly recommend you check out #bulletjournal and #bulletjournaljunkies on Instagram – and then join the Bullet Journal Junkies Facebook group. Lots of super amazing help, support and ideas there.

So what about YOU? Do you keep a planner of any kind? Are you tempted by bullet journals? Do you have any questions? 

Oh, and let’s not forget …

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

 

 

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Me & Chronic Illness: How I Deal with Fibromyalgia

| About Ali

ali_chronic2I kick it in its ugly butt!

Or, you know. That’s the idea.

Truth is, FMS pain can make it difficult to do anything let alone kicking any butts. But, I can’t just let it rule my life, ya know?

The Meds I Take

I am in no way a medical professional, but I do want to be frank about what I’ve tried and what’s worked for me because I know how hard it can be when you’re trying to find answers. 

Newly diagnosed with FMS, living in a new state and new city, newborn twins and a special needs foster son and life was really getting me down. I thought I was coping well, but later I would come to see things differently.

For fifteen of my sixteen fibro years, I took way too much Ibuprofen to cope with my troubles. I never really told a doctor how much I was taking, but it was probably in the neighborhood of sixteen pills a day of whatever the strongest variety I could find. I knew it was more than the recommended dose but it also wasn’t an opioid so I was glad I wasn’t getting addicted to painkillers. Sure, it might not have had quite the same adverse affects, but it still damaged my stomach and made my headaches worse. I didn’t know that too much ibuprofen would cause headaches but sure enough, when I finally started “coming off” them the headaches improved. But the pain felt so much worse.

I started taking Amitryptilene near the beginning of my adventure with FMS, as well. To help me get to sleep and stay asleep. It helped a little and didn’t seem to cause me any troubles except it made my mouth dry. But over the years the sleeping got worse anyway. Finally I was sleeping about three hours a night, and even those few hours weren’t high quality. So when my Amitryptilene ran out in the spring of ’15, I didn’t refill it.

And gradually, something remarkable happened. I started to feel happier. I didn’t realize I’d been UNhappy, and I don’t think I was, per se, but I wasn’t myself. I began to feel more like I did years and years ago. Happy, cheerful. Outgoing. I thought motherhood or aging had changed me. But now, looking back, I think it was just easy to miss because of our move and life situation and all the jazz that happened at the same time as my diagnosis and starting the meds. It was a pretty startling realization.

For obvious reasons I didn’t want to go back on that medicine but I was also desperate to sleep. Everything I did caused me such fatigue I could barely function. I was so tired but I couldn’t nap, couldn’t sleep. After doing a sleep study, getting a CPAP machine and starting Cymbalta, I began to hurt a little less and sleep a little more. Thank goodness! I was also referred to the Bateman Horne Center in Salt Lake City and, miracle of miracles, I got in.

They started me on Lyrica (I know a lot of people have trouble with this, but for me it’s been great.) Lyrica helps me with the nerve pain (that rush of pain that overwhelms me when I’m roughed with) and, I think, gives me a teensy bit of energy. So small it’s hardly worth noting, but I think maybe it’s there.

The Stuff I Do

I really wish I had a hot tub. When I was first diagnosed I had a friend who also had FMS and she had a hot tub. She swore by it and I’ve always thought since then that I needed a doctor to prescribe me one or something. 😛 But I’ve had to make due without one.

So I’ve become really good friends with heating pads. I own three of them. When the pain is really bad, I lie down on the couch, tucked in with a heating pad or two or three.

Doctors always tell you to exercise, and FMS people always say “How can I exercise when I hurt so much?” Especially when it’s in your feet. The worst! While I despise all doctors who have told me this blithely, I do agree that movement is super important. I hurt less when I move more. But I’ve learned the movement, for me, has to be small.

I tried real exercising, but it always caused me too much pain. For a long time I fought that, because I loved working out and not being able to hard on me. Eventually I learned the very hard lesson that I couldn’t do things the way I wanted to. I needed to let go of perfection. More on that in a bit …

I walk. Slowly, and not very far. I do yoga–pretty much just stretching. Like, yoga for beginners, even though I’ve been doing it for years. Sometimes I can do more yoga, but suddenly the line is there and I’ve gone over it and … I’m done.

Probably the most effective thing I do, is use a timer. I use it for everything, everywhere. Fifteen minutes for housework (or less if needed!). But I never go past it. If I do, I’ll pay for it later, and it’s much easier to not cross that threshold, but to manage myself beforehand.

Most importantly–I use a timer. I sit to work, set my timer for 15 to 30 minutes. When the timer goes off I get up and go do something. Usually a bit of housework, or a walk around my cul de sac, or turn over laundry. Just something small, like five to ten minutes, then I’m back to work and my timer gets reset.

And, I ask for help. Oh man, that’s hard. See a trend here? Everything’s hard. Why not make it easier on yourself when you can? My family can’t read my mind, but they can help me–when I ask.

Things change and change often. The hardest part is reminding myself that it’s okay and to go with the flow.

The Way I Think

Going with the flow takes constant reminders to myself. I can’t fight my body. In fact, fighting it just causes more grief. Even after all these years I worry about the lazy, crazy and looking for attention, but that gets me nowhere. Pain is part of my life, but frowning through it really does make it worse. Moaning and complaining = feels worse.

However, smiling lightens your mood and makes it easier to deal with the stuff. It seems trite, I know, but I truly believe it works. So I find things I enjoy doing while sitting around. I love to crochet, so I make baby blankets for all the millions of babies being born into our extended family. I write (obviously). I try to be productive, every day, even if that productivity isn’t immediately obvious to others. At least I know I’ve done something. Achieved or accomplished something.

My little dog, Rocky, helps me a lot. He helps me smile, to not feel alone, to feel loved “even though.” It’s easier to keep my chin up when he’s with me.

rocky_favorite-ever

And, I pray. Everything is easier when God’s with me. Even if He doesn’t always give me what I want, He gives me what I need.

This is not an easy illness. Medication only helps a little, so I’ve had to find real-life ways to live with Fibromyalgia. I need to ask for help, give myself a break, and be kind to myself.

My story isn’t quite over. Next week I’ll talk about my experience with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

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Me & Chronic Illness: Fibromyalgia

| About Ali

Fibromyalgia (FMS) is pretty common these days, but not a lot of us understand it–even those of us who suffer from it. I also have myalgic encephalomyelitis, or ME/CFS, and because circumstances have required me to be more open about my health this past year, I thought it was time that I shared my experience with my friends and family–and anyone who might be struggling with a chronic illness of their own (and those who are trying to understand or help another).

Like most of you, I first heard about FMS as a mystery disorder that hovered on the edge of fact and fiction. People who had it were “lazy,” “crazy,” or “hungry for attention.” Doctors who diagnosed it were quacks or practicing pseudo-medicine. There was no treatment, no help, only a sentence of long term suffering and pain.

When I finally went to the doctor about the pain in my shoulders, knees, and other joints, my babies were just a couple months old and it was assumed that I was just taking a little longer than usual to recover from the pregnancy. After all, the pregnancy had been very trying, I had carried twins, and was now caring for two infants. No one could expect to feel excellent under those circumstances.

A couple months later I talked to the doctor again because even though the babies and I were sleeping more often, and we were enjoying a decent routine, I still hurt. A lot. I have a positive RA factor in my blood, which means I could potentially contract rheumatoid arthritis one day. Even though I didn’t have red, swollen joints, my doctor sent me to see a rheumatologist with the expectation that I’d be diagnosed with RA. Instead, I wad diagnosed with fibromyalgia and dismissed by the specialist because “there was nothing he could do.”

I cried.

Fibromyalgia is diagnosed based on a minimum of these specific tenderpoints.
Fibromyalgia is diagnosed based on a minimum of these specific tenderpoints.

I didn’t want to have RA, believe me. I knew how much the women with it suffered, the real fear they had of not being around to raise their children, or not being physically capable of enjoying life. But the diagnosis of FMS felt like a sucker punch. It felt like a penal sentence that would forever label me as lazy, crazy, and hungry for attention.

I was still nursing my babies, so I couldn’t take pain killers. I had no hope of ever feeling better. There was nothing I could do to improve my situation. I was doomed. Doomed with pain, inside and out, every day, all day, forever.

Fibromyalgia pain is different for everyone, but there are similarities that over the years have been grouped together as indicators of the disorder. For me, I have “all the time” issues and “sometimes” issues.

My FMS Symptoms:

  • Skin Sensitivity/Pain. Ever had a fever where your skin hurt? Even the movement of sheets over your body can cause extreme discomfort? It’s like that. My clothes hurt, a feather-touch from my husband is like fire, and a friendly touch, like a pat on my arm or a squeeze can leave me feeling as if I’ve been scratched or punched.
  • Sensitivity to Contact. Pretty much the same as above, except that the pain is deep and intense. A simple thing as a hug, a pat on the back or knocking against a door frame can send bouts of excruciating pain throbbing through my body.
  • Constantly Aching Muscles. This has nothing to do with exercise, because it can happen with or without it. However it feels a lot like how you might feel after you’ve run a race or had a great aerobic workout. It feels like lactic acid burning through your muscles, but no amount of shaking them out, massaging them or anything else helps.
  • Joint Pain. It feels like arthritis. I swell, I ache, I hurt. Sometimes I can’t hold a pen. Sometimes I feel like a bone is actually broken.
  • Localized, extreme pain. Usually a person with FMS will have “favorite” places their pain likes to hang out. For me, it’s my feet, my upper thighs, upper arms, back, shoulders and neck. It can be so severe that pain in my feet can force me to stay off them. Or pain in my thighs can make it difficult to walk. It’s a crazy crap-shoot and I basically never know what to expect from day to day.
  • Nerve Pain. Random, extreme shooting meteors of pain.
  • Numbness/Tingling. I feel this most often in my hands and arms.
  • Headaches. They’re constant, but I’m so used to them I hardly notice. I notice when they send me to bed because they’ve blossomed into migraines.
  • Vision and Hearing Problems.
  • Painful Intercourse. No one likes to talk about sex, but let’s face it–a healthy sex life is essential to happiness in a marriage. But what do you do when you hurt inside?
  • Sleep Troubles. This is a HUGE problem, and for much of my life with FMS (almost 16 years now), sleep has been my number one problem. Insomnia, yes, but for me it’s mostly just pain. I wake after a few hours of sleep in such pain, sometimes it’s my tears that wake me. Or I hear myself wimpering. My poor husband. He’s constantly worried about me. So I wake in pain in the middle of the night, and then have to try to get back to sleep. Yeah, it’s not so effective, lol. Then I start my morning exhausted, stiff and sore, and already feeling like the world has ganged up on me and kicked me up and down the block all night.
  • And anything else. It’s like my FMS decides to shake things up now and then and shout “surprise!” just to see how I’ll deal with a new symptom.

I don’t always have all of these symptoms at once, but I have some of them all the time. For instance, visiting family is always a bit terrifying for me because I’m going to be hugged, and hugs hurt. A lot. Some of my family love to pat (or, er, pound) your back when they greet you–but this friendly gesture brings me to tears and has me fighting off the pain for a long, long time.

I’ve found myself hiding in bedrooms while I try to breathe through the pain. I’ve found myself avoiding saying hello or goodbye to people at family gatherings in order to avoid physical contact. I don’t like to complain, so I don’t hang out with friends so much because while they’re talking about their adventures or house projects, I’m thinking about how all I’ve been doing lately is finding ways to function despite the pain.

I say no to things that require physical activity because while I enjoy it, and might be able to handle it, it’s more likely I won’t be able to. Not because I’m lazy, but because my day-to-day experience has proven to me that it’s true.

I can only go up and down my stairs so many times in a day before the pain in my feet, knees, hips, back … grows too great.

pain

Most of all? I feel lazy, crazy and hungry for attention.

Lazy because I’m not doing the things I see others doing. I’m not taking hikes in the beautiful fall mountains. I’m not cleaning my house much. I’m not exercising with my friends.

Crazy because every day I expect something to change. I do some of those above things, and then suffer with pain payback for weeks afterward. Crazy because the pain can sometimes be so intense that I literally can’t think straight.

And hungry for attention because I’m desperate for people to understand. I wish for friends and neighbors to know that this is real. I am suffering. I want the world to know that fibromyalgia is real. Because I’m not actually lazy or crazy–I’m sick.

Next week: How I live with fibromyalgia.

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Where Friends Can be Found

| About Ali

Short answer? Everywhere.

Once, a woman moved into our neighborhood. I wanted to like her, to be liked by her–to be her friend. She was bright and shiny, fun and cool. But man, she was a snob! Or, at least, to me. She didn’t “pick” me–she picked a handful of other women in the neighborhood. They were friendly-ish, but definitely had their clique and membership was by invitation only.

Carly* and I were assigned to be companions for a church service, and I hated it. She hated it, I’m sure. As we got to know one another we didn’t like each other at all. But we served together. And we each cared for the women we were serving. That mutual caring brought Carly and I together. We recognized strength in each other. Compassion and kindness. And from there … a friendship grew.

Friendship can grow, even when you think the seed is no good.

The other night a woman in my church stopped by to bring me a gift. A little book, not only signed by the author, but more precious–including a personal note from Claudia. The note was so touching; I’m a bit at a loss at the generosity this woman has shown me. Not just in the beautiful words she wrote me, but in the little acts of kindness over the years, especially in the last year.

I don’t know why.

I don’t know that I’m worthy of her kindnesses. She doesn’t really know me, nor I her. She’s older than me, “runs in a different circle” so tospeak. And yet … she has offered me a rare, unselfish kind of friendship.

friendship-quote-lifes-happiness

Friendship can be found where you least expect it.

As I’ve said before, I’m not a natural friend. I worry a lot about how to behave, what to say, do, how to show the other person the same kind of kindness so they’ll know how much I appreciate them. But I muddle through. I try to be me, and to trust that I’m good enough.

Think to Thank. In these three words are the finest capsule course for a happy marriage, formula for enduring friendship, and a pattern for personal happiness.
~ Thomas S. Monson

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The Moon was a Ghostly Galleon

| About Ali

I love this poem with all my heart. My mom could recite the entire thing by memory–this was the story she told me, anytime I asked for one. It always stirred my imagination, and when I think of Halloween, I always think … “The moon was a ghostly galleon …”
And I love Loreena Mkennit’s version of the poem, though it is edited. The poem’s included after the video. Happy Halloween, everybody!

The Highwayman

by Alfred Noyes
PART ONE
The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees.
The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas.
The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,
And the highwayman came riding—
         Riding—riding—
The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door.
He’d a French cocked-hat on his forehead, a bunch of lace at his chin,
A coat of the claret velvet, and breeches of brown doe-skin.
They fitted with never a wrinkle. His boots were up to the thigh.
And he rode with a jewelled twinkle,
         His pistol butts a-twinkle,
His rapier hilt a-twinkle, under the jewelled sky.
Over the cobbles he clattered and clashed in the dark inn-yard.
He tapped with his whip on the shutters, but all was locked and barred.
He whistled a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there
But the landlord’s black-eyed daughter,
         Bess, the landlord’s daughter,
Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.
And dark in the dark old inn-yard a stable-wicket creaked
Where Tim the ostler listened. His face was white and peaked.
His eyes were hollows of madness, his hair like mouldy hay,
But he loved the landlord’s daughter,
         The landlord’s red-lipped daughter.
Dumb as a dog he listened, and he heard the robber say—
“One kiss, my bonny sweetheart, I’m after a prize to-night,
But I shall be back with the yellow gold before the morning light;
Yet, if they press me sharply, and harry me through the day,
Then look for me by moonlight,
         Watch for me by moonlight,
I’ll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way.”
He rose upright in the stirrups. He scarce could reach her hand,
But she loosened her hair in the casement. His face burnt like a brand
As the black cascade of perfume came tumbling over his breast;
And he kissed its waves in the moonlight,
         (O, sweet black waves in the moonlight!)
Then he tugged at his rein in the moonlight, and galloped away to the west.
PART TWO
He did not come in the dawning. He did not come at noon;
And out of the tawny sunset, before the rise of the moon,
When the road was a gypsy’s ribbon, looping the purple moor,
A red-coat troop came marching—
         Marching—marching—
King George’s men came marching, up to the old inn-door.
They said no word to the landlord. They drank his ale instead.
But they gagged his daughter, and bound her, to the foot of her narrow bed.
Two of them knelt at her casement, with muskets at their side!
There was death at every window;
         And hell at one dark window;
For Bess could see, through her casement, the road that he would ride.
They had tied her up to attention, with many a sniggering jest.
They had bound a musket beside her, with the muzzle beneath her breast!
“Now, keep good watch!” and they kissed her. She heard the doomed man say—
Look for me by moonlight;
         Watch for me by moonlight;
I’ll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way!
She twisted her hands behind her; but all the knots held good!
She writhed her hands till her fingers were wet with sweat or blood!
They stretched and strained in the darkness, and the hours crawled by like years
Till, now, on the stroke of midnight,
         Cold, on the stroke of midnight,
The tip of one finger touched it! The trigger at least was hers!
The tip of one finger touched it. She strove no more for the rest.
Up, she stood up to attention, with the muzzle beneath her breast.
She would not risk their hearing; she would not strive again;
For the road lay bare in the moonlight;
         Blank and bare in the moonlight;
And the blood of her veins, in the moonlight, throbbed to her love’s refrain.
Tlot-tlot; tlot-tlot! Had they heard it? The horsehoofs ringing clear;
Tlot-tlot; tlot-tlot, in the distance? Were they deaf that they did not hear?
Down the ribbon of moonlight, over the brow of the hill,
The highwayman came riding—
         Riding—riding—
The red coats looked to their priming! She stood up, straight and still.
Tlot-tlot, in the frosty silence! Tlot-tlot, in the echoing night!
Nearer he came and nearer. Her face was like a light.
Her eyes grew wide for a moment; she drew one last deep breath,
Then her finger moved in the moonlight,
         Her musket shattered the moonlight,
Shattered her breast in the moonlight and warned him—with her death.
He turned. He spurred to the west; he did not know who stood
Bowed, with her head o’er the musket, drenched with her own blood!
Not till the dawn he heard it, and his face grew grey to hear
How Bess, the landlord’s daughter,
         The landlord’s black-eyed daughter,
Had watched for her love in the moonlight, and died in the darkness there.
Back, he spurred like a madman, shrieking a curse to the sky,
With the white road smoking behind him and his rapier brandished high.
Blood red were his spurs in the golden noon; wine-red was his velvet coat;
When they shot him down on the highway,
         Down like a dog on the highway,
And he lay in his blood on the highway, with a bunch of lace at his throat.
.       .       .
And still of a winter’s night, they say, when the wind is in the trees,
When the moon is a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,
When the road is a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,
A highwayman comes riding—
         Riding—riding—
A highwayman comes riding, up to the old inn-door.
 
Over the cobbles he clatters and clangs in the dark inn-yard.
He taps with his whip on the shutters, but all is locked and barred.
He whistles a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there
But the landlord’s black-eyed daughter,
         Bess, the landlord’s daughter,
Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.
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Parenting a Dating Teen

| About Ali

So, I’ve got these two teenage boys. I have to tell you, that I have loved being a mom. It has been the greatest joy in my life, my truest happiness. And, I thought, I was good at parenting them. But now they’ve grown up and entered a world that … well, I feel completely inadequate for.

I’ll be frank, I grew up with a completely skewed view of relationships. They were all or nothing. Either we were boyfriend/girlfriend and I love you, or there was no chemistry and therefore no relationship. Because all relationships were based on chemistry.

In our culture–either as an LDS family, or living in a mostly-Mormon town, or is it the States? The era? I’m not sure–dating is so relaxed. It’s about friendship and companionship. It’s clean and fun. There’s a lot of group dating and the kids move slow; “hanging out” for a while before they become a couple, holding hands only after feelings are pretty established, kissing maybe … I don’t know. I don’t think we’re there yet. (But then who knows … I’m the parent, right?)

Here’s my problem: I don’t know how to parent this. I find myself expecting my boys to be doing more, to be making choices like I made. To be attracted to a girl, to want to be close to her, to want to hold hands, kiss and maybe more.

I like the choices they’re making. I want them to take it slow, to learn how to be friends with a girl and develop a relationship. But I am constantly fighting with myself. I feel like everything I say on the topic, every time I ask a question about a girl in their lives, I’m pushing them to think of her, to hurry the relationship along. I feel like I never say the right thing. I just can’t relate to the goodness in my boys. When I was their age, I was not innocent.

I wish I had grown up innocent. I wish I could better understand the life my boys are living. I hope by now I’ve done a good enough job at being Mom that they’ll forgive me my flubs. I hope that my flubs don’t cause any trouble.

Because I’ve done a good job until now. I really hope it’s enough.

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Writing as Therapy

| About Ali, About Writing

Way back when, a good friend, Karen Hoover, gave me a beautiful journal and The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. As I worked through the book, I learned the very deep connection that exists between the words we put on the page and the feelings in our hearts. Feelings we might not even recognize or acknowledge.

the-artists-way-1-470x340Cameron uses morning pages, along with guided exercises to help us work through the emotions that might be gunking up our writing–our art.

But as I was working on my current WiP (work in progress) the other day, and exploring my heroine’s backstory and point of view, I realized–she has the same perspective as me. She was quick to leave her family as a young woman, thinking she didn’t belong and need/wanted more in her life. She makes her escape as soon as possible, and enjoys the freedom and life she creates for herself. Then circumstances bring her back home and slowly, somewhat against her will, she realizes that family is everything and she regrets being so quick to throw them away. And hopes she can be forgiven and welcomed back into the fold.

When I first realized I was writing my own feelings, I felt uncomfortable. This was really close to my own experience and it made me squirm. Did I really want to write this stuff? Because as the words poured out of my fingertips, it felt like more and more of myself bled out with them. I had to think about it. In the end I decided to embrace it.

And really, it’s like a win/win. My story gains realism and heart and I gain insight and clarity. Plus, when you write a truth, especially one that flows from your heart in the way that words sometimes do, it seems to glow on the page, pulsing with your heartbeat. You know then, this is truth. And sometimes truth, especially when it comes to ourselves, is hard to find.

I say, if you find it in your writing–embrace it. Own it. Allow it to live in your stories, and to set your own heart free of secrets and doubt and piles of regret.

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Gray is My Everyday

| About Ali

I think there’s something wrong with me, but I’m not sure what it is. I don’t know how to Google it, or whether I should see a therapist. The problem is: I don’t feel very much. I know that sounds weird. Let me explain:

I love God. I love my family. I know I love them because when I think of being without them, I feel sad. When I think of having wonderful relationships with them, I feel happy.

And I do feel happiness. It feels like peace and contentment, like sunshine and smiles.

But I don’t feel much else. If emotions fall between love, or hate, joy or extreme anger–I don’t feel it. I feel “meh” about most things, events, and people. Occasionally I’ll get a burst of feeling for someone; that’s how I know I really like them–or really dislike them. But most of the time feelings remain neutral.

This is a problem for me because it feels like I have to work hard in relationships to respond, and feel, appropriately. For instance, even with people I consider “dear friends,” I feel neutral 90% of the time. I know I really like them, because I’ve felt that burst of love for them. But in everyday conversation or interaction, I feel awkward because I don’t trust myself to respond appropriately. I feel disconnected.

The advantage is, I can have relationships with people who have caused me to feel extreme bursts of anger or even hatred–because 90% of the time, I feel neutral toward them. And since I feel neutral toward the people I like, it appears as if I like the people who have made me angry. Weird, eh?

I was molested as a little girl. Raped at thirteen. I lived with a horrible, evil man for all my teenage years. I feel nothing about the bad things those people did to me. I feel nothing for them.

I don’t feel anything about what happened to me, except for a distant “That wasn’t right.” I know it was wrong. I know those people did bad things. I know my mom didn’t protect me. But I don’t feel anything about those things.

feelingsquote

I saw a psychologist once who said that severe emotional trauma causes our mind to retreat, to cover up the damage, to erase it so you can write over it and pretend nothing happened. That’s how we can move on with our lives–otherwise we’d be sniveling puddles of emotional goo because we would constantly relive the trauma and our mind would fixate on it. He said that while the mind is awesome, it’s not expert at this task of “erasing.” He said that it often sweeps the good things, and now I think he might have added the feelings, into the trash along with the trauma.

Did my mind sweep away my everyday emotions?

I get taking away the memories and the feelings for the bad guys, but why can’t I feel anything now? Why does everything feel so darn neutral?

It feels like a curse. Like I’m not wholly human. Or that I’m subhuman. I want to connect with people, with memories and events and experiences–but when everything just translates into “meh,” it doesn’t leave me with much that is significant enough to stay in my vault.

This is the first time I’ve ever admitted this, but doing so feels freeing somehow. Like if it’s not a secret, it’s not a sin. While I don’t know what causes it, or a concise way to describe it if someone were to ask me, I know it’s real and a part of me. And I don’t think it’s my fault, even though I’ve felt ashamed of it for as long as I can remember.

Doesn’t change the fact that I’d give just about anything to feel 100%, 100% of the time.

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