February 28, 2014

Week in Review Omnibus

This post is a double-whammy, in which I will report recent progress on my latest writing goals, and announce the event from the week just past that I'm celebrating. First off, let's glance back at the goal I stated for myself at the beginning of February, and see how close to the target my aim carried me.

At the blog entitled The Five-Year Project, where author Misha Gericke recounts her publishing trials and triumphs, she also graciously hosts a monthly meme designed to encourage other aspirants, despairing or victorious. We announce our current ambition on the sign-up list for "Do You Have Goals?," and report back on our struggles to attain it. I listed for myself, "Get my first poetry chapbook published," and while that hasn't occurred yet, the first major hurdle is crossed, because I actually did finish writing it this month. The final count was 40 poems covering a total of 45 pages, including dedication page and similar materials. Sending it out to publishers is the next step, and I am currently awaiting the beginning of March and the arrival of my small monthly living stipend, out of which I will painfully scratch the $18 reading fee to submit the manuscript to Omnidawn Press' 2014 Chapbook Poetry Contest. Updates will be flying your way as events unfold, I assure you.

The other steps I have taken toward getting published may seem less obviously connected to that dream, but are a very necessary part of it, and constitute my celebration for the week. Thanks to the incredible generosity of a very dear friend, I once again have a roof over my head for the foreseeable future. I am still homeless, still sleeping in a friend's basement and therefore in more precarious circumstances than would allow me to be reunited with my daughter as yet, but she continues safe and happy with her grandparents, and I have a bit more stability in which to write, publish, and diligently seek permanent housing that will bring us back together. All of which I did full tilt this week; I am on a waiting list for subsidized rental housing, and I wrote roughly 10,000 words on a new prose manuscript (which muse has taken up where the muse of poetry has currently left off). As a fellow creative type advised me to recently, I will keep going until I succeed or die trying.

February 27, 2014

Homeless 11: A Suit of Armor

A few days ago, I finally got my car back, purring once again and behaving itself quite respectably after the mechanic replaced a starter which had given up the ghost. I wish to state here and now that I am extraordinarily grateful to the friends who contributed to my reunion with what my daughter refers to simply as "Blue Car." I am mobile again, thank God. For the brief time that I was without my own transportation, I learned some hard new lessons about how truly difficult my situation could become, and how quickly. I couldn't get anywhere or accomplish anything without walking to a bus stop (which on one memorable occasion was over an hour of walking), finding some cash with which to pay the fare, and spending an hour on what should have been a 15-minute trip because of  the fixed routes of public transport. I was grateful the buses were there, especially on a day that was particularly cold and found me without a place to go for several hours, but no one can claim that they are the easiest or most time-efficient way to get from point A to point B.

Photo by Goran Schmidt
Courtesy of
The Royal Armoury, Sweden
Setting aside the additional logistical problems that being without a car suddenly created--though I think we can all agree that I could really do without additional problems right now--being without my vehicle instantly moved me into a yet more dangerous category of homelessness. A working vehicle is like a suit of armor for a homeless person; it's a safer place to sleep than the park benches, a place to store things so that you don't have to carry everything you own on your person at all times. You can move quicker than someone who might be interested in harming or robbing you. In short, it is at least one layer of insulation between you and the actual streets. I have never felt more naked in my life than I did as a woman, walking alone on sidewalks in rough neighborhoods of Denver late at night, watching intently everyone who walked past, startled by each sound of footsteps behind me. Cars are such a rare luxury among the homeless population that some insist that if you own a car you're not really homeless. When your body and your backpack are all you have that you can still call your own, the level of constant fear, the incredible vigilance and suspicion you develop, preclude much healthy interaction with other human beings, let alone recovery from PTSD. The longer you're in that vicious spiral, the less likely it becomes that you will ever escape.

Don't get me wrong; I am painfully aware that a car is no guarantee of any safety. By the time I was 18, two of my friends from high school had died in car wrecks, and believe me, none of us who survived them were ever the same. But in my current circumstances, being without my vehicle was a step further away from stability, from all that I'm trying to accomplish--another huge hurdle between my little girl and me. Thank you so much, once again, to all those who helped put me back into a working vehicle. You did something for the least of your brethren, and I feel sure your reward will be great for it.

February 26, 2014

Hi, I'm Jennifer, and I'm a squealing fangirl...

AAAAAAAAND now I can die happy. Seriously.

When your first-ever openly lesbian fangirl crush Tweets back to you, that's a game-changing moment, people. Jeri Ryan, you are truly a class act. Who says Star Trek can't change lives?

A Wondrous Word

This has been a very busy week for me--I spent Monday with my little SuperPreschooler, yesterday chasing housing possibilities and doing some DIY around my friend's basement, where I'm staying right now, and today is about filling out endless paperwork for the government--so there's been virtually no reading. As I have no new words to offer for Wondrous Words Wednesday, I thought I would let you in on a little secret that you may not know about the very word "secret," as well as the word "secrete."

I discovered this fact several years ago, thanks to my obsessive Anglophile viewing habits, while watching the delightful little British comedy, The Thin Blue Line. Rowan Atkinson (of Mr. Bean fame) stars as the senior officer in a local British police constabulary, and in the episode entitled The Queen's Birthday Present, has the following exchange during a training exercise with one Constable Goody.
(Atkinson): Walk towards me. Oops, I do beg your pardon.
(Subordinate): - It's quite all right, sir.
Not all right for you, I fear, Goody, because I have relieved you of the contents of your pocket. In this case, a Mars bar. Constable Goody, a Mars bar is scarcely police equipment, is it?
- No, sir.
"No, sir," indeed, sir. Are there any other items of confectionery secreted about your person?
-No, sir. 
And by that you mean?
-I've got a Curly Wurly in my truncheon pouch.
In that case, get it out before it melts and soils the queen's trousers.
-It's not going to melt, is it? It's going to get eaten.
Great jangling jehovah, it is not! I've never heard of such a thing. I will not have my officers gorging themselves whilst on duty. Hand it over. Now sit down.
(Text courtesy of the site Springfield! Springfield!)

The implication of this dialog is as follows:

1. The word "secrete" has two completely unrelated meanings. The first is that we usually think of, i.e. an organism producing a chemical of some kind. For example, the human body secretes endorphins into the bloodstream when we experience pain, to help us cope with the discomfort. The second meaning, however, involves hiding something away in the hope that others won't discover it.

2. "Secret" is a very common noun--"I have a secret."--and we are all familiar with its adjectival form, as well, e.g. "We have a secret plan to give Bob a 40th birthday party." However, it also has a verb form, namely "to secrete," to hide something away. If you already knew that, forgive me for spending so much time on repeat information. But if you didn't, I think you'll agree with me that our wonderful language never ceases to surprise.

Happy wording!

February 23, 2014

Monday Moment 4

This week, our resident photographer offers us an inspirational--and delicious!--image of daily life on a working farm, entitled "Our Daily Bread". She set the scene for us, carrying us to the world she sees through her lens.

"Our Daily Bread"
by Sarah Graybill-Greene

This is a striking picture to me. Mom and I had just finished baking bread, and the loaves were sitting on the corner of the kitchen table, cooling. The evening sun came streaming through the window and highlighted the bread so beautifully, I had to stop and take the picture!

February 21, 2014

Celebration of Achieving Failure

Last week, I e-mailed three poems to an on-line poetry magazine for their consideration, hoping they would publish one or all of them. This week, I got a rejection letter--actually, a rejection e-mail; it is the way of our digital world. And you may be thinking to yourself, "If this is a celebratory post, why are we talking about a rejection letter? Are you really celebrating getting turned down?"

Weekly meme hosted by VikLit
I can honestly reply, "Yes, I am." The battle wasn't in writing the poems, and it wasn't in being told "no." My battle was against a "Send" button. I showed up. I ventured; only time will reveal all that I have gained. Meanwhile, tomorrow we hit "Send" again. Just another day at the office.

February 20, 2014

Homeless 10: The Real Deal

Homeless Jesus by Timothy Schmalz
Image courtesy of St. Joseph's Soup Kitchen
The first anniversary of my homeless condition is fast approaching. Throughout what has felt like a downward spiral, however, I have been in a semi-homeless status. I have had no secure knowledge that the place where I was sleeping was my own place to which to return without exception or conditions; the various roofs over my head have all belonged to others, who were simply generous enough to allow me house space. In the past few weeks, I have shuffled back and forth between various houses of friends, or planned to enter a shelter more than once, only to be reprieved each time at the last possible moment. Not knowing when the day begins where I'll be sleeping that night has been a level of panic to aggravate PTSD on an unprecedented scale.

AND YET, it wasn't until the weekend just past that I finally spent the better part of a day with nowhere to go, no place to hide from the wind's chill, or from the suspicious eyes of store employees and the waiting grip of police in a city that has outlawed homelessness. Just a few hours. I walked the streets, rode a bus simply because it was warm and in order to travel where I knew I'd find a friendly face and some kind conversation. I hid in a fast-food restaurant until they closed, partly because I'm one of the few fortunates who actually have a state-granted income--not enough to allow me to get a motel room, not if I want to survive until the end of the month, but enough to buy a cheeseburger and thereby avoid arrest for loitering a little while longer. Then I went to an all-night laundromat and tried to blend in for a little while; since I had no clothes running on which I could periodically check, the night watchman began to look askance at me pretty quickly, and I knew it was once again time to go back out into the cold.

There are primarily two subcultures in this country who are over 18, yet still carry backpacks--college students, and the homeless, and I've now been both. Students leave their dorm rooms or apartments for a long day of schlepping all over campus and the larger town, often don't intend to return to their tiny nests until sunset or after, and therefore make sure they're carrying everything required for the day on their bodies at all times. The homeless, however, carry everything they own, and it often isn't much, because they have no place to store so much as a paperclip. If it can't travel on their backs, they don't accept it. Always watchful of everyone, each sound and movement that reaches the senses, the homeless cannot relax for a second, waking or sleeping, because the threat of losing the few precious supplies in that bag is constantly, terrifyingly real. Never has my hypervigilance issue been as dramatic as it has become in the past few days; a car beeped near me when someone used their keyless remote to lock it, and I nearly bolted.

The original image is one of the most
famous Christian icons in the world,
known as "The Christ of Sinai."
The altered image is courtesy of
Romero Center Ministries.
I am so blessed. I was once again granted clemency this week. One more time, a friend appeared and put a roof over my head for another 7 days. The shelter to which I was headed only gives a bed for one week at a time (and that makes them one of the best; most operate on a nightly basis), so I am putting off going there as long as I can. I need to keep that week in reserve against the moment when no one can save the day. Before my day of wandering hit midnight, I had a bed in a safe, warm house. Another friend with an empty storage space allowed me to finally stop dragging my belongings from place to place, before I was faced with the task of sifting through and shedding everything that couldn't travel in my backpack. I have a car; I have a meager income; I have friends. As Humble Harv points out, these things number me among the spoiled rich of the homeless class. This week, I found myself for a few hours among those who have none of these luxuries, and they are the bravest people I have ever known. Some might say it's not bravery, as they have no choice, but they do have a choice, every day, the same choice I faced when I sat in that burger joint deciding whether I could live another day if it was going to look like the one I just spent. There are choices, and the most courageous among them is continuing on a path that is seemingly without end until a natural death. I am honored to have been among these people's company for just a few hours, those whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose.

February 19, 2014

Believing in Fairy Tales

I urge all of you to check out an extraordinary photographic experience, entitled "All Love Is Equal." Braden Summers traveled the world constructing and capturing these images, to help his viewers understand, perhaps for the first time, that members of the LGBTQ community also long for romance and companionship. Despite the stereotypes that have pervaded our culture for so long, homosexuals do not all wander from one anonymous sexual encounter to another, with no desire for permanence. We, too, wish to grow and mature by offering sacrificial love to another human being, the kind of love that the Greek writers of the early Church ascribed to Christ, i.e. kenosis, or "self-emptying" love. I understand that this view is unacceptable or even repugnant to some. Just try not to attribute to us less worthy motives in our relationships than you would to anyone else, please, even if you believe our views are wrong.

This image is the work of and belongs to
Braden Summers, author of the "All Love Is Equal" project.

Clef Notes 1

Folk Alliance International

Just a brief announcement--our featured singer/songwriter, Quinn DeVeaux, will be spending the remainder of the week (February 19-22, 2014) playing in Kansas City, Missouri. Anyone who is passing that way should stop in and enjoy his signature Blue Beat music, and be sure to report back here with comments on the event!

Words Are My Friends

It's time again for one of the highlights of my week, the delightful vocabulary meme hosted by BermudaOnion. This week, my word discoveries come from an e-book I've been reading called Montfort: The Founder of Parliament, The Early Years. As the events upon which the novel--and its sequels--are based took place in the 13th century, this series will be a gold mine of new words, I'm sure.

(Unless otherwise indicated, I draw my definitions from Wiktionary, which I have found to be an invaluable resource since I started doing this meme.)

1. cantel--"the raised back of a saddle"--alternate spelling "cantle"

2. quintain--the author herself gave us a definition of this one later in the text: "a dummy mounted on a post with paddle arms outstretched." Wiktionary adds the following explanatory information: "a target to be tilted at in jousting, or otherwise used in target practice." If you've ever watched a film in which knights were training for a tournament, you've probably seen one of these; I had, but didn't know what they were called.

3. fibula--I'm sure we all know a definition for this word, as it is the name of one of the smaller bones in the human leg. However, it apparently has another definition, as well. "An ancient kind of brooch used to hold clothing together, similar in function to the modern safety pin."

Happy wording, everybody!

February 16, 2014

Monday Moment 3

Welcome once again, everyone, to our weekly artistic feature. In this installment, our resident photographer, Sarah Graybill-Greene, offers us the beauties of an Indiana sunset.  She has titled it, "Last Light."

"Last Light"
by Sarah Graybill-Greene

Sarah described for us the simple moment that inspired such a lovely image as follows.

It was a warm summer's evening over a pond
alive with crickets chirping and frogs a-croaking .
I've known many of those quiet sunsets in my birthplace.

February 15, 2014

Back to Books With a Sigh of Relief


...let's talk about books and reading and similar, enjoyable topics, shall we? We've had enough of sobering topics for one week, God knows.

Tonight, while meandering about the blogosphere, reading other people's posts and commenting here and there, I found a book list that fascinated me. Thanks to a post by Kristen M of The Estella Society, I discovered "Top 100 Chapter Books," composed through a survey by Elizabeth Bird from the School Library Journal. When I saw that the book that dominated my childhood, Charlotte's Web, tops this list, I knew I had to write about it. There are several lists for other categories of children's and YA books available on the SLJ site, as well, so you can pick your favorite type to design a reading challenge for yourself if you'd like.

I'm sure I don't have to tell my regular readers that I'm in no position to take on this list as a reading challenge right now--though I hope to do both it and the Nobel Prize-winners for literature when I regain some normalcy--so I will content myself for now with noting how many of the top 100 I have already finished. Those I've read are listed in red type. I will try to come back periodically and update it if I manage to complete any more of them.

Total read (as of 2/15/2014)=34

100. Love That Dog--Sharon Creech
99. The Boxcar Children--Gertrude Chandler Warner (My 2nd-grade teacher read this one to the class.)
98. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire--J.K. Rowling
97. The Diamond in the Window--Jane Langton
96. The Horse and His Boy--C.S. Lewis
95. The Little Prince--Antoine de Saint-Exupery
94. Ramona and Her Father--Beverly Cleary
93. Journey to the River Sea--Eva Ibbotson
92. Flipped--Wendelin Van Draanen
91. Pippi Longstocking--Astrid Lindgren
90. The Children of Green Knowe--L.M. Boston
89. The Mouse and the Motorcycle--Beverly Cleary (My mom read it to my brother and I.)
88. The BFG--Roald Dahl
87. The Strange Case of Origami Yoda--Tom Angleberger
86. Peter Pan--J.M. Barrie
85. Ella Enchanted--Gail Carson Levine
84. The Long Winter--Laura Ingalls Wilder
83. Ozma of Oz--L. Frank Baum
82. The Cricket in Times Square--George Selden
81. The Witches--Roald Dahl
80. The Four-Story Mistake--Elizabeth Enright
79. The Egypt Game--Zilpha Keatley Snyder
78. Ballet Shoes--Noel Streatfield
77. My Side of the Mountain--Jean Craighead George
76. Diary of a Wimpy Kid--Jeff Kinney
75. The Saturdays--Elizabeth Enright
74. Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret--Judy Blume
73. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever--Barbara Robinson
72. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon--Grace Lin
71. Each Little Bird That Sings--Deborah Wiles
70. Walk Two Moons--Sharon Creech
69. The Ruins of Gorlan--John Flanagan
68. The High King--Lloyd Alexander
67. A Long Way From Chicago--Richard Peck
66. The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate--Jacqueline Kelly
65. Wonder--R.J. Palacio
64. The Twenty-One Balloons--William Pene du Bois
63. The Great Gilly Hopkins--Katherine Paterson
62. Clementine--Sara Pennypacker
61. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory--Roald Dahl
60. Bud, Not Buddy--Christopher Paul Curtis
59. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane--Kate DiCamillo
58. Swallows and Amazons--Arthur Ransome
57. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase--Joan Aiken
56. A Little Princess--Frances Hodgson Burnett
55. All-of-a-Kind Family--Sydney Taylor
54. Half Magic--Edward Eager
53. The Graveyard Book--Neil Gaiman
52. Betsy-Tacy--Maud Hart Lovelace
51. The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread--Kate DiCamillo
50. Number the Stars--Lois Lowry
49. My Father's Dragon--Ruth Stiles Gannett
48. The Bad Beginning--Lemony Snicket
47. Little Women--Louisa May Alcott
46. The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle--Avi
45. Island of the Blue Dolphins--Scott O'Dell
44. Okay for Now--Gary D. Schmidt
43. Jacob Have I Loved--Katherine Paterson
42. Gone-Away Lake--Elizabeth Enright
41. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz--L. Frank Baum
40. Maniac Magee--Jerry Spinelli
39. The Invention of Hugo Cabret--Brian Selznick
38. Frindle--Andrew Clements
37. The Wednesday Wars--Gary D. Schmidt
36. The Witch of Blackbird Pond--Elizabeth George Speare
35. Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing--Judy Blume
34. Where the Red Fern Grows--Wilson Rawls
33. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH--Robert C. O'Brien
32. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry-- Mildred Taylor
31. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland--Lewis Carroll
30. Matilda--Roald Dahl
29. The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy--Jeanne Birdsall
28. The Golden Compass--Philip Pullman
27. Little House on the Prairie--Laura Ingalls Wilder
26. Winnie-the-Pooh--A.A. Milne
25. The Watsons Go to Birmingham, 1963--Christopher Paul Curtis
24. Ramona the Pest--Beverly Cleary
23. Hatchet--Gary Paulsen
22. The Dark is Rising--Susan Cooper
21. The Phantom Tollbooth--Norton Juster
20. Because of Winn-Dixie--Kate DiCamillo
19. Little House in the Big Woods--Laura Ingalls Wilder
18. The Book of Three--Lloyd Alexander
17. Harriet the Spy--Louise Fitzhugh
16. Tuck Everlasting--Natalie Babbitt
15. The Secret Garden--Frances Hodgson Burnett
14. The Hobbit--J.R.R. Tolkien
13. The Thief--Megan Whalen Turner
12. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban--J.K. Rowling
11. When You Reach Me--Rebecca Stead
10. Bridge to Teribithia--Katherine Paterson
9. The Westing Game--Ellen Raskin
8. Anne of Green Gables--L.M. Montgomery
7. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler--E.L. Konigsburg
6. Holes--Louis Sachar
5. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe--C.S. Lewis
4. The Giver--Lois Lowry
3. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone--J.K. Rowling
2. A Wrinkle in Time--Madeleine L'Engle
1. Charlotte's Web--E.B. White

February 14, 2014

Homeless 9: A GOOD Day

Image from Diabetes Healthy Solution
And it's about time, don't you think? After a string of very somber posts, I have a genuinely good day to tell you about, finally.

Yesterday, I had an appointment with my doctor. Among all the other issues with which I deal, I was diagnosed with diabetes in 2010, so my medical team and I have to work together closely to monitor that monster. (Thankfully, I have Medicaid, and if the government understands little else, they have thoroughly grasped that diabetes is a murderous disease if left unattended.)

The chart above graphically explains the results of a test commonly called the "A1C," which reveals the average amount of glucose ("blood sugar") that has been in a person's bloodstream at any given time over the previous three months. As you can see, any number under 6 means you're not a diabetic, while numbers between 6 and 7 demonstrate that diabetes is being sufficiently managed to keep from being dangerous. You may be thinking, "Between 6 and 7?" This test measures in decimal places. For the past year or so, my A1C had been slowly rising from 7 until, when I first arrived in Denver, it had hit 7.3; that's not a good thing.

My doctor walked back into the consultation room yesterday with a smile on her face, and a look of wonderment that I was soon reflecting back to her, and announced that she had good news. "Your A1C is 6.8!" Not only that, but also my blood pressure was 120/80. In short, a number of things were improved to a level that I am now on the fewest prescription drugs I've been on since I was an undergraduate in college! I'm still sort of blinking in shock. She took me off about seven or eight medications. And if you all remember my previous statements about how much money I had to have for meds, simply because of how many I was on, you'll know that this was very good news. Besides all of which, who wants to take a whole bunch of extra pills if they don't have to?

My very kind little lady doctor was so happy for me, and I was so grateful to her as the messenger of some good news after a rough week. I am celebrating. It was a nice day.

February 13, 2014

Homeless 8: "The Rest of the Story"

Colorado EBT card,
i.e. the type of debit-style card that replaced
paper food stamps across the country
So, in my mini-installment, Homeless 7.5, I announced that I had finally gotten a bit of good news for a change, but didn't go into details. Now that I've done some investigation, I can report on my good news, as well as what it does and does not mean for my situation.

I received a letter last night, informing me that after months of waiting, my application for state financial assistance had been approved under a program called "Aid to the Needy Disabled" (in my case pronounced "poor because of PTSD"). We've discussed extremely personal information in this series, and I cannot explain the practicalities of this development without giving you numbers, so nobody blush, now--we're going to talk bluntly about money. Until the state decides for some arbitrary reason that I'm no longer eligible, which they usually do in such cases eventually, or until my circumstances improve and I no longer need such aid--the preferred outcome, obviously--I'll be receiving $175 per month from the state. See, I told you it was a small piece of good news.

What This Does NOT Mean:

-I still do not have enough income to help with my housing situation at present. Those were the calls I had to make today and verify that fact. Now I have done so. Without a miracle, I'm still going to a shelter Monday.

-The needed root canal certainly can't be financed from this source; that procedure will still have to wait a while.

-On the upside, this income is NOT taxable, will not affect the fact that my student loans have been forgiven, and will not hold up or nullify other aid applications that are in progress.

Not actually my car,
but same make and model
What This DOES Mean:

-Since they back-date this aid to the point at which I applied, I have two months' worth of assistance waiting on my EBT card, and can therefore FIX MY CAR (provided it's within the limit of the amount available to me; that's what getting an estimate first is for)! When I opened the letter and saw what it said, I literally burst into tears and began calling out, "Thank You, Jesus! Thank You, Jesus!" (Those of you who have known me since I was a child, or were my dorm-mates at seminary, will quickly recognize this behavior.) It was when the car finally died and I was truly trapped and paralyzed that the hopelessness reached a whole new level; God did not abandon me there.

-I have a regular source of gas money coming in with which to go visit Brigid! (I only mentioned the car repair first because, if the car won't run, it doesn't matter how much gas I can put in it or not.)

Photo by Shorelander
-When I go to buy groceries with food stamps, I can now also buy things that I'm NOT allowed to buy with them, little luxuries like toilet paper, shampoo, and a bottle of generic Excedrin with which to nurse my tooth along. Moreover, I can pickup my prescriptions when needed. Medicaid leaves a co-pay of $1 per drug at the pharmacy, but if you take a dozen medications as I do, and you don't have $12, you're still just as screwed. Now, I can swing $12 per month for pills.

In other words, I actually had a conversation today about whether or not it's illegal to sleep in my car (it is; thanks a lot, legislators and police forces across the country), something I once never dreamed I'd have to do. BUT, I also have a small sense of hope, enough to carry on for a while longer and not give up on rescuing my daughter and myself from this shipwreck.

February 12, 2014

Homeless 7.5: Update

"Ascent of the Blessed"
by Hieronymous Bosch
(one of my favorite artists)
And this, my friends, is how God works, this is how Deus ex machina works--at the moment you need Him, and not a second before. At least, that has always been my experience of Him, and today was no different.

This brief update is to let you know that I got a small but important piece of good news tonight, that could well eventually prove to be the game-changer I cried out for earlier today. I don't wish to say too much now, because it was only a small piece of good news, and I have to spend the next couple of days making phone calls and getting some answers about what it all means realistically. It seems quite likely at this point that I will still end up spending some time in a homeless shelter, but let's just say I got a glimpse of enough light to illustrate that this is a tunnel, and not a bottomless pit, through which I am traveling.

Homeless 7: Terrified

Job and his comforters
In the early days after my father's massive heart attack, when he was still in the hospital in Louisville, Kentucky, he said to me, "That which I have most feared has come upon me," quoting the lament of a broken man from Job 3:25. Dad's father, Lebert, had died of his second heart attack two weeks before Christmas the year that my father was 16. I was 16 on that day when I was standing beside Dad in his hospital room. What we had both dreaded had begun, and would not end until 2007, after many long years of fear, suffering, and sadness.

a tribute to my dad written by Cecil J. Smith, emeritus editor-in-chief of my hometown's newspapers

Once again, what I have most feared in the past few months is about to descend on me. Barring an outbreak of Deus ex machina (the literary term for divine intervention on a game-changing scale), I will be moving into a homeless women's shelter on Monday, February 17, 2014. Now, don't misunderstand me--I believe in divine intervention to a point that makes this whole assertion an understatement. You cannot imagine the genuine miracles I have seen in my 36 years of life. This may be stopped at the eleventh hour, or it may be that the shelter will be best for me, anyway. I can only say at this moment that it appears to be looming fast before me, and I am thoroughly terrified.

"Deus Ex Machina 1" (2012)
by Mall Nukke
The facts are simple. I have PTSD; I applied for a very small, part-time job yesterday, even though I know I'm not ready, because I have got to find some income. My ex-husband owes me some 9 months' worth of alimony, because that's how long he has also been unemployed, despite his continuing efforts to find a job. The car upon which I have depended to take me to medical and therapy appointments is sitting in a driveway, and will not start. A tooth with a gaping whole in it is slowly building up to a catastrophe in my mouth, and I have no way to get the root canal I need. I have applied for every form of government aid I can, and it will be another 6-8 weeks before I can even expect a rejection, let alone an award letter.

At times right now, I hate myself, and I hate my life. Being a mother under these circumstances is a cruel, jagged, double-edged sword; I feel such guilt at not being with my daughter now, having to leave her with her paternal grandparents, being unable to care for her, that I sometimes want to die, and because I would never leave her or hurt her, I could never, ever kill myself. I spoke to my sweet, beautiful, 4-year-old daughter on the phone today; she asked, "Are you my mom?" Never has Hamlet's soliloquy made more piercing sense to me. I know I am being viciously honest, but I have no pride left with which to hide the self that most people don't show to others.

I say that, but the last vestiges of pride do linger to make me ashamed of my situation, embarrassed to admit that I am a pauper with PTSD, anxiety, depression, and panic issues, afraid that those I need most right now will reject me as a lost cause or a dangerous person with whom to become entangled. But yesterday, I found this,

a video on YouTube of a performance by the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate (which I beg you, in your charity, to watch, as it will help the remaining sentences make more sense).

As the images unfolded, I was reminded that there is no shame in poverty for a Christian; our Founder said of Himself that He had "no place to lay his head" (Matthew 8:20). I certainly cannot compare myself to Him, nor claim, as He could, that I have not contributed in any way to my current predicament. All I can say is that He never turned anyone away for poverty, but "had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd" (Matthew 9:36), and if He had turned people away because they had sinned, had helped cause their own sufferings, He would never have interacted with a single human being. Indeed, He would not have bothered to come at all.

My Muslim friends taught me to pray in these beautiful words (two common interpretations of a phrase from the first surah of the Qur'an):

"In Thee do we seek refuge," and "Thine aid do we seek."

My Master taught me to pray in very similar terms:

Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

"Jesus Calmant la Tempete"
by James Tissot

In any language, "carest thou not that we perish?" (Mark 4:37). Lord, you must now say, "Peace, be still" (Mark 4:38), or I will surely drown.

February 11, 2014

My Wondrous Word Dilemmas

As usual, I am joining in with BermudaOnion's delightful meme, Wondrous Word Wednesdays, although this week, I did not encounter any words with which I was previously unfamiliar in my reading. Since that is the case, I decided to immortalize for myself (and all others interested) the definitions of some words that I have seen or heard countless times, but never manage to remember what they actually mean. I hope you all find this list helpful, as well.


"1. attended by, or making, a loud and tumultuous noise; boisterous
2. stubbornly defiant; disobedient; resistant to authority or control, whether in a noisy manner or not"

I astonished myself by actually spelling this word correctly the first time I tried typing it into Wiktionary!


"1. sparing in diet; refraining from a free use of food and strong drinks; temperate; abstinent; sparing in the indulgence of the appetite or passions.
2. sparingly used; used with temperance or moderation.
3. marked by, or spent in, abstinence... ."

This one was embarrassingly obvious, once I'd read the answer.


"1. using as few words as possible; pithy and concise."

Apparently, we have the Spartans to thank for this one, because "Laconia was the region inhabited by and ruled by the Spartans, who were known for their brevity in speech" and their pared down version of pretty much everything in life.

Happy reading, and carry on wording!

Time for a Hodge-Podge

Yes, my faithful band of readers, another Hodge-Podge post is in order, as I have a few things about which to update you at the same time that are unconnected, except in the fact that they are all happening in my life. I admit this post is a long one, but I hope you will come with me for the whole adventure. As you will see shortly, the day I've had so far makes the title of this semi-regular feature particularly apt. But first, a writing update.

A Finished Manuscript!

Ah, how those words roll trippingly off the tongue (or keyboard) of any aspiring author! The sense of pride, of accomplishment, increased self-worth, is boundless--for about 12 hours. Then the doubts set in. "These poems seem inexperienced. I sound childish and infantile! They're all too much alike, in both form and content. I KNOW that if they're combined into a single book, they should have a unifying theme, BUT..." and on and on it goes. So, I'm into the doubtful phase now, but ultimately, my opinion is no longer the one that matters; a publisher will accept it or not. My view of it is already set--I love my "little book" (nod to Louisa May Alcott, a heroine of mine), or I would not have bothered to keep going with it. I will always love it, for all the things it represents in my growth as a person and the memories it will always evoke for me. The only questions now are the subjective--Will anyone else be able to identify with my words and love them?--and the mundane--Will my efforts help me in the world of filthy lucre? I have no control over the answers to either, so I will simply send it out to see what, if anything, happens next.

Even for a woman who owns a blog called The Beauty of Eclecticism, I have had a particularly diverse day. It started--as journeys down rabbit holes so often do these days--with a link that a friend posted on Facebook. NPR conducted an interview with the prioress and choir-mistress of a group on nuns who have been taken on a whirlwind tour of secular popularity with their sacred music in the past few years. The Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, are a cloistered order, which means that they live their lives in community together but in near-total seclusion from the outside world. A common misconception about cloistered monastics is that they separate themselves from the rest of us because they fear we will contaminate them with our sinful ways. On the contrary, the best monastics gaze permanently and unflinchingly into the chasm of their own sinfulness, leaving no time to judge anyone else. They hide themselves away (as Christ instructed all of us to do during our prayer time) in order to devote as much time as they possibly can to praying for all of us, the entire rest of the world, as they know that not everyone can be cloistered, but we all need prayer, just the same. The sisters of Mary, Queen of Apostles, are dedicated to that mission.

The rise of the digiverse has been a God-send (if you'll pardon the pun) for secluded religious orders, because it allows them to have limited contact with the outside world on their own terms. They communicate with the rest of us through e-mail, websites, and in the case of orders such as this one, recordings of their beautiful liturgical music, which they also use to support and maintain their priory in Missouri. Videos about the sisters and their work, as well as other similar religious orders who produce music for the wider world, are available on YouTube, and if you are in need of a moment of heavenly peace right now, I cannot recommend strongly enough that you check them out.

From the sublime to the earthy we go. Somehow, my Facebook wanderings then led me to the home of fellow bloggers Amy and Kate, a mother-daughter pairing who have produced the enormously popular Homestead Revival. This blog chronicles the on-going journey of a family who chose the periodically fashionable path of "self-sustained living," "returning to the land," that sort of thing, and they are staunchly traditional Christians, talking frequently about homemaking and the Apostle Paul's injunction that wives should be submissive to their husbands. I think you'll agree that such a blog would not be my obvious choice of hang-out spot; I recently came out as a lesbian and divorced my husband, after leaving the ultra-conservative Eastern Orthodox church for the markedly liberal Episcopal Church.

That has been the theme of my day, what has made it eclectic and interesting--in short, a hodge-podge. I have been reminded that I don't have to agree with those I encounter to enjoy our common humanity, to learn from them and be spiritually nourished by their wisdom, and hopefully to be able to offer something in return in that exchange when given the opportunity. Moreover, I am officially an author with a manuscript soon to be under consideration by publishers; I have added to the sum total of artistic and emotional expression in human history. My life is little short of terrifying right now in a number of aspects, and these are interludes of peace at the center of my storms.

February 10, 2014

Music to Feed the Soul

My goodness! Isn't my little blog becoming culturally literate? As regular readers will know, last week we began a weekly showcase for the work of a featured artist, and now I can proudly announce that a featured singer/songwriter/musician has come aboard, as well!

Quinn DeVeaux has been a dear friend since we were freshmen in college, and over the last several years, the extraordinary blend of sounds which he has termed "Blue Beat" has become a staple of live performance venues all around his adopted city of Oakland, California, and the wider Bay Area. He has also released several albums, appeared at clubs and festivals across the western half of the country, and been featured by no less than the great Dan Aykroyd--last remaining Blues Brother--on Aykroyd's radio show, "The BluesMobile with Elwood Blues" as the favorite new song of the week. Quinn performs solo, as well as with his band, the "Blue Beat Review," and has collaborated with some very talented artists on duet projects.

This week, Quinn instituted a new monthly feature on his YouTube channel, the "7th of the Month Series." Each month he will be presenting a new video for one of the tracks on his two latest releases, the solo album, Late Night Drive, and Originals, with the Blue Beat Review. The Beauty of Eclecticism will feature each installment of this series on the 7th of each month, and I hope you will all pop over and enjoy some soul-nourishing music. Additionally, the tab labeled "7th of the Month" in the bar above contains links to the complete series (updated monthly), plus a selection of some of my favorites, and ways to purchase Quinn's albums and follow his work through social media. This month's video, the first in the series, is "Good Thing," which appears on Late Night Drive.

Monday Moment 2

Today's Monday Moment encapsulates many of my memories of home in one image. It is a hazy summer morning in Indiana, and one of the many derelict barns that dot our landscape tells its own tale of better days past, times when it was full of life and activity and a family's livelihood--probably racks of drying tobacco, based on its design. Sarah captures many of Indiana's realities, both alive and sorrowfully not, in a piece entitled "Sad and Forlorn."
"Sad and Forlorn"
by Sarah Graybill-Greene

February 05, 2014

Finding Security as a Writer

Join us here!
As those of you who've read recent posts will know, it's been a profoundly and unexpectedly productive fortnight for me as an author, in this case limited almost exclusively to poetry. In the past two weeks, the journal I devoted to poetry back in July 2013 has gone from having about six occupants, to being a nearly finished chapbook. This truly descended on me out of nowhere. Moreover, I only vaguely knew what a chapbook was last week; serendipitously, I met a fellow struggling poet who clued me in, I began doing some digging on-line, I found several independent publishing houses that look like a promising fit, and I'm now shaping this poetry journal with an eye to publication. I submitted one poem to a magazine a few days ago, just dipping my toe back into the waters of potential rejection letters, and I don't know if my little chapbook will find a home once it's finished, but I'm going to put it out there and see if a firm claims it for their own. It feels so good to be writing again!

P.S. A few of the poems from my growing chapbook can be found on my new poetry blog, Trapped Outside the Body. Please go check them out and leave me comments on what you think!

Return to Wondrous Words

Ah, my fellow word-lovers, it is so good to be returning to some of my favorite memes--in other words, to be fully engaged in blogging again--and one of my absolute favorites since I first discovered it a couple of years ago is "Wondrous Words Wednesday". Together, we celebrate new words we come across each week, whether we've never seen them before, have seen them but do not know their definitions, or are simply unsure of our understanding of them. In this week's entry, I happen to have one of each.

Brand New to Me:
1. trigram/hexagram--these are the names of the symbols around which the Chinese classic, the I Ching, centers, and upon which its pearls of wisdom are based. A trigram is so called because it is composed of three lines, while a hexagram consists of six. I decided to do some research on this work when I spotted a copy in the library earlier in the week, and it has proven quite fascinating.

Seen But Not Previously Known:
2. Invidious--"likely to arouse or incur resentment or anger in others," so says Google. I came across this one in an episode of the British panel show, QI. Thank you, Stephen Fry.

Known But I was not Sure if I was Correct:
3. Autochthonous--Merriam Webster Online defines this term as "formed or originating in the place where found," and Google adds that this something or someone "indigenous rather than descended from migrants or colonists." I was on the right track, but didn't have a clear picture of this meaning until I checked into it further. This one came from the introduction of the translation of the I Ching I've been reading.

February 03, 2014

Monday Moment 1

So, big news...(drum roll)...

Obviously, the "Monday Moment" badge
is also one of Sarah's lovely photos.
Months after I first had the idea, The Beauty of Eclecticism is proud to roll out the work of our resident featured artist, amateur photographer Sarah Graybill-Greene, in a new weekly feature entitled "Monday Moment". Each Monday, a new exemplar of Sarah's work will appear, along with a brief explanation of the image given by the artist. Sarah is a very dear, long-standing friend of mine (we first met in my last year of JR. HIGH!), and I am honored that she has agreed to use my blog as a venue to showcase her extraordinary eye for composition and abilities in executing those visions.

Without further ado, I give you "Road and Waters Meet".

Here is Sarah's description of her beautiful photograph.
This is a picture of what they call the "Spit" in Homer, Alaska. It is a 4.5 mile-long piece of land jutting out into the Kachemak Bay, on the southern most tip of the Keni Peninsula. Hwy. 1 ends in the water there. According to Wikipedia, the Homer Spit road is the longest road into ocean waters in the entire world. When I was there it took 15 minutes to drive the length of it. It also is the home of 1500 fishing boats in the summer.

February 01, 2014

When the Words Write You

Muse of Lyric Poetry
The last few days have been an extraordinary experience for me, an effusion of creativity that has exhausted my mind and barely allowed me a few precious hours of sleep each night. Wherever the Muse of Poetry has been in my life in recent years, she has suddenly returned, and is seriously determined to make up for lost time. I would imagine that every writer has experienced the feeling, at one time or another, that the pen grips the hand, bends the fingers around itself, and moves the author with a force over which she has no control. This flow of words is no guarantee that the output will be of high quality; the poems I've been producing recently may seem flat, or trite, or entirely overblown, to the eyes of another reader. In Anne of Avonlea, our beloved heroine describes the characters in a short story she is crafting as willful, unpredictable creatures, who continually escape her control and wreck the story in ways that she must excise or correct heavily within a few pages. Still, there is no denying that when the words are writing you, it's some of the easiest writing you'll ever do in your life, and every author yearns for this state to descend upon her from time to time. Editing will wait until tomorrow; there is no muse of proofing, and rarely any ecstasy involved, either.

16th-century depiction
of Chaos
If the chaos and difficulties of recent months have been the slough through which I must wade to capture a single sentence on paper, the rediscovery of a self that had dreams, and confidence, and an ability simply to let the words flow as they would, in the past few weeks has been the force capable of navigating me safely out of my slump. No writer gets to enjoy the sensation of the words writing her for very long, but while it's happening, I keep my pen and dedicated poetry journal ever handy, my synapses crafting lines even as I'm drifting off at unholy hours of the morning. The reality is that no one but my dearest friends and my older self may ever be interested in perusing these lines again, but the feeling that I am capable of such output bolsters me through a time of cruel uncertainty in so many others areas of existence.
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