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Archive for January, 2013

I’ve been missing music lately. The participating part of it, that is. There’s something about performing, especially with a group, that can’t be matched by anything else. On a good night, it’s a high beyond any recreational drug known to man. On a bad night you might want to drown your sorrows with a depressive of choice, but then you wake up the next morning more determined than ever to get it right.

I’ve played as a soloist and in a full orchestra, from jazz quartet to big band, from chamber ensemble to marching band and everything in between. Carousel was the first musical – and first professional – gig, and I long ago lost count of all the fund-raising concerts I was part of. I’ve taught music to first graders, all the way up to middle-aged moms pulling out their high school flute for the first time in twenty years. Hand me an instrument, I’ll play you “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” It won’t be pretty, but you’ll recognize it, and sometimes that’s all a musician needs.

As I sit here writing, half a dozen instruments sit forlornly just a few feet away. There’s the 1918 Bradford upright piano, one of those grand old things made of solid wood and weighing 750lbs., with scroll work and real ivory keys. It’s in desperate need of tuning, not to mention some restoration work, but it’s been a faithful companion for the better part of 40 years. Some of my doodles on it just don’t sound right on any other piano.

Then there’s Michael. That would be my oboe. Not one of those fancy professional models, but still a nice instrument that took me through college and my early days of professional work. A gift from my Mom when we found out I’d made All-State Band. I didn’t find out until years later she had put herself into serious hock to get it. The things parents do for their kids.

There’s a few others sitting there, untouched – save to be moved – for the better part of 15 years. I can’t seem to find the time to play them, and yet I couldn’t possibly part with them, either, because the intent to play them is still there. I’ve found a local-ish teacher that will help me do more than randomly pluck at the strings of the lovely Celtic harp I received for a wedding present. And I already have the pad set for the flute that needs rebuilding. But the time seems to slip away from me so fast. I get up in the morning, turn around and find myself in the middle of the next day, many chores still undone.

It’s not that I’m having blackouts or anything like that. It just seems to take me a lot longer to get things done than I had planned. I think it’s the OCD and that dastardly perfectionism. They snagged me in their nefarious clutches when I was very young and I haven’t managed to completely escape them. I take my time with things. As Charles Emerson Winchester once said in “M.A.S.H.”: “I do one thing at a time. I do it VERY well, and then I move on.” That would be me. Hopefully without the aristocratic smugness.

Take this little blog entry. I follow a number of other bloggers, most of who post at least once a day, every day. They make it seem so easy. I usually only have 2 to 4 hours a day to work on my writing, and this rambling will take up the majority of that time. That’s why I only post once a week at best. I just can’t sacrifice the time from those projects I hope to actually sell, for this little experiment in vanity.

When I was still in office hell, I made up for my slow production pace with efficiency. I had an organized flow to things, and what came out the other end was better than most. In 25 years of administrative bliss, I was never told I worked too slowly. ‘Course, many bosses seem to think whatever was assigned only takes five minutes, but they can be trained. Usually. In today’s job market where employers have the upper hand, an employee may just have to toss together something satisfactory, and leave the really good stuff by the wayside. We perfectionists have to make sacrifices. If it’s any consolation, most of the bosses won’t notice the difference.

My relaxed pace has often annoyed my husband. He’s complained a number of times about how slow I walk compared to him. I’ve told him it’s because I was built in adagio. This chassis is no race car, honey. It’s built for comfort, not for speed, and my leisurely pace through life may be a hindrance to some in this increasingly molto vivace world, but it’s allowed me to notice things others just don’t get. You have to, to be a good writer. Your reader wants to be completely immersed in your world, and you can’t accomplish that without knowing what the air smells like just before a storm, or what kind of nut that squirrel might be tucking away as you watch, or how that blond across the way flips her head just so to get her bangs out of her eyes.

The Devil’s in the details, they say, and details can’t be in your writing if you don’t know they exist in the real world. While you’re texting away on your phone, not noticing you’re about to walk into a fountain, I’ll be sitting on a bench nearby enjoying a cup of tea and watching your Chaplain-esque pratfall with some satisfaction. While you’re swearing about your mishap and wondering if rice really works to dry out electronics, I’ll be noticing the beautiful and subtle shading of the flowers planted next to me. I get Earl Grey and roses while you get wet.

So set your personal metronome to a more leisurely pace and take a look around you. You won’t get as much done as you think you should, but you’ll be all the richer for it.

 

© 2013   Cheri K. Endsley   All Rights Reserved.

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I’ve never considered myself very funny. I’ve DONE things that were considered funny, usually inadvertently, and usually when I was really trying to be dead serious. And every now and then I can come up with a zinger that most people around me appreciate. But stand-up comedienne I’m not.

Despite this handicap, I’m trying to find more humor in my life, if only to distract me from all the bullshit these past couple years have thrown at me. The problem I’ve discovered is that what I think is funny, most people around me don’t get, or vice versa. Case in point, my husband – a middle-aged man who’s carried a gun for a living for most of his adult life – finds farts hilarious. Especially if one has just been inflicted upon someone else in a confined area. This is apparently a common reaction from most men. I had the foolish notion that a responsible adult would leave that pre-school idiocy behind, but it seems that men are always five years old when it comes to farts.

Then there’s the Three Stooges. I was watching one of the “Lethal Weapon” movies the other day, and was reminded of their abusive version of humor. I don’t get it. I don’t get ANY of those types of comedic rampages. Insulting, degrading, belittling, and hateful acts are not funny. The obvious and crass are just that. While I can appreciate from a historical perspective the contributions of Larry, Curly and Moe (and occasionally Shemp) to the early field of film comedy, my subjective funny bone lays dormant whenever they’re around. Though poking a few bill collectors in the eye while declaring “Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk!” would give me a great deal of personal satisfaction.

The truth is I’m more of a Marx Brothers kind of girl. As a child I loved their wackiness, (even if I didn’t get most of the double entendre until I was much older), and was really drawn to Harpo and Chico and their musical interludes. Music was my first love and even when very young, I delighted in real musicianship (Harpo was a masterful concert harpist, and his recordings are still available, if you look around). I was especially intrigued when they would riff on a theme, or pretend to be really bad when it was obvious they weren’t. This appreciation went on into Bugs Bunny and his Wagnerian escapades, all the way up to P.D.Q. Bach and the Muppets. And, yes, I think Weird Al Yankovic is hysterical, because you have to be a badass musician to parody fellow musicians. And with an accordion, no less. Pardon me while I go laugh myself silly.

Good comedy makes you think. It takes you out of your comfort zone and then throws you right back in, twisted all around so you see the true absurdity of it. Bill Cosby, George Carlin, Robin Williams, Jon Stewart, Eddie Izzard and Craig Ferguson are some of the best at combining sharp political commentary in juxtaposition with equally eccentric observations of the human condition. And since dark comedy seems to be a popular expression for the latter two, I can only imagine the commentary they would come up with when viewing the soap opera that has been my life this last year.

But combine comedy and music, and you have me trapped. Whether it be Victor Borge, Harpo Marx, the “classical” group Pagagnini, or the “rock god” Tim Minchin, I’ll be there, eyes glued to YouTube, getting lost in time and space. It allows me a level of escapism that one or the other by itself can’t manage. A double hit of feel good. It doesn’t work for the musically challenged, though. Just ask my mother. To this day she still doesn’t understand why I pee my pants laughing every time I hear Peter Schickele’s version of Beethoven’s 5th. Sorry, inside jokes don’t work for everybody. But thanks for supporting my bizarre mind anyway, Mom.

So instead of being mired in self-pity, trying to figure a way out of this deep, dark hole that has no possible exit at this time, I’m going to go get lost for awhile in musical comedy, or comedic music, or whatever the term is for laughing your cares away in the key of D minor. It won’t solve anything, but maybe eventually I’ll be able to look back at this point in my life and see the black humor in it.

© 2013  Cheri K. Endsley  All Rights Reserved.

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I am self-employed these days, working out of my home. It’s a lot like being unemployed, in that I’m not making a whole lot of money. But the benefits are pretty nice. Thanks to my hard-working husband, I get room and board and medical coverage, and can work pretty much on my own schedule without some myopic manager hovering over my shoulder. Though sometimes the boss can really be a bitch.

But there seems to be a perception in our culture that people who work at home are lazy, bon-bon snacking, soap opera watching lay-a-bouts who only pretend to spend a few minutes actually doing something. At least, that’s a common feeling I get from people when I mention that I don’t work at a “normal” job anymore. Stay-at-home parents (which is an oxymoronic term, if you really think about it) have experienced this for decades. I’m not a parent, – largely because I’ve watched my friends and family and their children and learned the dangers – but there’s nothing easy or leisurely about keeping a household running while changing diapers, chasing toddlers and keeping your working partner fed.

I think it’s really about jealousy. While the “regular” workers are spending the average of 25-45 minutes (depending on your source) trapped in a compact car and stuck on a polluted freeway commuting to their offices, I spend about 30 seconds walking down stairs. I deal with cat toys and dog hair rather than flat tires and traffic. Instead of the drive through and $5 for one drink at Starbucks, I casually stroll through the kitchen and put on a pot of tea. For $5 I can have tea several times a day, every day, for a month. And my version of casual Friday consists of ditching the sweats and t-shirt in favor of pajamas. Given those points, I can understand what people might be seeing.

But the fun ends there. Being self-employed actually takes a ton of self-discipline and planning. While I’m good at the latter, I suffer from a dearth of the former. The first few months of unemployment were pretty much wasted because I had no exterior motivations to get anything done. I caught up on about 20 years of sleep and about a dozen DVD collections of shows I’d always wanted to watch but didn’t have the time for. I read a lot, too. And killed many, many things on my computer. But I didn’t really get anything constructive done. I might as well have been eating bon-bons and watching soap operas.

So I developed a new plan of action. It took some time, but over this last year I’ve settled into a routine that allows me to be constructive, while also allowing me to work on my normal nocturnal cycle.

Most days the alarm goes off at noon. Yes, you saw that right – I set an alarm. I’m very cat-like in my desire for sleep, so I have to set an alarm to get my ass out of bed and get to work. Here begins my first part-time job: housewife. I handle the chores, run any errands, pay the bills and deal with any other administrative tasks that might come up. I make sure my husband comes home to a cooked meal and we spend a little time together before he retires to his lair for the evening.

My second part-time job begins once the hubby is recharging for the next day. One of the things we’ve been doing over the last couple years is trying to build a side-business based on some of the skills we’ve developed for our historical re-enactment group. He blacksmiths, does decorative metalwork and builds armor. I do needlework and weaving. Because we’ve specialized in areas few others are handling, we’ve begun to develop a nice little following. So far it’s netting us enough money to keep us playing in our group. Pretty much the only social life we have at this point, so it’s been nice to do. We want to eventually get to where we have enough income from our “hobby” to live on, which means making a ton more stuff and then selling it. To that end, my evenings are spent either at a loom, or holding an embroidery hoop. Okay, so I’m watching TV and dealing with an old cat who thinks my lap is preferable to any other place in the house, too, but I’m still knocking off about three hours a night of handwork.

I head to the office once the late news is over. That’s where I have my third part-time job, writing. That’s the job I really like and the one that gives me the most joy, as well as the most frustration. For an embarrassingly long time, I would fritter the hours away by watching bad science fiction on Hulu, playing computer games or otherwise finding reasons to avoid doing the one thing I said I wanted to do. I’d go to bed about dawn feeling guilty and full of self-loathing, while all those characters and scenes I should have been putting on paper swirled chaotically around in my head, screaming at me for neglecting them.

Finally I had enough. I can’t really describe what went on inside me (sorry, even the best writers are at a loss for words sometimes), but one night I went into the office and took up my fountain pen and started writing. Even if it’s just a few sentences, some notes on a scene, or a character description, I write SOMETHING every night. As Jim Butcher has said in a number of his interviews, even one word is one word closer to finishing. The new novel is now over 30K words and going strong. I’m not going to be one of those writers that can push out several books a year; I’m too slow for that. But I will keep going until it’s done, while entering contests, submitting short stories and plugging steadily away at the one thing I’ve never been able to do without.

So the next time you hear someone’s “self-employed” or “stay-at-home,” think of me. Think of coming home to a freshly vacuumed house, a hot meal and clean underwear. Think of what it’s like to hear the bills are paid, a paying commission has been finished, and the paperwork for a new selling venue has been filed. Think of reading the book jacket of a new novel, and realizing you know that person.

Being self-employed isn’t for the faint of heart. But given that I’m finally past all the negative crap in my head and making progress in my chosen career, it’s a road I’ve gladly taken.

© 2013  Cheri K. Endsley   All Rights Reserved.

 

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     We have a tangerine tree in the back yard. Despite my poor care, it happily fruits every year. Except for the year I had the so-called “professionals” whack it back. Poor thing looked like it had starred in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre then and didn’t even bloom until the season after. Last time I call those Idjuts.

     Anyway, it gave us quite a bit of fruit this year, and since I haven’t learned anything about canning/preserving yet (if ever!), we had bags and bags and bags of really lovely, tasty, juicy, sweet citrus we were pawning off on everybody we could think of. My husband took five or six bags to work over the course of a couple weeks, we snuck a few off onto the neighbors, and have eaten quite a bit ourselves. But it only lasts so long. We did the final harvest on the tree New Years Day, and found we still had a dozen FULL bags of fruit, with the shelf life nearly done. That’s over 100 pounds of fruit. Pleas to our friends on various e-lists garnered us a resounding wall of crickets chirping. It seems we had reached critical mass.

     But I can’t stand the thought of wasting anything, especially food, so I started looking around for homeless shelters or food banks that might be interested. Surprisingly, many have restrictions against accepting back yard grown produce. I guess it has something to do with being an unknown quantity. Who knows, maybe I was really a crazy person hell bent on poisoning dozens of the downtrodden in a perceived cleansing of the gene pool. Given the crazy shit that goes on in this world, I can’t say I really blame the people behind such rules, but it does seem sometimes we go a little overboard with these sorts of requirements.

     After a little more dogged Internet research, I found AmpleHarvest.  It is a 501(c)(3) charity that matches home gardeners with food banks that are willing to accept their excess. Through their website, I found a local organization that was happy to take the tangerines off our hands. Hubby delivered them after work, and we get the two-fer satisfaction of getting rid of our abundance while also getting some good Karma points. Next year I suspect they’ll be getting a lot more from us, now that we know where they are.

     The whole situation got me thinking about the idea of charity in general. For most of us, the word elicits visions of homeless people, food banks, donation boxes, and fund-raising concerts by A-list stars. Given the devastation that has been caused over the last few years by various natural and man-made disasters, that vision has been expanded to include families living in their cars because jobs were lost in the economic downturn, or standing in front of what is left of their home after Mother Nature took a whack at it. We used to be able to compartmentalize our feelings, because that dirty hobo on the corner was too crazy or drug-addled or drunk to really make us feel his situation warranted our compassion. But now we’re looking at people just like us, our neighbors, our friends, our family and seeing homes just like ours torched by wildfires, shredded by tornadoes or swept out to sea by hurricanes, and beginning to wonder if we ain’t all in this together, regardless.

     Well, you can stop wondering, because we are. This is the only planet we have (right now – that’s a rant I’ll save for another time). And there is a part of me that believes in the Butterfly Effect, even beyond the chaos theory/meteorological implications. We are all made of matter, and the same atomic compounds are used repeatedly throughout all the systems to create humans, giant redwoods, clouds, cheetahs, streptococcus bacilli, etc. We are all parts of the whole, all connected and interconnected by the waves of energy put out by all those molecules vibrating in our constructs. That means that what you do, no matter how small, will have an effect outside of you. That energy will continue. You may not see it directly, but what you do matters.

     Some of you may be thinking that old adage “Charity begins at home.” And you would be right. After all that ranting above, I say that, you wonder? I do, but I don’t mean it in the manner you might think. Yes, we should help family and friends whenever we can, but we should especially help ourselves. Too many of us have been caught up in the stress of work, the stress of not working, surviving paycheck to paycheck, babysitting our kids with electronics, not eating right, not exercising, and being depressed because things aren’t going the way we had so carefully planned them. We lose ourselves because we keep thinking that there are more important things to worry about. Well, without you, what happens?

     We have to be charitable with ourselves first. We have to take a few moments here or there to do something for us, to help us replenish our energies, to calm our mind, to sooth our spirit.

     As a writer, I strive every day to bring something into the world that others will want to read. It is a lonely business and often the only contact I get is yet another rejection. But – being a depressive – getting a rejection can send me into a tailspin of self-loathing. It is a constant battle to remind myself that I’m good at what I do. I went to an acclaimed writing program, I’ve had good reviews on my novel by the beta readers, I’ve received positive comments to blog entries and articles. Establishing a career in this business takes time. Usually years. And I just have to keep plugging away at it. Probably the best lesson I learned at AFI is that one will gain a measure of success if A) one has a measure of talent (I’ve been told I do), B) one has developed the necessary skills associated with that talent (case in point), and C) one sticks with it.

     To stick with it, I have to look into myself every day and be charitable, to not be lost in the depression and self-esteem issues, to allow myself a measure of peace with myself. When we are charitable with ourselves, that positive energy rises out of us and into the world around us. We make a difference not only for ourselves, but also for everyone and everything.

     Charity begins at home because it’s ALL home. Something to think about the next time you walk past a homeless guy on the street.

 

© 2013   Cheri K. Endsley   All Rights Reserved.

 

 

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     Each time the world rings in a new Gregorian Year, we often spend time reflecting on the year just passed and use the lessons learned (or not) to make resolutions for the coming days. When I look back on 2012, I couldn’t care less about what I did or didn’t learn, I just can’t wait for that sucker to rot in hell.

     New years always start out with new hopes and dreams, and 2012 was no different. I finally came to the formal decision to forgo continued abuse in the job market (after three years of fruitless searching) and focus entirely on getting my writing career back on track. You might remember my ramblings in the post Faith. I had taken that step into the abyss, with my husband’s support a safety line back to reality.

     Three weeks after I wrote that article, I was sitting next to my husband’s hospital bed scared to death I was about to lose my whole world.

     At 6’3” and a former Marine, my husband is virtually indestructible. When I get a cold, it turns into bronchitis and sometimes even pneumonia. He doesn’t get colds. Or the flu. Or poison ivy/oak. He’s not allergic to anything known and has a cast iron stomach. Being from Kansas, he jokes that it takes kryptonite to really affect him and for the longest time it seemed true.

     Then within a matter of days he went from being fine to in the hospital hooked up to IVs, a heart monitor and oxygen. He had developed a massive cellulitis infection in his leg. It started at his toes and went to above his knee and sent his whole system totally out of whack. I had heard all the horror stories about MSRA and “flesh-eating” bacteria so, of course, I envisioned all sorts of terrible things. One of the side affects of being a depressive OCD writer, unfortunately. The dark imagination runs wild.

     The drive home from the hospital that first night, after nearly 24 hours of urgent care, ER, blood tests, x-rays, a parade of doctors and nurses and little food or sleep, was one of the hardest of my life. It’s awfully tough to see the road when you’re crying your eyes out. My world was lying hooked up to machines and I had never felt so helpless.

     He had been shouldering the stress of being the sole bread-winner without a word, tolling through a physical job that sucked the life out of him with few complaints, and it had all finally caught up to him. Add guilt to my helplessness.

      It took three days in the hospital, two months off work, and six different antibiotics to beat the infection back. He’s still not 100%. Not physically, and not emotionally. Except for the day of his birth, he’d never been a hospital patient. What few injuries he’d had over the years were easily treated at urgent care or with outpatient surgery. He’s had a taste of mortality and I think it scared him. It certainly scared the shit out of me.

      Added to our emotional toll, our delicate financial plans, made so carefully just weeks before, were toasted. Insurance covered the bulk of things, thankfully, but no insurance covers it all, and when you’re living to the penny, doctors’ co-pays, prescription costs, and your share of a hospital bill are like a tsunami on a Japanese coastline.

      But, oh, the year was not done with us yet. The day – literally THE SAME DAY – my husband gets released to go back to work, a semi tractor decided to take a left turn right in front of us.

      We were doing 60mph in the center lane of a three-lane freeway at the time.

      The driver of the big rig was in the slow lane (sans trailer, thankfully) and had been following too closely in traffic, over-reacted to slowing ahead, locked up the brakes and proceeded to careen across three lanes of travel. With nowhere to go, we hit the semi square amidships, bounced off it and then slammed into the concrete barrier at the center meridian. The semi then went on to broadside an SUV, whipped back across the lanes from whence it had come to take out a sister semi it had been traveling with, sending them both off the side of the road into the brick sound wall. Quite spectacular, if it had been in a movie. Shut down that whole side of the freeway, spawned a SIG alert, and gave some poor CHP sergeant a lot of paperwork.

      The only reason we survived is because we were in our Dodge ¾ ton diesel pickup. I’ve often thought about writing Dodge to thank them, because that front end took it all. We were shaken like rag dolls, and – while still dealing with residual physiological problems – were able to walk away from it. If we had been in our smaller car, we probably wouldn’t be having this conversation.

      It took two months to get our truck back. It came close to being totaled. It didn’t look so bad on the surface but once the repair place dug into it, they found the front upper and lower rails and the frame had been bent to the point of no repair (not to mention all that other stuff up front that had been turned into Picasso-esque sculpture). Being a full-sized heavy-duty diesel pickup with low mileage made the value just enough to warrant the cost of replacing the frame. I was amazed, to say the least, but ever so grateful. Especially since we had just paid it off only two months before.

      Yep, just two months after we get the pink slip. The gods have funny ways of testing our patience.

      So here we come into the fall of the year and it’s been brutal. And it hasn’t just been us. Friends and family have been beaten up, too, and we worry about them, about how we can help, when we’re trying to keep ourselves going on a wish and a prayer. We haven’t been very social this holiday season, not only because we couldn’t afford the fuel to go anywhere, but also we just couldn’t bring ourselves to be cheerful at a time when our world wasn’t allowing us a lot of cheer. We were looking forward to the New Year; thankful that we were almost there and it was almost over and that maybe the clouds of darkness would finally part and let us see some lovely moonlight.

     Than on Sunday, December 30th – sixteen years to the day that my brother was killed in a car accident (and people wonder why I don’t care for the Christmas season) – we learn that a dear friend of ours passed away in her sleep.  She was a 20-year survivor of ovarian cancer, a battle it appeared she had won at times. It took us by surprise, even though we knew these last couple years had not been good for her. She fought, quite valiantly, with an amazing attitude and a joy for all the time she had been given. And we are grateful to have had that time with her. But her passing just put the shit frosting on one craptastic year.

     If I hadn’t lived this all, I would think somebody was reading me a soap opera.

      So, 2012, fuck you. Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out. That pop of vacuum compressed air is me leaving you behind at the speed of light.

      Which brings us back to the topic of our little rant today. Hope. We all have hopes of good things to come in the New Year. Hope that we’ll have good health, decent money, and time to spend with our family and friends. Hope that our dysfunctional government will finally get their collective heads out of their asses and actually work on solving the problems plaguing our country today. Hope that the regime in Syria will see the writing on the wall, that Israel and Palestine will stop shooting at each other, and especially the hope that girls the world over can go to school without the fear of being shot, raped or burned with acid.

      Those are the big hopes that I think we can all probably agree on. We all have little hopes, too. I hope that my novel will finally sell, that I can finish the next one, that those short stories I’ve been playing with will settle into something coherent. I hope for my husband to be happy and healthy, and for my friends and family to enjoy better days ahead.

     Mostly, though, I just hope. It really pisses off the evil in the world, and that is one small thing I can enjoy.

 

 

© 2013  Cheri K. Endsley.  All Rights Reserved.

 

 

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