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Archive for May, 2013

It is said that attitude is everything. We’re told to maintain a positive attitude despite the crap that’s delivered to us day in and day out. We are peppered with cheery slogans, smiling ad denizens, brightly colored banners, and Feng Shui-inspired office designs meant to optimize positive energy. Think positive, do positive seems to be the mantra. Most days such thinking is impossible, especially when you keep getting hit with more and more and more shit.

Those of you who have been following along with my soap opera know that it has been a year in hell. Major financial issues, hospital visits, rogue semi-tractors running into us for no reason, etc. This last week just added to the pile. It was supposed to be a long weekend with friends at one of our historical re-enactment events. It turned into a life lesson I’ve only just begun to realize, but maybe by sharing with you I can figure it out.

Since my husband was going to be on vacation, he scheduled an appointment with his doctor to discuss some questions he had about the medications he’d been prescribed after his little stint in the hospital last year. Of course, every doctor on the planet seems to think every middle-aged fat person is at death’s door, and hubby left the appointment with a new round of tests. That was Monday.

On Tuesday, hubby goes off to deal with the tests. While he’s gone, his sister calls to let us know their mother has passed. That news is not exactly a surprise – Mom-in-Law had been diagnosed with end-stage liver cancer about a month ago – but it is much sooner than anticipated. Her doctors had given her six months to a year. This gave me part one of the lesson.

To give you a little background, my mother-in-law spent her life convinced everyone was out to screw her over, any kind of activity was too hard or hurt too much, and driving was too scary. She had diabetes, congestive heart failure, asthma, carried far too much weight for her tiny frame, and refused to listen to any suggestions that might help her. When my husband called to tell her the happy news of our engagement, she wailed about how she just couldn’t stand him hurting her anymore. Then she and the sister refused to attend the wedding, which was only ten minutes from their house. It was nearly a year before they all started talking again.

My husband used to (half-heartedly) joke about how she could will herself into the hospital in a manner of minutes, no matter how healthy she might actually be. After experiencing her doing just that a number of times (usually when one or both of her children had other things scheduled for themselves), I realized it wasn’t really a joke. She wasn’t happy unless everyone around her was unhappy. And when she received her terminal diagnosis, she folded. She didn’t have the strength of mind to fight for a second opinion, for treatment options, or even for a few more months with her new grandbaby. Despite her mouthy protestations to the contrary, she chose to be afraid and dependent. That negative attitude cost her the ultimate price.

Part two of the lesson came over the course of the next couple days. Just hours after hearing about his mother, hubby received a call from the nurse practitioner ordering him in for an emergency CT scan of his heart. It seems one particular marker that can appear when there are blood clots showed up big time in one of his tests. The RN-P was convinced my husband was a pulmonary embolism on feet and so off we go. Five hours and one perfectly fine scan later, we re-evaluate our plans for the weekend. We decided maybe a stay-cation was the thing to do, and hubby looked forward to sleeping in for a change. The emotional toll of the day had just crushed us, so plans were canceled and apologies were made.

Wednesday morning the doctor’s calls began again. This time the RN-P was even more adamant, and insisted hubby go to the emergency room RIGHT NOW for a BLOOD TRANSFUSION! Okay, after the Chicken Little act of the day before, I have to admit we weren’t all that convinced of the RN-P’s validity, so I ask for details. It seems my husband’s hemoglobin count was five. A normal healthy male should have a count of at least thirteen. Somewhere my husband was losing blood by the gallon (no visible signs) or wasn’t producing the cells to start with, both of which were major causes of concern. So, off we go again.

We arrive at the ER and staff starts appearing from every corner, thinking they have a critical patient about to drop dead at their feet. When they see my husband not only conscious, but walking and talking, their mouths can’t stay closed. Aside from fatigue and shortness of breath, my husband wasn’t exhibiting what they considered to be the normal responses for someone in his condition. In fact, on paper he was considered so critical they couldn’t release him to a regular ward until they got his count up. Three days in the hospital, seven units of red blood cells, and a plethora more of tests and procedures later he got to go home. Some stay-cation.

The good news is, it appears the problem was found and fixed. He just needs to be on high doses of iron and vitamins for a while as his body builds back up to normal levels. It was also confirmed that he’s not diabetic (there goes one unnecessary medication and it’s stupid side affects), and his heart is strong as a bull’s (there goes the other med and it’s equally stupid side affects). Residuals of last year’s body-whacking infection. Just goes to show how you need to get educated and be your own advocate for your health.

And that was the finalizing realization about attitude. In hindsight, we now know my husband had been battling this issue for some time – probably a couple years – but his determination kept him going. He’s the only regular paycheck, so he kept plugging even when he felt like crap warmed over. But sitting in the ER with doctors fawning all over him in amazement, he’s cracking jokes and telling stories. Leashed to IVs, heart monitor and oxygen, he insists on getting up to go to the real bathroom. He let’s nothing stop him and that’s probably why I still have him around to play cards with.

So, yes, attitude is everything. Being afraid sent my Mother-in-Law to an early grave. Being fearless kept my husband alive in circumstances that might have crushed someone else. I can be afraid, or I can be fearless. I think it’s time I’m the latter.

© 2013   Cheri K. Endsley   All Rights Reserved.

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Congratulations! You have all just been hired as my Beta readers. For your first job, I offer up the short story below. Written *mumbley-something* years ago, it has undergone about a dozen revisions, and been rejected by at least that many publications (both hard copy and ethereal). I happen to like it, which is a rarity for my writing and me. But what few comments I’ve received in the rejections add up to pretty much just “Eh, it’s okay. Just not what we’re looking for.”

So, what will make it more than okay? What will make it worth an editor’s time? Let me have it in the comments below.

Necessary Evil

The four of them sat in the first pew, like they had every Sunday for decades. They didn’t speak – they had run out of things to say long before – but simply examined the altar and its accouterments. Fine embroidered linen covered the surface, while shiny gold chalice and paten waited for communions that would never happen. Watching from above was Jesus, hanging in his suffering on a beautifully carved cross, reminding them of lessons lost. It was all meticulously cared for, spotless and burnished to glowing smoothness from untold years of cleaning.

Father Mike sat on the aisle of the pew, his pale, lined face bathed in the rainbow of light filtered through the stained glass behind the crucifix. White hair cut neat and short covered his head and accented the clouded grey of his rheumy eyes. Eyes that didn’t see so well anymore but didn’t keep him from making sure his vestments were pristine. Not that it mattered much.

Shifting in the pew next to him was Rabbi Bernstein. A hawkish little man with beak-like nose and receding chin, he peered through narrow little glasses as he counted the panes in the stained glass. He knew the number by heart – could even break them down by colors and shapes – but it kept his mind busy when he wasn’t silently reciting the Torah from start to finish. The hair on his head had migrated to his jaw, giving him a respectable grey beard but leaving him with a completely bald pate to which he affixed his yarmulke with double-sided tape. He admired Father Mike’s dedication to order and sometimes felt a pang of guilt that the temple wasn’t so tidy for their Shabbat meetings. The Ark and the ner tamid he kept clean, but dust was a heavy carpet over everything else save the four seats they used every week.

There was a snort of sound and the Rabbi knew without looking that the third person in the pew had fallen asleep. As usual. He kept counting.

Shaikh Abdullah sat head slumped forward, a rhythmic snore settling into his relaxed form. He was garbed in cream colored bisht and thawb, his head covered in tightly wound white as his long white beard moved with the rhythm of his rotund belly. He was the embodiment of innocence. His companions knew him to be a gentle soul who had reluctantly taken up the call of the cloth, but had since become its most fervent student. He still recited from the Qur’an when they met on Fridays. They all knew it nearly as well as he did. They also knew he got a little extra cash during the holidays playing Santa Claus, but, these days, they all did little outside jobs to make ends meet. They had to, what with all their flocks gone.

The final form on the pew was a stately woman, green eyes sharp in a face that still carried a hint of the striking beauty of her youth. Catherine glanced at her companions, her long hair mostly silver and leaving little evidence of her former life as a redhead. The silver crescent moon of her circlet caught the play of light from the stained glass as she smoothed the lines of her green gown. The solstice was next week and she would have to clear the weeds out of the standing stones before their little group met there. The last time she had been too tired and Father Mike had tripped and broken his ankle. She still felt some guilt at the memory, ashamed of her own failings. There had been a time when dozens of acolytes had willingly done such menial tasks, leaving the High Priestess of the 13 Covens without dirt under her nails. But that had been so long ago. Way back when the world had needed the likes of her and her companions.

A priest, a rabbi, a shaikh and a witch sit on a bench. Sounded like the start of a good joke, versions of which the four had traded back and forth over the years. So many versions Catherine had lost count. At the moment she couldn’t remember any of them. Then realized she couldn’t remember all the steps to casting a circle either. Damn the frailties of old age.

The candles on the altar flickered as the air in the church moved to some unseen force. Then the sound of a door softly closing followed by gentle footsteps.

The four were suddenly alert, Abdullah grunting awake as some long un-used instinct jolted him to consciousness. As one they turned and their gazes fell upon a solitary man. He walked casually down the aisle, a light smile on his lips, a glint in his eyes. Eyes that couldn’t be pinned to one color, shifting from hazel to green to brown depending on the light. Dressed in blue jeans and a grey t-shirt under a long army-green coat, he carried a worn backpack on one shoulder and a heavy black book in one hand. Tousled light brown hair and several days’ growth of beard only added to his handsomely disheveled appearance. It was hard to put an age on him, even with slight crow’s feet at the corners of his eyes, for he was one of those whom age seemed never to fully touch.

He smiled larger as he saw their recognition and casually took a seat on the top step leading to the altar, directly in front of Father Mike.

The old priest eyed the man. “It’s been a long time,” he scowled. “You weren’t supposed to come back.”

The man continued smiling, the color of his eyes changing with the reflections of the stained glass as he looked over the four, finally resting on Catherine. “But it’s good to see you,” was his soft declaration and the tone of his voice caused a flush of warmth over her, bringing back memories she had long thought put away.

“Oddly enough,” began the Rabbi, leaning forward. “…it’s good to see you as well.”

Those eyes, sparkling under arched eyebrows that gave the man a look of puzzled amusement, turned to the old Jew. “Why, Eli, I’m flattered. But you always did have an odd way of looking at things.”

“I’ve been dreaming of you,” Abdullah declared, his dark gaze resting on the man.

The man’s face grew a little more serious. “I know, Abdullah. It’s why I’m here.”

“You’re here because some old man had a dream?” frowned the priest.

“Not just him.” The man’s smile took on a hint of sadness. “All four of you. You called me.”

“All those years we spent working to send you away,” Catherine began, “…only to call you back? It doesn’t make sense.”

“But you did,” he nodded and set his backpack down. “You got your wish, but now no one has any use for you.”

“And that’s just fine with us,” declared Eli, “…since it means the world is at peace.”

“Is it?” Those changeling eyes flitted over each of them. “I walked a bit out there before I came here. It seems the world has become a rather bland place. There is peace, but I didn’t see happiness.” He opened the book and lovingly thumbed through several pages. “Everything goes as planned and life is good and people live. But necessity is the mother of invention, and I don’t see any inventing going on. You’re virtually unchanged since I left.”

“The thrill is gone,” Abdullah gave a wan smile and looked up at the man. “Humans seem to learn best when there is an edge of danger to things.”

“They don’t know how good they have it,” muttered Father Mike. Then his eyes suddenly grew clear as he focused on the visitor.

Tapping his forefinger to his nose, the man sat back in satisfaction and watched as the four exchanged glances.

“It would mean we failed,” Eli dropped his head into his hands. The man rose and gently touched the Rabbi’s shoulder.

“Not a failure, Eli.” The two locked gazes. “You succeeded after thousands of your kind had spent millennia in the task. It’s merely time for a new age.”

The four looked at each other, years of friendship allowing them to know what each was thinking without saying a word.

“Well, I have to get going,” the man declared. “I have work to do. We’ll talk more later.” He grabbed his backpack and moved down the aisle, stopping midway to turn and find their questioning eyes on him. His smile was beatific, his eyes loving. “It really is good to see you all again. Thanks for having me.” And then he was gone, disappearing into the shadows of the vestibule and only the gentlest of air movement to tell of his passing.

The four sat in their pew for a long time, silent, each in their own thoughts. Then as one they rose and walked out into the new world.

(c) 2013 Cheri K. Endsley All Rights Reserved.

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As most of you are painfully aware by now, I am a chronic depressive. I’ve been medicated for the better part of seventeen years, and will likely have to continue in that vein for the rest of my life. It’s a genetics thing. Better the little pills prescribed by the doctor than the alcohol previous generations of my family used for self-medication. At least, until modern science can fix the genetic problem, at which point I’ll be the first in line.

Because of modern pharmaceuticals, I can maintain a semblance of normal. Normal being a relative term, of course. I’ll never forego playing dress-up on the weekends, wear floral print mu-mus, or avoid dancing in sprinklers just to satisfy some strange definition by society. There is a line, you know. But I can hold a conversation, balance my checkbook and dress myself (most days), and that’s the type of normal we’ll have to deal with here. The formal term is “functioning depressive.” Sort of like a functioning alcoholic, but without the bar bill.

Contrary to popular opinion, depression is not something I think about on a regular basis. It just is. Just like my hair is silver, depression is simply another part of the puzzle of me. I got to thinking about the whole depression thing again recently when a Facebook friend shared a link to blogger Allie Brosh’s latest entry on the subject (“Depression Part Two”). Intellectually, I’m aware that there are millions of other depressives in the world, but emotionally I’m convinced I’m the only one and that no one else could possibly understand what I’m going through. Now, after reading that article, I’m a little less convinced. It was like someone had looked inside my head and reported what they saw. Thankfully, no one opened that old, chained door in the back, so at least some of my secrets are still kept.

But there it is, depression. I’m in the “nothing really matters” stage and have been for quite some time. I occasionally slip into the black hole of self-loathing hell when stressors hit (like this entire last year), but mostly I just don’t really give a crap. I know that sounds harsh, but that’s the reality of living in my head. That’s why it’s such a constant struggle to do the things I need to do (like get out of bed). It is an age-old fight between logic and emotion. Logic dictates that showers need to be taken, chores need to be done, and words need to be typed onto ethereal pages in the hopes of someday selling them to someone. Emotion is an over-riding “Meh.”

My way around the lack of desire is my sense of responsibility. I have a responsibility to my husband to keep the house running smoothly, get dinner made, keep the finances on track, and, yes, wash my butt regularly. I have a responsibility to our craft business to work on projects that we can then sell, and build the business into something we both can live off. I have a responsibility to my friends and family and the followers of this blog (all both of you!) to put out some sort of written content on a regular basis because you’ve all supported me even when I don’t think I deserve it. Which is most of the time, but that’s another issue.

You’ll note that my motivators are all external. I don’t do anything just for me anymore. I have to attach to someone else’s expectations, even if only in my mind, to keep me going. The latest novel is moving forward (if only slowly) because I made a commitment to my husband to write regularly. I’m letting him down if I don’t write, and I can’t disappoint him. The guilt would just be crushing. He goes out everyday to a soul-sucking job just to bring home a paycheck that barely covers the basics, so I can at least hold up my end of the deal with a few hours of typing.

The odd thing is, once I get started in a session (and that’s where the biggest part of the fight is), I begin to feel things. Real emotions start peaking out of the corners and tickling me. Things start to matter and I start to care, if only for a little while. And, oddly enough, I start to believe in myself. Kind of a scary thing, when you haven’t felt worthy your whole life. It’s taken me over half a century and a ton of happy pills, but I’m finally catching glimmers of what other people have told me without anyone there to point them out. Writing has become a better therapy for me than any shrink could ever imagine.

Those feelings fade away quickly, though. I spend most of my days following my routine because that’s what I’m supposed to do, not because it’s what I want to do. With continued efforts, maybe I can switch that around, and spend most of my days doing things I really want to do, and have those things be bright and productive and useful and entertaining, not just hiding under the blankets in my pajamas. It’s okay to do that occasionally, but it shouldn’t be a way of life. Despite what I may want most days.

So if it looks like I’m a bit of automaton sometimes, it’s because I am. I look like I care because that’s what is expected of me, not because I really do. But don’t take that as an insult. None of this has anything to do with you, and everything to do with the fubarred wiring in my brain. Just have some patience with me while I program a work-around, and maybe someday you’ll be rewarded with a smile because I’m genuinely happy. Don’t worry, you’ll know it when you see it.

© 2013   Cheri K. Endsley   All Rights Reserved.

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I spent most of my middle school years being called Martian. My maiden name is Martin and in junior high I stood a head taller than most, wore thick glasses and a full rack of metal braces, played in orchestra instead of band, made straight A’s without really trying and wrote science fiction stories. Obviously, I wasn’t human so hence the nickname. Kids are great that way.

Here it is forty years later and I still cringe at the memories. But I’m also grateful that the only social media we had at the time was passing notes in class, so I was spared the full scale Facebook blitz attacks that have, sadly, become so common today. One wonders at the wisdom of giving a group of emotionally underdeveloped piranhas such easy access to their victims, but then I realize adults aren’t that much better at moderating themselves online and just head for the chocolate instead.

Despite that painful history, I’m still writing science fiction and fascinated by all things space related. I’m not really sure from where I get it. Perhaps partly because my dad was Air Force and we lived on/near bases with lots of cool aircraft. There’s something about watching a huge SAC plane lumber down the tarmac, its wheels easing off the ground just before hitting the final markers, that makes you thrilled about the possibilities of your own great lumbering self escaping the earth’s boundaries.

I suppose escape is part of the appeal of both science fiction and space. As a child I watched humans blast into space and walk on the face of the moon. The men who accomplished those amazing feats looked just like any other males you might see on the street. Yet there was something inside them that made them want to see what was up there, that insatiable curiosity that inspires explorers across the world and in all fields. Somewhere in the deep, dark past a few of us were given that trait and it has been a precious commodity throughout the ages. Without it, we’d still be living in caves eating nuts and berries and grunting at each other. No fire, no wheel, no Internet, because there would not have been anyone curious/brave enough to figure them out.

We need those explorers even more now. The US has been seriously lagging behind the rest of the Western World in science and math for nearly a generation, and it’s really beginning to show. For a long time the emphasis has been to get a college degree that will make you good money fast. We have MBAs and attorneys out the butt, but there’s a shortage of engineers, mathematicians and research scientists. It explains why there’s no shortage of financial shenanigans and lawsuits, and also why so many foreign students are gaining jobs in our tech industries (some of which sell our secrets back to their homeland). Having our own homegrown tech geniuses would stop some of the latter, and maybe slow down some of the former.

Sadly, the bulk of the US space program has been a political football, with many shortsighted individuals decrying the need for such expensive endeavors, mainly because they can’t see any immediate financial gain. Why spend money for years, decades, on the outside chance we’ll find something interesting? Most don’t seem to understand, or care, what our space program has given us so far (“10 NASA Inventions You Might Use Every Day”), let alone think about the legacy we should be leaving for future generations (“The Real Reasons We Explore Space”).

As frustrated as I am at our government’s lack of foresight, and angered that our astronauts now have to hitch a ride with a foreign entity that used to want to bomb us back to the Stone Age (I have trust issues), I’m finally seeing a glimmer of hope on the horizon. There are people out there who have realized we have to do this, despite our governments. The new leaders in space exploration are individuals and entrepreneurs and dreamers extraordinaire. There’s Elon Musk at Space X (he’s also the CEO of Tesla Motors, another avenue of planet-bound exploration vitally important to our survival) and Sir Richard Branson with his Virgin Galactic. Many others are climbing onto the bandwagon, but, as with all things, these aforementioned dynamic leaders have grabbed the headlines and given the rest of us inspiration.

But the project I find most interesting is from the international consortium of Mars One founded by Bas Lansdorp and Arno A. Wielders (in the Netherlands, of all places). While the rest are still focused in getting us out of Earth’s gravity in steps and stages, they’ve gone straight to sending colonists to Mars. Within a week after opening their astronaut selection process, they had over 20,000 applicants, and that number is growing daily. Tens of thousands of people willing to leave the security of their Earth-bound homes forever and step into the next true wilderness of our time. Given that there are nearly seven billion of us, it seems like a small number, but the successful finalists will become unforgettable names in our history. Some of the applicants are likely doing it just as a lark, not expecting to really be selected. But I suspect the majority is in it for the real deal. They have that spark of exploration so needed to advance our species into the next level of our existence.

There’s a part of me that would jump on that ship to Mars in a heartbeat, especially if I could take my husband, a couple cats and a few trees with me. The idea of blazing that trail, of being the first to settle the New Wild West, just calls to me for reasons I can’t really explain. I don’t have a problem being in restricted spaces, I have a sharp analytical mind that can do science and math (I almost went into genetics, but followed my heart into music), and am pretty good at MacGyvering solutions to unexpected problems. But, sadly, I don’t meet some of the physical requirements. Being a medicated chronic depressive doesn’t fit into the ideal situation for such things, especially when the nearest pharmacist is 140 million miles away.

So I’ll just sit here writing my science fiction, advocating for our continued exploration, and cheering on those who will go. I just had a nickname, but some day there will be real Martians again, and they will be us.

© 2013   Cheri K. Endsley   All Rights Reserved.

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