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Archive for July, 2013

I’m walking through some sort of encampment, part SCA war camp and part zombie apocalypse refugee camp. On my back is a beat up ALICE pack, out of which my cat is poking his head and complaining loudly. In one crooked arm I’m trying to keep control of a bunch of Really Important Things, which turn out to be cross-stitch projects. Over my other shoulder is a spiffy Barrett light .50 sniper rifle. I’m wearing a skin-tight purple outfit, which is alternately a wetsuit or a flight suit, depending on the light, while trying to find a clean bathroom in an area that looks like the bad side of a landfill.

Welcome to my dreams.

My eldest niece was on Facebook the other night, complaining about her own weird dreams, when I whipped out the one above on her. She now wants to share whatever it is I’m taking, I guess because her weird dream didn’t quite measure up. That made me start thinking about just how weird is weird, because, sadly, what I described in the opening paragraph is pretty normal for me.

A couple years ago I wrote a piece about my dreams (“Zombies In The Outfield”) that explains the variations I have, so I don’t think I need to do that again. Lately I’ve been dealing with a lot more nightmarish types than usual. Friends meeting gruesome deaths because of something I did or didn’t do. Being lost, alone and injured somewhere while being chased by zombies/aliens/screaming toddlers. When I finally get to where I can ask someone for help, I’m ignored, or, worse yet, refused. The really bad ones are when I’m dealing with all that other stuff and then realize my husband and I are no longer together, and I have absolutely no back up.

Intellectually I try to remind myself that the dreams are just a reflection of the stress I’ve been experiencing in the real world. The more stress, the more neurochemicals are fubarred, the more crazy I get. And crazy is just the price I have to pay for the really cool stuff I can do, like music and writing and stitching. The anecdotal evidence has supported the idea that brilliance and insanity are closely related for thousands of years, all the way back to the time of Plato and Aristotle. It’s only recently that science has had the tools to take a more reasoned look at the issue.

In her 1998 Roeper Review publication (“Creativity, the Arts, and Madness”), Maureen Neihart, Psy.D. reviewed the historical theories and then touched on studies searching for a link between crazy and creative. The initial indications were “…a more frequent occurrence of certain types of mental problems in those who are exceptionally creative.”  Which is what the anecdotal evidence had been saying all along, but scientists need empirical data before they can confidently make a decision. The question that wasn’t answered, though, is WHY?

Well, in a more recent article (“The Unleashed Mind: Why Creative People Are Eccentric”) Harvard professor Dr. Shelley Carson may have found that answer. She posits that “cognitive disinhibition” may be one explanation for why crazy and creative tend to stick together. We creative people just filter the world differently, using more information in different ways than originally intended. Sometimes that usage leads to extreme weirdness, like being convinced your cat is really an alien in disguise sent to spy on you. And sometimes it gives you that leap of thought out of the box and into that momentary flash of brilliance, which gives you the answer to life, the universe, and everything.

With fMRI and EEG testing – among others – we can now take a look directly into the brain as it handles different tasks. The scary thing about this is how similar the results are between test subjects that are creative, but non-schizophrenic, and actual schizophrenics. Proof that crazy and creative are just different sides of the same coin. And while the thought processes seem to be more in keeping with a schizotypal personality, many creative people – especially writers – suffer from depression, a different set of issues all together. Or so the specialists would like you to believe. My hypothesis is that all the higher functioning imaginary stuff creative people do in their minds just causes them to be even more disappointed with what they have to deal with in the real world.

So here I am, a living scientific proof that creativity and crazy are closely related. It’s a fine line I be walking, that’s for sure. I had a great aunt who was an accomplished painter, and spent the last twenty years of her life never leaving her own house and yard. I don’t often even make it into the yard most days, so she’s already ahead of me in that department. I guess I’m the crazy aunt for my generation. All I need is a weird old house full of cats and a nervous canary and my legend will be complete. Yeah, it’s my own little world, but it’s okay, they know me here…

© 2013   Cheri K. Endsley   All Rights Reserved.

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No, I haven’t just been diagnosed with terminal cancer, or anything else that might cause me to leave these mortal coils sooner than initially scheduled. But I am now firmly in my second half century, and, sadly, have already had several people of my generation dear to me make that final journey across the rainbow bridge. Every one of them left with unfinished business in their bag. I’m not talking about the usual stuff that those left behind deal with. I’m talking about untaken trips, incomplete projects of the heart, unchased dreams, unfulfilled wishes.

“As you grow older, you’ll find the only things you regret are the things you didn’t do.”

Zachary Scott

Regret has been my biggest motivator for returning to writing after such a long, strange trip away from it. Like every other human on the planet, I’ve made my share of mistakes. None of those things I did have given me the level of regret the one thing I didn’t do has given me. I had the opportunity to attend the second year program at the American Film Institute, one of only six screenwriters that were accepted that year. I could have had my MFA and another year immersed in that amazing creative environment. I could have continued as a reader with Sanford/Pillsbury Productions (I got the [unpaid] job when they tested me on Eight Men Out, a project they already had in development) and perhaps moved up the ladder from there. I could have spent the last twenty-five years solidly in the business, scrambling from job to job and either long since proven myself or learned I didn’t have what it took at a much younger age when I didn’t have so much to lose. I coulda, I woulda, I shoulda…

“Regret for the things we did can be tempered by time; it is regret for the things we did not do that is inconsolable.”

Sydney J. Harris

            Some might argue that if I hadn’t taken the path I did, I wouldn’t have my amazing husband. While a good point, I like to think we’d have found each other regardless because it was just meant to be. Maybe things would have been different; maybe I would have been a successful writer and allowed us to live a little better than we are now. Or maybe not. That’s the thing with regrets. The possibilities haunt you.

            It’s those regrets that got me thinking about the other things in my life I haven’t done, but would really like to. That’s where the bucket list comes in. I haven’t actually committed mine to print until now, but it’s been running around in my head for years. Now is the time to open it up to the light and actually start planning and working toward some of them, especially the more physical ones. I ain’t getting any younger, after all, and while I can still do all the things I did when I was younger, it certainly takes me a lot longer to recover these days. So, in no particular order, here’s my list:

1)            Hike up to Machu Picchu. It’s intrigued me since I was a child, such an amazing construction so high up in the Andes. I’ve had friends make the trek, and come back changed. A highly demanding physical task, it’s something for which I’m going to have to diligently train. It’s a lot better motivator than just getting my blood work to my doctor’s satisfaction.

2)            Kayak through the major rivers of Alaska. I’ve always liked being away from civilization. Plus it’s cool and green up there. The last real frontier left in our country. Best to see it before the oil companies drill it to death.

3)            Hike the Pacific Crest Trail. Yeah, I know most people think of the Appalachian Trail, but I’m a West Coast kid and would have a lot more support for this trip. And there’s that hiking thing again. I don’t mind walking. And what better way to see our beautiful country?

4)            Attend all three races of the American Triple Crown in the same year. Yes, I’m a horse fanatic. I was the typical tween girl with a wall of horse pictures. I still have my scrapbook with all the articles about Secretariat, still the best racing thoroughbred ever as far as I’m concerned. I’d love to have my own horses but I’ve never had the land or the money, and I venture to say I probably never will. So I’ll just live vicariously through the Sport of Kings.

5)            Attend both the Summer and Winter Olympics. Maybe then I could see some of the events I’m really interested in, like biathlon (guns and snow – what’s not to like?) and eventing (the ultimate test of horsemanship), instead of what the networks think I should watch.

6)            Bicycle across the continental U.S., LA to Washington, D.C. Not sure why, just always had that niggling in my brain. Maybe for charity. I did a lot of time on a bicycle when I was younger. But I think for this trip I’d do a recumbent tricycle. Better stability for the long haul, and easier on the butt. I have a college buddy who’s really into this, so maybe take him along and see if he’ll teach me how to play guitar.

7)            Visit the Smithsonian Museums and Zoo. Especially the Air and Space Museum. I want to see our space shuttles. Take all the time I want, and see if I couldn’t arrange some behind-the-scenes times with some of the curators. So much stuff there, so much of our interesting history.

8)            Fulfill a degree program at the Royal School of Needlework. At least two full years of playing with string, learning how to design and work with all sorts of materials and stitches. Not to mention being able to examine all those fabulous historical pieces up close and personal. Orgasmic.

9)            Get my doctorate degree in Music Education. Yeah, that’s still on the list, and yes, I’ve already picked out the school. Sometimes I still miss teaching, and doing it at a university would be a lot nicer than public school. Most of my family figured I’d be the first to get that far, and long past, but my sister beat me to it a couple years ago, getting her Ph.D. in psychology. I’m still the smartest, though.

10)         Make a living as a novelist. It doesn’t have to be a J.K. Rowling/Stephen King kind of living. Just a regular income that could maintain our current level of existence without the constant bill juggling and panic attacks at unexpected expenses. I was making mid-five figures as an office schlub – it would be lovely if I could do the same off my words. The first novel is in submission with a publisher, while the second is (slowly, but surely) under way. Maybe this is the year for me.

Yeah, I have a lot of work ahead of me. Good thing my family is long-lived. But before I get to it, I do have one piece of advice for a young person just starting the path to their dream: DON’T STOP. Push for it with everything you have. If you want something bad enough, you find a way to make it happen, and it’s a hell of a lot easier to do that when you aren’t tied down by a mortgage and medical bills. Take the chances. Chase your dreams. Do it so you don’t end up middle-aged and filled with doubts and questions and regrets over what might have been.

And if you’re already middle-aged with a mortgage and medical bills and all those doubts, DO IT ANYWAY. I can tell you from experience, living with a nagging regret over something you shoulda/coulda/woulda will only rot your insides. Go out kicking and screaming with as many things checked off your bucket list as you can. Just think of the stories you’ll have to tell on the other side.

© 2013   Cheri K. Endsley   All Rights Reserved.

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I didn’t want to write about this today. Really. I tried finding a more upbeat idea, a less volatile subject, and my brain just kept coming back to this one thought: why?

It’s not likely the why you’re thinking of. For those who weren’t paying attention, a rather emotionally charged criminal trial was decided this weekend in Florida. George Zimmerman was acquitted on charges of 2nd Degree Murder in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. Many people are very upset about the jury’s decision. I can’t say that I’m exactly thrilled about it either. But, given the facts as I understand them, I have to agree with the decision.

Why? There’s that question again. Here in the U.S. our legal standard considers us innocent until PROVEN guilty, and that guilt must be proven BEYOND a REASONABLE doubt. There is too much in the Zimmerman case that can’t be proven to that standard. Two people went into a bad situation and both did stupid things to make it worse. Only one came out. History is written by the victors, and in this particular instance we only have the story of one individual. What evidence there is seems to back up his story. Without anything definitively to the contrary, his story must be accepted. That’s how our system works.

The central point of a 2nd Degree Murder charge that must be proven is intent. The prosecution had to prove that Zimmerman INTENDED to shoot someone that night, that he was specifically looking for a problem that he could solve with a bullet. There doesn’t seem to be any question that he was a wanna-be cop with delusions of being a superhero crime-stopper and an itchy dialing thumb. But there is a big hole of “I dunno” when it comes to his actual intent for that evening, beyond wanting to keep his neighborhood safe. That’s reasonable doubt, folks.

I want to blame Zimmerman for this, I really do. As the adult with a loaded firearm, I feel that it was his responsibility to act in a safe and responsible manner, to avoid putting himself in such a situation in the first place. Because of the bad choices he made, a young man is dead by his hand. That is something he will have to live with the rest of his life, and I can only hope he survives long enough to understand the true depth of what he’s done. But our legal system acquitted him of the charges as presented. Those jurors found there was reasonable doubt.

It is our duty to support them in their decision. We weren’t in the courtroom listening to every word of testimony, examining every shred of evidence, watching every nuance of emotion on the faces of those in the room. We weren’t in the deliberation room, where hours were spent deciding the fate of a man. This is no small task to be taken lightly. We don’t know the case like those jurors know it. Nor should we. But now there are thousands protesting the decision as if they themselves had been personally assaulted by the findings of those six people.

Why? The only reason I can think of is because we still want to hate. People have tried to make this whole thing about race, because a Hispanic man shot a black man. They WANT it to be about race so they can still be angry and hate and rise up in protest about all the perceived wrongs done to them. I think racism largely still exists because we MAKE it exist, not because it actually does anymore. Oh sure, there are still loads of those bigoted idiots out there with their Confederate flags or their Nazi tattoos, or their just plain good-ol-boy-Southern-White-Charm, but the average person in my life couldn’t care less about the color of your skin. It’s about the color of your personality, the strength of your convictions, the honor of your actions. The poverty pimps in this world still want it to be about race because otherwise they would be out of a job.

We were fed what the media wanted us to hear. That’s where the saying “tried in the media” comes from. Any bloviating talking head can put their spin on it and get thousands blankly nodding along. Things are taken out of context, words are substituted, documents and video artfully edited, emotions blazing red in the face, all to rile up the watchers and continue bringing in the money. It’s not about the truth, it’s about the ratings.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, the families and attorneys on both sides of the Zimmerman/Martin case are getting death threats. Why? None of them will ever live a “normal” life again, so I can only assume that people are so consumed by hate that they have lost all reason. Let’s think about it: a young man gets killed and because the killer is acquitted, you’re going to threaten death to his middle-aged mother. I was hoping we were getting beyond that, but I guess I was wrong.

Why all the hate? Why does a “peaceful” protest involve burning police cars and looting electronics stores? Why does everything have to involve racism? Why are we all so angry?

I have no issue with all those people who are out protesting this decision in actual peaceful manners. That’s their 1st Amendment right. If we don’t like the way the system works, it is up to us to change it. But it’s a case of be careful what you wish for. Back before someone was tried in the media, they were tried in the court of public opinion. The colloquial term was “lynch mob.” It seems to me that a court of law is still our best option.

© 2013   Cheri K. Endsley   All Rights Reserved.

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There has been so much negativity in the world these last few years. It’s spilling over everything, creeping into every day and every corner of our lives. The media oozes it at every opportunity, because “if it bleeds, it leads.” They don’t just simply report the facts anymore but put their own flawed spin on things. We are bombarded constantly with religious zealotry, racial bigotry, gender suppression, rights erosion, and all-around-just-‘cuz-hatred. I have reached negative sensory overload. And it’s not like I needed outside help for that, anyway.

I think it’s time we each stopped a moment and took a good hard look at ourselves. We each in our own way have perpetuated this ugliness. I have ranted here endlessly about the problems I see in the world, but often don’t have any solutions. I’ve “liked” a nasty meme on Facebook, or forwarded an email that bashed those groups I love bashing. I sit at home stewing in my depression, and then get mad because nothing changes.

So tonight I’m taking an emotional time out. I’m not going to stew about the things I haven’t done, but be proud of the things I have. Instead of griping about all that’s broken, I’m going to be thankful for all that isn’t. And I’m going to forget the things I hate, and remind myself of the things I love.

Like my hometown of Eureka, CA, with its iconic Carson Mansion, and many other gorgeous Victorian homes.

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And the duck pond at Sequoia Park in Eureka. That’s all six feet of me standing among some of the smaller coastal redwoods in the park. It’s always green and cool and peaceful there, and helps me de-stress almost instantly upon arrival. If you want to see more than ducks, go visit the Sequoia Park Zoo – the oldest zoo in California. It is small but mighty.

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And string. I love playing with string. I must have been a cat for at least nine of my past lives. Cross stitch and blackwork are my favorite needleworking styles (the German in me must still have order, your know), and I really enjoy tablet weaving, but I’ll play with just about any format, especially if it involves silk.

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I also love my home-away-from-home, the medieval tent my husband (that’s all 6’3” of him to the left) and I use for our reenactment events. It’s a bitch to get set up, but once it’s done, we have a comfy retreat that can withstand all sorts of weather.

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And my animals bring me great comfort. The dog (my husband’s before our marriage) tolerates me only because I’ve proven I’m the alpha bitch. Jasper the Wonder Mutant (he has six toes on all his paws) was sent to me for comedic relief. He’s about as graceless as any animal I’ve known, makes more noise coming down the stairs than the 50 lb. dog, and has been known to walk on the treadmill with me. We’re convinced he’s an alien in disguise. He’s convinced he’s here to help us by blessing everything we own with cat fur.

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Not to forget writing and music. Both have been with me most of my life, and have always given me someplace to go when I didn’t want to face the world. Which is most of the time, but I think that’s more to do with what’s going on out there than what’s going on in here.

That’s why we need to stop and get out of our rages. If we all take a moment to think peaceful, positive thoughts, maybe peaceful, positive things will begin to happen.

© 2013   Cheri K. Endsley   All Rights Reserved.

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This last week in Southern California has seen record-breaking heat temperatures. We had several days at our house where it was well over 100°F, with one day hitting 107°F (42°C). Normally this time of year we’re running in the low to mid 80’s, and summer in general averages about the mid-90’s. When I was researching the weather history, it actually made it up to 117°F here back in 2006. Not that I’m liking ANY of those temperatures, but it is kind of amazing what a difference 10 degrees can make. Makes that 107 almost seem balmy by comparison. The only (and very small) saving grace is that we generally don’t have to suffer through high humidity on top of the heat. I’ve lived in places where that happens, and it’s a large part of the reason I don’t anymore.

Death Valley enjoyed a record high for this time of year, hitting 129°F. Just a little shy of its world-record of 134°F from 1913, but when you get into those kind of numbers, does it really matter any more? I mean, who’s still conscious enough to care? I’m sure there are places in the deep Sahara or the Australian Outback that probably have had temperatures to rival Death Valley’s, but that’s the one on record, and also the main reason I will only visit any of those places via pictures.

But, just to show you everything’s relative, my mother informed me of their raging heat wave on the Northern California coastland the other day. It set a new high and even made the front page of what purports to be the local paper. My nieces were apoplectic with heat frustration. Poor things: it was a raging 72 °F there. My air conditioner is set to 74. I’d turn them into toads if I didn’t need them to take care of me in my old age.

And, of course, when such unusual weather streaks hit us, the Chicken Little’s are out in full force crying about Global Warming and the end of civilization, as we know it. Just to be clear, weather is not the same as climate. And when some of the world’s hottest recorded temperatures are from a hundred years ago, maybe what’s going on today isn’t so much about long-term global changes and is actually more about short-term jet stream weirdness.

Yes, I do believe in Global Warming. No, I don’t believe it’s (entirely) man-made (“Global Warming: Natural or Manmade”). We certainly can affect things on the local level, and there’s absolutely no reason to live on our planet like raping and pillaging Wall Street financial weasels, but there is also paleontological evidence that our planet has gone through many warming and cooling periods over its long existence (“Scientists Research Stretches of Global Warming”). Just because we’ve recorded a gradual increase over the last 150 years (not even a blip in the life of a planet) doesn’t mean the sky is falling.

It doesn’t make me any more comfortable, though. I don’t do the heat. I’m prone to heat exhaustion under the best of times, and it doesn’t seem to get any better as you get older. I’m from the Pacific Northwest, where it’s green and foggy and you can actually breath the air instead of chewing it. Having my AC set at 74 is a major concession for someone who feels a lot happier at 65. My genetic heritage doesn’t support a love for warmer temps, either. I’m mostly Northern European (German/Dutch/Swedish) and us fair-skinned Viking types just don’t do the sun thing. It burns the precious, it does.

Then you add all the fat on top of that, and you just have the recipe for a hot, sweaty, cranky old woman. The last couple of days have been even worse, because somewhere in the limited exercise episodes I managed before the treadmill crapped out (it decided it didn’t want to respond to the touch screen anymore *sigh*), I seem to have injured myself. My left leg doesn’t want to hold me up anymore without searing pain shooting down the front of the thigh, and it’s been a bitch to stand up straight. That’s what I get for trying to walk myself to health.

My husband gets the brunt of my moods, unfortunately, as he’s often the only human I deal with on most days. He should probably be given combat pay and a medal. Us depressive artist types can be difficult under the best of circumstances and then you add in physical discomfort and you might as well put on the flack vest and grab the MOPP suit and hope you survive the ride. Thankfully, he was a Marine, and I guess I’m just not as scary as a boot camp DI.

So there’s this blazing ball of fire crisping everything it touches outside, and me hiding on the inside doing laps around the kitchen table to try and accomplish SOMETHING toward my health goals while the cat and dog watch me pass with lackadaisical amusement. They don’t even raise their heads anymore. Smug little bastards. But 74 beats the hell out of 104, so I’ll keep doing my laps every couple hours while imagining walking a trail in the Sequoias. If I’m going to be sweaty, at least I can have something cool to dream of.

© 2013   Cheri K. Endsley   All Rights Reserved.

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