Happy 2024, everyone. I hope that we all have a phenomenal year. I know I'm working on it, planning it, and taking the steps forward to make this year an even better year than last. And last year was pretty darn good! I prompted the Wonder AI with "new year potential and beauty" and the images it generated are above and below. The first one here on the left is my favorite, so beautiful!
One of the ways I hope that 2024 will be better is directly tied to why I am the way I am. I recently purchased several books and workbooks on shadow work. What is shadow work? Well...
Shadow work is a type of psychotherapy that focuses on the parts of the psyche that people often keep hidden, such as trauma and resentment. Some people may refer to this as the “shadow self”. The psychoanalyst Carl Jung first developed the concept.
Through questions and answers, journaling, and more, I hope to turn those traumas into positives. And possibly a lot more stories.
Storytelling has always helped me process my emotions, my memories, traumas, really all of my experiences, good and bad.
The War's End series is a good example of that. I took my shadow trauma and turned it into a story of hope and resilience through the character of Jess Aaronson. And while the traumas she endured were far worse than mine, it allowed me to explore a rather poignant "what if" scenario and work from a very dark place in my life. There is a sense of healing in that, a sense of justice, that I didn't get to experience. So I guess I created my own justice in a sense.
In any case, I hope that the shadow work will help me create literary works that seed empathy rather than hate, hope rather than despair. Always, in my stories, is some echo of my experiences in life, good and bad.
Zarmina's World - Chugging Right Along
As I dug into December and goal-setting for the year ahead, I felt the familiar old conflict rise up. Do I write more words each day and ignore all of the other stuff? Or do I write less and have more balance to my life? It's actually a hard decision for me to make. No matter what I choose, I often feel like it isn't enough. Write more books! Take care of the house! Create art! Spend time with the kids. And so on and so forth. There are a lot of things I want to do with my life, writing is simply one aspect, and I'm not exactly getting any younger.
In any case, I settled for a goal of 3,500 words per week writing goal. It isn't set in stone, but here is how it works out...
700 words per day on weekdays, no writing on weekends
I have two littles in the house, folks. Writing on weekends is flatly impossible. And at 3,500 words per week (I'll write 875 per day on weeks when the little one is home from daycare for one reason or another on a weekday), that equals 182,000 words per year. Which equals out to somewhere between 2-3 books worth of words written. And that is good enough for now. It really is.
So I've been chugging along on Zarmina's World. Yesterday I finished writing my 9th chapter in it - Extinction Level Event, where the colony learns of Earth's impending destruction. It feels really good to be going at this lesser pace, this lesser expectation of 700 (or 875 this week due to the holiday) words per day. I wrapped it up at 900+ and felt a surge of satisfaction. I know I'm making progress and that I can and will finally finish this book. It's been a long time in coming. Over seven years ago I wrote "Nathan Zradce opened his eyes" and thought I was done, that I could leave it on a cliffhanger like that, but readers told me emphatically otherwise.
I'm learning to answer the question of "what comes next" a lot more expediently these days. Chalk it up to having fifteen books under my writing belt, I guess. I hope it will be done and out by end of March, possibly mid-April at the latest.
Trigger Warning - Dark Memories Ahead...
Memories pop up in the strangest of moments. Take the other day, for example. My teenager, Alex, was holding something out of reach of his baby brother's grasping hands. His cell phone, I think. And he said something along the lines of, "Here I am, bullying my brother."
And instantly I was transported back 30+ years. Possibly right around this time of year, in 1990, or 1991.
Let me set the stage for you. I was young, just 20 or 21, and I was married to my first husband, and we had a toddler. We had lost the apartment we had rented since shortly before our baby was born, evicted right before her second Thanksgiving after we failed yet again to come up with rent. I had been looking desperately for a job while caring for our toddler full-time. My marriage was, how shall we say it... not the best. It would end a few years later.
There was nowhere to go except a homeless shelter while I tried desperately to find a job.
So here we were, in a family homeless shelter that was filled to the brim. Each family was assigned a small room that contained a set of bunk beds, two dressers, and a double bed, all crammed into a 10x10 space. There were communal bathrooms, separated by gender of course, which had a line of sinks, toilets, and showers all in one long room, two on each level of the two-level building.
That many people, several hundred at least, living so closely together meant that it was one round of illness after another. If I wasn't vomiting or stricken with diarrhea, it was a banner day indeed. You had to watch your stuff like a hawk, keep your family door locked, or what few possessions you had would sprout legs and walk away. It was there that I had an almost fight with a little Latina over who had access to the public phone on the wall. She was probably 15 or 16, weighed maybe 90 pounds, and was just chomping at the bit for a fight. I wasn't known for my physical fighting prowess so I knocked her down with words, big, long, multisyllable words. She avoided me after that.
I had been there at the shelter for around a month, maybe six weeks, when I finally landed a job as a receptionist at a local dentist office. It was just one bus ride away. They had been the first to say "yes" to me despite my not having a car, something every employer seemed to want since that somehow proved you were capable of holding down a job (actually, it was likely because they wanted someone who could run errands) and I was desperate to get something, anything, that would earn enough money to get a room for rent somewhere nearby. My husband had a car, but that was his, and he wasn't going to share it. Besides, he wasn't even there. Myhusband had not liked the idea of staying in the shelter, and basically abandoned me with our child to juggle childcare and job search on my own.
Thankfully, with some maneuvering, I found a couple to watch the kiddo for short stints while I searched for a job. After I finally found one, and could prove it (yes, I had to get a letter from my employer) I qualified for the free daycare there at the shelter. Not while I was looking for a job, mind you, but once I actually had the job. The daycare hours were limited. They opened at 9 a.m. and closed by 5 p.m. I had to be at work by 8:30 and was often there until 6 p.m. Plus I was depending on San Jose busses, which weren't known for their regularity. The couple there at the shelter who were willing to watch my toddler before and after daycare were available, but the rules of the shelter said it had to be me, her parent, who dropped her off and picked her back up. If I needed something different, I needed to fill out a request form daily in the main office of the shelter, which often wasn't open by the time I needed to leave for work.
I asked the evening supervisor if I could simply provide a standing letter of authorization and he told me "no." But it continued to be a problem, and I was having to run for the bus, and sometimes missing it, making me late for work time and again, which was a serious problem for my employer. I was in danger of losing the only income source I had.
I wrote a letter requesting the ability to permanently authorize the couple to drop off and pick up my child and went back to the evening supervisor and asked him if he could please give it to the shelter director.
"I told you the answer was no."
"I know you did. But I'm asking you to give this to the director and let her make the decision." I said.
His mouth thinned into a thin line of anger and resentment. "I told you 'no'."
"Look, will you just give her the letter." I insisted.
By the time the director came in, I was already at work. By the time I returned, she was gone, and there was no other access to her. Office locked. No accessible inbox, nothing. This was the early 90s, there was no such thing as email.
His face changed then. I could tell he was pissed, real pissed. "Fine. I'll make sure and give it to her personally." Then he smiled. Teeth bared, no friendliness at all to it. And I felt fear run through my body. He was going to do his best to fuck me over. I knew it, and my face showed it. He smiled even wider. "Yep, I'll make sure she gets this."
And all I could think was, he's going to get me thrown out of here and where am I going to go with a baby and no daycare? How will I keep my job?
"Look, never mind. I'll just figure something else out." I said and reached for the folded letter. And as I did, he raised his arm up, out of reach. He was tall, over six foot, and I'm average height. I stood on my tiptoes, reaching for it. "Please just give it back."
He laughed at me and continued to hold it out of reach. Taunting me and laughing. Just thinking of it now, my blood still boils.
And yes, in that moment, I lost my temper. "God damn you!"
Then he really smiled. "And you just got yourself kicked out."
Because I had cursed at a staff member. Which I'm pretty damn sure was against the rules. The next morning, without any chance to plead my case or meet with the shelter director, I was booted out of the shelter. Who knows what he said to swing that since other than that one interaction there had been no issues at all.
I think it was a year or two after that when I heard his name in the news. He got an award for all of his hard work with the homeless.
I'm sure that, to him, I was an uppity little bitch. How dare I ask for special dispensation? How dare I not work within the system and abide by the rules? Who exactly did I think I was, anyway?
I was just some loser who might have a job for now, but obviously couldn't keep one. A girl who couldn't keep her man by her side, who had a kid and no one willing to watch her.
I saw myself in his eyes. I saw that I was nothing and no one and now one less pain in the ass for him to deal with. One of those people, always pushing for something extra. Never mind that I was desperate to keep that shitty job that promised to pay me $9.00 per hour after the initial two month training period was complete. Where the dentist's wife, the hygienist, would go for three hour lunches, come back drunk as a skunk and have me cancel all of her appointments while she slept it off in one of the exam rooms. One where regular overtime was expected but certainly not paid for. Where my one meal of the day consisted of a 99 cent Michelina's frozen entree heated in the office microwave and then complained of bitterly by the office alcoholic. "So sorry for the smell" she would say, "God, it smells like a cafeteria in here." I would have to leave the shelter too early and get back too late for any other meals. I hated that job and it didn't last, especially after the only place I found to live at took two hours on the bus in each direction and every last penny I had was gobbled up with childcare.
My poor teen. I can't help but feel a little bad for him. An innocent word - bully - and he got an earful of trauma story that night. Because being disenfranchised, being viewed as one of those people, as something less, isn't a comfortable story to listen to or share.
I took a few minutes to find it. The San Jose Family Shelter on King Road in San Jose, California. The old building is gone, replaced by a far better one. Roomy. Bright and shiny.
And while I cannot remember his name, I know that he is no longer there. I would recognize the name instantly were I to see it.
I wonder now, all these years later, if he remembers it at all. If he were to read this, would he remember it then? Did he ever, even once, feel conflicted about it? Feel anything even close to guilt? Was he a good person that had just had a really shitty day with a bunch of "losers" trying to push at the boundaries of their existence? Or was he one of those people who play at being a humanitarian while looking down their nose at "those people?"
I guess I'll never know. All I do know is that the word "bully" now has an associated image and memory that I would likely never thought of until my teen said it in jest. At that moment, in that time, all I saw was my failure. My mistake. I had failed to keep my cool, to not piss off someone who had far too much power over my situation. That led to even more trauma down the road as I found myself desperate for a place to live and, for the next few months, living in the house of a hoarder with significant mental issues and manipulative tendencies.
In that moment, he was a bully who felt like his power was being threatened, and so he took that power and wielded it. Total honesty? I still hate him for it.
If you have ever wondered, really wondered, what feeling powerless, disenfranchised, and truly hopeless feels like, I urge you to read Stephanie Land's Maid. Which is also a Netflix series. Because I lived that. Not when I was actually cleaning houses, but in my early 20s, when I was homeless, when I woke up every morning thinking "I've got a figure a way out of this." And where every night I fell asleep feeling hopeless and stuck. When Maid came out on Netflix, I watched it, and wept, remembering how that time felt like in my life, and how it very nearly killed me.
Is it any wonder that it became my life's mission to make sure I NEVER end up powerless and poor like that again? As the years have passed, many of the painful memories slip back into those gray folds and seemingly disappear. Except that they don't. Not really. They are there lurking. When I see someone look a certain way, like there's suddenly dog shit on their shoe, and maybe they are looking at me or maybe they are just having a bad day themselves, but I REACT. Suddenly. Violently even (verbally at least). It comes out in a rush and I'm left wondering where the hell that came from. And then the memory comes along and reminds me that the anger, the powerlessness, the insecurity, it isn't forgotten or forgiven, it's just waiting for me to work through it.
So, besides writing books, raising kids, renovating houses, and all the other crazy shit I do - that's what I'm going to do in 2024. I'm going to dive into the shadows, for however long it takes, in order to find the light.
And if, for some reason, you feel you might need a similar journey, then I suggest the following books to get you started:
Be well, folks. I'll write again soon...
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