Sunset on Another Time

She was perfect. In my mind, then as much as now, we fit together in every conceivable way. She was a funny, kindhearted, blackbelt, dirty blonde who loved Weird Al, the Beatles, and goofy teeshirts. We were inseparable. We spent hours on the phone, making each other laugh so hard that we couldn’t breathe. I made her a stuffed carrot. She scotch taped angry eyes and a mouth on him and named him Sargon. We listened to each other cry about boys and pretended to fight like we hated each other until we would both collapse with laughter.

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I blame myself for losing her. Her world grew and spread with maturity while mine was systematically shrinking because of my anxiety disorder. Then I got hurt over something stupid and I let her slip away. We grew up, grew apart, got married, stopped calling.

This is not a boo-hoo-poor-me-I-have-no-friends post. I am by no means friendless. In fact, I could even say I am lucky enough to have three best friends, two of which live in the same house as me. Friends I trust with my core (something I don’t easily hand over). I am not trying to downplay this blessing. I just miss her.

She was the one and only Christie. There will never be another one like her. And it makes my heart ache to think that, since she’s the only she, that I will probably never again have what we had together, that perfect symbiotic, we’re totally the same but totally different, mixture of salty and sweet. A girl that I could tell the hard stuff too, who would listen instead of judge. A girl that could see me make a fool of myself and turn it into an opportunity to make me feel real and beautiful and accepted.

This has been a hard season of life for me. I’m struggling. I’m not unhappy, but the harshness of day to day is making me more than usually nostalgic. I used to be able to look back on the past with more of a gentle sigh. Now, it’s heavier, almost a burden, to pick up the pieces of yesterday for a moment’s remembering.

I miss her.

Sunset is one of my favorite parts of the day. I love seeing the sky splashed with brilliance and color. Each one is individual, from the cloud formations, to their chosen shades of reds, purples, and yellows. I have a tendency to snap pictures of almost every sunset I see (my Instagram feed is FILLED with them). Image-1But like many things, the pictures I grab with my cell phone rarely do justice to the rich layers of color, or the golden glow of the clouds hugging the fading sun.

Christie is a sunset. I can’t get her back because that time in my life has faded and the pictures left in my heart will never do justice to the brilliant light she shed on my life when she was part of it. It hurts. Goodbye’s always do. But the nice thing is that sunset happens every night. So I’m just going to wait, with eyes open, for the next beautiful thing to come along and flood my heart with light.

© Rachel Svendsen 2016

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Reflections on NaNoWriMo

It was not my intention to dive into the sea of National Novel Writing Month. I watched swarms of writers on social media, flexing and stretching along the dock, waiting for November 1st, the starting pistol shot that would send them all plunging downward in a desperate race against themselves for 50,000 words and a brand new novel manuscript.

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I wasn’t wholly against the idea, but not wholly for it either. I have a rhythm to my writing. I put in about four hours of work every day on my manuscripts. Sometimes those hours are so beautiful and perfect that I write past my allotted time, in a fever of words and inspiration. Sometimes those hours are spent angrily poking the keyboard, writing anything, even if I know it sucks, just to stretch my brain. Other times it’s all spent in research or editing or outlining. I divide the rest of the day between query letters, reading books and articles, or performing necessary household duties.

I like my schedule. It suits me. I added more structure to it in September, when I started setting myself monthly goals. My goals for November were to finish the first drafts of two of my half-finished novels and keep working on querying agents.

Then my writing buddy Chandler, emailed me and asked me if I wanted to buddy up on NaNoWriMo’s website so we could encourage each other towards the goal. I thought about it for a few days. It isn’t like I was devoid of new ideas. I have notebooks full of stuff for new projects, but I also have 7 other novels at varying stages of development, that’s not including the 2 completed ones that need more love and proofreading, in preparation for (crosses fingers) a possible manuscript request.

But on a whim, I decided to slip into my bathing suit, and on November 1st, about 6 hours after everyone else was in the water, I held my nose with one hand and cannonballed in after them.

I started a middle grade fantasy novel called, “The Land of the Golden Raindrops.”

Here’s some of my thoughts and reflections, on what the whole NaNoWriMo process taught me:

1. Setting Goals for Your Writing is Key to Progress

I was beginning to figure this out on my own, but NaNoWriMo reenforced the lesson. I knew part way in that it was unlikely I would have an organized and readable first draft ere time had stolen sweet November from my grasp, but I was determined to get those 50,000 words. It gave me something to shoot for and I loved watching that graph tick slowly upward as my word count approached its goal.

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2. Plug in and Build a writing community

Usually if I need history help, I shoot a text to my history teacher friend, Steve. So when my Google searches brought up useless information on the burial customs of the poor in 19th century London, I sent Steve a text but also posted in the forum. In less than an hour, a fellow writer had posted links to 4 great articles for me to peruse.

It wasn’t just about how fast the response came, it was that another writer, a stranger under the same deadline as me, took the time to copy and paste those links into the forum for me.

We know how to commiserate and encourage each other in a way that a non-writers can’t. We know how it feels when your brain is constipated and you can see your thoughts leaking from your ears in tendrils of wispy pale steam like a fresh cup of tea. We know how confusing it is to wander the internet, in search of fact, to find nothing but opinion. It was nice to know that if I ever got discouraged, I could email one of my three NaNoWriMo buddies or tweet out my progress, and immediately get love in the form of a thumbs up emoji. Sometimes that’s all you need. It’s something I hope to retain now that this is all over.

3. Do What’s Best for Your Progress

I got a lot of good out of this, so I’m glad I did it. However, if next year rolls around and I have to choose between my personal goals and starting a brand new project, I will probably watch the swimmers from a safe seat on the dock.

Life ate up a lot of my spare writing time this month making NaNoWriMo the only thing I accomplished. Don’t get me wrong, I love the result. I love my new characters, Lilly and Rascal, and had a blast making new worlds for them to play in, but they would still have come in time. Then it wouldn’t have cost me a whole month of spending time with Rory, Graham, Renaud, and Kaeli. It wouldn’t have set back my query letters and copy editing of “Us”, things that I consider more important.

You have to do what’s best for your art. If that means that you have your own personal NaNoWriMo in December, then you do so with a nod and smile. Or, perhaps…

4. Sometimes It’s Okay to Miss the Mark

If I had been a little smarter, I might have just shrugged and said, “Well today I’m not going to increase my word count on NaNoWriMo. Today I am going to work on the first draft of ‘The Channeller.'” But there were those badges that you could earn if you updated your word count every day, and that cool graph that told you how many words you added, and, basically, I got a little carried away with the fever of the thing.

I did it. I finished. On November 25th, I verified my 50,078 words and immediately dropped the project. My first draft is a chronologically disorganized mess, with bits and pieces from every end and corner of the story all mashed together. This is usually how my first drafts end up. I could have spent the next 5 days in November putting it in order, knowing full well that this draft would be thrown to the back of the queue for the next project I attack. It’s there. It’s a first draft. That’s it. I immediately printed out a new copy of “Us” and spent the rest of the day editing.

But what if I hadn’t finished? What if I had decided to drop the project entirely in favor of my previous list of goals for November? There is no shame in that. There is never any shame in setting a high goal for yourself and missing the mark. Do the work and do it with all you have. If you get to the end of the month and your word count isn’t 50,000 or you haven’t sent out those 10 query letters, it’s okay. Don’t batter yourself bloody. Just try again tomorrow. It’s about the journey. It’s about the climb. It’s about the effort. If you keep trying every day, eventually you’ll get there.

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© Rachel Svendsen 2015

 

Awake in Autumn

Summer is long over. The lingering days of warmth faded into an early morning chill that warned of autumn creeping over nature.

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If summer is the peak of warmth and winter the peak of cold, then autumn and spring are the transitional seasons. The tweeners. I don’t particularly like being hot because I love tea and fuzzy socks and warm blankets and cuddling in my husband’s sweat shirts. So as beautiful as summer is, with lazy warm days at the shore under sunny blue skies, it’s still not my favorite season. Since I like the cold, I’m more drawn to winter. The catch is that I’m not a huge fan of snow. I think it’s because it often dumps from the sky in such huge quantities that I become a prisoner in my own house. This strange claustrophobia makes less sense when you understand my habits. Some days I barely leave my house for writing and reading all day. I think it’s just the mental block of an outside force controlling my ability to do as I please.

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There is beauty in every season, but fall is probably my favorite. Fall is a fading from summers heat into a sigh of cool breezes. The stark beauty of green bursts forth into a myriad of color. Red, orange, yellow, and brown, with pops of purple and pink. I love when the breeze blows and the leaves flutter and dip to the ground like raindrops to cover the dying grass. It’s like the trees are knitting their foliage into a blanket to cover their toes against the coming snow.

I love walking in fall. I love the sound of dry leaves scraping and clicking as the wind sends them skipping across the pavement. I love the smells of earth which seems accentuated with the cooling temperature.

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I’ve been more awake this year to the changing seasons. There’s probably many reasons for that. Sometimes I think it’s because we moved to a more rural area. Or maybe it’s because of my husband’s job change, giving us more chance to spend time outside. I think those things help, but more than that I think it’s because I want to be awake now. The more I grow, the more I realize how much of my life I’ve spent asleep. Now my eyes are open, and I don’t want to miss a thing.

Not one color. Not one scent. Not one fallen leaf.

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© Rachel Svendsen 2015

Among the Graves

I’ve developed a recent fascination with graveyards. As morbid as that sounds, in an odd way they’re utterly beautiful. The air today smells of grass and approaching autumn; cool and sharp with a hint of falling leaves. It’s quiet, a fact simultaneously chilling and comforting. Just the wind in the trees and the twittering of birds as they flit through the stones. Perhaps add to that the occasional click of a tiny plastic pinwheel that someone placed in the ground as decoration. Even passing cars seem softer in this valley of stone and scattered foliage.

But it’s more than just nature setting the scene. It’s sobering to wander through the dirt and dust and ashes of those who passed before you. Each life was unique and beautiful; full of joy, suffering, hope, and heartbreak. Some are new, even the earth above them is freshly turned with grass slowly peeking from the displaced dirt. Some are old, so old that they’ve become practically illegible; a life forgotten and eroded by time. Though I squat down, squint and stare, I cannot even read their names. I know nothing of them, except the little American flag makes me think they were in the Armed Forces.

Some of the gravestones are stunning; elaborately carved, tall, marbled, cut into shapes of angels, hearts, and crosses or engraved with poems and portraits of lost loved ones. There are several granite pinnacles with generations of family members carefully etched into the stone with spaces left blank for upcoming generations to join them there. I try not to step on the metal plates at my feet which mark where each one is laid.

All these stones mark a story, the impact of which cannot be guessed by the greatness of its cairn. All ashes look the same. And the cherub respectfully hovering over an intricate inscription, may be guarding nothing more than a guilty son’s attempt to memorialize his cruel Ebenezer Scrooge of a father, and the flat plate, half covered by grass clippings, could be for a nurse who loved greatly and saved many lives. I stare at the stones, longing to read their stories. I want to touch them, to run my fingers over the smooth and rough of their characters, but all I can feel is stone. I find a tree and sit down. I want to tell them I care. I’ll listen. But they remain silent, so I respectfully join them, lingering with them in that silence, the only breathing member of hundreds, dreaming about their stories, with my own story still to live and still to tell.

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© Rachel Svendsen 2015

My Library

Map of Hunterdon County and new cement sidewalk
Hunterdon County Library, complete with map and new cement sidewalk.

Everyone has a favorite place, a spot they go when they need to remember how to breathe. Mine was two miles away. It smelled like dust and paper. The silence inside echoed with the occasional interruptions of crinkled pages or fingers tapping on a keyboard. It was my library.

But it’s not mine anymore.

My husband lost his job. He was a music teacher and the only one in his department not tenured, so when cutbacks came, it had to be him. In the surreal fallout of the crashing words, “I don’t have a job next year,” God took hold. The dust is settling now, and the change I’d craved has found my husband in seminary and us moved in with my in-laws.

I was surprised at first how little I cared about it all. I’d been aching and struggling for months leading up to this and the whole event released a lot of pent up anxiety about life. We majorly downsized, getting rid of excess clothing, furniture, and possessions. Even books! Can you believe that? We unloaded nearly 150 books to the free shelf at the library. I kept wondering if the librarians would say something to me. I went in once a week with a bag full of books and loaded up their shelves. It may have been my overly self conscious nature, but I swear they were eyeing me maliciously after the first four bag loads.

I brought good stuff though, not your typical 50 cent paperback romances. I brought Shakespeare and Dickens and poetry anthologies. The kind of stuff that I used to greedily snatch up and drool/gloat over on social media. Some of my favorite finds were “Stardust” by Neil Gaiman, “Walden” by Henry David Thoreau, and “Joyland” by Stephen King. I always stifled a joyous squeal when there were classics and, more often then not, they landed cosily into my bag.

My new library doesn’t have a paperback exchange. It doesn’t have a lot of things.

It doesn’t have the same librarians. The faces that I recognize, that recognize me and call me by my first name. I used to work with some of them. I used to shelve books there (600s, 800s, biographies, and occasionally fiction) which, let me tell you, is a book lovers dream job. The bottom shelf of my cart began empty, and by the time I left work would contain a hefty stack of books for me to check out and take home. They know me. They know what I read. They watched me take out all those wedding books and congratulated me when I came in and changed my last name in the system. I know them. I can tell when they’re having an off day, or tired, or sick. I know when they move the furniture from one day to the next.

I took my last trip there about a week ago. My last trip with my last bag full of books for the free shelf. They got a new lady about a month ago and she was the only one at the counter. She doesn’t know me, if she had, I would have said goodbye.

I had no more books to return, I could not justify taking anything out, so I just left. I walked out of the atrium, making sure to hold the door for strangers walking in, a habit I’d taken to over years of patronage. It always gives me a satisfying split second of interaction with other locals who I felt a natural kinship for because we were there for the same purpose.

My feet hit the new cement sidewalk. They just fixed it. The brick walkway they put in when they remodeled shimmied and settled into a barely navigable minefield, dangerous to both the handicapped and clumsy. I looked over at the outside seating area with its four backless benches. I could close my eyes and see it, just a few months ago, when I sat there with a child’s picture book. Spring had just blossomed and flower petals dripped over the pages while the tree above me read over my shoulder. I blew them off before I turned the page. The pink raindrops fluttered to the ground into the sea of their fallen brethren, covering the sidewalk until it was invisible.

I’m a sickeningly sentimental person, but honestly, it’s a short list of things I’ll miss about where I used to live. Perhaps the list is so short because this place looms so large on my heart. It has been my haven for over 20 years. Those were my books, my librarians, my children’s room, my corner desk beside the floor to ceiling windows, where I would sit and write for hours. My scents. My sounds. My memories.

As I pulled out, I took one last look back at the stone edifice, at the metal outline of Hunterdon County screwed into the side, at the trees, sidewalk, and parking lot. And, just between you and me, I cried.

View from my cubby
View from my cubby
Outside seating area
Outside seating area
Their garden
Their garden

© Rachel Svendsen 2015

Closeness In Silence

I had a lot of fears going into Marriage. There was never any question that I loved Timothy. There was never any question that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him. But the process of planning, arranging, and waiting for the wedding day was painstakingly horrendous. The day after he proposed we went to visit his family. They were celebrating November birthdays and they all gushed over me when they saw the ring. When we got in the car to leave, I burst into tears. I hate being the center of attention. Tim held me while I trembled and listened to me gasp “I love you but I don’t know if I can do this” whenever I had breath enough to speak through my semi-hyperventilative state. Needless to say, a little over a year later we got married anyway. (I was half a slow breathing exercise away from passing out during the my vows but…)

One of my weird fears going into marriage was this. A lifetime is a long time, what if we run out of things to talk about? I voiced this fear to a lot of people. The our premarital councilor, my mother and father, Timothy, and random people in the supermarket. They all smiled and said the same thing, “that won’t happen.”

I have been married for two years, but Timothy and I have been inseparable for nearly eight years. I believe they were not telling the whole truth.

Life has been consistently difficult since my miscarriage. Not to say I hate my life because there is beauty in the winter of our lives if you stop and look, but some mornings I wake up and wish to be somewhere or someone else. I often feel like a small child at the ocean for the first time. I ran into the waves with wonder, but their unforeseen strength knocked me off my feet. My head bobs to the surface just in time to meet another breaking wave. The tide is dragging me around and all I can do is wonder when Devine Intervention will rescue me.

I tell my husband everything. We’ve rehashed my current issues over and over until I feel bad about repeating myself. I began to talk to others about it. They’ve all be very patient. But I feel more a burden to them than I do even my husband.

I had another sleepless night yesterday. I listened to some sermons which inadvertently picked the scabs off of old wounds. I laid there in bed, miserable, wishing that I had a friend that I knew for certain would understand if I called them at 2:30 in the morning. I looked over at my tired and hardworking husband. He’s been going to bed early a lot lately because he’s so spent. I wanted his touch. His voice. His comfort. But I couldn’t bring myself to wake him. I laid there for a half hour and finally came to this conclusion, if I couldn’t wake him at 3:00 in the morning when I needed someone, than what was the point of being married.

I rolled over and wrapped my arms around him. I pressed my nose to the bottom of his chin. He stirred.

“Are you awake?” I asked.

“A little.”

“I need you.”

“I’m all yours.” His arms closed around me. I didn’t speak for a while. “What’s the matter?” he asked.

“The same stuff.” I began to cry. “Timmy my heart hurts.”

We didn’t talk much after that. We held to each other for over an hour until we both fell back asleep. To me, it feels as though we have actually run out of things to talk about. I don’t need him any less, but I don’t know what to say to him.

When you love a person for a long time you cannot stay stationary. Things must change or you will stagnate and die. To me, saying that you will never run out of things to talk about is like saying your love will always feel like you just met last week and are still sharing your favorite songs and the funniest stories from your childhood. Timothy knows my whole heart. I hold nothing back. So, right now, there are no words. We have to work to find the words or, if the words don’t come, we have to find togetherness in the silence.

That night I found a closeness in silence with Timothy. By the time I fell back asleep, my heart ached a little less, even though we had run out of things to say.

Odd Forms of Romance

My husband is not poetic. He’s sincerely romantic, by that I mean he buys flowers, lights candles, and takes me on impromptu date nights. His sincerity is invaluable to me. What I’m trying to say is that, he doesn’t SAY romantic things. Usually it’s just, “I love you” or “I love you more than anything”. The look of devotion in his eyes says the rest. But he’s not the guy who takes your hand and says, “Oh my beloved angel I adore you! Your brown locks are silk. Your lips are the food of my being…blah blah blah”. You know, that kinda slop. The slop that most women like to hear on occasion. The occasions for Tim are rare, but every now and again he will throw out something or other that will melt me like an ice cube in a microwave.

We have a little game we play with each other that I call “I love you more than…”. We throw the phrase back and forth to each other. Example:

Tim: Guess what?
Me: What?
Tim: I love you.
Me: I love you more.
Tim: More than what?
Me: More than hummus.
Tim: Well I love you more than chocolate.
Me: Well I love you more than Mr. Bean.
Tim: Well I love you more than…

…and so on and so forth until we decide to knock it off or someone says something stupid and we both bust out laughing. One of the times it went like this…

Me: Guess what?
Tim: What?
Me: I love you.
Tim: I love you more.
Me: More than what?
Tim: More than I did yesterday, but not as much as I will tomorrow.

My heart sang, my eyes got all soft and mushy, and my lips curled into a dreamy smile. I’m pretty sure just typing that story out made me stare at my laptop in such a way as to make it think I’m finally noticing its new haircut.

The other night I had another one of those experiences, but it took on a form that I never would have expected. We were visiting our neighbors and by the time we got home I had a terrific migraine. Usually my migraines are super treatable for which I am excessively thankful. If I take a hot shower they usually drop down to a dull thud. If the thud is dull enough for me to fall asleep I wake up 100% in an hour or so. Because we were out, this one went too long unattended and I ended up vomiting from the horrendous pain. Timmy’s a darling. He held my hair and hugged me. Then tucked me into bed with a fuzzy blanket, a cup of tea, and a heating pad on my forehead. I’m such a baby when I’m sick. I put on his tee shirt and buried my face in his chest while he read to me. My stomach was still churning.

Me: Bubby? (That’s his nickname.)
Tim: What’s wrong babe?
Me: I’m gonna try not to throw up on you.
He stroked my head and whispered in a gentle completely sincere voice: I don’t mind if you throw up on me.

Those words are slightly comical and by no means poetry, but for some reason my heart sang, my eyes got all soft and mushy, and my lips curled into a dreamy smile.