2016 — The Year I Was Abducted By Aliens

The Year Of The Ungodly — a.k.a. 2016 — started off with a wailing screech like a cat with its tail caught in a door. To prove my point, I’ll admit I don’t remember a thing about January and move on to February, the month when I was abducted by aliens.

Mid-Month my husband got hammered with allergies that turned him into a snorting, snoring, coughing, shuffling remnant of humanity. How he got out of bed day after day and hauled it out to work, and directed a play that won regionals at State Thespian Festival is the stuff that’s fueled by passion that stays at a slow roiling boil forever. I was worried about him. I couldn’t understand how he’d survive the ordeal and wondered just how crazy he was to try.

But as my daughter has taught me, I went about my business of cranking out bad books with her command of “I’ll do me; you do you.” If he wanted to work himself into a grave, that was his business. I had mine.

He was sent home from the next level of competition, deemed too sick to stay. I felt like a jerk for dreading the task of driving for hours to pick him up and bring him home to his sickbed, but willing to do so to satisfy my inner martyr.

That was on a Sunday. By then I was feeling a bit ragged and achy. We spent the evening fighting over the last box of Kleenex and chugging chicken broth.

Aside from a few snippets of frightening conversation, a distant siren, and the peculiar feeling of tumbling through space in the dark, that’s the last I remember until Wednesday.

According to the medical records and what I’ve been told by family and friends, Monday morning my husband stumbled over me where I’d collapsed and had me hauled off by ambulance to hospital. I’ve read the report written by the EMTs and now know I almost didn’t survive that ride. My blood oxygen saturation was down to 56% (normal is 95% to 100%), and whatever infection had hit me had taken over my entire body, which was shutting down faster than a serial novelist “writing” with voice dictation.

After days of tests and being kept in ICU Isolation (couldn’t have me infecting the rest of the patients), it was determined I had the nastiest of nasty pneumonias, the one for which there is no vaccination or pristine lifestyle that can prevent it.

Or so they say. I know the truth, and that’s that I was abducted by aliens. And I have proof.

The left side of my face was covered in abrasions that resembled the ones on my arm, stomach, and one leg. All of them had a central patch surrounded by six to eight small round patches.

Now, doesn’t that sound like the handprint of an alien to you? It did to me and was the only thing that could explain the illness that almost took my life so suddenly. Pneumonia? Come on. I didn’t even have a cough. I think aliens whisked me away in the middle of the night, performed their tests, found me inferior (isn’t that a core fear many of us share, being so inferior even aliens don’t want us?), and thew me back. To my way of thinking, which is much better now, it’s also the only thing that explains the hallucinations I had while imprisoned in the hospital and for months after-wards at home with oxygen shooting up my nose.

The hallucinations weren’t big ones like back in the…err…I mean, the kind of thing you might read in a Stephen King novel. Little things, like a concrete curb one had to step down to enter my hospital room, the room changing shape and the bed in different positions around the room. That concrete curb was also on my mind when I got home and contemplated going to bed. Who would hold my hand to help me down that curb? And what did that curb mean? (I was told they had overdosed me on steroids to control the inflammation in my lungs, and that was the source of the hallucinations, but you can’t fool me.)

It’s my opinion that one cannot be abducted by aliens and ever go back to the bullshit of one’s former life, assuming that’s the gut feeling one has. Why would anyone let an opportunity like that pass them by?

Why go to the brink and not jump?

So I jumped.

And I tumbled without direction for the rest of the year.

When I was able, I found a gym with a pool and spent hours floating on my back with the water over my ears and listening to my breath. I ate and slept and watched hour upon hour of mindless TV.

I stopped writing. Cold turkey.

I stopped reading and trying to figure out life, the universe and everything. Stopped trying to figure out anything.

If I had known last January what I know this January, I’d not only have been keenly alert to my own power and authority over my life and my actions, I might even remember the month. I would have long ago stopped fighting so damned hard for the answers and asked only questions.

I wouldn’t try to save anyone or help them without being asked (filthy habit, that). I’d ignore more and focus on less. I’ve come to understand that life is not a journey; it’s a question, a different one for each of us. It’s when we stop asking that we begin the journey to meaningless dust. That’s my understanding. I’m sharing it for anyone who feels a tingle when reading it. No tingle? Find your own understanding.

As I’ve returned to reading, I’ve discovered that the books that sucker punch me are the ones with a theme deeply explored with questions that lead to more questions as they balance that fine line between awakening something inside without pushing my back against the wall of frustration. Magic. Only magic can do that, and it can’t be taught. Or maybe it’s a haunting. The best books in my pinpoint corner of the cosmos, haunt. I can’t disconnect from them.

I also understand I don’t have that magic. Ten thousand hours of focused practice be damned. We live in times that have convinced us we can do anything we desire if we follow a few simple rules, never give up, read the right books and take all the classes. Right. Got it. And this is why men can give birth.

The reason I don’t have the magic. Practice makes mediocrity perfect.

Never again will I hold counsel with anyone other than that still, small voice inside whose language I don’t recognize or understand, yet communicates in a way I can’t explain with words. Have you ever had a silent conversation with a Something much bigger than yourself, greater than a god, smarter than you, and with no pretense of wisdom? I don’t know what to say about it, other than…sorry, I got nothing to say. It’s what Joseph Campbell said about only the second best things are the stuff we can talk about. This type of conversation is the best, and there are no words. It’s all about surrender.

I once had a vocal coach who told me I’d be able to sing if I’d just surrender, let go, stop trying so hard and let myself be sung.

When I return to writing—if I return to writing something more than ditties like this one—it will be with surrender and writing as I am being written. Maybe I’ll finally hit the mark (”sin” in Ancient Greek means “to miss the mark”), and maybe my never-ending luck will cause my editor to say something like, “Alright then, you’ve finally given me a beautiful mess. Let’s dig in and get dirty with this thing. Let’s beat the daylights out of those aliens.”

Right now, I’m happy and feeling things changing in a way that’s swelling from the ground and putting me on my feet as they’ve never been planted in the earth before. It feels good.

And that’s that. My 2016 and new plans taking shape for 2017. I hope your year past was as prosperous.

All the best to you and yours in 2017. May good health and kind people follow you wherever you go, by foot or flight of imagination.

(For the curious, I finally know the what and why of that concrete curb.)

The Lonesome Road

At the age of sixteen, and without full understanding of what was happening, the State Of California bestowed upon me the mantel of emancipated minor. After years of turmoil and microscopic examination of me and my family, it was decided I was better off, and safer, under my own care and guidance, but not my own financial resources. My family had to pay my bills, tuition, and provide a monthly amount for discretionary spending.

Oh, boy!

After choosing my university, apartment, and furnishing it with a bed and a pool table (you rack ’em, I’ll smack ’em), the first thing I did with my discretionary money was join Book Of The Month Club (yes, I’m that old). The first book I bought was a collection of Robert Frost’s poetry. For myself, to be read by myself, and interpreted on my own before classes began and my education got in the way of my learning (thank you, Mark Twain).

I read “The Road Not Taken” and found the meaning of the popular poem that was mine and mine alone. For me, the key line was:

“Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,”

To me, that meant traveling ones own path involved much wandering back and forth, taking two steps forward and three steps back, then one forward, followed by more wandering and pondering and trampling of leaves the many have taken on the other road. The path he didn’t take makes a curve in the distance he can’t see past and knows not where it ends. No statement is made about the path he chose, or what shape it takes further on in the distance. He faces the fork in the road in the light of day, but to me it seemed he was walking off into the dark.

That had a powerful impact on me; it was my fun house mirror and a comfort to know I was not entirely alone being on my own.

It was even more gratifying when I discovered that in private communication with a friend, Frost said: “I’ll bet not half a dozen people can tell who was hit and where he was hit by my Road Not Taken.” Right or wrong in my interpretation, I could mark the who and the where of that poem’s impact. It felt good.

Nobody has ever agreed with me on what I found at the crossroads of Frost’s poem, and that’s just fine. It was the first thing in my new life as an emancipated minor that belonged to me and earned by my own efforts. God bless the child who’s got his own, and all that.

There was more gratification to be found in that poem decades later in this article in the Paris Review. It seems the poem is the most misread poem in America. Oh, boy! More company on the journey.

And reassurance that we are not 100% in control of everything that happens in our lives or how we perceive it. I’ve said this so many times it’s become a mantra, but here it comes again.

The human brain takes in approximately 40 million bits of information per second, yet can only hold approximately 15-35 bits of information in consciousness at a time. We are all creating our own reality second by second, and the odds of two people creating the same reality at one time are wildly stacked against that ever happening.

It’s a miracle we can get along at all with so many “truths” running around and bumping into each other. I’m quite proud of we humans for doing such a good job of it, despite the daily news exposing our clashes. Obviously, we do connect on some points well enough to hold back apocalyptic disasters, at least on a global scale (currently I can’t shake the images coming from Syria out of my thoughts).

There are a few points where I connect with Stephen King and Julian Barnes. Like those two luminaries I’ve had the audacity to claim any connection with, I don’t keep a notebook of ideas. I believe, as they do, that what we forget is more important than what we consciously remember. We’re bombarded with thoughts and ideas. If any speak to us in a way we cannot shake, it will haunt us, poke at us, and move us to action after it’s fermented in our unknowing thoughts. It’s how King claims he wrote The Stand, and I’m going to take a wild guess and say it’s how Barnes cooked up Flaubert’s Parrott.

I’m going through a bit of the same fermentation blowing the top off my head right now. Earlier in the week, I thought I was working on a design project when I got the feeling if I didn’t start work immediately on that story idea I’d come up with two years ago, something terrible would happen.

I don’t mess around with feelings like that. The last time I was tortured by something that had to be done to chase disaster from my doorstep, this is what came from a manic night of painting.

165900_10151092542484179_60014527_nI was minding my own business, writing a screenplay, when a 3′ x 5′ canvas in a corner would not leave me alone. To shut it up I glopped masses of paint on the damned thing and swirled them around and around in circles and thought I was done. No. Something else emerged during the four hours it took for those swirls to dry: an eye. Couldn’t hand a canvas that not only talked to me but looked at me. I’m not that tough. It was 36 hours before I was finished letting one stroke of the brush follow the other until it told its story and its name: “Against The Storm.” This is a poor photo of the painting that has the left side blown out, but it’s close enough for this story I’m telling.

Like that painting, the story idea started by swirling around a concept that took the shape of a theme that dictated it should be a Young Adult novel. I don’t write Young Adult. Tough luck, kiddo, the theme emerged from unthought thoughts fermenting in the background; the theme was one I wanted planted in the subconscious of all three young adults who might read the book. If I was lucky, five young adults were waiting for that seed. Time to get to work.

At 1:28 a.m. I cranked up my writing-only computer and did as I was told with the characters I’d already written about extensively to find the me in them, which is always the you in me. But as I wrote, it wasn’t developing as a theme wearing a story’s clothing, as Frost’s poem may be a sheep in wolf’s clothing or the other way around; it’s open to interpretation. It was unfolding as a horror story I had no idea was inside of me, yet I recognized it as one of the deepest fears I’d been hiding from myself. I have a dark side (actually, I’m rather round), but had no idea something this bloodless yet terrifying was part of who I am.

Writing Tip: Don’t start a horror story with a personal attachment at 1:28 a.m. It’s going to mess with your head something fierce and screw up your entire week. This thing has me so rattled I took a tumble down a cliff the other day. It just wouldn’t leave me alone, distracted me on my hike and threw me into a ditch and a mouthful of rocks.

And it gets worse. I took a fun craft class and ended up as the problem child the teacher was always running towards with paper towels and extra newspaper for the mess she was making, yelling, “Don’t worry. You’ll get the hang of it.” Hang of it? It was dumping liquid in a jar, swirling it and turning it upside down. I do that every morning with a protein shake. Get the hang of it?

OK, so maybe this hasn’t been the melodramatic picture of a story taking over my life that I’ve painted here, but it has been unnerving and shown me how little control I have over most creative tasks. I do have control, but it’s a different part of me that’s hidden and waiting to strike that takes over. It’s not me asking a story what it can do for my prosperity and recognition, but more like me asking a story what I can do for it to make it live, then enduring the demands. After all these years, I’m back scouring the internet and blogs on POV and experimenting until I find what compliments something foreign to me. And pacing. That’s got to be explored from different angles.

It’s been an experience that’s taught me to let go in all matters of creating; accept the process as one of a sheep in wolf’s clothing, or the other way around. It doesn’t matter. I have to let go in order to let myself fill with what the story requires.

I used to be a well-controlled pantser (I prefer organic) but have learned the value of outlining. There’s no doubt I’ll have to double back on this one and open my toolbox for an outline to whip it into final shape, but I’m enjoying this discovery of something within me I didn’t know existed.

We’re all emancipated minors with each new project we take on. We’re set free, for a price, and wondering how to handle that freedom. We’ve all got a pool table where a normal person would have a sofa and chair, and our job is to call the eight ball pocket and sink it. We’re all taking one road that is the same as the other, save for the fact that we’re walking into the dark.

When we give ourselves over, if that is what is asked of us, surrender. If we are masters of the story, that works as well, if it works for the reader. All four readers allotted to each of us these days.

I did stumble off a cliff, in more ways than one. The outcome has been surprising. My back still hurts a bit, but the stuck and painful hip joint I’ve dealt with for over 15 years is loose and tingling with blood it hasn’t known for a very long time. Not even a pinch of pain remains in that hip.

I’m itching with temptation to say at this point that creatives need to take risks, but that would be a false statement.

To be a creative is to be a living risk on the loose, emancipated and tumbling off cliffs.

My suggestion is that we stay loose and roll with it.


Wall Street Crash + Affiliate Marketing For Creatives

Here we go again. Wall Street is crumbling to dust, and it’s not going alone. This is a global event. Inevitable. I’ve been out of the market for months now, and for the same reason I bailed in 2005: I was making too much money too fast and too easy.  That’s always a sign that something’s just not right and it’s going to be torn down before it can be rebuilt. It’s commonly called Creative Destruction. In ’08 it was the financial industry that had gone bad and needed fixing.

Creative destruction, and we’re the Creatives taking down the old order and building the new.

Think of it as a jigsaw puzzle. The picture on the front of the box looks really cool, but when you open it up it can look like a mess that will never resemble the pretty thing on the box.

It will. It takes time. It stakes resilience. It takes patience and realistic expectations.

It takes creative, disciplined thought.

Is this really a crash, or is it a much-needed correction. Is the sky falling, or is it a storm passing by. Nobody knows at this point, but we do know we’re in for some rocky times. The New York Stock Exchange is closed for the day, but the China markets have opened and are making a dive for the bottom. The bottom line for Creatives?

It doesn’t matter. This isn’t the end of our hopes and dreams.

In fact, it could be the real beginning.

But, but, but what if people across the globe are losing money and can’t buy my books/art/posters/designs?

Then you’re off the hook of high expectations and in prime position to make a real business out of your creative endeavors. You can slow down and hone your skills without pressure. You can build your backlog. You can still keep selling.

But, but, but they can’t buy…

Oh, shut up.

Forget about timing the market for your product and marketing the hell out of it. If people aren’t buying your stuff like they were yesterday, you’re free to take all the risks a creative needs to take and  create with the abandon needed to make something startling and new.  Put your head down to the winds and keep going.

But, but, but how am I gonna pay the rent and buy food?

Relax. This isn’t a scenario of really Big Bad Guys screwing us over like the crash of ’08.  It could be a major shift towards that world of Creatives ruling as the new world takes hold.

But, but, but…I think you’re nuts. This makes no sense. How–?

Affiliate marketing, dressed up in a cape, swoops in to save their butts and our day.

Regardless of what’s happening on Wall Street–be it crash, correction, or global reorganization of wealth and power–it’s a historic time for changing the way business is run.  Never before have the Big Boys dominating the New York Stock Exchange had a better opportunity to hit their target market with such laser accuracy. Never before have creative start-ups had such an opportunity to play with the Big Boys on a level playground.

This is huge, and the opportunities go to the Creatives.

In days of old, someone with something to sell collected as much data as possible, which was never enough, then shot off salvos of buckshot marketing in hopes of hitting their targets.

Affiliate marketing puts an end to hit-or-miss marketing for durable goods, staples, and other assorted products we can’t get along without. Things like soap and bathroom tissue and food.

But here’s the thing. For months now consumer spending has been centered on two major markets: automobiles and food. If you’ve been lucky enough to have a blog or business with a focus on food or transportation, those markets will be fighting for advertising space on your site to hold their position. It’s a win-win situation. They can cut their advertising budget, and you get the affiliate marketing fee. You’re now the one directing traffic to their product at half the price to them and a good amount of money in your bank account.

But, but, but what if I don’t blog about those things?

Whenever there’s a shift in the economy that’s based on cultural change, the smaller and smarter businesses  see it as their chance to move in.

We’re living in unprecedented times of hope and happiness and belief that we can do it. Specialty businesses are going to rev up and fill the gap left when people stop buying automobiles, or decide they’re not going to settle for what the big box grocery store has to offer.

Small and specialty businesses have opportunities they’ve never had before via affiliate marketing. It costs them less to be seen and recognized by their target audience as they’ve never been able to be seen before, and you’re the one that makes it possible. You’re a business, they’re a business and that = B2B marketing.

Grab it. Start acting like one.

If you don’t know how to start, here are some general guidelines:

  • Think in terms of businesses that supply the goods used by your business (artists need paint and digital supplies; writers need technology and a lot of the same things artists need; designers need images and content)
  • Think Big And Stable Business, such as Adobe and GE
  • Think Small Businesses such as start-ups, specialty food stores, new marketing companies, energy and fitness products that make it all possible
  • Do your homework. Check out possible affiliates to see if they’ve got enough cash to ride out a storm. Don’t know how to read the fundamentals on publicly traded companies? Learn. (Right now I’m not liking Amazon much.) A good place to find places to learn is a simple search for something like “what does P/E mean.”  If the business isn’t traded publicly, talk with the people behind it, get off your behind and visit them.
  • Do not think of affiliate marketing as passive income. Money for nothing is the biggest myth out there. Chart which affiliates are bringing in the most income. Watch for changes. Monitor your affiliates for future growth or tanking. This is another leg of your business. Be as active with this leg as any other leg that keeps your table straight. Stay in communication, remember the names of their kids and their birthdays. Whip out your authenticity as a compassionate human being and put it to work.

Right now, at this moment, it’s hard to load any financial sites for links and other goodies to make it easier for you with links and such. That’s good news. You have to do it yourself. You can, and you will because you don’t give up. You’re creative and can figure it out, or you’ve been smart and can hire the most competent person to work with. Literally, mind your own business and don’t think anybody’s going to care about it as much as you.

In my life, I’ve had many examples of how people make it through terrible storms and even prospered. My grandfather was a modest businessman, a frugal guy who lived way below his means and always saved cash. His primary business took a very hard hit in the crash of 1929, but he never broke a sweat. He had cash. He was creative and fast on his feet, learning the stock market well and investing in companies he felt were a bargain. Those who had been riding a high market on margin (equal to credit in this economy) had no cash. They jumped out of windows and all sorts of other foolish things that were counter-productive.

When the Great Depression ended, my grandfather still had the remains of his original business and a big, juicy stock portfolio that helped him rebuild his business and feed him quarterly dividends for the rest of his life. He was the most disciplined man I’ve ever met, and the most relaxed. Decades after he’d made his fortune and retired, he still woke up at the same time, swam from the Santa Monica to the Venice pier and back again, ate a sparse breakfast, then walked four miles to the local stock exchange and watched the runners change the numbers as he read the newspaper and smoked his cigars. He never panicked. When he had next to nothing, he had his own deep pocket of comforting discipline.

In the evenings, after the dinner table was cleared and the dishes done, we’d sit around a card table together and work on our jigsaw puzzles.

We finished every single one we started, and they looked just as good as the picture on the box. Sometimes we’d glue them to wood and frame them as mementos of time well spent with the people who mattered most. Or we’d topple the table and start from scratch.

Whichever way we went, we always came out fine.

Believing is like love: they’re both action verbs.

It’s time to act.


Side Note: I’ll get this site gussied up and set right in due time. The old one is gone forever, and I don’t miss it at all, don’t feel I’ve thrown out gems along with the garbage. It’s just time for a change. Keep in mind what was started a decade ago is now the status quo that is prime for a shake-up. Financial planning for creatives is something I’ll be untangling from this monkey mind I’ve got and sharing as they gain clarity, along with other topics the monkeys have been swinging on.

It’s just going to take some patience and persistence getting these monkeys to behave.