Friday, May 10, 2024

Professional or hobby?

I'm basically a humble person, due to experience. Maybe too much so. Some might say not enough. I believe ego is too often misused. So, after a rosy-lens attempt at healing an unavoidable situation, I turned to the IRS definition of professional versus hobby writing. After all, I was getting just enough royalties to complicate my life, not enough to support the habit properly. Not much in that area has changed, I confess. 

What has changed is focus. Apparently that was badly needed. I'm a better writer for it. Hidden blessings rarely come in aesthetically appealing packages. 

I decided if it was a hobby, something done for my own satisfaction, then I could take the glow of just pride in finding ways to do it right. Instead of concentrating on speed, I aimed at telling a good story. 

It's been a many years since my first, traditionally published (small local press, out of business now) narrative nonfiction book. It took a few more years of bad advice, well-meant "help", and a total of eight more self-published books to beat down that unsavory pride. 

Manuscript number nine (complete) was and is very different. Number ten, even more so. I attend many webinars, read many industry advice books and articles, taking what I can from each, good or bad. I'm not too old to learn, a thing I always enjoy most outside of traditional classrooms.

I also learned the definition the IRS pushes isn't the only one out there. "Professional" isn't a thing of money. It's a thing of skill. Exhibit professionalism, and you become its essence. 

My advice is to go forth and be professional, even if (especially if) you're poor, disabled, struggling, or unsure of the future. When the stakes are high, the value of the story raises accordingly. 

Live the story. Don't let anyone "put Baby in the corner". Remember to put your fists at the ready if you start talking fight. Raise the stakes. Lock and load.

A hobby is something you do for the joy in it. Anything worth doing is worth doing right. There's no reason you can't be a professional while still a hobbyist. 

Love your art. It needs you. You need it.

Saturday, March 30, 2024

Well, well, well... times change. The sun is shining through the clouds.

A little breathing space. I hoped for it for years. Decades. But all we got was darkness and the ugliness of perfectly legal greed. 

Yes, we survived. Yes, I still have multiple full-body disabilities, and I'm getting older by the day. My husband's health issues are increasingly complicated. It's a good thing we're adaptable people. We made it. Others haven't... I wish they had held out for another "emotional springtime" episode. 

It's starting to look a lot like springtime in eastern Kentucky. Redbud trees grace the hills and ridges with delicate lavendar bloom. Winter isn't over yet; we won't plant any cold sensitive vegetable, fruit, or flowering plants until after the wild blackberries have bloomed and risk of frost is done for the season. Daffodils still have heavy green heads in our mountainside yard, though there are brilliant yellow blossoms to be seen in more sheltered areas. We can't rule out more snow, nonetheless. 

To our great surprise, with the advent of short-sleeves weather, we've been granted a respite from the worst of the stress. Housing issues, struggles with keeping foods not harmful me, those are things had become familiar discomforts. More than ten years after our bare survival was dealt a near-killing blow, the pressure is off, at least for a short time. It's a huge relief. 

I even finished a long-time project, the de Oro world manuscript. New Year's Eve saw us finally living in safe, solid housing. I made the decision not to self-publish it right away, and I don't regret it. For once, I figured entering a contest might be better odds than buying a state lottery ticket. Not being a fan of most contests, it was as close as I could get to thumbing my nose at the darkling universe. I simply decided to reach for the stars. If I don't touch one, that's part of life. At least I tried. 

As a result, I'm quietly celebrating by getting restarted on a barely-begun manuscript. I have several pending, but let them all slide rather than worry about even one more thing. Getting relief meant cleaning up files, digging out old ones, organizing, and choosing what to move on next. I can't get to the research materials still in storage for one story. Two others didn't feel right. Another is a prequel to some projects needing revamped, and two others are sequels to those. I may someday collect and publish my poetry, but it's just for fun (I'm not a good poet, though I love to read poetry). Nor am I worried about any memoirs... for what, after all? I've done nothing notable, and I'm no one special in the greater scheme of things. It came down to two: a horror story not yet fully gelled in my mind, and the option of a sequel to the just-finished novel, de Oro.

I'm calling it Honor's Child.

Nothing in the de Oro world is easy. As it has always been for most lifetimes, the things most worth having are not easy to come by. If asked, I could not put a name to the genre I most enjoy reading or writing, until a few nights ago, when I chanced upon a literary agent webinar. In the discussion, it dawned on me that what she was calling "upmarket" hit close to what I attempt to write. A blend of several commercial genres written with care and artistry is what the term seems to refer to, though I haven't set out to play the highbrow. (That's another story, but I assure you, this revelation made me laugh so hard...) And so, in my blessedly dim ignorance, I may have stumbled into the light all on my own. Nothing in my world is easy, either. 

I will have to wait months to find out if de Oro might be held worthy, if we might be given another, however brief, respite from complicated aspects of our lives. And that's okay. If it doesn't get any attention in the contest, I fully intend to move on. I may lob it at a publisher not requiring an agent, or, if all else fails, I may self-publish, put a copy on my home shelves, and enjoy the sight of it. Because I know there are things in it that needed said, because I scraped up enough bald, ballsy gumption to just finish the thing. Because it's worthy in my mind, as are the characters who played out the hard finish. The characters formed of composited real human beings whose lives were, and in some cases still are, worse than mine. 

While I wait, I'll have good company. The story isn't over as long as there are lives to be lived. In Honor's Child life goes on. Hard times and beauty. 

And that, my friends, is why I plan to tell the story. Be damned if anyone doesn't like it. Springtime will come again, with or without my participation or theirs. Let the flowers bloom.

Image of a crow standing on a human skull, a flower growing through one eye socket, grass around it. In the background, a barely visible woman walks away.

Saturday, December 30, 2023

Reflections on being contrary.

I'm sixty years old. I'm not rich or famous or even what most consider to be educated. What I am is, simply said, a nobody. I dabble in a lot of things, but have mastered none. In the greater view of the world, I'm nothing. There's not a thing in the world to mark my existence having been a reality after I'm gone. 

Yes, I have Ehlers-Danlos. Nobody cares. Now, not even me. I see people around me every day who also have it—and who aren't diagnosed. Just like I wasn't, for over fifty-eight years. For all of us, the ACA and social services, et al, are largely useless. Particularly in Kentucky. 

I've pretty much given up on finding adequate health care. I'm too exhausted and broke to make it to all the appointments, anyway. Social Security is, to put it mildly, a joke. 

And so I took up a neglected manuscript and began to edit it. I have nothing else to do to keep myself from going bonkers from boredom when I can't get up and move around. I doubt it will ever make it to publishing.

To be honest, I don't know why I've bothered hanging on this long. If it offends anyone or not, my tangle of creativity is no more or less than hobby. Every dime I get from it sets life backwards instead forward, in terms of "disability aid." 

And life goes on. Politics and social values circle the drain. It doesn't matter. 

But I'm still going to finish this novel. And maybe another or three. For myself.

The stories I write tend to be about PTSD, an indirect form of horror. Which explains a lot of things, I guess. 

Hang onto life. It's sometimes all we have. Live it. Respect it. 

Sunday, July 16, 2023

Updates? What updates? Nothing changes.

After I was discovered quietly running general maintenance and check on a mostly-defunct (and unhappy-making, thanks to those practitioners of cognitive dissonance) F/B page, a few old friends asked me to "stay and give [everyone] an update. There really isn't any, though. I'm still here and stuck right where I was before. (Read the next blog post for details, please.)

To be specific, no, I am not writing again. I am so sick of badly edited (both traditionally and indie published–not casting shade on either side) books, I could chew tenpenny nails. I can't afford to properly [re-]edit my older books, nor do I foresee being able to do future books. Personally, I'm not an editor; I'm just as blind to my own errors as most people. It's a spot I don't need to go dance in. Personal choice.

The fact is, I need a survival-level job. I have multiple full body health issues, not directly lethal, but highly limiting. I don't mind working, but I'd have to do it at my own pace. Not negotiable. I wish it was.

Nor do I have socially acceptable education; nine hours of pre-veterinary studies done mostly by mail augmented by self-provided doesn't fly. Basically, it's a case of "no registration papers  exist for this 'gelding' for sale".

I'll be 60 years old next month, and no, I will not be taking out student loans to go back to school. Sure, my family is graced with longevity, but in my case, it's a bad gamble. Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome is progressive: my body, plagued with poor genetic collagen management, is aging faster than "normal".

No, there's no cure. Treatment at best is palliative: braces; preventatives; things like heat/cold, Tiger Balm™️, and so on. The [full body–every tissue is affected] pain, according to the research message board I contribute information on, meets or possibly exceeds that of cancer (I don't want to know for sure, thanks). This is my genetic 'normal'. I have to live with it, if I live at all–which I am and do, leaving little energy for petty arguments. I have 29 individual body bracings, to date, not all of which I must wear at any one time, and [expensive] compression garments are a huge help.

It took me 58 years to get a diagnosis out of state and out of pocket. Medicaid doesn't pay out of state (or for expensive genetic testing); since my primary care says Cleveland and Toledo, Ohio, are the nearest places for adult genetic medicine "care", that neatly lets me and every other person with similar problems out of options.

Insurance companies are every bit as ignorant as Kentucky's medical community in general. I've tried to get in to see the state's sole neuro-opthalmologist** for two years; they're taking appointments by triage only, with a huge waiting list.

I stay out of emergency rooms if at all possible: NSAIDs, steroids, quinoline medications are all generally forbidden, as they mess with collagen. Narcotics? There's not enough anti-nausea medication in the world to stop me from projectile vomiting. Bad idea.

I missed a great writer's workshop because of complications. Not all of us are bendy (no, it's not growing pains and I'm not "double jointed"). There are 13 decidedly overlapping types. My mother was the kyphoscoliosis variety, or kEDS; cause of death might be directly attributed to a lifetime of misdiagnosis. My sister had heart problems listed as cause of death–on the list of comorbidities–and "Fibromyalgia Syndrome"*. And so it goes. I simply dug deeper into my symptoms and family history than the average person.

The geneticist I saw said "Fibromyalgia Syndrome" * is Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome–with Dysautonomia and Mast Cell Activation making up a "trifecta" (there's a long list of rather nasty comorbidities). I now have a sacroiliac joint brace; I had to ask for it from a sceptical orthopedic doctor (he was thoroughly embarrassed and did apologize after I gave him a gentle but unadorned talking-to). It helps. I didn't have it then. A long road trip wasn't possible.

Many have pointed out that I could resume writing. Yes, I could. Sure, I have a come-and-go blurry left eye**, but I'm doing what I can to work around it on a nearly invisible budget (using an [obsolete] cell phone, mostly). Sure, I could... and I'd still have no advertising budget. Disability income for a married woman (forget the Americans with Disabilities Act and Equal Opportunity laws–they don't legally apply) is extremely minimal, especially if you lost your Social Security points due to long term misdiagnosis. Medical and social services PTSD is, I assure you, quite real.

I have an extremely limited diet now. It's expensive. A half-size loaf of Schär bread is around $6. No wheat, barley, rye, or even oats. Limited legumes. Almost entirely fresh food, which is actually a good thing if costly. Dairy had to go, too. Additives like xanthan gum, some food dyes... nope. I had to add salt to my diet with steady fluids, a direct opposite to standard and long term incorrect medical advice: POTS (a form of dysautonomia) isn't forgiving, and I must function at least minimally.

I lost a lot of weight gathered mostly due to undiagnosed food sensitivities and intolerances that do not show up on allergy tests. Elimination dieting works! The paraspinal muscle spasms and other neuropathy symptoms were apparently gluten intolerant neuropathy; I no longer get them [unless I encounter cross-contamination]. (Sharing a meal at someone's home or just any restaurant is problematic at best.) I don't complain, except when I pay for food...

Whoever promoted the 8.7% Social Security raise was worse at math than I am. Prices are up, and pandemic food aid was shut down. I can no longer access highly helpful medical massage, after Medicaid dropped it. It's costly to be poor.

Thank goodness for a merciful, fast, and understanding chiropractor (thank you, Dr. Allen!), who puts my routinely subluxated joints back for me [it's partial dislocation]. ERs aren't able to help, though I've learned how to manage some of it on my own, mostly wrist and finger joints. Popping larger joints back (try it on a subluxated floating rib! not for sissies) is awkward sometimes.

I applied to the Kentucky Department of Vocational Rehabilitation for job assistance, and after an obscenely long wait, was told what I already knew: "You have multiple and complex disabilities." No help there.

The OVR folks tried to set me up as a work from home customer service employee! I wouldn't last long; one day of brain fog plus severe pain, and I'd alienate customers quite handily. Also, no flexibility of schedule exists when there's a regular paycheck.

Not to mention "AW" phone service that's a dead loss after the LTE/5G "upgrades"–I'm trying to change companies. No internet access beyond cell data is not good. Our area, along with being an unsupervised playground for petty theft, is not politically profitable.

[NOTE: We can't really afford to live elsewhere. Also, no apartments or housing projects need apply; I can't handle that much human interaction.]

I've gotten dirty letters from various social services offices (gotta eat, kids), over 1¢ USD monthly dividends paid out on a prior bank account (that's a whole 12¢ a year!), been yelled at, and told I was a liar over $6 book royalty payouts.

I'm not even kidding. Nope. I'm too tired to wool with jokes.

We had a home once, built to our needs. It went away because of greed, plain and simple. Everything we had, poof. Requests for Reasonable Accomodation? "We don't have to." And they didn't, thanks to an Obama-era bankruptcy law. We checked and rechecked.

My faith in a "good" humanity is thin and narrowed by experience. Watching the sheer b*llsh*it blithely pandered about on social media doesn't help. I miss a good many of you, our discussions and exchanges.

Unfortunately, greed is real, and the myths of "trickle down" prosperity or justice in a world set to "let's flush away everyone who doesn't fit the standard" are more influential. Money can buy a measure of happiness, but it only works right if it's a shared happiness.

I got nothin', y'all. It's beyond my ken. Putting one foot in front of the other is about as good as it gets. I choose my battles these days.

Miracles aren't tangible. Going home is better than any heaven preached up by the holier-than-thou tribe. I'd be happier working at the things I _can_ still do, at my own pace, to stay reasonably fed.

⭐ Please don't offer platitudes and clichés. I've tried many things, some I wasn't ever comfortable with, like GoFundMe. They were all long-term useless. Not interested now. Thoughts and prayers are also intangible.

Here's my one suggested working cliché: "Be the change you want to see."

Stay safe, friends

Friday, August 26, 2022

It's been a rough summer for many people.

Hello there, dear reader. I apologize for abandoning my books and blogs, social media and email contact having shrunk to the bare minimum. 

I cannot see well now, one eye blurry, and other parts of my face affected. So far, I haven't been able to get any medical care whatsoever in regards to that. Supposedly, a neurologist is sending me to a neuro-ophthalmologist. My regular ophthalmologist didn't think it necessary, apparently, though I asked.

I'm what others deem as a lost cause, juggling health problems for most of my life, trying to get a reasonable diagnosis. I got a basic diagnosis a year ago this September. It's not good, but it's not lethal (in my case), and for that, I'm grateful. I had to travel out of state to get it, since my state health care is largely useless. 

Unfortunately, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome comes with a whole host of comorbidities. I landed a doozy in the genetic inheritance arena. One of the worst aspects is that the medical "miracles" pharmaceuticals can claim in others don't apply to me. I can't use them majority of drugs others take for granted, including analgesics. That means the full body potential for injury goes without much pain relief. Headache? I can't take acetamenophen or ibuprofen. Chronic tendonitis? Again, no OTC or prescription anti-inflammatories. Steroids and certain other collagen-affecting drugs are blacklisted. EDS patients are patient. Adaptability is a keyword; most of us have learned to adjust both outlook and expectations accordingly. 

Every day, I see and hear ableist commentary. The sad part is, unless you have EDS or know someone who does, we all appear "normal" at a glance. Most doctors don't have a clue what to look for, either. It's hard getting medical support. Telling someone "It's just fibromyalgia!", "You're just lazy.", "Have you seen a therapist about your pain control expectations, or have you gone to a pain management clinic yet?" is the same as accusing someone of being a hypochondriac. It's verbal and emotional abuse, and completely wrong. 

The pain is brutally real. Collagen is the glue that holds body tissues together. It's in every body tissue. As such, there are currently 13 overlapping types of EDS; every patient is different, often wildly so. I have a hypermobile type (hEDS), and as such, I have body bracings for about every braceable joint. None of my joints are unaffected. Nor is this the worst type: Vascular Ehlers-Danlos (vEDS) can be and often is, deadly.

I've dealt with aspects of this illness for nearly 59 years. I was told my pain was "normal" and so walked on subluxated (partly dislocated) feet from the start. That's a long path of pain. When my left knee subluxated walking down my hallway at home, I lay down, jammed it into the spokes of our bed's footboard, and yanked hard on the headboard... and painfully popped it back in place. No one was there but me, no phone, no help. I had no insurance and no medical care. My knees don't look alike, and now they never will. That was about 35 years ago. 

Nor will comments like "Eat more fish. You'll feel better" or "Lose some weight. It'll help your arthritis." or "Just push your plate back." fix anything. Sure, I'm overweight. One of my comorbidities is being the next best thing to a Celiac patient, with sensitivities to wheat, barley, and rye, and a complete intolerance to gluten. Food sensitivites cause edema and weight gain. I have multiple food sensitivities and intolerances, and must eat something. It's a catch-22.

My old lifelong primary care told me, "You don't have edema. You're just fat." I lost 17 pounds the first weekend, when I went on a Celiac-safe diet. 35 pounds, total. I no longer believe the for-profit medical industry in terms of my own health. I do listen to serious healers among them. 

Those "miracle" drugs have introduced me to new worlds and new words, among them a hard-earned pharmacophobia, presumably medical PTSD, along with dysautonomia, mast cell activation, and a lot more. The blowers of smoke get what they deserve verbally and when I don't return to fill their pockets, not because it's right, but because self-defense is legal. 

I'd love to resume writing. As it is, I struggle to see my phone screen, a scant 3 inches in front of my nose. It will have taken several sessions for me to get this written. I don't own a printer, and we're struggling to get into better, more viable housing. Our dreams of off-grid life went down the drains with the inability to work or attend college. There are more problems than solutions. In short, supporting other writers has been a priority for a long time, my own ability to function pushing other efforts aside. I rarely do visual artwork or photography (can't see).

Please don't be that person who thinks "there's always a way", says so, and then shuts the door on opportunity for the disabled. That's what state and federal government have done from even before the Covid-19 era started. (Both wings!) It's difficult for fit people to live on poverty level income; if you have to buy almost everything (special/mandatory/expensive foods, certain clothing items, extra braces, alternative remedies, etc.) out of pocket, it's downright impossible. Doing it without doctors fully conversant in your condition is murderous. 

I'd love to return to work as a farm worker... or pretty much anything else not requiring technological, environmental, or other adaption. I'm a client of the state Department of Vocational Rehabilitation, which fobbed me off on the Department for the Blind, then went dead silent. I need income, and would far prefer to work for it, as I did before. Instead, what I have is a donations link. At least it's not GoFundMe or Kickstarter, like so many disabled authors and artists must use. I am ashamed, nonetheless, to be using a state-run version. That shouldn't be necessary.

If you can help, here's the link

Thank you for caring. If you choose not to help me, then help someone else, if it's just the little old lady who lives across from you who can't get groceries. I know how she feels. Please. Just be a good person to someone out there. Pay it forward. It doesn't have to be for me, ever.

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

I've been out of contact for months. A little context is in order, I believe. (UPDATED 4/9/2023.)

Hello there, dear reader. I've missed you. Quite a lot. There are reasons, and not even one excuse.

I'm officially disabled. It's genetic, so this happened before I was born. It's progressive, which means for decades, I thought I was "normal" (whatever that is). I worked and played hard, living life as best I could. I had limits that kept me from doing many things I'd dreamed of doing, and as time passes, I'm able to do much less. 

Sadly, I have to fight for a decent life. Like almost every other non-privileged disabled person in the [allegedly] United States, in fact. I am not special. I don't claim to be. For every time I've had to find a work-around for basic survival, others have had less opportunity. Nonetheless, I've lost my home (greed and law are a bad combination) and almost everything else as a direct result of my disability. 

My husband is disabled, too. We struggle with a discompassionate system of national insurance (I assure you, it isn't "care", as profit is their sole motivation), Medicaid (thin to nothing "charity"), a backup of "glory hole" charities (the "Look at that! I did a nice thing. Thank me." types, in large part), native wit, and sheer, desperate, and often cockeyed adaptive strategies. It's never easy. Because we're married and have no children, we get less help, instead of more. That's the law.

Add to the illness, stress. Thieves targeting our neighborhood... the poor, the disabled, the elderly. They should be ashamed, but aren't. Ditto the community, really. We rarely see any law enforcement in the area. That's mostly for evictions, sometimes for drugs, almost always brief incursions. No real investigations. (One call to a state police detective got me the advice, "We're spread too thin. These type of people have no respect for anyone, even themselves. If you have big dogs, turn them loose. If you have weapons, be prepared to use them to stop intruders. I say 'stop', not 'threaten'... it doesn't work." When I only said, "Yes, sir.", the man was speechless before finally laughing out loud. "Yes, ma'am. I like you. If everyone took orders this well, we'd have no problems like this. Good luck!" The thieves came, encountered big dogs and barriers ready, and left. They hit our neighbors instead.)

Medically, we're going backward, thanks to the counterintuitive thinking of the able folks. From a wide array of specialists, in my case, to hoping to find a primary care physician who is willing to learn something the American Medical Association promotes as useless information ("If you hear hoofbeats, expect to see horses, not zebras."?). Why? Well, there's less profit in genetics than in pharmaceuticals, and I, among the many, cannot use those fancy designer versions of medicines and remedies in use for thousands of years. It's against the law. Why? Again, money. 

Public outcry is a lovely thing. It can make or break lives, and it does so regularly. Truth in those outcries is hard to find most of the time. But ask a disabled person how they make it, and you'll get some version of my story. 

I got so exhausted by certain "social media" that I shut it down. More stress? Make less. And so I did. I have. 

Today I sit here with my nose virtually mashed against a computer screen, trying to see what I'm typing. I have an appointment with a neurologist that may offer answers as to why. Most of those possible answers are rooted in the genetic illness, #EhlersDanlosSyndrome. It's a faulty collagen issue, incurable, that affects the entire body in wildly varying ways. (I'm reasonably sure I watched my mother and sister die as the result of complications from being undiagnosed/misdiagnosed for the same thing.) I have multiple body-bracing in use; the assortment can change within moments, let alone over days or weeks. My sole pain relief at present is a good chiropractor and some skilled massage therapists (update 4/9/2023: medical massage is no longer accessible, though our governor is trying to legalize medical marijuana... where there is corporate profit... which doesn't do much for me). It's something. The pain is reputedly worse than that of cancer, so I'll take what I can get, sans "poison" pills (no commercial analgesics work for me). 

At any rate, I have blurry vision, mostly in one eye, and a host of other complications. I'm using a cell phone for internet access, almost exclusively, due to economic stress. It's a conflict, hah.

I've put in my two cents for retraining as a voiceover/voice acting artist (update 4/9/2023: it was discovered that I "have multiple and complex barriers to employment"... I already knew that... case dropped). I used to write books and do visual art as a hobby. Surely there is some way I can do better. I'm trying. That's all there is. 

So if you miss me, too, know I'm still here, still plugging onward, and hoping. Keep your own hopes alive. It's worth the struggle. 

Thanks for listening. Have a great week. I look forward to getting back in the swing of things if/when the health issues resolve. I'll see you there!

Friday, July 9, 2021

Culture and observations: Meeting Becky.

Life has been difficult for us for most of the last decade. We're starting to see a glimmer of daylight, and yet old habits die hard. We take a little time for ourselves, but we have to remind ourselves to do it. Last week, we chose to reward ourselves by having a moderate meal in a decent buffet-type restaurant. It turned into something a little more interesting, along with the delicious food.

We found an unused table and prepared to sit down. Immediately, a tiny dark-haired woman whizzed up to the table, popped a card on it, and chirruped in a lovely accented voice, "Hi, my name is Becky, and I'll be your server tonight!" 

Serve, she did. Our southern-style sweet tea was never permitted to run dry. Halfway empty glasses? A little motherly clucking noise preceded Becky placing a second, fresh glass for each of us. She was precise, swift, attentive, and without fail, I noted, she served to my left and removed items from my right. My husband, she generally avoided altogether, preferring not to meet his eyes or speak directly to him. My own smile and greeting, a casual thanks, these she latched onto with a delighted passion. From time to time, I was gifted with a gentle, motherly pat to the shoulder. 

I don't know if she saw my braces, cane, and taped up hands as a comfort, my disabilities offering a suggestion of weakness, or if she had suffered some violence from a strange man or men in the past, but as gentle as my husband was and is with women, she could not bring herself to communicate directly with him even when taking our modest, heartfelt tip. 

At last, I suggested, "I love the music in your voice. May I ask where it is from?" 

At first, she looked at me guardedly, startled, then she said softly, "Korea." The hurt, homesickness, and sorrow in her entire body language barely balanced the delight and happiness that someone appreciated the sound of that native language. For the first time, I got a full-on smile from her. "Korea," she said again, sighing.

"You must miss it very much."

"Yes," she said. "And no." This time her smile was no more than a sad, poignant curl at the corners of her lips. Bleak memory drew the lines of her face harsher than the mask she habitually wore. It was a glimpse of the real person. 

"It's very beautiful, your language." It was, touched with a sing-song lilt beneath the harsher Americanized English speech. I always wished I could learn a second language, but I've also been glad I haven't been forced into it by circumstance alone. 

"I do not forget it." She stood straight in a body no longer young, but strong in spirit regardless. 

I shook my head slightly. "I would never ask you to forget it. It makes you who you are, and brings depth to a world often tired beyond knowing." 

She grinned. "Thank you." A quick pat on my shoulder, and she was off to take fresh drinks to another table. 

I watched her working. The sheer efficiency was amazing. When she came back to our table, I asked her, "You have worked in very large, very nice restaurants before now, haven't you?" 

She stared. "I have. How..." Shaking her head, she shrugged. 

Waving my hands to illustrate, I showed her. "You serve from this side, remove from that side. It's something you do naturally, without thinking about it." 

Shivering slightly, she blinked. "You watch me?"

I laughed a little. "I can't help it. I watch everyone!" I mimed writing. "I write stories sometimes. It's a thing I like to do. I like to listen to voices." Flipping a hand in her direction, I explained. "You teach me. I am learning about waitresses working as you work. I watch, and I learn. It's better than only learning from books." 

"Ah!" Becky was almost bouncing. "I teach, you learn. You are smart." 

"I'm not very smart, but I can see you're a hard worker and a good person, Becky. I want to thank you for helping me." 

"You are welcome!" She beamed a smile at me, then whirled away to come back with two glasses of fresh tea. "Tonight is my first night here. I am excited!"

"So am I, Becky. Thank you for everything. We will hope to see you again sometime. Stay well." 

On our way out the door, she slipped up behind me and gave me a hug, as petite as a child next to my comparatively heavy, braced-up shape. She looked up at me with a second genuine smile. 

"Please stay safe, and come back here to visit with me sometime. I will think of you often."

I was still hearing the gentle ring and chime of that lilting voice hours later, preparing to sleep. What dreams may come, indeed. It's a rare old world, and all any of us wants is a better life. 

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Another very short-short, from a writer's prompt.

Another writer's prompt. 😳 (Image from unknown source. Accreditation welcome!)


Every day at the lighthouse fell into a pattern of illusory normalcy. They ate, walked on the rocky beaches, slept, each of them unwilling to admit what they had seen. 

It was the Atlantic ocean, not Loch Ness. Such things could not happen, anyway. Sea monsters and mermaids did not exist. Imaginations had taken a leave from regular senses, that was all.

Salt breezes and sea birds went about their ordinary lives, whirling through patterns too complex to chart. Nightly bonfires ceased; the darkness had its realm, and the television screen was no part of it. 

Let Gilligan and the crew of the S.S. Minnow soothe the psychic collective, it went without saying among them. And let no one speak of the reeking carnage caught in the shifting tides at the edge of the north cove. 

Scratching idly around the bandages on his left arm, Sim cursed under his breath. Maybe the rest of them could forget, but he could never unsee her face. Nor could he deny the scars he would carry the rest of his life. 

He pulled the carved bone sliver from his pocket, staring at the intricate design for the millionth time. Sea wrack, it was not. 

Sera pulled it out of his arm that night, her eyes wide and dark, pressing it silently into his good hand. "I'd tell you to forget her, except you won't," she said. Her voice was low, sad. 

When he awakened next, Sera was gone. She would survive on the mainland.

He could not go back. The sea held a part of him forever, blood, and bone. His heart, too. 

In Davey Jones' locker lived a warrior maiden fair. It was a thought too bitter for laughter, too sweet for tears. 

Tonight, he would write the song. Perhaps he might live long enough to hear her sing it for his mortal ears just one time.

Clenching chilled fingers around the bit of blade, he ignored the tickle of dripping blood. An offering to the sea was well within what he would pay to spend an hour with her just once more.

Saturday, June 5, 2021

From a writing prompt... a very short-short Sea Tale.

I did a writing prompt yesterday, liking the results more than I'd thought I would. I'll paste the results below, along with the originating image. (Artist unknown--I'd be happy to give credit!) Genre: fantasy/speculative.


     Surfacing, she sheathed the forked fishing blade, freeing both hands to wipe the goor's inky slime and sand off the strange object. The goor was a particularly nasty creature; it did not deserve the respect of a true sea leviathan, and could rot for all she cared. This glimmering, shimmering bit of sea wrack held her attention. 
Freed of dimming substances, it seemed to echo the glow of moonlight, a faint vibration, almost a pulse, sending her scales a-ripple. Despite the seasonal chill, the thing was decidedly warm to touch. 

No wonder the goor was guarding it so fiercely. To her reckoning, what she held was an egg, a living bit of opalescent beauty, something rare and beyond her ken. 

The Counsel of Twelve Elders must know of this, and soon. If it might be a legendary Sea Egg, as she thought it must, the End Time approached. Seers claimed the waters would boil, and monsters walk on land.

She shivered. Feeling humble and small, heart beating heavy, she knew the Tide of Tides had changed against the knowing of the People. The position of Harbinger was never one she had willingly sought, yet here it was, a burden she could never deny.

Wrapping the orb in a fold of loose garment, she again drew the carved bone weapon. Time was no friend to life. 


©️ June 4, 2021, by RLMT.


Friday, May 28, 2021

Seven Sisters springtime.

Yesterday, a steamy "summer" day, albeit scented with the heavy, seductive odor of honeysuckle. Today, the miasma of spring is again upon us, a cooling rain drawing its veil across these hills. 

There are buds forming on the feral  pink Seven Sisters roses sprawling through the untidy regrowth. They will soon bloom, a growing reminder of hands long gone to dust. Sweet, delicate, and enduring.

Someone set the door stones, someone shaped up the foundations. Someone planted the roses and flower starts stubbornly persisting so many decades later.

We build our towers. Aesthetic joys not withstanding. Each year, we live a little brighter, a little wider, looking for a worthy purpose and its gratification. 

Each year, the towers crumble. Foundations sink into soil, rich moss growing jade and emerald over the evidence. Ferns rise, reveling in the infinitesimal, inevitable return of forest primeval. Honeysuckle vines tangle, binding blackberry canes, redbud trees, and juniper berries into artful arrangements.

And when the time is right, Seven Sisters rise up, ghostly in the shady edges where memory clashes with nature, wear their naked thorns with pride, and sprawl, pale faces rosy beneath an unconcerned moon. 


Photo: Seven Sisters pink rose, growing wild on an old house site. ©️ May 28, 2021, by @_RLMT/R.L.M. Tipton

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

There must always be time.

The scent of honeysuckle and wild roses, of the green and growing seeds summer will one day call its own, the flicker of songbird wings sailing late spring breezes. It's time to turn the rich earth and touch it, bringing it --in reverent hands--to make contact with things of beauty. It's time for kittens and puppies and children, time for scuffed knees and smiling faces with sunburned noses, time for long walks down shade-sheltered lanes or to play in the soft warm rains. For those things, there must always be time.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

April's [Independent] Showers

Into every life a little rain must fall. In that microcosm of fluidity, it's difficult to see the naturally occurring rainbows. As a flood, a fisheye lens of distortion begs the question even more. 

Where, then, is the creative mind in the moments after early dawn, when a molten sun lifts shrouds of mist once more to ungrateful skies? Shedding salty tears of grief and confusion, stroking grimly for a distant shore, a miasma of pseudo-reality bent on wringing every last droplet of hope into an overfull waste basket. 

The scent of damp earth on a spring morning, the haunting touch of forest cobwebs, the taste of water from a familiar spring, the distinctive, haunting song of wild birds. The depth of grounding echoes through a sparkling, shattered soul, leaving silence in its wake.

Into that, a single raindrop makes its way, and the story is thus written. 


4-28-2021 ©️by @_RLMT.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Eulogy. (Fiction fragment.)

Look there. Do you see the place you called home? There are things in it, the little comforts and comforting items laden with memories. The indescribably ugly afghan your aunt crocheted for you when you graduated high school with big plans to live happily ever after with your sweetheart.

The coffee table is overflowing with pizza boxes, disposable food containers, empty cans and bottles. A few have emptied out on the floor, where a thread of ants is practicing thrift on your behalf. They're steadily carrying every morsel out, working their way through the crack under the door you created when you passed out last Hallowe'en and the devil's tail on your costume hung in the door sill. You never fixed it, though you cursed the rat that managed to squeeze inside through it to escape winter snow.

It seems so minor now. There was that party, and someone who wasn't passed out stole your high school sweetheart. They left you facedown in a spill of mud on their way home, because you wanted to fight so much you dared sucker punch the senior quarterback. When you got up, you drank from the lawn hose, sprayed yourself off, and took the wooded route home, staggering through blackberry thickets and ditches reeking of leaky sewage, hoping to elude your parents long enough to get a shower.

You were so proud of yourself for putting a half pound of sugar in the gas tanks of both your sweetie's date and the infamous nice guy quarterback at the next party. No one caught you, though you were the top suspect. You left no proof.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

The show goes on, if slowly.

This is just a brief update. I'll pay for it later, no doubt. 

I'm using two fingers on my right hand to type, my left thumb, index finger, and "pinky" out of commission. My left hand is impaired, too. I never expected this to happen, but the last year, well, it's been rough. There have been loses, but also a few gains. If I expected this to be a better year than 2020, it's as if 2021 gave me a wicked grin and said, "Hey, somebody hold my beer!" 

It wasn't an accident. It will not "feel better soon"; it's for life. There's no cure, only palliative care. If treated correctly, it's not directly (or immediately?) life threatening. It's not cancer, either. It's probably genetic; I'll have answers to that question later this month, I hope. 

What is it? It's something rated as rare, something doctors don't look for, just as they've been taught. "If you hear hoofbeats, expect horses, not zebras, " they say. They're wrong, in my estimation. I've had this collection of progressively problematic illness ("syndrome"?) since I was born. In over 57+ years, no one "educated" caught it, leaving me to cope on my own, often with so much insufficient information that it did damage. As in, "damned if you do, and damned if you don't" grade of neglect. It's called Ehrlers-Danlos Syndrome, a long string of comorbidities and complications coming with it. 

No, it's not autoimmune. Bracing of loose joints is done to prevent chronic re-damage of vulnerable connective tissues. Injury, not merely inflammation. (Age adds arthritis, of course, and it's possible to have an AI disorder with EDS.) One keeps in mind, "If it hurts, don't do it." And yet, movement is life. Carefully.

To present, it's lost me everything I ever had or needed, long term. Home, security, income. I know I'm not alone in that, or in suffering what I thought was "normal" pain. Every single day of my life. 

Adding insult to it, I can't use the drugs commonly handed out, including those for pain relief. I had to stop eating ordinary food and go to an expensive Celiac diet (a common comorbidity), and I wear multiple orthotic braces just to keep functioning, even at a low level. I'm exhausted all the time: chronic fatigue is quite real, I discovered. A trip to the emergency room could be dangerous for me, so I just don't go unless it's beyond my own scope of experience. Small injuries, pfft. Ignored. 

I have about nine unfinished manuscripts. If I could unpack my art supplies, I'd have an endless list of projects I want to finish, as well. As it is, I'm just going to be happy to finish this one story. 

After that, I don't know... I really don't. I can't guess where a collagen-error illness will take me next. Joints, bones, organs, circulatory or nervous systems? EDS patients must be patient. Our lives are both painful and unpredictable. 

Finishing what I'm working on is a start. It's a rewrite of an unfinished novel I call de Oro. A mixed genre work of sorts, falling into the literary speculative or literary science fiction area. It's a romance; most stories are, after all. I'm very near the ending, bringing it to a new level of interest, I hope. I may have ruined it, but I'm sure my trusty beta-reader club (just trusted every-reader friends who make comments to help me improve it) will tell me what's wrong. 

I'm glad I have friends. They keep me going when nothing else does. 

If all goes well, next month, I may publish a new novel. No promises. But I have hope. That's something. 


Brace #1.

Brace #2.

Brace #3.

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Update: Find joy.


This has been a difficult year for many people. For some, it's been a difficult decade. That's where I am. It's the reason my blog is rarely updated: the old saying suggests "if you can't say anything good, then say nothing." I have said very little, and that, I think, says more than I need to give details on here. 

Suffice it to say that thanks to some very kind people, I am at work on a novel again. The tentative (in-progress, really) cover is shown above, inset in a desktop wallpaper I made to keep myself motivated. 

This manuscript has been with me a long time. I wanted to do a good job on it, but needed to get some distance. To that end, being unable to work did me no lasting harm. I've recently been able to make some hard decisions. 

First of all, the publishing market is insanely complicated. It always has been. COVID-19 only made that worse. Good, established editors and acquisitions people lost jobs. Many changed positions in the business and kept going. Some opted out. It's harder than ever to know what's going on, and how to address it.

Book sales are way down, indie or traditional, and the movie industry began to reel, concern over safety of everyone's safety throwing the old funding patterns awry. Take away the storytellers, and the entertainment industry, et al, is a mess. 

Ho-hum. No news? Well, not to me. I'm just summing it up.

Personally, I have a whole other set of problems. Apparently, disability conditions I could never have ducked out on. That tops the list. It set off an avalanche of peripheral problems, thanks to the antiquated medical and associated systems where I live. (To be honest, we would relocate, if we could. It would be a practical decision.) We're working on that, but don't have a lot of hope for change anytime soon. 

There's no way to change the medical issues. There's no cure. There's only living with it, and doing something to feel productive. Facing those facts cost me. 

Being honest with myself, well, that conflicts with some people who have little understanding of what it's like. I am a person who was once physically active (I worked with animals, on farms, and in rural areas), and who cannot be now. I don't know even day to day how my health will go. Good days are getting farther apart. Things, my joints and connective tissue, go wrong overnight. Braces help rest the damage (not autoimmune), but are no viable replacement for a healthy body. 

The decision to ignore all the "you should sell" advice and simply enjoy the art for what it is, as I have chosen to do, is very freeing. In future, I will not actively seek agents or editors, or other venues outside my social loops. I expect to get no money for what I do, because it's a bad gamble. 

I want to tell great stories. I want to do an excellent job of it, because I enjoy the art form, and because it's within my means to do. 

Photography is outside my realm; I don't have the equipment. Painting had gotten painful; I was making three paintings a year when I had to stop. I don't have the space to work, even if I could maintain it at a competitive rate. I doodle with graphic arts, mostly online, but there again, I don't have the equipment or software. 

This is where I am. I make up stories. I like to see a copy sitting on a shelf, a solid copy. Not an ebook, stored on someone else's device (I don't read ebooks, myself... eye issues). I don't expect to make a profit; past history proves it unlikely. 

There are those who like my stories. Friends, mostly. Family, no. Few. I intend to finish the de Oro manuscript, which I am editing and revising at present. I'll cobble up some kind of cover, set everything up myself, and get a printed copy, eventually, for the satisfaction of it. 

Life goes on. Look for some way to have fun. COVID-19 won't last forever, and neither will we. Life is a gift... it shines the more you use it. 

Be happy. Shine on. 

R.L.M. Tipton, artist and author (for the joy of it)

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Find my books on Amazon!

Fiction or nonfiction. I enjoy writing in a variety of genres, just as I enjoy a variety of visual art mediums.

Find me on Twitter... @_RLMT.

Monday, February 24, 2020

The Voices Make Me Do it. [Writing sample and commentary.]

The Appalachia, specifically Kentucky, that I knew in my childhood is fading fast. People were different back then, more down to earth and practical. That doesn't mean they were or are lacking compassion; the opposite is true. The proof is in the music and arts made popular by their ease of use on front porches, where swatting summer mosquitoes and singing off key while frogs sang all night out at the pond was the usual evening entertainment. Cold ice tea, beer, fried chicken, and biscuits. Home. To remember is to carry forward the battle, a blended culture based on story telling. A region respecting the art of bards.

There are few songs in Appalachian music to rival the bittersweet beauty of Put My Little Shoes Away. In the song, a dying child asks its mother to put away its most treasured belongings, a pair of little shoes. "Give them all my toys, Mother, but put my little shoes away..." It's tragic and vivid. It cries out to our heritage, the strength of generations of immigrants, poverty and struggle versus hard work and honest profit.

From time to time, fragments of the past float up in my brain, creating voices where none existed, almost as if time and experience have created spirits that refuse to lie down and rest. When that happens, I have to let it flow. Open the valve, let it flow. Otherwise, the pain of silence is unbearable.

The following is what became of one such inner episode:

Momma says I shouldn't talk to strangers, but you're a neighbor, so it should be ah'ight. Them's right purty flow'rs you got there; I bet my granny would like 'em. She grows all kinds o' flow'rs. Momma says hit's a waste o' time, a waste of good sleepin' hours. Momma's at work down at the rest'rant right now.

Yesterday hit rained, I know. Got a lot o' mud puddles in th' road. I like to ride my bike through 'em, but Momma gits mad when I git m' good clothes dirty. She says she reckons warshin' clothes hain't a good pass-time when you're tired.

Lookee, I got me a candy-bar. Momma just got the food-stamps; they call that "SNAP Benefits" now, she said, but hit's the same thing. 'Long 'bout the end of the month, won't be no candy, cause the money and the food stamps done run out. So's I make 'em last, the two candy-bars I git. Got a Pay-Day so there wouldn't be choc'late to melt in my pockets. Purty smart, eh? Well, I miss the choc'late. But not as much as I like the sweet lastin'.

Yessum, I know that, an' I brush my teeth. When Momma can get some toothpaste. Some of the bristles is gone outta m' toothbrush, but I still use it. Hain't got 'nother'n. Just the one. But it still works. Momma says soap an' soda's about all she can handle paying for, an' toilet paper. Gotta have gas t' git t' work, an' hit's precious to buy. Can't waste ary dollar on frippery, Granny says. Momma says 'yes ma'am'.

Momma sleeps a lot. I gots a key to the house, see? Granny sleeps a lot too; she says she's just restin' her eyes. Granny's supposed to watch me, but I wake her up before Momma gits home and we sit an' eat sammidges in front of the TV with ice-tea. Gotta knock that dang cat outta the way, ever' time. Sits on the footstool and scratches them fleas like hit was a preacher poundin' on the pulpit a-Sunday. Granny calls 'at cat names, then tells me not to say 'em. Not fair, I call it.

Yesterday I helped weed the garden an' pulled up some plants I wasn't s'posed to. That's where 'at bruise come from. Momma said she's sorry, just so tired she can't think straight. Worrit, I reckon, 'bout Granny an' me an' the 'lectric bill. We all gotta drain on Momma. I split out a pair of jeans an' ripped a shirt last month when some kid called me a welfare bastard, whatever that is, an' I pounded his head some. Momma was still upset over bein' woke up by the school an' replacin' my clothes, so the garden thing hurt more. I didn't mean to harm, hit just happened while the sweat was runnin' in my eyes. Reckon the bruise'll heal. Usually does.

Well, I gotta run now. 'Bout time to feed Granny an' git me a bolony sammidge too. Momma'll be home soon. Work t' do. 'Bye, now.

This is a work of fiction (social commentary, a story told by a storyteller) based on composite fact, told in the voice of a child living in the hills of Appalachia, dealing with the problems of his youth as has every one of his ancestors has done before him. Times change, problems remain, yet the people endure and adapt as they must, and go on.

Copyright: author R.L.M.Tipton (Home page

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

A brief glimpse into The Glimmerings. (Novel excerpt.)

              An excerpt from an older novel series: fantasy of the magical realism flavor.
                                                                            - RLMT.


      Something about the shape of that elderly female face worried him momentarily. She flipped something dusty at him, a substance with a delicate scent of herbs and something else held in the cloud of its passing. It glimmered, a faint glow suffusing the powdery stuff as it left her hands. When it hit him, he staggered as if slammed into by a large, heavy object.

     He heard the person say in a voice shimmering like delicate silver, yet hard as tempered steel, May your body reflect the size of your functional soul, and may only the scent of your haven release you to be whole and fulfilled. Once, twice, thrice, by the truths of the veils, so mote it be.
      A roaring wave of violent, rushing nausea swept over Logan. He aimed with sudden precision for the men’s loo door, the light around him somehow seeming to have turned a spring-leaf-green. In the bathroom, he was thoroughly sick. He wiped his dripping face with a damp paper towel, aching shudders racking his body. A slick of sweat coated him and Logan yearned for a place to rest where the cool air might soothe his misery.


Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Starting over.

Established readers of this blog will notice that I've removed the past postings from it. I'm changing my life to focus on things that make me happy. I'm exhausted with the whole anxiety-for-pseudofun-and-profit game. This is my life. I intend to make the most of what's left.

Stay tuned for changes.


Thursday, April 27, 2017

This isn't just horsing around. It's a day out of my own life. (Memoir.)




A writer and visual artist, R. L. M. Tipton
is descended from Scots-Irish, German, English,
and Cherokee ancestors who first came into Powell County, Kentucky,
as early as the early 1880s,
about four generations ago.  
She is no stranger to living off grid.


     Every winter, responsible people worry about the roads, often wondering if they can scrape up enough cash to pay the heating bill before the pipes freeze up. It's cold, and while Kentucky is at risk for more ice storms than blizzards, it can be uncomfortable. It's hard to see the beauty in something that makes your bones ache and your wallet suffer. That's understandable.
    When we were kids, all we saw was a day off from school on occasion. It seemed a  fine time to go make some snow cream or slide down a nearby hill on sled of some sort.  When you're young and the cocoa's being made by someone who loves you while you deliberately turn into a human Popsicle, getting cold is a lark.

     I was the same. It's been many years since I was young and sassy, yet I have my memories of fun. I've slipped and slid using greased cardboard, real metal-runner equipped sleds, inner tubes from a big truck or tractor, or even a sheet of heavy plastic. But my most favorite activity in the winter was to ride a horse on the coldest of days, to take a wild, chilling trip around the lake and into the woods where there was no human to share that priceless experience.
     I remember one day in particular, from those years past:

     The day dawned bitterly cold; the air seemed to freeze around a breath, like the words or a sigh might fall tinkling to the ground in an instant. The snow was, for once, several inches deep and powder dry. Under it all was a thin skim of ice atop the long-frozen ground. Everything seemed white and ice blue, cold to look at, even, and bright enough to be painful to the eye. I'd been stuck in the house for what seemed like ages, but had only been overnight. And I had my mind made up: today, I would ride.

     The crackling cold was only a minor irritation compared to the need to be in the woods, old Bess carrying me along like a feather on the wind, the sharp smells of pine and frozen lake water wrapping chilly fingers around us. The woods were calling. I would have bet every dime my teenage hands could gather that old Bess was just as restless as I; kindred souls speak the same language.

     When I left the house, I had on so many layers of clothing that I waddled. The snow was slippery beneath my feet, and hiking boots took care of that nicely. In deference to the bitter cold and the wind chill of traveling horseback, I intended to skip the saddle and use Bess's warmth to aid in preventing frostbite. In the edge of the barn, I stopped to wipe my eyes. The wind was sharp, though the sunlight had turned everything in its path to cold fire. My barely-exposed cheeks were numb, my nose the same.

     I began to doubt the wisdom of my decision to ride, and had almost made up my mind to go back home when a golden head thrust over the stall wall, huffing and whickering eager welcome. Cold as I was, I melted. Who could say no to a face like that?

     The bridle was on in a trice, and I scrambled, clumsy in my many layers, onto her back. She jigged in place, trying to take the bit and go. I stayed with her, wrapping my legs in the saddle blanket I'd tossed up across her neck. The ends of it fluttered slightly in the stiff breeze at the edge of the clearing, and she reared onto her hinders for long seconds, dancing in the icy slickness with borium-enforced steel shoes. A handful of dark red mane held me up; her winter coat was sleek and full, slippery against my jeans.

     We stepped out onto the blacktop road and made our way to the far end of my parent's loop driveway. It was a steep hill, but missed the greater length of icy blacktop base to walk on. I could circle Bess around and go straight to the creek-rocked road to the lake and hill trails. The question, at that point, was not if my sassy old mare would act up, but rather when. 

     Near the top of the hill, almost to the house, it happened. She began her ritual telegraph of action. Right ear flickers. Left ear. Head turns to the right, then the left. I was breathless... and she wrung her tail just as I grabbed a fierce handful of thick mane.

   One more stride....

   At the top of the road there, on a level with the house, she thrust her compact, meaty rump skyward, trying to get her head down and buck. Then she quickly recovered and attempted to bolt. I compensated, laughed wildly, and stayed put. She stretched into a lope around the back of the house with both short ears perked up and forward. To the hills with us, she seemed to cry; I feel wonderful and we need to run! If I had come off on the frozen ground, it would have probably meant more than a slight injury. The ground, so uneven, was filled with saplings and stumps all around, and rough stones beneath us. I was young enough not to care, reckless enough to glory in it. The old mare was never old in heart. A fine pair we were, it was often said -- wild eyed and moving like a centaur into battle.

     The wind off the lake was razored and so cold it burned. We made it to the tree line and the hills broke the back of the killer wind for us, though the ridge-line trails were blown almost clear of snow. Here and there, tracks of deer or dog showed briefly, the wind keeping secrets in its transparent path.

     Bess took the bit in her teeth and I let her.

     Blood-dark tail a-flag, she blew hot steam from her nostrils as she pounded the ground with hard hooves. The swing of her gallop up a slight rise reached fever pitch, those short, perfect ears flattened back angrily, furious at not being able to take full flight.
      At the top of the ridge, she slowed up, snorting steam and dancing sideways from a cardinal that blew past us. Ears up again, she collected herself into a prancing running-walk, smooth as silk and a joy to sit. I glimpsed a fox in the distance; it went out of sight with something feathered still fluttering in its mouth. A crash of brushy stuff over the hill told tales of a whitetail doe and her fawn startled by Bess's charge up the hillside.  A murder of crows cursed us from the treetops, unafraid of the horse where a person on foot would have made all things silent within a few footfalls.

      We traveled the whole trail, coming down the backside where a slide had long ago broken the original logging trail, a path set there before the region was ripped of all the primordial forest that once grew on it. The original path makers were the woodland bison, a creature extinct for over a hundred years, perhaps more. The slide was a place best walked on a good day with a stout staff of hickory or sassafras; a horse had to travel it sitting on hind feet and haunches, and it was not for the faint-hearted or inexperienced to attempt while on horseback. 

     At the bottom, we cut back up into the gap of the Chaney Orchard, long abandoned and grown up. At the ridge again, we caught up with the original trail, headed east and a bit north, back toward the house. About 300 yards shy of the turn to go to the house via the kennels, I turned Bess down a small path, passing the comical "two-seater" outhouse in the woods that Dad built. We slid down the hard-clay path, a coating of white making it all but impassable by dry lubrication.

     Back on the road around the lake, we walked sedately, listening to the riot of life alive in the woods when a storm has well and truly passed us by. Woodpeckers pounded, crows cawed, Dad's Beagles tried to raise the roof because an opinionated squirrel hung over them on a dangling branch, scolding the foolish creatures for merely existing. Bess's feet echoed my heartbeat on the snow. A one and a two and a one and a two... as if we were made to think and move as one. The bit jingled and occasionally a steely shoe hit on an exposed stone. I was no longer cold. Neither of us had broken a sweat, but we were warm and happy and calm at soul and in the flesh.

      Perfect. It was a beautiful day in Kentucky. A day I will not forget. A day like none the children of today are likely to experience in their lifetimes. A priceless memory to me, a curiosity to someone else.  When I think back, I remember a fine old mare who was also my friend.