Meet Me Halfway

Meet Me Halfway

Their climbing tree stretched out its shady limbs to soak up the last drops of sunlight. Touched by a soft breeze, the sturdy sweet gum brushed its fire-gold and deep-green autumn foliage against the old slate roof. Ten-year-old Marina scrambled up the tree. Her long, tanned legs stood out in smooth contrast against the rough, weather-beaten crevasses of the bark that chipped and fell away under her bare feet as she climbed.

“Come on, Geordie!” she called, oblivious to her friend’s fear of heights. Geordie sighed heavily and pushed himself up from the ground. He was tall for his age. In a few years, he would be drop-dead gorgeous, but for now he was a lanky, slightly awkward lad of twelve. He would have followed Marina to the gates of Hell and beyond, had she asked him to. But Marina was as oblivious to Geordie’s devotion as she was to his fear. High overhead now, Marina shook a branch; several seed pods, their prickly greenish brown surfaces resembling tiny spiked maces, pelted Geordie from above. “Ouch!” Geordie ducked and dodged and momentarily forgot his fears as he grabbed a branch and brought his foot up to chase after Marina, who was perched in the forked branches at the very top of the tree. “I’ll get you for that!” Geordie warned, laughing.

“You’ll have to catch me first!” Marina said, teasing the boy.

Halfway up the tree, Geordie reached for an easy branch. It was one that Marina avoided out of habit, for it had scruffy brownish leaves— if it bothered to sprout any at all— even in the spring. It was grayish black, not the rich tarry brown of the stronger, healthy branches. And it creaked and groaned with even the lightest touch of a breeze. Conveniently situated it might be, but Marina— operating as much on instinct as understanding— didn’t trust it. There was a sickening crack of dry wood, followed by the sound of Geordie yelling as he flailed his arms and legs, desperately trying to catch hold of another branch on his way down. He smacked his arm on a gnarled, leafy limb, scraping away layers of skin and drawing beadlets of crimson through the dirty scratches. He landed in a heap on the hard ground, groaning softly as he rolled to one side and grasped his mangled arm.

The paramedics told him and his parents— just twenty or thirty minutes later, though it might’ve been hours for all Geordie could tell— that he was lucky his friend thought to call them so quickly, and especially fortunate to escape with nothing worse than bruises, scrapes, a fractured arm, and a dislocated shoulder. He didn’t feel lucky, but he was relieved to be alive. He was glad Marina hadn’t stuck around to see him discharged from the emergency room; he was too humiliated to look her in the eye.

* * *

Randy and Duane, dressed in their “stealth suits”— black jeans, black t-shirts, and black Nike high-tops— crept up behind Marina and whispered, “Boo!”

Marina whirled around and pulled her punch just before her fist connected with Randy’s six-pack abs. “Don’t scare me like that!” she hissed.

“You finished?”

“Rigging’s all in place, kiddo.” Duane unloaded a heavy backpack from his well-muscled shoulders and tossed it to the ground. “Don’t get caught.”

Marina laughed. “Hey, once I’m halfway across, it doesn’t matter. They’ll fine me, what, a few hundred bucks? Tell me I’ve been a bad girl, make me swear never, ever to do it again? You know, it’s ironic— you don’t bat an eye at the fact that I’m willing to risk my life for this, but you’re worried about my meager life savings? Duane, you’re a hoot. Just tell me the rigging’s secure.”

Duane nodded and looked to Randy for confirmation. Randy nodded. “All set. Ready when you are.”

“Okay, Duane, I want you to go around to the Canadian side and meet me there. Randy, you stay here—”

“Why, just in case you chicken out and head back this way?” Randy laughed.

“No, just in case I need a diversion.”

“Oh, so you are worried about the fine.”

“No, but it’d be more fun if I didn’t get caught, now, wouldn’t it?” Marina stepped up to Randy as if to kiss him; instead, she wrapped her long fingers around his ribs and tickled him mercilessly.

Life’s cruel irony wasn’t lost on Duane or Randy. They’d been friends with Marina since their freshman year in college. Each of them had a crush on her, but so far, all they had won was an easygoing, platonic friendship.

She hung out with them, went to all the hot basketball games, chugged beer and ate chips enough for two of them during Monday night football – though you’d never guess it by looking at her lithe, boyish figure. How could a girl who was such a guy— be so tantalizingly seductive? They’d gone skydiving together two years ago on a dare. Last summer, Marina had run off for a few months to join the circus— literally— and came back with a passion for tightrope walking and other aerial feats that gave Randy and Duane stomach-knots to imagine. But somehow, in their fascination with Marina, they had become her devoted servants. Which is why they were now standing at the edge of Niagara Falls, having jury-rigged a high-wire act for their friend’s amusement, and praying to a God they weren’t sure of to keep her safe and deliver her to the Canadian side in one piece. It crossed their minds, more than once, that they’d fallen for a woman who had more balls than the two of them put together.

* * *

 Marina had plenty of suitors. She just hadn’t found one who could hold her interest or match her wild, reckless passion for life. She didn’t have a death wish at all; for Marina, the thrill of the ride was everything, without which life was meaningless. Just as one could never appreciate contentment without having experienced pain, or want, or despair, Marina knew deep in her heart that she could not fully appreciate life without occasionally looking into the eyes of death, staring it down, and laughing in its face.

She watched carefully for the signal from Duane that he had reached the Canadian side of the falls. At long last, she saw it— three short bursts of light from a high-powered flashlight at the far end of the sturdy cable the two engineering students had secured for her. Marina dropped her raincoat to the ground and stretched, knowing that it would be important to limber up before attempting the crossing. Piece of cake, she thought. After all, in 1876, Maria Spelterina crossed wearing peach baskets on her feet, for God’s sake.

“Marina?”

“Yes, Randy?” Marina paused, mid-stretch, and looked at her friend.

“I know this is gonna sound crazy, but I’m crazy in love with you—”

Randy paused, searching Marina’s face in the darkness, hoping to find encouragement there. “Mar, will you marry me?”

“I’ll think about it,” answered Marina, reaching around to the small of her back to locate a tiny plastic switch. “If you’ll meet me halfway,” she said, smiling and pointing towards the eerie mist that rose from the center of the chasm. “And ask me again, out there.” She flicked the switch, and a hundred tiny white lights sewn into the side-seams of her leotard and tights illuminated and outlined her perfect curves. She winked at Randy, and stepped out onto the cable.

Halfway across? Randy watched Marina as she stepped gracefully out into space, her feet wrapping themselves around the slender steel cable with steady confidence.

* * *

Working a U.S. Customs booth on the border of Canada and the U.S. was hardly a glamorous job, but it paid the bills and gave Officer Camden an opportunity to meet people from all over the world. People rarely bothered to smuggle things over the border here; more often than not, Camden found himself giving directions to the best observation point near the falls, or making dinner recommendations for newlyweds who couldn’t decide between intimacy or a spectacular view. And when his shift ended, Camden still enjoyed a leisurely stroll along the cliffs above the American Falls; he still marveled at the colorful lights as they played upon the mists rising from the Horseshoe Falls.

Tonight was no different from many other nights. Camden was in no rush to return to his empty home, where sleep would elude him for many hours. He preferred to listen to the thunderous rush of water cascading over the falls, to be lulled by the roar as millions of gallons spilled over the rocks each minute, as they had for 12,000 years.

He gazed out across the dark chasm of the Niagara River. Something caught his eye— something utterly unexpected that sent a little thrill of fear down Camden’s spine. He rubbed his eyes, blinked, and looked again. Surely, he hadn’t seen what he thought he’d seen, or else it was merely the product of fatigue— too much work, too little sleep. Sweet Jesus, thought Camden. He began running; as he ran, he reached for his cell phone.

Camden didn’t take his eyes off the illuminated figure, walking through the darkness as if upon the air itself, tinted mist occasionally obscuring the daredevil and making him appear to be some otherworldly being. Camden didn’t see the man standing at the side of the falls, dressed all in black, watching the scene with his own desperate intensity. As he collided with the man, they landed on the ground and quickly scrambled back to their feet, both talking at once.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” demanded Camden.

“Aiding and abetting,” muttered Randy, as he reached into his hip pocket for his tattered wallet.

“Save it,” snapped Camden. As he watched, fascinated, he realized that the figure on the wire was that of a woman. Her movements were fluid grace; each steady step was even and relaxed. He and Randy both gasped as the woman bent to touch her toes, then executed a flawless handstand and held it to the count of five. “Holy Mother of God,” murmured Camden.

“Do you think she’ll make it across?” he asked, his voice hoarse and barely audible.

Randy shrugged. “I hope so.”

Duane was suddenly joined by several Toronto police officers, all of whom seemed more concerned with Marina’s safety than with slapping handcuffs on him or charging him with international lawbreaking. One of the officers called out to Marina on a bullhorn, strongly urging her to bring her little escapade to a safe, but quick, end so they could all go home to their families where they belonged. He couldn’t be sure that she heard him; just then, Marina leapt into the air and landed on the wire, testing its elasticity as she lowered herself in a single, fluid movement into a split. The men on both sides of the river gasped; one clawed at his chest and began to pray.

Although it wasn’t exactly cold, Marina had worked up a bit of a sweat, and now began to shiver in the chilly mist. Her muscles began to tighten and ache; she thought perhaps she’d pulled a tendon with that split. With a sigh, and a glance at the flashing blue and white lights at the Canadian cliff ’s edge, Marina decided to turn around and head back to the American side of the river. A sudden gust of wind caught her, tired and unprepared, and for a moment she wavered, moving her arms wildly to regain her balance. Marina let her feet drop to either side of the cable— she could straddle it and pull herself along, hand over hand, if necessary. But again, fatigue and a fickle wind conspired to knock her off kilter, and she flipped upside down, her right leg hooked over the cable, her head pointed down towards the turbulent waters below.

This can’t be happening, thought Marina. She reached up and grasped the cable, but it was slick with condensation and hard to hold onto. Well, dammit, she thought with a sigh. She tried to pull herself upright but couldn’t gain the leverage she needed.

Camden saw the girl fall. He didn’t hesitate for a moment, despite his stomach-churning fear of heights. Focusing on the girl, instead of on the breathtaking spectacle of the falls to his left, Camden stepped out onto the cable. He would have preferred to wear a safety harness but didn’t even stop to ask if one was available. Just a walk in the park, he told himself. One step at a time…

The cable was surprisingly sturdy and somewhat thicker than it appeared to be from a distance. Camden tried to imagine that he was simply walking along a curb or pacing the line that ran down the center of the bike path he liked to ride. Not too bad, really, if he thought of it that way. Don’t look down, a little voice in the back of his mind urged. He fought the temptation to do just that, and instead he concentrated on the girl desperately clinging to the wire just a few feet away. He had no idea how to help her; he only knew he had to try.

Marina couldn’t believe her eyes. As she tilted her head back to glance at the cliffs, she saw a man walking towards her! Surely Randy hadn’t mustered the guts to come after her and repeat his proposal. The thought made her giggle hysterically. Marina knew in her heart that she could never marry a man who wasn’t willing to walk a tightrope to win her love. After all, what was love if not a precarious balance on the high wire, without a net? How could she marry a man who was afraid to fall in love? As the man drew closer, she saw that he was strong and attractive— not terribly muscular, but amazingly calm and confident.

“Are you okay?” he called, his deeply resonant voice carrying over the rush of water.

“I think so,” Marina answered. The man stood over her now, and Marina could make out his features. “Geordie?”

Camden’s face registered surprise. “How do you know my—” He blinked and did a double-take. “Marina?”

“Oh, shit, Geordie—when did you take up tightrope walking?” Marina’s heart skipped a beat. She knew that Geordie was deathly afraid of heights; once he realized where he was and got over his need to be a hero, he’d probably pass out and plummet to the frothy deep below.

Geordie Camden lowered himself slowly, grasped the cable with both hands, and sat on it, letting his legs dangle to either side. He took Marina’s arm with one hand and helped pull her up to a sitting position in front of him. “Everything’s going to be fine, Marina.” He smiled.

“Geordie—”

“Shhhh.” Geordie noticed that Marina was shivering uncontrollably. The cable vibrated with her chills, and he wrapped his arms around her protectively. “How are we going to get out of this?” asked Marina. Geordie had never seen a trace of helplessness in her flashing green eyes, and it scared him to see it there now.

“Piece of cake,” he lied. Well, he hadn’t exactly lied, but they would have to wait for the real heroes to arrive, because Geordie knew he couldn’t stand up and lead Marina to safety on either side of the Niagara. It was all he could do just to hold on and not look down. “Hang in there, kiddo. They’re bringing a helicopter. Should be here any minute now.” He hoped that was true. Marina laughed, then. Her bright smile lit her face, and warmed Geordie’s heart. “Remember the tree?”

Geordie nodded. “You were so fearless. I was such a dork. I’d have followed you to hell and back, but I couldn’t even follow you up that damned tree. I avoided you for the rest of the year, and then you moved away.” Geordie shook his head sadly.

“Oh, Geordie.” Marina sighed. “I felt so guilty. I teased and teased until you came after me, climbing that stupid old sweet gum tree. I knew you didn’t want to, but I knew you would. It’s my fault you fell and broke your arm. I was the one who deserved to be ashamed. I was relieved when we moved away, because every time I saw you, I felt guilty. But I missed you, you know.”

“I missed you, too.”

“Ever since then, I’ve looked for a man who could measure up to you— a man who would follow me in some crazy, daredevil scheme, never stopping to think twice about the danger— just to be with me.”

It was Geordie’s turn to laugh. “All this time, I thought you thought I was chicken.”

“Geordie, you’re the bravest man I know.” Marina rested her head against his chest, drawing warmth from his arms around her. “I don’t think I ever stopped loving you, you know.”

Geordie drew back and gazed into her eyes. The naked sincerity with which she regarded him almost knocked him off balance; he grabbed the cable with his left hand and pulled her close with his right. “Marry me,” he whispered. He felt her answering nod against his chest. A searchlight swung round from above and landed on them; a rope and harness fell from the sky. Everything would be all right, thought Geordie as he strapped Marina into the harness and watched the rescue team reel her into the helicopter. As he waited for them to lower the rope a second time, he dared to look down.

Riley the Rollerblade Bird

Riley the Rollerblade Bird

I was so stunned, I didn’t even think to take pictures.

We had been on vacation for a week. My daughter had left her Rollerblades on a chair on our back porch; they’d been there for weeks, if not months, and she had outgrown them. I should have simply thrown them out, I suppose. But it is said that everything happens for a reason, and apparently I’d left them there so that a Carolina Wren could build her nest and lay her eggs in one of them.

Unfortunately, she didn’t build a barrier against the downward slope of the skate opening, and one of the eggs had rolled out and lay smashed on the concrete. Another had hatched, only to wriggle out of the safety of the nest and onto the chair. But at the very edge of the opening, a tiny bird still struggled to live. Precariously caught up in the nest, but wriggling towards its doom, this little bird was clearly hungry and thirsty. Mom was nowhere in sight.

The thing wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t cute, adorable, charming, sweet – the only adjectives that came to mind were hideous, pitiful, pathetic, and not long for this world. Where was its mother? Had she given up at the loss of the first two? I went back inside and waited. Now and then, I looked out to see if I could catch a glimpse of her, for surely she’d come back to feed her baby if she was anywhere nearby.

Nearly 24 hours passed. It’s hot here in July. That this little bird survived so long without food and water, that it continued to struggle with such determination, convinced me that I had to do something. But what? What do I know about rescuing a baby bird, particularly one that looks like a preemie? I found a shoebox and lined it with grass and leaves. I put it on a heating pad, set to Low. I carefully lifted the creature, which by now we’d dubbed “Riley the Rollerblade Bird,” and laid it in the box. I could see its heart and stomach and other organs through the translucent skin of its tiny belly. The thing wasn’t even as large as my thumb. What did I think I was doing?

I mashed up some fresh plums and a little distilled water. Probably a bad idea, but it was dehydrated and if it opened its little beak any further, I thought, it would swallow its own head. (I learned later that it’s a miracle I didn’t kill it trying to give it water and fruit; Carolina Wrens need a very special diet containing certain enzymes that only the mother herself, or specially-trained wildlife rescuers, can provide. And one drop of water gone astray would have gone straight into the bird’s lungs, drowning it or paving the way for an upper respiratory infection that would likely kill it.) I bought mealworms from PetsMart, chopped them up as fine as I could, and tried to offer those. The hungry little baby wanted them, but couldn’t quite manage such a mouthful. In desperation, I turned to the Web.

There, I learned about wildlife rescue organizations. Our local organization put me in touch with a wonderful woman who lives nearby and was willing to take Riley in. She had the enzymes and special food he needed, as well as an incubator and medicine. It was touch and go for a while, but under her care, he thrived and grew and eventually was rehabilitated and learned to fly. Then, one day, he left her to join the other Carolina Wrens.

These are some of the pictures taken by Elaine, the woman who rescued Riley. You can see his transformation from tiny, featherless monstrosity to fine young bird in just a matter of days. I can’t find the photo she sent me of Riley outside sunning himself, just before he took off to join the others, but I can tell you that he was a healthy, handsome young bird.



The next year, a small wren took to sleeping in one of the hanging baskets on my porch. Never even bothered to build a nest, just snuggled down into the dirt in the midst of a tangle of ferns. I like to think it was Riley, come home.


I found this lost tale, and the photos, while going through the “archaeological dig” of a home office that’s gone largely unused, in favor or working nearer the coffee pot downstairs. I’ve been clean it out to set up as my writing nook, and 20-year-old photos I once thought were long lost are one of my rewards.

If You Can’t Beat ’em, Join ’em!

If You Can’t Beat ’em, Join ’em!

My Furred and Feathered Friends

My friend Michael P. is at war with a squirrel he’s named the Dark Lord SquirrelRon. I am somewhat more amused by my own garden squirrels; after all, being an amateur gardener, I view their thieving mischief as high compliments. I caught three of them rolling ecstatically in the damp earth between my peppers, mint, and basil as if they were high. At least they’re not plagiarizing my writing. I suppose real gardeners might find that statement about being flattered by the squirrels as annoying as I do when talented novice writers act all giddy when people steal their writing, or when they, themselves, devalue their work by doing it for free.

On the other hand, I’ve personally gotten more entertainment out of watching the squirrels play and chase each other up and down the live oak next to my garden than I have reaped value in herbs and other foodstuffs harvested from it over the last several years: two mojitos’ worth of mint, two or three dinners seasoned with fresh basil, and a few parsimonious little peppers lacking zing. My tomato plants grow into vine-y trees to rival Jack’s beanstalk, but never yield fruit. My thyme dries up in the Houston heat. The basil is good, but it would be just as good and just as plentiful if I plucked it from stem the minute I brought it home from Ace hardware in its little plastic pot. It’s pretty, though.

The garden is set back against the fence, in a shady spot beside the live oak. The tree drops its leaves and acorns all around, and the squirrels have taken to burying them at the base of my herbs. Which would be fine, but they insist on digging up their treasures every week. Or perhaps they are stealing from one another. I wonder if it’s a game to them.

My friend Lynn Y. sent me an invitation to play one of those stupid Facebook games: Thug Life. So I shot her in the face, burned down her pool party patio, and took all her money without batting an eye. This is what I’ve become, one of the Virtual Gangs of COVID-19. I’m friends with a corrections officer in Louisiana; he plays Thug Life, too. You’d think he got enough of that nonsense on the job, in real life. Apparently he does, because I exploited a glitch in the system, stole all his money every chance I got, and sent him this to taunt him:

Took him three weeks to get revenge. But back to the squirrels…

It’s hot, here in Houston. We came close to hitting 100º, and it’s not even summer, yet. I felt bad for my furred and feathered friends, so I recycled an old aluminum rice cooker, filled it with dirt, added two cups to fill with fresh water, and decorated it with plants and a few small rocks. They love it.

When we replaced our breakfast nook light fixture, I recycled the metal-and-plastic shade by cleaning it thoroughly, giving the metal a coat of RUST-OLEUM, and turning it upside down next to the rice cooker. I added another cup, a few plants, and water.

That poor gnome. He’s seen better days, hasn’t he? Then I hung some bird seed and suet (below, at left), out of the squirrels’ reach, nearby.

Indoor Jungle

Now that I’ve proven I no longer have a black thumb, I’m also letting the houseplants plot a take-over of the kitchen, while I “repurpose” and “recycle” things like old teapots. What kitchen is complete without “succulent” things?

Teeny-Tiny Tree Crabs

I have other friends in the garden. Between the crepe myrtles, nearer the center of the yard. My friend Mitch M. should avert his eyes (this is as close as you’ll get to a “trigger warning” on my blog, by the way – but if anyone’s more arachnophobic than I am, they should probably just scream and run, now).

No, these are not spiders. I have mentally reclassified gasteracantha cancriformis as a “teeny-tiny tree crab that loves crochet as much as I do.” Because, let’s face it: if this were a spider, I’d have to kill it. But since it’s not, I have dubbed myself “Protector of the Spiny Orb Weaver” and insist that my husband gently move its web when he’s working in the yard, so as not to kill my tiny tree crabs while protecting himself from face-planting in their remarkable handiwork.

From what I’ve read of them, they have very short lives. I hope they’re happy in my garden. This year, so far, I have two black and white tree crabs and one orange and black tree crab. Despite what the literature on gasteracantha cancriformis says, I usually don’t spot the orange and black beauty until closer to Halloween. And despite my insistence on calling them all “he” (much the way I used to name all my stuffed animals “Herman” or “Oscar”), these are probably females. The females are larger and spin the pretty, distinctive “doilies on which to dine.” So refined!

Because, you know, if they spun webs, they’d be spiders.

And they might have to die. Unlike Apeksha Rao’s Spyders. I have asked her to take over my blog for the next day or two, so do be sure to read what she has to say, and leave a note – we both love to hear from readers.

Mother, Touchstone, Friend

Mother, Touchstone, Friend

We mothers – we are merely rudders, guiding our children’s ships through the storms and over the turbulent seas of life – we guide them as steadily and as best we can, but we are not the only influence that determines the outcome of the journey…

Who am I today? I am a woman, a daughter, a wife and mother, a writer. I am confident with unexpected moments of self-doubt, calm with occasional thunderstorms, selfish but generous, affectionate but reserved, intelligent with a few Swiss-cheese holes in my brain, rational but prone to flights of fancy, a dreamer with her feet planted on the ground – and I see none of that as contradictory. I am my mother’s daughter.

mom-childMy mother nurtured me with love and learning. My parents married young, with the understanding that both would attend and graduate from college. Did having a baby at nineteen deter my mother from her commitment? No! She told me once that my earliest bedtime stories were chapters from her college Psych texts. If I am determined, efficient, and able to multitask, it’s because I was raised by a woman who could study, cuddle an infant, and read to her child simultaneously!

Astrologers might argue that the Pisces child, born on a Sunday, so near the pull of the ocean’s tides would naturally be gifted with creativity and a vivid imagination. But I contend that any innate creativity and imagination I possessed was nurtured by a mother who got down on the floor and played with me, allowing herself to be cast in the thousands of roles I invented for her. My love of writing was sparked when she installed a bulletin board in my room, and daily pinned a writing prompt – a quote, a photo, some whimsical item – to it, and supplied me with endless reams of paper and a variety of pens. She later insisted that I learn to type; much, much later, I thanked her for it.

SLS-Gr1-croppedI have a great appreciation for languages. If I can’t speak fluent French today, it’s not my mother’s fault! My mom’s answer to a whiny eight-year-old who cried out, “I’m bored!” was to enroll her in private French lessons at Berlitz. Latin was a 7th grade elective; my mom elected it for me. If I believed that college was just an extension of a child’s compulsory education, it was my mom’s doing – she was still working towards her Master’s degree when I was twelve! She made reading and studying seem as natural as breathing, as essential as eating. Blame my mother for the fact that I started college at age twelve – the early French lessons, her schedule of classes from Kent State lying open on the bed, and my natural curiosity combined: “Do you think they’d let me take French I?” Well, why not? With three years of French under my belt and both of my parents there to support my request, doors opened – and I was enrolled in summer school!

mom-deb-portraitOkay, maybe I can’t speak French fluently today, despite eight years of lessons – but I have learned to entertain myself! If I love Oldies, it’s because my mother handed down her 45 RPM records and a phonograph; if my tastes are eclectic, it’s because she also made sure I attended the symphony and the ballet, met Beverly Sills, saw Linda Ronstadt and The Irish Rovers in concert, and took piano lessons. If I can appreciate fine art, it’s because one of my mother’s most cherished books was Jansen’s History of Art – and because she saw to it that I got to tour the Louvre.

While my mother built my confidence and self-esteem, she took care never to talk down to me, never to sugar-coat the truth, never to inflate my ego unrealistically so that the world at large could tear down what she had so carefully built. All her life, I could rely on my mother to be a trustworthy touchstone: she was an honest critic as well as a staunch supporter. If I am happy, content with who I am, it’s because my mother never allowed me to believe that my best wasn’t good enough. If I am able to appreciate constructive criticism and learn from it, it is because I had a mother who dished it out with love.

Three decades years ago, I became a mother, myself. When I held my daughter in my arms, I realized the awesome responsibility my mother took on at the tender age of nineteen. For the first time, it hit me just how much I was loved. And that’s when I knew that the debt I owed her was marked “payable to my grandchildren,” and I know that it’s probably one that I can never fully repay.

july-2001grandpaWhen my mom died – on Valentine’s Day, 2002 – I lost not only my mother, but my best friend. Though she always insisted “It’s not my job to be your friend – I’m your mother,” she couldn’t help but be both. I miss her, especially on Mother’s Day, but because of her, I am strong enough to wipe away the tears, smile, and go boldly forward in my own journey of motherhood.

It’s a wild ride, with all the crazy ups and downs of a world-class rollercoaster. But I am thankful for every minute of it, and I am so proud of the people my children are becoming.

The Inconstant Blogger

The Inconstant Blogger

It is a poorly-kept secret that I have been writing “elsewhere” and not on this blog, the last couple of weeks.  My friend Rasheed Hooda, who once declared me Queen of the No-Niche Bloggers, likes to do to me what I so blithely do to others. Like the Pied Piper, but instead of a flute he balloon-twists his way through the Internet, leaving breadcrumbs and nudging and cajoling until it’s hard not to follow his wanderings. This time, he lured me back to Medium, where I had an account, circa 2015, but only as a reader.

An Accidental Writing Portfolio?

I had stumbled onto the site long ago – The Atlantic has a presence there – and that may be where I first read work by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Is it any wonder, then, that I had never ventured to write, there? I had not seen Medium as it is widely regarded – as a blogging platform. And as a writer who viewed Medium as a platform for more serious, professionally vetted and edited writing, can you imagine my horror at returning there to learn that every comment is treated as a Story? That people had actually “clapped” for some of the passing comments I’d left behind? I had…followers. A lot of followers. 1,277 of them, as of this moment. I’d already built an audience there, without even trying.

Who were these people and why were they following me? Mostly, I think, they were writers, hoping that I would follow them back. But of course, I hadn’t. I hadn’t returned to Medium at all in about three years. I followed everyone back, indiscriminately. And then I deleted all my Stories – my comments. I tested the waters by re-posting an old blog post. A few readers, there, liked it.

And then Rasheed started nudging. Join the Medium Partner Program, he nudged. Maybe it’ll be another income stream, he suggested. I’m all for getting paid to write, but I had no intention of publishing listicles and formulaic blog posts like “8 Things You’re Doing Wrong with Your Life – Pay Special Attention to Number 6,” just to earn a few pennies. Been there, done that: Themestream, Redpaper, Vines… The idea of micropayments, tiny amounts of cash in return for the time spent reading an article – the challenge of holding a reader’s attention long enough to earn a payment for the work – has its appeal. But I was still determined to be worthy of rubbing elbows with writers published in The Atlantic.

I’m Not a Hack, I’m a Busker!

pink and white concrete building

By January, that first “dip-a-toe-in-the-water” story that I’d posted had earned a whole penny. Dreadful.

Then came The Great Pause. Celebrities showed up on TikTok and Instagram and competed for attention with ordinary, but extraordinarily creative, people. They came without make-up or camera crews, and they came with bad lighting and laundry baskets in view. The originality was breathtaking. “We’re all in this together!” we all proclaimed, but almost as soon as we shouted the hurrah, it was clear that we were not, in fact, “all in this together.” The real celebrities still had more expensive homes, even if they tried filming from their walk-in closets. Pandemic brought into sharp relief the differences that separated us: wealth, “essentialness,” ideology, sense of duty, sense of humor, maturity. Who had the capacity to find the silver linings among the scraps of rust; who could turn rust into useful things? And, if nothing else, who had the capacity to entertain themselves and not be bored under #StaySafeStayHome orders?

Normally, I’d have relished the quiet, the solitude, the ability to sleep in late without guilt. I had plans, too. Vague, but serious, plans. I was going to write a novel, finally. But now, it wasn’t a choice, and I felt less inspired, less creative, less imaginative than I’d envisioned my April self. I felt like a small boat, anchored, motor running, with no one at the helm. Rudderless. There were no waves, just little circular ripples.

So. Why not try Medium as a writer, for a change? Why not. 

Busking is performance art. So is impromptu collaboration, as you can see here:

View at Medium.com

two biplane on flightThat was fun.

So Where Am I Going with This?

I still don’t see Medium as a “blogging platform,” even if that’s what it is. Jahangiri.us is my website, and Medium never will be. It’s more like a warm-up area before the performance. As is this, in a way – but I control it. My original plan was to use Medium to increase readership on my own blog. I know that Amy Marley gets that; I think she’s the only reader from Medium who ever followed me from there to here – and that’s probably because I’m one of the few who went straight from her bio on Medium to her own blog.

I think that I have widened my reach and found a new audience for my writing, but there is little cross-pollination. “Build it, and they will come,” is utter bullshit. Marketing and PR are exhausting.

It’s not my intention to drag you, Constant Reader, over there. Although I have done exactly that, to at least two of you – and I don’t think you were disappointed. You will find some of Medium’s best articles tucked behind their paywall, including most of the ones I publish there. But even a few of those are free each month whether you choose to pay the $5/month membership fee, or not. Much of that is distributed to the writers whose work you spent time reading (so no skimming, okay?) My plan is to use whatever pennies I earn busking over there to support my own $5/month Medium membership and maybe help pay for the domain and hosting fees (about $250/year) here.

I’m Not a “Joiner,” but It’s Nice to Find a Writing Community

I’m not big on writing groups, but that’s probably just because it’s hard to find the right one. To build a sense of community isn’t easy, and why would you trade reads and edits with people you don’t feel a sense of kinship with?

Shortly after dragging me over to Medium, Rasheed coaxed me, like a wild bird, over to a Publication called, “ILLUMINATION.” Its founder, Dr. Mehmet Yildiz, has the sort of boundless energy for promoting himself and others that you might attribute to a whole team of PR people. He, himself, swears it has something to do with the strength of his mitochondria, and I can’t quibble – whatever it is, no amount of vitamin supplements is giving it to me. I became a contributor there, and to two other publications: Writers Blokke and The Bad Influence. In the process, I’ve made writer-friends. I’ve connected more with my Facebook friend, Bob Jasper, who is spreading his wings over on Medium as a writer – I’m not the only one Rasheed plays Pied Piper to!

I’ve also learned how to use and administer Slack workspaces, and started building my own little community of writers – independent of Medium or WordPress or YouTube or any other platform, just a small community of friends who don’t talk about the horrors of the day. We write about them, if we must, but for the most part, we’re pretty determined to write about the worlds that live in imagination or the silver linings we’ve found and want to share. We don’t just trade links and outrage and mutual despair. We trade links to say, “Hey, I made this thing. Come lookit!” like excited nine year olds. Because we’re starting to feel energized and creative, and having fun with that, again.