My Pathological Fear of Creating A Scene

Project Write is going slowly.  And that’s putting it nicely.  There hasn’t been a whole lot of writing yet.  But there has been some reading of books on writing including one called The Art of Subtext by Charles Baxter.  I love me some good subtext, I really do.  Today’s chapter was titled “Creating A Scene”.  And, living up to the theme of the book, Mr. Baxter means that in more than one way, of course.  Because to write a good “scene” in a story or novel, one needs to have characters capable of creating a scene.

Fiction, a dramatic medium, asks writers to unlearn the habits of conflict-avoidance for the sake of revelation.

People who have practiced good manners and conflict-avoidance all their lives have to remember to leave those habits of mind at the door when they enter the theater of fiction.  Stories thrive on bad behavior, bad manners, confrontations, and unpalatable characters who by wish or compulsion make their desires visible by creating scenes.

Well crap.  That sure explains a lot.  I have literally spent the last twenty-five years striving to be a woman who can Keep Everything Calm and Everybody Happy!!  I have failed miserably, but not for lack of trying.  I am all about scoring approval points from people I do not know and who I will never see again.  Also, I am extremely uncomfortable with non–positive feelings and attitudes as well as all things Awkward.  (I literally can not watch The Office for more than one minute.  The Awkward makes me soooo uncomfortable!)  If a friend or a family member shares a problem or a concern with me, I make it my personal responsibility to solve it as soon as possible.  I do this because I care, but also because I can’t stand for there to be any unhappiness in the world.  Which, on its very face, is completely ridiculous.  There is so very much unhappiness in the world at any given moment.  “In this world you will have trouble” Jesus said.  Not “you might” – but “you WILL” – it’s a given.  He also said, “Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” – making the very clear implication that we are going to have trouble pretty much every day.  And yet here I am, getting all bunched up because people I care about have troubles!

So is it any wonder then that I have a terrible habit of writing awful bland characters who either have no problems or only have problems because of outside forces?  And I literally can’t even think of a compelling start to a story because that would mean introducing trouble into my imaginary universe?  GOOD GRIEF.

Well, unlike most of the problems I struggle with, this one is NOT unsolvable!  (For some reason, that sentence was followed by near-maniacal level laughter in my head.  Let’s not spend too much time analyzing that.)  I am surrounded by drama.  I myself can be quite the drama queen, at times.  Creating imaginary drama for imaginary people should not be out of the realm of my abilities.  I can do this.  I can let go of my need to control, fix and solve.  I can let happy people be unhappy.  I can even CAUSE some unhappiness. (fictionally!!  of course!)  (Why did I feel the need to clarify that?!)  I can let my characters be Awkward and Uncomfortable and sloppy and sad and hurt and maybe even mean.  And maybe we’ll all be better off for it.  (“We” being me and my characters.  I can’t speak for the rest of you, though a girl can dream…)


Gotta Start Somewhere

2018.  I honestly have no idea how on earth it can be 2018 but it’s an accepted fact around these parts that I am Very Old and on the rare occasion when I write a paper check I still have to consciously tell myself to start the date with a 20 instead of a 19 so obviously the fact that we are almost two full decades into this new century is beyond my ability to comprehend.  Nevertheless, I welcome this New Year with open arms, hopeful anticipation, and maybe a smidge of mid-life angst.

It turns out the truth under the pile of diagnoses and drama was Autism – or Aspergers if that makes it easier to picture – and it also turns out that while the word is somewhat scary at first, it’s a lot less scary than the unknown.  It’s also a lot less scary when you’ve got the right supports in place, which I think maybe we finally do.  Leah is going to a school where she fits and the teachers know her and accept her and even understand (!!!) her which translates to her not hating school for the first time in like ten years and being willing to actually go for the first time in at least four years.  It’s a HUGE weight off my shoulders.  Writing the word huge in all caps doesn’t even do it justice, but take my word for it, it’s literally life-changing, for both of us.

As a result of this massive answer to prayer, I find myself in a place I’d almost given up finding again.  For a few hours each day, I am alone in a quiet house.  It is bliss.  And it is daunting.  Do I fill the day with chores and errands?  Spend it chatting on the phone, flipping through FB and exercising?  (Answer to both: yes.)  Or… do I return, once again, to that void that follows me everywhere, that gaping question that hounds me, taunts me, terrifies me: Am I ever going to be a writer, For Real?

I’m reading this book, Whisper: How to Hear the Voice of God by Mark Batterson and he talks about how to know if our desires are God-directed desires.  He says we need to lay our desires down because sometimes they become idols and we need to know God is directing us and we’re not just going off on our own.  And then he says that often what happens is that God will give them back to us – and it is when a desire does not go away no matter how much we set it down, that we see God working in it.  (This is obviously an imperfect science and we’re not talking about unhealthy addictions here.)  Given that criteria, I’m realizing that it may actually be disobedience for me not to write.  Or at least try to write.  So here I am, again.  New Year, old resolution.  And in case you’d hadn’t guessed by the appearance of this blog post after months of internet silence, this is me taking a tiny baby step.

I want to do this.  And I’m afraid.

Biblical Tangent:  I’m reading the Bible in a year (she says on the 2nd day of the year) and I was in Genesis chapter 3 today.  Check this out, this is right after Eve and Adam ate the forbidden fruit:

And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.”

… And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.

Genesis 3: 8-9, 21

Key points salient to the topic at hand…  Adam and Eve were always naked.  Like since ever.  It was only after they ate the fruit and put themselves in the place of God that they felt shame and fear.  And they hid.  And it’s God who calls to them, goes and brings them out of hiding and makes clothes for them to cover their shame.  He does that.  Time and time again.

I am afraid.  I feel worthless, useless and unimportant, apart from what I can contribute in the role of Mom.  Without that title, I feel naked.  Can I trust Him enough to step out from behind that moniker?  Maybe it’s time I find out.


From the Corner of a Bookstore Cafe

I sit at a table that’s too tall for me to relax and gives me a vantage of the room, my back to two walls.  A defensible spot.  Nearby eight woman my age and older are gathered, chatting as friends do, and I envy them.  Its ridiculous, this envy.  I know nothing of any of them.  I know nothing of their lives or their problems.  It’s the rare woman who has reached middle age without accruing some worries and pain.  But they laugh, and I wish I knew them well enough to join in.

I miss laughing.  It’s not that I never laugh.  It’s just that the laughter is often forced, or forgotten so quickly because I’m living life on this high chair in the corner, my back to two walls, defensive.

I am working on this.  On myself, because it’s finally dawning on me that I can’t really work on anyone else.  No matter how much I want to.  So now I’m learning mindfulness.  I’m training my brain to Be Still.  God has directed me to find stillness for over thirty years, I suppose its time I look at a freaking map.  Yesterday during my ten minute mindfulness exercise the nice man with the British accent told me to think about my motivation for wanting to be mindful.  Anxiety I thought.  Or more accurately, to stop feeling anxious all the time.  Nice British Voice told me to think of my loved ones and how my ten minutes of mindfulness would benefit them.  So I won’t make them anxious I answered in my mind.  It felt like grasping.  It felt like reacting, the way I always do.  The way I walk into a room and L’s voice is raised and Husband’s voice is taking the “talking to a crazy person” tone and my heart starts racing and I know that walking into the room will not make things better and will likely make things worse because now my own anxiety will be added to the mix.  But I’m even more afraid of not walking in, because when things escalate things can get scary, fast.  And I’m the mom.  It’s my job to walk in even when I don’t want to.  But this morning I was reading yet another book on how to discipline your child from a place of love and trust and the authors said that if your child does not see you as safe, they will not learn what you are trying to teach through discipline.  In fact, you will make things worse.  So as we were driving into town this morning I revised my motivation statement for the Nice British Voice.  I want to be her safe place.  That sounds so nice, doesn’t it?  To be my child’s safe place?  To be the harbor in her storms of life?  Except, I can’t be that for her.  Not now, at fifteen, and not even when she was three and it seemed like I could be that.  Because I’m a person with flaws and limits and her whole job is to separate from me and become her own person.  Only God can be that her.  But she refuses to see that right now.  That’s between the two of them, I cannot force it.  So I can’t be Her safe place.  But, I can be A safe place.  Which is to say I cannot be a refuge in any kind of “the answer to all your problems” kind of way, but I could be a person who exudes a calm presence, a sense of peace and faith regardless of what storms are blowing.

Now, if you know me in real life, you may be laughing at the very idea, because words like “calm” are never used to describe me.  Passionate, Vivacious, Fiery…  those are the nice ways to describe me.  Sometimes those traits are good, but these days, they’re not working for me.  So I need to expand the definition of me.  I will try.  And I will ask God to do a work in me.  And maybe the day will come where I don’t seek out the high chair in the corner that backs to two walls.  Maybe I will even laugh, and really mean it.


Blessed are they who keep His statutes and seek Him with all their heart. – Psalm 119:2

“Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,” says the Lord of hosts. – Zechariah 4:6b

God chose who is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. – 1 Corinthians 1:27-29

Thus says The Lord to you:
“Do not be afraid nor dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours, but God’s.
You will not need to fight in this battle.  Position yourselves, stand still and see the salvation of the Lord who is with you, O Judah and Jerusalem! Do not fear or be dismayed; tomorrow go out against them, for the Lord is with you.”  – 2 Chronicles 20:15, 17


I’m having some outpatient surgery tomorrow.  It is not a big deal, really.  I’ve done a very good job not thinking about it for almost a month.  When someone else mentioned it in concerned tones, I shrugged it off.  Honestly, the worst part of it will be the anesthesia.  So obviously that’s the part I’m getting anxious about today.  My anxiety has been ramping up over the weekend and it was kicking into gear the moment I woke this morning.  And then I read these verses.  And something like peace wrestled its way into my heart and mind.

It’s not magic.  I almost never get an immediate answer.  God never seems to flip a switch for me.  Not even when I was literally drowning.  (I don’t use literally in a figurative sense.  There was riptide, I was pulled under… )  This wrestling, it’s more like what Jacob did all night long.  My stomach starts to clench, and I say to myself “the battle is not yours, but God’s.”  My mind wanders into ridiculous anxiety territory (I should write letters to my kids, in case I die tomorrow) and I stare at the words, “Do not fear or be dismayed; tomorrow… the Lord is with you.”  On a few very rare and special occasions, I believe I have actually heard the voice of God.  But most of the time, this is how God speaks to me – which makes sense, considering the Bible is called God’s Word.

If you only open your Bible in church or if your Bible has sat on the shelf for so long you’re not sure where to look for it, or if you don’t have a Bible, you are missing out.  I’m not saying God can’t or won’t speak to you in some other way – He’s GOD, He is certainly capable of reaching us in any and every way He wants.  He uses dreams or the words of a Pastor or a believing friend, visions, signs, wonders…  yes, certainly, all of these.  But if you feel like you’ve never heard God, (or it’s been a really long time) perhaps you might try reading His Word?  For best results, I highly recommend saying a prayer first – something along the lines of, “God I want to hear from you.  Will you please speak to me through Your Word and grant me ears to hear and a heart to receive what you are saying?” It really isn’t magic, and those aren’t magic words – but God does hear our prayers and I can say with absolute confidence that when we pray in such a way, seeking to hear Him, with no agenda of our own save that of seeing His face, He WILL answer.   (If you don’t have a Bible and can’t afford to buy one right now, here’s some helpful suggestions for how to get a free Bible.)  Then, as you read, if a verse or a passage stands out to you, write it down.  You might not even be sure exactly why it’s striking you in a special way – that’s okay.  Read it a few more times and ask for a heart to receive what you are reading.  And then, let it plant itself in your heart.  You might need those words later in the day or the week.  When you do?  You’ll realize you just heard from God.  He’s speaking – all the time He’s speaking – we just have trouble hearing him over the noise of our lives.

And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper…
– 1 Kings 19:9-18



Younger Son has a doctor’s appointment tomorrow.  A check-up and physical.  No big deal, except that as luck would have it, he’s seeing the doctor whom Leah saw in sixth grade.  The one that started her on Concerta for her ADHD.  We haven’t seen him in at least a year, because I started requesting female doctors for Leah as she got further into her teen years.  Part of me is wondering if he will recognize the last name and ask about Leah.  And because my mind never stops, I’m playing out how that conversation would go, if I didn’t worry about manners or propriety (in other words, if I weren’t such a compulsive people-pleaser).  Here’s how it goes, in my head:


Doctor Niceguy:  “Hi Luke Lastname…  and Mrs. Lastname.  Oh you’re Leah’s mom… how is she?”

Me:  “Uh, she’s actually at a therapeutic boarding school.”

Dr. Niceguy:  “Oh?” (looks uncomfortable, but appropriately concerned)

Me: “Yes, for extreme anxiety and depression.  Turns out, she doesn’t have ADHD.  It was all anxiety.”

Dr. Niceguy: “That so?”  (looking more uncomfortable, clearly wanting the topic dropped.)

Me:  “Yes.  That is what they concluded after she spent a month in a research hospital being tested and assessed for a whole host of possible psychological issues.

“Did you know that giving a Stimulant – as you did – to a person with anxiety will only serve to make that person MORE anxious?  That even though you explained to me and my daughter that Concerta would simply cause the “little executive” in her brain to take charge and help her focus, what it actually does it STIMULATE whatever is going on in her brain – intensifying whatever thoughts and feelings she is having?  Did you know that?  Because I did not know that, but I relied on YOU, as her PRIMARY CAREGIVER to give us a good accurate picture of what Concerta would do to my child.  In fact, I remember telling you that I was extremely nervous about putting her on medication, that I worried about her not eating (which, in fact, happened) and becoming “like a zombie”, losing the joyful bubbly part of herself (which also, in fact, happened).  But you assured me that we could mitigate the eating concerns by giving her lots of fattening shakes (and thereby putting me in charge of my adolescent’s eating habits at a time when she needed to be taking ownership of them) and that the zombie concern was overblown.”

Dr. Niceguy: “Yes… well… uh…” (eyes dart around the room, fixes on Luke and makes it clear he wants to move on to the patient in front of him.)

Me.  “I wonder, Dr. Niceguy, What would you call it when a child gets out of bed at 2am and writes an expletive-laden letter for her parents before walking out the door and wandering TWO MILES into the forest, without a flashlight in the dark of night, in search of, and I quote, her ‘coyote family’?  Would that qualify, do you think, as zombie-like behavior?”

Dr. Niceguy: “That’s extreme behavior, certainly.  But perhaps there were other mental or emotional issues…?”

Me:  “Yes!  Certainly!  The sorts of issues one ought not to stimulate, wouldn’t you agree?”

Dr. Niceguy: “There are always risks with any medicine…”

Me: “True.  It would have been good if you had mentioned those risks.  Though frankly I doubt you were aware of them.  I wonder, are you also unaware of the fact that people who have or are at risk for Bipolar Disorder should not take stimulants?  That a stimulant, such as Concerta, could trigger a manic episode, or even psychotic behavior?  A number of psychiatrists have told us that it is possible that is what happened to our child.”

Dr. Niceguy: (Becoming defensive while still clearly trying to placate the crazy woman) “She did not have any of the symptoms for bipolar.  It does not typically onset until much older.”

Me: “Actually, Pediatric Bipolar Disorder is often misdiagnosed as ADHD.  Did you know that?  There’s a whole host of emotional and mental disorders that share symptoms with ADHD.  And since it’s the Favorite Diagnosis of Schools and Pediatricians everywhere (to say nothing of the Drug Companies making insane amounts of money off of ADHD meds), it’s likely that a number of your patients whom you have diagnosed as ADHD do not in fact have ADHD.  Did you know that?  No?  Because it’s easier just to look at the symptoms and jump to the most popular and easiest to medicate disorder, isn’t it. After months of testing, we still don’t know if Leah has a mood disorder – but the risk is clearly there.  And given that you spent all of ten minutes asking me about her adhd and the panic attack that brought us to your office, it’s obvious you never even thought about such a possibility.  Doesn’t that seem a little irresponsible to you?”


…  Only one problem with this scenario:  Younger Son needs a physical.  Also see above re: terrible people-pleasing tendencies.  However, I must say, I feel a little better just typing it out.  And maybe, just maybe, someone in the big wide internet, will gain some knowledge that will prevent another kid from being mislabeled and mis-medicated.  A girl can dream, anyway.