Thoughts from the Fog

(I’ve been largely wordless for a while, but just lately, whilst scribbling to myself, found a way to answer my lifelong least favorite question: ‘How are you?’ So this, among other things, is how I’ve been.)

*

Fog gets me.

One thought, while driving toward the city: How something insubstantial as fog can make something so there be not there. The Golden Gate. Aged. Iconic. Large. Unmistakable. And yet, sometimes, invisible. Disguised in sky stuff.

(Much like the moon. Kin, maybe, in their souls. Or both just made much of by those who love them.)

Another thought: This place is wonderful. But this place is of America the Terrible. But is this country rotten, or this nation? Or its leaders? How much blame upon the people, how much on the powers that shouldn’t be?

People are awful. Some of them.

People are wonderful. Some again.

Our best and worst are leagues apart and held in single hearts.

This people and place are built of everything.

I don’t know how to bring that back around to the fog.

*

The thing with this pandemic is it makes it hard to find new things to say.

After all these months (has it really only been a few?), it’s just the same old problems over again. Even the new issues are mere reboots of what’s been wrong all along.

This country does not look good naked, and all but the occasional face covering is coming off now.

Some folks are paid to talk about it. Plenty will do it for free. Or for change. But what does someone like me have to add? I’ve seen no more and know no better. All I can do is echo the obvious.

As for other topics… what? I’ve read a book? I’ve watched a show? The light and the water danced beautifully on the bay this morning? It’s nothing to mark the days with. Lack of routine turns to sameness. The new normal is nothing is normal.

Twenty, thirty minutes in a line spaced six-ish feet apart for fifty bucks’ worth of socks.

Remember when we’d browse the mall for fun? Killing time before the times killed us. Making mini memories before yesterday was March and today’s August and what can we point to in between that felt like living?

There’s a version of hell that looks just like this. Probably more than one.

How’s this for bringing it back to the fog: I’m feeling lost in the blur. My existence, my reality, there then not there. Invisible Golden Gate. I’m forgetting myself. I’m a blank-eyed stranger. I’m alone in my own skin, and my skin is a bus heading out into nowhere, empty save for me, yet still crowded with the thought of people who used to inhabit these seats and might want to later, so let’s not get comfortable, legs crossed tight against imagined space invasion.

I’m social distanced from my own heart.

A soul in quarantine.

The virus knows more than one way to steal your breath.

PhotoFunia-1596471104_2

In Which I Have a Lot of Books (and Sometimes Even Read Them)

Once upon a day in the apocalyptic era that is 2020, I read a post by The Story Sponge featuring one of those fun blogging games that likes to make the rounds – namely, the “Do I Have That Book?” Challenge.

And then I forgot and did nothing about it, because my insides have become a wasteland ravaged by anxiety re: current events.

Then I came across the post again, because I’d had the good sense to keep it in my inbox, and – pleasant surprise! – this time, my muse awoke from its coma long enough to help me scour my bookshelves to see if I had enough qualifying titles for a proper play-along.

For the results – (including several very pretty snapshots of books of all sorts) – read onward!

<<<>>>

Do you have a book with deckled edges?

At least one! The dark, brooding, and super-Shakespearean “If We Were Villains” by M. L. Rio.

If We Were Villains

Borrowed it from the library, gave it 5 stars in my heart, and laid hands on my own copy. Will surely get around to re-reading one day.

Do you have a book with 3 or more people on the cover?

Although one could argue, based upon the trio of novellas within, that there are only two people on the cover, we’ll play illustrator’s advocate and call it seven. Behold, “Penric’s Progress” by Lois McMaster Bujold.

Penric's Progress

I didn’t know ‘nerdy young person has to learn to navigate life while playing host to and becoming friends with a tangle of strong personalities who need to ride his/her body to interact with the material world’ was a genre unto itself, but – with both this collection and my own “Inspired” novels sitting on my shelves – apparently it is! Penric and Annabelle Iole Gray would have much to chat about, I’m sure.

Do you have a book based on another book?

I’ll do you one better: A book based on a musical based on a book! “The Complete Phantom of the Opera” by George Perry.

Complete Phantom of the Opera, The

I believe there’s actually a copy of the O.G. “Phantom of the Opera” novel by Gaston Leroux somewhere in the house, too, though I’ve not yet read it.

(*quietly cracks up at the use of the term ‘O.G.’ in the context of Phantom*)

Do you have a book with a title 10 letters long?

A tricky ask, but ignore the subtitle, and I found one! “Over the Top” by Jonathan Van Ness.

Over the Top

The first acquisition in my literary Queer Eye collection, soon followed by the respective memoirs of Tan France and Karamo Brown, and Antoni Porowski’s gorgeous cookbook. Still waiting on the existence of a memoir and/or interior design book from Bobby Berk. Y’all lemme know if you’ve heard anything about that.

Do you have a book with a title that starts and ends with the same letter?

Now see, I could’ve used Tan France’s memoir (“Naturally Tan”), but I didn’t want to feature two Fab 5 titles back to back, so I chose instead “Thorn in My Heart” by Liz Curtis Higgs.

Thorn in My Heart

Is also one of the few titles one could place in the “Do you have a romance novel that reimagines a Biblical love triangle in 18th-century Scotland?” category, so bravo.

Do you have a Mass Market Paperback?

Every title I own in Brandon Sanderson’s “Mistborn” series fits the bill. Pictured here, the last in the series’ second threesome, “The Bands of Mourning”.

Bands of Mourning

…Which I’ll totally have to start reading over from the beginning, because I made it partway through before setting it aside for literal years, and no way in Scadrial will I remember any people, places, or plot that went down.

Do you have a book written by an author using a pen name?

Is it a pen name if it’s just literally your name, but you wrote your previous books under a different name that was… also just literally your name? We’ll say ‘yes’ so I can go with “Fortune’s Pawn” by Rachel Bach (which I have not only read, but have reviewed on my blog!).

Fortune's Pawn, 02 probably

Do you have a book with a character’s name in the title?

Almost the whole of my Robin Hood collection could claim that distinction.

Robin Hood Collection

Be it Robin’s name or Will Scarlet’s – (or, in the case of the relevant novels I’ve written, Allyn-a-Dale’s) – these books like to call themselves after the legendary characters within them.

Do you have a book with two maps in it?

I couldn’t think of any books of mine with multiple maps, so I semi-cheated by using one of my gal’s books instead: “Invisible Armies” by Max Boot.

Invisible Armies

Never thought I’d feel the need to say this, but thank you, Tirzah, for your lifelong fascination with history and warfare. It has at long last come in handy for me.

Do you have a book that was turned into a TV show?

I’m… not sure. Would you accept a TV show that was turned into books? If so, I present the Diagnosis Murder series by Lee Goldberg.

Diagnosis Murder

I’ve always loved a murder mystery. And if those mysteries star Dick Van Dyke as a fun-natured doctor-detective, so much the better. (Also pictured here: A couple of Monk titles – i.e. another murder-mystery-TV-show-turned-book-series by the same author.)

Do you have a book written by someone who was originally famous for something else? (Celebrity/athlete/politician/tv personality…)

Again, setting aside all my Queer Eyes, this time in favor of “Gmorning, Gnight!: Little Pep Talks for Me & You” by Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Gmorning, Gnight

…Y’know, that guy famous for, what? Some roles on TV, creating and starring in a couple of Broadway musicals, writing songs for Polynesian princesses and lightning lamps in Depression-era London… Nothing major.

Book illustrations by Johnny Sun, with whom I’m not as familiar, though a glance at his bio shows that he has done/is doing A LOT as well.

Do you have a book with a clock on the cover?

It might be in pieces, but that assemblage of gears and Roman numerals on the “Mechanized Masterpieces” anthology definitely looks like a clock, right? Yes, good, I thought so, too. (Also both read and reviewed on my blog, babyyyyy.)

Mechanized Masterpieces, 02 probably

Do you have a book of poetry?

A browse through a secondhand bookstore got me this little treasure: “Old English Ballads: Selected and Arranged for Use in Elementary Schools” by John A. Long.

Old English Ballads

Are all of ye olde poems inside about Robin Hood? No. But are several of them? Yesssssss! Have I bothered to sit down and read them yet? Mind your business!

Do you have a book with an award stamp on the cover?

I’d originally planned to showcase this one in answer to Do you have a book with 3 or more people on the cover?, but changed it up because, while “Penric’s Progress” has a crowd on its face, it lacks the Newberry Honor Book seal proudly displayed upon “The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, the Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog” by Adam Gidwitz (with illustrations by Hatem Aly).

Inquisitor's Tale, The

A humorous and deeply thoughtful novel, suitable for middle graders and so-called grownups alike. I highly recommend.

Do you have a book written by an author with the same initials as you?

Ignoring all the books that have my actual name on them, let’s go with “The Thirteenth Tale” by Diane Setterfield – quite possibly the first literary book for grownups I ever loved. I really must get ‘round to her recent latest novel, “Once Upon a River”, sometime. We’ll see how soon my library can hook me up.

Thirteenth Tale, The

Do you have a book of short stories?

Quite a few. Selecting one more or less at random, here’s “Clever Gretchen and Other Forgotten Folktales” retold by Alison Laurie.

Clever Gretchen

Grabbed secondhand during fairytale collecting phase. (‘Cause hey, for all I knew, I’d have another 27 Wilderhark Tales to write and would need all the source material I could get.) Have yet to read it, but surely … surely … someday.

Do you have a book that’s between 500-510 pages long?

Ooh, toughie! I flipped through a number of my books and couldn’t find anything that fits those exact parameters. But if you leave out the author’s note at the end, queer historical romp “A Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue” by Mackenzi Lee ends on page 501.

Gentleman's Guide, The

(Not that I would ever leave out the author’s note. I’m a very cover-to-cover sort of reader.)

Do you have a book that was turned into a movie?

How’s about “Ivanhoe” by Sir Walter Scott? I have neither watched the movie nor read the book, but a quick online search confirmed my assumption that such a movie must exist (because don’t most quote-unquote classics of Western literature?), and OF COURSE I’ll read the book eventually. It’s got a guest appearance by ROBIN HOOD, for Sherwood’s sake.

Ivanhoe

Do you have a graphic novel?

Just the one, I think: “The Veligent” by Melody Peña.

Veligent, The

Read and loved it way back when it was more than a fantastic collection of digital pages shared by the author/artist online, and checked in on her every couple years or so to see if I could someday acquire it in physical form. Happy day, I finally got to help Kickerstarter the hardback into being! (And got a magical little Poad™ figurine as a thank-you. ^_^)

Do you have a book written by two or more authors?

Any number of my short story collections could claim this one. Just because I love me a feywood-esque, I’ll choose “The Green Man: Tales from the Mythic Forest” edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling.

Green Man, The

And it’s just as big a surprise to me as to any of you that I have, in fact, gotten around to reading this one! Miracles abound! Don’t ask me if I remember the details of any of the stories!

<<<>>>

High five, muse o’ mine! We actually made it through the whole of this blog post without getting squished under chronic existential dread. And if you, lovely readers, have felt likewise inspired to share your bookshelves’ contents – or have thoughts/opinions/feelings on any of the titles I’ve featured today – share all with me in the comments!

Until next the blogging bug bites,

~ Danielle

A Tale of Two Galleries

We walk into the gallery. Outside, a horsehead sculpture, smile charmingly smug. Inside, acrylic whimsy stretched in magnificent detail across every wall.

She greets us upon entry, compliments our outfits, follows our progress from frame to frame. She talks, she talks, she talks.

“Where did you get your coats?”

We forget.

“Well, coats are great. Now put your coat money toward a thousand-dollar painting.”

Probably a thrift store coat, in at least one case. Hardly a comparable expense.

“Yeah, my daughter’s a thrift shopper. Wears her finds to galleries in Europe. You can buy that painting in hundred-dollar installments, you know.”

We really can’t afford—

“You’d just spend it on food or something, otherwise.”

We really don’t have the space—

“I live in a studio. I had no money, once. Anyone can come up with excuses not to invest in a painting.”

Uh-huh… Ooh, we would live in that painting, if we could…

“You can. If you buy it and put it on your wall.”

(What part of ‘we have neither the money nor the wall area’ is she not hearing? Where does one hang an artwork they skipped on rent to obtain?)

We’re tuning her out, now. Finish our browsing. Purchase a small something to gift a loved one, no thanks to her. Wonder if she really believed that she had ever been like us; and if she was, which path do we avoid so as never to become her?

*

We walk into the gallery. Statuary looms. A four-foot frog, a large-as-life lion, a dark metal horse rampant, all in a cunning and costly clutter.

He points out that the tiny figurines we’re eying in the back-corner cases are such-and-such a price. (Inexpensive enough that we could buy them, exorbitant enough that we couldn’t justify it.) We give him fair warning that we’re too broke for this place, just dream shopping while on a sightseeing jaunt.

“Oh, where are you from?”

Not far, as of recently. In fact, one of us is employed just a few minutes away.

“Nice place to work.”

It is, at that. One of us keeps up the chatter (it isn’t me), while the other (it is) crouches over a bronze – a girl stretched on the ground with a book ‘neath her nose.

He watches from behind the counter, nonchalantly digs into his lunch, asks with mild interest, “What’s she reading?”

To our delight, a half-legible page reveals its heart with an ‘Open sesame’ –the tale of Ali Baba! – and just as magic, one half of our two hearts (mine) falls in love with the girl and her reading. No point looking at the price tag, though. Still no money, no space.

Our other heart half (hers) leaps at a statue of two golden otters, large and sinuous, the usual cutesy take on the creatures eschewed in favor of predatory power.

He – (somehow also like a predator, stately and sensual, but lately fed and therefore less a threat) – marvels at my other half’s impassioned otter rant. “Are you an interior designer?”

No, she’s just got a lot of feelings.

Nearly out the door, we pass a dish fashioned of translucent waves and the undines who dance among them. My eyes, on it, full of longing. Her eyes, on me, all affection. His eyes, on her; his words, to me: “She’ll get it for you.”

She would if she could. She will when she can. Someday, when we’re wealthy, it’s here we’ll return, for readers, otters, undines.

As for paintings… well. We’ll see who’s doing the selling.

Gallery of Us_PhotoFunia-1583632441
A gallery of us, living rich lives on the cheap.

Home, Dear Home

A sigh from Gilbert, the elegant one, as he sips at tea and gazes out from the couch, ‘cross the deck, o’er the trees. “It feels like Germany.”

That’s what our hearts said when first we saw the place.

The open house for the apartment was scheduled for a November noon. Tirzah and I arrived with many minutes to spare, and so elected to walk a bit up the hill from the house. And it looked of Germany. Smelled of Germany. Stirred our souls the way a ramble through little German woods and villages ever did. We’d been aching, ever since we parted ways, for the best of our old German home – my inner Gilbert missing it dearest of all. Now here was a piece of it, in Marin County by the bay.

And inside the apartment itself, all was fresh and light and – (compared to our little guest house in Fresno) – spacious. For Tirzah, at last, a proper kitchen, complete with a full-sized oven, a functional dishwasher, counter space. For me? Oh, just everything, everything. Even the things less than perfect called out to be mine.

We had other appointments in other apartments, and sensibly scheduled more, striving to go into them all with open minds. But this first place we toured was the one we wanted. This, we said, smitten, was Crush House. This was our house.

If we could only convince the reticent landlords that we’d be able to make good on the sky-high rent they demanded.

*

A yip from Galliard, the man-puppy de France, as he bounces at the windows over the bed. “Oh, ho-ho! Look you – it is deer!”

It is always deer.

Doe Out the Window_copy
The deer without

The evening we received the keys (inexpressible thanks to the friend of the landlords who’d run the open house and advocated for us every hopeful, fretful step of the way), we stood out on the deck, breathing excitement in and gratitude out, when a step sounded in the underbrush below. We peered through the dark, alert for… what? A man-sized person? A horse-sized dog? Instead, a doe, roaming the yard with nary a care for our voices nearby.

The night before we moved in proper, just transferring the bulk of our luggage from our Airbnb in preparation for the real thing (more thanks inexpressible to the lovely lady and her sons who shared their home with us during that limbo week in between a hotel and the new beginning awaiting us), a shadow walked the road mere paces from our carport. Into the streetlights, a stag – perfectly aware of us, and rightly confident that we would know better than to threaten his progress.

The day we labored our boxes, bits of furniture, and gargantuan mattress up the steps, around the front stoop, into the house (there really is no expressing how thankful I am that this neighborhood’s scenic hills defeated neither us nor the U-Haul that was in no way designed to navigate such a steep, narrow, winding way), a mother-and-fawn duo watched from various vantages. The doe’s bland stare conveyed silent judgment. It was becoming increasingly clear that the herd ran this territory, and they weren’t of the opinion that our presence was adding much community value.

*

A cough for attention from Will Scarlet, the man, the myth, The Most™. “I notice that we have yet to put up our John Barrowman pictures.”

There’s a lot of art we’re still wondering how to work onto the walls. A bit of furniture we’re still wanting to gather. A good deal of progress, however, has been made on both fronts. The aforementioned couch was a vital thrift store find. The papasan chair in our bedroom corner, scooped up for free from the curb while driving back from a day visit to San Francisco. The cubby shelves in our bathroom, purchased from the Target just a parking lot away from an invigorating waterfront walk. Deck table and chairs, obtained via a community app recommended to me while carpooling with a seasonal coworker. Massive desk-and-bookcase unit in the living room… well, the whole of that harrowing tale can be found on my Twitter.

Gazing Out After the Morning's Rain
The deer within

As for art, pieces of us and what we cherish are everywhere. We even managed to arrange sufficient lights, knickknacks, reindeer antler headbands, etc., to bring a sense of Christmas into the space for December. All this while juggling, for the first time: Gas-and-electric bills; internet account ownership; renters’ insurance; a work-to-home commute through actual, ridiculous rush hour traffic. Next-level adulthood is a lot.

But we’re making it happen.

On the days we feel strong and the days we feel weak. Whether we’re acing it or barely scraping by. When dragging ourselves up to alarms that sound before the sun, and while settling down with a plate of leftovers and a comfort Netflix session. This is the miracle we’re making. Our little Germany. Our house of deer. Our imaginary roommates with their cheers, complaints, and constant commentary.

Ours, all ours.

In Which the World Scrambles to Catch Up

Robin Hood looks up with a smile and wave from his seat at a coffee shop table. “Danielle! Good to see you again.”

I settle into the seat across from him. “Right? It’s been too long since last time.”

“Just a bit over a year now, I believe – with that so-called coffee shop a mere set on a stage, you portrayed by the Merry Men’s minstrel, and my crazy cousin directing the show.”

“Yeah, well,” say I, recalling fondly, “Will & Allyn’s Interactive Theatre skits are fun, but take a lot of brain energy to script. Easier just to hang out with you one-on-one in some quiet corner of imagination.”

Robin nods, sipping his beverage. “So, what’s new?” His eyes sparkle through the aromatic steam. “Or might well I ask, what isn’t?

I loose a long and multilayered sigh. “So, so much is new. To start with, remember how excited I was last year about landing that Amazon fulfillment center job?”

“Weeping with delight, if I rightly remember.”

“Mm. Well, the weeping remained,” I say grimly. “Turns out the job’s demands and culture are not, shall we diplomatically say, a good fit for me and Tirzah. Work-related injuries led to her resignation, and I was eager to follow before my own body and soul broke down beyond repair. But until she or I could find another job, I needed to stay where I was; rent for our adorable little home wasn’t going to pay itself, alas.”

Robin’s hum and crinkled expression radiate sympathy. “That sounds like quite the unhappy burden to bear.”

“It was,” I acknowledge, “but for Tirzah’s sake, ‘twas borne voluntarily. Her body and soul needed to know they were in a safe place for recovery before she could fully face the challenge of finding something new.”

JournalQuote_AlreadyASuccess
From my personal journal, Oct. 18, 2019

“Was the Fresno job search better, this time around?”

I’ve only just been served my tea, and I almost snort the first mouthful out my nose. “As desert-dry as ever. Sometimes I’m amazed there are two employed folks to rub together, in that city. Tirzah did come across an extraordinary opportunity elsewhere, though. And by elsewhere, I mean San Francisco.”

San Fran Magic Triptych

Robin’s brows rise. “You love that city.”

“I do! And the idea of moving there…” I break off, speechless with overwhelm. “It would have been magical. But she didn’t get the job.”

“Oh, luv…”

The time-honored nod of a mourner accepting condolences. “That was really hard – to have hopes fly so high, then come crashing down. But it served a purpose. It raised our gaze. We realized that if we aspired to live in or near San Francisco, there was no point continuing to apply for jobs in Fresno. So we centered our efforts on the Bay Area. Even visited there again, at the start of my birthday month, to help cement our intentions via a neuro-linguistic programming conference.”

“Neuro-linguistic…?”

NLP, for short. Any case, we were dreaming big and striving hard for— huh.” A retrospective pause. “It felt like a slogging eternity, but I guess this chapter had its beginnings in July and is in the midst of coming to a close. I’d sort of dared the universe to get me free of Amazon by my birthday.”

“…And?” Robin prompts, when I leave him hanging.

“That’s the day T and I drove three hours, one way, so she could have an in-person interview at an assisted-living facility.” I smile. “And she got offered the job on the spot.”

Robin’s grin could outshine the sun (*cough* nobody tell Raeóryn *cough*). “DAR-ling!”

31 years old

I wriggle with joy. “That was a Wednesday. They scheduled her to start on Tuesday. That gave us less than a week to pack up and move out – which we managed, like the legends we are, though it would’ve been worlds easier,” I say pointedly, “if we’d had a legendary band of outlaws physically present to lug boxes and furniture into storage.”

Robin shrugs his apologies. “You know we’d have been there if we could. Same for when you’re ready to move in somewhere new. Which will be… when?”

“Not entirely sure yet. It’s hotel and Airbnb life, to start with, because Tirzah’s job alone won’t provide income enough to reassure any potential landlords of our financial stability.”

“Ah. So it must wait until you’ve found a job, too.”

A casual sip of my tea. “Oh, I’ve just done that.”

“YOU—?!”

“At a children’s museum. The day before drafting this blog post,” I say, smirking to keep from squealing. “That was a Wednesday. I’m scheduled to start—”

No.”

“Yep. Tuesday.”

JournalQuote_RealMagic
From my personal journal, Oct. 28, 2019

“One week and a whirlwind apart,” Robin marvels. “’Twould seem you’ve got a strong share of magic to work with, after all.”

“’Twould indeed,” I murmur, weary and wonder-filled, tired and twinkling with hope. “It’s been a ride-and-a-half, Robin Hood, but I think it’s taking me where I need to go. Where I want to go, even. I can’t wait to see which blessings land in my lap next!”

“If things carry on at the rate they’ve been,” says Robin, raising his drink in salute, “that wait may not be long at all.”

San Fran Magic Diptych

It Gets Better (Will & Allyn’s Interactive Theatre)

W.A.I.T. Button, 78 percent“Welcome, one and all,” says Will Scarlet, with a broad smile and a bow, “to the continuation of last week’s Will & Allyn’s Interactive Theatre, All About the Author Edition!”

“To catch up on what you may have missed or forgotten,” says Allyn-a-Dale, “click here. Or simply read on. Given the slapdash way Will scripts these things, there will probably be an info-dump summary soon after curtain-up.”

“Nobody asked you to go all theatre critic on me, minstrel. Anyway!” Another smile for the audience. “Make yourselves comfortable as we now present to you: ‘It Gets Better’!”

<<<>>>

[The curtain rises on a table set for two. On one side sits Robin Hood. On the other, Allyn-a-Dale, dressed like Danielle in a casual Allyn-a-Dale cosplay. Behind them, the backdrop shows other occupied tables in silhouette. A dark roasted scent spritzes into the house, transporting the audience toward a 4D coffee shop experience.]

Robin [hand up like, ‘hold on a moment’ ]: So, let me get this straight: You left your job and residence in Yosemite National Park, applied along with Tirzah Duncan for a spot in Fresno’s new Amazon fulfillment center, stormed the stronghold anyway when she got hired but you didn’t, and briefly ended up taking orders at a Burger King drive-through?

Allyn/Danielle [glancing out at the audience like, ‘called it’ ]: In info-dump summary, yeah.

Robin: Whew.  But you said ‘briefly’. So you weren’t there long, right? What happened next?

Allyn/Danielle [brightening ]: Ah. Now we’re getting to the good part. It began around the same time I started at Burger King. You see, there was this neighbor of the Duncans’…

[The general stage lights dim, leaving two bright spotlights – one on Allyn, and one stage left, where enters Lady Marion Hood, arms full of half-painted holiday lawn ornaments.]

Marion/Neighbor: I don’t know how in the world I’m going to get all these spooky decorations finished in time to sell for the Halloween rush! If only there were a reliable someone in the neighborhood with time, artistic talent, and the desire for a little ready cash.

Allyn/Danielle [raising a hand ]: I think you’ll find I match that description fair well. Fret no more, for so long as I’m working under 20-some hours a week, I shall help you with your professional painting projects.

Marion/Neighbor: Oh, thank God!

Robin [as the general lights come back up, returning the stage to the coffee shop ]: Painting, eh? Sounds fun.

Allyn/Danielle: It had its moments. Mostly, I was just glad of the gas money it provided.

Robin: Why, do you have a car now?

Allyn/Danielle: Oh, did I skip over that part? Yeah. Used Camry. Insurance shopping. Ongoing games with the DMV. There’s been a lot of adulting I don’t have time to recall in detail.

Robin: Well, outrageous gas prices these days notwithstanding, it’s gotta be handy having your own transportation to work.

Allyn/Danielle [smile spreading across face ]: You mean, to the Amazon fulfillment center.

Robin [astonished ]: But… you didn’t get the job…

Allyn/Danielle: Not back in summer, no. But applications reopened in September. And this time, I got in.

[A shout of “BABE!” erupts from offstage, and in rushes Will Scarlet as Will Scarlet, sweeping Allyn from his chair and into a hug. The lights sparkle and dance in pink and red; gold confetti rains from above.]

Festival Lights

Will: I’m so happy for you, Dani-babe! You’ve slogged through so much – circumstances less than ideal, both outside your body and inside your brain – but at last, it gets better! At last, the full-time Fresno employment you’ve been trying to land since leaving Illinois! WAY. TO. GO!

Allyn/Danielle [half laughing, half trying to wriggle into a position more comfortable for breathing ]: Thanks, Will. For the flamboyant congratulations, and for supporting me inside my head all along the way. But put me down so I can tell Robin about the second best part!

Will [depositing Allyn back in chair ]: By which you mean, the Best Part, Part 2!

Robin [amused and intrigued ]: What news can possibly bear that distinction?

Allyn/Danielle [grinning at Will ]: Cue the lights.

[With a snap of Will’s fingers, the celebratory lights are replaced by the two flashback spots on Allyn and on Marion, returned to stage left.]

Allyn/Danielle: Huzzah and alack, good neighbor! My hours are soon to bump up to 40 a week. I must needs bid goodbye to Burger King and, I fear, to assisting with your painting projects.

Marion/Neighbor: Alack indeed! You’ve been wonderful, Danielle, and I’m sorry to lose your aid. But hey, I’m participating in an art show across town, next week. I hope you’ll come.

Allyn/Danielle: I’ll be there.

[The backdrop lights up like an evening backyard full of vendors’ tents. Jazz music wafts through the air. Will steps up to share Allyn’s spotlight, back in his Tirzah costume.]

Will/Tirzah: Hey, check out that little guesthouse by the pool!

Allyn/Danielle: A ‘for rent’ sign in the window. Too bad we probably can’t afford anything in this neighborhood.

Will/Tirzah [pointedly ]: We probably couldn’t score an extra photo session with John Barrowman at Comic Con either. I’m gonna go talk to people. [steps out of spotlight ]

Allyn/Danielle [shuddering with social anxiety ]: Better you than me. Oooh, someone’s selling a really cool coat!

Robin [taking Will’s place in Allyn’s spotlight ]: Tell me your Best Part sequel isn’t just a new coat.

Allyn/Danielle: Could’ve been, depending on the coat, but no. Look ye there.

[He nods toward the second spotlight, which follows Marion and the newly arrived Queen Guinevere, dressed in a snazzy old-lady pantsuit, across the stage.]

Allyn/Danielle: Robin, meet Flashback!Art Show Hostess/Landlady. Ma’am, Robin Hood from the future.

Guinevere/Landlady: The future?

Robin: By way of the distant past, yes.

Guinevere/Landlady: Huh. Well, Danielle, I’ve spoken with Tirzah, and our mutual neighbor friend here – [gestures to Marion ] – speaks highly of you as a person, so how would you two crazy kids like to rent my guesthouse?

Allyn/Danielle [gasping ]: We can afford that?

Will/Tirzah [back in the spotlight ]: With our Amazon salary times two? Quite reasonably.

Allyn/Danielle: And… how soon can we move in?

Guinevere/Landlady: Next week should allow time to finish having the bathroom painted a lovely blue.

Allyn/Danielle: My… favorite color… [swoons into Will’s arms ]

Robin: A new job, AND a new house?!

Will/Tirzah [beaming at a thousand watts ]: And all settled in before her 30th birthday, too.

Allyn/Danielle [coming to ]: I mean, we still need a dining table, but yeah. We actually made it. [teary smile ] We’re finally… home.

[Robin and Will group hug Allyn tightly. Marion and Guinevere raise plastic cups from the art show’s mini bar in a toast. The party music segues into a jazzy version of “Don’t Dream It’s Over”, just because Danielle really likes that song. And the curtain comes down on the happy tableau – though, as far as Danielle’s real life is concerned, it may still be on the rise.]

<<<>>>

“Aaaand SCENE!” says Will.

“Thank you, rarely enough, to real life,” says Allyn, “for providing us with inspiration for our art to imitate.”

“If you enjoyed yourselves (or if you didn’t, but you totally did, right?), don’t forget to leave suggestions for future productions in the comments! Words or phrases we’ve got to include, a prop to use, a prompt to run with… anything goes! ‘Til next time, friends: Will and Allyn out!”

The End Times of Yosemite Dan

On the first of December, 2017, I entered Yosemite National Park for the second time.

My inaugural visit to the park had been just that – a visit, as a tourist.

Five years later, I was about to become a resident.

That was seven very short, very long months ago. Back when the days were winter cold, the nights all layer upon layer of stars, the waterfalls abundant and full, an ever-present roar behind the call of ravens and Steller’s jays.

Now we’re deep into a scorching summer. The falls fade fast. The mountains blur out behind a choking veil of smoke. The sun burns red. Not far away, the woods just straight up burn. Wildfire has come to California. The park’s crowds of sightseers thin. The humidity overwhelms the Majestic Hotel’s walk-in refrigerators, forcing hundreds of pounds of refugee food into cramped trailers on the back docks.

Aesthetically, it all looks rather like the end of the world.

Realistically, it’s only the end of my time here.

My Tirzah left for Fresno a month ago, and with her departure came a familiar feeling. An itch of entrapment. A need for escape. The lonely ache for home that’s only ever further from reach when she’s gone from my side.

It was time to go.

Well, first it was time to find Fresno employment, so I wouldn’t be ditching the park and an income all in one go.

‘Twas a frustrating job hunt. Blame it on my curse: For whatever I most desire, I am forever doomed to call into the void, often without so much as an echo in response.

But finally, a former manager of Tirzah’s hired— well, not Me so much as Tirzah’s Highly Recommended Friend. I shall simply have to show my new boss why employers are always bummed to see the back of me. Lord knows my current manager is loath to let me go.

Most Valuable Employee tweet
Narrator: “Alas, her flight was to be none so swift and easy…”

And part of me is sad to leave the Yosemite I’ve come to know. I’ve seen her blanketed in snow, spilling over with floodwater, playing in the wind. I’ve wandered her pathways and rivers, climbed her boulders, crossed her fallen trees. I’ve smacked her mosquitoes and painted her ducks. I’ve treasured every rainbow she gave me.

Yosemite Watercolor, Mine_Rivertime
“Rivertime” –  Deshipley, 2018; watercolor, painted en plein air in Yosemite National Park

She actually gave me many things – memories chief among them.

And independence.

Resilient courage.

The reassurance that no matter how life’s challenges flatten me, I’m tough enough to eventually rise up for more.

Also, hella biceps.

There is much I’ll miss. But I’m ready to move on. Ready to leave Yosemite Dan behind, and be… still me. Just, as of next week, planted somewhere else.

Next chapter ho…

Open Journal: Home is… Where?

My sad, stressed-out brain, one morning at work: “I want to go home.”

Me: …

Brain: …

Me: “What home do you mean?”

Upon reflection, I didn’t mean my Yosemite tent-cabin – although, without another six hours to go on the clock, I’d have gratefully settled for that.

That was before the employee housing office handed me and Tirzah a third roommate – who is, first impressionally, a not unpleasant young lady. But to my highly sensitive, germophobic, and socially anxious self, no space I have to share with an outsider is strictly safe. And if I feel unsafe, how can I feel truly at home?

For ages, home was my parents’ house. It had my stuff. My food. My family.

Many a dream transported me back to the condo called home for my first seven years – to the patio off the living room, and its view of the pond with its willows and ducks.

Most fond memories take place in the little yellow house that followed – three years of horsing around in the basement; making crafts during cartoons in the TV room; more hours of playing, writing, and learning on the computer than you’d think a single day could hold.

Then the place I’ve lived the longest – our Victorian beast in a Michigan-shore ghetto. The house that first gave me my own bedroom, and (after years of begging) a dog. The heavy sliding doors that compartmentalized half of the first floor. The kitchen too laughably small for all five of us at once. The stuffy attic braved only for necessities like fancy clothes and drum practice. The computer room with its cantankerous printers. The sun room with its karate-sweat mats and invasive ladybugs. The driveway that never seemed longer than in winter, when it was covered in snow and the blower was busted, so out came the shovels, day after day.

Photo Shoot Stairwell
Not to mention my favorite photo shoot stairwell.

This was home. Until I outgrew it. There is – and is no – going back.

On vacation, home’s wherever you happen to leave your bags. The hotel or hostel or guest room you ditch to explore and to experience; to shop and sightsee; to get sick of your companions, all your good times saved for later in Polaroidsdisposable camerasdigital cameras … selfies. Then back you go, to flop wearily onto questionable comforters, surfing through the local channels for anything fun or familiar, wondering where dinner’s coming from – head back out, or order in? Depends how sunburned, waterlogged, footsore you feel.

That room’s your home base, ‘til the traveling’s done. But you know it’s no more than a placeholder.

I called Germany home, however half-true it was. (The forest truer than the house shared with [never mind him].)

I called that apartment behind a Chicago store home, however temporarily.

I may sometimes call home the down-the-mountain destination for which Tirzah and I fight public transportation every weekend. Her parents’ home. Where I happened to leave most of my bags.

Me: “Is that where you meant? Or there? There? Or there?”

Brain: …

Me: “Well?”

Heart: “You know where we mean.”

I don’t know exactly where. I don’t know precisely when. But what is meant, I know.

Home will mean my stuff. My food. My Tirzah.

Safety. Privacy. Solitude.

Adult annoyances, doubtless. Rent, utilities, homesteader headaches.

Not all of it fun. But all of it ours.

Mine.

That place at the end of your vacationexile … odyssey,

where you stagger in late, let your bags drop for the last time,

and breathe.

The Continuing Adventures of Yosemite Dan

Yosemite Dan

“So, how’s life in Yosemite National Park?”

I’m glad you asked, unspecified italicized voi— Wait. Didn’t you already ask that question, back in January?

“Danielle. It’s practically June. Things may have changed.”

You’ve got me there, voice. Heck, has anything at all stayed the same?? Let’s run down the list and see…

The Job:

For one thing, I’m no long a steward in the dish pit of the Majestic Yosemite Hotel. (Not officially, anyway…) As of the end of March, I’ve been promoted to Storeroom Clerk. Same hotel, different end of the dining service spectrum: Instead of cleaning the dishes post-meal, I help stock the ingredients that make the meal possible. The job description includes helping the lead storeroom guy put in regular resupply orders, LOTS of heavy lifting when the deliveries come in (hey, Carpentry-Fail Danielle! Chin up, babe – you get stronger!), and helping cooks and servers locate where we put everything.

“How do you like the new job?”

I’m so tempted to add that question to my blog’s FAQ page… People are constantly asking me that, and I have to search an answer other than, “I’m constantly terrified I’m going to screw up and let everybody down and get yelled at and wanna die and—” I don’t know whether to blame the new job for this weeks-long anxiety attack, or if my brain just decided I’d been too chill for too long, but here we are.

Still, the new job comes with a higher hourly wage. So there’s that.

The Cast:

Unofficially? You’ll still find me in the dish pit, from time to time. Because the cast of Joes has undergone a drastic overhaul. Several Joes, both mentioned and omitted, have left the pit for other positions, with too few yet arriving to take their places as the busy summer season approaches*. Although, one very special Joe has lately joined the force.

Call her BFF Joe. Better known, Tirzah Duncan.

Yosemite - Work Besties

That’s right – my bestie came to live with me in Yosemite! And, y’know, to work with me, which we got to do for about two weeks before I moved to the storeroom. But that’s 90% of the reason I still don the latex gloves and vinyl apron in the never-ending battle against dirty dishes: No way am I leaving a skeleton crew that includes my girl Tirzah to struggle alone!

So between my official position, the dish pit overtime, and, oh yeah, the whole self-publishing author thing, I’m working something like 2-and-a-half jobs, and I have the total lack of energy to prove it.

Yosemite - New Job

The Perks:

Did I mention the part where my best friend and I are in Yosemite together??

Yosemite - Together Forever

I mean, given that we’re working two different full-time gigs, we don’t get to see each other as constantly as we’d like. But as of her second week here, at least we’re roomies! In a tent-cabin, right outside the dorms that used to house me. Though a bare third bed warns that the Powers That Be may eventually try to saddle us with a third roommate, the current situation is perfectly livable (and, with our dual paychecks, because #YaySteadyMoney, more than affordable). Moreover, the manager in charge of our schedules has been gamely working to accommodate our need for matching days off, meaning that we’re generally able to visit our loved ones in Fresno every week.

Which is extra good, because Tirzah would probably snap and drown Muttering Joe in a tub of pre-soak solution, otherwise.

The Takeaway:

It’s not a perfect paradise, but it time and again appears that I’m becoming adult enough to handle it. One helpful coping strategy is remembering that all things are temporary. I’ve only got to deal with all the stressful parts until I don’t. And until then, I have only to lift my eyes to the mountains to recall the parts I’ll miss when this chapter is behind me.

Yosemite_Mountain View

*Speaking of a surplus of job openings: Want a gig in one of the most gorgeous locations in the world? The dishwashers of the Majestic Yosemite Hotel want YOU!

…Assuming that you’re a reliable worker, game to be a(n often unsung) heroic part of a fast-paced kitchen environment.

Serious applicants, grab your resume and check out this link!

The Life and Times of Yosemite Dan

“So, how’s life in Yosemite National Park?”

I’m glad you asked, unspecified italicized voice*. It’s been… something else.

Yosemite - Adventure Usual

*(Or didn’t I name that voice, at one point? I wouldn’t put it past me.)

The Job:

I’ve been about a month working in the Majestic Yosemite Hotel as a dishwasher – ahem, make that as a Majestic Steward, according to my manager.

Yosemite - Majestic Steward

Running rinsed flatware, glassware, utensils, and more through the pair of heavy-duty machines. Working with the team to keep the kitchen’s dishes in some semblance of order for the chefs and servers. Walking the line between mind- and body-numbing repetition and cracking the puzzles of how to make everything fit on the shelves – like a living video game that dries out your hands and tweaks out your shoulder.

Two weeks into it, aforesaid manager sat me down to say that he was very much impressed with me and wished to groom me into his managerial position. Color me both flattered and terrified! Of course I strive to shine in whatever role I’m given, and due recognition for my efforts is always appreciated. But… a manager? At the Majestic? Whether I’m psychologically competent to handle the responsibility aside, I’ve never planned to stay in Yosemite long-term. By the end of the year (at the latest), I want a place in Fresno with the BFF.

This I told my manager, largely anticipating that would be that. But, “Oh, Fresno?” he says. “The company has a branch in Fresno. Let me make a phone call…” And he totally calls over there to see what kind of position might be available for me within a year’s time.

If that’s not a sign to go ahead and accept the position of his protégée, what in the world is?

The Cast:

I wasn’t long on the job before I started thinking this would all make for quite the book.

Yosemite - Outlaws AU

Not that I’m big on memoirs (unless you count the upcoming Inspired, which I halfway do), but something in the rom-com vein would suit. …minus any romance, at this point, since none of my coworkers have yet to make a move on my heart. That’s just as well. Amusing as these characters may be to read or write, they’re hardly Deshipley love interest material. I mean, just get a load of these guys – all, for the sake of identity-protection, to be called Jo[e]*.

*(As life would have it, Joe is the actual name of one of my coworkers. Which? I’m not about to tell.)

Mansplainer Joe = Here to make sure that I know he knows what I should know. Because I guess my quick competence is only visible to actual bosses, not just bossy people.

Dead Inside Joe = Going through the motions without any memory of why he once cared, if ever he did. Should probably get a different job before there’s nothing left of him to save.

Muttering Joe = What’s that he’s saying? Nobody knows, and I suppose it doesn’t matter, given that he’s 9 times out of 10 talking to himself. Freezes with overwhelm when the servers pile the unwashed dishes too high at the sink. Will be taking his break now whether there’s anyone to relieve him or not

Super Joe = This elderly man doesn’t speak English (I think he’s some kind of Eastern European?), but he can pull and stow dishes like nobody’s business. “He’s a superhero,” Dead Inside Joe says candidly. “Whenever he’s here, I feel safe.” Clearly, the Majestic Steward that Gotham needs right now.

Sociopathic Witch Priest Joe = …Or so he claims. There’s no telling how much of his manic chatter is true, and how much is him just trying to keep himself entertained. Can verifiably wash and load dishes at the speed magic, if and when he can be bothered to work at all. Loves my high-level use of English. Thinks we should plot a murder together.

Boy Band Joe = Looks like an early Nick Carter. Proudly calls himself the weirdest person here. (Which, wow, have you not met Sociopathic Witch Priest Joe?) Can barely keep it in his hairnet. Low-key resents the manager acting like this is a job to be taken seriously.

“It” Girl Jo = Or is Boy Band Joe the only one hollering for her attention all night? Whatever the case, I’ll totally buy her as the queen bee of the dish pit, proving that you don’t have to look like (or be) a Mean Girl to read as popular. Knows her job and gets it done. Caught me proofreading “Inspired” and showed an interest. Obviously one of the smart ones.

And those are just some of the folks I encounter day-to-day, to say nothing of the rest of the kitchen’s colorful crew. Come at me, Netflix; let’s collab on the next hit original series.

The Perks:

One free meal (often big enough to split into two), plus random tidbits to be had throughout the day. I’m saving like whoa on groceries!

Yosemite - Yum

Yosemite - Fruit

Yosemite - Veggies

Steady money via a job I don’t hate. I began to doubt I’d live to see the day.

Yosemite itself. Sure, I spend most of the winter’s limited daylight hours laboring indoors, but nature’s glory is never far, and is miraculously healing. My head and heart, praise God, are feeling healthier than they have since before the trauma at Germany’s end – and that goes for some of my characters, too.

– Seriously, my characters love it here. The trees and rivers and mountains fill them with joy. And since they’re inside of me, the benefits are partly mine to share.

– When I’ve got two days off to rub together, the BFF is just a few hours away by bus and train. Our reunions are always sweet, and keep us going strong until we’re back together for real.

The Takeaway:

For now – and for once – I’m fairly sure I’m where I’m supposed to be. Certainly, I’m feeling well taken care of. And whether this experience ever makes its way into a book or onscreen, I know it to be well worth living.

Yosemite - Nature