Invisible Friend Jesus and the Resistance

hippieInvisible Friend Jesus sits next to me on my bed. He’s cleaning his toenails with a file, scraping the dirt from under them and flicking it onto my quilt. It’s gross, but part of me wants to save the dirt and put it on display in some cathedral.

“I feel like I should be cleaning your feet for you or something,” I say.

He glances up at me, smirking. “Do you want to?” He holds the file out toward me.

I lean away from it. “Not really.”

He goes back to his task, shrugging. “Cleaning other people’s feet isn’t really part of your culture. It’d be sort of awkward if you wanted to, to tell you the truth.”

“Another thing about my culture,” I say, “while we’re on the subject: cleaning your toenails on someone else’s bed: not really okay. But it’s cool, because we’re friends. The quilt washes.”

He pauses in digging out a particularly stubborn deposit in the corner of his big toe. “Sorry. I didn’t really think about it. My feet were just dirty.”

“Naw, it’s cool, it’s cool. Really.”

He hesitates a moment then, seeing I’m serious, goes back to digging.

I watch him with disgusted fascination. “I didn’t really think about Jesus’ feet getting dirty before. I thought you were perfect in every way.”

He raises an eyebrow. “The Bible talks about my dirty feet. It’s a little embarrassing, but it was necessary to the story, I think.”

“Oh yeah, you’re right.”

He wipes the file on the hem of his suit jacket and starts in on shaping His nails. “I’m a human being. The whole point of me—as a religious concept, anyway—is that I’m a human like any other, with dirty feet and everything. I’m God’s way of showing the world that it’s okay to be human.

“Dirty feet don’t make us ‘imperfect’, anyway,” he continues, “they just make us human.” He frowns in concentration, trying to shape his pinky toenail just so. “It’s the same with all the other stuff that goes along with being human. None of it is imperfection. All the trouble starts when people start blaming and judging others for what they see as their flaws. It’s what I spoke out against, because we would be a lot happier if we’d quit worrying about that stuff and just accepted ourselves and others.”

“I get you,” I say, “but that’s some complicated shit when you get into issues of people’s  beliefs threatening others. I’d say that sort of behavior truly is a ‘flaw’.”

He nods. “I know what you mean. If you’d notice, the Bible talks about how I lost it on a few people for doing stupid and hateful stuff, too.”

I grin. “Yeah, I remember some of that stuff. Those are some of my favorite parts.”

“I can’t say it wasn’t satisfying.” He clips the edge off one of his nails and flicks it away; I wince as it lands on my pillow. “Living on Earth is a complicated thing,” He says. “God understands that. But God is bigger than all that, too. God wants you to forgive your enemies, even for threatening and hurting you. Notice I don’t say ‘embrace’, just ‘forgive’. And I don’t mean we should lie down and let them trample us, but we should forgive them for trying.

“This is not an easy thing to do, when you’re just trying to get by as a mortal person, and assholes keep messing with you and your family—messing with them, or worse,” He says. “God understands that it’s difficult. He knows we won’t always succeed—that we’ll flip our shit sometimes—and forgives us for it. But we’d be a lot happier if we stopped trying to get revenge. Because, in the process, sometimes we end up becoming the thing that we hate: we end up threatening and hurting other people in return. Then those people act out in self-defense and in greater hatred, and the cycle continues.”

“That’s why you forgave the people who crucified you,” I say. “As an example that it can be done by human beings, even in those circumstances.”

He nods, stretching out his legs and wiggling his toes. “Yep. That shit wasn’t easy, but I felt better after I’d done it. Better in my soul, anyway; I was in some pretty bad agony physically, to say the least. But forgiveness helps the forgiver as much as the forgiven.”

I draw my knees up to my chest and hug them. “I wish your followers would listen to you about all this stuff, because my country is really scary right now. It’s starting to look like Nazi Germany. I have a hard time turning the other cheek when people are threatening our health and lives, and when they’re supporting racism, bigotry, and the destruction of society and the environment. And most of the people doing that in the U.S. claim to be Christian.”

He gives me a long look. “Human beings have a long way to go before they find the Kingdom of God. I know it seems like this battle has already been fought, but what a lot of people don’t realize is, their lives are short and the battle is long. The fight is ongoing, and will continue until the Kingdom is achieved. All I can say is, we have made progress. And God is still with us, no matter what.”IMG_2458.JPG

General Update

Hello, wonderful people. I know it’s been a very long while since I’ve written a post of substance. A lot has been going on in my libeekeepingfe, so I haven’t had a lot of time.

Those who follow me on social media know that I was served divorce papers the day after Valentine’s Day. I’ve since moved back to the family farm, where I’ve been gutting and renovating an 80-year-old one-room cabin to live in, working on growing my editing business, and—apparently—taking up beekeeping.

I have a new boyfriend, too: Phoenix, my best friend, who has inspired so many of my novels and taken me on so many dark and hilarious adventures over the past year. It’s a long-distance relationship, and an odd one, and I don’t know where it will go. He is fifteen years younger than I am. He has schizophrenia. His lifestyle and rituals are very different from my own. I love him to cabina (probably literally) insane degree, though. He has taught me more about myself and the world in the past year than I learned in the thirty-seven years before I met him. He is an important part of my life and always will be, no matter what happens.

A lot of you also know that I ended up in a mental health crisis center a few weeks ago, after it all got a little too heavy. I got help, and will get to start psychiatric treatment again this coming week. I’m going to finally be honest with the psychiatrist and hopefully get a valid diagnosis and some treatment that works.

Throughout all this, I’ve been writing, editing, marketing. I went to the RT Booklovers conference in Vegas. I’m finishing up the final edits on my May 31st release The Hustle, which is Book 1 of my Other Place series. I’ve also worked with some truly aphoenix n memazing editing clients, continued work on a YA alternate-earth fantasy novel, finished some of the parts of my Wattpad series The Story of Tinkerbell (which will be featured when it’s done), and I started pitching my neurodiverse YA romance True Story to agents.

All this stuff is hard to process and integrate, as you might imagine. On the one hand, there’s the supposedly professional Liz, who is writing/publishing/editing/marketing, trying to grow her business and her brand. Then there’s the Liz who is trying to keep her life from disintegrating, who is trying to keep herself alive, off the streets, and out of the mental institution, all while taking care of her wonderful daughter.

At the RT conference, I got the opportunity to talk to a lot of the panels on writing and publishing diverse novels. In the midst of all those thousands of writers and readers, I felt most at home amongst those authors. It was so comforting to hear them talk about the barriers they’ve faced in marketing and publishing, because they’re some of the same ones I’m encountering: people want “diversity” in their novels, but they don’t necessarily want books that explore what it’s really like to live as a diverse person in this world. The term for this is, I believe, “whitewashing”. I think this term is applicable to my situation, even though I’m not a POC, I’m a neurodiverse writer who writes about neurodiverse characters.

I also learned a lot about “branding” at the RT conference—about presenting yourself and your novels in a way that’s both unique and compelling, so that readers learn to associate you with a certain image and type of writing and know what to expect when they buy your books. I learned that you’re supposed to simultaneously present an marketable image while being professional and genuine.

It’s hard for me to be both professional and genuine, though. I can’t present an image to the public that’s widely compelling while still being myself. The problems I encounter with branding myself and getting the public to embrace and accept me are the same problems I’ve struggled with in getting people to want to read about my characters: most people like the concept of a story about a person with psychosis or other neurodiverse behaviors, but when it comes down to seeing what it’s like to actually live with neurodiversity, it’s a little much for them. I’m told, about my books, that the writing is good but people can’t relate to the characters. I’m told my plots are odd. I’m told that I, as a person, am oversharing and trying to be a special snowflake. That “we’re all crazy, but we don’t have to talk about it all the time.” In short, I’m told that I’m annoying, and that my characters are, too.

I am being the only person that I know how to be, though. It would be more convenient to be someone else sometimes. I’d still be happily married if I knew how to be someone else, and I’d probably have a much easier and more lucrative job. But I love writing. It’s what I was meant to do. And I love my characters and my plots. I wouldn’t want to write books that were more “typical”.

There are some people who love me despite or because of all this, and there are people who love my books. The Other Place Series will be coming out soon, as I mentioned—The Hustle on 5/31, The Other Place on 7/5, and the third and final installment shortly after that (it’s currently with betas). This series is about a recovering heroin addict and a young schizophrenic man, and I’m grateful to Limitless for taking a chance on it. Additionally, my YA romance, which stars a young woman with bipolar psychosis, got five requests on the lovely Beth Phelan’s #DVPit for diverse novels, and one of those requests so far has turned into a full. I’m hopeful that book will find a home soon.

So, for what it’s worth, I’m growing my brand: I’m the crazy lady who writes books about crazy people. I’m being genuine. I’m hopeful that sooner or later the world will accept me for who I am. For now, I’m still alive, and I’m still writing. Thank you for reading.

On Marketing, and the Nexus of Dreams and Reality

Those of you who follow my personal story; or have beta read the Tales From Purgatory books, my upcoming Other Place series, or The Story of a Girl Named Mike; know that the way imagination/delusion intertwines with reality in order to make magic is the underlying theme in my life and work. It’s a subject that fascinates me endlessly and runs at the core of my understanding of the world. In The Deathly Hallows, when Dumbledore said, “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it isn’t real?” the phrase struck  at my heart, because I knew exactly what he meant.

I know the idea that “dreams can come true” and that there is a sort of force, strengthened by belief, that can bring about changes in the real world, isn’t one that is unique to me. My church believes that prayer can bring about change, and that there is another world – the “Kingdom of God” – that exists just outside of and intertwined with our own; that we can get there through the sacrifice of Jesus, and that this glorious world will someday overcome the physical world and bring about an everlasting peace.

For most people, this is an abstract concept that doesn’t play much in their day-to-day life and decisions, even amongst those who purport to live by God’s rules for getting to this place (said rules and their interpretations varying from person to person).

For me, on the other hand, though I wouldn’t describe my understanding of this concept in religious terms, it is a very real concept. Things that happen “in my head” seem to have a tangible effect on the outside world and on my life. In my worst moments (few and far between, thank goodness), I am driven to frank psychosis, thinking that this effect is more drastic and sometimes uncontrollable than I generally believe. I say this, even though part of me believes some of the things I’ve experienced during psychosis are actually real. And at any rate, I do believe the concept itself – the reality of this alternate reality, or the force of belief – is very real, though it is impossible, of course, to be without doubts.

When life gives me a particularly rough turn, the force of my belief begins to evaporate and I find myself in a cold, bitter and senseless place. This, I know, isn’t a function of whatever mental illness I’m supposed to suffer from: everyone feels like this sometimes. All those things we thought we had, the life we thought we’d built – it turns out, those things didn’t belong to us, and that happiness can be taken from us in an instant. But just because it’s ethereal, doesn’t mean it wasn’t real to begin with.

That cold, senseless place frightens the hell out of me  and makes me angry. The problem is, it seems like I have a harder time sheltering myself from it, building my castles in the sky, than most people. I think that’s because I’m not laying my foundations in the real world, trying to reach  my dreams: I’m building them in my dreams, and trying to reach the real world.

Since I was a girl, my a lot of my behavior and decisions haven’t made sense to people. At some point in my adulthood, I realized that’s because I’m operating on slightly different principles than most. At first I tried to fight with myself about it, because I felt there was something wrong with me, an opinion that was shared by others. Many of those who know me and love me tell me that I need to get a handle on myself, get treatment for my bipolar and PTSD and whatever other things my brain is supposedly sick with. They tell me I need to grow up and start living in the real world.

But that isn’t as easy as it sounds. I’ve come to terms with the fact that “wrong” is subjective, and that there’s no point in my feeling that there’s something broken with me, because it isn’t fixable in any case. There is no pill that cures me of who I am. There may be pills that make me sleep more than 4 hours a night; ones that stop me from believing my best friend is invading my brain and giving me his toothache out of spite; they may be able to medicate the past from coming back to haunt me in bright, immediate flashes of feeling, taste and smell that make me react to present situations with a little more drama than is necessary. But pills won’t solve the underlying problem with me, and even the treatments for the scarier parts of my “conditions” don’t come without high cost.

When I discovered writing, I thought I’d finally found something that made sense to me, something that might allow me to find my place in the world and be accepted for what I am, rather than what I “should” be, according to the rules of the real world. It was a way for me to weave together dreams and reality and create something that might shelter me from the driving rain and hungry wolves. But just recently my foundations have been crumbling again and the elements are beginning to seep in. I’d had help in maintaining that structure while I tried to build it, and that person is no longer interested in helping, for various reasons.

There is a measure of how much a person is accepted in the real world, how much they are able to “make things work” on their own terms: money. Money measures this phenomenon every bit as accurately as the scales of centigrade, Fahrenheit and Kelvin measure temperature. The scales themselves may be human constructs, but the phenomena themselves are not; and the forces that affect one’s ability to make it in this world are every bit as chaotic as those that affect atmospheric temperature.

The nexus point of my imaginary world and the real one is this: marketing. If I could market my books, my editing skills, and myself better, I might make money at it and be able to salvage my structure and survive. But I’m horrible at it. This blog post – which most of you have quit reading by now – is one example of it. People like to be entertained (and I get that – entertainment is a worthwhile pursuit that I’m wholly in favor of), but I’m trying to communicate with the world on a level that might be a little too real to be entertaining and professional. I’m sure talking about my marital problems and battles with psychosis isn’t inspiring many to hire me as an editor (even if I say that editing people’s stories is something I love, and it keeps me “sane”), or to buy my books.

The problem is, I’m still struggling to make sense of things, and find my place. And while I try to push my books and my editing skills in a professional way – try to captivate people with one-liners, inspire them, urge them to give me money and leave me reviews – it just feels like I’m grasping at threads…I’m trying to knit my world and theirs together, and I’m not counting the stitches correctly. Maybe I was wrong all along: maybe the two worlds will never fit together. Maybe I’m out in the cold again.

I wish I had a team, like Katniss had Cinna, Haymitch, and Plutarch, to transform me into a propo that resonates with the world. But, as much as we all are The Chosen One in our own stories, most of us just aren’t Mockingjay material.

I’m going to keep trying, though, because – like I said – it’s the only thing that makes sense to me.

So: buy my books, and hire me as an editor. Not as an act of charity, please, but because you believe that magic is real, and that perhaps we can share our magic and our worlds with one another.

Invisible Friend Jesus and the Divorce

flowersI sat quietly on the couch, concentrating on taking one breath after another. I’d scrubbed the floors, the bathrooms, the countertops; scoured kitchen grease off the overlooked crevices of the canisters; I’d written, or tried to, and spent hours editing other people’s manuscripts, losing myself in their stories; but I hadn’t been able to work feeling into my limbs, or into anywhere else in my body or spirit. I felt like my brain was taped up with bubble wrap and packed in a forgotten crate somewhere.

Invisible Friend Jesus sat quietly beside me. He didn’t have the air of someone waiting for me to speak, and for once he didn’t distract himself reading Cat Fancy or trying to knit. He didn’t ask me if I was okay, or tell me everything would be alright. If he had, son of God or no, I would have broken his jaw, and I’m sure he knew that.

“I knew this was going to happen,” I said. “Ever since you told me, way back almost a year ago, that I should just stop trying to fix things and let you handle it, I knew. I mean, it didn’t take a genius to figure out what was going to happen, the way things were going. But I still fought so hard against it. I didn’t really believe or understand you, when you told me to stop struggling. It didn’t make sense to me that I should just ‘let go and let God’, because how could I just give up personal responsibility when I knew I wasn’t acting right?”

He stretched his arms over the back of the couch and gave me his little smile. “People have a lot of ideas about what it means to ‘act right’. Think about it this way: when you’re writing a story, what does it mean for a character to ‘act right’? Does it mean they always have to do the ‘right thing’? That they’re always selfless and kind and morally correct?”

“No, it just means they have to act in character.” Invisible Friend Jesus lifted an eyebrow, and I winced. “So that’s my character? A bad person? And you’re cool with that? I thought religion was supposed to be about rising above your base nature to become a better person.”

Invisible Friend Jesus sighed, settling further into the couch cushions and crossing his legs. “God made each and every one of us in his image. It’s a slightly distorted image, true, because the physical realities of living in this world can surely twist a spirit out of whack. But still, God knew us in the womb, and loves each and every one of us just the way we are.”

“So that means that there is no sin? That we can just do whatever we want because it’s ‘in character’?” I scowled incredulously. “I’m sorry, Invisible Friend Jesus, but that’s not very enlightened.”

His smile got gentler and more amused, and he tapped his long fingers on the couch back. “That’s not what I’m saying. We sin when we do things against our true nature, things that separate us from God—who is our true nature, since we’re made in his image. God is big and complicated; He is all things, and there are a lot of different ways of being one with Him, depending on a person’s personality. But, like I said, the world is a messed-up place. It can get in the way and separate us from God by causing us to act out of hurt, anger, greed and loneliness. It can cause us to do things that hurt ourselves or others.”

My eyes filled with tears again, stinging and burning since I’d cried so much already, and I sniffed and dried them on my shirt. “I really tried, Invisible Friend Jesus. I tried to do the right thing and not act in hurtful ways. But I couldn’t get myself to stop… I tried to make him happy, but I couldn’t…”

I pressed my chin to my chest and squeezed my eyes shut as my body shook trying to contain and control all the bullshit I was feeling. Invisible Friend Jesus took my hand. I could feel the scar on his palm, and the callouses on his long fingers from all his knitting, cross-stitch and other weird projects.

“Listen, Tinkerbell,” he said. “When you were drinking like a lunatic and spending all that time away from home, what did you do?”

I sniffed. “I got better. I mean, I had to work at it, and pray myself half-crazy, but I got better. I’m really proud of myself for it.”

“And you should be. How about when you first moved to California and you were really angry, frustrated and fed-up, yelling at everyone all the time?”

I wiped my nose on my wrist, but didn’t bother with my eyes anymore; they felt swollen to the size of softballs and I didn’t want to touch them. “I worked at calming down, and got a lot better. But Invisible Friend Jesus─”

“You’re not perfect, it’s true, but luckily no one who’s rational expects you to be. Nobody’s perfect. Not even me.”

I giggled, which made a snot bubble swell and burst out of my left nostril. Invisible Friend Jesus burst into snorting laughter for about five minutes, because he’s a jerk, but he finally got himself to stop and conjured a tissue from the pocket of his white suit jacket.

I blew my nose and looked at him with a furrowed brow. “But you are perfect, Invisible Friend Jesus.”

He rolled his eyes. “No, I’m not. Have you read about some of the stuff I did? I was kind of a dick sometimes.”

I gazed at him thoughtfully. “Yeah, I always wondered about that stuff. You know, calling gentile women dogs, and all that.”

He winced. “I was having a bad day. But I got over myself and cured that lady’s daughter anyway. The point is, I’m a human manifestation of God, and humans are imperfect. I’m God’s way of knowing, and of showing the world, that He understands what it’s like to be human. That he knows how hard it can be, how hurtful. How it can break you sometimes and make you act in ways you aren’t proud of, and how sometimes you end up in situations where it seems like there is no way to ‘act right’, and so you just have to muddle through the best you can. But God loves us, not in spite of, but because of all that because, in the end, being human is a beautiful thing.” He gazed at me with his little smile. “So, anyway, enough about me. You were able to quit some of your self-destructive and hurtful behaviors…”

I grimaced. “But some of the other ones…one other thing in particular…I tried to stop, but it was like I couldn’t. I could only ever last a few days.” A lump rose up in my throat. “If I could have just…I mean, I really didn’t want to destroy my life like this.” I pressed the soggy tissue into my eyes, fighting back sobs.

Invisible Friend Jesus squeezed my hand. “Let me ask you one thing, Tinkerbell. How do you feel right now?”

Tears streamed down my face, and he handed me another tissue. “How do you think I feel? Shitty. Angry. Devastated.”

“Yeah? Well, I mean, that’s understandable. You were just ambushed with divorce papers after almost ten years of a relationship, and two years of…well, you know. Let’s not get into the details again. You’re bound to feel messed up about it. But how else are you feeling?”

I wrapped my arms around myself. Invisible Friend Jesus scooted over and put his arm around my shoulders, and I hid my face in his neck. I got snot and tears all over him, but he didn’t seem to mind. I took deep breaths, and I thought about his question: How DO I feel? My brow furrowed. “I feel…actually, I feel better, to tell you the truth.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. I mean, I’m pissed off and stuff because of, you know, how it happened, and how I tried so hard for years to make him happy, only to just fail and fail and fail…but, you know, other than that, I’m lighter. That pain and worry and guilt and desperation—all of it—it’s gone now. I feel peaceful.” I sat up, wiping my nose again. Invisible Friend Jesus gazed back at me with his serene little smile.

“That peace is where God is. That’s how you know you’re in the right place, doing the right thing.”

I scowled. “So God meant all that shit to happen to me? He wanted me to suffer like that?”

Invisible Friend Jesus rolled his eyes. “You know better than that, Tinkerbell. God doesn’t want people to suffer—God is the peace that helps us endure suffering, and avoid it when we can. But suffering happens no matter what. It’s just the way the world is. It’s a complicated and beautiful experiment…it’s part of what makes life life. Because, think about it: would you really want to read a story where nothing ever went wrong? Where there’s no conflict and tension? One of those stories where the perfect little characters hug and kiss and dance around baking cookies all day?”

“Shit no. I hate critiquing those stories. There’s no point to them. And I guess maybe you’re right, that it’d be boring to just sit around blissed out doing nothing all day.”

“It wouldn’t be life if it were like that. You’d never learn or grow or experience anything.”

“You’re right. But I mean…am I just here to entertain God? Give Him a good story? Is the Divine Plan just some sort of dramatic screenplay?”

“I’ve told you before the Divine Plan is a conspiracy theory, and you’re not here to entertain God. You’re here to entertain yourself, and write yourself into the best story you can. Your life may seem like it has a complicated narrative arc, with a lot of senseless and random shit happening, but you need to remember, the plotline doesn’t depend on just you: everyone is the main character of their own story, and those stories are constantly interweaving and clashing and shaping each other. It’s up to each person to learn and grow, find beauty and meaning, and craft their own narrative arc amidst the chaos. And sometimes, the plot that one person wants…well, sometimes the other characters don’t cooperate. That can be painful. It can suck ultimate shit, frankly, but the story goes on, and I know you, Tinkerbell: you’re a hell of a storyteller and you’ve got a lot of plot left in you.”

I wrinkled my nose, a grin creeping across my face. “Yeah, I got a few ideas for the next scene.” I pulled my knees up to my chest, settling back against Invisible Friend Jesus’ arm. “My life has crashed and burned more than most people’s it seems like, and I’ve had to start over more times than I’ve wanted. But, you know, this time, I don’t feel obligated to anyone—except my kid, and that doesn’t bother me, because she’s my little partner in crime. I love mobbing around with that girl, she doesn’t cramp my style except in the ways that it needs cramped. But, I mean, I don’t have anyone telling me what I need to do next, no dude that I feel obligated to follow around and try to make happy. I know the next scene isn’t going to be easy, but it’s cool that I get to write it the way I want this time. You know, as much as possible anyway. What I do next is my choice, and no one else’s.”

Invisible Friend Jesus’ smile widened, and he raised his chin. “True. Choose wisely, though, Tinkerbell, within the confines of your special brand of Tinkerbell wisdom, or you’ll just get bored with it or worse.”

I nodded, smirking. “Just help me out, because I get some crazy ideas sometimes.”

He laughed, stretching out on the couch with his back against the armrest and his bare feet in my lap. “Will do.” He got out his phone and started tapping away and scrolling through the Internet. “How about Utah? Or Puerto Rico? You could get a little apartment overlooking the ocean, write like Hunter S. Thompson, maybe teach English or whatever.”

I snort-laughed. “You’re an enabler, Invisible Friend Jesus.”

He shot me a smile over the top of his phone, but didn’t say anything.