On Motherhood in a Time of Uncertainty

Two months ago my grand­moth­er (and the woman who raised me) passed away. I rushed to go see her before she died, and then spent a scant few days pro­cess­ing her death with fam­i­ly before dri­ving home…straight into the whirl­wind of a pan­dem­ic that has not come close to abat­ing. I feel like I have not had the time (or the emo­tion­al resources) to tru­ly grieve, and now I’m against Moth­er’s Day, sit­ting with the empti­ness of my mama’s absence.

This empti­ness is stark against my daugh­ter’s con­stant pres­ence. Sofia and I have not had an hour apart since we’ve all had to iso­late our­selves. As we’ve had to adjust to home­school­ing, work­ing non­stop from home, adjust­ing to a new day-to-day, pro­cess­ing the changes it’s made to our lives and to our world, Sofia has become increas­ing­ly needy…even as she’s demon­strat­ed incred­i­ble resilience and adapt­abil­i­ty.

She begs to sleep with me, begs to cud­dle with me. She curls up in my lap, promis­ing to nev­er leave me, stay with me for­ev­er and ever. I tell her that she won’t want to stay for­ev­er, and that this is okay. We all leave. We can’t promise for­ev­er. Espe­cial­ly daugh­ters and moth­ers. There will be a time when she will leave home, and there will be a time when I will leave her behind as well. But in this time of chaos and uncer­tain­ty, what can I promise her? What can I teach her?

I can promise her that I will always love her. That while I am here she will always be seen, always be heard, always fought for. That till my last breath she will in some way be teth­ered to me, nev­er adrift, nev­er alone. No one ever should be.

Per­haps that is what my ten­der and fero­cious love for her can teach the both of us dur­ing this dark time: No one should ever be alone, adrift. I can use this oppor­tu­ni­ty to teach her the foun­da­tions of duty and care. How even in this time of iso­la­tion we are deeply depen­dent on each oth­er. The biggest gift we have is our capac­i­ty to give to the world, and the best mes­sage I can hope to give her is that we are behold­en to one anoth­er.

Orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished in the Sto­ry Box blog: https://jointhestorybox.blogspot.com/2020/05/on-motherhood-in-time-of-uncertainty.html

Wiser

what­ev­er doesn’t kill you makes you stronger
they say.
I don’t feel strong.
if I were the best ver­sion of myself
I’d be grate­ful for you
your mem­o­ries arc­ing dark­ly, cold­ly
between these pieces I gath­er and fum­ble
and arrange in ugly pat­terns.

but what would I give up
to be hope­ful?
to be open?
to be whole?

the fre­net­ic dance par­ties
in your liv­ing room
laugh­ing
spin­ning
into a heav­ing pile on the floor.

the late nights of
pon­tif­i­ca­tions and gui­tar solos
weav­ing in between wafts of smoke
pry­ing myself wide-open
bare.

play­ing pin­ball
at the bus sta­tion
soft­ly ripe
my fin­gers dig­ging play­ful­ly
under the gap in your pants.

cack­ling at your dark jokes
gasp­ing at your bloody sto­ries
glee­ful­ly, vapid­ly
play­ing “boy’s games”
just to be near you.

some­times I get it.
the things you give up
the bits that burn, die, and fall off.
you evolve into some­thing else.
niether bet­ter nor worse.
just wis­er.

but what would I give to have her back?
to unbite that apple?
to gleam with pos­si­bil­i­ty?
to believe in the pos­si­bil­i­ty of oth­ers?
I might pry those moments out
throw them into the abyss.
I might be will­ing
to nev­er have met you at all.

How to Make an eBook, Part 2: Converting your Files

Wel­come to part two of our self-pub­lish­ing series, How to Make an eBook. If you need to catch up, take a look at part one, which will teach you how to cre­ate an eBook-con­ver­sion-friend­ly man­u­script:

In this tuto­r­i­al, we’re going to cov­er how to con­vert your com­plet­ed Mark­down man­u­script into eBook for­mats using a free eBook appli­ca­tion called Cal­i­bre.

Ready to get start­ed? Read On!

Self-Publishing 101: How to Make an eBook

For­mat­ting and pub­lish­ing your own eBook can be an intim­i­dat­ing expe­ri­ence for a novice self-pub­lish­er. That’s why ser­vices like Smash­words are so pop­u­lar: they can take a stan­dard Word doc­u­ment, con­vert it into all pop­u­lar eBook for­mats, and pub­lish them to a bunch of venues for you. They take the has­sle out of inde­pen­dent pub­lish­ing.

But, for those of us who want bit more con­trol over their pub­lish­ing expe­ri­ence, for­mat­ting and cre­at­ing eBooks by hand can be a reward­ing expe­ri­ence. Why would you want to do this by hand, when there are ser­vices out there that can do it for you?

  • Microsoft Word is a pain. Basi­cal­ly, it is overkill for the eBook writ­ing process. Most Word fea­tures are either not need­ed in an eBook (e.g., mar­gins, padding, page num­ber­ing), or won’t trans­late dur­ing the eBook con­ver­sion (e.g., font selec­tions and foot­notes). And, your Word doc­u­ment has to be metic­u­lous­ly for­mat­ted for it to con­vert clean­ly. (If you’ve glanced over the Smash­words style guide, you know what I’m talk­ing about.) Most peo­ple default to Word because it’s what they’re used to using, but I find that oth­er options are much sim­pler, ele­gant, and con­ducive to the writ­ing process.
  • For­mat­ting by hand gives you greater con­trol over the look of your final eBook. I’m a typog­ra­phy snob, and I love the con­trol that for­mat­ting eBooks by hand gives me. I can embed fonts, change the way that para­graphs and head­ings are for­mat­ted, even include drop caps into my open­ing para­graphs. While there is a bit of a learn­ing curve involved in tweak­ing eBook out­put, I find the result to be well worth the effort.

In this three-part series I’m going to go over writ­ing and for­mat­ting your eBook file, con­vert­ing it to pop­u­lar eBook for­mats like ePub and MOBI, and tweak­ing the out­put with a bit of styling. You’re result­ing eBook files will be ready to upload to pop­u­lar out­lets like Ama­zon and Barnes & Noble for sale and dis­tri­b­u­tion.

Ready to dive in with me?

Read More!

She crouches

She crouch­es
hun­gry to devour
destroy
to entan­gle a body’s length
depth
thighs trem­bling
weep­ing.
She whim­pers
muf­fled
dark leaks encir­cling
my strained por­trait.
She waits
fin­gers for a chink in the armor.
She whis­pers
“Do you miss me?”
her breath as sweet as death.
I do.

A Bash script to batch extract audio from YouTube videos

I’m work­ing on a pod­cast­ing project that requires me to extract the audio from mul­ti­ple YouTube videos. So, I put togeth­er a lit­tle script that allows me to batch extract the audio from a com­ma-sep­a­rat­ed list of YouTube urls.

In case some­one else might find this func­tion­al­i­ty use­ful, I’ve put togeth­er the instruc­tions for cre­at­ing and exe­cut­ing the script here. It requires that you’re a bit com­fort­able with the com­mand-line, and assumes you’re on a UNIX-based sys­tem (such as Lin­ux or OS X).

The script requires a com­mand-line pro­gram called youtube-dl. You can down­load it here. (And make sure to fol­low the instal­la­tion instruc­tions in order to make it exe­cutable.)

Once that is down­loaded, cre­ate a text file and name it ytmp3.sh:

for i in $(echo $1 | sed “s/,/ /g”)doyoutube-dl — extract-audio — audio-format=mp3 -t $idone

Once you’ve cre­at­ed the script, make it exe­cutable with the fol­low­ing:

sudo chmod a+rx ytmp3.sh

Then, you can move it to /usr/local/bin so that it’s exe­cutable from any­where:

mv ytmp3.sh /usr/local/bin

Now you can exe­cute run the script by pass­ing to it a com­ma-sep­a­rat­ed list (no spaces), eg.:

ytmp3.sh https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yGhm7NfDaz8,https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UJl-rMSULrk,https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nPU7rnYpSxc

It will cycle through each video, extract the audio, and con­vert it to an mp3 for you.

It’s a sim­ple script, but I’m new to Bash-script­ing, so I was quite impressed with myself. I hope some­one can find it use­ful!

10 Ways to Eat Ethically, Cheaply, and Well

Michael Pol­lan said it best: “Eat food. Not too much. Most­ly Plants.” I am a firm believ­er that eat­ing health­ful­ly is ulti­mate­ly uncom­pli­cat­ed: the earth is brim­ming with nat­ur­al foods that make our bod­ies thrive. Below is a col­lec­tion of tips for eat­ing in a way that not only ben­e­fits our bod­ies, but ben­e­fits our souls and taste buds as well. Feel free to chime in with your own sug­ges­tions for eat­ing eth­i­cal­ly, cheap­ly, health­ful­ly, or deli­cious­ly!

1. Buy local.

On aver­age, pro­duce in the Unit­ed States trav­els 1,500 miles to get to your local gro­cery store. While this might be a con­ve­nient way to pro­vide us with a vari­ety of cheap food, it is ter­ri­ble for the envi­ron­ment and tax­ing on our nat­ur­al resources: More fuel is need­ed to trans­port the food from oth­er states or coun­tries, and more pol­lu­tion is pro­duced in the process. Not to men­tion our food is far less fresh, as it makes quite a long trek from its ori­gins to our plate. And let’s not for­get the warm, fuzzy feel­ing we get when we sup­port small, local busi­ness­es. So, check out your local farmer’s mar­ket, or join a CSA, and par­take in the gas­tro­nom­i­cal joy of local food.

2. Grow your own food.

Even bet­ter than buy­ing local food — grow your own! No fos­sil fuels wast­ed in trans­port­ing the food. No pack­ag­ing dis­card­ed and fill­ing a land­fill. And, best of all, you can’t beat the cost! Of course, it takes some skill and land to grow your own food. (My own adven­tures in grow­ing toma­toes were less than boast-wor­thy.) If you are intim­i­dat­ed by the idea of gar­den­ing (as I am) and/or you have lit­tle land to do so, you may start with a mod­est col­lec­tion of herbs on your win­dowsill. Even if the cost sav­ings are neg­li­gi­ble, there is a dis­tinct aes­thet­ic plea­sure in snip­ping off some fresh, ten­der basil leaves from your herb gar­den to use in a fra­grant pas­ta dish. Self-suf­fi­cien­cy, even in its tini­est forms, embold­ens the soul.

3. Eat less meat.

Until quite recent­ly in human his­to­ry, meat was a lux­u­ry that was enjoyed on occa­sion. Now (par­tic­u­lar­ly in the U.S.), meat is an every­day sta­ple, and it is tak­en for grant­ed by many that meat is a part of every meal. In fact, some peo­ple con­sid­er it down­right unpa­tri­ot­ic not to embrace the “meat and pota­toes” phi­los­o­phy of the Amer­i­can diet. But such enthu­si­as­tic con­sump­tion of meat strains the envi­ron­ment and our waist­line. Much more land and water is need­ed pro­duce meat than is need­ed to pro­duce the equiv­a­lent in grain, and bil­lions of tons of ani­mal waste are dumped into our water­ways every year. Even if you don’t switch com­plete­ly to a plant-based diet, you can reduce the neg­a­tive impact on your health and the envi­ron­ment by cut­ting down your meat con­sump­tion.

4. Buy fair trade and organic.

Buy­ing fair trade and organ­ic food lets you vote with your dol­lar for a bet­ter world: a world in which farm­ers oper­ate under fair labor con­di­tions and are paid fair wages for their goods, a world in which food pro­duc­ers work with the earth, rather than against it, and in which we need not fear the tox­ic effects of pes­ti­cides and growth hor­mones in our pro­duce and meats. We vote for a world that not only pro­duces healthy sus­te­nance for our­selves, but also nur­tures the envi­ron­ment and sup­ports the peo­ple that pro­duce it.

5. Keep meals simple.

While com­plex recipes laden with exot­ic ingre­di­ents may seem impres­sive, sim­pler meals enjoy dis­tinct advan­tages: As they require few­er ingre­di­ents and spices, sim­ple meals are gen­er­al­ly cheap­er. They are, for the most part, eas­i­er to pre­pare. And there is some­thing to be said for an uncom­pli­cat­ed dish in which you can taste the indi­vid­ual ingre­di­ents: the tang of the lemon, the bite of the salt and the sweet pun­gency of the cilantro. Sim­ple dish­es high­light the ingre­di­ents used, because they aren’t lost among a pletho­ra of oth­ers. There is a cer­tain aes­thet­ic beau­ty to a sim­ple dish — which is that much more enjoy­able when you can save time and mon­ey in its prepa­ra­tion!

6. Avoid processed, packaged foods.

We all know that fresh food is best. Pack­aged foods try to trick you with claims of health­ful­ness: “High in Fiber” or “Good Source of Iron”, but scan the label and you will most like­ly find a food that is high in sug­ar, high in sodi­um, or which includes a long, scary, cryp­tic list of ingre­di­ents. Of course, I am over­gen­er­al­iz­ing here: there are some healthy pack­aged foods. But, for the most part, the clos­er a food is to its nat­ur­al source, the bet­ter it is for you. The more you process food, the more fiber, vit­a­mins, min­er­als, and phy­tonu­tri­ents are lost. The more you process food, the more ques­tion­able ingre­di­ents are added. And, to top it all off, processed foods gen­er­al­ly include more waste­ful pack­ag­ing: box­es, pouch­es, and plas­tic bot­tles and con­tain­ers. Be kind to your body (and the earth): eat whole, fresh, unadul­ter­at­ed food from which your your body is designed to draw nour­ish­ment.

7. Eat less.

There have been stud­ies that indi­cate that decreased caloric intake increas­es lifes­pan. You may or may not agree with this con­tro­ver­sial claim. But, giv­en an obe­si­ty rate of over 30% in the U.S., many of us would enjoy health ben­e­fits from eat­ing less. Admit­ted­ly, this is a hard one to imple­ment. (Believe me, I know!). But, think about it: not only will our health prob­a­bly ben­e­fit from avoid­ing that sec­ond-help­ing of lasagna dur­ing din­ner or that hand­ful of Hershey’s kiss­es at work, but we will also spend less and waste few­er resources by doing so. Of course, I am not sug­gest­ing that we go hun­gry, or dras­ti­cal­ly deprive our­selves, but con­scious­ly cut­ting down a bit on what we eat dur­ing the day is worth the effort, and has cumu­la­tive effects in the long run.

8. Eat slowly.

With no dis­trac­tions — no tele­vi­sion, no radio (and cer­tain­ly, no dri­ving!). Turn­ing our atten­tion to our meals, chew­ing slow­ly, savor­ing the fla­vors of our food, not only makes the eat­ing expe­ri­ence more plea­sur­able, but gen­er­al­ly makes us eat less. It is com­mon­ly known that those who scarf down their food end up eat­ing much more than those who take their time, but med­i­tat­ing on your food also lends to long-term sat­is­fac­tion from food. If we tru­ly expe­ri­ence the fla­vors and tex­tures of the the food, we derive more plea­sure, more sat­is­fac­tion from our meals…our minds more deeply reg­is­ter that we’ve eat­en, and we are thus less like­ly to reach for those pota­to chips lat­er. Addi­tion­al­ly, if we extend that atten­tion and focus on how our food makes our bod­ies feel after­wards (the slug­gish­ness we feel after a fat­ty, salty meal, vs. the vital­i­ty from some­thing health­ful), then we are more like­ly to change our eat­ing habits for the bet­ter. Slow eat­ing puts us more in tune with our food and its inter­ac­tion with our bod­ies, yield­ing a more holis­tic under­stand­ing of our eat­ing habits.

9. Ignore hype.

Trans fat. Low-carb. Low-fat. Antiox­i­dants. Whole grains. Heart-healthy. The food world is a whirl­wind of nutri­tion­al claims, promis­es, and sound bytes: much of it good, some of it sus­pect. And even the well-sup­port­ed claims will quick­ly be exploit­ed by food com­pa­nies who want you to buy their stuff. My advice? Ingore it. Just con­cen­trate on eat­ing a vari­ety of unprocessed, organ­ic veg­eta­bles, fruits, grains, and beans, and you’ll do fine. Even if Acai berries are chock-full of antiox­i­dants, the hum­ble col­lard green is just as pow­er packed (and much cheap­er!). Ignore food trends and crazy diets that promise unre­al­is­tic tran­for­ma­tions: real nutri­tion is time­less and com­mon sen­si­cal.

10. Say grace (or a secular equivalent).

In oth­er words, pay homage to the spir­i­tu­al and phys­i­cal sources of your food. Be grate­ful that you have food to eat (many do not), and acknowl­edge the long jour­ney that the food has tak­en from the sun to your plate. Your nour­ish­ment is a prod­uct of lives and labor…your life is indebt­ed to the nat­ur­al, spir­i­tu­al, and eco­nom­ic cycles that under­pin our world. Our food runs deep, and pay­ing rev­er­ence to this fact can help us pay clos­er atten­tion to the things that we eat, and to focus on con­sum­ing things that are spir­i­tu­al­ly and phys­i­cal­ly nour­ish­ing.

More resources:

  1. The Omnivore’s Dilem­ma: A Nat­ur­al His­to­ry of Four Meals
  2. Slow Food Nation: Why Our Food Should Be Good, Clean, And Fair
  3. One Bowl: A Guide to Eat­ing for Body and Spir­it
  4. The Slow Down Diet: Eat­ing for Plea­sure, Ener­gy, and Weight Loss
  5. Unplugged Kitchen: A Return to the Sim­ple, Authen­tic Joys of Cook­ing

The Bride

This sto­ry was writ­ten for the Dark Fairy Queen Writer­ly Bridal Show­er, in hon­or of Anna Meade and Michael Loy’s upcom­ing nup­tials. To the joy­ous cou­ple: May you have an ecsta­t­ic life togeth­er, full of shared sun­sets and fairy dust. And Anna: watch out for Krak­ens!

The bride stepped gin­ger­ly into her wed­ding dress, and two maids care­ful­ly laced the gown up her back. The gown sparkled like the star­ry night above her, aglow with thou­sands of dia­monds sewn into the white thread. She wait­ed patient­ly as the maids attend­ed the dress, lac­ing, smooth­ing, gath­er­ing the long train around her feet. The maids then addressed the glo­ri­ous mane of her hair, tam­ing her wild dark curls. They ran exot­ic oils through her tress­es, till her ringlets shone and shim­mered. With dia­mond-encrust­ed ivory combs they cap­tured her hair atop her head, while way­ward curls framed her alabaster face and spilled down her back. With sweet berry juices they del­i­cate­ly col­ored her full lips, her creamy cheeks.

The wind swirled around her and she looked up to the night sky. A dis­tant howl echoed, and she shiv­ered.

The queen emerged from the shad­ows, and her eyes widened as she regard­ed the bride.

You look glo­ri­ous, my child,” an approv­ing smile curved her blood-red lips.

The bride cast her eyes down­ward, blush­ing.

The queen came towards her, then cir­cled around her, light­ly fuss­ing with her gown, run­ning her taloned fin­gers through her curls. As the queen came round and faced the bride, she gen­tly caressed the bride’s cheek, attempt­ing a com­fort­ing smile.

Are you ner­vous about the wed­ding night?” she purred.

The bride said noth­ing, but trem­bled, her blush deep­en­ing.

The queen leaned in, her lips against the brides ear. The bride could feel her warm, cloy­ing breath as she whis­pered, “There is noth­ing to fear. It will be over before you know it.”

Tears sprung to the bride’s eyes.

You must yield to him,” the queen mur­mured, cap­tur­ing a sin­gle tear on the bride’s cheek with her long, thin fin­ger, “Your body must be whol­ly his. Your skin…” she ran her fin­ger down her cheek, her neck, trac­ing the soft, swelling flesh of her decoutage, “…must be warm. You body must open to him.”

The queen stepped back, leav­ing the bride’s heart pound­ing, her exposed white skin shiv­er­ing.

It is time,” the queen growled to the maids, avert­ing her eyes from the bride.

The maids gen­tly led the bride across the sand, to the cliff that over­looked  the churn­ing ocean. The wind whipped her curls, the salty spray of the sea sting­ing her eyes. Blink­ing the mist from her dark lash­es, she looked up at the night sky, try­ing to swal­low the tears and bile that rose up in her throat.

Paul_Gustave_Dore_AndromedaThe maids pressed the bride’s body rev­er­ent­ly against the rock face, cap­tured her del­i­cate wrists in heavy chains. The ocean waves height­ened, swelled, and her gown was soon soaked by sea water.

The queen came to her once more, her large eyes wet with tears. Cap­tur­ing her face in her hands, the queen plant­ed one last kiss upon the bride’s cheek. The queen closed her eyes, breath­ing in the sweet and salty scent of the bride’s curls, then turned away.

The bride sobbed as the queen dis­ap­peared into the dark­ness.

A deep howl swept across the ocean, echo­ing above the ocean waves which rose high­er and high­er, now lap­ping at her feet. In the dark water, the bride could see an even dark­er shad­ow beneath its sur­face, impos­si­bly huge, trav­el­ling with hor­ri­fy­ing speed towards the cliff.

The bride breathed one last des­per­ate sob, then, at the queen’s behest, relaxed her chained arms, soft­ened her shoul­ders, weak­ened her knees. She yield­ed to her groom, who, with a tri­umphant and deaf­en­ing wail, rose to meet and con­sume her.

Title: The Bride
Author: Christi­na Ramey
eBook: Yes


(Pho­to Cred­it: s0ulsurfing via Comp­fight cc)

life is rife with it…

life is rife with it — the lit­tle anguish­es the sparks of plea­sure the swaths of bore­dom that roll in and out and over you till you close your eyes in hopes that the spin­ning will stop…and you weigh them cease­less­ly those quick­ly-flee­ing lit­tle pieces squirm­ing in your fin­gers in hopes that the good out­weighs the bad and you squint at them in hopes that the bad can be trans­formed if you turn it this way or that or hold it up to the light…and you try to peer ahead and arm your­self accord­ing­ly but still the slings come and still it stings…and you won­der if things will ever be bet­ter if the quips of wis­dom will sink down deep and man­i­fest them­selves as action and bright­ness but I fear it won’t get that much bet­ter two steps for­ward one step back and then anoth­er

Becoming

Bub­bling up to the sur­face
a raw and bloody thing
strug­gling for birth and I
I have tried to ignore her
tried to pre­serve my moor­ings
ten­ta­tive­ly bal­anc­ing on ide­alisms
that slow­ly dis­solve their façade
and I have been bur­dened by fear
and a hunger for seren­i­ty but she
has pricked at me soft­ly steadi­ly
grow­ing more insis­tent and I teeter
back and forth from the soft warmth
a taint­ed numb bliss to the bright cold
shriek that promis­es a bold­er free­dom
but I don’t know if I’m ready for the
plunge the blind fall into embrace­less­ness
and I don’t know how accu­rate it is this
dis­con­tent­ment how taint­ed it is by suc­cu­lent
fan­tasies and I know that the choice is irre­versible
that where I tread from there unsteady and heart pound­ing
he can­not fol­low
and the choice is self­ish cold lust­ful guilt-rid­den
brave burst­ing and wise
she is a dark mir­ror of what I must be
and I knew her my god I knew her long before her seduc­tion
and I feel com­pelled to acqui­esce
feel her ris­ing
earth­quak­ing and in spite of myself
I am becom­ing.