The Past Stinks

Distance not only gives nostalgia, but perspective,
and maybe objectivity.
~Robert Morgan

There was a strange smell outside the house this weekend…

I sat down on the side porch to wonder why the moon was hiding, and was hit with this smell stench. My first instinct was animal. Specifically, animal piss. *eww* (or *ewe* as some will giggle about). As the evening went, I started to believe it was human piss. *double eww* I looked around but couldn’t figure out what the smell was or where it was coming from. And when I went out the next time I decided it reminded me of something… something from my childhood.

Okay, so we all remember things from our childhood. Some good. Some bad. Some require therapy. It’s the way it is. Certain smells bring me right back to Texas, others to Nana’s kitchen. But this? I clearly remember all the therapy required portions of my childhood (though I skipped therapy and went straight to writing fiction and bleeding on the page =) Why in the hell would this remind me of my childhood? And what about my childhood have I blocked out? And why can no one else smell this?

Then it dawned on me, late last night…

Which is why you’re getting a blog on Tuesday rather than on Monday. Couldn’t blog. Couldn’t think. I’m beating myself up over the current novel, the muse is teasing me about the next, I’ve decided to sell my soul to pull off the novella in between and change it into something I’m hoping works, and this stench kept my free time firmly planted in “what the hell is that” mode. (end random sidebar rambling)

When I was a kid, my sister and I spent a lot of time at my Nana’s house. Nana let me watch Night Owl Theater, never forced me to eat the things my mother thought I should, and had a dessert cart—a whole cart! I heart my Nana. For a time, she lived in the country, about 1/2 mile from Pattison State Park, which spans quite a few miles on either side of Highway 35. On the left side of the highway was the lake I learned to swim in (thanks to mom—walking out past my head, dropping me in the deep water, and declaring “swim or sink”). On the right side were the ginormous water falls—beautiful, but I preferred to admire them from afar rather than from the little railed ledges hanging over them, that whole fear of heights thing somehow removed the desire for the “scenic” view. To get from the lake side to the falls side you didn’t even have to go across the highway if you didn’t want to—or weren’t allowed to because you were a kid.

You could go under.

Through a tunnel.

And my backyard, for about twenty-four hours, smelled exactly like that damn tunnel.

I don’t necessarily have a bad memory of that tunnel. But neither do I have any good ones. It was just there. Like so many other portions of my childhood landscape. As a kid, I was more interested in the water, the sand, and the dude selling bomb pops. As a teen, I added my name to both a tree and a wooden railing near the falls (separate occasions, different reasons) and walked the trails. I grew up, Nana moved, and I forgot about the park for the most part. The tunnel is unimportant. And while there was a mild creep factor (click the entrance picture above for a view of the inside), it was a fairly short tunnel and the light from the other side spilled in enough to keep the haunting shadows to the center of the unlit imagination machine.

But apparently, the tunnel had a stink worth remembering. Mom says musty, I still say human piss. Maybe a combination of both. Maybe bums lived in there. Maybe it was water run-off and rain puddles and bugs and dirt and normal smells of dark, damp nature… in purgatory. I’ve been in the woods. I’ve smelled nature’s version of musty, moldy and old… this smell is different. It’s stronger. And while the tunnel was unimportant, I spent several hours last night remembering all the other things in that park which were worth remembering.

All the things I had forgotten.

The human brain is a strange thing. It chooses to remember this and forget that. The conscious mind really doesn’t have a choice in it sometimes—for example, that test you couldn’t remember the answers for versus the lyrics of that song you hated. And for whatever reason, I get to remember the stink of that tunnel.

I wonder what I’ve forgotten to make room for that…

And I still wonder why the backyard smelled of it… only to me, only for a short time. As strange as the brain can be, the universe is even weirder some days.



Invisible Ink

I could tell you…
but then I’d have to kill you.

On March 27, I had the honor of being invited to speak at CIA Langley with Mary SanGiovanni and Livia Llewellyn by Scott M Baker—the president of Invisible Ink, the agency’s writers’ group (established in 2000 by Bob Kresge). It was quite an honor, on several counts. We were the first female authors to ever speak to the group. We had a great attendance (made up of Invisible Ink agents as well as several from a women’s group), went long, and were told we were one of the best groups they’d ever had (win!).

The talk went very well and the three of us enjoyed it immensely, stating we would come back any time and receiving an open invitation in response. Oh yes, I’m going back. You can bank on that! The attendees were full of great questions, to which we gave  equally awesome answers and hopefully helped them with their direction, desires and dreams.

And none of us got in any trouble. (Note how I said none of us to try and pretend everyone involved, or in the know, didn’t fully expect that “us” to really just be “me”)

Of course, that doesn’t mean I didn’t try. I mean, I wasn’t trying to get restrained, arrested, or otherwise taken down by any of the large men toting weapons or anything, but you know me. I’m twelve. I’m full of questions. And even though I hated history class, I know just enough that I wanted answers to certain things. I didn’t get a whole lot, but I got one tidbit that I’ll giggle about with an “I knew it!” attitude for years to come.

Upon arrival, the first thing I did was take a picture of the huge sign that says “no taking pictures”—of course. Then we went the wrong way on the directions (for which we completely blamed Scott later) and ended up face-to-face with a very large man holding a weapon bigger than him. Upon approaching, I told Mary to roll her window down and yelled from far, far away “lost visitors!” so he would not to shoot us. He sternly turned us around and sent us the proper way to the visitor’s center for our badges.

Once we were past the “you are now being recorded” line, Mary started clarifying everything I said by talking into the air and directly addressing whomever was listening to the recorded conversations. “And by that she means…” became her mantra for a while. To which, of course, I had to play along and introduce myself and my narrator to the invisible listeners. We turned off our phones and left them in the car—required behavior. But being me, I pouted about not having a camera (and even twitter occasionally) throughout the day…

First and foremost at the great seal.

The image above was stolen from google and then graffiti signed in photoshop. Why? Because no cameras, phones, or other recording devices are allowed inside. At all. Period. Ever. And before we were past this main entrance I was already showing my 12-year-old off.

If you look at the top right of the picture, you can almost make out the security desk where three lovely (read as “large, well-armed”) men were in charge of who could pass. These SPOs (security protection officers) were probably not expecting someone like me when they left for work that morning. After Scott explained who we were and we were all put through the check point, I walked over to the rope dividing us from them and harassed begged asked a very large man to grab a screenshot of me standing in the great seal off the security tape and email it to me. We went back and forth on how this would be cool (me) and just not going to happen (him). I gave him my business card and pushed the topic with a smile while he stood tall (dude was like a freaking wall) and repeatedly said “that’s not going to happen.” I finally stood on my tippy toes and put my finger to his nose and told him to repeat “I’ll see what I can do ma’am.” To which he did, but then tried to add more (which was absolutely going to be another version of “no”) and I made the “zip it” motion with my hand and told him not to pop my bubble and just let me walk away thinking he might do this. He did. Scott shook his head. The girls were convinced I was going to be detained and miss the meeting with Invisible Ink. I smiled that gypsy smile, said thanks, and skipped up the steps. Yep. Twelve. And none of you are shocked.

Outside of that, we saw a piece of the Berlin Wall, the Kryptos sculpture (which none of us even attempted to crack), the museums (ohhhh dragonfly spy technology), and emptied our wallets in the gift shop (I came, I saw, I haz coffee cup! Hippie has a t-shirt to wear during his runs to mess with the minds of the neighborhood… which will go perfectly with my coroner jacket he’s highjacked adopted.) Scott was a great tour guide and very charming host (<– there ya go, Scott!). The day was packed with interesting tidbits and wonderful sights. Again, it was a great honor, and a memory I’ll hold dear for many reasons.

On our way out the door, I went back to the SPOs station—feeling sorta, kinda, not really, bad about putting my finger in the large guard’s face—and gave him a free book for putting up with me. I’m still waiting for that screenshot… but if I ever do receive one in the email, I’ll never tell any of you about it.


Speaking to the Surf

©2011 Kelli Owen

“There is a distinct difference between lonely and alone.”
~ Kelli Owen

I spent Christmas weekend at the Outer Banks (with special thanks to @meteornotes for the use of his beach house—thank you, again, sooooo much!). Alone. It wasn’t because I wanted to, but because I needed to. Yes I missed my family, but in the state I was in, I was no good to them or anyone else. I needed to find my chi, dust it off, remind it how to stand tall, and remember that even when you fall, you fall in a direction. I needed to figure out that direction.

I was surrounded by quiet. To the point that when I said something aloud the second day, my own voice startled me—and I can’t honestly remember that ever happening before. Inside was anything but quiet. A cacophony of voices, all screaming to be heard, ranged from logic to anger to pain to stubborn denial. It was noisy inside my head and quiet outside, and I needed those two things to find a happy medium.

I wandered the beach. Not much for pebbles, but plenty of broken shells to catch my eye. I saw shapes and designs in everything. And while I was sad that I had no one to show them to, I realized I also wasn’t taking pictures to show anyone later, or gathering them to share with people when I got home. These discoveries were for me and me alone. And while my subconscious had obviously already grasped the idea of that, of alone, my conscious had to learn to accept it as well.

There was no moon.

There were no crows.

There was only me.

I listened to the silence. I listened to the surf. I heard a lot of things I should have already known. I heard a lot of things others have said to which I hadn’t truly been listening. I heard old wisdom and new lessons. And I realized the surf wasn’t the one talking. The surf simply cleaned the gypsy off so her words were no longer muffled, no longer muted, and I listened to my own soul tell me the realities as they were, and the paths as they lay ahead of me.

I found a walking stick of driftwood. I dragged it along the sand, stuck it in the muck, flipped over strange discoveries with it, and held tight to it… my gift from the sea. When I got back to the beach house, I pulled out the sharpies and decorated my stick a bit. It came home with me. As did several pocketfuls of shell, a container of sand, and a plethora of pictures.

I learned to be comfortable alone, without being lonely. I learned that the voices in my head, while occasionally sounding insane, all have valid points to be considered. And I learned that even if you don’t know every pebble you’ll encounter on the path, knowing you’re at least on a path does wonders for the psyche.

The little girl was relocated when a piece of blue chalk literally fell from the sky (though I think perhaps a child tossed it, Mary insists the universe threw it at me). The gypsy was cleansed by the waters she loves. And my soul is healing. It’s got to heal from the inside out so it doesn’t leave scar tissue, I know that, but there are stitches and bandages in place and the initial pain is finally subsiding.

I watched the sun rise on my last day there. I looked at the beach and the things the sea had coughed up for me to discover—puked up from her depths—and realized there was beauty even in what’s discarded. And wondered if occasionally it wasn’t especially in what’s discarded.

I cried my last tears and let the ocean swallow them up, making them her own, and made it impossible to ever find them again. I stood up. I brushed the sand off myself. And I took a step forward. A pocket full of pebbles shells and a path to follow…


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