Bats in my Belfry

The other day, my daughter asked me for Halloween symbols she could use for a poster she was making. I gave her the usual — ghosts, jack-o-lanterns, witches, tooth decay . . . It didn’t dawn on me until later that I’d left out maybe the most common one.

Bats.

Square-townsend-fledermaus

I have a hate/hate relationship with bats. On a rational level, I know they are harmless. They play an important role in preventing the mosquito apocalypse. I’m fine with them as long as they’re flying at least a mile above my head. It’s when those flying mice decide to come inside — that’s when we’ve got a problem, Houston.

It all started when I was a wee lass on the ranch in Montana. My mom and I were out for a walk in broad daylight, when a sick bat started following us. I have no memory of this, but Mom says it circled around us, frothing at the mouth and saying, “I vant to suck your blood.” We ran and hid in the coal shed — a pitch dark, dilapidated shack where small, wild animals went to die. Basically, the perfect place for an impressionable girl and her mother to spend some quality time together. I don’t know how long we waited for the rabid bat to give up, but during those long minutes or possibly hours, my tiny mind began to warp.

We shared our old house with a bat colony that lived in the crawl space. Above my room, by the way. Sometimes I could hear them squeaking and scritching around up there. Every night at dusk, they’d spill out into the sky from the seams in the roof. Even though it made my skin crawl, I knew they didn’t want to eat me, since I didn’t rhyme with bosquito. We shared a peaceful co-existence, the bats and I, until I was in junior high and my parents decided to do a remodeling project. One that involved tinkering with the roof of our house.

One night we were watching TV. Don’t remember what was on, but it must’ve been serious because we were all dead quiet. That’s when I saw it. A grayish, furry piece of intestine clinging to the drapes. I let out a blood-curdling scream that pretty near polished off my heart-attack proned grandfather. With no explanation for my outburst, I ran into the spare bedroom and slammed the door.

Later that summer, there were more encounters. Every time, I’d flee for my life, screaming like my hair was on fire. One night, multiple bats swooped through the house. I locked myself in my room and didn’t surface until morning. My mother informed me she’d discovered a soaking wet bat in the sink, trying to crawl out of a wine glass. I didn’t go near the sink for months.

My adult years passed without one indoor bat encounter, and I chalked up my phobia to immaturity. I’d outgrown all that nonsense. I had children, now! They were way more frightening than a teensy, harmless, woodland creature.

It figures I’d marry someone whose childhood home had bats in its belfry, like mine. My mother-in-love told stories of her husband stalking rogue bats in the middle of the night with a badminton racket, dressed only in his skivvies and a hunting cap with mosquito netting.

My worst fears brought to life.

My worst fears brought to life.

It was an abnormally hot summer during our annual visit to Darrick’s parents. The boards of the old house had shifted in the humidity, and guess what that means? Those furry flying varmints can slip through the veil. I was folding laundry one afternoon, and saw one swooping around the living room. As tradition called for, I ran screaming from the room. Darrick and his father Gene went bat hunting while I cowered in the bathroom. After awhile, they returned with no report whatsoever. Where was their sense of urgency? Both men acted totally chill, like this happened all the time.

Now, Darrick knows about my bat issues. I was a little offended I had to ask if he found the bat. Big house, little bat, and all. Darrick deftly dodged the question and refused to make eye contact.

Geno, however, oozed confidence. “We opened the windows. He’ll fly out. Don’t worry about it.”

Right. Because bats love nothing more than a sunny day. Part of me wanted to pack my bags and head back to Colorado where the bats have the good sense to stay out of my house. Then I reminded myself that I was an adult now, and I was in charge of my emotions. Even if there was a bat in the house, it wasn’t going to attack me, for Pete’s sake. Like any rational, sane person, which I totally am, I carried on about my day.

Fast forward to three a.m. As usual, I had to go to the bathroom. Our bedroom was upstairs, and luckily, so was the bathroom. I’d just have to pass through the sewing room to get there. You should know that the sewing room had such an abnormally low ceiling that my husband couldn’t even stand up straight in it. Anyway, a nightlight illuminated the way, and as I stumbled, half asleep, something darted just above my head. My flesh crawled and suddenly, I was wide awake and hoofing it to the bathroom, where I slammed the door and flipped on the lights. It couldn’t be a bat. My eyes were playing tricks on me.

Once again, I reminded myself that I wasn’t seven years old. I had children sleeping in the rooms next to me. I grew a spine and forced myself to peer around the bathroom door. Nothing. Growing bolder, I flipped on the light of the sewing room.  There was the bat, going completely berserk. Have you ever seen how fast those little suckers can fly in an enclosed space? It took everything I had not to give in to the urge to scream. I wanted to, badly. Instead, I locked myself in the bathroom and considered my options.

  1. Go back to bed. This was clearly NOT going to happen, because I’d have to pass through the room with the bat. And pygmy marmoset-sized ceilings.
  2. Yell for Darrick, who wouldn’t hear me because we sleep with a white noise machine.
  3. Yell for my in-laws. They, on the other hand, would hear me, but how embarrassing.
  4. Spend the rest of the night in the bathroom. This was the best, most logical option. There were only a few more hours until morning. I could make a little bed in the bathtub with the rug, and cover up with the shower curtain. No one would have to know.

Then I realized my daughter’s room was right next to the bathroom. Her door was closed, so that bat didn’t have the chance to zip in while I was in hiding. I took a deep breath, and a death grip on my last shred of sanity as I ran for it, crouching so the bat wouldn’t fly in my hair. I slammed Sophie’s door and crawled in her cozy bed.

The next morning I reported the bat sighting with journalistic integrity, trying not to let the absolute horror of the situation bleed through in my voice. I expected everyone to jump up at once and hunt down the little beastie, but everyone just sat there, drinking their coffee like it was no big whoop. Even the kids weren’t alarmed. In fact, they thought it was cool that a bat was hiding somewhere.

Eventually, Gene armed himself with his “bat”minton racket and he and Darrick searched every room in the house, beating the drapes and peering in corners, but once again, no luck. “He probably crawled back into the attic,” Gene said, trying to assure me. “I’m sure he’s gone.”

I tried to adopt their nonchalant attitude, and went about my business, which is pretty much doing laundry. The basket needed to be unloaded, and our rooms were upstairs, which is of course, the last place I’d seen the bat.  I reminded myself that Darrick and Geno had scoured the place and hadn’t seen the creature, so up the stairs I went, making my children come with me so I could keep an eye on them.

I sat the basket down and lo and behold, there was that FREAKING bat again, swooping and bombing around the sewing room. I finally gave in. I’d held in that primal scream long enough, and I just let it rip. My reptilian brain now in control, I ran like a wild woman through the sewing room into the safety of my bedroom. I slammed the door and shrieked for Darrick.

Then I heard a tiny voice on the other side of the door. “Mommy?”

My beloved children were out there. With the bat.

Ye olde mother instinct informed me that I should protect them. That was the right thing to do. But that would mean I’d have to open the door. And then the bat could get me.

“Go get Daddy!” I screamed.

Sam and Sophie both started yelling for their father. I had all sorts of nasty visuals of a rabid bat attacking my children and me going to jail for letting it happen, but I COULD NOT OPEN the door. No matter what.

“You have to go downstairs!” I yelled. “Run! Daddy can’t hear you up here!”

I heard them thunder down the steps and relaxed somewhat, knowing they were safe.

Later, when they peeled me off the ceiling, Darrick said they’d caught the perp. They even showed me the, um, evidence, and I felt like a schmuck for letting something the size of an apricot cause me to completely take leave of my senses.

Darrick said, “I can’t believe you left Sam and Sophie alone with the bat,” about eighty-seven times.

In my defense, they were six and eight years old. Plenty old enough to deal with bats. I hear you judging me, because I’m waaay older than that, but like I said earlier, I have warps. And in my defense again, I was allowing them to “build character.” They handled the situation and everything turned out just fine. To this day, they’re not afraid of bats at all.

And neither am I, I’ve decided. That little episode is in my past and I firmly commit and solemnly swear to keep my head on from this point forward. Amen.

At least until the next time I’m locked in with one. * shivers* 

Am I the only one with a phobia? What freaks you out beyond all rationalization?

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Ode to my Writer’s Group

The article posted below was written by my friend Joe, who also belongs to my writer’s group. His thoughts are spot on, and I can’t express how beneficial it has been to be involved with the Pasties. Yes, that’s what we call ourselves. No, I’m not telling why.

When I first met these folks at the workshop Joe talks about below, I remember thinking it remarkable that we didn’t talk about our personal lives at all. It didn’t matter who had kids, or who worked where doing what — what mattered was the story and if the words were working. We grew to know each other’s protagonists as well as our own. We grew to trust each other enough to call bullshit when something wasn’t working, and to actually believe each other the rare times it was.

Through the months and years, small and large details of our lives slipped through the pages and now, these folks know enough about me to make a run for public office impossible. Because they’re also warped individuals writers, they understand me in a way others don’t. My life, and certainly my writing, is richer for it, and I am grateful.

6 Reasons You (Yes, You!) Must Belong to a Writer’s Group

Since the summer of 2009, I have actively participated in a writers’ group that started in a novel writer’s workshop through the Lighthouse Writers Workshop in Denver, Colorado. The workshop lasted eight weeks during which time a strong chemistry developed among the participants. Writers who examine and critique a piece of writing can become a rowdy, engaged bunch, and the strong dynamic and sharp intuition that developed made for some thought-provoking conversations.

After the formal workshop ended in late summer 2009, we began meeting at locations around Denver. The meetings were helpful, challenging and friendly–as useful as the actual workshop in which we had participated–and now represent one of my best memories from living three years in Colorado. About a year later, a former employer from the Washington, DC region asked if I might want to return to that job. A lot of consideration went into that decision but, in the end, it turned out to be the right move to make.

After I broke the news to my writers group, I feared it was good-bye. I was leaving the Rockies for the East Coast; I would no longer be able to meet with everyone. That was it. C’est la vie.

Incredibly though, now in 2013, I remain involved. It’s amazing what can be done in the age of the Internet and social networking. I had a good thing going with the group and didn’t want to give it up, geographical constraints be damned. If you’re lucky enough to find a solid group of writers to meet with on a regular basis–whether in person or virtually–you must keep that relationship going.

If you’re a writer off on your own, you should reach out, network and do what you need to do to find such a group. Here are six reasons why:

1. Professional feedback –By professional, I don’t mean the others in your writers’ group need to be ridiculously successful published authors. In fact, the greater similarity that exists between you and they, the better, since it means they’re likely going through experiences similar to yours. Anyone who writes with aspirations of publication is likely a pretty shrewd reader; they need to be and that’s all the professionalism you’ll need from the writers in your group.

Joining a writer’s group means you have an opportunity to help other members by critiquing their work; in turn you get the benefit of having your work reviewed. That feedback, if given consistently and respectfully, can do wonders for your skills as a writer. The trick to getting feedback, of course, is not taking constructive criticism personally. Accept feedback to learn and make better choices; this doesn’t mean you need to respond to every comment. You’ll never finish anything if you do! But if you start hearing the same feedback from two, three or four people, you’ll likely realize it’s time to make a change.

2. Validation and Accountability– As any life coach or leadership consultant will tell you, how you feel about yourself informs what you do. If you think of yourself as a writer–and being a writer is why you would choose to belong to a writers’ group–then you’re going to be motivated to do what writers do: write.

People tend to feel compelled to perform when they belong to a group dedicated to the same interests. When I was 30 years old, I took up martial arts. It was one of the most extraordinary experiences of my life and for five years, I was a tae kwon do junkie. I was even going to class Friday nights! But  it was also physically challenging beyond anything I had tried before. I remember taking special Sunday classes in preparation for my black belt exam. There were five of us in that second-floor studio, sweat-drenched t-shirts plastered to our frames, arms and legs shooting out in every which direction, punching and kicking, Mr. Surage’s thunderous commands in Korean, all of us working as a single unit to ensure we did not let each other or ourselves down. And I didn’t let anyone down; I just could not do that.

The same attitude and discipline are required for your participation in a writer’s group. It won’t always be easy; you’ll have other obligations or pure ennui that make you not want to sit down and write. But when you know you have a meeting coming up with your group in five days, well, then….

3. Gather new ideas for your writing — It’s important to participate in a writer’s group for the same reason it is so important to read. No one can say where your next great idea will come from for your stories but it could quite possibly come from something one of the other writers is working on. The manuscripts of others in your writers’ group can provide just as much sustenance as the hardcover novel you purchased for $22 from an established, published author.

Beyond just story ideas too, you’ll get a chance to see what narrative choices and connections other writers make. This won’t necessarily come up in professional feedback, in terms of what the group members choose to discuss. This is something more personal, something you simply identify through the process of reading. You may really like a choice one author has made in a piece of writing that is under review and use it yourself.

It’s astonishing to think about the fact that the longer you participate in a group, the less likely you are to make distinctions between the writing of established writers and those of your group members. If they (and you) have committed to the group long enough, it likely means you’re a committed and professional group of writers and the quality of your work will ultimately reflect that.

4. Networking — If you participate in a novel writer’s workshop for long enough, eventually one of your members will finish his/her book and start looking for a literary agent. If you stay even longer, more members will start looking for agents and they will eventually get one. One member may enter and WIN a writer’s contest or attend a writer’s conference.

The fact is, you can learn not just from your own experience during the writer’s journey, but from those of the others AFTER your books have been completed. It’s been said that finishing your book is only the first step and that it’s what comes afterward–the marketing and literary agent research–that represents the real work.

Getting to this phase in your relationship with a writer’s group also reflects writers who have demonstrated keen commitment to their craft. While finishing a book may be the start of the journey to publication in the publishing world, in the world of writers, finishing a book or the persistence in finishing one is a huge achievement. It essentially says: I mean what I am doing. This is important to me.

5. If you can’t make the meeting, you can still commit to your job. We all get busy with work and family. I’m a lucky man on both fronts.

Sometimes you’ll miss meetings with your writer’s group because of a hectic schedule. In fact, with my Denver group (including one member who has since moved from Colorado to Florida), I haven’t attended any meetings since 2010 except for a virtual one via Skype!

Missing a meeting doesn’t have to be the end of the world. It doesn’t mean you can’t do your job and critique another writer’s work. I have successfully participated for more than three years with my group in this manner. Manuscript selections scheduled to be reviewed at the next meeting are sent out by the author via email, everyone congregates at the meeting location and then the work is reviewed. Since I’ve been a remote participant, I need to read the work on my own, use MS Word to make my comments and line edits (using the Track Changes feature) and email the edited manuscript not just back to the author but to everyone in the group so they know that, even if I’m not physically there, I still am a member in good standing.

Hopefully, you’ll never be in my position of being consistently apart from your group due to a geographic move. Some might argue that I should find another local writer’s group. However, I’m satisfied with the dynamic I have with the members in the Rocky Mountains. Online social networks can go a long way toward helping you keep a fundamental connection with the other writers. And by the time you’ve been in a group this long, remote our not, you’re likely to call the other members of your group not just writers, but friends as well.

As a final comment, I will say you DO miss something by not attending a writer’s meeting, which is socializing. That leads me to the sixth reason you must belong to a writer’s group…

6. It’s the perfect excuse to drink beer. Writers can be a bit odd. We spend lots of time by ourselves; we often make great excuses, as Paul Theroux once wrote, so that we may dash away from the company of our friends, head home and start writing. We imagine things that aren’t there and somehow believe this is as important if not more so than paying bills, catching the latest episode of Breaking Bad or, well, yes, socializing.

The fact is, however, that writers are like everyone else, which means we enjoy: food, friends and frangelico. (I used “frangelico” by the way as an alliterative stand-in for alcohol in this case, not because I’m the greatest fan). People gather in bars, restaurants and a million other locations for the sheer fun of enjoying the company of others.

Even if writers do spend a great deal of time in our heads, we do, typically, like other people, as well. The heady rush of jousting conversations in a dark bar & grill, the hasty moves to the restroom, the server personalities and the laughter that comes from recognizing some hilarious aspect of fiction or in our lives makes for one meaningful reason to connect with other writers.

So, there you have it. The final message regarding writer’s groups: Write, meet and drink!