Fear and Loathing in the Hot Days of Summer

ocean courageI took an extended weekend on the beach with a handful of friends. We’ve known each other a long time and they pretty much know everything there is to know about me. Including my near irrational fear of getting added to a shark’s sampler pack as I dabble my toes in the water.

“If you get eaten by a shark, I’ll be sure to take everything I’ve ever said back at your funeral,” one would say before diving head first into the breakers. Because equal parts support and ridicule are just what friends are for. I watched enviously from the shore as they floated on their backs, looking oh, so, carefree. I’d forgotten to pack my shark repellent. Shame on me.

A battle launched in my brain. My logic side shouted – Just go. My creative side rolled its imaginary eyes.  Don’t you know what can happen out there? One accidental nibble and it will be open season on us.

The chance of that happening is next to nil and you know it.

But not zero.

Not zero, but still. . . Go on. What’s the worst that could happen?

I get bitten. Duh.

Is that really so bad? Think about it. Most attacks this close to shore are survivable. Sure, you might not be all in one piece, but you’d have a story to tell. You could get on the news or even the talk show circuit. Imagine the improved visibility. That shark bite could be just what you need to launch your writing career into the stratosphere.

Yeah. Um. I think I’ll stick to my existing plan.

Bah. Well, then we have a problem to solve then because it is only getting hotter out here.

“A man who fears suffering is already suffering from what he fears.” – Michel de Montaigne

Pressured by my body’s aversion to excessive heat, my brain got to work. I tried to look at the problem differently. What was it that usually sent me running back to the shore while my friends passed beyond the breakers. My friends aren’t dummies. They are fully aware of what calls the ocean its home. What did they do differently? They don’t look down, I realized. They look at the top of the next wave or just out ahead.

I always looked into the waves, looking for a shadow to appear, and once spotted, my imagination filled in all the terrible things that could be that shadows cause (other than a cloud). My imagination, that thing that works so well for me most other times, was holding me back. So, stop looking down, I told myself.

“Never fear shadows. They simply mean there’s a light shining somewhere nearby.” -Ruth E. Renkel

I focused on the horizon and not at the waves around me, a trick my dad had taught me years ago to combat seasickness and took a step. Then another. The water hit my knees. Then my waist. Then my shoulders. I lifted my above me and dove into that blue-green water and swam.

I only managed to stay out there a few minutes, but it was longer than I had the day before.

But apparently, not everyone’s weekend was as relaxing as mine. While I was away, there had been an incident at the shopping mall near my work. My neighbors, a family of four, were lunching in the food court when they heard a “thunderous sound.” Crowds of people began rushing to the exits in a panic. A man reported seeing a gun. Others reported shots fired, but no casings were found, nor victims of a shooting. However, that doesn’t mean that no one was hurt. At least eight people were transported out of the mall with injuries, likely caused by falls and or the press of terrified people as they tried to make their escape. In this case, fear was the more destructive weapon.

My neighbors were not among the injured, but instead now have to explain to their sons, one of whom is only as old as mine, why any of this could happen. Why things like this (and worse) keep happening.

Fear. That’s what it comes down to.

Fear is what kept me from enjoying my time with friends fully. Fear is what causes me to see danger in each unexpected shadow. Fear drove ordinary people to push their neighbors. Fear is a root cause as well as an end result in a seemingly never ending cycle. Seemingly. It doesn’t have to stay that way.

“F-E-A-R has two meanings: ‘Forget Everything And Run’ or ‘Face Everything And Rise.’ The choice is yours.” – Zig Ziglar

I am so tired of being made to feel afraid. So while I am aware of my surroundings and recognize the things their shadows may hide, I will try to keep my eyes on the horizon, of what can be, and not look down. And maybe, just maybe, if you join me, we might just get through these breakers, one step at a time.

quotes attributed to http://www.tinybuddha.com. photography is my own.

A day at the gallery / How to have fun with Prisma

Ah, darlings, so good of you to come. I am so very glad you were able to attend my showing. Please help yourself to a glass of cheap wine located at the bar in the back of the gallery. There is also a platter of cheese circulating around here somewhere. I’ve even used the fancy toothpicks with the colored tape on them.

Before we get started, I would like to express as special thanks to Helen Jones of Journey to Ambeth for inspiring today’s event, an event I have entitled How to have Fun with Prisma.

Cape Lookout Lighthouse

For my first piece, I decided to start with the lighthouse at Cape Lookout, NC. The North Carolina coast is also known as the graveyard of the Atlantic, and for good reason. The shifting sands of the outer banks have ruined many a ship, not to mention we enjoyed more than our fair share of piracy back in the day.

There are at least six coastal light stations you can climb along the shore, but the lighthouse at Cape Lookout is one of my favorites.

Here, I’ve tried to capture the importance, as well as the strength, in providing light to others.

Sunset on Lake Norman

For my next piece, I chose to focus on one of North Carolina’s many lakes. I decided to go in a more impressionistic brush, as there is nothing quite like the rainbow of colors that dance across the sky as the sun sets over still water.

The figure in silhouette coming from the pier walks with confidence, and yet takes up only a small portion of the composition. The figure has plenty of room for growth. A flag flies high but is limp. Like the figure, it too is proud but requires a strong wind or other unseen support to reach its full potential.

It is a piece about the beauty of age and the promise of the future.

Topsail Beach

Keeping with my theme of water, I have a piece entitled Two Boys and the Sea. The sea in this piece is detailed in tones of red and white rather than the traditional coastal color schemes. It challenges the viewer to reconsider preconceptions.

In it, one boy stands boldly, ready for the onset of the incoming wave, while the other runs away leaving footprints deep in the sand.

There is fear of the unknown in this piece, but there is also joy and acceptance. It all comes down to perspective.

Topsail BeachThis next take on the ocean highlights the ever-changing nature of the sea. Each slight variation of color has been highlighted in curvature.

The colors in this piece are faded as if this moment in time has already be relegated to nostalgia and memory.

A dog leaps into the waves while the other figures watch on.

This is a piece about noticing the small details and living in the moment as it reinforces how fleeting those moments can be.

Summer dogFinally, for my last piece, I broke away from the themes of water and the great outdoors.

The dog is alert as shown by the open eye and perked ear, although the sprawled position on the floor would suggest she might not be for long. The rainbow hues and frantic brush strokes suggest she has been revitalized by her recent journey, yet at the same time, the subject is clearly exhausted from the travel.

This is a piece that reinforces the refrain (for at least one weary traveler): be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home.

Allie PottsAbout the Artist

While I do appreciate the nuances of composition, color selection, brush thickness, and stroke in art, I am in no way, shape, or form, a professional painter, photographer, or art critic.

I simply just wanted to share some of my recent photos and had way too much fun with a new phone app.

I hope you enjoyed your free virtual cheese and wine and thank you for your continued patronage.

Another walk on the beach

I originally posted the following around a year ago, however, while my eldest is now a second grader and will be attending the same school as he did the year before, much of the rest of this post is just as true today.

storm brewing off topsail island

I could get used to views like this

“Do you want to go for a walk?” I asked Kiddo. It was only the second day of our beach trip. Earlier that morning, Lamont spotted a four to five foot shark chasing after a school of fish in the waves and none of us were exactly jumping up and down to get back into the water.

“Sure mom,” he replied, trotting to my side.

As we walked, every so often Kiddo would leap ahead, driven to scoop up a shell and hurl it back into the sea while he waited for me to catch up. It was a far cry from the early years I spent begging him to stay focused and keep up. I glanced back toward our tent and noticed that his footprints in the sand weren’t much smaller than my own.

“Do you still want to be a firefighter when you grow up?” I asked. It was a question that had been on my mind for the last several months. Kiddo had decided at the age of two that he was going to be a firefighter and stuck with his original announcement as the years progressed. He has a lunch box-shaped like a fire truck, a dozen firefighting themed books, and even a note from his Kindergarten teacher stating that perhaps we might like to expose him to other topics after journal page after journal page featured the same red and white truck. But over the last several weeks he had been picking dinosaurs over trucks when given the option. It made me wonder.

“Well I still would like to… some of the time.”

There it was. He was considering other career options. My baby was growing up.

“Well what do you want to be?” I asked. It was a simple question, one I had asked dozens of times, but for the first time in years, I didn’t know how he would answer.

His new school year starts next week. He’ll be attending a brand new school, with brand new teachers, at a brand new time, with brand new friends. Many of our neighbors are excited about the opportunity. They see the school’s raw potential, but as much as I would love to share their enthusiasm, I am too obsessed with the what ifs to look forward to the school year. Kiddo was identified as potentially gifted and a future leader at last year’s school. What if the teacher’s notes didn’t follow him? Would he be asked to slow down so the rest of the kids could catch up? What if there is no chemistry with the faculty? Would parents and students have to suffer while they figured out how to work together? What if? What if? What if?

I fear the unknown almost as much as I fear sharks. I hate not being able to see what is in the water next to me. I hate not being in control of my destiny. I hate what ifs. We kept walking.

The following day, the morning sun reflected off the water to our left as gray skies grew to our right. Storms were in the afternoon forecast. If we were going to swim, we thought we’d better do it soon, or not at all. As we approached the surf, a dark fin appeared several feet in front of Lamont and Kiddo. Great. There goes another vacation day. Then another fin popped up. Each was attached to a curved back. The fins disappeared beneath the water only to reappear several more feet away. Not sharks. Dolphins.

I let myself relax. Where there are dolphins, there is unlikely to be sharks. The fins didn’t appear again, but we took it as a sign and dared to go back into the water. I am still far from thrilled about the start of the school year, but maybe, just maybe, things might yet work out. Tomorrow is still a big unknown, but at least it is another day.

rainbow over topsail

Vacation all I ever wanted

Cardiff, Wales

Me, going to some extreme measures to keep from checking my email in Cardiff, Wales

Facebook. As much as I try to limit the time I spend on the site, it always seems to find a way to pull me back in. “Allie, we really think you would like to see these memories,” it offered. Beneath the friendly banner was a handful of photographs we’d taken from a trip to the UK three years ago. We’d been so smug at the time, sharing the pictures with friends and family stuck at work while we hopped between pubs and historic sites. Look at the adventure we are having. Don’t you wish you were us? Had I only known then how the images would come back to haunt me later.

It was a stark reminder I haven’t taken a vacation since last November. Sure, I’ve taken the occasional ‘me’ day, and extended weekend at my parents’ house, but I haven’t taken a vacation. A real vacation. And I am beginning to suspect that all that work with no play may be beginning to have an effect on my outlook.

I’m taking a few days off to recharge my batteries, so if I am less prompt in returning comments or otherwise responding to social media, this is why. Don’t worry, I can only stay away from the real world for so long and I look forward to sharing some new stories with you when I return.

In the meantime you can help me out by clicking on the non-partisan and completely non-binding poll below and voting for your favorite working title (listed in no particular order) for my current work in process, the sequel to The Fair & Foul:

Not knowing anything at all about the story, other than I wrote it, do any capture your attention at a glance? If none of them do, feel free to suggest alternates. I’ll consider write-ins provided they are better than Boaty McBoatface, which why memorable, isn’t exactly in line with the style of the series.



Who’ya gonna call?

Logo used by the "Ghostbusters" in t...

Logo used by the “Ghostbusters” in the film (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“When there’s something strange, in the neighborhood,” sang out Kiddo at the dinner table. “Who’ya gonna call?”

“Ghostbusters!” his brother shouted.

I looked at my youngest child. “How does he know that song?” I wondered aloud.

“We were playing Ghostbusters at Nana’s.” Kiddo replied before launching back into the song’s refrain. “You know Nana’s house has ghosts,” he added once the song ended.

“Is that so?’

“Yep. We heard strange sounds in the attic last time we played up there.”

Kiddo has been hearing strange sounds everywhere recently, a victim of his overactive combined with perhaps not my finest parenting choice. Over the weekend Lamont and I took Kiddo (and only Kiddo) to see the updated release, so controversially featuring female leads (oh, the horror!) I say perhaps because apparently the casting choice wasn’t supposed to be the most worrisome part of the movie – there were ghosts in it too.

When I originally heard they were remaking Ghostbusters, I thought it was simply more evidence that Hollywood in general, had run out of either a) original ideas or b) courage to risk producing them. When I read that the casting choice, I rolled my eyes. It was nothing personal against the actresses themselves, I find them multi-talented as well as funny. It just felt gimmicky in this case, as if Ghostbusters name wouldn’t be a draw enough. I had no intention of rushing out to buy tickets to see it in the theater. Waiting for the DVD would do.

Then, LT was invited to go and play elsewhere leaving Kiddo alone with Lamont and myself on a dangerously hot and sticky afternoon. Let me pause to say that I have a newly reinforced respect for parents of only children. Therefore as the day progressed and Kiddo mentioned that he was actually interested in seeing a movie that didn’t feature talking animals or thirty-year-olds pretending to be teenagers fighting costumed monsters, I found myself suddenly a lot more open-minded.

This is not a movie review site, but for what it is worth, I enjoyed the show. While it could be considered a remake of sorts of the first Ghostbusters due to similarities in the high-level plot, there were plenty of differences (even excluding gender reversals) for the movie to stand on its own. I will warn you that the opening scenes are fairly intense, especially for younger viewers. If you have some of the smaller set in tow, you may wish to linger by the concession stand a while longer. That is unless you really don’t care about enforcing bedtimes or enjoy engaging in conversations about alternate realms of existence.

Back to dinner.

“Now remember Kiddo, the movie was one hundred percent fiction. We talked about this.” And we had. At length. Both before the movie started and after the closing credits. We talked about it again that first night when Kiddo begged me to stand in the doorway after lights out. And then again when he thought he heard a knocking sound (which was just the TV downstairs), and again when he wondered what the dog was barking at (Lamont hadn’t given Her Royal Highness her evening treat fast enough). I’d known before I bought the tickets that the evening would be rougher than most, but, just like the movie, Kiddo’s performance well exceeded my expectations.

“I know mom.”

“And none of the ghosts were real. Someone made them up with a computer.” I’ve been teaching my son how to layer photos and stitch videos together. Could I turn this into a teaching moment?

“I knnnnoooowww.” (cue eye roll)

“Okay. Just making sure.” That’s a no.

“I got it, mom.”

Yeah, I thought, until bedtime. Even though we had the discussion about what is real and what is not and what goes on behind the scenes, the movie had achieved what all movie makers hope to achieve – the magic of suspended belief. As far as Kiddo is concerned the actresses who played the characters in this version are Ghostbusters and not just some feminine stand-ins for a thirty-two-year-old classic.

And this makes me happy (okay a little old too, but mostly happy).

Did you know that the movie makers actually tried to make the story true to science? Well, as much as any paranormal horror/comedy can be. And when they used words in the script like quantum and superfields, they weren’t just making up them to sound smart like the term, unobtainium, found in some other scripts, or using the terms in the wrong context. The filmmakers actually bothered to pick up the phone and called MIT physicists. Female MIT physicists.

Yep. It’s good to know that my boys are growing up in a time when women in science aren’t the ghosts they once were. Maybe, in thirty years time (or less) when Hollywood decides it is time to remake the movie, again, a casting choice like this won’t seem nearly as gimmicky, and a whole less controversial.

Because in the words of LT, “I no ‘fraid of no ghosts.”