My Little Rainbow Chicken

“Rainbow chicken” is an affectionate name that a lot of parrot owners give to our birds. Parrots tend to be colorful little goofballs, but also occasionally act a bit dumb or stubborn, not entirely unlike their distant chicken cousins. My little guy, Tyson, is absolutely all of the above.

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He’s a 5 year old Yellow-Sided Green Cheek Conure, which is a mutation of the Green Cheek Conure species bred or more vibrant coloring. I often remind him to marry rich; he was bred to be pretty and isn’t necessarily all that bright. Seriously, it’s a good thing that he’s so cute. He’s got these permanent big baby eyes that warm my heart.

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Nevermind that he’s kind of a bitey asshole. He’s affectionate in his own way, on his own terms, and isn’t the biggest fan of my hands on him. I suspect it’s because I used to have to grab him bodily to put him in his carrier for vet visits – so my hands aren’t his favorite thing. Still, since separating from my partner, Tyson has really gotten much more trusting of me and I find joy in the little changes he shows everyday.

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Tyson is not named for the chicken company (that’s a little macabre, even for me), but for the astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson. Though I have to admit, he’s shown no proclivity toward advanced mathematics of any kind. I’m still holding out hope.

Tiny, Fluffy Trust

I’m forever grateful for the birds in my life. This is Midori, my 8 year old Pacific Parrotlet. She’s been with me since she was several months old and has always been tightly bonded to me. We’v moved around to a lot of different houses and I’ve been through several relationships – she has stood by me through it all. She is one ounce of pure love.

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Her trust in me is one of the most important things in my life. She is utterly reliant on my care and she is so affectionate with me that it makes my heart ache sometimes. I don’t like to overly personify animals, but myself and plenty of other parrot parents feel so sure that our birds are grateful to us and adore us pretty much no matter what.

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She got injured on my watch a few years ago and I have yet to completely forgive myself for the accident. In a moment of spooked, flying birds and chaos, another parrot in my care bit her on the foot and damaged her tiny tendons pretty badly. She had to wear a slightly hilarious ball bandage on her foot for a little over a month afterward.

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The trust that this tiny life has put in me is invaluable. There is nothing that compares to being the most important person in her whole life. And I, for one, plan to never let her down again.

 

Hellsgate, NM: Haberdashery Part 2

The Winslows, whom we met in Haberdashery Part 1, are determined to make it in Hellsgate. How will they fare?

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The Winslows set up their hat shop in a tiny building next to the general store. Their space on Freedom Street was small but sufficient and had two small rooms above it in which they lived. A month since their arrival in Hellsgate, they newlyweds prepared to open the doors of their business to the people of the town.

Charles set several of the hats (some quite practical for the working men of New Mexico and some highly ridiculous for fashionable ladies) on wooden dummy heads in front of the store, while Margaret Winslow sat inside and hummed to herself while stitching decorative flowers from fabric scraps.

After an hour, Charles tucked his hands in pockets and whistled. After two hours, he smoked his pipe a bit. After three hours, he sat inside the shop and sulked. When the fourth hour rolled in and no customers had presented themselves, he grumbled that he was going for a walk.

Mrs. Winslow was content to be alone. She had hats to make, ribbon to embroider, and her Bible to read. She could manage the store perfectly well, thank you. She busied herself with the small tasks of decorating some of the many straw hats she’d crafted and dyed the prior week. A flower here, a bit of ribbon there, a pin or a feather to finish it off — she was not a woman with idle hands.

“Pardon me,” a wisp of a voice fell on her ears.

When she looked up, a tall woman stood before her, looking highly out of place in her small shop and, she realized, out of place in a dusty, dirty desert town like Hellsgate. The figure was dressed all in pristine white (not cotton or linen, Mrs. Winslow noted, perhaps a fine chiffon like she had seen on fashionable gowns back east), her flowing gown fluttering in a breeze that did not seem to exist.

The woman wore a fine white scarf to cover her hair and had a sort of veil that obscured her face from just below her eyes. The little skin that did show was almost as pale as the fabric of her dress. The eyes that could be seen were so dark brown that she could have sworn they were black.

“Good day!” she beamed at her first customer.

Strange or no, if this woman wanted to make a purchase, who was Mrs. Winslow to discriminate against the dead or unholy? In this town, that sort of biased attitude could cost you good coin.

“I feel so empty,” the stranger whispered, her veil unmoving.

“I’m afraid we don’t sell any food here, ma’am but I have some lovely hats you might be interested in!”

Mrs. Winslow hopped up to her feet and scurried to a small table where several flower-adorned hats dwelled. She picked out one in pale pink and white and offered it to the woman. With gloved, bird-like hands, the woman took the hat from Mrs. Winslow and simply stared at it.

“Ah, here, allow me to help, if you will.”

With a firm yet gentle grip, she took the hat from the woman in white and, standing upon the tips of her toes, placed it delicately upon the woman’s head. Rushing over to her work table, she retrieved a small, polished looking glass and held it up for the woman.

The woman stared for some time, tilted her head slowly, and breathed, “I wish to go home, I think.”

She did not leave or even move so Mrs. Winslow thought perhaps the woman was only reflecting to herself aloud.

“Perhaps another hat,” she remarked, retrieving the pink one from the woman’s head.

This time she took a natural straw hat with a grand bow of white ribbon on one side. Perhaps the color would interest her customer, Mrs. Winslow thought to herself. It did seem to match her gown, after all.

“Here we are, madam,” she placed this hat atop the woman’s head and held the glass up again.

The woman tilted her head the other way and sighed, “So very cold and empty.”

“Ah, perhaps this was another bad match,” Mrs. Winslow nodded to herself and retrieved the hat from the tall woman. “Let me see if I can’t make something up to suit you. How do you feel about blue? Or green”?

She held up blank straw hats in each color and offered them to the woman, who did not move.

“I long to be warm,” she whispered into the air. Her dress fluttered about her with new vigor, Mrs. Winslow thought.

“Warm, hmm? I’m afraid I haven’t any red hats, madam.”

Eyeing her supplies, something like inspiration struck Mrs. Winslow. She fetched a hat so dark blue it had come out all but black and held it up, studying it from several angles.

“You have some time? I can just make this up for you in a moment.”

The woman exhaled, “I can never go home.”

“Ah, well, then I suppose you are in no hurry. Let me have a go, hmm?”

In a frenzy of creativity, Mrs Winslow’s hands seemed to fly on their own and snatch up details to add to the blank. Flowers of crimson cotton, ribbon of a dark forest green, and bits of green felt. The snipped and stitched and admired and pinned, her fingers a blur before her own eyes.

When she had finished, she stared at what was likely the most beautiful hat she had ever created. With a tiny grunt of effort, Mrs. Winslow stood tall and placed the hat on the woman’s covered head, then stepped back to look at her. The woman was a tall marble pillar with a garden of wild roses growing upon her head. The felt leaves she had cut, the blood red flowers strewn about, and the green ribbon that wove between them and trailed in loops below the brim — all of it came together in a perfect picture of savage loveliness.

“Well?” Mrs. Winslow presented the looking glass to the woman.

She tilted her head left. Then right. Then straightened up again, reaching out to Mrs. Winslow with a white-gloved hand. Mrs. Winslow reached back, palm open to receive whatever the the woman seemed to want to give to her. A sparkling bauble of gold dropped into her hand; a locket. Mrs. Winslow dared not open it but merely took it with a nod.

“I’d say that’s a fair trade, ma’am,” she tucked the necklace into her apron pocket and patted it, “Now do you suppose you are able to go home?”

The woman tilted her head slightly at Mrs. Winslow and whispered, “No. But I am less empty. Less cold. Thank you.”

With another strange breeze, the woman seemed to float from the shop (Mrs. Winslow hadn’t seen her move before, she realized) and move slowly down the dirt road toward Main Street. Perhaps she wanted to show off her new hat?

“Well,” Mrs. Winslow dusted off her apron, “there’s nothing a good hat cannot solve, I always say.”

She patted the pocket containing the strange woman’s necklace once more. She knew that she should never open it no matter what happened. She dreamed of it every night for the rest of her life.

Hellsgate, NM: Haberdashery Part 1

Here’s the first installment of another piece of the Hellsgate, NM collection (which I’m working on more of presently). I dug these pieces up from my archives and was itching to share them again.

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Sometimes folks arrive in Hellsgate, not entirely sure why they came. Or how how they got there. Or when they left home, if they had even done so.

Margaret and Charles Winslow were one such pair. Newlyweds, they had been traveling to Chicago by rail. They were roused from their sleep by the conductor, who announced their arrival at the final stop. They would find their bags outside, he said, leading them from the train.

When the Winslows stepped outside, however, they found themselves face to face with cracked and peeling Jackson Saloon. The young couple turned to object at once that this was not Chicago but the conductor was gone. As was the train and any sign of the tracks.

“Well,” Margaret straightened her shoulders and stood tall, “one must make the best of circumstances. Let’s find lodgings and figure out how to sort this out.”

“Ever the optimist,” Charles grumbled, following his wife as she marched on The Jackson, he dragging their trunk along behind him. He could feel dozens of pairs of eyes upon him though he saw no one on the street on this late afternoon.

“Barman. Barman!” Margaret called out, waving as she crossed the table-laden floor of the saloon itself. A few shady characters occupied seats. Margaret would, at this point, find it strange that she could not remember them well enough to describe even one of them later.

A withered old black man, wiping out glasses with a questionable towel, stood behind the bar. He nodded slowly as Margaret approached.

“Sir,” she threw her shoulders back once more, “could you direct us to the train station? Somehow there’s been a mix up an we need to return to Chicago, Illinois.”

The barkeep narrowed his eyes for a moment before nodding at the woman once more. Recognition dawned on him as he chewed the words, “No train station in Hellsgate, ma’am.”

“Then how did-? But we… we arrived by rail! Just now. I swear on the Holy Book.”

“Oh, that’ll happen from time to time,” the barkeep nodded. “Best just accept it – you’re residents of Hellsgate now. May as well figure out some way to pass the time and make yourselves useful to the town.”

“Why that’s just silly. Don’t folks ever leave Hellsgate?”

“Sure. All the time. But never in ways you can come back from.”

Margaret swallowed hard. A woman of the Good Book, she understood very well what the dry old barkeep meant.

“I suppose we’ll need lodgings, then, my good sir.”

“First night’s on the house for new folk,” the barkeep spat in (Margaret hoped) a vessel behind the bar. “You can call me Shoeleather. Call if you need anything.”

Charles arrived at the bar, huffing and dusty from the haul. He dropped their things, only to have them swept away by two silent young men. He watched the trunks as they were carried upstairs to a room with a yellow door. The two boys didn’t reappear immediately, causing Charles a little distress.

“Shoeleather?” Margaret blinked in surprise. “What a dreadful nickname. I’ll have none of it. What did your mother call you?”

“Oh, much worse things,” Shoeleather smiled a moderately-toothed grin at the Winslows, eventually sweeping his hand toward the stairs to their room.

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“I suppose I’ll have to contact the sheriff or whomever tomorrow and see what we ought to do about being stranded here,” Charles paced across their cramped room, wringing his small hands. “Oh, and I shall have to write to cousin Frederick about our delay. I hate to disappoint him.”

“Cousin Frederick can take his dull little shop and drop it into the ocean for all I care, Charles,” Margaret stood suddenly, stopping Charles mid-pace. “We will open our own harberdashery here in, hrmm, in Hellsgate.”

“But, wife of mine –“

“Don’t you ‘wife of mine’ me,” she scolded, “I will show this strange little town that there’s nothing a good hat cannot fix.”

The Real Cost of Experiences

This is becoming a really popular ideal among my generation, I think. Go out and do things, they tell you, don’t just rely on stuff to be happy. Inherently, it’s not a bad idea but it gets problematic really quickly, the way I see it.

Experiences are rarely free, even if they seem like it at the time. Taking a walk in the park? It’s maintained by park rangers, who work hard to keep that space safe and beautiful; their salary probably comes out of the taxes that you pay. Had an adventurous dinner at a restaurant? That meal was prepared by a staff of often barely make a living wage and the ingredients possibly come from a farm abroad that underpays their workers.

I’m a real buzzkill today, I know. But I guess I’m tired of being told that experiences (many of which I cannot join in due to disability) are intrinsically better than stuff. The Experiences are Better Than Things premise is no more free of the crushing bonds of capitalism than is the premise of If It Makes You Happy, Buy It. There’s no getting out of the loop. And capitalism, if you ask me, can be a pretty gross and exploitative system – especially toward women, minorities, and people with disabilities.

According to the American Community Survey in 2015, people with disabilities made only 68 percent of what people without any disabilities made. Even among people with disabilities, the gender pay gap is quite significant: median pay for women with disabilities is 69 percent that of men with disabilities.

Capitalism asks us to place a value on our own lives based on how much money we can make. And it demonstrates again and again that women, minorities, and people with disabilities are somehow less than their (usually) white male counterparts. “Problematic” doesn’t even begin to describe it. Don’t put a price tag on who you are. You’re better than that.

Welcome to Hellsgate, NM

I never watched Westerns as a kid. Never played cowboys and Indians, never really wanted to ride a horse, never felt the urge to learn to shoot a gun. It wasn’t my wheelhouse. I didn’t watch John Wayne movies or read Wild West adventure stories.

And yet, as a writer in the thirties, I have suddenly been starstruck by the genre known as Weird West. This subgrenre takes the traditional Wild West setting and adds elements of occult, horror, sci-fi, or fantasy. It’s an odd mix, to be sure, but something about the desert whispers secrets to me and wants me to tell stories of mysteries and strange happenings on the open range.

Ghost towns, gold mines, wild coyotes, steam trains, gunslingers, bandits – it all spells adventure.

And so I’ve dug up some short pieces I’ve written in a fictional town that I like to call Hellsgate, NM. Here’s the first piece, which was originally published on my blog 3 years ago and which, edited and re-worked, was published on 101words.org. Here’s the newest iteration:

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Daryl “Deadeye” Wilcox died on March 23, 1903, at 1:27 p.m. At about 3:00 that same afternoon, he took his usual stool at The Jackson tavern and ordered himself a white whiskey. The messy hole blown through his chest made drinking a little bit difficult, but Shoeleather, the weathered old barkeep, was more than used to this kind of incident. He toweled up the spilled liquid and offered the ugly, soaked rag to Wilcox. Daryl nodded his thanks to the barkeep, stuffed the whiskey-soaked towel firmly into his wound, and ordered up another drink. This time, he asked for a double.

These things happen sometimes in the town of Hellsgate, New Mexico. The dead don’t always stay dead, the living don’t usually stay living, night and day never are too reliable, and folks who hear or see strange things most likely have the right of it. The massive pit outside of town leads straight to Hades, after all, so mind your horses and watch where you’re stepping. And don’t mind the howling of the damned at night – you get used to it.

Welcome to Hellsgate.

Turn Resolutions Into Progress

It’s easy to lose some steam when it comes to moving a project along. I mean, there’s the internet to distract you, dishes to wash, errands to run, jobs to work. All of these are really fantastic ways to be not writing. 

You know what drives me crazy? Doctors telling you to eliminate stress from your life. Are they kidding? Eliminate stress? Sure, I’ll just quit my job, stop paying bills, and raise chickens in the country until I die.

Right. Sure. 

So I’m not going to tell you to eliminate distractions from your life in order to make writing progress. That’s not going to happen. But it’s time to turn that New Year’s resolution to write more into legitimate writing progress!

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I find that the most powerful motivator to make progress on a project is, well, making progress on a project. It’s an inertia thing, you know? Seeing the goal get closer makes the climb to it seem less intimidating. So the hardest part might getting over the initial hump of getting started.

Motivation comes from celebrating the small victories. 

Set small goals at first. Make them achievable, don’t make them so high that they’re unattainable. Set yourself up for success.

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Write 200 words a day. Edit 5 pages. Do those small things that will get the ball rolling, but that won’t scare you off. Then, start to ramp up your progress: make higher goals, push yourself more, set hard deadlines for achievements.

Think of every small goal reached as a drop in the bucket. Drops may seem small, but over time, enough drops will fill up a bucket.