Monday, November 30, 2015

Cassie's Story - Letters To Myself

Last week I planned on another grammar blog, and it's almost finished, promise! But I have also been putting together the colouring book which has kept me distracted. And now, already again it's Monday. So, here's Cassie, still agonising. Don't you want to slap some sense into her?

Now that I had my license back I started building up the new coffee run in the northern suburbs. It had proved a good choice, with plenty of customers right from the first day. I started with a morning and a lunch run, but felt that I could easily do an afternoon run as well. Saffron was doing brilliantly with the original coffee run, and there was still no sign of anyone who might be suitable as a replacement. Not that I thought she needed to be replaced, she had worked out far better than I imagined. Well, I knew that she would be fantastic at the job, it was her professionalism I had been not so sure about.

My mind was still vacillating between what I wanted – Matt – and what I thought was safer – no Matt. I had written a letter myself and given myself a stern talking to about living in a grey world and living with colour and how every choice is a risk. All great advice but I still didn’t know what to do. So I made an appointment with Sue, for Wednesday afternoon. And that was why I was sitting at a pavement table outside a new coffee shop that had opened in the town centre, and how I saw Lucy.

She was walking towards me, but on the opposite side of the street. Although my first instinct was to slide under the table, I resisted the impulse. It was ridiculous to have such a reaction, and besides, I would look like an idiot if I did that. And I was wearing a skirt, so the chances of sliding under the table and retaining my dignity (ignoring the lack of dignity involved in sliding like a spineless coward under said table in the first place) were minimal.

So I sat and sipped the excellent coffee, just like a grownup, as she approached. With the first irrational panic dissipating I was better able to notice other things. Like the diamond engagement ring flashing on her left hand – cue my own bare left hand clenching into a fist.  And the deeply unhappy expression on her face, the stiff way she was holding herself, the way she appeared not to notice anything around her. Oh dear, either she was having a bad day, or the Nathan effect had started sooner than I anticipated.

Because while I hoped for both their sakes that Nathan had changed, I knew that it was not possible without a lot of counseling. Not with his personality disorder. I was surprised to see Lucy looking this unhappy so soon. The honeymoon period, by which I mean that time during which his personality disorders were suppressed, was a magical time for me. There is nobody so charming, so wonderful, so perfect, as the person with a narcissistic personality disorder. At least at the beginning.

Something must have happened, they must have had a fight. Or, maybe I was over-reacting and she had just had her car bashed by a wayward shopping trolley, or she had stepped in doggie doo-doo and was smelling the pungent odour with every step. Any number of things could have happened. I was likely colouring her doleful expression with my own experiences palette. Deciding that anyway it was none of my business, and thanking my lucky stars that I no longer had to worry about Nathan apart from his behaviour as a father, I put Lucy out of my mind and focused instead on my coffee.

“So how did you feel on seeing her?” Sue was peering at me over her glasses again.

“Panic at first, I wanted to hide, to avoid any possible confrontation.”

“And why did you think there would be confrontation?”

I sighed. “I don’t know. I haven’t exchanged one word with Lucy since Nathan told me he was seeing her.” He also told me he wanted to see us both at the same time, but Sue already knew that and it had no bearing on this conversation.

I thought about it. “I guess, seeing her so unexpectedly made the past and the present collide in my mind. It was a knee-jerk reaction.”

“And she is wearing an engagement ring? How do you feel about that?”

I realized I was twisting a non-existent wedding ring, which meant I was assaulting the skin on my ring finger, and grabbed my coffee cup with my right hand to keep it busy. Taking a cautious sip – it was hot – I thought about that too. “Gutted. I don’t know why though. We’ve been divorced for a long time now, and I certainly don’t want him back. It’s ridiculous to feel this way.”

Sue’s eyebrows did their regular climb up her forehead. They must be the fittest eyebrows in town. “I don’t think it’s ridiculous, I think it’s normal. You have a past with Nathan, and now another woman is going to take the place that was once yours. It’s normal to feel upset by that. How do you feel now?”

“I’m ok. I don’t want him back, that’s for sure. I guess it was a shock, and I was upset that I was upset about it, if that makes sense. But now, well now I kind of feel sorry for Lucy.”

Eyebrows snapping back down so sharply I could almost hear them click into place Sue responded, “Yes, I feel sorry for Lucy too.  She’s chosen a hard road, not that she knows it yet.”

“Well she didn’t look happy today.”

“But, as you say, there could be a dozen reasons for that and they don’t necessarily have anything to do with Nathan. What about the thought of Lucy with Mark and Emmerson, particularly Mark?”

I shrugged. “I’ve gotten used to that. She seems to be good with them, and Mark says her daughter is ok.”

“Might be different when they marry?”

I shrugged again. “Maybe, but I don’t think so.” I really didn’t think it would worry me. Lucy did seem to be good with the kids, and ultimately it was all about being sure they were happy.

“Ok, so this seems a good time to ask about things with Matt?”

I took a fortifying mouthful of coffee and proceeded to tell Sue all of my thoughts over the past few days. I told her about Andrew and his grieving over Bev. I told her about Saffron and her issues with Ben, and my thoughts on how painful love can be. Lastly I told her about the picnic and what Saffron had said.

Sue tapped her pen on her teeth as she listened, occasionally scribbling down something on her giant pad. When I finished she drank some coffee, slid her glasses down her nose a smidgen, and fixed me with her eagle eye.

“Do you know how brave you are?”

I blinked, taken aback. “Um, no?”

“You are brave. It takes a brave person to handle what you did, to put it behind herself and to go on to make a success of her life like you have. You are one of the strongest, bravest people I know. So why stop now?”

I was speechless. “Eh?”

“Now, with the worst behind you, and a good relationship beckoning, why are you hesitating?”

I hated it when she did that. With just a few words she could get me looking inside myself, facing the truth. “I’m afraid.”

“Of what?”

“Of love. No, not love. Of losing love, of something going wrong, of having it all and then losing it. Of Matt dying, he’s a policeman, it could happen. Of our relationship going sour and me being alone again. Of Matt dying and me being alone again. Of having something wonderful and then losing it. Of being alone after knowing what it’s like to be with someone who makes my world better.”

To my horror tears began to spill down my cheeks. I didn’t even know I was crying. Sue handed me the box of tissues and I took one.

“Oh Cassie, there are no guarantees in life. You know that. You’re a mother, you know the fragility of life. That doesn’t stop you loving Mark does it?”

I shook my head.

“And you love your close friends.”

The tears continued to flow. “And I loved my parents.”

“Ah. We haven’t talked about them in a while. Is that the root of your problem now do you think? What happened to them?”

“Is it? I don’t know. I mean, I haven’t been thinking about them specifically. They died in an accident, it wasn’t to do with love.”

“But you lost them, tragically, suddenly. You loved them and you lost them and you didn’t see that coming, you couldn’t have. You’ve had to deal with a lot of loss Cassie. Do you think you fear loss more than you fear love? It’s harder to be alone after you’ve been loved than it is if you never had that love. Is that how you feel?”

I stared at her. Was it? Was that why I felt this fear every time I considered getting closer to Matt?

“I don’t know. Maybe. It was such a shock when my parents died. I guess like every child I took it for granted they would always be here. And then they weren’t. And I did feel so alone.”

Sue leaned back in her seat. “Go home, give it some thought. Write to yourself about it if you want to.” She pushed her glasses back up her nose. “Cassie, life can be so hard. Bad things happen, bad people happen. But good things happen too, and good people come along. Sometimes it can be so difficult to live in the moment and not in the past. But, living in the moment, right here and right now, is all any of us can do. The bravest thing we can do is accept the joy without reservation.”

She thwacked her big notepad onto the counter and pushed her glasses up her nose again, unnecessarily. I took my cue, gathered my things, threw the used tissue into the bin and prepared to leave.

“Want to come see me next week?” Sue grinned. “I could use a good coffee around the middle of the week.”

I laughed. “I’ll make an appointment on my way out.”

I did as promised, and made an appointment for the following Wednesday at the same time. Deep in thought as I got into the van I answered my ringing phone without looking at the caller ID.


“Cassie, is it ok if I come to see you on Friday? Please? I really need to see you.”

I pulled the phone away and stared at it. It was Nathan.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Cassie's Story - Letters To Myself

Cassie time again, following on from last week. It's the next morning, not such a good start for Saffron...

I woke the next morning to the delightful sounds of Saffron bringing up her entire digestive system. Well no doubt her digestive system stayed in place, but only due to the wonders of engineering which comprises the human body. I followed the sounds to the bathroom, dampened a washcloth and placed it on the back of Saffron’s neck. She was sitting on the floor in front of the toilet bowl, alternately groaning and retching. She had taken the precaution of pulling her hair up into a hairband which impressed me no end as I never thought of practical things like that.

“Why do I do it? I know what will happen the next day, so why do I do this to myself?” It was a wail that needed no reply, a lament all too familiar to anyone who has thought just one more drink seemed like a great idea the night before.

“The siren song of alcohol.” I dampened the cloth again and wiped her face before getting up. “Stay there, I’ll be right back.”

Saffron groaned what I believe was an affirmative as I left the bathroom. In the kitchen, dishes in the sink told me that the girls and Mark had helped themselves to breakfast. I peeked into the games room and saw them happily getting on with their Sunday.

“How’s mum?” Althea, as the oldest, took the conversational lead.

“A bit poorly this morning.”

Althea snorted. “She should know better. I am never, ever going to drink.”

I winked at her. “Good to know peanut, I’ll remind you of that when you turn 18.”

Going back into the kitchen I poured a glass of water and squeezed some lemon into it. Lemon water wasn’t going to cure her hangover, but at least would make Saffron’s mouth feel cleaner, and provided she kept it down would reduce the dehydration. Judging by the increased groaning and decreased retching I felt that it was the right time to introduce some liquid to her tormented stomach. She took it gratefully and sipped, making a face at the lemon but saying nothing.

“I’ll make a pot of tea while you take a shower.”

Closing the bathroom door behind me I went back to the kitchen and put on the kettle. Saffron’s kitchen was as familiar to me as my own, so it didn’t take long to get myself some breakfast. I had finished, done the dishes and cleaned down the bench tops before Saffron put in an appearance.

Her face had a bit of colour and her eyes brightened when she took in the tidy kitchen. I put the kettle back on, and waved the teapot at her in silent question.

“Yes, tea please.” Sinking down in a chair she continued, “And thank you for cleaning up in here.”

I shrugged. “It was no problem, the kids had put their dishes in the sink already so it didn’t take long.” I pulled a loaf of bread out of the bread bin. “Toast?”

“Yes, I think so.”

I sat quietly and sipped my tea while Saffron ate. By the time she was on her second cup of tea she looked much more like herself.

“We should take a picnic lunch to the beach. What do you think Cassie?”

Shaking my head at her recuperative powers – far greater than mine – I smiled my approval.

“Great idea Saffie! I’ve got some cakes and things in my freezer, and we can make sandwiches.”

Saffron jumped up and rummaged about in the fridge. Her voice echoed as she talked with her head still in there. “I’ve got left over chicken, and lettuce and tomatoes. And I can make some egg sandwiches too.” Standing up and closing the door she added, “And I’ll make cheese sandwiches for Emily.”

I took my cup over to the sink and rinsed it out before turning to face Saffron who was peering into her bread bin.

“How about I take Mark now and go get what food I have at home, and I’ll pick up some soft drink and juice for the kids on the way back here? And I’ll get the dogs too – I’m assuming we are taking our dogs?”

“Sounds like a plan. I’ll get things organized here while you’re gone. Yes, bring the dogs, we’ll have a family outing!”

Even though we weren’t family in the traditional sense, Saffron did feel as close as a sister to me, so her statement didn’t strike me as odd. I collected Mark, who was highly excited about the outing, and we headed back home.

“What about Emmie, can she come?”

“Good idea Mark, I’ll check with Julia. Emmie’s coming today anyway so I don’t think Julia will mind dropping her off earlier.”

“Maybe Julia would like to come too mum?”

I glanced at him, before returning my attention to the road.

“That’s thoughtful Mark. I’ll ask her, but I think she will say no, just because she doesn’t know Saffron that well.”

“We should ask her to come to dinner at our house on Friday night, since we aren’t going to dad’s until Saturday.”

Again I glanced at him. “Actually I planned on talking to you and Emmie about just that later on.” I hadn’t forgotten that Julia had expressed a desire to become closer and had thought I should be the one to make the first move.

Mark smiled his satisfaction and let the subject drop. As we approached the house I saw Matt closing the gate, Barney on his lead beside him. Seeing me drive up he smiled and waited at the gate.

“You’re a lot earlier than I thought you’d be! I’ve walked the dogs this morning, and was just collecting Barney from an unscheduled visit.”

The mention of his name was enough for Barney to hang his head in shame. I looked down at him.

“Have you been a bad boy again Barney?”

Barney hung his head lower, peering up at me with heartbroken eyes. He lifted his right paw and offered it to me. I couldn’t help laughing, as I accepted his paw and shook. Convinced that was enough to get him off the hook Barney jumped to his feet and looked expectantly at Matt.

“What, you think you’re forgiven and can go back to see Pebbles and BamBam?”

Barney swung his head towards the gate, his expression eager. Matt sighed and I laughed again.

“He’s incorrigible, like his owner.”

Matt waggled his eyebrows at me. “You haven’t seen incorrigible yet.”

Feeling myself blush I focused on rummaging around in my bag for the house keys.

“We’re going to have a picnic at the beach with Saffron and the girls. Want to come Matt?”

At Marks words I stopped rummaging and looked up at Matt. He was gazing at me steadily as he replied to Mark.

“Sure would mate, I’ve got the day off today. If that’s ok Cassie?”

“Er, yes, of course Matt, we’d all love to have you along. I’m just here to get some food and grab a quick shower.” Under his gaze I had remembered my unkempt state after sleeping in my clothes. “Do you want us to pick you up? We’re going back to Saffie’s and then onto the beach.”

“Ok, I’ll bring some chips, and I’ve got grapes, and some wine?”

“Well, I shouldn’t drink since I’m driving, and I don’t think Saffie will be interested in alcohol today plus she’s driving too.” I grinned as I thought of her likely reaction to seeing a bottle of wine while she was still nursing a hangover. “But bring something for you of course.”

Matt shook his head. “Nah, I’ll just grab some soft drink. I’ll go get organized, drop by when you’re ready.”

I stood watching him walk off, until I realized that Mark was staring at me, no doubt wondering why we were standing irresolutely in front of the gate instead of going in.

“Right, let’s get organized. First of all I’ll shower and then phone Julia. You go get changed and get a few beach toys together. And could you get the dog leads and the collapsible water bowl for me too?”

“Sure mum, no worries.”

He dashed off as I opened the door, and I followed more slowly, my mind still on Matt. As I expected Julia declined to come to the beach, but accepted my invitation to dinner on Friday night. She had sounded a bit surprised at the invitation, but pleased. We were ready to go by the time she dropped an excited Emmie off, so it was not much later when arrived at the beach.

“Good, there’s an area free.” Saffron made a beeline for one of the roofed picnic areas and placed her picnic basket on the table in a gesture of ownership. It was a good position, with an unimpeded view down to the beach and a water tap close by. The kids and the dogs all rushed off while Matt helped us to carry the rest of the supplies to the table.

“You should have brought your van instead of your car, then we would have had coffee on tap and a fridge for the drinks.” Matt was opening the ice filled esky as he spoke, digging around until he found a can of coke.

“Sure, and then I’d be spending the entire afternoon serving coffee to everyone here.”

“Oh, yeah. Didn’t think of that.”

“Not to worry, I have two flasks of hot water, and there’s teabags and instant coffee.” Saffron pointed to the flasks at the end of the table.

“I might have a cup of tea later, thanks Saffron. This will do me for now.” Matt popped the ring pull on the coke and I eyed it longingly. Catching my eye he offered me the can.

“Want some?”

I smiled my thanks and accepted it, taking a mouthful before handing it back. Matt took a drink, put the can on the table and went back to the car for the dogs’ water bowls. When he came back I asked him to go check that the kids were all ok. We were at a dog friendly beach, but five dogs could be a handful when they were excited, even our dogs.

Matt drained his can in several big mouthfuls, dropped the can in the rubbish bin nearby and wandered off. I turned to see Saffron watching me, a strange expression on her face.


“You guys act more like married people than any of the married people I know.”

I stared at her. “What?”

“You’re repeating yourself. Look what you just did. He saw you wanted his drink and gave it to you, you drank from it and gave it back. He drank from it too – no problem with saliva sharing with you two. He went and got the things from the car without you asking. You asked him to check on the kids and he went without complaint. Your body language too, you are always turned towards each other, and I bet you don’t even notice. You’re a team, partners, you were made for each other. No wonder Bev was impatient with you both, I am too!”

I was speechless, was that how we looked to others? Like a couple? I remembered my thoughts of the previous night, how I was ready to bypass love in preference for safety. I thought of the small byplay just now, so easy that I hadn’t given a thought to it until Saffron pointed it out to me. The kiss I had planted on his lips only a few weeks ago flashed into my mind, it had felt good, and right. Bev had become impatient, Saffron was impatient, probably Matt was too. And me? I was still so indecisive that I was impatient with me too.

Friday, November 20, 2015



When I wrote Letters To Myself my primary motivation was to try to bring attention to the subject of emotional abuse within relationships, and to help give people trapped in such relationships the understanding that they are not alone. I get a deep sense of satisfaction every time I get feedback from a reader, or a review from someone who has suffered in a similar manner to Cassie, saying how much the book helped.

I deliberately kept it a work of fiction, without too much reference to the types of personality disorder that cause behaviour similar to that to which Cassie was subjected. This was to make it an easier read and less threatening for those who are in a similar situation. There is a great deal of writing on the subjects, mainly on narcissistic personality disorder, although there is also plenty about adult ADHD and sex addiction (the triple whammy that poor Nathan suffered from – and I say poor Nathan because I would hate to be like him, with his life disintegrating time after time and he having no idea that he is the common denominator).

Recently I read several articles on gaslighting and wished I knew about it while I was writing Cassie’s book. Well, I knew about it but I didn’t know it had a name, or that it was so common. I will say here that I am not a counsellor, nor a psychiatrist. I have learned about gaslighting by extensive reading, and by my own experiences. If the following information resonates with you, please ask for help from someone qualified to do so.

What is gaslighting? The term comes from a 1938 play called Gaslight, and the movie adaptations that followed. That is why in some articles you will read about the play and in others the 1944 movie adaptation. In the play the antagonist sets out to manipulate the reality of the protagonist by, among other things, setting the gaslights in the house to low. When Paula, the protagonist, mentions the lights are low, he tells her it is all in her imagination and the lights are the same as always. This was a deliberate attempt to confuse and manipulate her reality.

In real life gaslighting often the perpetrator does not realise that he/she is doing it, but deliberate or not the effect on the victim is profound. The gaslighter will twist, spin, or otherwise change information to favour the abuser, leaving the gaslightee confused and bewildered, unable to find a solid reality. Instead, reality becomes like shifting sand under the feet, changing by the day.

Gaslighting is a frequent ploy used by narcissists to control their partner. It undermines the confidence and self-esteem of the victim. It alters their reality, and eventually alters their personality. The victim of gaslighting will over time become confused, anxious, depressed, indecisive, and mentally unstable. She/he will do and say things they never would have considered possible, and once out of the relationship it is a very, very long road back. Many victims suffer from PTSD, all suffer from fractures within their personality – this is the best way I can describe the void that happens when you look within and find that there is nothing left of you. Somehow you have to put yourself back together, a task that often seems overwhelming.

One of the articles I read mentioned loss of memory of the events. I really wish I knew that others suffered this. The article talked about the beginnings of a confrontation, then the writer lying in a fetal position on the floor and no memory later on of what happened in between. This makes it easy for the gaslighter to say it never happened, it’s all in your imagination. The thing I would like to add is that the gaslighter too may have blocked out that memory. Narcissists are brilliant at rewriting history. Whenever they have a memory of something in which they do not appear in a good light they rewrite the entire episode inside their head, and this then becomes reality which they BELIEVE. When the victim tries to say what really happened the narcissist will turn on her/him in an angry attack which leaves the victim traumatized and further confused.

So what are the signs of gaslighting? There are phrases that seem to be universal:

“You’re too sensitive”
“You have a terrible memory”
“How would you know? You never remember anything”
“You don’t even know what abuse is”
“I’m actually the one hurting”
“You’re always saying I’m the bad guy”
“I work hard all day, I don’t have time for this” or “I’m too tired for this”
Other warning signs include:
Apologising constantly for never doing things right
Trouble making decisions
Depression and anxiety
Lack of joy – do you ever smile?
You frequently make excuses for your partners behaviour to family and friends, or you withhold information from them to avoid questions
You start lying to avoid the repercussions
You feel that you can’t do anything right
You change your behaviour to try to avoid confrontation
When your partner asks you what is wrong, you are reluctant to say as you feel it will not help at all but will instead makes things much worse

So what do you do? Well in Cassie’s case she got out, but she needed help to do so. It’s not easy to get out of such a relationship, it becomes co-dependent. It happens gradually, until the victim is so changed by the effect of the gaslighting that she/he is unable to find a way out, or it seems too hard to even try. The narcissistic person alternately destroys and then ‘rebuilds’ the victim, it’s a roller coaster of the worst kind.

Once you realise what is happening you may be able to recognize the pattern, which may help to break the cycle. Perhaps not the cycle of abuse, but the cycle of how it affects you. Recognising that the abuse is not your fault, that you are not the cause and, most importantly, that it is not your responsibility can help you to cut the ties one by one.

A lot of the webpages I read counselled calling out the gaslighter. I personally would not recommend this approach, as in my experience calling out the gaslighter simply escalates the situation. Non engagement is the goal, but of course in the domestic situation it’s not easy.

I don’t have a guaranteed answer, except to say that the victim of the emotional abuse is often in a dire state before the relationship reaches breaking point. She/he will need professional help to put the pieces back together again. If you are reading this post and identifying with the points raised I strongly urge you to seek professional help – see a counsellor practiced in relationship difficulties or a psychiatrist. Don’t think that your problem is not that severe, don’t put yourself down that way. You are important, the effects of the gaslighting are more profound than you realise.

I stress here again that all I have learned is from reading, and experience. I am not a qualified counsellor, or a psychiatrist. But I do know what it feels like, and I know how difficult it is to understand what is happening, and to take the first step in doing something about it. Ultimately we only have one life. If you are struggling in any way, if your joy is gone, if life is grey, please don’t be afraid to ask for help. We all need help at some point in our lives, there’s no shame in it. No matter how bad things might seem nothing lasts forever, and that includes bad times. You just need to take the first step. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

writing tips for anyone who wants to write well, and if you think 'well' should be 'good' you need these tips

As you may know I'm a columnist on Maggie Elizabeth Writes. However Maggie has started a new phase in her life and it would appear she doesn't have the time to keep her blog going. So I have decided that I will continue with my column here, for anyone reading this who wants to be a writer/is a writer/has to write reports etc in the course of work.

I read as many books as I can, which is not as many as I would like to since my time is limited. I read indie books as well as traditionally published ones, as I like to support my fellow authors. Often I find that otherwise great stories are hindered by poor editing. Sometimes this is a simple case of missed typos, American as opposed to English spelling or vice versa (both are correct, depends on what you are taught whether you consider it a spelling error or not), or other things that I know the author would have corrected if she or he had picked them up. It's difficult to eradicate all of the simple grammar and spelling errors in your own work, simply because you read what you expect to read and not what you actually wrote.

However there are some rules of thumb that I have seen missed even in books that have been professionally edited - which makes me wonder whether I should be hiring myself out as an editor! Here is a post on grammatical rules of thumb, which you may find useful in your own work.

Let’s Talk About Grammar

Yes, I know grammar sounds boring, but incorrect grammar is more than just irritating to the grammar Nazis. A piece that is grammatically incorrect can be so difficult to read that regardless (you will note I did not use irregardless which is not, repeat NOT a word) of how interesting the topic may be, you will lose readers through confusion.

Even if you are sending your work off to an editor you should not ignore your grammar. Improving your grammar will improve your writing, and will also cost you less when your work is critiqued by an editor. If, like me, you self-edit, good grammar is crucial. Not much says ‘amateur’ quite as emphatically as using bad grammar.

There are several online grammar helpers, Grammar Girl is one I run across frequently. Yes, I check my grammar, I have a problem with the passive voice and I know it. So I am often Googling passive voice and various other grammatical queries. Even though I consider my grammar to be good, I still make mistakes and prefer to double check anything that looks a bit dodgy.

Grammar is one of the most frequently covered subjects, a quick Google check will give you a list of hundreds of posts on your particular problem. There really is no excuse for poor grammar. More, as a writer you should be striving to be a better writer today than you were yesterday and that means constantly learning. Never assume you are correct as you may not be.

I had a lecturer once who was very fond of grabbing every student by his or her (metaphorical) scruff each time they uttered the words ‘I assume’.
“Never say ‘I assume’. There is an ass between I and me and it’s you.”
The first time I heard this I had to think about it for a while because I was stuck on the letter ‘u’ which he had seemed to ignore. Then I realized the ‘you’ he referred to was not just the hapless student but also the letter ‘u’. A far cleverer play on words than I realized and it made all of us remember to never assume.
But I digress. The point is that even if you believe you are correct, if you are not an English major double check your grammar.

Here are some common grammatical mistakes, including my own pet peeves.

·         They’re, Their, There: If you’ve spent any time at all on social media – and you have because you are here – you will have seen grammar Nazis get especially hot under the collar about this one. That is because it is so simple that I find it difficult to believe people get this one wrong. Here is the way to remember it: They’re – a contraction of they are, hence the presence of the apostrophe; Their – their toy; There, not here. They’re unhappy because their toy is over there instead of here. Just remember that there has the small word here in it. It’s not here, it’s there.

·         While we are on contractions, Your and You’re. Again, it’s simple. If you say you’re eating an apple you are using the contraction for you are. Your is ownership – your apple. You’re eating your apple.

·         Contractions again, It’s and its. Just remember the apostrophe is signaling a contraction. It is – it’s. It’s going to be a long summer. Put your coat back in its proper place. You are not saying put your coat back in it is proper place are you? This is an easy mistake to make though, simply because we use the contraction for it is so often.

·         Me or I? This one trips up a lot of people because sometimes it seems correct to say Simon and I – Would you like to come out to dinner with Simon and I? It should be Simon and me. Take out the ‘Simon and’ to be sure. Would you like come out to dinner with me? I is the subject pronoun – Simon and I went out to dinner. Me is the object pronoun – Will you come to dinner with Simon and me?

·         Who, that or which: Who refers to a person – Who shaved the cat? That refers to an object – where is the shaver that was used on the cat? Deciding when to use which or that can get a bit confusing. That is used in an essential clause – where is the shaver that was used on the cat? Which is used in a non-essential clause – where is the shaver that was used on the cat, and which needs cleaning. The first clause identified the shaver used, the second clause added further information. However, which can be used in a sentence where that has already been used to avoid confusion. That which doesn’t kill us makes a great book.

·         Lose or loose: This one baffles me, I’m sure people don’t get the words confused when speaking, so how do they confuse them in writing? If you are not sure, lose means you lost something, perhaps your mind, and loose means something that probably should be firm is now loose. Pronunciation wise, I know it’s more confusing. ‘Lose’ comes from Old English, a word that was once spelled as losian. The spelling changed but the pronunciation – LUH-sian stayed the same and evolved into lose. In loose, the double ‘o’ is pronounced the same as in ‘too’ or ‘pool’. I always lose my car keys because the hook on the wall is loose and twists down so that they drop off.

·         Too, To, Two: I went to the dentist and had two teeth filled, did you go to the dentist too? Two is a number, to is used with verbs, too is used with adverbs and adjectives to stress something said. It is too expensive, I went to the dentist too.

·         Then and Than: Another common spelling problem, one which often causes unintentional humour. Then is used when talking in relation to time – we ate our dinner first, then went to the show. Than is used in comparison – the show was more exciting than the one we saw last week. The sentence I’d rather give $50 to charity then go to that restaurant again is incorrect. In this sentence you are saying that you will give $50 to charity, AND following that go to that restaurant again. It’s only one letter, but changes the entire meaning of the sentence.

·         Irregardless, alot, and any other words that add unnecessary prefixes or for reasons I cannot fathom, try to make two words into one. Irregardless is not a word, regardless is grammatically correct and a far more elegant word. Alot is not a word, it is two – a lot. If your spellcheck does not automatically correct this you need to give it a stern talking to. On the subject, ‘I could care less’ is grammatically incorrect. It means that you can, in fact, care less about the subject matter, which implies that you do care rather a lot about it. The correct term is ‘I couldn’t care less’ for reasons that should be self-explanatory.

·         Disinterested and Uninterested: These two words do not mean the same thing. You use disinterested to talk about someone who is impartial, like a judge. You used uninterested when you mean a person who could not care less.

That’s ten, and there are loads more, so many in fact that I think I will save some for a different post. Passive voice for example can be confusing and deserves to have a longer explanation than a bullet point. Also dangling modifiers and dangling or misplaced participles. I see the latter a lot and cringe every time. When you read ‘she handed out brownies to the children stored in Tupperware’ you are naturally confused as to why the children are stored in the Tupperware. This should be a worry for the author as it increases the risk that you will put down the book and not pick it up again.

When you see a beautiful swan gliding effortlessly along the water, or, as I saw the other day, flying low in preparation for landing, you see the beauty of it. You don’t see the legs paddling furiously below the waterline, or recognize the effort it takes to keep a large bird aloft. As a writer you should strive for the same effortless effect. Your prose should flow with the beauty of that swan, so that reading is easy. That takes work, just like it takes work for the swan to make swimming and flying look so effortless. Part of giving the reader something to delight in is working not only on the magic of your idea, but also the hard grind of perfecting the language and grammar. Make your writing easy to read as well as magical and you will have return readers.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Cassie's story - Letters To Myself

Monday again, and Cassie time. I'm getting to the end of this little series, a few more loose ends to tie up and I'll be ready to turn this into a novella. So if you've been following along and you would like to read the entire thing as a book rather than as a series, keep an eye out for the finished product. Today's segment is a bit longer since there was a lot to tell before the next part. Enjoy :) 

The days after Bev’s death passed like a blur. There was much to do, getting the funeral organized and taking care of Andrew. I worried about him constantly, he was so calm, too calm. I felt that once the reality of her absence hit home he would need support. I had tried to get him to sleep at our house but he had refused, likewise he had refused to let anyone stay with him. So I took to dropping in on him in the morning and bringing muffins or croissants for him to try, saying they were new recipes. He mostly only ate a bite but I was more there to give him company than to get him to eat.

In the afternoons I dropped around on the pretext of needing his advice on the business. Now that I was allowed to drive again I was planning the new coffee run, so used questions about that as a reason to be there. I knew that Saffron was calling in during her coffee run, and dropping in with her girls after school, and Matt was also calling in before and after his shifts.

Friends of Andrew and Bev rallied around, bringing gifts of food and flowers and staying to talk to him. It seemed the best way to help, keeping him busy and engaged with us all and our lives, helping him to get through the lonely hours now there was no Bev. His whole life had revolved around her – looking after her, keeping her comfortable and amused, buying her the lovely headscarves. Now there was a huge gap in his life and we all rushed to fill it in our various ways.

The funeral was peaceful, if such a word can be used for a sad occasion like that. True to her word that she did not want too many tears Bev had asked for a short graveside ceremony. She had felt that if we were outside, with the sun shining and birds singing that it would be easier on us. I don’t know if she was right or not, but we all tried our best to grant her this last wish and to celebrate her life. She had died on her own terms, without any pain or medical intervention and for that I did feel grateful.

The day after the funeral I called around to see Andrew, bringing with me a new recipe for muffins. He looked grey and haggard when he answered the door, as was only to be expected. He smiled when he saw me and stood back to let me in, leading the way into the kitchen where he put on the kettle for a pot of tea. I saw the pot was already sitting ready on the bench, no doubt waiting for me.

“What are these?” As he spoke Andrew lifted the lid on the muffin container and took an exploratory sniff.

“Strawberry and yoghurt. I’m wondering if they are sweet enough.”

Lifting one out Andrew placed it on a plate and cut it into quarters. He put the plate on the table and, as the kettle whistled its readiness, made the tea. Putting the pot, cups, milk, and two plates onto the table he sat down opposite me and put a piece of muffin onto the plate in front of him.

“You eat some too Cassie. You’ve lost weight these past few days. You need to eat or you will get sick.”

He was right of course; I had been cooking but not really eating. My appetite had deserted me. I pulled the other plate closer to me and put a section of muffin on it.

Biting into his piece Andrew nodded in approval. “These are good, very tasty with just a bit of bite to them. They will appeal to the health conscious and also to those who are just looking for a sweet treat.”

I smiled, pleased to have his approval. Andrew finished his piece and poured the tea for us both, taking a sip of his before fixing me with a steady gaze. I met his eyes, wondering what was in his mind.

“Cassie, I really appreciate how you, Saffron, Matt, and everyone have made sure I am ok. You’ve all fed me, kept me company, made me tea and coffee, brought more flowers than the entire graveyard, and done everything you can to make this easier on me.”

I started to reply but he forestalled me. “But, Cassie, I have to ask something of you that you will find hard to do. Please think about what I am saying before you reply, ok?”

I closed my mouth, and nodded.

“Bev and I, we’ve been saying goodbye for a long time now. Slowly, day by day, we made memories for me to hold onto. We said everything we needed to say to each other, and then we said it again, and again. Every day with her was a gift, every minute.”

He paused, breathing deeply to calm himself. I reached forward to take his hand and he held mine tightly.

“Now she’s gone, and I’m left with my memories. Your support has been wonderful Cassie, and I know Bev would have told you to keep me busy. But, in that, right now, she was wrong.”

He looked up from our joined hands. His eyes were swimming with tears but he didn’t let them fall. I could feel tears gathering in my own eyes in response to the pain I saw in his.

“Right now, for the next few days, or weeks, I need to gather my memories. I need to polish them and make them bright so they last. I need to remember each day, each word, each smile, each touch. I need, Cassie, to be alone.”

His words hit me like a hammer. Had we all done him harm instead of good?

Andrew held up his hand as he correctly read my expression. “Cassie I needed to have you all around me these past few days. The void left by Bev is huge and you all helped to put a bit of light inside that hole. But now,” his voice broke and he cleared his throat, “now it is time for me to honour her memory. She is with me still you know, she will always be with me. Now I need to spend time alone with my memories, with her. Do you understand Cassie?”

I could feel the love that those two shared filling the kitchen with warmth and light. Even though Bev was gone, the love remained. Of course Andrew needed to have time alone with his memories. It had been inconsiderate and possibly selfish of me to intrude into that. For while I was giving him support I had also been leaning on his strength. I stood up and went around the table. Sitting on the chair next to him I hugged him tightly before going back to my side of the table.

“Of course I understand Andrew. I’m just sorry I didn’t think of it myself. I’ll let everyone know that you need some alone time. You just let us know when you are ready and we will be back bossing you about. In the meantime, can I send you a text message each morning? Just to say good morning and how are you. And can you reply? Just to settle my mothering urges.”

“That’s a deal Cassie. And don’t worry, it won’t be forever.” Andrew smiled his eyes shining with the tears he still did not allow to fall.

I finished my tea and patted the muffin container. “I’ll leave these with you, ok?”

“Sure Cassie, I really like these ones.”

“What, so some of the ones I’ve brought you only pretended to like?”

He laughed. “Of course not! But I think these ones are my favourite.”

After extracting a promise from him to call me if he needed anything during this time, I left. The first thing I did on getting into my car was to call Saffron, and then Matt. They were both shocked, but both understood Andrew’s reasoning.

“The love those two had was one of a kind.” Saffron’s voice was wistful, echoing my own feelings. For I too wondered what it would be like to have that sort of love in my life. While I could not doubt Nathan’s love at one point, it was a controlling, possessive love quite unlike that which Andrew and Bev shared.

My thoughts went to Matt. Would it be possible to build that kind of love with him? I remembered what Bev had said about him, and about not being afraid of love. It was easy to say, a lot harder to put into practice – at least it was for me. I still didn’t love myself so expecting someone else to love me deeply seemed too much of a reach.

I shook my head, dismissing my thoughts. Whatever the future held for me, the present demanded other things, like going to Saffron’s now, where I had left Mark, and making a definite decision on the new coffee run, and whether to eat dinner at home or at Saffron’s. The latter decision would be easy. Ben being away (yes, even though there had been a funeral yesterday he had still gone out fishing with his friends) Saffron would push for us to stay, and I really wasn’t inclined for anything else. Unlike Andrew, I needed to keep my mind busy so I wouldn’t think too much.

Saffron did indeed ask us to stay for dinner and I didn’t put up much of an argument. She drank too much wine, and I didn’t try to stop her. Her pain over Bev’s death and Ben’s apparent lack of empathy was shining in her eyes like a shard of broken glass. Ok, that’s a pretty fanciful term but it really did look like that. Saffron has brown eyes with hazel flecks in them. They can go hard when she is angry or upset, and when she holds back tears the liquid shimmers over the hazel flecks, making them shine like the broken edges of glass in a dim light. I happen to know all too well what that looks like, having cleaned up after Nathan’s explosions far too often.  

Reeling in my wandering thoughts I focused on Saffron, seeing that she was wilting in her chair. The girls had long since gone to bed, Mark with them. I had stepped outside earlier on to call Matt and explain where I was and why I didn’t want to leave Saffron. He, bless him, volunteered to go and feed the dogs and take them along when he took Barney for his walk. Grateful for his presence in my life, and refusing to think beyond that right now, I thanked him profusely and invited him to dinner the next night which he accepted on the spot.

So now I had no reason to go home, and every reason to stay here and be with my friend. I went over to Saffron, taking her hands and pulling her to her feet.

“Bed time I think Saffie.”

She flung her arms around me and gave me her specialty drunk Saffron death by cleavage hug.

“Where would I be without you Cassie?”

“In bed asleep probably if I wasn’t here to be your drinking partner.”

“In bed alone, if you weren’t here. I’m always alone, always the one to hold it together, to look after the kids, to be with a dying friend and go to her funeral. I may as well be single.”

I had nothing to say to that, so I started walking her down the hallway. At the bathroom door she pulled away from me.

“Do I need to be with you?”

“Nah, just need to pee.”

I waited outside the door, pretended I didn’t see that her face was scrubbed clean but her eyes were red rimmed and swollen when she emerged. I just helped her down the hallway to her bedroom.

“What am I going to do Cassie?” As she spoke Saffron sat heavily on the bed, then lay down, still fully dressed.

I took off her house shoes and pulled the quilt over her from the other side of the bed.

“I don’t know Saffie, but I do know now’s not the time to make decisions. Just sleep.”

I went to leave, preparing to sleep on the lounge as I had done before.

“Don’t leave Cassie, don’t leave me alone.”

I turned, seeing Saffron sitting up in the bed, tears sliding down her cheeks. She looked like a little girl, her youngest girl Emily in fact. She also looked heartbroken. How could I refuse that?

“Well you’re going to have to get off the bed so I can have some of the covers, you’ve got the whole quilt you quilt hog.”

Saffron hopped up, staying upright through pure luck I thought. She was swaying so wildly that I felt motion sickness just looking at her. I straightened the covers, before pulling back her side.

“Get into bed before you fall in.”

Once she was settled I got in the other side. Saffron reached out to take my hand, holding it tight.

“Thank you Cassie, you don’t know how much it means to me to not be alone.”

She fell asleep almost instantly, snoring little hiccuppy snores, but I lay awake for several hours. I was thinking about Andrew and Bev, about the love they shared and the devastation he felt now he was alone. I thought about Saffron, a strong and capable woman reduced to tears because the man she loved put fishing ahead of supporting her through a bad time. I thought of me, of the years I had sacrificed to a man who had taken my love and cheapened it, and who had almost destroyed me in the process.

I thought about Matt, who seemed to want me for myself and who was a good man. I thought about Bev who had told me not to be afraid of love. But was she right? She was the one who had gone, albeit in a tragic manner. But Andrew was the one left behind, the one who had to try to put the pieces of his life back together. Was it right to give to someone else such power over one? Was love the answer? Or was it better to be alone. It might be lonely, but it meant not suffering in the way Andrew was now, and the way Saffron was, and the way I did. Was love the answer? Or the problem?