Part 3: My Secret Obsession

My tattoo has been a quasi-secret for almost a year. Not on purpose—although I appreciate the fact that I haven’t had to explain it until now—but because of the pandemic and rarely seeing another human being who might ask about it. 

Even so, I had a few stock answers prepared. If people weren’t satisfied to hear that it was a nod to my Celtic ancestors, then I would share that it was based on my favorite geometric shape, the Venn diagram, which symbolizes the fact that no matter how divided we seem, we are still inexorably connected at the very center of us. 

All of this was true, and I figured that would be enough for most. But I’ve promised to tell you the whole story in this series of blog posts and that’s what I’m going to do. 

It started at the end of the 2016 election trauma, the brutal and constant hammering of negative news into my skull, into everyone’s skulls, concussing us with worry and fear and unease. I’m sure I’m not the only person who cast my eyes heavenward, earthward, anywhere-ward seeking comfort or a shred of meaning; not the only person thinking: HelpI’m scared. This is crazy. Is this the apocalypse? Are we going to annihilate each other in this struggle over truth and power? What should I do? What can I do? 

Many people found comfort in faith, in religion. But wouldn’t you know, at the time I was also smack in the middle of a faith crisis. 

Some background: I am a preacher’s daughter. Baptist until age 12 (my dad baptized me by immersion, dunking me in the church tank—one of my favorite memories is the fisherman’s hip boots he wore under his robe—ha!), then he, and we by association, embraced Methodism. My parents were good people, kind people, and I was immensely fortunate to be raised in a loving home. My life was full of Sunday school, youth group, Bible studies, retreats…in short, I have been well educated in Protestant Christianity. And like many people, I’ve had mountaintop experiences that fed my soul, and I’ve had long periods of doubt and questioning. 

This particular crisis had to do with a rogue belief system that had outgrown the traditional system of religion I was raised on. My desire, my hunger for something transcendent was bursting at the seams like a yeasty dough that wouldn’t stop rising and wouldn’t be contained. Not in a church building. Not in a particular religion. I didn’t know what to do with it, with myself. 

I kept going back to a quote by the doctor Herbert Benson, an MD who researched the astonishing power that the mind exerts in terms of healing the body. In his book Timeless Healing: The Power and Biology of Belief, he wrote: “Believe in something good if you can. Or even better, believe in something better than anything you can fathom. Because for us mortals, this is very profound medicine.”

That’s what I wanted. To believe in something better than I could fathom, something transcendent and miraculous and mystical and joyous and awe-inspiring to shake me fully awake and give me hope and tell me how I can contribute in some small way to the saving of the world. And so I started praying to that Best Thing I Could Fathom. The Something Good. The Better Than Good. I set out my yearning soul to the universe, the heavens, to the endless whatever-is-out-there. Then I sat back with an open heart, hoping to hear something back. Anything. I grew silent. I listened.

And she responded.

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(Photo by Cal)

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Part 2: My Secret Obsession

I got a tattoo on my wrist at the beginning of 2020 on the last day of January, when I don’t think I’d even heard yet the words “pandemic” or “Covid.” I had no idea that within the year, I would find myself in lockdown, or that the virus would take my mother’s life.

But I did know that the symbol of my tattoo was deeply meaningful to me in ways I couldn’t even talk about, because I didn’t have words. In fact, I’d discovered too many meanings behind it, way more than I’d anticipated. The more I learned, the more stunned and breathless it left me, like I’d stumbled upon a sign or a message that was there all along just waiting for me to notice, to offer it my attention so its mysteries could be revealed.

“It’s a Celtic design,” I told the tattoo artist, a young woman named Alex, which was partly true. And with my Scotch-Irish-English ancestry, (my Scottish grandfather immigrated from Glasgow), I figured I could claim it for my own. 

But before my research revealed the stuff that got all deep and woo-woo and mystical, my obsession started with a simple geometric shape. Which is almost funny, because I’ve never had a math mind, and Geometry is a class I nearly failed in high school, along with Algebra. (Ugh.) Yet there it is. 

My geometric haunting started with the election in 2016. The more I thought about how divided our country had become, the more I thought about this geometric shape, the more it invaded my night dreams and daydreams. The shape? 

A Venn diagram. 

Definition (from Wikipedia): “A Venn diagram, also called primary diagram, set diagram or logic diagram, is a diagram that shows all possible logical relations between a finite collection of different sets.” 

That’s it, I thought. In a simple two-circle Venn, both circles are exactly the same size. They intersect at the radius of each, creating a center that perfectly represents both circles. Most simplistically in terms of our country, one could imagine the Republicans as one circle, the Democrats as the other. 

The place in the middle—which is called the mandorla, meaning “almond” in Italian—is where, theoretically, we can create a place to figure this whole thing out. The center of the Venn is where we connect, a place to remember how much we have in common, how much we share as humans and Americans who live in the here and now sharing the same time and space. 

 But how does one get to the center, the mandorla? What would that even look like? The desire to figure out this puzzle has consumed me and led me down further paths, deeper and deeper into mystery and realization, like I’m tramping through some sort of ancient, primordial forest that bears a cache of clues.

I’ll take you there with me if you’re interested, even though I’m anxious about it. What will you think of me if I reveal this very personal journey? I’ve kept it a secret for so long. But the heartbreaking events of January 6, 2021 have inspired me to share it.

Pack up some trail mix and extra water, we’re going in…

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My Secret Obsession

I am in my office, sitting and thinking. About all the things. The news, the country, the world, politics, fear, hope, dismay. 

Just like you. 

And just like you, I’m asking myself: What the hell do I do with all of this? I feel so small, so powerless. Scared. Sad. 

So I came here, to write. It’s what writers do when they’re scared and sad and overwhelmed and hopeful. I struggle to find words that will express what is in my heart in the hopes it will resonate with something that is in your heart. To create an imaginary place where we can meet and understand each other using words, using language, to help the heart speak. To create a place to commiserate, a place for comfort, a place to just be, where maybe we can think things through together. Because it’s always better together. 

In that spirit of togetherness, I would like to share a secret with you. For the past four years, I have been haunted by a very specific symbol. It invades my dreams. I catch myself doodling it mindlessly in the margins of notebooks, on the backs of shopping lists. I can’t stop thinking about it. (Think: Close Encounters of the Third Kind.) I started doing research into what the heck it meant, and…well, it kind of blew me away. Now I admit to being a little obsessed.

How obsessed?

In January 2020, just before the pandemic hit, I had this symbol tattooed on my left wrist. My writing hand, the one closest to my heart. I want to tell you about it. What I’ve learned. What it means. What I’m doing about it.

But right now, I will just share it with you. More to come…

(Photo by Cal)

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I’m Still Here.

In case you were wondering. (I know I am.)

Here’s the thing. I am still writing like crazy. It keeps me sane. The book I’m working on right now is positively best-seller material. I know this because I look forward to working on it every single day, and it brings me joy.

As Toni Morrison said, “Write the book you want to read,” and that’s exactly what I’m doing.

I hope you also have something that brings you delight, a place to go in your head, to focus your energy, to feel good when things in the world are weird and make no sense and you’re looking for something to offer your days a spark or two of light and amazingness. Arts and crafts are good for that. I’ve been doing stained glass and pour painting and mosaic and mobiles and sun catchers and anything else that fires me up in the moment.

So yeah. I’m still here.

And so are you.

We’ll start there and let good things grow…

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I’m in a Podcast! (In Which I Reveal Breaking News…)

It was my great honor and pleasure to be interviewed recently by Jordan Rich, Boston radio personality extraordinaire, and dear, longtime friend. In the interview, I reveal some TOP SECRET (well, not anymore…) info about some exciting projects I’m working on. (Woohoo!) Our conversation is available on Jordan’s podcast, On Mic With Jordan Rich!

There are several ways to listen in:

https://player.blubrry.com/id/52136319

Here’s a link to Apple Podcasts:
And here’s Google:

On Mic with Jordan Rich

I hope you enjoy listening!

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THE AUDIO BOOK IS READY, THE AUDIO BOOK IS READY!

I’m so excited to announce that the audio version of BEING HENRY DAVID is available at last. My narrator, Ed Churchill, is the best! (Thank you to the boys at CHART PRODUCTIONS in Braintree, Jordan Rich and Ken Carberry @ chartproductions.com ) I’m trying to figure out how to attach an audio link…in the meantime, there is one on the Amazon page! https://www.amazon.com/Being-Henry-David/dp/B07XH3PZ2P/ref=tmm_aud_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

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Coming Soon: BEING HENRY DAVID, the Audio Book!

Exciting news: We are working on an audio book version of BEING HENRY DAVID. It was so much fun to hear auditions for the all-important voice of my narrator, and a blast to work with him and the amazing crew at Chart Productions in Boston. Just a few more minor steps that need to be crossed off the “To Do” list, and then the audio version will be LIVE…and available in all the usual places where you find audio books. I’m so excited! More soon….

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More Recognition for BHD!

 

GREAT NEWS! I’ve just received word that Being Henry David has been chosen to be included in the recently published Wiki:

    10 YA Novels About Teens Away From Home!

You can see the published wiki (Including video) here:
https://wiki.ezvid.com/m/XXSBrUUrDDIUB

Check it out!

Founded in 2011, Ezvid Wiki was the world’s first video wiki, and is now among the top 3,000 websites in the United States. Their YouTube channel has over 425,000 subscribers, 250 million views since founding, and they have informed over $200 million in purchasing decisions to date.

Such an honor–thank you!

 

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A Reason to Wake Up in the Morning

“Man, I really hate it when I visit an author’s web page and they haven’t updated in months, or even years,” a friend said last week at a writer’s retreat in Maine. The others with us agreed.

I didn’t say anything. Because, well, because I was one of those people, and I’m not proud of it. But I’m here to make it right.

What took me so long? Well, I wasn’t sure I had anything worthwhile to say about being a working writer with one published book, three that are not, and two in progress.

But come to think of it, I have plenty to say.

Five years ago, I wrote a young adult book, got a magnificent agent who found me a wonderful editor, and it was published. Published! My dream come true! Even better, it was well received, making its way onto a bunch of “must read” lists, getting a Kirkus starred review, and winning a few awards. I was invited to speak at conferences and libraries and bookstores, and sit on panels and lead writing workshops. I visited a bunch of schools and met scores of bright-eyed middle school and high school kids (and teachers and librarians) who sparked in me joy and hope for the future.

Also, I signed an offer for a two-book deal.

A two-book deal! I was, to put it mildly, crazy excited. And then it fell through. I’ll spare you the details.  But I got over it. Why? Because I had to. I had no choice.

Because writing is my ikigai.

A young friend shared that word with me recently (thank you, J), and it is perfect. Ikigai is a Japanese concept that means “a reason for being,” “the thing you live for,” or “the reason for which you wake up in the morning.”

Even though I have three completed novels without a publishing home (yet), the thing I live for is the project I’m working on right now.

When I wake up in the morning, it is with an exciting new world in mind, peopled with characters I’ve come to love who speak to me in idle moments sitting in traffic, waiting on line at the bank, and when I’m drifting off to sleep at night and have to switch on the light one more time to jot down a new idea before it darts away.

Every book I work on is, in my heart, a best seller, and whether that ever proves to be true or not, I adore believing it. Exploring and attempting to harness ideas and stories and imagination is exciting. It is magic.

To quote Stephen King, “Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid or making friends. Writing is magic, as much as the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink.”

For the record, I feel in my bones that I’ll be published again. Maybe soon. (Book #4 is pretty awesome, just so you know.) But even if another publishing contract never comes across my desk again, I’ll be okay. Because writing is water to my soul, it gives me a reason to wake up in the morning. And even on days when the words aren’t flowing and I only get a sip, I am still drinking magic.

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Geez Cal, Where Ya Been??????

“GEEZ CAL, WHERE YA BEEN???” Okay, so nobody is actually asking this question. Not that I know of, anyway. But it just occurred to me that it has been a LONG time since I wrote any kind of update on this page and I need to explain myself in case anybody stops by, wondering. And I do have an excuse. Signed by my mom. (By that I mean she’d sign it if I asked her.) But that’s not important right now, because if you really did stop in on my webpage to see what’s up and if I’ll ever get my butt in gear to write another book, I just wanted to let you know the answer is YES.

In fact, I’ve finished two. They are on a circuitous route to publishing that would take an entire book to explain (and I don’t want to write that book), but they are complete, and in good hands.

Also, I’m in the midst of writing four more books. So who knows? Maybe there will be a bunch of books coming out soon from Cal Armistead, one right after another. I can hope, right? But no matter what happens next, the best news of all is that every day I get up and go to my office, play inside my imagination for a while, and get to write about it. How lucky am I??

All the best to you and yours. ❤

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