I’m Not Paranoid — I LIKE Looking Over My Shoulder


Have you every done something, created something, that, even though it was fun at the time, gave you a feeling that one day it would come back and bite you in the…leg?  I don’t mean those illicit or illegal things you may or may not have drank/smoked/ingested when you were young and stupid.  These are more the things you have done in
the heat of the moment of your adult life that make you look over your shoulder and say…oh dear…what if someone finds out?

Let me explain.  One day I was having a bad day — you know those kinds of bad days — stress and miscommunications and a bout of acid reflex that turned out to be gallstones. Too many projects, too little time. It was a tough moment: deadlines, deadlines, deadlines.  I needed therapy, I needed relief.  Other than finding another job, I needed a way to release all of my pent up emotions so that I wouldn’t start playing a kazoo in the parking lot every morning.

So what does a writer do to release the pressures of every day stress?   We write, of course!  I sat down with my little laptop and wrote this wonderfully twisted short story about sales managers and voodoo symbols and poisoned candied violets.   I had a psycho antagonist and a young, up-and-coming, newly promoted female heroine. I had a clash of egos, a bit of upper class snobbery, and even a twist ending.  It was great writing, great therapy.  So much so that, after polishing it up a bit, I thought about trying to get it published.

It was then that I felt the nibble on my leg.  What if I did get it published?  What if it became a best-selling short story?  What if I actually made money on it?  What if the world — or worse, someone I knew — found out that the story was inspired by them?  It’s kinda like having your best friend buying you a present from her favorite store, something that fits her personality to a T but is a major faux paux in your fashion circle.  She loves it, you hate it.  You think about taking it back to the store to exchange it for something more…you.  So you laugh about it with a friend at a barbecue, and who should appear on the other side of the grill but that same-said friend wearing the same-said T.  What if she heard you?  What if she asks you why you weren’t wearing your “gift”?  What if someone says, “Isn’t that the awful shirt you were just talking about?”  Odds are your friend never heard a word, but…

 This sort of paranoia crosses all generations, all friendships, all common sense. It’s not just a writing thing ― we all get weird when we say something about someone that we later regret, fearing the repercussions that might follow.  We do many things in the throes of passion that make us feel self conscious when we come floating back to reality sometime later. What would happen if the kids walked into the bedroom one night to legs and arms were all over the place when they thought you were out to a movie? What  would happen if we called in sick to work only to run into our boss at the mall? What if, in a fit of rage, we threw a rotten squash out the back door, only to inadvertently smack the neighbor’s dog in the chops?

We have been taught that we have to please everyone, make everyone feel good, even at our own expense.  While that may ring true most of the time, there are times you just need to take a chance on being naughty.  Take a chance on getting caught.  I didn’t mean any harm when I started writing my ditty.  I had always wanted to see if I could write something spooky and revengeful and strange and it was just an accident that the bad guy looked a lot like the co-worker hulking over my shoulder all the time.  I never really meant for the antagonist to resemble my co-worker. Nor would I ever think that he would go out and poison the world because sales were down.  But it made for such darn good fiction!

Maybe I’m just overreacting. The resemblance to any real person, place or publication is purely circumstantial.  Isn’t that what disclaimers are all about? No one I know would read “Horror Daily” or other scary publications and recognize my antagonist  — they are too busy reading gossip magazines.  And anyway, there could always be a dozen other “Claudia’s” in the writing world.  No one would know it was me.  Would they?

So the dilemma is this:  What do I do with this great story now that it’s written?  Do I keep it in a journal, hidden away, only to go back and read it whenever I am under pressure?  Or do I get brave, send it out to contests and publishers and take my chances?  Do I give in to my paranoia, or throw care to the wind and just go for it? 

I think for now I’m just going to let it sit in my computer.  I’ll wait until the pressure is released and the people in my office return to being human again.  Then I will send it out to such obscure publications that there would be no way in Hades he would read it.

I also will remember not to eat any candied violets.

Feng Shui in the Cubicle

           One day I was sitting at my desk at work, green computer screen glowing, honky-tonk music spurting out from a speaker not far above my head, trying to concentrate on a long list of numbers that needed to be entered into the computer, glancing at pages waiting to be proofread and images to be downloaded, when a word drifted across my consciousness – Feng Shui.

            For those who need a bit of a refresher course, feng shui is the ancient Chinese practice of arranging one’s personal space in order to achieve harmony with the environment.  This harmony is known as chi, the “life force” or energy that exists in human beings, nature, and all animate and inanimate objects. It is everywhere.  There are books and classes and consultants and everything in between to help us stressed-out people calm the flowing water of our psyche.  Of course, people like me who jam ten pounds of sugar (daily duties) into a five pound bag (24 hours), rarely have time to read the back of the brownie mix box, let alone sit down and read a book about harmony and the environment.

            But I wanted to learn about feng shui so I could bring a little bit of peace to my corner of the office.  With indigestion and carpel tunnel threatening every turn, there had to be a way I could tap into my calm center somewhere between 7:30 a.m. and 4:00 p.m.  So I called a friend of mine who is into energy and higher levels of vibrations to see if she could give me a crash course on harmony and flowing water.  She told me feng shui was not something you can learn overnight; it is a gradual meeting of mind and space, of openness and channeling.  Wanting to know more, we scheduled coffee and chi for the next night.

            She talked, I talked, we drank coffee and ate chocolate cream pie and I brought out a pen to take notes.  But we never really got around to talking about feng shui, because we talked about kids and sushi and Nicholas Cage instead. Still wanting to open my pathways just in case chi came by, later that night I went online and Googled the term, and came across a few guidelines to bring harmony to my cubicle.

            When sitting at a desk, the entrance door should be in a clear line of sight, and you should have a view of as much of the room as possible.  Well, I struck out before I even got up to the plate.  My desk faces the wall — worse, it is a corner unit, so it faces two walls.  The only line of sight I have is where the two walls meet.  That, and an oversized computer screen. Hopefully everyone else’s clear view of my back is enough of an opening to get the energy flowing.

            When lying in bed … well, I stopped reading that suggestion.  If I was found lying down at my desk, my chi would not only flow but be flushed down the toilet.

            Straight lines and sharp corners are to be avoided, and especially should not point where people tend to sit, stand, or sleep.  See interpretation and explanation for point number one.

            Avoid clutter.  How can anyone who works in an office not have clutter?  How can a spiffy multi-tasker like myself give up piles of paper or a dozen catalogs within arm’s reach or stacks of manila flats or thirty CDs with images or weekly bulletins from Human Resources?  Oh, and don’t forget the pictures of my kids and my stapler and tape dispenser and staple remover and yellow highlighter and white-out and my pink pen for corrections and stickies for emergency notes.  Strike two.

            Roads to and from ancient towns were often curved and winding, an attempt to disorient and keep away evil spirits, who were believed to travel in straight lines.  Now, I admit I have to maneuver through hallways and around cubicles just to get to my desk, so I wondered — if I circled the halls long enough, would I be able to ditch the bad spirits and run into feng shui?  This wasn’t quite a strike, but more like a ball. 

            Some objects are believed to have the power of redirecting, reflecting, or shifting energy in a space. These include mirrors, crystals, wind chimes, and pools of flowing or standing water. This suggestion is a cousin of the “lying in bed” dilemma. I didn’t think my boss would let me bring in a water fountain, and, although there is enough hot air coming and going around here to tinkle a dozen wind chimes … mmmm, no.

            So I sat and pouted in front of my computer, realizing that there was no way I could rearrange my daily grind and surroundings to let the energy flow freely.  Feng Shui would have to wait until I got home.  I knew that at least there I would be able to rearrange chairs and hang mirrors and listen to the wind chimes that hang on my balcony.

            But wait!  There was one more point — not really a point, but a closing statement.  Every environment is unique with its own energy, challenges, and possibilities. By becoming aware of your surroundings, connecting to its energy, and using the inherent wisdom and inspiration of nature, you can create surroundings that reflect your highest potential and support your personal and professional goals.   Let’s dissect that for a moment.  I am aware of my surroundings.  I can feel the energy that flows through my body, through the pen and onto the paper.  I can gaze at the fields of Ireland through my screen saver, I can listen to Mozart while I type, and I can read about astronomy during my breaks.  Becoming aware of one’s surroundings is nothing more than living in the here and now, taking what you can and making the most of it.

            For all the hoopla, I think I have finally found the secret of feng shui.  I finally know how to arrange my space in order to achieve cosmic harmony: keep my kids’ picture in sight, eat lunch outside when the weather is nice, and make sure my M&M dish is always full.