Friday, October 29, 2010

The Calm Before the Ghosts and Goblins and Writer's Block

Not a long post for this week, mainly because things have been slow at work. I've been gathering notes and preparing myself as much as possible for NaNoWriMo, which will begin on November 1st. As I mentioned in last week's post, I'm participating in National Novel Writing Month, which encourages people to write at least 50,000 words of a novel during the month of November. I've never tackled any kind of writing project of such length, so I'm looking forward to the challenge. Given how slow things are at work, I'm sure I can slip in some writing while the supervisors aren't looking. Their authority over me is mostly ceremonial anyway. When not in the field, operatives must adhere to the hierarchy of the office and are treated, more or less, like office drones. But only The Colonel has the power to fire us, since we are his private arsenal, in a sense.

I'm looking forward to having some other distraction. To break up the monotony of office work, I've found myself reading books on my Kindle for PC software. Since it's on my PC, the supervisors think I'm reading reports. This is probably not how Amazon wants to advertise its product, but it works. I've also been downloading free reading material from the Project Gutenberg Web site. I'm reverting back to my pre-teen, bookish self lately. Okay for the moment, but I'm itching to get back into the field.

The weather in Maryland this weekend should be picture perfect. Sunny skies and crisp, fall air with temperatures in the upper 50s and low 60s. Not really sure what I'm going to do with myself, although I did volunteer to hand out candy to the little rug rats while my mother and her boyfriend go out to dinner Halloween night. Not really all that thrilled with Halloween anymore. Turning your fears into harmless fun is almost cathartic for children, but continuing with Halloween antics into adulthood seems a little desperate and sad to me. Of course, I get enough opportunities to role play in my job, and some of the things I've dealt with since I started here make Halloween look like the Apple Blossom Festival, so I guess I'm not in a position to judge.

My mom dug out this old photo my dad took of me one Halloween. I look pretty excited about trick or treating. The anticipation of going out on Halloween night was akin to waiting for the ice cream truck to roll up the street. Amazing what food coloring and high fructose corn syrup can do to a child.

Happy Halloween everyone!

Friday, October 22, 2010

New Cover - Writer!

I'm mostly healed from my adventure in Vermont, so the old restlessness is beginning to set in again. Initially upon my return, I tried to set aside the more disturbing and mind-bending aspects of my last assignment by throwing myself into busy work at the office. I suppose "throwing myself" is a tired cliché, but I don't know how else to describe it. I memorized all the new people of interest on our Intranet site. I scoured through the recent reports for any details which may need further investigation. In short, I've been trying to make myself useful so The Colonel might give me a new assignment.

To my chagrin, this was not the best week to get The Colonel's attention. He seemed hopelessly preoccupied and down-right surly toward me. I tried to pull some insight out of his secretary during lunch one day, but she was her usual cagey self. "None of your business" was stamped on her forehead. Worn out from the effort, I've spent the last couple of day surfing the net on tax-payer dollars.

Speaking of which, I was on a stream-of-consciousness stroll through the web regarding creative writing when I came across this web site. National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, is designed to stimulate writers and would-be writers to get on with the exercise of creating a new novel. Every year, people sign up and commit to writing at least 50,000 words of a novel during the month of November. There's no real prize, but you have the satisfaction of getting a good running start on a novel which could one day be published. I have so many crazy thoughts rolling around my head after the Vermont assignment, I think I might have a go at putting the whole experience down on paper (or pixels, as the case may be). This could be a great form of encouragement and keep my mind off the banality of my current work state.

I've always had some interest in writing thanks to my Aunt Trudy. When I was a little girl, my dad's sister Gertrude was one of those free spirits who traveled around the world writing for various magazines as a freelance journalist. Whenever she found time to visit, Aunt Trudy would sweep in like a whirling dervish full of stories about the Congo and the Middle East and China.With her wiry salt-and-pepper hair, crazy mix of clothes from all over the globe, and deliberate lack of make-up, she seemed so exotic compared to my boring, suburban life. Certainly the polar opposite of my straight-laced father. When she would hug me, a slightly sickening cloud of patchouli engulfed me. The scent still makes me feel sad, although I don't know why.

Anyway, Aunt Trudy's stories inspired me to write just like her, so I would go to my room and scribble down fanciful adventures in my notebook about meeting the King of Japan and helping him fight dragons or some such nonsense. When I would present her with these crazy tales, she would react to the story as if I had really experienced it. "Oh, you are such a brave young lady to fight dragons! I hear the King has a birthmark on his neck shaped just like the island of Hokkaido! Is that true?" I felt a little guilty lying to my Aunt. What a silly kid I was!

I continued writing stories and keeping a journal right into high school. Then I got into gymnastics and working on my body (mainly to impress boys). By college, I had a steady boyfriend and other interests. Only recently, with all the strange experiences of this job and unanswered questions in my life, have I gravitated back to writing. I'm hoping this NaNoWriMo will help me purge some of the brain clutter I've accumulated over the last few months. Wish me luck! Writing begins on November 1, 2010, after the stroke of midnight.

Not much else to report this week, except that I believe I finally figured out why The Colonel was so preoccupied this week. Yesterday, we were told that my old contact in Las Vegas, code name Stephen, was killed in a car accident. Based on The Colonel's serene disposition after the news was reported, I can only presume that his demise was desired and, probably, cogitated. My accusations that Stephen was likely a double agent always seemed to fall on deaf ears, but now I see that this was not true. Rather, I'm realizing that The Colonel, and in fact this whole nameless agency, works in mysterious ways.

Friday, October 15, 2010

My Vermont Vacation

Last time I posted, I was sitting in my room in Vermont about to begin my new assignment. Now I'm back in my cubicle in DC taking a break from mind-numbing case studies. In between...well, all I can say is, it was quite a ride. I'm still sorting through all the details of the case and the potential ramifications. It's like some impenetrable foreign film that you keep thinking about days after you've seen it. The more you ponder it, the more complexities reveal themselves.

My report to The Colonel presented the facts of the case, but I left out some details, not to be secretive, but because I simply cannot explain them in any rational manner. It's quite clear to me now that there is far more to this universe than any of us can ever hope to grasp. I'm toying with the idea of putting down my experiences in a book. My Aunt Trudy, who is a writer, once told me that, if I had thoughts or feelings that kept me up at night, it helps to write them down and, through the process of writing, you can make sense of them. That advice seems most appropriate right now.

It will have to wait though. I'm nursing some cuts and bruises I sustained from the events in Vermont, along with a minor concussion which is causing occasional headaches. It's either the concussion or sinus headaches caused by the change of weather. At any rate, I'm better off than Lucky, who ended up in the hospital after attempting to save my innkeeper from a nasty attack. Maybe I should back up.

On my third day in Vermont, Lucky arrived out of the blue at the Bed & Breakfast where I was staying. Apparently, after he had not heard from me for several days, he decided to take my Tercel and drive across country to find me. I had let slip that I was originally from Bethesda, MD and that my mother's name was Helen, so he tracked her down. By this time, I was in Vermont, but good ol' Mom thought it was okay to tell him where I was. The poor guy showed up and started hounding me right as the case was getting hairy. It turns out he actually was a help, but he paid dearly for putting himself in harm's way. I feel guilty about that. At least, he doesn't ever want to see me again, which is what I wanted. I just didn't want it to be this way.

So the case is resolved, more or less, and I'm back to desk work. This time I think it could be for awhile, not because I'm in the doghouse, but because the agency doesn't like to send agents into the field too soon after a "traumatic assignment." That's how they phrase it anyway. I don't feel traumatized, but I am emotionally spent. I'm looking forward to having a regular schedule, watching football on Sunday, and catching a movie or two. Maybe now I can truly appreciate being home for awhile. Key words there are "for awhile."

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Week of Transition

I'm writing this on my laptop in my cozy little room at a bed and breakfast in Bennington, Vermont. During the course of only a week and a half, I have gone from posing as Carla Fontaine, Internet porn vixen of Las Vegas, to plain old Angela Bayard, chastened office drone in Washington, DC, to Carla Franklin, mousy Manhattan office drone on vacation in scenic Vermont. I never thought I would be put back in the field so soon, but I'm eager to prove my worth after that botched assignment in Vegas.

My brief stint on desk duty shook me to the core. The past year was a whirlwind of training and exciting assignments both here and abroad. The work was shaping up to be just as exciting as I had hoped, but then came the mess in Vegas and I was stuck doing busy work in a gray cubicle. I realized that, if you are not a field agent in this organization, a career here would be just like any other government office job: dull and repetitive and safe. I'm not cut out for that, so I have to do everything in my power to stay in The Colonel's good graces and remain a field operative.

My period in purgatory wasn't all horrible though. I did get to reconnect with my mother, whom I haven't been able to spend much time with since my father died. When she started dating my old high school principal, Mr. Huggins, while I was in Vegas, I was angry and hurt and a little weirded out. I felt like she was betraying my dad or something. Not to mention the fact that I was forced to think of my mother as a sexual being for the first time in my life. It was all too much to handle while living thousands of miles away.

Now that I'm home, I recognize that she was working through her stages of grief completely on her own. I had work and travel to distract me. She had to live in the same house we all shared for so many years, left with all the memories and no inkling of a future. Finding Mr. Huggins was like having extra chapters added to her book of life. It doesn't just end abruptly with no finale. Her story goes on. I understand that now.

We all went out to dinner together last Saturday at McCormick & Schmick's. Strange how someone can seem like a completely different person when you meet them socially. As a teenager, Mr. Huggins was all grim and humorless, relentlessly on patrol for vandals and pot smokers and hall loiterers. He really had no personality, so far as I could tell, as if he were stored in one of the gym lockers during the night and trotted out the next day to continue his reign of terror. Last Saturday, sitting next to my mom, joking about his life and career, he became human in my eyes. Like my mom, he had adored his spouse and was devastated by her passing. Still is, I imagine. He seems happy with Mom though. And as he approaches retirement, he can joke freely about putting "the fear of God" in us kids so he could maintain just enough calm that we might learn something. Turns out, he's even ex-Navy like me, although he served peace time during the late 70s. I was so glad we had that dinner together.

Then, just when I was beginning to feel re-energized, The Colonel smiled upon me and handed me this new assignment. Not the most high profile job: playing bodyguard to a civilian professor working undercover for the FBI. I'm supposed to stage a fake romance with him so I can stay close in case he gets in danger. From porn star to ingenue. Can't say The Colonel isn't a bit sexist, but at least I'm in the field again.

Have to wrap this up so I can get downstairs and eat breakfast. The cooking aromas have been wafting up to my room all morning, and I'm dying to see what Edgar, the innkeeper, has whipped up. He's a bit of an odd duck, but friendly and eager to please. Frankly, I think he has a bit of a crush on me. Anyway, it's breakfast and then off to meet my contact. How thrilling it is to be back in the game!