All posts by Elizabeth Bent

My 9/11 story

I thought long and hard about whether to share this story, which I have kept to myself for fifteen years, but I figure it can’t do any harm.  This story has been with me since before I started having problems with delusional thinking, and it has never changed in my mind- so I really think it is true. It may not be, though, which is the frustrating caveat I have to make for all my memories. Take it as you find it.

In September of 2001, I was gearing up to leave my abusive first husband, who lived in Auburn, Alabama. I was packing things (my now ex husband was travelling overseas, and I planned to be gone when he got back) on the evening of September 10. I answered the ringing phone.

There was a person on the other end asking for a travel agent. I hung up the phone.

The phone rang again. Same person asking for a travel agent. He was very irate and told me there was no chance he had gotten the phone number wrong.

One thing about me: when I lose my temper, I don’t usually yell or scream. I use my Sarcastic Voice. It is a very sweet, gentle voice in which I am capable of saying the nastiest things.

Out came my Sarcastic Voice. I pretended to transfer the call to a travel agent. He told he he was very unimpressed with our service and wanted to know when his flight left the next morning. I pretended to take down his name and contact information, then pretended to have trouble looking up the flight information.

“Oh, for Chrissakes- it is either 9:30 am or 10:30 am, which is it?” the irate man on the phone exploded at me.

In a split second, I calculated that if I said his flight was at 10:30 am, there was a 50% chance he would miss it completely.

“Your flight is at 10:30 am, sir,” I said,  hoping I was lying. He snarled at me. I hung up the phone, satisfied with my mild sabotage.

The next day, of course, everything changed. I was in my laboratory when I heard the news, saw internet footage of the planes flying into the Twin Towers. At first, I thought it was a movie. But the news reports kept coming, and coming. No movie, but reels and reels of horrifying footage, transmitted into my television set at home.

A few days later, I got another phone call. It was a man asking to talk to the travel agent he had spoken to on September 10, 2001. I told him I was alone in the house, a residential address, so if he had spoken to someone at this number, it had to have been me.

He apologized for his earlier rudeness, and told me that he had missed his plane in New York that morning, thanks to me.

Distractedly, I apologized. My mind was full of my upcoming move away from my now ex husband.

“No, no,” he said. “I was on flight, ” and I can’t recall the flight number now. “From New York to Los Angeles.”

“I’m sorry, I-”

“It was one of the planes that was hijacked on 9/11,” he said.

My jaw dropped.

He went on to thank me for saving his life.

“You have my information,” he said. “Look me up. Call if you ever need anything.”

To this day I don’t know who it was that had phoned me.  I hope he is well and happy. I decided to share this story not because I want to glorify myself or my actions- which were actually really mean-spirited- but because I felt it is important to remember that sometimes, the smallest things you do can have far-reaching consequences.

Dreams of “Brian” by the train station

I wrote this little piece as an attempt to overcome writer’s block. If you know anything that might help me find “Brian”, please contact me.

They spring, fully formed, from my brain each morning as I wake up. Each dream is so clear and detailed, so plausible, that I find myself puzzling over them again and again. Are these memories? Are they imaginary? I have no way to tell. Most people can tell the difference between dreams and reality, at least to some extent. I can’t. This is what it means to be touched by the gods, if you believe in gods. For atheists like me, this is what it’s like to be bipolar.

Today I woke up thinking about my friend at the train station. I never knew exactly who he really was- his name online or at the clubs was “Brian”, and he contacted me when I was living in Sweden, asking if  he could have my address. I expected a letter or maybe a phone call, not an American standing by the train station building, calling my name. His dark navy or black wool coat stood out against the deep yellow of the station’s siding, and he had dark hair and eyes. He called my name again. I did not recognize him. I looked at him, and he recognized me. I turned to walk away- who was this? Why was he here? I was wearing a dark pink winter jacket and a bright green backpack from IKEA that held my work laptop. He walked up to me, said my name once more.

Uncomfortably, I looked away.

This is where the dream fragments. I don’t clearly remember what happens, other than that he quotes some of my fiction writing- passages from my novel Perigee.  I run away.

Later, in the sunshine of another day- I can’t remember if it is just a few days later or if it is a few months later- I meet him again at the train station. I have twenty minutes until my train. He asks me to have a coffee with him. This time I am not afraid. We go to a small coffee shop that sits across from the yellow-sided train station building, and I sit looking out into the sunshine, at peace. He sits next to me and does not say much. He sketches in a black-covered sketchbook. Again, I cannot recall much of anything of what is said. He gave me a ten kronor coin and told me to keep it. I pocketed it, and later used it at a grocery store. Ten kronor is about $1.30 or so in US dollars, not a significant amount of money.

I later regretted giving away the coin, as I had another dream that it had been a special coin- one of very few works of art by a Swedish artist, who made solid gold 10 kronor pieces and put them into general circulation as an art project. However, that I owned one such coin was probably only a dream.

I don’t know who “Brian” ever was. He would phone me occasionally while I lived in California, so I gather he lived there too. I think he wrote IMs once or twice while I was in Alaska, and he may have called me and done impressions of different characters on some cartoon shows. He was briefly on some online forums I was a participant in. I know these dreams are based on someone real. Who was at the train station? I might have met my mysterious friend, or I might have been delusional and completely imagined these encounters. I don’t normally hallucinate, but I do sometimes remember things that never happened. Maybe these dreams, these god-children, are not memories but only fantasies.

Whoever he is, wherever he is, if he is even real, I hope my friend “Brian” has a pleasant day followed by sweet, harmless dreams. Tonight, I will sleep, and tomorrow I will start puzzling again over the morning’s dose of strange dreams.

I keep hoping “Brian” is real and that someday I will find him to thank him. I can be reached via this page.

Overcoming writer’s block

Hello, readers! I have no idea who might read this little blog, so I’m putting in a contact form- let me know who you are and what you might have read recently (my work, or more likely someone else’s).

I’m currently in Centerville, Ohio, in the condo my husband is renting, enjoying a short vacation. This fall (see previous post) I will have more time to write. I thought of trying to finish something short this week, and I find myself faced with a crippling case of writer’s block.  I’d love it if you helped me overcome this by telling me something about yourself, even if it’s just what you are currently reading, or what kinds of stories you would like to see written. I may not be able to write those, but I enjoy email and would welcome input or feedback.

The stuff I’ll be working on will most likely be an Agent Diamond and Charming Guy tale. One that’s a bit more inclined toward espionage and Bond-esque villains. 

Stay tuned! More writing coming this fall

Hello readers!

I’ve been remiss- I have not finished the Agent Diamond and Charming Guy story I have been working on. It’s still going, but I’m pleased to report I’ll have a lot more free time this fall to focus on getting more stories out- I’ll be leaving my job at the end of September! I’m really looking forward to a period of relaxation between jobs. I’ll be going back to school for some computer science training eventually, but initially I’ll just be loafing about my husband’s condo, drinking wine and eating strange snacks from Trader Joe’s as I tap away at my keyboard.

The main reason I haven’t been writing is that I’m tired from this job and from taking care of business to do with my side project dealing with a cancer-fighting gut bacterium (a collaboration with UCLA). Also, a bad review of my second novel, which is in draft form, made me kind of hesitant to pick it up again. But I’m hopeful I can find someone to help me fix its problems and get back in the metaphorical saddle, and start writing again! So stay tuned for more updates this fall.

On drunken pink winged unicorns

I entertained myself today by writing a three-page short story describing how several graduate students deal with a drunken alcohol-stealing fluffy pink winged unicorn that appears in their office.

I’ve been trying to find time and energy to write, but there have been several stumbling blocks placed in my way- notably, increased duties at work which wipe me out intellectually by the end of the day, and a lot of psychological nonsense which hasn’t been easy to deal with either.

Unfortunately, it does not look like I will have a lot of time for creative fiction in coming months, either. I have some vacation time in July that I’ll spend writing parts of a grant application, and if I have time, I’ll finish a few short stories that have been percolating. I’ve been rather exhausted lately, so it’s not likely I’ll have energy to tackle my novels.

One thing at a time, I suppose. I am hoping that once my novels are finished, even if they took a long time to write, the wait will have been worth it.  In the meantime, I hope to have at least one more Agent Diamond and Charming Guy story done by the second week of July which I’ll put out for free on Smashwords, with the rest of them.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you have a wonderful day!

Looking forward to the adventures of the Orville

Some science fiction news: there will be a new offering from Seth MacFarlane, this time a science fiction drama/comedy set aboard the spacecraft the Orville. This will be a live action TV series that Seth stars in, and is set aboard a less-than-perfect exploratory vessel. I enjoyed Seth and his team’s other works, including A Million Ways to Die in the West, and I’m looking forward to seeing what cherished sci-fi tropes they manage to skewer this time around. I sincerely hope Liam Neeson makes another appearance! Production starts toward the end of 2016 and the show will air in 2017-2018.

In perhaps less exciting news, I have discovered and how easy it is to format a book via that site! I experimented around with it earlier this week, and am now contemplating a small book for family and friends around Christmas, probably encompassing my existing Agent Diamond and Charming Guy stories (you can find a link to them here on Smashwords– all are free downloads), along with a few new tales I’ve had stewing in my head for some time.

I’m undecided about continuing with one of my novels, Anagama– upon reflection, the marriage of my old writing style with my current writing style may be an uneasy one, even if I change plot elements about to make it more palatable. Anagama was started in 1998 and I’ve been working on it off and on ever since, finishing the first draft last Christmas- but I’m not satisfied with it. I have a few ideas for how to improve it, but think I might need to wait until I find a real editor for that manuscript.

In the meantime, I am starting work on Infinity, which is based on some of my delusional thinking between 2013-2015. Infinity is the story of an unlikely relationship formed via spacetime wormholes,  and the efforts of time travelers to affect the relationship’s outcome.  If my current pace of work at my paid job continues as it has been, it will take me until the end of 2017 to finish it, probably.

Enjoy your day!

Where there are daffodils…

I’ve been distracted a lot with work recently. A lot of new projects are lining up in the pipeline and all of them are really interesting to me. I’m also very excited about my pet cancer-fighting gut bacterium project, which I work on here and there in my spare time- I’ve reworked some analyses and the results are even better the second time around! I need to do some more actual in-lab wet bench work, though, so I’m waiting to see if my UCLA collaborators get funding or if they want to write a Broad Institute SPARC grant for a bit of money.

So yes, this has taken up a lot of my time and energy recently. However, I found myself in a coffee shop yesterday and wound up writing a very short story- 925 words. It was for a writer’s workshop group I’m part of, and the theme for our stories was “The Secret Lives of Ghosts”. Given the recent death of my father and subsequent ghost story, I decided to write about that- so the story won’t be shared, but at least I wrote something.

I may try to write something a bit more lighthearted and silly soon- I need to cheer myself up sometimes! Luckily spring is coming, or rather, trying to get here since the weather report says it may snow in the next few days. Where there are daffodils, there is still hope.

And… the cat came back

Hello, readers!

Yesterday was my father’s memorial service. I’ve been struggling this past month with his death as well as my own illness, which after a lull in February has come back full force. On top of all this, I’m trying to teach myself more about the Linux operating system and basic commands, as well as learn about structural equation modelling.  I need to know this kind of stuff to stay competive in my line of work.

I am aware that I’m not really making enough time for my creative writing, and this bothers me. I realize the problem with putting off writing projects forever is that life spans are finite- my writing projects may never finish at this rate. I have a lot of newish ideas bubbling in my brain for how to improve Anagama (the major criticism was poor pacing and too many cliches) and for new things to write as well, but when I sit down to write I’m distracted by the ideas coming forward for my paid work, or I don’t do the best job I can do because I’m rushing to finish a chapter or a scene.  I’ve started to realize the futility of making myself stick to a writing schedule when I have so many other things in my life which, as they pay my bills,  must take priority. Unfortunately, I have to take things slowly and not push myself too much, so when I do write, I write as well as I can. Lesson learned.

I’ve had commentary on the first draft of Anagama for three months now. I had thought I could polish up and have a good manuscript ready by Easter, and of course that seems ridiculous in hindsight! I simply haven’t had both creative energy and heart to really delve into it. That orange cat of life I wrote of last year has come back and is sitting on my chest this time, breathing in my face, preventing me from doing too much.

Today’s a lovely day, sunny and while there’s snow on the ground, it isn’t too cold. After some time outside I plan to spend time on Igor, my bioinformatics computer, analyzing some important data for a cancer-fighting gut bacterium project I started in 2014. This will probably occupy my spare time for a week. Next weekend I’ll be alone still (my husband is in Ohio, for work), so I hope by then I’ve gotten my head back on straight and can spend a solid day becoming familiar with my manuscript again and making cuts/edits to it. It’s been pointed out to me that editing a finished manuscript is easier than writing a new one- this is true to an extent. We will see how this process goes with a manuscript written in various stages, like Anagama.

If I manage a vacation this year, I will certainly spend time relaxing and, hopefully, create something that’s worth reading, even if only a short piece.

A bit of a ghost story

I’ve had an interesting week. Difficult at times, especially Thursday, but interesting, and I’ll explain why.
My Dad died on Saturday morning (March 5). Monday morning, just after 6 am, I was at Mom’s house with my husband Seth asleep on the couch (behind me) and Mom asleep in her bedroom nearby. I had insomnia. I was chatting with a friend of mine (and actually, I did mention that I’d never seen a ghost and wanted to see one) via IM. I thought I heard Seth talking on the phone to someone: I heard a middle-aged man’s voice (not my father’s voice) say, “Over here, I’m here by the table” and I wondered why Seth would say such a thing. I looked around and there was no one. The voice said something else and I don’t remember, I just was typing and said aloud, “if you’re going to talk on the phone, go downstairs so you don’t wake Mom up, she’s sleeping.” I kept typing and next thing I know, the TV reciever switched on. When it had been turned off, it was tuned to Comedy Central. When it turned on again, it was playing CBC News. It was loud- I thought it was some sort of clock radio alarm and sprang up to try to figure out how to turn it off before it woke up Mom. I couldn’t figure it out so I called to Seth, whom I thought had been just awake and on the phone, to help- and when I went to see where he was, he was fast asleep. Deeply asleep- he hadn’t just been awake. He sleepily got up and turned off the TV reciever. I was kind of confused- hadn’t he just been talking on the phone?
I sat down at my computer and looked at the IM chat box. In the window on my end, not sent yet, I seemed to have typed “I’m OK take care”, though I didn’t remember doing that. I kind of shook my head and cleared the window, then typed a different message to my friend. I was sleepy and I thought maybe I had typed “I’m OK take care” myself though no one had asked me how I felt and I wasn’t ready to sign off.
I heard my Mom say, “Fred, is that you?” and apparently she woke up, then thought she felt my Dad’s hand holding hers.
Thursday, at 11 am, it was the viewing for my Dad. We went, and my Mom thought that when she first touched him, he was warm. She wondered how they had been able to do that. Then he felt cold again.
At 1 pm I had coffee with a friend. I told her my story, about Monday. She looked kind of startled. When I asked why, she told me a story: a psychic had once told her that her dead father and grandmother sort of hung out by her left shoulder, and if there was something really important and true she needed to pay attention to, they would cause kind of a cold prickling sensation on her left side. It didn’t happen very often. She said that as I told my story, she felt the cold prickling sensation.
We both kind of looked around at that! It was most eerie.
So I might have gone from being an atheist to being an agnostic Thursday afternoon. My mother has seen my dead brother periodically ever since he died, and I’ve always wished I could have these experiences. This all might just be our imaginations, except- how did the TV turn on and change channels? No cats were around the remote, it had definitely been off, and then it definitely was on. It wasn’t connected to a clock or timer that was set to turn on. It woke everyone up in the house, it wasn’t me imagining that.
I feel like I need a blanket fort and flashlight!

Scrivener, and vitamin B12

Dear readers, allow me to share a bit of news with you.

First of all, I’ve managed to snag a coupon and download Scrivener at a discount. I’m going to try it and see if  it helps me keep track of details and continuity better than I seem to have been doing just by typing into Word. It wasn’t expensive, so I don’t mind spending a bit of money on an experiment.

Secondly, I’ve been diagnosed with vitamin B12 deficiency. I had a real problem with fatigue, and trying to write while fatigued- I would push myself to produce and write something to stay on schedule. Often I’d get tired and end the scene quickly, or fail to describe it well, or choose plot elements or characters that were kindly described as “bordering on stock”, just because I was exhausted and while I was enjoying writing, I also wanted to finish the chapter and move on. I’ve been intentionally spending time since I read over the commentary on my first draft of Anagama marshaling my energy, thinking over how I could improve the book, and trying to schedule a long block of time I could devote to working on the book without interruption. I think this May I will ask for two weeks off work, but that depends on finances and what is going on at work at the time.

I’m so pleased to report that, since taking sublingual B12 supplements, my energy levels have increased spectacularly. I don’t find myself swaying with fatigue while I fold laundry, or on the couch holding a book, unable to read the page in front of me because I’m that tired. And while I’m still holding off starting back on the edits to Anagama, I am optimistic that soon I’ll have enough energy at night that I’ll not only be able to write more often, but that the writing will be more fresh, lyrical, and original than what I managed last year.

I suppose time will tell, but I remain hopeful.