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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year!

May your new year be filled with peace, prosperity, a writer's insight and love (not necessarily in that order). Thanks for reading and commenting this year. See you all on the other side!

Monday, December 30, 2013

When Small Things Grow Big

   
Well, we pulled it off, folks. Christmas has come and gone and we survived. I'm sure you're as relieved as I am. This time last year, I had this same sense of relief, but also a feeling of letdown. You see, my daughter has a Christmas birthday (actually it's three days after), so I usually have to plan a party the weekend after Christmas.
     Last year, sick of the grind, I planned the birthday in mid December instead. My reasoning was that it's hard to find a day that everyone can make it during that busy Christmas week. People are traveling, visiting, working or recovering from various alcoholic and culinary indulgences.        It's getting harder and harder every year to coordinate this party.
     Plus, did I mention her birthday is also my wedding anniversary? It's a big drag to have to clean all the bathrooms on one's wedding anniversary. Doesn't really propagate warm, fuzzy feelings of marital bliss. Neither does making a meal for twenty people, decorating a cake and stashing Christmas presents or dusting and vacuuming around the ones that can't be stashed. I'd much rather be lying around like a slug leafing through my wedding album in front of a roaring fire. Last year, that's exactly what I did. Yet in the absence of the big family party, I found that I kind of missed all the hullabaloo.

So we went back to having it on the actual day. Not everyone could make the party. Some were out of town or working, but it worked out that the ones who missed the celebration last year could make this one, so it's all good. We ordered yummy Middle Eastern food in the hopes that it would provide a nice balance for all the rich stuff we'd consumed over the holiday. Which it did, according to the guests. And I'm thinking that I'm pretty grateful for my daughter. For the privilege of personally witnessing her transformation from an itty-bitty baby with Billy Idol hair and Mick Jagger lips to a blonde version of Audrey Hepburn. I'm grateful that she was born at such a celebratory time. And that  I was able to welcome a new century in with bringing a brand-new baby home from the hospital. (My first.) I'm grateful that the only Y2K glitch that year was that the hospital lost her first photo. Pretty benign as Y2K glitches go. The photo was probably pretty ugly anyway. (If you've ever seen a first-time baby pic, I'm sure you'll agree they look a bit...distorted.) Besides which, we took more. A couple trillion or so. Here's celebrating my small daughter who became big. She's well on her way to striking out on her own someday, while we look on with pride. Not bad for a year's work. Or fourteen.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Small Things

Be warned: I've joined a blog hop. Hosted by VikLit, it's supposed to be limited to Fridays, but I can't wait until then to celebrate the small things. I want to celebrate them now! So here goes.
     I'll start with an extremely small one: my bank account. December is a horrible month for our finances and it's been compounded this year by an instance of credit card fraud. We're not alone in this, but we were lucky to find out about it the day before all the Target customers discovered they were victims of the retailer's data breach. I imagine we squeaked in just before the bank was flooded with calls, so I'm hoping the investigation will go forth without a hitch. And I'm thanking God for the small favor that there even is an investigation, because it means we probably won't be held accountable for the charges. Unfortunately, the reason I'm so confident of this is that it's happened before. On the bright side, the situation makes for a good excuse to post a scene from one of my favorite holiday movies. Here's Bing Crosby in White Christmas, reminding us not to sweat the small stuff. I'm going to take his advice.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Killing Christmas

     I am a huge Killers fan. I mean, how can you not approve of this?
So I was super excited when I realized the band releases one Christmas single every season. They have about six songs out, available for your listening pleasure on Youtube. 
     I’m proud to say I’m into edgy Christmas music. I own a CD (do they still have those?) called The Edge of Christmas, which is all the proof I need that I’m an edgy chick. Plus, I’m totally open to someday doing either the Laura Ingalls Wilder or The Fred Claus version of celebrating. The former would entail lots of oranges, a smattering of sugar cubes, which we would savor all day long, and handmade gifts. The kids would offer to milk the cow for us for ten days, giving us a well-deserved break. The Fred Claus holiday would put either a baseball bat or a hula hoop under the tree—one for each kid, dependent on gender. (Red alert! That sort of makes it sexist. Is it better to fall prey to mass consumerism or sexism? I must ponder.)
     Anyhoo, my Edge of Christmas CD is a collection of non-traditional songs, including Christmas Wrapping by The Waitresses, some song by Freddie Mercury, the quartet of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen (featuring Sarah McLachlan and the Bare Naked Ladies) and the duet between Bing Crosby and David Bowie—arguably the best holiday song ever recorded. It’s great—yet it’s still met with resistance when we add it to the mix at family celebrations. Any deviation from Christmas in Killarney or the Sinatra family rendition of The Twelve Days of Christmas (which—frustratingly—mixes up all the words) makes my family queasy. They dig Nat King Cole, Bing, Sinatra and Vanessa Williams, but draw the line at BNL’s Elf’s Lament or The Hannukah Song. It’s okay. To each his own.
     So I checked out the Killers Christmas offerings from years past, confident that I’d be adding them to my holiday playlist. I typed: Killers Christmas into a Youtube search and got a song called…..Don’t Shoot Me, Santa. Um, okay. The video features a creepy Santa (as if the concept of Santa isn’t creepy enough on its own) having a sock puppet show and eventually tying Brandon Flowers up with garland. (Hmm, maybe that part wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t blatantly unrealistic. As if garland could seriously restrain anyone.) It’s pretty frightening. If I put that in my player, I’d scar my children for life. And maybe my husband too.
    The next song that popped up was Joseph, Better You Than Me, which is another one that probably won’t make the Kreft or Morrison Christmas cut. I had high hopes for Happy Birthday Guadalupe—and to give it credit, it was more upbeat than the lament about Joseph’s trials as an alleged cuckold. Yeah, I can dig Happy Birthday Guadalupe. If forced.
     Next was Boots. The video starts off promising, with Jimmy Stewart’s prayer sequence from It’s a Wonderful Life. So! Yay. It soon disintegrates into shots of a homeless man pining over a photo of a beaming blond family. Now, I understand that in a video you have to tell a story in a very short amount of time—and it’s not going to be anywhere near the caliber of a well-plotted movie like IAWL—but I’m going to go out on limb and say that homeless people rarely carry 5 x7 glossies of their beaming families. If they even have beaming families. Which they do not.
     Last but not least on the playlist was The Cowboy’s Christmas Ball, which sounded like a mash-up between a Johnnie Cash song and The Walt Disney World resort promotional video.
     I briefly contemplated adding one of these to the CD shuffle at our Christmas celebration. In all fairness, it would probably go unnoticed—like almost everything we do goes unnoticed when we’re surrounded by beloved family members—but my husband and I are gluttons for punishment. We relished hearing Don’t Shoot Me Santa pop up between Vanessa Williams’ Do You Hear What I Hear and some Johnny Mathis horror—just to see what would happen. Then we decided that even we could never be that cruel. Although A Great Big Sled (above) is always a possibility. That one’s not too bad and there’s the added bonus of being able to tell my mom that there exists a music group called The Killers. (I can already hear her say: Who’d listen to a band named after felons?)
    The Killers get an A for trying to rebel against this asinine fight to the death that Christmas has become, but a big, fat E for subtlety. I should thank them, however, for pointing out that holiday traditions are so ingrained that even an edgy person like me can’t easily dispense of them. If that was their intent, then they killed it. I now know that it would take more than an epiphany to get me to listen to The Cowboy’s Christmas Ball over Mele Kalikimaka. Although I might give it another go at Epiphany, which I hear is a religious event disguised as an excuse to leave the decorations up a week past the hullabaloo.
Happy Holidays to all! Kill Christmas this year for me! (If you’re Christian.)



Monday, December 9, 2013

Maybe Next Time We'll Think Before We Tweet


     Americans expressing hate for The Sound of Music Live on NBC awoke today to find that their pretty little souped up four wheel drives had been keyed. There were hundreds of calls to police stations all over the nation, as complainants lamented the ugly slashes across both the driver- and passenger-sides of their automobiles.
     “The evidence seems to indicate that someone has unleashed vast amounts of pent-up rage on these vehicles overnight,” said Sergeant Christophe Pipefitter of the North Bend Police Department. “I don’t know what could’ve caused this person to go off, but it had to be something big.”
     Owners of cars with leather seats reported that their upholstery had been shredded beyond recognition into the semblance of a name. The damage was so bad it was unclear which name exactly, but some victims were able to make out the letter “C” amid the carnage.
     There were also reports of headlight damage and holes in tires across America. A Louisville slugger was found abandoned in a vacant lot in Salem, Massachusetts. It was taken into evidence and is being dusted for prints, but authorities aren’t optimistic about finding a suspect.
     “We got an anonymous tip that the perpetrator took to the mountains in hopes of immigrating to another country,” Pipefitter said. “I think we’re gonna have to put this one to bed in the cold case file.”
     But going to bed might be hard for the hundreds of victims whose cars have been vandalized.
     “I went to bed, because the sun had,” said a tearful and exhausted Gretyl VonderKemp of Hoboken, New Jersey. “And look what happened. I never expected to wake up to this.”
    “You should’ve seen my boyfriend Ralph’s expression when he saw his Hummer,” Gretyl’s sixteen-going-on-seventeen-year-old sister seconded. “There’s no way to describe the sense of violation. We were totally unprepared to face this.”
     Police said the MO is reminiscent of some vehicular crimes that had swept the nation in 2007, coinciding with the release of the album Some Hearts.
    Carrie Underwood, who happened to be nearby fording streams and following rainbows, reiterated her comments of earlier this week. “Mean people need Jesus.” Underwood also cited the Biblical passage, 1 Peter 2:1-25.



Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Knitting with the Enemy

Let me make one thing clear. I don’t knit. I wish I did, but I don’t. This blog isn’t about knitting, anyway. It’s about a gap way bigger than my thigh gap, which—if you’re wondering—is the term assigned to describe the space between a woman’s thighs. In my case, it’s nonexistent. I don’t have time to talk about non-existent things (Generation Xers don’t, as a rule), so instead I'm going to conquer something that exists with a vengeance. The generation gap.
   I called the blog Knitting with the Enemy because it occurred to me that I spend a lot of time conversing with older people, primarily women. And we’re different. Back in the day, I thought it was because they were old and I was young. Being no longer young, I’ve realized that age had nothing at all to do with the antagonism expressed between women of different generations.
    Case in point: My mother, who is nearing 80 years of age had an altercation with a woman in her nineties at the senior center, where my mother is apparently considered to be “one of those flighty young whippersnappers” who’ve ruined the world. Who of us haven’t been victims of this mindset?
     Take the movie Sleeping With the Enemy (See? I got around to explaining the blog title. If at first you don't succeed, yadda yadda) The film stars Julia Roberts and some mean-looking guy and is about a woman who seems to have everything—a beautiful home, money, lovely clothes, handsome husband—until we find out that the husband is a bastard dictator who also beats her. (Like I said, mean.) Sure, we’re horrified when Julia’s screen husband demands that she line up the towels just so and alphabetize the canned goods. We gasp up phlegm when he slaps her around because the toilet paper roll is a millimeter off-center or the lamb is under-cooked, the chutney ruined.
     As I recall, women of my generation were clutching their theater seats to keep from running up to pummel the male lead while screaming “You’re lucky to be getting a hot meal, you ingrate!” But there was another group of women whose eyes were darting about in the darkness. Although ashamed to admit it, they’d allied themselves straightaway with OCD man and remained pretty firmly on his side, perhaps until he planted that first blow. While no one likes to see Julia’s pretty face get messed up, thoughts like: I love a well-kept house, or she should have dinner on the table for her husband were floating around that theater, believe you me (Is that a thing? What does that even mean? Believe you me.) I could feel the vibes ricocheting off the screen.
     If Martha Stewart saw that movie, she was probably wondering the whole time why the film was even called “Sleeping with the Enemy.” He’s only looking out for her best interest, thought Martha, as the empire she built by pointing out the inadequacies of others flitted through her mind’s eye. What’s wrong with that?
     Yeah, it took a stint in jail to mellow her out. Let’s not let it get to that point, folks. Three words. Get off Pinterest.
     If you’ll agree to do that, I’ll refrain from making fun of the thirty-somethings walking around, shopping with their I-phones held in front of them like old guys once held the TV Guide crossword puzzle in days of yore. I’ll be super-supportive of the parents who are picking out their dinner wine as their toddlers teeter on the verge of death, doing the hokey-pokey in the seat of the grocery cart. (“Oh, look! Skylar can turn herself around! How cute is that? I’ll send you a picture”) In fact, I’ll carry around a pile of concussion awareness sheets, like the ones they hand out at the pediatrician, and slip one of them to parents, quiet as a Mickey. No judgment intended, just safety. I’ll join Lean in and try to read about a support network of working women without allowing my envy to short out the Internet. (Hey, I didn’t have that when I was working, you young whippersnappers. Ingrates!)
     It all boils down to jealousy really, and we should rebel against that type of thing so we can all knit peacefully together someday. Except I don’t knit.    
     And if it’s important to teens that there be a little gap of space between their legs, I’ll try to understand. Maybe that’ll keep them from being obsessed about other things that might be going on down there (but I doubt it). What am I saying? Down with thigh gaps! There are better gaps to think about, more important gaps. Gaps in teeth, resume gaps, pick a gap!


     Flabby thighs aside, we Gen-Xers have got you all sooo beat in terms of cool demographic monikers. And that includes you, Baby Boomers (Although Baby Boomers sounds way better than Spawn of Men and Women Who Responded to their Fear and Uncertainty in the Face of Death By Having Extraordinary Amounts of Sex……Or does it?)

Monday, October 14, 2013

Thank you, Phantom Gardener!


 
Looks kind of fake, doesn't it?
    As the season draws to a close in the Midwest, I have an obligation to thank the supernatural force I call The Phantom Gardener. This mysterious entity has taken over all my gardening and convinced me that The Universe has gotten wind of my writerly pursuits and given its approval. Although I should’ve issued thanks long ago, the Gardener must not mind my oversight. It continues to tend my yard, even now, allowing me to get away with the bare minimum of weeding. Thank you, benevolent Phantom!
     It all started in the spring. I decided to cut back on my flower budget, resolving to make do with a few hanging pots that were Mother’s Day gifts and some perennials that I moved from elsewhere in the yard. Freebies all. There was the necessary evil of replacing three spirea bushes that had died, but we left the bed on the other side devoid of bushes. I told myself it was because things were looking too symmetrical. Now I know that I was too lazy and cheap to buy and plant three more matching spireas. Some lovely wildflowers are just the thing, I thought, anticipating a slightly lopsided look. It’ll be like that hairstyle that’s shorter in the back than in the front. Angular chic.
     Unfortunately, I’ve never had luck with wildflowers. Deep down, I knew they’d never grow well enough to offset the three bushes on the other side. The tame wildness of an English garden has always been out of my grasp—and would be again, I feared. In any case, we spent less than a hundred dollars on the yard, and that included veggies for the vegetable patch.
      Okay, so the transplanted perennials finally took and spread this season, filling out the kidney-shaped bed that had looked pretty dire in past years. I owed a debt to early and extended bloom times, thanks to unseasonably warm weather followed by a stint of cooler summer nights. I think we had TWO springs instead of one. This benefited the front garden, which I barely had to weed, and time for writing emerged as sure as spiderwort.
     I should’ve mentioned that these floral cutbacks had to do almost as much with time issues as financial. I resigned myself to letting the yard go to pot in the name of finally finishing my damn book.
     But I didn’t have to cope with a yucky yard, because the Phantom stepped in. A perennial that I’m sure I accidentally pulled, thinking it was a dead bloom leftover from last summer, popped up in another spot and grew to huge proportions. (My friend’s theory is that a squirrel dug the bulb up and relocated it, but I know it was the Phantom.) Smack dab in the middle of the wildflowers that never were and flanked by armies of blue bells, it gave the air of wildflowers. As if I’d planned it that way.

     At the same time, a crop of petunias in all colors began to bloom along the back of the bed, apparently seeded from last year’s hanging pots. Since there were no longer any bushes to cover them up, the freebie petunias could be seen from the road. There were so many varieties that I was able to transplant a patch of white to the front. There they complemented my pre-planned pansies.
     In the back of the house, similar wonders were afoot. Since au naturel was the theme, I planted only one thing around the patio. The rest of the beds were occupied by herbs and odds and ends. (Smelled wonderful.) The plant I went with was a climbing yellow something or other from my mother-in-law. She gets me the same plant every year and I think I’m the only one in the family who hasn’t found the proper spot for it. Wherever it ends up, it look green and lush but refuses to climb, its blooms sparse. I’ve tried to plant it near a trellis, in a wishing well and along a line of netting meant to lure it up the porch railing. No go. Meanwhile, my mother-in-law’s not only climbs like a toddler on speed, it becomes top heavy with blooms. Its vivaciousness taunted me whenever I went over there.
     So this year I literally plopped it in and expected it to snub its little picket-fence neighbor. Yet not only did it climb the fence, it scaled the deck. And simulated the container garden I’ve always wanted. Thank you, Phantom Gardener. 
You wouldn’t believe how many compliments I’ve gotten on the yard this year.
    Here it is almost wintertime and I’m still benefitting from my Phantom Gardener. Around the hydrangea shoot I transplanted (from a bigger bush in front) a patch of moss roses from years ago sprouted, adding some well-needed color to the patio. They’d re-seeded in a symmetrical formation at the base of the budding bush, which also took immediately to its new location.

     One day I noticed some moss rose vines shooting up from a container I’d left out for a few days. While I never planted them, I took the pot into my house and set it by my kitchen sink. With a little TLC, I know I’ll be able to keep it alive through the winter months and enjoy a little touch of Spring when I need it most. All thanks to my Phantom Gardener.
    

     

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Parent Club

     I interrupt this session of writing to get some anger off my chest. See, it’s been festering since August 12, which is the day I went to Cedar Point with my family. We joined a few other families there. It was actually a Girl Scouting activity. The troop covered the day-trip with the proceeds from their cookie money. We walked around, stood in line, rode rides and eventually drifted away from the others in our group. That was okay; the Scouts plugged this as an individual family event. It was a good time….until my three kids, my husband and I decided to go—not on the Dragster or the Raptor or the Gatekeeper—but….to THE PARKING LOT…Dunh-Dunh-Dunh…togetourjackets. (I’m trying to make this more dramatic as a build-up to the cause of my anger.)

     On our way out (and let me emphasize that we were walking neither slower nor faster than any of the other people around. There was nothing to distinguish us from any of the families who accompanied us on our mission to have fun. We were, in all fairness, spread out, five of us across the Cedar Point promenade, which is about fifty people wide. Ten times our number, mind you.), I heard my son yelp. He’s a quiet dude, so I knew something substantial must’ve happened to wrench a sound from him. I looked past my two daughters in time to see the back of the stroller that had just plowed into his Achilles tendon and onward. It was one of those jogging things with the gargantuan front wheel, propelled by a thirty-something male household head and his tittering blonde wife, or significant other. As we ate their dust (because they must’ve been running the Cedar Point Marathon for cancer, which I was unaware was going on. Oh wait! It wasn’t!), I could see that they had two kids in the stroller, a boy and a girl who looked roughly nine and eleven respectively. They seemed old enough to walk and had no discernible physical disabilities barring them from doing so. Not that it was any of my business, until they MOWED DOWN MY SON. He is seven, by the way, and has the misfortune of being the youngest in our brood. We were kind of sick of lugging strollers around by the time he showed up, so he’s had to foot it since about the age of five. Which is a shame, because A STROLLER HAS MYTHICAL PROPERTIES. NO HARM CAN BEFALL ONE IN A STROLLER. 
     Until it takes you out. I nudged my husband and exclaimed, “They just hit Cameron with their stroller!” I spoke loud enough for the wife to look back. She gave us—not an apology or an expression of concern—but a smug, I’m-gonna-beat-you-to-the-main-gate smile. (Granted, below is more of a grimace. But this mom's got the smile down pat.)
     I went over to my son and asked if he was okay, as the repugnant family put yards between us on their all-consuming quest to leave Cedar Point. My son told me he was fine, but that they’d been bumping him consistently with the wheel of the stroller. Alleged grown-ups. Sadists, more like. Can you believe it? Now, I’ve seen childish behavior from the older set many a time. But with parents, one can usually count on some sense of decency, resulting from the fact that we are all guardians of the future. (We are, don’t laugh.) “Why didn’t you tell me?” I demanded. He shrugged. “Why didn’t you move?” sneered my ten-year-old (No doubt a future bowler-over-of children in the making). I set her straight. He didn’t have to move! That family could’ve easily gone around us if the parents thought we were too slow. It would’ve still been obnoxious, because I imagine they’d have done it with that same smug smile, the one that says: we’re so much better than you. See? We walk faster. We are expert walkers. (As a rule, I walk pretty fast too, but I was on vacation) Such a measure would’ve been preferable to running our son down. It launched me on a tirade that gave the term amusement park a whole new meaning. Cedar Point’s parking lot became another source of amusement for my family as they listened to the ways I would retaliate if I ever saw that couple again. How dare they run into my lovely son while shoving their disgusting, slovenly children in a stroller? What was the big, goddamned hurry? I mean, how can you be in a rush AT A FREAKING AMUSEMENT PARK???? And if by some chance they were hurtling to the nearest hospital to meet a parent who they’d just heard had gone ill, why didn’t they say, “I’m sorry I bumped you, sweetie. We’re in a hurry because my mom or dad or aunt or grandma or (insert beloved relative here) is sick.” No, they were like:
      See ya! Wouldn't want to be ya! That is not okay! So maybe Cameron was falling a little behind. This isn’t the Serengeti, people. Weak, old, young, slow stragglers shouldn’t have to worry about being pegged off by the jogging-stroller-owner at the top of the food chain. (And since when does jogging stroller possession belie someone at the top of the food chain? Such fitness-minded humans should be counting calories, in my view, and the one they granted me of their asses confirms this.) I hereby officially kick those two dorks out of the Parent Club. Because parents (sometimes even shitty ones) protect children, theirs and those that belong to other parents. They don’t run them down and glory in the thrill of conquest. PLUS, just so you know, jogging-stroller-family, after the downpour (it came while we were in our car getting the jackets—we couldn’t have timed it better, really), they re-opened all the rides and we got on them about ten more times. You think you’re so smart for getting out before everyone else…but we got far more for our money. Let that be a lesson to those of us who are always engaged in some strange, never-ending race to God knows where (I mean, why would people hurry to their deaths?) ATTN: Thirty-something Couple I’ve Excommunicated from Parenthood: You’re too old to be acting that way. I feel sorry for the people who are forced to interact with you every day, since I could barely handle our fleeting association. Feel free to re-apply to the Parent Club when you grow up. I leave you with my son, who is fully recuperated and back to taking his own sweet time at fairs, amusement parks and such.

     

Thursday, September 12, 2013

National Cry-in-Public Day

     Hey, I’m in a blogging mood today. So back to blogging I go. This’ll be a dark one, unfortunately, despite the dwarf video. I’m such a dreary ghoul these days. I might swear a little. Here’s why: Yesterday was 9/11 and I had to take my mom for simple out-patient surgery, during which I realized just how vulnerable I am. Seeing her vulnerable does that to me. I know, it’s selfish of me to be so self-absorbed. I should be thinking of her, or the nation, or the people suffering through yesterday. I mean, it’s not like I was innocently working away at my hard-won job when a plane smashed through my office walls. I’m lucky. I’ve never had to jump from a gazillion-floor building to avoid being crushed to death by debris, choosing one bad death over another. I didn’t have to imagine that happening to a loved one, or hear about it on TV, or think about it in the depths of the night. I didn’t lose anyone that day. Nor have I received the dreaded call from my kids’ schools. We’ve had Lock Down Drills, but not the real deal, even though our neighborhood could be a twin to Sandy Hook. No wonder it clawed away at my insides to see that community go through what it went through. Likewise it makes me sick to hear my husband relate his coworker’s rants. Sandy Hook was just something the government came up with so Obama could take away their right to bear arms. (Yes, there are crazies all around. Great, now I sound paranoid.)
     Still, I need my mom so much, and there were times I feared something might’ve gone wrong during this simple no-brainer surgery that takes three minutes tops. So what if thirty other people were having the exact same thing done? It took two hours when you factor in all the prep and stuff, and the whole time I thought about people who send their kids off to school unaware that this will be the day the teen with untended mental illness comes in to wreak his twisted sense of judgment. In a world where chaos reigns, how can I be sure my mom won’t be the one in a million? The one time this surgery goes bad?      
     In the waiting room, I read a book about Columbine while the coverage of 9/11 memorials played in the background on mute (for me. For others, there might've been sound). Flags flapped, people alternately bowed their heads and saluted. Victims cried. The book was Wally Lamb’s The Hour I First Believed. Take it in small doses, people, but take it—just not during a loved-one’s surgery or on September 11th. I think I might’ve been torturing myself for not having lost anyone to these horrible things.
     Of course, everything went fine with my mother. (Once again, I lucked out big-time. I should play the freaking lottery every day! I never play it.) That evening my kids told me what they did in school to preserve the memory of the tragedy that occurred twelve years ago, which was watch this: Patriot Day video. My husband and I told them (again) exactly where we were and what we did that day. I’m sure all the teachers did the same. He’d taken the day off work to be present for the delivery of our swing-set. I was running up to get some diapers for my one-year-old daughter, and I listened with wide-eyed disbelief (or—I’m ashamed to say—more like narrow-eyed skepticism) to what I thought was the War of the Worlds prank all over again. In fact, I kind of blamed OrsonWelles for what I was hearing. Goddamnit, I remember thinking, if freaking Welles hadn’t tried to be some macho radio pioneer, this wouldn’t be happening now. What can I say, the frightened mind is rarely rational.
     After our recollections, my kids reminded me they hadn’t yet been born on September 11, 2001, and the one who had been born (my diaperless daughter) didn’t remember it. (How could she? She was only one.) Columbine popped into my head. NONE of them were around for that.
     This hobbled me emotionally because I looked at my three kids and a voice in my mind said: there will be something else. Something that will rock their world and change it. From that day forward they will always remember where they were when it happened. They’ll remember every little detail. As that knowledge trickled down into my gut, I had the chilling realization that whatever it was lurking in their future, waiting to strike—it would be bad. No generation is exempt. Thus far, the pattern of chaos has been totally predictable in this regard. It will happen.
     So today I keep bursting into tears. It doesn’t help matters that I’m still reading Wally Lamb’s book as well as writing two of my own about abused children, one abducted as a child, one as a teen. Writing about child abuse is like taking a vegetable shredder to one’s soul. I have to work in numerous breaks, during which I do laundry while gulping back my grief. Don’t know why I bother. Laundry provides a wonderful crying opportunity. The sound of swishing water camouflages the hysterics. The room itself is snug as a den, insulated by the smells and textures of my family. Even the Tide container grants me permission to wail, with its boast of Spring and Renewal. With Tide as my incense and the washer my baptismal font, I am reborn. When I emerge, it’s as if from a cocoon. (I was gonna settle for a picture of a swishing washer up there, but this is a gem of a video. Leads me to believe that people did something besides laundry and crying in their laundry rooms in 1963.)
     I never cry in public. Frightens the children and turns off the people working the deli counter. Inappropriate. Besides, what the fuck do I have to cry about? Did my husband perish at the Twin Towers? Did my seven-year-old miss his birthday because of some family’s lost and damaged son? Not crying in public is a tendency I share with Wally Lamb’s main characters. It’s a weakness in wolves' clothing, disguised as strength. They think it’s because they’re men. I beg to differ. Because, last I checked (and I check daily), I’m a woman, yet as reluctant as the next guy to turn on the waterworks. I’m like a cowboy (not the ones in Brokeback Mountain).  
      I want to change. I want my crying jags to see the sunlight, no longer exiled to the laundry room. I propose we institute National Cry-in-Public Day. (I’m writing my congressperson now. Wait! Who’s my congressperson again?)
     See, at church on Sundays? I’ve been noticing these people. They cry silently through prayers or during the petitions or even during announcements. Either church is their laundry room or they’re far braver than I. Let’s say for argument, though, that they’ve lost someone recently and they have an excuse for their grief. I’m still envious of them, and a little fascinated. By putting their grief on display so publicly, they defy us to address it. I wish I had the bravery to go up and stand next to them. To say: I see your sadness. To sit with them for a minute, bonded by mutual fear. Except I’m the ice-blooded pussy who hides in her laundry room to cry. (Can a woman be a pussy? No? Ironic.)

     National Cry-in-Public Day would put an end to all this agonizing. (More irony.) We'd be obligated to cry, reason or no. Crying would be revealed for what it is: a sign of strength, not weakness. An acknowledgement that in the face of bad things, we are not going to retreat to our laundry rooms. We are going to flaunt our sadness and with it, the wisdom gained from a lifetime of intermittent tragedies. This might not be the end of the violence, but we won’t pretend to be strong anymore. We are vulnerable and we know it. See, you’ve got nothing over us anymore, chaos! Fuck you, and the monsters you breed. You might be too random (finger quotes here) to realize it, but crying cleanses, dude. So just keep hiding behind your trench coats, your demented fb pages, your little booby traps, your bombs and guns. Meanwhile, we’re gonna cry ourselves as naked as the day we were born.
SIDE NOTE:
Okay, here I was gonna place a video of "It's Alright to Cry" from the psyche-forming Free to Be You and Me. But that message didn't really sink in with me, whereas this one did. Besides, it's funny.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Help! I Am Becoming My Chair!

Mine was a hardcover.
There is a cartoon circulating around facebook that sums it up for me today. I’ve just finished a life-changing book and noticed a trend in my most recent book choices. The book is called The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, and it’s about a girl who can taste the feelings of the cook in every meal she consumes. Not much fun for little Rose, who is the MC—especially when she tastes that her mother is miserable.
     There are various reasons that this book is life-changing for me. Numero One: It got me thinking of what my kids would taste in my food—and I didn’t like what I came up with. Numero Two: The genre of the book is one that I’ve been drawn to over and over. My last reading stint included two books by Sarah Bird (The Gap Year and the Yokoto Officers Club). These two and Aimee Bender’s Cake are examples of a fascinating crossover genre that incorporates a lot of YA elements in a story that is placed firmly within the realm of adult literary fiction. It’s not New Adult—because that category doesn’t seem to embrace the literary quite like these crossovers do. It’s not like Room, because the MCs’ lives are traced over a period of formative years. It seems more of a hybrid of the two. Whatever it is, I want to tap it.
     Another amazing revelation spawned from Aimee Bender’s Cake is my gift, which I now accept as such wholeheartedly. You see, in Cake it turns out that various members of Rose’s family have gifts approximating her ability to taste emotions in a dish. They just never talk about them. Too taboo. Hits too close to home. Yadda, yadda. Déjà vu reverberated in my brain as I empathized with these characters. Why? It finally dawned on me. I have a similar—albeit not so glamorous—ability. Titles sing to me. When I walk into a library, I never have to research authors or ask the librarian or even friends for recommendations. If there is a book I’d like to read but I’ve forgotten the author, I don’t need to look it up. I pick an aisle, stroll through and wait. Eventually a title will blink from the towering shelves that flank me on either side. That’s right—the spine of one book surges up, shot through with light. (Hey! At least I didn’t admit to masticating on hate and greed. Work with me here!) Oftentimes, it is the very book I had in mind. Sometimes it’s not, but it’s still one I need to read.
     Now, I’m not going to claim that the book jumps off the shelf into my hand, but if I’d somehow stumbled into The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake (which I had, by the way, and stayed fully immersed there for two days), it would do just that. And, honestly, I shouldn’t make the poor books do all the work. I contribute by plucking the book with the ticker-tape-ish, blinking spine off the shelf. (Alright, alright. In all fairness, the title only blinks until I touch it.) I then take it to the front counter, where I check it out. On occasion, I ignore the blinking one and steal off to aisle Er-Fa for a nice, light Janet Evanovich. Those never blink at me. They wink.
     I haven’t confided this to many people over the years, but when I have it’s almost always garnered me some odd looks, which I’ve got to say are pretty scary coming from people who already know how weird I am. That can’t be what really happens, these looks seem to say. That doesn’t happen.
An obvious choice 
     I too would prefer to dismiss it as an intuitive way of making reading decisions, just as young Rose tried to escape from the reality of her eating…disorder. And I have. Even in college, when I conceded that the trend was here to stay as opposed to being a silly game played with myself. Even when I noticed that the books that blinked had eerie parallels to something that was about to happen in my life, I laughed it off. An example of this is when I picked up my first Graham Greene book on a whim (snort). My brother, who had been away pursuing a Master’s degree in another state, came home for some holiday and saw it on my nightstand. Bemused, he said, “You like Graham Greene? I never knew that.”
     I shrugged. “I don’t know. I just picked it up at the library.”
     “That’s weird,” he said. “Because I’m taking an intensive course on Greene.” He scratched his head and cleaned his glasses. Then he shrugged too, and we continued our game. (It was a board game. Imagine that.) My brother had been researching Graham Greene for months, was writing a paper on him, but couldn’t remember ever mentioning it to me. We never talked about school in our household. Our parents used some sort of reverse psychology to get us to attend college. They trashed the universities non-stop, labeling them useless, money-grabbing outfits. We enrolled quicker than you can say Ponzi scheme.
     Which brings me to Numero Three in the life-changing bullet-point list regarding The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake. Bender weaves the story in a way that makes the reader believe. I won’t ruin the ending, except to say that something happens which would be all-out laughable if Aimee Bender wasn’t such a skilled storyteller. My husband did laugh when I told him. But the same retelling that inspired such mirth for him chilled my soul. As the unbelievable words made lyrical fiction escaped my lips, they rendered my harmless little skill (which I now argue taps the psychic energy of an Avatar-esque mother tree that is the written word) ominous. The blinking could mean use caution instead of read this, I thought. Like poor Zan in the above video, my Wonder-Twin power fizzled to crap. It had never occurred to me before that the blinking guides to my reading decisions could be dangerous. Until now. I mean, what makes them blink? Who chooses them? It doesn’t feel like it’s me.
     Then, to my horror, I saw the parallel to writing, which is often like a monster in the attic threatening to break out. Unmentionable, uncontrollable and somehow deviant. My writing has historically been the thing that needed to be suppressed, whereas the reading part is A-okay. More ominous info: I’ve been writing so hard these days I’m afraid I will fuse to my chair. No, wait, what I meant to say is that it would be easier and far more acceptable to fuse to the chair than to get the words onscreen arranged to my satisfaction. That’s how I feel. Bereft. This is usually when I take a break and do some reading.
     But maybe at moments like these I should push harder. If it’s the reading that is deviant, I can grant myself permission to continue to write. I’ll do an experiment and take a little vacay from the library—or at the very least get some blinders. Perhaps I’ll go back to pretending I’m simply intuitive when it comes to selecting reading material. Except now the cat’s out of the bag. Do me a favor. Forget I ever mentioned the blinking part. Unless…anyone else have a benign "skill" they’d like to confess?

Monday, May 6, 2013

Womb with a View

     I can say with complete confidence that having kids makes me a better writer. Not only does it allow me to be around young adults, to observe them and to empathize with them (without racking up stalking charges) it puts my world into perspective, which enhances all my fictional worlds. It’s especially helpful since I write young adult novels. However, I believe it helps in the realm of general fiction too. Nothing feels emptier to me than a book wallpapered with stereotypical children thrown in just because they exist. Any parent knows that kids are rarely stereotypes, yet people who don’t know any kids tend to cast them as such.
     Even a grand Matriarch like Mary Higgins Clark has some tiny characters toddling through her books that just don’t seem real. I think she writes them like that to contraindicate the screaming-kid-on-the-plane syndrome. She doesn’t want to turn off members of her potential audience with whiny kids. Or, being Catholic, she doesn’t want to come across as an advocate of birth control. I don’t know. It’s a puzzle.
     To me a poorly written kid is as annoying as the one that’s screaming on the eight-hour airplane ride. The only cliché worse is the anal-retentive, childless complainer that everyone gangs up with against the kid and mom. Not me. I’d say to the complainer: “Then I guess you won’t be interested in the cure for cancer this screaming kid might invent when he or she grows up.” I’d take his or her name down then, for future reference. Hey! It could happen! Don’t tell me screaming kids don’t come up with stuff—they do. And I am all for keeping methodical records and withholding said cure from people who have griped. (Except we'll let this young woman get the cure on account of her priceless facial expressions and the stoic acceptance with which she greets her sucky plight.)
     I am lucky not to have to worry about falling into the cardboard kid trap. Thirteen years of research and some stretch marks under this belt, baby. Kids in my stories will be very realistic. Indecipherable wonders all.
     So, that’s settled. If you want to write kids in, having them or researching them is a must. (Author's note: Researching is cheaper and not as gross—but you don’t get dibs on a cure for cancer.) 
     By the same token, shouldn’t writing for kids—or even in general—make us better parents? I would argue that it does. That’s why it's great for all parent to keep some written record of it. The baby book doesn't count. The baby book is lame. Mine causes more stress than anything (which one’s most finished, are they equal, aaaahh!). I’d much rather write a full-length novel than fill out the freaking baby book, but that’s just me. I’ll concede they have a certain historical merit. It’s probably no coincidence that they have been around so long, proving the existence of a writing/parenting connection even back before people talked about such things. Now with the advent of blogging, scrapbooking and the myriad other ways we can chronicle our parenting journey, it’s much easier. We should be awesome parents in the digital age.
     Or not.    
     In my case, my writing makes me a better parent because it puts me in the same boat as my kids. We’re, like, co-conspirators in growth, sharing funny stories along the way. They tell me all about what happens at school. I file it away and tell them I will use that someday. They’re, like, wow my experiences belong in a book! Everyone feels valued. I write the promised book and then another and another. I go to conferences, I learn. With each new book I’m pushing further and further, pressing against that membrane that is keeping me from fulfilling my potential as a writer. I’m a fledgling in the womb and someday, I’ll be out.
     The kids are going through a similar struggle. I offer them my help and support (plus room and board as required by law). They can’t avoid giving me theirs in return. That’s the beauty of this arrangement. Like I said, they enrich my writing—in the very same way they do my life—just by being their rambunctious selves. They’ve saved me thirteen years of grueling research. How could you not love that? This totally makes up for all the fingerprint graffiti on the wainscoting and the puke I’ve laundered out of clothes and linens.
     All kidding aside, how invaluable is that, for a child to see his parent go through such a journey? Now that I think about it, it could be any journey, except writing is a particularly good example. There are so many womb-y parallels like the one I’ve just mentioned. It’s also a highly visible, amazing transformation. Writing happens right before their eyes, albeit gradually. You might be able to keep writing a secret from the outside world, but your immediate family has to know you’re working on something. They see you typing. They know you’ve ditched out of family time. They see the sacrifice and the rejection. (It’s kind of humiliating, really. I mean, aren’t you supposed to always know best?) Then suddenly, what was once a compilation of scraps of prose in notebooks or scribbled on napkins becomes a typed behemoth of three-hundred pages. It will ideally become a real and far more compact book. 
     But really, it's a story that comes out of it all of this. The kids listen, and their eyes pop just like they do when the butterflies emerge from those little mail-order chrysalises we fed and nurtured all those weeks. It seems impossible when the larva takes on life, but that’s the secret behind the very essence of wonder. 
     In our house, it's a given that once my kids decide upon their passion, I’ll help them get to the same place. It’s not the same as getting a promotion at work, rising through the ranks and assuring them a job when they're ready. I can’t make a phone call or throw money at them while they languish in uncertainty on their way to their own careers. But I can give them the human connection they need on their way to any real achievement. I can tell them from experience that it might not turn out the way they planned, but it will turn out okay. I can give them the kind of parenting spawned from years of writing over, under and around obstacles. That's way better than a trust fund, right? Or a horse. Or a trip to Disney or an I-phone or a...well, anyway--that's my story and I'm sticking to it, so there.

Friday, April 26, 2013

What's a Thousand Words Worth?


     My blog has been on hiatus while I participated in my first Nanowrimo Camp. Now that the camp is winding down, and it’s looking as though I will make the 50,000 word goal, I can get back to blogging regularly. An added bonus: I have a new novel to fine tune this summer. For any writers who haven’t tried out National November Writing Month, I highly recommend it. The event is not just in November anymore (which was always my excuse t' NOT to) Writing camps are scattered throughout the year, so chances are there will be one that fits your schedule. There’s no excuse. Do Nano.

Not that Nano. Trust me, the one sponsored by the Office of Letters and Light is way cooler. (Oh, if only we'd been spared the sight of Robin Williams' rise to fame!) So anyway, I’ve been thinking about that old cliché: A picture’s worth a thousand words, which got me thinking about Sarah Simmons from The Voice. (I know. ADHD much?)
     Here’s the tie-in. The Voice is a singing contest based on blind auditions, which shot it over Idol in terms of must-see TV for me. It also makes for a good parallel—at least in my pole-riddled mind—to writing and the query process. Ideally, the query process should boil down to just a literary agent or editor and your words. The big phone call is the equivalent of Usher or Shakira hitting the red button and making their ridiculously large chair rotate quicker than you can say anticlimax.
     Except….for us there’s no audience for first attempts. We get no applause, no gasp of wonder—not even when a polished draft is read. None that we can hear, anyway. I send my drafts to critique partners, who type out comments and email me back. Everything is delayed, all emotions diluted by time gaps and distance. It’s positive reinforcement, but it sometimes seems more like a homework session.
 That’s why I’m so jealous of Sarah Simmons. I’d probably body-slam her if she were in the room with me right now. And I would do serious damage (but I’d avoid her vocal cords, because that would be harsh). I think she’ll win The Voice, and that even if she doesn’t win she’ll get a record deal. Bummer! It’s not that she doesn’t deserve it. She totally does. What rankles about Sarah is that she gets to Wow everyone on her way up. Case in point:

I mean, seriously. Check out her dad. If my dad ever expressed even one millionth that amount of pride in me, I’d pack up writing, torch my laptop and die happy. He never will, because that's how he is, but also because my talent is pretty boring in comparison. Who could blame him for not being impressed? Very few people are wowed by bundles of notebook pages and/or computers displaying screen upon screen of unbroken text. Even someone that gets excited about writing is bound to run the other way when I pull out my notes and first drafts. I would run. It’s scary looking. In contrast, I could watch The Voice for hours.
     What fascinates me about that show is the behind-the-scenes glimpse it gives of the work those songsters-in-progress put into practice sessions. What once seemed effortless is revealed for what it really is: raw talent refined with old-fashioned hard work. It’s gratifying to see something like that. To be a part of it. All I know is that this duet sucked when they performed it for Adam Levine. And now look.

     No one wants to see a behind-the-scenes compilation of my rewrites. Nor will they want to stake a claim in a career that might not even happen. And there's no real proof that it will. If I were an artist, a sculptor, a Slam poet, a filmmaker—if I engaged in any other artistic pursuit, I’d have something tangible to show for it. So yeah, I’m going to whine a little. It’s unfair that our struggle is the exact same as that of the singers on The Voice, yet we don’t get to hear the applause or the swish of those chairs spinning round. One might argue that it’s because we’re not yet writers (in the professional sense). Then again, Sarah’s not a professional singer, either. Yet.
     Maybe I should take up sculpting.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Mayday! Mayday! Gnome Infiltration


 
Libba Bray holds a gnome stowaway at SCBWI.
     Pay no attention to the headline of this blog. Everything is as it should be. Jen from the Block is not tied up in a closet, fighting for breath. She hasn’t been kidnapped by a gnome named Glenny. In fact, she’s never even heard of Glenny, and he has certainly not hijacked her blog. Glenny has no designs on some insubstantial, blathering account of the publishing industry and how it relates to advertising. A gnome named Glenny wouldn’t care if Jen ever sells a book or not. I mean to say....er, he wouldn’t care about all that if he existed. Which he doesn’t.

     But if this non-existent gnome named Glenny had a blog, it would be about how people shouldn’t pigeonhole gnomes just because some smartass ad writer penned a campaign for Travelocity, featuring a wizened gnome (that was, I’ll have you know, washed up long before the audition) who now gets to tramp all over the world and be filmed lounging poolside and drinking coladas (which is a pansy drink, btw). To add insult to injury, he sometimes signs autographs. Why would anyone want his autograph? He’s nothing more than a Flat Stanley wannabe, gloating about having three dimensions to make up for his lack of literary connections. Flat Stanley is at least based on a book, whereas the Travelocity gnome is merely a pawn in some self-proclaimed ad wunderkind’s demented sales campaign. He is officially a garden ho, not a beloved icon. He gives us—er, GNOMES in general a bad name and makes all humans expect such behavior from every plaster creature in a pointed hat. The madness must end.

     Contrary to popular belief, not all gnomes are pranksters. They don’t control the internet and mess with your computer files (hackers do), or ravage your tulips before they’ve fully bloomed (that’s the deer). They don’t move storage boxes around in the attic, nor do they tunnel under the foundations of your homes, wreaking havoc with the structure. Really, people, you are getting gnomes mixed up with things like poltergeists and termites. Nasty nuisances, poltergeists are. And I can’t even think about termites without itching, so I’ll stop there. Gnomes are different. Most of us…er, them….are serious-minded creatures who like to talk about music and philosophize from atop those little bridges that humans build to get across the koi ponds in their yards. (Or, in cases where the owner of the yard has fewer resources, gnomes recline on giant, plastic mushrooms and ponder the universe. It’s like Woodstock for gnomes, minus the drugs.)

     We like to fish. That much is true. (Who doesn’t?) But we never, ever, ever fish with that moronic smile spread across our faces. Not to mention, we pin our beards up so they don’t get wet. (Oh dear, did I say “we”? I don’t know where my mind has gone. Of course I meant “they.”) There—right there! That’s proof that Jen is not under gnomic influences, for if she were, her mind would not only be intact, but would linger on far loftier topics than this blog traditionally tackles.

     Because gnomes are deep. Far deeper than former advertising professionals. They dabble in improving relations between all creatures. They contribute to world peace and promote great literature. In fact, we…er, they (I don’t know why I keep doing that) would’ve passed more than 500 writers through the third phase of the ABNA contest if given a chance. But gnomes cannot be Vine Reviewers, which—you must admit—is ironic, as there is a definite garden analogy in play. (Yeah, Amazon didn’t buy it, either.) I bet you didn’t know that gnomes idolize writers, EXCEPT, of course, for those who slur gnome reputations and threaten bodily abuse. Gnomes don't like authors of books like this one which provides a guide to surviving gnome attacks. (Like there's a market for that anyway. Pfft.) Those types of writers need to perish in flames, so it’s a good thing we don’t know any. A very good thing.

     Now since gnomes are a noble lot, an ancient clan undeserving of being bullied and/or anihilated, we should all be ashamed of ourselves for targeting them and making their lives a living hell for the past two months just because we happened to be going through “a thing.” At the very least, we owe them an apology. Recompense may be addressed to The Glenny Foundation at notagnome.com

While this is Jen's closet, she is NOT stashed in it.
     I, Jen from the Block, being of sound mind and body (one that is not tied up or otherwise restrained) recommend signing on to the above web site and making a donation ASAP. As for the pink flamingoes, the wind chimes, the ceramic geese (be they clothed or un-clothed) and the Marlboro man-esque cardboard silhouettes, Glenny/Jen says: have at it. They are abominations to both races: human and gnome. You have my blessing. Carry on!


....and congratulations to the ABNA quarterfinalists.