Friday, December 17, 2010

At Christmas

My book club, as I've written here before, tends to push me towards doing things I'd not normally do. Read hard, sad, rigorous books, like The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, for example.  Or, on at least one occasion, write a poem.  Out of sheer Christmas Desperation.

Usually, for our December meeting, we don't read any book, either rigorous or fluffy, on the assumption that everybody is way too busy.  We gather together around somebody's cozy fire, eat cookies and drink wine, and each of us reads from some Christmasy thing we like.  Sometimes Ida plays her cello.  That is a particular treat. 

Coupla Christmases ago I was planning to read from A Child's Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas.  Just a bit here and there and then the end which goes like this:

"Looking through my bedroom window, out into the moonlight and the unending smoke-colored snow, I could see the lights in the windows of all the other houses on our hill and hear the music rising from them up the long, steady falling night. I turned the gas down, I got into bed. I said some words to the close and holy darkness, and then I slept."

So, just to make sure I could pronounce parts like "moonlight" and "snow," I read through it aloud.  Guess what.  I could pronounce all of it, but I couldn't read the end without crying.  There was something about that "close and holy darkness" thing that cracked open my heart in the most awkward way.  

I don't know if it's because December binds us irrevocably to the tender hopes and dreams of childhood.  Or if it's the liturgy of the season that pours down upon us in sacred hymns and olde favorites like "Baby, It's Cold Outside." But for me there's a Ghost of Christmas Past on every corner, roasting chestnuts and stirring dreams. My memories of that little town in which I grew up, embellished by the passage of a lot of time and the erasure of the commonplaceness of the place, are rich, sweet and overpowering.  When Dylan says, "I could see the lights in the windows of all the the other houses on our hill?" Well, Ack!  I can see them, too.

So, that was out.  What to do?  Who knew what other emotional pitfalls lurked in beloved stories of the holiday?  I decided to pull one of my old sleight of hand tricks from my copywriting days.  If I needed a quote and didn't have time to get permission or whatever, I'd write one of my own and attribute it to Anonymous.  

I decided to write a Christmas Poem.  Ha!  

And I did.  I tried to capture what the season is like for women, who so often are the ones called upon to do a magical juggling act of bright ornaments, favorite recipes, sacred traditions and -- yes -- the perfect gift. Men make a ton of Christmas, too, and it would be no fun without them, no doubt.  But this was a girl poem for the ladies of the club.  I stuffed it full of hope and angst such as I feel when it's all too much, too, big, too fragile, too holy to deal with.  This is it.  

A Christmas Prayer

Bear us up, O baby in the manger.
Bear us up through the list-making, the driving, the parking, the trudging, the shopping, the wrapping, the baking, the cooking, the hoping that all will be well and all merry.  
It is the women who make the Christmas.  It is the women who wake at three o’clock in the morning and sit straight up in bed whispering to a man, who snores in oblivious yuletide bliss, “We forgot Nancy!”
It was a woman who made the first Christmas. 
Joseph swore he had nothing to do with it. 
And the other Father—well, where was He? 

Cheer us up, O baby in the manager.
Forgive us, for we know not what we’ve spent.
Surely, truly, we can never forgive ourselves. 
Bless us.  We mean well.
We mean to be gracious and not churlish.
To be generous and not begrudging.
To be kind, to be calm.  
To Be Organized.
Unfrazzle our hearts.

Lift us up, O baby in the manger.
Be the forgiving one who said “Love one another as I have loved you,”
 Not the one who threatened a lot of casting into outer darkness and gnashing of teeth.
(Reassure me that that one was just a case of bad reporting.)
I gnash my teeth and “click to submit my order.”
And wait for the UPS man to arrive with Christmas in a box.

So, raise us up, O Baby in the manger who might have preferred something from the Sears Wish Book to the cold foretelling of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Guide us through the valley of the shadow of the thought that nothing we do in this season of the year could possibly be holy. 

And lift us to the hope that anything we do in this season of the year might, by thy grace, be holier than we know.   Amen.

I didn't cry.  Well, maybe a glimmer and a catch at the end.  The ladies were nice about it. 

I expect to be back blogging before The Big Day, but in the meantime:  Happy Whatever Holiday fills you with the Spirit of the Season.  

And as one of my most favorite bumper stickers prays:  "God bless everyone.  No exceptions."

Saturday, November 27, 2010

What I'm Thankful For

For starters, I'm thankful to Winston Churchill for having liberated us all from the No Prepositions At The End Of A Sentence rule. Well, most of us.  I know there are a few clenched-jawed hold-outs.  Keep clenching, folks.  You connect us to our Puritan roots. 
So what am I really thankful for?  Look.  Anytime you yield consciousness and control to a man who's about to take a saw to your leg, you are grateful to wake up.  As a particularly delightful bonus, you are grateful to wake up, feeling quite happy to be looking out a sunshiny window with a lot of kind people just finishing up on your new knee and talking to you nicely.  Miss I Cannot Remember Your Name: You were SO NICE.  Thank you! 

So for starters, I am seriously thankful to be alive and walking excellently.  I am also thankful for never getting shot in the leg (or any part of me) during the American Civil War (or any war for that matter.)  I know how lucky I am.  In so many,  many ways.

While I'm being thankful, I should throw in ALL the people, every single one at the Cleveland Clinic.  I agree with Robin Williams that I wish for all people everywhere that kind of medical care and emotional support.  From the guy with the seeing eye dog who hears you coming and welcomes you to the Orthopaedics Department, to the lady playing the harp like an angel in the main lobby, to the nurses and aides who are insanely patient with patients, to the surgeon who totally knows what he's doing and acts like it, to Mary Ann, the surgeon's nurse clinician who totally knows what YOU should be doing and helps you do that with even more patience and good humor than the nurses, if such a thing were possible.  And Patsy, the Physical Therapist, who made me laugh so I didn't notice she was breaking off my limbs.  I am thankful unto you all.  Even, maybe especially, the dog who so warmed my heart with his steadfastness.

I'm thankful for my fabulous, irreplaceable friends and family members who clucked so sweetly about how was I doing and did I need anything and then showered us with cards, food, flowers and food that looks like flowers, gifts, visits, phone calls, emails, and tender concern.  If I do any "especiallys" here I'm sure I'll leave somebody wonderful out.  But folks, you know who you are.  I am thinking of you ... yes YOU ... right now, with such gratitude, not just for how kind and generous you were on this occasions but what miraculous friends you are to me always forever and as-a-rule.  I see your faces as I write. 

And if I have your plastic container, I swear you'll get it back. 

Which enumeration brings us, of course, to immediate family:

Cujo was okay.   He has such a penchant for jumping on the very spot of my knee that should never be touched by cat claws and he did not respond to my condition with either sympathy or empathy.  However, he gets a pass because he's genetically incapable, being a felidae and a true carnivore.  And he's been warm and furry on my behalf.  Every recuperating person should be tended to by a warm and furry friend.  And learn to fend off a furry Knee Attacker.

John's been great.  Solicitous would be the word.  Helpful would be another.  Concerned like you would be if you really, really liked the limping person.  A mother lives for such moments.  Enough said.  Thank you, John, for being my kind and wonderful son.  And for bringing Allie (and her pies) into the picture at just the perfect moment. 

But here at the end of all thankfulnessworthy things, who gets the Oscar for Best Picture?  Who showed up and was incredibly nice about it, every single time I got him up in the darkest section of the night. (Multiple, multiple times.) Who brought me things, even things I didn't deserve, ALL THE TIME?  And told me I was being strong when I was actually whining (or at least groaning) quite a bit. (To be honest there was a lot of groaning and considerable moaning, much of it merely on principle, because if stuff didn't hurt, it seemed to me as if it should.  Or might.  At some point.)  Who was worried and caring and vigilant? Who counted pills and bugged me about the therapy exercises even when I was snarly? And did I mention who was kind?  And not merely kind of kind?  Who made me laugh?  And helped me feel pretty and lovable even when I was ... not. 

Bill.  My Billy.

He has so many points hoarded up in the magnificent guy/excellent husband department, it scares me. I'll never be able to pay him back.  I think he may have covered the "sickness and health" clause forever.   

I also think, skimming back over what I've written here, that the thing I'm most thankful for in all of this is love of one kind or another.  Every clumsy step of the way, I have felt amazingly, luckily, undeservedly loved.  And Bill has loved me in the most generous, forgiving, and encouraging manner for the past way too many years -- and especially for the last month.  Thank you forever, Bill.

So, thank you, all you loving people mentioned and alluded to here.  Like I said,  you know who you are.  And so do I.


Love,
Annie

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

No, no, NaNo.

Alas.  I think I'm sunk.  Although with great joy I can report that I'm doing great -- no, seriously, fabulously -- with the challenges of National Knee Month, I don't think I'm going to make the NaNo.  For all kinds of reasons.

I fear I shall never win the right to wear my NaNo Winner badge.  Or even the Rally badge for 5,000 words in a day.

I feel bad about this.

First of all, I am still just in LOVE with the idea of the thing.  The idea of almost a billion and a half words in half of a month.  Ordinary words like "duck" and "book" and extraordinary words like "perspicacious" and "fey."  Unleashed upon the world.  Wielded.  Set free by us writers to do their best and worst.

It plum makes me want to cry.

I have adored being an inadequate, limping member of such a magnificent crazy band of devil-may-care devils.  I already feel as though my cold little nose is pressed against the bakery window of camaraderie. (I am just about one step from lighting matches, here in the snowy night, to keep myself warm.  Oh, piteous.  I am.)

I hate The Quitter in me.  I know her so well.  She marshals excuses.  Identifies the nearest exit.  Tries to look brave and well-groomed instead of sneaky and churlish.  She sneaks and churls all over the place.  And then she tries to be cute about it.  Give her no quarter.  Let her have another box of matches and turn her back out into the snow.  The loser.

I also feel guilty as hell about Agatha Jane Porter and her cat named Hastings.  And Jack her deadbeat dad, the newspaper editor.  And Virgil her handyguy who doesn't want to fix the things she wants to have fixed.  And not the way she wants them fixed, neither.  And the doc.  They're all right there on the very eve of their big adventure: Knee surgery and murder.  Murder committed.  Murder revealed.

I already know who done it.  And I'm as amazed as anybody.  Wow.  Perfidy, most rank and vile.

But here's "the problem."  When I sit anywhere long enough to write anything, it hurts.  It's not agony or anything, but, for example, my hip, which does not have permission to throb under the current administration, throbs.  And other stuff, too.  It just doesn't feel like a smart thing to do for long stretches right now.  And let's face it.  I'll never make it without some very, very long stretches.  I had high hopes yesterday for manageable bites, but it got bad before I got very far.  And I quit.  Loser.

Here's something I don't feel bad about.  My fellow travelers.  Viv.  Maura.  Marilyn.  Viv is plain insane.  I believe she will make it, not because she loves it but because, by gum, she said she was gonna and she's gonna.  She's already poured too much aggravation on the altar of NaNo to back off now.  You go, Viv.  And do not be dragged down by trollish behavior on my part.  Maura and Marilyn, I salute your path.  I hear considerable doubt, but I also know this was a strong and positive step for you.  Keep going.  Everybody keep going.

Because that's what I'm going to do.  Not at the driven, must ... have ... 50.... thousand ... words pace.  Must wear the badge, come hell or high water.  But as much as I can and keep the peace with the hip bone which is connected to the the thigh bone which is glued to the new knee, God bless it.

I have said that I don't see a future for this novel after November.  I have three others that I still have a lot of confidence in and they're done.  They need support and promotion and, yes, dang it, an agent.  But I'll give Agatha Jane all the space I can make for her in November.  Then we'll see.

Want to know what she's like -- without revision or aforethought; all wacky the way characters are when nobody's looking?  Here she is. 

Chapter 2
I Know I Am But What Are You?
My name is Agatha Jane Porter. 
Isn’t that the very cross to bear for a girl baby born at the moment in American history when people of discernment were beginning to bestow upon their offspring imaginative, groundbreaking, exceedingly non-traditional names?  Like Moon Unit?
I can understand, though. By the time of my birth, my father had cleverly extricated himself from the family portrait by skipping town.  This scurrilous decampment left my mom entirely unsupervised in the selection of my name. And given the state of mind I’ve extrapolated for her, I get it.  I totally do.
An unconventional woman who let her MA in English Literature molder on a shelf while she cleaned other people’s houses for a living, my mother came into possession of a lot of her clients' cast-offs:  food, clothes, knickknacks.  Books.
  Someone had given her a couple of big crates of battered old detective novels, enough to fill shelves and shelves in her cramped apartment.  Since she was on bed rest for the last three months before I was born, she slipped between their dog-eared pages  for solace and company, and thus became a human incubator for Agatha Christie Appreciation. 
I suppose I got involved, too, marinating as I was in the emotional soup of it all.  A  petri dish experiment, warm, dark, quiet, kinesthetic with imagination. The small spark of a detective, glowing, there in my watery cell, shining with admiration for Hercule Poirot. I might have been the daughter he never had, but thank the good God that I didn’t get his mustaches.  And it’s also probably a good thing I wasn’t a boy.
I have read that we are shaped by our names.  That they offer a template for our development. Guide us, guard us, sculpt our path.  If I’d been named after Marilyn Monroe, for example, or had I been branched out as Moon Unit, I probably wouldn’t have grown up so completely bony and unabashedly plain.
As it was, here I am.  Skinny, smart, bookish.  Wry sense of humor. A writer from birth. Skilled enough to make a living at it.  Shy enough not to have garnered much in the way of fortune and fame. 
My mother had used the mystical power of naming to secure my future independence.  Old maid material for sure, was I. Born to sensible shoes, cardigans, reading glasses and distracted hair styling.  An Agatha Jane through and through.
Almost inevitably, I achieved a solitary middle age. Living in an eccentric Victorian cottage, on a shady, green old street in a rather backwater, Southern college town. Gardening.  Writing.  All in all enjoying the life my mother and Hercule would have wished for me. I found myself at 46 reasonably financially secure, congenitally free-thinking, blessed with the companionship of a supportive cat—named Hastings of course—and­ for the most part free from the perfidy of guys.
My mother’s final words to me, were by way of admonition and entirely typical.  Pale, wasted, unable to speak above a whisper but still sporting the irrepressible twinkle that was her trademark, she said, “Aggie, you’ve lucked out so far.  Remember, my dear one.  A man is a two-face.  A worrisome thing who’ll leave you to sing the blues in the night.  That is all ye know on earth and all ye need to know.”  She gave me a weak parting grin, breathed, “You’ve been warned,” and closed her eyes.
Content as I was with my world at 46, I might have gone the rest of my life creating fictional murders without ever witnessing an actual one, without ever meeting my own, lost, perfidious sire, or finding my destined Dr. Blues In The Night, if I hadn’t inherited, along with my mother’s independent spirit and love of fiction, my father’s knee.



That's her.  I promise her November.  That's the best I can do right now.  

Thursday, November 11, 2010

TMI

I have a bruise exactly this color.

I know. I know.  You could have lived happily for a long time without hearing about that.  But it IS colorful. And as it fades, it marks my return from uncertain footing to almost normal. I have a proud affection for this bruise, which extends from ankle to mid-thigh.  I can't see or even imagine my fabulous new knee, but that bruise is a badge of honor.  Proof that something happened here.

This is the Me. Me. Me. Report for Thursday.  It's been 10 full days since the surgery.  That time while not in any way dreadful and not nearly as painful or unpleasant as one would expect is kind of ... Weird.  It's passed very quickly in a telescope of days.

Here's what I can do now:  I can walk down the driveway all the way to the street.  I can go up and down stairs and it's no big deal.  I can flex my new knee to 92 degrees -- unless, it seems, I just did that and then I can only get about 85 out of it.  Because the new knee says yes, but the old leg says no.  (At least that's my interpretation.)  I can shower.  I can dress myself.  I can't dance.  Don't ask me.    

I suppose Doc Hammer is the only one who can pronounce my operation a success, but I gotta tell you, I'm super pleased.  I feel lucky.  I feel blessed.

I feel lazy.

This report has been brought to you by Ms. 3200 Words in the NaNoWriMo Challenge.  That's some words short.  A few.   Um.  Like. 46,800 short.  That would be 2300 a day?  And in the place where my ambition lies?  There's a big fat old percocet saying, "Hey. Dude. Let's take the day off and read some more of that cool Bill Bryson book."  I'm currently using all my bouncy can-do to bend my knee towards 93 degrees.  But I know that's about to change.  Know. It.

In the meantime, let me take a moment to express incredible gratitude to Bill -- first of all and forever -- for giving a first class demonstration of how to keep that "for worse" and "in sickness" oath he took back in our youth.  He's been "all about me" every bit as much as anyone could ever hope.  And nice about it, too.  John has been 100% solicitous and helpful and kind as well.  (Cujo hasn't been all that great.  He's a cat.  He's been hoping I'll die so he can eat me.  But I'm pretending not to notice that.)  And my friends!  I have such fabulous friends.  Food, flowers, cards, calls, visits, sympathy, empathy, kindness.  You people are the best people anywhere.  And that's a fact.

Thank you.  Everybody.  Thank you.  I feel very nurtured.  I feel very loved.

And bit by bit, as I kick my drug habit, I'm coming back.  First the blog.  Next the NaNo.  Soon the dancing.

But let's never forget that for one brief, shining moment, I had a sunset on my leg!

Friday, November 5, 2010

I Second That Emotion!

 Ow. 

But the good news is, I'm doing very well.  For example, my right knee feels marvelous.  My  head is fine (fuzzy but fine), my arms are quite good, and all my multiple choice of body parts are just peachy.

I'm repaired.  I'm home where the lake is wild and windy.  I'm ready for NaNoWriMo -- and only (yeek) five days behind.  I'll write more about what a uniformly excellent experience I had at The Cleveland Clinic and how Hammer, MD and I are both very satisfied with how things went.  But first a rerun post so I can slam down some words on my lagging novel.  Yay!

My Physical Therapist is coming to visit around noon. I think I shall call her Ms. OOF.

Here's an early post about living next to Lake E from the Like Water For Water blog.

On June 17, 2005 everything changed.

Before we moved to the lake, I dreamed of living near big water. An ocean, maybe. I'd savored a hefty handful of beach vacations, jealously guarding every moment of silent staring. Listening to the tattoo of waves breaking on sand. Tracking gulls and pelicans. Just soaking it up. Back then we lived in a nice old house. It had a nice old garden and small space for a new one which was so terrifically terrible for the planting of anything that I froze just considering what might be done with it. So, we engaged a garden designer and as part of the getting acquainted phase of the plan, she asked what I wanted in a garden. "Uh," I offered tentatively. "I always wanted to live near water." A professional, she didn't say, "Well, maybe you should move." She suggested that a fountain on the garage wall, which was, attractively enough, brick would allow the
sound of water at least.

It did. She found us a lion-headed fountain which my neighbor named Bert after Bert Lahr in
The Wizard of Oz. Bert got the job done. Provided the sound of water. Lulled me for years in that upland patch of pretty flowers. But I never stopped wanting big water. And it was so tantalizingly near, yet so far away behind the barrier of habit and convenience of living thirty years in the same lovely town. But we did it. On June 17, 2005 we moved to the shore of Lake Erie, ten yards from the water's edge, eight-point-eight miles and a hundred light years from our old familiar place. Bert came along, but when the pump died, we didn't replace it. Now we plant him full of flowers. A kind of reverse role from his old garden self. 


Of the sound of water, there is now a plentiful supply.

 

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Parked At The Intersection of Today & Tomorrow

Well, the Flying Tomato is in the garage for the duration.  I can't imagine that anyone seriously expects me not to drive for a month, but we'll see.  Isn't she beautiful?  Hasn't she made friends for me all over town? Recognizable from a block away.  Inspiration for Hi's and Honks. For ladies who pull up alongside and say, "I love your car."  Well, me, too.  She's so fine. And as you can see, she voted for Barack Obama and has never for a moment been sorry.  So deal with it.  What a car.

Happy Halloween!  Tomorrow's El Dia De La Rodilla.  My $6 Million Knee.  I'm waiting to be terrified until they give me the happy drugs -- then it'll be too late!  I'll be happy before the devil knows it's time to scare me.  Ha!

I'm ready.  I'm optimistic.  I have done everything I can think of to prepare.  I comprehend the risks -- everybody's crystal clear about the risks and reassuring about the outcome.  All in all, it feels like a sound decision -- a choice in favor of living a full life.  Of vitality.  Of adventures not yet ventured upon.  Of blocks of walking.  Of hiking energetically through airports after being strip searched, of course, in search of metal.  In the end, one chooses and then forges on.

Now the BEST thing -- besides how solicitous my family and my multitudes of friends have been -- you guys are the BEST of the BEST, don't you forget it -- is that the NaNoWriMo challenge -- no matter how ridiculous for me to have considered -- is ON!  I have a working title.  A rough plot.  Some smallish details.  Ready to roll.

Anybody else want on the NaNoWriMo bus?  It's FAR from too late, just jump!  http://www.nanowrimo.org/    And, listen!  Right now NaNoWriMo has already begun in New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, Micronesia, most of Australia, and half of Russia.  It's sweeping the Earth.  All so cool I fear frostbite.

Now, how about The Blog?  I have a plan.  It is the plan of network TV.  Reruns!

While I'm recuperating and discovering for myself how fantastic oxycodone really can be, I'll be using most of my writing strength for a 50,000 word novel entitled Agatha's Knee, a murder mystery about a Hercule Poirot fan who sees a murder in -- wait for it! -- a hospital.  Is it really murder or did someone just succumb to all that risk that's going around?

Oh, sacré nom d’un petit bonhomme!  But of course it is murder.  For Hercule Poirot and Agatha Jane Porter -- whose mother was unfortunately, when it came to naming baby girls, a Christie fan -- it is always murder.  Do not be absurd, my friend.  Was not the first glimpse of this entirely disagreeable woman in the fogbound, early moments of returning consciousness, post-surgery, not a (ahem) dead giveaway?  Look to the victim for the motive, we say.  We do not blame the victim of course, but the explanation so often lies there. 

Except maybe this time, yes, we blame.... 

Ah, back to the blog.  I'm planning to write updates as soon as I can get my fingers on the laptop.  Probably Thursday.  And then paste in some "best of" from the earlier blogs you haven't seen, I bet.  
ALSO, in the meantime, go to Viv's fabulous Wild Turtle Crossing.   http://wildturtlecrossing.blogspot.com/   

In the first place, she wrote a really nice post about moi a month or so ago and I myself like to return and read it repeatedly.  One can never read enough good, encouraging stuff about oneself.  So you could go:  http://wildturtlecrossing.blogspot.com/2010/09/fact-or-fiction.html

But in addition, it's not all me, me, me.  You should also go to read all the fascinating stuff that's there.  Great writing.  Great links.  Puzzles to waste your time deliciously.  Just a very fine compendium of Viv.  I bet she'll blog about the NaNo, too.  Oh, it's a goldmine.  Mine it!  

And if perchance you're still blog bereft and looking for things to do, go see Laura in her latest play at convergence-continuum http://www.convergence-continuum.org/
It's called BrainPeople, a surreal (no kidding) psychological (yes, very) drama (uhhuh) by  Jose Rivera.  Wacky.  And yet enthralling  Laura is exceptional in her most unexpected role ever!  She actors as tenaciously and prolifically as I aspire to write.  Just go. 


That's it.  I've pulled over at the side of the virtual highway.  Now you pull your creative vehicle of life around my parked one, get back on the road, and keep on keeping on.  I await word of your doings and accomplishments.



Tuesday, October 26, 2010

News & Deals for NaNoWriMo Participants

Major disclaimer:  I have within the hour finished reading Freedom by Jonathan Franzen and I'm, at least in part, writing this post to talk myself down from going all crazy in these pages about how magnificent that book is. 

Time has to pass.  I need to get a grip.

Suffice it to say that when I read the end, I held the book in my hands, rested my chin on the rough little platform made by the tops of its 562 pages, and cried about how fine a book it is -- feeling neither sorrow nor joy, just the empty space you find inside yourself when someone takes a pick axe to your heart and everything makes sense for five minutes.  I'll be better soon. 

Oops.  Once again, in spite of my best efforts, I may have gone ahead and talked crazy after all.  No apologies.  Let's move on.

This post, however, is more about NaNoWriMo.  If you don't know what NaNoWriMo is, you're missing knowing about all the fun.  You don't have to participate to delight in the idea.  It's such a cool idea.  I wrote about it here: http://lakeewriter.blogspot.com/2010/10/nanowrimo.html

Today, Billy, who as you know sends me bountiful numbers of excellent things from the Internet, found news of a superior offer on Lifehacker.com.  I am also a fan of this hacker of life but I forget to go there because there are just too many places to go, as you may have noticed.  This blog is, for example, one of way too many of those places. 

Turns out there is a free app from "Scrivener the word processing app" especially for NaNoWriMo challenge writing.  You get the beta app for FREE.  (I used to be in advertising -- I always uppercase FREE. It's the law.)  Then if you win the challenge (by merely completing your 50,000 words and sending them in to The Office of Letters and Light) you get 50% off the $45 price of the regular license for Scrivener. 

Here's the deal for Mac & Windows as seen on Lifehacker today:  http://lifehacker.com/5673442/scrivener-writing-app-offers-extended-beta-trials-on-mac-and-windows

What do I know about this really?  Nada.  I've barely read the post, but I downloaded the app and it looks very interesting. It captured my imagination which is always wandering around, carelessly susceptible to the lure of shiny objects. I love everything about the idea of NaNoWriMo and I wanted to pass it on before the colors fade. 

Now.  Truth -> Power. 

In this equation, you, the reader, are Power.

This is the Truth.  I have no idea whether I'm going to make the challenge. 

I have no clue, truly, how challenging a new knee is going to be.  I may be so drugged up and cranky I won't write doodly squat for a month.  I do have a plan.  It's so ephemeral it can't even be seen.  But I'm hoping that this Scrivener serendipity may ground my plan in the real world so I can follow it after I come back down from doing sufficient numbers of the fabulous pain-eradicating drugs I've been promised.  We'll see.

Maybe none of us will write a 50,000 word novel in the month of November.

But maybe somebody will.

Maybe it'll be me.

Or Viv.  Heh, heh, heh.

Or you. 

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Gotta Love Those Knees.

I love this kid.  I don't actually recognize her as me, but if I really concentrate, I can take myself back and look at the world through her grubby little attitude.

She spent a lot of time on that step and, to the best of my recollection the world always looked and smelled pretty wonderful to her from there.

Just then, before the camera interrupted her, she was looking down the walk, across the street, towards an embankment that marked the edge of Eddie Grose's yard.

This embankment was covered in honeysuckle. When the honeysuckle bloomed, you could pinch the end of the blossom and very carefully draw out the little stem that ran through it.  Right there on that stem would be a single, pulsating, iridescent drop of nectar.  Like treasure.  Like gold. The world would give little Annie things like that, for free.

The street wasn't much.  A narrow lane of crumbling asphalt, trailing off to gravel along its sides. (A barefoot child memorizes the texture of every patch of ground she walks on. Barefoot Mindfulness, I'd call it. The gravel, especially when it got pitched up into the grass, was notable.) The sun would come up over Eddie Grose's house and everything would be shimmering gold and green.  Summer with no school.  And shoes only for church and going to the store.  Yay for that.

But I was writing about the knees.  Those perfectly functioning, under-appreciated, taken-utterly-for-granted knobby, dirty, skinned up, little knees.

Not that Annie wasn't reminded ad nauseum about how lucky she was to be young and agile.  There seemed to be no end of ancient people roaming about, hovering around, to tell a kid how lucky she was to be young and not old.  They should have saved their breath.  A kid, even one as essentially cooperative and anxious to please as this one, is not programmed to get that.  It doesn't compute.  Frankly, I don't think it should. 

I actually believe that the perfect time to understand all that, at last, happens to be right now.

I am struck by how gifted that child was.  How completely whole.  Her body ticked like clockwork, a billion tiny, unsupervised functions in their dance of health and vitality.  Nothing was broken. Nothing was tired.  Nothing hurt unless she skinned it or ran it through poison ivy.  She moved in a cloud of unconscious well being.  She was blessed and couldn't comprehend it.  But she knew a good blessing when she saw one.

I'm glad for that.  Glad for her.  Glad for me.  Glad for a moderately unblemished childhood. I had, in fact, a childhood happier than anyone deserves as long as any child, anywhere doesn't get one of those as its birthright.  It was pure luck.  Pure grace.

So, time passed.  I don't live in that house anymore, can't go back to that step again, and now I've wrecked those knees.  Or time, genetics, or something -- something I did or didn't do, or didn't even have a great deal of control over; one or all of the above -- wrecked them for me.  They're done. It hurts them simply to be.  And, just in time, science and medicine have an excellent plan to replace them for me.

I embrace that possibility.  I'm excited to consider it.  I'm optimistic.  I've done what I can to get ready.  I come to the first of the operations with confidence.  I'm ready.  I'm actually not very scared or sad.

But I don't expect my replaced knees to be good as new.

You see, I had new knees once and, disregarding the warnings of my elders, I enjoyed the heck out of them.  Or at least the kid in the photo did. 

For that, I feel very grateful.  And still quite lucky to be me.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Remembering Shirley

At the end of September we got the call that had to come.  Shirley died.  That's her, right there, on her 100th birthday.  The picture that's worth 10,000 words.

Shirley was a lot of things to me.  To all of us.  But first, 30 years ago, she was John's babysitter.  I needed an "experienced adult" to watch over my precious child, and Shirley was it.  I got her name from an acquaintance who would never have shared if she hadn't been leaving town.

Those early years passed in a blur.  Before long, she'd stopped being John's unwelcome non-Mom stranger and become his Shirwee.  [Sorry John, I acknowledge that you don't talk like that anymore.]  She was my helper, wise adviser, and moral support.  She stuck with us through all the busy, growing years, through a move from one house to another, through a big furry [and it turned out, temporary] dog who nipped everyone on the fanny -- even Shirley.  And, after a very short while, she was family.  Grandma #3.  The one who spent as many hours with John as either of our mothers.  [And they were jealous of the John time -- and the John love -- she had in such abundance.]

Like so many of the indispensable people we love, she was absorbed into the family and I suppose sometimes taken for granted.  She tidied my kitchen, watered my plants, folded my laundry -- no one ever, in my opinion, folded laundry as magnificently as Shirley, certainly not me -- and advised me to get the buttercups out of my front flowerbed as quick as I could.  [Too late!]

Devoutly Jewish, she kept Kosher and ate only tuna fish in my kitchen.  We laughed to remember the day, so early in our friendship, when she told me she didn't eat meat away from home.  And I blurted, "Shirley! Are you a vegetarian?"  She took great pleasure in our holiday preparations, though, and always visited after Christmas to see the tree and hang out with the other grandmothers.  She gave John a Christmas tree candle one year and we burned it faithfully until it got so small we had to put it away with other family treasures.  She broadened our horizons.

Time passed.  John grew up.  Shirley -- and, well, all of us -- got older.  Her sister, who shared the other half of her duplex, died. Her family worried.  And finally she moved away.  To Florida.  To a real retirement.  Except I think she still volunteered for years after she left us. Not a big fan of resting, Shirley.

Centenarians are rare.  Shirley was 101 when she died.  Not a span to complain of.  But as I grow older and grow up, relishing, as I now do, the companionship of older, wiser, more seasoned women, I see that it is our nature to yearn for another day.  Even when sight and hearing fade. Even when the pleasures of life are reduced to a favorite taste, the warmth of lamplight in the evening, a breeze that stirs the flowers in a faithfully tended garden. Life is sweet, a gift to be savored.  Laid down with regret even after 101 years.

The photo was taken at Shirley's 100th birthday party, celebrated by a gathering of her friends and family.  Children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren upon all of whom she had bestowed the gift of life.  It was a grand occasion.  Shirley was a grand occasion, all by herself.  She had the remarkable quality of being completely unassuming and at the same time utterly dignified.  One of a kind.

Here's the secret.  I loved Shirley for all kinds of reasons, but maybe the most important one was that she approved of me.  She thought I was just fine.  She believed I was a good mom.  That I was kind.  That I was maybe even a good person.  Most of the time, she thought better of me than I thought of myself.  The world doesn't hold many of those people for most of us. They are rare.  Their confidence sustains us when we are not our own biggest fans.

Therefore, and for all the above-mentioned reasons, I am sad for the end of 101 years.  Time has taken away our Shirley.

And we had no Shirley to spare.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

If He Is A Carpenter, I'm Not His Lady

A quick, preliminary, aside:  I have gone to such PAINS to procure that photo of a hammer with my own technology and iPhone camera, and for some unknown reason, I can't keep the photo and the text side by side just now.  
The good people at Blogger have a message up that they are disabling image uploads for two hours at 5 p.m. for maintenance.  And what I'd like to say to the Blogger folks is: I certainly hope so

Enjoy that big gaping space right above here, people.  I can do nothing for it.  

Back to The Carpenter. 

I've been promising to write about the upcoming knee surgery, and up until now, there hasn't been much to tell except my breathless, blow-by-blow description of how faithfully I've been working out. 

Faithfully.  Let me just say:  Faith-fu-lee.  

And also I've shared my observation that the happy folk at the Cleveland Clinic seem to take pleasure in referring to my procedure as "carpentry."  Which is so clever and reassuring.  (I wonder what is the emoticon for sour, sardonic sarcasm.  A wink and a frown, maybe.  '-{   I do not know.  Please pretend I typed in something that conveys that.) 

This morning, though, there's some news.  I can now report on my pre-surgery meeting with The Guy.  

M.D. Hammer, MD, we like to call him.     

Here goes:  To this man -- this very skilled and competent man -- I am a knee.  Our relationship, going forward, is that for him, for us, it's entirely Guy + Knee.  Hopefully during the actual operation it will be Guy + Knee + an avid interest in the vital signs of the Knee Owner.  But for Doctor Hammer & Me, the electricity will never be there.

To be frank, I didn't actually expect him to sweep me off to Bermuda for lunch or anything, but I was secretly hoping for a "Wow.  You've been working out five days a week?  You rock!"  But no. 

I showed up with my carefully composed list of questions.  And he answered each one with a range that went, pretty much like this.

Me:  "When will I be able to climb stairs?"

Dr. H:   "It depends.  Some people leave the hospital walking.  Some people leave the hospital dead."  

Okay.  I'm exaggerating about the dead thing.  But it went on, kind of like that. Me, being worriedly specific.  Dr. H., being diplomatically vague.  It reminded me of the days when I would take the car in for servicing.  I would pour out my woeful tale of gauges, rattles, odd ticks, and screeches and the mechanic would let me ramble on for awhile and then respond to my woeful enumerations with a glassy stare and then ask, sympathetically '-{ , "Your name?"  

And also, to be fair, this is just about how I'd like our surgeon/patient relationship to be.  For example, if the doc cared about me as much as I care about me, he'd probably break down and cry in the operating room and not be able to wield his saw or anything.  

He kept saying, "It's your knee" with the implication being that my instincts would be in its best interests.  Yeah.  Right.  If he knew how many times I skinned this knee in third grade, he would probably take it away from me and not give it back.  

Oh.  Wait.

Right.

Anyway, the rest of my pre-surgery appointments are day after tomorrow.  I'll keep you informed.  If I can get informed.  I hear you're not allowed to have your toenails polished for the surgery.  This is BAD NEWS.   But I was afraid to ask Dr. Hammer about that.  I thought he might take my knee away from me.

Oh. Wait.

Right.


Sunday, October 10, 2010

OMMMMMMMMM.

Here is a moment when the oft used expression "just for fun" applies. Deeply and perfectly.

Billy who has made "finding interesting and entertaining stuff for me to look at" one of his life's works, found me this application for writers.

It's a free download for the Mac at http://www.ommwriter.com/en/

In some peculiar way, I like it.  OMMWRITER provides a clean, white environment for writing. No menus.  No nothing to disturb the muse.

(You can also choose eggshell or gray. Or grey. Isn't the English grey just some how grey-er, all soupy with fog and sorrow? I just taught the English spelling to Spellchecker.  She's weeping, just a bit, at the sorrow and fog of grey. )

But I digress.  The app also provides a landscape of snow and spindly winter trees that frankly I do love.  It reminds me of the cover of Tinkers by Paul Harding, the Pulitzer winner of 2010 which you should read.  (Mini review!) 

AND, as an extra added bonus, OMMWRITER lets you select a pleasant New Agey music of bells or chimes.  Or blessed silence.  I do enjoy the musical bells and I do find them restful, but if you were writing something long, I'd guess that about two hours into the trance of bells, you'd suddenly wake up and slam your laptop up against the wall.  I guard against that kind of overreaction to extreme bell exposure.  I love my laptop.

There's an article at  http://www.tuaw.com/2010/10/09/writers-software-month-ommwriter-d-na/ that describes this app in more detail.  October is Writers' Software Month.  I did not know this.  I get the feeling that writers are this amazing, growing demographic that commerce is reaching out to.  That's nice.  But I myself would rather be reaching out to the demographic Readers.  Rather be on the Reaching End of commerce, if you get my drift.

At any rate, here's my first quick take on OMMWRITER (I wonder if it always has to be UPPERCASE.) 

It's ... just for fun.  I would never commit a novel, even a novel I might be writing at the rate of 1667 words per day and under the influence of La-La-Go-Away Juice, to something that plays music and is saved as a text file.  Phillip Roth, for example is not writing his next novel using OMMWRITER.  His lip is curling, even now.  Phil, stop hanging out at my blog.  Go. Away.  Write something.

But if I were doing a rough, just for fun, kind of outline for my NaNoWriMo adventure -- pre-outlining is permitted, perhaps even encouraged -- I might enjoy doing so on a clean, snow-covered, tree-lined page with the sound of distant bells.  

You?

Saturday, October 9, 2010

NaNoWriMo


Alas.

Since about a month after this time last year I have had in my calendar a reminder to myself to sign up for NaNoWriMo.  I should have also included a note to not make it NaNoWriMo+KneeMo.  Here's the deal.  The very day NaNoWriMo begins is the day I'm scheduled to have carpentry work done on my knee  -- November 1.

NOTE:  People who are in the knee surgery game seem to relish referring to the procedure as "carpentry work."  This appears to amuse them.  An otherwise very kind lady I've spoken to about scheduling and details for my operation said, and I quote, "You're not going to want to listen to that so they'll give you something to make you sleepy."  Listen to that???  I am so counting on mass quantities of La-La-Go-Away Juice for this whole thing.  If I don't get enough to keep the worst junkie I've ever heard of (which would be Dr. House, of course) happy and relaxed, I'm going to whine....so much.

Back to NaNo.  Here's the deal as I understand it:  To participate you sign up (free/donations accepted) and commit to writing a 50,000 word novel between Nov1 and Nov 30.  The understanding is that a grand portion of what you write will be crap. Total crap. But the dream is that the spirit of the endeavor will advance your progress as a writer and connect you to the community of crazy folk who just can't help themselves when it comes to writing.

I want to go to there.  And I want to encourage you to do the same.  C'mon.  Jump in.  It'll be ... fun!!!  Here's the jumping in place:  http://www.nanowrimo.org/ It's the headquarters of rah, rah congeniality and incentivization.  The sponsoring organization of NaNoWriMo is a called The Office of Letters and Light.  How ridiculously cool AND literary is that? You have to at least watch their video.  I love them all and I never even met them.  I mean who says, by way of introduction, "If I were a marmot I would be a Himalayan marmot, also known as the Tibetan Snow Pig"?  A guy I could worship, that's who.   

I know you, my blogger/reader/friends.  A bunch of you are public writers.  Are secret writers.  Are incipient writers.  Are "no,  not ME, I could never...." liar writers. All of us could use a little shove.  A chance to go nuts upon the page.  And my Artist's Way friends?  Lord almighty.  We could blow Julia Cameron right out of the water with these "morning pages," am I right or am I right? 

So here's what I'm planning.  I'm planning to sign up.  I have figured out that like a lot of commitments in life, this one is (gasp) completely up to me/you.  If I'm too La La Juiced for the whole month of Nov to participate, well, hey, uh, wow, Mmmmm, far out.... and so on.  I'll just loll about droning "NaNoNaNo" and people will say, "Isn't she cute?  Kind of reminds me of House, only sweeter."

I'm also holding myself up as an example here.  As an encourager of you my reader/writers.  I expect you to say to yourselves, when courage flags, "Annie signed up to do this and she's having knee carpentry.  What a [fill in the blank]!"  I prefer [saint] or [glorious inspiration] but it's your blank. You can write [moron] if you like.

So, let's go team.  Put me in, Coach.  Win this one for The Gimper.

I promise.  It'll change your life.

Like Water For Trees

Here's the post I didn't post from our week away due to the serious lack of connectivity.  And my lazy self.  Just lazying around. Now I'm sticking it in here to plump up the content, while I scramble to write more.  Writing more.  Writing more now.

We're at the Ripley Yippee this weekend -- the Fifth Annual Get Together of Bill's high school friends. And their spouses who aren't high school friends, but are friends by association and cumulative Yippee experiences.  This year we've congregated at Bonnie and Jim's in Hendersonville, NC. 

Now, look.  By the time you get around to reading this, if ever, we'll be back home.* And besides John is there.  And Cujo is there.  And Cujo has his gun.  So don't bother going all "WooHoo!  Ann and Bill are out of town.  Let's go steal their collection of diced tomatoes from Costco!"  

Really.  Don't mess with Cujo when he's armed.  You'll be sorry.

Oops, I got busy caveating and lost the train.  Which is trees.

From the moment we slipped out of the mainstream and onto the Blue Ridge Parkway, we have been surrounded and enveloped by trees.  You know how I am about big water.  I'm almost that way about big trees.  There's something about a tree that has grown untouched for decades -- watered by cloud-fog and sustained by seasons of silence.  Something powerful.  Something true. 

They are beings. 

They don't talk.  They don't judge.  They have no opinions.  No regrets.  Their history flows in a slow river of sap and encircles the core of them in rings that mark the passage of their time.  Big, old, tall trees call us to order by their presence. Admonish us with their silence.  Invite us to share in a dream that is not human, neither right nor wrong, not kind or unkind. By their presence they heal us of distraction.

Right about there's where I stopped cursing the No Service messages and gave up.  Here's what I'd add.  (In addition to "Ha!  We're home and our tomatoes are safe and we've taken Cujo's gun away.  Who wants to live with an armed cat anyhow?")

It remains to be said that  I loved hanging out at Bonnie's, using the excuse (entirely valid) of my knees as refuge from outings and exercise, enjoying the company of trees.  And the blessed balm of stillness when only the hush-hush whisper of leaves and the cries of birds can be heard.

On our way home, we stopped at Pipestem State Park in West Virginia.  Where the trees are bigger and more silently present.  Where the mountains themselves are alive but not talking about it.  That was good, too.

Now we're glad to be home.


*How prophetic this turned out to be!  

Friday, October 8, 2010

Sorry. Sorry. Sorry.

We've been out of town and in a part of the country that's deliciously peaceful but seriously off the grid.  Any kind of phone, email, etc. etc. communication was peripatetic at best.

But we're back now and I'll be reporting in as soon as I can get on top of the laundry and other odds and ends.

I have lots of things to tell you.  So, rest up.  And continue to watch this space for updates.  Please.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

A Grate Idea

And now for a post that's light and lemony.  With a red hot cooking tip from me. 

I have a Microplane grater/zester.  That's it, right next door there.  It is a fabulous, fabulous cooking tool of many talents.  One of which is zesting lemons without getting any of that bitter white underbelly pithy stuff in with your bright, tart essence-of-lemon stuff. 

But I have always used this grate tool in the same way I use all graters.  

The wrong way. 

That way is when (Oh grammar mavens hide your eyes.  I'm sure this sentence has just begun with a major usage faux pas and I do not care.) you secure your grater with your non-dominant hand and scrape whatever you're grating across its sharp little teeths, letting the grated whatever fall down into wherever you need it to fall.

That works.  But in my opinion it's dicey at best and kinda messy and hard to control. When you're using the Microplane to grate and zest there's Another Option. 

Lemon Example: Hold the lemon in your non-dominant hand and draw the grater across the lemon one direction. (I like the "towards me direction" which,  in my right-handed case, is left to right.) The grater is upside down.  The zest collects inside it.  Go slow.  It still zests fast. 

You can zest in a controlled area, methodically covering the entire lemon, missing nothing, but not going too pithily deep. The zest fills the plane, as shown in the photo.  You dump it out into whatever you're adding zest to and continue until you've got all the tangy, citrusy bits you need.

See?

It works for Parmigiano Reggiano as well. 

You can thank me now.  

Friday, September 24, 2010

Little Bee, A Book

In the post that immediately preceded this one, I vowed to stop listening to the part of my self that resists the reading of books that may turn out to be painful.  As a direct result, I'm sure, the Universe brought me Little Bee by Chris Cleave.

This is not a review.  If you'd like one, the NYTimes has a very fine example at http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/17/books/review/Elkins-t.html

I can foretell a Book Club Future for Little Bee because when I went to the trusty Cleveland Public Library website to request it, I found myself #72 in the queue. And the books themselves: charged out, "on hold for someone," and "being transfered between libraries."  Moving in the mysterious dance of a book catching on, catching fire.

This is a very, very good thing.

It's good because Little Bee is a book to make its readers kinder to their fellow humans.  And we are more in need of human kindness than maybe anything else in this world.   

Little Bee is a sixteen-year-old Nigerian refugee. At the beginning of the novel she is being held in a detention center in England.  She is such a lovely, fierce, brilliant, funny, courageous human being that even as her story hammers us with the cruelty and callousness she has learned to endure, she draws us inside her spirit.  She warms us, eases our pain, gives us hope.

The book isn't about just her, of course. It's about our good familiar world of workday commutes. It's about relationships. Infidelity.  Regret.  Parenting.  Making tea.  It's about comfy first world people confronting a devastating third world reality in their own nicely appointed living room.

Little Bee reminded me how we accommodate other people's suffering by secretly believing they somehow did something to deserve or at least explain it. Or that perhaps they don't really mind it so much after all.

It lays bare our secret fear that if these people don't deserve it, then maybe we aren't immune.  It tells the truth about what it's like to endeavor to make a difference when any difference you can make is insufficient.  When all a human being can do is bear witness.  With love.  And infinite respect.

Okay.  I liked it.  It's a delightful, terrible, beautiful, ugly, transcendent book.  Buy a copy.

Tell your book club about it.

Uhoh.  This may have been a review.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Watch Yourself


The contents of ones own thoughts -- by this I mean the contents of my own thoughts, but I'm being oblique for the sake of pseudo universality -- are the background music, the familiar, almost unnoticed wallpaper of the individual human life.  We (I) pay them little serious attention while at the same time taking them very, very seriously.

This can be a problem. 

Let me try to clarify this concept with an example from a  film classic:  "Men In Black."  

Remember the part where the alien who runs the pizza shop gets killed, and at the autopsy his head opens up to reveal the tiny being who's been in the driver's seat of this guy all along?  No?  Well, I'm not sure if it actually was the Pizza Alien, but I do remember the moment.  My point is that I have one of those beings in my head almost all the time.  And I'm guessing you probably do, too.

This little being is not me.  But she very often gets to play me in real life.  

My tiny automatic pilot (Let's call her Petunia for fun and convenience.) has tons of opinions:  Petunia doesn't like to fly.  She's bad at exercise and hates to do it.  She doesn't care for movies with subtitles.  She likes brownies or anything chocolate.  She's never been much of a basketball fan.  She's not terribly fond of fruit. She gets totally lost on the west side of Cleveland. She fears and despises on-ramps.  She has no patience with Dr. Phil.  She likes to think things over.  She hates to be rushed.  She's personally offended by reality TV.  If you bring something-anything to her attention, she'll come up with an opinion about it on the spot.

And my knee will jerk.

I was quite young when I started loading up Petunia with opinions. I gave her a ton of info.  Some of it quite worthwhile. The stove is hot.  The candy is fabulous.  When your mother looks at you like that, be a better girl as fast as you can.  Some of it works, too:  Smile. Be nice. Show signs of intelligence.  Develop a sense of humor. Pay attention.  Pretend you are paying attention.

Old Petunia kept me alive while I was figuring out that I was alive.

But now she's mostly an unconscious, automatic, knee-jerk reaction to stuff I'm not really paying attention to because she's already made up my mind about them.  And she doesn't always have my best interest in ... uh ... mind.


Here's an example from real life.  From today, as a matter of fact.  I need to get Petunia to let me (Let's call me "Annie.") pick what books we're going to read.

Miss Petunia likes books where people get better, overcome the odds, live well, find spiritual truth without undue suffering, solve crimes, eat in nice restaurants, and don't throw their lives irretrievably down the drain on a whim. She loves happy endings.  Left to her own devices, Petunia would never have read,  Atonement, The Corrections, The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao or any other books about the train wrecks of human experience that the book club makes me read.

Face it. She wants happy, dappy Kraft Jet Puffed Marshmallow Creme in the 13 oz. jar, from now until forever.   Of course, common sense suggests this would keep Annie drifting in warm, familiar, slightly stagnant pleasantness.  And probably rot her brain.

Therefore, starting now, we are going to read A Visit From The Goon Squad, Dreaming in Hindi, Freedom (from the author of The Corrections.  Yikes.  Train. Wreck.) and any other book that people in whom Annie has confidence suggest is worth reading.  Even though something about these stories seems to scare Petunia. And when Annie starts to put one of them down (going, "Whoa, this is not going to turn out well.  I feel strangely threatened.") I'm going to take a deep, cleansing breath and look seriously and quietly into the control compartment of my head to observe who it is that's scared, bored or in some other way uncomfortable and say, "There, there, sweetie.  Shhh.  It's just a book.  I'm right here, too."

Annie is going to keep a mindful eye (whatever that might be) on Petunia.

And we'll see how it goes.

P.S. If this sounds anything like schizophrenia to you, you could be right.  Ask the little alien in your head what it thinks.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Having The Last Word.

Right here in this very blog, I've administered a practically lethal dose of writerly angst.  So let's talk about FUN for a change.  Let's not talk about writing into the lonely void.  Or about the eternal "Is it good?  Is it crap?" question.

Let's talk about about "Having The Last Word." 

When I wrote for money, I wrote a lot of good stuff that got killed.  Horribly, stupidly, pointlessly killed.  Some of it was killed for good reason.  Killed to save the client/agency relationship. (I wrote a spot for KFC once -- in the narrative voices of Cheech and Chong -- that suggested there oughta be their kind of pot in the chicken pot pie. That never saw the light of client.  It was a very funny spot though.  Cracked me up.)  I wrote a ton of awful stuff, too. (That pie thing might have been awful stuff, actually.)  Some of my awful stuff didn't get killed.  I rue the day.   

Anyway. Back to my good, non-crazy stuff that was murdered.

Dead. Dead. Dead. For no apparent reason.  For selfish reasons.  For political reasons.  For all the wrong reasons.   Looking back, I had some very smart ideas.  Hey.  In the day when Nike was still a  missile and not yet a sneaker, I tried to convince some boss or other that "Just do it." was the most powerful possible tagline in the Universe. Oooh.  Killed so dead.  Nike lucked out.  And all I got was looked at funny.  No justice. 

Let's be honest.  People who are running a business may not be in the market for the most creative, most adorable, most wackily delightful writing.  They want writing that's good for business.  That, by the way, is what advertising writing is intended to be.  No matter what you may have heard.

One day when -- please, God -- I'm writing to make my &*#(&^@ agent and my &*(W^*& publisher happy, I'll probably break down and write what's good for business again and feel okay about listening to the voices of experience.

But right now?  Today

I'm the author, by gum.  I get to drive the bus.  It's my *%8#&^% bus. 

Today, I'm editing a Young Adult Fantasy novel I wrote a couple of years ago.  It's about mayhem in the time line and the utter destruction of the universe.  It's a lot of fun.  No.  Really.  It is.  I'm planning to drop it on those agents who said "I want to see some YA that's yada yada or yada yada" in the most recent issue of Writer's Digest.  My YA has yada yada out the wazoo, if I do say so myself. 

So, as I read I ask the Reader in my head, "Should I change this?  Or that?"  Sometimes the answer is, "Yes!  People will make serious fun of you if you leave that in."  And sometimes I answer back, "Oh, yeah?  You'll pry that sentence out of my cold, dead hand."  And guess what?

I am The Author.  I GET TO SAY. 

If you think it's not fun to make up stuff on your own terms and absolutely own that stuff -- at least until you sell it -- which is its own reward and time for you to move on and write something new anyhow --  you've been listening too hard to the long-suffering types.  Sure, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in his own blood and died young, but his liver was probably giving him fits the whole time.

Writing to please yourself is an amazing, good time.  When it's going well, it's a blast.  And when it's going rotten, it's still absolutely in the loving arms of you and your personal, magical Muse.  When I'm not all cranky about the rigors of agent hunting, I know this in my soul.

You can know it, too.  Look.  If you don't want to write, don't.  But if you've always thought you could, or if you already did and want to do more but you're having doubts or writerly angst, don't let anybody stop you.

Writing is a joyride.   And we Authors get to drive the bus. 

P.S.   Here's another fact:  When you are writing on a regular basis, when you have finished something you've written and moved onto something else?  Listen up.  You are not a wannabee writer anymore.  You're a writer.  Period.  When you finish your first novel?  You're the author of that novel.  Do not let anybody tell you different.  Don't let them even try.  It is not necessary to sell what you write to be a real writer.  As a matter of fact, as I only just pointed out, that can be an impediment.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Bugs Are Back In Town

I have commented elsewhere about the so-called Canadian Soldiers who descend upon the lake shore every spring.

Here's the top line:  http://likewaterforwater.blogspot.com/2009/06/bugs.html

I stole this photo from that old post.  It gives you some idea. 

The bottom line, though, is that sometime around late June the bugs go away, but they don't exactly stay away.  They're sort of like a rose bush that blooms big in early summer and then pops up a few weaker blossoms every once in awhile throughout the season.

In comparison to the spring visitation, the new crop is piddling.  But definitely here.  They joined me in the car for the ride to work out this morning.  I'm not particularly a fan of insects, but these little guys are so frail, so ephemerally Ephemeroptera, that I can't get all worked about them -- at least not in their current numbers.

I hear from my friends in the Heights that they came to town up there this week.  Up there there's some signficant bug excitement.  We have a saying here on the northern edge of the U.S. that we apply to that sort of bug flurry.

Actually it's more like a taunt than a saying.

And it's actually just me that taunts it.

It goes, "You think YOU got bugs?  What you got is not bugs.  Here's how you tell if you've got bugs:  Have you eaten a bug today?"

If no. Then no.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Kicking the Demon Frog

Amongst the people who know me very, very well, it is common knowledge that I am a fool for Zuma's Revenge.  ZR is a devilish seduction of unsuspecting souls and I, alas, was easy prey for the snare of The Frog.

Perhaps I should elucidate, just a tad ... pole.  Zuma's Revenge is a computer game devised by a company called PopCap.  They are cool people.  I adore them and their games.  See?  Hooked I was ... am on the PopCap mystique.  I wrote a blog post about what they and their Zuma insanity taught me.  http://artistwayfarers.blogspot.com/2010/02/everything-i-need-to-know-about-life-i.html

There were truly valuable lessons in there.  For a time.

A long, long time.

When I shared my adoration with a nice guy who works in PR at PopCap, he sent me a package of Zuma stuff, including a mouse pad which I wore out (playing Zuma's Revenge, of course) and a VooDoll -- a useful tool for VooDolling your adversaries.  I have yet to stick a pin in it, but the moment could come.  It could.  Tread carefully, my adversaries.

But here's where it all got sticky for me and the frog.  I have always been TERRIBLE AT GAMES/SPORTS.  Starting with softball when I was a youngster with a penchant for ducking at the most inopportune times and proceeding through checkers, volleyball, crazy 8s, tennis, matrimonial bridge (one game; maybe two or three), matrimonial golf (over in 10 seconds or less), matrimonial racquetball (terminated too quickly to quantify), I have been just awful.  This, I believe, was partly insecurity about a certain lack of coordination and a lot of psychological bs, but what's past is past, and in the past I was pretty bad.

But not, it turned out, at Zuma's Revenge.  At Zuma's Revenge I am killer excellent.  I have beaten all the Adventures, twice.  Many of them more than ten times.  The early ones multiple, multiple times. (They're so easy.  I can just drift.) I subdued the Challenges, every one.  I crushed six Tiki Bosses without mercy.  And because the game provides a fresh batch of challenges at every playing, I lingered, still, playing it over and over.  And over again.

I had strategy.  I had (believe it or not) skills!!!  Kids, I had GAME. For once in my life I was in the enviable position of saying "Step right up, sucker.  And watch me beat this thing senseless."

So there was that.  And then there was The Flow.

According to Wikipedia, the concept of flow was discovered/invented by a guy named Csíkszentmihályi.  (Pronounced "Uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.")

Here's the info: "According to Csíkszentmihályi, flow is completely focused motivation. It is a single-minded immersion and represents perhaps the ultimate in harnessing the emotions in the service of performing and learning."

Here's a complete list of the attributes of the flow state:

  1. Clear goals (expectations and rules are discernible and goals are attainable and align appropriately with one's skill set and abilities). Moreover, the challenge level and skill level should both be high.
  2. Concentrating, a high degree of concentration on a limited field of attention (a person engaged in the activity will have the opportunity to focus and to delve deeply into it).
  3. A loss of the feeling of self-consciousness, the merging of action and awareness.
  4. Distorted sense of time, one's subjective experience of time is altered.
  5. Direct and immediate feedback (successes and failures in the course of the activity are apparent, so that behavior can be adjusted as needed).
  6. Balance between ability level and challenge (the activity is neither too easy nor too difficult).
  7. A sense of personal control over the situation or activity.
  8. The activity is intrinsically rewarding, so there is an effortlessness of action.
  9. A lack of awareness of bodily needs (to the extent that one can reach a point of great hunger or fatigue without realizing it)
  10. People become absorbed in their activity, and focus of awareness is narrowed down to the activity itself, action awareness merging."
Here's a complete list of the attributes of Zuma Flow as experienced by me: 1-10 of the above.  (Csíkszentmihályi neglected to mention the ability of the flow stater to go three to five days without peeing, but he was no doubt just being more delicate about the level of concentration achieved than I.)

And finally, alas, there's the matter of addiction.  If I like something or if I find it comforting or mood enhancing in any way, I like it in virtually unlimited quantities.  I know there must be folks who can "try heroin" a couple of times and go back to being nuclear physicists.  Me? I'm just lucky my upbringing and my lack of opportunity kept me out of smack's way.

So I was hooked on Frog.

Fortunately it didn't cost me $250,000 a year to feed this habit.  I got it for Christmas.  For me it was free.

But a moment did arrive when I realized -- dazed, dizzy, rendered practically paralyzed by neck pain, and suffering from mild uremic poisoning, I'm sure -- that I had spent another four hours attaining a couple of levels and making the Tiki Boss hug his teddy bear and whine.

I knew then that Froggy and I had to say goodbye.

It wasn't going to be enough to just step away from the game.  As long as it lingered in the applications folder, croaking my name, I was in its thrall.  It was time for Cold Turkey.  It was time to Put The Frog In The Trash Folder.   And Erase The Trash.

This was forever.

I did it.  I didn't cry.  Though I thought about it.  I braced my shoulders.  Hit the appropriate keys. And I walked away.  Into a fresh new world where I could probably get hooked on ... blogging or something.

Regrets?  I've had a few, but then again too few to complain about.  When I think of Froggy and his vacant, cheerful demeanor, his ability to look happy, even while suffering fatal defeat and being kicked back to the start of the level, I'm just glad for the time -- hours and hours, days and days of time -- we shared.

I say softly -- to myself now, because he is gone and I'm alone, with only family, friends and the cat for company --  "It's okay, my brave Frog.  It's time we both moved on."

And remember:

We'll always have Level 54.