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!    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.   

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:

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
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:

Today, Billy, who as you know sends me bountiful numbers of excellent things from the Internet, found news of a superior offer on  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:

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.


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.


Sunday, October 10, 2010


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

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 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.  


Saturday, October 9, 2010



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 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: 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.