Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Where Was I?

I saw my friend Opal at work tonight and the first thing out of her mouth was, "Do you realize it's been almost a week since you've blogged? When are you going to blog?"

Oops.

Okay, in my defense:

A) I've had two weeks of out of town company that want to do EVERYTHING there is to do in the Nashville area. Yes, it's been fun. But I've been crazy busy.

B) I had no idea anyone would miss regular updates to this blog.

Sooo, I promised to blog tonight for Opal and I have (two new messages below this). I will be more consistent. I will put you before sleep, before email, before food - okay, that's last one is a bald-faced lie but still, you get the picture.

I've missed blogging.

I'm back.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

How To Get Thrown Out Of A Volleyball Game

1. Give a friendly "hello" to the ref sitting up in his tiny silver chair above the net.

2. Assume that ref pays constant attention to the location of the volleyball at all times.

3. Spend entire time before game starts practicing only underhand serves so as to save your thunder for the game.

4. Assume that ref pays constant attention to the location of the volleyball at all times.

5. Serve underhand only at your first turn as server. This lulls the opposing team into a sense of complacency.

6. Assume that ref pays constant attention to the location of the volleyball at all times.

7. Believe coach knows what he's talking about when he tells you to serve overhand next turn.

8. Assume that ref pays constant attention to the location of the volleyball at all times.

9. Obey coach and serve overhand: use extreme care (some might call it timidity but they would be wrong) knowing that you do not yet have full control over your serve. Drive ball into net three times in a row and lose turn. This also lulls the opposing team into a sense of complacency.

10. Assume that ref pays constant attention to the location of the volleyball at all times.

11. Acknowledge coach's stern admonishment to put some POWER into your next turn as server.

12. Assume that ref pays constant attention to the location of the volleyball at all times.

13. Put POWER into your overhand serve.

14. Assume that ref pays constant attention to the location of the volleyball at all times.

15. Watch in horror as the volleyball slams into the ref's face and knocks him flying out of his little silver chair.

16. Discover that previously mentioned assumption was wrong.

17. Discover that the word "Wilson" does not look good as a raised welt on a referee's face.

18. Accept less than polite invitation to warm the bench for the rest of the game.

And that is how to get thrown out of a volleyball game. (Um, not that I know any of this from personal experience...)

Sleep

dawn will come
a subtle shift
of light as shadows
begin to lift

my eyes will open
a sudden moment
that rips at dreams
before i know it

and i will rise
and i will run
and i will do
what must be done

but until then
i'm captive here
where decadence
aligns with fear

and monsters swirl
past my thoughts
i try to sieze them
all for naught

i run through thorns
but cannot bleed
i hold the key
but am not freed

i breathe out passion
breathe poison in
cliffs fall away
and i dive in

i cannot swim
i cannot drown
i cannot fly
or touch the ground

the glorious
is possible
i find i am
invincible

so let the sun
draw back this curtain
that hides what might be
from what is certain

the promises i've made
will keep
and until then
i sleep

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

This Ain't No Free Show

I've lived in my current home for almost four years. 46 months, to be precise. In that time, I've grown to love and respect many of my neighbors and thought they appreciated me as well.

They did.

For very different reasons.

Our home sits at the entrance to a cul de sac in a neighborhood where yards are large and line of sight extends through several blocks worth of houses. In fact, the back of my home can be seen from a major road, two other cul de sacs, and from most of the homes on my own street.

A few months ago, one of the teenagers who lives next door and babysits for me often, dropped a most unwelcome bombshell.

She said, "You know your privacy glass in your master bathroom doesn't work, right?"

WRONG!

How am I supposed to know that? I never watch myself get undressed and into the bathtub that rests right below our large picture window. Apparently, I'm the only one who doesn't.

I ran upstairs and turned on the light while my husband ran to the backyard to check the truthfulness of this preposterous statement.

She was right.

The builders installed the privacy glass backwards so while I can't see out (not that helpful, in the grand scheme of things), everyone else can see in.

Clearly.

This means that my friends, my extended neighborhood, and random passing motorists have all received an eyeful at one time or another. (I did wonder about the cars-running-off-the-road-and-through-the-fence incidents that seemed to occur with alarming frequency on the road behind us.)

I have two things to say about this:

1. Why did it take OVER THREE YEARS for anyone to mention this crucial bit of information?

2. I think a lot of people owe us some singles.

Well, I Feel Safer

Yesterday, my dad flew out from California to visit. My dad, as anyone who's kept up with this blog now knows, is the MASTER PACKER. Often, this skill involves the use of unusual containers to accomplish his mission.

My dad is also a gardener and, being from central California, has an amazing crop of boysenberries this year.

I love boysenberries.

I don't grow berries. I don't grow anything. I kill plants on a regular basis. I walk by potted plants in the supermarket and they cringe in terror.

My dad decided to bring some berries to me.

This is not easily done on a long flight.

The MASTER PACKER kicked into high gear and formulated a plan. He froze bags of berries and searched for a container that would keep them relatively cool and stop any leakage.

He found his answer in a large empty plastic cat litter bucket, complete with lid. Yes, my parents save these. Yes, he washed it first. He labeled the outside "Frozen boysenberries. Keep cool." I think he assumes more care of his checked baggage than is actually available to him, but maybe that's just me.

So, he arrives at the airport and has to check his bags. One suitcase. Check. One garment bag. Check. One cat litter pail. Problem.

SECURITY GUY: What do you need cat litter for?

MASTER PACKER: You need me to explain how to use cat litter?

SECURITY GUY: Is this used?

MASTER PACKER: Used? You think I'm travelling with used cat litter?

SECURITY GUY: You can't check used cat litter.

MASTER PACKER: That's reassuring. But if you would just read the front -

SECURITY GUY: Says cat litter right here.

MASTER PACKER: Other side.

SECURITY GUY: You packing berries in cat litter?

MASTER PACKER: Of course not.

SECURITY GUY: But it says cat litter.

MASTER PACKER: I realize that. It's just an empty container -

SECURITY GUY: What do you want to check an empty container for?

MASTER PACKER: No! I mean it was an empty container and I packed frozen berries inside.

SECURITY GUY: Let's see it.

MASTER PACKER: *opens lid to display top layer of frozen berries*

SECURITY GUY: I see. Okay. That's fine.

Now, obvious "Who's on first, what's on second" issues aside, this security guy never even lifted the top layer of berries to see what was underneath. Could have been anything.

A bomb. A rogue copy of O.J. Simpson's stupid book. Used cat litter.

Anything.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Missing Miss Snark

Those of you who are not authors and are therefore not addicted to reading blogs by literary agents, bear with me.

Two days ago, the online literary community lost one of our most influential (and most entertaining!) blogs. Miss Snark, the venerable literary agent from the 212 who dreamed of Clooney while stalking about in her stilletos and swilling bathtub gin, closed her blog.

I feel bereft.

Miss Snark was my daily breakfast stop. My lunch stop. My just-before-bed stop. I was addicted to Snark. She offered insights into the publishing world, gave impeachable advice for landing an agent, and volunteered hours of her time to critique hooks, queries, and first pages.

She did it all as only Miss Snark could - with inimitable style and scathing wit. She was at once brutally honest and startlingly compassionate. She called a spade a spade, whether in saying a piece of writing was far from ready or in revealing an unethical agent or contest as a scam.

She honored writers, individually and as a community. She will be deeply missed.

Why Don't They Do THIS At The Olympics?

Despite the fact that I am fairly uncoordinated (oh, okay, "fairly" doesn't begin to cover it but hey - this is MY blog. I can say what I want.), I love sports. Maybe it's my fiercely competitive nature or maybe it's the chance to scream bloody murder at some poor schmuck in a black and white shirt but I do love sports.

Recently, I discovered a sport in which I truly excel.

Power shopping.

Before all you men reading this can complete that (very unattractive) eyeroll, I'd like to point out that there is NO WAY on God's green earth you could enter a shopping mall at one end, wearing adorable but slightly uncomfortable shoes, and exit the other end having purchased three nicely coordinated outfits (jewelry included!) that took eight stores, seven dressing rooms, and three escalator trips to accomplish.

In an hour and a half.

This is "sport" at its finest.

It takes teamwork - one person enters the dressing room while two others power-walk the store, snatching garments with potential and elbowing amatuers out of the way.

It involves strategy - there's one pair of gorgeous jeweled stilletos in size 8 and Ms. Big Hair across the aisle is going for them too. You choose one of two options: A) use the old trip and fall approach, effectively cutting her off from the shelf by flinging your body in front of her while one hand snatches the prize on your way down. This needs coordination, skill, and a small piece of luck. Or B) focus on the goal, act like Ms. Big Hair doesn't exist, and RAM her out of your way. Follow this up with sincere apologies (spoken in a soft, southern voice for best results) as you tuck the shoebox under your arm and leave.

It requires coaching - when one member of the team becomes discouraged at the realization that size 8 is no longer her friend, the others respond quickly with "There's no crying in shopping! Now you get in that dressing room and suck it up, soldier!"

It ask for quick-thinking and on-the-spot shifts in strategy. The point person must be able to walk four feet inside a store, scan the offerings with a critical eye toward fashion and clearance, and make a snap decision on the merits of shopping there. The other team members act as scanners, constantly evaluating the offerings in store windows and calling out potential stops to the point person. When a sudden shift in shopping is required, all team members must be able to displace large clumps of gawking, under-dressed teens using the time-honored bob, weave, and ram method to get to their objective.

With all this evidence, how can anyone say power shopping isn't an Olympic worthy sport? It's right up there in discpline and strategy as say - soccer or track. Besides, if curling can be considered a sport, how can anyone deny power shopping?

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Lemonade?????

Two years ago, I worked as a waitress for a restaurant that was just opening. (Note to self, don't do that again...) We had a fairly full service bar, including sixteen wines to complement our Italian food. The owner, who possessed a shockingly small amount of common sense, decided that we should all taste the different wines so we would know how to describe them to our tables.

Fine and dandy.

Two problems. One, his idea of wine tasting was to fill a styrofoam cup 1/2 full and hand it to you. (16 of those...you figure out the alchohol content). And two, he decided to do this right before the restaurant opened for the night.

I don't drink.

I have excellent reasons for this, not the least of which is my complete inability to tolerate anything but the smallest amount of alchohol.

I was ordered to drink.

I sipped carefully of each cup - never draining it eagerly like many of my fellow waitresses were doing. I knew I had an empty stomach so I was deliberately taking not more than a couple sips from each glass - just enough to keep the boss happy and hopefully keep me from becoming tipsy.

I was unsuccessful.

We opened the doors and sat the first table of the night in my section.

I got up from the bar to go to the table and realized I was having to walk with care so as to avoid running into all those pesky chairs and tables someone placed in my way.

When I arrived at the table, I greeted them and found my tongue would barely cooperate in forming the words I needed to say. Still, I pulled it off and asked them what they wanted to drink.

They answered.

At this point, disaster struck.

I could hear the sounds coming out of their mouths but my brain refused to translate those sounds into anything resembling words. It sounded like they ordered "lecokwinorapep".

I grabbed onto the first sound in the word, leaned over the table, and practially shouted, "Lemonade?"

They looked at each other, looked at me and repeated the same completely indecipherable word as before.

I tried again. "Lemonade?" I was shouting. Leaning into their personal space. Desperately hoping they would just succumb to my powers of suggestion and say "Yes, lemonade would be delightful."

They stared at me in much the same way people rubber-neck at car accidents on the freeway: fascination at the wreckage and relief that it wasn't happening to them.

The woman grabbed the menu, opened it to the drink section, pointed to a word and carefully enunciated "Coke."

Oh. Well why didn't you just say so in the first place?

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I don't drink.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Let That Be A Lesson To You

I inherited my cat, Taz, from my parents when she was 1. ("Inherited" sounds like they died when really, it was just that they constantly rescue cats and had 5 or 6 at the time. I got married and moved out - I took a cat with me.)

Taz is a gorgeous black and white cat who lives her life with confidence and the occasional side of attitude.

She was a kitten when we rescued her and her digestive track took a while to adjust to her new, consistent food supply. In fact, for the first month or so, her digestive track was so bad, she would fart - copiously - all the time.

Especially when she jumped into your lap. Something about the force of her landing caused major gas to erupt.

It stunk.

Badly.

My dad was usually on the receiving end of this treatment as a) he would sit in his recliner and she viewed that as an invitation to join him and b) he has a nose sensitive enough to rival a bloodhound. (Many a day we watched him scowl and sniff and announce to everyone that there was poop in a room. The obligatory search would last for a few minutes before we told him, firmly, "It's all in your nose.")

One day, Taz jumped in my dad's lap and let fly. It was the last straw.

He put her on the floor, gathered some steam of his own, and then sat on her (not enough to hurt her, just enough to pin her down) and ripped a fart that, had my boys been there, would have earned him a permanent spot in the Extreme Bodily Functions Hall of Fame.

Then he stood up and said, "Let that be a lesson to you."

I think he forgot he was dealing with a cat.

She resumed her gassy excursions onto his lap within five minutes. Apparently, cats don't heed object lessons. Either that, or as she let fly with her twenty-ninth fart of the morning she was thinking in her twisted kitty brain,

"Let that be a lesson to you."

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Deep Thoughts...

My mother is coming to town today. I always look forward to her visits - we hang like old friends most of the time. Look out shoe stores! (I seriously need my own shoe closet...)

It's funny that even though I love her and I know she loves me, a small part of me waits to see if I measure up. This isn't a fault of hers but more a part of my personaltiy and how I view myself in the sea of women friends and family surrounding me.

My mom was always quiet, soft-spoken, smart, totally organized, remembered every detail that needed remembering...

Of the above, I am smart.

That's it.

I know that doesn't mean something is wrong with me. I think it's natural to take the examples of femininity and beauty around me and internalize that as the "standard".

The problem, of course, is that while I do love girly stuff like goregous shoes and manicures, the resemblance stops there.

I am rarely quiet. I am outspoken and bold though I try to be kind. I'm hardly ever organized in a way that would make sense to someone else. I'm so consistently forgetful, my hubby no longer bats an eye when I run out of gas, leave clothes in the dryer, or wander around for two days with a dead cell phone.

I do not like chick flicks. I may be the only woman I know who remained unmoved by The Notebook. In fact, when they were floating in the pond of ducks and people all around me in the theater were sniffing away tears at the romance of it all, I was busy thinking, "I certainly hope they don't fall in. There has to be a LOT of duck poop floating around."

My hang-up is that I see women around me, both friends and family, who are such beautiful people inside and out and they are gentle, soft-spoken, and have full tanks of gas. I sometimes feel like a bold dash of brilliant red in a room full of pastels.

And yes, I know I was created to be who I am. I don't argue with that. I just sometimes struggle with feeling that maybe I'm less feminine and beautiful than the girl who can smile meekly in the face of rudeness while I'm already spouting off a snappy reply designed to put them firmly in their place.

Maybe I just need to recognize that strength comes in many forms. There is strength in remaining gentle toward those who don't deserve it. Strength in being soft-spoken and mild with others. And there is strength in rolling up your sleeves and wading in to the middle of life - swinging - if that is what it takes to stand up for truth.

I don't have any halfway mark for anything I do. I dive into life with determination that borders on reckless abandon. I don't see a lot of examples around me of women like me and I admit, some days it makes me wonder if I stand out to others the way I stand out to myself.

I believe there are no accidents. God created me as I am for His reasons and I just need to move beyond holding up the softer feminine images as my role models because those models just don't fit me.

One of these days, I'll be okay with that.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

If You Have Any Poo, Fling It Now!

*borrowed the title of this post from my favorite line in Madagascar*


Some people just need a crash course in basic manners. For example:

1. Don't shovel food into your mouth and then chew with your mouth wide open. While your mastication process is fascinating, I'm already familiar enough with the whole procedure that I'd rather not view it. And please, DON'T SPEAK. I prefer to eat my food sans crumb spray from your gaping mouth.

2. Don't neglect to RSVP for an event and then grace us with your presence anyway. I may act happy to see you but you are so NOT getting my share of the brownies I carefully portioned out with my guest list in mind.

3. DO NOT ALLOW YOUR DOG TO POOP ON MY LAWN AND THEN LEAVE IT THERE. It may come as a shock, I realize, that I do not consider it my job to shovel YOUR animal's fecal matter. If I happen to know where you live, I'll gladly return the doggie presents to your front porch (don't think I would? You don't know me well...)

What got me on this little rant? Two days ago, my kids were playing in our front yard. I was watching out my office window. Two women come walking by with one of those little stretched out hot-dog looking dogs. The dog was walking on my lawn. Right before my eyes, he squatted down and pooped. The women did nothing until they looked up and saw I was watching. Then they tugged the dog along and LEFT THE POOP.

Not on my watch, you don't. I don't feel like having one of my kids step in that little pile of joy and then track it into my house. Nor do I want my hubby's riding lawn mower to fling noxious little missiles at my house while he mows.

I snatched a plastic bag and ran out the door.

The women were almost off my property. My middle child (who has NO FILTER between what enters his head and what comes out of his mouth) was racing around them yelling,

"Hey! Your dog pooed over there. There's poo over there. You can't leave poo in our yard!"

Preach it, baby and can I get an amen?

I walked up to them and said, "Would you like a bag for that?"

They cleaned it up and left.

I saw them walking by yesterday.

Sans dog.

Wise.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Mini-vans of the World, Unite!

Mini-vans get a bad rap. Men (and women!), swear up and down they'd rather ride a Vespa cross-country in the dead of winter than own a mini-van. Commercials for new multi-passenger vehicles are quick to point out that while they can fit your whole family and a dog as well, they are NOT a mini-van.

Those of us who own a mini-van, regularly abuse it. See this for a perfect example.

Now, it seems, mini-vans are fighting back.

A few months ago, I was driving my kids and two of my friends to meet my hubby at the zoo. I drove through an intersection - turning left - and heard what sounded like a thousand marbles being dumped on the pavement.

Turns out the window on my sliding door decided that was as far as it was willing to go. It didn't swing out and drop. It didn't crack and fall. It simply stood still - while the rest of the van kept going - sliding along the side of the van until crashing to the pavement in our wake.

I thought that was bad.

This is worse.

A pastor in our church owns a mini-van, not nearly as old as mine. He pulled into his driveway, hopped out and came around to open the sliding door and release his children from their car seats. He grabbed the door handle, slid the door open, and watched in horror as the door shot off the back of the van and exploded into pieces on his driveway.

And you thought you had car trouble.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Bowling for Idiots

I am a talented woman.

I can speak in front of crowds, unplug toilets, write songs, poetry, and novels, and make a 20 minute drive to work in 11 minutes flat. (Of course, if you're reading this and you are a Williamson County Sheriff, Paul, or my mother, that last bit isn't true at all.)

But I cannot bowl worth beans.

Last night, I went bowling with friends and bowled an 81. I was PROUD of that! I bowled 1 strike, 2 spares, and only 4 gutter balls. That is a miracle of no small proportion.

Let's look at my previous attempts at bowling:

1. Last year, we went bowling as a family. The kids got bumpers on their turns. My hubby, over-ruling my vociferous protest, would not allow me to have bumpers as well. Something about "no grown woman needs bumpers to bowl". Right. The result was this:

Hubby - 190 or something equally irritating.
8 yr old - 90 something.
6 yr old - 70 something.
5 yr old using the time-honored granny approach - 60 something.
Me - 54.

And that's nowhere close to my worst.

2. One summer in high school, I stood at the lane, swung the ball to build momentum, and felt it fly backwards out of my hands and into the back of a very cute guy.

Still not my worst moment.

3. In junior high, our P.E. teacher came up with the brilliant idea of teaching a unit on bowling. We learned the theory, the technique, the strategy...one problem. We had no bowling balls, no pins, no lane, no rent-a-fungus shoes - nothing.

This was easily remedied by a class trip to the local bowling alley. To pass the bowling unit, we simply had to bowl reasonably well using the aforementioned theory, technique, and strategy.

When my turn came, I grabbed my 8lb. ball, slid around in my stylin' multi-colored shoes, and prepared to dazzle my teacher. I took 3 running steps, swung my arm forward, and ran into two problems, simultaneously.

Problem 1: The bowling ball was SUCTIONED onto my fingers and refused to be released.

Problem 2: My rent-a-fungus shoes had NO TRACTION and were easily persuaded by my considerable forward momentum to leave the floor.

Result: I belly-flopped onto the lane, arm perfectly extended, ball nicely aimed toward the center pin, and slid forward several feet.

That was bad. But worse, WORSE, was the acne-coated, squeaky-voiced post-teen manning the desk who felt it necessary to get on the loudspeaker and say -
"No one is allowed onto the lane. Please get off." - thereby ensuring that anyone who happened to miss the initial landing could still partake in the shameful spectacle that was me, trying to bowl.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Contest Update

The results are in: I didn't win this contest but I had some excellent competition and the winner deserved the prize. This was a fun and educational experience all around. (Now, off to put Alexa into another dangerous situation...)

Well, all the first round winners have their 5 pages posted and critiqued over at fff and I've read through them all. I love discovering new literary voices that mesmerize.

A few of those entries were so incredible to read. I had a few of those moments when time seems suspended and all other distractions fade as I was captivated completely by an idea, by poetic prose, or by a truly distinctive voice.

I feel honored to be part of this group of "second-rounders" and think there are several strong contenders for the grand prize.

The winner will be announced Thursday. I'll keep you posted.

My To Do List

1. Marry the man I can't live without - Check

2. Graduate from college - Check

3. Dye my hair an improbable shade of pink -

4. Cold-cock myself in the chin with my own breast - Check

5. Tour Ireland -

6. Tour Merced, California - Check

7. Knock myself silly on my own diningroom table - Check

8. Be on a game show -

9. Do a stand up comedy routine -

10. Star as a murderer in a film (highschool film, but still, I killed like nobody's business) - Check

11. Be mistaken for Marilyn Monroe -

12. Win a writing contest - Check

13. Unplug three toilets in under three minutes - Check

14. Publish a novel -

15. Meet Amy Grant - Check

16. Understand and appreciate Kafka -

17. Front a rock band -

18. Pretend to front a rock band - Check

19. Beat my husband in a game of poker - Check

20. Invent a working formula for becoming invisible -

21. Drive a Ferrari -

22. Own at least fifteen pair of totally smokin' shoes - Check

23. Get lost on the way to Big Bear and end up in Arizona - Check

24. Ski into a tree - Minus the skiis - Check

25. Become the Queen of Sequins at age 79 -

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Wardrobe Malfunction

I do not embarrass easily. Chalk it up to my lifelong lack of grace and coordination. Blame it on my own big mouth and my propensity for landing in awkward situations.

Whatever the reason, I am a hardy little soul when it comes to potential "move-to-Tunisia-and-change-your-name-to-Melba-Zitzuphat" moments.

Take the church's Christmas musical my ninth grade year. This was a huge to-do, with all the bells and whistles. A cast of high schoolers with period costumes and painted sets. An adult choir with over 75 members backing us up.

I had a starring role.

I practiced hard. I played the part of the stereotypical strict, irritable, old-maiden teacher faced with a class of rascals. My costume was a black suit from the forties and a yard stick (all the better to slap your knuckles with, my dear).

It should have been my shining moment.

One problem.

I was a size 4. The suit was a size 18. There was no time to alter. The costume manager decided safety pins would do the trick. The difference between a size 4 body and a size 18 garment is about ten large safety pins. The costume manager had three.

She pinned me up and sent me out on cue.

All was well, at first. I took my place on stage, a full crowd in front of me, the entire adult choir behind me. The director motioned for the play to start and we were off.

Disaster struck within two minutes.

Four lines in, my blocking called for me to hurry across the stage and wack the yard stick in the general direction of the afore-mentioned rascals.

I hurried.

I wacked.

The safety pins broke.

Not good.

My skirt headed quickly for my ankles. I snatched the fabric at my waist with my free hand and held on for dear life.

The good news: The audience never knew. I gestured wildly with the yard stick, kept my other hand on my waist, and faced forward at all times just in case.

The bad news: I forgot about the choir (waiting in the darkness behind me for the moment when the play would end and their triumphant song begin.)

About the time I remembered the 75 adults behind me (many of whom were good friends with my parents and had known me for years), I realized it was breezy up on stage. And I was feeling the breeze on skin supposedly covered by that blasted skirt.

So yes, there I was, in church, surrounded by grown-ups with nothing else to look at, and the back waistband of my skirt was hanging down around my knees.

I was not embarrassed. There was no point. The cow had already left the barn and all that was left was to be thankful that my underwear had the good sense to stay firmly in place.

Friday, May 4, 2007

My Personal Standard

I recently heard a writer say there is no such thing as good or bad writing. Our writing is as good as we think it is and we should bolster our spirits with this knowledge whenever we hit a roadblock in the publishing world.

I do not agree.

This is like the current elementary school trend of giving N's and S's instead of letter grades or the club sports systems that no longer hand out trophies or announce winners at the games.

Are we so worried about our self-esteem that we are willing to completely lower the bar and remove even a hint of competition or standards? Does it really make us feel good about ourselves when we don't have to work for anything at all?

I don't think so.

I think we will drown in a sea of mediocrity if we aren't careful.

I am NO GOOD at math or science. Even if I choose to apply myself, the concepts refuse to make sense to me, my brain rejects them outright, and I struggle. I never did well in math class. So what? Should I have been give an "S" because I tried?

No.

I deserved the grades I got. I earned those. And my self-esteem didn't suffer. Know why? Because all those people with incredible left brain skills were put to shame by my creative writing and my ability in drama class.

I didn't hit the standard in math or science.

I set the standard in writing and drama.

Fast-forward to my adult years. I am a writer. I am not yet published. I don't feel bad about that because I am on a journey of improving my craft. Any writer worth their salt is always improving their craft in the same way I imagine athletes improve their skills with practice or a lawyer wins more cases the longer he/she practices law.

We can fearlessly label our writing with whatever term it currently deserves and move forward. I've written scenes that were incredible works of art. Good writing. I've written scenes that stunk worse than five-month old Swiss. Bad writing.

There is a standard. We cannot lose that, even on the days when it would make us feel better.

I refuse to be soft just to make myself feel better for a day. I'd rather see clearly and someday be published and know, when I see my name on the NYT Bestsellers list that I earned it. It won't be given to me to guard my precious self-esteem. NYT, USA Today, Hollywood studios buying film rights...none of them are concerned with my feelings. They just want great writing.

I will earn it because I worked to make bad writing good and good writing great.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

They Make Shampoos For That

Ooooh, he's going to kill me when he reads this.

So, tonight at work two of my friends got into a little friendly battle with each other. Since I use nicknames here rather than give away true identities (who knew working in a restaurant could be so James Bond?), I'll call them Waif and Dragon-master (I'm calling him that to try to earn a way back into his good graces...).

Dragon-master got Waif with some ice. Dragon-Master taunted Waif throughout the night. Dragon-master played mind games because that is what he lives for.

Waif got fed up and came to me. We talked. I commiserated. She mentioned a plan to get him back that consisted of dumping one tiny packet of sugar down his back. Guaranteed itch for the rest of the night. It was a good idea.

I had a better one. Like an idiot, I opened my mouth. (Why do I call myself an idiot for that? Because Dragon-master is one of my best friends. Because honestly, in any battle at work, I'm on his side first. Because he knows where I live.)

The next thing I know, I'm talking to Dragon-Master when Waif comes up behind him and tries to sprinkle cinnamon on his hair. Yes, this is my idea. I didn't actually think she'd do it, but she did. I thought it would be fitting retribution without being truly messy or horrible or hard to clean up.

One problem.

The cinnamon didn't come out. Dragon-master, unaware of his grim fate, kept talking to me. Waif became impatient and SHOOK that can of cinnamon over his head.

The little plastic door holding back the "scoop-up-some-cinnamon-in-a-spoon" side of the can FLEW OPEN. Cinnamon rained down upon Dragon-master's head, piling up a good three inches before the excess slid down his neck, puddling across his shoulders and down his spine.

I have a confession to make. I'm laughing so hard RIGHT NOW, I can hardly type. I laughed harder then.

Dragon-master didn't know what hit him. Really. Apparently the overwhelming scent of cinnamon did not provide a clue. (I know, I know...comments like that are going to keep me in hot water.)

He demanded to know what was on his head. We told him. He did the natural thing, the thing that WOULD HAVE WORKED, had Waif not dumped half a can on his head, and tried to brush it off.

Apparently, cinnamon does not brush. It clings.

He stood there, all wounded dignity and exasperated male pride while small drifts of orange cinnamon shifted around his hair but remained largely in place.

He brushed harder and succeeded in turning his entire head orange.

I laughed so hard I cried. My cheeks hurt. My ribs ached.

He finally stuck his head in a sink and scrubbed.

The rest of the night, everytime he walked past me I was treated to a pleasant blast of cinnamon. Unfortunately, he couldn't rinse out his shirt so his shoulders bore suspicious-looking orange flakes.

Waif, who turned out to be a smack-talker of the first order, couldn't resist calling out to him that "They make shampoos for that, you know."

He has declared war. On Waif. On me. Why me? Because it was my idea originally, even though I didn't actually DO anything? Because I laughed a little? (Well okay, a lot but heck, it was totally entertaining.)

Retribution is coming. It will take a while because, as I mentioned earlier, Dragon-master lives for mind games.

I'd like to make it up to him. Perhaps baking some cinnamon rolls for him would do the trick.

Dragon-master has requested that I amend this post to include the first step in his payback to Waif.

Later that evening, right before we left work, Waif was sitting, facing me, getting ready to go out with her boyfriend. Dragon-master walked up behind her and pretended to have something in his hands to pour over her. Waif (did I mention she likes to smack-talk???), couldn't resist taunting him. Dragon-master ripped open a packet of honey and poured it on her head and down her back.

Life in my restaurant is never dull.

The Mechanical One

My parents are coming out to visit soon. Every time my dad comes to town, he likes me to have a list of projects for him to tackle. Anything from a squeaky door to installing a new fuse box makes him happy.

He's always been the mechanical one in our family.

My childhood is filled with memories of my dad fixing, building, and installing. My dad always seemed to do everything right.

Until one Christmas.

Christmas is a big deal in my family. We decorate the day after Thanksgiving and go all out. Ornaments, tinsel, and lights galore. Nativity scenes, candles shaped like trees, garland, and one very special brass-plated candle holder with cherubic angels flying over the top of the flames, ringing little bells as they go.

You know the piece. You light four skinny little candles and heat causes the angels to fly. The only drawback to it is that to store it, you have to break it down into small pieces.

Some assembly required.

No problem. We have my dad.

This particular Christmas, he sets to work assembling the flying-angels-who-ring-bells-over-candles doo-hickey. My sister and I watch. We've volunteered our services for this project and been turned down. Soundly.

My dad has designed and built houses, remodeled bathrooms, breathed life into dying appliances. He does not need help assembling a paltry Christmas decoration.

We begin offering our opinions. "That's not right, Dad. The angels aren't facing the right way."

He becomes irritable. We offer one opinion too many and he snaps out his famous last words:

"Don't tell me what to do. I'm the mechanical one in the family, remember?"

We remember. We are silenced. We watch as he installs the last brass cherub and lights the candles.

The angels hover in suspended silence for a moment as the flames grow. Then, it happens.

The flames create wind. The wind pushes the angels. The angels fly serenely in a cirle. The bells tinkle.

It is a rare and amazing thing to see four little angels all flying butt-first.

My dad has never lived it down.

Less Equals More

When I completed my first novel, I was proud. Excited. Thrilled. Confident that it was perfect as-is.

I sent queries to serveral publishers and agents. When my manuscript was requested within a week from a major publisher, I was proud. Excited. Thrilled. Confident that the editor would see my novel as perfect, as-is.

When she replied to me a month later that she loved the story but the length was a problem and if I chose to edit it, she would reconsider it, I was not as proud, excited, thrilled or confident.

She wanted 30,000 words edited. Erased. Gone for good.

30,000.

That's a 3 with four zeros after it.

That's a lot of words.

I was determined to do it. I was worried my story wouldn't survive the chop. When I finished the edit, I cut 32,000 words and my story improved immeasurably. Fast-paced. No extraneous anything to detract from the suspense or character-building. I grabbed the reader from page one and said, "Hang on, it's going to be an exhilarating ride."

I leared something valuable. Less is more. Don't take four paragraphs to say what can be shown in a sentence or two of dialogue. Don't belabor an emotional turning point with a character when you can convey the same thing using action. Get rid of "that" as much as possible. Knock off the "huffed, chortled, exclaimed etc." and stick with "said and asked". It improves the flow and is less distracting to the reader. Make sure your pages have a lot of white space. Only fans of Clancy or Kafka like to see four pages of solid, dense exposition.

Say volumes in eloquent, precise prose and trust your reader to follow you.

Action really does speak louder than "words".

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Chess Pieces

This weekend we went to a cookout with some friends. As we sat around chatting, one father mentioned that he and his son like to play chess together.

My father liked to play chess with me as well. He has this gorgeous hand-carved chess board from his time in Italy. The pieces are rendered in blonde or chocolate colored wood.

When I was in fifth grade, we moved from Oregon to California and had to rent a house while we looked for one to buy. This house was fine on the outside but I kid you not, the inside was ugly enough to give you an unpleasant shock every time you stepped in the door.

Flat brown argyle pattern carpet (who knew they made that??) in the bathroom with brilliant turquoise and green and white patterned wallpaper (if that somehow sounds attractive to you, take a moment to slap yourself silly) and a bright, rainbow striped shower curtain that oddly enough contained not a trace of brown, turquoise, green, or white (in other words, nothing that could remotely be considered to actually match any other color in the room).

And that was just the bathroom.

But I digress.

The living room was a dark cave with literally no windows at all. You could light a few lamps and give it some ambience but the truth was, it was always rather dim. We kept our chess board at the end of our coffee table, farthest from the light of the adjoining room.

Now, to have this story make sense, I must tell you that we were (and remain) a cat family. Cats, when they aren't busy sleeping, like to mess with your stuff. Our cats especially loved to knock the chess pieces off the board and fling them around the living room floor.

One fine day, it was my turn to straighten the living room. As I moved through it, dusting under my mom's huge collection of glass what-have-yous, I noticed a pile of chess pieces on the floor next to the board.

I put down the dust cloth and approached the pile.

Dark chess pieces, three of them, lying there in a haphaazard pile. Waiting for me.

I bent down, stretched out my hand and some indistinct voice at the back of my brain screamed, "WAIT!!!! All the dark chess pieces are still on the board!!!!"

Alas, the message did not travel fast enough and I scooped up three pieces of cat poop in my bare hand.

Ewwwww, I know.

Because my family is as warped as you, they laughed til they cried (okay, I laughed too. AFTER I scrubbed my hands.). From then on, we referred to cat poop as chess pieces.

I've never looked at chess the same way since.

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