Writing is like being able to put life into a snow globe. It takes the things that are too big and scary and reduces them into a form that I can put away when I want and look at from a distance. It also takes all that’s good in life and captures it into something I can take out when I want and look at close up and keep forever. It makes the bad things into something I can hold…and the good things into something I can hold onto. Both help so much that I need that little souvenir of life.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Improper Poll: When Memory Serves

Along the lines of “when I am old, I shall wear purple,” I’ve decided that I shall buy mismatched plates to use according to my mood. And in an uncharacteristic stroke of luck, I recently ran across a china pattern that my late grandmother had. On sale.  I took it as a sign.

I bought two place settings. Every time I see them, I get a little giggly thrill because I’m instantly transported to my grandmother’s house. The emptier those plates are, the fuller I feel.

Her birthday would have been this week. Or would you say, “is” this week, since the day still exists even though she doesn’t? Go figure—that wasn’t even my question, though I would love to hear how you’d phrase that.  Also, for me the photo is creating the optical illusion that the center part protrudes rather than recedes.  Is it just me?

Anyhoo.  My question is: Do you have something that reminds you of a loved one and just makes you feel good inside?

Friday, July 29, 2011

Book Blurb Friday #22

It’s Book Blurb Friday! This fun meme from Lisa Ricard Claro’s Writing in the Buff challenges us to take each week’s picture and use it as a prompt for a book jacket blurb of 150 words or fewer that makes potential readers feel compelled to buy the book. Mine this week has 147 words.

~Listening Lydia~

“And these voices,” said Dr. Sullivan, “do they tell you to do anything?”

“Even weirder,” said Lydia, twisting her tiny white hands together, the bones looking oddly like bird wings. “It’s all nonsense. Like scraps of conversations here and there. Things like, ‘guess that’s what you call a coop de grass.’”

Marcy Sullivan’s head snapped up. “What did you say? Don’t you mean ‘coup de grâce’?”

Lydia’s hands kept twisting. “No, that’s what I mean. It doesn’t even make sense. The voices in my head are as crazy as I am.”

Marcy looked down at her own hands this time. What was it her brother had said at dinner last night? That their mother had finally decided to have the henhouse torn down and planted with sod. “Guess that’s what you call a coop de grass,” he’d joked.

Were the voices in Marcy’s schizophrenic patient’s mind…Marcy’s voices?

All the arts depend upon telepathy to some degree, but I believe that writing offers the purest distillation. ~Stephen King, On Writing

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

When Last We Meet

 My children have been involved in the neighborhood swim team since they were practically toddlers. The wonderful coaches taught them to swim. Amazing to me that I have now watched them grow up to be lifeguards and coaches themselves.

Monday night was our last regular meet. As in, last ever. Of course I’ll miss it. I’ll miss the way the pool goes from blue to fluorescent turquoise at night and the way splashes briefly explode against the evening lights like liquid fireworks. I’ll miss the lazy background lull of cicadas and the smell of chlorine and the spidery brown children with bleached hair. I’ll miss the familiar chant of the starter, “Timers clear your watches. Swimmers take your mark. Go.”

Now that we’ve come full circle, I can’t help but notice how our worlds kept widening like ripples from a water droplet in a pool. When my children were little, I cheered for them. Then I learned to cheer for the ones on our team. Lately I’ve found myself cheering for all of them—especially the ones who need cheering the most. At some point I stopped noticing who was on what team.

Lo and behold, all those years I was growing up, too. And now I have the real prize—I learned in the end what winning really is.

Be careful to leave your sons well instructed rather than rich, for the hopes of the instructed are better than the wealth of the ignorant.~Epictetus

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Improper Poll: Petty Potty Peeves

The commercial said to talk about what we really want in toilet paper. What I want most is the good old days when toilet paper came in a roll that fit on the spool. I bought it and it performed its intended duties.

It’s the deception that bothers me. When my pleasantly-plump toilet paper went on a diet and started coming out of the plastic looking as lean and wiry as if it had been running the Boston marathon, it bothered me that paper companies tried to pretend it had always looked like that. My toilet paper formerly-known-as-normal then became known as the “Double” or "Mega" roll.

Quite often the packaging hides the size of the roll. Remember the old commercial about squeezing? I’ve become such a squeezer that I really do worry that passers-by will think I have a creepy need to feel up toilet paper. Squeezing taught me that some sneaky companies were simply rolling them loosely. They looked like a double roll, but it was all an elaborate toilet paper ruse.

The thing is, I fight enough with my family about changing the roll. I don’t want something that’s half gone before it ever gets going and has to be changed twice as often.

So after careful squeezing, this is what I bought the other day (above, right). When I took it out of the opaque packaging, it was clear that although the girth of the roll was plenty plus-sized by today’s standards, the spool was a full ¼ inch shorter than it used to be. They’ve come up with new ways to shrink my toilet paper! And now I'll have to grope it in multiple directions before buying.

Note to toilet paper companies: I don’t want perfumes, cosmetics, or lotions. I don’t care about how the plies are knitted together. I don’t need little designs. I don’t consider strength to be an issue. I don’t particularly enjoy going…anywhere that involves toilet paper. I just want my stupid toilet paper roll to fit on the stupid roller and not have to be changed everyday. And I don’t want you to pretend there hasn’t been shrinkage.


Do you have a pet peeve about household products?

Friday, July 22, 2011

Book Blurb Friday #21

It’s Book Blurb Friday, a meme from Lisa Ricard Claro’s Writing in the Buff in which 150 words or fewer must sell a fictional book. I found this week’s picture compelling from so many standpoints that any accompanying plot just had to feel meaningful. The gentle hints of conflicting emotion playing on that tear-streaked face make the statue as enigmatic to me as the Mona Lisa herself. Lisa once made the comment that “some weeks the plot resonates more than others.” This is one I really would like to write, so thank you to Lisa and to Sioux for the inspiring photo!

~Fall from Grace~
At the intersection of love, mystery, fantasy and legend, there is Grace….

Distraught over dealing with his mentally ill mother, Jayde Calvert took a trek with his buddies to Our Lady of Sorrows Cemetery one night in drunken pursuit of "The Gray Girl”—a statue legendary among high school students. It was said that to climb up and kiss the tear-streaked statue of The Gray Girl meant that the stone’s suitor would be issued one wish. But as Jayde wished for emotional peace, he fell and struck his head, leaving him in a coma.

What took place inside Jayde’s suspended mind was a fantastical journey that is not to be missed, a soul-embracing tryst with the amazing, flesh-and-blood Gray Girl, Grace Lamp, that would forever change more lives that just Jayde’s…whether or not he ever awoke.

Don’t miss Book II, Amazing Grace, and Book III, Saving Grace.
(147 words)

In dreams, we enter a world that's entirely our own. ~Steven Kloves (screenplay), Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, 2004, spoken by Albus Dumbledore

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Improper Poll: Father May I Have More Characters

Last Friday, Lisa Ricard Claro made a comment about my character who avoided marriage because her father had told her that men were evil. Where I grew up there really was a little retired schoolteacher in my neighborhood I’ll call Miss Amelia Plimpton (name has been changed, but not much). Miss Plimpton lived in a huge, historic home all by herself and had never married due to her father’s dire warnings about men.

The irony wasn’t lost on children, even.

I know about her reasoning because my mom was into taking “poor old souls” under her wing. Apparently there was a long list of things that “Father” found dangerous, but another memorable one was left-hand turns. My mother tried taking Miss Plimpton to the doctor, but driving trips had to be plotted at length and executed with enormous care in order to avoid the dreaded left-hand turns. It’s an understatement to say that when my mom returned from outings with Miss Plimpton, she looked rattled.

At times like that that, my dad brought on the Miss Plimpton impression. “Oh horrors, Father always said that toilets were dangerous because you might slip and fall in, so I use coffee cans, but only the slow roast, because Father didn’t like instant….” And my mom would do that thing where she couldn’t decide whether to laugh or scold, so she did both: “Oh hush!”

Miss Plimpton was far from the only unusual person in that neighborhood. Maybe it’s because I grew up with so many, but once I reached a certain age, I started attracting characters. And that’s okay with me.

If I got on a city bus and there were two seats left, one next to a businessman immersed in his laptop and one next to a woman wearing a garbage bag over her clothes and an aluminum foil hat, more often than not I would choose the foil-hat-lady as long as she looked harmless and I didn’t have anything pressing I needed to do during the ride. I told that to a friend once, and she clearly thought I was very strange. But what an opportunity!

Did you grow up with weird characters? And do you think they helped shape you as a writer? Which one would you sit next to on the bus?

Friday, July 15, 2011

Book Blurb Friday #20

Welcome to Book Blurb Friday, a meme from Writing in the Buff. Each week, Lisa Ricard Claro posts a picture of a fictional book cover, and the challenge is to come up with an accompanying blurb of 150 words or fewer. I counted120 words this week.

~At the End of the Rainbow Bridge~
Father had warned Dorothea Cumberton about the evils of men, so Dorothea, ever the good daughter, never married. Yet she was devastated when she lost her beloved Irish terrier, Leprechaun. When she tried to retreat to her bed to forget, she was plagued by dreams of meeting Chaun at the foot of a bridge—and always at the end of his leash was The Man with the Kind Face. Was Dorothea’s dear dog trying to give her one last gift from beyond?

Dorothea would find out when she went to have Chaun’s headstone carved and met Pat O’Gold. But Pat, it seemed, had a mystery in his past. Was Father right? Was he evil in spite of his kind face?

A good friend is a connection to life—a tie to the past, a road to the future, the key to sanity in a totally insane world. ~Lois Wyse

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

New Leash on Life

A while back, I mentioned that our 15-year old dog had a large, benign eye growth that the vet said couldn’t be removed because a general anesthetic was too risky. It grew to be so enormous, it looked like he was missing an eye. He was pawing and rubbing at it constantly, not just because it was obstructing his vision, but because it was irritating the eye itself. He’d even occasionally rub parts of it off, which would buy him a few days of semi-relief. It also meant he bled all over his eye, us, and the house. I can’t imagine the constant discomfort he must've had.

It just happened that I found another vet who thought he could sedate Buddy enough to cauterize the growth with a local anesthetic, but on the day of the procedure, I got a call. After taking a better look, the vet realized that the thing was rooted in too massively for cauterization. It would have to be cut out under the riskier general anesthetic.

Fortunately this vet and his associate have both worked at emergency clinics. He assured me they were “pretty good with” anesthetics. Buddy not only made it through the surgery, but he did so well that the vet gave him a partial tooth cleaning (free of charge) and a good nail clipping. If only he’d given our rather dandruffy dog a bath….

One day after eye surgery
 That was one week ago. It was clear almost immediately that Buddy was much happier, even with his eye shaved, swollen and stitched together. Now the swelling is almost gone, and Buddy plays with toys and wags his tail again. He pranced yesterday. Pranced!

Six days after eye surgery

Many, many thanks to Dr. Brad Waltman for improving our dear Budster’s quality of life. And as always, thank you so much for your thoughts and prayers!

Friends are God’s way of taking care of us. ~ Anonymous

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Improper Poll: When Bugs Attack

Last week's responses reminded me of the many bug encounters I’ve had throughout my life. One of them was when I was a teenager and a cicada flew into my hair while I was sitting around a campfire in the woods. My so-called friends did not rescue me, but instead ran away, pointing to my head with horrified faces. If hair came with an eject button, I would have detached the whole river-soaked business off my head and started over with a fresh, cicada-free batch right then and there.

But the most frightening was when I lived in Richmond Hill, Georgia, outside of Savannah, and was laying sod. I’d pick up a slab and slap it against my torso and walk it to where it needed to be. One of those times I dropped the sod, a furious mass of fire ants was left. On my chest. Like a bib you might wear for eating lobster, but picture the lobsters eating you instead, hundreds and hundreds of them, in miniature perhaps, but vicious and venomous and really really angry that you just moved their house, and with no rubber bands on their little pincer claws.

I had never encountered fire ants till I moved down South. But when I did, I was shocked that Southerners matter-of-factly train their children to avoid “fahr ant” nests and then go about their business as if it’s normal to have these subjects of a sensationalistic National Geographic special living all around you.

Fire ants masquerade as normal ants, but they have a bite that stings like fire, furious dispositions, and a talent for working with their brethren until they are one oozing mass of killer destruction. I admit that even as an adult, I couldn’t resist the temptation to poke sticks at fire ant hills just to watch them come boiling up out of the bowels of hell like a mini-volcano spewing a molten mass of teaming ant-fury. If the children were bored, sometimes we’d go on fire ant expeditions in the backyard. I know it was a horrible thing to teach my children, but those creatures never ceased to fascinate me.

Which is perhaps why I was always blundering into their nests.

During the Sod Incident, they were moving en masse up my shirt, mere inches from engulfing my face like the victim in a bad horror flick. As if in a nightmare, I remember trying to scream and nothing came out but a strangled little sound. “Urk.” Which is probably a good thing, because I didn’t need to attract attention disrobing there in my front yard. I was also flailing and running faster than I’ve ever run in my life. Once in my garage, I flung my tee-shirt as far as it would go and did a heebie-jeebie dance that lasted not only through a hot shower, but through the better part of an hour, and then returned periodically throughout the day…and ever since, as a matter of fact. I am in fact heebie-jeebieing right now.

Because although that was about ten years ago, to this day I panic a tiny bit when I see an ant, even the benign Northern kind. You never know if they’ve mutated….

Have you ever been attacked by bugs?

Friday, July 8, 2011

Book Blurb Friday #19

Welcome to Book Blurb Friday, a meme from Writing in the Buff. Each week, Lisa Ricard Claro posts a picture of a fictional book cover. The challenge is to come up with an accompanying blurb of 150 words or fewer. This week I counted141 words.

~Dead Lines~
Jonathan and Emma congratulated themselves. In spite of being young newlyweds, they were smart enough to be able to buy Seabaugh Farm, a place they never could have afforded if it weren’t supposedly haunted by Audrey Seabaugh, the town’s legend who had murdered her sister’s fiancé in a fit of jealousy and then killed herself.

But after Jonathan set up an office in the barn as a place to work on his novel in his spare time, the letters began appearing in the old typewriter he found in the loft. “My Dearest Johnny Boy….” It had to be a joke, of course, but the letters were so juicy and enticing that Jonathan played along. Did his wife really have such a raunchy side?

But it became clear that the letter-writer not only wasn’t Emma, it was someone who wanted her dead….

The biggest thing separating people from their artistic ambitions is not a lack of talent. It’s the lack of a deadline. ~No Plot? No Problem, by Chris Baty

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Ten Things: Yet MORE Good Things About Getting Old!

21. We can get away with more stuff. Old people are stereotypically so harmless that no one suspects us of anything. I think it’s because we sometimes don’t have the energy to be really awful. Or maybe because we look too much like someone’s mom.

22. I feel so empowered because no one yells at me anymore. They’re all younger than I am and are a little scared of me.

23. At school, I can leave my coat out and no teenager will steal it because it has cooties of sorts. Though a male teacher did walk off with it once thinking it was his.

24. Young people—even girls—hold doors for me.

25. It’s harder to see those chin hairs with my eyesight going.

26. It’s harder to see the backs of my legs due to my increasing decrepitude.

27. I don’t mind writing entire blog posts about my intestines.

28. My friends apparently don’t mind reading posts about my intestines, bless them, and even leave comments so I don’t feel like I’m the only one.

29. I’ve been through enough awful stuff that it takes very little to make me feel happy and lucky.

30. That hair that’s growing where no hair should grow becomes less noticeable because—as if the aforementioned isn’t bad enough—it’s turned white.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Improper Poll: Waiter, What is That in My Soup?

Last week, Valthevictorian mentioned she ate Hair Soup. But it was a clean hair.

No offense to Val, but that’s just not remotely gross in my book. We have a dog that sheds so massively, I hate to think how much of his hair probably makes it into our food. And I wouldn’t call it clean, either.

But the worst thing I ever ate was when I made some stew. The recipe called for ground pepper and paprika. After I’d eaten most of a bowl, I noticed that the pepper looked too…uniform. And it had an odd sheen to it. Let’s just say that, after I examined my stew (and then the paprika) with a magnifying lens, I lost my appetite. For at least ten years—at least when it came to stew. I still can’t touch beef stew without examining it closely.

Have you ever found anything disgusting in your food?

Friday, July 1, 2011

Book Blurb Friday #18

What a week! Won’t get into it now, but life’s been crazy enough that it’s made me a bit late for Book Blurb Friday, a meme from Writing in the Buff. Each week, Lisa Ricard Claro posts a picture of a fictional book cover. The challenge is to come up with an accompanying blurb of 150 words or fewer. This week’s came in at 149 words.
~Blind Draw~ 
by Annie Up
When they were engaged, Tom joked to Tina that he would have affairs after they were married. Tina merely smiled and promised Tom that if he did, she would have three for every one of his. How would Tom dare to risk those odds? Tom traveled as a professional poker player, true, but Tina never hurt for male admirers when she wanted them.  And...she was psychic.

Years later, when Tom (“The Seven Card Stud”) had come to realize that there was far more to Tina than met the eye, he would be forced to look at their son and realize that his own actions meant he now had to question the boy’s paternity. The young man was, after all, nothing like Tom.

And Tina was always honest. Had she meant her promise? If so, who were the three? Tom couldn’t make any accusations without pointing the finger at himself.

My philosophy, like color television, is all there in black and white~Monty Python