Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Do You Hear What I Hear?

So, David made a good point this weekend.

Which he often does, being an insightful guy. I told him about my post on Saturday and how I'm thinking I might just give up on trying to have music, too. After all, I said to him, I have words and I can draw, paint and sculpt passably. I can quilt and "have an eye for color," our real estate agent says. I have so many venues to express myself creatively, maybe I can just give music a pass.

But you already have music, he told me. Which surprised me.

You sing around the house all the time, he said. I hear you singing. You already have music.

And I realized he's right. I have music running through my head all the time. Sometimes I sing along. Just because I don't sing well enough for anyone to want to listen or because I don't play an instrument (I'm just NOT counting the harp playing) doesn't mean that music isn't there for me. I've been so fixed on the idea that I needed to be able to play music, that I missed what I really love about music in the first place:

I love that space where words and music intersect. It's fascinating to me how, when words are sung, they're intensified by the melodies and harmonies behind them. What I would love to do is write lyrics. I wonder how one gets into that if one isn't, say cleaning house for an aging former-80s pop icon? When I was having dinner before seeing Legally Blonde on Broadway, the guy at the table next to me turned out to be a lyricist. He was having dinner with the gal who composed the music (who'd run off to take a phone call). She'd found him, it turned out. Just like it happened for Drew Barrymore.

Where is Hugh Grant when I need him?

Monday, March 30, 2009

Our First Spat

Alas, the Kindle honeymoon is over.

No, he didn't let me down. Didn't stand me up or fail to be there when I needed him. And really, the love affair is still strong. I just discovered one of his flaws. Inevitable in every romance.

It turns out I can't buy books for my Kindle-having friends.

I thought I could go to Amazon, buy several books for my friend Karen's birthday and send them to her Kindle. Instant birthday present! She turned me onto the Kindle in the first place so it seemed good and right to do this.

But I can't.

I can give her a gift certificate, says the Amazon guy. Or send her the hard copies. We can actually share registries and trade books. But I'm old-fashioned, and a writer to boot: I want the author to get her sale out of it. I don't want to send a generic gift c, I want to send a specific book. A specific series, in fact. Giving a friend a book you love is a way of communicating, of sharing the experience. It's a letter, written in someone else's voice.

If Amazon wants to change how we read books, they'll have to get a grip on this.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Words and Music By...

My friend, Linda Ceriello, asked me interesting questions about writers and creativity the other day. She's one of my oldest friends, dating back to third grade, though we suffered a vast chasm of difference starting with seventh-grade angst that lasted twenty years. It's funny that we were really only friends for four years, which should be negligible in the grand scheme. But the friendship was an intense meeting of like minds then and I find I enjoy the same things about her now.

I've been mulling her ideas since -- whether writers like to analyze their artistic process so much because words are our medium. As opposed to, say, painters. She elected to leave musicians out of the equation, as a whole other kettle of fish, and I can appreciate her point. I've long been interested that authors will frequently choose painters as protagonists in books, usually in a transparent metaphor for the writer herself. There's a certain two-sides-of-the-same coin aspect to writing and painting. Whereas musicians feel to me like the writer's antipode. They seem to understand a world that has no words. Even though lyrics can be part of a song, the music part is this whole other aspect that, while it speaks to me, is also impenetrable to me.

David and I have this long-standing conversation that revolves around his hearing the music and me hearing the lyrics. The new Nickelback song, about the girl on the dance floor being so much cuter with something in her mouth, I don't like so much. It irritates me, that whole attitude that a woman is most attractive with a piece of anatomy shoved in her mouth -- and we all know it's not the thumb. David, who used to play lead guitar in a band, likes the song, but didn't know what it was about until I told him. And he still doesn't care -- and, no guys, not because he agrees with the sentiment -- but because that's not a relevant part of the song to him. Conversely, he gets frustrated with me when I can't tell that a song is using the same melody played at a different rythm. I just can't hear it, I tell him.

I have an Irish harp and I've been taking lessons for several years now. I did this deliberately, to learn to understand music. I have this idea that I can get to the point where I look at a sheet of music and all the notes will mean something to me in the same way words do. It's hard for me, to both read the sheet music and watch my finger placement on the strings. I frequently lose my place on the page -- something that has never happened to me at a reading. The words are there for me in a way the music isn't. People think I'm being modest when I tell them I don't play the harp well at all. Believe me, I don't.

Frankly, I doubt I ever will.

A writing friend told me yesterday that she believes anyone can be a writer. That with enough study and dedication, everyone can learn to write a book. She's also big on learning the rules of genre fiction and gave me critique on my novel based on how many words I have on a given page. And I don't think she's wrong. I think it's probably good advice. But when she describes longer paragraphs as daunting mountains for a reader, it makes me think that I don't see words on the page in the same way.

I don't see paragraphs and lines of words, I see the images they evoke, the sounds and smells of the story. But then, I don't hear the music when I look at a sheet of music.

I've often said that writing is a funny art to practice because pretty much anyone can write something down. I suppose anyone can plunk on a guitar or scribble a drawing. But in some indefinable way, it's harder to discern when the writing achieves something more than stick figures and chopsticks. So, Linda, maybe that's why writers spend so much time talking and writing about creativity and process. We're trying to find how to define our art.

I feel certain (no qualifier) it's not by the number of words on a page.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Snow Day

We managed to fly into Denver last night, my colleague and I. Which is saying something because we first got diverted to Grand Junction, to sit on the tarmac while we refueld and the visibility improved at DIA. We were happy to get there, so it wasn't so bad the roads were too bad for us to strike out for our homes, north of Denver. We'd go stay at my mom's empty house and have comfort food at The Bent Fork.

But it was closed. So was the Bent Noodle, my other neighborhood fave. The Bent Noodle's recording said that they'd closed at 1:25 in the afternoon, for their employees' safety. Schools were closed yesterday and, as I sit writing this, lookin over the commons and the path that leads to my old grade school, Polton, a path that is blanketed in pristine white, not scuffed by schoolchildren, it appears they're closed again today.

I remember wishing for snow days as a kid. We'd be all hopeful the night before, watching the snow fall. I had an advantage because Leo was a vice-principle and at the top of the telephone tree for school cancellation. The phone would ring around 5:30am. No phone call meant I was going to school. If the phone rang, I could turn off my alarm and go back to sleep, delighted in the unexpected holiday. Leo would warn me though: don't get too excited, it takes a lot for them to cancel school.

This just doesn't seem like a lot to me. Nothing like the big storms of my youth. Yes the roads are obnoxious, but hardly worth shutting down a city. Not the Mile-High City. For two days in a row.

I suppose some of this is simply Denver becoming so much larger and more complex over the last 35 years. When we moved into this house, Parker Road was the highway, I-225 hadn't been built and Peoria & Yale were dirt roads with a four-way stop at the intersection. Those that live in the area now know how different it looks than that. A bigger metropolis means more that can go wrong. "They do that to keep people off the roads," my mom says of the hair-trigger closures.

In the eighties, though, I remember our parents talking about the influx of Californians. Housing prices had crashed out there and West Coasters were moving to Colorado in droves. People called Fort Collins "Fort California." The refrain was: sure, they like it now because the weather has been so warm and the winters so mild. Just wait for one good winter and they'll turn tail and run back to Californy. Everyone felt sure they'd learn their lesson or toughen up.

It never occurred to us that the reverse might happen, that we would learn their softness.

Denver no longer seems to plow through. There's only one or two good snows in a winter anymore, so perhaps the city can afford the luxury of shutting down.

Just wait for one good winter and we'll see.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Not from Around These Here Parts

My New Hampshire boss complains about the aesthetics of the West.

In this way, Lincoln is a city of the West, while otherwise most of us would lump it into the Midwest. She doesn't like the lack of trees, the ugly buildings, the inefficient parking garage. She asks why the storage sheds are purple and orange, if people really believe rocks on astroturf are a good landscaping choice and why no one tries to disguise their Dumpsters.

While it irritates me, I find it hard to defend.

My North Carolina father, when he arrived in Colorado to attend the Air Force Academy, wrote home that he'd never seen a thousand shades of brown before. And I remember when I first saw Kentucky (where my boss grew up), I thought it looked artificial, a theme park of emerald grass and alabaster fences, gleaming horses trotting about for show. But this isn't about the acquired appreciation for the aesthetic of the western landscape, for the sere plains and treeless crags. This is about culture. About the difference between people who build pretty little fences around their Dumpsters, painted to match the building, and those who figure garbage is garbage and why dress it up?

Some call it western practicality, implying an attention to something greater than frou-frou considerations. I'd hazard that it's an extension of the frontier mentality, living on the edge of survival, where all energy is focused on food and shelter and marauding cattle thieves, not on painting the ranch house. The thing is, those days are long over, but the stubbornness lingers. Western folks take pride in not caring, just like they take pride in not having the good stuff.

"We don't need that...." "We call this nice weather around here..." "I'm not throwing money away on..."

The myth of the cowboy is a story of sweat and grit, not white-washed fences.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Illusion of Safety

A lot of people are afraid to fly.

My mother-in-law has never set foot on a commerical airplane. Other people will get on the plane, but medicate themselves to do it. It's less a fear of flying than a fear of crashing, really. On an airplane, one gives up total control to someone else. You're strapped in, encased in a device that hurtles you to another place and spits you out again. Even if you understand the physics, it still seems wrong. It's hard to know which are good sounds and which are bad. (I've been assured that I'm better off NOT being able to recognize the errors and close calls.) And when the great winds, toss you around, you're ironically happy the ground is still so far away and not close enough to dash up against.

But really, this lack of control is the norm; being on an airplane just makes it more obvious.

We go through life seeking the illusion of safety. We follow the rules, obey the traffic laws, make smart decisions about where to walk at night. But the universe is a random place and none of us know when our thread will be snipped.

I think about this when I feel superstitious. Ill omens like cancelled flights and bad weather make me pause, make me wonder if I'm fighting fate. When I'm tossed around in the sky or, worse, as the runway rapidly approaches, I wonder if this will be my time. Forever writing my own life story, I assemble the foreshadowing events. And then remind myself that, in that case, I wouldn't be there to write the worst part, the suffering part.

I'm oddly comforted by that and snooze while the plane rocks me.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Blizzard Warning

A Blizzard Warning means severe winter weather conditions are expected or occurring. Falling and blowing snow with strong winds and poor visibilities are likely. This will lead to whiteout conditions... making travel extremely dangerous. Do not travel.

March is our time for the big snow. Everyone gets pretty revved for it. One year, the March snow came up to the level of our hot tub -- about four feet deep. The roads were closed for four days. It was perfect because it began to put it down the night before David had to leave for a meeting. We were both trapped in town, buried under snow. A rare reprieve.

Living in an isolated area means you have to travel to get to anything. My boss's kids in New Hampshire were surprised when I said I live in a small town of 27,000 people. After all, their town is only about 4,000 people. But you can ride your bike down a winding road through a lightly populated woodsy neighborhood and be in the next town, and the next and the next, like a string of pearls. For us, it's an hour on a fast highway through antelope country, to Cheyenne or Ft. Collins. Two hours to Denver. The road conditions website is bookmarked on everyone's computer. When they say "no unnecessary travel," they mean that it better be worth risking your life.

It's great to have this warning system. Yesterday it was 63 degrees and gorgeously sunny. I can see how the early settlers were fooled. It would have seemed like a perfect day to head to town for provisions. No signs of a blizzard loomed, except for the curious southwest wind, perhaps.

I have to get to Nebraska today, for work. It's only an eight-hour drive from here, but I decided to fly from Denver because of the possibility of the spring blizzards that roar straight down I-80. Now I just booked a ticket on the puddle-jumper from Laramie to Denver, because it's often much easier to fly out than drive out when it gets like this. At least there aren't tractor-trailers zooming past the turbo prop in white-out conditions.

I'll probably be able to get out, which is the responsible thing to do.

But I had half-hoped the storm would have hit by the time I woke up. That the storm would keep me here, tucked inside while the snow piles up. Here it is, nearly 8 am, a full two-hours past the predicted start, and nothing yet. Though road conditions show it snowing and blowing on the webcams.

As it is, I'll probably miss it all. By the time I get home Thursday night, the snow will be melted and trampled. The roads might be snowpacked, but open. We're moving to Victoria partly to leave the severe weather of our high sagebrush plain behind.

But I had hoped to have one more blizzard.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

We've Got a Thing Going On

David and I called Lauren this morning, to sing her happy birthday over the speaker on his cell. She's 25 today, sleeping in after a night of sushi and dancing with her guy. His folks took baby Tobiah last night, so it was a rare free night for them.

And we asked her if she'd gotten the card we sent. There's a gift certificate inside for a hefty chunk to squander at a salon -- David's idea, to pamper the young mother. The man knows what women like, I can attest. Lauren said she'd have to check the mailbox. Which they usually don't. For days or weeks at a time.

How can you not check your mailbox, I asked her.

Well, all her bills come online. All messages are emailed. All they get in the mailbox is junk and it makes them mad to look at it. So they don't. I told her there was probably a "save the date" notice from her cousin in there, for his summer wedding and she sounded bemused by the possibility. This is so Gen X to me.

You may have noticed the impassioned comments on my last two posts from Politico08, exhorting me to use the term "Generation Jones" instead of Cuspers. The article he/she (I'm betting on "he") cites, Jonathan Pontell, is compelling, in a thrilling political-rally kind of way. Though I view anything in USA Today with a bit of a jaundiced eye.

I must confess, I don't like "Generation Jones" much. (Not only because I've got a "Me and Mrs. Jones" ear worm going now.) I never loved the term "jonesing" either, having heard it WAY too much in high school. There was nothing my cohorts didn't jones for. Which is, I suppose, the point.

But I do feel swept up in the idea. The last line of the article says, "We're not late Boomers; we're late bloomers." There's something to it, the feeling that we're coming into our own. After spending most of our lives thus far in the Boomers' deep shadow, that we're emerging into the sun. I began hearing when I was in middle school that my generation was cynical and selfish. I didn't buy it then and I don't buy it now. I do believe that there's a middle ground between socialism and free-market pillaging. I believe that we've caused a drastic shift in the global climate balance and that we can do something about it. I'll pay some bills online, but I prefer to mail checks for others.

It's exciting to feel that maybe we are our own group after all. And more, that we can be effective. "Yes we can" might have sounded like a political line at first. But it does embody my approach to life. It's certainly how I answer clients -- even if it means I'll figure out later how I'll do it. It's how I approach all of my problems -- with the belief that an answer can be found. Maybe that is what our generation has to offer.

So, I'll hop on the wagon, for solidarity's sake. I won't give up my fondness for the grey area. But I love feeling like we're finally out there doing something. If you all want to call it Generation Jones, fine by me.

We'll see who's the greatest.

Friday, March 20, 2009


I knew there was a word for us!

In yesterday's post, I mentioned that I thought I belonged in a group that was post-Boomer and pre-Xer. (I also left out the WWII generation --oops. Apparently not the greatest to me...) I IM'd Kev, who's always online when I'm composing my blog, but he quoted Wikipedia ("it could be true") with the standard saw that Boomers were born 1946-1964 and Generation X is 1964-1984. Kev was my high school sweetheart and loyal cohort all these years. But I was sure I'd read something else that gave more insight.

And here it is. This article, written by Jocelyn Noveck, was picked up extensively by papers on the AP service. I randomly picked this posting of it. Besides, how often do YOU read the Texarkana Gazette? Not often, I'm thinking.

Cuspers. I feel like this is so us. Me and President Obama. He was born in '61 and I was born in '66. They call us practical idealists -- something that resonates with me. In an essay I wrote ten years ago I said:
We grew up in a world already poisoned, species irrevocably lost. To us, to work for the environment means knowing how to keep things from getting worse, and trying to clean up what’s been sullied. We’ve been accused of being a cynical generation, and perhaps that’s accurate. People like Sean and me, we’re not the impassioned knights of the environment. This is our job — one we can believe in, invest in — not a crusade.

I feel so validated now.

I popped this article off to my Boomer mother as soon as I read it. Of course, she was frivolously off touring Egypt at the time, so I had to wait for her indignation. She picked Obama way back when Hillary was still queen of the campaign. In my practical idealist way, I thought Obama couldn't win. I'm thrilled I was wrong. But if one of us gets to claim Obama as "her president," it's my mom, by right of precedence.

All of this parsing means little. How do you draw timelines on generations of people, after all? If we all had babies at the same time, that would be one thing. By the Gen X definition, I'm in the same generation as my stepson and stepdaughter -- granted I mucked things up by not actually giving birth to them. Though I could have, if I'd been a teenage mom. Blended families, though, blur these lines as well.

I recognize myself as a Cusper though. My website description, written back in 2002 says this:
My stats make me a fence-sitter: Post-Baby-Boomer, Pre-Generation-X. I saw the first episode of Sesame Street when I was four, but live in a house without television. I grew up in a city in the West that is no longer considered part of the real West.

In college I participated in a pysch experiment where we had to take a personality test: I came out exactly betwen Type A and Type B. I was born on the Leo/Virgo cusp. My friend, who's a brilliant writer and exactly my age, shy of a few weeks, complained that she received a rejection from and editor who suggested that she uses too many qualifiers. (Here's a great example list: very, quite, rather, somewhat, more, most, less, least, too, so, just, enough, indeed, still, almost, fairly, really, pretty, even, a bit, a little, a (whole) lot, a good deal, a great deal, kind of, sort of.)

Do you see what I see? That's right. Cusper words. Indeed, we're all about the qualified grey area.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Pretty Please

Email is a funny thing.

And can be an annoying thing, which is where all the rule-making comes from, I think. I belong to several online loops for writers. I'm even president of one--a deeply ironic development since I hadn't belonged to the group all that long before I was elected. Every day I discover something else I didn't know. Yesterday, in the course of conversations with our webmistress, who is trying to take our site from pitiful to adequate, we discovered that there are a whole bunch of standard emails being directed to people we've never talked to. Along the lines of secretary@ourwebsite.com -- and it's going to someone who isn't the secretary and may not even be a member anymore.

The whole online-group thing has this impenetrable quality that way. It's like this huge underwater octopus --only there's something more like 300 tentacles--and you can only see fleeting glimpes of the eye or tips of the tentacles now and again. The surfacings are when people send email. I love it when I can IM with people because I have a better sense that I can grasp them. At least it's a real-time interaction, more or less.

Anyway, I emailed one gal asking who she was and what was her niche in the group, which turned out to be this whole sub-group I didn't know about (reference: every day = something I didn't know). She wrote back -- yay! not everybody actually answers -- with a detailed, complete message. I was hammered under a day-job deadline, so I popped her email to the webmistress, fully intending to write the woman back later. As it should be, she and the webmistress engaged in email conversation on the mechanics of what each needed -- and I got a reproving note to let her know when I cc or forward her emails.

Does this strike you as odd? It's this whole loop etiquette thing. You're not supposed to forward anything off-loop without permission. This wasn't on-loop, but I did have a vague idea that many of these ladies expect that as a courtesy. They also have this deal about when and how to "clip" the original message, so the emails don't get so long -- it has to do with reading on digest. Now I use email all the time. I'm on email all day. I work in an office in Wyoming with people in Boston, New Hampshire, and Florida. Unless I'm on the road, all of my business interactions are virtual. And it's interesting to me that the professional email rules are different than those developed by these social groups. My work email gets archived for three years and can be used as evidence in a court of law, for or against me.

I'm keenly aware of what I write in emails and make sure that if, say, my boss or ethics officer, were to show me a copy of one and ask me to defend the content, I can. The fact that any of my emails can be forwarded, cc'd or bcc'd is a given. Asking a client to notify me if any of my emails are forwarded or cc'd is beyond the realm of possibility.

What I'm coming to is, I suspect it's a generational thing. The older generations -- the Boomers and the Silents -- have been understandably appalled at the informality of the internet and the consequent lack of universal etiquette. I think some of these writing loops were established by people like this, the presidents of their chapters, the esteemed leaders. There's a bit of the ladies' society, junior league aspect to the romance writers collectives. The thing is the Gen X'ers and my cohorts -- I forget what group I'm in... something like the straddlers between the Boomers and the X'ers, have been using email for pretty much all of our working lives. It's just another tool.

I understand why people want to try to tame this animal, to break it to the harness of polite society, but it will never be the embossed, hand-written thank-you note. (Yes--horribly mixed metaphor.) I've been having computer issues with my personal laptop, as you know. Turns out my hard-drive tanked (ten days after the warranty expired). What with one thing and another, it took a month to get it fixed. (See? and I never ranted about it!) I'd been viewing my personal email all that time on the work laptop, but when I fired up the personal laptop again, it finally pulled all my personal emails from the server. There were nearly 1,500 of them. This does not include junk mail or anything work-related.

It gives me good perspective on why I have no patience for "netiquette." Give me an email with all of the back and forth retained, so I can save one copy of the entire correspondence. No, I'm not going to pause and think to let you know that I forwarded your information to the person who needed it. I can see where the laments come in here, how our fast-paced society has done away with the measured grace and manners of the past. But it has. The world turns and times change. I think it was a Boomer who said that.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Let Me Count the Ways

"Do you love it?" they ask me.

Total strangers walk up to me in airports, at Starbucks, when they see me reading my Kindle. "Do you love it?" they all ask and I let them play with it.

Yeah, I do love it. My mom gave me a Kindle for Christmas, then was devastated that they couldn't ship it until February 24. But it turns out that they were waiting to complete production and ship the Kindle 2, so it was fine by me. David gave me a Blackberry Storm for Christmas (this was my techno-Christmas, apparently) and I was still trying to learn that. The lament of my age group -- we played Pong as kids; we used computers in high school, so it should NOT be this hard to keep up with technology. Everyone is fretting about twitter now. I tried to read a twitter page and nearly clawed my eyes out. One thing at a time, I figure.

Except the Kindle 2 was super-duper easy to get going. I had to read the user guide for a few things, but I found what I was looking for. I love that I can slip it in my purse, that I can pull it out, hit the slider and it opens to my page. Child of my era and my culture, I just love the instant gratification. I finished a book that left me craving more and instantly downloaded the next in the series. It's light, easy to read, easy to turn the pages.

I found I had to adjust my page-turn timing. As a long-time reader, I have a rhythm of starting to turn the page while finishing the last couple of lines at the bottom. If I hit the next page button on the Kindle at the same rhythm, the page replaces before I finish the last line. But I adjusted pretty quickly to that. I do miss the feel of "having" the book, of seeing the cover image as a prelude to settling in. I read a book on the Kindle that I ended up really loving: Jeaniene Frost's Halfway to the Grave. (It was her One Foot in the Grave that I immediately downloaded.) Reading her was like having paranormal romance steak after six months of nothing but Ho-Ho's. (A side note for those interested in such things: they classify her as urban fantasy, see? that means there's no happily ever after at the end.) Anyway, now that I feel all warm and fuzzy about Jeaniene's books, I want to HAVE them. Even though I already do. But I don't have the sexy cover and I didn't know this was the "Night Huntress" series until I recommended it to someone else. That part I miss. Is it important? We'll see. It looks like I'll get to meet Jeaniene at the RT convention -- I can hardly have her sign my Kindle. Something for Jeff Bezos to ponder.

So, if you see me in the airport or at Starbucks -- Yes, I love it. And of course you can play with it.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


This morning, on our way out of the rec center, David and I passed one of the guys who works there. I commented that, typically, the guy didn't look at or acknowlege me, though I've seen him pretty much every day at the same time for a year now. David compared him to an old acquaintance of ours. "He's all about work being serious business," he said, "no horseplay."

Ooh, I thought, I want to blog about "horseplay" today. When I got home, I looked it up in my phrase & fable dictionary: nothing. My word & phrase origins dictionary goes right from "horse opera" to "horsepower." I went to one of my all-time favorite sites, The Word Detective, to search his archives -- a concession because I'd wanted to do my own research -- and even the witty, all-knowing, all-word-powerful (omnietympotent?) Evan Morris doesn't have it. I even resorted to Wikipedia (the same Evan Morris quips that Wikipedia's motto should be "it could be true"). Article not found. I even tried a general google search. All I get is the completely unhelpful suggestion that "horseplay" is a combination of "horse" and "play." Eureka! "Possibly from observing horses at play."

Shoot me now.

I mean, my question is: why horses?? Why isn't it kittenplay or bunnyplay? Okay, if we want the boisterous aspect, why not dogplay? The deer and antelope roam -- apparently no playing there. If we presume we have to stick with domestic animals, I can see why cows weren't picked. But goats? Goatplay involves all sorts of rowdy, sundress-eating types of activities. (Don't ask -- I was only five at the time.)

I can see David's point, that the "no horseplay" attitude makes for the serious worker. The kind who doesn't say good-morning. The rule-keepers. I wonder, too, about the pressure we all seem to be feeling. Like me, most everyone I know has the same amount of day-to-day money as they have ever had. Sure there are people getting laid off -- we hear about them on the news -- but I don't know any of them. My mom and her husband, Dave, say they now have 50% of what they had, but their monthly income from pensions remains the same.

The loss is more or less theoretical. We worry that we might lose our jobs, or that our 401Ks will dissolve, but it's theoretical pressure. It's not now. Napoleon Hill, when he worked for Eisenhower, observed that the most profound effect of The Great Depression, was that peoples' attitudes changed. The fear of loss made them think of themselves as poor, whether they'd lost already or not. The curse of the cerebral cortex is that we can worry about things that haven't happened. The blessing of the animal brain is that it is only for the now, the immediate experience.

Give me a little horseplay.

Monday, March 16, 2009

With Your Faith and Your Peter Pan Advice

David confessed yesterday that he's feeling a lot of pressure. I said, of course he is.

In a few short months, we'll totally uproot our lives and leave the small community we've lived in for over 20 years. David will leave the career he's had most of his life to return to school to do what he really loves. We're moving to a foreign country, with all of the attendant rules. Never mind that we're pursuing a dream -- it's a huge effort.

Assembling my tax information for our accountant this weekend, I ended up thinking of 2008 as a lost year. I made a little over $100 on writing -- the least I've made for five or six years. No wonder it felt weird to me going to Evanston on a gig for Wyo Trucks: I didn't do any in 2008.

I wondered what I did do last year. Well, I made a lot more money at my day job, especially when I add in the moonlighting I did for another enviro consulting firm. The last six months of the year I went on a business trip every other week: everyone on my team lost huge chunks of their personal lives to this crushing pressure.

I finished my novel -- the first full-length manuscript I've completed -- and made progress on two others. Otherwise, I spent the year breaking into a new market. A couple of essays and a story were accepted or published. Oddly, the money on these came in right at the end of 2007 or now in 2009.

And we worked on the house. Beginning last March, we commenced work to bring our house to top sellable condition for this big move. We spent over $25,000. I'm not counting our time.

This sounds like it's all about money, which it isn't. Though our annual tithe+ to keep the country afloat brings these evaluations to mind. What it's about is keeping your head above water. This article from the Washington Post talks about the multi-tasking pressure that results in tragedy. It's a long article and well-worth the time to read through to the last word -- even through the really horrifying parts. Fair warning: I wept several times while reading it.

The "fatal distraction" of the title is the kind that results in parents leaving the baby in the car to die. No, not trailer trash types who lock the kid in the car while they go hit the bars. Instead these are the conscientious parents. The ones who forget the child hasn't been dropped off at day care. Who have no idea the child remains baking in the hot car all day. The article describes the kind of person who could do this. They're the muli-taskers. The ones under a lot of pressure.
Sometimes we get so frantic, so focused on keeping all the balls in the air that something gets dropped. For these people, the thing forgotten isn't a meeting or a cell phone. It's the most awful thing possible.

But the point is, if someone can forget their beloved baby in the car, perhaps we can all forgive ourselves for the balls we do drop. Most of us go through our days with two men out and three men on.

Of course we feel the pressure.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Going Home Again

So, it turns out that it's really Dee's Boutique and Books. (Reference yesterday's post, if you don't know what I'm talking about.) That's what the hand-painted sign over the store entrance says.

Alongside new and used books, Carol Dee sells hand-knit sweaters from the Wind Rivers and funky "popcorn" shirts that are 9 inches long on the shelf and magically expand on the body. $24.95 and comes with a cardboard popcorn box.

I met in the afternoon with the Evanston Social Club -- ladies who meet every-other Friday afternoon since 1930. Many of them went to grade-school together. Carol is a newcomer to town, having arrived only 30 years ago. Sometimes they play bridge; sometimes they have guests. I arrived as they finished their business meeting, making plans to visit one of their group who's growing oddly reclusive. I read to them my grandmother's story, Appliances, and we talked about my writing and my day job. I felt like I was having tea with my grandmother's friends, gently grilled about my life choices.

Having a couple of hours to kill before the evening signing, I drove down to the riverwalk and sat in the parking area to enjoy the sun and read. Lots of snow over in Evanston. They have a kind of lodge there and a natural skating pond. A guy scooted around it, scuffling up snow with his feet. I couldn't tell if he had skates on or not. He studied my car, as if he though he might have to trudge up and rent me skates, so I drove around to the other side and parked in the "clearly not interested in the skating pond" area to the back. Two other cars drove by as I sat. Both times, the driver and passenger hung out the windows as they curved past me, staring intently.

David says it's the small town thing: suspicious of my county 5 plates and why they don't know me, sitting in their park.

God bless 'em though, they have a Starbucks. Which was good, since I felt in need of reviving. A couple of Utah twenty-somethings stopped in, too, ski and camping gear strapped to their car. They stopped and asked me about the Kindle I was reading. Not from thereabouts either.

The six o'clock reading, signing and free spaghetti dinner was a bust. Nobody came. This was Carol's third signing that no one came to. Including the guy from the town (whose name she didn't recall) who had published his first sci fi book. "You'd think he'd have at least some friends," she said.

Actually, there were six of us: Carol and her husband, along with Tammy, the seamstress who is sharing Carol's space while she gets her business back on its feet, Tammy's husband and his brother, who wore a Vietnam vet's hat and spoke little. Actually, both Tammy's husband and his brother wore ball caps until partway through our spaghetti dinner, when Tammy's husband remarked that he heard his father's voice telling them to take their hats off while they ate. The brother, too, obediently tucked his hat in his lap.

They -- Tammy's three-person family -- are living with a friend right now. She told me she'd like to buy my book, but can't afford to. I wanted to give her one from the box in the trunk of my car, but didn't want to in front of Carol. She'd had a good alterations business in Evanston until the three of them decided to head out to Oregon, lured by their status as a state with the third-lowest unemployment rating. But people there were mean to them. None of the shops would let her put flyers in their windows or cards on the counter. No work was to be had for Tammy's husband. It wasn't clear if the brother tried for work also -- but he shook his head in sad solidarity. They began to run out of money and came back to Evanston, where you find the nicest people in the world.

I might send her some things to alter for me.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Genre Schizophrenia

I'm beginning to feel a bit between worlds, as a writer.

Today I head to Evanston, at the behest of Carol Dee at Dee's Bookstore (& Boutique). I'm meeting with some kind of ladies group at 2 o'clock, to read from and discuss Wyo Trucks. Then there's a spaghetti dinner at 6, to encourage more folks to come visit with me. You now know pretty much everything I do. The funny thing is, Carol emailed me about this gig a couple of months ago -- when I'd initially emailed her back in 2004, when the book came out. I'd contacted most of the Wyoming bookstores and visited many of them for various events. She was going through old emails and found my note. And here we are today.

When the Evanston newspaper called to interview me yesterday, the reporter was surprised that this isn't a new book. I told her I didn't know why now. But that the Georgia Review published a review of it in 2006. Things move slowly after publication sometimes, too. I'm expecting Oprah to call in 2012.

It's funny to me, because I'm doing less and less for Wyo Trucks these days, which is natural, since the book is now five years old. I've been doing fiction since, cloistered away writing novels. Then less-cloistered trying to sell at least the first one. Worse, I'm writing genre-fiction -- whether you consider it romance or sci-fi/fantasy, so I'm feeling like a bit of a pariah from my erstwhile literary community. I used to be on the university's Creative Writing MFA email list, but have been dropped. Sometimes I was invited to speak to university classes on writing, but no longer. A lot of this is because people have moved on and times change. But some is also because I'm no longer really investing in the literary nonfiction world. It's not where the lion's share of my attention is focused. Instead of hanging with the MFA types, I've been going to meetings of the Colorado Romance Writers, the Romance Writers of America national convention, and interacting online with the Fantasy, Futuristic and Paranormal writers.

So, this feels like a distraction, doing this today. And more than a little schizophrenic. Which surprises me, since I made a deliberate decision to publish my speculative fiction under the same name as my essays, believing that all my writing is really of one piece. Clearly I see a split, since my website poses the fundamental dichotomy up front.

Apparently it's up to me to hold the pieces together.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Death and Saguaros

I have been remiss, it appears.

Following my last post, a couple of my faithful readers wrote to ask what the hell a "wickerman" is. I got too carried away with the poetics to provide the full context. A good lesson for me. On so many levels. That, and that El Patron margaritas don't make you nearly so profound as you think. I was tempted to go back and revise, but in the interests of preserving the record, I'll leave it be and try again.
With another shot of the saguaro wickerman. RoseMarie got it with her comment before -- it's about looking for God. Or maybe just for design, intelligent or otherwise. The pre-Christian Celts built giant figures made of straw and sticks. Essentially huge baskets. Sometimes in the shape of animals, sometimes in the shape of humans. Often these "wickermen" were filled with animals or people and then burned. Sacrifice to the unknown designers.
As the saguaro's watery flesh dries up and blows away, the wickerman of the desert remains. Sacrifice in reverse. Perhaps that's what we all end up doing in our lives, using up the flesh in living, leaving a network of bones behind.
Somehow the desert brings this into sharp contrast. Maybe the desert just shows the process at an accelerated pace, visible to the pedantic eye. All of the snowbirds flock to the desert sun, to warm their aging bones, as if to the elephants' graveyard.
My desert wickerman seemed to stand sentinel to that.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Wickerman of the Desert

Saguaro are the typical, tall cactus, you know. Green and slim, with the whimsical arms. When they die, they leave their skeletons in place. Clusters of long vascular tubes stand in place while the vegetable matter sloughs away, like a loose suit of clothes.

The commonalities of design are obvious. While the bones of other mammals litter the desert in scattered designs, these bones remain upright for a time, eerily holding the shape of the creatures the saguaro once were. Their skeletons are tubes that carried and stored water. Then incidentally provided structure. The white bones of animals echo the same structure, now equally waterless, dry as the empty arroyos.

The lush groves of prickly pear leave nothing so dramatic. Their corpses are nothing more than collapsed balloons, dessicated amoebae awaiting the return of the inland oceans.
Wickerman waves good-bye.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Hilton Bosque

It's lovely being here in Tucson.

So lovely, that I become lax on everything. I haven't been posting to the blog (as you've undoubtedly noticed). I only answer some emails (a BIG stretch for me, compulsive email-checker that I am). I haven't even been reading much.

I've been watching quail. Gambel's quail, for those not in the know. At my folks' place in Tucson, the quail come streaming along -- they've got this amazing run where their legs move in a blur, but their bodies and heads remain still, so they move like ballerinas across the stage -- spilling over the low wall into the patio. They drop like so many pieces of ripe fruit, cherry head-feathers bobbing. Lemon-drop finches cluster on the thistle-sock. A flicker sings a piercing whistle and hits the heavy seed feeder. The air is redolent with orange blossoms, which are in turn heavy with the hive-buzz of bees. They look identical to us, characteristic of commercial bees, and my stepfather threatens to have them followed, to exact his share of their product.

We visited Catalina State Park, and dutifully read the signs on the birding trail. Three habitats: riparian, desert scrub and mesquite bosque. The last is pronounced BOS-kay, from the Spanish for forest. We learned that our neighborhood flicker is an gila woodpecker (I linked it, just so you can see how pretty he is). The mesquite bosque surprised us with long, lush grass beneath the denuded shrubs. The sun heated my skin, welcome fire after the cold of winter.

This morning, we walked through the neighborhood. Past the patio homes surrounding Hilton's El Conquistador resort. Here, off the roads, off the paved golf-cart paths and in my folks' golf course-boardering patio home, we see all the birds and more. Vermillion flycatchers. A cactus wren or three. A roadrunner poised on a hillside fencepost. Bunnies and javelinas. David dubs it the fourth habitat: the Hilton bosque. Thoureau said travel was unnecessary; that everything could be witnessed in one's own backyard.

So, I lie in the lounge chair on the patio. Watching the world come to me.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

State of the Sink

I have to wonder what's up with sink stoppers.

I mean, are we really at state of the art here? I'm in a very nice Hilton. And, if i haven't mentioned, I love the Hilton chain. I love them better pretty much with every stay, which is saying something. They work hard to give me everything I need to make it bearable for me to be on the road so much. So, (nod to Penelope Trunk and her promo links), here's the free promo, Hilton. Full disclosure: I'm a Hilton gold member, which just makes it all the better. Nothing like a premier program that really makes you feel special and gives you perks you actually want to have.

But the damn sink stopper doesn't work. I don't lay this at the hotel's feet. Were I filling out the survey, I'd have to say, no, I didn't report the problem and therefore gave them no opportunity to fix it. Because I've grown tired and jaded and have reported this problem at multiple hotels in multiple cities in the past and they maybe don't fix it or maybe fix it and it breaks again immediately. In fact, I get so disappointed when the sink stopper seems to be fixed and then gives way, that I'd rather not have my hopes raised.

I know this sounds silly. But I wear contact lenses, the non-disposable, semi-soft, oxygen permeable kind. Which means they cost $150 each. I don't mind this, because they last for years. As long as I don't lose them. Like, down the drain, for instance.

No, I don't want to have LASIC -- I see better with my contacts than EVERY person I know who's had any kind of vision-correcting laser surgery. Color me deeply unconvinced. Let me keep my contacts and let me not wash them down the drain while cleaning them for the night.

Here, I am, in my lovely hotel room, with my Kindle 2, my Blackberry Storm, my Dell Latitude laptop and my Heys plastic luggage. Oh, and my new laptop bag. All pretty much state-of-the-art technology, at least for a luddite like me. But the sink stopper construction is the same technology that's been in use for, near as I can figure, the last 40-50 years. The same that I've been crawling under sinks and adjusting for my entire contact-lens-wearing life (which is 32 years now, for those keeping count). Did all the plumbers gather together, decide rubber stoppers were passe and the stick/pulley design could never be improved? Am I traveling with a plastic drain screen because I'm the only one who has a stake in whether the sink will seal?

Yeah, yeah, I know -- everyone else has had LASIC.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Late Season Storm

I read this book when I was a little girl, called "Spring Begins in March," by Jean Little. I would go on author kicks then (I suppose I still do) and read everything on the library shelf by an author. In this book, the girl gets a cold and is not liking the wintery weather. Her mother comforts her and tells her to hang on, that Spring doesn't begin until March. By the end of the book, it's turned to March and it is, indeed, Spring.

This bemused me then, as a Colorado girl. No one there in their right minds looks for Spring in February. The hopeful look for it in April. The experienced hold out for May and the jaded wait forlornly until June. Arguably the Rocky Mountain West has no Spring. We go pretty much from winter to summer. In fact, Spring was my least favorite season for most of my life, including now, since I live in Wyoming, because it is just the last nasty, dirty, slushy, miserable phase of winter. Only when I went to college in St. Louis did I discover that Spring can be a season all its own, with gentle warmth and nature in bloom.

This is on my mind this morning with the snow blanketing Alabama and Georgia, and moving to points north. In what they call a "late season storm." I suppose we all speak from our own perspectives, and the more populated areas of the country speak with louder voices. But the news is jarring to those of us still in full winter. Though here it's been "unseasonably warm." I wonder if the meterologists and newcasters have a big book of seasons, perhaps with a map of the country with complex graphs, showing what the season is supposed to be like. Perhaps it has transparent overlays, with anecdotal evidence for what March was like in granny's day.

I take the agnostic approach: Spring begins when it damn well wants to.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Quality of Treat

I've never been a coffee drinker. Even in college, when everyone else was heavy into coffee for all-nighters, I hit Cherry Coke instead. Even when I started living with David, who practically injects coffee before he gets out of bed, I never drank it. I liked the scent of it. But, really, all my drugs of choice are pretty much sedatives.

I didn't get the Starbucks thing, the coffee hut thing, the tall/skinny/mochafrappaloopychino thing.

Then, about two years ago, I got serious about losing weight. It's the old story. Woman hits 40 and realizes that she can't keep gaining three to five pounds a year. Realizes that she can't kid herself that she's just a little overweight, that her body fat percentage is now in the OBESE category. I can't tell you how horrifying it was to face that I had to apply that word to myself.

I did a little South Beach, to get me started. I worked to get the belly down, but I found it ultimately unsustainable. Then I hit Body for Life. I've lost over 20 pounds of body fat, down about 15 pounds overall. (I added some much-needed muscle.) And I discovered the sugar-free, non-fat latte.

It's sweet, creamy, warm and delicious. And I can have it for a treat. Instead of a cookie, instead of a coke. Most of the coffee syrups don't use aspartame, which as a former neurophysiologist, I won't touch. Over time, I've become particular about my latte-acquisition. Starbucks is my friend -- I travel a great deal and I love that I can almost always find a Starbucks and that they'll give me exactly what I want. Sure, I'll try the local coffee house, but I don't like arguing about what sugar-free means. (Yes, I know that was a Dunkin' Donuts, but the principle remains.)

Yesterday, I bought a thermos-cup. I polled everyone I ran into (okay, pretty much) for a week about their thermos-cup preferences. This is a new realm for me. I found one yesterday that meets all characteristics of the ideal cup. Today, David went and got me a skinny caramel latte in my new mug. An hour later, it's still hot! (Did I mention I'm a slow drinker? David thinks it's unnatural. Could be my coming late to the coffee game.) It's stupid that this makes me so happy. I fully intend to take it with me to Indiana tomorrow and refill it before I get on the plane. I'm looking forward to this.

I'd feel more dumb about this, if my friend, the actress and director, Lesley Malin, hadn't responded to my FaceBook post with how much SHE loves her thermos-cup and how it's transformed her quality of life.

And yet, we went to see Slumdog Millionaire last night. (Yes, it finally made it to our town.) It's easy to feel guilty about our rich lives, in comparison to those shown in the slums of India. That kind of suffering is incomprehensible to me. My suffering is avoiding sweets and crunching weights. Maybe I can count in the job stress, which seems to increase in a slightly greater percentage than the raise that accompanies it. I work hard for the money I make. If a little thermos-mug gives me so much pleasure, so be it. Call me shallow. At least I have my treat.
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