Sunday, May 31, 2009

Let the Sun Shine In

I must have spring fever.

Or summer fever, since today is the last day of May and it's finally summer in Laramie. Characteristically having skipped spring altogether.

We turned the heat off yesterday and took off the storm windows to replace them with screens, in preparation for our open house. A steady stream of people came through, our agent reported, while we were off hiking. It feels like the switch has turned on and we'll get an offer soon. Apparently we very nearly had an offer before, but the woman decided against our house because she was afraid her grandchildren would drown themselves in the back yard fish pond. What? Oh, two feet deep. Yeah.

But my mind is quiet today.

I know, not like me. But it's better than I was last week, when I posted on Facebook that I was "of two minds. Or three. Or four or more. Like a tree in which there is a flock of grackles." Now the chirping and fluttering has diminished. Robins are singing in the happy warmth. A juvenile hawk whistles nearby. I feel good about my plans to revise Obsidian.

Apparently a storm hit Vedauwoo right after we were hiking up there: three to five inches of hail. But for us, the sun shone.

At Julianne's birthday party last night, her photographer husband told me he'd hear our radio debate about the voice in my book. I asked what his vote was. He says he creates for the joy of it. If people like it fine, if not fine. He doesn't worry about it. I'm not worried either.

But I do know what I want.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Selling Out

I'm not sure if I believe such a thing as "selling out" exists, even as I'm thinking of doing it.

Alas, the irony.

Over the past few years, I've desultorily pursued the history of the term. I wrote to The Word Detective about it. (He didn't answer.) The Wikipedia article on the topic is tagged with warnings that its neutrality and factual accuracy are disputed.

The trouble with the concept of selling out is that it requires that you accept certain assumptions. If selling out is compromising artistic integrity for commercial gain, then you have to accept that there is such a thing as artistic integrity. And that making money automatically compromises it.

I had a great conversation last night, both on air and off, with two writers, Julianne Couch and Paul Bergstraesser. We were doing the final show of Speaking of Writing on our little community radio station. Julianne has been keeping the show going for five years now and I've been a co-host most of that time. Paul is a recent addition to the UW English Dept faculty and has been co-hosting also.

Julianne asked me to share my recent agent rejection. I thought it would be boring to read on air, but Paul -- who I was meeting in person for the first time -- jumped in and said I should, that "this is in the trenches stuff!"

I'll just share this bit from the agent with you here:
I finally had the chance, over the long weekend, to give this manuscript my full undivided attention and see it through. You are such a terrific, vivid story-teller, and I really was absorbed by this fantastical world and intrigued by its bizarre rules and culture. However, though I could gush and say many wonderful things about this novel (and indeed I wouldn't have kept reading at any point if I hadn't been truly enjoying it) I want to say upfront that I don't think it's for me. I think that you are two kinds of writer in this prose. There is the Jeffe the Writer who is highly literary and has a beautiful, sometimes surprising turn of phrase that catches the reader off-guard, and there is the Jeffe the Writer who is more informal and intimate with the reader, with the classic approachable style that makes for great commercial fiction. I see both of these writers inside you, but they conflict pretty often on the page in this novel. You are clearly both versatile and professional, with a wide range and diverse capabilities, but I think that there's an uneven quality to this prose that was disconcerting and sometimes distracting for me, as if you would have been better off sticking to one style or the other.

She went on to give me very specific plot critique, but this is the part that broke my heart. And caused my mini-crisis of this week. Plot stuff is an easy fix. My writing style though -- should I consider altering the way I wrote this book to make it more commercial?

Paul stared at me like I was an idiot. "Of course!" he says.

After the show we retired to Bud's Bar, official watering hole of Speaking of Writing, where they pour Jamesons with a very free hand. We wished that conversation had been recorded, too. We talked about whether there's such a thing as selling out, as artistic integrity. We all agreed that making our living as writers is the brass ring -- everything else is gravy. As Paul pointed out to me in a most pragmatic way, it's still me writing it and, as authors, we often change our style depending on the audience, whether for a magazine article or an anthology. Then he asked what kind of fool was I to bypass an opportunity like this. Fix this to have a commercial style and I can write all the lyrical stuff I want.

Maybe it was the four fingers of neat Jamesons, but it felt like an epiphany.

So, I'm going to try it. The big question now is whether I can do it. I might have to look for a good critique partner(s) who can help me untangle the two voices from each other.

Anyone out there interested? I'm willing to trade anything but sexual favors. Even if you ply me with Jamesons.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Wisteria Hysteria

This morning, I finished putting out the plants.

Another annual ritual completed. A labor-intensive one. We have this sunroom, one of the things I love most about this house, where I overwinter all sorts of potted plants. Once I feel more or less confident that the spring snows are over, I begin shifting the plants out to the patio, gradually hardening them off.

For those who aren't experienced with this, indoor plants transpire more moisture through their leaves, because it's a moister, more contained environment. When you move a plant outdoors, especially in our arid climate with the intense mountain sun, you have to do it gradually, to allow the plant to acclimatize. The leaves get waxier in some cases, and the transpiration pores shrink. Depending on the plant, they also develop a bit of "sunscreen." Putting an indoor plant outdoors and leaving it there is akin to sticking a Wyoming person on the beach in Florida for the day. Not pretty.

So the first day, you put the plant out for an hour or so and bring it back in. Becauase I have way too many plants, on this schedule, by the time I got them all out, it was just about time to bring them back in again. The second day they can stay out for three to four hours. The third day, yesterday, they stayed out all day and came in at night.

Finally this morning I set them out in the permanent summer spots. No more dragging back and forth. There they'll stay, unless we get a freak snow storm, which hopefully I'll know about before it hits.

It doesn't escape me that this is another last, the last time I'll perform this ritual in this house. With our move in mid- to late August, the plants will all be still in their places. On my list: find out if I can bring plants into Canada. It sounds silly -- maybe not worrying about whether a carpet is happy silly -- but some of these plants I've had for twenty years. The bougainvillea that David and I bought in the first apartment we shared, back in 1991. There's my hibiscus, inherited from Val when she moved to Seattle, grown from her grandmother's plant in Casper more than twenty years ago. I really want to take the orchid David gave me for Valentine's in '95 -- I'd love to give it a climate where it might do more than subsist.

Perhaps I'll have a big plant sale. Maybe I'll just give them all away to good homes and start new.
I won't have this ritual in Victoria, I think. Freezes there are less rare. I don't know if people leave plants out all year and only bring them in when there's threat of frost. Something I'll learn.

I do know this: the first thing I'm going to do is plant wisteria. Always wanted wisteria.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Not Meant to Be

When I started this blog, I made myself a deal that I could blog about whatever was on my mind at that moment.

This was mainly intended to cut myself some slack and relieve some of the pressure that I imagined posting every day would create. After all, I have rules about my other writing: how much I need to write every day, what I can work on. All designed to keep me focused and moving forward. For the blog, while I keep a list of ideas for those days when my mind is blank, I thought it would be easier just to "let" myself write about whatever struck my fancy.

It's become a very different exercise over time. Several times, I've hesitated to write what was on my mind, because I thought it might annoy people or because it felt too intimate to throw out there. At those times, I reminded myself of my rule, which now had a double edge. Not only could I write whatever was on my mind, I should. It's been interesting, because those things I most hesitated to throw out there are the ones that people have commented on most. And usually not in a mean way.

My friend commented that this is like public journalling. And while I bridle at that idea, I think she has a point. Perhaps all personal essays are a form of public journalling. While I don't regard myself as an especially confessional person, it is important to me to explore life through writing. My head is the only one I get to be inside, so I am my own experimental subject. Subject A. All of my observations are terribly subjective and I have an "n" of one.


A couple of readers have commented that lately I "sound" weary or stressed. My first reaction was to clean that up. Some of it is vanity, I suppose, wanting to present a good front. I also want this to be interesting and I suspect my angst isn't all that fascinating.

But I go back to the rule. Life isn't always about the perkitude.

Last night my dream prom date rejected me. I got The Email, which is the antipode of The Call. If it's true that the agents call only if they're interested, then it's equally true that, once they have your full manuscript and are deciding whether to represent you, they only email if it's a no.

It's a long an detailed email, full of really useful feedback and some less so. This is one of the hardest parts of the writing business, deciding which criticisms to take and when to stick to your own belief in what you're trying to do. It's easy to be too stubborn, to refuse to change in the face of good advice. You also run the risk of trying to be everything to everyone, following everyone else's direction until what you've written is, at best, no longer your own, and at worst, a muddled mess of nothing.

The wonderful author Cynthia Eden (who has a new book coming out that she's giving away, so I'm giving her a shameless plug here) gave me some good advice. She said she uses the rule of three: that if she gets the same criticism three times from different sources, she takes a hard look at it. This is maybe simple advice, but it comes at a good time for me.

I still have my other potential prom date, so we'll see how that goes. We'll see what her criticisms are, as she did indicate she had things for me to fix. Which is fine, if they'll really improve the book and if her plan is a good one.

The worst thing about not getting invited to the prom, is the fear that you'll never get to go. Which is, of course, a complete loss of perspective. There are other proms, other dances. Hell, you can put on a pretty dress and dance in your living room. Just because you thought something was coming together in a seredipitous way, that it might be meant to be, doesn't mean it is.

My friend, the writer Julianne Couch, says she doesn't believe in "meant to be." In the same breath she worried about a piece of carpet being unhappy, since it was uselessly stored in her garage. "You don't believe in fate, but you believe in the sentience of inanimate objects?" I asked her. She blinked at me and said "Yes, I just don't believe in the big animate carpet in the sky directing our lives."

I don't either. Carpet is carpet. I think it's fair to say it's "happiest" when its doing a carpet job. I write for much that same reason. And I'm reliably informed by writers who write for a living that I'm lucky that my salary is not connected to what I write; I have a freedom they don't have.

Today, Subject A will revisit her goals as a writer. Interesting that my heroine is always seeking to answer the same question: what do I really want?

So many things.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Another Tuesday

Much is made, in the writing world, of The Call.

This is supposed to be the definitive moment, when the agent or editor calls you and says they want to represent you or publish your book. This is the moment of triumph, the realization of all the hard work.

Only it's not.

Maybe this is just a life thing. People seem to ask for the bests. The best day. The most precious memory. The most amazing year of your life. I'm often struck by the lack of, well, imagination in people's answers. My wedding day, they'll say. Or the day my child was born. I find myself wondering if, like favorite books, this answer isn't dressed up for public consumption. My answer to best day of my life is much like my answer to my favorite book: it depends. Different moments stand out for different reasons. The feel of warm ocean water, a particular kiss, the way the light falls on the leaves.

And, maybe this is just me, but I'm not sure I believe in the triumphal single moment.

Maybe because our life-movies never end there, with the battle won, the cheering crowds, the trophy clenched in hand while tears run down the cheeks. While those scenes fade to black, perhaps followed with a bit of text explaining what that person went on to do, or how many happy years they went on to live, our own lives continue on, much the same as before.

An agent called me this morning. On another blog, that might be the title. Followed by various forms of "Squee!" It was a rushed call: she didn't necessarily offer me representation, I didn't get to ask my questions. She wants to send me notes on my novel. I'm not sure of her plan, but I'm willing to look at what she sends.

Maybe because she's not THE agent. My prom date analogy thus continues. You don't want to turn down a date to prom, but you don't want to go with a guy you don't like, either. Especially when he hasn't really asked yet, when he's hinted he might have to see my dress first. So this doesn't feel triumphal at all. However, I learned the lesson early on that pining for that one boy to notice you leads to a lot of lonely nights at home.

Agents always give the advice that you should carefully research first. That a bad agent is worse than no agent. Pick the one you like, they say, one you're sure you'll love to work with. They never seem to comprehend that, once you pick your perfect agent, if they decline, your life still continues. That most of us are working our way down the list. This is a no-brainer. This is how life works. No one applies only to Harvard.

A writer-friend of mine commented on Facebook that she found out her book made the NYT Bestseller List, and then her cat puked and she had to clean it up. I've gotten calls before -- great ones about publishing my book or offering me jobs or promotions, saying I've won fellowships. There are greater and lesser glows to them all. None of them were the best moments of my life so far. And cleaning up hairballs aren't the worst either.

Sometimes it gets wearing, that one day seems much like the next. Another Memorial Weekend; another week of work. Our lives move in a relentless stream, neither uphill nor down. Maybe the point isn't to seek those highs, the moments of brilliant perfection. Maybe we should be looking for the pleasure in the daily flow, the joy in both a phone call and in caring for the cats.

Monday, May 25, 2009

In Memoriam, Ad Infinitum

It seems like most of the pundits like to spend a moment on Memorial Day talking about returning meaning to the day.

Actually, it seems like EVERY holiday there has to be someone talking about returning meaning to the day. As if there's something wrong with enjoying a day off and spending it in hedonistic ways.

I'm thinking this is an American thing. Since I'm so international now. But last Monday was Victoria Day in, well, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. (I have to specify this now because you WOULD NOT believe how many people hear "Columbia" and right away think of South America.) However, if you're thinking that Victoria Day is to Victoria what Bailey Days is to Bailey, Colorado, you're not thinking British enough. They're celebrating the queen. Which seems to involve having a parade and hanging out. There were no articles in the paper musing over the true meaning of the day, or asking people to devote thought at an arranged time:
As Memorial Day approaches, it is time to pause and consider the true meaning of this holiday. Memorial Day represents one day of national awareness and reverence, honoring those Americans who died while defending our Nation and its values. While we should honor these heroes every day for the profound contribution they have made to securing our Nation's freedom, we should honor them especially on Memorial Day.

That was from an end-of-days executive order from President Clinton. It's a patriotic thing. Everyone agrees that it's wonderful to salute and revere our soldiers. Everyone can feel good about saying nice words, giving a toast, devoting a thought. On this one day. Well besides Veterans Day. And Independance Day. And Flag Day. Actually, there are fully seven military holidays.

Memorial Day means nothing to me. My dad was a US Air Force fighter pilot who died in the line of duty when I was three years old. I went through a brief spell when I was a teenager, when I was swept up in the holiday. I suggested to my mom that we drive down to the cemetary at the academy in Colorado Springs to decorate his grave on Memorial Day.

"Why?" she asked me. "Do you think he's there?"

No. No, I didn't. She said we could go, but that she didn't think he was there either, amidst those rows of stark white identical stones. It wouldn't be for him that we were going. It's something to think about, how much the dead care about their graves and what the living do with them. Restoring the "meaning" of a holiday like Memorial Day is generating a particular show for the living.

It's interesting to me that Memorial Day is the modern version of Decoration Day, which was the day that graves were decorated. Official versions of this day were acknowledged by various states following the Civil War. Unofficially, this puts me in mind of rituals like the Day of the Dead. These are less patriotic and sanitized and speak more towards the pagan connection to visitations from the dead. The Day of the Dead is ascribed to Mexican and Latino practices, but this kind of ritual has been prevalent for ages in the Celtic and Roman cultures also. For example:
On Palm Sunday, in several villages in South Wales, a custom prevails of cleaning the grave-stones of departed friends and acquaintances, andornamenting them with flowers, &c. On the Saturday preceding, a troop ofservant girls go to the churchyard with pails and brushes, to renovatethe various mementos of affection, clean the letters, and take awaythe weeds. The next morning their young mistresses attend,with thegracefulness of innocence in their countenances, and the roses of healthand beauty blooming on their cheeks. According to their fancy, and according to the state of the season, they place on the stonessnow-drops, crocuses, lilies of the valley, and roses.

Nothing about the military dead there.

I don't mind so much the effort to restore meaning. What I mind is the modification of meaning to serve political ends. So, if you pause today, at the recommended time or no, to reflect upon the meaning of this day, make it your own.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Overdoing It

We are tired.

Both of us just tanked yesterday.

We tried for another bike ride, this time on beach road around the point, up through the beautiful homes in Oak Bay, none of which our agent showed us because, well, $1 million wasn't really in our price range, with intention of tooling around U. Vic. and checking it out.

I wrote in the morning, David read. We went to an early lunch and met with our realtor to sign the final papers and headed for our ride, hoping our stiff and creaky muscles would loosen up.

They did, but somewhere around the Victoria golf course, we realized we had nothing left. I found us a reasonably direct route back to town (thanks to Debra's terrific real estate maps!) and we turned in the bikes. Then vegged. Ordered food in.

This morning, I still feel wrung out.
A year ago, almost exactly, we were here checking out schools; we rented bikes and rode over to Langford. That was only about 10 miles round trip, compared to the 17 miles we biked up to Sidney on Thursday. I barely made it. So, it was nice to be in good enough condition to do this -- a year of working out paid off and I'm finally in decent physical condition again. I felt good when we got back from the ride.
But yesterday... yesterday I was tired.
It's not just the ride either. Somehow this whole effort still feels huge. Committing to the house here; waiting to sell our beloved Laramie house. Planning out things like how to transfer money and whether USAA will give us homeowners insurance here. The Canadians won't gurantee that when we show up with our animal family and the moving van full of stuff that they'll let us in. This is apparently the official posture. No certainty unless you're a citizen.
Sometimes it all feels daunting.
I've moved before. And to places where I knew no one. I want to be here; I love our new house. Why does it feel like such a major effort?
I even feel a little weepy.
However, The Bay store over past the harbour is having a major designer shoe sale. And the sun is bright and warm. I'm talking to the agent Tuesday morning.
Maybe I'll have some ice cream, too.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Biker Girl

Okay, yeah, I hate the bike helmet thing. But otherwise it's kind of a cute pic.

Yesterday we rented bikes and rode up the Lochside Regional Trail to Sidney. About 26 kilometers. One of the really neat things about this area is these biking/walking trails, many converted from railroad tracks. They have the trails marked out so you can go all the way from Victoria to Sidney, or to Sooke.

The Lochside trail goes through beautiful neighborhoods with amazing gardens. The rhododendrons are bloom here, which makes for a gorgeous ride.

We also saw some great houses with incredible views. Also some not so great houses that are still out of our price range. This one to the left was going for $679. (Yes, I called our realtor even though we already agreed to a contract on another house -- just to torment her. I told her we'd guessed $700 on this one, so she was duly impressed at our quick grasp of the market.) See all the moss on the roof? Very picturesque and bad, bad, bad. See? I can be taught.

We made it to Sidney (three hours later) and ate at this great place on the water. Wine, mussels, sunshine. And even better, we learned how to take the bus back.
Great way to spend a day. (Oh and we signed the contract for our new house, too!)

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Can You Hear Me Now?

Here I am waiting by the phone again.

It's funny: even though cell phones make it that you don't have to literally wait by the phone, they introduce a whole other level of uncertainty as to whether they're actually working. You check the signal, make sure the ringer is on. Even call yourself to see what happens.

Technology changes but the neuroses don't.

Once again, the various facets of my life intertwine. We made an offer on the Glacier Ridge house!! They have to respond by noon, so we're awaiting that call.

And I'm waiting for an agent to call. Two, actually. One read my first 50 pages and wanted to see the whole thing. I'm anticipating a call or email from her. And another read the whole thing and emailed me the day before yesterday for my cell number so she could "share her thoughts." Usually they don't want to talk to you on the phone unless there's something substantial to discuss. But here I am, waiting still...

It's like two cute boys have now asked for my phone number to "discuss prom." It's Saturday afternoon and I'm waiting by the phone.

Oh, no I'm not. I have a cell phone. So we're off to rent bikes and ride up the coast to Sidney.

I hope the ringer is working...

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

And the Winner Is?

Today was a good day.

Not that yesterday wasn't. But today was better. More fun. More on target.

This pic was from yesterday, actually. And we liked this house. It's on a very quiet cul-de-sac, right on the sea (obscured by trees, but Right There). We'd make them deal with the urine-smell thing. What's up with that, anyway?

We loved the neighborhood, and the garden had big potential. Okay, the carpets were blue with purple swirls (no, really) and maroon. But we could see it. It could be. And they'd reduced the price. Twice.

Now, the house on Snowdrop (you know it -- between Violet and Iris?) was brand new and really pretty. Perfect for us. An "executive house," our realtor called it. Which is amusing, because we're not exactly executives. But hey. Neat house, lots of landscaping potential, which I can do.

So then we saw this house with an amazing yard and view. Tons of garden potential and view. There was also a gorgeous black cat with an amazing gold lion's face. Alas, the house itself was crap. Like, crumbling drywall crap. The, you could pour a lot of money into this place and never see any of it again crap. Sad.

The next place, we loved the front, loved the back deck, liked the upstairs living area and bedroooms. Then we opened the Door of Doom. Don't do it. Used to be an unfinished basement, until they laid carpet around the furnace and hot-water heater. A few bedrooms down there, appropriate for holding white slaves hostage. A little mortgage helper? No no no.

So, finally we went to see this other house that had been top of my list all along, from the MLS pics. First our agent said it had sold. I was a pain and said MLS didn't think so. So, she checked. But it had expired and she had to call the agent, who was weirdly in Vancouver (across the water on the mainland). Turns out the agent's aunt lived there. Agent set it up. Said we could go anyway, but the lawn wouldn't be mowed. As long as the slaves are moved out of their basement cells, I don't care.

Then we got there. Loved the prospect, high up on the hill. The lawn is freshly mowed and the door locked. No one home. Turns out Auntie forgot that expired listing means lockbox is gone. We went to lunch. Came back.

Finally got to see it! Love LOVE LOVE!! it. The pics don't lie. It's fab. Here's David and Debra looking all pleased that I can't find anything wrong with it.

After, David and I went for a three-hour walk along the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Steamed crab for dinner. Life is very good.

Good, Bad, Ugly and What the Hell Did You Do to the Garage?

I have nothing substantive to say.
I know -- can it be? But it's true. Yesterday was a whirlwind of neighborhoods and choices. Getting to know our agent, her getting to know us.
And it was Victoria Day. (You all celebrated, right?) Celebration of the queen's May 24 birthday. Many offices were closed. The karma was strange.
Our agent was most perturbed to find that at three of the houses she'd scheduled to show us, people were at home. Which she says almost never happens to her, let alone thrice in one day.
At one house, we poked around, then wondered at the light on the coffee pot and the fresh cigarette smoke hanging in the air (no, really). Then we heard the hair dryer running upstairs. Too weird, so we snuck back out. Fortunately we'd seen enough to know we didn't like it -- or rather, we didn't like the big oil-pumping rigs parked across the street.
Then there was the house where some enterprising but misguided soul had sealed the garage door and drywalled it to make another room -- windowless and reached only by passing through the laundry room. This was listed as a "custom upgrade."
The house we liked best is in a lovely location with an amazing deck off the master bedroom, but an unfortunate urine smell in the upstairs rooms.
It's been a while since we've done the good, bad and ugly house tour. But our agent promises today will be better -- that we're going to what she thinks we'll like and we're ready to be in her hands.
No promised fireworks over the Parliament Building last night, due to the steady rain. But it looks lovely lit up at night.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Travel Sunday

A story in pictures for you today.

Because it's been a long one. And I'm pretending I can be Heather Armstrong.

No, really. Don't laugh. Just let me work on it.

So, we left Laramie about 7 o'clock last night, Saturday night, to stay at a hotel near DIA. To stay at the Hilton Garden Inn, for something like the third time now, to take advantage of their stay & park deal. I know I've mentioned how much I like Hilton. Granted, we had all day to hit the trail, but we ended up leaving later than we thought, after cleaning out all the flower beds, planting alluring new flowers, mowing, weed-whacking, house-cleaning and packing.

Up early and caught the plane to Seattle. Follow the fish.

What does one do with a 4.5 hour layover in Seattle? Follow the fish.

That's right -- boozy lunch at Anthony's! (With super cool fish mural on the floor and even better share of the spectacular seismic-tolerant atrium in the Seattle main terminal.) After lunch? That's right: practice photography skills, because you're too cheap to cough up $7.99 for WiFi.

Just watch -- I'll get better.

Made it to Victoria. Hotel Oswego is lovely. Balcony with a view of the Parliament Building, the Olympics and the Inner Harbor. Plus wine in the refrigerator.

It's like we already have our Victoria condo. Good practice.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

La Paloma

My stepsister took my mother out for Mothers Day brunch yesterday.

Which fills my heart in a way I can't describe. Though, here I am, a writer -- so I have to try.

I have conflicted feelings about Mothers Day, as I wrote about the other day. Part of that comes from my relationship with my stepchidren. It's never easy, piecing together families.

For us, for me and Hope and Davey, it's different. We never had to share a household. My mother married Hope and Davey's father two years ago this Tuesday. I'm an only child who lost her father young and her stepfather a few years ago. Hope lost her mother a few years ago also, far too young, to cancer. I can't imagine what that would be like.

It's always meant a great deal to me, that Hope has been so kind to my mother. Not all daughters would be so accepting of their father's second wife. Not all would embrace their father finding a new life and new happiness. But Hope has a kind and generous spirit.

And she took my mother out for brunch, down in Tucson. To a lovely restaurant on a patio at a resort overlooking a pool -- a perfect spot to please my mom.

When I was a little girl, I used to fantasize about my little sister, Sally. She had blond ringlets and followed me everywhere. Okay, I had a lot of imaginary friends, including Casper the Ghost and Wendy the Witch. Most of the time, I didn't mind not having siblings. It seemed like they mostly fought with each other. But there was something there. Maybe because I knew my mom had wanted more children. My father died before he could give her more. If not for the tragic accident of his death, I might have been the eldest, not the only.

Loving my mom has never been difficult. She's low maintenance on the mother-scale. She also has a habit of giving back far more than she receives. But it's wonderful for me that my mom has another daughter now, to appreciate her.

Thank you, Hope.

Friday, May 15, 2009

And the Deer and the Antelope Play

I had a funny feeling the other day -- you know the one, like you're missing something. A pinprick of nostalgia, a vague longing. What is it, I wondered...and got a flash of an airport lounge.

You have GOT to be kidding me.

Apparently I'm so inured to flying somewhere every-other week, that once a few days drifted past my usual take-off day, my habit reminded me. Aren't we supposed to be doing something? I actually felt like I needed an airport fix.

Which is a sad state of affairs.

And fortunately, easily remedied as I'm flying somewhere on Sunday. Victoria, BC. It's been almost a full year since we last visited, when David decided that was the school for him and we put the wheels in motion to drastically change our lives: he to leave his job of 20 years, we to leave our town of nearly that long. It seemed forever then, before anything would happen.

Now we're going to buy a house. This is it. At least, we hope we are. The Canadian mortgage company is suggesting 35% down. (I know - eek!) So we'll see what we can get for that. This will be our third house-purchase together. I feel for the younger us, who could never have put that kind of money down back then.

Ironically, our first house is also for sale right now. We paid four times for our current house what we paid for the first. Now they're asking half for that house of what we're asking for ours. I drive by, and all my day lilies still fill the front yard. My drought-tolerant garden lines the fence with six-foot rabbit brush romping amidst the silver sage. Pieces of me.

The question we get most often is: will we move back? Three to five years from now, will we return to Laramie. It's hard for us not to laugh. Not to ask why on earth would we want to?

But you never know what you might turn up nostalgic for.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Euphoria in the Front Yard

I bought pansies, yesterday. And violas.

This is more remarkable than you might think, because it's a grave risk here to plant annuals before Memorial Day. It's not a fashion-risk thing; it's a spring blizzard thing. Our official average frost-free date is something like June 6. Though no one can bear to wait that long, really. One year our spring came warm and early. I got cocky and planted out my annuals. A week later a snowstorm killed them all.

My hard and fast rule now is: no planting out until Memorial Day Weekend.

A rule I'm now breaking. Bending, really, since the pansies and violas can bear more chill than others. We leave Saturday for Victoria to go house-hunting and our Laramie realtor plans to show the wazoo out of our house while we're gone. The perennials may be coming up, the purple-red stalks of the peonies reaching for the sun. The rhubarb is unfolding like alien pod-babies. The narcissus are charming, which is their job. But otherwise, the beds need freshening. So, I'm planting before we go. Sticking those violas in the ground and abandoning them for ten days. Not like me at all.

I bought them yesterday at Walmart - also a departure for me. I figured Walter World would have them plentiful and cheap. They'd be nicely forced into overbloom. A perfect way to create a particular image. The garden shop was oddly barren. Even the big-box distribution mavens have apparently finally figured out not to send tender plants our way in May. I pulled a dusty cart from the queue, tugging hard to break its lock with its nested neighbor. Then I bent down and tugged free three tumbleweeds from around the wheels. The wind retrieved them and sent them sailing across the road, back to the barren prairie.

My mother told me yesterday that she has euphoria in her front yard. Well, front courtyard, really. The "Cactus Guy" came to examine the cactus garden that came with their Tucson house. She wanted to know if they were taking care of the cacti correctly. Cactus Guy not only approved of the superb health of the garden, but waxed enthusiastic over the wonderful euphoria specimen.

"At least," my mom said, "that's what it sounded like he said."

Euphoria in the desert. I just love that. Never mind that it turns out to be Euphorbia. (The ammak species, if you want precision.)

I'll bend my rules and plant flowers only for show, that may not last. And my mom can have euphoria in the front yard.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Worse Than a...

Root canal?

This came up yesterday on Facebook -- my friend, the cool girl from way back, Kathryn Greenwood Andrews (who is also the author of the very cool blogs Prickly Girl and Punk Rock Garden) mentioned that she is being asked to choose volunteering for Field Day over preschool parent-teacher conferences and a root canal. "Amazingly, I'm sticking with the latter," she remarks.

This reminded me of a conversation we'd had at work. I'm an auditor of sorts -- I review drinking water programs. One of the programs we reviewed for the first time in their history told us later (after telling everyone else what they were in for) that it was like getting a root canal: intensely painful, but overall a healthy exercise.

My ever-wise boss (yes, she reads this blog) raised the question of whether a root canal still represented a truly horrible experience. This, of course, led to one of those conversations where everyone tried to one-up each other with pain and horror. The gal with the anal polyp/duct tape episode came close to winning, but we won't go there.

I posed the question to Kathy and she came back with alternatives such as childbirth and amniocentesis. Her root canal is next week, so she can report back with her comparison next week.

Root canals are a good example because:

1) they're more universal than childbirth and the more unusual afflictions like anal polyps
2) nearly everyone has to have one, at some point in their lives. Unless you live in the UK.
3) not only is it physically painful, there's a certain terror in being trapped in that chair. For a really long time.
4) stuff around your face hurts more because the innervation is so fine
5) two words: oral dam

So, I don't usually solicit comments here, but: are root canals the worst? if yes, why? if not, what is? (please be gentle with details...)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

And the German Judge Gives It...

I realize my title is probably dating me.

There's a whole couple of generations who don't understand references to German judges. Or who think Mikhail Baryshnikov is just a cute guy on Sex and the City; they're surprised to hear he's a dancer and ask what kind. I swear to God I've had this actual conversation. I have witnesses. They didn't understand about Political Asylum either, or why he might have claimed it.

The German judge, for those who didn't watch the Olympics in the 70s and 80s refers to the international panel of judges scoring the various Olympic events. There was often a perception that the German judge was a) tougher and b) inclined to mark down competitors from the non-communist countries. For accuracy, we should really say the "East German judge," but idioms aren't about accuracy.

There's been an interesting conversation on the Fantasy, Futuristic & Paranormal writers loop the last day or so, about contest judges. I've written before about the RWA chapter contests, so I won't reiterate here. But the way it works is you generally get scores from two or three judges. In many contests, if the point spread exceeds a certain margin, a discrepancy judge is called in and the lowest score is dropped. The idea is to account for reader preferences, which can really affect scores. For example, on a recent contest I entered, one judge gave me a perfect score of 100 (with comments that it was so splendid she couldn't gush enough) and another judge awarded me a 54 (with a snarky comment that beastiality is not an appropriate subject for a romance.)

One got me; one didn't.

In the real world, this would translate to a person who would buy my book and one who would burn it. Fair enough. The common wisdom is that these kind of splits result from having a "strong voice" -- readers tend to love it or hate it. All of this is lead-up to using one of my favorite examples, from country music. (Yeah, you saw that one coming, right?)

I heard this story on NPR many, many moons ago, but it's always stuck with me. They were discussing the perception that country music radio stations had become less, well, interesting. It turns out that there had been a huge study where "they" looked at what caused people to change the radio station -- anathema for advertising, of course. They found that people changed the station, shockingly enough, when a song they hated came on. So, it seemed simple: don't play the songs people hate. BUT, what the studies showed is that the songs people rated as most hated were also rated most loved by an equal number of people. Where people converged was on the songs that they neither loved nor hated. More importantly for radio, when a song played that a person neither loved nor hated, they were likely to let the radio station play on.

Thus country music programming went to playing music that the vast majority of people neither loved nor hated, playing innocuously in the background, exciting nothing untoward.

I've seen this play out in writing workshops, too. Half the class will love a particular scene and half will insist it ruins the piece and must be removed. The profound emotional reaction means the writer has hit on something, but it takes courage to accept that for every person who loves what you wrote, someone else will hate it.

And it's tempting, especially in genre, where people hope to actually make money with their books, to write the thing that will sell to the most people, innocuous and exciting no untoward responses.

Then again, it can be a little satisfying, too, to throw a little bestiality in the way of the book-burners.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Are You My Checker?

Yesterday, the checker at the grocery store greeted us with a chirpy, "Happy Mothers Day!"

I didn't say anything.

Believe me, this is better than saying what I wanted to say. I have a bit of a reputation as having a smart mouth. My only defense is that people have no idea how much discretion I really exercise. So many things I never say out loud.

I wanted to tell her, "I'm not a mother."

Which isn't precisely true. I'm a stepmother. Kind of an after-the-fact one, since David and I aren't legally or religiously married. But I've been part of my stepchildrens' lives for 18 years, so I count it. They don't count it and don't acknowledge me on Mothers Day. There are a lot of reasons for that, most of them having to do with loyalty to their mother. I understand those reasons and don't blame them. But yeah, I have a few issues with the day.

For the most part, I don't mind. It means a great deal to me to celebrate my own mother. I wrote her my own little ode yesterday. But when the Safeway chick greets me with something like that, I shudder at the presumption and carelessness.

The decision to be a mother or not is a fraught thing. Some women are mothers without wanting to be. Some want to be and can't. Some have children who die tragic deaths. Some women choose not to have children. It's intensely personal, regardless of which category you fall into.

Even going the other direction, celebrating your own mother can be an emotional minefield. I have a friend whose mother died, much too young from cancer, a few years ago. Her mother died only a week before Mothers Day. She still grieves.

Yes, the checker was only trying to be chirpy and friendly. Which is why I didn't snap at her. I couldn't quite dredge up the smile and happy "thank you" she was looking for, but I did the best I could.

I think all of us are doing the best we can. It's important to remember that a greeting card holiday does not make this a greeting card world. Sometimes instead of a sweet poem inside, there might be a well of pain. Perhaps it's best not to assume.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Who's the Lucky One?

The interwebs will be replete today, I'm sure, with odes to mom. I noticed they started yesterday. Since my mom is the best of them all, I realized I must do likewise.

Here's a little piece I wrote (I feel like a piano player in a late-night bar) about my mom for that "My Mom's a Hero" anthology. They didn't take it, I think because what I celebrate about my mother is not what people traditionally think is worth celebrating. So, with the power of Blog, I'm publishing my own damn self, right here. With apologies to Alice Sebold, it's called:


When my mother married for the third time, we joked that she and her new husband didn’t just bring emotional baggage to the relationship, but full luggage sets, complete with steamer trunks.
So it is when you marry at 65, adult children as your attendants. No father gives the bride away, unless his ghost hovers nearby. No impetuous lovers storm the ceremony to object, because those lovers had already become husbands and wives that passed on too soon.
No one would have picked out my mother, the middle of her three sisters, as a hero. She was the pretty one; the frivolous one, the others thought. She liked nice clothes and many boys. College meant little to her – a way to kill a year until her first wedding. Wearing the full gown and veil at 19, she held the arm of my Air Force Academy Officer father in dress blues, silver saber at his side. The row of bridesmaids frame her, fluffy in their early sixties netting. It’s easy to be a bit silly at that age. Heroism is not required.
But the years that followed grew more serious. Conflicts overseas summoned my father, his fighter plane screaming through tropical jungles while my mother waited at home. Like the first Hero, Aphrodite’s priestess secluded on her island, my mother waited for her husband’s visits. Like Leander swimming the Hellespont nightly to visit, my father would make his way across the seas to love her for a little while and leave again.
Until the day he left and didn’t return.
At 27, with a three-year-old child, a new widow can’t indulge in the dramatic gesture. The priestess became a legend by drowning herself in her grief. But, there is little romance in real life. Where Hero stood on the rocky shore, white gown snapping in the wind, and threw herself in to the sea that claimed her love, my mother packed up her bags and her child and made a new life.
Maybe it doesn’t seem like much. She had no choice but to go on as so many have to do. You pick up the pieces and continue to live, day after day. Eventually the grief recedes, the raging waves gradually falling away from the high tide mark.
My mother re-married a few years later. I played flower girl at her second wedding, sweaty bangs falling into my eyes. Now well into the seventies, this party rocked the clubhouse, my mother dancing to the groove in a long, pleated dress. She and my stepfather enjoyed thirty years together, rich with fun and travel. In the end, the disease that took him, slowly and cruelly, was a slow motion re-enactment of her first widowing. Where my father was gone in an instant, my stepfather died by degrees, over years. Leaving her as thoroughly widowed as before.
When my mother married for the third time, that’s when it hit me, her bravery.
“You’re so lucky,” my friend said. “Since my dad died, my mother will barely leave the house – and it’s been years! She won’t even consider dating, much less that she could be happy again.”
My twice-divorced cousin called my mom brave to marry again in a family email that made it clear that to her, brave meant “crazy.” Others called her lucky, as if finding love was a lottery she’d inexplicably won multiple times.
What no one seems to understand, what I finally realized, is that my mother’s great gift is her endless faith in life and love. She creates love and happiness for herself, her husbands and all her family.
At first, in the dark winter following my stepfather’s death, when asked if she would marry again, my mother returned the question, “who would have me?” Her record wasn’t stellar, she thought. But, never one to sit at home any more than she could have thrown herself into the sea, my mother began to rebuild her life.
A couple of Springs later, under a setting Tucson sun, I read a poem for my mother’s third wedding. Her new husband, a widower of a 35-year marriage, held her hand. His adult son stood as best man on his other side, while his adult daughter – just four months younger than I am – watched from the gathering with her young sons on her lap.
The golden light, the scent of lilies wound through the desert air, blessing us all as we witnessed the beginning of a new life for them both. For us, too: a new family created by their joining.
This ceremony was the smallest of the three. Each of my mother’s weddings scaled down in size and complexity, in counterpoint to the richness of her life. Though the emotional weight of the lives they’ve brought to this marriage may require a steamer trunk or two, my mother and her new husband have found a simplicity in this life after death.
I’ve come to see this as the true heroism. Not the grand gesture, throwing oneself into the ocean, or eroding away under the relentless tides of grief. What takes courage is going on. The valiant pluck a seed of happiness from the brine of loss and coax it back into life. The ones who can do that, like my mother, are the ones who bring joy to all of us.

Happy Mothers Day, mom -- I love you!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Everything Old Is New Again

I started my affair with second-hand clothing when I was in high school.

My mother put me on an increased monthly allowance when I was sixteen. From that money I had to take care of my car, cover all expenses and buy all my clothes. This was intended to teach me financial responsibility. I also worked during the summers, but I was enough of a princess that my parents thought I should focus on studies during the school year and so I received a family scholarship.

My mother also taught me her shopping technique, which I use to this day: First go to the nicest stores, the boutiques, the designer shops, the Needless Mark-ups. Window shop to your heart's content. Try everything on, even if it costs thousands of dollars. Find out what you really want. Then go to the discount stores and see if you can find something like it. Amazingly, I almost always could. Then, if there was something fancy and pricey you just HAD to HAVE -- like Michelle's much-dreamed-of Manolo Blahnik shoes -- then you can splurge. One expensive accessory can make a whole outfit shine.

I went one step better and discovered the Goodwill stores. The Salvation Army stores. The vintage clothing stores. All of these bear fruit for the diligent shopper. The key again is to look for the basics, for the timeless pieces that form the foundation of your wardrobe. Then if you have to have, say the purple poet's shirt with the 70s collar, pleated sleeves and over-sized cuffs (yes, I really had one!), then that can be a funky addition. While the Goodwill's and Salvation Army's require fortitude to find the jewel in the pile of kitty litter, the vintage stores require bravery and imagination.

Then I discovered consignment.

Sure, we all have been in consignment stores, where people either sell their clothing to the shop or have the shop sell it for them, less a percentage for the store. Some are better than others. I'm sharing my secret tips here:

1) Fnd the consignment stores the rich women patronize. The best consignment store I've ever been to was in West Palm Beach. They had GORGEOUS designer shoes with unscuffed labels on the soles. There was a Vera Wang gown that had been worn once. Many of the Glitterati Fashionistas wear something once and never again -- who in that crowd wants to be seen in the same outfit twice? Whenever you're on vacation, go to the ritzy part of town. You might not be able to afford to stay there, but you can sure as heck wander the streets. Find the consignment store. Plan to spend a few hours.

2) Know your seasons. In Colorado, the best strategy is to hit the ski town consignment stores at the end of the ski season. All those rich women with winter ski homes ditch clothes when they close up the vacation homes for the summer. After all, those are last season's clothes now.

3) Visit the consignment stores near college campuses right after graduation. The college girls move out of the dorms and sorority houses; they have way more stuff than when they moved in: something has to go. Often it's the fun and flirty stuff that mom won't approve of -- and will wonder how they could afford it. These are great places to find the trendy stuf. And for less than $10, you won't care if it's out of style in a few months.

4) Give back. Take your stuff to the local store and build up an account. Build up a friendship. My local gals know me and call me up when something from one of my favorite designers comes in. Nothing like having a mole where it counts!

5) Be proud of your second-hand clothes. This last week I had two readings and signings for an anthology I'm in: Going GreenTrue Tales from Gleaners, Scavengers, and Dumpster Divers. (Shameless Self-Promotion Alert!) In honor of our theme of unusual ways to recycle I wore all second-hand clothing to both events. People were frankly shocked that my very nice outfits were new only to me. It's a good lesson. There are many ways to reuse. You can both save money and feel good about your contribution to the environment.

And look really cute, too. What more can you ask?

Friday, May 8, 2009

Alpha and Omega

Among twenty snowy mountains,
The only moving thing
Was the eye of the blackbird.

It was evening all afternoon.
It was snowing
And it was going to snow.
The blackbird sat
In the cedar-limbs.

Today is for the beginning and the end.

I wasn't able to post earlier today and maybe that was meant. My sojourn with Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird coincided with the search for our friend and wonderful poet, Craig Arnold.

The news has come in that he's gone. I'll let the letter from his partner, Rebecca, stand for any words I might add.

Our dear friends and family,

Though Craig himself has not been recovered, the amazing expert trackers of 1SRG have been able to make themselves and us certain of what has become of Craig. His trail indicates that after sustaining a leg injury, Craig fell from a very high and very dangerous cliff and there is virtually no possibility that Craig could have survived that fall. Chris will pursue what he can about getting specialists to go down into the place we know Craig is so we can bring him home, but it is very, very dangerous and we are not yet completely certain what that will require. The only relief in this news is that we do know exactly what befell Craig, and we can be fairly certain that it was very quick, and that he did not wait or wonder or suffer.

I cannot express again the profound gratitude I feel to everyone who has loved and honored Craig with their goodwill, their immense efforts and energy, and their overwhelming generosity. I believe that where he is, Craig knows.

There will be further occasion to celebrate Craig, and when I know more I will post it.

For my part, I love Craig beyond the telling of it and will always love him as immeasurably, as enduringly, as steadfastly and as unconditionally as I do now and have done these past six years. In leaving our family, Craig, in a manner absolutely characteristic of his own vast generosity and capacity to inspire, brought us all closer together than we perhaps have ever been. I feel his presence, loving and understanding and funny and deeply feeling, at all times. I hope you do, too.

With love,R.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

A River of Garbage

A man and a woman
Are one.
A man and a woman and a blackbird
Are one.

I recall this one particularly annoyed one of my classmates, long ago back in AP English at Overland High, lo these many years ago.

I wanted to ask him how many wedding ceremonies he hadn't sat through, not to hear this kind of claptrap before. Leave the parents and cleave unto each other. Like the joint candle and blow out your own. I've always imagined Wallace Stevens sticking his tongue in his cheek for this one. If a man and a woman can be one, no reason you can't throw a blackbird into the mix as well. Not unlike Steve Martin's classic scene in The Jerk, leaving and taking the only thing he needs, gradually adding more and more useless items. After the initial assumption, it doesn't really matter what else you add in.

Don't change what all you're piling on top; change the initial assumption.

There's an idea out there that things don't and can't change. When people talk about efforts to address environmental issues and global climate change, there's a thread running through the arguments that this is how things have always been. That change is impossible. What we don't always have a good perspective on is how much things have already changed.

David sent me the letters below. The Game & Fish crew found these letters from 1932 when they cleaned out some old files. Hopefully you can read them -- I made them as big as I could. You might have to use your screen zoom.

It's shocking, isn't it, that they're arguing about dumping garbage in the Columbia? After all, they're very careful to dump it from the bridge in the best spot, with the swiftest current. You laugh to read it.

And that's a mark of change.

It's something to think about, amidst the shouting, wailing and gnashing of teeth that things can't change. Someday, someone like yourself might look back on the debates of today and be amused that there was ever a question.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Corporate Dodgeball

He rode over Connecticut
In a glass coach.
Once, a fear pierced him,
In that he mistook
The shadow of his equipage
For blackbirds.

Never mind that one almost never gets to use "equipage" in a sentence anymore. What gets me is that people would loook at you funny for using the word equipage and then turn around and talk about leveraging something.

Can you tell I was on a conference call yesterday for my day job?

We were discussing a new area of work and several of the company graybeards were on the call. Not that any of these guys (or gals) actually has a gray beard, but you get my meaning. One of them made a wise observation on the state of the field and paused significantly after, to allow his meaning to sink in. And I thought: I knew that. Everyone on this call knows that. But he has the gray beard. I'm just someone who wonders why we never hear the word "equipage" anymore.

It's a funny thing, being both a writer and a worker-bee. Not just a worker-bee, I suppose, but upwardly mobile, career-track, middle-management. I like my job. I love the people I work with. I appreciate that they show their appreciation of me by paying me well and giving me good benefits. But I can't talk about leveraging something with a straight face.

Fortunately I don't have to, since I'm on the phone and can roll my eyes as often as I want to.

In the end though, I feel like I'm still playing dodgeball. The gym is filled with kids, some loving it, some hating it, some pretending to love it, so the loving-it-kids will like them. The aggressive boys do best -- hurling balls with vicious speed at any target. Exulting in taking someone out. Only when the timid kid, who spends all her time ducking, is left all alone to represent her team, do they notice her. The aggressive boys turn their attention to her. They are sidelined, but if she catches one ball, just one, they'll sweep in and take over the field, returning the team to glory. They shout, encourage, exhort. They want the win. She wants the game to be over, so she can read more of her book before the next class.

I'm an asset to my company. I'm not the timid girl who'd rather be hiding in the bathroom, chosen for the team from the default pool of last picks. But sometimes I think the game will always go to the ones who thrive on the hard and fast throw, who love the flash of pain in an opponent's eye, who relish the shuffling walk of the target to the sideline.

A friend of mine says life is a team sport. And I believe the sports players see it that way. I wonder if they ever see how the quiet members of their teams are dreaming of other worlds, seeing glass coaches and watching to see if the blackbirds are shadowing us.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Hope Is a Thing With Feathers

The river is moving.
The blackbird must be flying.

It's been officially a week now that Craig has been missing.

I only know this because I've been keeping track. Really nothing substantial in my life has changed. In many ways we feel odd, his friends, continuing with our lives. Finishing out the semester for his colleagues. Planning and publicizing our own book celebrations. The robins and crows continue their spring dance. The river swells with snowmelt. Craig wasn't expected to be here anyway, so nothing has changed.

There's really nothing TO do at this point, once we've let everyone know, applied the political pressure, donated to the search fund. I check the updates on the search, but it's not like that changes anything. It doesn't help find Craig.

Today's update:

5/5 9:18am EST: Thanks to the money raised through The Fund to Find Craig Arnold, we have been able to engage the help of an independent search and rescue team (1SRG) who arrived at Kuchino-erabu yesterday afternoon. The local authorities brought the team up to speed, and they immediately began searching; they believe they have picked up Craig's trail. They will be on the island until the 9th, looking, though obviously we all hope Craig will be found before then. However, the official search for Craig has been called off by the Japanese authorities. We need everyone's help contacting their local congressional delegation and asking their assistance in encouraging the Fukuoka consulate to engage local US military/DOD assets on the ground in Japan. They have been thinking about it and we need them to move forward with that as quickly as possible.

I picture them there, like a scene from some Pacific theater WWII movie. The jungle vegetation, the Japanese villagers. Teams of searchers stand under canopies, studying maps laid across folding tables. But I am only an audience for this drama, despite my stake in the hero's survival. I am not part of it.

One of the most disconcerting aspects of death and loss is how little changes, outside of our hearts. It seems that all the world should stop. Nothing does. You must eat, feed your cats, show up for your job, even enjoy the birds and the joy of writing. You forget for stretches of time that your friend is missing and that people on the other side of the world are finding his trail, exhausting themselves to find him.

So, I check the updates several times a day. As if this makes a difference.

I hope, thinking maybe it will.

Monday, May 4, 2009

3, 2, 1...

Icicles filled the long window
With barbaric glass.
The shadow of the blackbird
Crossed it, to and fro.
The mood
Traced in the shadow
An indecipherable cause.
I'm starting the sequel to my novel today.

Okay, I started it once before, but it was a desultory false start. This time I just finished a full polish and revision of Obsidian and I'm hopeful it will sell soon. So I've gotten a running start and have all of the threads in my hands to continue weaving the story.

I feel hopeful, holding the seed in my hands.

Obsidian also began at this time of year, grown from the nugget of a dream. Actually, I'm still writing to that nugget since the storyline of Obsidian never made it to the scene I dreamed. At least, not the particular dream that got me started on that story.

I wish sometimes I knew more where I was going.

The romanceys make a big deal of asking whether you're a "plotter" or a "pantster" -- meaning do you plot out ahead of time or fly by the seat of your pants. Though I don't like the term, I fall more into the pantster category. It doesn't feel like flying, though, winging from one landing point to the next. Sometimes I suspect a plotter invented that term to describe the "other" kind of writer. It's a term that conveys what they see as the precarious and dangerous undertaking of writing without a plan.

F. Scott Fitzgerald said that "All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath." That's how it feels to me. I have an idea of where I'm going, which lake, what the water will be like, but I have to write the story to get to the other side. Sometimes I'm surprised where I end up. Sometimes I never make it to the other side, like happened with Obsidian.

In many ways it's an act of trust. The cause is indecipherable. It can be frightening. And also glorious.

Holding my breath...

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Home Is Where They Have to Take You In -- If They Notice You're There

When the blackbird flew out of sight,
It marked the edge
Of one of many circles.

Reaching a goal, realizing a dream is like marking the edge of a circle. When you reach that moment where you check off the goal, it takes you back to the moment when you first conceived of it.

Yesterday I read and signed at Tattered Cover Bookstore in Denver. And it took me back. Back to visiting the Tattered Cover when it was one room at the bottom of the stairs in Cherry Creek. I went as a young girl with my mother. She loved it because she could describe a book without knowing the exact author or title and they could figure out which one she meant. I gazed around at the forest green carpets, wooden shelves and all the radiant books. Framed and signed photographs on the walls showed the authors who had visited. I wanted to be one of them.

As a college student visiting home, I bought a copy of Tao Te Ching there, a copy I still have. When they moved into the Neusteters building, the bookstore replaced the racks of dresses where I'd picked out my prom dress and my mom and aunt had shopped for most of their lives. Now Tattered Cover filled three stories, plus a bargain basement and a fourth floor restaurant. No trip to Denver was completed without a visit and I frequently left with armloads of books. Now the green carpets circled up the stairs and the author photos trailed alongside.

When my first book came out, what I wanted most was an event at Tattered Cover. But no one would ever answer me or my events coordinator. I even sent a list of 200 people who were likely to come to my hometown gig. But no. Wordsworth Books in Boston hosted me; Elliot Bay Books in Seattle offered me a gig. The bookstore of my youth did not. I knew them, but they did not know me.

Now the Cherry Creek location, too, is gone, and our reading yesterday was at one of the newer locations, in Lo Do (lower downtown). They have a great event space and the green carpets and wood railings on the stairs look the same. Our event for Going Green was sponsored by the Rocky Mountain Land Library, who runs a monthly reading event at the store. Jeff Lee, the director of the library, was a gracious and charming host. Laura Pritchett, the editor, was lively and a terrific master of ceremonies. My co-contributors were fascinating and good company.
It was a fun afternoon.
But, aside from asking the harried woman at the counter -- who first informed me her register was closed -- where I should go for the reading, I never talked to anyone from the store. I'd brought a few copies of my book, so I could ask if they carried it, wanted stock signed, needed my copies. I never got the chance. Okay, I didn't try any harder than that.
I suppose the circle is closed now. I gave that little girl I was something of what she wanted. Never mind that the bookstore never knew it.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

So Many Snobs, So Little Sense

Okay, so here's the latest from the world of literary snobbery on the Kindle: only lovers of literature have them, not lowly genre readers.

This is a direct quote from Sara Nelson, author of “So Many Books, So Little Time.” (Which I have on my bookshelf and mostly read, until I got really bored.) She says: “It’s really expensive. If you’re going to pay that, you’re giving a statement to the world that you like to read — and you’re probably not using it to read a mass market paperback.”

Okay then.

Clearly Sara lives under a rock, or perhaps just under a stack of books. The first person I knew to own a Kindle, and that was the original Kindle, is my long time friend and sorority sister, Karen Weesner. Who gobbles up lots of books every week, many of them trashy mass market paperbacks. Once of the first things she told me she loved about it was that no one knew what she was reading. No slutty covers to elicit questions from the kids. No raised eyebrows from her husband, wondering why she was reading that one yet again.

Not everyone wants the world to know what they're reading and not everyone who loves to read invests only in highbrow stuff.

Apparently Sara doesn't know the latest statistics. Romance fiction sold $1.375 billion in estimated revenue for 2007 compared to $466 million for classic literary fiction. Umm...something makes me think these readers might have money to invest in a Kindle.

This makes me think of those articles where they ask famous people what they're reading right now. Even as a pre-teen, I wondered when I saw one of those articles, how everyone could be reading "A Tale of Two Cities," or "Les Miserables" in the original French. Where were the readers of Anne McCaffrey? As my life went on, I would scan these sorts of lists, hoping someone would fess up to the new Nora Roberts in her purse.

No one ever has.

Me? Right now I'm reading Veronica by Mary Gaitskill and Wicked Game by Jeri Smith-Ready. On the Kindle I just finished Nalini Singh's Angel's Blood and I've got JR Ward's Lover Avenged queued up.

I love 'em all.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Spread Your Tiny Wings and Fly Away

The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds.
It was a small part of the pantomime.

My friend is missing.

As in there are search parties looking for him, with dogs and helicopters.

You may have heard about it already, since his friends and family have been working hard to spread the news. The object of the publicity is to keep the Japanese government searching, something they planned to suspend after three days. Yes, he's on a volcanic island, Kuchino-erabu-shima, in Japan. He's been visiting volcanoes and writing poetry about them -- what can I say? That's part of what makes him an interesting guy.

His last Facebook post was on Sunday, when he said "Craig Arnold is at long last leaving Princess-Mononoke-Land." That status remains. I'm really hoping it won't become an ironic elegy.

There's a Facebook page for him: Find Craig Arnold.

On that group are people's letter templates for writing to representatives. They call Craig a national treasure. Someone sure to become US Poet Laureate someday. All steps must be taken to find him because of his exceptional talents. They mention his Yale education, his poetry fellowship to Rome, his many awards.

All of this is true. And it's great to use that kind of pressure, for political reasons.

But it should be enough that we want him found because he's a wonderful friend to so many. One of those guys who manage to be vital, funny and sensitive. When he coordinated the visiting writers program at UW, he made sure to invite me, a local writer not affiliated with the MFA program. He invited me to lunches with authors he knew I'd like to meet. When I'd show up for readings, he'd flash me a smile. Craig had a knack for making people feel special, that he was genuinely delighted to see you. Every time.

In one of his last Facebook exchanges, one of Craig's friends asked if they really had 111 friends in common. He responded, "the question is, can I really have 111 friends, period?"

Yes, Craig, you can. You have thousands wanting you to come home.
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