Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Cat Who Walks by Herself

I said to David last night that it's very tempting for me just to tuck in here with him, in our house in the country where I know practically no one.

This was after he didn't mind me jumping up to take a picture of the moon after he'd made love to me in a particularly sweet way, because I was feeling all distressed about a social conflict. (Sorry if that's TMI -- just keep going, I won't do it again.)

Some philosophies promote the idea of becoming a hermit. The whole fantasy of living alone in a cave or on a mountain top. Or even in a cloister with a lovely vow of silence.

I come by this naturally, as an only child. I love to be by myself. It's soothing. A friend once argued with me that I only like to be alone because I don't have to be. Meaning that I have a partner where she didn't. I could see her point, but I don't think that's the case.

In fact, David is a miracle of a person for me because being with him feels as good as being alone.

I think it's a harmony thing. I have friends that draw energy from social interaction. They thrive on it and spiral up ever higher. For me, it's a drain. I can do it for a while, but after a time I have to be alone to recharge.

But I think the hermit thing is a cop out.

The way I see it, we're all here on this planet, crammed together, to learn something. And the something clearly involves interacting with each other. Otherwise it wouldn't be so damn painful. And joyous, too.

It's a funny world now. Though I live out in this quiet house and frequently see no one but David and the fur family all day -- and yes, I love love love it -- I talk online to many many people. Some friends, some acquaintances. It's almost like being on campus again. Some people I just wave to. Some say something funny as we pass on the sidewalk. Others I sit down and have lunch with. It feels like a full social day.

And, as you probably suspect, I love that I can turn the connection off again, too.

Hey -- at least I'm not doing the hermit thing!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Burning Words

This is banned books week, for any of you who've been under a rock.

Hey -- even *I* know about it, so you have no excuse! In honor of the event, I picked a banned book from the recent list that happened to be one of my all-time favorite books, ever, to enjoy a little sunshine here. And yes, I read it in high school. (Of course, I also read The Joy of Sex in 6th grade, so I'm not a good case-study.)

Author Jeri Smith-Ready sent 'round this interesting link that shows a map of book challenges. She commented that she found it surprising. I'm betting that she's surprised there are so many challenges in the liberal East and so few in the conservative West.
I think there are two things going on here:
1) Teachers and librarians in the conservative West are much less likely to rock the boat by choosing questionable books in the first place.
2) The general population are less likely to be busybodies and get in anyone else's face about what they are reading.
I recall a conversation I had in the wake of Matthew Shepherd's murder. My friend, a writer, had relocated to Laramie from Boston. She thought the town guilty of allowing the hate crime because Westerners don't confront issues in the open.
"My landlord," she told me, "sees me bring women over. I know he can see me bring women over and never once has he said anything to me about me being a lesbian."
I told her I thought this was a common courtesy thing. You live your life and I'll live mine.
This is how I feel about books. Leave people be. Even young people. I truly believe that no one was ever harmed by reading. Our minds are meant to take in and filter information and it's up to each of us to do that for ourselves. Any time we take the step of filtering for someone else, we're depriving them of some of their humanity.
Not to be confrontational about it.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Getting a Grip

So, on Friday, I bemoaned my creativity issues.

Okay, I whined.

But only a little. Several of my faithful support network (thanks RML, mom and KAK!) made helpful suggestions. Never mind that I felt rebellious about it.

I even decided later that maybe what I had written was probably okay and didn't suck that much. So I sent it to my good writing friend, Allison, so she could reassure me.

She said it sucked.

Not in so many words, of course, because she's a lovely person. She was honest. Not feeling it. Which was no shock cuz neither was I.

So, yesterday, I followed RoseMarie's advice and pulled the shade. (This house has no non-spectacular view windows.) I put on my writing music (soundtrack to The Mission -- no, I don't know why it works. I absolutely can't do music with words. Eerie instrumental soundtracks are best. I also like Master & Commander and Billy Joel's Fantasies & Delusions). I followed Kristine's advice and didn't edit. I just started composing the scene.

And out it flowed.

Allison pronounced it "Way Way Better." High praise indeed.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Life Lists

Isabel caught a lizard this morning.

Another species crossed off her life list. She's hit most of the new species around here: the mouse, the rat, several birds, including a humming bird.

She really wants a gopher or a quail, but I can tell she's a bit boggled on how to go about it.

It's funny -- I know immediately when she's captured something and brought it into the house. She has a certain bright meow. A trill of triumph, alerting us to her prize. She's always so proud, submitting her contribution to the household.

She has a gentle mouth, so usually what she brings in is alive and unharmed. This can be both a good and bad thing. I'm always relieved to see the birds fly away again. I'm not so pleased to see the mouse or rat take off across the floor.

This morning, I went dashing in trepidation (this is difficult to do and takes much practice) in response to her trill of triumph. My heart sank to see Isabel digging around in the basket by the fireplace that has my movie-watching blanket in it. Yes, the cozy soft blanket I bought myself from Bath & Bodyworks one Christmas, which was a huge indulgence since that kind of behavior is strictly against Christmas-shopping rules. I just knew there was a rodent in my blanket.

I was already figuring what else I could wash with it on this non-laundry weekend.

David got his rodent-capturing gloves and, following my suggestion, simply carried the whole basket outside, so that we could maybe skip the whole process of sliding around whatever heavy piece of furniture the rodent had dived under. Isabel immediately dived into the corner of the fireplace, where the basket had been.

And there was our lizard. A New Mexico Whiptail. Widespread and abundant. Don't tell Isabel.

David had predicted she'd catch one, once the weather cooled a bit. You can see this is probably the one she earlier pulled the tail off of -- the blobby-looking tissue is his tail growing back.

David caught the lizard and we dutifully documented it. Isabel is happy now, preening on the patio like the queen she is. Terribly pleased with herself.

Coincidentally, I hit my own version of a 10K day: sometime last night I received my 10,000th page load on this blog. Hardly the big time, but I feel good about the accomplishment.

And I didn't even have to rip anyone's tail off. Mostly.

Friday, September 25, 2009


When we moved here, many of my friends predicted my writing would take off. That I would be so inspired here, I would become some kind of literary Georgia O'Keefe, exploding with masterworks.

Well, okay, it's only been a month.

But the work hasn't been just flowing out this week.

It could be because of my head cold. I'm muzzy-headed. But I don't think that should matter, because I suspect writing comes from a different place than the mind. I asked paranormal romance author Melissa Mayhue the other day if she thinks she writes from her brain. She said it was more like the dreamy place she was in playing with dolls as a little girl.

I know what she means.

Lately it's been hard for me to capture the dreaminess. It could be that I'm revising, which is very think-y. All the time I'm weaving, massaging and reworking, making sure all my threads are lining up. When I have to add text, it feels mechanical. I'm not feeling it.

And part of it is, I'm writing about sinister moments in dark forests, while outside my window the sky is brilliant with light and the desert sweeps in a golden surge up to the blue mountain vista.

This morning, I actually buried my head in my hands to shut it out, so I could dive into the darkness the scene needed.

I wonder how much of it you really need to feel, for the writing to be good.

I'm probably overthinking.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Dream a Little Dream of Me

I've never had a cat before who curls her toes.

Isabel curls even her back toes, when she's especially deliciously at rest. If you pet her in this mode, she'll purr and flex her toes, then curl them tighter.

She makes it look enviable.

I've always been a good sleeper. David says that if the house burned down, he'd have to carry me out over his shoulder. Indeed, when I was a girl, the house across the way, outside my bedroom windown, burned down, complete with excited neighbors and screaming fire engines.

I slept through it all.

But in the last few years, I've developed this weird sleep thing. I'm actually not sure when it started. At first it felt like a kind of anxiety. I would worry at night about where my rings were. Why my rings, I don't know. I wouldn't even wake up, really -- just fret in this kind of limbo state about them. And no, they're not incredibly valuable rings, nor have I ever lost them. I have lost other jewelry, and it bothered me greatly, so I suspect that's where the fear comes from.

The point is, though, that it doesn't matter what the object is, it's the emotion that troubles my sleep.

I put it down to stress, though it doesn't always seem to happen when I feel most stressed. It waxes and wanes, occurs in little clusters. Over time, the object of my concern has changed. (Possibly because I keep telling myself to quit thinking about the damn rings.) It some ways, it has expanded to involve some incredibly important object that I've left in a hotel room drawer (yeah -- there's my business traveler anxiety) and, since last fall, a cat that I've contrived to forget about and leave to die somewhere.

I can even see it: a grey, tiger-striped short haired cat. Unlike one I've ever owned.

Once I found myself up and out of bed in a hotel room in San Francisco, rummaging through the bedside table drawer, looking for the thing. Which sometimes feels like a puzzle box. Interestingly, when I have the thing about the cat, I connect it back to that hotel room in San Francisco, as if the cat is still there, dying and alone.

Yes, I'm probably crazy.

In fact, I spent time thinking about this. I'm a writer. I tend to be dreamy, to read in omens and signs. Who is this cat? What does the puzzle-box mean? Is it some deep meaning about my inner self? Some part of me neglected, locked away? Am I really a were-cat and I'm going to Fight Clubs at night while I think I'm sleeping?

Hey, crazy, but also imaginative!

It happened again a couple of weeks ago and, for the first time, David was there to witness the whole thing. I had been asleep for about half-an-hour and he was still lying awake. (Recall I'm the girl who's out the moment her head hits the pillow.) I sat bolt upright, thinking the grey tiger cat was out being chased by coyotes. I'm always deeply confused in these moments, if you hadn't gotten that already. Not sure where I am, even who I am.

I was struggling to remember how many cats we have and why I thought there was one missing, when David stroked my back and said everything is okay.

"I thought we had a kitty outside," I tried to explain.

"Both kitties are happily walking around inside," he told me. And he rubbed my back until I laid back down and, of course, went instantly back to sleep.

In the morning he told me that he'd been listening to my breathing and that I'd been really deeply asleep and then stopped breathing. He was on the verge of waking me up when I sat up.

So, now I'm thinking it's some kind of sleep apnea. Which means the waking up is a healthy thing and the formless (and formed) anxiety might be related to that.

Now I'm just watching it for that. Fortunately, I'm not one of those several or hundreds of times a night people.

Eh, I'd probably just sleep through it.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A Dish Best Served Cold

Yesterday I saw on Twitter this video.

It's about a young woman who received life in prison, without possibility of parole, for murdering her pimp. I believe all of that is strictly accurate. If you watch the video, you will know exactly as much as I do about the situation. There might be other things we don't know here.

But I Re-Tweeted it and several people on Facebook commented on the link. The story takes you back. We talked a bit about the nature of justice and if all situations are the same. Sara was 16 when she committed this murder, which she admits she carefully planned out. We discussed some, in the short comments, whether it makes sense for her to spend the rest of her life in prison. I wonder what that's accomplishing.

A friend from college chimed in and said "You've obviously never had a violent crime happen in your own family; if you did, you would understand why some people believe that spending your life in jail will never come close to paying for the crime of taking someone else's life. Think about the victim's families..."

Her father was murdered when she was very young. In an armed robbery as I recall. The details are murky, those that she told me when we first met over twenty years ago. I do remember that I told her my dad had died when I was a girl, too, and she said, "you do realize, don't you, that there's a world of difference between death and murder."

And I thought, that I wasn't sure what the difference was. Though I didn't say so to her.

Both of our fathers were equally gone. Both here one moment and gone the next, so the shock was the same. In some ways, she has a focus, someone to blame, whereas we have only the happenstance of accident.

I asked my mother which of her husband's deaths was more painful: the instantaneous loss of her first husband or the slow, lingering death of her second husband to chronic disease. Without hesitation, she said the second. Which is what I thought she'd pick. I knew how hard it was for her to watch over years as Leo declined in the prime of his life and withered away. With Ted's death, it happened, it was over and she had to deal.

None of which addresses murder, I know.

"Think about the victim's families," my friend says.

I think it gets difficult when we try to parse out whose pain is greater than another's. But if we administer justice on the basis of pain -- which, I know, we absolutely do -- then a prison term becomes more about punishment, about revenge than anything else, doesn't it? If that's what we want, so be it.

But if we're operating on the level of emotion, basing our decisions on people's pain, are we really thinking at all?

I don't think Sara's sentence makes any sense, from what I know. The judge told her that she had no moral scruples, which she says she had to look up. Clearly she needed to learn something. Perhaps still does.

My question is: what exactly is she learning?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

I Love the Crescent Moon, Shining in the Sky

That's a really pretty crescent moon hanging over sunset's final exhalation last night.

Were I a better photographer, you could probably even see it...

I added a cropped version, for better viewing. But then you lose the scope of the sunset.

I looked into photography classes this weekend. I figured, hey, I'm in the (relatively) big city now, there must be lots of photography-type workshops for me to take. And there are. I even got excited about this one taught by an Outside Magazine photographer and spent time debating whether I could brazen my way through as an "advanced amateur." Turns out they had definitions, and advanced amateur requires the ability to understand the manual settings on your digital SLR camera. Since I'd have to Google "SLR" to discover what it stands for, I figure that's not me. And who knew there were manual settings? Isn't that why we all ditched those huge film cameras for our sleek little point-and-shoots with the nifty wizards?
I know, I know -- my ignorance in this area knows no bounds.
So I determine that I fall into the lowest bracket: Enthusiast. Which I think means I have more enthusiasm than sense. Which actually sounds about right. It's a nice way of patting me on the head and saying, "but at least you try, dear." Besides, nifty workshop with Outside Magazine photographer? $1800 for the WEEK.
Yeah, I know.
Cheapest class I've found so far is $450, and that's the "commuter rate" for another week-long deal.
Suddenly I'm a townie.
Apparently being in the Land of Art means that everyone thinks you're wanting to shell out to be the next Stieglitz. Where is my Saturday afternoon $75 class for enthusiasts who don't know their digital cameras have manual settings?
I might have to resort to a book. Self-study.
Hmmm...maybe I'll even read the camera manual!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Rainy Days and Mondays

Why yes, that IS a picture of my new rainfall showerhead.

Sometimes the little things make all the difference.

I remember when I was younger and heavy into my sci fi/fantasy phase -- well, the heaviest -- I read every book the library had on people being transported to other worlds, or times, or dimensions or what have you. I had my whole list of how I would handle it, should it happen to me. What songs I would sing, what I would reveal or not about my own world, and what I'd miss most.

Which was a hot shower.

This was back in the day when I had to be at school at 7:05 am for 7th grade. Brutally early for non-early bird me. I woke to the alarm in the dark of morning and stumbled into the hot shower. In many ways, that was when I woke up, under the hot water. My stepfather tried to get me to use less water, less hot, but in this I defied him. It helped that he couldn't really make me, only complain.

It's funny to me, that, now that I've written my own transported-to-another-world novel, that the hot shower doesn't play in for my character. The difference between 42 and 12, I suppose. It's noteworthy, however, that a major turning point in the book occurs in the chapter called "In Which It Rains." Maybe my shower-thing has morphed into a rain-thing.

The rainfall showerhead? Oh yes yes yes.

When we were prepping our old house to sell, we replace some of the inadequate plumbing with shiny new stuff, including buyer-seducing updated rainfall showerheads.

And my life was transformed. I lurved mine with a love that was pure and true.

When I rhapsodized on the subject, several of my colleagues said they hated theirs, because the showerhead couldn't be used to scrub down the shower.

This is so not my priority. Call me a hedonist. I'm at peace with that.

When we moved, though the new house is wonderful and gorgeous, I sorely missed my rainfall showerhead. The showerhead here spit and drizzled in a most unsatisfying way. But, over the weekend, I bought and installed a new rainfall showerhead. Yes, my own self.

And today I have gorgeous day outside and hot rainfall in.

You know how I feel.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

From the Nerd Journal

Some of my writing friends refer to them as the "fur family."

I love how the two cats and the dog seem to enjoy each other's company, as unnatural as the relationship may be. It's warming to see them be affectionate with each other.

One of the small things that make daily life a joy.

Sometimes, I wonder if it's true that life is all about high school. My mom once told me that a counselor-type said that we spend our whole lives living down or living up to what we were in high school.

This has been on my mind lately, because I've been back in touch with people from high school. On Facebook mainly. It's interesting to see how the social positions have blurred and changed -- or remained exactly the same -- over the years.

One of my old friends started an online literary magazine. She doesn't exactly count as a high school friend, because our friendship blew up just before 7th grade. And it was about popularity. She wanted it and was determined to have it. I wanted it, but was sure it couldn't be mine. In her indominitable way, she seized our new school by the throat and became the cool girl. I kept my nose in a book.

We've since repaired those fences. I wrote about our adolescent angst in Wyo Trucks without her permission. She since read it and gave me her blessing, which meant a great deal. And she asked me to submit to her magazine. Which I did. And she's holding onto a couple of pieces for future issues. She asked another friend of ours from school to contribute her photos.

When the first issue came out, there was much excitement in our little group. Photographer gal wrote a nice thing about it on her blog.

I felt left out of the party.

To make it worse, another boy from high school had several pieces in there. And yes, he was way more cool than me (part of the "Best Couple") and, in all truth, still is. He's got a new book out and is in a cool band. My book is five years old and no one has read my novel yet, which is (gasp!) genre anyway.

And it's stupid, but I'm feeling all those things I felt in the hallowed halls of our school. All the ways in which I was not A-list. I was not the "Most" or "Best" anything.

In some ways, everything does continue to be about popularity. Marketing your work as an artist is about drawing attention and having people like you. Some try to pretend that it doesn't matter, that your work stands for itself, but does it really? If you want to make any money on it, people have to pay money to have it -- and that's all about them wanting it, which in a very direct way is about wanting you.

What's funny is, the other half of the "Best Couple" wrote in my yearbook that she admired the way I'd stayed true to myself all through school, that I hadn't changed to be popular. And here, I just thought I was stubborn. Perhaps something of a coward.

So, am I living up to what I was, or living it down? Would I go back and change my choices?

And all I come up with is, I wouldn't change who or where I am today. I might feel my nose is pressed to the glass while the party goes on inside, but I think we all do, depending on what party we feel left out of.

Really, I never liked parties that much. I'd rather be reading a book.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Thrashing About

Our curved-bill thrasher says good morning.

And yeah, he always has that annoyed look. He lands on the feeder and launches into an ear-splitting song, then proceeds to whip his bill back and forth through the seeds, scattering them hither and yon. Every once in a while, he pecks at the glass sides. He eats a few seeds, also.

I'm not sure what is driving the behavior. Maybe birds do weirdly obsessive things, too.

Jeri Smith-Ready (@jsmithready, a wonderful author and terrific gal -- if you haven't checked out her series about all-night vampire DJs, it's worth doing) tweeted yesterday that "Checked e-mail so many times today, fingers permanently frozen in Ctrl-Shift-T position. Will bang head on wall instead."

Which made me laugh.

I have my Outlook set so that send/recieve occurs every five minutes. On both laptops. When my IT guy was autopiloting my work laptop (have you done this? it's kind of freaky: I relinquish control and watch while he runs through my computer settings from the other side of the country. it's kind of Poltergeist-ish), when he saw this, he somewhat primily informed me that HE has HIS set to every 30 minutes.


What? Like he's more patient or something?

I didn't tell him I also hit my send/receive button all the time, too. Anyway.

Which is how all this came up, because my work laptop Outlook started being weird. It's connected to our Exchange server in Arlington, and so is kind of a real-time "live" connection. This is apparently why I shouldn't need to hit send/receive ever. Or why 30 minutes is plenty long enough, because it's always synching. But it's a habit, okay? Only now, when I hit send/receive, it sends Outlook into some kind of loop from computer hell and it helplessly cycles until it crashes.

IT guy doesn't know why. His solution: don't hit send/receive. This is logical, because I don't have to.

But I can't seem to stop.

I know. I know. It's stupid. It's ridiculous. I tell myself not to touch it. I know I can't. And then I'll be working away, click over to my Outlook and reflexively hit send/receive. Scattering those seeds willy-nilly with an angry orange eye.

At least I have company.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Tweets for the Sweet

So, I caved.

I'm doing the Twitter thing.

I know, I know -- all of you out there are either scoffing that I'm late to the game or stubbornly reaffirming in your heads that you are NOT going to do it.

That always seems to be my place in the pack. I'm never the first kid on the block to have the new thing. But neither am I the one who holds out forever.

I'm a third wave kind of gal, apparently.

So far it's pretty fun, now that I'm getting the rhythm of it. It's a bit lonelier than Facebook, because people don't seem to respond as much. My tweets go out into the world, often to vaporize to indifference. Or passing interest. Hard to tell which.

And this could be just be me. After all, I'm not that fascinating.

I did get a bit of response to my tweeted pic above. (So pleased I figured out how to do it!) But as mediocre as my camera photos are, my Blackberry camera ones are apparently worse. I kept this one small, to minimize the fuzziness. Are there workshops on taking good camera phone pics??

At any rate, this was part of my Connecticut series of tweets. I'm thinking of them like paintings. Or a serial story. On the way in I tweeted about the really need video-poster ads that scatter like rose petals when you wave your hands at it, then coalesce again. On my return flight, however, I was on a different airline, American, which is apparently low dog enough to be relegated to the "B" terminal in Hartford. As in "B" movie.
All the shops and restaurants outside of security were closed, temporarily or permanently -- and this at 4:30 in the afternoon. Security was a wasteland, with this very odd Gorey-style guy who held out his hand for my boarding pass at the magnetic arch, never looked at it, but gave me the hairy eyeball and didn't step back for me to pass. I half expected him to grope me as I sidled past him.
The above pic shows my one option for sustenance. Not pretty. The couple of people who replied to my tweet enthusiastically endorsed sticking to a wine-only meal.
It was fun to have the conversation about it. Which is what this is all about: exchange. Even if it's about airport trauma.
However, many people, I've noticed, are more interested in sending than receiving. Another symptom of our culture, that people seem to want to talk more than they want to listen.
I have one writer-friend who started Twitter quite a while ago. And started a blog, to build an audience for her new book. I supported her by "following" her blog. And by commenting on her tweets that went to Facebook.
I can't help but notice that she hasn't returned the favor.
I try not to let it bother me, but I do notice. And I really notice which authors respond to my responses to their tweets. Who is interested in engaging with me and who, it feels like, holds me as beneath their notice.
It colors how I feel. One author who replies to me? I just bought five of her books to catch up on the series. Another who has never once acknowledged me? I'm losing enthusiasm.
A professor from college once told me that I was an unusual student because I took information and gave back interesting things from it. I was surprised that he told me a lot of students don't do this. To me, it's a crucial part of engaging with the world.
No one can read everything that's out there. Respond to everything. I firmly believe in the meritocracy of all these forms of communication: say interesting things and you'll be deserving of listeners.
But do be sure to let people know that you're listening.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A Western Gal on Connecticut's Highway

The view from my hotel room in Hartford, Connecticut.

Which sums up for me all that odd about many parts of New England. I don't mind the view. There's lots of sky and it's a Homewood Suites over in Glastonbury. Nothing to write home about. Good for a few days' stay and the linens are nice.

Traveling way too much, you get picky about stuff like linens. You wouldn't believe how a rough sheet or thin towel can push you right over that edge, the one that's been waiting for you.

The edge that, apparently, many Hartford drivers fell off, years ago.

In some ways, New England is so bucolic. With these gorgeous wooden farmhouses and real red barns.

There are dense trees all around, so one scarcely notices the busy highway just beyond.

Then there's the whole industrial side. Both the shabby warehouses and crumbling parking lots and the gorgeously rehabbed buildings that pay homage to the past while providing reasonably green and pleasant working environments.

But underneath the pretty farmhouses and the chain stores all made to look Colonial, is this anger.

Granted my co-worker is a hesitant driver, the worst kind to be amongst the aggressive kind. And no, we so don't know where we're going or what lane to be in. But we were honked at four times yesterday and three times today. Not a get-going beep. Not even an impatient pop. But full-on rage-filled honking. And as the people speed by, their faces are set in dour, pissed-off lines.

I mentioned it on Facebook and a number of people commented that Connecticut drivers are worse, even than Boston. I can see it. Boston drivers are scary agressive and fast, but they don't exhibit this level of sheer rage.

It's interesing to be in this milieu, following Rep. Joe Wilson's angry outburst, in a solemn and public setting, no less. And then, in a considerably less formal setting, but no less disconcerting for that, Kanye West's bratly behavior at the Video Music Awards.

I wonder if it's just that people's filters are wearing thin. Which is okay, in many ways, since the what know are always telling us to vent our emotions, rather than bottling them up in repressed Puritan-throwback ways.

It could be, I suppose, that everyone is all stirred up. It's been a hard year, in many ways.

People feel uncertain and insecure, which is understandable. Anger is what drives us to make a change really. If you're pissed-off enough, then you finally act to change whatever it is that's sticking in your craw.

But, at the risk of going Justice League, it seems that anger needs to be used for the powers of good. To create change, not to attack other people.

What does throwing a fit do? The angry honking. The yelling. The body-shaking frustration.

If only we could bottle the stuff...

Sunday, September 13, 2009

But What IS Normal?

I left our new house today, almost exactly one month after we first arrived.

And yes, there was an unreality to it.

My schedule doesn’t often allow for an unbroken four weeks at home, so that was a blessing. But last night, as I packed for this business trip, a part of me pictured the old house in Laramie. As if I’d be returning there after this trip, as I did for so many years.

In fact, it felt a bit like the vacation was over.

We’ve been feeling that way, less so now than at first. We’ve been feeling like we’re simply renting this vacation house and we’ll return to real life sooner or later. I’m not sure where that comes from. We’ve certainly done that before, rented a house in a beautiful place for a week or two. With always the return to normal life after.

And the new house is beautiful enough to be that. I remember when we moved into our last house, it took me a while to become accustomed to the new circumstances. I wouldn’t habitually drive to the old house, the one we lived in for 11 years, but I’d feel the impulse to go that direction. Sometimes I’d drive by the old house, just to see it, even though the new house was a step up in every way.

That move though, was only from the fifth block north to the fourth block south, and from 6th Street to 11th Street. Our new house was only around the corner from the apartment I first rented when I moved to Laramie as a grad student in 1988.

So the relocation has something to do with it. Though I don’t remember feeling this way when I moved from Denver to St. Louis at 18, or from St. Louis to Laramie at 22.

I’m really wondering if this isn’t habit so much as age.

Yesterday, David bought a field guide to the local plants, insects and animals. He needs a real grounding in the nature around him, so different from Wyoming’s.

Leaving the house this morning, I felt funny about it. Packing had been weird, since I was out of step on my habits. Still learning where I’ve put everything.

“Will it be strange for you,” I asked David, “being in this house without me?”

“Probably,” he answered, and looked a little sad. Then he shrugged. “Just another new thing to get used to.”

It’s good for us, to make this change. To stimulate our mental flexibility and learn a new place and culture.

I wonder when it will begin to feel like normal life.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Cracks in the Glass

I have this tendency to drop my right shoulder.

It's the scoliosus, I suspect. I was diagnosed with the sideways spinal curve when I was 12. Girls develop it then quite a bit, I understand, a result of the emotional and phsyical spurts of adolescence. I am now the height I was at 12 and managed to avoid the back surgery by doing a lot of exercises and wearing a Milwaukee brace (think Judy Blume's Deenie). My back is pretty good now, which I attribute mainly to years of Tai Chi. But I still tend to drop my right shoulder, so many of my photographs come out with a slight downward slide. I often correct them, to make the horizon level. I nearly did on this one, but decided to leave it. A stamp of who I am, flaws and all, in this photograph.

We watched The Soloist last night. At one point, Nathaniel Ayers, a mentally ill musician who bombed out of Juliard and now wanders the streets of Los Angeles with a shopping cart of precious garbage, asks the reporter, Steve Lopez, who champions him if he sees writers. Nathaniel sees Beethoven and Mozart hovering in the air, embodying the music that drives him. Steve says that he writes for a living, so it's not like that.

I really wonder if it ever is for writers.

Where are the Shine, August Rush and The Soloist movies about writers? Are we just not crazy interesting enough?

I've written about this before. The difference between being an artist like a musician and being a writer. With music, there's a vast learning curve involved in being able to read, play and eventually create music. With writing, we all learn to create a sentence in school. After that, anyone can write and it becomes a matter of opinion, to some extent, whether or not you're good enough. I suppose that can be also true for the garage-band approach to music. Strum a few chords and see if anyone will pay to listen.

Maybe this is the same for all artists: it's so hard to know when you've done enough.

I'm in the midst of this ruthless revision of my novel (which I'm sure you're all sick of hearing about). I revised the first third, and a bit more, according to some detailed notes from an agent. Then I moved, which vaporized everything in my life not involved with moving for nearly two months. Coming back to the book, I ended up revising the beginning twice more.

I can't seem to stop.

And yet, each time I feel closer. I feel like I'm weaving in the things I need to have there.

I told Allison that I wanted this book to be brilliant. And she didn't laugh at me, which I appreciated. Though I suspect this may be a character flaw in myself. Another agent told me the book was a page-turner and exactly what she was looking for, but that she wasn't quite obsessed with it, as she needed to be.

I want my readers to be obsessed.

Maybe I don't see Jane Austen and William Shakespeare floating in the air, but I have shaken books by Ann Patchett, A.S. Byatt and Jacqueline Carey in my hands and shrieked "I want this to be MY book!"

See? We writers can make for crazy drama too.

It's just that the soundtracks aren't nearly so compelling.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Great Grape Pie Gastronomical Experiment

A little while back, I mentioned that we have a grape arbor here.

My friend, author Keena Kincaid, suggested that I make grape pie. Actually she said: "If the grapes are ripe, bake a pie. Grape pie is my absolute favorite."

Which, I suppose, is more of a demand than a suggestion.

But, since Keena and I were apparently separated at birth, because we share all sorts of common opinions -- such as the same favorite restaurant in Charleston, SC, while niether one of us lives remotely near there -- I figure if Keena likes it, I will too.

Never mind that I've never HEARD of grape pie before this.

So I dutifully requested the recipe, which Keena doesn't have. Clearly she's not a plotter. This is what she tells me:

Mmmm...I don't really have a recipe. Just squeeze pulp from grape skins. I remove the seeds. You'll need about 5 cups of fruit (depending upon depth of pie shell), 1 cup sugar (depending on how sweet the grapes are) and 1 tbs butter. Mix sugar and grapes, pour in the shell, dot with butter, put in top crust and bake.

Fortunately, I never plot either, so I'm fine with this. I know the ending -- that's enough for me.

I made the crust like my grandmother taught me. Okay, I use the pastry blade and my food processor instead of two butter knives, but hey...that's the freaking point of technology.

I also use whole-wheat flour instead of all-purpose, so it never looks quite as pretty. But it's healthier. Actually, the grape pie overall was reasonably low-fat, low-sugar, which is a bonus.

I started squeezing out the pulp like Keena said to and, after about ten, I lost interest and threw them all in the aforementioned food processor.

Yes, there is a common thread here.

My friend, Kathy-now-Kathryn (Marin --I think you're so funny!), posts amazing pics of her culinary creations and whrrls the whole process. I am not her.

But, my pantster pie-making method worked out just fine. I ended up adding just 1/2 cup of turbinado sugar, since the grapes were super sweet. I figured we needed some sugar to make it gel. I baked it at a conservative 350, just in case, (oh, and yes, hardened the bottom crust about 20 minutes in the oven first before adding the filling). It ended up
taking about an hour to bake.

I never let pies cool long enough (see impatient food-processor approaches above), so the pie wasn't perfectly gelled. But hey. Also note super-cool high-heeled pie server in background from my super-cool stepsister, Hope.

Verdict? Tres yummy! Like sunshine and grape jelly in a pie shell.

Now, what do I do with the REST of the grapes???

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Point of No Return

The time has come to say good-bye.

Funny how that time is different for every person. How we each work our way through hope until we can face reality and know when to let something die.

My friend, Angela, spotted this article about my lost friend, Craig, the other day. I was grateful she sent it, since it's a loving and lovely tribute to him. And it sums up his disappearance and presumed death. She commented that, after reading my postings about it, this confirmed for her the ending of it all.

For me, that final post about it on May 8 was when I came to terms.

Though to confess the hardness of my heart -- I'd given up hope well before that. While his family fought to extend the search for weeks and weeks, I gave up on him after about five days. After that, I figured that, even if they found his body, he couldn't be alive.

Perhaps I'm not a hopeful person.

Had I been Odysseus' wife, I would have remarried long since.

Perhaps it's just an acquired skill. Having lost my father, when I was very young, I think I learned something about letting go. Elizabeth Bishop says that the art of losing isn't hard to master and I think she's right. You learn that someone can be there one moment and vaporize the next.

The hard part becomes the holding on.

In many ways, I think it's hard to hold out hope. It takes constant energy to hope that something isn't so. To somehow remold the past, to change the outcome. Maybe that's why we regard hope as a virtue, because it can be so difficult to generate and maintain.

Yet, I believe there's also a virtue to finding the end of something. To knowing that it's over and having the courage to recognize it.

I think the articles and memorials for Craig have just now kicked in because school restarted. As if everyone took summer vacation from grief and worry. And from hope, perhaps. Now is the time to wind it all up. It's appropriate, since Craig lived according to the ebb and flow of the academic calendar.

Beginnings and endings.

Farewell, Craig.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Putting Your Money Where Your Wardrobe Is

I've created a clothing budget again.

This is noteworthy because I haven't been "organized" about wardrobe acquisition in quite some time.

The first real budget I ever had though, was for clothes, bless my mother. When I was in high school, she converted to giving me a monthly allowance that I had to use to pay for all personal expenses -- including all back to school shopping. This was intended to teach me fiduciary responsibility before I was off the leash in college and it worked to greater or lesser degrees. Yeah, I had a few tussles with the credit cards, damn their seductive shininess.

So, later, after I dug myself out of my grad school debt, I went on a strict budget. Which included $50/month to buy clothes. For those aghast that I would spend so little -- this was nearly 20 years ago, so $50 went quite a bit further. Also, what I didn't spend each month would roll over into the next month. Since I lived in the Land of No Malls, I sometimes would have as much as $300 by the time I got a chance to go shopping. Mad Money, indeed!

Now, for those who think that clothing should not be a budgetary line item, and I know who some of you are: the other reason I did this was to make sure that I was buying good quality clothing on a regular basis. I was starting to work in the professional world and my mother taught me to dress for the job I wanted to have. And I had high aspirations.

Still do, as a matter of fact.

Over time, as the cash flow improved, I abandoned the budget. And waxed and waned on how important I thought good clothes were. I have a tendency to keep stuff -- yes, I still have clothes from high school, so what? -- and so my wardrobe got huge and unweildy.

I also got somewhat huge and unweildy, myself.

Fat, that is. Alas.

Letting yourself blimp out is hell on the wardrobe, because you cease to care about what you put on your body, just so long as you can pretend you're not really as fat as you've become. Denial can be an ugly thing. Soon you find your wardrobe consists of large drapey things and those cute clothes from your twenties? Stuffed in the back of the closet, staring at you in grave reproach.

Two things happened then. First, I saw The Devil Wears Prada. I know, I know -- it sounds dumb. But I actually had to own the experience, which I seldom do. Sometimes I put in the DVD just to watch the fasion montage scenes. Call me shallow, but I was inspired.

I started to get rid of all the nasty, outdated and unflattering clothes. I gave David and my best friend carte blanche to tell me when something didn't look good and then promptly got rid of it. And I went shopping. I read What Not to Wear and bought nice clothes that flattered my body as it was.

Then I got serious about losing weight.

This can also wreak hell on the wardrobe, because you don't want to buy anything for fat you, and you're not entirely sure where the new thinner you will come out, as far as size, or when that will be. Because real fat loss takes a freaking long time. Nearly two years for me now.

But I'm happy with my new size and shape. And I've decided it's time to buy clothes again. So I have money set aside. $200/month now. It's lovely to go shopping with a little money in your pocket -- but only enough to encourage yourself to buy just a few key items.

Dressing for the me I want to be.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Photographic Evidence

We knew we had a packrat here from the first day.

Well, second day, really. Since our actual first day involved the drive from hell, parking the U-Haul in the driveway, going to the closing from hell, cooking a frozen pizza and unloading enough of the U-Haul to find our bed and then crashing in it.

So, it was really the second day that David rounded the corner to see a pack rat cheerfully trotting up the U-Haul ramp to see what goodies we might have for him. The sight of David threw him into a frenzy, of course, and he bolted for the nearby desert shrubbery.

But we didn't give it much thought.

Until David notifed the garbage pen was filling up with dead chunks of cholla.

"I thought the woman was trying to booby trap me with cactus!" he says to me.

"What?" (And, yes, this is really how he talks to me.)

"In the garbage. I wondered what you were doing, sticking all that dead cholla in there for me to trip over."

"I haven't been putting any cholla in there!"

"I know that now -- it's the pack rat."

Now, we won't say anything about David assuming that I would just randomly pile cactus pieces around the garbage cans. Or that he, probably grumpily cursing my name, which he now has to make up to me with all kinds of sweetness to balance the relationship karma again, bagged up all the cholla so I didn't get a good picture of the incipient nest. David figured it out the next day, when there were a couple of new, carefully placed pieces of dead cholla, as seen here. Apparently David decided that even I, in my random garbage pen activities, wouldn't do this kind of thing.

So he put the new wildlife camera in the garbage pen. It's one of those infrared cameras, that's motion sensitive. David's been hopeful of snapping the coyotes, bobcats or screen-surveying mountain lions, but so far all he's caught are birds and our own domestic wildlife, like the top pic of Isabel.

I did helpfully put up my purple lizard beanie-doll in front of the camera when he went to the store, since David was so disappointed not to have any good animal pics yet. The photo was hysterical, but he deleted it. He assures me that his deleting it is not an editorial comment and that he does still think I'm funny after all these years. He even offered to redo the photo, so I could post it here, but I thought the spontaneity would be lacking and you'd all notice it was staged.


Anyway, as you can see, he got a photo of the rat. Several in fact. Here's a close-up.

Not a real pack rat, after all. In one of the pics, which is quite blurry, so I won't bother putting it here, you can see an incriminating chunk of dead cholla in his mouth.

I am vindicated.

But contemplating filling the garbage pen with purple lizard beanie dolls...

Tuesday, September 1, 2009


So, our neighbor is mowing the desert.
Some people here do that. Mow the desert like it's a lawn. They create this kind of short-grass expanse around their houses.
It's bizarre and strange. Of course, we sold our lawn mower when we left Laramie, with the intention of never having a lawn, or a lawn-like substance again.
I think you can see the contrast in this picture -- the tan flat stuff? Yeah.
He came over to introduce himself this weekend. He's a builder, relocating to work with a buddy between Houston and Galveston. He was planning to mow it down, he said, as part of the house sale. The way it used to be, orginally. I assume that means when he bought it. I'm just hoping whoever buys the house has a different ethic.
The thing is, we know there's green belt between our property line and his, but he seems to be mowing all the way up to ours. At least he seems to be showing no fits of overly-neighborliness by cleaning up our act as well. Mowing the greenbelt would be a violation of the covenants, but we're new here. Doesn't seem right to bitch in our first three weeks.
One of the most ironic bits to me is that some other neighbors of ours relocated here from the East Coast and, over drinks, he was waxing poetic about the Santa Fe landscape, how spiritual and old it is.
A lot of people here do this. I have not escaped the Western Myth.
"Right around the house, here," he told us, "has been landscaped. But the rest hasn't been touched for 5,000 years! I'm sensitive to that, walking only on my same paths. It's such a spiritual thing, thinking about walking on land that is the same as it's always been."
I nodded at him, sipped my wine and refrained from pointing out that his pristine arroyo contains septic tanks for all the houses around. They didn't grow there from septic-tank seeds. Though that would be a nifty invention.
The landscape grows up and recovers. The great Myth of the West is that it's somehow preserved in this museum-worthy contaminant-free vacuum. It's not. It's been fixed up again. Witness our neighbor's lot, recently made like it was originally.
Time will pass. The winter will come and the grasses regrow. Maybe no one will feel like messing with it next year.
Maybe a cholla will choke his lawnmower.
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