Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Guest Post: Why Do the Russians Want Big Melons?

Why Do the Russians Want Big Melons?
A Beginner’s Guide to Blogging Theory

First, an enormous thanks to the extraordinary Tangled Lou for allowing me to take over her blog for a day. I feel very much as if I have been given the keys to a vehicle much nicer than my own. Or moved in with a really nice, normal family and lived as one of them for a day. I will try very hard not to leave any dings in the exterior, Lou. Or any nail clippings in the family bedroom.

What I want to share with you all today is a Beginner’s Theory of Blogging. Blogging, like everything, has discrete stages which can be expressed as trite textbook psychobabble. I only personally know about four of them, so I may be projecting forward somewhat. However, I am sure what I have described are the obvious final stages.

The (Heretofore) Officially Accepted Stages of Blogging

  1. Begin blogging because one vaguely recalls that once one was known to be a writer. Technology, it seems, now exists to project this writing onto the internet where other people can see it without one’s mailing it to each of them in the form of creepy anonymous letters like a serial killer.
  2. Become thoroughly amused by oneself.
  3. Learn, to one's utter amazement, that some acquaintances are also amused by one's writing. At this point, visions of quitting one's job and simply writing essays to amuse these people become prominent.
  4. Discover something such as Blog Her, Facebook blogging groups, or Twitter that puts one in contact with other bloggers. As a result of activities there, start to develop a readership and community greater than one's acquaintance. This is the stage where one usually installs Google Analytics. (We'll discuss this later.) This stage is both exhilarating and profoundly humbling. One learns that one can be part of a community of writers without ever leaving the comfort of the underside of one's own cat. One also learns that there are a LOT of bloggers out there and many of them are quite good. All of them, seemingly, have a larger readership and much better lay-out on their blog. This can be depressing.
  5. Do you remember that Bruce Springsteen video Dancing in the Dark, where at the climax of his stage performance, he reaches out a hand and lifts Courteney Cox onto the stage, alone among the throng of audience members at his show? I think success as a blogger is something like this. Bruce Springsteen is probably played by a publisher.
  6. One writes books and continues to blog. At this point, the job is to be professionally awesome. A throng of tiny sparkling stars and singing bats accompany one wherever one goes.
  7. Death. It comes for everyone.

Where, you ask, do big melons come into this? Well, here is how. (Don't be so impatient.) One of the primary quandaries of bloggers everywhere involves the results of their Google Analytics (see step 4 of The Officially Accepted Stages of Blogging). Here is a sample from my own:

One might wonder why people who Googled "dark life" were landing on my blog. Apparently, though, they are not finding what they want there and are quickly leaving, at the rate of 80% to continue their search for "dark life" on the internet. (The other 20%, apparently, are happy with what they find on my blog.) Even more concerning, a recent spike in my page views seems to have been explained by people who were searching for "Michele Pfeiffer's hairstyle" rather than a sudden increased interest in my writing. These things tend to obfuscate my sense of self as a writer.

Additionally, I am jealous because Tangled Lou's Analytics apparently show that people find her after Googling "sleek jowled" and "big melons", which is infinitely more interesting and less depressing than either Michele Pfeiffer or other results I have such as "dark horrifying woods".

A subject of some concern to many of us newbie bloggers has been the great interest we all generate among Russians. My husband, who is a Computer Person, says that all of our page views from Russia are due to the hub of Eastern European cyber crime. In other words, people are somehow using our blogs for nefarious means, and so I can't even emotionally own every one of those page views I work so hard for. Most of them, it turns out, are probably generated by searches for hairstyle tips and Russian spam-bots. 

All in all, I prefer then, to believe that we are a huge hit in Russia. Countless Russians are seated, as we speak, at their computers, happily Googling "Michele Pfeiffer in the horrifying woods" and "sleek jowled big melons" and then reading us post after post, commenting in broken English and laughing great belly laughs. Soon, one of them will come for each of us and, lifting us like brides out of the crush of bloggers, offer us handsome book deals.

Because we're THAT good.

Guest post by Tara Adams. Read her beautiful and dazzlingly funny blog at Faith In Ambiguity.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Leaping Liebsters!

It is at the end of a long day that I finally sit down to write. There was this coffee to be drunk with a friend, there was knitting to be done, there were monkeys to ferry about, there were delicious chocolate cupcakes with the most beautiful blood orange frosting to eat, there were library books, magazines and movies, there was a flat tire and a dark and rainy walk with monkeys who did not complain, only said "What an adventure!" Soon there will be cuddling by the fire and the eating of take-out with the monkeys all fed and bathed and put to bed.

But first, some gratitude to express. It's a great day when I get to be profusely grateful. I find that most days provide me plenty to be grateful for.

In the last week or so I have been tagged for both the Versatile Blogger Award and the Liebster Award. They both have their separate set of rules that go with them which I am going to ignore, if you don't mind. I will, however, tell you a little about the two ladies who were kind enough to give me these awards.

Kristen at Four Hens and a Rooster is really the girl who does it all. She maintains her delightful blog, she works in social media as a professional - which means I kowtow to her and her knowledge of such mysterious things - and she also started a group blogging site for parents facing some tricky ages at Ten To Twenty Parenting. She saw a gap in the blog world for this sort of writing and advice and so she filled it. It seems people tend to stop blogging about their kids when they stop being so little and cute and start to face some real-life kinds of challenges. All of my many hats - as a mother, a blogger, a writer, a woman and just as a person - to Kristen and her boundless energy and good will. Mwah!

Dawn at Alphabet Salad had me at the title of her blog. And then to click over and find all of her lovely images of vintage typewriters... bliss before I ever read a word. Dawn's blog is entertaining and thoughtful and always interesting. She's slogging through the NaBloPoMo world for many of the same reasons I am - the discipline, the practice, the dream of writing more, more, more. In the process you get to read about words themselves, her lovely old house, and interesting memories connecting her to the present. And, get this... she taught herself html. Again, hats are flying. I am inspired daily by her dedication to the craft of writing, even when she doesn't feel like it. And she's Canadian and I have a soft spot the size of Toronto for Canadians.

So thank you, ladies! I am honored indeed, to be included in such fine company. I told Kristen the other day I felt like I'd crashed an awesome party. So I'm sitting here, snarfing canapes, trying not to spill my drink on the rug, and making appalling small talk.

Also, as you may recall, tomorrow is Leap Blog Day. If you're just desperate to read something by yours truly, you can find me guest blogging over at Southern Fried Children, where Kelly was kind enough to let me traipse through (heaven knows why. Seriously, while you're there, you should just skip my post and read her archives. Twice I've had to have the Heimlich done to me from choking on things from laughing so hard.)
Also, you can find a different post by moi over at Faith In Ambiguity. Tara and I have decided to swap spaces for the day and I get the far better end of the deal.

Let me tell you about Tara. Her posts just suck you in. She's led such an interesting life - heavily populated with animals who need her salvation - and she writes about every aspect of it with inimitable poignancy and humor. She's self-deprecating without being self-pitying; she winds her stories around your senses with lyrical prose and a original wit. She's likely to write about anything, and no matter the subject matter - her boys, her animals, living with chronic pain, her mother's penchant for action figures, cooking a squash,  blogging frustrations, and anything else - she draws you in with her words and takes you with her. You all are in for a treat tomorrow, I promise.

I leave you now, for my couch and my love beckon, with some words from Robert Louis Stevenson:
"The world is so full of a number of things, I'm sure we should all be as happy as kings."

Monday, February 27, 2012

Things That Made Me Smile Today

My back yard smelled like Santa Fe this morning, thanks to pine smoke from the chimney and the fresh coffee in my cup. It took me on a cold, bright vacation to the fall of what seems like a hundred years ago. The smells whisper to me of promise, of joy in the midst of uncertainty. Of presence in the midst of hoping. Of a story I will some day tell. I wanted to sop it up like honey with a bit of warm tortilla, crunchy with cinnamon and sugar and yielding soft in its interior.

My true love sent me notes today. Sent me such silliness in the midst of business, strictly business. He popped up there on my screen and said hello, I love you in a thousand different ways that made me laugh. He reminded me what's good, what's right, what's true. He told me things that only I would understand. He was a tangible presence there, like a hug from far away. He made me wonder why I thought anyone else ever mattered.

My muse visited me today. In spite of his being a wee bit battered of late, he came to say hello. Yes, my muse is male. No he isn't real. He's just visits me from time to time and brings me treats of words. Phrases and ideas that tumble around and fall out through a pen that moves so smoothly, uninterrupted. I thanked him for his time and explained I'd love to stay and chat forever, but there was this laundry to be done, food to be made, people to tend. He said it was all right, he'd just hang out in the back of my mind a while. He kept me company while I worked.

These little people in my life with their speeches and their declarations, their moods and their mischief. I looked at them through new eyes today. The eyes that say that's good, that's right, that's how it should be. They whirled themselves green on the playground; fell tumbling, laughing to a heap of suddenly longer, leaner arms and legs. Arm in arm they skipped away to find the next adventure. They have their secret language, the language of being born of the same womb in different times. The language of eyes that match each other's and barely distinguishable laughs. Their world is two halves of a whole, a yin and a yang and a hop, skip, pounce, giggle. My eyes said that's good, that's right, that's how it should be.

Photo courtesy of
There are things you'll never know. The things that make me cry. The things that light up the inside of my head like too many fluorescent bulbs and make me cringe and cower. The things that hurt and annoy and break. The things that seek to destroy. The things that bring me to my knees. There are things you'll never know because they aren't worth knowing.

These things that make me smile, though; I collect them like stones and carry them in my pockets. Their weight is ballast. Their clam insistence holds me to center when balance is precarious. These stones shelter me when the outside is scratching to get in - whining, niggling, insisting upon itself. These warm stones that fill up the pockets of my thoughts: the scents, the sun, the soul mate, the source, the smallness of hands and feet with great big souls. These are the things that made me smile today.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Dear Uncle Stevie: An Epistolary, Intensely Personal Book Review

Dear Uncle Stevie,

I just finished reading your book, On Writing, and I feel like I owe you an apology. I'll get to that.

First of all I want to tell you thank you. Just thank you. There are a number of reasons that I have put off reading this particular book, not the least of which is that a lot of other books and essays that I have read by prolific authors have taken the sort of tone that says: "Of course, I can tell you how I did this, but you never will because you are not a famous author like I am." That might be my imagination projecting my insecurities on the authors, but I don't think so. Your book, in its openness and concision and wit was more like talking to a friend. (Please know that I am fully cognizant of the fact that you are not my friend, nor will you probably ever be. I'm not creepy, I'm just using that image to describe the tone.)

I appreciated the nuts and bolts kind of information that you shared about the process of sitting down to write and of getting published. I think sometimes we non-famous writer folk tend to think of the publication process as what you are doing now with the big publishing house contracts with movie options and instant best-sellers and stuff. Then we look at what we're doing and think "I'll never get there." To see that you got there by starting here - writing because you couldn't help but write and sending it to whomever would take it - is encouraging, to say the least. I appreciate your transparency in that. I actually cried during the section where you tell about getting the phone call about the Carrie paperback option. I was so happy for you, and I was so happy for the possibility of it all.

Your section on editing was completely priceless to me. I have a hard time editing. I have a tendency to self-edit as I go along and I think that hinders me to a certain extent. I write best when I'm in the flow of it, when I'm barely thinking - almost in a trance-like state - and I had often wondered if this was just the stuff of coffee house poets and nut jobs. Perhaps it is, but it works for me, and I was pleased to have some external validation for this. I almost danced when I read that for you ideas seemed to leap out of nowhere and that you would sit to write them and discover them as you wrote. This struck a very deep and resonant chord with me. I had been taught at some point that sort of thing was lazy writing - that I needed the plot wheel and the character notes and the outlines and that to do otherwise was just amateurish. Of course, I found all of those tools suffocating. I much prefer your tools: vocabulary, good grammar, active voice, easy on the adverbs, etc.

Most meaningful of all, to me, was the concept of "writing the first draft with the door closed". Sometimes I bungle myself up with being conscious of an audience and then it all comes out stilted and awkward. Kind of like this letter. Because I imagine you reading it and picking out all of the passive verbs and adverbs and rolling your eyes. But that's why that concept was so meaningful to me. I can just tell you to go take a hike because you are not my Ideal Reader, and then I can look at it all later when I've forgotten about it and get rid of my own adverbs. This is a freedom that I think will serve me nicely. (See what I did there?) I am going to write out "I am convinced fear is the root of most bad writing" and put it someplace prominent in my writing space. Of all the sentences in the book, that was one of the most resonant. So, thank you.

Now about these apologies. I read your 'Salem's Lot when I was about 12 or 13 because my friends said there were dirty parts in it. I wasn't that thrilled with it. I'm sorry. My tastes at that age tended toward Agatha Christie and Douglas Adams and I just couldn't get into the grittiness of it. My friends went on to read Pet Sematary and Carrie and the like and I tried to watch the movie version of Carrie at a sleepover, but it was just too gross. I did read The Running Man, though. It was gross, but it had good dirty parts and I was captivated by how gross it was. What can I say? It was the mid-80s, I was young and I listened to my mother who said your books were "just trash." It's a review I'm sure you've heard before.

For years I have associated your books with gross movies, with the New York Times Bestseller List, and with massive amounts of bizarre verbal abuse from bookstore customers who were desperate for your first Dark Tower to drop. I am definitely not your Ideal Reader. I just don't like the suspense/horror genre. It's nothing personal and obviously millions of readers worldwide don't share my opinion.

Something has changed for me in the last several years, though. My husband, who is also an avid reader and has pretty good taste in books (well, except for those "man-mances" - you know, the pulpy sci-fi stuff) has sworn by a few of your books. It and The Stand, especially. He tells me: "Think what you will about the genre, the guy can write."  I started reading your column in Entertainment Weekly and I fell in love. Not with you personally, that would be creepy; with the voice of your non-fiction, with your take on pop culture and especially with your taste in books. I read Mischa Berlinski's Fieldwork on your recommendation and it was one of my favorite books that year. I judged you by your stories and dismissed you and your work out of snobbery and I'm sorry. I know it hasn't hurt your sales or anything, but it's just an uncool thing to do to another writer, or even just another human.

I dragged my feet about reading On Writing, but pulled the trigger this past week because I've had enough. Enough of the fear, enough of the wondering if I can make it, enough of feeling the need to justify writing. Also because it was recommended to me by two writers I like. (M-Half and Masked Mom. Do you know them? If not, you will.) So it is with gratitude and with honest-to-goodness tears that I write and say thank you. Thank you for pushing through the pain of your accident and the discomfort of non-fiction writing for you and publishing that book, so that I and countless other writers out there could, if nothing else, read this last few sentences: "The rest of it - and perhaps the best of it - is a permission slip: you can, you should, and if you're brave enough to start, you will. Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink. Drink and be filled up."

Thank you for understanding that, for whatever reason, some of us need that permission slip.

Wishing you all the best (and honestly, I probably still won't read your other books but you probably won't read mine either, given your distaste for the personal essay),

Tangled Up In Lou

Note: I grew weary of all of the links to the specifically referenced Stephen King books and movies, so let it suffice to click here. It's his official website where you can find all of that information and more and possibly purchase a hat.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Buffy and Piaget

My favorite season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is season six. It is the deepest and the darkest and although it is a silly, fantasy TV show, it explores some very real themes about finding one's way in the world and dealing with loss. There is one glitch in the season, though. Buffy, through a confluence of supernatural events in the previous season has inherited a little sister, Dawn. In season six, Buffy is faced with the challenge of parenting a teen-aged sister and trying to fight demons of both the supernatural and the internal sort while being just barely an adult, herself. It makes for some good drama and lots of leather pants. Anyone familiar with the show knows that each season revolves around some sort of impending apocalypse from which Buffy must save the world. It is in the midst of this impending apocalypse that Dawn continues to whine and flounce around the show, complaining that she's overlooked, that her sister is mean, that she can't do anything she wants to, nobody likes her and oh, boo-hoo. The Chief Lou and I love to hate her. We sit on our couch with our chips and queso and yell (sotto voce, of course, so as not to wake the monkeys) at the screen: "It's all about you, Dawn!"

In Piaget's stages of cognitive development, the Preoperational Stage is marked by egocentrism. It is a time of life when children are learning that their actions can have an effect on objects. They are learning motor skills and practicing them regularly with varying degrees of success. They are generally pre-literate, so they think in images rather than words. Any parent of children ages 2 to about 7 can vouch for this. Their small perspective, just discovered, is king. The way they see things is the way things are. They are the center of their own little magical universes and anything that happens around them is happening to them and probably on purpose. Anyone who has tried to convince a small child with logic or reason that there may be another way of looking at things has come to realize that most times, words have little or no effect. I had a discussion about pigeons with my Hooligan awhile back wherein he was explaining to me that pigeons are mammals. No amount of explaining that mammals have hair, not feathers, that they give birth to live young, not eggs, and that generally they don't fly would convince him otherwise. "I know all that, Mom. Pigeons do have live babies, not dead ones and they feed them milk from the nipples in their throats." You cannot argue with the logic of a four-year-old.

When children are small, this is endearing in a way. I really believe this egocentrism protects them from seeing the scarier world at large in a lot of ways. If they live in a happy, peaceful environment, then the world is a happy and peaceful place. If the people in their lives are generally nice and loving, then they carry that expectation with them of everyone they meet. In a healthy childhood, this auto-protection mode helps them incrementally deal with the darker things in life as they are exposed to them. This is as it should be, in my opinion. Of course, this egocentrism is also one of the most frustrating things about parenting at this age. It is when the "But it's not faaaaaiiiiiirrrr" thing crops up. (Side note: my monkeys are not allowed to say this because it is a cliche that forces me to respond with another cliche: "Life's not fair." They may express this sentiment to me, but they have to find other words to do it.) But all of this frustration is an opportunity for learning. It is generally accepted that children will behave this way because their perspective is, as yet, not fully formed. It is by butting heads with the real world and things being imminently "unfair" that they start to realize that they are not, in fact, the center of the universe.

This trait is not at all endearing in adults. Not even a little bit. By the time you are grown, you should have moved well past the Preoperational Stage into, and through two other stages (with a brief revisiting of egocentrism in adolescence, but for a different purpose) into the Formal Operational Stage that allows for both abstract and logical thinking. By the time you are an adult, you should be able to realize that all of the people in line in front of you at the post office when you're in a hurry were not put there solely to inconvenience you. By the time you are an adult, you should be able to differentiate between people talking around you and people talking to you or about you. By the time you are an adult, you should be able to understand and respond to logical arguments. And certainly, by the time you're an adult you should be able to recognize that the humans with whom you interact are not constructs of your imagination, put there for your entertainment or your personal persecution (depending on your particular bent). There should be that magical moment at some point when you realize that other people have bad days and good days, just like you do; that no, if there is no reason for a stranger to give you a dirty look, then probably they aren't - probably they have indigestion or are thinking of something unpleasant or their dog just died or they smelled something foul or their face really did "stick that way" as their mother warned them it would or any of other infinite possibilities that - gasp! - have nothing, whatsoever to do with you.

One of the criticisms of Piaget's theory, though, is that sometimes there are gaps or lapses in these stages and sometimes people don't complete a stage and get stuck there or just have bits of it stuck to them as they proceed on to other things. So you could have an otherwise reasonable adult who insists, in spite of all evidence to the contrary that it is, in fact, all about them. We are self-centered creatures. It is, I believe, our default mode. We all live inside our own heads and it is impossible, really to get into the heads of others. I've discussed this before and I don't believe I'd want to even if it were possible. But isn't that the beauty of growing up? Isn't that the blessing of being a rational animal? That we can realize this self-centered view is not necessarily the best one to take? That we can actively think - I know this is a challenge for some - and choose how we will respond to things? That we can operate in something other than "default mode"?  Isn't it a distinct advantage that we have over two-year-olds that we don't have to just be a ball of emotional reactivity? To be able to realize that it is not just raining on me today because I wanted to go to the zoo? To be able to see clearly in the height of impending apocalypse that there are probably more important things than someone borrowed my favorite sweater without asking?

We all have these little sisters inside us that want to wail "It's not faaaaiiiiirrr!" and storm around and cause petty problems even while there are larger things at stake. Larger things that we - wait for it - that we might not even know about, that we might not understand or that - how can it be?! - have nothing to do with us. We are all the protagonists in our own novels, the stars of our own shows. But as adults, we have that distinct pleasure, and I would argue the responsibility, to sometimes be the reader - the detached observer to see the larger story unfold. Or the TV viewer to watch from the couch and shout with dripping irony through mouthfuls of Tex-mex treats: "It's all about you, Dawn!"

Thursday, February 23, 2012

It's Coming...

Oh, how I love this little frog face.
Leap Day is nearly here, folks! You know what that means, right? 
That means that this space will be taken over by aliens! Or at least by another, very good, very funny blogger. It's Leap Blog Day!
I've previewed the post and it's all I can do to sit on it until time to publish it. You are all in for a treat!
So stay tuned, because on February 29th there will be shenanigans. Of that much I am certain.
Meanwhile, happy typing, folks. Keep your eyes open for the magic.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Making Way

A few months ago I wrote about my Tenacious Pear. This tough little pear held on through a snow storm and ice, through the worst of our strange winter. Some time in the last few weeks, it fell. I didn't notice right away because I was busy doing other things. One day I was walking in from the car, burdened down with groceries and the ephemera of daily life and I stepped on it. It gave a little bit under my weight, but not completely. It squished a little, but mostly held its tough, resilient shape. As soon as I stepped on it, I knew exactly what it was. I looked up at its bare branch and said a silent goodbye. While I do find delight and meaning in the small things of life, I'm not much one for believing in these sorts of signs.

Last week was that restless part of winter. The days are getting longer, but the weather isn't getting any better. Chances for snow are past, but not yet time for the burgeoning spring and all of the promise it brings. It's the part of winter that gets me every year. I feel stuck in time. Not quite ready for the buzzing activity of spring and summer, still nostalgic for the cozy hot cocoa warm of dark afternoons and a stark bite in the air, but finding myself surrounded by cold mud and a sense of waiting. I don't like to look forward. I don't like to wish for something other than is. But the time of year seems to force that impatience on me. I think my pear got restless, too. She leaped from her branch into something new. I scooted her off the walkway and into the soft mud under the raspberry canes so she could share the last of her tenacious, lingering sweetness with them. And I found an object for my pervasive sadness.

Today is sunny after days and days of the solid drizzly rain for which this area is famed. Today is a day for heightened restlessness for everyone under my roof. Today I wandered around my back yard, surveying the ravages of winter. With my little tenacious pear in mind along with a jumble of restless thoughts, I glanced at her empty space and I saw them. Today there are the tiniest little gifts of hope on those bare branches where there was nothing yesterday. Small in size, barely white against the dark gray-brown of the branches, but large in promise. Tiny beads of succulence and growth. The beginnings of buds. Buds that I know from past experience will explode into a froth of finery for my mighty pear tree. They will cover three stories with thousands of their sweet and delicate little faces in a few weeks, but today they are just the kernel of a grand idea.

I was sad about my pear last week. Today I applaud her again as she rests in her next phase of life under the raspberries. She saw what I couldn't. She felt the subtle deepening in the air, she wobbled in the breezes from a different source, she heard the whispered secrets from the crocuses under the earth, she knew the time had come. The time to make way. Her purpose as my little mottled talisman was served and she knew it before I did. She took that leap of faith because she knew. There may be some more days of the cold that seeps into everything and holds its captives diminished and shivering. There will be more days ahead of the restless doldrums of the tail end of winter. But in the coming weeks, my pear in her wisdom knew, there will be more brightness than dark, there will be more color than gray, there will be more by degrees until in the midst of an explosion of color and scent and new life we will wonder why we ever doubted its arrival. She felt the buds beneath her and knew it was time to go.

How many times have I ignored these tiny, incremental changes and stubbornly clung to my branch? How often does making way look like giving up? As surely as the Earth slowly makes its inevitable revolution around the sun, change comes. It's never all the same all the time. Will I listen to my tenacious pear? Will I remember that there is a time for remaining tough, untouchable, refusing to follow the crowd, but that just as importantly, there is a time for taking that leap of faith and making way for the blossoming?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Challenge Accepted

I have written roughly eight posts in the last two days. Writing is how I leak out nervous energy when I have to otherwise be on my best behavior. We have a house guest, so farting loudly is off limits, saying "twat" instead of "what" in a sentence and giggling is off limits, "underwear time" in the living room is off limits, apparently Bill Clinton is off limits, too. What is a girl to do? A girl hammers and pecks at her keyboard in between making polite conversation and surrendering the computer to insistent small people who want to watch the latest episode of Word Girl and missed it when it was on TV because "Grammy talked through the whole thing."

None of those posts have made it onto the blog, though. Because, well just because. So I realized today that even though my stats have stayed fairly consistent over the last two days, there has been nothing new for anyone to look at. What are they doing? I wonder. I know what I'm doing, so I guess that's all that matters.

So here are a couple little secrets about me. I am demented. Well, that's not a secret. I have a tendency to get all bogged down inside my head and sometimes get trapped there and forget what's going on elsewhere in my world. Sometimes the wild mountain hamster in my head gets trapped on an endless loop and runs its little legs off. I don't like to feel this way, so I have tricks to keeping the old brain grease moving. One of those tricks is that I make up challenges for myself to compete with myself to complete. This is totally normal.

I love, love, love the show How I Met Your Mother. I could just eat Neil Patrick Harris with a spoon. Or put him in my pocket and carry him around. My own personal Doogie Howser on a leash. His character, Barney Stinson, is one of the most brilliantly written comedic characters of our time. Perhaps I exaggerate, but I do enjoy that character in all of his little complicated, womanizing, oedipal glory. My favorite is when his friends are talking about complete nonsense and suddenly he pops up and says "Challenge accepted!" and goes off to do something ridiculous that no one actually ever challenged him to do in the first place. I have a little Barney Stinson that lives in my soul.

I have always found it challenging to write well and originally about the following topics: love, death, becoming a mother, coming of age, faith, and marriage. So, like any self-respecting layabout, I've avoided them. Then a few days ago I discovered I was increasingly distracted by the squeak-squeak of my Wild Mountain Brain Hamster, so I sicced Barney Stinson on it. "Suit up!" my wee Barney hollered, "Challenge accepted!"* And that about sums up what I've been up to.

Do you set challenges like this for yourself? Writing is not the only area of my life where I do this, it's just the only pertinent one right now. Tell me about how you challenge yourselves. I'm curious.

*I realize that not everyone will understand this reference and honestly, I don't expect them to. If you do watch the show and enjoy it, then you may find this reference an amusing mental image. I know that some of my readers find television watching to be a bit of a plebeian activity and I acknowledge that and would rather not turn the comments section into a discussion thereof. I'm really interested in hearing about what sorts of challenges people set for themselves and why.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Keeper of Corpses

I've been working on a post about reality, but it will be waiting in the wings as I deal with an actual, nefarious, and unavoidable reality.

Remember the foot smell? It was suggested that it was the pipes, or the produce, or the Hooligan. Well, drain cleaner a-go-go to no avail. Sparkling clean kitchen, refrigerator, fruit basket (I even checked all my shoes because sometimes produce ends up in there. Don't ask.) The Hooligan is an advanced little boy and he can generate some very mature smells for his stature, but alas, I have never known him to smell like a corpse. I sniffed him just in case.

Yes, foot has progressed to corpse in the continuum of bad smells. Dead, rotting, bloated, reeking corpse in an, as yet, undisclosed location. It is beyond a mild "did you catch that whiff?" kind of smell. It is evil incarnate, winding its sticky fingers around the back of your neck and breathing its hot, fetid breath right up your nose. It assaults you. It bludgeons you with slime covered billy clubs and then kicks you while you lie there in a fetal position gasping for your life.

I have long been convinced that there were hobos living in our garage, and now I think one of them has crawled under the house and expired. It may be a squirrel or a raccoon. Possibly a rat. Our neighbors keep chickens and you know what they say - where there're chickens... I don't suspect it's our resident donk-um ('possum the size of a donkey) because he died under our other neighbors' house last winter. It can't be a mouse. The stench is just far too large. So tomorrow will be spent in the crawlspace under the house, looking for remains among the mud and the shanty town that I'm positive exists down there.

I have joked about this. The Chief Lou emailed me last week about an outstanding bill (it wasn't just great, it was outstanding!) and I promptly replied: "I've taken care of it. I put a horse's head in the appropriate bed." Sometimes I tell the monkeys to "hide the bodies" when we do that last-minute blitz clean before Daddy comes home. When the fire dies too soon and it's chilly in our bedroom, I tell the Chief Lou that I will warm up by slitting him open so he can be the Tauntaun to my Han Solo. I have joked about this. This isn't funny anymore.

As I type, the Chief Lou and the monkeys are en route to the airport to pick up my mother-in-law, who will be spending a few days with us. I have an amiable relationship with her because her only son has been happy with me for nearly 15 years and I raise and feed two of her grandchildren, but she has always thought I was a little bit odd. I have lit heavily scented candles in every room of the house. I have burned incense. I have scrubbed all that can be scrubbed, including myself (just in case.) I have done everything short of calling in a priest for an exorcism, and yet it lingers. In a very few minutes I will have to welcome my mother-in-law into a house that smells like the lowest circle of hell (with heavily scented candles) and concede that I am, in fact, odd. Yes, that's me, your strange daughter-in-law: sewer of clothes, lover of underdogs, breast feeder of babies, protector of trees, eschew-er of make-up and bras, keeper of corpses.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Toxic Waste

photo courtesy of

I live in a house with two small children and neither of them whine as much as some of the adults in my life.
This landfill does not accept toxic emotional waste. We spend a great deal of time worrying about our carbon footprint, our environmental impact. We would never even consider just dropping our trash on the ground, much less flinging it at someone else. Is it possible that we could pay even half as much attention to the toxic emotional waste we hurl about? That stuff has a serious environmental impact, too.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Brushes With Fame

On some level, we're all obsessed. It's OK, you can admit it. I can admit it.

I saw Denis Leary walking out of a Burger King near my house.
I saw Imelda Marcos on the Great Wall of China.
I saw Dudley Moore leaving a tube station in London.
I stood in front of the most glorious lamb chop sideburns in all the land at an Avett Brothers show.
My kids' dentist is a roadie for the Avett Brothers.
I see Christopher Walken everywhere. Or maybe it's just my reflection.
I asked the Governor Richard Snelling of Vermont for his autograph at a Black Watch performance when I was 8.
Ditto the Commander of the Black Watch.
I saw Justin Townes Earle walking down the street in front of Pike Place Market, drinking a cup of coffee.
I see Gary Busey everywhere. Or maybe it's just a homeless man.
My dad sat next to Cokie Roberts on a plane and told her all of his thoughts on international politics.
Kylie Minogue tried to "bum a fag" from me at a club in Hong Kong.
A girl at my school who was a year ahead of me dated the drummer from INXS and she dumped him.
I am pretty sure I saw Jim Broadbent getting off the bus the other day.

Did you hear Whitney Houston died?

I went out to lunch with the Chief Lou the other day and there was a giant TV in the middle of the restaurant tuned to CNN. I have never had cable, so correct me if I'm wrong, but that stands for "Cable News Network", no? For some reason, I thought that meant they showed news. While we were waiting for our food, we listened to the coverage of Ms. Houston's death that played on a continuous loop the whole time we were there. It was three days after her death and they had no new information to broadcast, so instead, they interviewed (I am so not making this up) the guy who worked in the gift shop of the hotel where she was staying when she died.

When I go, I want to go out in a blaze of glory. That's what I always tell the Chief Lou. I want a big New Orleans style funeral with parades and dancing and zydeco. What I don't want, however, is some pimpled kid milking his Warholian 15 minutes and saying things like: "Oh, she was so nice and she smiled a lot, but she seemed kind of out of it. You know? Just out of it. I don't have any specific examples, really, it was just a vibe. She may have been a little twitchy and she scratched her nose. You know, out of it."

I don't want the contents of my stomach at my time of death to be of public record. (I can tell you now it will  contain at least one, and probably all, of the following things: refried beans, sushi, hummus, chips and queso, and lots of coffee.) I don't want people to whom I haven't spoken for years to show up and give tearful interviews about "everything she's been through". I don't want theatrically sympathetic people to analyze every bad choice I ever made in my life and  to speculate about whether I was still haunted by something I did in 1986 or not.

I get it. She was a celebrity, so she was "ours". We have this seemingly contradictory passion for celebrities: the tongue-tied idol worship combined with wanting to think of them as one of us. We have access to so much information about personal lives and intrusive photos and gossipy speculation that it seems sometimes we forget that these aren't actually people we know. But these people we worship, they have people in their lives who actually knew them. Who will go through the very real and heartbreaking stages of grief and the adjustment to life on this planet without their loved one. I cannot imagine how that is compounded by Gift Shop Boy and CNN and their hours of idle speculation, multiplied by the tens of thousands of media outlets doing the same thing.

When I go, I want the sales of my collected works to skyrocket. I would love for people to turn up out of nowhere and publicly claim what an impact I had on them in formative years. I want there to be readings in cafes across the land as weepy hipsters mourn my passing. I want fans, and I want them to miss my work when I'm gone. I don't want any of them to act like they knew me. Those are creepy fans.

I would, however, tolerate a sea of flowers and notes and photographs and stuffed animals on the street outside where I lived. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012


That's a dirty word in American society, isn't it? I am independent. I am not submissive. I know my own mind and no one can tell me what to do. Right? Except for when we're not independent. Except for when we do what we're told. Except for when we frequently submit our wills to any number of things and people around us. It's how we stay on the road when we're driving, it's how we keep our jobs, it's how we stay in relationships, it's how we live.

If we didn't submit to the utilities services and pay our bills when they demand that we do, we would be without electricity or water or garbage removal (with the possible exception of Mark on his mountain.) If we didn't submit to our bosses and show up every day or when we're scheduled and do the job that is required of us, we would quickly be without a job. If we didn't occasionally submit to our loved ones, we would become bores and chores and probably find ourselves without said loved ones eventually.

I spent this afternoon watching eleven preschoolers, tired and cranky from a busy day at school and all hopped up on sugar, whine and grab and run and ignore their parents. There are any number of torturous hells I would have preferred to endure. There are any number of really fun things I could have been doing. I could have been taking a nap. But, I submitted. Because a little boy with brown eyes painstakingly made thirteen rocket ships out of Lifesavers and Hershey kisses and paper to give to these little miscreants and his teachers. Because my needs are important, but sometimes it is necessary to set them aside to watch little grubby hands carefully deliver love notes into decorated paper bags. So I find the joy in watching him navigate the bedlam that is a preschool party. I swallow the urge to tell someone else's kid to blow their nose. I, once again, sit on my hands so they do not reach out and pet a mom's fur coat. I smile and make appalling small talk and wipe the frosting out of my hair. I submit to this out of love, out of necessity, and in the service of something greater than my own comfort.

We all submit in one way or another. It is another kind of submission that occupies my thoughts tonight, though. It's the same word for a different kind of act, but it carries some of the same ideas. I have a submission. The big envelope with the scary words: "Attn: Editor" in the address. I have dutifully counted my words, checked, double checked, quintuple checked all of the necessary information I must include. I have edited and cut and pasted and read, re-read, re-re-read and edited again. There are any number of ways to torture myself. There are any number of really fun things I could be doing. I could certainly be taking a nap. But now I submit. Because the time for doing other things has passed. Because I have run out of excuses. There are any number of things I could be doing. But instead, I submit. And in this, like in all the other ways I submit in my life, I submit this out of love, out of necessity and in the service of something greater than my own comfort.

And now I will take a nap.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Cupid's Misfires

I got two bouquets of flowers for Boss's Day this year, I also get them sometimes because it's a Tuesday or because I'm really tired, or because he felt like it. I buy chocolate whenever it's on sale. The Chief Lou and I have "Date Night" every night after the monkeys go to sleep - where usually we eat the sale chocolate and watch DVDs or read together or something incredibly romantic like that. Valentine's Day in our house is centered mostly on the manufacture of tiny handmade cards for classmates and surprising the monkeys with balloons and treats on the morning of February 14th.

I have a rather dim view of holidays intent on promoting the sale of greeting cards and demoting anyone who doesn't have anyone to give them said greeting cards. Love, like everything else, should be celebrated daily in myriad ways that do not involve mass consumption of disposable goods. Although mass consumption of chocolate is a good idea almost any time. Except right before dinner. Unless you know dinner might be especially nasty.

I'm not ungrateful, Cupid has been good to me. We've reached an understanding. Or rather, I have. It took a good many misfires for me to realize what was up. I had a whole post written on this topic, but it was long-winded and sounded self-pitying (which I'm not. Well, I'm long-winded occasionally, but not self-pitying. Especially not in regards to silly holidays.) I read somewhere that aspiring writers can make some freelance money in the greeting card industry, so instead, I decided to try my hand at that. Here are some Valentine's cards I could have written over the years. Perhaps I can send them off to Hallmark and make a few bucks.

I am so glad you asked her to the Valentine's dance instead of me...
Your hands were clammy and you always smelled vaguely of fish. 

After all these years, I saw your profile on Facebook and I just wanted to say...

Who's ugly now, Mullet Man?!
Happy Valentine's Day!


Valentine's Day always reminds me of you...

I'm sorry I left like that without a word. 
I was young and scared and weak and I didn't know what else to do.

Oh, Valentine! You know me so well...

I always wanted to find you passed out and covered in whipped cream in my bed.
The teddy bear was especially thoughtful, too.

On this Valentine's Day, all I ask of you...

Is that you not speak. 
I am only dating you for your motorcycle.

Nothing is more romantic, my Valentine...

Than a "fancy" dinner at the Olive Garden where you flirt with the server and leave a lousy tip.

When I said I loved you...

I was really drunk and thinking of someone else.
Happy Valentine's Day.

When we first met...

I wish you had told me that 
you were really into dudes.
Happy Valentine's Day.

Happy Valentine's Day, my true love...

like the coffee grinder I gave you on our first Valentine's Day together,
we are still going strong after a lot of 
years of hard work.


Perhaps I should stick to my day job. 

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Hand Over Your Keys

Various experts in such things will tell you that there are Keys To A Happy Marriage. Like it's something you drive.

Two of these Keys are:
 1. You and your spouse should share common interests.
 2. Your relationship should be occasionally fresh and exciting.

***Oddly, none of these expert "keys" include lengthy discussions about who did what with the keys the last time they drove the car and who was late to something because after an exhaustive search for the keys, found them in the refrigerator. But I digress.*** 

So it is only fitting that we should have been in the car this evening when we expertly exhibited these two particularly profound Keys To A Happy Marriage. Just keeping the love alive out here on the Periphery.

Tangled Lou: [General nattering about newly discovered knowledge of the possible existence of wild mountain hamsters]
Chief Lou: [Turning up the radio] Shh for a second.
TL: Did you just...? Oh, you did not just shush me so you could turn up Phil Collins.
Phil Collins: [Singing.] Su-su-ssssudio. I just sail away. Ohhhhhhh! Su-su-su-sudio. (Or some such nasal-ing about.)
CL: Oh wait! Is this Phil Collins?
TL: Uh, yeah.
CL & TL: [Insert brief discussion of the lameness of Phil Collins even though TL used to actually own No Jacket Required and thought it was rock music, but that can hardly be held against her because she was very young and grew up in rural Vermont and China for crying out loud and what was the deal with Genesis? And a very little more about wild mountain hamsters.]
TL: [Triumphantly.] Whatever. You're the one who turned up Phil Collins.
PC: [Still singing. Too loudly, still through his nose.]
CL: [Spluttering a bit.] But... I... I didn't....
TL: No. Did you, or did you not, just shush me and then turn up Phil Collins?
CL: Yes, I did but...
TL: Tut tut tut tut. I rest my case.
CL: No. I did but, I thought it was Gloria Estefan.
TL: !!!!!!!
PC: [No longer singing. Probably because he's hurt and confused.]

So, come on. Shake your body, baby. Can you do that conga? I know you can't control yourself any longer.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Blowing Bubbles: An Intensely Personal Review

An intensely personal review of the article The Great American Bubble Machine by Matt Taibbi. It is not recommended bedtime reading.

He handed me the article at bedtime. "You should read this," he said. When he recommends things, I usually listen. He has impeccable taste in reading. The title sounds like fun, but I know it's not. Not fun at all. I read the first few paragraphs and have to stop. "I can't read this before bed," I tell him. "It will make me dream of horrid things." I don't like to go to bed angry.

We live in our own bubble. From the inside, we see the world through irridescent soap shine - scrubbed and pretty, all glossy-bright and warped by our happy walls. Inside we float, bouncing off each other, protected. There are other bubbles that people speak of, but they are not our own. Or so I like to imagine. He helps me maintain our bubble, keep it from glancing off blades of grass or clapping toddler hands. He knows how important it is to me. He knows it's for our monkeys who are too young to think of things like Wall Street or the housing market. Money, to them, is two dollars and fifty cents a week. Fifty cents to charity, two dollars of financial freedom to save or spend. This is all they know. This is what they should know. They should not know of other money just yet. The money that equals power, corruption, usury, division and inequity.

"He's the new Hunter Thompson," he tells me of the author. Big words coming from the man who spent our one and only trip to Las Vegas, tripping in the steps of Fear and Loathing. (Not literally tripping, like the late Mr. Thompson, just visiting.) Nerdy vacation habits aside, this man I love is educated in political science, history, the law. He's also educated in a different way - in the ways of small people with large hearts, the ways of a soul mate with odd notions, the ways of being Daddy and Husband and keeping the wolves at bay. He's the pragmatist to my idealist. He tells me things will be OK when I lather on about the State of Things. He tells me that These Things come and go. I trust him because my mind is full of other things than history. He tells me, "You should read this," and I do.

I do not like what I read. I do not want to finish. It's too much to think about, too much to contradict. It makes me think of things like Goldman Sachs. Last week I didn't think of such things. I laugh and say it's a good thing we have no assets and then I worry about my mom, her entire retirement tied up in investments she doesn't fully understand. I don't understand how the large, imaginary money works. Technically, I do. I'm pretty smart that way. But in the center of me, I don't understand. I don't understand how there are people who not only cannot say "I have enough. I am content." but also seem content to take from those who have very little to begin with. I do not understand this and it makes me want to hug my kids, to hope their world continues to be two dollars and fifty cents every Sunday or some variation thereof.

There are so many things I read, I know. There are so many things I wish I didn't. I cannot fix those things. I cannot even begin to see clearly to the end of the problems. It cannot be solved with a swift kick in the shins, which is what I want to do. I laugh when I think of getting my common mud from my worn out boots on the perfect crease of a $2000 suit. But I cannot kick their shins, for my monkeys' sake. I can only keep my own bubble and make it work the best I can. I like to feel invisible, like no one can touch us. I like to feel aloft, afloat, swaying in the breezes that change.

Defeated at dinner last night, like I have not seen him about Such Things before, he tells me he's used up all his outrage for the day on the latest corporate bail-out. "A 'settlement' not a bailout! They're saying this!" He rages, "It is criminal, but it's not. It should be." The Hooligan expounds on broccoli and the jBird mimics her hero's fuming without knowing what it is she speaks of but maybe she does know: "Why can't people just share?" We do not usually talk like this in front of the kids. The fumes take up too much space inside our bubble. I raise my eyebrows at him and tell my jBird not to worry. He sighs, "I think it's come to the point where they're just looting the carcass."  These words from him chill and make my dinner suddenly unpalatable. This defeat, this portent of a world left picked clean by pillagers, leaving what? behind for the future that picks at its broccoli at my table.

These are the things I think about today, but they are out of my control. So we blow our bubble a little bigger: I bake bread with my son, I bring a surprise lunch to my daughter at school, I pound out these words, I play kickball, I go to the zoo, I blow those darker bubbles away from me - my quiet acts of peaceful rebellion. Today I cannot care about housing markets or tech stocks or golden parachutes. I am too busy investing in futures.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Tangled Small Talk: Twitter-style

Twitter makes me uncomfortable, but I'm told it's a good way to "build my brand" (which makes me think of a towering monolith with ill-fitting jeans and mismatched socks and I shudder.) I also get a teeny bit defensive that there are things out there that I don't really "get", but teenagers adopt them with ease. So I must conquer them. It was that or Justin Bieber, and Twitter seemed the lesser of the two evils.

Twitter combines two of my nemeses: small talk and algebraic looking symbols. But I'm getting the hang of it, sort of. I waded into the stream of chitchat today and saw this Tweet from Kristen* at Four Hens and a Rooster, who has awesome hair and is very patient with my socially backward nonsense:

We're awesome! RT : Bloggers Launch a JCPenney Shop-In To Support Ellen DeGeneres, Tolerance

I have heard rumblings about this whole JCPenney debacle, but honestly haven't paid much attention. Apparently JCP took on Ellen as a spokesperson and a whole bunch of people protested and wanted to boycott the store. I'm all for being awesome and tolerance and Ellen and boycotting, but wait! Boycotting? This jangles some sort of socially conscious umbrage from a few months ago, so I Tweet:

 Weren't we supposed to be boycotting JCP over the whole Tshirt thing in the fall? I'm confused.

This is the jBird's last experience with JCPenney:
jBird - age 4 and lovin' it. Hooligan - 18 mos. and not
with the Texas cousins who obviously know how
to get their portraits taken at the mall.
We have discussed the T-shirt Thing at home. "What T-shirt?" the jBird wants to know. After hemming and hawing around I tell her outright "It says 'I'm too pretty to do homework, so I let my brother do it for me'." I am uncomfortable to even say the words out loud, even more uncomfortable than I am with Twitter. "Well, that's dumb," she says. "What does being pretty have to do with homework? And besides, that's unfair to your brother. What if he has his own homework to do? And anyway, my brother is in preschool. He would completely mess up my homework." These are all valid arguments. "Who thinks that's funny?" she wants to know. "Um, I don't know, really," I am relieved that she's indignant. "But a lot of people felt the same way you did and decided not to shop at JCPenney because they sold it. So many people that the store finally pulled the shirts." She thinks about this. "Well good. I don't like that store anyway." The conversation then devolves into how I'm such an activist and they totally noticed I was boycotting because I went from never shopping there to decidedly not shopping there. Except now, I'm supposed to shop there because:

 that's old news..;) Yay to JCP for telling one million moms to suck it re: Ellen spokesperson protest

I appreciate their right to protest and I will defend it, but I really think some people need to find better things to do with their time.

 I can't possibly keep up with such things. I'm all for telling 1m moms to suck it, though. Sadly, I only shop local & small

This makes me sound awesome to some people, but really it's another example of being an activist by accident. My neighborhood is populated with small, local businesses to which I can walk. I loathe the mall and I loathe the driving in traffic and hunting for parking spots. I am essentially lazy in this regard. But my laziness works for me in this case. Except for tomorrow, when I'm supposed to show my tolerance by buying things I don't need from a large, national chain store that I hate.

Because this is small talk and I think because Kristen realized that she doesn't actually know me, she followed up with this:

 unless you're pro OMM, then yes... Boycott away...

I'm down with OPP, but I have no idea what OMM is. Fortunately, this whole thing is taking place on Twitter, where my ignorance cannot be witnessed as a blank-blink-blink stare. I quickly Google OMM so as not to appear the sheltered idiot I am.

Osteopathic manipulative medicine? I've got no objections to this.
Orangetown Mighty Midgets? I'm pro-that, whatever that is, because it's fabulous.
Old Man Murray? Oh my, yes. I am utterly and completely pro-Old Man Murray.**

Somehow, I don't think any of these are what she means. I spend the next few hours trying to untangle this mess into which I've stepped. I like to be a responsible citizen. I like to take a stand for my beliefs. I like to denounce things like intolerance. I really do. But I'm confused about this whole thing. 

Was the hiring of Ellen Degeneres as a spokesperson a calculated measure by the giant store to draw former boycotters of bad taste back into the spending fold? Does the hiring of Ellen cancel out blatant sexism aimed at children? Does JCPenney really care? Either way, they're getting a ton of free advertising (like from me, right now.) How can it be the 21st century and this is what we're discussing? How can you not love Ellen? She's funny and she dances and wears suits with sneakers and shows pictures of cats on her show. What's wrong with that? Oh wait. Is it because she's gay? Are people afraid they might catch gay if they buy their commercially emblazoned children's wear there? They might catch bad taste. And as far as that goes, I wonder how many gay people work for the store (or any store), nationwide? Yet there was no need to boycott (or overshop) before. Why now? What could OMM possibly stand for? Offended Mad Moms? Openly Melodramatic Moms? Obviously Mental Moms? One Million Mothballs? 
I have no idea. I do have an idea about something else, though.