Saturday, March 31, 2012

Author, Plagiraize Thyself!

Spent most of the day puttering around--it may have involved a blog-reading binge, interrupted only by several chapters in the book I am currently reading, as well as making homemade beef stew and freshly baked bread for dinner. Maybe.

Regardless, I've left myself utterly without motivation to flesh out any of the post ideas I've had floating around in my brain all day and will instead resort, yet again, to plagiarizing myself. This piece was originally written in 1992, when I was at home with my three boys, the oldest of whom had just turned four. It was originally published in 1998 by At-Home Mothering magazine.


Shades of a Mother

Sometimes she felt like this: She felt she had fallen into her life from a great height. She had landed on her feet, but shakily, and the trip down had left her dazed and without the energy to sort out the details of this life she had fallen into.

She thought it might be a play, though it was not a well-written one. The plot was murky, there were too many characters with too much dialogue, and there were far too many props. It was not the work of a master playwright but the product of a party game--each player adding a line in turn, one act tumbling messily into the next with no central vision, no order.

She was endlessly surprised by the facts of her life. At two in the morning, she would make the precarious trip to the children's room, tripping over toys she thought she'd put away. And she would wonder when things had gotten so chaotic, so out of control. At lunch time, spattered with baby food and more ambitious chunks of things thrown by the older ones, she would meticulously retrace her path. She searched for the one decision that had led her here.

But it seemed her life was shaped by indecision. It was built not of the things she'd done but of the things she'd left undone.

Sometimes she felt like this: She felt she had stumbled upon the Meaning of Life. That she had come upon it by accident, amid the havoc of her life made it all the more precious.

She could not be fooled into thinking she lived a remarkable life. But sandwiched between the unremarkable facts of her life--the clutter and the noise, the chores and the bills--there were miracles.
There were sleepy, trusting smiles in the middle of the night. There were full throttle giggles. There were stains that came out in the wash. There were toys that came assembled. There were days when all the socks had mates. There were moments when she wouldn't change a thing.

Sometimes she found an extraordinary appreciation for the ordinary. These energetic people, living their hectic, untidy lives all around her were miracles. Her life was like a crayon drawing in a priceless gilded frame. Sometime simple, a little messy, the lines blurred and fuzzy, transformed into art.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Bells Will Be Ringing

Earlier this week, I posted about my issue trying to figure out where I saw a phrase about falling objects that may or may not be trees. Many of my kind bloggy friends ventured forth with guesses and suggestions. Alas, I have still not located the source of that specific phrase, but the search rang a bell for my father and his girlfriend who reminded me today about another spin on the noise a tree makes (or not) when it falls in the forest.

For several years, Son-Two participated in Odyssey of the Mind. For those unfamiliar with it, it is basically a creativity competition with regional, state, and world levels. At competition, along with the Long-Term Problem, which the teams have been working on for weeks or months in advance, there is the Spontaneous portion, which is basically the kids being as creative as possible on the spot. Some of the Spontaneous problems are brain teasers, some are physical problems, some are some weird combination of both. 

To prepare for Spontaneous, there are sample problems that the team works on together while preparing their Long-Term Problem. It was during one of these practice sessions that the following question was posed to Son-Two's team: "Why did the man run screaming from the forest?"

Son-Two's answer: "Because a tree fell right in front of him and he didn't hear a sound."

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Random Quote Thursday

"Denial is a creature of infinite resource, wriggling its way into the finest crevices of the mind to spin its cocoons around fear and suspicion."
                    ~~Nicholas Evans, The Loop

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Is OSHA Aware Of This?

Most non-readers and even many purely recreational readers probably consider reading to be one of the safest and most sedate of activities. And perhaps, for the hobby reader, it is quite safe. Out here in the mean streets of word addiction, however, it is an activity fraught with occupational hazards.

Paper cuts are just the beginning. There are kinks in the neck from being too utterly absorbed in what you're reading to remember to move and stretch. There's eye strain. And there's the divided brain that happens when half of your mind is on the book waiting at your desk while the other half is struggling mightily to pay attention to what your boss is rambling on about.

Worst of all, though, is being unable to scratch that maddening mental itch of "I know I read it somewhere..." I read a ridiculous amount, as I've made clear on numerous occasions. And usually when I read something that strikes a chord, I scribble it down in one of my notebooks or at least make a note to do so before I return a book to the library or click to the next web page or whatever.

As meticulous as I am about taking notes, though, all too often something gets overlooked and then a week or two later, I will vaguely remember what it was, but be completely unable to find it. I have been struggling with this the past month or so. I read something, but I can no longer remember where and it's starting to get to me just a bit. I have browsed through every magazine, book and blog that was in my possession during that time period to no avail. So, I'm going to share it with you in hopes that maybe one of you read it, too. Shoot, for all I know, one of you wrote it.

Somewhere--in a magazine, in a book, on one of many fantastic blogs--sometime in the past month or so, I read something that went like this:

"If two things fall in a forest and neither one makes a sound, which one's the tree?"

Or like this:

"If two things fall in a forest and both of them make a sound, which one's the tree?"

I can't remember exactly which way it was put. I can't remember at all where I read it. And there's also the possibility that I dreamt it or randomly woke up with it in my head. I've tried Googling it, in every conceivable combination, with no luck. So, now, I am throwing myself upon the mercy of my bloggy little corner of the internet. Have you read it? Do you remember where?

Monday, March 26, 2012

Masked Mom's Media Monday: The Plague of Doves

Published in 2008, Louise Erdrich's The Plague of Doves is a novel built of interconnected stories told by different narrators about the lives of the Ojibwe and whites who live on and near a reservation in North Dakota. Running through the novel and all the lives in it is the senseless and unsolved murder of all but one member of a white farm family in the early 1900s.

Each of the intertwined stories could stand on its own, but together they stand as a compelling reminder of the often unseen connections that bind us to people we've never met. These are stories of the devastating results of prejudices and rushes to judgment. They are stories of quests for redemption, of the search for compassion, of sacrifices made in protection of others. They are stories of consequences from long-forgotten acts that echo across generations. They are stories, in other words, about all life's big stuff and they are played out in the tiny, rural lives of Erdrich's well-drawn characters.

This not only a novel about big themes, though, it is also a compulsively readable murder mystery, with clues sprinkled throughout the individual stories. When I finally arrived at the last page, I read the ending with an equal sense of satisfaction and surprise.

This is not the first time I've walked away from an Erdrich novel completely in awe and I can't imagine it will be the last.

Masked Mom's One-Word Review: Fantastic.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Spiral Notebook Sunday: September 5, 1983

"When you get married and live in a hut,
Send me a picture of your first little nut."
~~Nikki Fisher, in the going away card from my third period German class in 9th grade, March 1983

"I'll tell you one thing--when I grow up and have kids, I'm not going to act like a mother."
~~Justine Bateman, as teenager "Mallory Keaton" on Family Ties

Before I was the mother of four children, I was the oldest of four children. Needless to say, the view from here and the view from there differ drastically. For example, there are several bitter entries in the early volumes of my journal referring to my brilliant plan to have four children so I never had to do any housework.

If you're done laughing and have dried your eyes, I would like to share the first (and most vehement) of those entries with you now. In my younger self's defense, I was fifteen when I wrote this. It was Labor Day so no school, and the soaps were preempted by U.S. Open tennis, which I wouldn't have minded watching (had a little McEnroe crush going), but Baby Brother's preference for Bugs Bunny won the day, as Baby Brother's preferences so often seemed to do.


September 5, 1983

When I get married and live in a hut and send Nikki Fisher a picture of my first little nut, I think I'll have three more nuts. I mean four kids, of course. After all, my parents did. And look--this house runs slicker than snot on a doorknob*--with a minimal amount of parental help...Anyway, Labor Day is still not especially wonderful. We're having baked fish and baked potatoes for dinner. Which proves my point about my parents not lifting a finger more than necessary. Had I been cooking, Mom would've suggested grated potatoes and fried fish. Lovely. The only reason I'm not cooking is I have to do the dishes. I'm not going to do both.

*To my recollection, this phrase came into my vocabulary around the time I was ten or eleven, during my father's CB phase, when we heard one trucker tell another that the ice-covered roads were "slicker than snot on a doorknob." Like many phrases of varying quality, it's never entirely left my vocabulary, though perhaps it should. 

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Random Quote Saturday

Tonight's quote goes out especially to JT, a fellow fan of A Walk In The Woods. The book is highly recommended by the way, but here's a quote to get you started.

"All the books tell you that if the grizzly comes for you, on no account should you run. This is the sort of advice you get from someone who is sitting at a keyboard when he gives it. Take it from me, if you are in an open space with no weapons and a grizzly comes for you, run. You may as well. If nothing else, it will give you something to do with the last seconds of your life."

~~Bill Bryson, A Walk In The Woods

Friday, March 23, 2012

You Call That Crap Art?

[Blurt alert: This post talks about poop. Continue at your own risk.]

As I mentioned earlier this week, when Cranky Ex-Boss Lady's grandson, Other Kid, was a baby, he was with us forty to fifty hours per week while his mom worked second shift. Every night, during her dinner break, Other Kid's Mom would call to see how things were going--how he was feeling, what he had eaten, and, always, every night, for the entire four years we babysat, the Poop Report. A simple "Did he poop?" did not suffice with Other Kid's Mom. There were always questions of chronology, consistency, color, quantity--so very many questions.

As the mother of four, I was not exactly squeamish about these questions, but I also didn't entirely understand the need to go into quite so much detail, especially at first. Later, it did occur to me that rather than an expression of her deep (and perhaps mildly disturbing) interest in poop, her nightly pop (poop?) quizzes were perhaps her attempt to offset all the time she spent away from him. Her job was essential for both her financial and mental health, but those facts fold pretty quickly in the face of maternal guilt and just the constant missing your kid that most moms working outside the home struggle with.

Anyway, regardless of its psychological underpinnings, the Poop Report became a staple of our daily routine. If I had to work late at the flower shop, or I couldn't wait one more second to take my evening shower, I would say to Hubby, "You're going to have to do the Poop Report tonight." If one of my kids changed Other Kid's diaper, they would be sure to tell me any pertinent poop information so it could go into the Report.

Compiling the Report grew a little more complicated once potty training began, because we had to include all the almost poops--the times Other Kid announced he had to go, then spent fifteen minutes in the bathroom doing everything but going. One evening, eleven-year-old Daughter-Only was on potty duty (doodie?) with Other Kid. They had been upstairs for quite a while when Other Kid's Mom called for the evening rundown. Mid-phone call, Daughter-Only walked up and handed me a piece of paper on which she had drawn, in brown and green crayon, her rendition of the toilet's contents before she and Other Kid had (triumphantly, I assume) flushed. She had even written a heading across the top: "The Poop Report."

As she handed me her masterpiece, she said, "Here, you can just give this to Other Kid's Mom so she can see what I saw." She did it trying to be funny, and it was most assuredly that. It's entirely possible (though I have no intention of asking) that Other Kid's Mom took that picture home and framed it. Or put it in Other Kid's scrapbook. The whole thing is a bit of a family legend.

I'm not sure the exact nature of the poop that's been getting to me lately--most of it is generated deep inside my brain and not from external sources. I do know it's been a pretty crappy couple of weeks. And I also know that sometimes I can't help wishing I could draw--or write--something as concrete and easily decipherable as Daughter-Only's Visual Aid to the Poop Report. Something that would portray the poop in a way that would help me understand it better. Something I could hand to someone and say, "There, now you can see what I see."

Thursday, March 22, 2012


This week wins.

Luckily, my work week ends in about an hour so there's hope for tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Random Quote Tuesday

"Of all the things I am not very good at, living in the real world is perhaps the most outstanding. I am constantly filled with wonder at the number of things that other people do without any evident difficulty that are pretty much beyond me."

~~Bill Bryson, I'm A Stranger Here Myself: Notes on Returning to America After 20 Years Away

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Two Things Are Better Than None

In my long-winded post about all the things I couldn't say about writing, I mentioned my Thinging cap and provided a footnoted preview of its utter fabulousity. I can no longer remember exactly when my Thinging cap came into my life--ten years ago? fifteen? more?--but I do remember exactly how it came into my life.

Our local Kmart has one of those claw machines full of cheap stuffed animals and other "fantastic" prizes in the little foyer between the sets of sliding glass doors. For a thankfully briefish period of time I had an as yet inexplicable obsession with that machine. I could not walk by it with quarters in my pocket without trying it--regardless of whether a single thing inside appealed to me in any way or not. I traded countless quarters for a haul of stuffed animals, most of which eventually found at least temporary homes with my children and nieces and nephews and even my siblings.

The only thing I retrieved from that machine that I still know the exact location of is my Thinging cap. It called out to me from its perch atop a pile of hideously colored Valentine's Day-themed creatures that only vaguely resembled the animals they were meant to represent. I got it on the first fifty-cent try--it was clearly meant to be mine.

I wear it on weekends mostly--I joke that it's so I can go out in public without pulling my hair up into its mandatory weekday ponytail or without even brushing my hair at all. But really, putting on the cap is about a change in attitude--it is my message to myself that I am stepping out of the everyday crap and more into myself. It works kind of like those tinfoil caps that protect people from thought-stealing alien radar waves.

It's gotten a little ragged around the edges, these past few years and I'm probably only three or four wearings away from having to reinforce the adjustable plastic clasp at the back with duct tape (rest assured, it will be zebra print duct tape when I do). I have scoured the internet looking for an exact replica or even something approaching its awesomeness to have on hand, in case of its dreaded (but probably inevitable) demise or loss. So far no luck, but the search continues.

Of course, I am not so superstitious as to believe I can't write without it, but I'm pretty sure I write better with it.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Masked Mom's Media Monday: Apples And Oranges: My Brother And Me, Lost And Found

Marie Brenner is an investigative reporter with a distant and difficult relationship with her only sibling when he is diagnosed with cancer. He calls his sister and asks her to put her connections and investigative skills to work finding a cure for a cancer he has been told is incurable. She makes efforts to do so and in the process, turns her investigative curiosity on the state of her relationship with her brother and the history of sibling rivalries within their extended family as well. In Apples & Oranges: My Brother and Me, Lost and Found, Brenner shares that journey.

Determined to radically improve--or at least to better understand--her relationship with her brother, she puts much of the rest of her life on hold and moves from her home in New York City to be near her brother on his apple farms in Washington State and at his main home in Texas. 

Brenner unflinchingly shares even the unflattering things she discovers about herself, about her brother, about her family's history. While doing so, she often jumps back and forth in time in a way that is occasionally jarring. Ultimately, though, the flashing forward and back came to seem an organic part of the storytelling process--putting us that much more inside her head and heart. It is as though she gives us specific moments not in the chronological order in which they occurred, but in the order in which their deeper meaning became clear to her.

Throughout the book, Brenner pulls no punches in relaying her brother's verbal attacks and anger at her and the world, but she is also open about what she sees as her own contribution to the distance between them. At one point, Brenner's insatiable desire to figure this sibling thing out leads her to meet with a psychiatrist and author who has some interest in the dynamics of sibling relationships and, of course, she also reads extensively on the subject. Summing up all her research she writes this passage, which will likely stay with me for a long time:
In other words, the Bermuda triangle that can never be explained but allows you to experience colleagues and partners with something approaching the mind-set you had with your siblings. Did you look to them as mentors, enemies, confidants, or competitors? Or a combination of all these elements depending on the day? 
Now that I understood it, that it was there, underneath, like a cop directing traffic, it would take every shred of discipline to look for the common ground, the links that attached us to the world rather than the thing that separated us. And that was a decision, like choosing chocolate over strawberry, that was  within me to make.
I failed at this much of the time.

The last line was like a punch in the gut, made all the more poignant by Brenner's unadorned prose.

Had she wanted to produce just another sentimental memorial to a lost sibling,* she certainly had the material to do so, but instead, she remains true to herself, to their relationship, and to that uncrossable and unfathomable space that lies between us and those we wish to be closest to.

Masked Mom's One-Word Review: Powerful.

*Given that Brenner reveals her brother's death within the first few paragraphs of the book's preface, I did not feel as though I was giving too much away here.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Spiral Notebook Sunday: Wednesday, February 16, 2005

As I mentioned recently, our nest is not yet completely empty but it is emptier than it has been in almost 24 years. I have often heard empty nesters talking about how disturbingly quiet their houses are now that the kids are gone. If this week's Spiral Notebook selection is any indication, I am not likely to be that type of empty nester. [At the time of this entry, my own kids ranged in age from 10 to 16. Cranky Ex-Boss Lady's grandson Other Kid was three and a half and spent fifty hours a week at our house while his mother worked second shift.]


Wednesday, February 16, 2005

"Cacophony" doesn't touch the noise in my house at the moment or at any given moment on any given day between 4 p.m. or so and (optimistically) 9 p.m. or (realistically) 10 or 10:30 or 11:00 p.m. Cacophonous could even be a pleasing jumble of sounds--unlike the noise here, especially this evening, which is layer upon layer of shrill, repetitive, pointless noises: Other Kid's combination of  vehicle noises and Power Rangers' catchphrases topped with the laugh track of an old episode of Everybody Loves Raymond topped with Son-One making zombie noises from '50s B-movies and pondering aloud (of course, aloud) how many times the extras cracked the leading actors up with their noises topped with Daughter-Only singing "Scotty doesn't know, Scotty doesn't know/Don't tell Scotty 'cuz Scotty doesn't know." (A dippy chant from the dippy movie Euro Trip.)

Of all the stress of parenthood--this, the din of pointless and louder than imaginable (or necessary) noises--gets to me in the sharpest, most tension-inducing way. Nails on a chalkboard and then some--SOS pad on my forehead just above my eyes. It drives me to distraction, takes a left turn and keeps going (doing fifty across the plains, alone, as SC used to say). It leads me to veer sharply from my intended topic of the evening and to write, instead, two paragraphs about the Agony of Da Noise.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

I Know You Are But What Am I?

One of Son-Three's high school friends works in the meat department at the local grocery store. I see him around the store often and he is unfailingly polite and we joke about how much he "loves" his job and how often I am at the store (between work and home, it is always at least once a day--sometimes twice or, ugh, more).

Yesterday, he was restocking the front cases from the big multi-shelved cart and saying that he was overdue for his break. I asked him if there were any "big packs" of ground chuck because it is twenty cents a pound cheaper than the smaller packs. He pointed me to the other end of the cases and I wandered down to look with no luck. He then offered to go check the back cooler, but I told him not to worry about it since he was trying to go on break--I would just take two of the smaller packs. We were going back and forth, with him insisting he would and me insisting it wasn't necessary and then he went toward the back room, but was momentarily detained by another customer, a woman about my age. (My age, by the way, is 43.) I couldn't hear what she asked him for, but there was some nodding and gesturing and then he continued into the back room.

When he came back out, he had two large packs of ground chuck, telling me they were the last two available. I took one and thanked him profusely. 

He said, "You're very welcome. Now, do you know where that other old lady went? She wanted a pack, too."

Friday, March 16, 2012

Are You Sorry You Asked Yet?: Thanks For Asking, The Third & Final Part

[This post is in response to TangledLou's post "How Do You Do That Thing We Do?"]

When I first read the questions Lou posed, I was briefly transported back to the "essay questions" that plagued us all in high school. I rarely think of essay questions without being reminded of Miss Musselman's humanities class where Allen Hainsey famously1 answered the question "What is the basis of classical Greek architecture?" with the opening phrase: "The basis of the basis is based on the basis that..." Mr. Hainsey was a consummate bullshit artist and that was a masterpiece of the medium, to be sure.

Here's the thing. When I sat down to write about the writing process today, what popped into my head was "The process of the process proceeds from the procession of..." In part, this was because my brain is wonky like that--seizing on the wispiest of associations and clinging to them forever. But partly it was because the thought of coherently describing something as ultimately mysterious as the writing process seems a bit over my head somehow.

I can talk about the concrete aspects--the subtle and not-so differences between composing with a pen and paper and composing on the computer2. I can tell you about loving the hypnotic feel of pen on paper so much from an early age that as a kid, when I had "nothing" to write about, I would write out the alphabet, state capitols, lists of synonyms, antonyms, homonyms just to have an excuse to hold that pen in my hand. 

I can tell you about the easily flippable pages of legal pads and wonderfully smooth-writing Flair pens, which help me keep up when I get a good flow going. I could share a photo of the stacks of reference books I keep nearby--dictionaries, thesauruses, punctuation and usage guides that I refer to when trying to pick through a draft word by word with the beady little eye of a line editor. I can even tell you about donning my "Thinging cap"3 and sneaking off to the corner table in the adult fiction section at the library or off to the picnic table in the farthest wilds of the town park.

I could talk about the ways in which "blogging" and "writing" differ for me: In the nuts and bolts of it, not so much--though it is rare for me to compose a post on paper while essays and other work get started almost exclusively with pen and paper--but there is an informality to my approach to blogging that simply isn't there with the other stuff. Maybe that's because, as an old-fashioned girl, there is still something significantly more permanent to things that get printed and bound than there is to stuff that gets posted. Or maybe it's because I'm doing this every day now--Lou said something this week about the ephemeral nature of blogging and maybe that's what I'm trying to get at. It gets posted, talked about for a day or two and we move on. The essential transience makes it easier to relax at the keyboard--even knowing there are seven years of archives available at the click of a mouse. Even knowing that far more people are likely--and easily able--to see this post than to see that literary essay I sweated over in 2005, blogging still feels less weighty somehow, which is both its best feature and its biggest drawback, I think.

I could talk for hours about false starts and my horrible habit of editing as I go: write two paragraphs, hit a dead end, scribble, crumple, start again at the beginning hoping to find the right (or left) turn that will keep me going or hoping to gain enough momentum to hop the curb when the dead end comes at every turn. I do this even though I know in my heart it is less efficient than just keeping the pen moving and fixing everything later. I do this even though, at the same time I am doing it, Anne Lamott's words: "Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people." are scrolling on the ticker at the back of my mind. 

Here are the things it is harder for me to write about, things I don't entirely understand. There were days--many of them--when the kids were small, that the compulsion to write was so strong that I would do it with one hand while stirring boiling pasta with another. I learned to type one-handed while nursing an infant at the same time so that I could meet self-imposed deadlines and quotas. I don't understand where that drive came from or where it goes when it goes away or how to make it come back.

I can't say much about the way phrases and even whole paragraphs are sometimes just floating in my consciousness as I awake in the morning or even in the middle of the night because I have no idea how or why that happens. Sometimes those snippets belong in a piece I didn't even know I wanted to work on; sometimes they fill a hole in a piece I've been struggling with for years; sometimes I can't figure out what the hell I'm meant to do with them, but I write them down anyway. I can't say much about the fact that I am always writing even when I'm not actually physically writing.

I can't talk about inspiration and how it is everywhere and everything and also nowhere and nothing you can put your finger on. I can't talk about what it is to write toward inspiration rather than to write from inspiration.

I can't talk about these things because they are too wide and wondrous to fit into words. They are some kind of magic. And like any magic, if you try too hard to see the sleight of hand behind them, they fall apart.

1. At least among the eight of us enrolled in that class.

2. Is it just me, or is that cursor blinking rather accusingly sometimes?

3. My "Thinging cap" probably deserves a post of its own, but for now, just a quick, illustrated note. It is a "Thinging cap" rather than a "thinking cap" for one two very simple reasons:

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Thanks For Asking, Part 2

First, I would like to say that something wonky happened with my comments last night and when I woke up this morning, there were 5 comments in my "spam" folder, all of which were from identities I recognized. I marked them all as "not spam" but somehow, only one of them ended up posted. So if you posted a comment overnight and it is not here, I just want the record to show that I did not delete it, nor did I even get a chance to read it. For some reason, the comment total is still showing one phantom comment, so the disappeared ones may yet appear. Who knows? Technology is way over my head. (Speaking of over my head--I have fallen drastically behind in blog visiting this week, but am hoping to catch up tomorrow!)

The rest of tonight's post is in response to cdnkaro's comment asking for the rest of the story of the story, er, essay mentioned in yesterday's post. The piece did not place in the contest, but was accepted to appear in the anthology--and I received two free copies. The judge was Lee Martin, whose nonfiction I've read and enjoyed (and whose fiction titles are waiting patiently in a to-read notebook) so it was kind of a kick that way. Here are a few blithering paragraphs from the Spiral Notebook about the day I found out the piece would be appearing in the book.


[Saturday, April 30, 2005]

The wait is over. You probably forgot we were waiting, we've been waiting so long...

The essay I sent out into the Big Bad World of literary anthologies at the end of February, just under the wire of the deadline was accepted for Falling In Love Again: Love The Second Time Around*.

This is the first thing I've written with a truly literary bent--and though I was confident in the flush of finishing it that it was the best I could do, I had no real faith in the reception it would get. It's not as straightforward, not as "linear" as my "regular" stuff--once it was mailed out, a line of it would pop into my head and I would think, "I could've--should've--said that more clearly." The piece was less about "telling" and more about "showing" than anything I've ever written--and I was sure anyone else would "get it." Well, either someone "got it" or they assume that because they didn't get it, it must be superior writing. HA!


*The contest was sponsored by the TallGrass Writer's Guild and the anthologies are printed by Outrider Press. Neither website has been updated since early 2010, but the guild does have a small Facebook following and appears to still be active in the Chicago area. I found out about the contest from Poets & Writers magazine, which features numerous markets, contests, etc for literary work in addition to articles on craft and the writing life.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Thanks For Asking

TangledLou has once again set our little corner of the internet abuzz--this time with an "audience participation" post about the writing process. If you haven't already seen it, you can read that post here. Be sure to check out the comments section as it is full of valuable glimpses into the creative processes of a variety of talented people.

I have a more detailed post brewing, but in the meantime, I would like to share these snippets of the Spiral Notebook Journal that outline the process for an essay about marriage that I wrote that eventually appeared in a literary anthology. The technique was one I had never used before and, unfortunately, I've let myself be distracted from writing so much in the past few years, I haven't really tried it again. So I share these excerpts, at least in part, as I reminder to myself not only of something that worked, but of the sense of accomplishment I felt afterward.

[February 7, 2005]
In some way, I've been working on this essay for coming up on eighteen years. Maybe longer. Maybe since I had any notion of romantic love as it might possibly apply to me. What I want to say comes to me in paragraphs sometimes, sentences at others--bits and pieces. I've been very faithful about recording those chunks and crumbs so now I have eight hundred or a thousand words, non-consecutive on scraps of notebook paper, for this essay alone. I'm afraid to "start" it, though--how funny is that, since I'm already halfway there?

I think fear may be the overriding emotion of my life. I'm kind of sick of it.The scribbling on scraps is a way to trick myself past or around that fear...

I'm hoping to finish this essay for a contest with a deadline of February 28. That's probably a delusional goal, but it's my delusion and I love it. 

[February 28, 2005]
The wait is on. The wait is the bad part of achieving the goal of submitting things. The post office receipt said 2:18 p.m. so not only did I make it, I had 2 hours and 42 minutes to spare. At the moment, it just seems like 2 hours and 42 minutes longer to wait for the results.

This morning, though, I was pretty jazzed up. I put the finishing touches on the essay itself--dotting i's and crossing t's and stuff like that by 7:40 this morning. When I stood up to drive the boys to school, I announced to Hubby and the Universe at large, "I'm just going to walk away from the computer and revel in the fact that I finished this essay and not even let myself think about the fact that I don't have the slightest idea of a title." By the time I had dropped Daughter-Only off at choir practice, I had decided on a title. I spent the forty minutes between dropping Daughter-Only off and leaving for work double checking all the formatting, saving it to disk, then printing the required two hard copies.

I was tickled with myself. How tickled I remain will no doubt be affected by the reception (or lack thereof) this piece receives out there in the Big Bad World of literary anthologies. I'm determined to cling to one thing, though--when I held those pages in my hands this morning, I was absolutely convinced that they were the best I could do in this moment. That's gotta count for something.

Something else that counts for something is the technique I used in assembling this essay...Six or eight months ago, I had a paragraph pop into my head literally at 3:47 a.m. I scribbled the paragraph on to a scrap of paper next to the bed and later tucked it into my blue bag, where it sat for months. Other fragments have  popped into my head since and I've faithfully scribbled those down without making any attempt to sort or arrange them in any way...

When I had a pile of bits and pieces, I typed them up, paperclipped them together and toted them around in my blue bag for a while. Toward the middle of last week, I made notes an hour or so each evening.

Sunday morning [2/27], I typed it all up, printed it and cut it up by fragments. I then shuffled them around and started taping them together in a preliminary order. I got frustrated only once--and said I might as well throw them up in the air and whatever order they landed in was the order of the essay. But I soldiered on and an hour later, I was typing a less rough version of the rough draft.

The pieces all came together with a minimum of tweaking and the end result was only a hundred or so words over the limit. Taking out a hundred words was painless, almost fun. I was giddy with the way it all fell together. That should get me through the waiting period...

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Another Dispatch From The Aunthill*

Not yet three years old and not quite three feet tall, Seventh Niece is nevertheless a font of wisdom. This past Sunday evening, she offered her unique take on living in the moment.

The past few weeks, we have had a ritual of counting her markers as she lays them in a big yellow plate. The first week we did it, we discovered there were two markers missing from her set. This prompted her to begin singing a song, the lyrics of which consisted entirely of "Two missing on the plate!" After three or four rousing rounds of that, she would say, "Sing with me!" And then we would both be singing, "Two missing on the plate!" until she got distracted and started a different game.

This week, there were no markers missing since Hubby found them under furniture while rearranging the living room (he has chronic rearranging disorder, but that's a post for another day), so the song was "None missing on the plate!"

After fifteen minutes of counting and singing along, I realized it was getting close to the time when Baby Brother would be there to pick her up, so I said, "Honey, it's time to get your shoes and socks on because Daddy will be here soon."

She said, "Soon is not yet."

She's a pint-sized oracle, I'm tellin' ya.

*Other declarations from the itty-bitty oracle can be found here and here.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Masked Mom's Media Monday: Daylight Saving

Let me start by saying that insomnia and "springing forward" are a deadly combination. I am no longer fooled by that cheerful "spring forward" slogan--as it quite often feels more like falling face-first onto an unforgiving surface rather than anything so sprightly as springing. Add to that the fact that the forward springing happens on Saturday night/Sunday morning--the one day of the week I have to be at work at 8 a.m. rather than 3:30 p.m., and I am awash in bitter resentment today.

So here's today's recycled review, brought to you by bitter resentment:

[This post originally ran under the title "Falling Back" on October 30, 2005. The book that is mentioned (and linked to) is Spring Forward: The Annual Madness of Daylight Saving Time by Michael Downing.]

So, I've been waiting all month to "fall back." Geek that I am, I love the opportunity to live an hour twice, but I'm WAY less enthusiastic about springing forward and I am the kind of person that's always wondered WHY we do this insane and pointless thing twice a year especially since hardly anyone has a coherent explanation for why we do it and no one I personally know feels there's even one demonstrable benefit to doing it (I mean, "they" tell us it's about saving fuel or whatever, but has anyone, ever, scientifically illustrated the "truth" of that statement?). Earlier this month at the library (where, yes, I spend entirely too much time, thanks for asking), I stumbled upon this book, which has everything I've ever wanted to know about Daylight Saving (starting with the fact that it's NOT "Daylight Savings," which is what I, and everyone I've ever known, have always called it) and a whole lot more than that, too.

I must confess up front that I was unable to finish the book, though I did make it two-thirds of the way through it and the conclusion I came away with was that NO ONE really knows why we do it, except that a bunch of politicians got their hearts set on it, for, I might add, no coherent or logical reason, which kind of made me wonder what sorts of illogical scams are currently being perpetrated on the nation by politicians with their hearts in the wrong place.

Speaking of scams, when I brought the book to work, Cranky Boss Lady said, "You know, I usually think the books you read are offbeat in an interesting and informative way, but this one just looks insanely boring. Frankly, I'm kind of annoyed that someone got paid for writing it."

Masked Mom's One-Word Review*: Pointless.

*This review applies to Daylight Saving itself, not to Michael Downing's book about it. Although I did not finish the book, I place the blame for that squarely on myself.  And, as is probably clear from the word "Madness" in the title, Downing's not really much of a fan of Daylight Saving so he gets points on that basis alone.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Spiral Notebook Sunday: Thursday, May 25, 2006

Earlier this week, in my seven random things, I mentioned that I associate lilacs with death. This week's spiral notebook entry fills in that particular weirdness a little more.


Thursday, May 25, 2006

Walking to work this morning, I passed a house with three overgrown lilac bushes in the yard--a white, a lavender and the deeper, more familiar lilacy purple. When I was a few steps past them--and downwind--their sweet scent hit me. It was so thick the air was almost sticky with it.

For as long as I can remember, I've associated that scent and lilacs themselves with death. There is no logical reason for that connection--i never attended a funeral until my mother's when I was 26. But as far back as fourth grade, when we had a bush right beside the front porch, the scent of lilacs has stirred a sadness in me--a feeling of non-specific loss. I remember senior year when someone--I think it was Little Sister--put a jar full of lilacs on the kitchen table. I was driven to distraction--to the point of saying out loud, "They smell like death."

I'm sure Mom and Little Sister thought I was just bitching to bitch--and there certainly was ample precedent for that suspicion--but I really did have this overwhelmingly claustrophobic sensation--a feeling of airless rooms and mourning.

At the time I had only recently read Shirley MacLaine's book Out On A Limb and was, of course, convinced that the association was evidence of a past life. That there had been lilacs at "my" funeral or the funeral of someone "I" had loved in a previous incarnation. A  morbid alternative: I, or someone close to me, had died or been killed near lilacs in bloom.

This morning, I wondered again about how or why I link death and lilacs and I thought of genetic or collective memory. Perhaps it's stamped in my DNA--a long-lost family memory or a cultural one.

Who knows? (Of course, I do know that wondering about it and devoting time and paper to it only reinforces it...)

Saturday, March 10, 2012

All The Cool Kids Are Doin' It

In third grade, I wrote a poem for, of all things, a social studies assignment. At this point, this is all I can remember of it: 
Across the Plains,
They once were plenty.
Now there aren't very many.
Don't you know?
It's the buffalo.

Sad to say, that probably represents the peak of my poetic prowess. I've always found poetry--both reading it and writing it--to be a little intimidating somehow.

A little over a week ago, TangledLou posted an exercise from The Practice of Poetry: Writing Exercises From Poets Who Teach and challenged her faithful fellow bloggers to play along. The word "poetry" there in the title scared me a little, as it always does, but after nine days of internal pep talks supplemented by TangledLou's external encouragement (and her assurance that "lyrical prose" counts), I put the pen to paper.

I'm not really sure what to call what came out in my "Ten-Minute Spill" (specifics can be found here)--poetry, prose, punctuation-challenged--but here it is, whatever it is.


Toast smeared with blackberry jam,
Pressed from berries picked months ago beneath a cloudless August sky,
Licking sticky fingers as Coyote yet again overruns the cliff's edge.
He never falls until he looks down.
I leapt into marriage and motherhood without a glance.
With those precious entanglements comes the moment of understanding--again and again
That the consequence of each choice and every action is no longer only mine to bask in or suffer through.
The desire to protect them all--from the world, from myself--overpowers nearly everything,
Until, finally, fear's voice is the loudest one in my head
And behind me are decades of too much looking and not enough leaping.

Friday, March 09, 2012

Echo Chamber

I have often joked that the reason we become more forgetful as we get older is that our brains get full and bits of information start falling out. (Alas, under this theory, we have no control over what falls out and what stays in--hence we will forget that phone number we really meant to write down, but can remember with painful clarity that time we threw up in the high school hallway in ninth grade. But that's a lament for another day.)

If my theory is correct (and I have much anecdotal evidence in support of it), then it would stand to reason that when our brains are empty, the reverse would happen and things would rush in to fill that vacuum.

Based on the state of my brain at the moment, I can assure you that is not the case.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Wearin' O' The Green

The fabulous Judy at Life...Minute by Minute has bestowed upon me The Versatile Blogger Award. As with most blogging awards, this one came with a badge, the kind and generous words of the bestower, and, of course, rules. In this case, the rules state that I should share 7 things about myself and pass this award on to 15 other worthy bloggers.

First, the passing along. Since many of my favorite bloggers have previously received this award or a similar one (including quite a few who received it from Judy, as I did), I thought I would instead share links to fifteen specific posts that have especially touched me in some way.* Everyone on this list should consider themselves awarded and should feel free to snag The Versatile Blogger badge and play along if they choose.

As for these posts, some of them are older, some newer. Some of them you may have missed. Some of them you may have already seen, but they're worth checking out again.

1. The Essence of Life Must Be In The Cranberry Bogs by Lynda Grace

2. There's No Place Like Home by Jewels

3. 100 per cent by cdnkaro

4. The Balancing Act I Do by TangledLou

5. An Everyday Presence by Michelle

6. Confession by Nicole

7. Coming To Jeebus by Jane 

8. Thinky Thursday: Truth by The M Half

9. 50 Things I Know At 50 by Word Nerd

10. If Jesus Walked On Water... by Sebtown294

11. Childhood Installment III by Larissa Tenorio

12. Not Enough Words by Mark O'Neill

13. Sanctimony by Leah Marie

14. Making Him Proud: A Letter From A Student by Melanie

15. Civility Rocks by Judy

Now, seven random things you might not know about me. (Please note: I make no guarantee that these are things you might actually want to know about me.)

1. My trailer park white noise machine died an unceremonious death with no warning two nights ago. We tried replacing it with two different fans--neither one makes the "right" white noise to help me sleep. I am forecasting another couple of days of exceptional crankiness on my part until the correct fan can be purchased.

2. The smell of lilacs has reminded me of death for as long as I can remember. I have no idea why.

3. If I were independently wealthy, I would love to drive an ice cream truck. The money wouldn't matter; it would be all about happy kids. And ice cream.

4. Tropical getaways hold zero appeal to me (except maybe the drinks with the little umbrellas, but you can get reasonable approximations of those just about anywhere). I see beautiful photos of tropical lands and think: hot and buggy. Give me the coast of Maine any day (including mid-winter).

5. Whenever anyone in my house clips his or her nails (finger or toe), our dog Nomi eats the clippings from the floor before anyone can clean them up. There are many words I could use to describe this habit of hers: Disgusting. Disturbing. Distressing. Convenient.

6. I am roughly equal parts supremely confident and devastatingly insecure. On a good day, I realize that neither extreme is actually justified.

7. I no longer remember when or how it got started, but at some point, Hubby and I began saying, "Pleh." to each other. "Pleh" has become a weighty little syllable, with many uses and subtle variations. During a debate, it's often deployed in the absence of a logical rebuttal--a little more of a concession than "so what?!" and a little less than "you win." As a stand-alone exclamation, it's a little darker than "humph" and a little sunnier than "ugh." I could go on, but I think I've flaunted our geekiness enough for one day. Wouldn't want to make anyone jealous.

*I hope the fact that I did not follow the rules is somewhat mitigated by the fact that not playing by the rules took considerably longer as it was extremely difficult and time-consuming to pick just one representative post from each of my fine bloggy friends. (However, it did give me the perfect excuse to poke around in all those archives, which is a nice way to spend an afternoon).

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Random Quote Wednesday

"Whoever said that love is blind was dead wrong. Love is the only thing on this earth that let's us see each other with the remotest accuracy."

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Whithersoever They Blow

When I worked at the flower shop, I somehow came into possession of the "fact" that a town our size could support 1.5 flower shops. At the time that I began working there, our shop was one of two. Eventually a third opened and then the first one closed and then another one opened. Bottom line, for much of the time, we were one of three flower shops in a town that could, theoretically, only support 1.5. At this point, only one shop remains, so anyone looking to start a small business might be interested to know that, statistically, our town is a wide open market for half a flower shop.

All this by way of saying that, although I carry that (dubious) statistic around in my head, I do not have any such statistic for how many Chinese restaurants a town our size can support. I can say, however, that though our town has only around 6000 people, we have three Chinese restaurants, all of which seem to be doing a respectable amount of business.

Daughter-Only, The Boyfriend and I had lunch at one of the three today and when she opened her fortune cookie, she chuckled and tossed the little strip of paper toward me, saying, "This one should have been yours."

Because I am the bath-taker in the family, I knew immediately that she must've thought it read: "There is no sorrow in the world that a hot bath wouldn't help, just a little bit." However, it actually read: "There is no sorrow in the world that a hot both wouldn't help, just a little bit."

Sometimes Eastern philosophy is just too complicated for me.

I tossed the slip back to Daughter-Only, saying, "I don't think you read this one quite right."

Then, she started reading out loud and because she was seeing "both" as a typo, she rhymed it with "broth" rather than recognizing it for the word it actually is, which sent us both into mild hysterics. And then, maybe a little less mild. And then, maybe I was lying across the bench on my side of the booth, gasping for breath and banging on the table a little. Just for a minute or two, but still...

Whatever statistical reasoning may beat at the heart of three successful Chinese restaurants in our little town, I'm grateful for all three of them. That way, when we humiliate ourselves in one, we've got the others to fall back on.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Masked Mom's Media Monday: The "Little" Notebooks

"Not long ago I had an unsettling epiphany that probably shouldn't have come as a surprise but nevertheless left me disheartened for the better part of an afternoon.
I won't get to all the books I want to read in my lifetime. "

~~Joshua Bodwell, "You Are What You Read: The Art Of Inspired Reading Lists," Poets & Writers, Jan/Feb 2012

By popular demand--Jane asked and Melanie seconded and they're both pretty popular in my book--and because I was too pressed for time this week to do a traditional review, I have decided to devote this week's review space to a tour of my current To-Read Notebooks. (Yes, plural.)

First, like many writerly type folks, I'm a bit of an office supply fetishist, drawn to that aisle in almost every store--and don't even get me started on what happens when I'm in Staples. Sometimes, I will buy something just because I can't not buy it, even though I haven't yet figured out what I might "need" (or even use) it for. The very first To-Read notebook was like that. I liked it so much, I kept the cover even after the rest of the notebook was retired:
This is the cart that came before the horse.

I bought it because it had an adorable toddler and a Chekhov quote on the cover (cute and smart!), but I carried it around for quite a while before I figured out what to do with it. And what I finally did was take notes--mostly on books I want to read, songs I want to download, websites I want to check out, but also various observations of the world around me that I may use elsewhere some day.

Since then, I look for 5" x 7"-ish notebooks on clearance, especially the ones with the plastic covers that are more likely to withstand the abuse they get being lugged around with me almost everywhere. The current pile that I carry with me looks like this from the top:

Notice the rubber band. This is my fourth rubber band in the twelve years I've been keeping To-Read notebooks. It's not as easy finding the perfect rubber band as you might think. And it's probably not as easy being the perfect rubber band as you might think either. This is the end view of what-all that rubber band is keeping together:

Off to the left in the background there, obscuring the horizon of our dining room, are the very edges of the mountain range of paperback books I have been in the process of "sorting" for the past two weeks. In the meantime, they occupy a good half of the dining room table. The wicker basket holds Seventh Niece's toys for my house. She was playing with Play-Doh just off camera during this photo shoot.

Several of the little notebooks that have served time with me have come with a little pocket just inside the cover. Three of the four in my current stack have this handy little pocket, but for some reason, I cram a decade's worth of  loose notes and clippings, written and collected in those relatively rare moments when the notebooks are out of reach, into the single pocket of the top notebook:

Removing that rubber band is kind of like loosening the belt after Thanksgiving dinner.

Emptying out that pocket makes me feel a little like an archaeologist--layer upon layer of hieroglyphic scraps that were important to someone at some point, but I can't always figure out why or even to whom. Yet I've been transferring some of these things from notebook pocket to notebook pocket for going on ten years now, I'm pretty sure:

Certain pages of each notebook tend to be quite tidy because they are usually full of information I've transcribed all in one sitting from an about-to-be-retired notebook. They look like this:

Information that I've stumbled upon in the wild, on the fly, looks more like this:

Used information gets a red "X" through it. Like this:

Once the red marks build up to a critical mass or the notebook otherwise starts to fall apart, I will transfer anything not already made use of into another notebook (the neat pages).

No discussion of reading lists would be complete without the Have-Read Notebook. So far there is only one, which lists all the books I've read since 2002.

Yes, that's classy lavender faux suede with a protective plastic cover not  unlike the ones some grandmothers have on their couches. I have no explanation other than: 90 cents on clearance!

A sample of my reading from 2006:

Seeing it all laid out like this, it occurs to me there's a fine line between hobby and obsession and, in this case, that line's probably about the width of a perfect rubber band.

Masked Mom's One-Word Review: Obsessive.

PS--The combination of phone camera and jiggly table (aforementioned Play-Doh-playing-niece) made for some blurryish photos. If you click them, you may be able to see more or better--or maybe not. "Real"-ish camera is inching ever closer to the top of my wish list.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Spiral Notebook Sunday: Tuesday, October 12, 2004

The process of sorting and organizing the bits and pieces and boxes and stacks of books and papers I have somehow collected over the decades is always simultaneously ongoing and long overdue. Tonight, while digging through two folders marked "Inspiration," I found a photocopy of a Lynne Sharon Schwartz short story called "The Word," which appeared in her collection Referred Pain and Other Stories.

It's a stream of consciousness piece that gives us a front row seat on the despair and circular thinking that result when our narrator realizes she has forgotten "the word that was so crucial I promised myself I'd jot it down as soon as I got the chance" because, of course, the word was not merely a word, but the reminder of an idea for a story--or maybe a novel--that came to her in a moment of inspiration. And, now, it is lost forever because even if it does come back to her, it will never be the same.

The pain of that loss--of the word, story, idea, plan--is one most writers (and many regular folks) can easily identify with. For me, rereading it reminded me of tonight's Spiral Notebook entry.


Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Two weeks ago, I felt I'd had a minor breakthrough in the writing department. I had been scribbling notes down in a ratty notebook I'd been dragging around with me for that purpose and I even wrote some notes down on a magazine subscription card. Heck, I EVEN got out of bed forty-five minutes early to write.

...I wrote several paragraphs of truly inspired (had to be, to get me out of bed, huh?) stuff "toward" two separate pieces I've been working on for years--sometimes on paper, but most often only in my feeble mind. Anyway, I woke up that morning with some sort of twin track running in my brain--whole chunks of two pieces had formed in my head overnight. So I got up to record them.

I can't overstate my self-congratulatory state that morning. Oh, I was so impressed with me. I finished scribbling away and tucked the two sheets of paper into my infamous "blue bag," which I lug everywhere (it's some kind of security blanket thing, I'm pretty sure, but that's a whole other neurosis for a whole other entry).

Of course, I haven't seen those pages since--because that's the way my life seems to work. I have crap in that bag that bag that's been in there a year, mabye more. These two sheets of paper which represent so much more than the sum of their parts--at least in my admittedly feeble mind--are gone as if they never existed. I had library books and magazines in my bag, which I've since returned and I called the library and asked them to check in lost and found in case someone had turned them in. Nothing. I've been through the bag six hundred thousand times to no avail.

I rewrote them, of course. The thing about that is it's minus the spark of inspiration and plus the haze of self-doubt. I will always, always know it's not quite "the same," not quite "right."

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Random(-ish) Quote Saturday

"The fact that we bring ourselves wherever we go does not keep us from going. The urge to 'get away' may be bred in the bone. Perhaps someday researchers will discover a gene for it. My guess is that they will fnd it somewhere betwen the ones for manic depression and attention deficit disorder."
~~Mary-Lou Weisman, Traveling While Married

Friday, March 02, 2012

Can I Get A Little Spell Check On The Side?

If you hold the extra "h," will they cost even less?

In fairness, I would like to report that the day after I snapped this shot, the extra "h" was removed from the sign. As I drove past the corrected sign, I thought, "Wow, there is hope."

Thursday, March 01, 2012

The Name Game

One summer evening when she was four or five, Daughter-Only came in from playing outside with her brothers and cousins and some assortment of neighborhood kids. She was breathlessly excited about making a new friend. She listed this new friend's virtues in some detail--she was older and had been in Son-Two's class in kindergarten and first grade and she was so nice and had dark, curly hair.

"What's her name?" I asked, in the pause left when Daughter-Only could wait no longer to take a breath.

"Denephew," she said confidently.

"Uh, honey, are you sure that's her name?"

Daughter-Only insisted that it was.  I ticked through my mental Rolodex of neighborhood names in search of one that could conceivably be misheard as Denephew and came up with nothing. Maybe it was the new friend's name. It's true I had never heard the name Denephew, but I've certainly heard stranger and less likely names than Denephew. I was pretty sure, though, that there was no Denephew who lived nearby. If some mother had been yelling, "Denephew! Time for dinner!" out her front door, I likely would've noticed.

"Are you sure she lives on our street? Maybe she's just visiting someone here?"

"No, Mom! She lives on our street! On the other side! In the blue house!"

Only then did it finally click. "Oh! You mean Denise?"