Monday, February 27, 2006


I am a cat person.  I enjoy dogs, but when I am pressed, I lean to cat. This is handy, as I have five.  There were never supposed to be five.  Once there was one, but he got lonely, so there were two, so they could hate each other and have something to do.  Gulliver I had from a kitten, and I adopted Mia when she was two.  Or three.  Nobody's sure. Then Blair showed up at the front door, and Dan wanted a kitten, so there were three.  Then Gulliver died very suddenly, and I was pregnant and heartsick and not thinking straight, and we got two more kittens, Bingley and Walter.  Then we started saying, "No more cats." Then last spring a cat came in the back door and started eating, and Dan named him Sidney at we had five. I like cats.  Cats have an arrogance I can get behind.  Dogs are great, and I love rubbing bellies, but they need me too much.  We had one briefly last year and it was a disaster.  She terrorized the cats, she peed on the floor every time I came home, and she followed me around, looking for orders.  It unnerved me like hell.  Cats never need me.  Well, there is the food thing, but that's more a servant issue on my part.  They do not feel my feeding them is a favor.  It is my duty, and I should be happy for it. I love how they think this whole house is theirs.  I love how when I remove them from the table they are not abashed but affronted.  I love how they follow me around expectantly, saying without words, "You should be sitting now and offering me lap." Every night around 9 Mia starts shadowing me, because she believes it's time for me to be in bed.  She starts by hanging at the bathroom door, because when I brush my teeth she gets to hop on the counter and drink a glass of water with me.  After teeth, I should go to bed, and if I do something else she will follow me and look Expectant.  Sometimes she gives up, but sometimes she Insists and I end up going to bed for reasons I'm never sure why. Then there is Bingley.  If I use the toilet upstairs, he comes in and meows to be let behind the curtain into the tub.  I've no idea what business he has in there, but clearly it's important stuff.  And when I go into a room he whips onto his back and meows, to say, "Rub my belly." In a few minutes here, I will be going to bed.  I have to get comfy fast, because the cats will soon arrive and start penning me in, lining up around my legs.  The other night all five were there for a minute, and I have to say, that was a bit much even for me.  When Gulliver was alive he slept by my head every night.  When he died I cried every night, but Mia would always come and tuck me in, and she has ever since. Usually I get kisses.  Now Sidney sleeps on one side of my legs and Blair on the other.  And Walter sleeps in the small of my back. Yeah, it's all a bit weird.  And Blair has depression issues, so we have Comfort Zones and he gets an antidepressant and a special beanbag in the living room.  But I love cats.  I think it's because they have no right to be that arrogant, and there's no reason to do what they say, and yet I do, every day.  I think they win because they are so sure they will.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Scatty Sunday

Jenny Crusie does Random Sundays, but I think I do scatty ones.  I remember being this way last week, too.  I think it's that weird is-it-last-week-or-next-week? energy that pushes me in eight directions at once.  Or it could be the forces of hell trying to claim me because I haven't been to church in close to a year. Of course, I take my church in other places now, and I don't believe in hell, so that theory dies fast. And excuse me, but did LJ change their format?  This page feels different.  I like it. See?  Scatty.  But I am.  Yesterday I was scatty, too, but I got a lot done.  Today I'm playing with a forum in its beta stage and noodling around, finally taking a shower half an hour ago.  Dan's sleeping as he's got the graveyard shift this weekend, Anna's in a bride costume over footie jams, and I'm finding more contests to enter.  This spring I shall be a contest slut. I'm actually really loving the contest slut gig.  It's so much less pressure than actually submitting to an agent or an editor, and I'm just not ready for that.  It's like dating only with higher stakes.  I can't submit to anybody yet because I don't know if I want to date them or not.  Submitting feels like a marriage proposal, and I don't even know if I like them yet.  This contest thing feels like crusing a bar.  They might read my entry and hate it, or they might love it, and then they might or might not make an offer.  Plus, with as many as I'm thinking of entering, my name will definitely get out there.  And unlike the scatty Sunday energy, this will be, hopefully, some sort of publishing energy. And related to that, one of the contests I was looking at today wanted the ending of a story, so I pulled out ATOS and checked it, but I was pretty dubious.  And nervous. I haven't read this thing since Novemeber, except for the first two scenes which I first looked at again last week.  So I read the end, pretty sure it was going to result in a round of I-hate-this-I-suck.  Result?  No, in fact it's not bad.  Few bumps here and there and things I want to fix, but now I'm kind of thinking I want to enter the contest after all.  In fact, I'm pretty hot stuff. Of course, now I have to write a synopsis.  ARG.

Thursday, February 23, 2006


So, I've been writing in the WIP, which is why there has been not so much in the blog. There's also been a gratuitous amount of listening to the Pride and Prejudice soundtrack. And staring into space. I've written sixty pages in about two weeks, which is impressive until you hear that on this book I've gotten to page 100 three times already, so what will be impressive is when I'm at page 150 and then two weeks later at page 200. Except this one does feel like The Real Thing, and it's still moving, mostly – I stalled out today but I think it's because I was tired. What I did discover today, however, is that I'm writing velveeta. I'm going to have to finesse it into a respectable aromatic cheddar eventually, but right now it's pretty much velveeta. Arg. And the worst part is I can't tell if I'm overwriting them or if the motivations work or not. I just have to slog through the processed cheese product and get out, then come back and clean it up later and hope to God it can boil down to something decent. But in the meantime there are lingering glances, breathless moments, and way way way too much over emoting. I don't know if I'm overwriting per se, but I'd say there's a really good chance. I'm just so bummed because this was the part I was looking forward to writing, and to get her and have it be schmaltzy is kind of disappointing. I know, what an entry. But this is why I don't blog when I’m deep into writing. You just get brain goobers like this nonsense.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Valentine's Day: Why I Don't Care

This blog entry is a present for my husband, so that this year when people give him heck for not giving me a present or taking me to dinner he can direct them here and get the horse's mouth.  Every year I give him explanations to hand out, but people do have their set ways, so maybe good old black and white will do the trick.

Honest to God: I don't care about this holiday.  I think it's lovely in concept, and the hearts are cute and a welcome change from the snow by this point.  There is a certain charm to roses in February, yes.  Not at those prices, but in concept, yes.  I encourage and applaud others who chose to celebrate this holiday and by no means think my reasonings should be imported by someone looking to get off easy.  But the fact of the matter is, it's not my day.

I think it may stem from being left out in the cold for so long on this day.  Dan is my very first valentine.  I never had a sweetheart on Valentine's Day before Dan – wait, maybe one, but there was not the kind of attention dreams were made of.  So there's this twenty year stretch where my valentines were from my mother and friends, and once you turn twelve that just starts to feel like a joke.   I have lots of memories of watching other people get valentine cakes, valentine balloons, valentine flowers.  I participated in singing valentines.  I dressed up.  I did things for friends.  But mostly that day was a day where other people had sweethearts and I didn't.

Actually, I think I can mark the date where February 14 permanently lost its appeal.  It would be February 14, 2000, my first year of teaching seventh grade.  That day the whole middle school watched the cafeteria FILL with balloons, flowers, stuffed animals, toys, presents – it was insane and beautiful in a gaudy way.  All day the stuff gathered, spilling over and out and everyone in the school was buzzing, waiting for this loot to be distributed.  Then homeroom came and it was.  Name by name students were called, a constant litany over the loudspeaker.  The chosen ran off, eager and happy, and as the list rolled on, I started to notice another emotion: relief.  Then the calls stopped, and I looked around the room.

There aren't many words for the faces of the twelve year olds who were left, sitting with me, with no valentine waiting downstairs.  I don't care how iron you were: to have seen that wash of stuff and then to not be called was a devastation.  Everybody had the same thought:  All those valentines and not one of them was for me.  It was one of the most awful moments of my life.  I think I did something pathetic like handed out suckers.  Then the next day when it came up at a faculty meeting a motion carried  and the deliveries stopped for good: if people wanted to send valentines, do it at home.  The principal and office staff had started the charge because of the organizational headache, but when the teachers started pointing out how bad the kids felt, the decision was final, and to my knowledge, still standing to this day.

The other reason I don't need Valentine's Day is because after all those years of crappy valentine moments, when I met my prince he really came through in spades.  Our first year dating Dan sent me a dozen roses at work.  Delivered by the florist with a card that had a lovely sentiment and "Love, Dan" at the end.  I believe there was dinner involved later that night.  One year I made a red dress and bought a red bag and red shoes and met Dan in a restaurant like we were meeting by happenstance.  We've made CDs for each other.  One year I made him a robe.  We've bought presents, both small and big.  We've done it all in less than ten years.

There are practical reasons, too.  We usually go for broke at Christmas and are still recovering in February.  Having a four year old makes spontaneous dinner a difficulty, and then the restaurants are so crowded.  Sometimes we say we'll make CDs, but sometimes we are tired and really slagging from the lack of sunlight about now, so we don't have that kind of energy. 

Also, despite the fact that I write romance, I am not (and neither is Dan) the sort of person who needs repeated grand gestures.  I love them – but once they've been done, they've been done.  We set the bar at the ceiling the first year out: on our very first Valentine's Day we bought each other exactly the same card.  It felt like fate, and it was, and we've never been able to top that since.

And to be really corny, we're more likely to be spontaneously romantic or thoughtful as the need arises, not as the calendar turns.  So for Valentine's Day this year we went to Borders and each picked out something we wanted (Dan got a CD; I got Thief of Time).  However, we've agreed that sometime before this summer, on an undisclosed date, we will give each other something romantic and fun and charming or clever or just really really wanted.  Like, Dan might get me "Death in the Kitchen" from Clarecraft on ebay.  And I might get him a zombie figurine he didn't know he wanted.  Or he'll find me new music that he knows I'll love but would never have found on my own.  I might get him a book.  It's hard to say.  But it'll happen and on its own time.

So everybody who gives my husband hell because he doesn't pay a fortune for dead flowers or give me a tonnage of chocolate or whatever, lay off.  He's only following his orders.  Right now as I write this blog entry the best two valentines I have ever had and will ever have are in snoring next to each other in the bed.  They each give me their own gifts at their own time.  We have ourselves covered, thanks.  And if it really bugs you that Dan's not participating in Valentine's Day, give HIM flowers.  He likes them more than me.



Friday, February 10, 2006


I am one of those people who give money to the people who stand in the middle of the road or accost me on the streets of New York or Iowa City or wherever. Once in New York I was going into a deli and a guy was standing there saying, with angry passion, "I'm hungry! Somebody give me something to eat, I'm hungry!" And everybody was ignoring him because it was New York, but I'm Iowa and I am the softest touch there is, and there's just something (to me) about somebody standing right there next to you, saying, flatly, "I need." So I told him I'd buy him a sandwich in the deli. I asked him what he wanted, and he said, still defiant and angry, "Turkey!" So I bought him one and I think I gave him some change, and I told him to take care of himself. And I said it to his eyes, with the same vocal tones I told seventh grade children or how I tell friends who are losing it or how I speak to my husband when he's on the edge. Today I was at a stoplight here in Ames and there was a couple at the intersection of Lincoln Way and North Grand, standing there in the cold with a sign that said something like, "Stranded family, need help. God bless." A man and a woman. They looked tired. They looked a little bit detached, like they didn't want to be there but had to. The man was very stoic, and the woman looked like she wanted to crawl inside his coat and hide. I opened my wallet thinking, "I can give them a five," because I really hate people asking and I have to say no. Sometimes you know you can skip it, but this one was tugging at me. In my wallet were the two twenties I'd just taken out from the bank for the weekend, and nothing more. The light was lingering, and I was within sight of the woman. I grabbed the twenty, rolled down the window, and motioned to the woman. She thanked me, earnestly but wearily, and returned to her post. Now, I know the stories. I know these people are supposed to all or mostly be shysters. I know the guy in New York probably went to buy drugs or went back to his gang or his frat house and laughed. I know the couple at the corner in Ames might live in a nice house or be research students or be funding a meth lab, or he might be a gambler or she might be or WHATEVER. I know all this, and I'm sure this is right. But the thing I can never shake is that the guy in New York might have been a crappy person but really just mostly been hungry, and I fed him. And those people on the corner might be liars, but they told me they were stranded and needed money, and maybe my twenty got them off the street faster and into the bus station. Or whatever. WHATEVER. The thing is, the moral basis I got out of Sunday School was that Jesus told me to help these people. I have no idea who this Jesus is a lot of people seem to think hates everbody or half the people or the people who don't tie their shoes the right way or who screwed up or whatever. My Jesus is the one who sees those people and just sees the people and the need and does what he can. He can do more than me. But I had two twenties and they looked like they really needed the one more than me. And if at the end of the game all my little donations that don't mean that much to me ever mean the world to somebody else, even just once, then all the times when I was just a screwball soft touch were worth it. And since I don't know who the one is to whom the act is going to mean the world to, I'll just overshoot and hit everybody who asks and give them what I can.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Macbeth and Kozy Shack

I know, it's going to be a trick to yoke Macbeth and pudding.  You just watch me.

But, dessert first.  Can I just say I would like to hug whoever the heck makes Kozy Shack pudding?  It's the yummiest "natural" food I know.  Lowish in fat, at least in the worst kind.  Delicious.  Smooth and creamy.  Firm in the way that pudding should be.  If I could get it slightly warm that would be better, or if it were made out of organic milk so I knew I wasn't getting any more estrogen than I should have.  Still.  Kozy Shack is king.

And Holly G?  GLUTEN FREE.  Run, don't walk.  Get yourself some Kozy Shack.

Speaking of kings . . . see?  I told you I'd yoke them.  Little rough, but it's done.  Kings.  Macbeth.  Today I am loving Macbeth, because it is the myth at the core of my story, and praise be to Ganesh, I'm unblocked.  I've moved beyond outline and into synopsis territory, which is always a very good sign.  And as I write the synopsis the last little wrinkles are irony out. And I'm starting to itch to tell the story again. 

I swear one of the funky Iowa City downtown stores has got to have a Ganesh.  I'm going to go find one.  The necklace alone is not enough. 

Tangent, sorry.  Back to Macbeth and pudding.  Well, to be honest, unless we go for another round of how great the pudding is, we're pretty firmly onto Macbeth.  I added a character a few days ago, put her on the collage and everything. (I'm really sorry, Laura Bush.  Despite your unfortunate husband, I do not see you as a villain in real life.  It's just that your picture was too perfect to pass up.) And as she unfolded, she really started to look like my faded memory of Lady M, so I looked her up and what do you know.  My whole story has Macbeth echoes.  Which was a magic moment for me because I knew I had my myth.

This theory that all good stories have a mythological base comes to me via Jenny Crusie, though I suspect she picked it up from somebody else.  For a long time I watched her and others find myths everywhere in stories, and I very quietly wished mine would have one, too, but that was a ways back and my confidence was low, so I was pretty sure I didn't have one.  Then Jenny got her hands on my story (not this one, another one) and told me I was writing the Fisher King.  I was thrilled – I had a myth! Except I was sure it was still a mistake because I didn't know anything about the Fisher King excepting the movie by Robin Williams, and I was pretty sure I hadn't written that.

So fourteen Google links and a lot of conversation later, I knew all about the Fisher King, and sure enough, I had that in my story, and it was okay that I hadn't known it before: my bones knew.  Go me.  I will always remember that as a magic moment where I felt like a real writer.  Okay, having Jenny saying to me, "Are you kidding?  This is a great story," helped a lot.  But teaching me to look for the myth was one step better.  It made me feel like I'd tapped into a deep, mystical well, especially since I'd done it "accidentally."

Until I started thinking about Lady Macbeth yesterday, I'd forgotten the myth for the new story.  I don't know why, but the myth really lined things up for me.  I think it's because it feels like a fence I can trust.  I hate it when the story feels like it's always running off the rails on me, but this particular story is Exhibit A why I can't just put up any old fence and say, "Now, stay in there."  The guardrails a guiding myth gives me feel like they've got post depth that probably touches the molten core of the earth, and yet at the same time they're wide and forgiving as far as stepping outside of their boundaries. I've got a Lady Macbeth who is almost more Macbeth than she is lady.  She's also manipulating her son more than her husband,  and she's not offing herself, I can promise you that.  I've got a false earl instead of a false king.  I don't have witches, but I think the beau monde is standing in for them.  I'm not sure if my hero or my heroine is Macduff or if they share the role.  But I do have a Malcolm.

I also have Carolyn the nurse and Aunt Althea, who will kick the pants off any comic relief that old Bill had in his version.  If I may be so arrogant.

So today is a better day.  I also have a duke in the mix now, in the very back, and on the collage he's Ian McKellen.  And Ian, I can't make him gay, but I can promise you that he's the sort of man who wouldn't turn down a handsome footman if he were offering.  Well, that won't appear in the plot, but I'll give it to you regardless.

And now back to the synopsis.  Go get your pudding.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

the pain is part of the process

I would just like to state, for the record, that WRITING IS HARD. Honestly, today is one of those days where I feel like Wesley after they take a year off his life. I just want to whimper. It seems like something in the atmosphere, because everybody I know is doing this, which does sort of make it better. It does not, however, get me any further out of the tar pits. I would like to say it's just that I need to recharge or that I've been working too hard or that it's something very passing. I unfortunately know better. This is part of the process. The stare-at-the-wall phase. Chase your tail, trying to find the magic way in. Rearranging plot. Adding characters. Trying on scenes to see if they fit. Deleting characters. Double-checking motivations. Basically, this is the part where I look around desperate for anything that will help me move this damn boulder between me and the story. And before you ask, I haven't taken my Ganesh necklace off for three days except to sleep and shower. And I was eyeballing statues on the net this morning. It absolutely drives me crazy that this is part of the process. I want very much to find a way to cut this part out. I even tried to dream my way out the other night: I went to bed whispering to please be shown the way through this story without killing myself. And I got the dream I wanted, sort of. In the dream I knew the answer to everything, knew exactly what I needed to write. I had the perfect story. And nobody wanted to hear it because they couldn't relate. My dream guide turned to me and said, "The pain is part of the process." Well, DAMN. But it makes sense in a very twisted, depressed sort of way. It's like the price paid. Like in the fairytale when you've got to wear down three pairs of iron shoes to get to the princess. If there were gimmies to be found in writing, everybody would do it, and no one would be impressed by your result. In theory I'm behind this. I don't want story to be free. I want it to mean something. I just never thought there would be so much of my blood involved. Yes, I know. Terribly uplifting blog entry. Well, it is me, after all. If this is the big-depressed-life-is-over day, then if I stick to my usual schedule I'm do for Eureka anytime now. Because at least in Heidiworld, when I finally hit the bottom of the pit, I find a trampoline. Of course, there might be a door at the bottom of the pit into a deeper hole first. Won't know until I get there.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

sometimes you need commercials

Yesterday, a friend of mine sent me this.  It's a website about an ad for Europe set in San Fransico for a new LCD TV with fantastic color.  Or, as they say in the ad, colour.  The ad is oddly magical, but what cinches it is the music which plays over the top of the ad.

The song is "Heartbeats" by José González, somebody I'd never heard of before this ad and now I have everything he sells on iTunes.

I can't describe the music very well, because my reaction is more than just "it's nice" or "I like it" or "it inspires me."   It permeates me.  It's so quiet, so soft, and so it hypnotizes you because it seems innocuous.  And then you start listening.  It's like when you're really crazy busy in the middle of traffic or the mall or somewhere and some person, usually elderly or just someone who's smart enough to see a busy place like that and sit on a bench and be still and quiet -- when those people reach out and hand you something, or smile, or make some small comment that rocks you.

José does this to me.  He starts singing and I just want to lie in his lap and stare calmly out into the world, suddenly comfortable that it's safe now.  And he's such an artist: he has this thing for taking songs that are very harsh or syrupy and turns them into something magical.  "Heartbeats" is originally some hard 80's edge-rock synth-fest, and he covers "Hand On Your Heart" by Kylie Minogue, a song that is fine enough, but mostly silly and toss away.  He sings both and I sit very still and feel different when I'm done.

I think my favorite thing about this music is that I listen to it and imagine that this guy is a guru, some sort of saint come to Earth, who, if I met him, would be almost like meeting God.  And the thing is, he probably worries about gingivitis or hates his hair or can't keep a relationship going or something very human, just like everybody.  WHich means this music I hear IS the God in him, speaking to the God in me.

Anything that can play across an electronic device DURING AN AD and captivate me like this is proof enough for me that there is magic in the world.