Bright Lights, Big Cacti

Arizona through the Eyes of a Native

Welcome to 2016!

So….

2015 turned out to be my year of rest:

  • I didn’t blog at all.
  • I decided to take a break from writing over the summer and that gradually turned into the rest of the year.
  • And, a few days into December, I walked away from Facebook (well, as much as I could — I still found myself checking notifications once a day or so).
This is a Last Year’s Remembrance list. This is not a New Year’s Resolution list, because I know myself well enough to not make promises that I may or may not be able to keep.
Here are the moments I hope to remember from 2015:
  • Fuzzy and I started a crochet business on Etsy and even sold a few things. I will always remember the Mondays I spent with her as we untangled yarn, sorted our stashes, and created new and beautiful items to sell.
  • Dan and I celebrated our tenth year of marriage. I’m still one of the luckiest women I know.
  • We went to the U.K. for two weeks at the beginning of the year. We spent most of our time in and around London, and two glorious days in Scotland. I think Scotland might be my heart’s true home.
  • We climbed up the stairs in St. Paul’s and sat in the dome while we listened to the organist practice. Then we sat with the choir during evensong. It was magical.
  • We spent a cold, cloudy morning at Stonehenge. And then the clouds parted and the sun hit the old stones, lighting them up like performers on a stage.
  • Between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, Dan and I spent a few days in Palm Springs. We hiked the Tahquitz Canyon and stood in front of a waterfall. I realized that I actually really enjoy hiking.
  • My sorority chapter dissolved and became something even better: a group of women who mean the world to me.
  • I hosted a Christmas party that was both well attended and joyous.
  • I gained a couple of wonderful friends.
  • I didn’t lose anyone this year.
Basically, I lived my life in 2015. And it’s a good one. I needed to “smell the roses” for a while, and I’m glad I did. I have some new ideas and I think I might be ready to write again this year.
But we’ll see what happens next.
Stonehenge in the sun

Stonehenge in the sun on a cold winter’s morning.

 

Light Up My Life

I have been very worried for the last few weeks.

As I may have mentioned in the past, I’m a bit of a hypochondriac — and maybe a drama queen. When I was a child, my parents had to take me to the hospital after a fall. I was certain death was waiting to collect my soul, and proceeded to play out a death scene to rival Melly’s in Gone with the Wind. Needless to say, when a doctor tells me I need to come back for “additional tests,” I immediately assume the worst. I try not to play out death scenes these days, but I’m sure my expression sends the message loud and clear.

Last month, Dan and I went for our eye exams. Everything was fine until the doctor said, “I’m seeing some cupping in your optic nerve. I want you to come back to be tested for glaucoma.”

How my brain translated this: Glaucoma?! Holy shit! I’m 42 years old! I’m going blind at 42! I’m a writer! I own an engraving company! I can’t go blind!

I burst into tears, because this is how I react to bad medical news. The poor doctor felt compelled to comfort me. If she’d had a lollipop, she probably would have given it to me. I pulled myself together long enough to leave the office with an appointment for December 4th. That’s right — the optometrist gave me bad news then sent me home to stew about it.

For the last month, every time I enter a room (particularly since my husband has an obsession with turning off lights) I have been certain I was on the verge of going blind. Rooms seemed too dark and my eyes seemed unreliable. I studied my pupils to see if they were opening wider than they did when I was young and healthy. I practiced saying glaucoma without crying — I even got pretty darned good at it!

Today was the appointment. The nurse led me to a small room where she sat me in front of a machine to test my peripheral vision. I could feel my eyes drying out as I tried to focus and see the random dots of light flashing around the screen in front of me. I swear, I could almost feel the blindness latching onto my corneas! We moved to a second room where the nurse administered another test that involved nearly touching my eyeball. Finally, she moved me to the examination room where I waited patiently for the doctor to deliver the bad news.

But she didn’t. It turns out I wasted all that worrying. Yes, I have risk factors — borderline-high eye pressure and a thinner-than-average cornea (great — the one part of my body that wants to be thin) — but I passed the peripheral-vision test with just one missed flashing light. She told me that, at this time, there is no sign of glaucoma. Halle-frickin’-lujah!

So, at least for the next year, if a room is dark, I’ll just turn on the light.

I'm looking at you!

They (whoever they may be) say that if you don’t have anything nice to say, you should say nothing at all.

This is a lesson that has been lost in our current world, probably because we generally have at least two screens and many miles between us and whomever we seek to harm with our words. Just as a mechanical war removes us from bloodshed, so a war of internet words removes us from the damage we inflict with them. We say things on Facebook and Twitter that we would never say to another person’s face — at least not without expecting to be slapped. I try very hard to only say things I would say to someone I was eye-to-eye with. It’s the least I can do.

But I have collected a few of Shakespeare’s best insults. Try to read them with a sugary-sweet voice:

  • highly fed and lowly taught
  • light of brain
  • mountain of mad flesh
  • not so much brain as ear wax
  • long-tongu’d babbling gossip
  • thou art a boil, a plague sore

Have a great week.

 

Procrastination, or Why I’m a Bad Friend

Over the years, I have purchased a remarkable number of items that were intended to be gifts for other people. I have one such item on my desk right now — a white owl I purchased at the end of September. I intended to mail it to a friend whom I believed would enjoy it, yet here it sits. I promised another friend a pan of brownies months ago…I hope she understands when they show up around Christmas. I suppose this proves that I am, in fact, a terrible friend.

I have stacks of greeting cards purchased for birthdays, anniversaries, sympathy, and “just thinking of you.” Does it count that I have thought of these people without actually telling them? I tend to think it doesn’t. On the plus side, my lack of follow-through means that I automatically assume that everyone else is equally forgetful about actually mailing their greetings. I will never sit around wondering why this or that friend failed to send me a card; instead, I am thrilled to get any cards at all!

For those of you who still consider me a friend, please know that I think of you more often than you could ever realize. I reminisce about Ella and Emma at least once a week. I even think about calling — but then I look at the clock and know that they are working. Every time I step into a drugstore, I peruse the cards and find something perfect for one of the many women who have impacted my life — and I usually buy it with the intention of sending them a nice note. But it’s easier to hop on Facebook and read their posts, to leave them a “like” or a comment just so they know I’m still paying attention. The card is added to the stack in my desk drawer. Someday, when my niece clears out my house after I’m gone, she is going to think that I collected blank greeting cards.

I’d like to think that there’s a reason why so many of my cards don’t actually make it to the people I intend them to reach. Maybe those people would think I was ridiculously sentimental. Maybe they would even think I was stalking them. I’m not, of course. Who has that kind of time? But maybe their kindness made a bigger impression on me than it did on them. Maybe those items bought for others are really for me to keep and remember them by after they have left my life.

Probably not. But I think I’m keeping the owl.

IMG_0698

Who knows?

Why I Love the Boss

As I occasionally mention here, I’m a novelist. I have a small but loyal publisher and a small but loyal following of readers. I’m not the kind of novelist who gets a lot of attention these days — primarily because my genre of choice tends to be something called “literary fiction.” Most people, when they hear those words, immediately put my books in the “only read when suffering from insomnia” category. They are wrong of course, but they won’t know it until one of my books has kept them up all night.

The main reason I’m mentioning my avocation today is to point out that very few writers ever achieve the status of self-supporting novelist. That’s not to say it’s not a worthy goal — it’s just unlikely. It’s a little like winning the lottery, though the pool of players is considerably smaller.  For an indie author, the burden of finding editors and artists can be ridiculously time-consuming and expensive, which is why so many of them opt not to pay for those services. Instead, they do their best to edit their own work and rely heavily on their (usually limited) artistic skills to create the cover art. When their book reaches Amazon, it looks and reads exactly like what it is: amateurish. And then they are surprised when their book doesn’t immediately become a best seller.

The best that most of us can hope for is to win the support of a publisher — a group of people who will make it their goal to see our words in print. The greatest benefit of having a publisher is knowing that someone else is worrying about the details of prettying up your manuscript — including editing and layout. The support they provide allows you to move on and start writing your next novel.

The biggest myth about publishers of any size is that they have a team of publicists devoted to selling your book. THEY DON’T. Simply put, no publisher has the budget to assign a publicist to all of their authors. Ninety percent of the burden of building an audience always falls on the author — unless you happen to be Stephen King. And even Stephen King wasn’t always STEPHEN KING.

So, thank you, Jo Lowe. You made my dream come true. As the founder of Inknbeans Press, you accepted my novels and have continued to be one of my most vocal cheerleaders over the last several years. Thanks to you (and my readers), I continue to write. Who knows? Maybe I’ll write a lottery winner one day soon.

In a perfect world…

Dan

Ten years ago, we had never met, despite living in the same neighborhood and shopping at the same stores.

Nine years ago, I felt like the luckiest girl in the world. I was living with my soulmate and happier than I had ever been in my life.

Eight years ago, we married.

Seven years ago, we adopted Dewey Allen.

Six years ago, we lost Higgins. He left a hole the size of his body in our lives.

Five years ago, you let me quit work to pursue my dream of writing.

Four years ago, I found a publisher.

Three years ago, we went to Italy.

Two years ago, we were almost finished renovating the house.

Last year, we adopted Truman Jack. Our family — two humans and two dogs — was complete.

Today, you are fifty. Every year with you, the rope of love that ties us together gets thicker with memories, both good and bad. You are the best person I know and the only man for me. Happy birthday.

Garrison Keillor Made Me Miss Grandpa John

An Ole and Lena joke:

Ole was on his deathbed when he caught a whiff of rhubarb pie. Wanting nothing more than one more bite of his favorite dessert, he pulled himself out of bed and made his way down the stairs to the kitchen, where his wife Lena had left it cooling on the windowsill. Despite his weakness, he got a plate and a knife and carefully moved the pie to the counter to cut himself a piece.

Just as he was preparing to slide the knife into the pastry, Lena appeared and slapped his hand, scolding, “That’s for the funeral!”

My Grandpa John used to tell me Ole jokes all the time. I’m not sure now if he picked them up from listening to Garrison Keillor or if they were simply imprinted on his brain at birth (he being a Minnesota Swede), but he knew a ton of them. He also recited poetry at the drop of a hat. Sitting in the audience at Garrison Keillor’s show last night, I was transported back to a time when I lived with my grandfather and listened to his never-ending monologues. I remember being annoyed back then — I wish I hadn’t been.

Keillor appeared on the stage in a rumpled suit with red sneakers and proceeded to talk non-stop for 90 minutes or so with no apparent goal in mind. He told stories about his youth, lamented that his life had not been tragic enough for him to become a serious poet, joked about the heat of the desert and what it does to the mind, and gave some sound advice. My favorite bit was that we — all of us — should be cheerful. He pointed out that cheerfulness is not connected to happiness. Cheerfulness is a choice that we make each day, whether we are happy or not. I think I’m cheerful most of the time…but I’m going to strive to be more consistent.

One more Ole joke:

Lena decided that she and Ole needed a bit of culture so she bought tickets to the ballet. That evening, after watching the performance for about thirty minutes, Ole leant over to Lena and whispered in her ear,
“I don’t see why they dance on their toes. Why don’t they just get taller dancers?”

What I imagine Ole and Lena look like…

A Few Things I Wish I’d Known Sooner

In the last few months, my life has changed significantly and for the better. It turns out that engraving agrees with me: the act of creating something from raw material has a Zen-like effect on my mind. Though I write fewer words per day than I have in the past, I am still writing. Without the engraving business, I would have needed to return to the 9-to-5 world come 2014 — and my writing would have come to a full stop.

All things considered, my life is pretty great. As Dan says, I now spend my days doing two things I love: writing and engraving. Most people never find one job that brings them personal satisfaction. In fact, my father is the only person I’ve ever known who woke up each day and thought, “I get to go to work today!” Now I feel the same way.

Anyhow, I woke up feeling philosophical today and I thought I’d share a few of the truths that have led me to this point:

  1. Faith in a higher power doesn’t make you weaker or stronger — it gives you hope.
  2. A college degree is no guarantee of a monetarily successful life; however, money isn’t the only thing worth living for.
  3. Never join your life to another’s until you are content to be alone. If you do, you will end up hurting yourself and them.
  4. The right person to spend your life with will appear when you are content with yourself.
  5. Being “famous” isn’t nearly as satisfying as being happy.
  6. It’s okay if the “five-year plan” is simply to be happy.

A moment of reflection…

Vacuum Tricks

Dan and I recently purchased a new vacuum for our house. To be perfectly honest, this is probably the first vacuum I have ever purchased from a store. All previous vacuums have been hand-me-downs because — as mentioned many times before — I am not a great housekeeper. If it’s a choice between a weekend getaway or a new appliance, I’m generally choosing to travel. However, our old vacuum, which didn’t work all that well to begin with, recently threw a belt and no free replacements seemed forthcoming.

For the last few years, I have been coveting a Dyson vacuum, mostly because of their stylishly cool commercials. There’s just something about a man with an accent talking about vacuums that suddenly makes them sound sexy. (I can’t guarantee it, but I’m thinking if Dan used an English accent when asking me to cook for him he’d actually get a lot more home-cooked meals.) In any case, I talked Dan into buying a Dyson multi-surface vacuum. Let me tell you something: that thing sucks. No really…I mean it sucks dirt in from inches around it! My floors have never been so clean! And it’s easy to maneuver, transitions smoothly from carpet to tile, and generally make me happy when I use it. I highly recommend it.

Now, here’s the real reason I’m telling you about my vacuum:

I’ve had uprights forever. I don’t like canister vacuums because I find them bulky and annoying. In all those years, I have dutifully wrapped and unwrapped the cord around the two prongs they always provide for the cord storage on upright vacuums. It was an annoying but necessary task. The other day, I was showing off my brand-spanking-new vacuum to Fuzzy. She wanted to see it work, so I began unwrapping the cord. Looking at me like I was an idiot, she reached over and flipped the top prong upside down, thereby releasing the entire length of cord in half a second. “Didn’t you know that?” she asked with a half-smile.

No. No, I did not. I am a housekeeping moron. But at least I’ll know it for the second half of my life.

My first new vacuum.

What’s in a Name?

Did you know there are people naming their children after heroes of the Third Reich?

The first thing I saw this morning was an article about the family who named their child Messiah. A child-support magistrate changed the baby’s name because she believed Messiah wasn’t a name — it was a title reserved for Jesus Christ. Um…no, not exactly. The messiah is the Old Testament term for the prophet who would save the Israelites. Christians believe it refers to Jesus, but I’m thinking Jewish people have a different idea. In any case, what was that judge thinking? You can’t rename a child just because their given name offends you. That mightily oversteps the boundaries of someone whose job is to make rulings on child support. I’m wondering how she deals with babies named Jesus. All’s well that ends well though: another judge has overruled the bossy magistrate and little Messiah reigns once again.

Unfortunately, this first story led me to half a dozen more stories about questionable names. One man, in particular, has had eight children with four wives. At least five of them carry names meant to show their parents’ support of white supremacy. Who does that to a child? Isn’t that a form of child abuse? Apparently, New Jersey thinks so. Four of the children were removed from the man and his third wife because of the names — but the children’s names have not been changed. I don’t know that I agree with removing the children if the only evidence of parental abuse is in how they named their children, but I sincerely hope little Adolf and his sister Aryan Nation are being fostered by peace-loving, granola-eating types who are teaching the kids that all races are the same.

This is why I shouldn’t surf the internet.

Let’s hope the name works out better for little Adolf than it did for this guy.

The Twelfth Anniversary

I don’t write a lot of poetry, but this is one I wrote about 9/11 a few years back.

Broadcast

A grandfather stands under
The shadow of a prone hurricane
Created by a predator,
Now streaming blood.

In white-knuckled fear,
He casts broad his sight
And watches a skydiver
(Thrill-seeker, risk-taker)
Break out, spring off
The downward-spiraling storm
Of glass, metal, fire,
Assessing the risk,
Plummeting to where
People lay,
Now streaming blood.

That horrible day.

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