Wednesday, July 30, 2008

My First Meme

OK, lame, I know. My brain is blank tonight, or at least it's not full of anything coherent and resembling a story or essay. It's kind of like an old coffee can in the basement with a bunch of random bolts and hinges and extra pieces for things you've assembled but maybe not all that well.

Anyway, I've seen this book list meme a few places and just kept it on the back burner for later. My biggest issue with these kinds of lists or quizzes is that I have to add commentary to them all the time. It's not enough to simply put the title in italics or whatever; I've gotta blather on. It's my specialty. So we'll see how I do here.

OK, I stole this particular version from Grace.

Supposedly, the average adult has read 6 out of the 100 books of all time as chosen by the National Endowment for the Arts. Bloggers, having nothing better to do, have turned this into a game.

Basically, you take the NEA list and

1. Bold all the books you've read.
2. Italicize those you intend to read (or have started to read but didn't finish?).
3. Underline those you have read more than once. (I'm just going to turn them purple because it's easier.)

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien [I remember I didn't like it the first time through. I almost didn't finish, but it was for English class, and I had to do a book project on it.]
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte [I love this book!]
4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling
5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee [I love this one, too...oh, Scout!]
6 The Bible [I've attempted this one numerous times. I've read much of the Old Testament, and I've read the Gospels.]
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte [Yeah, I know. I haven't read it. I don't know why, either.]
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell [I love Orwell. This book freaks me out every time, too!]
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens [and I didn't enjoy it! SHHHH!]
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D'Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare [well, I've read a LOT of his works, but maybe not all...]
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier [although I read the newer one...can't remember what it was called?]
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger [I just reread this again last spring. I like Holden...]
19 The Time Traveller's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck [I think I was suffering from PTSD when I finished this. Bleak!]
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina - Leo
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis
34 Emma - Jane Austen
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis [why is the complete Chronicles AND tLtWatW on the list?]
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli's Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell [I teach this every year, so...]
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown [OK, why is this book on the list? I mean, it was okay as far as that kind of action-y type books go, but on a list with Shakespeare and whatnot?]
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding [This book FREAKED me out the first time I read it!]
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan
52 Dune - Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon [This book didn't really wow me, either.]
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez [in Spanish!]
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold [this is on my shelf right now.]
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac [I've read everything Kerouac wrote. I'm goofy like that.]
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones's Diary - Helen Fielding
69 Midnight's Children - Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville [I've read more than half?]
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses - James Joyce [OK, I really, really wanted to finish it. I read Dubliners and Portrait of the Artist, and I just couldn't hold on...]
76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession - AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert [started it, ran out of motivation]
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte's Web - EB White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom [no, but I did read Tuesdays with Morrie and one other one by him...or I think I listened to them on tape.'s all coming back to me now.]
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

Mom, I just ate a peanut!

I went back to work when my oldest son was eleven weeks old--tiny, vulnerable, floppy-necked. It was terrible and heart-wrenching to leave him, even though I was leaving him in the capable (if nervous) hands of his wonderful Daddy, who cut his schedule down to half time and picked up little Jabber from my school every morning just before classes began.

At the time I started back, Jabberwock was still nursing hungrily every couple of hours, and I had not had very much luck with the pump in between feedings. So we had very little milk in the freezer for him when I started working, but I was determined and pumped for most of my prep time and through my lunch for the first few weeks back. I eeked out just enough so that if I nursed him right before David came to get him and just as soon as I rushed home after school, he was mostly satisfied. Then something happened; I can't remember if it was a normal growth spurt, a bad day of pumping (sometimes it seemed like no matter what I did I couldn't get much milk, especially like when some kid was having a tantrum/screaming fit in the special ed room that my tiny pumping bathroom was located in, or if I had to, say, write a test and get copies made before I could be ready to teach my next class), or what. We ran out of milk.

No problem, we thought. We had been given free cans of formula, and although I knew all the dangers that supplementing can cause, I didn't really see any other options. I already was waking up in the middle of the night not only to feed the baby, but an additional time to pump, and I couldn't see any way around this. So David fixed Jabber a bottle one day while I was at work.

I remember I was teaching a class of seventh graders that was particularly challenging. The bright side of this is that they had just spent three months terrorizing my sub (so sorry, Lisa!) and were so delighted to have me back that it was still a honeymoon period when I got this panicky call from my husband.

Jabber, it seems, had taken about a half ounce of the formula bottle before David noticed some strange red bumps forming around his mouth. He took the bottle away, and before long Jabber's whole head was covered in hives, his ears were swollen, and he looked pretty sick. David called the emergency room or maybe 9-1-1, I'm not sure, but they told him to take Jabber in to the ER. Instead, he called me in the middle of class. I started to cry, and agreed that David should bring the baby into the hospital. I was beside myself with fear for this tiny little guy.

Something like five minutes later, there was a knock at my classroom door. By this time, I had explained the situation to my students, and they were suitably worried for me. David was at the door, with Jabberwock in his little bucket. His ears and mouth were still red and funny-looking, but he wasn't crying anymore, and he seemed alert and breathing just fine. David said he had improved so much in the last few minutes that he thought maybe they didn't need to head to the hospital. I agreed, although nervously, and instead he called the family doctor.

He pronounced a likely allergy to milk proteins and advised us to keep Jabber away from all dairy. Then he said probably we should keep him away from wheat, too, since that's another common allergen.

Okay, no big deal. We also got a sample of soy formula. Except that Jabber won't take even one sip of the soy.

So eventually we got him allergy tested, and we found out that he wasn't allergic to wheat (YAY! No more rice flour!), but he WAS allergic to soy and eggs, in addition to the dairy. The doctor didn't test him for peanuts, since it takes too much blood to test for multiple things, and we weren't planning on feeding him peanuts at that stage in his life anyway.

A year later, we got the news that peanuts were also on the forbidden list--in fact, his numbers were high enough for both peanuts and dairy to warrant an epi-pen to carry around. The first thing I did, of course, was research peanut allergies in children on the Internet.

Not a good idea. The very first article I found was all about this incredibly high percentage of children with peanut allergies who died withint an incredibly short period of time that the study was carried out. I began to cry with a kind of paralyzing panic. Instantly I remembered all the times I had eaten peanut butter toast or a big tasty handful of roasted peanuts right before kissing him or handling his food. I could have killed my son!

My mind raced forward to daycare, preschool, and oh, god, real school, where his ever-present epi-pen would be locked up far away in the nurse's office instead of in the backpack next to me ready to spring into action at the tiniest sign of respiratory distress. I was (and still am, to tell the truth) terrified of letting my son enjoy the simplest of pleasures--eating.

I became an expert label reader. We carried food for him everywhere we went. We had to ask a million probing questions at every restaurant we ordered at, and usually found them unwilling to say anything beyond, "Well, we can't guarantee that it doesn't have any of that in it." I banished all peanut products from our home. We began baking with oil and vinegar instead of eggs. I became an expert on cross-contamination, examining the jelly jar at other people's homes with a skeptical eye. I carried that little epi-pen backpack all over.

One story I read made me go cold every time I thought about it. It was about a boy who died on a class field trip after accepting a peanut butter cookie from a classmate. My husband and I drilled it into Jabberwock's head that he must never, ever, ever, EVER accept food from anyone without asking us first. And if we weren't around? Then he should not eat it. Period. No chances. I was convinced that he wouldn't ever do what that poor, poor boy did. The grandparents, other adults I know, even other kids have commented about how wonderfully aware Jabber is about his allergies, how he always double-checks, asking questions about the "ingweedients" of food he is given.

And for the last year, he has been cleared of all allergies except the peanut one. He has still not ever had an actual reaction to peanuts, and I hope to God he never does, since we have no idea what form that reaction could take. Hives? Stomach ache? Anaphylactic shock?

So because we have been so careful, and because we have explained his allergies so fully, he never puts anything in his mouth without asking first.

Until today.

Tonight we were hanging out with Mary at her summer home, many miles away from my hometown and hospital and husband, and Jabber walks into the room in a bit of a panic because he just took three bites out of a cookie that my friend's daughter offered him. She didn't know about his allergies. He took the cookie and didn't ask me. I can't really figure out why he didn't, except that he was just so comfy with her and that he really loves cookies. The cookies were made with peanut butter chips in them.

I quickly gave him a dose of his prescription antihistamine, which we carry around with the epi-pen. He didn't have any kind of reaction that I could tell, but my heart has been all constricted and crazy ever since it happened, several hours ago. What if he had taken a different bite, one with a chip in it? What if my friend hadn't seen him, hadn't known about the allergy and said something? He didn't give it a thought, my little boy who always thinks about this. What happened? And how can I keep it from happening again?

God, that was scary.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Good Times

So today I went in and got my hair cut. It was at the cheap place, you know the one, where you don't need an appointment, and you don't have a special person who always cuts it just so and you ask for him/her by name. It was just the hey, here's my fifteen bucks or whatever a haircut costs, please don't make me want to leave here with a paper bag on my head.

I didn't leave with a bag of any sort on my head, and in fact I'm pretty happy with my short cut. I tried to take a self-portrait to post, but I was having some trouble with the exposure so close to my head. Here's the best I got, which really shows you absolutely nothing except that I did also dye my hair a reddish color which is honestly not too different from the color it was before.

So as I was sitting in the chair, forcing myself to engage in small talk with a very nice but compulsively apologetic young stylist (she kept reassuring me, over and over, that it was going to be fine, while I just smiled the whole time saying I trusted her and it's just hair and whatever), I looked in the mirror and saw a familiar face in the chair behind me. It was a student, or almost. Actually it was the daughter of our office manager, who will be a sixth grader at our school very, very soon (but not so soon that I need to start panicking or anything). Long and convulted parenthetical way to say that I ran into the office manager from school at the haircut place.

Then, there was the question, the one that always sort of throws me. "What have you been up to this summer?"

Hmmm. Nothing? Doesn't seem acceptable.

I wrote a novel. That gets a weird smile, like wtf were you doing wasting this beautiful weather scribbling away at some novel, and so now what, will you be getting it published soon?

We went to a parade, and friend Shana took this adorable picture of Jabber and her daughter, Gwen.

The kids and I also took a little road trip on Saturday and visited David's parents for the day. That was fun. Here is Jabber and his Granny enjoying the cool pond, feeding the coy. And here are two sequential pictures of Monkey sitting in the wonderful high chair that Granny's sister painted for her when her first grandchild was born. I had to post both because they show two of my favorite faces that he makes.

Thoughtful and angelic

Mischievous as can be we have my summer boiling down to writing a novel (which I admit to being hugely proud and happy about this), seeing a couple parades, and getting a haircut.

Truly, our summer has been so nice--full of lots of cuddling, wagon rides around the backyard, library storytimes, small road trips, afternoon naps, family walks around the neighborhood, and other quiet pleasures. Not really much for exciting conversations at the hair salon, but satisfying in their own way. And tomorrow Jabber and I are going to take a drive up to visit our good friend Mary at her summer home. Good times.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Hair Help?

Somebody? Tell me what to do with my hair so I can take this damn baseball cap off? YIKES!

Update...well, I went to ivillage, where I somehow miraculously remembered both my username AND my password from when I was a member of a pregnancy forum while pregnant with Jabberwock like five years ago.

Here's my (little bit scary) photo "make-over" with some celebrity's hair and I think maybe eyeliner. It's kind of funny, actually. Also? I have approximately that color hair dye in my linen closet at the moment, and I'm tossing around the possibility of using it. It's a little darker, though. I've never permanently dyed my hair before, though. Gulp.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Daddy keeps all his wenches in the basement...

I'm pretty sure Jabber was talking about tools, but you just never know. The basement, it seems, is a pretty happenin' place.

Today Jabber said, very slyly, "Daddy has a secret hide-out, you know." Sure enough, he was talking about the basement.

It all started with the workbench. Then the TV. Random strips of carpeting. Some more furniture picked up for free from the sides of the street. Then a whole wall of organizational moment, when David decided to put in shelves. Now two, no three, more workbenches, and a reloading hobby that pretty much keeps him occupied for as much time as he'd like, and then some.

At least he does the laundry while he's down there. The basement is not really a fun place for me, except on those days where it's so goddamn hot out that I feel the need to touch my bare feet onto clammy cement floors just to combat spontaneous combustion. Every so often, I also may be forced to drag my ass down there and pedal my exercise bike for a bit, next to the crumbling chimney and a mystery bucket that was filled with something like rock salt but one day mysteriously (hence the term "mystery bucket") melted or something and is now a five gallon bucket of icky liquid. Why don't we dispose of said bucket? Well, is it hazardous waste? I don't think it's compost.

Anyway, I pretty much limit my trips to the basement for necessities, like when I realize I have to wrap a present and didn't send David down for the gift bags, or like this afternoon I had to go down and figure out why the air conditioner wasn't acting like it was plugged in (because it wasn't).

But to the boys, the basement is the ultimate hide-out, a top-secret clubhouse where Mom is not allowed. In the basement, things happen that Mom doesn't get to know about. (That's why Daddy keeps all his wenches there, I guess.) Like tonight Jabberwock went downstairs with Daddy to give Mama some time to rest her vocal cords from screaming at the two boys who Would. Not. Stop. Fighting. So, while Mama and Monkey were reading peacefully from I-Spy Little Wheels and One Little Duck on the front porch swing, Jabber and Dad were in the basement watching Justice League and standing on chairs (and falling off of the chairs when they got so excited about the episode of the Justice League, but I think that's actually one of those things I'm not supposed to know about).

As you may recall, Jabber managed to finagle himself a rather nice set of tools at a silent auction this past spring, so he was busily fixing things and making things right all over the basement. So the question came up whether, in the event that the Justice League (Superman and other heroes, I guess...I'm fuzzy on the details...and in fact asked, "Oh, who's that glowing guy? only to be met with a disdainful, "The Green Lantern. DUH.") should need Jabberwock's help to battle the ever-threatening "Bad Guys," would his Daddy allow him to use his tools to fight with them.

I'd like to think that if he asked this question of me, that I would discuss some things with him about how fighting isn't always the best solution, maybe discussed some of my ideas about diplomacy, or at least tried to get him to wait for a few years before allowing himself to get drafted by this strange Justice League of people in strange clothing and of questionable radioactive status.

But see, in the basement, the answer was just, "Oh, absolutely."

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

You are my favorite...warden? dictator? demon spawn?

Jabberwock and I like to go on walks around our neighborhood together. Sometimes he'll even hold my hand. Yesterday, as we were walking along, I told him (as I often do) that he is my favorite Jabber.

Me: I love you, sweetie. You are my favorite Jabber in the whole world.
J: (squeezes my hand) And you are my favorite...hmm...
Me: (remembering all the arguments of the day) Your favorite mom?
J: (very quickly) No. Not my favorite mom. My favorite...person who...
Me: I'm not your favorite mom?
J:'re my favorite...person who tells me...
Me: (nervously) Your favorite what?
J: You are my favorite...person who teaches me. You're my favorite teacher, Mom. 'Cause all mom's are teachers, you know.

Whew! I'm not sure if he was thinking philosophically, like how the role of motherhood is one of teaching and guiding, or if he just thinks that all moms teach school in their spare time, but it was sweet, either way.

And much better than what I thought he might say!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The end

53,206 words in 27 days. Finished last night. I actually have several things I'd like to blog about, but my strength wanes......


Sunday, July 20, 2008

Climax approaching!

No time to blog much, but I have an update on my WIP...I'm on the scene right before the climax, and I'm seriously on the edge of my seat for Max. I want to scream at him to turn back, to go back to Vanessa and stop this foolishness, but you know. Characters never listen. Which is probably a good thing, at least in this case, since that wouldn't be much of a story.

I wrote like six thousand words today. And if I didn't have to sleep, I'd finish the damn thing tonight. At least, if I didn't have kids who will wake up at 6:30 whether I've slept or not!

I'm finishing this chapter, and then the next one's the doozy!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

A Little Giddy

I'm five hundred words or so away from hitting 40K words on my new novel manuscript, which is really, really close to my goal for the end--somewhere between 50 and 60K. I realized this morning that if I'm going to get the story wrapped up under 60 K, I'd better make a list of the scenes I have left to write, so this morning I mapped out the things that still have to happen. I also did a lot more research, on some things that made David's eyes bug out a little bit when he saw the Google history (drug stuff mainly...there's a lot of drug research done for this book!)

I also got to make up some silly band names, which was amusing. And I read forty-some reviews of a concert venue in Portland, which I hadn't ever gone to but thanks to the amazing internet I have at least a few details to help my characters fit into the scene.

As soon as I saw it all mapped out like this--although of course there will be surprises as my characters enjoy doing that to me--it filled me with such a bunch of giddiness I could barely contain myself. I'm so amazed to be so close to the finish, and to still be happy with what I'm working on. I've written 1,000-2,000 words or more every day now since I started this. Granted, it's all first draft level work, and I'm sure things will change a lot in the editing process. But the thought of actually finishing a novel (even a short YA novel) by the time school starts makes me...well...GIDDY!

Happy Dance!!!!!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

King Dork

This afternoon Jabber and I went to daycare to pick up Monkey from his solo morning, after playing with the new computer, going for a walk, failing to enroll him in a preschool (sadness), and watching several episodes of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the theme song of which has now been stuck in my head for over twenty-four hours ("Heroes in a Half-Shell...Turtle Power!").

That sentence simply deserves its own paragraph.

Anyway. So we walked in during the finale of storytime, which is perfect timing, right before all the munchkins head off to naps, and Jabber was wearing his monster truck shirt and a new pair of shorts that I bought him like two weeks ago but just managed to launder last night. Okay, David laundered them, but that's not part of this story. One of the "big kids," made some kind of comment when we walked in about how Jabber wore the same shirt yesterday. (Okay, two problems with this, Mr. Big Kid Extraordinaire: first, Jabber did not come to daycare yesterday because yesterday was our super fun library day, thankyouverymuch; and second, I just took the shirt out of the clean laundry basket this morning, so who the hell cares if he wore it another day?)

Our lovely DCP (that would be daycare provider, natch) scoffed at Mr. Big and pointed out that he had worn his shirt yesterday as well. "Yeah, well, not these pants," he said, lamely. (Uh...already said that Jabber's shorts were new and procrastinatedly washed!)

So then Lovely DCP comes over to talk to Jabber about what we did on our special morning, and he talks rather excitedly about the "Inja Turtles effisodes" that we had watched. Like best morning ever, dude. Lovely DCP proves she, too, had a young boy like twenty years ago by enthusiastically naming off many of the characters of the show (most of whom Jabber has never really heard of, since this is, I think, the first time he has watched those Injas.)

Meanwhile, back on the couch, Mr. Big Kid is teasing Jabber in a way that is so subtle Jabber is completely oblivious. He starts telling all the other kids, loudly, "They're Inja Turtles, guys, not Ninja Turtles." He repeats this over and over, laughing but pretending to be all serious. He's not being overly mean, and honestly through it all he seems like he actually really likes Jabber, although of course Jabber's only a four-year-old Little Kid and could never be taken seriously.

Jabberwock is, as I said, completely oblivious that he has been teased or taunted at all in this exchange. His earnest little self is all about describing the "effisodes" he watched and how he made a behavior chart on the new "waptop," and how excited he is to have playdate with his best buddy tomorrow. And Mr. Big is only performing for his Big Kid audience; some of them get what he's doing and some don't.

I get it. I don't dislike the kid for it. However, I kind of sort of want to say something to him, something like, "Hey, why are you making fun of Jabberwock for the way he says that? He's just a Little Kid." Of course, then Jabber would know. Plus, it would be silly of me. It was no big deal.

Then I thought about how it's going to be, years and years and years from now when my little Jabber is a Great Big Kid and comes to my school, maybe even is in my class. Middle school is like the epitome of teasing, taunting, and ridicule. Will I go all Mama Bear on some box-of-rocks eighth grader the second he looks at my little angel sideways?

I know I can't insulate him from teasing all his life. I know that he will DO his share of teasing, too. In fact, he already does. I'm reading the book King Dork by Frank Portman right now, which is a terrific YA book if you're patient and don't mind character-driven books without things exploding on every page (yeah, it doesn't honestly have much of a plot, but it's still interesting), and in it, the narrator gets teased and bullied quite a bit. That got me thinking about my kiddos and how I'm going to deal with them getting treated poorly in middle school.

What if my kid is King Dork? Well, I guess all I can do is make sure his shirt is clean, and try to stay out of it, if I can.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Can you spot the lie?

MY NEW COMPUTER! It is shiny and fast, and all of my digital photos are like tiny drops in its enormous bucket of space. And even though it's not as good as the full power Photoshop that I used to be a pro with, at least I have Elements to play around with to remind me of what I used to do for a living.

Oh, god, remember that? Yeah, I used to work at a printing company, in prepress. I started off as a plate maker and film stripper. That was such a delightful little job title that allowed me to call up my mother from across the country, after she had been worrying about me and I had been worrying about me, and we had moved into a house with two lovely flakes--one of whom worked a job he loved for two months without getting paid for it, the other worked like fifteen jobs in those two months, quitting each one after less than two days--and David and I were jobless for so long. Jobless and broke.

So I call my mom, ecstatic, "Mom! I finally got a job!"

She is all halleluiah (oh, crap, is that how it's spelled?), wonderful, oh I was so worried, what kind of job did you get?

"I'm a stripper!" Gleefully, you see.

Shocked silence. Would she have to fly across the country and...what? Take me over her knee? Ground me?

"Ha!" I let her off the hook pretty quickly. "A film stripper!"

Anyway, that was a fun job while it lasted, but they noticed I was smart (I don't hide it very well at times, but I'm learning, as time goes on) and started having me do little jobs on the computer. Some type-setting, a little simple preflight, eventually I was handed an entire wheelbarrow full of transparencies of watercolor paintings to scan and color correct. Before too long, I was learning all the programs and doing almost all of the in-house design work.

Too bad they still paid me like a stripper, but it helps me make worksheets now that I'm back to teaching! And it gives me a good story to tell my students on my Introduction to Language Arts day when we play the game Two Truths and a Lie.

Can you spot the lie?
1. Ms. Lissnkids has eaten rattlesnake.
2. Ms. Lissnkids used to work as a stripper.
3. Ms. Lissnkids had a naked wedding reception.

No, just kidding, that last one is true, but I don't tell them that.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Are you sure it's young adult?

This is the question asked to me recently when I gave a quick summary of my WIP. Well, okay, I admit, what I actually gave the person was a laundry list of the things I am most worried about that are in my draft, namely: drugs, profanity, sexual innuendo (though no actual sex, at least not yet), lesbians, and grand theft auto.

Yes, I'm sure it's YA. And in my reading of current YA lit, it's actually pretty tame, even with all of that. The drug scene is really the edgiest thing in it, and even that doesn't really glorify the drug use, since my MC (that would be Main Character, non-writer-types) doesn't enjoy the experience much, and it leads him into a bunch of trouble. Plus it's "just" pot. One thing that makes me nervous about this, though, is that I know, in order for my story to go where it needs to go, it's not going to be the only scene like this in the book.

But the biggest thing that make me nervous about all of this is the people inside my head--like my mom, for one. Then all my students, but that's not as bad as...all my students' parents! My grandma, I can take her. Bring it on, Grandma! I'm ready for the fight. There would be one, too, just for the record. More than one, in fact.

OK, well, making a list here, it's not so bad, if I can just get rid of the voice of my mom and all the moms of anyone I have ever taught or will someday teach. There you go. Piece of cake, this writing stuff.

I know, I know, I have to just write it and not listen to the voices. (Well, except the ones that belong to my characters, but that was more about my crazy than you necessarily needed to know.) I have to write it and be confident and not worry about all those inner critics. Easier said than done, but it's coming out. And it's uncensored. And I love it. (When I get to the editing stage, probably not so much, but for now, wheeeee!!!!!) (And it's okay, it doesn't have as many parentheticals as my silly blog posts do.)

Still, there's fear. There's looking back over my shoulder. There's always a pen name. Ha!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Ice cream truck of death.

I never thought I'd hate the ice cream truck. I mean, it is like the best invention ever--ice cream on wheels, right to your very neighborhood. It's the epitome of summer.
It is also the bedtime kiss of death when the ice cream truck insists on cruising the neighborhood, peppy little song piping out of it, at 8:00 pm. I mean, it's hard enough to convince the kiddo to go to bed when it's still light out, but when the ice cream truck is rolling through? IMPOSSIBLE.
Am I that weird to send my kids to bed at eight? I want to boycott this ice cream catastrophe just out of principle, but the thing is...I like ice cream. And if it ever comes around when it's NOT bedtime, I'll probably be running after it along with all the neighbor kids.

I Hate You!

I didn't think it would come so early--the day my own child would shout those muffled words, "I hate you!" in the midst of an angry conflict. What??? Where in the heck did he learn that? It wasn't like I was being particularly hateful at the moment, either; in fact, it seemed pretty tame. I wasn't even yelling.

Jabber had grabbed Monkey's water cup and was drinking it. Monkey was screaming to have his cup back. I said, "Jabber, please give Monkey his cup back." Monkey screamed roughly the same thing. Jabberwock smiled around the cup but continued to drink out of Monkey's cup. Monkey continued to scream, and now added in some physical attempts to remove the cup.

Jabber started screaming in response (screaming is getting to be a real problem around here, seriously), but he still refused to give back the cup. I repeated my request, and when Jabber refused, I reached over and tried to take the cup back myself.

Jabber flailed his arms around, screaming, still gripping the cup in his teeth. I was (amazingly) still calm, and I said, "Give Monkey his cup, please. If you're thirsty, what could you do?"

I got Monkey's cup away from him, and he screamed, "I'm thirsty! I'm thirsty! I'm thirsty!"

"Well, we don't just grab other people's stuff. Go have a seat over there for a minute and see if you can figure out something else to do when you're thirsty."

"ARGHHHH!" he screamed, and then in a very muffled voice, "I hate you!"

I didn't react, or let him know I heard him, until he went over and sat down on the "fiver" spot--the bottom step. After a little while, he said, "I could get something to drink out of the fridge, or I could ask you for some juice."

"OK, sounds good," I said. "And maybe you could apologize for what you said to me that hurt my feelings."

"Oh," he said. "I didn't think you heard me when I said I hate you, Mom."

"Well, I did."

"Oh. Well, then I'm sorry. I really am."

Good God, what will adolescence bring?

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The More Things Change

I went to a birthday party today (Happy first, Little B!) for a friend's son who turned one year old. It made me sad because I realized that I haven't seen him or his parents since my own son's first birthday (well, and my other son's fourth birthday because we're super lucky and both our boys were born one day apart, conveniently just a little over a week before Christmas...parenthetical tangent over), which was seven months ago.

It got me thinking about how much our lives have changed since having kiddos, because really, David and I used to be really good friends with these people, before Jabberwock was born. She was the first friend I made in college. David worked with him, and the four of us even got together for a road trip to Vancouver, B.C., when David and I lived out in Oregon for a couple years. True, they did move quite a ways out, and David got this annoying schedule that doesn't allow us to have much of a social life anyway, but it all happened right around the time we had our first kid.

Becoming a parent changes so much about the dynamics of your family, your friendships, your identity, and sometimes that's hard to think about too much. I love my kids, so much that it's incredible--a love I didn't know was possible before they came along. That sounds trite and cliche and it is, but it's only cliche because it's true. I can't imagine my life without them in it.

But there are times when I mourn that other life we had, full of backpacking, late nights that went unpunished in the morning, time that belonged only to me, time alone with my husband. I feel like we knew each other as people much better back then, instead of now, where so much of our relationship is orbiting around these other humans in our lives. Happily, joyfully orbiting, you understand.

I get most nostalgic about the pre-kid days when I am stuck in the day-to-day of fighting siblings and wrestling kids down for naps and searching for the binkie under the car seat on the side of the road so Monkey will stop screaming. I miss travel and hanging out a whole lot, and deciding to just skip dinner now and again. I miss taking luxurious baths when I felt fragile. I miss going through entire weeks, months even, without arguing with anyone. Lately, I'm lucky if I can make it through three minutes.

But I think, too, that the more things change, the more they stay the same. (I'm just full of the cliches tonight!) That look in my husband's eyes when we steal a moment to hold each other in the kitchen or while brushing our teeth--it's the same. Deeper, even, because we cannot take each other for granted. I'm still stubborn as hell, which is the real cause of most of those arguments (perhaps my memory is flawed, after all, about the frequency of arguing). I still get to do my writing, even if it causes me to choose every night between writing and being crazy tired at 6:30 when they get up and not writing but getting some sleep. If anything, I think I'm better at writing because I can't play around as much, wasting time. And even though our camping and hiking is much closer to home and MUCH less spontaneous, we still get out there every so often, and I have faith that things will get easier as the kiddos get older.

I'm not sure what my actual point is with this rambly post tonight, except to say that I'm musing about the way life has changed in the last five years, and feeling a little down about friends we've grown more distant from (there are more than just one couple) since becoming parents. But then I have just two seconds of absolute cuteness from one of the little curiosities, and instantly I'm so grateful for their miraculous little selves. (Thought I'd end on a cliche, just to round out the post. Hmm?)

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Counting My Words

I've been writing a young adult novel for the last, hold on...seventeen days. I'm about 28,000 words into it, which I assume is a little over halfway, since I'm aiming at about 50,000 total. Of course, who can say, until the story is told, exactly how many words it will take? My goal is to finish this draft by the time summer vacation is over, which is just a little over a month from today. To meet that goal, I have been trying to write about 1000 words each day. Of course, the caveat is that some days the words are terrible, and I have to rewrite them the next day, but it's the writing them out the first time that's really hard for me. Sometimes.

Sometimes they flow out effortlessly, ecstatically, a ribbon of words streaming in the breeze of my sub-conscious. Other times it's pure labor; I often compare it to the process of laboring and giving birth, and it's true it is an act of creation, a sort of life-giving. Sometimes each word sqeeeeeeeezes out slowly and painfully, after much pacing and position-shifting, pleading and doubting. Just like with giving birth, there really is no way to turn back. It doesn't matter how painful it is, it has to come out, one way or another.

It's great to write on those evenings when I feel on top of the story, when my words just fly off the tips of my fingers, but I think it's almost more important for me to write on the nights that I balk at it, that I have to drag myself through each paragraph. Writing is an art, a product of inspiration, but it's also work. It's putting one word after another after another, mixing them together to create some kind of (hopeful) harmony.

Now I've procrastinated long enough; my 1000 words await.

Friday, July 11, 2008

I knew an old lady who swallowed a fly...

...and what a great song to sing to your four-year-old who has been having some issues with being afraid of bugs and also who has been asking a lot of questions about death and dying. Way to go, Liss.

I don't know why she swallowed that fly. Perhaps she'll die.

"Why, Mom? Why would she die? Is she dead in that picture? Would you really die if you ate a spider, Mom? What happens when you die? What if I swallow a bug, Mom? Will I die?"

Short blog post 'cause there's crazy stormishness coming through, and I don't want to lose this old computer, since I found out today that my beautiful new laptop is not going to ship until June 23. Sadness.

Just one quick question before I shut this thing down for a bit:

Why is it that I can never find the scotch tape when I really need it, but both children can find it anytime they feel the urge to pull about four feet of tape off a spool and stick it to, say, several pages of our photo album?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

If you should find me crouching n@ked... a dark corner, muttering incoherently, covered in filth, scribbling manifestos on the walls with crayon stumps...let it be known that it was the children who drove me to it.

I tried to get him back to sleep, when he woke up after only 25 minutes of napping, causing me to leave my lunch mid-bite and my novel-in-progress mid-scene, and started screaming as though his pudgy little toes were being eaten one by one by a hideous monster with needle-sharp teeth. He popped up, giggling maniacally, every time I tried to get him to lie down again. Fine. We'll get up.

Twenty seconds later, give or take, he is a puddle of screeching fury. "Jabber, what happened?"

Jabberwock bursts into a screaming fit of equal or greater proportions. "He's touching my jet!" he wails. At least, I think that's what he was saying.

"So what did you do to him?" I am shouting now, too, since it's the only way to be heard. Oh, did I mention I am trying to pee at this moment?

"NOTHING!" Of course. Why do I even ask?

"MOM! Monkey's climbing the step stool!"

Oh, shit. This is not the step stool Monkey regularly climbs, the one the kids stand on to brush their teeth. This is the three-step huge step-stool that Jabberwock and I had been using to paint the mural in his room while Monkey was at daycare this morning. I hurry up and finish up in the bathroom and rush into the bedroom almost in time to catch Monkey as he pitches off the stool onto the floor.


"Stay up here!" I shout to Jabber, over the screams. "I can't handle you two being together for a while, and I'm going to try to nurse him back to sleep on the couch!" Monkey is convulsing in tears. Jabber protests his banishment with tears, but I give him a squeeze and head downstairs.

We settle into our spot on the couch, Monkey eagerly latching on and even closing his eyes. I hold my breath. I slowly raise a hand to nudge the touchpad on my laptop, hoping maybe to add a sentence or two to my draft. Eyes fly open angrily. "UNH! UNH!" Monkey begins beating me about the head and chest, pushing me away from him.

Now he doesn't want to nurse. He wants a cup of milk from the end table. He takes a sip, screams. Now he must have my coffee. I deflect him, and he throws himself on the floor. He demands pretzels, which I give him. He takes a bite, throws the rest of the bowl down. Screams. Jabber comes downstairs, shouting about how he promises he won't fight with the baby. Five seconds pass, and he is pushing Monkey over for getting too close to a block tower he built. Monkey screams, go figure.

In search of revenge for this loss of his baby dignity, Monkey does several devastating turns about the living room--a small but deadly tornado. He settles on the cord for my laptop, which he grips in both hands while glaring at me defiantly.

"Monkey, no! No, No, No!" I calculate quickly. Which can I reach first, Monkey or the keyboard? I leap toward the keyboard, just managing to push Control-S before he yanks out the plug, sending my dead-battery craptop into an instant blackout.

I sigh, start up the computer again (this will take about ten minutes, if I'm lucky), and check outside. Sigh. Still raining. This is going to be a looooong haul till bedtime, folks!

Picture Post...I owe you one

I've been (somewhat wisely) choosing novel writing over blogging for the last couple of days, but I'm getting out two posts today for the price of one. Sure, this one is mostly pictures, but they're cute!

So this first one is a picture of my little sister. I'm going to call her Turtle, 'cause I bought her a stuffed turtle when she was a baby, and she had it with her on this trip. She also took a little while to come out of her shell (as do I), but once she did she was one super cool almost-kindergartener! And finally, when we went to the Children's Museum on her last day here, there was a huge turtle there, and she had fun playing with it. So anyway, here's Jabber and Turtle outside the hotel room. Turtle is five years old, just eight months older than Jabber. The day she was born was the very day I found out I was pregnant! Auntie and Nephew got along super!

Here's another of Turtle and Jabberwock, this time at a Fourth of July parade, enjoying a quiet moment together on the curb (during one of the ten minute gaps between events, as the city apparently thought they could make about 20 minutes of parade take up an hour and a half, if they spaced it out right!)

This picture just cracks me up because it totally looks like Jabber is flicking someone off. Wrong finger, but otherwise it's even the right facial expression.

And here's our mural after we worked on it today. This is day 2 of bedroom mural creation, and we've made a little bit of progress. Jabber mostly painted weeds today, but he also is the artist behind that nice little tree trunk below the branches of the main pine there. He's pretty proud of that one.

And here's Turtle and Jabber enjoying the bounce house, where they played an extraordinarily exciting game of their own invention, called "Dragon." Kids are so weird. Within five minutes of introductions, these two were chasing each other around, shrieking, playing "Dragon." An hour later, Jabber was calling Turtle his "bestest friend."
And here's the Monkey, being his usual dirt-eating self. If you've noticed that Monkey is almost always dressed in red, it's true, we do that intentionally, so we can find that little bugger, as he is extremely fast.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

This wasn't in the outline!

The characters in my works-in-progress do some crazy things when I allow them to have their own way. Crazy-good, and crazy-crazy. Saying things like that to non-writers always gets a raised eyebrow, a look that says clearly that I am the crazy one. Of those who write, there are some who understand me completely, and some who give me that same look.

I've always been the kind of writer who wrote the required outline after my paper was finished. Ideas form more easily for me mid-sentence, flowing out from some center with just a little help now and then from a nice thesaurus or perhaps a consult to the old MLA Handbook. Still, when I'm writing a long work like a novel (which, you understand, I am in the middle of doing for precisely the second time, which makes me far from an expert on this), I feel like I should kind of know where the piece is headed. I wouldn't want it to be just a big long ramble leading toward nothing, after all. I know enough about plot structure and such that I feel like I should put some rational thinking into building conflicts and developing a turning point for my character. Plus, it's really handy for me to know how the story ends, or at least the way I think it will end.

Give my rational brain a chance to stack up some conflicts, pin a climax scene at the top of the chart like a tail on the donkey, make lists of research subjects, and analyze word counts of similar works, and I'm all set. Then I start to write.

And my characters do crazy things.

Sometimes it's a small thing, like in my current WIP (work-in-progress) when Max was sitting in the waiting room waiting (duh) and suddenly he got up and decided to hurdle some chairs. He really made me laugh when he landed on top of the social worker like that; I hadn't seen it coming.

Sometimes it's a huge thing, like in my first novel, when Colleen fell in love. That was not something I could just ignore, you know? Here I am writing about a woman who discovers her own powerful woman self and frees herself from her dependence on her mother, and now she's hanging on this guy? Plus it really complicated the ending, to the point that I almost had to rewrite the whole thing. And as if that all wasn't enough, it forced me to dance right up to the edge of a sex scene--not a bit easy to do!

But, Elissa, you wrote the story. Can't you just...not have them do those things?

Not that simple. Take this morning, for example. I was writing about Max, and out of nowhere he meets this character, Julia. Just for the record, she wasn't even on my radar, not even close. Then suddenly, there she was on the porch swing, waving. OK, no big deal, I'm thinking. A walk-on part. Everything seems to be going according to plan.

I discover that she is a sculptor when another character mentions it. Oh, cool. I like sculpture.

Then Max starts wandering over to the garage studio. OK, I can deal with this. I'll just have her working with some clay. No big deal.

He rounds the corner, and there's Julia, in full welding gear, sparks flying. Uh...OK. Well, I don't know much about welding, but as long as Max isn't doing it, I think I can handle this.

Then she has to go and ask Max if he wants to try. And he has the nerve to agree. And then there I am, sitting in a coffee shop, watching online video tutorials on MIG welding and poring over comments on a welding forum to get an idea of what it would feel like to hold the torch for the first time.

With those words, I just have to say that anyone who has written a book before the advent of the Internet and all the amazing resources available there is my absolute hero.

Monday, July 7, 2008

The Writing Process--from pen to processor

This weekend I was separated from my laptop and internet by this pesky little national holiday business. You know, family, fireworks, parades, and BBQ's. I thought perhaps it would be a little rude to haul the computer along, with its dead battery and yards of power cord, and spend the weekend chatting to people in between scenes, my fingers tapping away. So I left it at home, all alone with its thoughts about being replaced as soon as the new one I ordered on Thursday arrives.

I couldn't leave my novel behind, though. It is too insistent, too close to the surface, just begging me to write it. So I brought my little pink notebook with the metallic butterflies on the cover, and I brought my green clicky pen with the rubber grips (whose two drawbacks--low ink supply and the word "profile" on this side, which my brain keeps reading as "prolife"--I compensated for by bringing a back up pen or three), and I tried to only write in it when nobody was looking. Yeah, right. One whole side of my hand was green from the speed with which I was racing across the page while the ink was still wet.

This is how I used to write, before I had a computer. It hasn't been that long, in fact, that I bought my very first computer, a Mac G-4 named Calliope that is still (until sometime this week when my new laptop arrives) the only computer I actually own. There is a compartment in the middle of the beautiful antique dresser that my grandma gave me, a "secret" cubby that is currently filled to the top with all my journals, since at least the second half of college. I like the way words flow out onto paper, with a smooth pen and just the right journal. Most of my writing has had its start in one of these little books, and all of my writing has pilfered bits and pieces from their pages, whether or not they were intended for the work.

Now, my process has evolved to reflect the speed of my fingers dancing across the keyboard, my ideas making their way into this world in an interesting hybrid of pen and processor, with most first drafts spiraling between my scribbled notes and manic typing. Poetry is almost always penned; fiction springs up from a handwritten beginning and takes off in my computer. This new novel comes to me in such a steady stream that I have taken to carrying my little notebook everywhere I go--from bathroom to bed--and I pour out these interrupted bits of story from wherever I am. Then, as soon as I'm near the computer again, I type it up (often making improvements and revisions as I do) and continue on from there.

Revising on the computer is so easy that some writers find themselves saving multiple copies of their work, afraid to change or delete something they later will want to find back. This is one thing that a handwritten draft avoids. In my notebook, each revision is clearly present, with words crossed out and added in, sentences winding like stray hairs across the page, little stars or arrows moving paragraphs from place to place. It's messy, but it's organic. It feels real. On the computer, my draft looks so confident and down-to-business with all that messiness invisible, hidden from even myself. On the computer, I revise fearlessly--cutting, hacking, and embellishing without using the "save as." It's quick, and it's dirty, but ultimately it leads me to "The End."

And then I go back to the beginning and do it all over again.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Boring Mom Post

The only purpose of this post is for me to document Monkey's recent verbal explosion by making a list of all the words/phrases he currently is speaking on his own (not just repeating like a parrot, but really using, at least a few times). I would be a good mom and put it in his baby book, but it's so much harder to find both time, pen, and book...

So, here it is, Monkey's 18 month vocabulary, in categories for ease of memory (I'll probably edit to add others I remember):

Family Members:
Dada: used to be all "Dada" all the time, now he also says
Mom/Mama: although it's just as likely he's talking about David when he says it. I seem to be "mama," whereas David is both "DaDA!" and "Mom." Go figure.
He says Jabber's name, and also "browwer"
Papa: for the grandpas

Animals/Animal Sounds:
GRRRRR! : equals lions and tigers and bears, or other creatures that look similar to these
Ffshhhh: fish
cutest little kissing sound: what the fish says
'at: cat
mee mo! : meow
woof! : what the dog says, naturally
tit tit: ha! what the bird says
Moooo! : yeah, you know.
Nt: ant, a source of great wonder and amusement
Uck! : Duck, and also Truck
quack, quack!

Body Parts/Clothing
eet: feet
mum: mouth
and: hand
hat! hat! hat! (anything on your head)
ed: head
eef: teeth
ox: socks

Ap-Ap: Apple
Mlk: Milk
Aw Don: All done, or all gone
Crack: Cracker, chips, etc.
Nana: banana
Cha: cheese
Opee: Oatmeal
Op it: open it

Knock-knock, while pounding on the doors
Ouch! Ow!: both require kisses
Uh-oh! Whoops!
Rock: anything found on the ground
Go out!
Baby: a really recent one, since he doesn't much use the long /e/ sound
aeTTTT! Nurse me!
Good!: How he responds to the question, "How are you doing, baby?"
Yes! : I am blessed that he doesn't yet say "no"
Nigh-Nigh: this one makes him cry as he says it
UCK! UCK!: Did you see that cool ass truck that just went by???
uck: anything with wheels (or a duck, depending on context clues)
dis: this
dat: that
mama nopbook: Mama's notebook
Welcome!: what he says to you when he gives you something
ticko ticko ticko: tickling sound
ug: hug
Hi, Hey, Hello
Sit down now!
Bop: Ball

What does this say about me?

A couple of small observations from this morning.

First, I was sweeping the kitchen floor (which I do like three times a day, I swear!), and Jabber comes waltzing in (no, really, that's not just a fancy way of writing...he was waltzing...with a truck, I think) and says, "Mom, who's coming over today?"

"Well, I don't think anyone's coming over today, hon."

"Well, then why are you sweeping?"

I acted completely indignant and said, "What? I can't sweep the floor without expecting company? Maybe I just want to keep things from sticking to my feet when I walk."

He remained skeptical. "Are you sure nobody's coming over?"

A little later, he was walking around the house chatting on a pretend telephone. "Oh, these kids," he said, in an exasperated tone, "they're driving me up a wall. They're so full of wrestling today." At this point Monkey stole the broom I had propped up against the kitchen counter while I made a cup of coffee, and Jabber spent a few minutes chasing him down to retrieve the broom. He went back to his telephone conversation. "I'm so sorry about that," he said. "I just had to chase the kid around with a broom a little bit."

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Head Lice

Ha! Made you itch! You could stop reading right now, and you'd still be itchy. Yep, right there behind your left ear. NO! It's at the nape of your neck!

Sigh. Picked up the Monkey from daycare this morning, after Jabberwock and I had met Dad and Little Sister for waterpark playtime, and I was met with the news that one of the lovely children who attends the daycare has head lice. So, instantly my head is acrawl with phantom parasites. ICK! I checked both kids' heads very carefully. I examined every follicle. Monkey does have about eighteen billion bug bites on his head, but they are very clearly mosquito bites, not head lice bites. So why am I still all itchy?

I've never had lice, and I hope with all of my being that I never do. When I was a kid, we went to the nurse at school, who poked through our hair with little plastic straws and then made this little sound in the back of her throat and sent us along, either to the left or to the right. Nobody knew which line was good news and which was bad, which line led back to spelling tests and music class and which one led to phone calls home and the cry of "cooties" every time you came around until somebody else did something humiliating and earned your spot of ridicule.

I just hope we all end up in the right line this time around (or the left...whichever is lice-free!), and that you never hear another word from me on this subject. I bet you do, too.

Seriously, did you just feel something crawling?

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Writing What You Know

I've taken one class in writing fiction. That's it. I had been writing stories all my life (since before I could write, just like my Jabberwock), and I had thoroughly decided that being a writer was my destiny, but once I got to college it was all, "Well, you'd better get a teaching degree, 'cause you know nobody needs an English major," and "Well, now you've taken all these Spanish classes so you may as well get a minor," and seriously, I have to take a physical education class??? There wasn't much room in my schedule for creative writing.

Luckily, I had a great teacher (Barton Sutter--a terrific storyteller, essayist, and poet as well as teacher--Google him, if you want to see), who took my final completed short story (the longest finished piece I had ever completed) and tore it to shreds. He gave it a B MINUS! Was he aware that I was a straight A student, about to graduate magna cum laude? Well, I was so pissed off I nearly cried. Then I gathered the pieces, started them on fire, and rewrote my story out of those bitter ashes. "I'll show him!" I vowed. The story came back from revision with a wonderful note about how much better it was, along with my A. Several years later, I found the story back, and it was still crap, but it must have been an improvement over the original.

Anyway, I remember having a discussion in that class about the old writing advice, "Write what you know." This blog would be much more interesting if I actually remembered the quote that Barton Sutter said about that, but essentially it was that yes, you should write about something you're familiar with, but you should also be discovering something in your writing. Maybe it was "Write what you don't know about what you know."

Well, I'm writing about breaking the law, a couple of sports cars, the juvenile court system, and an awful lot of teen boy angst. That's not exactly what I know. You know? But in another way, it is. I think that I do actually know an awful lot about angsty teenage boys, just from spending the better part of the last six or eight years around them as a teacher. I can research sporty cars (ask me anything about the Audi TT Roadster, by the way!) and what happens to juveniles when they are arrested for grand theft auto. What I'm discovering is my memory of what it feels like to be young and uncertain--to long for acceptance while resenting having to rely on anyone. The way emotions can be fierce and bewildering. The way injustice is all around me, and how that can make me want to punch things.

And lately? In this scene I'm writing now? I'm (re)discovering how awkward it can be to flirt with someone you really, really like, without ending up sounding cheesy and cliche.

And now...back to flirting! Any advice appreciated...