Memory Bin

Our garbage collection here is once a week, on Monday mornings. The trucks come quite early, usually before 7 am, lumbering down the street, seizing the standardized bins with the automatic claws.

We go running early, so we usually drag our bin out on Monday morning. But many of our neighbors do this on Sunday, often early in the afternoon. It’s an unmistakable rumble, the sound of the two-wheeled plastic bin being dragged up a long gravel driveway. Sound carries here. Despite the distances between houses, we can hear the grinding drag from the next street over. Some people even put their bins out on Saturday, just to be sure.

Our immediate next-door neighbor puts his out on Sunday before noon. He’s a vague kind of guy who may have done a little bit too much acid in his younger days. It might be a big remembering thing for him, to get that bin out there. So, much so, that he put his bin out yesterday. So did our neighbor on the other side.

“There won’t be garbage collection tomorrow, will there?” I asked David.

“I wouldn’t think so since it’s a national holiday.”

And yet, there were the sprinkles of garbage bins dutifully drug out to the road. This morning I peeked in one to ascertain that, indeed, it had not been emptied.

“For some of these people,” David said, “I think garbage collection day is the only thing that distinguishes Monday from the rest of the week.”

I can see that. Our neighborhood is full of artists and retirees. Week days, weekends, holidays – there’s no real distinction if you’re not working a typical corporate work week. Remembering something like when to put out the garbage can take on great significance.

I’ll probably hit 20,000 hits on my blog today. I’m at 19,989 right now. It’s kind of like watching for the car odometer to roll over to a round number. You watch for days and even weeks, reminding yourself to look. I almost always forget at the pertinent time. I’m sure that will happen with this. The next time I look, the numbers will have rolled over. It’s just kind of nifty, though, nothing very important.

A lot of people stress the importance of remembering. Today is a day for remembering, the memorial. I’ve seen a number of messages on the social networks reminding people that today is to honor those fallen in service, not active duty personnel, because there’s other days for them. Keep to the correct day for the correct observance seems to be the message.

So today is the day I’m instructed to remember my father, the man who died in the fiery wreckage of his F-4 fighter jet when I was three years old.

I’ve written about this before, so forgive me those of you who might grow tired of it. My father’s death is one of the watershed events of my life, of my mother’s life. It changed the course of what happened after, of who we grew up to be. We observe the quiet anniversaries of his life throughout the year, his birthday, their wedding anniversary, the day he died. We don’t do anything; we just remember.

We can’t not remember him.

So, though I’m writing about it on this day, Memorial Day isn’t special for me. I don’t care at all who gets thanked or remembered today. I’m not shuffling my memories and my grief out to the curb, so it can be collected on time.

I plan to spend some time in the sun, enjoying the life I know my dad would have wanted me to have.

The Morning After

Stormy day yesterday. Now our rain catchments are all full and the birds singing crazy symphonies.

Last night Marcella IM’d me quite late to report that she’d gone from 87K to 91.6K that day and her new book is almost done, except for a few connecting scenes.

Her first book, Enemy Within, is coming out in November and she’s supposed to deliver the sequel, Enemy Games, to her agent today. So, I dutifully told her how terribly hot she is and what a triumphant blaze of glory this is to get her book done and how she can send it off to her agent and relax and party all weekend.

Marcella replied that she was far more likely to collapse in a cold, stinking pile of exhaustion.

Which is always the way of it, isn’t it?

I remember when my first lover, my high school boyfriend, Kev, and I first contrived to spend a night together.

(This is the time to stop reading if you have a low TMI threshold. And Mom – I’m not sure you know this story, but it’s been about 25 years so I figure the statute of limitations is up on this.)

My folks were out of town, so Kev came over to spend the night. I had many things I wanted to try at that tender age of exploration, most of them romantic. So we spread blankets in front of the fireplace in the living room (which required shifting furniture). I’d read somewhere that safflower oil made the best massage oil. Kev had never had alcohol, so we drank a bottle of champagne. (Why, yes, I am an evil corrupting influence.)

We had a lovely, giddy, very hot and sexy time with each other.

We romantically fell asleep in each other’s arms. And awoke somewhere around two in the morning, cold, sticky and miserable with pounding headaches.

It was a good welcome-to-adulthood lesson. For every blaze of glory, there’s an ashy pile of debris to clean up afterwards. It became a running joke with me and Kev, especially if anyone mentioned romantic fireplace settings or massage oil. Our cautionary tale.

It’s the way of the world, that for every sexy evening, there’s a morning after. For every great artistic push, there’s a time of whimpering recovery.

At least now we know to plan for it.

There Is No "I" in Book

A bit of Spring sunset tumult from last night. As with many things, it brewed up to be a big deal, but really produced very little.

Allison and I were talking about self-absorption yesterday. Self-involvement. Narcissism.

These terms get tossed at writers quite often. And usually, I think, by the people who want the writer to be paying attention to them, rather than to what they’re writing. I ended up telling Allison that she’d been necessarily self-involved in completing her Revisions from Hell in record time.

Then I realized, that’s not true at all.

She hasn’t been self-involved; she’s been absorbed in her work. Writers drew the unlucky straw of doing an awful lot of their work in their heads, in dreamy states that are arguably other planes of existence. It tends to make them unavailable for paying attention to the people around them, which can lead to rancor.

Blogging and memoir-writing – often the same thing – are also targets for the self-involvement critics. “Navel-gazing” they love to call it. If that’s so, would going back and reading one’s own blog posts be navel-gazing at navel-gazing?

I say no.

Once you produce the writing, it becomes something outside yourself. It’s art. A painting is not the artist’s self. A symphony is not the musician’s self. An elegant bit of code is not the programmer’s self. All of these things, to varying degrees, do reflect the person who created them.

It’s an interesting thing to me, as I’ve mentioned before here, to go back and read my older blog posts. I particularly like playing “this time, last year.” The May 27 post from last year is full of sadness about getting a “no” from the agent I really had set my hopes on. Quite a bit has changed for me in that time – my strategy, how I’m going about things.

What non-writers may not realize is, reading your own work rarely feels like a familiar thing. I’m often surprised by what I’ve written before. People have quoted my work to me and I failed to recognize it – which irritates them. I understand why it would, but it’s lovely that they’re quoting something I wrote. It just no longer sounds like a piece of me. It has its own life.

So, Allison, I take it back. You haven’t been self-involved at all. You’ve been involved in your book.

And that’s an admirable thing.

Pursuing the Vision

I really wanted to capture the blaze of iris yellow with the blue flax behind it, but I can’t get the picture to come out right.

Yet again I can’t seem to capture in an image what my eye sees. My lack of photography skill or equipment. Perhaps the human eye still trumps all else. The neurophysiologist in me likes that idea.

I’ll keep working at it.

Every morning we take Zip for a walk and every other morning I run the distance. I do the Bill Phillips thing of pulsing my speed so I work up from slow walking to fast walking to slow running to fast running. Sometimes David jogs along with me, but his legs are so much longer than mine that he can pretty much stride along to all but my fastest jog. Which is clearly not very fast.

I try not to let this be a humiliating thing.

Frankly, I’m happy to be running at all, since I am most decidedly NOT athletic girl. Never have been. One of my friends has a son graduating from high school who, despite his startlingly good academic record, might be held back for failing a gym class. I can totally sympathize with this. In fact, all her writing friends chimed in and agreed that we all loathed gym. Why there aren’t more evil gym-teacher villains in books I really don’t know. Maybe we’re all still afraid they’ll make us do push-ups or something.

They even gave me the Greek body/mind ideal lecture in school, about how I should be wanting to build physical abilities as much as my mental ones.

Yeah, that didn’t fly, either.

The thing is, people who love gym simply don’t understand those of us who hate it. I even have an essay in Wyoming Trucks that delves heavily into hiding in the girls’ bathroom during gym. When one of my recently reconnected high school boyfriends read my book, he commented that it really opened his eyes to what school is like for others, especially for his adolescent daughter. It had never occurred to him that not everyone loved bombardment. (A particularly cruel form of dodgeball.)

But now I run. Not by choice so much, but because Mother Nature pulled the nasty trick of swapping the slim little body I could stuff anything into for one that converts muscle to fat if I’m not actively working to prevent it.

(Hit me with a potato famine, though – I’ll be all over it!)

Running, lifting weights, it’s something I hate while I’m doing it. I take no joy in the moment like those naturally athletic people do. All the pleasure comes when I’m done, when I finish that last minute of sprinting, out of breath and blood pumping. That’s when I feel a sense of accomplishment.

Writing can be like that, too. Sometimes the process of it is so grueling that it can feel like you’re out of breath, with half the hill still to go. You long to stop, to walk, to turn back. But if you push through, sometimes you hit the exhilaration. There you are, flying down the hill, the sun on your skin and wind in your hair. You become the vision of the true athlete, the Greek ideal of beauty, fitness and artistry.

I suppose that’s why we pursue visions. Their lure keeps us going, working ourselves so we don’t grow old, fat and complacent.

I’ll keep working at it.


The other day I walked past this cholla and a bird flew out with an indignant squawk.

I think it was a towhee, though I didn’t get a really good look at her, but the way she behaved made me think she had a nest. Sure enough, there it was.

I went back to the house to get the camera. It had been a little while by the time I walked back to her cholla, but she wasn’t back yet. Either that or she came back and took off again before I saw her – one spends a lot of time looking down for spiky stuff when walking in the desert.

Taking the picture wasn’t easy. Cholla would be a good substitute for lava in childhood games. the spines twist out in every direction, making it exceedingly difficult to get close. By the time I got a good angle, I could see that there was a baby bird in the nest along with egg. (It’s the pink, fuzzy bit on the seven o’clock side of the nest.)

After that I fretted about whether the mother ever came back, but I don’t want to check, just in case she did, but a third visit from me puts her off entirely.

There’s no reason to think she wouldn’t come back and every reason to think she would. I try not to worry about it.

A friend of mine from college is having a mastectomy. She’s having lumps removed, then breast reconstruction. So far as I know, she’s never used the C-word, though she refers to losing her hair and whether she’ll be a “wig-type” or a “scarf-type,” so I know she’s having chemotherapy.

It’s interesting what she’s chosen to focus on. She’s excited to get her “dream breasts” and has been taunting us with how perky she’ll be into our older years. The hair will grow back. This is a temporary illness for her.

She knows something about living with broken parts since her young son is diabetic. She’s sharing her journey with her children in the same way they’ve all shared the burden of diabetes. It’s remarkable to me. I’ve known people who never their adult children about their illnesses until it couldn’t be hidden. In this family, my friend has made it no shame, but a challenge for them all to share in.

My friend posted this poem that she wrote on Facebook.

My daughter writes the words she hears,
that confuse her
Single or paired…questions

Fake Boob
Lost Hair
Pink Ribbon

She hands me the drawing with the surgeon wearing a Joker-like smile,
a frowning me holding a handful of hair

Her eyes are concerned, but a smirk plays across her face
She and her brother start to giggle

“Fake boob”

My son asks “Will it be metal? Wood?”
“No, something squishy”



I laugh along with the children
While it still seems like a big joke

Nature is fundamentally unfair in who gets sick, who gets tumors, who gets diabetes. We try to parse the pattern, hedge our bets, but people develop chronic diseases anyway. All we can really control is how we deal with them.

I admire how well she’s choosing not to worry about it.

My Pretty Fantasy

This is our rescue beaked yucca, pre-planting.

We ended up riffing on this concept on Twitter, some of my writing friends and I. They asked how one rescues a yucca. I explained how this one came from Big Bend, Texas and was salvaged from land-clearing. These slow-growing plants are often destroyed by various kinds of development.

They asked about rescue yucca ranches, whether they were kill or no-kill. I assured them that all rescue cacti live happily ever after and receive ice cream every day.

This prompted great relief, especially from Adri, who was envisioning abandoned cacti with big sad eyes.

This is how writers are. Take one little image and spin it into an involved – and sometimes silly – story.

I spun myself this little fantasy the other day in the shower. No, not the kind you’re thinking of. In this one, an editor from the house that has Obsidian called me enthusing about the book. I dreamed up the detailed conversation, which involved phrases like “three-book contract,” “centerpiece of this year’s offerings from us,” and “brilliant new writer.” It was a terrific fantasy.

Now, I know there’s some value to this. All the positive-thinking guri (plural for guru, I feel quite sure) say you have to be able to envision the success. And I know we all have Walter Mitty-ish alternate lives in our heads, no harm done.

My problem is, my imagination is so vivid I begin to believe the fantasy.

All day, I kept wanting to tell people my good news. Hey! This editor called and offered me a fabulous book deal! In my head! Where I hear voices from people who aren’t really calling me…

Oh yeah. There’s that whole reality thing I have to remember to hang on to.

At any rate, I was amused at myself.

(And I still feel kind of excited about my imaginary phone call.)

And here’s the rescue yucca, planted as a centerpiece in the garden facing the road. If all goes well, he’ll grow up big and tall in this spot, a happy and attractive beaked yucca.

If you look closely, you can see a bit of ice cream smudged on his mouth.

Caution: Danger Ahead

The last couple of days, we’ve had this little ground squirrel coming up to scavenge under the bird feeder.

Yesterday, as I worked at my desk, I saw him behaving kind of oddly. He bristled his tail in the air and dropped to all fours, spreading his legs and stomping the ground in a wide stance. It looked territorial, but I couldn’t see what threatened him.

He stopped and went back to eating seeds and then did it again.

I’d about decided he was just engaged in some kind of ritual display, when I saw the red snake pop his head out of the gopher hole.

That same coachwhip snake we found under the garbage can a month ago. Or, at least, I assume it’s the same snake – he doesn’t have a nametag or anything.

For a while these two faced-off, back and forth. It really surprised me, the way the little rodent bravely stood up to the snake, backing it into the hole again.

Eventually the detente ended, as many do, due to outside events. Isabel captured another mouse and brought it to me. I had to take it out the front door and the ground squirrel ran off. Shortly after that, the snake came out of the hole and glided off into the desert.

I feel like I should make analogy here, about standing up to our fears, to what threatens us, but we do anyway, don’t we? People talk a lot about how you can’t run away from stuff, but most of the time, none of us have that luxury anyway.

You have a difficult co-worker or boss, you get to deal with them every work day. Petulant teenagers ooze their petulance over everyone in their paths, leaving their families glommed like birds in an oil spill. Appliances break, crises occur, deadlines loom – and we have to deal with them.

Maybe the little ground squirrel isn’t really brave – the snake is just something he had to deal with if he wanted to eat.

In the end, they both went their own ways.

A Noble Effort

When we awoke this morning, Isabel greeted us with a series of excited chirping meows and significant looks at the big leather armchair. This can mean only one thing.

She caught a mouse. Oh, and it had escaped, by the way, and she needed help moving the chair.

Good morning to you, too.

See, in this new house, we’re on all one level with no basement, no cellar, no crawlspace. Thus, none of my typical kitty box locations. So, David installed an insulated kitty door in the human door to the garage and I stuck the boxes out there. This makes for great nocturnal fun, what with chasing mice in the garage all night.

Then bringing them into the house.

Teddy was interested, too, but in a more academic way, since it was Isabel’s prize. We lifted the chair, Isabel nabbed the mouse, David took it from her and released it back to the wild. Now Isabel is back in the garage, looking for more.

I had lunch with one of my Boston colleagues yesterday and we talked about how people feel about their jobs. She feels disheartened at times, she said, working with people who seem to care more about what time they get to go home than about the work itself. That their jobs seem to be entirely about working their flex schedules than what they’re trying to accomplish. Worse, despite their focus on getting away from the job, some seem to not have any particular passion outside of it, either.

We’re at a funny place with our company, so it’s on her mind, what the ideal career would be. Projects are getting canceled; people are shifting around. In some ways, what project we move to is governed entirely by where the money is. But we were asking each other what we’d like to be working on anyway.

She knows I want to be a full-time writer, of course, but she wondered what in the company I’d most like to be doing. To some extent, I don’t care so much. The project I worked on for so long was one I fell into. I became an expert on the subject, but not out of any kind of passion. I like learning new fields, so really any project will do for that. I finally said I wished the company would use me more as a writer. I think it’s foolish that they don’t, but there it is.

When I returned the question to her, she said she really didn’t know. She didn’t know in college; she didn’t know when she got her Masters in International Relations, an admittedly vague field. I asked her what she’d envisioned and she thought maybe working for an NGO (non-government organization) or something.

“Ah,” I said, “something noble.”

“Yes,” she laughed, shaking her head. “That’s it – something noble.”

The question of what we all do with ourselves has a unique answer for each of us. Some of us have day jobs of varying interest to pay the bills while we indulge our true passions in slices on either side of the work day. Some of us work at whatever and live for our families. Others of us live for our careers and care for nothing else.

I think what my colleague is getting at is that she’d like to be doing something that contributes to the betterment of the world. The exact method isn’t important to her. I think that’s part of why many of us write, with the idea of giving back stories to the world.

But really, in the end, most of the things we choose to do, we do because we like doing it. Whether that’s having a job that lets you leave at 3:30 so you can pick up the kids, or having a job that gives you a thrill that you’ve saved a life.

Many writers note that the business end of it is no fun at all. I might have a noble idea of sharing my stories with the world, but the real reason I do is because I like to.

Isabel isn’t catching mice to rid our garage of rodents. She does it because it’s fun.

Secret Surprise

Yesterday we had visitors.

My colleagues Carolyn Gillette and Jim Jolley were in town doing some work, so they came by to see the house and we went out to dinner afterward. In the process of giving them the tour, I discovered that these iris are blooming in the Secret Garden. (Note that they’re not yellow – heavily amended soil there.) Part of what makes the Secret Garden so secret is that you can’t see much of it unless you actually go out there, which I just don’t do as often as I should.

Part of that is because I have to go through the garage to get to the Secret Garden. Yeah, it’s poor design. If I were to engage in any remodeling, that would be my first one – cut a door from the kitchen to the Secret Garden. As it is, you can see the garden from the kitchen window, which is lovely, but only gives you a long-distance, straight-line view.

It comes down to that I have to go out to the Secret Garden on purpose and I just don’t all that much. It’s the great impact of the computer age, I think, that they’re not all that compatible with going outside. Well, that and a cool Spring. When I’m not working my day job, I’m writing, which I also do on the computer.

Or answering emails. Or IMing with people. Or reading blogs and interesting articles. Or critiquing other manuscripts. Reading books is about the only thing I don’t do on the computer.

I begin to feel like I live on my laptop.

There are ways to get away from this, I know. I’m sure you’re thinking of suggesting that I write longhand. Or go back to corresponding via handwritten letters. I could even spend time with flesh and blood friends, should I find some.

(Actually I’m having coffee next week with a real, live other writer. A new friend found on the studio tour. Amazing!)

But it’s all academic – I’m not going to do those things. For now I’m wedded to my laptop for most activities.

Instead I’ll add a bit of reading in the Secret Garden to my To Do list.

Irises and Impressionists

At last the iris are blooming. I notice everyone in our neighborhood has the yellow ones like this. I’m wondering if other colors don’t do well in this soil. I’d like to try planting some others – perhaps a field of dark blue behind this blanket of yellow, but we’ll see.

Many hybridized colors won’t flourish in non-ideal soils and the flowers revert to the wild type. Pink hydrangeas in non-alkaline soils revert to blue, for example. Or in non-acidic soils – I forget which. If you want to grow pink hydrangeas, you’ll have to look it up.

Yesterday I completed my second round of edits on the Loose Id novella, which is now called, forever and finally, Petals and Thorns. Beauty and the Beast was too close to other titles in their house and the big editors didn’t like Love Lies Bleeding, as my direct editor and I picked out. They seemed to think it was kind of icky.


So, Petals and Thorns it is, with a thank you to Allison for not only suggesting it, but essentially loaning it to me, since it’s the name of the gaming website she’s run for lo these many years.

This second round of edits was dead easy. Actually the first round of edits were quite straight forward and didn’t require much brain-strain. This round was mainly approving comma-insertions and space-deletions. From time to time though, my editor quibbled over metaphorical word interpretations.

The one she really doesn’t like? “She felt his eyes on her.” My editor says that means his eyeballs would be on her, which is, naturally, not the feel we’re going for. I personally don’t believe a normal person would read it that literally, but I conceded and replaced with the suggested (and tepid) “gaze.” She also argued with “the rose drew her eye,” wanting that to be “gaze,” also. I said no, to draw the eye to something is a perfectly established expression.

To me, this is the literary equivalent of representational art versus abstract art.

(We won’t get into that this is a BDSM novella and arguably not all that full of ze arte. I’m talking a general principle here – stick with me.)

I’m full of visual art analogies since doing the studio tour the other day.

My mom’s David loves representational art. He likes a landscape, preferably with European elements. He likes it to be what it it. My mom likes art that takes reality and turns it. The Impressionists were the first to really break away from the strict European representational art. This is Renoir’s famous painting Bathing Woman, 1883. It’s famous enough that I couldn’t find an image of it without the watermark.

When I saw the original, it struck me that he’d painted her skin green. If you look at the shadows on her skin, they’re all these blues and greens. So much so that it’s unsettling up close. Standing back, it creates this amazing feel of young, lovely flesh and water. He gave us the impression, not the literal moment.

I think that’s what the literalist readers/editors get into. They’re focusing so much on the words, that they lose the overall impression. I’m not going to fight over it for my BDSM novella epub, but to have someone’s eyes on you gives a different impression than their gaze. It’s a level of intimacy to me.

But this is the soil I chose for this particular story and it will have to take on the characteristics of that place. It will become the color it needs to be.