Oxygen Masks

The cholla are both flowering and fruiting now – a brilliant combination of yellow and this purple-pink that can look scarlet from a distance.

Quite the show.

Last night Kerry and I were talking about how making progress on the writing can make or break your day. I know I’ve mentioned this before, but it can be astonishing how much of a difference getting the writing in can make.

She had slunk home from a grueling day at work. Her job involves people in crisis, so it’s more emotionally demanding than, say, mine. She said she was in a mood of deepest blue, but had to try to work on her revisions anyway. I gave her the virtual pep talk and she disappeared for a while.

When she came back a bit later, having hit her page goal, her mood had entirely shifted. Everything suddenly looked better. She felt ready to go spend time with family who needed her emotional support.

“I use the analogy with my patients of the airplane, where you put on your own oxygen mask before assisting another,” she told me.

Sometimes I think this is mainly true of writers. I also saw this guest blog post by D.J. Morel yesterday. (This is a bit of a departure for the Pimp My Novel blog, which is usually about the marketing end of publishing and well worth following. Clearly I liked this guest post, too.) He talks about choosing the day job that allows you to write. This line struck me:

When I realized that I was screaming at the walls of my house for a half hour after coming home each night, I knew it was enough. I quit, and didn’t come to understand how unhappy it all had made me until many months down the road. If you are indeed a writer, you can run away from writing, but it’ll only come and find you.

But one of my favorite quotes for a very long time now is this one by Mark Rutherford:

There is in each of us an upwelling spring of life, energy, love, whatever you like to call it. If a course is not cut for it, it turns the ground around it into a swamp.

(It turns out I quoted this before on the blog, but it was back in January ’09, so I hope you’ll forgive me the repeat.)

He very carefully does not ascribe this phenomenon only to writers, though he was a novelist. I suspect we all have this, the upwelling spring that keeps us alive, engaged and vital. The Buddhists say each of us has one thing that we do better than anyone else in existence and that life is a journey to discover what that is.

Unfortunately it’s all too easy not to cut a course for the upwelling spring. Daily life piles up, gradually blocking the way. Often we don’t notice until there’s a flood and we’re standing in a boggy mess as far as the eye can see.

What to do then?

Put on your oxygen mask and take a deep breath. The rest will sort itself out.

I couldn’t decide today between earth and sky, so you get both. Shades of blue.

If I haven’t mentioned, writing fiction is really fun.

(Well, except when it’s miserable, but that’s a whole other set of issues.)

Really I mean that writing fiction is fun compared to nonfiction. I started out as an essayist because that kind of voice came naturally to me. And there’s satisfaction in telling those kinds of stories. True stories about life and people, the things we experience. Once this new novel is complete, I might spend a little time writing or revising some essays, just to get my hand in again.

Then again, I might not. Because writing fiction is really run.

It’s fun like reading is fun. You know that feeling you get, when you’re reading a book you love, and your mind is sunk in that story, that world, that voice? I get that writing fiction. When its going right, my mind returns to the story and the characters over and over through the day and I would absolutely stay up all night to finish reading it.

If only I’d finished writing it, that is.

It’s an odd sensation, because that aspect of writing feels more like self-love, like navel-gazing, than any other. Like I’m so in love with the sound of my own voice that I want to listen to it all the time. Perhaps this is why so many writers like to ascribe their inspiration to muses or other outside storytellers.

“It’s not me, I just write down the story as it comes to me.”

Loving Calliope or Erato feels more wholesome than loving the sound of one’s own voice. Besides, as we all know, that way leads to insanity for writers. Ego is the eternal danger.

Amusingly, the last time I used the “insanity” label on this blog, I accidentally typed my heroine’s name when I logged in that morning, instead of my password. Which is exactly what I did today.

At least I’m consistent in the way my thoughts run?

Just so long as it’s not a foolish consistency, which leads to hobgoblins and all manner of obnoxious creatures. I’m pretty sure hobgoblins are not the new zombies, which were the new angels, which were the new vampires.

I know, it’s hard to keep up.

Yvonne’s Lover

Isabel outside my office window again, this time having a stand-off with a bunny who came up to nibble on bird leavings.

She loves to watch the rabbits, but isn’t entirely sure what they are. They look like prey. Awfully big prey.

They stared at each other, motionless, for easily ten minutes. Then the bunny hopped away again.

We went to a little neighborhood party yesterday afternoon. Part social, part neighborhood watch. This gal who’s originally from the east coast organizes it for the whole community. It’s a funny thing to me because she’s methodical and deliberate about creating what to me is a natural relationship. Meet your neighbors, she says. Get to know them. Be friendly.

Um, okay.

We lived in a small town for 20 years. She asked me if we had neighborhood watch programs. I said no, we were just all in each others’ faces all the time.

The other day, on our morning run, we saw an odd car parked on the road in front of Dick & Yvonne’s mailbox. Nobody parks on the roads here. The driveways are long, often with circular elements, so people pull into each others’ driveways. Then there was the placement of the car – smack dab in front of the mailbox. So, when we got home, I emailed our neighborhood watch block captain with the description and plate, just in case it was “bad actors” in neighborhood watch lingo and not just an inconsiderate guest.

There is a pattern of break-ins here. Almost always between 8 and Noon on weekdays. Apparently thieves park and watch people leave for work and slip in. They always take the same things: flat-screen TVs, jewelry, guns, laptops. So we’re suppose to watch for unusual vehicles in the neighborhood.

Our block captain passed it along. I considered my duty, if slightly paranoid, done.

But no.

At the meeting, this gal castigates me for not doing more.

Did you call Yvonne? she asks.

No, I did not, because it was 6:30 in the morning, I say.

You should have called the police and Yvonne, she says. For all you know she was being burgled right then.

Yvonne, who is easily in her mid-eighties calls out, Jeffe – I’m glad you didn’t call, because that was my lover and I wouldn’t have wanted Dick to find out.

She’s a hoot.

Later she asks me more about it – nothing happened, but they also didn’t know – and I tell her it was a fairly decrepit vehicle and that she needs to upgrade in lovers, if that’s the case.

She thinks it was likely a young guy they have doing the yard work now, which is what David and I had speculated. We’d see the young guy out in front with Dick, working on the yard.

He’s the live-in boyfriend, Yvonne says, of the daughter half of the mother/daughter team who cleans her house. They all make $25 an hour, but are very sweet and a giggly bunch, Yvonne says. Expensive, she says, but worth it. They just can’t do everything around the house by themselves any more. Having help keeps them living out here.

That $300 a month keeps them out of the retirement home, she says.

She and Dick just finished designing and painting a set for a new production at the children’s theater. She figures if they moved to a retirement home, they wouldn’t do that kind of thing any more.

Next time, she says, go ahead and call at 6:30. She can always find a new lover.

And Also Patience, Play and Naps

I spotted this blossoming prickly pear by accident.

I happened to look down from the bedroom window and the spot of butter yellow caught my eye. It was blooming away under a bushel, or rather, a sagebrush. It took a bit of clearing to get the photo. Now I feel like I need a special path around to the back of the house, so people can be sure to see it.

But, seen or not, appreciated or ignored, it blooms anyway.

A number of people commented on yesterday’s post. Tara Lain told a great story about koi and cats and suggested we add the word “patient.”

And, in the infinitely frustrating world of blog commenting, Kerry tried to comment, but was denied. She wanted to remind me that cats also know when to play silly games and when to take a nap.

That might seem self-evident, but it’s easy to forget.

So as we finish out our Fridays, it’s good to revisit what weekends are about. For many of us, the weekends are full of tasks. I know my To-Do List is long. I try to do laundry every-other weekend and clean the house on the intervening weekends. Last weekend, though, I was gone, so now I have three weeks of laundry to catch up on the same weekend as house-cleaning. We have guests coming next weekend, so there’s no fudging that part. The garden is crying for attention. I have some publicity stuff to do for Petals & Thorns, coming out July 13.

And about 35K to write on the novel.

No, no, no – I know I won’t do that. But it does hover pretty high on my mental To-Do list.

The things that don’t end up on the list? Games, naps, nonsense. Even if we don’t work corporate jobs, our families and friends often do. Weekends should be for play, too, not just catching up.

Or running in place.

Or bailing the sinking boat.

Wherever you might be with stuff.

Here’s hoping you get to do something silly, catnip optional, and that you indulge in a nice nap.

I’m adding them to my list.


This is Isabel outside my office window, watching the Bewick’s wren nest.

I originally thought it was a house wren, but the song and behavior has me now convinced that it’s a Bewick’s wren. Apparently they’re easily confused. And, sadly, the house wrens are driving out the Bewick’s wrens, so much so that they’re pretty much gone from the eastern half of the country.

The males go around building several nests in cavities, like inside the cow skull on our front porch, and the female chooses her favorite. Our male worked away to build the nest and sings his heart out. But I’m not convinced he has found a mate, much less that there’s anything going on in that nest.

Isabel, however, is certain there is.

She spends her days watching that nest. With unwavering intensity. She never tires of it. It’s the same method she employs to catch mice or lizards. They hide and she sits and waits. For hours. Until they finally come out and she catches them.

Part of the reason felines sleep so much is because they’re such efficient hunters that they can. Among all predators, cats spend the least amount of time actively hunting. Part of this though, is that persistence. They never forget or lose interest. Isabel’s been watching that nest for two weeks now without much reward. If there ever are chicks, I’ll have to keep her inside, because she won’t rest until she gets them.

Writers talk about persistence all the time. Persistence to finish the book in the first place, to see it through the tough spots, in the face of ongoing rejection, to write the next book even as everyone apparently hates the one you’re trying to shop. People throw around phrases like “thick skin” and “hanging on to your dream” and “never give up,” which all sounds so grueling.

I wonder if it shouldn’t be more like a cat hunting. Work on it every day, never lose interest, always check the nest. For Isabel, watching the nest is just as fun as finding something in it.

For her, it’s not grueling. It’s just what she does.

Blooming Right Along

The cholla are fulfilling their early promise and have burst into full bloom.

Some cholla more than others, which I never quite understand. It’s the same with our desert four o’clocks out front. Ours are big and lush, but haven’t bloomed while smaller (and larger) clumps unattended out in the desert are blooming away. There’s almost certainly a reason, but I don’t know it. In my solipsistic universe, that’s pretty much the same thing.

In a similarly random bit of selection, my photos are up on the contest site, but one didn’t make it, oddly enough. I’m to give them 48 hours, then we’ll see.

I’m confessing right now: I didn’t end up using any of the ones suggested to me, though they were all in the pot. I started out with over 30 finalists and culled down to 12. I didn’t use the cholla blossom, because there are so many other similar and better photos. I didn’t use the Isabel at the horse trough because it wasn’t signature New Mexico scenery. I doubt I’ll come close to winning anything, especially because I have no intention of asking anyone to vote. I really hate the trolling for votes thing. Soon it will cease to be the thing – can’t wait for that day. Swing, pendulum, swing!

Sterling is coming right along. I think I have a real working title now, though I might run it through a few more people. I have one no vote and several enthusiastic yeses so far. I’m reliably hitting 1.5K now. A bit of rest always helps build endurance.

Love these full-bloom days.

Solstice Calendar

Yesterday was Summer Solstice.

The longest day of the year, somehow both Midsummer and First Day of Summer. Thus do science and tradition collide.

For the last couple of days, the setting sun has come squarely in our western bedroom window and cast long rays right on the fireplace screen on the living room kiva. Our own Solstice calendar it seems.

Our builder was Norwegian and I wonder if he aligned it that way on purpose.

The new novel, Sterling, has been hurtling towards a Midsummer Solstice festival since the beginning. Maybe hurtling is the wrong word. Creeping slowly towards. Reluctantly, but with fascination. Now my own reality has gone past the moment in the book. Which should mean nothing, except I can’t quite shake the feeling that I’m having to catch up now.

I worried about not writing while I was at my mom’s. I knew I wouldn’t get to and I thought the hiatus might knock me out of my rhythm. Instead, it turned out to be a good break. I wrote yesterday with a sense of the well being full and cool. It helped that I had hours of driving while David studied, to mull over the plot. I know now the sequence of remaining events. Though I woke up this morning realizing I hadn’t accounted for one plot thread.

It’s in my head now, though.

I passed 70K yesterday, which means I’m between about 60% and 80% done. By my feel of the story left to write, I think it’s closer to the 60% end, but we’ll see, won’t we? I’ll know the end when I get there.

It’s always tempting to see Summer Solstice and 4th of July weekend as the Summer being half over. Which is funny because most of us in the US anyway think of Summer as June, July and August – partly due to growing season, partly due to school calendars. By that measure, Solstice is neither the beginning of Summer, nor the middle, but somewhere just shy of the first third.

Demarcations and divisions to measure the progress of the year.

Remnants and Goodbyes

All in all, it wasn’t so bad.

My mom and I went through everything and decided on keep, save or store. She’d already culled quite a bit, which made it all easier. We purged all of Leo’s things years ago, after he died. Then more when my mom married her David and she made space for him to move in.

The hardest part was the jewelry. For both of us.

For every pair of earrings, for every ring and necklace, there was a story and a memory. Who gave it whom on what occasion. Some pieces were from the 60s, gifts from my dad. Some had belonged to my grandmother. We ruthlessly categorized – some I took, some she’s keeping, some goes to be appraised and sold, some for my aunt to look through.

The jewelry is when we cried.

But at least we got to do this together.

My mom and I have had a long-standing joke, whenever she brought home a great new piece of art and I said I liked it, she’d answer “good, because it will be yours someday.” Sometimes it gave me a thrill, thinking of the day I’d get to have that painting or sculpture. Until I remembered that would mean my mom would be gone.

I walked myself through it from time to time. How she’d have passed away and weeks later I’d go through the house and decide what to keep or sell.

I never could get myself through it.

Now I don’t have to. I brought home some of my favorite things now, the ones that won’t work in the Tucson house. Others I’ll take after the house sells. It feels good to have everything accounted for.

I’m giving my old dollhouse to Lauren, for our granddaughter to be born in October. The carpet above were pieces I’d cut for the dollhouse and carefully stored. Yes, they were remnants from our own house. The yellow was in my bedroom, the tile in the kitchen and the green throughout the rest.
My mom wants you all to know that she had that carpet out of there by the 80s. We were just stunned at how bright it is. Didn’t seem like it at the time.

I’m also lucky that way. I have friends whose parents never did redecorate since the 70s. One mother had a house with a different color for every room: purple living room, red rec room, green kitchen, yellow bedroom – and didn’t want to change a thing to sell it.
It turned out to be a pleasant weekend. We got a great deal accomplished and spent some time together on the patio, where we spent so many family occasions.

The twinsie shirts, by the way, were a coincidence, but I think we shouldn’t let them live it down.

Over the River and Through the Woods

Turns out cholla do more than produce burrs.

This photo might seem silly soon, because when I foraged out to get a photo of this rare blossom, I saw that the entire cholla is covered in buds. So there might be photos of cholla in full bloom soon.

But for now, this is the first, and therefore special.

I’m off to Denver today, to my mom’s house, to help clean it out for the Big Sell. She and her David have been crazy busy fixing the place up to put it on the market at the beginning of July. Stepfather David instructed me to bring the biggest car we own. Or to borrow a bigger one. He’s big on getting rid of stuff.

Most will go into storage right now, until my mom buys a “little jewel box of a condo” to house her art. That’s the most important part.

People are predicting that this will be emotional, but I think we’re ready. It helps that my David and I purged last year when we moved. The house was the first my mom bought, and therefore special, but it’s not the last.

And it’s time to let it go.

A Thousand Words

The desert four o’clocks are in full bloom, lighting up the landscape with their intense purple.

Turns out that the New Mexico Tourism Department is running a photo contest. I think I’ll enter, just for kicks. (No, not with this photo.) I can enter five, so if any of you have opinions on the pics you like best, let me know! I put all my best photos on the blog here, so I’ll likely pick from those.

I don’t expect you to troll through the entire blog archive, unless you’re really excited to to it. The New Mexico photos start almost exactly one year ago, which is a serendipitous coincidence, with I’m Just Wild About Harry in June 2009.

After that week, you’d have to skip into July, for the house-hunting trip beginning with Our Eight Lovely Finalists (which are only pictures of houses). Then it’s to August and Dances with Quail.

Yeah, I got sucked into reading those old posts. Such with the navel-gazing.

You’d be well-advised just to look through the photos. Or not. BUT, if someone suggests a photo and it wins anything, I’ll give you a prize. A gift-certificate to Ten Thousand Waves or to the indie bookstore of your choice.

See? It’s not always about writing.

Although, I can’t help but notice that the saying is that a picture is worth a thousand words, and I write at least a thousand words a day. That means one photograph is the same as writing my 1K?

Yeah, not so much.

We need to reevaluate that saying.