Couch

It’s football season and my Broncos are stomping. (We got your rematch, Baltimore.) My son isn’t into football, so he’s curled up on the couch with his e-reader. It’s hard to keep up with what he’s reading. The kid is voracious, and is one of those people who will carry on with a book until the bitter end, whether it has zombies in it or not. He reads as much as I do, and has taken to creeping up with his e-reader and a sheepish look on his face like he knows he’s getting carried away. Hey, as long as it’s not another video game.

I’m two-for-three with my kids as far as reading goes. My boys are heavy consumers (and my oldest sent me a text yesterday from the Seattle Public Library, asking what he should get; that little note warms my heart on so many levels). My daughter reads some, but she doesn’t yearn for books the way the boys do. The way I do. I consider her a work in progress.

(Oh my gosh, premature touchdown celebration. Seriously, 59, I hope you don’t finish all your big moves that way.)

Are the young people in your life into books? What do they like to read?

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Purple Syrup

I’m out for a walk around the neighborhood, and have come upon two women. They must be sisters, or mother and daughter, because they have the same high-hipped legginess, the same flat slope from neck to skull, and they carry their arms with the palms turned straight back, swinging in perfect synchrony. Because they are older I have overtaken them, and as I pass we exchange pleasantries which evolve into conversation. The beat of my stride is out of time, three for their two, but today I’m lonely and dogged. I like their humor. They complain that they get lost sometimes in their own hometown, but it’s still at the funny stage in which they are easily reoriented and can shake their heads and laugh. I’m losing it, one lady says. But I haven’t lost it yet.

At a bend in the road, we part ways. The blacktop is wet again after a long dry spell, and the air’s gone creamy and cool. Everywhere I go, I see small creatures: squirrels and rabbits, hummingbirds, blue jays, seagulls, crows. Today, a fawn. I feel like Snow White.

My son has made a friend whose father sent over a slice of blackberry pie, made with the berries the boys and I picked down by the lake. The plate is warm underneath, and I eat the pie standing up, wandering through the house from window to window before alighting on the back step to run my finger through the smears of purple syrup. A rabbit hops to the edge of the grass and my dog tears off after him. They disappear into the juniper bushes. A few seconds later she comes prancing back, looking for praise. You missed him, though, I tell her. But that’s more than fine with both of us. I fondle her silky ear and give her a scratch under the chin.

I don’t remember quite how I got here, but tonight it feels like home.

Any random kindnesses, given or received, that you would like to share?

Photo by Aneta Bartos

Photo by Aneta Bartos

Guest Post by Sherry Stanfa-Stanley

The Woes of Waxing, Not So Poetic

So, as I was on my way to the salon for a leg wax and full Brazilian, I paused at a red light and pondered why exactly on God’s Good Earth I had chosen this particular impending fate.

Waxing, especially of my nether regions, could take this year’s goal of going outside my comfort zone to an entirely new level.

When making my appointment, I was told the hair on my legs should be about the length of a grain of rice. However, during the chaos of my recent move, my legs had been sorely neglected. The hair more closely resembled al dente spaghetti.

But we soon encountered bigger problems. After she’d gotten about a fourth of the way through one leg, my “esthetician,” Rebekah, frowned and said, “Wow, your leg looks like a road map.”

Probably I should have remembered—before I was in the midst of having every hair below my waist ripped from my body—that I have a condition called “dermographism.” This means I have highly sensitive skin that welts up so much under the slightest scratching or pressure that you can literally write on it with just the brush of a fingernail.

I glanced down at my leg. It appeared as if I’d encountered a swarm of giant killer mosquitoes. I winced, but reassured her it wasn’t a problem. My dermographism didn’t generally pose a big problem, and neither did my allergies, thanks to my bi-weekly immunotherapy injections, daily doses of Allegra, and nightly spurts of nasal spray.

The wax, she noted, was primarily made from pine oil. Could this pose any allergy issues? Hmm. I considered this. My host of allergies includes dogs and cats (I only have a total of five in my house), dust, mold, weeds, and grasses.

And most trees.

I shrugged. What the hell. I reassured her I had an EpiPen in my purse, which she could jab into my thigh at the first sign that my throat was swelling shut and cutting off my breathing.

Strangely, this did not put her mind at ease. Yet still we continued. I had a new item to check off my 52/52 list, damn it, and death by wax could be a new experience for both us.

Fortunately, I didn’t die. Not from an allergic reaction nor from the pain. It wasn’t quite as horrific as I imagined. And the waxing of my cupid’s cupboard, which I feared the most, wasn’t even the worst. The most agonizing was the waxing of my shins, where the thin skin is more sensitive. For a single moment in my life, I wished for fatter ankles.

I was dumbfounded by her story about a client who, after many years of waxing, has become so desensitized to the pain that she falls asleep during the procedure. Clearly she is one sick, masochistic woman.

Yet the most painful aspect of the experience was surely the mental anguish. As we finished up my Brazilian process, she said I had a couple options. One was to get on all fours upon the table. The other was to lie on my back and hold both legs in the air—as if positioned for a backward somersault.

It was a lose-lose situation. I flipped a mental coin and chose the latter.

And while I found myself in this most humiliating of positions, she told me the story of a client who drives in from an hour away. This woman told Rebekah she won’t get her hoo-ha waxed locally because she wants to ensure she is never forced to make eye contact on the street with anyone who has viewed her this particular way.

Good point. Rebekah was pleasant and professional, but I hope I never meet up with her in the produce aisle at Kroger.

And after my experience, I still have to wonder: Why would women put themselves through this ordeal, willingly, on a regular basis? Are there any true benefits? Sure, it might make wearing a bikini more aesthetically pleasing. I suppose there may be some more erotic motives, too.

But at this point in my life, neither is a compelling reason.

Surprisingly, this may not end up being the most painful item on my list of the year’s new experiences.

But it could win out as the most uncomfortably embarrassing one. At least by a hair.

Check out more of Sherry’s adventures at The 52/52 Project on Facebook. Next up: a solo camping trip, complete with tent and mosquitoes. Sherry’s a glutton for punishment.

Noted on grocery list: fresh pack of razors

Noted on grocery list: fresh pack of razors.

Crimp

When I was in my twenties, I knew a man who died. He had gone in for cardiac bypass surgery, and when the wound became infected, had to go back again so doctors could drain and clean the wound, and, I guess, figure out what the hell was going on in there that could be causing the septicemia. His wife told me later that as the medical team was moving him back to his room after surgery, he suddenly flat-lined. The usual controlled chaos ensued, during which time someone discovered that his ventilator tube had gotten wedged under his body, cutting off his oxygen. This was remedied, a heartbeat reestablished, and he went on to make a full recovery.

He told us later that during those minutes of cardiac death, he’d had an out-of-body experience. He said he’d hovered over the bed in a fury, thinking, Some damned fool has cut off my air. He could see the crimped tube and knew exactly what had happened, and could repeat word-for-word what the medical staff had said and done while the machine went beeeeeeeeeep.

It was exactly like him to be dead and pissed off about it. The guy was as no-nonsense a cowboy as ever has lived. Soft-spoken, undramatic, with more common sense than anyone I’ve ever met. He was also an atheist, as I was at the time, who made no attempt to interpret his experience or wonder however it could be true. He simply repeated what had happened, and we shook our heads over it and moved on.

But I still think about it sometimes. I don’t believe in an interactive god or a bureaucratic heaven in which certain earthly acts must be performed as an entrance requirement; I’ve never found a religion that could stand up to my curiosity or even truly tempt me to join in. I simply have never seen the point. This man I knew was a kindred spirit. He was not bullshitting me. He had seen his own death reluctantly, was dragged out of his body and unceremoniously plunked back in just as he was starting to look around. When I asked him whether he was afraid by what he’d seen, he seemed surprised, as if fear of death had never occurred to him. No, he said, I was pissed. Goddamn doctors. . .

What stories have you heard from beyond the veil? Have any of them challenged your beliefs?

Photo by Joyce Tenneson

Photo by Joyce Tenneson

P.S. I will be taking a break from the blog for a week or two while my family is in town. Happy days!

Lipton’s Ten

Lately I’ve become obsessed with Inside the Actor’s Studio. Will you indulge me by playing along with James Lipton’s ten questions?

  1. What is your favorite word?
  2. What is your least favorite word?
  3. What turns you on?
  4. What turns you off?
  5. What sound or noise do you love?
  6. What sound or noise do you hate?
  7. What is your favorite curse word?
  8. What profession other than yours would you like to attempt?
  9. What profession would you not like to do?
  10. If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?

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Lacey

I mentioned a while back that we’ve been on the hunt for new digs. The payment here is too high and we really can’t swing it for the long haul, so I’ve been poring over the rental ads, running hither and yon to find a place we can afford in a neighborhood we’d love as much as this one. A tall order, I have to say, and avoiding the scammers is nine-tenths of the work. But yesterday I drove to Lacey, Washington and found the most wonderful house. It’s actually bigger than our current home, in a lovely old neighborhood with a private beach and a small dock for our non-existent boat. The catch—obviously, there is a catch—is that the inside of the home is scruffy and therefore it has failed to catch a renter’s eye. But yours truly has negotiated new carpets and paint throughout, and a thorough scrub-down which it badly needs. We’ll have to do something ourselves about the linoleum, and I’m dying to take an SOS pad to the cupboards, but the floor plan is great and the yard is huge both front and back, shaded by pine trees and lined with lilac bushes and pink rhododendrons.

This move is a tradeoff, as are so many things in life. It’s not easy to leave Portland, or this neighborhood we love so much. But Seattle is big and beautiful, and it’s where my oldest son wants to settle down. By inching northward, we can help him get his feet on the ground and be close enough to see him often once he does. He’ll be here in a few days, to stay. Our new place will have a bedroom for him, reasonable access to the train into the city, and a terrific new school for the little guy.

We’re aiming to move around the middle of June, and after that I’ll be on to my next project: the job hunt. Walmart greeter? Hamburger flipper? Greeting card saleslady at the local Hallmark store? The possibilities are endless!

What have you found? What are you looking for?

Home sweet home.

Home sweet home.

The Trail

My mom is here for a visit. She arrived last week and is leaving tomorrow. We’ve been having daily lunches like ladies of leisure and we went yesterday to the mall (so that’s what it looks like) to have our eyebrows done and get my mom a haircut. We’ve seen antique stores. We’ve put our toes in the ocean. We’ve been hither and yon, having a fine time. Thursday will suck without her.

In our spare time we’ve been looking at houses. This summer Drew and I are going to need to move again and we’re hoping to find a place in the country, maybe nearer the ocean, where we can settle down for the duration and spend our evenings like Ma and Pa Kettle in twin rockers on the back porch, listening to the bullfrogs sing. I’ve been thinking how strange it will be to realize the only dream that’s endured since my childhood, from the days when I used to ride in the back seat of my parents’ car with the window rolled down, imagining myself on any roadside trail that would lead me out of the desert and into this other life I wanted so badly: tiny old house in the country, woods all around, that foresty scent of rain and loamy soil in the air, the geese in ragged lines across the sky.

Nothing, not even writing, is as important to me as finding my place. Because the search for a home feels like more than that. It feels as if I am on a quest not only for my dream house, but for myself as I once imagined I could be. The house hunt is about locating the dream-me—that singular point on the map where my hopes have resided, all this time, waiting for me to inhabit them—and finally delivering on the promise I made to that child at the window, with her distant eyes and windblown hair:

We’re going home, little girl. We’ll be there soon.

What were your childhood dreams? Do they still matter to you?

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Amen

It’s a happy day at our house. The kids are all here and we’ve been cooking up a storm, shopping in the rain, engaging in epic battles over the Scrabble board. I’m sitting now with a cup of coffee in my chair beside the Christmas tree, waiting for my big sleepy kids to wander out of bed and flop down beside me. If they can find a space. The tree is huge this year. DSC_1984copy

Like my mother before me, I celebrate Christmas in true heathen fashion—as an exuberant expression of family, as a place to locate our accumulated traditions, a way to draw up the threads and hold each other close for a day or three. It’s an excuse for making cookies and cheese fondue, for gift-giving, for kitsch, for pine trees in the living room and lights on houses and music in the air. It’s a big fucking joie de vivre blowout, right at the end of the year where such a festival belongs. I’m not one to wait outside a Walmart at 2am, and I’m sure as hell not going to turn a shopping trip into a competitive event, but I do love the abundance of those brightly wrapped packages and the surprises they hold, particularly because my children have always been undemanding to the point of stoicism when it comes to asking for what they want; they know we’ll give them what they need, and that there may not be much more than that. They accept this with grace. Probably it’s this quality about my kids that makes me long to overwhelm them—not to make up for what we don’t have, but to remind myself of what we’ve had all along: more than enough.

Life is for living. Money is for spending. Love is forever and ever, amen.

Happy Holidays, everyone.

XO

Pencil

So our Betsy is finished. No more Betsy-blog, no Betsyisms, no heart-fluttering August rants or lyrical wisdom from Tetman. Gone baby gone.

My initial thought was one of sad resignation, that this sort of drift is part of the online world. We are a river of voices, we pause and circle and flow away. But that’s not an exclusive feature of our online selves, is it? I’ve made friends through work or school and I’ve valued them, yet today they’re part of my history and probably wouldn’t remember me at all or know how much they mattered.

Relationships are tenuous. Life itself is tenuous, even for a six-year-old with her peanut butter sandwich and homework written in fat penciled lines, tipping in her chair over a glitter-encrusted star for the Christmas tree. Even for her mother, waiting at the corner for a bus that will never bring her child home. Small comfort to that mother when she gathers up her child’s stories, when she traces those unformed letters with her fingertips, and remembers the moment her little girl understood that words are a bridge between people who would otherwise be separated by distance and time. She may have little left to cherish after her baby’s warmth has seeped away. But not nothing. Even a child can leave something precious of her own mind and spirit. She can leave her words.

This is why we write. Books, blogs, journals, letters. Graffiti on the overpass. Headlines in the news. This is proof of life.

You are here.

Dialogue Boot Camp

Our Suzy is starting up a new online class at LitReactor called Say It Like You Mean It –  10 Days to Better Dialogue. It’s a dialogue boot camp, and Suzy’s got all kinds of juicy bonuses to go along with the class. Tips from some of these guys, prizes for a lucky few, and a chance for a line-by-line critique of up to ten of your most crumpled pages.

And by the way, Suzy comes highly recommended by some very fancy faces:

When you study writing with Suzy Vitello you’re studying with Tom Spanbauer and Gordon Lish and Chelsea Cain. Suzy is one of the rare writers who recognize and collect skills from a wide range of master storytellers. She’s become a one-woman MFA program. Better yet, she’s Suzy Vitello, a compassionate teacher who sees that, whether or not they’re published, writers are human beings, and she treats them with patience and respect.

Chuck Palahniuk

Check it out. Sign up. Write on.

Guest Post by Anonymous

LIVING VICARIOUSLY

My friend Sara has recently become polyamorous. She has three women she is sleeping with, all of whom are married to men, as is Sara. Her husband is sleeping with one other woman. As Sara says “So what if either of us get dumped, we get to go home and be consoled by our loving and supporting spouse.”

I told her that if she had done this in my single days, I would have killed her for getting laid so much more frequently than I was. But now that I’m coupled up and getting laid on a regular basis, I am fascinated. Sara and her husband have been together since they were in high school. She lost her virginity to him. They had an open relationship in college, and she slept with a wide range of men and then women.

Sara and I have known each other for years, and have always talked frankly about being bisexual. I came out to my partner early on, telling him nervously that I was bisexual. I knew that one stupid comment would bring this nice makeout session to an abrupt halt. But what he said was “I feel like we should go get shots together and talk about women”. I said shakily, laughing a little, “I could do that.”

In those early days, we talked about threesomes. “I think they’re hot,” I said. “But I couldn’t handle it emotionally speaking.”

“Too complicated,” he agreed. “One woman is difficult enough,” he said as I aimed a fist toward his naked midsection. He grabbed my fist and we stopped talking for a while.

Now I ask Sara about her girlfriends when we meet. She laughs sheepishly and then talks about rope play or about conversations she has with one of the women. I’ve always been impressed by Sara’s ability to get laid. She’s cute but not gorgeous. She’s smart and awkward. And she’s had about a billion times more sex than I have.

Is it because she could take the confidence of her first sexual relationship into later sexual relationships? I’ve never had that kind of confidence. Before I met my partner, my romantic history consisted largely of a series of women who liked me, but “not in that way” or women (and sometimes men) who dated me for a short time, until they found someone they liked better.

After a good number of years with my partner, I have a lot more confidence in my sexuality. But I’m still not confident enough for a threesome. I could imagine finding my partner with another person sexy (and I’m pretty sure I would adore having two lovers at once), but I don’t know that the image wouldn’t haunt me later in jealous and less-than-sexy ways.

The last time I saw Sara, she told me I looked hot in my jacket. And I hugged her. In my younger days I might have lingered and mooned over that comment. But we know way better to go there now. We are able to find each other completely fuckable and have it just be part of our friendship and not mean anything else at all. It’s a confidence I’m comfortable having.

As for threesomes? Give me a bunch more years, and I’ll let you know.

Izzy

I am writing today under the adoring gaze of our new dog, Izzy, a small muttlet who came to us from a busy young family with not enough time for her. With a history of unfortunate dog experiences in my background, and after several books and Dog Whisperer episodes with Cesar Millan, I was determined to find a pet whose energy level and personality were a good match for ours. I scouted around a bit, and met some, um, interesting dogs. (The last encounter before Izzy was with a tiny yorkie/shih tzu fellow who bit and barked and jumped and growled, and immediately began to hump my leg. Dude. At least buy me dinner first.) I was beginning to lose heart when I saw a plaintive Craigslist ad describing what seemed like the perfect dog for us: a three-year-old spayed female who doesn’t chew or dig, is house-trained, quiet, loves to go for walks and rides in the car. A lap-dog looking for a lap, free to a good home.

But a long-haired dachshund/chihuahua mix? What kind of goofy genetics are those? I have heard unpleasant things about both of those breeds (and have experienced first-hand the perils of dachshund housebreaking, what with those weak little bladders), so I was unconvinced. Still, Cesar’s voice kept dog-whispering at the back of my mind, “Breed is not as important as energy. Pick a dog whose energy matches your own.”

Paws, or flippers?

Well, he was right. Izzy is exactly as advertised, the product of an odd love connection that’s left her with the face and hair of a chihuahua, and the short, knock-kneed frame of a dachshund. What a combination, what a Seussian little creature. I was not expecting this instant loyalty or the peaceful vibe she gives. I was not expecting to fall in love. But within seconds of meeting her, I knew she was for us.

I went full-on dog whisperer from the first day. We took a long walk, then another when my son came home, before we let Izzy come inside for the guided tour. She trots along right next to us without so much as a tug on the leash, even for the squirrels and flocks of honking geese along the path. She sleeps in her bed next to mine, and waits for me to get up before she begins to stir. She’s lovely and gentle with my son, and she has perfect manners. Really, the sweetest dog I’ve ever been around.

We are living large with little Izzy. Thank you, Cesar.

What’s your history with pets? Has there been one especially dear to you?

Darling Izzybelle

RIP

Maeve Binchy was one of my favorite writers. I’ve read all her stuff, from Echoes and The Glass Lake to The Copper Beech and Scarlet Feather and The Lilac Bus. She was a natural Irish storyteller with a gentle heart.

She will be deeply missed.

Rest in peace, Maeve. And thank you for the stories.

The Call

Our new home town is a book lover’s paradise. We’ve got Powell’s, of course, and Annie Bloom’s. At the Hillsboro farmer’s market I found a used bookstore behind the berry stand, where I scored a crusty Stephen King and two pulp novels. Then there’s the Tigard library, where my son and I received our shiny new cards and made off with such a teetering stack of loot that I could hardly wrestle it into the car. And five minutes from home is a Barnes & Noble, which I investigated last week while Drew was at the other end of the strip mall trying to sort out our new phone numbers.

What’s better than a bookstore. So peaceful, so alluring. All those lovely pages, those uncreased spines lined up on the shelves. Imagine walking into a bookstore and finding your own name, opening a book to see the words you conjured set to print, your whole story laid out between the covers in beautiful font and declarative chapter numbers, filigreed marks at the scene breaks. Wouldn’t it be strange to lurk nearby and see someone pick up your book? Flip it over, read a few pages, carry it to the cash register? What a trip.

As I was nosing through the mystery section, I heard Drew’s voice saying, Hold on a minute, let me find her . . . I zigged through the shelves and he zagged, but eventually we made contact near the cookbooks and he handed me my phone.

It was my agent. It was The Call.

The final offers are in, all decisions made, and my book is SOLD!!! Yes indeed, I kid you not, I was actually in a bookstore when I got the news that Tapestry of Scars will be joining the ranks. It’s been bought in a two-book deal by MIRA, to go out in trade paperback. Do you hear that? My book is sold! So’s the next one! Three cheers for the dark side! Three cheers for the little thriller that could!

And it gets better. I’ve gotten familiar with MIRA during these past few weeks, and I could not be happier to be working with them. Not only because I’ve seen the imprint face-out all over B&N, not only because I like their covers and the range of titles and authors, but because the editors are fired up about my book. My agent said when he called to accept their offer, a squeal of delight could be heard over the phone lines–and if that doesn’t warm a writer’s heart, I don’t know what would. And the folks at Harlequin really know their stuff when it comes to the women’s market. I am in very good hands.

I hung up the phone and wandered back to the fiction aisles, still somewhat dazed by the news. The woman next to me pulled out a book, turned it over, read a couple of pages and walked away with the book in her hand.

Happy, happy day!

Green

Here are a few pics from our trip, the view from the other side of the fence.

It’s greener. I’m just saying.

P.S. Mom, if you click on a photo, it will open a slide show. Use the arrow keys to navigate. Do not curse at the screen or imagine that the interwebs are conspiring against you. XO

Sparrows

Last night I hit the reset button on this novel. I’m starting over, right from the beginning, and I am going to try very hard not to flagellate myself with the stupid mistakes and false starts I’ve made over the past few months.

I’m also going to attempt to forget every single thing I learned in those self-help books for writers, which are still teetering in a stack by my bed. It seems that I educated myself right out of the process that worked for me: straight ahead writing, revising as I go, starting with a situation and letting the plot unfold in its own sweet time. Yes, it’s all wrong. I should be shuffling multicolored index cards. There should be a white board over my desk (I also should have a desk, and not write in bed where my husband is likely to pounce). I should write longhand in a leather-bound notebook, with a sepia fountain pen (so charming, Lyra, swear to god, but have you seen my handwriting?). I should insulate myself from the distractions of the internet. I should be disciplined like Stephen King. Warlike, says James Scott Bell. I should sit my sweet ass down and write for three hours straight every morning at 4am, while a flock of sparrows circles overhead, chirping encouragement.

Yeah. None of that works for me. I’m a rebel without a clue, an uneducated smut writer with a rickety laptop and a head full of dirty pictures.

Fuck it.

What are you doing all wrong? Why does it feel so right?