The best thing about blogs

…is that you can fix them.

This morning, while reading through the previous post, I noticed several phrases I didn’t like. If I’d let the piece sit for a few days, I might have discarded them instead of allowing them to become public.

No matter. With a click of the Edit Post button, I deleted them and substituted something better.

If I decide something better is actually worse, I can click again and make other arrangements. I can do that now or tomorrow or next year. As long as WordPress, my Internet provider, and I hold out, I can revise to my heart’s content.

I can fix that first predicate to conform to the rule given me by my high school English teacher at Prairie Lea High School (Hi, Patsy): Don’t use second person.

…is that they can be fixed.

I can fix the revised predicate to conform to the other rule given me by my high school English teacher: Avoid passive voice.

…is that the blogger can fix them.

I can fix the second revised predicate to conform to the rule given me by Strunk and White, my paralegal school instructors at the University of Texas at San Antonio, and my mother: Don’t use that to introduce a noun clause.

…is the blogger can fix them. [I contend {that} this rule must be used on a case-by-case basis.]

I can fix the third revised predicate to conform to the rule given me by my fourth grade teacher at North Heights Elementary School: I don’t want you using easy little words when you write sentences, either. I want you to use big words, like contraction and determine.

…is the blogger can revisit and make alterations to them, and in so doing refine and expand upon his original meaning.

I can fix the fourth revised predicate to conform to the rule given me by Ken Macrorie at the Bread Loaf School of English: Don’t be stuffy. Stop writing Engfish.

…is that you can fix them.

I can even decide that my mother, my paralegal school instructors, and Strunk and White are correct about that:

…is you can fix them.

And if in the far distant future I look back on this post and realize it’s drivel, I can delete it altogether.

In fact, I can wipe out the entire blog.

The best thing about this blog is that it’s mine.

Back in the slammer again

Today’s horoscope said, “A person who means well will throw a wrench into the works.”

That was the man who came to paint the front door. The go-between told me he would be here at 9:00 a.m. I was supposed to secure my cats before he arrived.

Securing cats meant I had to (1) get them into the bedroom and (2) keep them in the bedroom. There’s never a guarantee of either.

The only guarantee was that I would stay with them. They don’t like closed doors. I don’t like being stuck in the bedroom all day.

But I also don’t like my mattress to be shredded.

So I rose early, performed my usual exercise routine (Dear Abby, crossword puzzle, op-ed page, and letters to the editor), and considered the ordeal before me. I wished I had a can of tuna. I could have lured them upstairs with that.

But fate was on my side. Last night, according to vet’s orders, I drizzled olive oil over their midnight snack. They disapproved, so they didn’t eat it, so this morning they were hungry.

I grabbed a clean bowl and their food and climbed the stairs, crinkling the Friskies bag as I went. William and Ernest followed.

I plopped the bowl onto the middle of the bed and poured in a cup of kibble. William and Ernest followed.

I shut us in. William and Ernest leaped from the bed and prostrated themselves before the door. They reached under it with their little paws and stretched their little forelegs as far as they would go.

Knowing that within seconds they’d be using their little claws to bust out of the joint, I harrumphed as if I meant it. They ran under the bed.

I galloped downstairs and grabbed the laptop. I needed to work on my novel. There’s a manuscript contest coming up. I have a lot to do.

By the time the painter arrived at 12:25 p.m. (not his fault), we three had been sharing a cell for nearly four hours. I had canceled my lunch date. Ernest had eaten a few bites. He batted a few more bites onto the bedspread to use as pucks. Normally I would have discouraged this activity; today I saw it as a blessing.

William stayed under the bed sulking. When I lifted the bed skirt, he looked the other way. Even when I opened the blinds, he refused to come out.

Later I saw Ernest tiptoe to the door. He stretched out in a casual fashion. Then he lifted one paw and gave the door a pat. I harrumphed. Withdrawing the paw, he looked at me. Then he looked at the door. Then at me. Then at the door.

I won. He joined William under the bed.

He didn’t know that a third of that harrumph was aimed at the cramp in my back. Lying on my side to type wasn’t smart.

When fumes wafted up the stairs, I slid open the door to the balcony. The cats emerged. They lay side by side, listening to birds and enjoying the illusion of freedom. Then the yardmen turned on the mowers and the painter turned on the sander. William and Ernest scooted back under the bed.

Having scraped, sanded, and applied primer, the painter left at 2:30. I told the cats he was gone. They didn’t respond. By this time I was as stir crazy as they were.  I wanted to crawl under the bed with them.

But I didn’t. I remembered the second part of my horoscope: “The element of unpredictability will be good for you, and so will the delay this causes.”

That sentence wasn’t so easily interpreted. On the one hand, the painter told me  he refinishes furniture. I told him about my oak dining table. He said he could fix it.

Without doubt, that’s good for me. The table top has been teetering on the pedestal since ever since the movers got it off the truck and brought it inside. I’ve been expecting a lapful of lasagna  for the past six months.

On the other hand, there’s the novel. Between cats, fumes, poor posture, and funk, I didn’t get much writing done. In that respect, the delay wasn’t good.

Tomorrow the painter will come back to paint. Friday he’ll come to replace the weather-stripping. That means two more days imprisoned with cats–if they’re dumb enough to cooperate, which is questionable–and two more days of potential writing avoidance.

When it comes to not writing, I prefer to invent my own excuses.

But what’s done is done. The milk has been spilt.

I’ll get up early in the morning. I’ll do whatever has to be done to return the cats to the slammer. I’ll borrow pillows from the guest room to better prop myself up.

I’ll bow my neck and put my shoulder to the wheel and my nose to the grindstone, and I will write and write and write.

But I’ll skip the horoscope. There’s no use borrowing trouble.

O frabjous day!

The prodigal laptop has returned.

The new hard drive is in place. Printer drivers, camera software, and antivirus program have been installed.

MS Word is being a bit passive-aggressive in refusing to open a couple of documents I wanted to transfer from the flash drive. Open Office stopped downloading for no apparent reason, but–

My laptop is back. On my lap.

I hate to say this, considering that David went to so much trouble figuring out how to back up the old hard drive, but I sort of like the laptop in its current state of pristinity.*

One column of icons runs down the left side of the desktop. Dozens of old icons have vanished: the files I threw there so I could postpone deciding where to store them; the files I threw there because I was afraid I’d forget where I’d stored them; the files I threw there because I intended to move them to the recycle bin in just a few minutes.

The desktop is so clean and neat. It’s like I tidied it up myself.

And the Documents folder is empty: a clean, white box that affords room to breathe.

At a Writers’ League of Texas meeting last year, author Cynthia Leitich Smith said she composes a first draft quickly, then prints it out and writes all over the hard copy. Then she disposes of the print-out, deletes the file, and begins a second draft from scratch.

I thought that was the bravest thing I’d ever heard, so brave it bordered on crazy.

But now I think I know how she must feel: an Incredible Lightness of Being. No old draft plucking at her clothing, pulling her down.

Of course, I don’t really know how she feels, because I haven’t disposed of anything. It’s all on the external hard drive, waiting to be reloaded.

We think.

And as I told David, if it isn’t there, so what? Most of what I care about is somewhere–on a flash drive or attached to an e-mail I sent myself–and what isn’t somewhere probably wasn’t worth saving.

Anyway, I had saved so many drafts of the novel under so many different names that I often became confused about which I was supposed to be working on. Now I have the crummy rough draft and the less crummy third (fourth? fifth? sixth?) revised beginning. That’s enough for anyone.

I talk big at 11:45 p.m. CST.

In the morning, things might not look so rosy. I might be repenting that attitude all over the place.

But I’ll think about that tomorrow.

For tomorrow is another day.

***************

I know pristinity isn’t a word. But it should be. Once upon a time, chortle wasn’t a word either. If I’m going to get into the OED, I can’t spend all my time kowtowing to dictionary.com.

Silver Linings

After yesterday’s post, I believe I owe it to you–and to myself–to write about my Silver Linings.

When I got home from Just for the Hell of It Writers (by way of the grocery store) this afternoon , I found a FedEx tag clipped to the door. Two packages, it said, had been delivered to the office of my apartment complex. They’d been dropped off at 2:00 p.m.

I called the office to confirm it was open before walking down there. The manager said she had no package.

I went online to track the packages. The FedEx website said they would be delivered on Monday. This is Friday.

I called FedEx. Customer service said the packages were back on the truck and would be available for pickup today from 6:00 pm. to 9:00 p.m. and tomorrow from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

When David came in from work, I reported all this. He said we could retrieve the packages tonight. But because I had a migraine hangover–I woke up this morning with the darned thing and by evening still felt as if I were made of eggshells–I said I’d wait until tomorrow. Except for the pain of laptop withdrawal, there was no rush.

Then, out of the blue, came a robust knock at the door. Ernest and William scrambled up the stairs to safety. David ran to the door.

A young woman in a FedEx uniform stood on the sidewalk, holding a clipboard and two packages: an external hard drive and a replacement hard drive.

“I tried earlier, but the office wasn’t open,” she said.

I thanked her and told her we’d planned to pick up the packages ourselves.

“Then I just saved you a trip.” She grinned and walked back to her truck.

That young woman saved me more than a trip. Because she made a second attempt at delivery, my headache of a day took a sudden upturn. She was my first Silver Lining.

David was my second. After I hooked up the external hard drive to the laptop, he spent two hours trying to back up the wonky internal hard drive so it can be replaced by a non-wonky one. Unfortunately, the manual accompanying the external drive was short on instructions. It told, in four languages, how to connect and to disconnect the drive but not how to use it.

A third Silver Lining, however, appeared in the small print: the address of a website offering tech support. It was too late to speak to a technician, so David e-mailed the question. We’re waiting for a username and password so we can access the answer.

So there’s tomorrow’s Silver Lining: instructions about running the necessary backup, and then installation of the new hard drive. And finally I’ll be back in business–in a comfortable chair.

I realize I did things wrong. The song says, “Look for the silver lining.” I didn’t. I looked at the migraine and the idle laptop and the uncomfortable chair and the work I wasn’t getting done.

Nevertheless, Silver Linings appeared.

The mystery here is why I’m so surprised. After all, I’ve been married to a Silver Lining for the past six years.

An Ever-widening Wilderness

Okay. Enough of this sweetness-and-light, writing-is-my-life, revising-is-a-glorious-process, retreats-are-so-inspiring, the-daily-miracle-will-come baloney. Writing stinks.

Last night, no matter how hard I tried to make the technician at the other end of the line understand that the problem was caused by a short in the ground wire on the keyboard, and was surely related to the March 30 keyboard malfunction, he kept insisting that my hard drive is going out, and he made it clear that if I wanted to get to bed before 1:00 a.m., I’d stop asking questions and agree with him.

Back in the good old days, when faced with equipment failure, I just asked my daddy to get out his pocket knife and sharpen my pencil. But now I have to wait for the external hard drive to arrive, and back everything up–and I don’t want to hear one word about not having it backed up already; the critical things are on a flash drive and in my e-mail–and then call the service technician and tell him I’m ready for him to replace the hard drive. Of course, he will have already have called me, and I’ll have told him I’ll call him after I’ve received the external hard drive and run the backup.

That was Plan #2. Plan #1 was to send the corrupted hard drive to the factory and lose everything.

It’s enough to turn one into a raving Luddite.

Then there’s The Chair. For the past two years, I’ve sat in a recliner, feet up,  laptop on my lap, and typed away. The most discomfort I’ve felt has come from Ernest draping himself over my left forearm, and that’s not too terrible. At fifteen pounds, he’s not heavy enough to completely stop blood flow to my fingers. As long as he keeps his paws off the touch pad, I can work.

But now I’m sentenced to the desktop, which means sitting in The Chair. I love The Chair. It’s been in the family for over a hundred years. It’s an office chair. It wasn’t meant for sitting. A little while ago I sneaked upstairs and stole my husband’s vintage-1950s plastic chair with the wide contoured seat. It’s some improvement but I might as well make an appointment with the massage therapist while I’m thinking about it.

And what else? The Just for the Hell of It Writers meet tomorrow morning, and my critique partner, bless her heart, has decreed we must show up with fifty pages. Each. She has well over fifty pages of a coherent draft. I have a zillion pages of nonsense, rubbish, bilge, bunk, drivel, gibberish, hooey, hogwash, piffle, stultiloquence, and tripe. And that’s just the beginning. I haven’t even started on the adjectives.

Actually, it’s not all tripe. Some parts are decent. If they were adjacent parts, I’d be working on them now. But they’re scattered, and I’ll have to go looking for them, piece them together, and then fill in the blank spaces.

Furthermore, I’m sick of the characters. I’ve known them for a long time, and you know what they say about familiarity and contempt. If I had my way, I’d knock off the whole bunch of them: Miss Pinksie and all the suspects and Molly and her cousin Claudia and the Rat Butlerish love-hate interest and those cute twins. And the goat.

In addition, last week I received the Silver Lining Award, which made me smile, and here I am frowning before I’ve even had time to pass it on.

And to top it all off, I need to lose 900 pounds. By Monday.

The way things are going, that’s more likely to happen than my turning up tomorrow with fifty pages in hand.

In summary, writing is Sheer Hell. It’s a Vast Wasteland, like the tangle of cholla, prickly pear, dead brush, and dried grass in the photograph at the beginning of this piece, with splashes of yellow flowers and green trees representing false hope in an ever-widening wilderness.

Not that I’m complaining, of course.

***********************

The photograph at the head of this post was taken at Paisano Baptist Encampment, near Alpine, Texas, during the Texas Mountain Trail Writers Writing Round-up. Paisano is a beautiful place. The opinions expressed in this post reflect the writer’s thoughts about writing and not about Paisano or the TMTW retreat. In fact, she likes cactus and dried grass and would love to drive so far back into a mesquite pasture that she can’t find her way out, an unlikely event in 21st-century Central Texas.

Back from camp

I’m home from the Texas Mountain Trail Writers Writing Round-up. Post-retreat blues–why do retreats have to end?–have lifted. Fatigue from hauling suitcase, duffel bag, and a stack of books halfway across Texas and back has vanished. Euphoria from seeing a basket filled with real homemade biscuits sitting beside a pot of gravy has settled.

Delight at hearing Blair Pittman tell stories about his experiences in Terlingua and the Big Bend, and then making a spur-of-the-moment decision to swing through the Park before coming home remains.

Resolve formed while listening to author and editor speak about writing balks, needing a good swift kick, which shall be administered forthwith.

Tea gowns and white linen

The Just for the Hell of It Writers leave tomorrow morning for the Texas Mountain Trail Writers 19th Annual Writing Round-up. We’ll stay two nights at Paisano Baptist Encampment near Alpine, where the retreat will be held. Then we’ll stay another night in Alpine and head home Monday morning.

I’ll save the program for a future post, except to say it includes a Cowboy Breakfast on Sunday morning. I don’t know exactly what a Cowboy Breakfast entails, but I’m hoping it involves gravy.

The 500-word optional and fun assignment that was perfect three weeks ago turned out to be not so perfect, so I’ve spent the past several days revising. I had to add some material, which meant I had to take things out, which led to taking out other things, which led to…a lot of complaining.

It also led to research. I spent five hours hopping around the Internet so I could remove dotted swiss and it, and substitute tea gowns and white linen. Or I hope I substituted tea gowns. At one point I had lingerie dresses in that spot, but I was afraid my readers might not be familiar with the term. The story is about a one-room school teacher. I didn’t want anyone to get the wrong idea.

I made other changes, too. The nameless narrator now has a name, and two other characters were rechristened. Vilbry Hollan is now Milroy Dunne. Harley Lubeck is now Harvey. I had nothing against the original names, except that I got tongue-tied every time I tried to pronounce them. Since I have to read the story aloud, I thought it wise to choose something I wouldn’t trip over. I kept saying Harvey anyway, even when Harley was staring up at me in 12-point Times New Roman.

I may also have to do something about the Imogene that appears twice in the narrative. The child pronounces her name with a long i, but I don’t always remember to.

Several times I’ve asked myself what difference it makes, long i or short i. The answer is, it just does. Imogene is a figment of my imagination, but she pronounces her name with a long i, and she wants me to say it that way too.

So that is the story of my week: wrestling with words. Of course, after all the grumbling and the shuffling, I have a better product. Characters’ motivations are clearer. The plot is improved. Dialogue is smoother.

Revision worked. My perfect story is now more perfect.

I hate it when that happens.

It’s late and I have a long day before me and the laundry is finished–that’s why I’m still awake, I had to do a load of laundry or go sockless, not what I want to do in Alpine in April–anyway, I shall end this post and go to bed.

But here’s the thing: if I saved this and then revised it tomorrow morning and posted it before I left town, it would be a much better piece of writing, and probably half as long as it is now. And it wouldn’t have sentences like the two previous.

But no. I’ve done my revision for the week. Enough is enough.

And if anyone wants to get out the red pencil–be my guest.

I wonder what happened to…

My predictions at the end of that last post were right on. Last Saturday’s 15 Minutes of Fame writing practice did have more energy, more wordplay, more laughter, and more fun.

It also had more people. Twelve. That’s 12: double the average attendance for the past year.

I didn’t predict that.

Normally we all sit around one table. Saturday we had to set up two folding tables and push all three together. Even then, every place was filled.

There were so many writers, I was shy when it was my turn to read.

No one was new. The “extra” six were just members who hadn’t attended lately, or who’d been there when someone else was absent. Our “average” comprises an ever-shifting population.

There are any number of reasons FMOF doesn’t recognize perfect attendance. We have families, other engagements, other lives outside writing practice. Sometimes we have the flu.

Nobody calls roll. We do, however, say things like, “Has anybody heard from Liz?” “I wonder what’s happened to Pat.” “Donna ought to be back from Colorado by now. I wonder why she hasn’t been here.”

And then, when a crowd shows up, it’s like a class reunion, minus the checks for weight, hair loss, and career status. There are gasps–“Look who’s here!”–and quick catching up. Last Saturday, David passed out DVDs he’d made of Sunday’s reading at Borderlands Community of Poets.

And then we got down to business: “How long should we write this time?”

No matter how many, or how few, sit around that table, it’s always about the writing.

*************

To my readers: You are always invited to join us for writing practice at 15 Minutes of Fame. We do timed writings and read (on a voluntary basis) what we’ve written. We don’t criticize or critique. We’re not professional writers or professional poets. We just like to write. And if you’ll join us, we’ll be more than happy to find a place for you at the table. ~ Kathy

You can find more info on 15 Minutes of Fame available at our blog.

Last Sunday’s poetry reading

Sunday evening, seven members of the writing practice group 15 Minutes of Fame were featured readers at Borderlands Community of Poets, sponsored by Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review.

We had a blast.

Instead of sitting around a table, we faced the same direction, watching as one by one our fellows approached the lectern. Instead of listening to short prose and fledgling poetry written against the clock, we heard poetry composed in solitude and revised, edited, and polished at leisure.

We learned our friends don’t just enjoy writing. We learned they’re poets.

After the reading, most of the readers and about half of the audience migrated down the sidewalk to the Fire Bowl for dinner.

What’s next? We don’t know. We’ve thought about a retreat. Spending a day or two in a quiet rural setting with nothing to do but write write write sounds attractive. But it will take planning.

I predict, however, that when we gather tomorrow morning, we’ll feel an energy that wasn’t there before. I predict more wordplay, more laughter, more of the spirit of fun that has attracted writers to 15 Minutes of Fame for the past fifteen years.

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15 Minutes of Fame’s longevity is due to the efforts of moderator Mindy Reed, who founded the group and has kept it going. Mindy hasn’t been able to write with us for a while, but we look forward to her return. Meantime, if you drop by Recycled Reads, she and her staff will be happy to give you an excellent deal on a used book.