Thank you, thank you, thank you

“Here are the two best prayers I know: ‘Help me, help me, help me’ and
‘Thank you, thank you, thank you.” ~ Anne Lamott

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Shut-eye

A brief report: I’m spending a couple of days with my cousin VZ. That’s the one who fell asleep while I was reading her the first pages of my work in progress two years ago.

I posted about the incident here even as she was snoring away in the other bed–we were sharing a hotel room after attending a bridal shower that afternoon–and I hated to do it but felt it served her right. There’s a certain deference due to writers, and that night she didn’t give me any at all.

Nonetheless, I came to officiate at VZ’s cataract surgery. Experience allows me to say things like, There’s nothing to it, and, Don’t worry, and, They’ll give you enough Valium, you won’t care what they’re doing. I’m also an expert eye drop dropper. Steady hand, good aim, all that.

Surgery took place this morning and all went well. Waiting went well, too, because the ophthalmologist’s office had Wi-Fi and I had my Chromebook. We spent the afternoon doing drops and sleeping. I was supposed to be reading a book but I suppose Valium is contagious. Fortunately, her prescription read every two hours when awake.

VZ crashed again two hours ago. It’s approaching ten o’clock, so I am waking up, as I tend to do about this time every night. I’ll read for a while but will retire in about a half-hour. It’s important that I be awake and alert in the morning. VZ wakes early and will need her eye drops, three different drugs, each with its own set of instructions.

And at present I’m the only one of us who can read.

*****

Image: A Maid Sleeping, Johannes Vermeer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Wailing and Gnashing and Girdles and Teeth

“And the wild things roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws.” ~ Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are

There was wailing and gnashing of teeth today at Writers Who Write.

Now, it’s too early for a digression, but I shall digress. Writing that first sentence, I wondered whether anything besides teeth can be gnashed. So, although everyone says not to research while you’re writing, I googled gnash and found this:

  1. To grind or strike (the teeth, for example) together
  2. To bite (something) by grinding the teeth

I would have searched further for confirmation but was distracted by these words, in  large blue font, about two inches above the definitions:

Wisdom Teeth Removal

Which reminded me of a certain unhappy experience in the office of an oral surgeon in Seguin in 1976, and the effect it still has on my life today. I won’t go into detail, but I will say that if a doctor ever slices one of your arteries and then looks down at you and says, “Do you have high blood pressure?” in an accusing tone, as if it’s your fault that protracted hemorrhaging is messing up his schedule (and you’re only twenty-five and skinny to boot but, under present conditions, who wouldn’t have high blood pressure?) and you want to say, “Don’t you have a cuff in this office?” but can’t–in short, if this should happen to you, do not, under any circumstances, politely refrain from coughing. And afterward, when your mother and your cousin are dragging you from the operating room, do not offer to pay for having the doctor’s nice, starched, formerly white coat laundered.

Well, anyway. To clear my mind of the old insult, I scrolled down the page and found two references:  a line from Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities:

They danced to the popular Revolution song, keeping a ferocious time that was like a gnashing of teeth in unison.

And one from Homer’s Collection of Hesiod, Homer and Homerica:

Two serpents hung down at their girdles with heads curved forward: their tongues were flickering, and their teeth gnashing with fury, and their eyes glaring fiercely.

And the combination of the two reminded me of a description of Madame Defarge:

Instantly Madame Defarge’s knife was in her girdle, the drum was beating in the streets, as if it and a drummer had flown together by magic; and the Vengeance, uttering terrific shrieks, and flinging her arms about her head like all the forty Furies at once, was tearing from house to house, rousing the women.

That’s my favorite line from ATOTC, not because of its poetry, but because when I read it aloud to my freshman English students, they became still and silent (for the first time that year), and their eyes widened, and their lips formed grim lines, and I knew my politest students were suppressing laughter, doing their best not to be wild things just because they’d heard that a character had a knife in her girdle. The word was funny enough without the knife. Goodness knows what they’d have looked like if Madame had had two serpents in her girdle.

That was the spring of 1984, when teenagers remembered girdle commercials on television.

I took pity and explained the difference between Madame Defarge’s girdle and Jane Russell’s girdle. They began to breathe again. I tucked the moment away to recall at times when I needed a laugh.

When I got into the girdle part of this piece, I realized I needed to confirm when various commercials were aired. I didn’t want to say the Playtex 18 Hour Girdle was advertised in 1980 when it was really the I Can’t Believe It’s a Girdle. During my research, I learned quite a lot about foundation garments. The most arresting fact was that “[t]he Playtex brand completely disappeared from Australia in 1984.” I didn’t take time to find out why, but I have this image of the entire inventory vanishing while picnicking at Hanging Rock.

I also learned that Playtex was once owned by Sara Lee. That must have been the most mutually beneficial arrangement in the history of American retail. First sell them pastries, then sell them girdles. A win-win situation, on the corporate side at least.

In the midst of all this, an event of monumental importance occurred. With an episode of Lou Grant playing in the background, I heard a character portrayed by Laraine Day tell Billie how she had hidden her identity when she moved from Hollywood to housewifery: “I wore specs and took off my girdle.”

Joseph Campbell said, “Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors where there were only walls.”

There I was, blissfully meandering from wailing to teeth to Dickens to Homer to girdles, when up popped another girdle. As if it were planned. Julia Cameron is right. There’s something to be said for relaxing and opening oneself to the universe.

But back to the wailing and gnashing. At Writers Who Write, a twice-weekly work group, I was absorbed in tweaking a short story when the manuscript disappeared and a new screen appeared bearing the message from my Chromebook’s Googledocs: Whoops! That shouldn’t have happened.

No, indeed it should not.

I filled out the requisite form, explaining what had happened: I pressed Enter, or maybe the ” key, or maybe both Enter and the ” key at the same time, and the next thing I saw was Whoops!

I didn’t mention that I pressed the Whatever key with a certain amount of flair, as if I were following my piano teacher’s instruction to Let the piano breathe!

When I was twelve, I was too much concerned with correctness–and preventing stress to my ears–to let my fingers stray too far from the keys, but on the laptop and the Chromebook, I am a veritable Liberace. Googledocs, however, likes correctness.

When I checked about an hour ago, the manuscript was still lost in cyberspace. But I’m easy. If the universe can provide a girdle, coming up with a lost manuscript should be no stretch at all.

###

Image of Jane Russell at the 16th Annual Faith and Values Awards Gala By Credit to lukeford.net (permission statement at en:User:Tabercil/Luke Ford permission)
CC BY-SA 2.5

I’m Not a Formula 1 Fan, but Several of My Friends and I Own It

This post originally appeared in November of 2012, at the first Formula 1 event. It received numerous hits and some comments that suggested the commenters had not read the post carefully, or perhaps at all. So I’m giving y’all a second shot at it. If possible, enjoy.

The Formula 1 United States Grand Prix drew fans from all over the world to the grand opening of The Circuit of the Americas near Austin this weekend.

I wasn’t one of the drawn, but after reading and listening to friends and complaining about the Circuit of the Americas for the past couple of years, I’ve gathered enough information to comment in a semi-reliable fashion.

According to its website, CoTA is a “world-class motorsports and entertainment venue,” “designed to be the only purpose-built facility in the U.S. to host the FORMULA 1 UNITED STATES GRAND PRIX™ through 2021 and V8 SUPERCARS from 2013-2018.” It covers 375 acres and lies fifteen miles from downtown Austin.

Politicians have been patting each others’ backs all ’round, just tickled pink–or maybe green–because the track will bring money into the city and the state and will create jobs. Can’t complain about that. Money and jobs are good.

And such a Big Deal, covering months of negotiations and construction, helps drive

  • the water shortage,
  • underfunded schools,
  • rising property taxes,
  • feral hogs, and
  • how much will remain of San Antonio after Texas has seceded from the Union and all those military installations have packed up their guns and airplanes and hit the road for Iowa,

from the headlines to page 3 of the classifieds, right below Doonsbury.

I haven’t shared the politicians’ or anyone else’s enthusiasm. I’ve railed against CoTA ever since it hit the six o’clock news:

  • paving pasture- and farmland,
  • wasting fossil fuel,
  • spending state tax money to fund what should be a private venture,
  • plopping the facility down in an area with inadequate infrastructure and expecting the taxpayers to pay for repair and upkeep,
  • causing land values and property taxes to skyrocket, and
  • other objections too numerous to mention.

However, on Saturday, while the elite, who the night before had drunk gold-infused champagne at Austin’s finest hotels (I didn’t make that up) were descending from helicopters onto a former field near Elroy, our friend Millie shared with the Fifteen Minutes of Fame writing practice group some facts that tempered my pessimism. She said the CoTA will eventually

  • be open 365 days a year,
  • host concerts, charity runs, sports events, and the like,
  • create hundreds of both full-time and part-time jobs,
  • attract a million people a year,
  • pour oodles into the economy, and
  • promote research that will influence medicine, transportation, and other areas we can’t yet predict.

After listening to her reassurances, FMoF members gave Millie a round of applause and left in better spirits.

But even before Millie’s talk, all my objections had become moot. Because on Friday, I had learned that the Teacher Retirement System of Texas has invested $200 million in Formula 1, for “about a 3% stake in the global racing series.”

Circuit of the Americas Chairman Bobby Epstein said, “Now the teachers win when F1 makes money and when new dollars come into our state as a result of the Grand Prix.”

Consequently, I have become Formula 1’s biggest fan. I will say kind words about it, I will look for it in the sports pages, I may even subscribe to Sports Illustrated. Whatever I can do to promote Formula 1 racing, I will do.

I’ve already X-ed out the piece I wrote last week about a dystopian future when we run out of fossil fuel and  CoTA descends to hosting chariot races.

But there’s another however:  TRS stated, “To be clear, F1 is a completely separate company that is unrelated to Circuit of the Americas, which will host an F1 Grand Prix race near Austin in November 2012. None of the Teacher Retirement System of Texas, CVC Capital Partners, or Formula One Group has any ownership interest or business relationship with the Circuit of the Americas.”

So I’ll also continue to wail about the paved-over paradise on which my pocketbook depends.

*****

P. S. One of my objections was that state and city tax money had funded CoTA. The CoTA website carries this note:

“NOTE: To date, State money has not been paid to the developers of Circuit of The Americas and no local community, including the City of Austin, is providing incentive funding to the developers. As is the case with the Super Bowl, NCAA Final Four and other large-scale events in Texas, the Formula 1 event is eligible for expense reimbursements from the state’s Major Events Trust Fund. This reimbursement is performance-based and may be applied for after the first event in November 2012. Any state reimbursement is based on the amount of incremental tax revenue generated by event-related activity that would not have come to Texas if the event were not here.”

So I’m not sure what all the media hoop-la was about. Maybe it concerned lumping CoTA in with the Super Bowl, NCAA Final Four, “and other large-scale events in Texas.” Which, in light of the TRS investment, is from my point of view peachy-keen. Until I read this paragraph, I didn’t know the state reimburses the Superbowl and other such large events. I hope the Texas Library Association Conference gets its share.

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AMW Workshop: Special Invitation for Procrastinators

Austin Mystery Writers spent Thursday making last-minute preparations for Anatomy of a Mystery, the free workshop it’s sponsoring today from 9:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at BookPeople in Austin. I offer two photographs as proof. Some of the people in them are duplicated. (My assigned task was to cut up paper for the raffle. Mission accomplished.)

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This post, which is being typed around a large cream tabby who insists on operating the space bar, is directed to people like me–people who forget to register, to sign up, to RSVP. People who put things off.

Part of large cream tabby
Part of large cream tabby

The message is this: RSVPs are not required for Anatomy of a Mystery.

If you wake in the morning with an insatiable urge to attend a workshop about how to write the mystery novel, do not despair.

Come on down to BookPeople.

Authors Reavis Wortham, Janice Hamrick, and Karen MacInerney, all of whom have proved they know how to write–and have accepted for publication–multiple mystery novels, will share some of their secrets with other writers, aspiring writers, and readers.

It would be a shame to miss this opportunity just because you forgot to tell us you were planning to come.

It would be more of a shame to miss the great swag we’re handing out.  One example is pictured here. There are also some books and who-knows-what-else.

Swag
Swag

So take the advice of a veteran procrastinator: show up at Anatomy of a Mystery–and if you can’t stay all day, spend the morning or the afternoon with us.

And don’t worry about crowds. If the room is SRO, you can have my chair and I’ll sit on the floor.

Provided, that is, that you promise to help me get back up.

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FREE MYSTERY WORKSHOPS FREE

I can’t say this any better than my fellow Austin Mystery Writer Gale Albright did in her Visions and Revisions post. I’ll just add–Y’all come.

Visions and Revisions

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NOVEMBER 9, 2013

AUSTIN MYSTERY WRITERS (AMW)  Sponsors FREE Fiction Workshops @BookPeople!

Have you ever wanted to write crime fiction?  Or, want to learn more about how your favorite authors create those fast-paced plots and complicated characters that manage to keep you up all night reading? 
Come to our FREE special one day event:  Anatomy of a Mystery @ BookPeople on Saturday, November 9th, 2013 from 9:30am-3:00pm.
Our panel of highly-acclaimed mystery novelists will give you the inside scoop on what it takes to create some of today’s most memorable mysteries. Janice Hamrick, Karen MacInerney and Reavis Z Wortham will cover topics ranging from plotting and characterization to how to balance action and humor in crime fiction.  
Special Bonus:  First 25 attendees receive a FREE Austin Mystery Writers notepad and pen, plus a chance to win a free AMW tote along with other raffle items including books…

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Sherlock Holmes / Author Amnon Kabatchnik

Sherlock Holmes in black tights? Mrs. Hudson acting out? Dr. Watson being displaced at the altar by his best friend? Nevah! I say.

But in this post reblogged from Killer Nashville, Amnon Kabatchnik gives evidence that those things, and more, have indeed happened, on the stage, and to the sound of applause.

Killer Nashville Blog

My love affair with detective fiction began decades ago in a far-away country where people read and write from right to left. Paperbacks began to arrive in Israel from the U.S. and England, and I couldn’t resist the pictorial, enticing covers. I ploughed through the works of American writers like Ellery Queen, Rex Stout, S.S. Van Dine, Erle Stanley Gardner, and the English writers Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Edgar Wallace, and Sax Rohmer. Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles left a lasting impression. What could be more intriguing to a young, eager reader than strong plots, eccentric sleuths, pulsating action, heart-stopping climaxes, and matters of life-or-death?

I am a director by profession. I have staged dramas, comedies and musicals for off-Broadway troupes, national road companies, drama departments at universities, and summer stock; I’ve done Chekhov, Ibsen, Shaw, Lillian Hellman, Tennessee Williams – but I have always had…

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