Books ‘n Boots Soiree

Just back from the Fort Worth Bookfest’s Books ‘n Boots Soiree at Lou’s Place on the Texas Wesleyan University campus, where I learned the following:

“They say Fort Worth is where the West begins, but the fact of the matter is that Dallas is where the East just kind of peters out.”

I also got the impression that this is going to be a fun weekend.

IMG_3540Three writers with ties to Texas Wesleyan read from their works. Dr. Jeffrey DeLotto read from his novel A Caddo’s Way; Marjorie Herra Lewis read from her novel When the Men Were Gone; and Michelle Hartman read poems from her Disenchanted and Disgruntled (in which we learn what happened to the “eighth and most annoying dwarf, Gropey.”)

So there are three more titles on my To Be Read list. IMG_3544 (2)

Click here to see authors who will appear at the festival, and the covers of their books. Click through the pictures and you’ll eventually see my head shot and the cover of Murder on Wheels. They’re the same pictures you’ve seen before, and I don’t advocate covering old territory, but it’s a heady experience for me to be included with real writers.

I’m not supposed to engage in such defeatist talk, but after listening to the authors read tonight, I did look around the room and wonder what I’m doing here.

No matter.  I’m here.

This is going to be a fantastic book festival.

*

IMG_3546Citations: Here’s a picture of my notes. I like to get things right, and since I had nothing to write on but a napkin . . .

My mother brought home boxes of books . . .

My father worked up to three jobs to ensure our family never missed a meal. We weren’t poor but neither were we wealthy or middle-class. Every so often my mother took a job to help make ends meet, including one at Gamma Phi Beta sorority at Northwestern 2018-09-05 TTM pixabay - cc0 - books-1082949_640University, where she worked as a cleaning woman during the Christmas holidays. She brought me along to help because she couldn’t afford a babysitter. I remember her telling me that the sorority’s chapter said no blacks or Jews would ever be admitted into its ivied halls. My mother brought home boxes of books thrown out by the sorority girls when classes ended, and in those boxes I found my first copies of Mary Shelley and Shakespeare. I read them, determined that the privileged girls of that sorority would never be able to say they knew something about the Bard that the son of their holiday cleaning woman didn’t. Decades later in 1990 Northwestern’s English department actively and generously pursued me for employment by offering me a chair in the humanities, which I declined.

— Charles Johnson, The Way of the Writer:
Reflections on the Art and Craft of Storytelling

*

Image by congerdesign via Pixabay

Story


 

 

Story, as it turns out, was crucial to our evolution–more so that opposable thumbs. Opposable thumbs let us hang on; story told us what to hang on to. Story is what enabled us to imagine what might happen in the future, and so prepare for it–a feat no other species can lay claim to, opposable thumbs or not. Story is what makes us human, not just metaphorically but literally. Recent breakthroughs in neuroscience reveal that our brain is hardwired to respond to story; the pleasure we derive from a tale well told is nature’s way of seducing us into paying attention to it.

Lisa Cron, Wired for Story

 

 

 

Ella Minnow Pea Redux or, My keys won’ work

Computer keyboard, view from down
Computer keyboard, view from down (Photo credit: Wikipedia). By Orange.man (Self-photographed) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Computer problems. They happen. They happened to me last week. Bad ones, very bad.

I acted with my usual grace under pressure, but I don’t want to talk about them.

I will, however, repost a story I first shared in 2010, about the first time my keyboard malfunctioned. I was preparing a post when it went wonky, proving a major inconvenience more to my readers than to me, because I put it online anyway.

To assist today’s readers, I’ll start with an introduction:

While I was writing, laptop keys stopped working–one at a time, in no particular order. No matter how hard or in which direction I tapped, they didn’t depress, and nothing appeared on the screen. After muttering for a few minutes, I decided to keep a-goin’. The next I called technical service, was told I could replace the keyboard myself, visited to Radio Shack for tools, used them and nearly stripped a screw, called tech service,received a visit from a tech, got a quick fix and an offer to do whatever else the laptop needed while he was there. He installed several Gbs of memory I hadn’t known what to do with.

An easily replaceable keyboard isn’t usually much to worry about, but in my keyboard’s case, there were extenuating circumstances, and I didn’t look forward to anyone poking around underneath. The tech might think what was under there caused the malfunction. He might give me a look of reproof, even a mild reprimand.

William Davis & Bookworm
William Davis & Bookworm

I would have to stand there and take it, blushing all the while. Love of truth would prevent me from saying my husband did it.

To learn why I’d have blushed, you’ll have to read to the end.

Here’s a bit of help: A single e might mean tech. But it might not. An a might mean a or something else.

More help: It wasn’t cat hair.

*****

Wa do you do wen your keyboard malfunions?

Wen my spae bar sopped working, I aed online wi Dell e suppor.  e e old me I would reeie a new keyboard in e mail. I was supposed o insall i.

“Me?” I said. “Insall a keyboard?”

e e said i would be a snap. If I needed elp, e would walk me roug i.

I go e keyboard and looked up e insruions, wi said I ad o unsrew e bak. I jus knew I would be eleroued.

Bu I boug a se of srewdriers a RadioSak and flipped e lapop oer, remoed e baery, and aaked e srews.

e srews wouldn’ budge. I exanged a srewdrier for anoer srewdrier. I used all six. None of em worked.

I wen online again o a wi Dell. e e lisened, en old me o ry again.

I oug abou e definiion aribued o Einsein: Insaniy is doing e same ing oer and oer and expeing a differen resul.

“I wouldn’ urn,” I old e e.

He said e would send a e ou o e ouse o insall e keyboard for me. (I’m no dummy. Wen I boug e lapop, I boug a e o go wi i.)

Anyway, e nex day a e ame. He go ou is se of 3500 srewdriers, remoed e srews, ook off e old keyboard, and insalled e new one. He said I didn’ ave e rig size srewdrier. en e asked wa else I needed.

“I know you don’ ae an order for is, bu ould you wa me insall is exra memory a Dell e said I’m ompenen o insall myself?” He said e’d o i for me. I oug a was ery swee.

Anyway, i’s appened again, exep is ime i’s more an e spaebar. I’s e , , , and  keys.

I’e used anned air. So far all i’s done is make ings worse. Wen I began, only e  key was ou.

How an I wrie wiou a keyboard?

So tomorrow I’ll chat with my Dell tech and–

Well, mercy me. I took a half-hour break and now all the keys are working again. I wonder what that was all about.

Nevertheless, I shall report the anomaly. Call me an alarmist, but I don’t want this to happen a third time when I’m preparing a manuscript for submission. If the keyboard should be replaced, I want it replaced now.

But still–I’m torn. If I do need a new keyboard, I want a tech to make a house call. I don’t have the proper screwdriver, I don’t know the size screwdriver to buy, and I don’t want to tamper with something that is still under warranty.

On the other hand, I have to consider the worst-case scenario: He takes out his screwdriver, loosens the screws, turns the laptop over, removes the keyboard, and sees lurking there beneath the metal and plastic plate the reason for my current technical distress: rumbs.

e same, e earae, e disgrae a being found guily of su a soleism. e prospe is oo illing o spell ou.

Bu for the sake of ar, I sall submi myself o e proud man’s onumely. omorrow I sall a wi Dell.

“Hell on Wheels”: The Story of a Lethal Librarian

Excerpt from “Hell on Wheels” by Kathy Waller appears in MURDER ON WHEELS: 11 TALES OF CRIME ON THE MOVE, published by Wildside Press, 2015

Join Austin Mystery Writers for the launch of MURDER ON WHEELS at 7:00 p.m. on August 11, 2015, at BookPeople Bookstore, 6th and Lamar, Austin. Authors will read and sign. Refreshments will be served.

***

The day I found Mama stirring ground glass into the filling for a lemon meringue pie, I took the bowl away from her and called a family conference. We had to do something before she dispatched some poor, unsuspecting soul to his heavenly rest and got herself thrown so far back into prison she couldn’t see daylight.

The next day, while Mama was down at Essie’s Salon de Beauté, my brothers and sister and I crowded into a booth at the old Dairy Queen, just across the corner from the library where I worked. The DQ was practically empty. The only customers—besides Frank and Lonnie and Bonita and me—were senior citizens, and most of them had their hearing aids turned off.

When the waitress had delivered our orders and retreated behind the counter to her copy of People magazine, I explained why I had called the meeting.

“It hurts me to say it, but the time has come to put Mama out of her misery.”

Lonnie stabbed his straw through the plastic lid on his frosted Coke. “Mama don’t have no misery. I never seen nobody so contented with her lot.”

Bonita poked her pointy elbow into my side and reached across the table to pat Lonnie’s hand. “I think Marva Lu’s talking about a different kind of misery, baby brother. I’ll explain later.”

That was a case of the pot calling the kettle black. Bonita’s explaining was why it took Lonnie till he was twenty-nine to get his GED.

Frank, sitting across the table from me, grabbed a napkin and wriggled his way out of the booth. “Now look what you made me do. Scared me half to death, making such a mean joke about Mama.”

He dabbed at his tie with a napkin. “This necktie is a souvenir from when we took the kids to Disney World. That gravy landed right on Donald Duck’s tail feathers.”

I glanced over my shoulder at the other diners, several of whom were looking our way. “Frank Dewayne Urquhart, stop carrying on and sit back down,” I hissed. “You’re attracting attention.”

Frank unclipped his tie and laid it across the back of the booth. By the time he settled down to finish his steak fingers, the senior citizens had turned back to their burgers.

“Now, quit worrying about that duck’s derriere and look me in the eye,” I said, in the steely tone of voice I used on seventh-grade boys I found hiding in the how-to books, giggling over The Joy of Sex. “I am not joking. This is serious.”

Frank stuffed a couple of napkins into his collar and dunked another steak finger. “Serious?” He leaned toward me, his eyes wide and his voice just a whisper. “You want to … put Mama down … just because you saw her add something to the pie? I bet you didn’t have your contacts in. Might’ve been powdered sugar. She’s probably practicing something new for the Methodist ladies’ fundraiser cook-off.”

“The new bishop’s going to judge the cook-off.” I took a sip of my Diet Dr. Pepper and gave Frank time to think. “I can see the headlines now: ‘Murderous Methodist Does in Bishop with Omelet’. And every penny of our inheritance will go to pay a lawyer to try to keep Mama out of prison. Squeaky Vardaman says defense attorneys charge more when the client’s guilty. And Squeaky’s the district attorney, so he ought to know.”

Bonita stabbed me again with her elbow. “Uh-oh, look who’s coming.” We all followed her gaze.

A bright red Corvette was racing up the street. Ignoring the stop sign, the driver shot through the intersection, just missing a pedestrian, who scrambled onto the high curb and wrapped his arms around a light pole for support.

“There she is, on her way to Essie’s to get her hair screwed up.” Lonnie grinned. “Man, Mama can drive that car, can’t she?”

Frank cleared his throat and wiped his fingers on a napkin. “Yeah, Marva Lu, I see your point.”

Bonita wrinkled her nose and wound a blonde curl around her finger, a habit she’d gotten into when she was five years old and people told her it was cute. “Why don’t we keep a real close watch on Mama and make sure she doesn’t have a chance to put anything bad in the food? I mean, killing her seems a little extreme.”

“Are you volunteering to babysit around the clock?” I said.

Bonita wrinkled her nose again. “Well, what about putting her in the Silver Seniors Retirement home? We could have her committed. Then she couldn’t cook at all.”

“No way,” said Frank. “Old Dr. Briggs is as loony as Mama. He isn’t about to certify her. Hell, there’s not a man, woman, or child in the county, including us, who’d dare to cross her. After all, she owns the bank.” He wadded his napkin into a ball and dropped it into the empty basket. “You going to convince her to move to the home, Bonita?”

Before Bonita could get her nose back in gear, Lonnie finally caught up with the conversation. He sat up straight. “Killing her? What do you mean, killing her? You saying you want to kill Mama?”

“Shhh. Use your library voice, Lonnie.” Bonita patted his hand again. “Kill is just a figure of speech. Like one of those smilies we talked about before your test.”

I rolled my eyes. “No, it’s not a smilie. We’d better make sure right now that everybody understands what we’re doing.”

“I’m not doing anything,” whispered Lonnie. “If you’re going to kill Mama, I’m heading for the sheriff right now. Move, Frank, and let me out of this booth.”

I glared at Frank. He stayed put. I smacked Bonita’s hand off Lonnie’s and closed my hand around his. Poor Lonnie, he’d always been Mama’s favorite, and so softhearted. I should have known our talk would upset him.

I assumed the sympathetic tone I used when citizens called to complain about the library having dirty books. “Lonnie, sweetheart, you heard what I said about Mama’s new recipe. And you remember how Uncle Percy died last month, just hours after Mama cooked him a special birthday lunch.”

“Dr. Briggs said that was Uncle Percy’s ulcer.” Lonnie jerked his hand back. “Frank, let me out.”

I grabbed his hand again and hung on. “Jasper Alonzo, calm down. I’m going to ask you a question, and I want you to think about it carefully and then give me an honest answer. After that, Frank will let you out, and you can go to the sheriff or anywhere else you want.

“Now, here’s the question: How would it make you feel if they put Mama on trial for killing Uncle Percy? Or somebody else she fed bad food to? And what if she had to spend the rest of her natural life locked up in the prison at Huntsville?”

Lonnie’s brow wrinkled like it always did when he was turning something over in his mind. One thing about my baby brother, he never made snap decisions. I usually admired him for that. In this case, however, even with the answer so obvious, I threw in some details.

“Think about what prison’s like, Lonnie. There wouldn’t be a soul Mama knows. And most of those inmates are so common, not our kind of people at all. Mama would have to share a room, and you know how she values her privacy. There’d be no more trips up to Neiman Marcus, and she’d have to dress just like everybody else, in horizontal stripes. She’s always been dead-set against horizontal stripes. Essie wouldn’t be there to keep up her weekly White Mink rinse, and without that, her gray hair would get that ugly yellow tinge to it. And how would she survive without her Friday bridge club? Think about it, Lonnie. What kind of life would Mama have?”

By the time I got to “yellow tinge,” all the fight had gone out of Lonnie. His brow unwrinkled. Tears welled up in his soft brown eyes. It was just the saddest expression I’d ever seen on that sweet face. He looked so miserable I was tempted to toss the rest of my chocolate sundae into the big red waste bin and tell my siblings to forget the whole thing.

But I didn’t get to be Director of the Kilburn County Public Library and Archives by caving in to every pathetic face that stared at me across the circulation desk.

“All right, Lonnie,” I said. “What’s your answer?”

He pulled on his straw but got only a gurgle, so he quit stalling. “Mama wouldn’t like prison at all. So I guess I’d feel pretty bad.” He shook his cup and managed to suck up one more taste of frosted Coke. “But I still don’t feel good about planning to kill her.”

I looked out the window. Old Judge Vardaman was shuffling down the sidewalk from the courthouse, heading for the library, where he would spend his usual hour dozing over the Wall Street Journal. On his way out, he would tiptoe into my office and sit down for what he called “a little visit with my sweetie-pie.”

Bonita saw me watching him and smirked. “Well, here comes Big Sister’s gentleman caller. Honestly, Marva Lu, I don’t know how you can stand to have that old goat around. He’s older than God.”

“You should talk,” I said. “The way you drool over the old goat’s son since he got elected D. A. is a disgrace.” I passed the remainder of my sundae across the table to Lonnie and smiled. “Anyway, Bonita, he’s not so bad. Goats can be very useful animals.” I shouldered my purse and stood up to leave. “Don’t worry, Lonnie,” I said. “You won’t have to do a thing. I’ll take care of all the planning myself.”

***

Our anthology!

Print and Kindle editions available at Amazon.com
Print edition available at Barnes and Noble.com and at Wildside Press.com

My Gratitude List: 12 Items, Girdles Not Included

Make no mistake:

I am grateful. For my husband, my family, parents who gave me a good start and kept on giving, my home, teachers, education, friends, time to use as I wish, the rights guaranteed to me by the Constitution, the freedom to pursue happiness, good health, and a host of other blessings.

But when I write about blessings, the resulting essay is maudlin, insipid, schmaltzy, and trite.* I just can’t do sincere.*******

So this post is about things not usually seen on Grateful-For lists.To wit:

Coffee shops with enough electrical outlets, appropriately placed, to serve nearly all the people who want to plug in. (There’s no way they could serve all of them.) And that say your car will be towed if it’s parked in their lot for more than three hours but don’t really mean it. (BookPeople. They probably do mean it, but I’ve never been towed. I think it depends on how full the parking lot is.)

Everywhere that provides free Wi-Fi.

   amw logo - roundCoffee shops that allow a critique group to sit around a table and discuss manuscripts, and moan about how hard writing is, and what their kids and their cats are up to, and what their dysfunctional families are up to, and that don’t mind when one member reads aloud a scene involving torture and murder** because both staff and other customers are entranced, listening and wondering whether they’re hearing part of a memoir. And that don’t tow their cars.*****

 Blogs. Mine allows me to write to write to an audience, real or imagined. I need that audience. So do most other writers, including students of all ages.

Books. I like them. I like to read them. I like to buy them. Unfortunately, I like buying more than reading, which is why I have so much to-be-read nonfiction on my bookshelves and elsewhere.***

Bookstore going-out-of business sales. Closing a bookstore is a terrible thing, but if they’re going to close anyway, I don’t mind helping reduce inventory. That’s how I acquired most of that unread nonfiction.

 

English: Borders in West Quay Retail Park, Sou...
English: Borders in West Quay Retail Park, Southampton (Photo credit: Wikipedia) Public domain.

Printers that work.****** Most of them work now, but years ago most didn’t. That’s why my students at the university turned in so many papers with text starting at the middle of the page and running diagonally to the bottom right corner. I told them they really couldn’t do that, and that they needed to do the work earlier and start printing days rather than minutes before leaving for class. But I knew if I used a printer, my papers would look like theirs. I was still using a typewriter. When I put the paper in straight, my pages looked okay.

Mark Twain, Emily Dickinson, William Dean Howells, Henry James, Edith Wharton, Clyde Edgerton, Kathie Pelletier, T. R. Pearson, Olive Ann Burns, Fannie Flagg, Elizabeth Berg, Josephine Tey, Ruth Rendell, P. D. James, and the list runs on. If there are any questions about why I’m grateful, pick up some of their books. For Elizabeth Berg, begin with Durable Goods (her first novel, and yes, I despise her). For Clyde Edgerton get Raney, Walking Across Egypt, Killer Diller (WAE’s sequel), or Lunch at the Picadilly; the man is a genius. For Olive Ann Burns, read Cold Sassy Tree, her first and only complete novel; I feel about her like I feel about Elizabeth Berg, see above. I’d like to feel that way about Clyde Edgerton, but I can’t, because I want to be Clyde Edgerton.

Karleen Koen,**** writer and instructor, who said, “I can’t teach you to write, but I can teach you to play.” And she can. And she did. And I had the time of my life writing and writing and writing. Anyone who wants to write and has the opportunity to take one of her classes should sign up asap. See her blog, Karleen Koen – Writing Life, and her webpage, Karleen Koen. Find information about the courses she teaches at Karleen Koen – Courses. Karleen has published four impeccably researched historical novels, set in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; the latest, Before Versailles, takes place in the court of Louis XIV, in the early years of his reign.

Karleen Koen
Karleen Koen

 

Three of Karleen Koen's novels on classroom floor at WLT retreat, Alpine, TX, 2014
Three of Karleen Koen’s novels displayed on classroom floor at WLT retreat, Alpine, TX, 2014. The little orange things in the lower right corner might be peanut butter cups.

 Dictionary.com and Thesaurus.com, which I keep running in the background when I work. Dictionary.com gives me exact definitions of words. Thesaurus.com answers the question, What’s that word that means something like XXXXXXXXXX but not exactly, and it’s standing at the beginning of my hypoglossal nerve but refuses to sprint on down to my tongue, and I cannot finish this sentence without it? These sites are a godsend for people who hyperventilate at the thought of leaving a blank space and moving on.

 Bookworm. Yes, that one. The vile, disgusting, devilish online game that is a thousand times worse than solitaire, because if the Bookworm player is good enough, the game never ends. The player can sit mindlessly clicking on letters to make words, and if the letters he clicks don’t make a word, he just tries again, and he can play while he’s watching-listening to television, or petting the cat, or carrying on a conversation, or trying to think what his Main Character should do next because he’s painted her into a corner . . . Obviously, I know whereof I write.

 I’m grateful for Bookworm, however, because sometimes I need the comfort of a mindless, repetitive task. Playing Bookworm can be a method of avoidance, but it can also be a way of putting the mind on autopilot, giving it the freedom to figure out how to get the Main Character out of the corner she’s stuck in.

 Caveat: Playing Bookworm for too long at one sitting, day after day, month after month, can result in repetitive stress injuries. For example, the mouse hand and all that’s attached to it, right on up to the shoulder, can be rendered painful and practically useless until the light dawns and the victim realizes why she can’t raise her right arm.

 Readers. I’m grateful for everyone who reads my posts, especially the posts that are two or three times as long as blog posts should be. This one is four times as long. Contrary to my expectations, everything on the list relates to writing. I had intended to include Relaxed Fit Slacks and The Demise of the Girdle. But tomorrow is another day.

 (The Demise of the Girdle. Wouldn’t that make a marvelous title for a novel? Should it be mystery, romance, or science fiction?)

 

William Davis & Bookworm
William Davis & Bookworm

* See Thesaurus.com. That’s where I found all these synonyms for bathetic.

** Do I have your attention now? The book is Dance on His Grave; the author is Sylvia Dickey Smith. Sylvia no longer lives here, so Austin Mystery Writers meetings don’t draw as much attention from surrounding tables.

*** Don’t ask where elsewhere is. It’s not relevant.

**** This is not an advertisement, paid or otherwise. Karleen is an excellent teacher–few instructors can keep twenty tired adults happy for a whole week by assigning more homework. (See Morning Pages)

***** See Coffee Shops, above.

****** And printers that don’t drink ink.

******* Last summer, when I wept bitter tears because I couldn’t write what I was trying to write (not my usual practice, but I was having a bad summer), Karleen told me what to do instead, and before anyone says Hahahahahah, I’ll add she was quite nice about it, and said I should aspire to write like David Sedaris. Have you ever known of David Sedaris to do sincere?

 

My Writing Writing Writing Day: Yeah, Right

In the previous post, I announced my intention to get up, go to BookPeople, write for an hour on a project of not-email and not-post (because Ramona DeFelice Long told me to), and get off the laptop by 7:00 p.m.
Here’s how the day went.
IMG_2800
Ernest

At 8:00 a.m., I discovered Ernest experiencing grave digestive problems reminiscent of previous problems caused by eating string. No matter how careful we are, he’s always able to find string.

After practicing every sneaky tactic I know to wrestle him into the carrier, I hauled him to the vet, wrote a check, hauled him home, and spent the next twenty-four hours stalking him up hill and down dale, from litterbox to litterbox, to get an accurate picture of his post-doc activity.
If there wasn’t any, I would have to take him back to the vet today for reconsideration of the diagnosis of UTI to ingestion of string.
In addition to the X-ray, the veterinarian gave him a long-lasting injection of antibiotic so we wouldn’t have to catch him and fight over pills or liquid for a week. I could have chosen to start treatment without the X-ray and see what happened but wasn’t sure I could get him back into the carrier if the antibiotic didn’t work. Some things are not worth the effort.
Because we have two cats and two litterboxes, and because I knew isolation wouldn’t be possible, at least if I valued our doors, I sat up all night watching him. He slept. All night. Didn’t go near a litterbox. I played Bookworm.
David rose at 7:00 a.m. We changed shifts. I went upstairs for four hours of sleep. David stalked.
I woke at 11:00 to the news that Ernest had performed admirably. David had kept samples. I said I didn’t need to see them.
Ernest is in fine fettle. At present he’s lying on my arm, making biscuits where I wish he were not. I will tolerate this until the first claw penetrates my clothing and punctures my flesh. He means well.
In fact, he forgave and forgot as soon as we returned from the veterinary clinic. He swished around as if I had never betrayed him, sat in my lap, pinned down my left arm while I typed, lay on the footstool, gazed at me lovingly.
I’m grateful he doesn’t hold a grudge. In the fight for proper medical attention I nearly dislocated his shoulder. I’m trying to forgive and forget that my back and my right arm will once again have to be put right by the massage therapist. The carrier alone is heavy, and with Ernest inside it gains seventeen pounds.
Concerning the writing life: I did not go to BookPeople; I did not write for an hour; I did not eat breakfast or lunch until nearly 3:00 p.m. I did not do anything except be nurse and mama to a big, hulking guy tabby cat.
But hey–I got another blog post out of it.

The craziest thing is that it’s almost the same post I wrote two or three years ago, about the day I was

William
William

determined to write write write but instead spent the day lying on the floor in William’s bedroom, trying to coax an ailing Ernest out from under the bed and to the doctor.

Now the question: Do these things happen because I’m crazy, or am I crazy because these things happen?
What is the moral? (Must be a moral.)
  • Change in the Davis-Waller house doesn’t seem likely, at least while Ernest and I live here. Might as well accept that and go on.
  • I should never never never publicize my intention of writing writing writing.
  • Writing writing writing equals change. See first moral, above.
And failing to follow through is embarrassing. Especially reporting the failure, as is only fair. Readers deserve to know.
cropped-img_31112.jpgWhen this post is safely online, I shall throw things into a bag and head south to retreat with Austin Mystery Writers. I will have a cabin and a river and some pecan trees. I will not have Internet connection or decent TV reception. Phones will work only outside.
And for the next two days, I promise to sit in a porch swing and Write. Write. Write.

 ***

If paragraphs in this post are incorrectly spaced, please pretend they’re not. Today’s format is like Ernest–not under my control. It’s just one more miracle of modern technology.

The Cataract, the Vacuum Cleaner, and the Semicolon

Blue vacuum cleaner
Blue vacuum cleaner (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This afternoon, I shall present myself at the ophthalmologist’s office, where I will be measured, Valiumed up, awakened from a peaceful sleep on the waiting room sofa, cattle-prodded down the hall to the operating room, punctured, divested of a cataract, invested with a shiny new lens, wobbled back to the waiting room, and driven home, thence to crash on the sofa until further notice.

Isn’t that a lovely sentence? I wish the writer who told me to stop composing sentences requiring semicolons could see it. Not a semicolon in sight.

My critic said readers wouldn’t understand semicolons. I countered (mentally) that I hoped for readers who could unravel more than a simple declarative sentence, and if I couldn’t get them, I would give up writing and instead take conversational Spanish or annoy another voice teacher. But I have cut down on semicolons.

She also told me not to digress. One out of two isn’t bad.

Anyway. That was the procedure with LASIK, except for the puncture, the cataract, and the new lens. This time the doctor will use a vacuum cleaner. Doesn’t sound appetizing. The trade-off is that I won’t be disturbed by the smell of burning flesh–mine–from the laser. I’m to wear warm clothes because the operating room is cold. In the midst of this 75-degree winter, cold will be a relief. Friends have told me there will be heated blankets, but the doctor didn’t mention those, so I will take a sweater. I’ll have to take off my shoes, so I’ve also set aside a pair of socks the cats haven’t gnawed holes in.

Although by the time the Valium has taken hold, I won’t be able to read a compound-complex sentence, and I won’t care what the cats have done.

*

Note: A friend told me my impending surgery was announced on Facebook yesterday afternoon. I didn’t intend to announce it, and I don’t remember announcing it. Well, whatever. Since the story was already bouncing around in cyberspace, I thought I might as well make a post out of it. This evening, I might not think it so amusing.

Belated Christmas and Midnight Romps

IMG_2093At Christmas play and make good cheer
For Christmas comes but once a year.

                            ~ Thomas Tusse

David and I met friends Geoff and Emme at the Root Cellar yesterday morning for a belated Christmas breakfast. Our plan for a Christmas-David’s Birthday-New Year’s dinner in December fell through when both Emme and I came down with whatever people get at this time of year and we had to cancel.

The breakfast worked out better, however, because we dressed less formally (if such a thing be possible) and because I didn’t have to make a salad.

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The gift exchange comprised books, homemade granola, a kazoo, cute little plastic thingeys to bind cords and cables, and a Christmas ornament.

The best, however, were the gifts exchanged by the cats and Geoff and Emme’s dogs, Tuck and Abbey. Tuck and Abbey received toys best described as big blue squeaking Scrubbing Bubbles covered with jiggly cilia. I would describe Tuck and Abbey, but I can’t do them justice, except to say that if you turn your back and walk away from Abbey, you’ll never do it again. More info in the form of photos will be provided at a later date.

Ernest and William hit the jackpot. They received fancy sequined mice and a variety of balls, most with noisemakers–jingle, rattle, clack–inside. In little more than twenty-four hours, half the balls have disappeared.

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William and Ernest have always found it convenient to store toys under the bed for spontaneous midnight romps. By morning, I may know where they’ve hidden these.

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*****

ROW80 Report:

1. I wrote for an hour a day for five days and took two days off.

2. I tried to stay awake all week. Slight exaggeration, but not much.

Next weeks goals:

1. Write for an hour a day on the novel. The blog doesn’t count.

2. Go do bed before midnight. Before 10:30 p.m. Before 10:00 p.m.

To see what other ROW80 writers are up to, click here.

ROW80 01.08.12 and Excuses

English: I took this picture. Grilled cheese s...
Image via Wikipedia

Here’s my progress report for the first week of January:

  • On Tuesday, I attended Austin Mystery Writers. I had not submitted anything for critique, but I took a bit of the newsletter I was editing for CP to proof. My printer had cut off an inch or two on the right side of the document, so CP had difficulty proofing. I learned to look at documents while I’m still able to try again.
  • On Wednesday, I saw I’d made no progress, and I was lethargic, wanted to sleep all day, so I postponed reporting until Sunday.
  • On Thursday, I fell victim to cedar fever and wanted to sleep all day, but I went out and bought a stationary bike and allowed David and the cats to assemble it while I slept in a chair. I woke up and rode the bike for twelve minutes, whether I wanted to or not.
  • On Friday, I attended the Just for the Hell of It Writers, where CP and I discussed changing the name of the group. We discussed several other things as well, including the fact that I had made no progress because I was perpetually sleepy. I rode three minutes on the stationary bike before sitting down and going to sleep in a chair. I woke up and posted on my blog that cedar fever was upon us.
  • On Saturday, I developed a light case of allergy flu (I rarely have hay fever, I prefer to host a virus) and sat around the house feeling miserable and moaning and sighing several times an hour so David and the cats would know I was miserable. David decided to visit a friend. They cats hid upstairs. I didn’t ride the bike. I finished putting together a newsletter, prayed for accuracy, and published it.
  • Today I woke up feeling better, no flu, but looking disgusting enough for David to offer to cook breakfast. He prepared dinner several times during the week, too. I updated the blog for my writing practice group and posted the link on Facebook. Then I corrected the date and posted the correction on FB. Then I corrected the address and posted the correction on FB. Then I corrected the address in the address correction I’d already posted on FB and posted that to FB. Then I made a correction to that correction; I had said it was the fourth correction, but it was really the third. The correction process having taken a lot out of me, I considered going to bed but decided to post my report instead.

Summary: I did not meet my goal of working on my novel every day. Instead, I coughed, moaned, and felt sorry for myself. To my credit, I did not eat a gallon of Campbell’s tomato soup made with condensed milk and further gooey-ed up with smashed saltine crackers. Said soup is the only halfway effective palliative for a condition involving the sinuses, but it is chockfull of sodium, preservatives, coloring agents, and various other chemicals I’ve sworn off. So ate baked chicken, salad, fruit, and cough drops. And suffered.

So that’s my report. Cedar fever isn’t the best excuse in the world, but it beats the dog ate my homework.

*

Note to my former students (and all others who monitor my grammar, usage, and punctuation): I know this post contains a comma splice, and I know I told you all that using a comma splice qualifies as sin. But I’ve loosened up a lot over the years, and now I find that the judiciously placed comma splice can be just the ticket for getting my meaning across. Using run-on sentences, on the other hand, those jammed together with no punctuation mark at all, still constitutes sin.

*

Image by DonES at en.wikipedia. Later version(s) were uploaded by Hohum at en.wikipedia. [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons


“The saddest words…,” or, “Who cares?”

English: Monkeys Blogging Español: Simios blog...
Image via Wikipedia

We do not write because we want to; we write because we have to.—Somerset Maugham

After two days of letting A. A. Milne and Mark Twain do my thinking for me, I buckled down this evening and composed an essay about my experiences teaching high school English.

Actually, I wrote about half of a draft in which I said that all except three of my students hated writing, and that when I became a better teacher about a dozen showed slight enthusiasm for writing, and that after the library (to which I had fled in search of a job that would allow me to buy books with other people’s money) connected to the Internet and let students open e-mail accounts, those who had formerly resisted picking up a pen skipped lunch to park themselves at my computers and e-mail students sitting less than a foot away when they could have just turned their heads and spoken face-to-face.

Of course, I said that in shorter sentences, but a lot more of them.

I was planning to say that kids who’d been telling their composition teachers, “But I don’t have anything to say,” suddenly found plenty to say. I was going remark that the novelty of the technology contributed to the verbal onslaught. I was going to mention that the definite sense of aim, mode, and audience also promoted fluency.

I was going to expand the discussion from students with e-mail to adults with blogs. I was going to say that two weeks ago I joined the NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month) network and, following its dictates, have posted on two blog sites every blessed day for thirteen days straight, even when I haven’t had anything worth saying.

I was going to say I’m running out of pictures of my cats, and there are only so many poses they’re willing to strike, and I’d prefer not be pigeonholed as a chronicler of cute.

I was going to say that more than 12,000 other people are blogging at NaBloPoMo–poetry, journals, photographs, devotionals, stories, recipes, a plethora of words, words, words. I was going to marvel at what appears to be a compulsion among people who, like my students (and I was going to admit I had once shared feeling), would once have found it difficult or foreign or unimaginable to put pen to paper.

I was going to wonder about this desire to create, to share, to vent, to communicate, to play, to do whatever we’re doing when we contribute to the sentences flooding cyberspace.

I was going to say that some people tat or make doilies or whittle, and we write.

Then I was going to draw a lesson, wise and well-phrased, from all the foregoing, and end with a nod to novelist Somerset Maugham, whose words precede mine on this page.

That’s what I said and what I was going to say.

Unfortunately, about three hundred words in, I touched an alien key and deleted everything except the HTML for font, and I couldn’t find the Undo icon because I’d composed on a new blog I’d set up on a rival blog site and hadn’t read all the instructions and found out I’d have to undo with a keystroke rather than an icon.

So now, instead of referring to Maugham, I shall end by paraphrasing Blaise Pascal, Mark Twain, T. S. Eliot, and any others to whom the line has been attributed, and say that this post would have been shorter but I didn’t have time.*

*It would have had better sentence structure, too. But it’s a lot less pompous, ponderous, and moralistic in this who-cares version.

*****

Reposted from Whiskertips, July 23, 2009

*****

Image by Julitofranco (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

My Writing Day: Extremism in Defense of Liberty

Ernest

Julia Cameron, in her book The Artist’s Way, stresses the importance of both writing and playing. At the WLT Summer Writing Retreat, Karleen Koen reminded students of Cameron’s Artist’s Date—a weekly solo “adventure” to feed the soul and allow for continued creativity.

Since leaving the retreat, I’ve been thinking about possibilities for my Artist’s Dates. A visit to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is a candidate, though it’ll probably wait until spring. Central Texas affords plenty of potential for adventure.

But having just returned from a week-long Artist’s Date, I decided to concentrate first on writing.

I designated yesterday, my first day out of post-retreat depression, a day for writing.

Here’s how it went:

I rose at a reasonable hour and prepared to leave for my coffee-shop office.

William with books and printer. By kathywaller1
William with books and printer

Downstairs, doling out catfood, I realized that in the half-hour I’d been up, I’d seen no cats. This had never happened. William often sleeps late, but Ernest is up with the chickens and frequently makes sure I am, too.

I called, ran upstairs, searched, called. William, draped across his pagoda, opened his eyes and blinked but offered no opinion as to Ernest’s whereabouts.

I ran downstairs, called, searched, dropped to my knees and peered under furniture. I ran back upstairs, etc.

Finally dropping in the right place, I found Ernest under the bed. He was sitting in that compact way cats have, with all his feet neatly tucked in. His look wasn’t warm and welcoming. When I tried to drag him out, he wriggled loose and ran into the hall and thence into the guest room and under that bed.

At that point, I remembered a get-well card I sent my great-aunt Bettie: On the front was a drawing of an orange-striped cat, looking bored, and saying, “Feeling poorly? Do as I do.” Inside, it said, “Crawl under the porch.”

We had no porch, so Ernest crawled under the next best thing.

I put batteries in the flashlight and girded my loins. Negotiating the guest room is not a task for the faint of heart. There’s stuff in there.

Back on my hands and knees, aka standing on my head, I again located Ernest. He was lying, neatly tucked, in the corner near the wall. Stretching out on the carpet, I reached under and scratched his ears. He didn’t protest. His big green eyes, however, told me I’d better not make any sudden moves.

I didn’t.

Then I did.

Ernest is heavy and muscular. His twenty toes are tipped with talons. He has teeth.

Barry Goldwater, U.S. Senator (AZ-R)
Barry Goldwater, U.S. Senator (AZ-R) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Like Barry Goldwater, he believes extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.

I believe in keeping as much of my blood as possible on the inside of my skin.

I also believe extremism in the pursuit of getting my children to the veterinarian is a necessary evil. This evil was necessary.

Ernest suffers from what might be termed a sluggish constitution, which is aggravated by his habit of putting foreign objects into his mouth. And swallowing them. Mainly bits of string and thread. They don’t have to be on the floor. He pokes around on tables and steals anything that strikes his fancy.

The first time he withdrew from society, two years ago, I had to authorize X-rays, ultrasound, and a simple procedure he really really didn’t like. It seemed best, this time, to seek medical attention before a minor problem became major.

Well, to summarize: Ernest hid under the bed from 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. I spent a goodly portion of that time supine on the floor trying to regain his trust. I spent the rest of the time downstairs, sneezing my head off because of all the dust bunnies under there with him.

In desperation, I took his jingly collar, the one he refuses to wear, and lay down by the bed and jingled at him. He purred and gnawed on the collar. Then he flopped over onto his back and I administered belly rubs. He had a lovely time. I went back downstairs and sneezed until my throat was raw. Then I coughed. I couldn’t stop coughing.

Having neither cough drops nor unexpired cough medicine, I poured a tiny bit of some extremely aged Jim Beam (my mother bought it to put on her Christmas applesauce cakes over twenty years ago) into a glass and added the dregs of David’s hummingbird sugar and drank it from a spoon. The first sip tasted pretty bad, and it didn’t do much for the cough, but by the time I was finished sipping, my concern for Ernest had eased considerably.

Anyway, as I sat in the living room taking my medicine, Ernest appeared downstairs. He sashayed into the kitchen. I heard him crunch two or three bites of food. Then he doubled back. Sneak that I am, I lured into my lap. Then I grabbed him and stuffed him into the waiting crate and headed for the vet’s.

Ernest protested, of course, at first. But as soon as the two big dogs in the vet’s waiting room charged up to his crate to pant hello, he decided confinement had its advantages and shut up.

Getting his weight was the first order of business. I was not surprised to learn he weighs 17 pounds. My spine had already intimated I would be making a trip to the chiropractor in short order.

After some poking and prodding and determining this was indeed the result of ingesting thread, and addressing that problem, the doctor said cats like linear objects. I said I’d noticed.

He gave me three choices: take him home and give him meds and watch him for 24 hours; leave him there for meds and the procedure he really really doesn’t like and pick him up at 5:00 p.m.; or be referred to another vet for X-rays because he’s moving his office up the street and his machine was all to pieces.

He said choice #1 would have been fine for his cat, but I told him I liked choice #2. Leaving Ernest would ensure he was unclogged. If I took him home and he crawled under the bed again, I might never get him out.

I hated sentencing him to a procedure. But if he hadn’t eaten something unacceptable, he wouldn’t have been in this fix.

As agreed, David and I picked Ernest up at 5:00 p.m., bought a tube of Laxatone, and hauled him home. He’s fine now, thank you, and appears to have forgiven me. I assume the scratch I got trying to remove him from my person in the middle of last night was unintentional.

That is the story of my day set aside for writing.

I’m trying to decide whether it qualifies as an Artist’s Date.

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