Monday, June 29, 2009

The End of the World as We Know It

I saw the new Transformers movie last night. In a rare display of familial affection, our 17 year old son went with us. (Although when Bruce yelled across the concession area at the daughter of a family friend, our son threatened to leave out of embarrassment.) Being the only girl in my family, most of the movies I actually see in the theater are action movies. Sometimes I'll drag Bruce to something deeper and more thoughtful if the subject matter appeals to him, but mostly I have to wait for the DVD to see non-action flicks.

Having seen so many testosterone-filled, blow-everything-up, shoot-anything-that-moves movies, I think I'm getting action movie fatigue. Images that should horrify me don't. Sequences that should fill me with awe don't. An aircraft carrier is destroyed in the movie. This is in the trailer, so it's not a spoiler. The idea of all those American sailors meeting a horrible end should affect me. It didn't. While the special effects were first rate, it still seemed more like a video game than an important piece of the story.

And of course, this is the crux of my fatigue. The destruction of the aircraft carrier was pure spectacle. It did absolutely nothing to move the story forward. We never met any of the sailors on the carrier, so when it sank, it felt more like vandalism of government property than mass murder. Hollywood, I'm talking to you now. It is possible to engage action movie viewers with meaningful story and nuanced characters, even brain-rotted teenaged boys. Anyone remember last summer's The Dark Knight?

Don't even get me started on the plausibility of the few non-action sequences. A passport-less John Turturro gets through an Egyptian security checkpoint by smiling and saying, "I'm from New York." Then there is the scene in which the gang exits the back door of the Smithsonian, that big museum in Washington, DC, and winds up on an old desert-like airbase. I understand willing suspension of disbelief, but come on guys.

Pacing is a nice thing in any story, but the makers of this movie weren't acquainted with that concept. Transformers is loooonnnngggg. Because the action is non-stop from beginning to end, there is no sense of climax in the final sequence. I actually found myself yawning when I should have been on the edge of my seat wondering if Sam would save Optimus Prime and keep our sun from being destroyed. I would say there was no real sense of imminent doom, but Michael Bay, the director, was having so much fun with the explosions, I wasn't sure if he might want to blow the sun up too. Either way, the diet coke I bought before the movie was making me uncomfortable, and I was ready for "The End."

While this movie did eventually end after almost three hours, the previews indicated there are a lot more like it in the pipeline. In the GI Joe preview, the Eiffel Tower blew up. That particular image is becoming more than a little cliche. I can think of at least two other movies that destroy the Eiffel Tower. Maybe we just resent the French, but in the preview for 2012, the White House was aircraft carrier rolled over it in a big tidal wave. Three cliches in one 5 second sequence! 2012 opens just in time for Christmas. Peace on Earth, and enjoy the apocalypse.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Leader of the Pack, or not

Bruce and I like to walk. Okay, to be truthful, Bruce and I need to walk. Either way, we get out regularly in the neighborhood, and we always take Biscuit with us. Biscuit is our 100lb+ yellow lab. She is obviously very large, even for a lab. The vet comments on her stature every time I take her for a visit.

Biscuit is quite friendly. She loves to greet the children in the neighborhood, and they love her. She especially loves to greet the other dogs in the neighborhood. She gets extremely excited when she sees another dog approaching at the end of its owner's lead. Normally, this isn't a problem. Bruce always holds the lead when we walk, and he can control Biscuit's excitement.

This week, Bruce worked late. I knew it would be dark when he got home, and I wanted to get a walk in, so I decided to go by myself. No big deal. Of course, I had to take Biscuit. It would have killed her soul to watch me leave without her. I'm not cold-hearted enough to deny her the best part of her day. Translation....I'm a sucker.

The drama started immediately, and a wise person would have taken the warning and stayed home. One does not walk a dog of Biscuit's size and enthusiasm by putting the lead on her collar. The torque on her neck would kill her. We strap a chest harness on her...yes a harness. Imagine hitching a small horse to a wagon, and you'll have the idea. The moment Biscuit sees her harness in someone's hand, she goes berserk. She leaps from side to side, coming a good two feet off the ground. We can't harness her up until she does a couple of laps of joy around the house. As a further expression of extreme happiness, she usually picks up a random shoe and tosses it under the table or china cabinet, creating havoc later when the boy who left the shoe right beside the front door can't find it.

Once again, Bruce is always the one to strap her in. If our family is Biscuit's pack, then the only alpha dog she recognizes is Bruce. Everyone else is simply her playmate. I feed her, so that gives me some sway, but not alpha status. It took a full 10 minutes for me to get her in the damn harness. I had to sit on her to hold her still and get her legs in the appropriate holes. I was sweating before I left the house.

Things improved when we finally managed to exit the house. Biscuit darted frenetically to each of her sniffing points along the way. I followed Bruce's example and kept the retractable lead short while we were in the developed portion of the neighborhood. I wasn't walking fast enough to suit her because she kept looking back at me impatiently, but all and all things were under control.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHA. That is the sound of the universe laughing at me. Almost all the control we think we possess in this world is an illusion. I've had that lesson demonstrated before, so you would think I understood it.

When Biscuit and I turned into the section of our neighborhood that is not as developed, I gave her some lead. She likes that. She can run back and forth more, making up for the fact that I can't walk as fast as she wants me to. Unfortunately, at about the same time I released the catch on the lead, Biscuit caught sight of a small shih tzu approaching from the other direction. She reared up like a stallion. I tried reeling in the lead, but her momentum was already working against me. Oh laws of motion, how I hated you in that moment. One of my science teacher friends could probably figure out the force of a 100lb+ object hurtling at the speed of joy with no slack on the line. I can only tell you it is significantly more than 100 pounds. I couldn't shorten the lead, and I couldn't let go. I could only try to keep my feet when she jerked my arm out of its socket. There was no time to consider that pain, though, because I was charging down the street at full lab speed behind her. My feet flew behind me like a cartoon character. If the distance had been even one step farther I would have face-planted on the asphalt.

My breathless screaming, "She won't hurt you!" was met with looks of sheer terror on my friends' faces...and thank god they were friends. Strangers might have run, and I don't even want to think about how that would have ended. Biscuit thinks chasing is a glorious game.

Of course Biscuit didn't hurt the dog or the people. She was simply enthusiastic about saying hello. I was the only one who got hurt. The shih tzu did immediately poop in the middle of the street, but I can't really say as I blame him. Imagine seeing an NFL linebacker barreling toward you at full speed. You might poop in the street too.

I tried to be mad at Biscuit, but her big smiling lab face is hard to stay mad at very long. Besides, she just didn't understand the problem. It's fun to see your friends, right? I won't be taking her on any more solo walks. Bruce tried to give me all kinds of helpful advice about what I should have done. Bottom line -- I'm not the alpha dog in this least not in Biscuit's eyes.

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Soundtrack of my Youth

This week saw the death of several pop culture icons. It was sad to hear of Ed McMahon and Farrah Fawcett's deaths, but those were not entirely unexpected. Ed has been old and ill for a while, and Farrah has bravely battled cancer for several years. Those losses were sad, but it was Michael Jackson's death that seemed to collectively rattle us all.

I've been thinking about why.

It's easy to say Michael's death isn't any bigger than anyone else's, and the media is fueling any angst that may exist. Maybe, but I don't think that explanation tells the whole story. Certainly the media jumped all over the story, and every channel and tv show pulled MJ clips out of their magic hats, but it was the conversation by ordinary people on the social networking sites I frequent that made me stop and think. People were stunned and almost universally sad in spite of the negative press Michael received in his later years.

All of us are personally affected by death at some point in our lives. When someone we love dies, it shakes our world to the foundations. My Mom has been gone for six years, and in many ways, I'm still trying to come to terms with it. We have to relearn how to live our daily lives when we lose someone whose life was so intertwined with our own. When an acquaintance dies, we are sad. We reach out to the family and do what we can to help them through it. Our lives are momentarily disrupted and made poorer by the loss. In both cases, we sit in the funeral home or at the grave site and think about what we've lost and our own mortality.

No one in the conversations I followed last night or earlier today knew Michael Jackson personally. He was neither a loved one nor an acquaintance. Many people spoke of actively disliking who he had become in recent years. So why was everyone talking about him?

This is my theory. I think there are certain people who are so culturally influential they become larger than life. Michael was one of those people. His music transcended race, genre, and nationality. He was a global icon. He put the music video and MTV on the map. I remember being in high school and hearing my friends talking about the Billie Jean video. I was wildly jealous because we lived in the boonies and didn't get cable. I heard a commentator say she could mark time in her life by Michael's songs, and I agree. Maybe you have to be part of a certain generation, but I can hear a MJ song and tell you what was happening in my life when it first hit the airwaves. He was that pervasive. Even Michael's problems were epic. His self-image problems and lack of a childhood played out tragically for the whole world to see so that he finally became a caricature of himself.

When someone is larger than life in our imaginations, I think we are surprised to discover they are not larger than life in reality. Michael was human. He was indicative of the best human characteristics and the worst. And like all humans, he was mortal. And there's the rub...if a pop culture icon can suddenly drop dead of a heart attack, then so can we.

The media coverage has been somewhat respectful so far, but as time passes and they have more time to fill, and people speculate as to why he really did drop dead of a heart attack, it will get ugly. I don't care about all of that. I'm mourning that wildly creative young man who provided the soundtrack for my youth. That young man has been gone a while I guess, but now the hope of his return is gone forever.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Waiting is the Hardest Part

I'm hearing Tom Petty's voice in my head.

I've never been patient. I know it's a virtue, but it's one I've always lacked. I think it's part of my control freak nature. I hate sitting when I could be least when it comes to things that are important to me. I have no problem sitting when it's a distasteful chore that needs doing. Right now though, I'm waiting.

I'm waiting for Tom Petty's song to download on my iPhone. Yes, it was in my head and I needed to do something, so I bought it. Ironically now, I'm waiting. At least with a download, you can follow the progress on the blue line, although it's kind of like that proverbial watched pot.

I'm waiting for the weekend. Pam, my bff serving in Iraq, will be home for two weeks starting this weekend. I've been waiting to see her for seven months. We're backlogged on long conversations. I did a blog a while back on how rare it is to have someone you trust enough to give them a piece of your inner self. Pam is one of those rare and wonderful people I trust implicitly. She's going to be pulled in a hundred directions, but I'm looking forward to at least one night on her deck or mine in which we talk until dawn. She's been in a dry country for seven months, so it should be entertaining. Just writing about it makes me crazy with impatience.

(Still waiting on the download. I have really poor signal strength in my writing corner.)

I'm waiting for feedback from several critical readers on my manuscript. I rewrote the first three chapters. I have two new readers looking at the entire book and one who is just looking at the rewrite. I just handed them over in the last day, and they are wonderful and will be timely, but me and waiting... I'm not querying again until I get feedback on the rewrite. Those first ten pages have to pop. I've discovered there is an inordinate amount of waiting in the publishing game.

(6.4 of 7.7MB downloaded...urgh!)

I'm waiting on someone to tell me what they want for dinner. I don't mind cooking, but I hate deciding what to make. Invariably, someone (read teenaged boy) looks at my choice and says, "I don't feel like _______ (fill in the blank)." I think they're getting spaghetti tonight whether they want it or not.

iTunes asked me for my password's taking that long. Oh wait....we have ignition!

Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah
The waiting is the hardest part
Every day you get one more yard.
You take it on faith. You take it to the heart.
The waiting is the hardest part

Monday, June 22, 2009

Fun Links

Thanks to Liana Brooks for finding this. Imagine what would happen if Buffy met Edward Cullen of Twilight. LOL

(Thanks to Liana for helping me with my technical difficulties!)

On Lynn Viehl's blog, I found the verse search engine. You can type in keywords, and the search engine finds a poem on the subject. How cool is that?? I'm also borrowing her link to where you can find a quotation on almost any subject. I can envision using these tools in both my writing and my teaching.

Twitter is a great place for finding interesting people and interesting blogs. I came across this blog on the value of a classical education via a Twitter friend. I read Plato and Aristotle with my Pre-AP class, and this article reinforces the value of tackling that difficult material.

So, a little humor and a little food for the intellect on a muggy Monday. Enjoy.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Cultural Decay or Same Song, Different Verse?

A week or so ago, I posted an entry entitled "Shake it Like a Salt Shaker." My amused response to the song offended at least one reader and possibly others. I started to respond in the comments section of the original post, but I soon realized this topic deserved its own entry.

Here is the reader comment:

Uh...look up the misogynist lyrics and you won't be "LOL" or wondering about the antecedent to the rather vaugue pronoun. I'm hoping desperately that you are trying to be ironic here. If so, your blog is a work of genius.

And yes, it's a great song. And yes, this is exactly what's wrong with our culture. And yes, I know that you can't start a sentence with "And". But I did, and apparently it's also OK to say disturbing things if the beat is good.

I could point to "your blog is a work of genius," say, "why thank you," and move on, but that response minimizes the reader's concern. Honestly, it minimizes my reaction to the comment.

My intent in the post was to mock the poor use of figurative language in the song. I think the song's writing is silly, vapid, and uninspiring. I was going for laughs. If my tone in the first paragraph of the original post doesn't come across as mocking, then I have failed as a writer, and I take responsibility for that. However, I suspect it was the rest of the post that offended the reader.

Beyond the poor writing, I just can't get too worked up about the lyrics. Are they misogynistic? I didn't look up the complete lyrics because I just don't care that much, but absolutely. What I did catch was misogynistic. No question about it. The man in the song clearly doesn't see the dancer as anything but a sexual object over which to leer. Do I think this is a good attitude to possess? Nope. I am a woman who values her personhood. I know that I am intelligent and strong and have value far beyond my sexuality.

So why am I not fearful for the culture at large? In his/her second comment (not copied), Anonymous implies that I just don't get it. Nothing could be further from the truth. I get it just fine. There are men out there who only see women as sex objects or who see women as inherently weak or who see women as inherently evil. There are men who don't believe women have the right or the capability to take on leadership roles in their churches, schools, businesses, or even in the military. I get that.

But guess what? This isn't a new attitude among some men. And please note, I say some men. The men in my world, the ones I choose to make part of my life, do not have these attitudes. (What's really frightening is that some women have these same attitudes.) Look at history, religion, and literature going back as far as people have had the written word. Misogynist men have always been around. Works of literature...even the great ones...are filled with misogynist references. Shakespeare himself said "Frailty, thy name is woman."

Weak men will always be threatened by strong women. Always. These men will always look for ways to devalue women. "Shake it Like a Salt Shaker" and other songs like it are simply the modern incarnation of that attitude. They are not signs of the apocalypse. At least that's how I see it. You are welcome to see it differently and tell me so. I'll listen respectfully.

The beauty of a free society is that we each have the right to express our opinions, even the misogynist rapper with poor writing skills, but with each right comes a responsibility. We each have the responsibility to be critical consumers of media. I teach that skill to my students and my own children. To illustrate my point, I didn't delete Anonymous' YouTube link. Anything that smells of censorship is offensive to me. By the same token, I didn't click on it. If it truly is that disgusting, why would I want to see it?

I also don't believe every song about sex is misogynistic, but this post is already long, and that's a topic for another day.

I welcome your comments.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Skin Trade

Laurell K. Hamilton was my gateway author into what has become an Urban Fantasy addiction. When I discovered her Anita Blake series, I barreled through the first ten book in three weeks. I love Anita. She is a total badass...a little neurotic...but a kick-the-door-in-and-shoot-you-dead badass. She raises the dead in her day job (technically her night job, but anyway) to help settle estate issues and whatnot. Pretty cool as day jobs go, but it's her second job that makes her a badass. Anita is the Executioner. When a vampire goes rogue, she hunts and kills the offender. She slays the bad vampires and wraps the good ones around her finger. All the were-animals want her because she's the ultimate alpha female.

I sound like a fangirl because I am. I read Laurell's blog religiously. I love the posts about her writing process. She inspires me. I discovered Charlaine Harris and Kim Harrison in the H section on the Fantasy shelves when I was looking for new Laurell books. Every summer when her new Anita book comes out, I'm right there on release day waiting. The latest in the series, SKIN TRADE, came out two weeks ago. Which brings me to my review...

Sigh. I hate to even say it.

I didn't love it. I actually put it down three chapters in and didn't pick it up again for over a week. Any other author and I would've moved on to something else. If I'm not digging a book 50 or 100 pages in, I usually stop, but this was Laurell. This was Anita. I felt like I owed them more than 100 pages. I finished the book, and I'm glad I did, but I didn't love it.

The plot of SKIN TRADE is pretty straightforward. Anita faces down a vampire serial killer in Vegas and navigates more were-animal politics, tigers in this case. I liked the premise of the story. My major problem with the book was the exposition...the pages and pages of interminable exposition. I'm not kidding; I was 200 pages in before anything interesting happened. This is a trend I've noticed in the last several Anita books. She won't let me infer anything. She has to spell everything out in endless, unnecessary explanations. I know Anita. I've come along for the ride for 17 books. Assume I've been paying attention. I can work a lot of it out myself, and if I can't, show me the issue in the action. Don't talk it to death.

A lot of the exposition was about male and female stereotypes and how Anita tends to be "the guy" all the time. Oh sweet irony. I don't know ANY guy who wants to spell out their feelings in the kind of detail we get from Anita, or who wants to endlessly dissect their relationships. Pages were spent on Anita proving she was man enough to hang with the boys of the Vegas PD. Screw the boys of the Vegas PD. Seriously, why does the Executioner have to prove herself to anyone? (Side note -- I lost track of all the new police officers introduced and described in intricate detail. Why Laurell? In the end, I didn't really care about them anyway. Most of them I actively disliked because of their sexist attitudes.)

The absence of my favorite characters was another problem. Sending Anita to Vegas without Jean-Claude sucked some of the fun out of the story for me. I wonder if Laurell has written her way into a corner with Anita's romantic entanglements. If so, her solution was to avoid them and create new ones. This is the second straight book without Jean-Claude. Anita doesn't seem to need him anymore, and that makes me sad. I could live with all the other men as long as Jean-Claude was still at the center.

Anita is older and more mature in this book. She's overwhelmed by her life. With two jobs and seven or eight boyfriends, who wouldn't be? Character growth is good, but I wonder if Anita is growing so far away from her early incarnation, that she's losing her audience. I hope not. Laurell wrote in her blog about how difficult writing this book was for her. Even so, I wished she had made a harder choice close to the end. It would have given the book more emotional weight. I will say this. After all the exposition, Anita is still a nerves-of-steel badass in the end.

I let this blog entry sit for over 24 hours after my initial draft. Posting an unfavorable review of one of my favorite authors is no fun. I almost didn't do it. I imagined myself meeting Laurell at a book signing or conference someday and introducing myself as the bitch who wrote the negative review of SKIN TRADE. Then I realized I probably had an overinflated view of what my opinion means in the great scheme of things. To my loyal friends and readers out there, I owed you an honest review, so there it is.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Don't Be a Mush Mouth

I recently sat in on some interviews. It's a tough market out there, so I thought some helpful tips were in order.

1. If I offer you my hand when I introduce myself, please don't put a dead fish in it. I'm polite, but I'll have to work at not grimacing, wiping my hand on my pants, and saying, "ewww."

2. Mush mouths do not command an audience. "Classroom management mumble, mumble. Kids learn mumble expectations mumble proactive discipline mumble........" I'll just feel sorry for you. High school kids will chew you up and spit you out.

3. Know when to shut up. Don't talk a question to death to hide your lack of a good answer. My BS radar is a fine-tuned machine. If you don't understand a question, clarify. If you don't know the answer, say so and then tell me how you would find the answer.

4. Leave the droning to bees and political pundits. I'll smile encouragingly while I mentally run through my grocery list.

5. Stop fiddling! Put the pen, your glasses, and that strand of hair away!

6. Be awesome. Show me you have your act together, that you have the requisite knowledge, that you're confident and capable.

7. Take care of number 6 and 1-5 won't matter.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Shake it Like a Salt Shaker

I heard the title line of this blog on the radio today. Totally cracked me up. Shake it like a salt shaker. I assume the antecedent to the rather vague pronoun "it" is your body...your booty...your head. The singer was never really clear on that. Whatever "it" is, take your pick, imagine shaking it like a salt shaker. No really...picture yourself salting your french fries, your mashed potatoes, whatever it is you the mental image in your head? Now select an "it" and picture yourself shaking it like that salt shaker. LOL. That comparison just doesn't work for me, but that's okay. The singer of the song LOVED it. He must have. He repeated it over and over and over.

Writing tip of the day: When using figurative language, make sure your similes and metaphors are painting the image you want your readers to see.

The salt shaker simile did have me listening to the rest of the lyrics. Turns out the song is a list of instructions from the patron of a strip club to the employees. Maybe those gals can shake "it" like a salt shaker. I was mildly scandalized by the graphic nature of the song, but it didn't last long. A lot of song lyrics are pretty scandalous these days, and the mom in me sometimes cringes when I hear what's on my boys' ipods. The writer in me is often amused, and occasionally inspired. The lyrics of a rap song inspired the opening scene of my WIP.

I've listened to some of my friends bemoan the state of modern music, and I guess that's a bellwether gripe separating generations. Sitting with Bruce and one of our friends, we were able to come up with a whole list of songs from the 80's with questionable lyrics. "Pour some Sugar on Me," "My Angel is a Centerfold," "Stroke Me," anything by Ted Nugent, "She's My Cherry Pie," "Pearl Necklace." I could go on and on.

Kids (and adults) will always listen to songs about sex, so singers and songwriters will keep cranking them out. I write romance novels, so I'm certainly not throwing stones. I'm listening and laughing...and double-checking my similes.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Endings and Beginnings

Another school year is over, and I'm grateful.

I read what I've just written, and I know how it comes across. Another teacher who only works 10 months out of 12 is grumbling about her job and gloating that she has two months off.

Nope...not by a long shot.

One of the things I love about my job is its cyclical nature. The year starts with hope and promise. You get a brand new batch of students, all shiny in their new school clothes, scrubbed and pressed, and as eager as they'll be all year. I teach 9th grade, so my students all have that deer-in-the-headlights look. High school is a new experience. Every year without fail, at least one student starts the first day in tears, but most kids are cautiously optimistic.

As the year progresses, the newness wears off. The honeymoon phase ends, and high school isn't intimidating anymore. Some kids hit their stride and cruise along with ease. Others struggle academically or socially or both. Through the fall and into the winter, I approach these students with energy and a can-do spirit. Somewhere in mid-winter though, when the sky is dreary and the air is cold, my spirit begins to sag. The same thing happens to the kids. I think it probably happens to everyone (unless you're a ski instructor maybe). When my energy is the lowest, I have to push the hardest, and that's often when the kids are most likely to push back.

Winter always seems interminable, but spring finally returns. Scheduling for the next school year is a wake-up call for both the cruisers and the strugglers. Students see the finish line ahead, and my strugglers realize they have to kick it in gear if they want to pass for the year. My cruisers are worried about GPA's and admission to advanced or specialized classes. State testing also brings a burst of energy for everyone. After testing, the race to the finish line is on, and the last couple of weeks are more like cat-herding than educating.

The last grades have now been entered into the computer. The faculty and departments have met. Pacing documents and common assessments for the upcoming year have been written. My classroom has been cleaned and closed. I'm done in every sense of the word. Burnout among teachers is high, and 1 out of every 3 new teachers leaves the profession in their first 5 years. I'm not gloating about my two months off. I'm closing my eyes in quiet gratitude. I'm taking a deep, unencumbered breath.

I'm going to write again. Writing a book is a bit like the school year. You start strong, the characters are all shiny and new, as eager as I am to explore their world. There is a mid-winter to every novel as well, and I've been there for the last couple of months in the sagging middle. I'm finally excited about tackling it again because I know I have whole days stretching out in front of me to push through it.

I'm also rewriting the first three chapters of Sapphire Sins. I hit my stride later in that book, and having some distance from my last revision, I realize I did too much telling and not enough showing in the beginning. I've got a new reader all lined up to test it on.

I'm having one of those wildly happy early June moments. Close your eyes and imagine Elton John belting out The Circle of Life. Every ending is a new beginning. I love that about both my vocations.

Thursday, June 4, 2009


No, this isn't a blog about Hitchcock movies or a fear of heights (although I am a fan of Hitchcock and I have an intense phobia of open heights). I've heard it said that you learn the most about yourself in your worst moments, and I agree. So this blog is about my recent bout with Vertigo and what I learned from it.

Until last Tuesday, Vertigo as an illness was something I'd heard about only in passing. I thought it was one of those "old-people diseases." I'm certainly not OLD, so it had to be something else. Actually, when I initially started feeling bad on Sunday afternoon, I thought I'd been food-poisoned by the fried catfish at Cracker Barrel. My deepest apologies to Cracker Barrel for any disparagement I might have done before I realized that wasn't it. I dragged my woozy, nauseous butt to school on Monday because final exams started on Tuesday, and I couldn't leave my kids hanging without that last bit of review. It was a long, miserable day, but I got through it.

Then Tuesday morning arrived. Holy cow. Imagine the absolute worst case of motion sickness you've ever had then multiply it times ten. The room was spinning when my alarm went off. I couldn't focus on the numbers on the clock. I knew I was going to throw up, but I literally couldn't walk to the bathroom. I half stumbled, half crawled to the porcelain throne and proceeded to hurl...the first of several such trips. At one point I simply lay on the bathroom floor because it was too hard to crawl back to bed. I explained my final exam procedures to my sub from my bathroom floor. Bruce took me to the doctor later that morning, and it was torture. Getting dressed made me sick. The car ride there made me sick. The car ride home made me sick. You get the idea.

After determining I hadn't had a stroke (always good news), the doctor told me about vertigo. Apparently anyone can get it. It often follows a bad cold or a bout with allergies. Your inner ear gets all jacked up which in turn jacks up your balance and coordination. Your eyesight is affected. Nausea follows which messes with the digestive system. When balance, coordination, eyesight, and the entire digestive system are wrong, nothing is right. Mental function deteriorates quickly.

I'm not one to wallow in my misery. I hate being sick, and I was happy to go back to work this afternoon -- even for those dreaded end-of-the-year meetings.

So why write about it?

Two important truths were revealed to me during this experience. I suppose I was intellectually aware of both of them before my illness, but they became real in a more visceral way.

First, true romance isn't hearts and flowers. True love is taking care of someone even when it's unpleasant. Bruce took care of me. He stood by with a cool rag when I was throwing up. He led me like a drunk old woman from the car to the doctor's office and back. He woke up in the middle of the night to make sure I took the meds on time. He got the kids up and out the door, fed them, and got our younger one shuttled to his activities. He made sure I stayed hydrated, and after the meds calmed my stomach, he made sure I ate. We spent our 20th wedding anniversary last night sitting at the bar in the kitchen eating the food he cooked for me. It was better than a candlelight dinner at a fancy restaurant. In an often difficult and uncertain world, the knowledge that you have someone you can absolutely count on is the best gift you can get.

The other lesson I learned was one of perspective. No matter how much lip service we might give it, we never really understand what it's like to walk in another person's shoes. I'm guilty of becoming impatient with older folks sometimes when they can't move or process fast enough to suit me. I'm never rude, but on the inside I'm thinking, "Let's go, get a move on." I got a big, fat dose of helplessness and confusion this week. I couldn't walk without help. I sure as heck couldn't drive. I couldn't even mentally process things without an effort on Tuesday because I was so discombobulated. Being helpless sucks in the worst possible way, and knowing you are helpless is humbling.

I watched my dad take care of my mom as she withered away from breast cancer. I watched her accept help with quiet dignity and grace. I was moved by both of them, but I was on the outside looking in. My illness only took me out of commission for a couple of days, and mentioning it in the same breath as hers is lame, but it did give me a brief glimpse of the power of "in sickness and in health" -- both sides of it.

Although I'm still walking with a bit of a list, I can focus on the words on my computer screen. I can think clearly enough to compose them. Those are not small things, and I'm grateful for them.