Friday, December 31, 2010

So long 2010! I won't miss ya!

The end of the year creates an opportunity to look back and see what you've accomplished. I would rather look ahead than behind, but sometimes you need the behind to move ahead. So with only a few short hours left in 2010, I guess it’s time to take stock of the year.

I outlined this post before I started writing it, and I could see on paper what I already knew. Fall and winter are the hardest seasons for me. Some very practical concerns might explain this. Football season requires an enormous amount of energy, and my biggest work responsibilities fall during this time frame. However, I know a more fundamental, metaphysical reason exists. The cold gloomy weather of late fall and winter bring me down. Always have. The evidence would suggest I need to move to South Florida or a Caribbean Island.

While I’m waiting for the money fairy and the moving truck, I’ll keep on Jazzercising. I went to my first Jazzercise class January 25. Today’s class will be number 233 for the year. Jazzercise has been life-changing for me. The physical benefits are wonderful. My pants are a size smaller than they were 11 months ago. I don’t find myself breathing hard and sweating doing stupid things like carrying in groceries or climbing up and down the stairs. The real life changer, though, was in my mental and emotional health.

I weathered a particularly difficult personal storm last winter, and every time I thought I would fall into despair, I would go to Jazzercise and find the strength to get through another day. I had always heard about the endorphin high that comes with regular exercise, but I hated exercise so much, I’d never experienced it. I promise you, that high is real. I know because I’m addicted to it. I can actually identify the moment the extra oxygen hits my brain and those endorphins are released. And the benefits snowball. I can do actual push-ups now and hold a full plank. Feeling strong makes me feel confident which in turn makes me feel happy.

Beyond that, it’s just fun. I get to dance every day. This is how I feel when I dance.

Last winter was as cold and gloomy as winters get in Kentucky.

This pic was taken from my deck in January or February. I don’t remember exactly when, but there was a three-week stretch in which we only went to school for three days. Subsequently, we were in school until June 9th. You can read my philosophy on snow days here. Suffice it to say, I don’t love them.

The only positive thing about snow days is that I have more time to write. Last winter I finished my second novel, Crimson Crimes, during that long icy run with no school. It took me longer to write the second book than it did the first. I had cohesion problems with the second that have made me take a hard look at the way I approach plot. Sapphire Sins, my first, played out in my head like film rolling across a movie projector. The film broke midway through the sequel, and when I spliced it together, you could see the gap. The whole process was part of the learning experience. You have problems. You work through them. Your writing improves.

Of course, writing a sequel when you haven’t sold the first book is a mistake so common, it's a cliche. I know why writers do it…at least I know why I did it. It’s easier to keep writing characters you know than to invent new ones. I suppose if I was hell bent on making lots of writing mistakes, at least, they were all wrapped up in a book I feel quite confident will never sell. Only my beta reader has seen Crimson Crimes, and she was honest with me, thank goodness.

“It didn’t suck, but it didn’t keep me turning the pages like the first one did.”

Yeah, I know. That one will probably go in a box under the bed, never to see the light of day again. Unless…I sell Sapphire Sins, and then maybe I’ll rework the whole thing and who knows?

Spring brought exciting news on that front. I acquired a literary agent in March. Anyone who has queried knows it’s hard as hell to get an agent to even ask for pages, let alone offer representation. After 18 months of querying Sapphire Sins, I finally had both in one fell swoop. The day he called and offered was a glorious day. I was validated. I really could write. A professional in the shrinking publishing industry believed in my work.

I signed a contract. I made a few minor edits on his recommendation. I rewrote my synopsis, as well as a two paragraph back-cover blurb, and then he began submitting. Almost immediately, an editor at HarperCollins wanted to see it. That email ushered in another string of glorious days. I could already see the cover art in my head. I mentally ran my fingers across the raised letters of my name. I imagined the trip to Italy I would take with my fat advance. I dropped the new project I was working on and began tinkering with the broken sequel, thinking a two-book deal would really launch my career.

And then…the editor passed. The writing was good, but they were looking for the next big thing in paranormal romance. Vampires had seen their day and were on the way out. Honestly, this had been my problem in getting an agent. I was on the wrong side of the vampire curve. Timing is everything. We got several more bites, but traditional publishers didn’t want any more vampires, and the book is too long for most e-publishers. So it languished.

Then, in late October, my agent informed me he was getting out of the agenting business. Too hard to make money in a shrinking industry. Tomorrow, on January 1, all the rights to Sapphire Sins revert back to me. I’ve been thinking hard about what to do next, but I’m going to save those musings for another blog post.

Spring brought other happy occasions. I love spring. As the weather warms, I feel lighter. Even the end-of-the-school-year deadlines don’t stress me too much. Light and warmth and lots of natural vitamin D make all the difference in the world.

My brother married his soul mate on May Day in Nashville. If you live in Nashville, I’m certain you remember that weekend. It started raining in the wee hours of the morning Saturday and didn’t stop until the city was underwater. But many waters cannot quench love. It was a great day for my family in spite of the natural disaster.

Another glorious spring day brought my son’s high school graduation.

He’s handsome isn’t he? He’s starting college this January. He worked through the fall at UPS and realized maybe he could stand to go back to school. I have faith that he’ll find his way, but I’ll worry constantly until he does.

Summer brought my bff, Pam, home from Iraq. Oh Happy Day! Life is so much more fun with her around. If there is a party, she will find it. If there’s not, she’ll create it. The girls’ weekend I blogged about recently? Totally her brainchild. And if you need someone to have your back, no one will have it better than Pam. I’m putting the U.S. Army on notice. I know she’s a damn good soldier, but you may not deploy her overseas again. I forbid it.

Yeah, I’m sure that will work. Speaking of patriotism, I felt it over the July 4th weekend in Ocean City. You can read about that here.

July was memorable in all sorts of ways, not the least of which was my first national writing convention. I attended RWA in Orlando. It was supposed to be in Nashville, but the Opryland Hotel had water halfway up the second floor on May Day weekend, so we went to Disney World instead. The experience was awesome, and you can read about each day's adventure here, here, here, and here. My after-the-conference post is here. As I reread my post conference goals, I realize I haven't done everything I said I would. I've got six months to do better. The 2011 convention in New York is one of my most anticipated plans for the coming year.

August brought a new school year. I love being a teacher. It is my second career, and I’ve never once regretted leaving the business world for the classroom. Teaching is a calling for me. Every school year has its ups and downs, and standing at the halfway point of this year, I’ve experienced both. I have some of the brightest kids I’ve ever taught this year, and they never fail to make me feel optimistic about the future. I also have some challenging students. That’s part and parcel of the job. I hope when the school year is over, I can say I reached these kids and enriched their lives.

Somewhere in the middle of football season, fall happens. It’s summer, and I’m carting my youngest to camps and practices, saying hello and goodbye to Bruce like ships passing in the night, and suddenly I realize the leaves have turned and it’s not hot anymore. Football season rules our world in the fall. Bruce’s team plays on Saturday (this year on Thursday night several times…what’s up with that?), and my youngest plays on Friday night. Being a sophomore, he also played JV on Monday nights. I logged a lot of hours on metal bleachers this year.

I’m not complaining (at least most of the time). A long season means you’re winning, and having been married to a football coach for 21 years, I can say with authority that winning is better than losing. My son’s team went all the way to the final four in the state tournament this year, and Bruce’s team made the playoffs again after a four year dry spell. Nope…not complaining about that at all.

I guess if I had a complaint about the fall, it would be that my writing stalled. I should qualify…my blogging and novel writing stalled. I’ve written several short stories. One, I posted on the blog and you can read it here. Others were more personal and therapeutic and not for public consumption. If you’re a writer, you know what I mean.

Winter has rolled around again, and I’m focused on not letting it get me down. The weather has already been crappy, and it’s only December. I’m hoping that means the worst is out of the way, and it’s smooth sailing from here on out. (Yeah, I’m delusional sometimes, but it gets me through.) If not, my stepmom. Patricia, bought me a happy light for my desk at work. I’ll let you know if it works.

I know Jazzercise works, and I know spending time with my friends and family works. I know that putting my butt in the chair and my fingers on the keyboard works. So I plan on doing all three as frequently as possible in 2011. I’m a no resolutions person. Don’t resolve to do something. Just freakin’ do it.

So long 2010. I won’t miss ya.

Bring it on 2011! I’m ready.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

In the eye of the beholder

My eldest son is an artist. The stack of sketchbooks on his desk show the progression of his art from imitation to innovation.

Some of his sketchbooks are thematic. One of my favorites is centered around William Ernst Henley's "Invictus." The images are surreal and grotesque and perfectly capture the juxtaposition of persecution and defiance in the poem. He's not ready to publicly share those images because they are intensely personal. I get that. I've written stories I'll probably never share because they are too personal.

Lately, my son has been playing with sound and images. Inspired by Dubstep (Go look it up. I couldn't begin to describe what it is.), he used a simple video editing program to combine still images and short sound clips to create what I like to think of as abstract video art.

The viewer brings their own experience to any work of art and uses that experience to create meaning, but abstract art allows even more room for interpretation than other forms. Impose whatever meaning you like on this, or none at all, but I thought it was cool.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Boys and Girls

Yesterday, I wrote about my girls' outing to The Connection. It was a night of many firsts, not the least of which was my introduction to the unisex bathroom. Sometimes, the smallest moments are the most memorable, so I thought I'd share.

My friends and I arrived at the club an hour and a half before the show started, so we chilled in the upstairs bar until it was time to go into the theater. For a while, we were the only people upstairs. This turned out to be a good thing for a couple of reasons. First, we had a great time with Justin, the bartender, who was bored by the lack of customers and hung out at our table with us. Good bartenders are also good conversationalists, and Justin was no exception. And second, we were introduced to the unisex bathrooms before we actually had to share them with members of the opposite sex.

Never have I been more grateful for the female mentality of going to the bathroom in packs. Three of us went in search of the bathroom. I was glad I had company. I might not have gone in by myself.

When we found it, I said, "Is it the men's or the women's?"

It had not previously occurred to me that a club hosting one of the premier drag shows in the country would not want to make gender distinctions. Amanda was more on the ball.

"It says boys and girls. I guess it's both."

"Huh? Really?"

We walked in wide-eyed, or at least I did. Amanda and Tammy perused the place like they were looking at exhibits in a museum. I ducked into the nearest stall, hoping to get in and out before a boy came in. I don't know why it freaked me out at first. I live in a house with three men, but I guess my conservative upbringing rears its head in unfamiliar situations.

When I went to sit down...or rather hover over...I was momentarily blinded. The stall contained a spotlight embedded in the floor right in front of the toilet.

"Oh my god! I'm blind!"

I could hear Amanda laughing. "I can see your silhouette on the wall."

This is where I have to pause and ask WHY?? I get the unisex bathrooms. Really, I do. But why do you need your giant urinating shadow splayed across the wall for everyone in the bathroom to see? If the locked door isn't enough of a clue that the stall is occupied, then install one of those latches that says "occupied." Don't display my hunkered down, slightly panicked crouch to the general public.

I peed as fast as humanly possible and got the hell out of the stall. Amanda was standing in front of the wall between the two stalls. It was tiled with a trench at the bottom.

"Do you think it's a urinal or just decorative?"

At this point, the ridiculousness of the whole thing hit me, and I doubled over. I laughed so hard I thought I was going to have to make another trip into the light fantastic to pee again.

We resolved to go to the bathroom in pairs and to wait until both parties were finished to leave. We borrowed a page from Pam's army book. Don't leave a man...or woman...behind. The rule was adhered to for a while, but after the show started, the bathrooms became crowded and the wait was longer. Going in pairs became inconvenient. Besides, the only lighting was in the floor in the stalls, so it was pretty dark. Half the time, I couldn't tell if the person in line beside me was a boy or a girl, and it just quit mattering very much anyway.

Pam talked to some boys in line for the stalls who told her they didn't like the urinal wall. It looked chic and trendy, but in reality was exactly like peeing on a wall, and they didn't like it. I don't want to stereotype, but I wonder if this is a gay thing. The straight men I live with have peed on a wall when necessity dictated and didn't seem particularly bothered by it. Maybe I just live with gross straight men. Cleaning up after my teenagers would suggest this is the case.

I'd like to say I'm all sophisticated and cosmopolitan now, that the next time I encounter a unisex bathroom, I'll be completely nonchalant. But in truth, a conservative upbringing is a hard thing to overcome. Unless the lighting is low and the gender lines blurred, I'll probably duck into the stall like I've committed a crime and hope my shadow doesn't give me away.

Monday, December 13, 2010

What Have You Done Today to Make You Feel Proud?

I posted this as my status Saturday night on Facebook, and several of my friends responded, telling me about the random acts of kindness they had performed that day. The things they had done ranged from humorous to sweet, and I was reminded again why social networking is fun.

I had to chuckle, though, because when I posted it, I was watching the finale of my very first drag show. The evening had been a revelation, an adventure, inspirational even, and without a doubt the most fun I've had in a very long time.

Four of my good friends, all teachers, and I decided about a month ago that it had been a long stressful semester, and that we needed a girls' weekend to blow off steam. So we planned a shopping excursion to a large outlet mall in southern Indiana. Then Pam, who seems to have a nose for sniffing out a good time, suggested we hit a drag show in Louisville. None of us had ever been to one before, but The Connection's show came highly recommended by several of Pam's Louisville-based friends.

The five of us are all open-minded, but as soon as we told folks our plans, our motives came under fire. Were we going to laugh at the drag queens? To mock them?

When I told one friend that paying my money to see the show was actually a form of support, he said, "Kathy, you are not going to a drag show to make the world a better place."

I responded, "I'm on the front lines of making the world a better place EVERY DAY!"

Regardless of the questions, our motives were pure. We were admittedly curious, but we were going to be entertained, to have a good time. And oh holy cow! We were, and we did!

We shopped for seven hours, so when we arrived at our hotel in Louisville, we were already on a post-shopping high. We were actually giddy, like twelve year old girls having a slumber party. We had momentarily escaped the pressures and stress of our daily lives. Nothing seemed over the top, not even being carded at the front door. (A couple of us have kids old enough to get into the place.)

I'm not gonna lie, though. In spite of our spirit of adventure, my jaw dropped several times during the show. Then, since my mouth was already open, I screamed my approval. Seriously, is there anything more fun than the outrageous? My friends were right there with me. We might have been the loudest group at the show.

At one point, Hurricane Summers, the hostess of the show, invited all the birthdays and brides to the front. She interviewed one young bride-to-be who said she was in school, studying to be a teacher. Almost as if choreographed in advance, my friends and I yelled, "NOOOOOOO!" (I wasn't joking about the stressful Hurricane turned her attention our way and asked if we were all teachers. "Yes! High school teachers!"

Once we outed ourselves as educators, we had a steady stream of people stop by to talk to us, shake our hands, or hug us.

"Thank you so much for coming!"

"We really appreciate your support."

"High school sucked for me. I wish I had teachers like you guys who would've had my back."

Wow. Just wow. I hope I deserve that. I don't tolerate bullying of any kind in my classroom, but I hope I deserve that. When the gals did a rendition of Heather Small's "Proud," I felt compelled to post the lyrics.

We made a lot of new friends, danced our butts off, and laughed so hard I felt like I had done sit-ups the next day. I could write a whole blog post on the unisex bathrooms. The first time I used them, I was wide-eyed and a little uncomfortable. By the end of the night, I was standing in line chatting casually with both boys and girls.

Sunday morning, the five of us curled up in our pj's and shared pictures and stories...and laughed some more. Pam has photographic evidence that I literally danced all front of the stage, in my chair, with the waiter...and I apparently can't dance unless my arms are in the air. Linda was horrified to remember that she ate a whole Jimmie John's sub at 3:30 in the morning. Tammy was pleased that the boots she bought at the outlet mall received high praise in the unisex bathroom.

When the snow melts and we get back to school, I will be reinvigorated...ready to face the last crazy days until the winter break. Nothing like a girls' weekend to recharge the batteries. We're already planning the next one. I'm leaving you with Heather Small's song. Imagine a tall, leggy blonde pointing into the crowd and asking, "What have you done today to make you feel proud?"

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Fun with words...or another awesome Internet distraction

Do you need another awesome Internet distraction? Yeah, me neither, but this is waaay cool.

Tagxedo! (Thanks Criss for the link!)

Tagxedo is Wordle on steroids. I've played with Wordle and used it in my classroom. Last year, I had kids create a whole wall of Wordles out of their controversial issues papers. It stopped traffic in the hall for several days.

Oh, the possibilities I see with Tagxedo...

The following two clouds are made up of words from the first chapter of Sapphire Sins.

These were both created using Tagxedo's pre-loaded shapes, but you can upload any image and use it to create a word cloud. I've played with my face, my friends' faces, and my dog, and that was just messing around. Can you imagine what my students will create out of their papers on animal testing, gun control, smoking bans, urban sprawl, gay marriage, cloning, school uniforms, and drivers' licensing laws? I can't wait to find out, and I hope one or two of them will give me permission to share.

As a writer, the shaped word clouds made me stop and think about my first chapter in a different way. I haven't re-visited that manuscript in a while, and as I looked at the word cloud in a heart shape, I thought, "Wow, she really can't decide how to feel about the predicament in which she's found herself." The frequency and placement of the words highlighted my heroine's confusion.

I think I'm going to play with an abandoned manuscript. I stopped because I never could "hear" the characters in my head the way I did with Diana and Raphael. Maybe the word clouds will help me find them. If not, it'll still be a fun distraction on this snowy Sunday afternoon.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Black Friday Fun

Overheard at Target circa 11:30 am on Black Friday...

"Wo-man, I'm like to sit down righ-chere in the middle of this aisle and go to sleep. You've had me up since two am."

"Oh suck it up you big wuss. I've sat up in a tree with you for eighteen hours straight. I don't wanna hear it."

That's why I go out on Black Friday.

It's all about the entertainment for me. Sure, I buy a few things. Some deals are just too good to pass up (like a copy of The Princess Bride for $2), but the real fun is meandering through the store and alternately watching a sleep-deprived shopper pulling the last portable DVD player off the shelf and my shopping partner, Patricia, happy-dancing over a Pink Floyd t-shirt in the right size.

I only see Patricia three or four times a year, and somehow, we always end up shopping. Well, she shops, and I mostly travel behind in her wake, awed at her ability to find a deal. We have a good time, though. Her enthusiasm is infectious, and neither of us take ourselves too seriously (as evidenced by the modeling we did in the dressing room of a department store).

We ninja'd through traffic, spent an inordinate amount of time in the bookstore, undressed a mannequin, tried unsuccessfully to tip the guy at Steak-n-Shake's drive thru, bought matching leopard-print sleep pants, and laughed uproariously...a lot. As entertainment goes, it was a lot of bang for my buck.

It beats the hell out of staring at football all day in a tryptophan coma...or sitting up in a tree for eighteen hours straight.

I hope your Thanksgiving was happy and your Black Friday shopping productive. :)

Thursday, November 25, 2010


I recently asked my Facebook friends to suggest possible blog topics. The last month or so has been particularly stressful, leaving me creatively dry. A few of my friends openly commented, but more messaged or texted me with their ideas. One of the first suggestions I received was to write about the stress that was bogging me down. I liked the idea, but I'm not willing to publicly share all of my life, and I didn't want to write a whiny "poor me" post.

I sometimes start a writing session by playing word association. I'll type a word, usually the topic I'm considering, and then I'll type whatever word jumps into my mind as a result. After a few minutes the random words get in line in my brain, and I'm in business.

This time, the words refused to form neat prosaic lines. I've learned that fighting the words is futile, so I let them have their way. As a writing exercise, it was fun, and I learned some new html code playing with the indentation. Enjoy.










no one

goes on


ing game

ing blame







ure eases


new leases


hammering coal

forging soul


Sunday, November 21, 2010

Thank You J.K. Rowling

Yesterday, I took my son to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1, a fact that seems fairly mundane given that literally millions of other parents did the same. But for me, it was special, a not-quite-final step on a journey my son and I have traveled together.

Ask anyone with a 19 year old son. Having him choose his mother as a movie date is a rare thing. A young man of 19 generally prefers his friends, his girlfriend, even his younger brother for an evening at the multiplex.

But this was Harry, and Harry is ours.

I read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone eight years ago when a student recommended it. I remember thinking the characters were vivid and likable and the plot was original, but most importantly, I remember thinking my eldest son, then 11, would like it. I had not come to grips with the fact that he didn't enjoy reading fiction. I love fiction passionately. I had read stories to him since he was in the womb. How was it possible he didn't feel the same way I did?

The only fiction my son ever enjoyed was fantasy. He had a collection of books about dragons and the origin of dragon myths. He liked stories about magic. Harry seemed the perfect vehicle to show him the the joys of reading fiction for pleasure.

I bought him the book and then watched it sit on the floor next to his bed, untouched. When it disappeared under the pile of various and sundry crap that always seems to litter his floor, I changed tactics. I offered to read it aloud to him at night. He has always enjoyed being read's how we got through Jane Eyre, so he could pass Senior English.

We started with chapter one, "The Boy Who Lived," and I could see the interest on his face, but then as we read chapter two and the first part of chapter three, I lost him. He was the same age as Harry, and he hated the way the Dursleys treated Harry, so much so, he wanted to stop. The effect of that mistreatment is mitigated in the movies by making the Dursleys objects of derision, but in print, with nothing but an 11 year old's imagination, it was powerful.

We stopped reading for a week. He refused to read a story where the character he identified with was so powerless. I begged him to persevere, swore to him it would get better, and promised the Dursleys would get their comeuppance. And he finally, albeit reluctantly, agreed. Once Hagrid arrived and whisked Harry away to Hogwarts, he was hooked.

Interestingly, Voldemort never seemed as threatening to my son as those abusive, neglectful Dursleys. There is a poignant moment early in the Deathly Hallows where Harry takes one last look at the cupboard under the stairs. My son and I turned to each other, and he smiled. Both he and Harry had moved past those bad times early in the story. The Dursleys no longer held any power over either of them. It was one of those transformative moments the best kind of stories bring, where you feel what the character is feeling.

After the first book, my son read the rest of the series on his own. The summer the fifth book, The Order of the Phoenix, was released, we went to a midnight release party. He was a piece in a game of wizard's chess. We drank butterbeer and ate lots of foul-tasting Bertie Botts every flavor beans. Then, we both stayed up all night with the book. Yes, we each had a copy.

We have seen all of the movies together. Even as he got older, got his driver's license, and became more independent, we still shared Harry. He never considered seeing any of the movies with anyone else. We discussed the different directors' visions, the minute changes in plot, the choice of actors. (Neither of us got over the loss of Sir Richard Harris and his Dumbledore. The new guy never measured up.)

I'm glad the producers decided to break the last book into two movies. Even though my son and I both groaned after the last scene in part one, I have at least one more Harry Potter experience to share with my son. I'm glad it's not over yet.

I sobbed, yes, literally sobbed, through the last twenty pages of The Deathly Hallows, and I know I will cry at the end of the last movie. I love those characters that much. They are real to me. That final sacrificial walk Harry takes into the forest is archetypal and so well-written, I was there with him. And so was my son. He walked that journey with Harry, and he cared as much as I did.

Thank you J.K. Rowling. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Never, Ever Piss Off a Writer

I texted the title of this post to my friend, Pam, just last week. I was being facetious at the time, but the story I just stumbled across via Liana Brooks' blog is proof positive that it's true.

Cooks Source Magazine, a for-profit publication, lifted a post from this writer's blog and printed it without her knowledge or permission. She contacted the magazine and got this response from the editor:

But honestly Monica, the web is considered "public domain" and you should be happy we just didn't "lift" your whole article and put someone else's name on it!

Wrong answer. Aside from the fact that lifting someone's writing and putting your name on it is plagiarism, my blog and everyone's blog is protected under copyright law. While most folks don't mind being quoted or linked...we do want may not take my writing and print it for profit without my permission.

Writers on the web are an interconnected bunch, and this gem of a response from Cooks Source bounced around from blog to blog, including John Scalzi's blog (one of my personal favs) which gets approximately 10,000 hits per day. Blog readers reported it to several watchdog organizations, and then it blew up on twitter.

@neilhimself (Neil Gaiman) retweeted it. He has 1.5 million followers.

People found the Cooks Source Facebook page and flamed it mercilessly. I'm sure they'll be taking that page down any moment now, but check it out if it's still there. Wow...just wow...

Edward Champion did some investigating and discovered that Cooks Source has made a fine living reprinting content from the Internet without permission.

Any money Cooks Source might have saved by stealing from mostly unknown writers will probably now be paid ten thousand times over to lawyers. Honestly, after following this thread from link to link, I'll be surprised if they're still in business this time next month.

Never, ever piss off a writer.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Lies, Damn Lies, and well, you know the rest...

I hated my statistics class in college with a blue passion. The words "standard deviation" still make me shudder. Ironically, though, I find reading statistics someone else has generated endlessly interesting.

For instance:

Lord knows, I'm doing my part on that last one.

Recently, I've become fascinated with the statistics for my blog. Blogger tracks your page views by blog post, time of day, geographic place, referring URL's, and the search terms that got people there. Some of the statistics are illuminating, but most leave me bemused.

The United States is naturally the country in which most people view my blog, but just this week alone I had 19 views from the Netherlands and 14 views from Russia. Really? What am I saying that interests the Dutch? Or the Russians? I even had four views from Slovenia. Wow...

I normally have the biggest viewing spikes when I put up a new post which makes sense, right? But occasionally, I get these crazy spikes on old posts. My post on Self Doubt contains a Diana Ross video. 457 people viewed that one in one day, a month after the original post. My readership is modest, so I'm attributing that spike to Diana and not my own words of wisdom.

Posts which share titles with something more famous get lots of views as well. My Invictus post has been very popular, although I suspect some folks are disappointed when they find me instead of Matt Damon. Expectation is the Root of all Heartache has also gotten mad hits. Again, some poor high school student looking for help with his English homework is probably frustrated when he finds me.

Embedded pictures lead people to me. Twice, I have included pictures of buffalo in my posts. (Here and here.) Both have brought people my way. I wonder if any of them stayed after looking at my buffalo?

The most entertaining statistic is the list of most popular search terms which connected people with my blog. My name is at the top of that big surprise...but once you get past the obvious, I find myself in WTF country. Just this week, people found me by googling "he makes my cherry pop" and "Jazzercise with colostomy." Last month, someone used "I never sit on a toilet." Granted, I have actually used the words "he makes my cherry pop" and "I never sit on a toilet," but why would you google those phrases? I've used "Jazzercise" multiple times, but this is the first time the word "colostomy" has graced my blog.

The big dumb eighth grader inside of me wants to let loose a string of random, unrelated words just to see what kind of bizarre Slovenian (no disrespect to Slovenians intended, it's just...Slovenia?) traffic I get. So here goes...

I would expect Dutch apple pie and Russian dressing to make my cherry pop, but expectation is the root of all heartache. Mark Twain knows I don't wear a colostomy bag, even if I never sit on a toilet. It's all lies, damn lies, and well, you know the rest...

I am the master of my fate, Diana Ross, I am the captain of my soul.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Lessons My Son Learned at the Track (and other good parenting tips)

Yesterday, my son learned three important lessons about sport.

  1. Any sporting event can be turned into a social event when you spend more time in the parking lot outside the venue eating, drinking, and playing games than you do inside watching.
  2. A sporting event in which you are generally disinterested becomes all-consuming for two minutes when you have cold hard cash riding on it (pun intended).
  3. Mocking overdressed twenty-somethings as they stagger back to the parking lot, carrying their ties and stilettos, is a sport unto itself.

My Kentucky friends know all about Keeneland, but for those of you in places where thoroughbred horse racing is merely an interesting setting in a movie (Secretariat was filmed at Keeneland), let me enlighten you. We have two major tracks in Kentucky: Louisville's Churchill Downs (of Kentucky Derby fame) and Lexington's Keeneland. Keeneland is open year round for off-track betting, but they only hold races on site twice a year, a three week meet in the spring and another in the fall.

The Keeneland Fall Meet is in full swing. Because it is a limited engagement, people flock to the track in the thousands, and because many young Kentuckians fancy themselves members of the horsey set, they dress to the nines. Then, they get ground-level grandstand seats and drink themselves stupid. The real horsey set is up in the exclusive boxes and party rooms far removed from the unwashed masses.

Although I'm not a serious racing fan (could you tell?), going to Keeneland on a gorgeous October day is a good time. Yesterday, I was invited by my restaurateur friend, Mike, to his first annual Keeneland tailgate party. (We had several moments of debate as to whether something could be called an annual event until it's held for the second time a year later.) Our kids are all good friends, so they came as well, and it was the first time for several of them, including my younger son.

A young man's first trip to the track is nothing if not educational.

Pam's husband, Mike B., walked him through the betting process. He explained how the odds work and how you determine the payoff on a bet. I worried for a moment, and then shrugged it off as a math lesson. My son listened intently, asked a few pertinent questions, and then made his pick...based solely on the name of the horse (which honestly, is how I pick my Derby horse every year). He liked Cajun Pride, and so did I...I think I might have read a romance novel with that name.

I placed a $2 bet for Cajun Pride to win in the fifth and gave my son the ticket. We made our way through the crush in the grandstands to get as close to the rail as we could. The horses are beautiful, and I like to be close enough to hear the pounding of the hooves when they pass.

Again...educational. By the fifth race, the horsey set wannabes had consumed enough beer and Kentucky bourbon to throw conventional standards of appropriate behavior out the window. It's a bit like a frat party with horses and designer clothes. In true sixteen year-old fashion, my son thought it was hilarious.

His attention was diverted by the horses and their jockeys bedecked in their racing silks parading down the track and being loaded into the gates. In spite of my general disinterest in racing, that part is pretty cool. As is that moment when the bell rings, the gates open, and the horses charge down the track. Cajun Pride took the lead with authority. My son found himself screaming right along with the inebriated folk as we watched our horse barrel around the first turn and down the backstretch. Unfortunately, I knew what was going to happen. Very few horses have the endurance to lead wire to wire, and poor ole Cajun Pride was no exception.

Cajun Pride faded in the final turn and came in fourth. Pam's pick, Sudden War, crossed the line first, netting her a whopping $3.80 on a $2 bet. My son looked around, saw the well-heeled drunks throwing their tickets on the ground, and followed suit. It was the only bet we made all day, and we were both fine with that. Another lesson learned.

Our tailgate was set up just outside the rail on the final turn, and we watched the rest of the races from that more peaceful vantage point. The kids played corn hole and tossed a ball around, and the adults kicked back and enjoyed the incredible fall day. Mike worked magic on three small grills, and we feasted on clams, shrimp skewers, rack of lamb, and filet mignon. My educational moment was realizing one should always take a bonafide chef to a tailgate party.

The day wound down with the now disheveled, but still overdressed kids returning to the parking lot. I pointed out a guy in a shirt and tie standing in the bed of his pick-up and attempting to swing from a tree limb to my son.

"You never, ever want to be that guy."

The fellow's friends were trying to coax him into the truck so they could leave. My son pointed at them.

"I never want to be those guys either. I'd wait til he was hanging from the limb and drive off."

I think his friends were contemplating doing just that. Luckily, Security came along, and the guy changed his tune and got in the truck.

So in addition to the aforementioned lessons about sport, my son learned some life lessons as well.

  1. Unless you have been invited to the horsey set's private boxes, you should wear comfortable clothing to the track. Corn hole is difficult in stilettos and you don't have to dry clean beer stains out of blue jeans.
  2. You might as well bet the horse with the cool name because the payout on the favorite sucks.
  3. If you plan to act like an idiot, make sure your friends really like you.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Smart People Rule the World

I had a head-spinning, fly-completely-off-the-rails moment in my classroom yesterday.

Not because students were misbehaving. No...the students in that class are awesome kids. I went berserk because more than half of the students in the class said they don't think of themselves as "smart people." Then, they went further and said they don't want to be labeled as "smart people." It's just not cool.

This from advanced English students...pre-AP kids who jumped through rigorous hoops to be in the who are reading and discussing Plato's Republic.

Are you kidding me? Are you FREAKING kidding me?

Let me take a few deep breaths and back up.

As I said, we are reading Plato. After each reading assignment, I prepare three or four questions that serve to illuminate the reading and bring the concepts into the 21st century. I lob those questions into my classroom like conversational grenades. These kids are tremendous readers and thinkers, and they lob their responses right back at me. The discussion is always vigorous, and one of my goals is to teach them how to listen to a different point of view and disagree respectfully (a lost art these days).

So yesterday, we reached the section in which Socrates says that philosophers should be kings. The first grenade I tossed out there was this: Should the smartest people in a group or community be the leaders? Turns out that question wasn't a grenade. It was a thermonuclear weapon of mass destruction.

Overwhelmingly, the kids said no, the smartest people shouldn't necessarily be the leaders of any given group or community. I pointed out that a room full of smart people were arguing against smart people being in charge. That's when they started denying being smart.

"Oh, Ms. Owens, there's lots of people smarter than us."

"We're not really that smart."

"I don't think of myself as a smart person."

WTF? My goal of teaching respectful disagreement went out my nonexistent window, and I flipped.

"What do you mean you don't think of yourself as a smart person?"

I heard myself getting loud, and I knew my tone had changed from calm facilitation to righteous indignation.

"It's not cool to be smart."

"Says who!?!"

Shrugs all around. "You know...everybody."

"Oh. Everybody. Of course. Everybody says it." we were firmly in the land of derisive sarcasm.

"I've got news for Everybody. Everybody is going to wake up when he graduates from high school and realize he needs the smart people. Everybody is going to need a smart person when he gets sick. Everybody is going to show up in a smart person's office with his hat in his hands when he needs legal help. Everybody is going to be a slave to the next must-have gadget that a smart person designed. Everybody is going to be punching the clock in a company a smart person runs. Everybody is going to realize that he is just a cog in a big machine that has a smart person at the controls."

I think I might have slammed my copy of Plato on a kid's desk at this point.

"Or even worse...maybe Everybody will never figure it out. Maybe he'll just be an ineffectual, frustrated underachiever who stays stuck in a rut his whole life and never figures out why he's so unhappy. Or he'll find a scapegoat to blame for his stupid choices...the government, his boss, his teachers...and the BEST part...he won't even be cool anymore. Because while Everybody has power in the halls of a high school where he preys on the inherent insecurity of his fellow students, once he graduates, he realizes the smart people have moved on. They are doing important smart people things, and he is nothing more than a dim, unpleasant memory."

A moment of silence descended when I stopped to breathe. I knew my blood pressure was up because I could feel my pulse in my forehead.

The kid sitting right in front of me said, "You really don't like stupid people, do you Ms. Owens?"

The class erupted in laughter, and so did I. The tension was broken, and I was able to answer his question like a reasonable person.

"I have no problem with people who are ignorant because they haven't been taught yet. I'm a teacher. That's what I do. My problem is with people who not only choose to remain ignorant, but who revel in their ignorance...wear it like a badge of honor."

The dumbass has become a staple of American TV and movies. Watch one episode of The Jersey Shore, and you'll believe with certainty we are doomed. Really. Is it any wonder kids think stupid is cool? But I didn't say that to my class.

I told them to be happy they could be counted among the smart people. I told them to believe it and to own it. Philosophers might not be kings, but smart people are captains of industry. The big problems our country faces will be solved by smart people, not pundits, talking heads, or self-serving politicians. Smart people are doing all the work that truly matters.

Like it or not, smart people rule the world.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

No Music? No Thanks.

In my first piece of posted fiction, I imagined a scenario in which music is unwittingly traded away by my protagonist. I called it horror because a life without music sounds pretty darn horrible to me. It got me thinking about what I would lose if I made that bargain.

Without music, I would not have sung Eminem's "Lose Yourself" with one of my former students at a karaoke party last week. He's all grown up now, a college graduate and contributing member of society (Yeah, I've been teaching that long), but there was definitely an "Oh, Snap!" moment when I agreed to be his hype, woman on stage. How many people get to rap in public with their ninth grade English teacher? The crowd, of course, went, Chad, Eminem...why wouldn't they?

A high moment. A good night. Music was at the center of it.

Without music, I would not be addicted to working out. I would still be carrying around extra pounds and huffing and puffing when I climbed more than one flight of stairs. Jazzercise is exercise choreographed to music, and I love it. Most of the time it feels more like fun than work, and when it does get tough, I sing to distract myself from the pain. Subsequently, I know every word to Lady Gaga and Beyonce's "Telephone".

Sometimes, I sing for the sheer joy of endorphins kicking and oxygen hitting my brain like a drug. And that's my excuse for knowing every word to Christina's "Candyman." Why wouldn't you want to know lyrics that include "He's a one stop shop. He makes my cherry pop?"I like singing along to that one because the music sounds so 1940s wholesome, and the lyrics are...not.

I've discovered new songs I love at Jazzercise....Madonna's newer stuff, Melanie Fiona's "Bang Bang," Idina Menzel's "I Stand," One Eskimo's "Kandi"...and so on and so on. Today, we did new routines to covers of two old songs. LeAnn Rimes' version of "Swingin" is fun. The remake of Jefferson Airplane's "Don't You Want Somebody to Love" is strange. The link is to the original. Some songs should just be left alone.

Without music, sports would lose something. "Welcome to the Jungle" and "Back in Black" will always make me think about football. Kid Rock's "All Summer Long" came out one summer when I was driving Eldest all over the state to baseball games, so it's a baseball song in my head.

Bruce and his colleagues have XM radio in the football offices. Not surprisingly, they listen to the headbanger channel on game day. What did surprise me (and cracked me up) was finding out they listen to the reggae channel during the week. According to Bruce, the Jamaican vibe chills everybody out. Whatever works, right?

Without music, driving wouldn't be nearly as much fun. Who among us doesn't like to roll down the windows and crank the stereo on a beautiful sunny day. I tested the speakers on my new car today with the Foo Fighters' "Let it Die." While not on par with my son's massive subs, I found them sufficient to my needs. :)

Ironically, the one thing I cannot do to music is write. I follow many writers who say they use music as a way into their stories. I find that music almost always pulls me out of my story. The story of the song is usually pervasive enough that it interferes with the plot thread in my head. I do use music during non-writing activities to get me started when I sit down later to write. A song can solidify a character in my head or help me establish the mood of a scene. So without music, my writing would suffer.

I can think of situations where I might be tempted to make a deal with Erebus. To magically attain those things that seem very far out of reach, I might give up something. The problem with those deals is that you always lose something precious. In a classic deal with the devil, you lose your soul. Losing music might seem tame by comparison, but I wonder. What kind of soul would you have without it?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Something Gained. Something Lost.

This is a first for me. I've never posted my fiction on the blog, mostly because I don't tend to write short. I write long, and posting even bits and pieces of my novels would diminish their chances of being published traditionally. I like long story arcs and rich character development. Writing short stories is about packing a lot of story and character into just a few words. What follows is just under 2k words. By contrast, my agented novel is 105k.

I'm a romance writer, but this is a horror story inspired by a quote from
The Merchant of Venice that popped up on my iPhone Shakespeare quote of the day app. Sooooo...I'm posting my first fiction in a genre I don't write and a form I don't write. What could possibly be wrong with that? :)


Something Gained. Something Lost.

“Light thinks it travels faster than anything, but it is wrong. No matter how fast light travels, it finds the darkness has always got there first, and is waiting for it.” ~~Terry Pratchett

A shadow flitted across Mina’s peripheral vision, but when she turned her head, nothing was there. She peered out from her hiding place. Traffic was sparse, but a kaleidoscope of light strobed down the block. Club-goers milled outside the entrance.

In between, darkness wove a pattern around a pair of streetlights. It filled the space she occupied, surrounding her. When she had ducked into the recess just a few minutes earlier, the darkness had seemed welcoming, an ally. Now, it felt heavy.

As if fueled by her fearful thoughts, the darkness grew deeper, suffocating her, suffocating the sounds of the city. She imagined herself underwater as even the pounding bass from the nearby club was silenced. A chill worked its way down her back, and she pulled her jacket tighter around her shoulders. It wasn’t much help.

She dropped her cigarette, stepped on it, and quickly emerged from the recessed entryway of the closed shop…the same secondhand shop in which she’d found the cute little bolero jacket. She smiled ruefully.

Should have bought the leather bomber. Would’ve been warmer.

Her heels clicked on the concrete in time to the steady thump escaping the club down the street. She reached into her bag and pulled out a stick of gum.

Or maybe I should just quit smoking.

She followed the gum with a small bottle and spritzed a light perfume over her clothes and into her hair. Jasmine and sandalwood.

Jack loved it. To date, she had been stealthy enough that he hadn’t noticed it masked Eau de Marlboro Light. After three dates, four counting tonight, she was getting dangerously close to lying to a guy that had potential long-term written all over him.

He’s never technically asked if I smoked.

She rolled her eyes. Even she wasn’t buying that crap. Inventing a phone call and sneaking out to smoke was not the way to start an honest relationship.

She fumbled the perfume bottle while putting it away, and ended up dumping half the contents of her bag into the street.


Her voice was strangely muted, and she looked around for the first time since leaving her hiding place. The street was empty. The lights still strobed outside the club, but everyone had gone inside. Not a single car moved up or down the long stretch of asphalt.

Mina knelt down nervously and threw her stuff back into her bag. She felt around for stray items she might have missed. A hand closed over hers, and she rocked back on her heels, then fell on her ass with a shriek.

“I’m sorry.” The voice was behind her. “I did not mean to startle you. I saw you drop your things, and I wished to assist you.”

She scrambled to her feet and backed away from the hand at her elbow offering to help. Caught between the two streetlights, those golden pools of light were miles away.

She turned on her heel, heart pounding, to get a look at her Good Samaritan. The darkness was so thick, she could only see his silhouette. He reached out, and she instinctively backed away.

“I believe this belongs to you.”

Her cell phone lay in his outstretched hand. She snatched it up without regard to good manners and found it in two pieces.

“The battery fell out when it hit the ground.”

His accent was thick and unfamiliar.

“Thank you.” Her own voice sounded strange, like she had cotton in her ears.

Her fingers were thick and uncoordinated as she forced the battery back into place.

“Why were you hiding in the dark?”

She looked up sharply. “I wasn’t hiding.”

She couldn’t make out the features of his face, but she felt his amusement, heard it in his voice. “Why, then, did you seek shelter in the darkness?”

He had obviously seen her sneak out of the recessed doorway. Realizing he had been watching her, a new frisson of fear kicked her pulse higher.

“I stepped out of the club for a smoke.”

“You walked all the way down the block to smoke?”

Adrenaline already poured through her, and fear morphed into anger.

“Yes, and I don’t think it’s any of your business.”

She turned and stalked toward the club, toward the streetlight, toward that golden pool that seemed to get farther away with every stride. He fell in step beside her, a shadow superimposed on the darkness.

“Smoking is a common habit. Why are you ashamed?”

“I’m not ashamed.”

“You hide to smoke. You mask the scent.” He shrugged. “You are ashamed.”

Mina whirled to face him. “I’m with this guy, okay? And he doesn’t approve, and I haven’t figured out how to tell him or even better, how to quit.” she crossed her arms. “So there it is, Mr. Nosy. Happy?”

Mina leaned in, trying to see his face. His hair was shoulder-length, and judging by its silhouette, unkempt, ala Kurt Cobain. The contour of his jaw line suggested he was clean shaven, and the sudden flash of white teeth suggested he was smiling. Beyond that, she couldn’t see a thing.

“Yes. I am happy. Thank you.”

She shook her head, convinced he was crazy, but harmless. If he was going to hurt her, he would have done it already. He had given her phone back and watched her replace the battery.

She turned once again toward the strobing lights of the club.

“Would you like to quit?”



“Well, yeah.”

Her eye roll was evident in her tone.

“I can help you.”

She stopped again and sighed. “I tried the gum. Nothing. I tried the patch. Smoked while I was wearing it and got so dizzy, I passed out. I even tried hypnosis from a guy doing a demonstration at the mall. Nada.”

His voice grew deeper and softer, as if he didn’t want to disturb the silence. Almost hypnotic. More so than the guy at the mall anyway, and Mina smiled.

“If you will agree to payment terms, you will be cured before you walk back inside.” He nodded toward the club.

Mina threw her head back and laughed. “Let me guess. You came out of a magic lamp?”

“I do not grant wishes. I make bargains.”

His voice held no humor, and her amusement faded as well.

“And I don’t make deals with the devil. Sorry.”

“I am not the devil.”

No shit, Sherlock.

Out loud, she said, “Who exactly are you?”


The R trilled exotically off his tongue, and Mina shivered. She had never heard the name before.

“Ariboos?” she repeated, mimicking his pronunciation.

“You sought shelter in the darkness, and the darkness can provide…for a price”

“Erebus,” she repeated again, this time with recognition. She raised her eyebrows. “You’re the god of darkness?”

“I am the darkness.”

Something in his tone stifled her laugh. He believed what he was saying, and they were still alone on a dark street. Probably best to play along.

“Okay…and you’ll cure my smoking…in return for what?”

“Something you have temporarily lost in this time you spent with me.”

Fear again. This guy was crazy. What had he done? Who had he hurt?

Seeming to read her mind, he continued, “What you have lost you carry with you all the time. It affects only you. You gain something. You lose something.”

“And you’re not going to tell me what it is before I agree to it?” She crossed her arms. “I would be stupid to make that bargain.”

“You would give up something you have lost and have not even noticed.” His voice dropped, hypnotic again. “And look at what you will gain. You will no longer have to sneak away from this man to do something you do not enjoy.”

She hated smoking. Even worse, she hated lying about smoking. Jack was a great guy…funny, smart, hot as hell. Everything she wanted, and she knew, she just instinctively knew that smoking would be a deal-breaker for him.

She stared at the pulsing lights of the club, then shrugged. This guy was full of crap anyway. She felt exactly the same as she did when she snuck out into the cold ten minutes ago. Nothing was different. What did she have to lose?

“Okay, Erebus.” She grinned when she said his name. “You have a deal.”

“You must be sure, Mina. Once the bargain is struck, it cannot be undone.”

Her name sounded foreign on his lips, and her grin faded. She peered into the dark, suddenly desperate to see his face. A man-shaped ink blot stood in front of her. Only his unkempt hair blowing in the wind gave him depth. She reached out to touch him, to assure herself he was real and solid. He reached out simultaneously and grasped her hand.

“Do we have a bargain?”

His hand was warm and strong, and her childish fear evanesced.

No guts, no glory…

“Yes. We have a deal.”

She saw a flash of white, and his smile made her shiver.

“What was yours is now mine. What you wished to lose is gone. Goodbye, Mina.”

A horn blared, and Mina jumped out of the way of a city bus she hadn’t seen coming.

“Damn, buddy! Slow down!” She looked around. “You okay, Erebus?”

She turned in a circle.


She was standing alone on the street. Well, not entirely alone. There were people outside the club again. Traffic moved along briskly, and she hustled over to the sidewalk.

She stopped short of the streetlight. The pool of light had lost it’s golden quality, only marginally brighter now than the street around it. The suffocating darkness was gone, almost as if a blanket had been lifted off the block.

The light did not cheer Mina. Erebus’ parting words still rang in her ears. Everything about them was wrong. Even the way he said her name was wrong with his emphasis on the second syllable.

Bile rose in her throat.

When did I tell him my name?

Never. She had never told him. She had a hard and fast policy regarding her name. She only gave it to a man after she decided she liked him. She had disliked Erebus from the moment she met him.

She stumbled through a small group of smokers outside the doors of the club, breathing in a lungful of secondhand smoke as she passed. She coughed until she gagged and, in that moment, knew she would never smoke again.

No joy came with that knowledge. Dread lay on her chest like a lead weight.

The club was crowded, more so now than when she stepped out. The lights pulsed and strobed wildly, rhythmically. She stopped just inside the entrance.

People leaned in close and shouted at each other. Couples gyrated wildly on the dance floor, grinding against each other in time to the pulsing lights.

Mina heard their shouted conversations, felt the vibration of the bass in sync with the lights, and Erebus’ words echoed in the awful accompanying silence.

You gain something. You lose something.

The music was gone.

“The man that hath no music in himself, nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds, is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils. The motions of his spirit are dull as night, and his affections dark as Erebus. Let no such man be trusted.”
~~William Shakespeare

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Confessions of a Gas Guzzler

Today, I'm coming clean. I'm confessing my environmental sins in the hopes of virtual absolution from my friends and blog readers, but first.....

Like any legitimate media outlet (grin), I have a responsibility to correct errors in reporting. In my last blog post, Horses, International Guests, and ...Buffalo, I reported that Henry the buffalo would jump through a ring of fire. In fact, the buffalo's name is Harvey Wallbanger.

Seriously. I couldn't make that up if I tried.

My friends who have paid to see Harvey say he is massive and a sight to behold. I'll just have to take their word for it. I find the whole thing mildly disturbing, and my conscience won't allow me to fork over the money to see poor old, flammable Harvey driven through that ring of fire.

And yes...I'm stalling. My conscience is a fickle thing, especially as it relates to environmental issues, but I'm here today as the former owner of a gas guzzler, a big honkin' SUV that left a Sasquatch-sized carbon footprint. I'm trying to reform, to get with the program, to do my part to avoid environmental apocalypse, but the first step to overcoming an addiction is to admit you have it, right? So, here goes.

Hi. I'm Kathy, and I liked my big, wasteful, gas-guzzling SUV.

Okay...I loved it. I really, really loved it. Like anyone who's ever had an unhealthy guilty pleasure, I knew I was doing wrong by the planet. I knew even when I was hauling my boys and their friends and their baseball bags and shoulder pads that we could have crammed everyone into an environmentally friendly tin can, but I just didn't want to.

My dad has a running beef with women who drive SUVs. "These damn women in their SUVS! They drive right up on you...try to intimidate you!"

I hate to admit it, but OH MY GOD, he's totally right! I felt powerful when I drove my SUV. When I stepped on the gas, that big V-8 roared, and I passed everyone who got in my way. If I couldn't pass them, I put the nose of that monster right on their bumper, and they got the hell out of my way.

I became this whole other person when I drove the vehicle Bruce affectionately called Moby Dick. Yes, it was white, and it was big. The only thing bigger available to civilians might be a Hummer.

When my friend Linda climbed into it once, she ranted, "Getting into this car is like climbing *@#! Mount Everest. You need a *@#! Sherpa to get in the thing."

I've carried as many as eight teenage boys at a time, hauled furniture, lumber, six people and luggage, a lab-sized dog crate complete with 100lb lab, anything big my friends needed moved from point A to point B. I was the go-to gal for road trips...or trips across town for lunch. Wherever we were going, we fit in my big, gas guzzling SUV.

But those days are over.

My massive, hairy Sasquatch carbon footprint has been replaced with something smaller, not dainty like a ballet slipper or sexy like a stiletto pump...more like a sturdy hiking shoe. I couldn't go cold turkey, and downsize all the way to a car, so I'm still driving an SUV...a small 4-passenger baby SUV.

I'm taking deep breaths and trying to adjust.

I'm still getting used to looking up at drive-thru windows, and when I parked next to a full-sized pickup, I was annoyed that I couldn't see over it. It's strange to step out of my vehicle and have my foot touch the ground instead of the running board.

Yes, it's fuel efficient. I'm sure I'll be happy the first time I fill it up and don't spend $60. (I know...ridiculous) And I do like how agile the thing feels. My old SUV was powerful, but not particularly aerodynamic. Lumbering might even be a reasonable descriptor. Instead of bullying my way through traffic, maybe I'll just ninja through it.

The best part of my new car is the guilt I'm shedding. Not only the environmental guilt I felt every time I pulled up next to a Prius (and quickly got over when I blew past it), but the guilt of driving a big, expensive car while Bruce drove a POS, mostly without complaint.

He has a sleek new Camry, complete with Satellite radio and sunroof. It's nice, but I have to admit to feeling twitchy when he suggested switching cars for the day so we could each try out the other's car.

There's only so much change this recovering gas guzzler can handle.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Horses, International Guests, and....Buffalo?

My part of Kentucky is all aflutter. The World Equestrian Games start today. The opening ceremonies are tonight, and according to the local hype, promise to be pretty amazing. While not as well known in the U.S., the games are a big deal in other parts of the world that revere the horse. It's fitting that Kentucky welcome the first ever U.S.-hosted Games. No one reveres the horse more than we do.

But this is not a blog post about the glory of the horse, or the pageantry and history of the Games, or even the new international flavor of my small town (Team Belgium was in WalMart the other day.) No. This post is about a different kind of glory, a strange pageantry all its own, and the flavor...Wild West meets small town USA.

Important, prestigious events like the WEG attract important, prestigious people. They also attract less important, less prestigious hangers-on, much like barnacles on the underside of a majestic ocean liner.

While the finishing touches were being put on all the shiny, new venues at the Kentucky Horse Park, my local outlet mall was preparing for a very special guest as well. Unlike the guests down the road at the Horse Park, this guest was neither equine nor international.

Enter Henry the Buffalo. Yes...a buffalo.

The buffalo (actually the American bison) once roamed the open plains, and according to the National Park Service numbered 60 millon when Columbus landed. They were hunted almost to extinction in the 19th century. Now only 15,000 live free in the wild. Another 350,000 are held in herds by private farmers. And, of course, Henry, now in residence at my local outlet mall.

Georgetown is home to a small outlet mall whose fortunes have declined in recent years. Most of the good outlets have closed, and only a few thriving businesses remain. Jazzercise is among those thriving businesses, and so I have been privy to the preparations for Henry.

Grandstands and stalls line the small grassy area between the parking lot and I-75. Actually, after a long, hot, dry summer, the grassy area is more of a dirt lot. A large section of the parking lot has been painted green. I wonder if it's supposed to represent grass. I wonder if it has been so long since Henry has seen grass that he wouldn't know the difference.

Large, wedding-style tents have been erected in the parking lot as well. I have no idea what's inside, but the "Fat Man's Barbeque" booth between the tents leads me to believe it involves fat men and barbecue.

Henry arrived yesterday. One of my fellow Jazzercisers said he was accompanied by what looked like a SWAT team. Really. Visitors from all over the world, and the buffalo gets a SWAT team escort.

Our instructor, Leanne, was invited to a meeting of outlet mall business owners to let them know about the disruption to parking and such. It was from her that I learned why a buffalo is taking up residence in the parking lot of a struggling outlet mall.

Henry is going to jump through a ring of fire every night for the duration of the World Equestrian Games.

Buffalo are shaggy, and in my mind, more flammable than your average mammal. I said as much when Leanne was telling us about it. I just felt sorry for Henry. Imagine tying several large mops to your head and then being forced to jump through a ring of fire.

In an attempt to make us all feel better about it, Leanne said, "Oh no! It's okay. Henry's trained. Apparently, he was in Dances with Wolves or something."

Dances with Wolves??? Really? Do you know how old that movie is? I do. I was seven months pregnant with my oldest son when that movie hit the theaters, and he'll be 19 in two weeks. (Funny story about a crazy, hormonal, pregnant me and that movie that I'll save for another day.)

Doing the math, Henry would have to be more than 20 years old. What the heck is the life span of a buffalo anyway? I looked it up, and the sources vary, but it's anywhere from 15-20 years in the wild, and 25-30 years in captivity. Either way, Henry is freakin' old.

So...They are not just making a ponderous, more-than-normally flammable beast jump through a ring of fire....they are making an old, ponderous, more-than-normally flammable beast jump through a ring of fire.

Oh, the glory and pageantry of sport! Let the Games begin!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Speak Loudly

Banned Books Week starts in six days. Read about it here and here.

If you think we live in a world where a celebration of the freedom to read freely is an anachronism...ancient history...a problem long solved, you are sadly mistaken. I've posted about this ad naseum, I know. But censorship just won't die. It keeps raising its ugly head.

Laure Halse Anderson's young adult novel, Speak, has been called "pornography" by a man in Missouri, Wesley Scroggins, who is looking to remove it from classrooms and school libraries.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

For those who haven't read Anderson's novel, it is the story of a girl who is raped in the summer before she enters her freshman year of high school. She spends her freshman year struggling with the physical, psychological, and social aftermath. She struggles to find her voice so she can SPEAK about what happened to her.

Because of the two rape scenes in the book, Scroggins says the book is filthy and immoral. Anderson responded better than I could when she says:

The fact that he sees rape as sexually exciting (pornographic) is disturbing, if not horrifying. It gets worse, if that’s possible, when he goes on to completely mischaracterize the book.

Click here to read Laurie Halse Anderson's entire post on the issue. She includes links for her readers and supporters to speak loudly against Scroggins' efforts.

My students love this book. Anderson writes realistic fiction with which real teenagers identify. (Heck...I identified with it. I know the teachers she creates in this book. I am one of them.) Anderson SPEAKs to teenage readers, especially a certain kind of reluctant reader. Our library almost always has a waiting list for this book, and we have multiple copies. Kids are lining up to read it.

I want to shake people who advocate pulling high-interest books off the shelf. Their political/religious/social agenda is more important than creating a society of readers and thinkers. They are the modern day equivalent of High Inquisitors.

Even worse than the potential loss of a high-interest book is the potential loss of a book that might help a kid who has been raped. Anderson wrote an amazing poem pulled almost entirely from the letters of kids who have read her book. I've pulled the video from her blog. It's powerful, and it demonstrates that books can give kids the courage to SPEAK and to heal.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Guest Blog -- In Remembrance: My Story of 9/11

September 11, 2001 was a day none of use will ever forget. We all remember where we were when we heard the news. We all have a story. My sister-in-law, Emily Happell Williams, who was living in New York at the time, graciously agreed to let me repost hers here. Following is her account of that day.

I loved my brief time as a New Yorker. I was totally out of place there having been raised in the south, but I seemed to fit right in, or else I just wanted to fit in so badly because I absolutely fell in love with the city. It was everything I wanted Nashville to be. The concerts/clubs, culture, food, attitude, subways, etc. After a few months, I considered myself a New Yorker & never wanted to go back to the south. I suddenly had no fear, a confidence I had never had before, & often wouldn't think twice about riding the subway & walking through dark alleys at 3 or 4 in the morning. I definitely put myself in situations that my mother would have had a heart attack if she'd known.

SEPTEMBER 11, 2001

In the summer of 2001, I went on tour with some friends of mine in a band called BOTTOM. I sold merchandise & helped roadie. They were on the second stage at the Vans Warped Tour & also played clubs at night, sometimes playing 2 shows a day. We lived in a van & traveled all around the country. It was truly one of the best times of my life. I saw some great sights, great bands, met some awesome people, and especially loved hanging out with the girls in the band. The scenery was incredible. It made me miss TN a little.

When we got back, I was in between jobs & places to live, couch-surfing in different places. On the morning of September 11, I was staying at my friend Dan's apt. in Brooklyn. He was a Tower friend & dated a good friend of mine. He lived very near the foot of the Manhattan Bridge. I had a part time job that a friend hooked me up with & was getting ready for work when I started hearing sirens. Dan lived right across from the fire station, so this was normal, but the sirens had been going off for what seemed to be like 10 or 15 minutes. After realizing that this was really odd, I turned on the tv just to see if there was something going on. Boy, was there. A picture of the World Trade Center with a plane sticking out of it. As I stood there dumbfounded, a second plane hit. I didn't even know what to think. I went into Dan's room & woke him up, saying, "Dude, 2 planes just hit the WTC!" He turned over, rubbed his eyes & mumbled, "wow, they held up well" (I'll never forget that line!) It just DID NOT dawn on us what was happening. I watched the TV for a couple more minutes, then went back in there & said, "dude- really... you better get up... this is fucked up!"

Well, for some reason, we decided to go check it out. I realized I was probably not going to have to go to work. As it turned out, the subway that I would've taken runs directly under the WTC. It is a very good thing I was running late. So, Dan grabs his camera, and as we're getting ready to leave, we look over at the tv before we walked out the door- the first building fell. HOLY. SHIT.

I'm thinking, OK, it's probably not a good idea to go down there... But we'll just walk down to where we can see from the foot of the bridge. And it's our duty as amateur photographers to document whatever the hell is going on, right? And we still had NO IDEA what was going on.

So we're walking, as Dan snaps pictures here & there of the flooding of people coming into Brooklyn. You can see the Brooklyn Bridge from the Manhattan Bridge, and both were packed with people with a look on their faces of, well, I'm not sure how to describe it. Like I said, no one knew what happened yet, the severity had not sunk in. At least for me- and yeah, I admit I'm a little spacey, but in my mind I was thinking- surely with all these people in front me- SURELY everyone got out in time, right? Right?... It was just so surreal. People were eerily calm. We walked up onto the bridge about 1/4 the way up. We were the only ones walking against the flow. There was one other person there taking pictures. We felt bad taking pictures of such a horrible event. But we did anyhow. We knew we weren't doing it for money or anything (and it still sickens me that people did and still do). We stood there quietly watching when the second building started to fall & I heard the biggest, loudest, simultaneous GASP... I just stood with my hand over my mouth in shock. And then I heard some weeping here & there. Dan didn't want to take a picture of it, but I said "just take one & we'll go back". So he did & we did.

Walking back- a blank look on faces, some worried about how they were going to get home & what a bother it was. No trains, no cabs, no cell phones, nothing. Lines at every pay phone. Ironically, the voting places were still open for some local election. We went to the grocery store, bought some beer & went back to his apt. where we filled a buch of pots up with water, still not knowing what the hell had happened, or what was going to happen next. We climbed up to the rooftop & just sat there. We watched the trail of smoke drift closer & closer to us until we could smell it. Indescribable. Disgusting. Sad.

I finally got a hold of my Mom. It was her birthday. "Uh, happy birthday Mom..." :( She said, "Are you ready to come home yet?" I said, "yeah- maybe". I didn't really want to leave NYC. I had been struggling the whole time there, but I loved it so much & I didn't want to give up. I had put my Mom & Dad through so much worrying. I owe them everything for putting up with my ass & loving me unconditionally throughout the whole time I was a mess. So, after a couple of days, I realized there was nothing there for me except my friends. No real job, no place to live, negative amounts of $, and an asshole named Sean who... was really mean to me a few days before the 11th & I never wanted to see again unless he was dead (that's another story). So as much as I loved my friends there, I gave in & decided to move back to Nashville.

I took a Southwest flight out that next Saturday with one my best ex-boyfriends & good friend, Fernando seeing me off after going to the hospital to say goodbye to his beautiful mother, Aida (RIP- much love). I cried so hard on the plane flying by the tip of the island. The smoke trail still burning. The Southwest girl handing me kleenex. They were so sweet. I got home & didn't talk to anyone except a few close friends for 2 months. Just sat in my mom's garden & cried. And sat. And cried. Couldn't watch TV- it was all over the place. Couldn't even look at the magazines in the grocery checkout.

I'm very glad that I moved back. After all, I wouldn't have met Allen if I hadn't! And Tennessee's not such a bad place after all. I've discovered all kinds of cool places I never knew were here. Fall Creek Falls for one. That place is incredibly beautiful!

I still sorely miss NYC, but I have a new appreciation for Nashville. It's getting better here. Night life is slowly getting better, more bands are playing here, and I got back in touch with some old friends. But most importantly, I'm with my family & I got to be with my grandparents before they died. Pop was so cool. Great stories he told me when we were alone, but unfortunately in my state of mind & having been given all kinds of happy pills from a shrink, my brain did not think to write them down. I am still kicking myself for not recording my family history.

Below are the pictures that Dan took that day. They are not easy for me to look at still & my heart continues to go out to all those affected, especially a sweet girl named Joyce Carpeneto, who worked at Tower & had just gotten a job in one of the towers. I'm sure some of you reading this knew her & how wonderful of a person she was. I wish I could have gotten to know her better. She was one of the good ones.

And there you have it

Looking across to the Brooklyn Bridge. If you look closely, you can see the people walking across into Brooklyn.
looking across to the Brooklyn Bridge
me on the Manhattan Bridge
on the Manhattan Bridge
after the 2nd building fell
outside of a church
She was waving for people to come into the church.
outside a church
Brooklyn intersection
waiting to use the pay phone

On the rooftop watching the trail...
On the rooftop. And yes- I used to smoke.