Sunday, December 28, 2008

Years Past, Year Present

I remember how insulted I felt when I first encountered the phrase "content provider" being used in place of "author." Changes were surely coming, cattle-prodded along matter-of-factly by trumpeters of all things digital, but I deeply resented the denigration of my creative work.

Of course there are many ways to be creative, digital and not. I didn't believe, even then, that all truly creative people belonged over here, on my side, while the heartless digital pushers belonged on that side. No, I wasn't so closed-minded as that. I was just sorry to see the further crumbling of respect for those who produce art. Art being, in this case, the (often) labored result of the creative impulse. The story/book/song/canvas/sculpture that resulted from that endeavor, held up for the world to see.

It has been a great sorrow to see the held object vanish into history.

I knew art would blossom online, eventually. But I felt the loss of what had been should be acknowledged. Many people mourned as I did, while digital-lovers mostly laughed. But that's what happens when an era passes.

Now I am more adjusted to the changing world, though it is still changing so ferociously fast that there is no end in sight--assuming anyone ever dreamed of an end. I am not very technically adept, so that puts me at a serious disadvantage in this new world. Still, I am very curious about how the written word will transform.

Books of some sort will still be written, of course, because we cannot seem to stop telling the story of ourselves. Barring horrible accident or disease, I have just enough time left to see young people in their new and ever-coming-newer digital lives. I have just enough time, I hope, to see art not only continue but blossom in it's new garden.

Probably, it already is.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Dis Heart End

This afternoon it is raining, raining, raining. As evening has come the sky has moved rapidly from gray to black. And it's cold out.

In some ways, these are the kinds of days I like best, though I don't like to be out in them--catching a bus, say, or walking home with a bag of groceries. No, I like to be safe inside, the inclement weather making my hibernation a good, logical choice, a great idea.

Fall has always been my favorite season. The short days, night coming early. It's not for everyone, I know, but it is for me, maybe because the shortened day feels stronger somehow. Muscular and tightly held, but powerful.

That is the way a good poem should be, in my opinion. Though of course there are many wonderful poems the exact opposite, loose and flowing warmly across the page. I have been thinking about poetry lately, saddened because I rarely write it anymore. Though it is there inside of me.

I didn't realize my later years would entail such a struggle between time spent in necessary but disheartening tasks, and time spent staring at a computer screen. The disheartening tasks have come as a surprise to me. Not because they are new, but because I am newly impatient. I used to say nothing, in order to give my writing my full attention. Now, though, I find I say everything--or want to--and am just about unable to bear the incompetence which plagues certain aspects of my life.

So, writing a poem sounds good. Forget that which discourages me, turn inward, then fling the found words outward.

Except I'm so damn tired. That, apart from everything else, dis heart ends.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Stoopid Bloody Thanksgiving Post

Last night, Thanksgiving Eve, I was in a funk--otherwise known as depressed and feeling sorry for myself--so I decided to do what some people have often suggested: Make a gratitude list.

I gotta say, just thinking about doing it made me feel even more depressed and sorry for myself. Stoopid bloody cheerful people . . .

However, this morning a Big Gratitude came to me: I am grateful that there are people in my life who tolerate me, even going so far as to wish me a Happy Thanksgiving and invite me over for some grub. So, that's big. Thanks, all you guys out there! You know who you are, unless I forgot to mention it . . .

Concerning my writing, it's been difficult, of late, to feel either good about it or grateful for what I have accomplished, what with Everything In The Known Universe tanking. Basically, life has become a giant Going Out of Business Sale, with no buyers.

However, when I really, really, really think about it, I am glad that I managed, if imperfectly, to produce a few books that someone thought worthy of publication, and I am grateful that a few people have actually read and enjoyed them.

I am also happy to realize--however improbable the odds are of actually pulling it off--that I need to re-create myself as a writer. Both to shake up the creative juices and to greet the new publishing world that is emerging. A monumental task, I know.

But I spend way too much time on the surface of things, worried and anxious and doing exactly nothing. Sometimes there is no help for that, but other times I'm just too lazy or too distracted to pull on my spelunking boots and snap on my head lamp, too tired to grab my shovel and start the descent.

That is the hard work of being an artist--getting to the core of things to find just what it is you need to understand, just what it is you need to express in your work. It's not an easy trip, and it's one that often has little material reward. I believe it is essential, though, to satisfy the soul. Mine, at least.

So my goal is to continue, despite all odds, to dig down and write write write. If that is a paltry Thanksgiving message, so be it. It's what I've got.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Today, Though

I need to take my own advice. In the last entry I wrote about the journey between center and surface, and how maybe the voyage to and from is what feeds the artist's soul. At the time, I was enjoying a visit to the center, and feeling renewed.

Of course, it immediately followed that I have spent every day since not only on the surface but blasted against it. Core? What's that? I'm all hard edges and distance and misery.

This current dislocation is caused by the things in life that gnaw at you, which you have no control over. We all have these things, of course. Mine just seem, of late, to be twenty feet tall and really, really mean. Of course I cringe. It's expected.

It follows that when I am in a place like this, I cannot write.

So I read a couple of cherry, professional writing blogs today. It helped, a little. Nothing like a little cheery professionalism to perk one up, and I've been in need of perking. I am often not cheery or terribly professional, so sometimes I need a lesson.

Today, though, I am a bad student. I am still stuck to the surface, miserably. I end up here again and again and again. Why why why why why why why?

Tomorrow's lesson: Figure this out.

P.S. It's tomorrow. Yesterday my Internet connection went out, and I was unable to post the above blog. I have still not figured anything out . . . I am doomed!

Saturday, November 8, 2008


I have been MIA for a couple of weeks. Another aimless drifting off into space. Which is probably a good reason I am not an astronaut.

When one re-surfaces into one's life (the drifting stopped, at least momentarily) the familiar always looks refreshingly new, as if someone had slapped a fresh coat of paint on everything while you were gone. I feel a little like that today. And, in fact, my front door really did just get a fresh coat of paint this very morning, so how timely is that?

In this pleasant little spot of renewal, I am trying to shake off some unhappiness's that have been weighing me down for a long time. These are things related to the practical aspects of life, such as housework (see previous post) and paychecks and being visible and the general not-knowing when the giant meteor is going to hit earth and exterminate us all in a puff of dust. (Hmm. Dust again. See previous post.)

I am only good at one thing, which is writing. I am not excellent at it, of course, or I would be rich and famous, or at least I would be one of the people saved in a disaster movie, right? If I was also good-looking, that is . . .

No, I am merely good at what I do--but I still really want to do it. So maybe there are some things I have to shrug off, some issues I have to ignore, to get back to the core. From which I will eventually drift again, but maybe it is the motion iself, the movement back and forth between surface and center that is so important to the creative spirit. Sometimes it might even be called drifting.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Stoopid Bloody Cosmos

Life isn't fair. We come from dust and return to dust, which is depressing enough. But then, in between all that, we have to dust!

Stoopid bloody cosmos.

I have cleaned my writing room--or "office", to sound more professional--ridding it of stacks and stacks of printed out piles of old manuscripts and indeterminate paper stuff, not to mention buried cat toys. And dust. I have dusted.

Dusting a thick layer of dust (reminder: we dust, and are dust) can be satisfying, as you see great swipes of clean surfaces emerge from beneath a thick coating of gray haze. And yet, some dust always remains. Even with a clingy-type dust cloth, which promises to not just move dust around but to pick it up and carry it away. The system inevitably fails, and dust lives.

What is that about? It is baby dust, sneakily stashed in cracks and corners by adult dust, to better increase its chance of survival. And survive it does. Soon enough, I will have a new crop of thick adult dust coating every surface of my room. (From dust, to, etc.)

So writing, I think, is a stay against dust (the "to" part.) We die, therefore we dust to rid ourselves of the reminder, but also therefore we write, so people will know we are more than just dust. We are words! Thoughts! Ideas!

A pleasant pause, as we consider just how smart and cute and good we are, then it's back to shoving around stoopid bloody dust.

Later this week: the living room!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

The Sulk

This past week, someone whose opinion I value referred to me as a "literary" writer. This made me happy, as that is what I have always secretly wanted to be.

It is slightly dangerous to be a literary writer, however. Literary books, and their authors, are somewhat suspect. Suspected of pretension, elitism, obscurity, snottiness and forced literary polish. Most horribly, they are suspected of being the unfairly beloved favorites of award committees. All of which might occasionally be true, but all of which is never always true for any one particular book or author. (How's that for a pretentious literary sentence?) ;->

I hasten to assure you, though, that my books have never been the beloved favorites of award committees. While I've gotten some praise here or there, mostly I struggle just to get words on the page, just to get published, just to produce a book that will last five minutes before being forgotten and remaindered. Still, I continue to strive for words that glint and shine, words that reveal a deeper layer of meaning. Call me a masochist.

Literary books, I must add, are hugely jealous of popular books--books of whatever shape, size or genre that tons of people read. Books that actually make money. Lots of money! It might not be pretty but it's true: Literary books sit at home a lot and sulk. For some, book clubs are the only chance a literary book has to get out of the house and socialize with those who admire it.

I have recently finished a book that, in my opinion, is not a literary book, but is one which I enjoyed immensely: The Dead and the Gone, by Susan Beth Pheffer. Her previous book, Life As We Knew It, a "first" or companion book to The Dead and The Gone, had knocked my socks off, as they say (and should be read first.) Post-apocalyptic novels of survival, both novels focus on teenagers struggling to save both self and family.

Now, the writing in both is of a type that gets the job done. By which I mean it isn't, in my opinion, "literary." There have also been qualms about the science in the books (the calamity is caused by the moon going haywire) which I am not qualified to comment on, other than, "Holy sh*t! Could that really happen?"

However, these books not only tell their stories sufficiently well, they scared the bejesus out of me. I mean high holy sh*t scared. So that's a good book, right?

In contrast, my literary books are sitting alone on their shelves, crowded into their secret hiding places, jealous and shivery and sulky. "No one loves us," they complain. "When the moon goes haywire, no one will clutch us to their breast or take us with them. We shall be as dried, brown leaves in the fall, blowing across a cold, empty sidewalk."

"Oh, shut up, already," the popular books answer. They are hunched over, busy reading the next exciting, new popular story. They are happy. Their pockets are jingling with money.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Page 68

I actually did a little writing today, going over and touching up my new work-in-progress (wip). I am up to page 68, which I consider an achievement. Me of the little tiny novels. I have heard of authors who have to break their bulging manuscripts into two or three books. Two or three books! I'm always lucky if my meager word count constitutes one book.

No new writing today, though, because while I am feeling enormously better than I did the entire week following my surgery, I am still more tired than usual.

Since I spent most of this past week sitting on the couch doing exactly nothing, I was able to watch the entire documentary, The War, by Ken Burns. I had seen it before, but spread out over time. I find it an astounding achievement, though of course there are people who have grumbled about this or that. Which is fair. I myself was disappointed, having read the excellent, Code Talker: A Novel About the Navajo Marines of World War Two, by Joseph Bruchac, that the code talkers were not included. But Burns had his focus, carefully explained if sometimes lost in the vastness of the telling. Indeed, World War II is such an enormous subject that Burns could make ten fifteen-hour documentaries and still not tell the entire story.

I am so absorbed in this because it helps me understand my parents, who were of the WWII generation. My own generation was Vietnam, the fight for Civil Rights, and the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy. While I was only a passive observer, I have never quite escaped the pain I experienced in the sixties, but it never seemed to occur to me that my parents could not quite escape the searing pain and fear of the Depression and WWII. Which is an enormous lack of insight on my part.

I often wish I could talk to them now, without all the walls flung up and all the anger and all the misunderstandings--on my part every bit as much as theirs. It is sad, to come to understanding so late, but that is what has happened.

On a different note, I finished, Lord of the Deep, by Graham Salisbury. It was terrific. Deep-sea fishing, a boy tottering on the edge of young manhood, and human weakness--exciting and sad and moving and satisfying. Salisbury's point is a true one, that the people we love most will disappoint us deeply, and we will disappoint them.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Down Down Down

I didn't realize how widespread my influence is. When I titled my last entry, R.I.P., I didn't understand that the entire economy was not only reading my blog but taking things so seriously. Really, economy, it was all a joke! I'm not dead and neither are you. Get up and walk. Jump around! You know, like you used to.

Argh . . . .

I am a bit down myself, though not in a depressed or economic way (not yet, at least.) I had sinus surgery two days ago and still feel as though sitting on the couch and watching TV and movies is an excellent past-time. In my secret life I am a fearless outdoor explorer, but in real life, ah, not so much. Still, sitting around doing nothing is not my idea of either a good time or time well spent. And no writing. That part of my brain is still snoozing.

Well, writing a blog entry is writing, but not of the wholesale creative sort. I have sent a revised manuscript out and have another one I am working on, except, um, not today.

Mostly today I am brain dead, which is slightly pleasant. I have had anesthesia three different times in my life, for three minor operations, and it is always an astounding feat to pass into a state of utter, black nothingness then out again, waking up with no sense of the time that has passed. Of course, this wouldn't be amazing if you didn't wake up, but thankfully that hasn't happened to me (yet.) Even in sleep our dreams and stirrings mark the passage of time, but under anesthesia, nothing. Nothing, nothing, nothing.

On a bookish note, over this past couple of weeks I have been having a Graham Salisbury feast, reading Under the Blood-Red Sun; House of the Red Fish; and Eyes of the Emperor--all of which deal with Japanese Americans living in Hawaii during WWII. Fascinating. Harrowing. I have long enjoyed historical fiction, but usually stories set further in the past. But I find I am being claimed of late by more recent tellings, and especially about WWII.

I have also just started Salisbury's Lord of the Deep, which is set, like the others, in Hawaii, but not during WWII. Still, it has my attention. Salisbury writes great boy books.

Eyes of the Emperor, I should note, starts in Hawaii but follows the Japanese-American soldiers to the US mainland, where they experience things no soldier should. One always hopes that as a species we've improved with (historic) age, but we humans keep going back to the same old muck holes of prejudice and cruelty, don't we?

Right now, I am going to my own personal muck hole of slumber, to take a nap.

Saturday, September 13, 2008


Well, I have rather disappeared, haven't I? There are various reasons why, but mostly I've been MIA because I realized how unlike most Young Adult blogs this one is, and I kind of froze in place.

The Fusty Blog is not very Young Adulty at all, is it? By which I mean graphically cool, or manuscript-focused, or information-sharing, or glitter-tossing, or teen-buddyish, or charming-authorish. Those kinds of blogs can be a lot of fun to read (and I do read them with enjoyment) but I can't produce one. As a result, my blog sounds a lot more Old Adulty. So I have wondered if I am hurting myself, as a YA author, or not. I'm not sure.

So I might continue, but I also might make some changes. Not that my blog would end up any more Young Adulty than it is now, as I seem to be incapable of being sparkly. Maybe, though, I can be more unapologetically me.

Or, How To Stop Worrying and Love the Blob.

We'll see what happens.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008


You know how when you encounter a situation suddenly, the first words that pop into your head are the truest ones? Last week I went to visit my parents' grave site. I had only been there twice since my mother passed away back in January--quite a different rate of visitation than with my father, who I visited frequently and even obsessively for the first couple of years after he died, sixteen years ago.

Thinking to rectify the numbers imbalance, I drove to the cemetery, got out of the car, ambled down the hillside to their resting place, looked at the plaque holding both of their names and thought, "Well, that was exhausting."

And that is the truth of it. My parents, both good people, were, um, complicated. Light and dark mixed together, along with a shot of bourbon. I loved them dearly, and miss them, but living with them--knowing them for years and years and years--was an exhausting experience. Now I can laugh about it, because at this point that is a rather happy way for me to think about my family experience growing up.

They both had an excellent sense of humor--my father with his dry wit, my mother with her goofy, cartoon sense of the comic--and I hope, if they still exist on some plane or other, that they are looking down at me and are greatly amused. I am. Shared laughter was an excellent family trait, one I am proud of.

It comes in handy, too, from time to time, as a good weapon against the dark.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

What Are You Talking About?

I have been feeling remorseful, thinking that perhaps I was too glib about Thomas Disch's death in my last post. The whole, "Life is hard, and I sympathize," thing. There might, occasionally, be practical reasons for suicide, but despair isn't one of them. Apologies to Mr. Disch, then, from Ms. Johnson, for speaking so smoothly about something so rough.

I was thinking earlier today about denial. About how pleasant it can be. Say, for instance, that the economy is tanking. Someone really good at denial would say, "What are you talking about?" Actually, someone really, really good at denial wouldn't even say that. Someone really, really good at denial would be so entirely oblivious that they wouldn't even know there is an economy. Much satisfaction, there.

There are many other things to be in cozy denial about, of course. Large issues, like environmental collapse. Small issues (much more fun) such as my writing. I can pretend myself in and out of success or failure in a second, depending on my mood. I think this is might be an asset.

Another example. I have seen the Rug several times now, on my early morning walks, and I remain fully convinced that he can talk. Other people would probably say dogs can't talk, but, you see, denial allows me to discard that bit of nonsense.

The Rug would talk to me, I am certain. Not out loud with other people around--not even his own person. But if we were able to spend a few private moments together, for sure he'd do more than bark. He'd tell me about life lived close to the ground, about mud and grass and fur wet with rain, about the sweet, delicious scent of doggie-donuts left behind by other dogs. I would listen. I'd wrinkle my nose, perhaps, and try not to imagine things too hard, but I would listen. We'd be friends. To hell with the economy.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

There and Back Again

It's been so long since I posted it took me three times to remember my sign-in and get it right. I didn't realize I'd been gone that long.

Drifting. Disbelief in myself as a writer. Exhaustion. Depression. The usual culprits. But hello, Kathleen, you've got an audience here! Well, maybe. It's a nice fantasy.

I have taken heart, though, from Thomas Disch. I knew his name but not his work (have not yet read his children's book, The Brave Little Toaster, though his adult SF titles sound good, too.) I checked out his blog, once I learned of his death by suicide a week ago. I found a writer even older than myself, also engaged, among other things, with a gruff effort to both understand and participate in the world. I am sorry he lost his fight, but I sympathize. Life is hard and gets harder.

It made me think though that maybe it is okay to be an old(ish) writer, gruff and full of barnacles and wood rot and embarrassing, unexplainable fears of travel, with a terrible croaky voice and way less hair than I used to have. Age happens. But the heart of a writer happens, too, and does not seem to stop with the disintegration of flesh (disintegration of the mind is possibly another matter. I saw my mother's attempts at painting as her Alzheimer's moved in, and it quickly deteriorated. But what was in her heart? Sadly, I lost that, too.)

I still want to be a writer, though, so I guess I will just have to be an old writer. Not much choice, is there?

RIP, Thomas Disch. And to me, you go, girl!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Rug a Dub Dub

I saw the Rug this morning! Out on an early walk, as were I and my companion, he plodded up the sidewalk alongside his companion, with a loyal, though weary, doggy step. When we first spotted him last summer--a white, medium-sized pooch--the word that immediately came to mind was RUG. White fur, but not the shiny, fluffy kind shown off by young, well-groomed pups. His fur kind of slumps over, as if slightly dejected, and appears to be in need of a little shampoo and conditioner--sort of like a shag rug (a once-popular rug with long pile) that's been well-used, worn down and flattened, becoming, in the end, simply another ordinary piece of dirty carpeting.

We always loved passing the Rug, not that we've ever said a word to either him or his person, the early hours being something of an agreed-upon quiet-time. Winter stopped our early walks (too dark!) but now we are back with the summer. We have passed a number of white dogs, but until this morning none of them turned out to be the Rug. So we had a moment of excitement.

I think I enjoy him so much because he seems to say, "I know I'm a dog. I know I'm old. I know I look like a rug. But who cares?"

This is an attitude I wonder if I am approaching myself. I do hope I don't yet look like a rug, but I feel a kind of turning in myself. An acceptance, I suppose, of who I am, and also of who I am not. I know I am a writer of young adult novels. But I also know I have limitations in that endeavor. I also know I am not young and cool, as so many popular ya authors seem to be. But who cares?"

Well, I still do, a little. But with the Rug as my mentor, one day I just might not.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Up We Go

I'm wobbling on the brink of self-pity and despair today, so I will try to climb out of the pit I have created for myself (but I like it! It's so comfy!) one clawed toe at a time. Sunlight is always useful in the treatment of darkness, right?

I confess my Fusty Blob does indeed feel fusty of late. Not many posts. No pictures. No neat graphics or fun music. No anything that the "cool" people would want to read. Wah!!!!!!! (That's the wail of the perpetual outsider . . . )

I am, however--oof!--almost entirely above ground now. Let me just scrape away some of this mud from between my toes and give my claws a quick polish with this nice, green leaf--and voila! Here I am, squinting and ready to blob, fusty or not.

I've been thinking lately about the difference between a good book and a really good book. I have fairly recently read two new young adult novels. I am not naming them because I don't want to cause any kind of disappointment or disgruntlement for the authors, should they read this post (doubtful, but still . . .) I am an author myself and know how painful negative words can be.

Both books were well-written. One of them I liked well enough, but the other one I loved. What's the difference?

My own likes and dislikes, of course, and maybe that is all there is to it. It is always a shock to see a book praised that simply doesn't speak to you at all. And the opposite, of course, is true as well--a book disparaged or dismissed that you thought was a great, delicious piece of frosted cake.

I like, for instance, beauty of language. Many books are well written but leave me flat, because for me the rhythm and intensity of language just isn't there.

I also like to be transported somewhere by a book--flung into a life and a story that isn't my own, falling madly in love with the characters.

I suppose the book I liked but did not love just did not get me there. Or rather, it started that way--I was excited!--but it seemed to stumble slightly in the middle, as if both the rhythm of its language and the completeness of its transformation were off. I got distracted, you see, losing interest, and I think that is why.

It will, however, undoubtedly serve others well. In the end an opinion is just an opinion belonging to the person who gave it. My words won't make any book sink or swim, though of course there are others whose words will.

The book I loved? Dark and gritty in many ways, it was nonetheless a delicious, heady brew I quaffed as fast as I could. Beautifully written, with a story that yanked me right out of my life and into another, keeping me there to the end. Were there weaknesses? Probably--most books have some. But I never noticed and didn't care.

All this is obvious, though, isn't it? Likes and dislikes, as individual as each individual reader. So I offer no new or especially interesting thoughts about good vs. really good, but I am happy to have a reason to be out of the pit, blinking at the sun.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

'Til Death Do Us Part

My sister and I very recently made a first stab at clearing out the storage unit that has held our mother's paintings for the last five years--ever since she went into assisted living and was divested of her home. I think I have said previously that my mother was a gifted amateur painter, working with oils and water colors. I have always believed she could have painted professionally, if she had elected to apply herself hard and go that way without regret, without looking back, but she didn't. Too much tradition in the way, too much doubt, too many children, too much homemaking, too many problems. And so little belief in herself that she let her paintings mould away in the basement, piled next to the washing machine.

In truth, she had many stinkers. My sister and I threw a lot out, a painful but necessary step to gain control over what was worth keeping. I should say that most of her very best stuff, the pictures I am proud to show anyone, had already been weeded out long ago, and hang today in her children's homes. Still, though, my sister and I came across ones that tugged us back to our childhood, paintings that hung on her walls for years, that are as much a part of our collective memory as she is.

We still have a lot of work to do, but the experience was a shock to me. It is painful to see what happens to an artist's work when she dies, when there is no longer a place for it in the world. When someone else says, "This one is a failure." Or worse, the person saying it has no deep and personal love for the artist. That, thankfully, was not our plight, but it makes me wonder about my own work--the novels and poems that, in all honesty, no one will care about when I die. I see you have to care about it ferociously yourself, while you are still alive, and not wait for death in the hope that someone will be kind afterward.

I am not sure I can do that. I, too, struggle endlessly with belief in myself as an artist, with belief in my own work. I am not sure I can be that ferocious.

ROAR!!!!!! There. A fragile but first step.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Run For Your Life!

I love cheesy grade-B disaster movies. The kind with improbable disasters (a volcano erupting in downtown Los Angeles! An instant ice age in New York City!) where you know in the first five minutes who will survive and who won't. The handsome hero will make it, of course, along with his girlfriend/wife, estranged girlfriend/wife, ex-girlfriend/wife. Though usually not the girlfriend and wife together, just the Princess one who can feel the pea. Sometimes the temporary girlfriend-who-won't-make-it courageously sends the hero back to his true love. In more recent movies, the hero's kid might play the part of the girlfriend/wife, in the sense of being the one the hero rescues. And African-Americans in featured roles now stand a better chance of not being the first ones to get squished, burned, drowned, or vaporized. So, things are looking up for several new groups of people in the disaster field, which has to be encouraging.

I think I like disaster movies because life itself--or rather, being alive--is often just such a disaster, as we leap across suddenly widened cracks in the earth or navigate a tidal wave six stories high or divert magma away from the orphanage. Excuse me, I mean as we wreck the car or get a really bad hair cut or just try to not be so damned depressed all the time. But the real reason life is a disaster is not because of the things that happen, but because no one survives. Ever. It's just so much more pleasant to watch cheesy falsehoods with handsome heroes and happy endings.

In the same way, being a writer provides me with my own private disaster-insurance plan. It's my story, people--I'm writing it and nobody dies, okay?

So pop me some popcorn and turn on the flick!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Bun-Bun Under the Pines

The townhouse community where I live has a good crop of wild rabbits. Every spring they dot the landscape, especially at dawn. Dogs are not allowed to roam unleashed and I only rarely see an outdoor cat, so the rabbits not only flourish but pull cute-pet-on-the-lawn duty. They aren't pets, of course, but they are much more desirable to have around than, say, rattlesnakes curled up in sweet bundles. My vote goes to Bun-Bun every time.

The babies, of course, are adorable, but the big ones (let's call them "mature") are dramatically beautiful, too. Different shades of brown ranging from light tan to a dark richness perfectly arranged in symetrical patterns--all on the same rabbit!

I suppose many people think them a nuisance, ruining potted flowers and prized swathes of grass, but I don't.

I hear again and again that too many ya books have been and are being published, and that a mighty collapse is coming. Could be true. But getting a book published is like having a wild rabbit sitting outside your window under the pine trees, munching breakfast, nose twitching. In other words, it's a delight.

So if the Big Ax of Publishing comes down hard, it will cause enormous sadness for many people, including myself. While I wait, I think I will concentrate on rabbits.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Plop Plop

I saw two turtles sitting on a log poking out of the shallows of Ragtag Lake, sunbathing. "Don't get too close," I admonished myself. Water turtles (snappers, I presume) are wily and dive in as soon as they see you or sense movement, or, for all I know, smell you. "I am not too close," I asserted, to myself. "I am a good fifty feet away." Maybe forty. Or thirty. I am not good at judging distances. "Okay, but be careful," I cautioned back, moving just a tiny bit closer. Sure enough, eagle-eyed little beasts that they are, they both immediately took a dive--plop, plop--and disappeared.

Loneliness settled over my shoulders like a curse. Fortunately, though, I then saw, further out, two more turtles parked on a thick branch sticking up out of the water. No way to creep close. No dives. Communion restored.

Today, feeling some haircut regret after a visit to the local budget hair salon, I thought that one of the great things about being a turtle is never having to worry about your hair. Even my cat, eighteen and a half years old and shedding heavily as spring advances, has bits and bunches of hair that stick out at odd angles in her ruff. Just a couple of small chunks that will eventually fall out, like last year. I believe this is a consequence of old age, for it never happened when she was younger. Frankly, it makes her look quite silly. Today, back from the salon, I felt much the same, though at this point I am somewhat reconciled.

I realize, that like the turtle without hair, I am a writer without buzz or vibe or coolness of any kind, with a very small audience. I am invisible, really, but feeling more comfortable with it than I used to. If you have no hair, you have no hair, so why worry? I envy those with a head full, it is true--especially if it's smartly styled (and it always is.) But a turtle climbing onto a log with a head of wet hair would look woefully ridiculous once it had dried, with weird little whirls and dips and sticky-out parts all over the place. So, you see, there are blessings to be had everywhere.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Blue Lagoon

I have twice seen a blue heron in Ragtag Lake--the bit of wildness I visit on my lunchtime walks. Parts of the lake at that end are very shallow, allowing Mr. Heron to walk about in the water looking for lunch. I feel rather sorry for him, thinking he should be in a more lush environment, like the Eastern Shore of Maryland or Virginia, areas which have lots of tourists but also enormous beauty. I do not know, though, if he is as concerned with the gorgeousness of his setting as is the human who watches him.

I think a fear for any writer is the loss of lushness--that spring and muscle and beauty of language that comes when one is writing at full power and strength. Energy, after all, ebbs and flows. Life-events happen, as does aging, which is ongoing even when you are young. So when the right words are right there, leaping onto the page or screen, the thrill has no comparison. But when the words are nothing but dry sticks you can't even rub together--that is excruciatingly painful.

Maybe the thing is to always be, like Mr. Heron, on the lookout for for a fresh pond or lake or river or ocean or bay or creek in which to stick your feet. A dip in the water--daring to dip--is exciting and dangerous. Afterall, who knows what you will step on? But it is so very necessary for survival.

Saturday, March 29, 2008


When I started this blog I worried I wouldn't be able to post regularly, given my deeply entrenched tendency to drift (not always the good kind of drifting, as in the previous post.) My fear has justified itself, at least for the past couple of months. I have been round and about, but paying attention to other things--at least, I think I have. Who knows where the mind goes when you're not looking?

Thursday morning I went with my husband into downtown Washington, D.C. to see the cherry blossoms that line the Tidal Basin by the Jefferson Memorial. It was raining lightly, intermittently, the sky a soft, lovely gray, the water in the Tidal Basin the same oyster color, a few shades darker. Against that, the blossoms, just out, glowed a warm, pale pink. Because of the rain, the crowds had not yet descended, so only a small number of people were there and we had some privacy.

We also visited the new WWII memorial, plunked down in the middle of the Mall, which I had never seen before. It is ginormous and somewhat imperial, as the criticism has stated. But, to my surprise, I found it enormously satisfying. I'm not sure why. There were a good number of people about, but I was still able to feel alone--the good kind of alone--and think about the soldiers who were gone. A sad but peaceful moment.

I like all the memorials that I've seen in D.C. over the years, though I favor some over others. All are commemorations to the dead, famous and not. I often wonder if these same dead, now only spirit, lurk nearby. If they do, do they envy the living or feel sorry for them? I can't help but suspect envy. D.C., all dressed up in its spring finery, is gorgeous. I'd want to come back for that, too.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Lights! Camera!


That's the sound of me scre-e-e-e-e-e-ching back into my blog, having discovered that Cynthia Leitich Smith mentioned it in her world-famous ya and children's literature blog, cynsations . (Yay, Cyn! Thanks!) So wait a minute as I throw on some makeup (slap, smack, puff) put on something decent to wear (tug, swish, oof) comb my hair (snapple gapple pop) and stretch my lips into a giant pink grin. :-)

Okay, whew, I'm ready!

Been gone awhile. Been adrift. Not the bad, lost-on-the-stormy-sea-on-a-dark-night kind of drifting, but more of a gliding-slowly-across-a-motionless-lake-on-a-still-day kind. I've started writing a new book. It might prove to be a total stinker, suitable only for tossing into the trashcan, but for now I'm having fun with it. Moreover, finding words again after a long time of lost belief feels wonderful.

I attribute my reawakening, in no small part, to the tippy-end of the lake I mentioned in an earlier post. I walk there almost every day at lunch, on the days I work my paycheck job, and it refreshes me. It is not a beautiful lake--it is small and scrubby and littered at the edges--and yet, it is a beautiful lake! The water changes color with the sky and with the wind, but it also changes its intention. One day it is tame, even dull--just another ruined piece of suburbia--another day it is a dangerous current, a swirl tugging you down, a harsh wilderness. There are almost always a few Canadian geese floating around--small boats in the distance--and sometimes a couple of mallards, which are my favorite. Swimmers and bobbers, they seem impervious to being tugged down. Or, they go down but pop right back up, a trick I've never quite mastered.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Blub Blub Blub

I walked past the tippy-end of a lake a few days ago. The lake is located in a nearby state park, the tippy-end nestling beside (rather, to the side and just below) a non-park road and neighborhood. It is a man-made lake and so has that not-quite-legitimate feel to it, and appears ragged and torn, littered at the edges by too many people using the small patch of nature left to them by the developers, yet I was nonetheless glad to pass by and see still-bare trees lost in deep reflection of themselves.

It was a quick walk (on my lunch break at work) and I didn't have time to do more than pause before turning back, but I was reminded of how much I miss water. Moving water, like creeks and rivers, but also still ponds and lakes, their stillness reflecting back so nicely what surrounds them. I used to seek such environments out, but have become rather stuck of late in a barren suburbia.

It is a kind of narcissism, I suppose, to stare at reflections in water, as I used to do so intently. Not at my own reflection so much (it is hard to stand tall enough or lean out far enough over water to see yourself, especially if you are somewhat short) but the reflection of nature--of the natural world we live in. This is what we are, a reflection seems to say: deep and beautiful, full of secrets and meaning.

I have been pushing depth away for a while now. It is there, lurking, but I have been distracted by shallow surfaces, the way they shine and beguile. I have, however, begun to feel things tugging at me again. A good sign, I think, though one that signals struggles to come. Diving deep is hard work, plus there is the fear you might drown. And you might.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Cool Breeze

My mother's death has thrown me off course more than I thought it would. Alzheimer's has been described as a long goodbye--which it is, only worse. Experienced as I had become with that long goodbye, I assumed the final goodbye would be something of a breeze. Yes, I felt deep sorrow during her dying and afterward, through the funeral, but then I whizzed into a period of really not feeling very much of anything at all about her. Very breezy indeed.

Now, though, the weight of her loss has followed me home. It tugs at me, rather like a dark shadow always hovering anxiously at my back--when I turn to see it, I can't, but I feel it; I know it is there. I spent most of my life in the dark shadow known as depression. This is different, somehow. Not a generalized despair but a specific sadness. As if it is not just I who am grieving, but also my mother. As if she is as surprised at her death as I am.

I was similarly astounded when my father died, some years ago. It is a big shock, to find that death has inserted itself between you and your parent. Not fair! we usually say--those of us, at any rate, who had good (if complicated) parents. But I know that soon enough death will also insert itself between me and life. A common enough realization, but rarely a comforting one. I suspect a cool breeze will soon spring up to distract me from that truth, too.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Teddy Bears Go Bump

My mother died almost two weeks ago. She was elderly, very frail with late-stage Alzheimer's, and, at the end, very sick with pneumonia. I have been telling people (who nod in affirmation) that it was "her time." And it was. At any rate, "her time," is a nice, tidy summation that cleverly avoids the deep tangle of emotions that the death of a mother stirs up. I have wondered, though, if she--or anyone else staring so intently at the great divide--would have agreed with the idea it being of "her time." I like to think her spirit argued back, telling me--if I could have either listened or heard--where to shove my notion of other people's "time". But in truth I don't know what conversation she was having with life, with death.

She spent the last five years in a home for assisted living. During her stay she collected a handful of stuffed animals (one, her final favorite, which she clasped by the tail to the very end, before the hospital and The End took over, went with her to the grave--a good dog and a good friend.) The rest though--what to do? This is not an easy question for a woman who still deeply regrets the unilateral action the teenage me took one day, getting rid of all my childhood dolls and stuffed animals in one swoop. Oh, to turn back the clock, and box my 17 year-old ears! The loss still hurts.

I decided that those animals that survived the washing machine could stay. One, alas, was beyond even that, but the others took the dive quite cheerfully and came through intact. Right now they are thumping around in the dryer.

A thumping dryer has always been a comforting sound to me. After the huge difficulty of death and funeral, I feel my spirits lifting a bit. My mother's lungs failed, but mine, for the moment, still work. A selfish thought, maybe, but life never apologizes for itself.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Me and Jimmy Stewart

I recently read an essay in The New Yorker (January 14, 2008) about Otto Preminger, written by David Denby. He discusses Preminger's movies, focusing, in this instance, on "Anatomy of a Murder", which I have probably seen on TV in the long ago dim past but don't remember. Anyway, Jimmy Stewart, ". . . in one of his wonderful melancholy 'late' performances . . ." plays a former county prosecutor, who, apparently, hangs around with his buddies, not doing a whole lot of lawyering. The line Denby writes that stood out for me is, "The movie is leisurely, detailed, realistic, intensely companionable; you get a sense of how people exist at the margins of a profession without losing their dignity." [emphasis mine.]

I immediately identified with this description. At the margins of the profession, is, in fact, where I exist in the writing world. (I suspect lots of us do.) Realizing this, I actually felt good. I have been angsting for some time about not being a "successful" writer, but in truth I am always more comfortable at the edges of things. (A much better position from which to observe the goings on, for example, and from which, if necessary, to escape.) I had thought that getting published would deliver me to the center of SUCCESS, but a.) that hasn't happened, and b.) I'm not a center kind of person. So the trick for me, now, is the dignity part of Denby's sentence. I feel I have sometimes lost dignity in my floundering and in my wailing about floundering, but now I sense there is another way to engage with the writing life I actually have. This is tricky ground for me--I'm always up for a good angsty sob--but it's better to proceed into a country of a small but burnished pride than to stay in the ruined landscape where I've been, right?

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Easy Come, Easy Go

I had another unexpected separation from my computer. Much fixing and patching and realigning of said device went on, all done by people other than me. I can do nothing.

I did spend some of the time away de-stressing. (An unexpected consequence.) While an Internet connection brings pleasure, it also brings the pain that comes from reading how splendidly other writers are doing, while you are not. (Sorry. The grumbling is innate, I can't help it . . . ) It also ties your body to an inanimate object for hours at a time. The physical body needs to be free--at the least it needs to be taken out for regular walks--but I think we tend to forget that while staring into the electronic glow.

In honor of that, I'm going to go out for a walk right now. It is almost mid-day. Not the best time of day for me to walk (I prefer early or late) but it is the opportunity I have at this moment, so I will take it.