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Writing the Great American Collection of Many Words

National Novel Writing Month 2013 Participant

 

It’s NaNoWriMo, which I should write out, if for no other reason than it increases my word count, and National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is all about the word count. Of course, the other reason to write it out is substantially more prosaic; most of the English speaking world does not recognize NaNoWriMo as a word, especially with that painfully tedious mixed case spelling. It’s not an acronym, because, no one tries to pronounce it as a word, but it is a marginally abbreviated signifier of the annual challenge to write 50,000 words in a single month.

For many years, I have contemplated joining the madness that is NaNoWriMo. I admit, there are outlines of novels in various stages of completion in my “Writing” folder, most of which lack characters, plot, or even anything more than the basic skeleton of a world, or idea. The teensy lack of such details are the reason I have heretofore opted out of the annual November ritual. And this year was looking no different.

And then, on November 5th, a series of unlikely events lobbed a fully-formed novel idea into my lap, which, in my experience, is also an unlikely event. So, even though it was nearly a week late, my NaNoWriMo friends encouraged me to jump in, and I decided it was time.

The “work-in-progress” is a horror comedy, and it is 20 pages of the worst prose I have ever composed. The good news is that it is about 23 pages long, so, I’m hoping to salvage at least a bit of it. I am still behind, and am trying to figure out how to get the words of this column to somehow figure in my word count for the day.

I also failed to account for the fact that I had a non-word count contributing presentation to finish this weekend, and I managed to waste hundreds of words that don’t count on that project. Useless, non-contributing words.

Working on a new writing project as intense as this one, I have also managed to find new ways to procrastinate while feeling productive, which include repeatedly re-calculating my minimum daily word count number, estimating how many words are in the one-and-a-half sentence paragraph I just finished, and wondering if the hyphenated adjective “one-and-a-half” counts as only one word or four words (it only counts as one).

I can hardly wait to finish this and start a few thousand words of mostly gibberish in for the day. I am in awe of the slowly growing count of words, and even more that some of then are marginally coherent. What pleases me most about getting the words down is that I’m no longer simple talking about writing them, I am writing them, and, perhaps in a few months, after getting all the words down, I can get rid of the wrong ones, and have produced an actual novel.

Stranger things have happened.

Making a Vital Halloween Contribution to Your Community

derelict structureAfter last year’s critique of Halloween decorations, I decided I would no longer simply be a critic, I would show others the error in their ways by providing a superior example.

For the last 10 months, I’ve been preparing my house to be the scariest house on the block.

My commitment to this project is absolute. First, I have been actively cultivating spiders by refusing to clear the rotting leaf material out of the flower beds and corners of the house. Not only do these areas encourage the kinds of creepy crawlies that consume the decaying vegetative matter to thrive, it attracts spiders to eat those creepy crawlies, and *BOOM* authentic spider webs all over the place.

The general air of decay does actively contribute to the general sense of disrepair on the property, which has been simmering for months. Peeling paint and shutters missing slats gives it just enough a sense of abandonment to make all the neighborhood kids give the place a wide berth.

To give the place a further “air of despair,” I’ve started to keep the lights turned out, even when I’m home, so that people think there is no one living here. To help the illusion, I use the back door to come and go.

Just to make sure that everyone in the neighborhood knows that my house is the scary house of the neighborhood, I’ve started a few juicy rumors about discovering a Native American burial ground in the unfinished crawl space under the house, and a scrapbook of old newspaper clippings with tales of multiple murders and mysterious deaths on the premises. Adding in a few well-placed stories of doors closing by themselves, bleeding walls, and strange noises in the middle of the night, and we’re a shoo-in to be the place all neighborhood kids fear above all others. If I work it right, I might be able to convince them that there’s a monstrous shut-in chained up in a closet or non-existent attic.

I am committed to taking this the whole way forward. There are no short cuts in modeling Halloween houses that are actually frightening. The backyard  is now completely taken over by weeds and bits of old, rotten furniture, and I’ve hidden a few ominous trinkets in the yard for people to stumble upon and draw their own horrifying conclusions.

Naturally, I hope that the weeks of dedicated neglect necessary to achieve a true house of horror keeps kids away, or, at the very least, causes a few sleepless nights for would-be trick-or-treaters. Perhaps I can successfully traumatize the next Stephen King, or become the stuff of neighborhood legends for decades to come.

Cultivating the mystique of a derelict building is starting to conflict with my desire to be a conscientious homeowner, but I can say that the realization of how much work there is to “undecorate” is enough to re-affirm my devotion toward making a model spooky house in our neighborhood.

So, the next time someone complains that your weeds are too high or your hedges are out of control, just tell them you are making an important contribution to the character of your community. You are providing the neighborhood with its very own haunted house.

 

The Way to a Writer’s Heart

The New Car

I have been driving the new car for a month, and am happy to report that I have finally mastered the controls for the windshield wipers. No longer am I confusing the instrument for a gear shift, nor blinded by the panic of a windshield unexpectedly sprayed with liquid and obscured by large, rapidly waving sticks.

The controls on the radio, on the other hand, are still defeating me.

I appreciate that with any new car there is a familiarization process. Usually it’s preceded by a “honeymoon” period where the car is all exciting new smells and new love with shiny parts. There’s also anxiety over protecting it from getting dirty or blemished.  I have the anxiety parts, but, I’m still holding my breath for the exciting part of the honeymoon. Which probably explains my purpling face.

While I am pleased with the pep in the engine, and I’ve found the hatchback pretty handy, and the CD player has some nifty new accessories, I admit, I have not been completely beguiled by this unknown Korean.

In part, I’m having trouble moving on. Like when any long-term relationship ends, there are the poignant reminders of the good times and the things you loved. I liked being a member of the Saturn Secret Society, and now, when I see my fellow club members on the road, they no longer know me, or offer me the secret handshake. When I see a Saturn of my year or color, and I feel that pang of longing and the shame of my betrayal all over again. You never really forget your first.

I miss the key fob that locked the doors. My new car has fully manual everything, and I’m in the painful period of developing new habits. As my button mashing muscles start to atrophy, I’ve had to re-discover my lock switching skills. Plus, there’s now no light which stays on in the garage for a few minutes after I lock the car.

These are small complaints in the general scheme of things, and I remind myself every second that I am very fortunate to have a long term solution lined up instead of a simple rebound relationship.

However, things are looking up.

Just this week, I got the title paperwork from the car dealer. From those documents, I learned that my new friend sat on the lot, unloved and forgotten, for seven years. This feisty car, which is eager to run and play, and just wanted to run free on the highways and byways of the world had gone unnoticed and unwanted while all the flashier cars got adopted and taken home to new families. My sister pointed out that we had picked the really good, well-behaved, but overlooked doggie at the shelter who only wants a forever home, and has watched everyone pick the puppies or the prettier animals. My sister proclaimed that now we know the true story, the car needs a name. She suggested we christen it “Spot.”

I’m not taken with the name Spot. But, casting the car in the role of long-suffering underdog, who just needed a friend? That was all it took to win my heart. Truly, the best way to a writer’s heart is a good story. I think the honeymoon has finally begun.

The Price of Betrayal

The New Car

We’ve had the accident, and “The Lindsey Show,” and the next part is about the rest of it.

But, where to start? Do I tell you about the accident involving my mom, who also was rear-ended? Do I mention the incompetence of the body shop that was to do the estimate for the insurance company? Maybe I mention the generous gifts from kind family members, or the unexpected, beyond expectations assistance from a towing company, or the mysterious appearance of a pack of raccoons wearing tiny birthday hats?

Following the path of strongest emotion, I share with you the part where I said goodbye to my faithful friend. There it was, sitting in the parking lot of the body shop, where its heart still beating strongly, and its head still intact. It looked strong and vital in the parts that mattered, it still drove, and here I was, abandoning my good and trusty friend on field of battle, bleeding and wounded, still ready to continue the fight. Its headlights were clear and they stared at me, full of hope ready to go home with me. Those eye-lights were trusting me, expecting me to take care of everything, to make things better. They did not even consider that I might be sending it to a terrible fate in a junk yard or a heap of scrap. It was giving me its auto-puppy eyes, and how could I say no to those? How could I betray it so thoroughly?

I reconsidered the whole plan to let the insurance take the car. Maybe it wasn’t too late, I could get the major bits all fixed, and keep it.

But, the reality was that fixing the bits was like giving Methuselah a face lift. Spending finite resources on fixing it up would not solve the problem long-term. It was time to let it go, and face the horrors of car shopping.

The insurance money was a pittance, not nearly as profitable as 30 pieces of silver. Hardly worth the betrayal. When added to the generous contributions of family members, however, it amounted to enough to find a replacement, hopefully one with an engine and everything.

Finding myself with a day off work due to the flooding in Colorado, I went to a big dealer’s sale downtown. I kept being shown cars 1000-1500 above my maximum price, and I despaired that my expectations were too high.  “You mean you want a vehicle with a steering wheel? Are you out of your mind? I’m afraid a steering wheel is out of your budget.”

And then, they showed me a car which was in my range that had a mere 47,000 miles on it. It seemed too good to be true. It even had a steering wheel, and *four* other wheels.  It had breaks and seat belts.  It drove well.

Before I knew what was happening, and despite the fact that I had brought no money, I left with a wad of paperwork and a stomach full of anxiety. I no longer had the ability to say anything other than “What have I done now?”

It turns out, I had bought a car.

Presenting “The Lindsey Show”

The smmoshed car, different angle

Ladies and Gentlemen, it’s time for the Lindsey Show!

At this moment, you’re thinking that the car accident must’ve jarred my brain, and I’ve forgotten my name, and that last week we had ended on a cliff overlooking the dreadful Puddle of Pain. How could I forget these important details?!

No car accident yet invented could erase you from my mind. And yes, I still know my name is Ms. Frederica Horglesnop. That is not a name that is easily forgotten, believe me, I have tried.

At any rate, we take up the tale at the point where I have arrived home to face the challenges of having to share the terrible truth with someone else. Once I proclaim it out loud, it becomes solid, a tangible and horrible reality.

Reality is incredibly inconvenient.

The good news is that reality can be muted for a short time if it is observed through the goggles of fermented beverages. I immediately took my sister up on her sympathetic offer of a visit to the land of food and ferment, where people will bring you yummy things, and I am rescued from having to carefully pile the plates in the sink and can avoid the hazards of possibly shifting the precariously balanced tower of unwashed dishes.  Not that I have ever seen such a monument in my house.

We were seated across from a young family, mom, dad, baby, and a little girl about two years old.  They had mostly finished their meal, and were relaxing, having a night away from home, where there could not possibly be piles of laundry taller than Big Bird, and the dishes were probably all spotless. I find myself jealous of their imaginary house.

As I watched the scene, the little girl noticed me.  She cocked her head to one side, and then pivoted toward me as if asking me whether I was noticing her.  I mirrored her motion, and she grinned from ear to ear.  She straightened her head, and then put her thumbs together and her forefingers together in a triangle shape, and peered into her finger teepee, and aimed it at me. I teepee’d her right back. The teepee became a side-wave gesture, and that one, too, was followed.

Then, she was stumped. No other gestures occurred to her. So, I helped her out by raising both arms straight up in the air and making a look of surprise.  The charming toddler burst into delighted laughter.

Charismatic two-year olds proved far superior to adult beverages this day.

At this moment, her father, amused by the proceedings said, “It’s a pity she’s so shy, isn’t it?”

A few minutes later, the youngster decided it was time for animated conversation, and became incredibly chatty, asking questions pointing to things, and reciting bits of knowledge she had gleaned.  Her father turned to no one in particular, and announced “Ladies and Gentlemen, it’s time for ‘The Lindsey Show!”

I told him it was a pretty good show, and I hoped it would be renewed for years to come.

Having gained a touch of perspective through babies and beer, I could put reality on the shelf for the night, and pick it up again another day.  And that is where I shall put this story for now. In next week’s exciting conclusion, the tale becomes one of unexpected outcomes.

Translating Tragedy

 

My smooshed rear end. My CAR's smooshed rear end
For weeks, I have been trying to to compose not only myself, but this narrative. This tale began as a tragedy, wherein a valiant comrade falls on the field of battle, with the fate of the world riding on its wheels.

 

I take you to a perfectly ordinary Thursday evening some weeks back. It had been a long week, one filled with thirteen paper cuts, a gallon of spilled milk, and a windshield covered in whatsit. I was driving home, minding my own business, when a pedestrian entered my field of vision, at the corner of the street. Being a person who dislikes having person added to my windshield, I stop. The person behind me, without even a drop of whatsit to obscure his view, did not.

 

In the middle of the street lay the shards of my tail light. My bumper had ripped away from its fastenings, the cover to my hood was crumpled, and I knew that even though its heart was still beating, the insurance was going to send my car to the morgue.

 

Dutifully, I moved out of the intersection. I’d like to say that I was filled with compassion and kindness toward the person who had just murdered my four-wheeled friend, and I just did.

 

Saying it not the same as being, however.

 

 I was not feeling much in the way of happiness or kindness. I mostly was looking forward to rolling into a ball and turning into a puddle of pain. I was overdue for a good wallow, after all.

 

 Before I could do that, I had to exchange insurance information, and be polite. Probably I should also avoid reaching into the man’s chest and pulling out his still beating heart. Mostly, because I was wearing work clothes, and heart goop would never completely wash out. I’ve seen CSI.

 

 Because blunt-force open-heart surgery was off the table, I was left with only one option. I had to be civil.

 

 Under the facade of civility, there are many words I said with my outside voice, and a whole other words I said with my inside voice. The man apologized profusely, and told me he had plenty of insurance, and they would take care of everything. I mumbled something like, “Thanks,” without a trace of sarcasm font. My inside voice said, “Your insurance will total my car, and I’ll get almost nothing, no matter how much insurance you have. Thanks for stealing my car.”

 

I got back into my car and banged my fist on the steering wheel in a gesture of futile frustration (OW), and my face started to get a head start on that puddle of pain business.

 

I am going to leave you here for now. I know you’ll be ok, even if you’re left with the horrible thought that I am going home to check into the Pouty-ness Hotel.  Next week, things look up with a surprise guest and an adult beverage.  You all come back now, ya hear?

 

When Procrastination Strikes

tall weeds

I’m pleased to announce that I’ve finally finished the final hours required to achieve a Ph.D. in procrastination.

It’s a common achievement of writers, you can see the tell-tale signs of a writer in pursuit of procrastination by the number of times they call you “out of the blue” when a deadline is impending.  Other signs a writer is avoiding work include a sudden upsurge in completed household chores, including mowed lawns and trimmed hedges. Right now, I’m thinking longingly of the mountain of unwashed dishes and the pile of laundry in need of washing.  It’s tempting to stop writing this and go work on them.

I’ve also found useful distractions in the form of the Internet and television, as well as sudden interests in checking the fridge for something that I know isn’t there.

I realize it is strange that one would actually complete such a degree. After all, someone who fully embraces the tricks of the procrastination would probably never complete anything.

I figure that anyone that learns the intricacies of avoidance and learns the discipline to overcome them, deserves the advanced degree.  Because, it is in conquering the combined power of distractions large and small that we get to call ourselves writers.

I’m also fairly certain that all of this is a lie. I’m merely fooling myself into thinking I’ve achieved mastery over the forces trying to keep me from sitting my posterior in a chair and making words appear on a virtual sheet of paper.  I think the entire Procrasti Nation invented this Ph.D nonsense to make me think I’d done something worth celebrating.

They never give up. And they seem to get much stronger when I’ve made some progress against them. I start writing early every morning, and then a few days later, they convince me that an extra hour of sleep is a much better plan. They tell me that I’ve earned a break. They lie. And, it’s so much more pleasant to believe the lie and to get a bit of rest.

That is, until it’s the day of a deadline and all you can think to write about how much you’d rather be doing anything but writing something interesting to meet your deadline. Then they tell you how you’ve got “plenty of time,” so you might as well take a nap, and, hey, look, your favorite show is on, and you’ve not seen it in ages, and look, the weather is beautiful, and there’s a puppy and an ice cream man, and a guy with a jet pack comes and offers you a ride, and so on and further.

These distraction elementals like to also tell you that you’ve got writer’s block and that the story you’ve spent all week working on is complete crap. Then, they tell you to throw it out and start all over again, and the only idea they leave you with is to write about them.  Better than nothing, I say.

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The Magic that Hides in Plain Sight

Non dairy creamer

If you’re under the mistaken belief that this word is lacking in magic, look no further than your office’s coffee station.  Hidden casually, in plain sight, is all anyone ever needs to prove the existence of magic in this world.

Powdered Non-Dairy Creamer.

All I can hope is that we don’t owe the existence of this magical substance to a dark ritual involving sacrifice of puppies or the burning of 15 million acres of rain forest or wearing polyester.  Please don’t tell me that it is harvested off of the wings of imprisoned fairies or unicorn dandruff, because we’re all better off not knowing.

I’ll grant you that the label says the first ingredient is “corn syrup solids.” That’s Muggle for “something magical we can’t explain, and you’re better off not knowing.” If you ask someone, they’ll probably just tell you it’s just sugar. That is just Death Eater talk, so, you shouldn’t listen to them.

Let’s look into the magical properties of this wondrous substance, shall we?

First, there’s not a bit of dairy in it, but, it makes coffee taste like it’s been given a touch of something that came out of the acceptable part of a female cow.  It’s even mostly white.

Then, there is its peculiar molecular structure, which mutates it into a liquid when exposed to a hot liquid, but gets harder and lumpier in cold liquid.  Even in hot liquid, it still somehow forms a protective barrier over granulated sugar, keeping it from dissolving.  I think that there should be some serious grants awarded to scientists to figure out how to harness these properties. It probably requires someone who knows everything there ever was to know about sedimentology and fluid dynamics. Can we get someone on this? There’s got to be some under-employed master of fluid dynamics in a temp job somewhere that is spending way too much time studying this. Like, what ratios of sugar to creamer result in which absorption rates? Does it matter if the sugar is added first, or if a part of the sugar is exposed to the liquid under the creamer? What happens if you homogenize the two?

You could say I’ve done some experiments. You could also say that no one should spend that much time thinking about coffee creamer.  You might even suggest that I have no idea what use could possibly be derived from a better understanding of non-dairy creamer. You would probably be right. The bad news is that I know next to nothing about fluid dynamics. But I do know that this stuff does some really weird (and that’s a technical term) stuff in liquid.

I probably shouldn’t mention this, as it’s not exactly in keeping with the product’s labeling, and while it’s not a secret, it’s certainly not something we want in front of those who would use the information for evil.  Non-dairy creamer is highly flammable. It can be used as an accelerant for improvised torches and fire-related naughtiness.  This is probably why fairies burst into flames if they get too close to a hot light source. Or maybe that’s just moths. I really hope that it’s not made of the wing scales of moths.  I just couldn’t take it.

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Sometimes, a Butterfly is a Frog

 

Origami Butterfly Earrings. Not frogs.I don’t actually remember what prompted me to start or when it was that I first took up the art of folding paper. I have a vague recollection of coming across my uncle’s thick book of paper airplanes when I was about 12, not realizing it might be a gateway drug to more serious experiments with paper. When looking back through any hazy drug-related flashback, I don’t know if this memory was before or after I had started trying to force paper into animal forms. What I know is that paper doesn’t take kindly to being forced.

What I do remember is that I’d work at it intently for a few months, hit a road block made of crumbled wads of grotesque, malformed, animal-like lumps, and forget about it for a few years.

Usually, I’d return to it when I came across some really nifty paper, or one of my books, and I’d find that things that had been difficult years before, I could attempt with new eyes, and things looked marginally less lumpy.

I am not, in any way, a master of this art, and I keep the attempts that look like balled-up paper to myself. Perfected models I happily give as gifts.

There is a slight problem with this. The objects occasionally take on a whole new form when seen by people who are not me.

Grateful recipients of these carefully folded items will gush over the adorable frog I gave them (it was a butterfly), and I am entirely uncertain how to react. It seems churlish of me to correct their interpretation of the form, even though, for crying out loud, that’s clearly a butterfly. Frogs don’t usually have wings.

Usually, I just agree with them and go on with life, even when my mind is screaming “This is not a Rorschach test! It’s clearly a bird and not a horse. I have no idea how you came up with `horse,’ but can only assume it’s because you’ve never seen a horse.”

I take a deep, calming breath.

While I try and choose models that clearly evoke the shape of their inspiration, let’s face it, many are still somewhat on the vague side. I’m certain that some are complete failures, and the recipient is wondering if it’s really supposed to be anything at all.

I try to use papers with coloring to give further hints as to what I think it’s supposed to be (green means turtle, not bear), even though I’m sure a green bear is just as valid an interpretation as a turtle. They both have tails after all, and four limbs, and lying as a rug in someone’s den, I’m certain anyone could see the resemblance.

Deep cleansing breath.

In all art, there is room for interpretation, I know that. Certainly, there are a great many models which rely heavily on imagination to see the form intended by the designer. If I had seen a particular form without seeing the diagram name, I might also have seen something very different. Sometimes, butterflies are frogs.