"The notion that such persons are gay of heart and carefree is curiously untrue. They lead, as a matter of fact, an existence of jumpiness and apprehension. They sit on the edge of the chair of Literature. In the house of Life they have the feeling that they have never taken off their overcoats."
- James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Go ahead. Debate me. Or not.

This morning I went to see my very awesome dermatologist, Dr. Hsu, who used her freeze-ray gun to zap a number of moles and blemishes on my person (I did complain that I always leave her feeling like I've been electrocuted). As she was zapping me, I was making little "pew-pew" noises in my head, mostly to distract myself from the discomfort. I got to thinking about STAR WARS and I realized something.

They should have never made those prequels.

Before I'm branded a heretic, hear me out. I have two reasons for my statement (and sincere apologies to Mr. Lucas, I still love the storyline).

1. The first trilogy had elements to it that made it immensely entertaining. It was action/adventure, a space Western-Samurai movie, full of pew-pew fights with lively banter in between. We went with this story happily, giddily, because we knew that the hero and his plucky band of rebels would win. Good would triumph over evil. We were not disappointed.

The prequel is all about Anakin's descent into Vader, the destruction of the Jedi, and the rise of the Empire. It is not a happy story. The hero does not win because there is no hero. It's grim on top of grim with a side of grim. The pew-pew fighting wasn't adventurous fun, it was a desperate struggle to survive. And let's just forget Jar Jar ever happened. He was the only comic relief and he wasn't funny.

I get it--this is the only story to be told, the story of how things came to be the way they were before Luke Skywalker looked up at the double moons and chafed against life as a farm boy. Which leads me to...

2. At the end of all discussions, the prequel trilogy is backstory. It's a prologue. How many of you actually read a prologue in a book? True confession: I'll read them if they're 1-2 pages and not italicized. If I see one going on longer, I skip it. Sometimes I skip the whole book.

Blah Blah Blah.

What are we writers told about writing backstory? You don't plop it all into the front of the book, or any place in the book, in a big lump of "here's what happened before Chapter 1." You sprinkle it throughout the story, using it right before it's needed. There is no need to give me several pages describing your character's PTSD prior to Chapter 1 if I need to connect with that PTSD in Chapter 10. 

You certainly don't need three movies to explain it.

By the end of the RETURN OF THE JEDI, I had received all the backstory I needed. Empire bad, Rebels good. Vader bad, Jedi good. Vader is Luke's father, Luke rejects Dark Side, Good conquers Evil. Did the prequels tell me anything else I needed to know?

I think not, although I guess your mileage may vary.


Sunday, January 3, 2021

If your best day was your last

 We had a recent scare with our golden retriever, Lady Spazzleton. She came to us in June 2012 as a rescue. At the time, the vet estimated her age at between 4 and 6. When she had to have her spleen removed in 2016, the vet told us she had typical problems for an older dog.

"So she's not eight?" I asked.

"Oh, no," he replied. "She's at least ten."

Lady Spazzleton when she came to live with us.

So basically, she's somewhere between 14 and 200. Even 14 is old for a goldie.

She's got arthritis and sleeps a lot, but plays with Duffy the corgi, bouncing on her stiff legs, tail wagging, still a puppy inside that old frame. I know her days are numbered but every day she's the same happy-go-lucky dog with no complaints.

On Wednesday, she began having intestinal issues, refusing to eat, throwing up, etc. Fearing a blockage, I got her into the vet Thursday morning, who ran every test they could plus x-rays and diagnosed her with colitis. I breathed a sigh of relief.

At 14, she could not have survived surgery for a blockage.

For two more days I watched her lay around, lethargic, refusing to eat. She would drink water then go throw it up in the yard. Her face was drawn. She was in pain, and I started to wonder whether it was "time."

I have two different friends who told me of having to put down their pets. In both cases, they said their fur-babies were on the decline, couldn't get out of bed without assistance, ate minimal amounts of food, etc. And then a day came when the pets got up, ran around, played like they were two-year-olds again, and THAT was the day my friends took them in to be euthanized. And at the time of their telling their stories, I thought, "NO, but they're feeling GOOD!"

Now I understand.

Lady Spazz was so sick, so sick. I hovered over her for four days, stuffing pills down her dry throat, sitting with her on her very dirty, dog-hairy bed, watching her pain, talking to her. The vet's office was closed (yay, New Year's) so if she needed more professional help, we'd have to take her to the emergency clinic.

I couldn't stand the thought of her being so sick and being hefted into the back of our car and driven to strangers, who might possibly be responsible for sending her to that dreamless sleep. To feel like utter crap and then die? Perhaps living your best day ever on your last day isn't so bad.

Fortunately, by Saturday afternoon she began to rally and ate a little chicken. On Sunday, she was ravenous and ate breakfast and dinner with great enthusiasm. She was back to wandering about the yard, finding me to lay at my feet, and sleeping by my bed.

I know she is an old dog, and that I am losing her piece by piece. My prayer is that she makes the decision someday, to stretch out on the warm patio in the sun, close her eyes and take the last breath. Failing that, I pray for the wisdom to help her if she needs it when "the time" comes.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Playing favorites

 I got it into my head over this holiday season to watch as many versions of A CHRISTMAS CAROL as I could find and make a list of favorites. I don't know why I get these wild hairs, but I did. My criteria was simple: the version had to be available on a channel/service that I already had, and had to be free.

I mean, I wasn't going to go overboard on this thing. It was a fun way to relax.

The versions I ended up watching, listed by date and Scrooge, were:

1. 1938, Reginald Owen

2. 1951, Alastair Sim

3. 1954, Frederick March (an episode of the TV show, SHOWER OF STARS)

4. 1979, Henry Winkler (AN AMERICAN CHRISTMAS CAROL)

5. 1983, Scrooge McDuck (animated)

6. 1988, Bill Murray (SCROOGED)

7. 1992, Michael Caine (Muppet version)

8. 1997, Tim Curry (animated)

9. 1999, Patrick Stewart

10. 2009, Jim Carrey (animated) 

In my long life, I have also seen the George C. Scott version and the Mr. Magoo one. I left them off this list because I didn't want to pay to see them again and I already had ten films, which seemed like a marvelous number.

After watching different characters in different clothing and different settings say the same words over and over, I found that, although I can put them into a list of Most Liked to Least Impressed By, there were three films that I would watch multiple times, and seven that I wouldn't bother with again.

So (not that anyone cares) here are my results:

1. 1951, Alastair Sim. This has been my favorite for a long time. It is creepy as hell, which I enjoy--for Pete's sake, it's a GHOST story! I WANT the dour, creepy vibe of the world of vile, bitter Ebenezer Scrooge. I WANT him to be as scared sh*tless when Jacob Marley shows up as Alastair plays it. And then, when he reforms, Alastair lets loose and becomes mad with joy. I don't care if he chews the scenery. He's a man who's gone through an incredible transformation in one night. He deserves a little fiber in his diet.

2. 1992, Michael Caine. The Muppet version is as sweet as Alastair Sim is sour, so why is it my 2nd favorite? Because the Muppets are so damned zany and the musical numbers are darling and upbeat, and then Michael Caine anchors the film with his gravitas. It's the only version that makes me tear up at the end, when Beaker gives Scrooge the scarf around his neck and Caine is teary, exclaiming, "A gift? For me?" 

3. 2009, Jim Carrey. This one surprised me. It's animated, kind of in the POLAR EXPRESS style. There's a bit of nonsense in between the Ghosts of Christmases Present and Future, involving being chased through London by a casket-carrying carriage drawn by magnificent black horses, but other than that, I liked the freshness of the dialogue. I know these lines by heart, and yet it sounded like I was hearing them for the first time. I'll take the nonsense in stride, especially if it includes horses.

Here are the rest, fallen away by miles from the top:

4. 1988, Bill Murray (SCROOGED). I love Bill Murray, but this was a little too grindingly mean for my tender heart. I do appreciate that Bill keeps his edge while he's being transformed.

5. 1983, Scrooge McDuck (animated). Yeah, it's simplistic and syrupy, but it's as comfy as an old sweater.

6. 1999, Patrick Stewart. Love me some Patrick Stewart, but I felt like the production was talking down to me, like they were telling me SUCH an IMPORTANT story and maybe they should explain just a LITTLE more so I won't MISS anything, seein' as how I'm an ignorant girl.

7. 1979, Henry Winkler (AN AMERICAN CHRISTMAS CAROL, TV movie). From the lighting to the music, it has "Made for TV" written all over it.

8. 1938, Reginald Owen. I just don't like this guy as Scrooge. Maybe it's the hair, or his disturbing smile. Sue me.

9. 1954, Frederick March (an episode of the TV show, SHOWER OF STARS). It's definitely the condensed version of the story. The best part is Basil Rathbone as Marley's ghost.

10. 1997, Tim Curry (animated). This is a GRANDMA GOT RUN OVER BY A REINDEER style of animation, which makes everything cheesy. Good for Grandma, but bad for Scrooge. Plus, in this version he's got a dog. Inconceivable!

Being a CHRISTMAS CAROL connoisseur for the month was fun. Maybe I'll pick something else to compare and contrast next year.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Glad Tidings, etc.

I make our Christmas cards each year, and each year I send them out, yes, in regular snail mail. A lot of people request them (I do write a killer letter), but even if I haven't heard or seen people in years, I send them a card. Why?

Because when I was a wee child, I watched my mother address TONS of cards every year. Then came the year when I heard her say, "We haven't seen these people in years. I'm not going to send them a card this year." Every year after that, the list dwindled, until she didn't send cards to anyone.

Coincidentally, their list of actual friends they saw all the time and did things with dwindled, too, until they didn't do anything with anybody and sat home instead.

I'm not going to be that person. My door is always open, even if I haven't heard from you in a while. And I'm sending the cards, whether you like it or not. 


Welcome to the party, pal

That’s a line from DIE HARD, and if you don’t think that’s a Christmas movie, we need to talk. Tis the season for Hans Gruber to plunge off the Nakatomi Building. Especially this year.

January 2020 held such promise. We had trips planned, I had a book to launch, there was so much to do and see. What did we get in March? A pandemic, raging fires, murder hornets and meth-gators. There’s probably a very disturbing version of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” in that sentence.

Travel this year was…well, you know how it was. We took a calculated risk in August and went to the Gray Eagle Lodge. Masks were worn, all meals were outside, and I got my first COVID test upon return—not because I’d been knowingly exposed, but because I might have been unknowingly exposed. It was negative, but the trip was positive.

We went to two weddings, one pre-COVID phase and one during the “take precautions” COVID phase, both for our nieces and new-nephews. The one pre-COVID was in Portland. It was back when life was normal, which is good because it rained that day. I mean…Portland in February, right? It was a lovely, fun-filled wedding and reception, and I treasure the memories.

The next wedding was held locally and outside. We had temperatures taken, wore masks, and there was no hugging, which was the hardest part. The venue even socially distanced all of the seating for the ceremony. It was another wonderfully fun wedding—how can any wedding be bad when you’re with loved ones? PS we love these kids.

Dale did his usual trip to Angels’ spring training in Arizona in March, which was shut down after a week. So far, he’s spending the pandemic doing yardwork, helping his mom, and golfing with his friends at a safe social distance.

I had an amazing year planned. First, I was honored to be presented with the Placentia Chamber of Commerce Citizen of the Year for 2020. I won’t lie, it was going to be fun riding in the Heritage Day Parade. Yeah, that didn’t happen. I also published a new mystery, MURDER BYTES. The launch party was a blast (thank you so much if you attended!) and I had a calendar chock full of events…that all got cancelled. I did do a lovely virtual book club, and a podcast that will air in 2021. I filled up the days by going to the stables, writing another book, and running for library trustee again. (I won, by the way.)

My horses are still doing well. I managed to find a way to visit Frostie and Snoopy in Temecula and stay safe. As far as Dhani and showing, we went to two multi-day shows and two single-day shows, wearing masks, washing our hands, and kicking people who got too close. I mean, Dhani was well-behaved, but I can’t say the same for myself.

Marcus was thrown full throttle into adulthood this year, having to learn about things like unemployment and negotiating your rent with the landlord. I’m proud of his initiative to stay independent. He and his singing groups have just gotten back together, wearing face shields. It’s looking dire for the arts, but people who have the will to create don’t lose it because times get tough.

Gosh, I’d love to give you all some magical words to make this entire year feel better. All I can offer is the hope that next year we can look back at 2020 and say, “Yippee Ki-Yay, (you can finish the sentence)!”

Best wishes from our house to yours,

The Carlines


Wednesday, December 9, 2020

It's not courage

 Sometimes I get a thing in my head that won't go away until I find a way to do the thing, even if it's so outside my comfort zone I'd rather just not do the thing.

"Sometimes" happened recently.

I'm not a singer. Yes, I can carry a tune, but I have a narrow range, very alto. I sang in the choir from third through eighth grade, always the alto section which was never the melody. It felt like I sang the same three notes for six years. In high school when it was time to audition for choir, I just...couldn't. Didn't. Walked away from it and never looked back.

I had to start singing again when I was a waitress at Farrell's Ice Cream Parlor but that was different because it was always "Happy Birthday" and everyone was singing along and nobody was in any kind of key at all.

My worst problem with singing is I tend to freeze when I'm asked to sing in public. Freeze as in, I can't even remember the melody of the damn song.

So when a friend of mine gave me an idea for a Christmas song about horse trainers (mine in particular, but it applies to all), I wrote it immediately and wanted to make a video but really didn't want to sing it myself. But there was no one else to sing it.

It doesn't help that my son is a marvelously trained and talented singer and I've listened to him sing with other trained and talented singers and I KNOW I am not trained, nor marvelously talented.

My son tried to give me a few tips on singing, which I tried to take to heart. He also helped me with the music. I'm still not a singer but the song is fun and I sang all by myself and released it to the public. It's not courage. It's just a thing I made because I had to.

PS, it may be on YouTube but I'm not so courageous as to leave comments on. Thanks, but the trolls can stay home!

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