"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

Friday, November 28, 2014

I'm all a-sparkle

I believe I met August McLaughlin on Facebook and immediately thought she was equal parts charming and driven. (Imagine my surprise when, after months of stalking her through her FB posts, she said she'd been stalking me the same way!)  I followed her exploits with great interest - here was a woman who didn't just want to change HER world, she wanted the change THE world.

I'm a sucker for that kind of thinking. When she invited me to be a part of #SparkleFriday, I couldn't resist.

"Let's make Black Friday shine! In lieu of a conventional housewarming party, we're having an act-of-kindness celebration.

Between now and 11/28, conduct an act of kindness. Then on the 28th, share a description and/or a photo on Instagram, Facebook and/or Twitter using the hashtag #SparkleFriday. (Writers, feel free to post yours on your blog!)"

Here I am, sparkling.

She gave us about a month to do our good deeds. I thought, well, I should be able to do something nice for someone within 30 days. I signed up and went on with my life, and started to notice things.

The first thing that caught my attention was at the ranch. One of the things I do regularly is put away equipment, sweep out the feed room, refill the fly spray bottle, and generally do what might be considered ranch-style housekeeping. I don't have to do any of these things. They're not in my jurisdiction - most of them are my horse trainer's tasks. But I see how busy she is working horses, so I do it for her to make her life a little easier.

Then there was Bouchercon. One of the members of the OC Sisters in Crime is legally blind. She wanted to go to the mystery convention, but needed a ride. I live in Placentia, the convention was in Long Beach, and she lives in Fountain Valley. Figuring it was half-way between the two points, I volunteered to take her. I could have seen if someone else in the area could do it, could have stayed silent when she spoke of wanting to go, could have done things a lot of different ways that didn't inconvenience me. But I like her company and didn't mind the detour to her house and wanted her to be able to go.

Two weeks ago, one of my horseback riding students spoke with me about a project for school. She has to do 10 hours of volunteer service before the end of January. She is interested in a career with horses, and wanted to know if she could do volunteer work at the ranch. I said yes, even though it meant we would have to coordinate our schedules and I might have to extend my hours a little in order to supervise her. But I want to encourage anyone who wants to work with horses, and she is such a nice girl that I like helping her.

Last week, my trainer and I were at Corner Bakery for lunch. I got my cup and went to the drink area to get iced tea. A young girl stood with her two water cups, sort of in line and sort of not. When the person at the machine moved away, the girl stepped back and looked at me. I motioned for her to go first. She seemed surprised. I suppose I could have gone ahead of her, but she was there before me and was being so patient. What did I have to lose by being nice to her, except a little time?

This week, I was in the grocery store, buying food for Thanksgiving dinner. It's taken me years, but I've finally discovered a recipe for sweet potatoes that is yummy. It calls for fresh yams, not canned, so I was in the produce section, picking out a few with the right size. A woman stopped by the area and began to ask me about them. How do I cook them? What's the difference between yams and sweet potatoes? I explained about the difference and told her about the recipe. It took several minutes, because one question led to another. I was kind of on a schedule. Had lots of stuff left to do, and was under no obligation to educate a stranger. But she was asking for help and I had information that would help her. Why wouldn't I share it?
So it would seem that I conduct acts of kindness quite often. I just don't notice them. As a matter of fact, I may be a serial kindness-performer. I didn't take photos of any of these events, probably because I was too busy doing them.

What I do want to do is thank August for making me realize that, even on days when I am ranting at traffic or crowds, or railing at the sheer stupidity of sections of the human race, underneath it all I am capable of being a nice person. Sometimes we all need to be reminded that we can choose to be good - and that it's really not that hard.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014


The first time I was on Garrett Miller's Rated G Radio show, someone called in and asked where I got the character of Benny Needles. She was certain there had to be a person in my life that I modeled Benny after.

For those of you who don't know Benny, he was meant to be a one-time client of Peri's - a needy little man with no filters on his brain, who was obsessed with Dean Martin. Readers loved him so much, he became part of the regular cast and has appeared in all the books. In the third book, THE HOT MESS, it was acknowledged that Benny has Asperger's.

My answer on the program was that I've known many Bennys in my life. Sometimes they are young children that I am teaching at the ranch. I've even met an adult Benny at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. The man was obsessed with a particular movie studio from the 30s or 40s, and knew all of the films, actors, etc.

Part of me was fascinated by him. Part of me wanted him to move along so I could actually sell some books.

Over the past week, I've spent four days at Bouchercon in Long Beach, and three days at the California Special District Leadership Conference. This means:

1. For seven days, I have been meeting both friends and strangers and giving them "my best Gayle."
2. For seven days, I have heard more people talking than I normally hear in a month.

By the sixth day, I started to notice something: my ears were full. All the voices, all the words, began to blend into a cacophony with no meaning. By the seventh day, my ears were hypersensitive. The man next to me was sucking on a mint. I could hear the hard candy knock against his teeth. On the other side, the man behind me was actually eating his mints. Crunch, crunch, crunch. I wanted to stab both of them with my pen.

I started to think about my hearing. I've always had a problem with certain sounds. Music can get too loud, but there's one click on the volume that will send me to homicidal territory.

My darling husband likes to listen to ESPN Sports Radio while he drives. Or really any station that is broadcasting a game of some sort. These shows are always on AM radio, which has a distinctive timbre. It seems that the speaker on the passenger side is always louder than the driver's side, so I spend every car ride being assaulted by talking heads.

By the time we arrive, I leap from the car, feeling like my ears have just been scraped raw by an industrial rasp.

While I'm sharing, let's also talk about the worst sound ever: people eating. Crunching noises, slurpy noises, smacky noises, they all make me want to run screaming from the room (possibly to retrieve a weapon). There are times when I can't even stand to hear myself eat.

I try REALLY hard to not react to these sounds. They may be assaults to my ears, but only to MY ears. No one is trying to annoy me. Well, that they'll admit. But it's hard. I find my fingers drifting to my ears to stop the noise. I scoot my chair away. I run my finger across the tines of my fork and let my mind wander...

Today I realized something: I may have all my filters in place, but on the inside, I am Benny Needles. There's a reason he seems so real to my readers. I know him intimately.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Where in the world is Gayle?

Good question!

Thursday through Sunday, you can find me at Bouchercon in Long Beach. Most of the action will be occurring at the Hyatt Regency on South Pine Avenue. (http://longbeach.hyatt.com/en/hotel/our-hotel.html)

Mostly, I will be either sitting in panels and looking for fascinating authors for our second annual OC Sisters in Crime Ladies of Intrigue event OR I will be sitting in the bar looking for fascinating people to hang out with.

On Friday at 1:30, I will be the headliner in Room Harbor A. Actually, as you can see on the map it is a small room.

A very small room. As if they don't think many people will show up. It could be true - I'm on the schedule at the same time as the Cadaver Dog Demonstration.

Hell, even I want to go see the cadaver dog.

But if anyone shows up, I'll give out some prizes and yammer about something. It'll be fun - hope to see you there!

Monday, November 10, 2014

How real is your bucket?

A friend of mine was talking about her version of a bucket list. She keeps a list of what she would do if she won the lottery. It's not really a bucket. More like that imaginary box that mimes get stuck in. What struck me was that she is doing some of these things now (no, she hasn't won the lottery). Painting the house, replacing flooring, furniture, etc.

"All these things were on my list," she said. "But I'm not excited about them."

She chalked it up to a general feeling of blah.

I enjoy nice things, don't misunderstand. I'd love to get new flooring and new furniture in my house. But I know it won't make me any happier than I already am. It's not about the stuff anymore. I could live in a trailer park. It'd be okay.

My bucket list is about experiences. I'd like to attend the Oscars. I'd like to visit Wales, maybe Scandinavia.

My imaginary box is fuller, but not of goods, or even experiences. In my imaginary box, I want to be more than I am now. I want to shed my skin and fly, not just through the air, but through the dimensions. I want to know what isn't knowable.

I want my tombstone to say, "She was the muchiest person who ever lived." Okay, either that or, "She was really, really old."

What's in your imaginary box?

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

When we were warriors.

This is me as a tyke.

Yes it's a real rabbit and yes, it's on a leash. His name was Powder Puff.

I'm not certain how old I was. Maybe four. Note the sassy twinkle of the eyes, the swagger in the pose. I'm young enough to still believe in... everything.

At this age:

1. I loved raptors and lions and basically all predators with large claws and big fangs.

2. I tried to catch snakes if I saw them in the yard.

3. On Saturday mornings, I acted out scenes from The Roy Rogers Show. My grandmother's Chihuahua was Bullet. I was Roy.

4. I could spend hours trying to climb sunbeams because I just knew I could do it.

5. I also just knew that if I tried hard enough, I could remember my life before I was born, and I could understand what dogs were saying when they barked, and other impossible things.

I was a warrior.

There is more, but as I traveled through life with my family, in a slow, steady motion, they taught me that I wasn't magical, that snakes were frightening, and Chihuahuas weren't German Shepherds, and there are girl things and boy things. Girl things involve pretending that you are nicer and weaker and less human than you really are. Pretending you can't pick up heavy things, or curse like a sailor, or emit any bodily noise.

At least I had some practice acting on Saturday mornings.

Once I started to grow curves, I learned another lesson about girls versus boys. Girls had a Something called Virginity. It was precious, and once it was gone, it could never be retrieved and the angels wept. Boys could talk about having a thing called Virginity, but what they really had was Inexperience. Not so precious, and once it was gone, well, good riddance.

The day I started my period, I remember thinking, "Well, that's that. My freedom is officially over."

The day I felt uncomfortable in a man's presence because I understood what he could take from me and how important it was and that I feared him because of my own knowledge, completed my transition.

The warrior was gone. In her place was a mouse, scurrying from safety to safety.

I'm thinking about all these things because I'd really like my female pirate to be something more than a fantasy girl who waves a sword and avenges her tormentors. I want her to be a warrior, a woman who lives her life being who she is. Maybe she'll have a hawk, maybe she'll play with snakes, or even possess magic.

But she will not be lessened by sex. And she won't pretend to be less than who she is.

How do I accomplish what society has discouraged within myself? What does this woman look like?

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

And now we return to our regularly scheduled lives

This is the way I always feel about elections:

And now we get back to our day-to-day.

Will someone please go to the office and call an ambulance?

Monday, November 3, 2014

Why should I vote?

Tomorrow is the "midterm elections," a voting day infamous for the teeny percentage of voters who turn out. Even during a presidential election year, we get far too few citizens exercising their right. Let me repeat: citizens exercising their right to vote. It is YOUR right. Blood was shed in order to give you that. Why are you not using it?

Here are some of the reasons I hear:

1. "My husband is one party and I am the other, so our votes cancel out."
Okay, maybe, but if your husband votes and you don't, then your 'party' loses. And are you really faithful to a party? Or do you vote for the person or the issue?

Vote, because even if you can't control the election, you believe in your candidate/issue and you want them to win.

2. "The polls already say Proposition X is going to win. Why should I bother?"
Because the polls get things wrong sometimes. The tide of public opinion sometimes turns. I watched this during the recent vote for Scotland to become independent of the UK. The polls had the "Yes" votes winning by a slight margin. In the end, voters got cold feet and the "No" votes won.

Vote, because your vote is your voice, and maybe it won't win but it will be heard.

3. "These propositions are too hard to understand. I don't even know which way to vote."
I hear ya, Sistah. It's frustrating to me, to read through the actual text of the propositions, knowing that the average reading ability of most Americans is 5th grade and these props are written for lawyers, not laymen. It's equally frustrating that most of the voters will cast their ballots for the most convincing commercial. Threaten with more taxes, less services, more government, whatever provokes the most fear, and people will react.

Vote, because these propositions will lead your state to either prosperity or ruin. If you don't at least vote, you don't get to complain about their results.

4. "Who are these local yahoos, anyway? I don't know/care who we elect to judge/city council/trustee."
Well, you should. This is the level that you DO have some control over - the LOCAL level. Your city may be in debt. Don't you want someone that wants to pull it out of the red? For everyone who wants city services to thrive, but doesn't want to pay more in fees/taxes, how are any of these candidates planning to accomplish this?

Vote, because you care about your streetlights, your safety, your children's education, your home.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Music and memories

I know the autumnal equinox was back in September, but in southern California, it has been summer since about March. It feels like we've had nothing but temperatures in the 90s and above for such a long time, perhaps we should never see fall or winter again. Not that those seasons are so very cold down here in Orange County. Still, I am used to a few months of temperatures in the 50s and 60s and varying amounts of rain.

This weekend we had fall. Rain, cool weather, with the added bonus of changing the clock back an hour. Nothing says autumn like darkness at 5 p.m.

Certain music reminds me of certain seasons, something I'm aware of every time the weather gives me that first day of spring, summer, etc. In SoCal, it's a little difficult to have that first day of winter, or even summer, but even the thought of a season makes me think of a song.

This is what I've been hearing in my head this weekend:

The album was released in March 1970, but I have a memory of hearing the song one crisp autumn day back in Illinois. The moment froze for me, what I was wearing, where I was standing, and that vague yearning for more in my 16-year-old heart.

For winter, my mind drifts to this:

I know, it's so totally disco, but I remember seeing the snow falling one night outside my window as this song was playing, and the swirling sound of the violins captured the swirls of snowflakes blowing across the streetlights.

Spring is found here, in my head:

This was all about being a college kid and having a local band covering The Stones and feeling very grown up.

And Summer:

Ah, the days of lip-synching, but I still adore John Sebastian (lead singer for those of you youngsters). The heat and stickiness of the summer day combined with the words "back of my neck feeling dirt and gritty" summed up my forever-feelings about summertime.

Each one takes me immediately back to the memory when I hear it. I often think of trying to capture this idea of a character being motivated by songs that jiggle memories loose could be interesting, if done correctly.

What song takes you to a time and place?

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