"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

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Help! (I need somebody)

Yesterday we did our traditional Christmas photo shoot. Years ago, we started taking a picture of the three of us to include in our cards. Then one year, I got the bright idea to include the dog and cat, too. This was a little more chaotic than just three people, especially since we were doing it in the living room with the camera on a tripod on a timer. Imagine:

Get everyone posed. Keep the dog from sniffing the cat. Keep the cat on son's lap. Get everyone re-posed. Go set the timer. Run back to family. Re-pose everyone. Hear click. Wonder whether you smiled or not. In the age of processed film, this made a difference.

When my mare, Frostie, had her baby (Snoopy), I decided we needed a Christmas picture with the horses, too. We tossed the cat and dog in the car and drove to the ranch, where we went through the same delightful process with the added difficulty of keeping Frostie from sniffing the cat and Snoopy from wandering in and out of the shot.

Now that we have a digital camera and can usually find a willing helper to take the pictures (thanks, Niki!) the only thing we have to do is pose. And re-pose. And re-pose again, until we have enough pictures to choose one. (I'll be posting the outtakes on Snoopy's blog, or you can see them on my Facebook page.)
My dilemma this year is that we actually got several pix that we could use, so I thought I'd see if anyone has a preference. Vote for your favorite in the comments below. If no one has a favorite, I may just toss a dart at them and see where it lands.

Picture 1:

Picture 2:

Picture 3:

Picture 4:

Picture 5:

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thankful? I am...

Quite frankly, I am humbled, to have brought this young man into the world and had the privilege to watch him grow, just so I can be witness to this:

(He's the one in the middle with the fluffy hair.)

I thanked him yesterday, on the way home from college, saying, "I'd love you no matter what, even if you were a scofflaw and a scoundrel. But thank you for being so easy to love and such a nice person to be around."

His response? "Scofflaw. That's a fun word."

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

I can't help myself

I'm supposed to be cleaning my house today, since I'm hosting Thanksgiving and I have a cat and dog who love to run through the house, plucking their fur and leaving it on everything. But I needed to take a quick break to post something that's on my mind.

Be warned: I am now about to venture into the territory known as Too Much Information. I promise not to be graphic, or post any pictures. What does this have to do with writing?

Everything. You see, writers are funny critters. When something strikes us as worthy of writing about, we must jot it down, even if it is embarrassing, heartbreaking, or even potentially dull for a reader. (If it's the latter, we just liven it up after we've gotten it on paper.)


All the recent brouhaha about the TSA's new body scan/public grope procedures reminded me that I needed my yearly Pap smear. My ex-husband used to get mad about my yearly checkup because he was jealous of another man looking at me naked. What kind of tryst he thought I was having with my doctor under garish exam room lights with a nurse looking on, I'll never know.

For all of the anxious men out there, let me walk you through a standard checkup:

First, you are weighed. They let you put your purse down and take off your shoes, but you cannot undress. The best you can do is to exhale and hope it makes your lungs lighter.

Next, you pee in a cup, then carry the cup to the nurse's station for them to dip a little paper strip. While that strip is drying, they prick your finger with a needle and put your blood on another paper strip. Paper strips are big with nurses.

After they check your blood pressure, you go into an exam room, take off your clothes and put on a paper dress. Actually, they used to give you a paper dress. Now, they give you a paper crop top and a paper sheet to cover your lap. I'm five feet two and it all barely covers me. I don't know what my taller friends do.

The doctor and nurse come in, and ask you a bunch of questions about your health while the doctor pries your nether regions open with a vise and scrapes a few cells off your cervix with a skinny little plastic instrument that feels like a hammer and chisel while it's doing its job.

Satisfied, gents? Romantic enough for ya? Bet you're happy all you have to do is turn your head and cough.

So when I went to my doctor's appointment on Thursday, I began by sitting in the waiting room worrying about whether I had to pee. I didn't have to, which was a problem. It's not something I can do on command if there's nothing in the tank. Seriously, in the past, I have handed the nurse a cup with an eighth of an inch of liquid in it and said, "Sorry. It's all I had."

It was an awkward moment.

When my name was called, I went back with the nurse, got on the scale and tried not to look, then prepared for what came next.

"Come on back and we'll get your blood pressure," she said.


Apparently, I'm at the age of no longer needing to pee in a cup, or give blood. She took my blood pressure and escorted me to the room, where I got ready for the doctor. I was sitting in my paper ensemble when my body said: "Hmm. We didn't pee in the cup. We didn't have to pee, but we didn't. Do we have to now? We don't know. We were expecting to have to, and then we didn't. Hmm."

Since I was already decked out for the doctor, I couldn't very well run down the hall for a quick pit stop, so I sat there and told my body it was imagining things and I was fine.

The nurse practitioner was scheduled instead of the doctor. She's a very nice woman, explains everything and tries not to cause any pain. We began the exam by discussing menopause and what I needed to do next to control my symptoms without harming my bones, etc. Finally, it was time to stop examining my advancing age and start examining me.

"Hmm," she said as she worked. "Your cervix is closed very tightly and will not let me collect cells."

Well, that's a new one.

She tried for several moments, then told me she might have gotten enough to test, but she'd give me some medicine to help things along in case she had to call me back in for another attempt. It was also impossible to check my uterus out, so she made an appointment to get an ultrasound of that area, in addition to my mammogram and a bone density scan.

"I have to go back for an ultrasound," I told my husband that evening. "My uterus was uncooperative."

He didn't even blink. I guess he's heard weirder things come out of my mouth.

A couple of days later, I went back for the ultrasound. Naively, I believed the technician would goo up a small knob with cold gel and rub it around my lower stomach area, the way they do it when you're pregnant.

No. Think more internally, if you get my drift. First, though, she put my feet in very non-adjustable stirrups and scooted my tush down until I thought I was in some kind of secret yoga position that only true yogis can practice after they've broken both hips. As my thighs cramped and knees ached, she began her work. She looked at the monitor, moved the wand, pressed buttons, repeated, for about 10-15 minutes.

Just as I was going to ask if she was shooting a mini-series, she said, "All done. You can get dressed now."

Will the pictures show I'm healthy? Did she photograph my good side? And if I have this much fun at my regular appointment, how much fun will it be when I go for my mammogram?

See how this story fits into writing? I'll bet you're all on the edge of your seats. With any luck, it's not because your feet are in the stirrups.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A post-script of sorts

In my last post, I listed the kinds of acts that separate the people with a shred of decency from the people whose decency is in shreds, the latter kind being a kind of villain I like to write. In my post, I listed the following examples:

They could return the twenty-dollar bill that has just fallen from the stranger's pocket, or they could keep it themselves. They could call 9-1-1 when they see the man being beaten, or they could go back to their work. They could help the old lady on to the bus and give up their seat, or they could push her under the wheels and ride comfortably.

At the time, I wrote that last example as a stretch of the imagination. I mean, really, what kind of person would do that?

I'd like to introduce Exhibit A.


Reviewers talk about how far-fetched plots might be, but, really - is there anything a human WON'T do?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

What is the measure of a villain?

If you don't read Alexandra Sokoloff's blog, or Murderati, you should. Even if you are not a writer, but just a reader or movie buff, they discuss the way that stories develop, as well as what makes a good character, whether it be hero or villain.

So what makes a good villain for you? Do you need someone so deliciously evil, they will never be redeemed?

Okay, not her.

Hannibal Lector comes to mind. His character is solidly twisted. Whether it is nature or nurture, it doesn't matter anymore. He can be in prison for a lifetime, meet with a psychologist eight hours every day, get shock treatments, none of it will rehabilitate him. We are committed to seeing him caught and punished and we do not feel any guilt about that.

And then there's my personal favorite, Mrs. Danvers. Loony as a tune, crazed with grief over Rebecca's death, she will not rest until she has driven The Second Mrs. DeWinter out of Manderlay, dead or alive. There's something unashamedly malicious about her that I like. She is righteous in her madness.

Those characters are wonderful, because we can point all our anger on them and exact our revenge. We don't have to say, "Aw, poor baby. He probably just had a bad childhood. Maybe she's a little hormonal. If only someone would remove that thorn from his paw, why, he'd be right as rain."

Naw, we hate them, and we LOVE it.

The villains I find fascinating are the marginal characters, villains of opportunity. They're the people who could live nicely, who could be decent, until The Choice comes across their path. They could return the twenty-dollar bill that has just fallen from the stranger's pocket, or they could keep it themselves. They could call 9-1-1 when they see the man being beaten, or they could go back to their work. They could help the old lady on to the bus and give up their seat, or they could push her under the wheels and ride comfortably.

In some ways, I think of these people as more soulless than Hannibal and his ilk. Hannibal has a clear, although degenerate, path and a core set of beliefs. Evil Opportunists blow in the wind. Their tenets include nothing more than doing whatever benefits them the most. Perhaps they're Narcissists. Don't know. Don't care. Don't like 'em.

But they may be harder for us to hate, because they're our neighbors and our co-workers. Sometimes they're our friends.

When I was an engineer, I used to play The Earthquake Game when I was in a boring meeting. I'd look around the room at my co-workers and imagine that a giant earthquake struck. Then I'd try to guess who in the room would be pulling people to safety and whose footprint would be in the middle of my back as they escaped.

These are the "villains" I like to write about. It's hard to feel good about hating them, because in so many ways, they could be us. And hopefully, watching their bad choices makes us want to strive harder to choose Good over that slippery slope to Evil.

Who are your favorite villains, and why?

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