"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

Monday, January 26, 2015

Do I believe in magic?

When I was little, my imagination sometimes bled into reality. I would spend an afternoon trying to climb up sunbeams. I had imaginary friends AND pets. I believed that if I dug into my memories hard enough, I could remember who I was before I was born.

My mother had quite a number of talks with me because she was afraid people thought I was crazy. 

To add to the mix, my family attended a Baptist church, where they believed that all kinds of miracles went down in the Old and New Testaments, but not anymore. The Age of Magic had ended.

Eventually, I packed up my magical thinking and put it on a shelf. Logic became my passion (yes, I had a major crush on Mr. Spock), emotions were my enemy, and software engineering was in my future. I spent 30 years designing, developing, and testing code for a living, and trying to keep my life in the logical zone outside the office. And yet...

I began to think about the hubris that told me that nothing existed outside my own senses. Colors existed outside of my natural eyesight. Dogs could hear sounds my ears could not detect. I breathe air I cannot see. What right had I to expect everything in this world to be easily revealed to me, or revealed at all? 

When I became pregnant with Marcus, I spent nine months in wonderment. When he was born, I was in awe. You could show me all kinds of charts with eggs and sperm and zygotes, etc, but they all miss one crucial step: How did one set of cells from me and one set from Dale spark LIFE?

Magic seeped from the box where I'd stored it, and nagged at me. 

Lately, there have been - oddities - in my life. Things my magical side points to and says, "There! See that? I was right!" Things my logical side pushes away, pooh-poohs, and laughs at, albeit a little nervously. Sometimes when I'm alone, I feel like I'm being prodded by something, and a relative who has died pops into my mind. One day, it felt like my mind was being bombarded from the outside, and my grandparents and parents were running through my mind on the inside. I actually said, aloud, "You people have got to back up and give me some space."

Call me crazy, but I felt a lot calmer after I said it.

So now I'm wondering what I believe in. Could it be there is a layer of existence that I cannot see, but occasionally cross paths with? Or am I trying to climb sunbeams again, in my old age?

Thursday, January 22, 2015

People, damages, and having a past

I have not read Fifty Shades of Grey and I do not plan to do so. My buddy, Tameri, already took that bullet for me. She read the whole trilogy, pronounced the writing not just awful, but godawful, and like any good book reviewer, shared specifics with me to quantify just how godawful it was. She did say, however, that she understood why it was so popular.

"Women fall in love with Christian because he's so damaged."

Yeah, I know we read books and watch movies about characters that have a past, that are broken and trying to renew themselves or right a wrong or somehow seek redemption. They intrigue us. Especially for women - we want to heal these broken souls. But is that who we'd really like to have a relationship with?

I mean, look at this guy.

He's sexy. He's passionate. He's got a boatload of baggage. Yes, he makes you swoon, but would you want to exchange apartment keys with him? Wedding vows? Cell phone numbers? He may be super-hot, but you wouldn't surprise him in the shower.

The reason this is on my mind is that I was listening to NPR recently and there was an author on Fresh Air talking about his memoir on PTSD. (Forgive me but I don't remember his name and it's not germane to the story.) He had gone to Iraq as a war correspondent, came home with PTSD and not only wrote of his experience, but researched the illness to write about it from the diagnostic side of the fence. What struck me most about the interview was his reason for wanting to go to Iraq.

Paraphrasing here, he said he wanted to go because he wanted to be "a man with a past." 

Okay, listen. I understand making choices in your life that you think are good but turn out not-so-much and you regret them and now you're a man/woman with a past. Sometimes things happen to you, outside of your control, and give you a past. If you have traumatic enough memories or spin your minor memories in just the right way, you can be a mysterious man/woman with a past. 

But to consciously choose a dangerous path just to get that label? Not sure I get that.

Anyone out there want to share how they've manipulated their life in order to be a specific type of person?

Monday, January 19, 2015

Living the dream

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is almost over, and I meant to write something earlier, but there were so many words swirling around in my brain, it was hard to pull the right ones out of my mental ether and get them on the page. 

Every time MLK Day comes, we have a lot of discussions about race relations, and racism, and things-are-better, and no-they're-not, and then on Tuesday we go back to our lives and stop talking about anything. We kind of resent the talking that continues because, hey, MLK Day is over. Get back to work.

Here's what I think. Sometimes I think we're making strides against racism, and sometimes I think we'll never get there. As long as people are described as their physical being (as in, the African-American salesclerk, or the black astrophysicist or the Hispanic doctor), we will always call attention to race. As long as the media portrays mixed-race marriages as something different and special (as in, a "very special episode"), we will always call attention to race. As long as the cultural differences are pointed out between races instead of the similarities of being human beings (a quinceanera is just a party, get over it), we will always call attention to race.

As long as we call attention to race, we will not make strides against racism. 

I'm really only talking about the subtle racism that happens when you assume something about a group because they're not like you. Or the even worse racism, when you assume someone is less than you because they're not like you, as in "Wow, you did really well (for a black person)" or "I'm surprised you knew that (you're Pakistani)." 

Overt, hateful, Superior-Race believers (of any race) will never be converted. Call me pessimistic, but other than brain-washing techniques, I don't know how to give any of these people a reason to abandon their misguided beliefs.

I assume my husband has encountered racism. I don't ask him about it, and he doesn't bring up the subject. Why? Because our races don't define us. I've never encountered problems in public when I've been with my husband. Maybe it happened, but I didn't experience it. I don't look around the crowd, searching for disapproval. This is my optimistic side.

The only time I experience "profiling" is when we go into a store to shop. Sales clerks do rush over to Dale to see if they can help him. I know black people hate this. They know it comes from a fear that they will steal something. Before Dale came into my life, I practically had to strip naked and stand on the counter to get service. Now I throw Dale out as bait, then nab the sales clerk when they scurry over.

For me, that's a win.

Lately, my regret is that as a white mom, I didn't teach my mixed race son about being completely and overly submissive with the police. Having never feared the police, I never thought about teaching Marcus to be cautious, don't sass, don't pull your hands out of your jacket too quickly, do exactly as they say, don't resist, etc. As far as I know, he's never been pulled over. As far as I know, he's never been bullied or taunted for his ethnicity. 

If I looked at my family, I'd say race relations were getting better. But I'm no Pollyanna - at least I try not to be.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

One must grow older. The alternative is undesirable.

I'm afraid I'm in a bit of a mood these days. Sentimental, aware of the passing time, dragging my feet, unwilling to leap into that abyss called Old Age. 

I've always loved old movies, but these days I don't want to watch much else. TV shows using the latest technology, latest fashion, music, etc, are jarring. "You're moving too fast," I want to yell at the screen. "Slow down, adjust the seams in your nylons and put on your hat and gloves."

Thank God for Marvel's Agent Carter. That dame kicks ass in fabulous 40s fashions.

This evening, I was looking for some old photos. I can't find the ones I want, which makes me cranky, but I did find things I didn't know I had - letters to my grandmother from her brother when he was stationed overseas during WWII. He mostly wrote that he missed everyone and he couldn't tell anyone where he was, and he wrote poems.

My Great-Uncle Dale, rough-and-tumble Marine who drank a lot of beer and smoked a lot of cigarettes, and wrote things like, "I bet the kids are all growed up by now," wrote poetry. Here's one:

(That Postponed Letter)

I ought to write a letter,
But I can't get in the groove;
If I could write some certain things
You'd see my pencil move.

I'd like to tell what town I'm in,
And just what things I do,
But must be content to wait until
These wartime days are through.

I ought to write a letter
And repeat the things I know,
The things they would not censor out,
Like how I love you so.

Who knew? I never talked to him about his experience, and he never volunteered. I was, after all, just a kid, and a little girl at that.

But now I'm no longer a little girl, and sometimes I don't know how to be old. My mind seems ageless. It feels no different than when I was a teenager. My body doesn't feel 60. Yes, I have aches and pains, but no more or less than when I was dancing. 

Selfies require good lighting, proper makeup, and a scarf to hide the neck wrinkles.

When I look in the mirror, it's another story. The nurse at the hospital (when I went for my colonoscopy) told me, in a rather astonished voice, "You're the youngest 60-year-old I've ever seen." But I know different. I've watched the changes, the wrinkles, the extra chin, the thickening waist. 

I suppose I could get depressed about the whole process, but what is Plan B? I'm certainly not going to waste my retirement money on plastic surgery. The only thing I can do is to keep the memory of my grandmother close to me, and realize that I'm growing to look like her.

My grandparents, Hansel and Myrtle Wetherholt

In the end, I'm proud to look like someone I loved so much.

How about you? How are you handling this thing called aging?

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Quick Draw McGayle

Last Friday, I did something I had never done before. I spent the afternoon with a friend of mine who is in law enforcement, learning all about guns.

That includes shooting a few.

First of all, this was all in the name of research. In my latest Peri book, Peri is going to have to handle a gun. I haven't decided which way it will go, but I do know it will be an emergency situation and she will feel both unprepared and backed into a corner.

Second, I still feel humbled and grateful that my friend, Matt*, devoted an entire afternoon to teaching me more than I ever wanted to know about guns. If you are a writer needing research, this is just the right amount of information: more than you want. 

We began my instruction with a varied array of (unloaded) guns on his coffee table, from revolvers to semi-automatic handguns. He took me through the development of the single-action to the double-action revolver, discussed men who had been instrumental in developing the mechanics, from Colt to Luger to Browning. We talked about silencers, and their misrepresentation in movies/TV. We also discussed different kinds of ammunition, and he showed me examples of every kind.

What I noticed most about the "classroom" session was that at no time did I want to pick up any of these weapons. Part of this was that I was nervous about whether any of these things were truly safe for me to handle, even though Matt is not cavalier about his weapons (not only is he a detective, he is also a target-shooting enthusiast and belongs to a gun club) and had triple-checked each gun to make sure it was unloaded. He finally had to semi-shove one into my hand. 

Surprise Number One: Guns are heavy. Even the small ones, even the ones that are molded plastic on a metal frame, are hefty. When I picked up his oldest single-action revolver with a very long barrel, my first words were, "Oof, carpel tunnel right now."

For the purposes of the book, most of what I learned was fascinating but will never make it in. For example, did you know that the Luger is not really its name? That's the name of its creator. The gun is called a Parabellum-Pistole, "Parabellum" is from the Latin adage, "Si vis pacem, para bellum."

"If you want peace, prepare for war."

Is it just me, or does that phrase give you chills?

After I learned about guns and what to expect at the shooting range, he loaded up everything and off we went to an indoor range in Brea.

Surprise Number Two: I dreaded our arrival. At the time, I couldn't have told you why.

Matt got us signed in and assigned a station, then gave me ear plugs, plus ear protectors, plus protective eye wear, By this time, I was forcing myself to breath and not shake.

The first gun I shot was a double-action revolver, with .38 cartridges. Matt placed the target about a quarter of the possible distance, so I could hit it. My heart was trying to crawl out of my throat, but I rubbed my "Be Brave" bracelet, loaded the gun, and aimed. 

Even with all my ear protection, I tried not to jump at the explosion. It was a quick pop, followed by a little smokiness and an odor - gunpowder? Fortunately, the kickback wasn't nearly as severe as I feared. 

After five shots, I put the gun down, turned to Matt and mouthed, "my heart is beating so hard," while I motioned with my hand. It felt like fear and exhilaration and emotions that might make me cry if I dwelt on them.

"It's natural for you to feel overcome by it," he assured me. "You are aware of what you're holding and how dangerous it is. You know that all you have to do is point it toward someone and pull the trigger, and it's not like firing at a piece of paper."

Then he handed me a box of 357 rounds, moved the target back to halfway down the lane, and had me reload. Talk about an explosive pop - it felt like a bomb going off in my hands.

OOPS! Got my thumb in the wrong place!

I tried a Glock-17 and a Colt Government 1911. The Glock is double-action and the Colt is single-action. Of all the guns, I liked the Colt the best. It felt a little lighter and there was something about both the grip and the sight that made it easy for me to shoot. Matt said it was an enthusiast's gun, but I'm not sure you'd call me an "enthusiast".

We finished our shooting, and returned to his house, where I thanked him profusely and promised to take him to dinner (along with our lovely spouses, of course). Then I went home with my notes and prepared to re-write most of the first scene to match what Matt and I had discussed about law enforcement, guns, and dangerous situations.

Do I understand the attraction to shooting? Not really. With each squeeze of the trigger, I had to remind myself to breathe, keep looking at the target, and relax through the pop/kick. It's not like horseback riding, where the first time I groomed a horse, it was like meditation. 

Do I at least know what it's like? Thanks to Matt, I do. I can now write from a place of knowledge and not just a place of study. 

Not too shabby.

What about you? Have you ever done something outside your comfort zone for research? Or really, for any reason?

*I would love to share with you Matt's last name and picture, etc, but I want to be careful with his online presence because he is in law enforcement, has many guns in his gun safe at home, and I would not put any part of his life in jeopardy for any reason.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Catching up. Much, much catching up.

I confess, I have been derelict in my reading. All writers must read, and read a lot, both in and out of their genre. I've seen a lot of New Year's resolutions about reading outside your comfort zone and I think it's a great idea. I'm a firm believer that if a book is well-written, I want to read it, regardless of what category it falls into.

The holidays afforded me a few chances to read, mostly because I had a cold and didn't feel up to doing anything I was supposed to do. Then, of course, there were the two days I spent prepping for and undergoing a colonoscopy. 

I got a lot of reading done.

Here are my recommendations for anyone looking for a good 2015 story. Full disclosure here: these authors are my friends, but I only recommend books I like. The writing is good. You'll love them.

1. THE STONES OF KALDAAR by Tameri Etherton (click for Amazon link)
A fantasy that will take you to a fabulous new world, populated by a cast of characters who are engaging, intriguing, and keep you guessing as to their deepest motivations. The main character is everything Tameri promises - a kickass heroine struggling to do what's right. And of course there is a handsome rogue to steal her heart. Yes, it is Part 1 of a Trilogy, but I promise you the ending is satisfying enough to keep you filled until the next book comes out.

2. IDENTITY ISSUES by Claudia Whitsitt (click for Amazon link)
Samantha Stitsill is a familiar woman to us all. Life for her is a constant juggling act, of marriage and family and friends and career. She is also a bulldog when it comes to a mystery and won't stop until she has answers. There are also three books to this series, and you can bet I'll be reading them all!

3. SHIMMY FOR ME by DeAnna Cameron (click for Amazon link)
This is a novella, about a part-time administrative assistant, part-time belly dance studio owner who has a one-night stand with a smokin' hot guy, then finds out he may not have been the best choice to scratch her itch. The only way I can describe this story is delicious. Just read it. You won't regret it.

Anyone have any recommendations for me?

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