Friday, October 11, 2013

High Tech

Every now and then I clean out my Word files and find forgotten fragments or completed pieces I didn't post. Here's one from April, 2013. 

I followed a bus home this morning with this advertisement on the back: “ANSWER YOUR DOOR WITH YOUR CELL PHONE.” I thought: Is this the epitome of laziness? Are we no longer expected to bother going to the door to peep out or greet someone in person?

When I first noticed the ad, I pictured the homeowner deciding from the couch whether to “unlock external device” remotely with his phone, but perhaps this gimmick is designed to be used away from home. After all, a traveler can now start a car parked in the airport lot before she gets off the plane. I suppose we could answer our door from the doctor’s office or a bar, too, but why would we?

Maybe I’m missing some vital point. The photo in the ad showed a man waiting outside an entry door. I can understand wanting to know who is ringing the doorbell, even if you don’t live in a questionable neighborhood or haven’t been victimized in the past. I live in a safe area, but I keep my doors locked whether or not I am home.

If answering your door is the stupidest use of a cell phone yet, then checking in at the airport while you are still at home is the most ridiculous use of the Internet. You can go online and check in to avoid those pesky lines at the terminal, and I’m sure many people do it; but, as Tina Turner said near the beginning of “Proud Mary,” “There’s just one thing.” You aren’t there.

How do you know you won’t get a flat tire on the way to the airport, end up by the side of the road wailing for help like the GEICO Gecko, and miss your flight? You don’t.

I do try to keep up with technology, but we all have to make choices. For me it makes sense to ignore some high-tech applications. If you ring my doorbell, I'll still answer it in person. 

Fall Cleaning

By now my collection of stuffed bats should be populating the living and dining rooms. The candlesticks with the spider webs should be decorating the mantle, and my framed picture of “Father Devlin” from The Ghoulish Gallery should be displayed where visitors can watch the somber priest turn into a screaming vampire.

I’m slightly behind schedule.

My collection, built around the theme of my Dracula memoir, is most suitable for Halloween. In the beginning I kept “everybody” in my office. Black bats, a carved Dracula, my little doll of Christopher Lee as the Count, an evil eye from Turkey, Father Devlin, and others surrounded me while I worked. A few years ago I ran out of room and had to put most of my little friends in storage. In October they get to take over the house for a few weeks. I hang the little ones from my dining-room chandelier and put the rest on the tables and chairs.

And, because I skipped spring cleaning, fall cleaning is strongly indicated as a preliminary step. The signals are all there; for instance, every autumn as I track in and out, small fallen leaves from the locust tree out front blow in and settle on my carpets. When I look down, chances are good that I’ll think at least one is a bug. That’s a perfect incentive to vacuum.

This is the weekend.

I started yesterday, but instead of starting in the rooms people would see, I sat on the bedroom floor and de-cluttered a few of my dresser drawers. It’s very important, you know, to divide travel gadgets into backpacking and non- and to separate non-latex bandages from the regular kind in one’s medical kit.

Before I went to Romania, I bought a “healthy traveler" kit online in anticipation of--well, if you know me at all, you can fill in that blank: in anticipation of every possible ailment short of a vampire bite. The kit was filled with little packets of pills, every label unfamiliar. Luckily the names were decoded on a sheet of cardboard included with the medications, but every now and then I have to go back in and sort through the pile and organize it. Oh, yes. It wouldn’t do to pop a couple Alcalak when what you really need is Decorel Forte.

You can see why I didn’t vacuum.

I hope to be able to report in a few days that I’ve decorated for Halloween. That would indicate an absence of autumn leaves as well, although I have so many that I could sprinkle them along the mantle instead, the way people do with Christmas greens. Happy October!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Into the Georgia Woods, Part 4

I feel like my new writing genre is disclaimers. Readers, please don’t think that in putting my backpacking adventure on the page I am being critical of anyone or anything connected to it. I have intended for this particular series of posts to be about my unique experience. This trip was a wonderful learning experience for me, and I would recommend it to anyone considering an investment of time and money in backpacking. I have chosen what to write, and any misinformation or misrepresentation, however inadvertent, is solely my doing. Now, let’s see what happened after the stars came out in Georgia.

When bedtime came, it came for all of us. We gathered our toothbrushes, went into the woods to brush en masse, and then retired to our tents. Camping can be said to reduce your entertainment options, especially after dark, but to me that’s the idea of being in the woods.

I wondered if I’d be able to sleep with my brain working overtime and my senses on the alert for anything from a centipede to a bull moose. However, as soon as I removed my two hearing aids, the sounds of the forest receded. Tired from the day’s events, I soon fell asleep. The next day my tent-mate would tell me that she thought she heard a bear during the night, but it turned out to be someone in the next tent snoring.

I did wake up in the dark, and I could have used a “nature break,” but there was no way I was leaving our tent. I wasn’t just jumpy; I was also 67, and not as agile as I might have wished. The previous evening I had lost my balance trying to exit the tent in a low crouch. Though I wasn’t hurt, I’d hit the dirt in front of everyone. It was another lesson learned: If I bought a tent, I’d need to pay attention to its construction and door placement. And my limitations.

I was the oldest hiker in our group, and part of my purpose in being there was to evaluate my physical ability to endure the trail. In 1955, Emma “Grandma” Gatewood hiked the Appalachian Trail at age 67 with a pair of high-top sneakers on her feet. It has been said and proven that even those with physical handicaps can complete a long hike, but it is also true that 70 percent of people who attempt a thru-hike drop out.

We broke camp after breakfast and began our hike back to the trailhead. We were following the same path we had taken before--the downhill one, if you recall—and so this time it was straight uphill. I didn’t weigh my pack, but I felt the strain of climbing the slippery trail wearing the pack and trying to grab onto tree trunks while holding a trekking pole in each hand. I wanted to keep up, but I also wanted to throw my gear over the nearest cliff and perhaps have someone serve me a tall glass of iced tea under a ceiling fan.

I was not the only one being challenged. One of the men fell and another smacked into a tree limb that hung at eye level in our path. In addition to navigating the natural vagaries of the trail, one of the women was nursing blisters. We crossed a paved road at one point, and it was there that our guide offered to let her shed her pack. We could hide the pack, he explained, and come back for it later in a car. That sounded good to me, and here is where I have to tell you that I wimped out. Two backpacks were hidden in the foliage, hers and mine.

It wasn’t a perfect trip and shouldn’t have been; it was a test. They all are. Mother Nature is unpredictable, gear is unpredictable, and we’re unpredictable. A thousand things can happen even to the well prepared. I’m glad I spent a night in the Georgia woods. Maybe I’ll give backpacking another whirl, now that I can boast that I’ve been four miles. All right, three.

After we returned to the shelter to empty our packs, return the gear we had used, and say good-bye I walked to the visitor center. Using the restroom there was a thrill. I also bought a T-shirt to remember my hike in Black Rock Mountain State Park. Back at my son’s house, I immediately took a hot shower, put on clean clothes, and assumed a catatonic position on the couch.

Oh--don’t be disappointed that we didn’t see any wild animals. I’m not.

Thanks to all of the outdoor experts who have helped me to understand what hiking and camping are about. You might even see me out there again. 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Into the Georgia Woods, Part 3

Once we entered the backcountry of Black Rock Mountain State Park—moments after leaving a paved parking lot--sounds of the outside world were muffled by forest. We walked in silence until our guide stopped us to point out a few more dangers we might face. That would be in the event we survived stepping on a snake.
Do you know what a widow-maker is? To hikers, it’s a tree or large branch that suddenly falls to the ground. Happens all the time in the woods, and you don’t want to be under one. Not only should we keep our eyes on the trail for snakes and now branches in our path; it wouldn’t hurt to look up once in a while as well.
Tip: An alert hiker stays alive.
Our hike to the campsite was about two miles, largely downhill. As we descended the mountain, our guide made sure we could recognize poison ivy growing along the trail, and there were discussions of mushroom types, water purification, and large animals.
“Make yourself big” during a bear encounter, he said. “Hold your jacket open and put both arms up so you’ll appear larger than you are. And make noise.” Don’t worry; if I come face to face with a 300-pound black bear, my screams will be heard in Cincinnati.
Did you know that an orange plastic buckle on the sternum strap of a backpack indicates a built-in whistle? The patented Whistleloc is easy to reach if an animal is a bit too interested in you. Unaware of its existence, I carried my own whistle on a cord, hoping not to have to mimic Cheryl Strayed, who had averted disaster by blasting hers at a charging bull in Wild. A whistle also comes in handy if you need to be rescued. Just saying.
The trail isn’t for sissies, particularly after a rain, but it’s a good test of boots. If your toes don’t jam up against the insides on a sharp downhill slope and you keep your footing while navigating wet rocks, slimy roots, and mud, that’s a good thing. I do love my boots.
Halfway down the mountain we took a snack break, removing our packs on a wooden bridge over a quiet little creek. The back of my synthetic shirt was soaked with sweat. I grabbed a hunk of my hair, and it was the same story. I was surprised; we’d walked only a mile. At least I had followed one rule: “No cotton!” The fabric of our lives is a deterrent on the trail, being too absorbent and slow to dry.
Wardrobe tips: Light-colored clothing will make it easier for you to spot ticks. Brightly colored outer garments will make it easy for hunters or rescuers to spot you.
Thunderstorms can be another danger to backpackers, as we found out minutes after pitching our tents. “Get in your tents,” our leader said. “If lightning strikes, crouch on your sleeping pad, touching it with only the balls of your feet.” My tent-mate and I sat side by side and listened to the distant thunder. We were not forced into the survival position; however, rain pelted our campsite. “Do you feel that?” I asked. “Our sleeping pads are moving.” The floor of the tent was undulating beneath our legs.
“It’s like a waterbed,” she said. “We’re floating!” Outside the rain flap, my trekking poles lay in a growing puddle. I pulled my pack into the tent, but that wouldn’t save it. We had to move.
Here’s a tip: Pitch your tent on level ground.
The storm put off dinner for a while, and by then the sun was gone. Our guide said, “Everybody put on your headlamps. We might be cleaning up in the dark.” When you camp, you don’t leave anything for scavengers. Solid leftovers go into a trash bag to be hung from a tree. If you have dishwater, as we did, you dump it away from your sleeping area. Fortunately, the men took over most of the duties that required going into the woods.
Later we gathered around a fire pit minus the fire, with a few dimmed headlamps our only light. Not only are campfires ill-advised in many wooded areas; it was the end of August and no one needed heat. We were a circle of shadows, and behind us the darkness was complete. Critters started making their night noises. I thought about those tigers in India that slip into remote villages to snatch people from their huts and drag them away.
Tip: The wilderness is a good place to try positive thinking.
To be continued…

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Into the Georgia Woods, Part 2

The car aired out quickly after I dumped my badly wrapped trail snacks in Kentucky. By the time I swung back onto I-75 South, the sky was turning blue. Traffic was light, letting me enjoy the morning at a productive speed.
I do like nature. Even after the sun rose, the fog warnings were accurate. When I crossed the Kentucky River near Georgetown, I was the only one on the bridge. Fog hung above the water on both sides, and it was like driving into a make-believe land. In Tennessee the fog lay against the ground in sections of solid white, striping the grass like a flag.
I played satellite radio all the way to Atlanta, and during the last few miles I again heard the song that seemed to follow me to these hikes: “The Reverend Mr. Black.” Yes, I know I “got” to walk that lonesome valley, but at least this time I won’t be walking it by myself.
The class limit was 12 hikers. I knew that I would be teamed with another single female and that we would be tent-mates. REI would supply our tents, sleeping bags and pads, backpacks, cooking gear, and food for dinner the first night and breakfast the next day.
“Don’t let me forget my lunch,” I said to my son as I stuck my peanut-butter sandwich and power bar in his refrigerator. I even had a cloth bag with one of those built-in freezer blocks to put my food in, but there is so much to remember when you backpack. After all, I had to take my second suitcase with me to unload once the packs were distributed. Even at the end of summer, REI had required us to bring long johns, a fleece, a warm hat, and gloves in addition to a clean shirt, undies, and rainwear. My stuff bags, hiking boots, wool socks, and silk sock liners were loose in the trunk.
I had a two-hour drive north to Black Rock Mountain State Park—yes, Rev. Mr. Black, alone—which was plenty of time to imagine what was in store. What if I woke up in the wee hours having to pee? There are no toilets in the woods. You pick your way away from camp with a headlamp to guide you. I pictured our group hiking single file with me at the back. That was one picture I’d have to change; I’d seen enough animal shows on PBS to know it’s always the last ones that get picked off.
Anxiety would color my thoughts until I got where I was going and possibly after that; but, despite my fears, I knew I had made the right decision to test my mettle in the woods. I had a mini-library of hiking books, but you can’t learn it all by reading.
Black Rock Mountain State Park is located near Clayton, GA, a few miles south of the North Carolina border. Our group was to meet at the visitor center at 10:00 a.m. About halfway there, I realized I’d forgotten my lunch for the next day, so I stopped in Clayton to fill the gas tank and buy a couple packs of crackers to tide me over. Then, in spite of the clerk’s simple directions to the park, I missed the turn and had to go back.
The road to the visitor center made the two-lanes I knew in West Virginia seem downright roomy. Meet a car coming on the Black Rock Mountain Parkway and you had better be sticking to your lane and the speed limit. I was glad for my training on Gauley Mountain as I drove up the steep, twisting grade. The visitor center sat at the very top, in a spot that could have defined the term scenic view.

We met in a shelter. There were not 13, but seven of us: our leader from REI; a married couple; the single woman who would be my tent-mate; and two single men. One of the men arrived early and the other called from the road to ask if he should be in North Carolina. Uh, no.
An hour later, as we received our instructions and re-packed our gear, it began to rain. Hard. Was I prepared? You bet. Luckily I had sprung for a new, lightweight rain shell and still had the rain pants I’d bought for Romania in 2005. Remember: If it rains, you hike. We all suited up for nothing, however; in a few minutes the sun emerged and we left for the trailhead.
We met a ranger before we entered the woods. She held up a snakeskin and reminded us that our slithery friends might be seeking higher ground after the storm and therefore could be on the trail. “If you have to step where you can’t see,” she advised, “poke with your trekking poles and not your feet.”
At least I was wearing long pants, not that they’d stop a snake. I’d treated every article of clothing except my underwear with the tick repellent permethrin, so if I died of a snake bite, at least I wouldn’t be covered with ticks.
We started down the trail and in seconds were surrounded by dense woods; enveloped in green. The path, which I had pictured as wide as a two-lane with trees in the near distance, was no more than eighteen inches wide and all dirt. Wet leaves brushed against us on both sides. Our guide said it all: “We’re in the backcountry now.”
To be continued…

Monday, September 9, 2013

Into the Georgia Woods, Part 1

It was so dark outside that I couldn’t see my own feet, but I knew that smell: it was a skunk. All I needed was to be sprayed before the sun even came up. Not only was a skunk nearby; I could hear the bushes moving ahead of me. Creatures were calling to one another in a language I couldn’t identify. Were they bugs? Frogs? Feral animals? I gave up on stepping past the dim shapes unassisted and turned on the porch light.
If I was uneasy about encountering an animal on the way to my garage, I needed an attitude adjustment; wildlife abounded where I was going. I had signed up to spend a night in the mountains of Georgia, backpacking with a group. I was leaving for Atlanta at 5:45 a.m. to beat the rush-hour traffic, so in order to be efficient I had loaded the car the night before. I’d packed two suitcases, one for the time I would spend in civilization with my son and his family, and the other full of my stuff for the hike. Two of my three new dry bags—waterproof stuff sacks--were packed as well, one with “personal items” and the other with food.
A key to successful backpacking is packing light; after all, you are going to carry those items on your back for miles. Every ounce counts, and my personal dry sack was heavy. I knew in my heart that I should leave out some of the medical supplies, the ones for “just in case.” Would I really need a tube of calamine lotion? How likely was it that I’d get blisters, bug bites, sunburn, an upset stomach, a sore throat, constipation, and nasal congestion in one night? How many bandages could I use in 24 hours?
For snacks, REI, sponsor of the outing, had recommended dried fruits and beef jerky. Both are sold pre-packaged in their retail stores, so I had bought two zip-sealed packs of dried fruit as well as a big package of beef jerky, which ordinarily would not be among my snack choices.
I opened the store packages the night before I left and divided the contents in two, for the two days I’d be eating with my backpacking group. I put the servings in clear storage bags from the grocery and then packed one set in my food bag to eat along the trail. I slid the other set under the front seat of my car so that I could eat it for lunch when we returned to the visitor area of Black Rock Mountain State Park after our hike.
Once I’d lighted my way to the garage—sorry, sleeping neighbors—I opened the back door of my car to an assault of foul odor. What in the world could smell so bad? The same sickening smell wafted from my trunk, where the suitcases lay. It was my snacks! Their strong scents had escaped the cheap baggies I’d used and now mingled to permeate the inside of my car.
I was on a strict schedule with an eight-hour drive ahead of me, so I left in spite of the nauseating odor. A few miles down the road I realized that, by taking my snacks out of their original packages, I had made a potentially fatal mistake. Now not only would I have to endure the stink on the drive; if I hiked with this food, every bear in Georgia would be snuffling after me.
Keeping one’s food supply away from bears is a nightly activity in the forest. Outdoor stores sell bear-resistant food canisters designed to contain scents. Another method of foiling the animals is to tie a rope to a bag of food, throw the bag over a high tree limb, and secure the rope to the tree. My method was to pull into a rest stop in Florence, Kentucky and dump the whole works in the trash.
I knew I would have to buy the same items again once I reached the REI store near my son’s house, but I was all right with that. When one is preparing for a night in the wilderness with hungry animals afoot, seventeen dollars times two is not an expensive lesson.
To be continued…

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Into the Woods

Joe and I were swimming one evening with our friend Anita. Maybe we were talking about what I might write next, and I was telling her about my new fascination with hiking the Appalachian Trail.
“It goes from Georgia to Maine,” I said. “You start in March and finish in September, hiking over the mountains. If it rains, you hike. If it snows, you hike. You don’t wash for days or weeks. You carry your own food, water, and shelter on your back. Sometimes you go for long periods without seeing anyone. It’s just you and the wildlife—ticks, snakes, bears, and more.”
My brother turned to me and pointed out, “It’s everything you don’t like.”
Was that true? Joe and I grew up in the Appalachian Mountains. The woods were part of our childhood, and I entered them unafraid. I hiked and climbed without a care, didn’t mind getting dirty, and gave no thought to wild animals. But something happened between that rural childhood and my current life as a retiree who spends most days indoors. Nature went by the wayside for me, so I’ve been taking steps to find out whether I might like hiking now.
First I took a class at our local REI store. The topic was how to pack for the AT, and I already knew much of what the instructor said. I hadn’t done any of it, but I had read a dozen books by then. It was interesting to see what he chose for gear and to examine items as they were passed around.
I love gear, but it’s expensive, so next I signed up for an overnight backpacking trip for which REI will supply everything but our hiking boots, rainwear, lunch, and snacks. This is in Georgia, a convenient location only because my son and his family live only a few miles from the REI store sponsoring the outing.
At the beginning of the summer, before I was infected by thru-hiking fever, I cleaned out my bedroom closet. There on a shelf were my dusty 30-year-old hiking boots, so I tried them on. Why did I keep these gunboats? I wondered, throwing them onto the Goodwill pile. Size 10 indeed.
After I signed up for the backpacking trip, what was the one thing I had to buy? Boots. Technology has made hiking equipment lighter, but it hasn’t shrunk my feet. The new ones are Size 10 ½.
The backpacking instructions specify that our boots be broken in. I wore mine around the house for a couple days, but the way to break hiking boots in is to go on actual hikes. Yesterday I drove to a county park near my home and hiked one of the nature trails. Alone, the way I would have if I’d been getting on the AT.
I was nervous to be heading out for a hike. What should I take? What should I wear? Would there be ticks? Animals? I realized I had no daypack, no walking stick, nothing to hold my water bottle except my hand, and a serious lack of pockets for what I wanted to carry. You don’t take a purse on a hike.
On the way I turned on the car radio to a prophetic chorus from “The Reverend Mr. Black”:

You got to walk that lonesome valley,
You got to walk it by yourself;
Oh, nobody else can walk it for you,
You got to walk it by yourself.
And I did.
The hike in Sharon Woods was fun. I liked being in the woods for a while on a summer day. I didn’t need my loud whistle (three blasts equal “Help!”), and my boots didn’t give me blisters. It was all good, but now I understand how hikers develop their distinctive sweaty aroma; after one hour I had the first traces of it.
Will I go on to thru-hike the AT? Will my experiences be the subject of a new book? I’m not convinced the world needs another hiking memoir, but I’ve already written the epigraph just in case. It’s the chorus I heard on the way to my first hike.
A special thanks to park rangers, in particular the woman at the Sharon Woods Visitor Center who made me feel so welcome.



Thursday, July 25, 2013


I first encountered the term paperless office shortly after I began my career at a publishing house in 1979. My project was a textbook for training secretaries; tantalizingly placed among the step-by-step instructions for performing office tasks and tips for working with “your executive,” the concept of the paperless office offered those students a peek at the future.
A few days ago my desktop computer died. If not for the laptop I bought as a backup in 2009, the one I’m typing on now, I would be sitting in a computerless office.
Luckily, I had seen the end coming and had printed out my passwords from the program that helps me keep track of them. I’d also printed a screen shot of my document folders. I’d quickly written a list of my programs on a sheet of copy paper and had even figured out what I wanted in a new computer, jotting those specs and features on a separate page.
Paper: that’s the point of today’s message. Think hard about the paperless office, because a computer has a limited life span. When mine passed into the next realm, I knew that my documents and photos were safely backed up on the Internet through a cloud service. However, the cloud backup did not include everything. Suddenly I had no e-mail archives. My Windows calendar was gone. 
I use a paper calendar for medical appointments, workout sessions, and other wellness information; however, I’ve been recording my personal appointments electronically. August 7th, I thought. What am I supposed to do on August 7th?  I could recall many of my appointments, but the significance of that date would not come to me.
Even the absence of my old computer is hard to remember. I keep turning toward the spot on my desk where I most often typed, my hands ready to connect to the keyboard--which is connected to nothing-- or reach for the mouse that isn’t there. The monitor is now dark, the peripherals unhooked.
A new computer is on the way. I have two brilliant nephews, and Jason is the one whose forte is computer technology. He came to my rescue within hours of the unfortunate demise, choosing new components to build me a fabulous computer. In the meantime, consider paper.
I, for one, am not ready for the paperless office. I love electronic gadgets and will keep up with technology as long as it fits my needs and budget, but I’ll keep buying manila folders and legal pads, too. I did manage, without a paper reminder, to remember the significance of August 7th. It’s the day the Culligan man is coming to refill my water softener.


Thursday, May 30, 2013

Autographed Copy

When It Started with Dracula was published, I ordered a pack of 1,000 circular stickers that bore an image of a fountain pen (you remember those) and the words “Autographed Copy” to use during my book signings. They came twenty to a sheet, and in the last year and a half I’ve probably used…well, let’s just say it isn’t time to reorder.
The other day I was browsing through a tome I’d ordered from England. One of the two authors had started his own publishing company, and this title was the company’s first. He had signed my book before personally wrapping it for shipping to the United States. I know this because the handwriting on the package matched the signature on the title page.
It made me think: How many signed books did I own, and how had I come by them all?
I looked through my bookcase and pulled the books I thought had been signed by the authors. My idea was to label each of them with an “Autographed Copy” sticker so they could be easily identified in the future; after all, I had stickers to spare. The stack was about ten inches high; seventeen books.
An author picks up autographed copies at conferences and book fairs by meeting other authors or hearing them speak. I have a personalized copy of Rick Bragg’s memoir, All Over but the Shoutin’ because I was present in 2009 when he accepted the Harper Lee Award for being named Alabama’s Distinguished Author of the Year.
The seating arrangement often influences whom we meet and what books we buy. Last fall I was excited to obtain a copy of the werewolf novel Bestial signed by William D. Carl, whose signing table at a book fair was two rows behind mine. That same day I skipped Gillian Flynn’s table because I was counting my pennies and chose not to buy her best-seller, Gone Girl, in hardcover.
Professional affiliations can bring us books from authors who become our friends. My collection includes signed copies of Bram Stoker Award winner Michael Knost’s compilation Writers Workshop of Horror, Lee Maynard’s novel The Pale Light of Sunset, and G. Cameron Fuller’s chiller Full Bone Moon, all because of our affiliation with West Virginia Writers, Inc.
Several dear, long-time friends have signed their books for me. Anita Skeen, whom I met in college, is a wonderful writer who has published five books of poetry. Former newspaper columnist Ina Hughs signed my copy of A Sense of Human at a conference. Catherine Watson, who writes stunning travel essays, mentored me online as I was writing the Dracula book. I gladly buy their books and, when possible, attend their readings.
Through Anita I was introduced to the poet Andrew Hudgins, whose American Rendering is among my signed copies; but this isn’t a chronicle of the famous. I also have autographed copies of books whose authors may never make it. I may never make it. We don’t always know who will and who won’t.
Sometimes we find autographed copies by accident. Once in a Barnes & Noble I opened a Willie Nelson memoir to find the author’s signature. I didn’t buy the book, but I did buy the Writer’s Digest publication 2011 Guide to Literary Agents, which happened to be signed by WD Editor Chuck Sambuchino with the generic inscription “Good luck!”
If I treasure a signed copy, it’s because the book or its author has meaning to me. The book from England is that way: “To Jane,” it says, “Best wishes.” Opening that book to Wayne Kinsey’s note was a thrill. I’ve never met the man and may not, but nobody is going to get Hammer Films on Location out of my hands.
Joe and I have signed a few copies of Mr. Joe so far and hope to sign a whole lot more once the printed version is available to the public late this summer. With luck, Mr. Sambuchino, I’ll run out of stickers.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Barbara Walters

This morning I read the story of Barbara Walters’ impending announcement that she will retire in 2014. The news was no surprise; after all, Walters is 83 years old, far past the age when most people retire. Of course, she is not like most people. Barbara Walters has made a lasting imprint on us in her 52 years of television journalism.
As I read the story, I was struck by the pattern of the quotes. I’ll isolate some for you.
BW: "I am very happy with my decision…I do not want to appear on another program or climb another mountain…"
President of ABC News: "There is only one Barbara Walters. We look forward to making her final year on television as remarkable, path-breaking and news-making as Barbara herself.”
BW: "I want instead to sit on a sunny field and admire the very gifted women—and, OK, some men, too—who will be taking my place."
ABC: "We look forward to a year befitting her brilliant career, filled with exclusive interviews, great adventures and indelible memories."
Was he even listening?
Yes, Barbara has another year to work, and maybe she and Mr. ABC News actually are on the same page, but that’s not what I got from the article. I wanted to say, “Let her alone.”
We work for a living, if we’re lucky, most of our lives. Work gives us purpose and an income. We help others by using our special talents. We take pride in our accomplishments and learn from our failures. But then the time comes to move on.
Each of us has earned the right to define our retirement, in my humble opinion. I struggle with that every day. While I don’t want to spend my days watching television quite yet (maybe never), I am no longer employed in the traditional sense. I have projects, and some of them pay, but I decide which ones to pursue. That’s the status I’ve earned.
There is a state somewhere between climbing that mountain Barbara Walters talks about and retreating to a desert island a la Howard Sprague on the old Andy Griffith Show. Howard left his clerking job in Mayberry to gaze at the ocean and run barefoot across the sand, only to find out that complete inactivity didn’t suit him. It doesn’t suit me either, but I will fight for the right of anyone to make a choice.
Everybody has to explore the options when the time comes to retire. Barbara Walters, you, me. And then we choose which mountains we want to climb.
Best wishes to Barbara. May she enjoy her transition and have many happy years of retirement.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Hell's Bells

“What are you wearing?” I asked my brother, referring to our plans for Mother’s Day. “Shouldn’t we take it up a notch from our usual attire? We might end up in a restaurant.”
Joe is the kindest brother. Every year he takes me out on Mother’s Day, knowing that my son and his family live in Atlanta. In turn, I treat Joe on Father’s Day if he is available. Both of our parents have passed on.
All of these outings deliver us to the same place: a casino. We can talk it to death, but that’s the fact.
“What time do you want to go?” Joe asked. “I like the early morning, but I want to be able to stay a while.”
Here’s the thing about casinos: You might win or you might lose, thus the term gambling. Joe and I like to go early because it's not crowded. However, if luck isn’t with us, we can be heading home before most folks have their coffee.
“Don’t you need some sandals?” I asked. “We could go to the outlet mall later.” Translation:Let’s make a backup plan in case the casino thing doesn’t go well. I don’t want to sit home all afternoon on Mother’s Day.”
This year, as noted in yesterday’s blog post, we have a mission. The day isn’t all about me. Joe and I are going to remember our mom with a toast at a slot machine called Hell’s Bells. I’m going to suggest that we put twenty dollars in the machine. That was always Mom’s gambling limit.
She was a timid player, but one time she won over two hundred dollars. We had taken a bus trip to Canada. That was back when coins were used in the slots. Mom was playing a quarter machine called Black Tie. Suddenly it got loud, loud. Quarters started pouring into the coin tray and Mom sat back, stunned at her winnings. That was fun.
The same morning I had been awake around 5:00 a.m. I looked over at Mom in the other bed and could tell that she was still sleeping. What was I going to do, stare at the ceiling? I silently dressed, left our hotel room, and headed to the gambling boat in the dark. When I next saw Mom, she let me know in no uncertain terms that I had scared her half to death when I’d vacated my bed without telling her. I don’t remember her tirade exactly, but I’d bet twenty dollars that “Hell’s bells” was part of it.
See? I was probably in my fifties and Mom was looking out for me--or trying to when I didn’t give her the slip. Thanks, Mom.
It’s time to get ready for my Mother’s Day outing. Joe will be picking me up soon. Something tells me this Hell's Bells thing will become a tradition.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

"And Here's to..."

My brother and I are going gambling on Mother’s Day, as we do on many holidays in the absence of traditional family gatherings. On Sunday we’re going to find and play a slot machine called Hell’s Bells in honor of Mom. “Hell's bells” is something our mother used to say when she bitched, for instance, “Hell's bells! How long do we have to sit in this waiting room?”
Would Mom like our tribute? I think she would; in her later years she enjoyed the gambling casinos, where she would play the slots and smoke Pall Mall unfiltered cigarettes until she reached her spending limit of twenty dollars.
Mom died in 2008 at age 89. For most of her life, she was…well, not a mom you’d want. Every year when Mother’s Day approached, I stood in a store somewhere reading every card, looking for one that was not sentimental. It was my goal to give Mom a card that seemed loving, but wasn’t; one she would appreciate but wouldn’t question. I wanted a card pretty enough to display that wasn’t a lie. It couldn’t be too personal, and it definitely couldn’t be one of those cards that said “Thanks for all you’ve done.” Mom hadn’t done much to earn a card like that. The ideal find was large, colorful, and did little but wish the recipient a nice day.
Joe and I talk about the postings we see on social media by people honoring their moms, praising them, and openly missing those who are departed. For a few days now, with the holiday coming up, some have posted their mothers’ pictures in place of their own. That’s the way it should be, but those memories remind us of what we missed. The luckiest people have great moms for life; others are lucky to have them for a little while.
Mom left our hometown of Glen Ferris, West Virginia, and moved to Cincinnati at age 72. By then she had become a better person than the one we had known as children. Mom and I had fifteen years of friendship before she developed Alzheimer’s disease. We did errands together, went clothes shopping, and ate out. In a pleasantly ironic twist, she thought I knew everything.
Yesterday when I was cleaning the house, I thought of her. Physical tasks have a way of activating the brain, and in my case sorting the laundry or wiping a mirror will unleash half-buried thoughts. I thought of Mom in her apartment just a few miles from here, and I almost reached for the doorknob before I remembered. The feeling of missing her was as sudden and sharp as a splinter.
I didn’t miss the Mom it took 30 minutes to find a card for; I missed the one I liked, the one who liked me.
The word Mom still opens up a strange bag of memories, but I appreciate the best things about my mother. Even into her eighties, she was smart, well read, and funny. She won’t be a facebook post, but Joe and I will be smiling as we toast her from the Horseshoe Casino on Mother’s Day. Our toast is sure to include—you guessed it—“Hell’s bells!” I think she'll be watching.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013


The light at the top of the stairs to my loft burned out yesterday. This morning I got up around four o’clock, fixed my coffee, and started upstairs to my office. It was as dark in the stairwell as it was outside.
After the turn at the landing I could see my silent office idling like a space ship above me, the interior glowing from colored lights: orange on a battery-powered phone; a string of orange and green lighting the front of the cable monitor; little green ones on two printers; red outlining the switch below the computer monitor; and blue glowing off the computer power switch and the circle of lights on my wireless router.
For an instant I was a kid again, treated to a glimpse of the future. That was the way we pictured it, sitting in dark movie theaters on Saturday afternoons: black skies filled with stars, silver rockets aimed at the moon or Mars. Inside the ship, blinking lights illuminated sleek surfaces, beeps were background music, and grown-ups in stretchy suits guided the capsule past the inevitable meteor shower as it sped into deep space.
When the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) originated in 1958, I was finishing eighth grade. I remember dreaming of space travel, which had leapt off the movie screen to become real. In the fall of 1957 Russia had launched Sputnik 1, the first artificial satellite in history, and followed it a month later with Sputnik 2, which orbited the earth with a dog on board.
The dawn of the Space Age was an exciting time, a competitive time. In January 1958 the United States successfully launched Explorer 1, putting us in the race. Three years later a Russian, Yuri Gagarin, became the first man in space. Alan Shepherd of the United States followed less than a month later.
One night I wrote a letter to NASA volunteering to be aboard the first rocket to the moon. I was quite serious. Whether the letter was even mailed remains a mystery; all I remember is sitting on our red couch in Glen Ferris, writing my heart out on a sheet of notebook paper.
NASA didn’t take me, and I lost my keen interest in space travel as it became more common and I grew up. If I had known in eighth grade that I’d be terrified riding in a regular airplane, my dreams would have been different anyway. But that was yesterday.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

More Grocery Store Adventures

This seems to be my year to pursue wellness, and one aspect of wellness is nutrition. It was the quest for good nutrition that had me running from one end of Kroger to the other on a recent evening in what I will call the Strange Ingredient Scavenger Hunt.
My food conscience had been nagging me toward better eating habits. You know how an imaginary devil sits on one of our shoulders and an angel sits on the other? I’d been listening to the food devil’s whispers for many months. In spite of successfully maintaining a weight loss of 25 pounds since 2010, I knew it was time for a change. Ice cream, chips, and peanut butter were staples on my grocery list. I’d stopped cooking the traditional way, opting for sandwiches or pre-packaged microwave foods. I used my crock pot and froze the leftovers, but there were days when thawing them out seemed like a lot of trouble.
My nutrition goal was pretty straightforward: I wanted to introduce nutrition into my diet.
While surfing the Internet I had stumbled upon a “jump-start” program of healthful eating designed to eliminate belly fat. It was there that I learned there are two kinds of belly fat: the fat we can see and the invisible fat inside that can wrap around our organs and make us candidates for some serious diseases. Looking for motivation? There you go.
The belly-fat-reducing program provided a shopping list. I had to photocopy it, as I’d never heard of some of the items, maybe because they were fresh. “Cremini mushrooms”? Not only did I not know where they were; I didn’t know what they were. The strangest item on the list was “1-2 knuckles of ginger root.” I wandered back and forth through the produce department, an alien studying the vegetables and fruit to find what sounded like the beginning of a witch’s brew.
The list took me to other departments I had not visited, like fresh seafood (“1/4 pound tilapia and oils (“8-oz. bottle cold-pressed organic flaxseed oil”). If it wasn’t on the regular shelf, I had to look in the organic corner. Luckily I was a woman with a purpose, because my second purpose seemed to be seeing how many times I could cross the entire store to find an item. I wore out significant shoe leather in the two hours I searched for “1/2 gallon lactose-free skim milk,” “roasted or raw unsalted sunflower seeds,” and “7-oz. container of dried plums.” This was just after I’d volunteered for a two-and-a-half-mile walk the next evening.
After the first hour, my eyes were glazing over. I mistakenly got pineapple slices instead of tidbits (Oh, so what, I told myself; if they were cut up, they’d be tidbits.) and blackberries instead of blueberries.
My work was not done when I’d put the groceries away. The belly-fat plan includes the expected eight cups of water per day, but not just any water; water that has to be made ahead so that the flavors can mingle. Spending $89 on the groceries might have been what turned me into an unwavering slave and will explain why I was slicing lemons and cucumbers at 8:00 pm., counting mint leaves, and grating ginger root to make a recipe for water! I measured the ginger root by how long it took to grate the skin off my left thumb.
TIP: 1-2 knuckles of ginger root is equal to 1-2 grated knuckles of Jane.
How is all of this working out? It’s too early to talk results, but the food has been amazing. My meals are relaxing and filling. It now takes me about thirty minutes to eat a balanced meal, as opposed to five minutes for a peanut-butter sandwich.
I’m still committed (to nutrition, not the insane asylum). I’m going to keep educating myself about healthy, natural foods. We’re never too old to begin something new!


Monday, April 15, 2013

The Pull of Home

Three houses are for sale in my hometown in West Virginia. One is the mirror image of the house I grew up in. Without going inside I know the rooms, the location of the stairs, the rattle of the doorknobs, the view from the kitchen sink.
Compelled to browse the photos online, I see the spot where Dad’s brown chair sat in our house, the window where we used to watch the church traffic in our pajamas. There is the corner where we had the TV, and the stairs; my old bedroom. I study the position of each cabinet and piece of furniture as though the future of humanity depends on it. I briefly consider buying this home, which costs more than the one I’m living in now, just to capture it.
Capture what?
I have no desire to live in a rural town now. I can’t mow the lawn and wouldn’t have the budget to redecorate. My friends are gone. Most important of all, my childhood there was filled with terrible moments. Mom drank. My brother and I can tell stories that would keep you up at night. So, the question I ask repeatedly is: Why am I drawn to the look-alike house? What is this urge that pulls me toward a town and a time from the past? What am I searching for when I imagine going inside our house again, seeing the textured Spanish plaster on the walls, running my hands over the window frames, finding again the secret note I hid behind the woodwork in my closet fifty-two years ago?
Joe and I have had this conversation: Why do we care about a place that brought us misery, a house where both of us suffered as children and subsequently waged lifelong battles for self-esteem?
Is there something irresistible about home, no matter what? I’ve known grown-ups who visited their childhood homes. Some were disappointed to see them in disrepair. Some knocked and were invited in to step once more through rooms they had been holding in their minds. I do that, too; I hold the past in my mind, and maybe it becomes distorted there.
If I knew how to have an out-of-body experience, I would transport my silver-corded self to Glen Ferris and walk through our old house. I half-tried to see it in person once. I had gone back for a funeral, and on the way out of town I turned into our alley, now labeled a private drive. I pulled around to the back walk and saw a woman on the deck that had replaced our little porch off the kitchen. She looked up as if to ask what I thought I was doing there.
“I’m Mrs. Barnett’s daughter,” I said from the car, referencing the seller of twenty years ago. I had taken the detour hoping she would ask me in, but now her manner suggested otherwise, and I drove on.
Which might be why I Google “Glen Ferris real estate” every now and then, scrolling through pictures that tug at my heart. It’s hard to understand; living there was often a nightmare and moving back, a fantasy. Maybe I want to conquer that house after all these years—just walk through it peacefully. Whatever the reason, I continue to feel the pull of home.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Reality and TV

My brother recently wrote a blog that mentioned the pleasures of yelling at television characters when we have our own ideas about what they should be doing. This morning I was scanning my online news sources when I came upon a photo of a senior citizen featured in an article. My first thought was: You need to whiten your teeth.
“Get a hairdo!” I might yell at some poor soul on TV, or “Honey, pluck your eyebrows!” “Haven’t you ever heard of brown spot remover?” And who among us can’t spot a bad wig, especially on a man?  
The long, wide reach of the media does not leave many of us out.
I’m finding that I’ve been slowly and subtly—perhaps subliminally--conditioned to expect white, perfect teeth and flawless skin, beautiful hair and an attractive physique on anyone in the public eye. Some part of me is surprised and turned off when these folks don’t “take care of themselves.”
At the same time, there are TV channels I will not watch, a whole swath of them featuring (my term) “fake women” chosen for reality shows that highlight their bitchiness and balloon-like lips. Plastic surgery can enhance us or make monsters of us.
I find it disturbing to see young people who have never experienced a wrinkle hawking anti-aging products, for example the beautiful girl in the Juvederm ads. How old is she, twenty? Could that trend have anything to do with reality shows that highlight bridezillas barely out of their teens plumping up their faces for their perfect day? It's all part of the media message.
The next step, after blithely informing the men and women on TV that they need Botox or a Lifestyle Lift, is looking at oneself. Ah.
With a second book about to be published and a co-author who would love for us to be interviewed on TV, I keep wondering if I should be taking my own advice. I suppose a few layers of Luminess sprayed on before the cameras roll would give me that airbrushed look, but what about taking advantage of the products and procedures that are now as common as face powder?  
I have friends who routinely take Botox injections, have their makeup tattooed on, get chemical peels, and always look like they should be in the movies. I often think it’s too late for me, that if all those procedures had been pushed at everyone with a pulse twenty years ago, I might have started.
What about the money, the endless appointments, the risk? Marie Osmond looks lovely these days, but she does not look like Marie Osmond. Does it matter? What if things didn’t turn out so well? What if I underwent some procedure and the doctor overdid it? Can you ever go backwards? Do any of these enhanced people ever want to return to their former selves?
The world has become so competitive. I’m not sure what I’ll do about beauty enhancements, but I keep thinking about it, weighing the questions, especially this one: If I had, if I did, who would I be right now?

Sunday, March 24, 2013

U Scan It

In a few hours, this section of Ohio is due for a snowstorm that’s been moving east across the plains for a couple of days. Five to eight inches’ accumulation is what was showing earlier today. Never mind that it’s the last full week of March; as others have pointed out, the groundhog lied, or made a mistake, or perhaps was just rattled after a trip through a U-Scan-It station at the grocery store.
Yes, U Scan It, my name for the evil plot hatched by grocers, or their parent companies, or Satan, to have us by-pass the staffed checkout counters and scan our items ourselves. Oh, yippee, let me. I already pump my own gas and serve myself at cheap restaurants.
I hate the self-scanners with a passion. However, when one shops at 8:30 a.m. at my local store, clerks aren’t an option--unless you get into trouble with the scanners.
The storm is expected to affect us for two or three days. I could not imagine life without coffee, ice cream, chips, peanut butter, or certain paper products, so out I went. The beauty of shopping in the early morning is the absence of other customers. I had the aisles to myself, and they were well stocked; no one was stampeding to grab the last carton of pop or pound of hamburger.
The hazard of shopping early in the morning…well, I’ve already told you: no checkout people. The U Scan Its loomed ahead of me as the only choice, so I picked one. Of course, it started talking right away. “Welcome, valued customer!” That, I wouldn’t mind so much if the thing would then shut up.
The patient, condescending female voice instructed me as though I were a befuddled sixty-seven-year-old woman who couldn’t keep up. Oh. Never mind.
“Place the item in the bag. Scan your next item and place the item in the bag. Scan your next item and place the item in the bag. Scan…”
After the first three or four items, while I fantasized about putting my fist through the glass, a clerk with a hand scanner appeared beside my cart and began grabbing up my groceries. The self-scanners must have silent alarms, like banks. “You might have trouble with such a big order at this station,” she said. “You should have gone to that large station over there.” Too late now, girlie.  
“Place the item in the bag and scan your next item.”
“Give me a minute,” I growled to the machine, and then I remembered the clerk. “I’m not talking to you,” I explained. “I’m talking to her.”
Sure enough, I ran out of space in the bagging area and the clerk had to move my groceries for me, as the U Scan It, being a vile instrument of the Devil, had gone wild when I put a full bag on the floor. Now the clerk was alternately scolding me and calling me Honey, like I was dim-witted.
I was glad to get home. Was the U Scan It experience worth it? Well, I have food and Kleenex and sweetener for the hard pioneer days ahead. So, yes. And I did not see a groundhog.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Selling Mr. Joe

Now comes the selling part of Mr. Joe: Tales from a Haunted Life. The writing is finished, early copies and e-books are appearing, and we have begun our publicity campaign. Fortunately, Joe and I have a publicist who knows her way around the business of spreading the word, but that doesn’t let us off the hook.
I could say that publicity is the building of awareness, but it’s all selling, whatever name you give it. I am bad at selling. I dislike it. Sure, I like SELLING BOOKS—the more, the merrier--but not the act of selling books. Many other writers will tell you the same thing: We like to write. We aren’t meant to be extroverts. We feel awkward pushing our products.
I’ve probably told you my theory on the division of people. Some people are better on paper, and others are better in person. Writers generally fit into the first category and publicists in the second.
And you know that authors must participate in publicity campaigns. Sometimes that participation is painless, as it was yesterday when I entered Mr. Joe in a contest and applied to have it featured in a local book festival. All I had to do was assemble and package the books, applications, information sheets, and a check for the contest entry. I did have to leave the house to take the items to the Post Office, but all in all it was easy. It required organizational skills and a bit of writing for the book festival committee, which wanted a brief synopsis. That was fun.
Selling can also mean approaching others in person, introducing oneself, and proceeding to talk up the product. Fortunately, I have a co-author who looks forward to this phase. Joe will gladly assume the heavy lifting when we are out and about, promoting Mr. Joe; after all, he IS Mr. Joe.
I am relieved at this changing of the guard. I was the sole author on my first book. My brother was a loyal supporter, often traveling with me and sitting in the audience, but I was doing the personal book promotion alone. This time we’ll be together, sharing the publicity phase as we did the writing phase. Soon we’ll be doing the part Joe thinks is the most fun. 
For Christmas I bought Joe a sweatshirt that says, “ASK ME ABOUT MY BOOK.” He’s been wearing it all winter, and a variety of folks from grocery store clerks to strangers have asked. He likes that. I would have worn the sweatshirt inside out, because I don’t have the same skill set as Joe. It’s not a criticism, just more about my theory on the division of people.

Mr. Joe is a combination of our greatest talents. It’s a perfect balance. We worked together on the book, and we’ll work together on the publicity; that’s teamwork. But take it from someone who’s better on paper: It will be Joe’s time to shine.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Noon Poem

I force myself to discard
Paper dinner napkins.
Conservation can be taken too far.
Long ago a boyfriend saved his glass at lunchtime,
Set it daily on the kitchen window sill, still
Half full of water.
The sun on its rounds didn’t miss a thing,
Lighting up the dull spot
Where his lips, greasy with peanut butter,
Had kissed the rim.   

It’s funny where our minds go sometimes. I haven’t written a poem in more years than I can say. My brother is always writing them. Joe begins every blog with a new poem.
Actually, I was trying to get out of writing when I turned off the light in my office, minimized my computer screen, and escaped to the simple task of fixing a sandwich.
I have a long to-do list. When you work at home, the hours blur. Your duties blur. Freedom blurs with responsibility. You think: Should I do this, or that? Put my nose to the grindstone, or do nothing? Get busy, or grab some “me” time? It’s easy to question everything and far easier to go downstairs, make a sandwich, and linger over it.
Just as I was getting up from the table, the poem popped into my mind. It’s part of a whole story I might tell one day.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Dawn of the Dressed

All right, people, I’m ready for you. If you rang the doorbell right now, I would not be forced to peek around the edge of the closed blind at you or pretend I’m not home. If you had come yesterday or the day before, it would have been a different story.
Today I’m presentable, on purpose, after two days of living in sweats and bedroom slippers, working without makeup, fluffing my flat “hair-don’t” in vain, and hoping I would not have to see another human being. I did open the door for the Culligan man, but when you need five bags of salt for the water softener, you don’t put it off.
My last two days were spent reviewing typeset proofs for Mr. Joe, the memoir my brother and I wrote together. We were given only a few days to turn the material around, and the compulsive personality latches right onto that. I finished my review/edit in one long day. Then, that evening, I started nagging Joe to finish his. Yes, I know: annoying.
The book file was in .pdf format, readable with Adobe Reader. I had saved mine many times as I made my comments. On the second morning, my cleaner program wanted to check my computer for malware, which involves a reboot. I had to close all of my files.
Afterward I could not open the book file. Worse, the computer couldn’t even find it. You can imagine my panic, which escalated when I learned that not only was the file inaccessible on the computer; my “cloud” program had not backed it up.
My long day’s work was lost.
The following day I did the only thing I could do: I redid my edits, spending nine hours at the computer in said sweats and bedroom slippers. At the end of it, my brain was fried. I could manage only a blank stare. After two days of sitting in this chair, I was stiff when I stood up to walk. Like a zombie.
It made me think of The Walking Dead. I must have looked like one of them, making my way to the kitchen, fixing the barest of dinners for myself—meat loaf chunks stirred into baked beans--and then spilling it as I attempted to eat in front of the TV. The only good thing I can say is that I did not stumble out into the neighborhood to scare others.
I love my work. I even love being busy, but this week I got behind. I neglected my appearance and felt like a zombie trying to catch up. I guess that’s why they call it a deadline.

Monday, February 18, 2013

But Literally, Folks...

I’ve always been a literal thinker. When I was a young girl, I used to stand beside my mother’s dressing table and watch her get ready for an evening out. Mom would always say she was going to put on her face, and I didn’t understand how that could be possible. She had a face; why would she have to put one on?
I was usually the last one to laugh at a joke. Mom thought I had no sense of humor, but she was wrong. I just spent an inordinate amount of time figuring things out.
My inability to think conceptually was a hindrance in business. Our company always wanted to be cutting edge, and we could see the latest trends in jargon by reading memos from senior management. Those memos were full of lingo that frustrated me. When I read “think out of the box,” I wondered: What box? Ditto “pushing the envelope”: What envelope? When someone spoke of a sea change, I wondered what business had to do with the sea. I didn’t know what any of those people were talking about. A particular favorite phrase was “going forward,” inserted anywhere in a sentence. Who or what was going forward? That was never specified. It took me years to realize that it meant “from now on.”
For a long time I thought something was wrong with my brain. Everyone else seemed to grasp what I could not.
I was in my fifties before I understood putting on a new face. NOW I get it. I get it every day when I stand in front of the bathroom mirror and dust on the various cosmetics whose purpose is to disguise my flaws or define my features or add color. “Add an expression” isn’t even too far-fetched on some days.
As for the business catch phrases, I do get them now…now that I’m retired and free from the onslaught of those frustrating memos. I now realize they really didn’t say anything.
I still stick with the truth. Writing fiction has always seemed like a magic trick to me. My genre is creative nonfiction, the creative part being in the words I choose, the examples I include, and the descriptions I write.
I’m still the last one to get a joke, always a few seconds behind the others. And I’m fine with that.