Oh, the horror!
Happy Halloween, Everybody!
And a big Happy Birthday to two terrific Halloweeners, C.J. and G.A. (you know who you are)!
See you back here in a couple of weeks . . . 👻🦇
Oh, the horror!
Happy Halloween, Everybody!
And a big Happy Birthday to two terrific Halloweeners, C.J. and G.A. (you know who you are)!
See you back here in a couple of weeks . . . 👻🦇
It’s been about three months now since our rural household was blessed with a modern convenience that we thought we’d never see again: unlimited internet. And wow, what a difference.
Three giddy months of streaming music and movies, of actually using the smart features of our smart TV. Of me leaving my email and browser open as long as I like just because I can. Of Glen making the choice some days to work from home. It’s been life-changing. But one thing I still haven’t done—even though I promised myself I’d get back in the saddle right away—is make any poetry submissions. And for heaven’s sakes, why not? How hard could it be to get some poems together and send them off? So a couple of weeks ago, I decided to stop procrastinating and just do it. Well, I uncovered a rat’s nest dating back almost thirteen years.
On January 1 of 2007, I made a resolution to write a poem every day of that year. That resolution got me back to writing and submitting poetry after a long hiatus, and even though I managed to write only 130 poems instead of 365, I considered the year a success. So much so that for some years after that I made the same resolution on each subsequent January 1. I never got close to 365, but I did break 100 five years in a row, with one year topping out at 225 poems written.
While it was beneficial overall, writing poems on a schedule meant that many of them were . . . how shall I put this? . . . crapola. And even if they weren’t out-and-out garbage, all they did was natter on about clouds or some such, without really saying anything. In those cases, my typical procedure after writing and titling them was to number them, print them out and stick them in 3-ring binders. For the ones that were worth something, however, I took the extra step of creating Word docs and storing them on my laptop in a single folder labeled “Poetry.” And then high-fived myself for being so organized.
But I realize now there are several problems with this system. Starting with that lone folder labeled “Poetry.” Why, oh why, did I not subdivide that into more folders, each holding the poems from a different year? Or how about this: Why did it not occur to me that I should store the duds in Word docs too, with the plan of someday mining them for images and ideas, repurposing them for new poems or for fiction? Because now that I read them years after they were written, I see that quite a few have gold nuggets buried in the lines. Not to mention the fact that it’s much easier to assess poems side-by-side on a screen than to flip back and forth through seven stuffed binders.
There’s also the awkward fact that I now see some of my “Poetry” folder poems don’t deserve the high hopes I’d had for them. Not without a lot of work, anyway. So last week, after several frustrating days of trying and failing to gather four or five poems together for a single submission, I decided just to revamp my whole filing system, organizing it the way I should have on January 1, 2007. That’s over 1,000 poems, about 650 of which need to be transcribed. The rest, which had initially made it into my super-duper filing system, will at least need to be shuffled around.
It could be worse, though. I should be thankful that since 2015 my production has plummeted. Moving, publishing two novels and getting a third underway have taken a toll. If I can eke out seven or eight poems this year, I’ll be happy. (I’m at six right now.) However, I’d like to think the overall quality has improved. Even if I do still write poems about clouds.
p.s. I’ve come across some fun stuff that I’d forgotten writing, including a handful of limericks. With the 2020 Presidential Race all over the news, here’s one from three years ago that seems timely again:
The Campaign Manager’s Directive, 2016
“Remember this. It’s consequential.
First, endurance and grit are essential.
But to seem most effective,
you must fling invective
while looking your most presidential.”
One day last week I’d planned to bake the Sour Cream Chocolate Loaf Cake from Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Chocolate Desserts. (What a terrific book! A former sister-in-law gave me my copy for Christmas of 1980, and it’s had a lot of use. Read more about it here on Amazon.) It’s a delicious, undemanding cake that wouldn’t have been much trouble to make once I got home from running errands in town. Showing unusual forethought, I’d even set out the required quantity of butter to soften before I left the house that morning. But when I returned home that afternoon and was putting away the groceries, I realized I’d forgotten to buy the sour cream.
Well, crud. Now what? Even the closest grocery store would have taken me 90 minutes for a “quick” sour cream run. I sent a grumpy, self-pitying text message to The Daughter, who bracingly (and with an annoying lack of compassion) replied that she was certain I’d find something else to make instead.
So I started flipping through my cookie recipes. As I did, I asked myself what I was in the mood for. Did I still want chocolate? What about nuts? Or oats? How about crunchy vs. chewy? Really, I could have made almost anything. I keep a plentiful inventory of baking supplies on hand. (Except for sour cream. And almond paste. And candied ginger. Just about anything else I find appealing is always covered, though.) But at this point, late afternoon was approaching, so I needed something easy and quick to throw together. Then I came across a cookie that may be the easiest and quickest of the lot, an old family recipe that was handed down from my mother’s mother. It’s slice-and-bake, warmly aromatic and satisfying, and yes, that really is two tablespoons of cinnamon that it calls for. I hadn’t made this cookie in years, but it’s just as wonderful as I remember.
Cinnamon Icebox Cookies (makes two approx. 11” logs, each yielding at least 18 cookies)
1 c. granulated sugar
1 c. brown sugar (I use dark)
¾ c. softened butter
¼ c. vegetable shortening
2 eggs (lg. or extra-lg.)
3 ½ c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
2 Tbsp. cinnamon
1 c. broken-up or chopped pecan halves, toasted 7-8 minutes in a 350° oven until fragrant, then cooled
1. Cream the sugars thoroughly with the butter and shortening. (This makes a fairly stiff dough, so I use a stand mixer.) If using unsalted butter, add a pinch of salt to the mixing bowl.
2. While the mixer’s doing its thing, stir together the flour, baking soda and cinnamon with a fork or whisk.
3. When the sugars and butter/shortening are ready, add in the flour/baking soda/cinnamon mixture, alternating with the two eggs.
4. Add in the cooled, toasted pecans and give everything a final, combining stir-together.
5. Form into two logs, each about 11” long and 1 ½” in diameter, and roll tightly in plastic wrap or waxed paper.
6. Refrigerate for a couple of hours before baking, and keep stored in the refrigerator. If freezing the logs, give them an extra wrapping in foil and then in plastic bags.
7. Cut into ¼” slices, as many at a time as you like, and bake on parchment paper or Silpat (allowing a bit of room for them to spread) in a pre-heated 350° oven for 16-18 minutes. They will be firm enough to plate almost at once.
• My ancient copy of the recipe calls for one cup of butter. But not all butter, mind you. The recipe declares the measuring cup must contain “part shortening,” which is one of my mother’s vague and unhelpful explanations that explain nothing, like the infamous “knifeful of shortening” she calls for in her flour tortilla recipe. Over the years, I’ve defined the shortening portion as one-quarter cup, while the butter makes up the other three-quarters.
• I’ve baked off several logs of these cookies all at once for holiday parties, and they’re delicious. At room temperature they’ve got good crunch, thanks to the addition of the vegetable shortening. But they are truly sublime when they’re hot from the oven: softer and chewier in the middle but crunchy around the edges, with the toasty-rich flavor of the pecans shining through. And of course, they’ll be gently redolent of cinnamon.
• Speaking of cinnamon, don’t be hesitant about the 2 Tbsps. The cookies won’t be over-spiced or acrid. They’ll be perfect. 😉
The past two months have been almost as interesting for Glen and me as the Fortean curses and “interesting times” I wished upon loathsome people in my last post:
• In late August our 10-year-old Australian Shepherd Lucy came through some sudden and very delicate surgery on her neck. Her spinal cord was severely kinked between two of her cervical vertebrae, probably the result of a kink in her genes. Frankly, she made it off the operating table only because her veterinary neurosurgeon has steady hands and thirty-five years’ experience with complex procedures. So far her recovery is progressing as expected. Here she is the day after I brought her home, still groggy from the pain meds and about to be smothered in her bed by Phoebe.
• Addressing one of the problems I wrote about recently in “The Procrastinatrix Strikes Again,” I now have reclaimed my name as my only true and correct one. I’m pretty sure I saw an amused twinkle in the eye of the district court judge who did NOT make me wait several more weeks until my fingerprints cleared the FBI database (thank heavens!), but instead declared on the day of my court appearance, “Well, Ms. Rooke, you are now free to use your real name.” Emphasis his. I was so relieved I wanted to hug him, but there was an armed bailiff standing beside the bench.
• I successfully enrolled in Medicare! It wasn’t exactly a slam dunk, though. I was on the website, well into the process when a bold error message informed me that I had answered some questions incorrectly and therefore I wouldn’t be allowed to enroll. The system then kicked me off the page. My mouth dropped open, my eyes bugged out and I yelled at my laptop, “Are you freaking KIDDING me??” For a very long ten seconds I could only stare at the screen, wondering what to do. Then a miracle occurred. A new page appeared, and it was the one I’d been denied access to. I’m sure I heard the sound of celestial harp music. Since then I’ve talked to another person who tried twice to enroll recently, and the same thing happened to him both times. I advised him to try again, but this time, to wait patiently for a miracle instead of exiting the website in annoyance. Perhaps even more miraculous, a very nice human called me from the Social Security Administration two days after I enrolled and assured me that my Medicare coverage would begin on October 1st as it is supposed to. That’s right. Evidence of caring and efficiency from a government agency.
Those are what I think of as the highlights. Much of the rest was too stressful or sad to find levity in. There were health problems that beset loved ones, and the death of a dear friend after eight devastating years of Parkinson’s. Not to mention more far-reaching issues, like those in the unceasing daily onslaught of horrifying national and international news. In one way or another, the entirety of August and September was an opportunity for me to do what I do best: go into a tailspin of sleeplessness, distress and anxiety while waiting for the other shoe to drop. And—I’m not joking here—don’t get me started on our lack of preparedness for killer asteroids.
However, now that we’re almost into October—my favorite month—and some of the stressors are behind us, I’m hoping that perhaps Glen and I can take a deep breath and regroup. Breathing deeply would be more pleasant if the temperature dropped below 100°F, but that looks unlikely to happen soon. I’m not sure what we’re supposed to do with this autumn weather. These certainly aren’t sleeping-with-the-windows-open nights. In this part of Texas, we’re having the hottest September since record-keeping began. But at least we’re sort of accustomed to extreme heat here. Pity the poor Icelanders, who recently held a funeral for the first glacier that fell victim to climate change. What an unnerving milestone.
Interesting times indeed. For the sake of my mental health I should probably stop reading the news. If there’s a giant space rock hurtling our way, I’d rather not see it coming. The small ones I’ve been dodging lately are scary enough.
There have been times when I have loathed someone so thoroughly that simply wishing them in Hell seems too good for them. Typically this applies to people I loathe in a more impersonal fashion, people I haven’t actually met, like various politicians I won’t name. Having the leisure to consider their detestable qualities at arm’s length means my temper is cooler and I’m levelheaded enough to think of more unusual fates to wish upon them. A few years ago I came up with some Fortean curses that seemed just the ticket and wrote them down in the form of a sort of hybrid poem.
First, though, a bit of explanation. For those who may not know, the term Fortean comes from Charles Fort (1874-1932), an American writer who spent much of his life tirelessly researching, cataloguing and writing about anomalous phenomena, also known as Fortean phenomena or Forteana. I’ve slurped up Forteana all my life with a big spoon: anything from poltergeist activity to Alien Big Cats, falls of raw flesh from the sky, cattle mutilations and the folkloric aspects of Slender Man. I love it all. For that reason, my favorite periodical has long been the delicious Fortean Times. Since the magazine is known for its sense of humor, I’d like to think that they would enjoy the following fates (ranging in severity from pain and/or major inconvenience up through complete eradication) that I have wished upon the detestable:
A Brief Compendium of Fortean Curses for Loathsome People
May you wake in the small hours of the night to the buzzing
of a thousand bees inside your skull and all of your electronic devices
firing off at once as an eerie blue light floats near your bedroom ceiling.
May your exsanguinated form found by mushroom gatherers
deep in a Romanian forest lend credence to fearful rumors that
the Vampir still roams in darkness and is not mere folktale after all.
May your vehicle go dead in the middle of a desert highway at 2 a.m.,
and may you suffer unexplained missing time and hair loss
after a ball of bright plasma descends upon you from the starry sky.
May your vacation plans go awry when magnetic anomalies
cause your private plane’s instruments to fluctuate and cease
functioning as you are flying solo through the Bermuda Triangle.
May your eyes be wide with horror when you are found unresponsive
in your bed by the hotel chambermaid who comes to clean the notorious
haunted suite you foolishly paid a vast sum to occupy for one night.
May the greasy ashes of your corpse be discovered soiling
the cushions of your uncharred armchair by the puzzled firefighters
who have just extinguished your spontaneous combustion.
May you be subjected to anal probes and other painful
medical procedures after being abducted into the strange
glowing object hovering above your backyard fence.
May only splintered wreckage wash up on the shores of Loch Ness
after witnesses report seeing a large, many-humped creature
emerge from the frothing waves and swamp your sight-seeing vessel.
May you be brained while enjoying your espresso
at an open-air café when live toads rain from a clear sky.
May your cries for help be heard receding ever higher into the night,
accompanied by the flap of enormous, leathery wings.
May an earwig creep through the waxy passage of your ear canal
as you are sleeping and lay her fifty pearly, glistening eggs.
May thine eye offend thee, and may I be the one to pluck it out.
May you live long in interesting times. And then . . .
May you stop.
Hi, my name is Susan, and I’m a procrastinator.
That first sentence is how I opened “Would Procrastinatrix Sound Sexier?”, my fourth blog post from way back in May 2016. (Read it here.)
And guess what’s changed since then? Not a thing. Just ask Glen. He’ll carry on at great length about it. He’s a little frustrated with me. Why? Well . . .
A few weeks ago I had it on my calendar to enroll in Medicare. Our insurance agent had cautioned me not to wait until the last minute, because complications could arise. Other people had told me the same thing, warning me that it was prudent to begin the process two months before my birthday. Failing to do it well in advance could torpedo the entire process. (And I still don’t know why that is, but I was determined to be a grownup for once, and get it done. I hadn’t slogged through sixty-five years just to throw away my free medical care.)
When the day in early August arrived, I put it off for most of the morning, drinking more coffee than I wanted and fretting over the task before me. Finally I sat down at the computer and took a deep breath. Then, in a resolute, grab-the-bull-by-the-horns fashion (qualities that no one who knows me would believe I’m capable of), I got on the Medicare website and went to the enrollment page.
And that’s where my good intentions ground to a halt. Because it turns out I needed to enroll under the name printed on my Social Security card.
I can’t say what prompted me—some hazy recollection, perhaps?—to get out the card and look at it for the first time in many years. I’ve known my Social Security number by heart since early college days, so I had no need to see the card. But when I did, I discovered that the last name on it was not mine. It was my first husband’s.
Several days of panic ensued. First there was a phone call to the Social Security Administration. They told me I must have proof that I am who I say I am. Astonishingly, my driver’s license, birth certificate and decades of tax returns—all in my maiden name—don’t count. This was followed by a call to the county clerk’s office. I scrambled to get my hands on the final divorce decree, believing that my divorce attorney had included the change back to my maiden name there. That’s where the necessary proof would be! But he hadn’t. Nor was the name change documented on any other scrap of paper in my possession.
Here we are several weeks later, and I’ve lawyered up. My current attorney has drawn up the name change paperwork (which I signed and had notarized) and I went to the county sheriff’s office to have my fingerprints taken. Two sets, suitable for the needs of the FBI and the Department of Public Safety. I had never done that before (it wasn’t a requirement in the 1980s) and it was kind of interesting.
They need these to keep a close eye on me, because there’s no telling what frauds I might commit, given the chance. As long as I’m going to all this trouble, I may as well get some fun out of it.
For each part of this process, everywhere I’ve gone, I’ve signed my first married name, followed by my real name, which, for these purposes, is my aka. It’s a peculiar feeling to sign a name I haven’t used in forty years. My attorney and I await an appointment to go before a judge, but this is Labor Day weekend. It may not happen for two weeks. Once the change is approved, I have to get a new Social Security card. And in the meantime, it’s getting later and later to enroll in Medicare.
This is why Glen is telling everyone who will listen what a lifelong procrastinator I am. He can’t believe I didn’t get my Social Security card changed when my divorce was final. I can’t either. But what I really can’t believe is that for once in my life, I tried to tackle something in a proactive, timely fashion, only to be tripped up by a boneheaded lapse from my past.
So what does happen when you don’t enroll in Medicare early enough? I have no idea, but I’ll let you know, because I think I’m about to find out . . .
Hey, we’re gearing up for some fun out here in the country! (Fun in the Buns? Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.) Glen is scheduled for his colonoscopy in a few days and mine comes in late October. And we both managed to arrange them for our birthday months! It’s truly one of the most thoughtful gifts we can give ourselves, but I think my reluctance to open mine (open my GIFT. Geez, where is your mind??) is understandable. Glen, on the other hand, always rips the giftwrap off his with a brisk, “let’s get this over with” attitude.
In doing a little probing around online I learned that the colonoscopy as we know it today has been around for only fifty years and didn’t become common practice for more than ten years after that. It wasn’t until the mid-’80s when Ronald Reagan had some polyps removed that the general public began to take notice. My mother died only a few years ago, but she never had one and her mother certainly didn’t. I was surprised to see that in some circles—Canadian ones, for example—there is disagreement about the procedure. Many people just don’t believe that the American Cancer Society’s colonoscopy recommendations are medically necessary for those of average risk.
But then you have the unsettling fact that there are people of average risk who go unscreened and end up with full-blown colon cancer. That’s a good enough reason for me to observe the ACS’s guidelines. (Or try to. I’m two years late for this screening. Better late than never, though.)
The huge turnoff for most of us, of course, is the prep. That’s why I was eight years overdue for my first colonoscopy. (Okay, so I don’t observe the guidelines. But I feel guilty when I don’t, which has to count for something.) However, in the seven years since I had my first screening there’s been an interesting development: HyGIeaCare® (that’s an “i” as in “hygiene,” not an “l”). It’s an alternative type of prep that takes only about an hour and you go right in for your colonoscopy when you’re done. Best of all, it doesn’t require drinking a half-gallon or more of disgusting liquids. Glen’s gastroenterologist, for instance, prescribes polyethylene glycol, which I could have sworn was antifreeze.
HyGIeaCare® is a great innovation for some people, I’m sure, even after taking into account the couple hundred dollars extra it will add to your bill. But after reading about it on their website, I’ll have to pass. (On the new prep, that is, not the . . . Oh, never mind.) Our insurance agent playfully calls HyGIeaCare® “The Sit ‘n’ Spin,” which makes it sound like a giggly ride in the teacups at Disney World, instead of what it really is: a sterile nozzle shoved up—pardon me, I meant to say “introduced into”—your cabinet of curiosities, so that a gentle stream of warm water and your colon can have a play date. (Most of which will be spent making mudpies, I imagine.)
Um . . . no. I’ll do my prep the old-fashioned way, thanks. Especially now that I hear you can wash your laxative down with Crystal Light® Lemonade instead of Gatorade®. As for Glen, he’s fine with just drinking his antifreeze.
So stay tuned! At some point there’ll be a “Colonoscopy Diaries: Part 2,” probably after my turn in October. And when that comes you can bet I’ll be flashing this gift from The Daughter. Maybe the gastroenterologist will get a laugh out of them.
So the other Sunday morning Glen and I were watching an episode of North Woods Law. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s one of the reality shows about game wardens on the Animal Planet network, and is set primarily in Maine. (The other is Lone Star Law, which is set, of course, in Texas.) We enjoy watching scofflaws trying to lie and weasel their way out of hunting violations, keeping undersized/oversized/too many fish, boating while intoxicated, illegal camping and all the other things they can do to flout the fish and game regulations. Both shows are entertaining, sometimes shocking and always informative. And kind of frightening. There are some seriously disturbed people on our public lands and waters.
Due to Maine’s dense forests and sparsely populated areas, the game wardens on North Woods Law occasionally have to form search parties for hikers and hunters who get lost in the woods. That’s just what happened in Sunday’s episode. This time the missing person was described as “an elderly man with Parkinson’s.” As well as using the “E” word, the narrator also gave the man’s age in years. I thought his age and the fact that he had Parkinson’s (relevant because if he stayed lost for any length of time he’d miss his seven-times-daily medication) should have been description enough.
Maybe I’m overly sensitive. After all, I do have (yet another) birthday coming up soon. But as Glen and I watched the show while enjoying our Sunday breakfast of spicy elk sausage omelettes, toasted homemade bread and Bloody Marys (also spicy, thanks to vodka I infused with homegrown jalapeños, fresh herbs, lemon peel and black peppercorns), it occurred to me that someday I might get lost in the woods, too. (Probably not in Maine, but you never know.) Somewhere, somehow, I might make it into the local newspapers for all the wrong reasons. And if I did, how would they pigeonhole me? I’m not “elderly”—yet—but nevertheless I’ve seen women years younger than I am described in the news that way. Also as a “grandmother of [X number of grandchildren here],” and a “senior.” That’s fine if it’s in the context of a piece about family or schooling. But it never is. The women in question are always either missing, dead, or they got all feisty and fought off a purse snatcher. These descriptions must be there for a reason, right? What are they intended to make us feel when we read them? Pity? Superiority? Comfortably non-missing/still kicking? Younger?
Personally, I think it’s the writer’s ageism showing, projecting his/her own assumptions about the “elderly” person onto the reader. Try this on for size: Martha Stewart and Harrison Ford are 77 years old—three years older than the missing man with Parkinson’s (whose story had a happy conclusion when he was finally found, by the way). Ann-Margret and Raquel Welch are 78. So is Bob Dylan. Never have I seen any of them described as “elderly.”
What do arbitrary, irrelevant categorizations such as “grandmother,” “senior” and “elderly” really have to do with anything? Well, in this plastic fork, paper napkin, disposable diaper, polystyrene foam to-go box throwaway society, I would propose that they’re the first step toward devaluing people, in order to eventually close the lid on them like moldy leftovers and throw them away. The law enforcement, search dogs and helicopters mobilized for rescue are just postponing the inevitable. People in the limelight seem to get a pass, unless they develop dementia or a debilitating disease, and then they’re fair game for condescending adjectives just like the rest of us.
I’ve had enough of it. Remember Peter Finch’s brilliant scene from the 1976 movie Network? He made this line famous: “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”
Well, that’s me.
“Intransigent curmudgeon Susan Rooke went missing today near a pecan bottom in Central Texas. She was last seen wearing a purple T-shirt, blue jeans and pink clogs, and standing in the shadow of an enormous elm while sipping a habanero-blackberry margarita (claimed by her husband to ‘have some heat to it’). Authorities advise the public that Rooke is long-winded and easily riled, and if found, should be left the hell alone.”
Since I’ve not blogged about it recently, today I thought I’d share a couple of writing-related items. First, here’s what’s happening with the Space Between fantasy series.
Of the (at least) three books planned for the series, so far two have been published. The Space Between: The Prophecy of Faeries was released September 12, 2017, and The Realm Below: The Rise of Tanipestis followed on January 22, 2019. Somebody pinch me, because I must be dreaming. If you’d asked me a few years ago, I would’ve said that’s two more books than I ever thought I’d see on my own bookshelf, let alone anyone else’s. (Yes, people are reading the books, which is thrilling beyond description. A huge thank-you to all of my readers! Reviews are crucial, so if you enjoyed the books, would you be so kind as to leave a brief review on Amazon and/or Goodreads? One sentence is all it takes!)
Around the start of this year I began writing Book 3. It was slow going at first, for two reasons:
1. I was still attending to matters connected with the publication of The Realm Below—mostly promotions and obsessive rereadings. It was difficult to concentrate on the third book when I hadn’t quite pushed the second one out of the nest. (And it turns out that obsessive rereading isn’t enough. It took reading TRB aloud to Glen on our April road trip [hey, don’t look at me—I’M not driving his pickup truck 3,000 miles!] to catch the last few typos. That was THREE months and FOUR editors after the book’s release. Clearly, Glen and I will need to take another road trip when this next one comes out.)
2. The second reason was trickier to negotiate. I had to begin Book 3 by weaving together the threads left dangling at the end of The Realm Below. I won’t reveal anything in case you haven’t read TRB yet (not even Book 3’s working title, because it might be a spoiler), but TRB ends with a number of unexpected events and a major cliffhanger. It’s kind of like a game of pick-up sticks: The characters get thrown into the air by unfolding events and then come down in new places and crises and relationships. Before I could do anything else at the start of Book 3, I first had to allow my characters the freedom to react and realign to those new places and crises and relationships, and only then could they forge ahead.
Both reasons are behind me now, I’m happy to say, and I’m working on the meat of the story. I’m not a fast writer, but with a regular routine I’m getting it done. It’s fun to show up at my desk every day and be surprised by what turns up on the screen. My characters have their own ideas of what they should be doing and they’re not shy about taking the lead. I just write what they tell me to.
The second development might seem at first glance to have little to do with writing, but to me, it’s a game-changer. If you’ve been with me awhile you’ve read my grousing about our satellite internet. This is how naïve I was when we moved away from the city: I had no idea that, by and large, rural people don’t have the same access to internet service that urban populations do. I knew in advance that the lack of infrastructure on our remote country roads meant we’d be dependent on satellite. But the much higher bills (no such thing as bundling the TV, internet and phone out here), the unreliability during stormy or very overcast weather, the random outages? The data limits?? I had no clue. It never crossed my mind that after we moved I would no longer be able to leave my email open, listen to Pandora all day, or spend much time online doing the banking, reading the morning news, paying bills, or seeing what I could make for dinner on Food52. (I love Food52. Highly recommended for all who enjoy cooking and food.) When someone broke the news to me right before Glen and I moved in to the farmhouse, I was a little dismayed, but still didn’t really get it. Then, the first month we lived here, we used up all of our data in less than two weeks and were forced to buy more. That’s when I realized our way of life had changed. But a few weeks ago, a friend suggested to Glen that we investigate a miraculous technology called fixed wireless. (You can read more about it here. I wouldn’t dream of trying to explain it.)
We couldn’t believe it might work for us, but Glen made some inquiries and got the all-clear from the provider. (Who was zoomed in on our house on Google Earth while he had Glen on the phone. Even more miraculous.) By the time you read this, our service should be set up, and Glen and I should have unlimited internet again.
So how is this writing-related? Because if fixed wireless functions as promised (you can see I’m still hedging my bets), I’ll be able to submit my work—mostly poetry—to journals again. Since moving out here more than four years ago, I’ve submitted to a grand total of two publications, both of which I’d worked with before. This is a huge decrease; I used to keep five or six batches of poems in circulation each month. That number dropped because making targeted submissions requires researching each publication: the submission window and preferred submission method, number of poems considered in each batch, editorial statement, samples of recently published work, response time, rights acquired, etc. Plus more particulars I didn’t list. The most efficient way (I would argue the only way) to learn these things is online.
Yes, I write fiction and blog fortnightly about life, but I’m also a poet. I’ve missed being able to send my work out into the world. I’m excited to do it again.
And when I do, I’ll be listening to Pandora. The Charlie Haden station.
I hope everyone is well and happy and that my U.S. readers are celebrating a wonderful Fourth of July with family and friends!
Of course it wouldn’t be the Fourth without fireworks, would it? I enjoy them, but you won’t catch me handling them. Even sparklers kind of scare me, so I’m happy to leave incendiary devices in the hands of the professionals. You know, people like your hotshot neighbor with the umpteen cars, the go-fast boat and the ginormous house. Or your judgment-challenged husband. Yes, I’m speaking of one particular July 4th that none of us in this family will ever forget.
Long before Glen and I moved to the honest-to-goodness country four years ago, we had moved outside of the Austin city limits. The last place was a one-street subdivision with acreage lots: the sort of place where, unlike in the city, setting off fireworks isn’t illegal—provided no burn ban is in effect. Only half the lots had houses on them, which gave all of us neighbors plenty of elbow room to do pretty much as we pleased. That changed once the rest of the houses were built, but those first few years were heady times. Which brings me to one memorable Independence Day around twelve years ago.
That evening at nightfall, fireworks began to bloom in the sky above a couple of houses on the street. Glen, The Daughter and I, plus a few friends who’d come to celebrate with us, went outside to watch. Glen had bought some fireworks for us, too, and he set off several in the driveway. Then the free-spending neighbor across the street (“across the street” only in the most literal sense; he was still two or three hundred yards away from us) got into the act. He was having a July 4th party and doing some showboating, putting on a display for his guests that was calculated to impress and keep them talking about it until the next July 4th. We watched for a time, oohing and aahing, and then Glen touched off a few more of ours. This seemed to send the neighbor into an explosive frenzy.
Shrieking, whizzing, starry bursts and meteoric booms filled the night. Every time Glen sent up another firework, four or five skyrockets and Roman candles launched across the street. The wind was blowing toward us, and soon we (and our house and our yard and our driveway) were covered in the gritty remains of the neighbor’s spent fireworks—that stuff that’s such a nuisance to sweep and rake up the next day. (Katie and I should know; cleanup duty was always our job.) Some of it was still burning and we had to run to stamp it out. What had started out as an amazing display was becoming annoying.
At last there was a lull. Clouds of smoke drifted across scorched asphalt and concrete. We assumed the neighbor’s show was over; all of our own fireworks were long gone. So we brushed the paper shreds and ashy bits out of our clothes and hair, did a last check for small fires on the landscape and started to head indoors. But that wasn’t the end of it. Turns out the neighbor was re-arming. Soon, fresh volleys of fireworks began hurtling skyward, and each new blast seemed bigger and louder than the previous one. Call us paranoid, but we all felt there was a bullying, “mine’s bigger than yours” taint to his extravaganza. (Interestingly, not too long after that night he ended up in a bit of trouble with the feds over some pesky fraud charges.)
Finally, Glen had had enough. “I’m going to my truck,” he said. “I’ll be right back.” Then he vanished into the acrid haze as spent fireworks debris continued to rain down on us.
When he returned, we could see he had something small in the palm of his hand. He went to the circular parking pad at the end of our driveway and waved at the rest of us to stand well back. We didn’t retreat far enough to suit him, so he waved us back some more, and then still more. As we peeked out from behind a stone wall by the front porch, hands over our ears, we saw him put a lighter to what looked like a pencil stub and drop it to the concrete.
And then he ran like hell.
The roar that followed felt like it was going to bring the house down. It was seismic, cataclysmic, like the detonation at the end of the world when the Earth tilts screaming into the Sun. At the very least it should have blown out our windows. But amazingly, everything stayed in one piece. Even the driveway.
In the aftermath there was a deafening silence. We stood there for a few minutes—stunned, wide-eyed, gasping—waiting for the pyrotechnic barrage across the street to resume. It didn’t. There was not another . . . single . . . firework. Glen raised his arms, triumphant.
As we all went into the house, giggling like fools, I asked him, “What in the world was that?”
“Just a little dynamite,” he said. “I figured a quarter-stick should do it.”
Happy July 4th to my U.S. readers! (And don’t try this at home!)