Wednesday, October 31, 2007

I admit it. I'm an addict. Michelle O'Neil gave me a taste of Dancing with the Stars on her blog, and I fell for it. Hoof, line, and sinker. I've been planning Monday nights around my show of choice: a simple dinner, a glass of wine, and a heaping helping of sequins and spangles.

I try to be careful, though. Mondays only. No results show on Tuesdays. That would be too much. Once in a while, I tune in for the last few minutes of Tuesay's show or catch it later on line. But only a few minutes, and not every week.

Late this afternoon I needed a break. (Cereal killing is hard work, you know.) I pulled up DwtS on line and watched Sabrina Bryan's exit. Watching Sabrina and her partner get the news brought tears to my eyes that had nothing to do with them leaving the show. Truth to tell, I haven't been very interested in them--she's too close to a professional dancer for my taste. I prefer the clutzes who find rhythm through hard work and dedication.

It was the way Mark wrapped his arms around Sabrina before the announcement that got me. It looked as if he were trying to insulate her from hurt, to shield her from the news to come. I've got no idea whether they're a couple. I don't care--I'm not that far gone. Yet.

But that simple gesture killed me. Those few seconds left me feeling a kind of loneliness I haven't felt for years. Maybe ever.

(Heavy Sigh). Long, long ago, Walt Disney convinced me that some day my prince would come. Now the network of his legacy is reminding me just how far I am from a fairy tale ending.

Clearly, delerium has set in. I'm going to have to quit the stuff. Cold turkey. Wanna go out next Monday? My schedule's wide open.

Happy Halloween



Me in my Halloween costume at this salon this morning. Do you know what I am? Look closely.



A cereal killer, naturally.

Enjoy, everyone. Be safe.

Monday, October 29, 2007

WooooHooooo

I did it, people. I finished the food essay and submitted it. (Deep cleansing breath)

Even after I had everything together, the files proofread for the thousandth time, my bio updated and all, I sat staring at the screen for five minutes before I hit send.

Here's the thing: the fate of the world does not depend on whether they like this piece or publish it. If they don't, it will become one of the Nos I have to go through to get to Yes. It will be the first of the rejections my friend Tom suggests I use to paper my walls.

When I wrote about finding the middle of the piece the other day, I didn't mean to imply it was fabulous. What I was trying to say—and what I'm celebrating now—is that I pushed through the middle, the part where I usually get stalled. I relaxed and let myself write some bad crap until what I wanted to say found me.

I finished. I submitted. My piece is now out there on the elementary school playground in its pajamas. With no panties underneath. And a crucial button missing. It's scary, but it's the only way to get my "real" writing out into the world.

Stay tuned. I may get the hang of this finishing thing yet.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Too Long Gone


Finished the food essay yesterday. Plan to submit it to a St. Louis foodie magazine on Monday, my first such submission anywhere. Wish me luck.

Writing the piece has been a blessing, no matter what happens. I read the call for submissions on a Missouri Writer's web site and spent a couple days writing bits and pieces that eventually led me to a unifying theme. From there, ideas presented themselves, night and day, until the best ones bobbed to the surface.

I wrote two thirds of the piece like reeling in sunfish. Then, right on cue, the story cut my line and swam away. I kept casting but nothing bit. For a day or so, it looked like the piece would die from a lack of oxygen, be thrown onto the compost heap of unfinished projects in my hard drive.

But, no. On Thursday, my laptop and I went into the weeds. I wrote and rejected bits and pieces for a middle, the same way I do for beginnings. The ending had come in the original burst. The way to get there eluded me.

Know what? I found it, the path, the way, the connection. Writing along, talking about lettuce greens, something picked up my story and delivered it, full circle, to the end without me even noticing. I actually gasped when I recognized what happened: Like any of the big ones, it snuck up on me.

That feeling, the one where dots are being connected without conscious thought, that's the reason I keep writing. When it's gone too long, I miss it.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Memories

I'm writing an essay about old foods that are popular with new names. It's such a kick to crawl inside my memories and play around a bit.

My grandpa—my mother's father—was a mushroom hunter. Morels, mostly. He brought home sacks of Morels like a pirate might bring home bags of gold. He cleaned them and cooked them and froze them in Wonder Bread wrappers. When I get inside that memory, I can smell the hot butter on the stove, the cigarette smoke in the air, and the musk of my grandfather mixed with the smell of gasoline and loose leaf tobacco.

It's strange that I remember the Wonder Bread wrappers so clearly, with their yellow and red and blue spots. Most of the wrapper was white, but there were clear spaces where you could see the Morels peeking through. Spongy promises of good things to come.

Yep. I loves me a good memory.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

We've Come a Long Way, Baby

First, the big stuff: My son got moved into his apartment last weekend. Yesterday he called to apologize. Just two short sentences, but at least it was a start. We had lunch together yesterday, and it was peaceful. Stay tuned.

Next, the funniest thing happened yesterday. Funny strange, not funny haha. My publicist e-mailed to ask if I'd do an interview for Men's Health magazine. Of course, I said yes, but also asked if the interviewer knew I am a woman. Between my name and the subject matter of my books (home improvement), people are surprised sometimes.

Her reply expressed confidence it would make no difference.

Later in the day, she wrote again. This time to say that the writer did indeed want to speak to a male "expert."

I was disappointed, of course. Men's Health is a big name, after all. But I wasn't surprised. They know the readers they serve. The article, as it was explained to me, was about showing men how to learn or take on new things. Neither the writer nor the magazine are responsible for the fact that the average man is less comfortable taking advice or instruction from a woman than from another man.

I am incredibly blessed. I've worked in male-dominated fields most of my life and have experienced direct, irrefutable discrimination only a small handful of times. Mostly, this little exchange is a reminder that we may have come a long way, but we've still got a long way to go.

For another interesting illustration of how far, check out this article about crying in public.

Oh, and Bill Maher, if you're reading this: you embarrassed yourself with those comments. Should all men be embarrassed, too?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

On Another Front

It's not all pink hair and giggles here on the pond. No, indeed.

My son took his stuff and stormed out yesterday, leaving behind a vapor trail of anger. He's planning to stay with my folks until his apartment is available on Friday.

He left after saying some of the most hurtful, shocking things he's come up with since he was 17. He clearly believes the problem is of my making. I don't know what to believe.

I have done my best. Trouble is, my best is not good enough to help him. Living with that is not easy, but it is necessary.

Soon I'll right myself and come up with another plan. I always do. Maybe this time the plan should be to accept that love does not conquer all.

More about Pink Hair




They're hard to see because they're about the same color as her scalp, but here's Mom with her three pink streaks. She loves them.

When we were little, we saw a woman with pink hair. Every time we encountered her in the aisles, we'd try to get Mom to look. Mom would sush us and we'd just get louder. "But Mom, you don't understand. She has PINK hair."

Now Mom does, too.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Thinking Pink


Me: What do you think of my hair, Mom?

Mom: Pink? You put pink in your hair?

Me: They're extentions. We're doing them at the salon to raise money for Breast Cancer research. Clients donate $10 and we give them three pink extensions.

Mom: I'd do that. Yes, I would. Okay, I want some.

Me: Cool. I'll make you an appointment.

Mom: I'm getting my new driver's license tomorrow. Can we do it before I get my picture taken?

I am taking my 73-year-old mother to the salon this morning to have pink streaks added to her beautiful white hair. From there, we're headed to the DMV.

Kind of gives you hope, doesn't it?

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Menopause? Hell, no. Men-o-stop!


Like Nora Ephron, I Feel Bad About My Neck. If a wishing fairy appeared before me, it would be a tough choice between asking her to help me learn to write and asking her to melt the turkey wattle appearing below my chin(s).

Who am I kidding? I wouldn't even bat an eyelash. I'd drop on my knees and tip my head back to make sure her wand had total access to the disaster area. I can work on the writing, but unless a miracle happens, my neck is going to introduce itself to my boobs one day very soon.

And if the droopage weren't enough, the damn thing's sprouting small dark spots that grow into skin tags, tiny wart-like affairs, if I don't exfoliate often enough. And I don't. At least, not when things are so crazy.

Pink Boots Guy used to say he could tell how my world was going by feeling my butt. Smooth skin meant I was taking care of myself; dry, scaly patches meant trouble in not-quite-paradise. No one's checking out that area these days and I'd be happy with just managing to maintain the parts that show!

The other day I accidentally caught sight of myself in a mirror and discovered my neck was covered with so many skin tags it looked like I'd been fertilizing the damn things. Even worse, it had developed a couple bigger scaly spots the dermatologist tells me are just part of old age. Since then I've used salt scrub every morning in the shower and it's better. But if you see that wish fairy, send her my way, will you?

BTW--the dermatologist survived that comment. Recovering nicely, I hear.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Those Are Some Big Grains You Got There, Girly

Did a quick spin through the memoir section of the bookstore yesterday. (Just cannot go into a bookstore without checking out the memoirs.)

Of course, a book jumped off the shelves and insisted on going home with me, a book that turned out to be my biggest reading disappointment since My Friend Leonard. (You remember James Frey's second book, right? The "memoir" that opened with scenes of him coping with 80 days in jail, a sentence he never received for crimes he didn't commit? MFL feels to me like a bigger travesty than MLP. By the time he passed a second book off to his publisher, James had enough time and toured enough to know, to absolutely know in his bones, what he was doing was wrong and hurtful.)

But I digress.

The hitchhiker was How Starbucks Saved My LIfe. When I turned the last page last night, I googled around a bit and found that many others readers felt as I did: manipulated and used.

Michael Gates Gill stayed in one high-profile ad agency for 25 years. Takes some big smarts to do that. Here and there in the book, he describes some strategies that could only have come from a pretty savvy character. Then he asks us to believe that making change and cleaning toilets was a major challenge for him.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying it's easy to keep a register straight when you're working under the pressure of lines of people impatient for caffeine. I'm not even saying it's easy to maintain a public restroom. I run the register and clean the bathrooms at the salon enough to know better than that.

But Gill describes his struggles with these tasks in a way that made me wonder if the slow-growing tumor he claims is threatening his brain may have impaired his faculties. Googled video shows a very different sort of man than the book: confident, smart, articulate. Not a guy who would struggle with setting out sandwiches in the right order.

Google also turned up the news that Gill sold the book (and the movie rights) on the basis of a proposal. He didn't turn his life around and then write a book to tell the tale. Before he'd worked at Starbucks long enough to get the lingo down, he sold Penguin and Tom Hanks on the idea of a high-flying, ego-driven overachiever getting his come-uppance and then discovering the value of hard work and regular people. Then he lived the life he needed to tell about.

Miss Snark taught me the importance of a good hook. She even ran a crapometer on hooks (December 06, I think) to drive home the point (or stomp it home with a stiletto heel, as she might say). Gill created a shiny, pointed, I've-got-to-read-this-book hook.

His book did not live up to his hook. Worse yet, it feels like he backed into the hook (when a Starbucks manager offered him a job almost as a joke) and then contrived a story to hang on it.

I'm a sucker for people who find hidden meaning in difficult circumstances. I'm not above being a tiny bit satisfied to see a guy who cheated on his wife and fathered a child with another woman hit the proverbial wall. (Sorry. I'm working on it.) Gill admits his mistakes, I have to give him that. But in the end, that feels more like part of the set up than genuine growth or remorse.

Tom Hanks will probably make a feel good, heartwarming movie out of Gill's story. I may even go see it, but if I do, I'll view it with plenty of salt on my popcorn.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Writing Meme


Michelle from Full Soul Ahead tagged me to write a meme about my writing. Here goes.

1) I've written (and published) 25 or 26 books and still don't feel like a real writer. My books, on home improvement and home decor, help people. I like that and appreciate my readers but find myself discounting the value of my work, over and over.

2) All these books written and hundreds of thousands of copies sold, and I still get the willies every single time I sit down to work. Last week I spent two and a half days stuck, working and reworking a 315 word introduction to bathroom fixtures. I couldn't--or didn't--get past the snag until the deadline loomed and I had to write the damn thing or miss the deadline.

3) When I hit my stride in my personal writing, the phrases dancing off my fingers surprise the hell out of me. Strange things show up--facts I didn't realize I knew, feelings I've never acknowledged, and lyrical language I couldn't possibly think up on my own.

4)The music of language comes much more easily than the arc of a story. In writing as in life, structure confounds me.

5) A dear friend compared my writing to that of a well-known, successful author this afternoon, and my eyes leaked for 10 minutes. Other than children during my struggles with infertility, I have never wanted anything more than I want to learn to write. To really write.

I'm tagging you, Suzy.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Can You Hear the Angels Singing?


Don't worry about those screams you heard a few minutes ago. There were just my shouts of joy.

After many complications, Evan's application was approved. He'll be moving into his very own apartment in about two weeks. It's a beautiful place, with his own washer and dryer and a lovely patio.

Best of all, best of all, it's not here he'll have his own space again.

So will I.

WoooooHooooo!!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Here's to Teachers

Have I mentioned what fun I'm having with the writing?

My cup of gratitude runneth over this evening. Some incredible teachers have shared their wisdom with me. Their generosity is the source of this fun.

The Mystic One took an enormous leap of faith with this semi-crazed woman and paid me to write books. Taught me how, too. More than that, he believes in my stories and encourages me to tell them.

Jennifer Lauck conducted a workshop in Carrie Link's home, the second and third official writing classes I ever had. Jennifer and Carrie opened my eyes and my heart to my own stories and taught me to write the things I least want to face.

Anthony Doerr taught the workshop I attended at the Taos Summer Writer's Conference. Anthony gave me five full days of head-spinning information. He emphasized how much every word counts. Reading (and then studying) his book, Four Seasons in Rome is several semesters' worth of instruction.

Through their books and stories, Rick Bragg, Barbara Robinette Moss, Stephen King, Elizabeth Gilbert, Abigail Thomas, Monica Holloway, Elizabeth Berg, and others showed me the way. Miss Snark reinforced their lessons.

Monday, with my fears playing under my desk, I pounded out this sentence: The seasons were quick to change in the Ozark Mountains, but the summer of 1964 came on so hard it surprised us.

Tuesday and Wednesday, with my teachers and friends swirling through my brain pan, that sentence slowly became: The seasons are always quick to change in the Ozark Mountains, but the summer of 1964 dropped onto the Missouri hills like a wet wool blanket.

The difference between the two is what keeps me up nights and wakes me early. I simply cannot wait to learn more and bring it to the pages.

Given everything else going on here right now, writing—learning to write from my gut—is saving my sanity. . .my life. . .my soul.

Thank you, Teachers.

Thank you, Friends.

Such a Little Thing

In Escaping into the Open, Elizabeth Berg says:

If you take yourself and writing too seriously, you will sit at your computer and feel afraid to start. When you finally do start, you will be hypercritical of every line you write.

Yes, Ma'am. That's right where I've been. Smack in the middle of a too-serious stew. Ms. Berg goes on to say:

Try to keep some essential perspective: You are not performing an emergency tracheotomy. You are not deciding whether or not to drop the Bomb. You are putting lines of print on a page. And I believe if you're enjoying yourself when you put those lines down, you have a better chance of your readers enjoying you.

Remembering this makes a world of difference. My writing routine has changed since reading Ms. Berg's book. Now, I start by tightening the previous day's work. It loosens my voice, kind of like practicing scales.

This morning I came across this: Thousands of bugs circled the puny little bulb of the porch light. . .

D'oh! Puny and little mean the same thing. Delete, delete, delete. Now it's just a puny bulb and I am filled with the strangest satisfaction.

This is fun, this playing with words. They're like the Connex Evan had when he was little: you can build whole worlds if you put them together right. And if you make a mistake, it's easy to pop them apart and put them back together differently.

WooooooHooooooo.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Just DO It

I spend a lot of time thinking about writing. Reading about writing. Talking about writing.

The only thing missing is the actual writing. Of course, I write almost every day for my work. But that doesn't exactly count.

I carve out time for my personal writing and then decide to throw in a load of laundry. Or download that music I just know is going to inspire me. Or remember something I have to read before I start--a chapter from Bird by Bird or that great passage from On Writing.

All too often, fear stops me in my tracks.

Yesterday, I wrote. The fear didn't disappear, I just wrote while it played at my feet.

Here's what I learned, all over again: When I step forward in faith, I am met. The words appear. The story finds its way. Life moves forward.

Some parts are better than others. Some won't survive rewrites. But they are there, they give me a place to start. I myself am the Keeper of My Words and my first responsibility is to show up.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Dreams Again

9:57 am when I woke from this dream. (I sleep late so rarely that I found another clock to check, just to be sure.)

In a house that belonged to me, one I loved. The walls were pale gray and the rooms large but they felt terribly dark. Walking through the rooms, thinking about how I didn't like the house as much as I had thought, I was surprised at how dark it was. Eventually I realized the windows, which were large, had been covered with blinds and drapes of different sorts.

While I was wondering how this had happened, Evan came in. He told me his Dad had put up the window coverings. AND he told me that was wrong, his dad had no right to cover my windows. While he was talking, I was trying and trying to pull up the wooden matchstick blinds covering the main pair of windows, but couldn't keep them in place. I'd pull them up and try to secure the cords, but the blinds rolled down as I messed with the cords.

Evan told me repeatedly that I needed to tell Bill that this was MY house and he couldn't change things without asking. I thought, "That's right. This IS my house. No one has the right to elminate the light in here."


Doesn't take a Mac Genius to analyze this one.

Friday, October 05, 2007

The Value Small Things


Your comments and notes and calls mean the world to me in these difficult days. They remind me how much loving gestures can mean.

On Valentine's Day, I buy bundles of roses and give them to customers as they leave the salon. Last year I gave the leftovers to my parent's neighbors. When I told Mom and Dad of my plan, they contributed heart-shaped sugar cookies to the project. "Don't forget MO," Dad said. "Her husband died this winter." "And JK," Mom said. "No one ever comes to see her."

List in hand, I rang the doorbell at the first address. An elderly woman cracked open the door and peered out . "Hello, I'm Jerri, Chuck and Nora's girl." She opened the door a little wider. "They asked me to bring these to you and tell you happy Valentine's Day." The woman stepped from behind the door and cradled the roses in her arms like a newborn. "For me? Really?"

"Yes. We hope you enjoy them."

"Oh, thank you. Thank you. I haven't had a Valentine since my husband died. Seventeen years. It's so nice to be remembered." She was still standing in the doorway as I rounded the curve.

Some version of this scene played out at each stop.

When I got back to Mom and Dad's house, Dad was on the phone. "You're just as welcome as you can be. We kinda thought we'd share. Our days of that kind of thing are pretty much over."

Through the phone I recognized the voice of JK, a never-married woman somewhere in her early 60s. "Those days may be over for you," she said. "For some of us, they never were. This is my first Valentine. I'll never forget your kindness."

Two pink roses and a sugar cookie equal unforgettable kindness if you've never had a Valentine.

Kind words are balm for a soul caught in verbal battles.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Thimble Therapy

Took the afternoon off from writing about bathrooms to engage in some badly needed thimble therapy.

I'm hand quilting parts of a quilt. It's a slightly crazy endeavor, I will admit, but nothing forces you into the present moment like guiding a needle in and out of three layers of fabric in an attempt to produce tiny, even stitches, each the same size as the next.

The first (and last) time I hand quilted a quilt tells a story so absolutely typical of me that it still makes me laugh. And wince.

The quilt was for Evan, and I wanted it to be perfect. I read somewhere that the Amish won't let you work on their quilts unless you can create 12 stitches per inch. The first time I counted, I was at 6. I got books. I got better needles, better thimbles. I practiced until my fingers bled. Seriously. Eventually, my stitches were so tiny you needed a magnifying glass to tell they were there.

Looking at a display of quilts months later, I noticed that they looked much different from mine. The quilting had much more character. The store clerk summoned a teacher from the back to help me understand what I was doing wrong. My stitches, she said, were too small. They might as well have come from a machine, she said. But the Amish. . . I said.

Turns out I was counting the stitches wrong, driving myself toward a completely false image of perfection. Counted correctly, I was achieving something like 22 stitches per inch. Which achieved nothing at all.

Now I coast along without counting. If I like the way it looks, it stays. If not, I try to do better on the next section.

Like I said. Thimble therapy.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

A-Maize-ing


Don't want to get all dramatic on your #$$, but I've been eating like an Incan child being fattened for sacrifice.

If I could find room for even one more mouthful of corn (cornbread, Fritos, tortillas, corn on the cob. . .), I'm sure I'd fall on it with gusto. I know what I'm doing and I'm trying to stop. But over and over I'm startled into awareness AFTER numbing myself with carbs, usually some form of corn.

I was thinking of going hiking this weekend, but then again, maybe not.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Detente

It's official. Evan will be getting his own apartment again. The administrator of his trust called yesterday to approve signing a lease.

I am relieved. Thrilled. Sad.

He's 25. He lived on his own for a long time. He doesn't want to live with his mother. I've got all that. But why can't I manage to get along with my son? Why does proximity to me make him profoundly uncomfortable and unhappy?

It's an old story, an old wound. When he was 13 or 14, he opened the car door at a traffic light and stood, half in and half out of the car so I couldn't drive, through 3 cycles of lights. When he finally got back in the car, he said, "Good. Now the people behind us hate you as much as I do."

Last night he said, "I can't wait to get the *&(% ouf of here. No one should be forced to live with you." Then he stormed out. Again.

25 years and counting. I'm still questioning, searching, trying. He's still throwing my love under the bus.

But soon my home will again be my refuge rather than center stage for our drama. There's the relief.

My beloved son can't abide my presence. There's the sad.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Totally Potty, Day Three



If you're tired of hearing me rave about Paul Potts, skip this post.

Or, maybe you shouldn't.

Not because I might convert you, but because you might be inspired to find music or art or something that affects you the same way.

I've been listening to Paul's CD, One Chance non stop. Each time I press play, each time his voice swells with the orchestra, demon stress loosens its chokehold on one more muscle fiber. I lose myself in the flow of the music, let it carry me away from my worries. Toward peace. Toward connection with That Which Is. Toward the best version of myself.