Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanksgiving Dinner

Tomorrow we're going to the Cracker Barrel with our neighbor friend Doug for Thanksgiving Dinner. It will be the second time I can remember ever eating Thanksgiving Dinner in a restaurant. This time we're doing it because the expense of the big meal we want doesn't make sense when we're preparing for a trip to California for John to work at the Naval Base. The leftovers wouldn't be properly enjoyed. Also, a turkey for two isn't very cost efficient, and that's what we want. 

The last time we headed out to a restaurant for Thanksgiving Dinner, Jeremy had just turned three. I'm not sure why we decided to go out that year. Mentally calling roll, I remember Mom was alone, still a widow. Ellen and her John, with their two boys had John's parents with them. My John and I only had two sons then, and I believe Edith, our best family friend ever, was also with us. All together there must have been at least a dozen around that long table. Jeremy was the youngest, and very excited to be in a very good restaurant.

For some reason the waiter started right next to Jeremy and proceeded around the table, away from him. Not particularly used to being last—or being ignored—Jeremy began quietly enough. 

"I'd like a salad, mister."

"Be quiet, Jeremy. He'll get to you. Here, have a cracker," or some such motherly platitude would slip from my mouth after each each person was waited on, and Jeremy made a somewhat louder request for a salad. The young waiter never once looked at the boy. He never smiled or in any way broke that professional polish that comes from serving many years in a quality establishment.

After working his way around the table to it's final small occupant, he looked down and said solemnly, "Master Jeremy, would you care for a salad?"

Jeremy looked astonished. "Yes, please. How do you know my name?"

The gentleman looked very serious and said, "You just look like a Jeremy to me." Then he tempted him to order more than salad, which was more than I had been able to do. He got a very nice tip. More important to me, he helped make a memory, and was never forgotten.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Should I Apologize?

Once again I came home from the critique group Tuesday night feeling depressed over my writing. I had brought along my blog on the fires. Whether or not you read it, I'd ask you to read it now before going through the comments made by the group. Then I'd like to ask for your comments. I'm at a point now where I feel like I shouldn't be writing, if I could inadvertently be insulting firefighters when that is the furthest thing from my mind. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Here's the link to my original blog.

Now that we have that taken care of, here are the comments, separated by person, although I'll not identify who made each comment. You wouldn't know the people in the critique group, at any rate. I won't put all the comments down, but copy completely the ones I feel sum up their opinions.

#1:  I had trouble knowing what your thrust and purpose was. The way one should pray? It seemed there was a bit of anger here and it never became clear to me what caused it or what you were trying to accomplish by expressing it. So the questions not answered for me are "what?" and "Why?" It sounds as if you have a beef with mothers who don't pray as you do? Who use "Thy will be done?" 

#2:  The way this piece began, I thought you might circle back to the fires again. It wasn't clear if you were making a commentary on the decision of the fire department, decision about not containing anything yet, etc. I think many mothers can connect with the selfish prayer part. It was jarring. The connection could be written to make it more clear.

#3:  I think that spending time tooting your own horn dilutes the impact of your message.

#4:  Awkward. Feels too long. Mixed messages. Are you trying to say selfishness is good or bad? Are you guilty or okay with being selfish? Not sure what you are trying to say.

#5:  This is an emotional piece, but I'm not being drawn into it. The ending needs to be stronger. Define the purpose better. Are you criticizing the firefighters, or those who want to be them? Honoring them or mothers? What are you doing? Unclear.

#6:  It's both personal and impersonal. I can't quite get the box into Hyde Park. So I recommend narrowing the viewport, more thoroughly correlating or juxtaposing firefighters and soldiers and assume a stance (even implicit) that someone's ox is being gored. 

#7:  Lacks focus and purpose. Cliched.

#8:  Seems patronizing. Why don't you want them to be in harm's way? I'm not 100% sure how these two things connect—the fires and your sons—I was definitely left wanting clarity. It felt choppy and disconnected. It think it sounds a little callous given the immensity of the destruction in California. Maybe show some empathy... [this one goes on for a long time...]

#9:  Abrupt. Lacks transition between its parts. Good emotional content.

#10:  The problem with this piece is that it puts firefighters in a very negative light. I was in NY for 9/11. Here, the firefighter is not the hero anymore.

#11:  I liked it.

#12:  Very nice.

So, as you can see, ten out of twelve people didn't get it at all. Two others left their papers blank. I've spent a day and a half in a funk. Was it really that bad? Didn't anybody understand that I think the firefighters handle an almost impossible job that is so terrifying I couldn't imagine keeping my sanity if one of my sons was regularly going out trying to do it? That I admire the mothers with the courage to do so to the point that I regularly support them in my prayer life? 

Maybe I'm just not good enough to be a writer. It makes me sad, but if ten out of fourteen writers don't get a simple piece like this, two only like it enough to write down a couple of words, and the other two just leave the pages blank, what am I to think? 

Monday, November 17, 2008

When Your Husband Travels

My daughter in law's sister wrote a blog recently about how things go wrong whenever her husband leaves on a business trip. It seems that every time he takes off, her children get sick. Normally I detest anything that reeks of one-upmanship, but it reminded me of a story from my younger married days, and I couldn't resist. Marrianne, this one's for you.

Working in telemetry on the missile program for the Department of Defense, you could loosely call my husband a rocket scientist. He flew all over the place, leaving me at home with the three boys frequently. Since there were nearly four years between each of our sons, it was normally chaotic, with each of them needing something different from the only parent available. During their school years, they were usually at three separate schools, three separate ball fields. I used to joke that I needed to have either an out of body experience or an out of mind experience. 

The most devastating of John's business trips for me, emotionally, came on one of his flights to a missile base in Hawaii. John woke up early and took the bus to Los Angeles International Airport. From there he was to catch his flight to Hawaii. John is not a really talkative man. Back then he was downright silent. He'd be gone for a couple of weeks, and during that time, we'd never hear from him. This was before cell phones. 

As it happened, John arrived at LAX early and managed to catch an early flight.  He didn't bother to inform the base that he wasn't on his scheduled flight, nor did he let me know. He just saw an opportunity to leave early and took it. Upon landing, he took an inter-island flight to Kauai, where he rented a car and checked in at his hotel, pleased to discover he had enough time to take a couple hours nap before reporting for duty at the missile test site. Consequently, he wasn't aware that the plane he was scheduled to arrive on had crashed while landing and not everyone survived. People were looking for him.

I heard about the crash on television. Knowing it was his plane, I called the base. They couldn't tell me anything. His name was not on the list of survivors. We all sat by the phones for about three hours. I was hysterical, crying and praying. John finally woke up, shaved and got into his rental car. Upon arriving at the test site, he caused quite a stir. They had him call the base, and then me. What did I do? Well, I yelled at him, of course!

That was the last trip John ever took without calling to let me know he had arrived safely. 

Sunday, November 16, 2008

What Do They Do?

Sociology and Philosophy were two of my least favorite college classes. Perhaps I had uninspiring professors. Looking back, that's a sure bet. I did enjoy the sociology text book, although we liked to poke fun at its title, "Unobtrusive Measures in Nonreactive Research in the Social Sciences." Too bad the class lectures weren't interesting. I still enjoy reading things today that hinge on sociology, and even consider philosophical topics enough to irritate some of my family members, so perhaps I simply took the classes too early to appreciate them.

What started me thinking about this was my recent bout with illness. I haven't been sick in so long that I it was strange to sit quietly watching television while coughing, sneezing and blowing my nose. It dawned on me, and I've been thinking about it since, that many people live their lives that way. They don't wait to get sick before spending a week—or a lifetime—mindlessly camped in front of the television. It's all they have. Could it be all they want? 

At least I had my yarn work to occupy my mind while I sat there. I can tell you what's on most of the time. Nothing. News and nothing. And it's bad news. I'm so glad to be feeling better.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Novel Pet Peeves

I not only write, I read. I'll admit, that's an understatement. I've noticed a trend over the last few years that has progressively burrowed deeper under my skin. Here's my short list of things I wish I'd never again turn the page and find in an otherwise fine novel...

The word "dollop." It seems that every book has to use that word somewhere. Can't someone use a dab, scoop, or spoonful? How about a bit? Anything but a dollop. I'm just so tired of the overuse of that word.

Rolling of the eyes. Someone is always rolling their eyes. Use dialogue. Use other body language. For heaven sake, stop rolling eyeballs around. It's impolite, and it's been overused. I'd like to get through a book without anybody doing it.

Even if I had to live with the above two, I could handle it, if only I could legally banish everyone from the following—letting out "a breath they didn't know they'd been holding." When I hold my breath, I know it. I'll bet you do, as well. So why, in so many books, do characters seem to not be aware of when they're holding their breath? And why do otherwise careful authors, who can construct a riveting story that connects all the dots and carries a good message, feel it necessary to poke this inane and superficial piece of nonsense in there? It's ridiculous. It's distracting.

There. I've vented. I feel so much better. I'll continue to feel better now, until I come across the next character holding her breath, without realizing it, and rolling her eyes while she adds just a dollop of cream to her chapped hands.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Selfish With My Treasure

Rejoicing over the bit of snowfall here in Colorado, I was unaware that Southern California was once again losing homes to wildfires. The fires broke out in Montecito, six and a half miles from Santa Barbara. It's on the Ventura County side of the city, and as of this morning, well over one hundred homes have been lost. According to the fire department's press conference this morning, they're not even thinking about containment yet. Phrases like "not out of the woods" and "when the afternoon winds pick back up to around 70 mph" made the hair stand up on the back of my neck.

Why did I call this blog "Selfish With My Treasure?" I raised three sons in Southern California. I talk to God a lot. Sometimes I call it prayer. More often, I think of it as conversation, even though I know I can't hear Him very well. I try to remember, at least most of the time, that what I want is not always the best thing that could happen. There have been times that I've gotten what I wanted and it hasn't been at all a good thing. Conversely, some of my most reluctant experiences—those I would have turned from if given a choice—have resulted in my deepest and most rewarding blessings.

One prayer I fervently sent heavenward while watching all three of my precious sons grow was, "Please, God, don't let them grow up wanting to be soldiers or fire fighters." I never qualified it. I never once, to the best of my memory, said anything remotely resembling "unless that is Your Will..." It was a selfish prayer, and a regular one. It was accompanied by another, for all the mothers who sent their sons and daughters out to battle the flames and wars for the rest of us. 

I have a fine imagination. I can string together words, envision a story, travel in my mind to places I've never been. I can't conceive, in all the vastness of this mind, a greater pain or emptiness than losing a child of any age. Selfish with my treasure? You bet. At least I recognize them for what they are—always have been. With every fire these days, with every news story of battles and war, my prayer now is, "Thank you for allowing my selfishness. Please protect the treasure of the less selfish mothers."

First Snow

Waking up to a light powder of snow this morning filled me with a sense of joy. It was still dark outside. That made sense because it was just after four o'clock. The only reason I peered out the window was that the room seemed to have a pearly glow that usually means there's a wonderland reflecting back into the warmth within. 

I went into the living room and turned on the deck lights, standing there to watch the slow swirl for a few moments. Then, with a yawn and a stretch, I returned to the bedroom and crawled back under the covers. I even closed the window first for John's sake. He hates it when I leave the window open while it's snowing.  

We don't even have an inch on the ground yet, and nothing new is falling now. I'm not sure, but I think it's done. I realize what's on the ground won't last long. Our temperatures should rise into the forties today, and the rest of the week will be in the fifties and sixties. Still, I always feel the sense of celebration overtake me, like blessings drifting from the skies. 

I'm overwhelmed daily with the realization that we live in a wonderful place. Inside and out, I could never ask for more—and I have never been happier anywhere.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Frivolous Lawsuits

I once lost a friend because I refused to sue someone. My friend was a lawyer. The person I refused to sue was a young driver who was underinsured. It's a long story. I couldn't see that ruining his financial future would ease my pain, and at the time I really didn't understand the lifelong implications of my injuries. Even if I had, I still wouldn't have gone after the kid's future earnings. I still had to sleep with myself.

Tonight I heard on the news that Batman, Turkey, is preparing to file a series of lawsuits against Warner Brothers, Christopher Nolan (Batman—The Dark Knight's producer) and possibly DC Comics as well, for using the name Batman without the town's permission. They further allege that the town's high female suicide rate and a number of unsolved murders are related to the name theft and ensuing publicity.

After ignoring the use of their name since 1939, many people are now asking—and I certainly join in the question—do the current intended lawsuits have anything to do with The Dark Knight grossing over $994 million worldwide so far? Some days I think I should just stop watching the news.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Moving In Again

Normal people simply don’t wear stripes with polka dots. Too late, I remembered my mother’s words. New town, new house, new kid on the playground—again. Working little knitting needles back and forth, making a long strip of nothing, I pretended not to stare at the groups frantically embracing the freedom of sunshine while the outer classroom wall warmed my backside.

Pulling more yarn from my oversized pockets, I realized I had settled onto a pile of dirt. Stripes, polka dots and grime—great way to fit in. I won’t care, I promised myself, and I won’t cry.

As an adult, I look back on all the times we moved into a new home, State, neighborhood, and school. I realized that memories of this move stood out. It was the first time I had consciously decided not to try to make friends or adapt. What would be the point? We were transferring mid-year, and my new classmates would already have formed their tight little clicks. Besides, even if I made friends, we'd never be staying long enough to keep them.

Breakfast had been sad. Daddy was scowling, his uniform so creased with starch it looked unbearable.

“We’re nomads,” I accused, brave for once, saving all my fear for the class of fifth graders.

“We’re military, Kathleen,” was his curt reply. No smiles. No sympathy. Around the table were the tolerant or sullen eyes of brothers and sister who had also lost friends and schools to the constant travel, and Mama, determined to act cheerful.

Sitting against the school yard wall during the lunch break, I reluctantly remembered the scene. Misery doesn’t love company. It prefers to wallow in the belief that its own is unique and precious, shared by none. Unequaled. A hanging thread on the hem of my dress distracted me from thoughts of eggs gone cold amid the silence of unspoken complaints. I pulled the tread, watching it unravel like my past life. The hem parted, drooping like my spirits as the bell clanged, signaling the afternoon’s confinement.

Students were filing inside when I heard the raucous sound of laughter. I erected a glazed wall between my eyes and the students before glancing over. No one caught my gaze, but somewhere between knowledge and suspicion, I always figured the laughter must be at my expense. Quietly joining the end of the parade, I left morning behind.

What can we say as adults about our childhood memories? By the time I graduated high school, I had been in sixteen schools. We traveled more than most military, I think, since Dad was helping set up nuclear power plants. That doesn’t take long. Get it done and move on. We saw most of the country, though, and learned a great deal. As Mom said recently, we were all changed, but not damaged.

Life is full. Some people learn that earlier than others. Insecurity, loneliness and pain can’t occupy the entirety of a human existence. They only serve to illuminate the intermediary spaces. Like a puzzle, I filled my box with pieces, and my self-portrait developed: music, books, writing, crafts, humor. As the picture began to unfold, people gravitated to it, some interested to glimpse details, some willing to share their own.

I love to count my blessings. I just think we should remember our trials, as well. They help make us who we are.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Another Day

It will be another day before I direct my mind toward turning the contest I didn't enter into a blog. Today, however, I am very thankful that I have finally finished all my work on baby blankets and winter-appropriate baby hats. I was determined to finish them before turning my attention back to writing. Post Office, here I come—uh, probably tomorrow...

With that in mind, I am now preparing to sit down in front of the tube with a cup of laced cappuccino to watch Dancing With the Stars. For once, I won't have my attention distracted by counting stitches, changing colors and following a pattern. 

Can I survive this mindless ninety minutes?

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Un-Entered Contest

I almost entered a writing contest. When I saw the topic, I was excited, and immediately wrote my entry. If I had just mailed it in, I could now say I had entered a contest. I'm just not a real confident person. I got a few opinions. Two friends said it was great, a real winner. Another thought it needed some work, so I took it to the critique group.

I got so many conflicting opinions at that group that I just packed it all away, figuring I'd look it over when we returned from our trip to California. Unfortunately, I came home too sick to even think about it, and by the time I remembered, the deadline was the next day. Oh, well. I almost entered a writing contest. 

I think tomorrow I'll turn it into a blog. I'm trying to decide if I'm going to edit it any from my original or not. After all, some of the comments the group members made were good—some weren't, but some were. Let's see how much time I have tomorrow.

I only have a few more yarn hours to go before I can get back to my writing without "Granny Guilt."