Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Blog in Haiku

no time to write now -
real life's insistent demands
swallow my daydreams.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Who Needs Superheroes?

I found this in a notebook I was going to toss... I don't remember writing it, but I liked it enough to post it here.  I'm not even sure WHEN this was written.  Sometime in the past five years, definitely.  As Yul Brynner might say, in character, "Is a puzzlement."

Who needs superheroes?

I do.

I think we all do.

It's hardwired into us - this visceral need, this craving for the heroic. For something tangible that represents the hope, the belief, that good is stronger than evil.  For a voice that tells us that fighting for truth is right and noble.  For a presence that affirms that the world we live in, though flawed and darkly clouded, is worth saving.

A need for heroes is something that speaks to the part of all of us, hushed since childhood, that wants to howl and rage against the things that should not be.  Children know this, know the truth, that even though life isn't fair... that it should be.  We adults have shirked our duty, taken the easy path, let them down.  We tell them, "Life isn't fair.  Nobody ever said it would be."  We wait for them to grow up and, betrayed by those who should protect and defend them, turn into sneering, cynical, blase teens who rightfully rebel against those who were once their heroes.  We call it maturing... but what it is is the first of many small deaths of the soul.   No wonder our world is full of alcoholics, drug addicts, petty criminals, and security fund brokers.  If life isn't fair, why make the effort?

Life isn't fair?  What does that even mean?  That good things happen to bad people?  Yes, because we allow it.   We say we can't change it.  That it's bigger than we are.  That we have to live with corruption, cronyism, partisanship, deceptions large and small.  We have allowed the corrupt and amoral to gain so much power for so long that it is no wonder our lights are snuffed out before they have a chance to burn with righteous indignation. 

Or does "life isn't fair" mean that bad things happen to good people?  That people die before we're ready to let them go?  That homes are destroyed, families are broken, lives lost by disasters both natural and man-made?  As I child I wept for the loss of a beloved pet.  Not fair?  No - "fair" has nothing to do with the natural cycles of life.  It is neither fair nor unfair.  It simply is.  But the senseless death of a colleague's husband and young daughter, killed by a drunk driver as they were on their way to the little one's dance class - that is unfair.  It should not be

It is unfair when innocents die and the guilty live.  Unfair that our society condones the use of alcohol, even drugs, by the individual - claiming that so long as "no harm is done" to the majority, our justice system can penalize the minority who do harm.  But does a jail term compensate a grieving mother and sister for their loss?  Not by a long shot.  Is it fair?  No - and there is no shame in crying out against unfairness.  No shame in asking why - why bad things that did not have to happen do.

The answer to that "why" is the hero's call to action... not a call to answer, but a call to act.  And if we do not have superheroes, if they cannot walk or fly among us, we turn to those who have the courage, the heart, to question the bland assertion of "Life isn't fair."  We look to them as children look to cartoon supermen.  We root for them, cheer them on.

We need heroes.  We need superheroes, but in their absence, everyday heroes will have to do.

I see our young men and women in uniform fighting and dying in wars they did not begin - torn and battered, but still fierce in their proud warrior spirits that they will continue to struggle against tyrants and injustice and almost insurmountable odds.  Many know, as we know, that war is unfair.  But... hate it as we might, there are times when it must be fought.

I see my fellow teachers, struggling daily against the ever-growing burden of entitled, apathetic wealth and soul-starving poverty, of society's failure to take responsibility for its children and their families, of well-meaning politicians who - despite having never set foot on the other side of the "big desk" - feel that legislation and high-stakes testing and tying teacher salaries to statistical assessments can force reform and better education.  And yet, these teachers come to school every day - many never taking even a single sick day - because the children need them.

I see parents who desperately want the world to be fair for their children grit their teeth and clench their fists as daily, money and power trump hard work and honest effort.  What sort of message is that sending - that a man who kicks or throws a ball, that another who screams obscenities into a microphone, that a third who lies and cheats and cooks the books in a high-rise corner office makes more in a scant year than a mother working two jobs at minimum wage can make in a decade?  But... off to work they go, single parents and married parents, because not going sends an even less palatable message.

We humans are deeply, unchangeable flawed.  We are, each of us, in varying degrees selfish, judgmental, fearful creatures not much different (and certainly no better) than our primate cousins.  Our drives are their drives - whether chimp or banker, gorilla or entrepreneur.  First, stay alive.  Make a family.  Pass on part of yourself.  Next, protect the family.  Gather the best for yourself and yours.  Drive off others who would diminish what you have.  Finally, if you are in a place where you and yours have no worries about your survival, only then allow scavengers to take your leavings. 

It often means, on a human level, that we turn a blind eye to those in need.  We concoct reasons - they're lazy, they're here illegally, they're unworthy, unwashed.  At the very least, they're Not Like Us.  We managed to make a place for ourselves without help, after all - or our parents did.  We build this, didn't we?  We made it All By Ourselves.  And who would come soaring in to our aid, if we needed it?  Nobody, of course - and so we become the lack of change that proves the truth we so glibly spout.  After all, superheroes don't exist - and we don't need them, anyway.  Anyone worth his pulse can manage on his own two feet, right?

Except when they can't, through no fault of their own.

And that's why we need superheroes... or I do, at least.  They may not be real.  They may never be real... but they're needed, fictional or not.  Desperately needed by a world that needs someone with the strength and courage to fight what is so very wrong.

Life isn't fair.  But... shouldn't it be?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Stick Family Haters, Go Home


If you hate stick figure families sooooo much that you're prompted to rant about it online, you really ought not be on the road.  From the depths of passion I've seen in posts, blogs, and articles, it's clear that the mere sight of something honest, gentle, and (yes) harmless to you is enough to make you apoplectic with rage.  You are a danger to yourself and to your fellow drivers.  So... just go home.  Sit in your dark, dingy little apartment or condo, or pull down the blinds in your bright, well-lit residence to make it suitably depressing, wear plenty of black or several-day-old jeans and sweats, and brood into your beer about how stupid everyone else is and how smart you are because you don't put vinyl window clings on your back car window.  If that makes you happy, more power to you.

When I see things on cars that I don't like - and believe me, there are PLENTY - I roll my eyes.  I grumble to a real flesh and blood person:  Look at that loser.  What a thing to say on a bumper sticker.  Can you believe these idiots these days?  Whoa.  Someone has ISSUES.  This one may have more than issues... he's got a subscription!

And then... I get over it, and generally forget all about it until the next idiot cuts me off.

I like stick families.  They make me happy to see - even the ones with questionable skill in the artwork department.  The world is far too full of darkness and factionalizing and haters; stick figures are gentle and often funny.  Even the kinder parodies make me smile - the "abducted by aliens" family says to me, "Now, this is one unique family..." not "Now, here's someone who hates stick families."  I like feeling like I kinda-sorta-know the person in front of me by looking at their back window... "Hah - look at that, a little football player and little cheerleader.  Not my style, but hey...  Oh, isn't that awesome - a Star Wars loving family!  May the force be with you!"  Bumper stickers or magnets don't do the same thing - they're often too harsh, even mean.

Which isn't to say I rushed right out to get my family "sticked."  I wouldn't put any old generic stickers on my car, because we're not any old generic family.  I looked long and hard to find one that let me get my own hair almost right, and offered a hiker figure for my nature-loving husband, a book lover for me, and a superhero for my son (who at that time wanted to wear his cape everywhere.)  Let me take a moment to counter the usual "arguments" against putting stick families on cars.

1.  They're pedophile magnets, and will get your kids abducted.

Sorry, but no.  I don't think anyone should be putting NAMES under the figures - I guess I could agree a little with the above statement in that case - but mostly, the "you're a bad parent if you put your child's stick figure on a car" contingent clearly knows nothing about child abduction or molestation.  Strangers are the least likely person to harm your child - it's sad, but it's true.  Children are far more likely to be abducted or molested by a family member or family friend, who (presumably) already knows the child's name and interests.  In all the cases linked to child abduction and molestation I've read about or heard about on the news, not one has ever been linked to car stickers.  Argument debunked.

2.  They're just rubbing it in the world's face that the driver is an affluent family patriarch or matriarch.

Um, sorry, not quite.  I put my stickers on my car because I wanted to celebrate my family's uniqueness - to say, This is us.  We Belong Together.  We're not affluent.  I doubt anyone is envious of me and my socioeconomic status... we've got it better than some, but we're nowhere near the image of "upper middle class."  If people think that by putting a sticker on my car I'm lording it over them that I have a child and they don't... won't those same people be gnashing their teeth when I walk or skip into WalMart with my smiling, happy son, his hand snugly in mine?  Or when we sit together over a shared snack at Subway, giggling at our own little jokes?  I admit - I sometimes do think (or hope) that people may look enviously at my wonderful, well-behaved little guy, but I know that's mostly delusional pride.  But stickers?  Nope.  Not trying to say anything more than, "My family matters more to me than snarky, sarcastic bumper stickers or political taglines do, so that's what I'm putting on my car."

And as for "affluent" - isn't the type of car you drive more a symbol of your financial status?  I don't see too many Hummers parked outside the Dollar Store, for example.  How about where you shop?  If you hate people who have more money than you do (and I admit, I do fall victim to this more often than I'd like to), you really need to avoid places like the parking lot of Whole Foods.  If shopping THERE regularly doesn't mean you're financially stable and don't care who knows it, I don't know what does.

3.  Oh, come off it - they're just so ANNOYING!  I absolutely HATE them!  WHY do people do this?  WHY?

Let's sit down for a moment and I'll put on my best Mister Rogers voice so we can have a Special Chat.  Friend, there will ALWAYS be people and events in this world that annoy you.  It's not a happy thing.  And sometimes, things that make other people happy will make you very UNhappy.  For me, people getting drunk for recreation and smoking pot and doing other drugs makes me very sad indeed.  I feel sorry for these people, because I know there are better ways to make yourself happy in this life, and I worry that they might somehow do harm to me and my family if they get behind the wheel under the influence.  But if I go around ranting about it... will I change their minds?  No.  Will I make myself happier?  No.  So I have to sit back and say, There are some things in the world that I don't like, but I can't change them myself.  And as long as those other things don't hurt me or my family and friends... I guess it's probably not worth getting upset over.  Try saying that to yourself when you see those stick figures.  "Annoying to me?  Yes.  Harmful to me?  Nope.  Oh well.  I guess I could put an anti-stick family sticker on my car... I liked that Cthulu one I saw... but then I'd have to spend money on it, and it's REALLY not worth spending money on... so I'll pass you, Mrs. Stick Family Driver, when it's safe to do so.  And maybe, I'll get myself an ice cream to cheer myself up."

Feel any better?  Probably not.

But I do.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Blog Your Book?

I'm trying to process, bit by bit, an article in Writer's Digest about the new trend - blogging your book.  The premise is that many books that have been published recently started as blogs, so that this is a viable way for a new writer to find an audience and prove his or her worth to a potential publisher.

I'm not so sure how I feel about this.  Part of me finds it blissfully logical - of COURSE!  If you have something to say, and if you can say it well and clearly enough to earn that audience through blogging, a publisher is far more likely to see your worth... after all, dedicated blog followers will buy a printed book, particularly if it has additional content not found online.  Right?

The other part of me recoils.  Isn't this just a step above - or, perhaps more accurately, to one side - from self-publishing?  And... well, there's that whole idea of "if you can get the milk for free, why buy the cow?"  Not to mention the P-word.  PLAGIARISM.  These days, it's hard to teach kids - even college age kids - that just because you found it online, it doesn't mean it's free for the taking. 

I'm thinking of dipping my toe into the water... I've got my master's project, a very audience-specific book manuscript, and haven't been able to find a publisher.  I really don't want to self-pub.  So... I'll try blogging it.  If you're a teacher and you love animals, this blog will be for you - Critters in the Classroom.  I'll also be shamelessly begging for help getting the word out about it - you have been warned.  And I'll blog here about the progress. 

Commence experimentation.

Links to Book Blogging for the Curious:

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Married to a Writer?

Read this Foxtrot strip and learn, o spouse, that there are certain things that should not be asked, should not be spoken, and there is most certainly a proper way to offer moral support.  This ain't it, despite the good intentions.  :)

Monday, July 2, 2012

"But You Have All Summer to Write..."

 That's what my well-meaning husband once told me, when I was whining (yes, whining, and I hate doing it as much as I hate to admit that I do it) about not having time to write during the school year.  To my logical spousal unit, there should be no creative angst involved.  During the school year, you teach.  During the summer, you write.  Easy as that.

Only I've got a feeling that any fellow writer out there is either laughing their seats off or clutching a handful of hair and making That Face.

No, dear husband.  That is NOT how it works.  NOT "easy as that." 

He does try.  I love him for that.  Right now, because I've had our wonderful son all day, he's done the bedtime routine so I could take the dogs to the dog park and then come home to write.  Only... I stayed a bit too long at the park, and now that I'm home, I've realized that I haven't updated my blog in a while, and I can't decide what to work on, anyway... two or three fanfics are running around in my head, and I'm feeling moody about not being able to go to the children's writer's conference I really wanted to go to this summer, and I just got a rejection letter (okay, it was a "sorry, you didn't win the contest" letter - close enough).  So here I am.  Whining about not writing, when I really could be doing so.


It's like this... bless Bill Amend, creator of the comic strip Foxtrot, for understanding how it REALLY works.  It starts out like this...
 Only with me, it's "just as soon as she checks her Facebook/ e-mail/ school e-mail/ blog..."  And soon, it becomes this...
I've waited all school year for this moment.  Only during the day, I've got my little guy to keep busy and occupied... I can send him to day care so I can do my "have to support the family" job, but I can't bring myself to send him to day care so I can write.  Why do I feel like a bad mom for even thinking about the latter, but not the former?  Probably because I know that this strip is all too true.

Finally, here I am.  Right now.  'Nuff said.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Gorilla, Gorilla

One of my yearly rituals, after my school year is well and truly done, is to take a day and go to the Bronx Zoo.  All.  By.  Myself.


It's not that I don't love my family - I do, of course - or that I don't think they'd enjoy a day at the zoo.  They would.  But... well, there's a certain fact to motherhood.  It doesn't lend itself to quiet contemplation or to observation of nature.  At least, it doesn't if your progeny is wide awake at the time.  So off I go, every year, on my own - with no intention of seeing all the animals the zoo is home to.  When I have the leisure time to do so, I am the sort of zoogoer A.A. Milne wrote about:

There are some people who begin the Zoo at the beginning, called WAYIN, and walk as quickly as they can past every cage until they get to the one called WAYOUT, but the nicest people go straight to the animal they love the most, and stay there.

 Being a Bear of Very Little Brain myself, I cannot recall which volume this quotation hails from... but I think of it every time I take my Zoo Day trip.  If the zoo still had cheetahs, it would be straight to the cheetah exhibit I would go, and stay there until the keepers removed me.  If they had wolves, I might go there, too - but honestly, wolves tend to be sound asleep and well hidden throughout the day, and I get mightily annoyed by the people who stand there and howl at the poor things.  Howl BADLY, I might add.

The African Wild Dogs at the Bronx Zoo, quite sensibly, stay as far from the viewing windows as possible (the better to avoid the mobs of barking, yipping, howling idiots come to see them - or perhaps to get a better view of the zebras in the next paddock).  And I got so tired of listening to people insult the poor Norway rats in the Mouse House, and trying to keep the same idiots from banging or tapping on the glass (clearly they have no concept of how good rodent hearing is, and probably wouldn't care if they did know) that I have given up going there at all.

And so, when I go to the Bronx Zoo on my own, I make tracks for the gorillas in the Congo exhibit.

I can't say that they are my favorite of wild things, to the extent that I would buy plush gorillas or small gorilla figurines, but I do find myself drawn to them.  Part of it is that I think gorillas are a kindred spirit.  We share a relatively heavyset body, rounded tummy, and deep, pensive brown eyes.  We're also fairly patient.  The gorilla exhibit draws more than its fair share of daft glass-pounders and those who feel that they simply MUST try to communicate with the beasts on the far side of the glass by drumming on their chests, but I'd swear that the gorillas take this with a sort of resigned dignity.  If it wouldn't encourage the bastards, they'd probably roll their eyes.  Yesterday, during my visit, one was sticking out her tongue quite intentionally at people - though there was no mischief in her eyes, only a sort of, "Bugger OFF, already - can't a lady get a nap or chow down on regurgitated plant goop in peace?"  I've heard, though I can't  verify, that one of the Bronx troop used to flip visitors the bird.  In both cases, the action drew more gawpers than peace and quiet.

I'd planned to spend the afternoon with the gorillas, but it's hard to find room for quiet contemplation or observation at this exhibit, unfortunately.  Part of it was my fault - I didn't realize that Wednesdays are "free admission" days for Bronx residents - and part was that it was summer.  Even in relatively quiet times, however, the crowds at the Congo are massive and unruly, and unless you're there at opening (and I wasn't, not by a long shot) the gorillas are often so sick of their visiting cousins that they've retreated to a distance and are happily foraging for the enrichment treats and toys keepers leave for them.  I wouldn't have minded this, of course - I can observe from a distance quite happily.  Being a creative soul, however, and because I was curious, I did come prepared with a Plan.

Ever since I discovered Koko, the world-reknowned signing gorilla, I've wondered exactly how much these close primate cousins understand of us, of our world.  Certainly, the few times I've been able to see them without the mob in tow, they appear to be genuinely interested in what's on the other side of the glass.  I've had a young gorilla place a hand on the glass to mirror my own, gazed into the eyes of a matriarch of the troop, and watched several converge on a woman holding up her baby to see better (gorillas find our babies just as cute as we find theirs, apparently). I know that gorillas, like many thinking species, have self-awareness.  They can recognize themselves in mirrors and identify a gorilla in a photograph.  Why, then, I wondered, don't more habitats include books as enrichment?

Okay, yes, the idea of a gorilla sitting under an artificial baobab leafing through the latest issue of Time isn't quite in keeping with the naturalistic setting.  And even my son's beloved board book, Good Night Gorilla, wouldn't hold up long in those massive hands, if the reader decided that he or she truly had a taste for good literature.  (Books, yummy.)  Still...

So I brought my paperback version of Koko's Kitten - the one I got for fifty cents at the library book sale - lavishly illustrated with photos of Koko, her human teacher Penny, and her first kitty, All Ball.  (I loved this story from the first, because it shows that gorillas and three year olds have the same knack for naming things.  My son's first pet, a yellowish Betta, was Bulldozer.)  I decided that, if I could get close enough to the glass, and if I could catch a gorilla looking at me, I'd flash the pictures and see what happened.

For the most part, nothing happened.

The adults of the troop were, as I'd expected, staying a good distance from the glass.  The few that looked at me either couldn't figure out what I was showing them or didn't particularly care - not that I could blame them.  I got more focused stares, however, when I stood by the window and read, glancing up occasionally.  Each time, the gorilla I'd targeted was watching me, but not moving any closer.

The breakthrough came through luck.  One of the yearling gorillas happend to cross over from one side of the exhibit to the other, using an overhead bridge - which brought him directly past my window.  As he sauntered down, knuckle-ambling along, I chose a picture of Penny, Koko, and Ball, and pressed it to the window.

He stopped.

He stopped, and visibly squinted at this thing on the other side of the glass.  You could fairly see the wheels turning:  Is that... what the hey...

Then he moved closer.  He dipped his head, and I moved the book up so he wouldn't have to crouch, and he reached out to touch the image.  People around me began to ooh and ahhh.  Cameras clicked... I wish I'd been with someone, honestly, because I really, REALLY would love to have a picture of this.  I caught his eye, and took the book back, turned the page to a larger image, and pressed it back to the glass.  He moved closer, studying the image.  If I could imagine what he was thinking, it would be, "I know that's a gorilla there.  But what's that in her lap?"  Cats, of course, would be a foreign concept to a zoo-born primate.

Again I took the book down, and this time showed him how I turned the pages.  By now people were going, "Look!  He's reading the book!  The gorilla is reading the book!"  After a moment more, two or three pages, he looked up, directly at me, then turned and walked away.

And yes, that also proved something to me.  Like so many toddler boys, yearling gorillas are creatures of motion.  A book is interesting, sure, but it doesn't hold a candle to wrestling with your half-brother or foraging for goodies.  (Or watching the mama duck who chose the Congo gorilla habitat as home waddle past with her babies... more on that in another post.)

I stayed long enough to try this with three other gorillas - two older, one young - but none evidenced the same interest.  Then, because I own the book in hardcover and because it was only fifty cents, I gave Koko's Kitten to a toddler who was wailing because he didn't want to leave the gorillas.  The young gorilla had seemed more interested in it, but it did get the boy to stop crying.  It turns out that the little one speaks only Spanish, but mom and dad are bilingual, so hopefully the book won't go to waste. 

Two species introduced to books in one day.

Mission accomplished.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Six Words, Again...

On Facebook:
  • Never underestimate nastiness of ignorant people.
On Speaking Up for Animal Welfare:
  • Somewhere, someone is listening - I hope.
On Creativity:
  • Ideas come from the oddest places...
On Internet Friends:
  • Virtual hugs. Yes, they do help.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

My Son, Aspiring Author

You can't shape your child's life or career.  It's a fact that all parents need, eventually, to reconcile with.  No matter how much I would love for my son to grow up to be a comic book artist, exotic animal veterinarian, globetrotting zoologist, Lego toy designer, or Disney Imagineer, what he makes of his life will, ultimately, be up to him.  Just the other night he informed his aunt that he wants to go into the Army someday - no doubt inspired by his mom introducing him to the old animated G.I. Joe series.  I thought it was rather cute that he wondered aloud if the Army would give him a tank, or if he would need to save up to buy one himself.  My husband didn't agree, and has asked that I reduce the amount of military fiction our son is exposed to.  I shrugged and agreed, after pointing out that HE was the one who had scoffed at my desire to ban toy guns from our home once we'd realized the gender of our then-embryonic progeny.

I'm not worried.  About a week before this, he had informed me that he wanted to be a ninja when he grew up - "A gold one, Mommy."  This, too, was influenced by me - I'd introduced him to the Joe commando/ninja, Snake Eyes, via YouTube episodes of G.I. Joe: Renegades.  Of course, a much heavier influence is Lego Ninjago, of which we are both incredibly fond.  (I like the blue ninja, Jay, the best... he's the sensitive one, you know.)  And I know, without a doubt, that my little man will go through umpteen bazillion career dreams before he settles on one... some of which I may be less than fond of.  Professional football player, for example, is not high on my list of "desirable careers," ranking somewhere below NASCAR driver and just slightly above mortician.

With God as my witness, however, if my son says to me, "Mommy, I want to be a football player when I grow up," I'll be his first and best cheerleader.  Unless, of course, he is prompted to say that by my meddling kid sister and her husband, who know my feelings about football in general and youth football in Western Connecticut in particular.  But that's another story.  I'll still be my son's first and best cheerleader, but I may not speak to said relatives for, oh, a decade or two.  And I will buy my beloved niece the chihuahua puppy she's always wanted.  Two, in fact.  The yappiest pair in the litter.

It's not football I object to so much as adults trying to steer children into particular activities.  Inflicting piano lessons on a child who would rather play the drums, or demanding that your son or daughter take Irish dance against said child's wishes, should qualify as cruel and unusual punishment.  I've no problem with exposing my son to a wide variety of activities - but HE gets the final say in what he pursues.

It's for this reason that I've never pushed him to create or illustrate stories.  As a writer, I'd love to do so... but he's never expressed a creative desire to do anything of the sort, until very recently.  And he made my night tonight - waiting for me at the top of the stairs and, after a hug, announcing, "Mommy, I know a book we need to write.  Ten Little Bears: Afternoon on the Moon!" 

That's as far as he had gotten - the title - and I told him that I thought it was a wonderful idea, and that we could start together this weekend.  My author brain started kicking into gear... what kind of bears?  Why ten?  What's caused them to want to go to the moon?  What will they do when they get there?  Perhaps they're only pretending to go to the moon - but if I know my son, it will be the Real Thing or not at all.

As I'm pondering this, he trots into my bedroom.  "Mommy, I know the second book in the series."  A series?  That's my boy!  Of course, it never hurts to dream big.  A series it is.  "The second book will be Lunchtime at Loch Ness."

Oh, NOW we're talking.  I'm a cryptozoology buff.  I can get into this... Nessie and the bears share a nice picnic of shortbread on the shores.  Hmmm - to rhyme or not to rhyme?  What would be the target audience?  How should the illustrations look?  And how do the bears GET to Loch Ness to begin with?

By the time we were tucking in for bed, my husband getting ready for bedtime stories so Mommy can have some writing time, he'd come up with two more:  Ten Little Bears: Adventures in Egypt and Ten Little Bears: Time on the Titanic.  He confided that he's getting the ideas for the titles from his favorite bedtime series, The Magic Treehouse, but that the ideas are all his own.

I'd love to have my son be an author... I'd love for us to be a mother-and-son team, like Anne and Todd McCaffery and their Dragons of Pern.  It would be a dream... right up there with myself being a working children's book author.

But if the weekend comes and my little muse doesn't want to work on our joint masterpiece... well, maybe I'll just have to write it myself.  And give him co-billing, of course.

His author career has to start somewhere!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Six Words

I'm pretty hooked on's Six Word Memoirs... I've had my students write them for the past few years as year-openers, and post fairly regularly on the site.  Tonight, though, I'm doing a six word blog post.

Too many dreams, not enough time.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Musical Memories...

I don't listen to much music... I'm not sure why.  I've always been out of step with what's popular, and even before MTV appeared, I saw stories in the songs I heard.  One lasting memory is riding a bus to a parade with my fellow musicians, none of us much over fourteen at the time, and regaling my seatmates with my fleshed-out narrative version of Styx's "concept album" Kilroy Was Here, complete with "and that's where this song comes in" inserts.  Even now, I'll occasionally get a soundtrack playing in my mind to go along with a story I'm working on, or find a story in a song.

I just downloaded a bunch of songs I remember liking from way-back-when to help me invigorate my workout... and some of them are story-songs, and some of them are songs that fit into stories.  Among them...

  • The Devil Went Down to Georgia by the Charlie Daniels Band.  I may use it, B-word and all, as an example of narrative poetry when school starts up again.  I took a shine to this song when I heard our grade school custodian playing it in the cafeteria after school once, and never got it out of my head.  
  • Because the Night - the unplugged 10000 Maniacs version.  I'm working on a G.I. Joe fanfic where Scarlett works through her martial arts katas to music, blending in a bit of dance and gymnasitcs, and this seemed perfect for what I have in mind.  I don't do "songfic," but I do sometimes have a playlist behind a story.  This is definitely on the Luporri soundtrack.
  • Kyrie by Mr. Mister, as well as the a capella version from The Sing Off.  I hear this one with entirely new understanding now that I'm an adult... but still love it as much as I ever did as a kid.
  • Goofy movie love songs... Glory of Love by Peter Cetera and All for Love from the first Disney version of The Three Musketeers sung by Sting, Bryan Adams, and someone I just cannot place.  Yeah, I'm a hopeless romantic.  I may inflict them on characters in a story sometime.  Sigh.
  • Just the Way You Are - the Glee version.  Never watched the show, though I wanted to.  The viral video of the flash mob dancing to this song in its original version made me tear up.  I so wish that someone had, or would, dedicate this song to me.  Unfortunately, dear hubby isn't the sort to do it.  Sigh, again - but I love him anyway, just the way he is.  This is probably the most recent of my playlist - the only other one from the past decade that I can think of is The Sing Off version of 21 Guns, which makes me want to go out and find someone in uniform to hug...
  • A couple of Neil Diamond songs... Sweet Caroline and Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show.  My mom used to inflict Neil Diamond and Barry Manilow on my sister and me back in the day of eight track tapes in the car.  One day, we simply couldn't take it any more and we each stripped off a sock and made impromptu sock puppets to lip-synch along to what we honestly felt was cruel and unusual punishment.  We were in hysterics within minutes.  I will NEVER put Copacabana on my iPod, but I now have a deep fondness for Neil Diamond and sing along lustily as long as I'm alone in the car.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

My Boy and Me...

Driving home from spending Easter with my family, I was jogged out of a doze by an interview on NPR... "There are plenty of pop culture references to the dangers of a close mother-son relationship. From the myth of Oedipus to the movie Psycho, narrative after narrative harps on the idea that mothers can damage their sons, make them weak, awkward and dependent."

Oh, brother, I thought. I so do NOT want to hear this... it's probably some diatribe about how loving moms cripple their boys, make them targets for bullies, make them weak.  I've heard it all before.

But, reaching for the dial to flip stations, I was caught by the very next words:  "But for millions of men, the opposite has turned out to be true, author Kate Lombardi tells NPR's Laura Sullivan. Lombardi — a mother herself — is the author of the new book, The Mama's Boy Myth: Why Keeping Our Sons Close Makes Them Stronger."


I cranked the volume.

I listened, and my heart did one of those "happy-Mommy-dances" it does when I find out that something I was afraid I was doing wrong... is actually something I'm doing RIGHT.

It's hard being the mother of a young son.  There are picture books aplenty about Moms and daughters sharing magical playtime, sons and dads and grandpas bonding in masculine ways, even "Daddy's little girls" books focusing on that very special relationship.  But moms and their boys?  Few and far between... one that I did buy, despite my misgivings, was I'll Be Your Hero - a Christian picture book, the boy equivalent of its companion, I'll Be Your Princess.  Since I loved the first - a charming look at a little girl imagining herself as her daddy's princess, and also the princess of God's kindgom - I had high hopes.  Unfortunately, unlike in the Daddy-daughter version, the mother was very much a non-player in the text; always in the background, watching her son go off adventuring with Dad, never really DOING much.  Sigh.

There are plenty of Mommy-and-Me clubs for girls... even past the multi-gendered playgroups of toddler years.  There are Daddy-and-Me activities galore for both boys and girls.  But moms and their boys?  Not so much.  No Mom-and-Son book clubs... though I did find a Guys Read club targeted at boys, I can't lead it.  I'm not a guy.  Nothing out there but the expected role - sit on the sidelines and cheer or get violent with the overly-competitive youth sports parental units.  I'm not thrilled with that... I've seen the behavior, seen the cliquishness, and I want no part in it.

I've been left to wonder... AM I somehow doing what I ought not to do?  Is spending time DOING things with my boy - going to the Metropolitan Museum of Art (his idea, after reading a picture book about it), going to zoos, visiting museums - not what I ought to be doing?  Is sharing my interests - comic books, animals, reading and creating stories, imaginative play - the wrong thing?  Should I be pushing him to play football, though I've no interest in it and he hasn't asked to play?  My sister thinks so.  Should I be arranging playdates to fill up the weekends?  Other moms do.  My mom feels that I need to learn to just relax with my boy -  sit on the beach, watch him play, take a book to the playground while he romps.  But I don't enjoy doing that... I like DOING things.  Together things.  Things that let us talk, and joke, and learn.

This weekend, Daniel and I spent a whole afternoon building a Lego diorama.  I made a T-Rex at his request, Daniel assisting with certain parts; he made a temple and created the backstory: there were three jewels, the Jewel of Ocean, the Jewel of Sky, and the Jewel of Fire, all with different powers.  The dinosaur guarded the treasure, which was in a shrine Daniel designed.  He was VERY proud, particularly of the corpse of the minifigure sprawled across the temple entrance.

"Few have survived," he intoned, as sinister as a six year old can be.  We were both thrilled - it was the first time he'd had an interest in building something that didn't have specific instructions.  I told  him that maybe we'd try to start a "Mommy and Me" Lego club for moms and their sons.  He's ready to start recruiting TOMORROW.

So I listened to the interview, which I've linked to below, and felt my heart swell to bursting.  I'm doing it RIGHT.  I'm not hurting my son by loving on him, keeping our lines of communication open, by sharing experiences we both find exciting and enjoyable.  I'm not a mom who wants to watch her young knight ride off in search of the dragon - I want to be out there with him!  And - go figure.  Science says that it's okay.  PHEW.

So I'm ordering the book tonight... can't wait to read it.  If any of you are moms of boys, I'd say you need to read it, too.  There are precious few books out there for women like us... we have to grab the good ones while we can.

The NPR Interview:  Ignore 'The Mama's Boy Myth': Keep Your Boys Close


Monday, April 2, 2012

Another Post of 5's

WHAT I'M READING - I'm currently between books.  I started a children's novel, Breadcrumbs, but it's not really hooking me.  May ditch it and move on, consigning it to my classroom library.

WHAT I'M WRITING - Character profile of Veritas, my G.I. Joe alter-ego; she's MWR (Morale, Welfare, and Recreation) as well as interfaith chaplain for the Joes.  (Yes, women CAN be chaplains... cool, huh?)  Just finished a draft of Gonna Draw Me a Story that needs to sit for a few more days before I start revising.

WHAT I'M LISTENING TO - Mercedes Lackey's Phoenix and Ashes, one of her Elemental Masters fairy tale tributes.  This one is Cinderella under a historical fantasy veneer.  It's probably my fourth time listening to it - never gets old.

WHAT I'M TEACHING - Gary Paulsen's Woodsong in reading, poetry in writing.

WHAT I'M PUTTING ON MY WISH LIST:  I love the Signals catalog!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Post of 5's

I think this will be a good filler post template... just a "quick 5" to make myself write something coherent.

  • WHAT I'M WRITING - Lesson plans for a memoir unit, revisions to Joefic Lykoi, not much else.  Sigh.
  • WHAT I'M READING - We Bought a Zoo by Benjamin Mee
  • WHAT I'M LISTENING TO - Nothing at the moment, but the Geek Mom podcast is next up when I have a second.
  • WHAT I'M DOING - Contemplating if I'd like to teach a lower grade next year, pondering what's holding me back from sending my picture book manuscripts out on the query circuit.
  • WHAT I'M WISHING - That I had the money for the Robert Atkins pledge commission I'd SOOOOO like to have... but alas, I don't.  Whimper.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

This One's For You, Mom

I love Mutts by Patrick McDonnell.  It's one of the few strips out there that make me feel like I did when my grandmother used to hand me collections of Peanuts cartoons (paperbacks from the 50's and 60's, when Snoopy still walked on all four legs, which I still think are the best of the strip's history).

This is a strip I came across ages ago - but tonight, as I was looking for comics to turn into a worksheet for my students (we're learning to use quotation marks in dialogue), I found it again.  And again, I thought how very like my mother the cat Mooch is in his simple, direct advice.  Mom's given the same advice to me more times than I can count.  Like Sourpuss, I have a habit of getting overwhelmed by the immensity and bleakness of life - and sometimes, I need a reminder that there IS such a thing as thinking too much.

Love you, Mom.  Thanks for the most excellent advice.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Color of My Words

White is something just like black is something. Everybody born on this earth is something and nobody, no matter what color, is better than anybody else.  
                                                        - Mildred D. Taylor, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry

In her article "Supporting Diversity, Supporting All Our Children," author Suzanne Morgan Williams hits upon a topic I find uncomfortable, to be very honest... that in our increasingly diverse society, children of color need to read about protagonists and supporting characters who reflect themselves - share their skin color, celebrate their holidays, speak their language.  As a reader, as a mother, as a teacher, I agree.  If we are to assure that our children grow up to become a nation of readers, it is vital that all children see themselves as the hero of their own story.  

As a writer, however, I am deeply conflicted.

I am a white Catholic woman of Polish, Ukrainian, British, and (possibly) Scottish background.  My son has the added seasoning of Czech and Slovak blood, thanks to my immigrant husband.  Growing up, however, a white girl in a largely white school in a largely white town, I longed to be Something Else.  I wasn't Irish, Italian, or any of the other flag-waving nationalities that had holidays or cuisines to celebrate.  Instead, I got "dumb Pollock" jokes.  The British in my lines petered out when my grandmother's birth records were destroyed in a town hall fire, so I've no idea if my forebears were squires or soldiers, farmers or felons.  I'd love to know if I do have Scottish blood, and if so, what clan I could trace myself to - but my fledgeling attempts at genealogy have foundered on that rock before.

A child of the seventies, I wanted to have Black Pride.  As I learned of the rich heritage of our Hispanic neighbors and the strong family ties of Asian-Americans, I wished for that, too.  White, I decided, was boring.  Plain vanilla.  Just my luck - I was even that most dull and dolorous of whites, the brown-haired and brown-eyed white girl.  I didn't often see myself in books as a child... redheads, sure, and blondes aplenty; later, chapter books extolled the strong female protagonist's "emerald eyes" or "flashes of violet and sapphire" when she blinked.  It wasn't until Disney made Beauty and the Beast that one of the fairy tale princesses looked even marginally like me, and I was an adult by then... now, all we need is someone to write a plump and cuddly heroine, and I'll be satisfied.  (I've got a sweet and roly-poly werewolf kindergarten teacher set aside for the right book, if the story ever presents itself.)

With all this in me, I would dearly LOVE to help The Cause - I think of the children of color I have known and, in my own way, loved; Kimberly, whose skin was the color of perfect coffee, who flung herself into my arms my second year as a counselor at her day camp, whose long legs propelled her faster than any of the boys, who became what I see as I teach Mildred D. Taylor's books to my white students today.  Keisha, tall and stocky, a girl who held herself with pride and told me, after our writing class had experimented with religious meditation, that while she couldn't tell me what had transpired in her mind, that she was filled with a sense of peace and knew that everything would be All Right.  There's only one problem.

I'm white.  Plain vanilla, again. 

With my picture books, it's easy.  I don't have to create a child of any particular race - my narrator is my narrator, and it's up to whatever illustrator takes the work to cast the skin tones of the story-people.  Mostly, I write about animals - I'm more comfortable that way (did I mention that I went through an "I wish I was Native American" phase, too, because I wanted to claim the Raven and Coyote tales as part of my bloodright?)  But as I begin working on chapter books... how can I do justice to children of color?  I don't know what it's like to be black any more than I know what it's like to be a giraffe - but the giraffe community is unlikely to take offense if I get it wrong.  I speak only a few halting words of Spanish myself; how can I convey, in rich prose, the intricacies of a tightly-knit Hispanic family, let alone any of the myriad sub-communities of Peruvian, Puerto Rican, Costa Rican, Brazilian families?  And heaven help me, while I would LOVE to be able to write a strong, dynamic Korean or Chinese girl - or a dreamy, poetic Iroquois boy - I wouldn't have the faintest idea where to start.

I admire Rick Riordan - his Olympus and Kane Chronicles series are alive with a vibrant rainbow of dynamic multicultural characters of every skin tone, ethnic background, and socioeconomic level.  They're all bound together by magic, however - and their demigod status trumps their mortal cultures; few people even notice, once they've found their way to Camp Halfblood or Camp Jupiter.  It's the outside world that notices... the outside world where race matters.  Even the Greek and Roman gods, the Egyptian deities have a wide range of physical appearance; Thanatos is described as something like an angel with skin "the color of teak wood."  I'm not sure I could do the same... I'd feel like I was making a character a particular ethnicity because I should, not because that's the form the character took in my mind when he or she first spoke in my mind.

I'm not even sure, in my genre, if race is really an issue... in a picture book, there are a multitude of characters; why not have a rainbow of skin tones?  In a novel, is it truly necessary for the first-person protagonist to consider her ethnic heritage, if it really doesn't play a role in the book?  Sometimes, I can definitely see the benefit of shaking things up and making a character ethnically diverse - part of me, in fact, was just thinking that if Chuck Dixon had REALLY wanted to reboot the G.I. Joe characters, he might have considered making Snake Eyes black.  That would certainly have made the character his own, and would have given a nod to a military that is significantly African-American; it would also have given a certain timeliness to his relationship with Irish-American Shana O'Hara, aka Scarlett.

But so far, my own characters haven't tromped into my mind announcing a particular country of origin... the humans have been very much like me, children of the suburbs, usually with intact parental pairs.  Most are geeks, outcasts, and a few are rather more than skin and bones (nobody talks about letting characters reflect the dimensions of American youth, I've noticed).  But if I had to stop and think about it, their skin would be, like mine, white.  I suppose that I could make it another color... but it would feel forced, artificial.  Very much "see, I am creating a character of color to better represent the diversity of our nation's young readers."  Something in me balks at that.

And I'm not sure if that's wrong.  All my life, the advice I've been given is "Write what you know" - or, later, "Learn more so you can write about what you know."  That works well for plots and scaffolding... but characters?  I'd be terrified of offending someone.  One of the first picture book drafts to go permanently under the bed was a fairy tale called "Bobby No-Legs and the Dragon," about a boy in a wheelchair who wanted to become a knight:

Bobby No-Legs had no legs.  He was just born that way.  Most of the time, nobody thought much of it - Bobby got around just fine, thank-you-very-much, in a Wonderful, Terrific, Spectacular, and Very Blue Chair With Wheels that his father had built just for him.  He could race and he could play ball; he could sing and he could imitate the sound that a rooster makes when he gargles before crowing the sun awake in the morning.  He was wonderful at reading and math, he was pretty good at art and cooking, and he was downright awful at knitting and crocheting (but he didn't mind that so much).  He played at being a fierce pirate with his friends Sean and Kevin.  He pretended to be an ogre to frighten Lucy and Marian.  Sometimes he was even a wild, wild wolf who howled at the moon with his wild, wild dog Bump.

But what Bobby No-Legs wanted to be most of all was a knight.

But I never got past the draft phase, because I had horrible visions of groups of differently-abled people protesting that I, a woman with legs that work pretty well, thank-you-very-much, would DARE to write a story about someone whose legs, well, didn't.  How can I know, how can I possibly know, what that feels like?  And suppose that the very idea of calling a character Bobby No-Legs was found to be insulting (despite the fact that, in the medieval-style world of the story and in reality, most people got their surnames from their professions, habitations, or physical features)?    Since I've got a hide about as thick as an onion skin, I really didn't want to find out.

Right now, the picture book I'm working on falls outside the realm of race entirely... NINGERBILS! certainly does have characters of color; one is black and white spotted, one is a sort of golden brown called "agouti" to those who know such things, and one is white and black spotted (I need to stay within what's genetically feasible for a litter of gerbils, you see - as a retired show gerbil breeder, I do Know These Things).  There is a human, of course, in the background - and I suppose I could very well, in my illustrator notes, describe him as Pakistani... or make her a vibrant young African American.

Or I could let my words color themselves, and leave it entirely up to the artist who takes the job.

That, I think, appeals to me most of all.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

"If I Only Had the Nerve..."

I'm thinking of nerve right now, since I've wasted a perfectly good couple of hours playing and replaying the past and scripting a future encounter with a particularly repugnant bully of a father I had to sit a meeting with yesterday... realizing that yes, this was the same man who tried to make me look like a fool in front of a group of other parents when I'd volunteered to come in and teach them how to use a particularly useful Internet tool, unpaid, and yes, I would certainly need to face him again - next week, in fact, in conferences.  If it wasn't that his son, a sweet and genuine sixth grader with some attention issues, was such a love and one of the students I am particularly fond of, I'd like nothing more than to take a chunk out of his pompous, loudmouthed, bullying hide.  I've been running through possible cold retorts or stern rebukes I could use if he acts up during conferences - clever, pithy statements all, some taking the moral high road and others telling him that if he can't keep a civil tongue in his head, I've nothing more to say to him.

But who am I kidding?  I know myself.  I've got one heck of an imagination - and one heck of a lack of guts.  Simply put, I am a coward to make the Cowardly Lion proud.

Like my leonine cohort, I wish I had the nerve, too.  The lion, at least, really WAS a lion... he just needed the self-confidence.  Here behind my computer, I'm bold as a lioness... but get me face to face, and I'm a bit more like that mouse in the song.  Times when I've tried to "lion up" come back to haunt me... like the time I could have pitched a script idea to a Star Trek: The Next Generation writer at WishCon.  I'd approached him after a writing workshop he ran, asking how one got pitch sessions if one was a fledgeling writer, assuming that one followed the canon and his workshop tips.  He gave me a kind, succinct answer - then said, in so many words, "So, what have you got?"  At which point any nerve I'd had promptly abandoned me, I began tripping over my words, suddenly decided that the fully-developed idea I had for a script was absolutely the stupidest thing anyone could ever come up with, and stammered something about it just being in the idea phase and that I hoped I'd have a chance to attend another workshop maybe when it was more developed.  Then I fled... there's no other word for it.  There are other times, sure... but that's the Big One that my inner writer won't let go of, nagging at me again and again - what if that was My Chance?  You only get one, if you believe in that sort of thing.

But it's not just fate.  Not just a failure to grab that bit of happenstance and hang on with all ten fingers.  I just don't have the nerve, I'm afraid, to do what needs to be done to get my writing to that next level.  And what may that be?  Shmoozing.  Facetime.  Networking.

Networking is quite the buzzword, particularly in the writing industry... I hate to say it, but oftentimes, it's not talent but sheer dumb luck that gets you published.  That's how it worked with my first book... I was in the right place at the right time and was able to sufficiently match the series author's writing style to make a good fit.  Since then... haven't been in the right place and am not sure what the right time is.  People suggest e-mailing authors of similar books and asking who their agent is, or which editor they worked with... articles chant out the litany of how vital it is to get to conferences where you can get facetime with publishers and agents.  Of the options, I'd rather do the workshops - if I could only afford it; I still haven't worked up the nerve to do the e-mailing.  It might work - after all, if I had any possibility of being able to help another writer into the biz, I would (but I don't, so my help is, right now, worthless) - but... well, I haven't managed to "lion up" yet.

But I am working on my roar, anticipating the day when I will.


Monday, February 20, 2012

Dream Make-Me-Smile Apps...

- a "Smiling Dogs" app from The Bark magazine. Nothing like happy dogs to perk you up when you're down! I'd settle for an "Upside Down Dogs" app in a pinch!

- an "I Can Haz Cheezburger?" app. Yes, there are plenty of apps that feed you silly, captioned animal pics. I want to build my own.

- an audio scrapbook app. Am I the only besotted mommy who saves her son's voicemail?

- a "My Favorite Comics" app for the daily strips; my faves are scattered across syndications, and I'd love to get them all in one place. Mutts by Patrick McDonnell needs an app, period! And what I wouldn't give for Peanuts or Calvin & Hobbes!

- On that thread, a favorite catalogue of mine is SIGNALS (the public tv catalog); I could definitely do with an app there. Or for WIRELESS, the NPR catalogue.

- GeekMoms, where is YOUR app? C'mon, ladies, we're techie enough... I want to save my favorite content for reading when I'm not in a hot spot.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Mr. Right vs. Mr. Good Enough vs. the Wounded Ninja

First off, let me say two things: this post details 'shippy material from GI Joe Ongoing #10, so be warned if you haven't read it yet. It also is not a suggestion that any woman "settle" for a relationship she isn't passionate about; to do so is a disservice to the poor guy said woman is stringing along.

My good netfriend, Andy, gave me the heads-up that today's issue of our favorite comic had some very cute Mainframe/ Scarlett interaction. Now, Andy knows that I'm a confirmed Snake Eyes/Scarlett 'shipper, but he also knows that I am MIGHTILY displeased with Chuck Dixon's character development so far, let alone with the Swiss cheese holes in the S/SE 'ship. Given my choice, I'd still pair the ninja and the redhead, if it could be written a bit better; pairing her with Duke, the alternately smug or snarky pretty boy, just leaves me cold.

Yes, Duke carries a torch for Scarlett. If he wasn't so in-her-face with it, his pining would be sweet. I almost felt bad for him, in the last issue of the Snake Eyes standalone title, back in December.  But... he can't seem to maintain likeability.  In the very next issue, he and Hawk are going all "old boys network" on Scarlett, with the general essentially handing the keys of the unit over to Duke - regardless of the fact that Scarlett outranks Duke in this continuity.  I just cannot like the guy as he's written... I almost wish he'd hook up with Helix, and get out of the picture.  Those two deserve each other.

But then there's Snake Eyes, who, in this continuity, is about as warm as a corpse in Antarctica.  Scarlett clearly has feelings for him, and he seems to occasionally reciprocate - but then makes tracks out on another mission, or pulls back into his ninja shell.  It makes Scarlett seem somewhat clingy and pathetic as she pines for HIM, which just isn't right - Scarlett is too strong a woman to be throwing herself at an unattainable man.

And so to Mainframe, the fobbit. (FOB is military-speak for Forward Operating Base - the last bastion of relative safety before you hit the combat zone). Admittedly, I have a soft spot for all the fobbit Joes - the ones with handles that indicate close affiliation with technology as opposed to weaponry or prowess in combat or warlike dispositions - probably because I'd be one if I was military. Mains is the king of fobbits, wizard of the technological, clever and personably and wonderfully geeky. Give him a computer or a tech problem to solve and he's easily the cyber equivalent to Snake Eyes.  Give him facetime with his fellow Joes and he's generally comic relief.  He, too, yearns for Scarlett - despite pretty much everyone warning him off, figuring he's got about as much of a chance with her as Helix does at becoming a grief counselor.  Poor Mainframe.

But in this issue, we get a subtle hint that he might not have such a bad chance after all.  Is Scarlett getting tired of hanging around, waiting for Snake Eyes to sprout some sort of reciprocated emotion?  Is she finally going to deck Duke for being such an idiot?  Who knows - but she gives Mainframe the tiniest bit of hope.

And you know, I don't mind.  I get the feeling that Mainframe would treat Scarlett better than either of the fellows she's currently entangled with. Granted, why Mains has fallen so hard for Scarlett is as full of holes as any of Dixon's non-combat characterization thus far; one assumes he can see the beauty of her mind and heart, the woman behind the soldier, but that's really just speculation. Geeks are men, too - so maybe it's just a body thing, and you can't blame a guy for trying.  Anyhoo, I'm okay with this, as far as my 'shippy side goes.  I'd rather Scarlett be with Snake Eyes, sure.  But Scarlett and Mainframe?  Hmmm.  I can get behind this.  Even like it.

It makes me think that maybe, just maybe, someone may be trying to send a subtle message to the readers.  (Okay, yes, I am definitely reading into this - but bear with me, will you?)  Most of the Joe readership is male... and, I'd hazard, most bear far more of a physical and temperamental resemblance to Mainframe than they do to either Snake Eyes or Duke.  In short... lots of them are tech guys, and a good chunk are geeks.  (Note - I do not consider "geek" a pejorative term.  I am, myself, proud of my geekiness.  Geeks are smart, funny, and a heck of a lot of fun to be around because they've always got something to talk about.  So there.)  A choice of Mainframe for Scarlett might be a nod to that contingent - hey, boys, guess what?  WE'RE gonna get the girl this time!  And not just any girl... not the one who's just beautiful on the INSIDE.  We're getting the hottie!  Woo hoo!

As for the wedge of female readers... well, maybe there's something in there for us, too.  Lots of us 'ship Scarlett and Snake Eyes because, at heart, we're romantics.  We like to think that for every strong woman there's a strong man, a knight in shining armor, a ninja in black, someone to have our backs and keep the demons at bay.  We like the hero motif, and most of us have dreamed of one day finding that one true Mr. Right, our very own storybook or comic book hero.  We don't need protectors or defenders most of the time... but what woman doesn't want to know that if we did need such a thing, our own fella would be right there between us and the Big Bad?  That we're worth fighting for?  Some of us were lucky enough to have the big brother who - for all his brotherly idiocy - would cheerfully pound into dust that ex boyfriend who made us cry.... but it's not the same.

Still, Mr. Right can only REALLY work out in stories.  Real life doesn't do perfect.  I've known far too many women who have looked and searched for that romantic ideal - for the stars and rockets, for the Cosmo sex, for the flowers and sensitivity, only to end up alone and frustrated and wondering what on earth is wrong with them.  Or, almost as bad, they find the guy they thought was Mr. Right - only to have reality come crashing down: no, men DON'T just know what to say when we have a bad day.  They DON'T understand that pointing out why your project bombed and how to do better next time is not the same thing as a comforting hug.  They watch a lot of football, or play a lot of video games, or don't talk about their feelings, or don't help out around the house.  God forbid, they are MEN, not storybook characters.

Some women, convinced that the fairy tales we've been fed since we were little are actually true, just keep looking.  They'll ditch the guy who turns out to be Mr. Good Enough, human but not Prince Charming, and keep on looking for that romantic ideal.  Or they pass by all the Mr. Good Enoughs to begin with.  Those nice guys from work, from the gym, from the MMO convention, because... well, he's a little short.  Or he has a receding hairline.  Or he's a bit pudgy.  And he has a really, really weird sense of humor.  He's not a very good dresser.  He's too mild and obliging.  He's not a prince... he's not charming.  He's available... but we don't want him, do we, ladies?  Nope.  He's "just a friend."  He's TOO available.

It wouldn't be Mr. Right, after all, if we didn't need to triumph over all odds to be with him, or heal his inner demons to allow him to become the man we knew he was inside.  Right?

Maybe that's why I'm finding part of myself rooting for Mainframe.  I was one of those women, looking for Mr. Right.  I had crushes on guys absurdly ill-suited to my own personality.  I thought opposites attracted.  I wanted the Bad Boy with a Heart of Gold.  The Knight in Shining Armor.  The storybook ideal.  Heck, I'm a WRITER... how wonderful would it be to find my own Happily Ever After?

Not unsurprisingly, things did not go well.  That they did not go catastrophically wrong - even fatally wrong - is a miracle in itself.  Seriously.  My favorite ex boyfriend is still the enlisted Navy manic depressive punk rock fanatic who got discharged from the Navy and shaved his eyebrows to match his head two weeks before my senior prom.  He showed up on the big night in borrowed Navy whites.  Daily uniform, not even dress whites.  And the truck he was in?  "Borrowed."  At least, that's what he told me.  The owner told my father a different story.  For all that, he was my Punker Prince Charming, and he treated me like the storybook princess I yearned to be.

My other exes are all roughly as strange, albeit a bit more normal looking... and some are considerably scarier, and I prefer not to think about them - only of how lucky I was to get AWAY from them without too much emotional scarring.  This went on well into my thirties.  At least I have a trunkload of characters and story starters to show for it... thought I cried for all of them when we broke up, and still can't hear certain songs without feeling like my heart will break to pieces.

And along the line, I bypassed a heck of a lot of wonderful guys - none of them Mr. Right, but all of them Mr. Good Enough - who probably would have treated me far better than any of the exes, but who I rejected for idiotically superficial reasons. 

Not cute enough. 

No "spark." 

Not a good kisser.

Too dull.

Ick - has a BEARD. 

Truthfully, I was something of an idiot, and passed up a lot of happiness because it didn't seem to be the sort of happiness I'd read in a comic book or see on a movie screen. 

The universe is, however, occasionally kind to stupid girls.  I didn't pass on the last Mr. Good Enough.  I refused to listen to the nagging princess hiding in back of my head... no, he's not a snappy dresser.  He's got a weird sense of humor.  He's socially awkward.  And he's only just my height - not one inch taller. 

But... he's kind.  He's responsible - with money and with promises.  He's gentle, and patient, and sometimes, his weird sense of humor makes me laugh.  We don't have everything in common... heck, we've got hardly ANYTHING in common on the surface.  Our joke is that he's a vegetarian-neoBuddhist-Libertarian whose hobbies are watching the news and following politics, and I'm a carnivorous-Catholic-social moderate who wants to put the Congress in a time-out while I curl up with a good book... but we've been married fifteen years now, and it looks like a forever thing.

He's not perfect.  He'll never be Snake Eyes or Prince Charming.  But... last time I checked, I bore NO resemblance to Scarlett, and the only princess I resemble is Princess Fiona from Shrek.  The green version.  If he's my Mr. Good Enough, I'm his Ms. Good Enough.  And he may not be an infallible hero... but y'know, he does remind me a bit of Mainframe.  Good old geeky Mainframe.  The reliable, huggable Joe who has no baggage to speak of, except perhaps a penchant for conspiracy theories.  The one who deserves a good woman.

You go, Mains.

And ladies... don't be so quick to pass up those "nice guys" who are "just good friends."  In the long run... friendship is what keeps things together.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

And I Got... Nothing.

It's occurred to me that I haven't updated my blog in a bit, sooo... here it is.  Lots of "stuff" going on, but not really getting into it here and now.  Maybe I'll post a pic of the new dog later.  Internet friend Andy Bartlett has inspired me to get moving again, however, and thanks to his blog, I have a format.  Danke, Andy!

  • Finalizing a contest piece for Highlights Foundation's annual contest.  I so need to win tuition to their summer conference this year - send positive thoughts!
  • Getting back to Nin-Gerbils, which I'm liking more with each revision.  Thanks to Torpedo from the IDW boards for his invaluable critique; the piece is better for it.
  • Playing around with bits and fragments of Faith and Silence, a G.I. Joe fanfic and sequel to Promises to Keep.  It's a hard piece to write for many reasons, but I promised my fellow JoeMom Toni that I'd do it.  It's crawling along, Toni, but it will get done eventually.
  • Drafting a semi-wordless comic book script for Psalm 23.

  • Spindle's End by Robin McKinley - one of my comfort books.  It's a fantasy retelling of Sleeping Beauty, and one of my go-to books when my mind won't settle.  I adore that I was able to find a hardcover copy at a library sale - wheee!  eBooks may be the future, but I still love having a hardcover in my hands in bed.
  • Epic: The Story God is Telling by John Eldredge.  I grabbed this at Goodwill - one of my personal treasure chests for like-new dirt-cheap books - more because of the storytelling aspect than because of the Christianity.  Anyone who starts out a book with a quote from Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings is worth reading, in my book.
  • On the nightstand - Animals in Translation by Temple Grandin, Sherlock Holmes and the Baker Street Irregulars by Tracy Mack, Reaching the Animal Mind by Karen Pryor, Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu, Cat People by Margaret and Michael Korda, and a few more that I'm too lazy to go and check right now.
  • Waiting for the #9's of the G.I. Joe: Cobra Command to come out... I grab them all at once... as well as for Green Lantern: New Guardians and Tiny Titans.
  • Promise of the Wolves by Dorothy Hearst
  • The Elemental Masters series by Mercedes Lackey
  • Podcasts:  GeekMoms, Wait Wait Don't Tell Me, A Way With Words, Hearing Voices, Cheetah Chat
  • Angry Birds Seasons, and having far too much fun with the Chinese New Year's mighty dragon!
Off to bed now... zzzzz...

Monday, January 2, 2012

Mosquito Muses

It's occurred to me that for writers and artists, the creative muse has an awful lot in common with a mosquito.  Not in the sense that one gets an irresistible urge to slap that muse when it arrives  -but in the sense of timing and its effect on the person in question.

My personal experience with mosquitoes is this: they are at their busiest when YOU are at your busiest, when you have some other task to which your attention is inexorably drawn.  Yard work.  Sleeping.  Preparing dinner.  Chatting amiably with your spouse.  I don't recall ever having a mosquito encounter when I've had the time to actually devote to either slapping it or re-applying repellant, and certainly never when I can easily get to a long-sleeved shirt or pair of pants or netted hat, any of which would allow me to continue my work in peace.  No, mosquitoes - for all they've practically no brain worth noting - seem to have an impeccable sense of just when to make their presence known... when you are just over the boundary of sleep, too groggy to aim a proper slap and not inclined to get up and do something about the nocturnal stealth attack, for example.  Or when you're halfway up or down the hill you're mowing, or at the furthest possible corner of the yard - the point where you are least likely to take a few moments to make yourself more comfortable and save yourself hours of later scratching.

In just that way, the creative muse seems to take a fiendish delight in arriving at precisely the same inopportune moments.  That margin between sleep and waking is a favorite point; my husband is particularly good at waking up and jotting his dreams down immediately in a notebook kept by the bed for just that purpose.  I can't say I've ever had much success with that, as my brain tends to outpace my fingers, particularly fingers still thick from sleep.  Some have suggested a bedside recording device, but I don't like the sound of my voice at the best of times - it just sounds weird to me - and the idea of recording my slurred, groggy morning voice is positively repellant.  Thus far, I've opted to take my chances remembering the idea for a book when I'm fully alert... though putting one's dreams on hold for such a vain reason is pretty stupid, now that I'm forced to look at it.

Muses also tend to generate quite a bit of buzz when the artist has no other choice but to attend that dreaded "day job." I've met a few creatives spirits who, either through immense talent, stubbornness, or sheer dumb luck don't work one job for salary and one job for the nourishment of the soul - but they're in the minority.  Most of us slog it out in a forty-plus hour workplace, come home, attend to the business of running a home, and then carve out a bit of time for writing or sketching.  I tend to take a creative break during the period allotted for meals rather than grabbing lunch in the staff lounge, but it often feels like my muse is pulling the old Hollywood "we'll do lunch" routine at those times... meaning, sure, "we'll do lunch" at some point before you die, but it's not going to be any time soon, so don't get your hopes up. 

What ends up happening, of course, is that the best ideas for stories or images or sculptures begin humming in your ear just as the boss calls you in to go over the latest spreadsheets, or your students are returning for that assembly on fire safety, or that client who's already fifteen minutes late shows up - "You would NOT believe the traffic!"  Of course, the chance for you to grab your tablet or a notepad or the dreaded recording device is there - if you're bold enough to put the boss off, make the client wait, or risk twenty seven nine year olds being at loose ends while you capture the wily muse.  I haven't been that brave yet, and have on more than one occasion managed to plot out the PERFECT picture book from start to finish, all while sitting through a forty five minute school band concert - but as of this writing, I haven't ever been able to get those perfect ideas down onto paper once I've found the time to do so.

So what's to be done?  Ignore the mosquito, ignore the muse - put your time into Real Life, into what needs to be done at that one particular moment?  After all, the lawn must get mowed, sleep must get slept, bills need to be paid... right?

I'm not so sure.  Ignoring mosquitoes inevitably results in itchy welts... unpleasant, uncomfortable, but not seriously detrimental to your life and happiness.  Ignoring your muse, however, has the far more daunting result of driving said muse further and further off.  Wave off the good ideas, the inspirations and daydreams, too often and you'll find that they're slower and slower to arrive at all... and then where will you be?  Sure, you'll still have your day job - but isn't that the one you took to support your creative vocation?  Mosquitoes will always be there, given attention or no.  The muse won't be.

I'm not suggesting that we neglect those aspects of our "work-a-day" world that would genuinely wither without us.  As much as you'd love to blow off the weekly staff meeting, there's no denying that you NEED that day job to pay the bills and allow you to write or sketch or sculpt, and family time is sacrosanct.  I personally wouldn't trade storytime with my son for double that time in front of the computer.  Similarly, walking the dog or working out brings my body into a state where my mind can work at its creative best.  But when it comes to things like volunteering for a committee I really don't want ot be part of, gossiping at the water cooler, Tweeting, organizing the desk, updating Facebook status, dusting, vaccuuming, mowing the lawn, planting virtual crops on FarmVille... I wonder if I can pick up a can of "Life Repellant" at WalMart to buy myself a bit of writing time. 

Whatever it costs, it's bound to be worth it.