Thursday, April 20, 2017

TBT: How To Ride An Ostrich

Today I was checking Eventing Nation, the premier website for my sport of eventing, and found myself on the front page. Riding an ostrich. This was an article I wrote for them 5 years ago that they put up for their Throwback Thursday. So I copied it here. Hey, it was mine originally.

Each Thursday we take a trip down memory lane to a favorite EN post from over the years. This week's comes from Kim Bradley, a longtime EN friend and contributor, who wrote about her experience riding an ostrich. Wylie explains why it's one of her favorite EN posts of all time: "Not only is riding an ostrich a secret fantasy of mine, Kim's description is brilliantly hilarious. The first eight paragraphs of this story comparing horses and ostriches ... I can't even." Originally published on Feb. 17, 2011, we think it's as fun a read today as it was back then. Enjoy!
Photo courtesy of Kim Bradley.Photo courtesy of Kim Bradley.
The first thing to know is that riding an ostrich is nothing like riding a horse. But a quick side-by-side comparison, horse vs. ostrich, will show you why they are different.
Look into a horse’s eyes. You might see affection, indifference, loathing, fear–whatever it is, you’ll see something. You’ll sense that somewhere behind those eyes there’s a functioning brain, making decisions that might occasionally be described as rational.
Look into a ostrich’s eyes, and you’ll be able to check your hairdo. That’s about it. Gram for gram I don’t think ostriches’ brains are that much smaller than horses’, but ostriches clearly have a lot less neurons firing.
Look at the horse’s neck. Nice and sturdy, with all that handy mane to grab.
Look at the ostrich’s neck. If you have any doubts about its flimsiness, give it a little push. The neck will coil away from you like a large and hairy snake. Nothing to hang onto there.
Look at the horse’s legs. Four of ’em. One on each corner. Kind of comforting, really.
Ostrich, two legs. Not as good.
In fact, riding an ostrich is remarkably like riding a pencil-necked two-hundred-and-fifty pound chicken. For all that, I was very keen to give it a go.
We were in Oudtshoorn, the ostrich capital of South Africa. Located inland from Mossel Bay near gently rolling mountains, the town was originally settled by–I was surprised at this, too–Latvian Jews. They all speak Afrikaans now. (The drugstore in Oudtshoorn, manned entirely by white people, was also the one place in all of South Africa where I absolutely could not make my English-speaking self understood.) Ostriches were farmed here starting in the late 1800s, because of the demand for ostrich feathers to decorate ladies’ hats. Before World War I and the invention of the automobile, prime ostrich feathers were worth their weight in gold.
Now, however, ostriches are prized for their meat and their skin, which makes a remarkably beautiful (and expensive)leather. The ostrich farms cater to tourists; at ours we began with a lovely meal of ostrich fillet (tastes like beef, not chicken) and red South African wine. We moved on to petting ostriches, admiring paddocks of foot-high baby ostriches, and learning about ostrich development in general. Next our hostess escorted our group to a small paddock, and that’s where the real fun began.
The ostriches aren’t trained to be ridden. There’s no saddle, no reins, no attempt at or semblance of control.
The farm staff turned a half dozen ostriches loose into the paddock, where they milled about randomly the way ostriches do. A staff member grabbed one and threw a cloth bag over its head. Apparently doing that confuses ostriches into temporary docility. The men pushed the bagged ostrich up against the board fence of the paddock, lifted the ostrich’s wings, and told me to climb aboard.
I won’t ride a horse without a helmet, pants, and sturdy leather shoes, but I rode my ostrich in capris and a sun hat.
The ostrich’s body was thinner and smaller than that of my daughter’s small pony. Its feathers were wonderfully soft, and for a moment I worried about crushing them. (The ones on the body aren’t the valuable ones–and anyway, the days of ostrich plumes are long past.) As instructed, I hooked my legs over the ostrich’s knees, which are right up by its body. (Think about the legs on a roast chicken. No, flip it over, legs pointing down. See? I tucked my feet right around the chicken thighs–only on the ostrich, of course.) I grabbed the wing pits. I leaned back.
The man yanked the bag off the ostrich’s head. The ostrich exploded. With only two legs, ostriches can’t buck, which was dead useful. My ostrich skittered instead, ping-ponging back and forth around the small paddock, scattering the other ostriches into a sort of cascading hysteria. It took considerable will to maintain my grip on the wingpits and not fasten my hands around its neck instead. After all, that’s where the mane should be. But I’m pretty sure that strangling the ostrich was not in my best interests just then.
I figure I managed eight seconds, like a bull rider. I didn’t fall off, but I didn’t actually dismount, either. With a lapful of wings, my only real option was to slide straight backward, into the supporting grasp of two of the staff members, who were laughing themselves silly at the screeching white woman on the bird.
It’s hard to call it riding. But I sat on the back of a galloping ostrich, and by golly I had fun.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

One Can Still Buy A Picasso

Ok, so we went to Paris for the weekend.

As one does.

I say that snorting with laughter, shaking my head at the absurdity of it all, because it's so nuts to do something like that, except that it was also outrageously fun. Truth is we went to Paris for a long weekend last spring, too, because our son was studying abroad and when we asked him what he would do if he had one choice while there, he said he'd go back with his dad and play the golf course outside of Paris they'd played years ago, and loved. So my husband arranged it, and we went--my son joining us by train--and it was crazy good.

This year my husband noticed that my son had a four-day weekend at Easter (one of the bonuses of his attending a Catholic college; my daughter had no vacation at all) and thought we should repeat the experience. He wrangled his way onto the golf course again (it's little known, and private) courtesy of some friends of ours who live in Paris. My husband and I flew out Wednesday night and landed Thursday morning. My son flew out from near his school on Thursday night, landed Friday morning, went straight to the golf course, played 27 holes of golf, then went straight to a fancy restaurant and had a late dinner with us and our friends, staying up until midnight, Paris time, which was 6 am where we come from, and he still thought it was awesome, one of his best days ever.

Thursday afternoon my husband and I amused ourselves by walking great swaths of the city window-shopping and ducking into art galleries and antiquity shops. Last year we did the same thing, and fell entirely in love with an immense wall tapestry--castle-sized, the colors still vibrant, the weaving impeccable. I'm a big fiber arts fan, so I took hold of the edge of the tapestry to examine its back side, which was probably not really kosher--I've been told off in museums before--and we enthused about the thing so genuinely that the shop attendants asked for our email address, which my husband promptly gave them, so they could send us proof of the tapestry's provenance. It had been woven for Louis XVI, one of a set of four, and the other three hung in a museum together.

The tapestry cost a quarter million dollars.

Or Euros. I forget which.

I was astonished you could still buy a tapestry woven for Louis XVI, anywhere, at any price, but was not exactly whipping out my checkbook, not that it would have mattered. Still,  this year we wanted to visit our tapestry again. We found the shop, but our tapestry was gone, which made us happy somehow--it's hanging somewhere, we hope loved.

After that we encountered another gallery which I remembered clearly because they have a mannequin of a security officer posed by the front door, and last year I politely said, "Bonjour, Monsieur," to it before I realized it was a statue. This year I was immediately taken by the movement and color and grace of a painting hanging near the front. Then I saw the signature. My command of French is very much a work in progress, but I was able to gasp, in French, "That's really a CHAGALL?"

Oui, Madame. A real one, not a print. Price on Request. I didn't.

Farther down was another art gallery we again remembered clearly, because last year they were hosting the opening of a special exhibit. We swanned in, back then, as though specially invited, were handed glasses of champagne, and made intelligent remarks about the bright, vibrant pictures, which we liked very much indeed, and which, honestly, we could actually see ourselves purchasing. By the standards of the street they were absolutely cheap. We didn't buy one last year, but this year perhaps--

Nope. Same art gallery, different art. It had reverted to high art, to very, very, very swanky art. Lovely stuff, in the same class as our pet tapestry. I stood in front of one painting admiring the greens and gorgeous, gorgeous blues. I would have claimed it in an heartbeat. I would have admired it every day, forever.

I still will. It was by Picasso--that Picasso, the real Picasso. I will keep it forever, hung on a bright wall inside my head, beside my pet tapestry, beside every other thing of beauty I have seen.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Not Windsurfing in Any Language

I'm working on my French. I took French for 3 1/2 years in high school then didn't take any foreign language in college, which is something I now regret as I'm ashamed to be yet another monoglot American. So. I've been listening to language CDs in the car while I run errands, and I have to say, they're just about useless.

From this morning: "Have you ever tried windsurfing? Please answer in French, 'yes, I have tried windsurfing.'"

Also, "I'm trying to reach the CEO, M. Albertine."
"I'm sorry, M. Albertine is on a conference call."

These are not the phrases I need to know in French.

I already know how to ask where the toilet is in several different ways. My favorite, "Ou se trouve le W.C.?" translates directly as "Where does the WC find itself?"

I can order wine, but I don't know how to ask for good wine.

I can usually order a meal, but once almost asked for kidneys by mistake.

Years ago I went to Normandie with my mother. We landed in Paris after an overnight flight, then took a train to Bayeux. The train was not complicated, and in fact served beer, but getting from the airport to the train station was an unholy mess. Later we were not sure why we didn't just get a taxi. Instead we did a complicated sort of Metro/train thing while dragging ridiculously heavy luggage. I was hauling my mother's suitcase up and down stairs that smelled like urine; I turned the corner at one point, encountered yet another flight of concrete steps, and said a very bad word very loudly, in English. I don't know if the man who overheard me understood the word or just the emotion behind it, but he grabbed my arm and pointed me to an elevator. It was kind of him, and at least I knew to say, "Merci."

Friday, April 7, 2017

Cover Reveal on the Nerdy Book Club!

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Our Slightly Better Future Selves

I love reading self-help books. Mostly I check them out from the library, because I read them indiscriminately and rarely, if ever, take their advice. But I love them. I love the multitude of suggestions they contain.

Last week I read a book (Start From Where You Are, or something like that) that had what I thought was a useful and creative idea: when faced with a choice, try to do whatever your slightly better future self would do. If your slightly better future self is more tolerant of your friends' foibles, perhaps the comments you make today on their online posts could be less sarcastic. If your slightly better future self is healthier, perhaps today you don't order cheddar rounds to go with your mid-morning Pal's iced tea. You align yourself with the slightly better version to hope to be soon.

Yesterday a huge storm came rolling toward our farm, and both my mundane current self and my slightly better future self kicked it into high gear. I got my work done at FIA, told the girl that's leasing Gully to get herself to the barn earlier than planned, and I cleaned the stalls and rebedded them and rinsed and filled water buckets and watched the girl and Gully run through their dressage test, twice, while giving what I hope were helpful hints about his free walk. Then I brought all the horses into their stalls and fed them while Gully's girl threw hay. We shut the pony in the wash stall. I closed all the half-doors and latched the back barn door, and then I drove my car into the barn so it wouldn't get hailed on. Then I took down all the trash, which is a job for Thursdays, but I was feeling ahead of the game.

I was sweaty and dirty but by golly everything on the farm was safe and battened down. Neither my current self nor my exceedingly fabulous far-into-the-future self could have done any better. We were ready.

Then the storm went south of us and the sun came out.

More storms were forecast, so I left everyone in the barn overnight. Those storms went south, too, and all we got was a bit of rain along with some crappy cold wind and general misery. This morning my slightly better future self, disgruntled, stayed in bed.

My mundane current self put on my heavy barn jacket, backed the car out of the barn, fed all the horses, and buckled winter blankets over most of them. Those would be the blankets I so wanted to wash and put away last week, when the weather was glorious, but my standing rule is never to wash a horse blanket until May, and today is why.

My other boarder, Syd's dad, showed up to put Syd and Pal out, and we said cheerful things to each other about how if there had been a storm we were very well prepared. The cats pestered Syd's dad for food, and he fed them, even though they don't normally get fed in the mornings, because he's a sucker for the cats. Then they mostly didn't eat, because they mostly weren't hungry. "Y'all were lying," Syd's dad said.

I said, "Those cats lie all the time."

"Not Scout," Syd's dad said. "Scout rarely lies. And Hazel, she pretty much doesn't lie, most of the time." We both looked down at Bucky, my daughter's cat. Syd's dad said, "That one lies all the time. That one lies just to lie."

"Be better, Bucky," I said, but he wasn't interested.

My slightly better future self would have gone to yoga, maybe, but she's still in bed. Meanwhile my everyday writer self can't wait to start work.

Monday, April 3, 2017

We Blame Sarah

It's a rule at my house that the more innocent my mare Sarah looks in any given moment, the more likely she is to be guilty of something nefarious. Sarah has broken stall doors (her own and others), both to let herself out of the barn when she didn't want to be in it, and to let herself into the barn when she didn't want to be outside. When breaking down the stall door didn't work she has attempted to jump out. She's jumped the pasture fence into the riding ring--could not explain why. She's moved herself from one field to another--either by jumping the gate or demolishing it. She's opened a large plastic jar of horse cookies with her teeth and carefully eaten up all the cookies without consuming any plastic shards, which might have been okay if the cookies hadn't belonged to one of my boarders.

She has not chased the pony up the loft stairs. That was Gully. But otherwise, when things go awry, we blame Sarah.

This winter has brought changes to our little herd. Our very dear, very old pony, Shakespeare, died. He had been Syd's turnout companion; now Pal, our very dear, very old (but still thriving) Quarterhorse fills that role. Then Silver came to live with us. She's a bright delicate Arabian mare, pasture-sound and low-maintenance. Until Silver arrived Sarah was the only mare on the farm, but I'd noticed that Sarah tends to love other mares (with the absolute exception of one pony mare in the hunt field) and I thought she'd enjoy Silver. I was right. The first few days after Silver arrived on the farm I shut her by herself in the front pasture, so she and Sarah and Gully and Mickey and Hot Wheels (the red pony) could all make acquaintances over the fence. Silver was agog to join the others.

"Hi!" she said, when I walked up to her. "I'm Silver! And you know what--this, I think this is a gate! You could open this gate! Would you?"

When I did, she yelled, "Thank you!" over her shoulder as she galloped to Sarah's side. They were instant BFFs, formed the Grey Mare Brigade, and set about winding the geldings up. Sarah taught Silver the brilliant game called Move the Pony. "When you're bored, just make the red pony go somewhere else. Then, when he moves where you tell him to, move him back to where he started. It's fun!"

A few weeks ago the grass turned green and sweet and started to grow, which meant that Gully and Hot Wheels had to be moved to the tiny threadbare pony paddock, because those two could easily, and I am not making this up, eat themselves to death. Hot Wheels could founder on an asphalt parking lot, and the two of them vie for the world record at removing grazing muzzles. So. They don't get grass.

That means poor Mickey, my daughter's horse, is alone with the girls. Yesterday, though, there'd been some sort of coup--when I went to feed it was obvious from the start that Mickey and Silver were in high dudgeon, united in feelings of outrage toward Sarah.

"What?" Sarah said. "WHAT??!!"

I walked into the pasture and the water trough, a 50-gallon tank I'd filled the day before, lay on its side in a sea of mud. Empty. Silver blew out her nostrils, aggrieved--I'd never seen her aggrieved before--and Mickey trotted toward me muttering, "Look. Look what she did."

"I didn't do anything!" Sarah protested. Which I might have believed--probably not, but maybe--except that her fetlocks were dripping. Sarah likes to play in troughs. She likes to wash her feet. I thought I'd nixed that by elevating the trough onto cinder blocks, but apparently Sarah was feeling extra acrobatic (or her feet were exceptionally dirty) yesterday.

I gave them all their dinners, set the tank upright on its blocks, and refilled it. When I let the horses back out first Silver, then Mickey, when straight to the tank and drank from it, giving Sarah the side-eye. Then the two of them walked off, together.

Sarah stood by me. "I didn't do it," she said.
"Yes, you did," I told her.
She sighed and lowered her head, and I rubbed her forehead like always. Then she walked down the hill, content. It's still a few months before I'm cleared to ride; at least my horse is good at keeping herself entertained.

PS I'm actually cleared to ride, according to the neurologist. I'm just not cleared to fall off. This makes horsepeople snort. "Ok, just don't fall off, then!" Or maybe I'll wait until June.

PPS If you're a blogger or librarian or bookseller, and you'd like to be considered for an ARC of The War I Finally Won, send me a message, fast.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Lo, I Have Opened my Calendar for Spring of 2018!

This post will only interest you if you'd like me to come speak at your school or library in spring of 2018.

Sorry. More interesting posts will arrive soon!

OK, for those still reading:

I have just opened my calendar for school visits for Spring of 2018. I have figured out my fall calendar, and between some family and research trips, speaking at several conferences, and the anticipated book tour for The War I Finally Won, I will not be doing school visits in Fall of 2017. Once I have the book tour finalized I'll post any public events on my website.

If you'd like to schedule a school visit, or you have questions about scheduling one, you can contact me through my website, (It's a work in progress. Don't judge.) I will have openings in January, April, and May--possibly the tag ends of March.

I will not be scheduling Skype visits for 2017-2018. I'm sorry about this, because I've quite enjoyed the many students I've met this way, but I've taken a long hard look at my schedule and it's what I need to do.

I hope I'll meet you sometime next year!

Thursday, March 23, 2017

You Can't Tell Me Who I Am

I grew up Catholic in a part of the Midwest where Catholics were a majority religion; all the non-Catholics I knew knew lots of Catholics themselves, and seemed to consider us pretty mainstream. Now I live where Catholics are rare, and fundamentalist evangelical Christians much more prevalent. Quite a few people around here have odd and incorrect ideas about Catholics and Catholicism. I've gotten used to people, for instance, telling me that I worship the virgin Mary.

I do not. I explain that no, I don't, and neither do any Catholics: it's against doctrine. But once when my husband was saying so, the person to whom he was speaking insisted that yes, Catholics absolutely worshipped Mary. My husband said no, he had been raised Catholic, and never once in his life had he worshipped Mary. The person said, yes, I know you do. At which point my husband said, astonished, You have no way of knowing what I do and don't believe.

I would like to take this a step farther. You do not know better than I do who I am. And also You do not know better than I do how God made me to be.

I've been feeling this rant come on for awhile now. I have some transgender friends. (Honestly? You probably do too.) I was sharing a meal with one of those friends the other day, and said friend told me that a member of their extended family (yes, it's a plural pronoun, but it's also a neutral one) had been telling them that God made them to be the gender they were assigned at birth.

Which is, no matter how you look at it, crazy.

My friend Donna Gephart just put this up on her Facebook page, a link to an article about a bus some people are driving around the United States in an effort to convince us all that transgender people are not actually transgender. The bus features an outline of a girl stamped "XX" and a boy stamped "XY," which tells you all you need to know about the scientific accuracy of those driving this bus, since plenty of people are something other than just "XX" and "XY," and there are also endocrine disorders such as androgen insensitivity syndrome and if you don't already understand all that you can google it. What I find astonishing is the lengths that people are currently going to to proclaim something that does not in any way affect them at all. Honestly, if you feel your gender was correctly assigned to you, great! But it doesn't mean you can tell me mine was, or that either of us can speak to anyone else. You, frankly, have no idea about anyone but you.

Here's why it matters: because making people feel that God does not or can not love them is a sin. Because making people feel that they are somehow sinful because of the very essence of their being, the very way that God in infinite love and complexity created them, is a sin.

Here's why else it matters: the legalization of gay marriage caused gay teen suicide rates to drop. Why? Because, as is also true for transgender people, (here is a good link), rejection and lack of social support increases suicide rates; acceptance decreases them. Actual lives of actual people are at stake here. The people driving the bus risk nothing of themselves, but pose a real risk to society.

Forty percent of transgender people have attempted suicide.

Let us acknowledge that the only way accepting gay and transgender people increases their numbers, is that it causes fewer of them to kill themselves. I don't know about you, but I don't want "helped drive someone to suicide" on my immortal soul.

I can't make you gay, or transgender, by allowing you to be gay, any more than I can prevent you from being gay, or transgender, by denying your reality.

Neither can you make me worship Mary. It's just not who I am.

Lemon Delight in Big Stone Gap

Yesterday I had the honor of speaking at the 41st Annual John Fox Jr. Literary Festival in Big Stone Gap, Virginia. John Fox Jr. was a turn-of-the-century (last one before this one) bestselling author; his best-remembered novels are The Kentuckians and Trail of the Lonesome Pine. I googled John this morning and learned that while he was born in Kentucky, he was the son of wealthy mine owners, and he not only graduated from Harvard but fought with Theodore Roosevelt's Rough Riders before settling down in Big Stone Gap to write.

Big Stone Gap is also the title of Adriana Trigiani's first novel, set there where she grew up. So it's got a pretty good writing history for a small Appalachian town stuck deep in the middle of nowhere. (One of the women at the festival told me, "No one goes to Big Stone Gap by accident.")

It was a pretty drive from Bristol, though it would be even lovelier if the trees on the mountains had leaves. I left home early, mostly because I was ready to go and didn't know what else to do with myself, and that turned out to be a good thing: I forgot how on these curvy mountain state highways the speed limits are along the lines of double-dog dares. It saves money policing when everyone who exceeds the speed limit just flies right off the edge of the road.

The festival was fun. My talk went well and I enjoyed the people I met. Afterwards the organizers and some of the writing contest winners and I had lunch in the John Fox Jr. House, where John Fox Jr. wrote. It's now a museum that reminded me very much of the Gene Stratton Porter house in Indiana, which I visited when I was small. (Leave a comment with your favorite GSP book, if you have one.) A group of museum volunteers cooked and served lunch, which was a fancy chicken breast with spinach and bacon, seven-layer salad, and homemade rolls, plus strawberries over angel food cake for dessert. I haven't had a good seven-layer salad in a long time, and I don't know what the secret women from this part of the country have about rolls--I've tried and tried to make good homemade rolls and I never can, but every mountain cook above a certain age is ace at it.

I sincerely complimented the food, while eating all of it, and told the others at my table that while I enjoyed cooking I felt that lately I'd fallen into a recipe rut,  an "if this is Thursday it must be pork chops," kind of thing. The conference organizer immediately made me a present of the cookbook put out by the ladies of the John Fox Jr. House--it's a lovely volume. I was thumbing through it, quite pleased, and one of the museum ladies was pointing out the chicken with spinach and bacon recipe, when I stumbled across another recipe, and gasped.

"Lemon delight!" I said. I scanned the ingredients and directions. The very same.

"Yes," the conference organizer said. "It's wonderful. I nearly ordered it for our lunch today."

"My mother makes it," I said. "When I was little it was her go-to dessert for bridge night." A layer of nutty shortbread, baked in the oven. After that a layer of slightly sweetened cream cheese. Then thick lemon pudding, then whipped cream. The day after bridge night I ate a piece of the leftovers for breakfast. I always did it in layers, first skimming off the whipped cream, trying to remove as much of it as I could without dipping into the lemon layer. Then the lemon layer, again trying not to nick the layer of cream cheese. Then I ate the bottom layers together.

I don't think I've had lemon delight for thirty years. When my mother makes dessert for family occasions she goes with carrot cake or apple pie, the favorites of my husband and children.

I did not expect it, yesterday, to be sitting in an old cabin in the Appalachian mountains and feel so entirely as though I were back in my childhood home.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

What Inspires Me?

Usually I don't write on Saturdays; weekends are for my family. After all, my husband doesn't operate on Saturdays, unless he's on call and there's some kind of horrible crisis (punched drunk, firework to the eye, and a nasty incident involving a potato chip bag come to mind). However this is not a typical Saturday--I'm at the beach, the weather's looking dreary, and the boys are golfing early in order to be home in time for Notre Dame's basketball game, which starts at noon. I slept in a bit--not much--finished the latest book I'm reading--I'm on a Maisie Dobbs craze, I think I just finished #9--I have #10 right here with me, though, with the miracle of Kindle, books are never far away--and I'm sitting here at my computer staring at the mess that was yesterday's work, and contemplating the mess I might create today.

When I do classroom visits, one of the first questions children ask me is, "What inspired you to write--whatever book?" I have come to really dislike this question. First of all, I suspect it's a good-student question, ie., not what the children most want to know, but what they think sounds good to their teacher. "Ah, good question!" the teacher thinks, and smiles approvingly. Second, by the time we get to audience questions I've usually told them all about what inspired whatever book we're discussing, and now I've got to say it over again, only more precisely. But mostly this question irritates me because I. Am. Never. Inspired.

Okay. Once in awhile. Once in a very, very great while. Jamie's cat Bovril, for example--he showed up in a dream, and so did the sidesaddle, and both of those were answers to problems I didn't consciously know my novel had--but I will submit that I knew them unconsciously, and that's why I dreamed solutions.

Writing a novel is like putting together a puzzle whose pieces keep changing. I don't think it all up in a white heat of glorious creative passion. I work it out, page by page, day by day. Writing is my job. It's my work, and it is work. I love it; I'm grateful every day that I get to do this with my life. But I'm not inspired. I'm working. On a day like today, when I've got a mess of seven pages staring at me, this is very good news. I don't need to fix them. I just need to keep working.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Not Really Sure Where I Am

So to some extent right now I have no idea where I am. I mean, physcially, I'm in south Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, sitting inside an oceanfront condominium that we rented cheap at the last minute when my son got a few of his job interview/spring break issues sorted. I know that it's Friday, mostly because I spent yesterday watching the NCAA basketball tournament with my son--Notre Dame won an ugly game by one point, that was not fun--but better than losing--and I'm pretty sure it's mid-March, though I couldn't swear to the date.

My son and I arrived here on Wednesday and played the tackiest mini-golf we could find, which was actually astonishingly tacky. We went grocery shopping and walked the very very cold beach. Yesterday it was warmer--we walked twice, between tournament rounds--and today it's warmer still. My husband drove down to join us late last night and he and my son are golfing somewhere as I type this. That's really the whole point of Myrtle Beach--two golf courses they want to play. And otherwise I don't really see a point to it--it's like an ocean version of Pigeon Forge, lots of inexpensive accommodations, bungee jumping, and cheap pancake houses, but not much in terms interesting restaurants, riding, hiking, museums, historical sites, bookstores, any of the stuff I usually do when my spouse is at a golf course when we're on vacation.

I'm writing. That's really where I don't know where I am. I'm at last, finally, finally, here with mostly only the Egypt book to work on, and I've started it several times, and still don't know exactly where it begins. I have an idea of what the first several pages need to accomplish, and it's a lot, and I know mostly where I'm going, but not entirely--of course--and I've done enough research for now, and I just wrote seven pages which is probably all I can do today, and probably messing with them any further right now will not make them better, but that's okay, I have a beach to walk and a whole lot of books to read.

In other news:
I really am opening my calendar for school visits April first. I will have very limited availability this year, mostly in the second semester, as the first semester I'm already doing lots of stuff, including a national book tour to celebrate the release of The War I Finally Won. (At some point I'll be posting details about all that.) If you think you want a classroom visit, sign up early. You can email me for details.

I will not be doing any classroom Skype visits for the first semester, again because of  my already-packed schedule. I *may* do some second semester; I'll probably open the calendar for those, if I do them, in January.

I will be doing a book trailer design contest for students. Details to come.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Out of My Control

I just finished the last niggling issue with the copyedits for The War I Finally Won. I'll see the story again once it's been typeset, but at that point we'll pretty much only be checking for typos. We actually expect ARCs by the end of the week. (I plan on doing a contest or two with the ARCs, for fun. More on that later.) This is the start of a really never-wracking time for me: the book is now out of my control.

I've been grappling with the realization that I am not quite 100% over my concussion, though I edge closer all the time. This frustrates me, because once I'm symptom free I can start the clock toward riding again--three months after being symptom free is what's recommended by my sport's governing agency. I hate that my recovery is not within my control.

Then I read Amy Krouse Rosenthal's heartbreaking essay, "You May Want to Marry My Husband." (It's all over the internet; you can find it if you want to.) I don't know Amy personally, but I know her work--she's a children's book author. Her children, like mine, have all recently left home; she and her husband, like me and mine, were looking forward to travel and adventure. Instead Amy's dying of ovarian cancer. It's outside her control, as is one of my close friend's serious illnesses, as is nearly everything about my now adult children (when they were tiny I controlled so much of their lives: what they ate, what they wore, where they went and with whom. I couldn't control whether or not they napped but I could certainly shut them into their bedrooms.).

It's Lent, a time to increase self-awareness. On Sunday a visiting priest at our parish (Bristol folks: I attended at my other parish, near our house in North Carolina. I am not making stuff up.) preached a sermon about Jesus' temptation in the desert, and about idolatry. I've been thinking ever since about the idolatry of control. How trusting in God's care means letting go of striving to be God yourself, able to fix everything. I go back to a lesser-known line from Lin Miranda's spectacular Tony Awards sonnet: "and nothing else is promised, not one day." This is crummy but it's also liberating.

Meanwhile, this week fell spectacularly out of my control, for good reasons, when my daughter qualified for the NCAA Regional championships in fencing. Those are this Saturday, the second weekend of my daughter's spring break, and we'd made lots of plans for break that had to be really quickly modified. She heads back to school tomorrow for some more training, and Saturday my husband and son and I are all going to watch her poke people with the sharp end of a stick. It'll be awesome.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

An Age of Wonder

I have to tell you, we are living in a time of miracles. I am working on some new projects right now, and I can not believe the wealth of information at my fingertips, in ways I never dreamed of.

I'm working hard right now to regain and improve my French. I'm travelling to France twice in the next year, so I'll have opportunity to use it, and also I've always been somewhat ashamed of my essentially monoglot status. I met a 20-year-old tour guide in South Africa who was fluent in twelve languages. Sheesh. The least I can do is manage a very basic conversation in a language I studied for four years (in high school, but still.) Anyhow, I'm taking a multi-disciplinary approarch. I've got these fabulous flashcards set up on Anki, which is simply an online flashcard learning system. You create flash cards--there was a tutorial online that explained how to add images (through tinyurl.basicimages) and expert pronounciation (through to the cards. Therefore the card could show you, say, a photo of a sheep, and ask, "What is this?" and you would say, "le mouton." OR the card would say "How do you spell--and then a voice would say in perfect French, 'mouton'? Anki sets the cards up so that if you answer correctly, the card moves back in the pack, and if you answer incorrectly, it moves forward. Once you know a card you get asked it increasingly less often, just long enough to tweak your brain into remembering. It's genius.

Then I ordered a set of ear-training flashcards in French, online, and put them into my Anki setup. They're designed to be close auditory pairs, bague vs. bag, say, or hausse vs. os, things non-French speakers have trouble distinguishing between. The card says one of the pairs out loud while asking which I heard. You'd be amazed how you can learn to hear differences your brain simply ignored before.

Then I thought to myself, I wonder what books I could order in French. Of course I thought of, as I'm already a steady customer of for all books British. But--Kindle! Of course!

Now, you may not have known it, but amazon has a new Kindle subscription service--$9.99 per month all you can download. Are you kidding me? I'm going to be saving some serious cash. Then it turned out that not only can I download books in French to my Kindle, essentially for very little money, but they have books designed for language learners with audio files attached. Not only that, the audio files come in two speeds: regular speech and slow. So I can look at a short story on my Kindle while a voice in French reads along, fast or slow depending on how quickly I can listen.

That's astonishing, but even more so: I downloaded the first Harry Potter book in French. Now this is a huge step, vocabularu and word-tense wise, but I already know the story very well and I thought it would be fun. And it is. Reading each sentence is a little labor of love. Also, you'd be surprised what you can learn in context. "Owl" and "cloak." But there are some vocab words I simply don't know, and can't puzzle from the rest of the sentence, and here's where the miracle came in: struggling, I put my finger down on a troublesome word, trying to work it out from the rest of the words around it, and lo, the troublesome word highlighted itself and a dictionary definition popped up on the screen. Perhaps you advanced Kindle users already know this trick. (In my defense, I rarely need the definitions of words in English). The definition was of course in French, but I could understand it. Oh, fabulous.

All this milling around in another language is fascinating, but I have real work to do. I'm happy to report for the 30th time that I'm working on my Egypt book, only this time I think it will stick, because I'm out of other options. Now I've got a British family travelling to Egypt in 1922, and of course they'd have a Baedeker, a red-bound travel guide of the sort that were ubiquitous among British travels abroad in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Baedekers are almost a stereotype. So I thought, a Baedeker guide to Egypt from the right time period would be invaluable. It would tell me a lot about the attitudes of Europeans toward Egyptians, and it would also list, say, all the European doctors practicing in Luxor, or all the bookstores, or what I could expect from the hotels. It would explain the currency of the time far better than anything written now. I thought, lo, the magic internet. I bet I can buy an old Baedeker.

Nope. Even better. I can download a 1914 edition of the Baedeker Guide to Egypt onto my Kindle, included in the 10 dollars per month that already brought me French stories read out loud and a dictionary-enhanced French language Harry Potter.

It's the simple truth. We live in an age of miracles.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Monday After All

So, I woke up this morning to my alarm at 6:30, which made me really happy, mostly because I felt like I'd had enough sleep. I think I'm really over the head injury. I've thought so for over a week now, as I've quit taking medicine and stopped napping and started waking up at realistic, productive times, but I've also had a cold and then my husband was sick, and when he stayed home from work I pretty much took a sick day, too, and read on the couch. It was good.

Then Friday I had a school visit and it went very well--the students were prepared, interested, and thoughtful, and my brain co-operated for the entire day. You don't think of these sort of things before you have a head injury: wow, I hope I don't get so tired I run the risk of falling down. Back a few weeks ago I would sort of plan my day around naptime. It's good to be past that.

Now I'm all set to be extremely productive, except that this morning my computer died. It's been freezing when online at steadily decreasing intervals for the past week. Yesterday I did a bunch of scans and supposed fixes that didn't help at all, and now--well, I'm on the auxiliary computer looking up my repair options. None of which sound promising. Ah well.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

My New Biography

It's raining in Bristol today. Feels like April outside. The dog has gas, and is lying in her spot on my windowseat, wheezing from both ends. My husband is upstairs in the guest room, virulently ill from the flu, bless him. It's a Wednesday so he should be operating, and I can only remember one other Wednesday, in twenty years, when he stayed home sick. Bart slept last night in the guest room because I'm not quite over my cold, and he didn't want to catch it, an irony I'm quite grateful for this morning.

The flu--which I can not quit spelling flue, then going back and removing the e--is fierce around here these days. Last week a bunch of the school systems shut down over it. I'm now going to be washing my hands 300 times today, while avoiding gently tending my husband. I've got a school visit Friday, my first post-concussion appearance. Hooray!

In completely epic news, The War I Finally Won is now in the hands of the copyeditor. This means, it is mostly out of mine. I have never had to work so hard on a book in my life and I'm delighted with the result, and not only because I'm finally finished. (Alternate title: The War Is Finally Done.)

Meanwhile I've been wanting to re-write my official bio, that shows up on my website and on Goodreads and a couple of other places. The one I have now is so earnest and boring. Who cares where I went to college? Kids at schools never ask that. (Ok, once they did--at very expensive very private school in NYC where kids are taught early to think such things matter. But only once. I've been asked if I've ever been to prison an equal number of times.)

So I asked on Facebook the other day, what would people actually want to know about me? And lo and behold, I got answers.

What was your favorite book growing up?--Hands down, the Little House on the Prairie series, which I read until the covers fell off. But that's a hard one to admit to now, as the casual virulent racism towards Native Americans rightly shocks most modern readers.

What was your inspiration for TWTSML? I get asked this question all the time. I have no idea. I never felt inspired to write TWTSML. Reluctantly compelled, perhaps. The real answer to this question is as long as the novel itself, and there is no short answer. Next.

What's your shoe size? 8 1/2 in European sizes, 39.

How many puppies would it take crawling all over you for you to laugh out loud? Mmm. I imagine this is an over/under, the maximum puppies before you'd start laughing, the minimum that would make you laugh out loud. The problem is I can't remember the last time I was around more than two puppies. But I laugh pretty easily, so it's probably less than that.

From my sister: who's your favorite sister? You are, my dear.

Did I write TWTSML because I knew someone with a disability? I know a lot of people with disabilities, but I didn't write TWTSML for them. I wrote it for me.

How many horses do you have and how long have you been riding? I started riding as a freshman in college. My first two horses, Maddie and Trapper, are dead, as is my daughter's first pony, Shakespeare, but we've still got my third and fourth horses, Gully and Sarah, my daughter's next two horses, Pal and Mickey, my son's retired pony, Hot Wheels, and we have two friends' horses living with us, Syd and Silver. Gully, Sarah, Mickey and Syd are still rideable. Horses live a long time on our farm.

From a college friend, When did you decide to become a writer? The same time I decided I wasn't going to be a doctor, which was, in total honesty, about a year before I actually quit medical school. But there you have it. I do not regret the decision.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Two Birds, One--

I wrote this email to my friend KBB1 and then I thought, screw it, let's make it a blog post. Bristol peeps: I really want to know if I'm the only person who notices the postman with the rug. I nearly took an opinion poll in the line today.

Dear KBB1,

Oh, this is all going pear-shaped.

First, I am not happy with the knitted objects I am sending you. I consider myself a resourceful, imaginative, and productive knitter, but we're missing something on this round. You'll see. You may wear them or not, with my love--of course that would be true no matter what--I'm just sorry I couldn't do better in the time allowed.

Second, speaking of the time allowed, I sort of had this feeling I had a day or two more, and then I didn't.'s the outrageous part: I went down to the main post office at lunch today to Overnight the knitted objects to Slidell. I had to deal with the main post office, which everyone hates, because the branch office shuts for lunch, 11:30-12:30 in theory but then the postal worker "goes to the bank" until 1--not making this up--and lunch was when I could go. So I get the postman who wears a wig--it's a horrible wig, it's like he's got a russet-colored porcupine on his head--I don't know what he's thinking--it looks less like real hair than anything you can imagine. He pokes his computer for a long time, and then says, looking at the Express, Overnight envelope, "two-day delivery." 

"No," I say politely, "overnight."

He tells me what that'll cost me. I nod. He pokes his computer some more and then sighs and says that no matter what envelope I use or how much I pay, the soonest the US postal service can get something from Bristol, TN, to Slidell, LA, is two days. Whether this is the fault of Bristol or Slidell I do not know. But the man gave me a less-expensive envelope to slide the whole kit into, which you will see I have done. Thursday, when it gets there. Do they not deliver mail on Wednesdays i Slidell?

I feel like a garbage knitting friend. I am sorry. I will endeavor to do better next time you need a pussy hat and a Lady Liberty crown.


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Still Mine: A Ridiculously Long Sappy Story for Valentine's Day

So today is Valentine's Day, a sugary flowery made-up holiday that attracts way more attention than it rationally deserves.

I thought of writing here today about the first Valentine's Day I celebrated with my beloved, but I don't know--there's something private about the story. Also it's so treacly sweet it might induce diabetic coma in more sensitive readers.

One of our own children once described our relationship to friends as "effing BS." I think it was meant as a complement. Also I don't really want my children emulating me by getting married six weeks after they graduate college. (My son is right now older than his father and I were the day we exchanged vows.) I'm sort of surprised my parents went along with it, though, as my mother pointed out, that was mostly because they knew they couldn't stop me.

I was sixteen years old. I'd been classroom rivals with this tall smart boy for several years, trading insults and eye rolls and exasperation. Then I'd inexplicably started dating him--though I was pretty much the only person surprised.

That's a story I'm willing to tell. Not our first Valentine's Day--which really wasn't much because I was candystriping at the local hospital all evening any way, it's just that we were disgustingly touchingly sentimental, and also--I just checked--the tiny stuffed bear he gave me that day, February 14, 1984, is sitting on my office desk right now--yep, I know, it's revolting--anyhow, here's the story of the prelude to our first date.

We had gone to the local branch library together one morning of Christmas break to work on a paper for some class, probably English. Back then, with no internet, this is what people did. It wasn't a date even though he drove and picked me up--I didn't have a car. Nor were we alone in the library--as soon as we arrived, this freshman who lived down the street from me came over and sat down at our table, chatting away. It was snowing like crazy, and at one point, looking out the library window, I said, "We should forget this work and go sledding."

My Not-Yet-Beloved (more like my Crosstown Rival) jumped up. "Great idea," he said. "Let's go." The freshman also jumped up. "Let's go!"

"If we're taking him," I said, nodding to the freshman, "we might as well take my brother." So we did. We went home and bundled up and drove out to Franke Park, which was one of the very few places in my hometown with any hills at all. (My current driveway has more elevation than my hometown.) We went sledding in the deep soft snow. Afterwards, as we were piling into my Not-Yet-Beloved's car, he said, "Are you going to the basketball game tonight?"

"Probably," I said. Every Christmas break our town had a holiday basketball tournament in the big sports arena, the Fort Wayne Coliseum.

He said, "I'll give you a ride."

Now this presented a dilemma. Very few people in my group of friends had cars. My friend Julie down the street did--she and I and the Freshman carpooled to school together. My NYB did, and he typically drove a whole group of guys around. So. Was this "a ride," me and several others, or was this "a date"? Being sixteen, I didn't ask.

At home I showered in my parent's bathroom, because that's where the shower was. I was walking back to my own room, one towel around my torso, another around my long wet hair, and the phone rang. Remember, this was before cell phones, but my parents had a phone on their nightstand, so I answered it, dripping onto the carpet. It was my NYB. He said, "Want to grab some dinner before we go to the game?"


"Sure," I said.

I hung up the phone, and before I got out the door, two steps away, it rang again. (not only was this before cell phones, it was before texting. People had to use actual land lines for all their communication needs.) It was Julie down the street. "Hey, I'll give you a ride to the game, pick you up at ---," whatever time. Julie was a cheerleader and usually needed to arrive early.

"That's okay," I said. "I've got a ride."

Julie lived two houses away from me. "Don't be ridiculous-" she said, then, "Oh. OH. Bart Bradley finally asked you out."

"Shut up," I said, and hung up the phone.

And it rang again. I swear I'm not making this up. It was another friend, with whom I played Dungeons and Dragons, because I was that kind of a nerd. He said, "Hey, we're all playing D & D tonight, my house, So-and-so can give you a ride."

"No, thanks," I said. "I'm going to the basketball game."

"Forget that," he said. "You don't even like basketball."

"Yeah, I think I'll go to the game."

"Ohmigosh. Bradley finally asked you out."

"Shut up," I said, and hung up the phone.

As God is my witness, it rang again. While I still stood dripping on what was now a pretty wet patch of carpet, swathed in towels.

It was So-and-so. "Hey, did you hear about the D&D? I'll pick you up at seven."

This was getting ridiculous. "That's okay," I said, "I'm going to the basketball game."

So-and-so roared with laughter. "He finally asked you out!"

Yes. Yes, he did. Bart Bradley asked me out, and we went and ate Italian food from a restaurant long since closed, and then we went to the basketball game, and then we played video games at a nearby arcade and then I had to go home because I had an early curfew and he thought it meant I hadn't had fun, but he was wrong, I'd had a great time.

On the first day back from Christmas Break nearly the entire population of our high school said to me, individually, over and over, "You're dating Bart Bradley? I thought you hated him." I pretty much wanted to hide in my locker.

I never hated him. By Valentine's Day, less than two months later, I thought I loved him. I was sixteen; who knows?

But now I'm forty-nine. I understand what love is. I do love Bart Bradley, heart and mind and body and soul. If that's effing BS, so let it be.

Monday, February 13, 2017

5:21 am at Richmond International

1) I am sitting at gate B11 of the Richmond International Airport. I am here way too early, not just generally, but specifically too early for my flight home.

2) This is because I don't trust modern technology. I never dreamed that when I hit the Uber button in my motel room at 4:28 that Philip would be picking me up 6 minutes later.

2b) Uber is the greatest invention ever. It cost me $16.21 for a ride to the airport at 4:34 am. In Richmond. For Pete's sake.

3) I was also unprepared for the incredible speed and efficiency of the airport TSA screeners. They should be cloned and distributed to airports nationwide.

4) Food options here at this hour are extremely limited.

4a) I am eating something the woman who nuked it called disdainfully a "chicken sausage."

4b) I chose chicken sausage primarily for the bread it came wrapped in, an English muffin, as I don't like croissants (bacon) and distrust airport biscuits (sausage).

4c) The only other bread option, ciabatta, came with turkey bacon.

4d) Poultry sausage isn't good, but it beats poultry bacon.

4e) the coffee is acceptable.

5) At this hour, autocorrect is my good friend.

I went to Richmond to watch my daughter compete in a mock trial tournament. It was excellent, even if Nino Scalia's best friend did scold me for knitting. But that's another story.

Friday, February 10, 2017


My dear friend Sarah--one of my childhood friends, a graduate of Yale, and now both an Episcopalian nun and a priest--send me this 17th century nun's prayer awhile ago. It popped back up on my Facebook page, and it's better than anything I have to say today. So here you go:

Lord, Thou knowest better than I know myself, that I am growing older and will someday be old. Keep me from the fatal habit of thinking I must say something on every subject and on every occasion. Release me from craving to straighten out everybody’s affairs. Make me thoughtful but... not moody; helpful but not bossy. With my vast store of wisdom, it seems a pity not to use it all, but Thou knowest Lord that I want a few friends at the end.
Keep my mind free from the recital of endless details; give me wings to get to the point. Seal my lips on my aches and pains. They are increasing, and love of rehearsing them is becoming sweeter as the years go by. I dare not ask for grace enough to enjoy the tales of others’ pains, but help me to endure them with patience.
I dare not ask for improved memory, but for a growing humility and a lessing cocksureness when my memory seems to clash with the memories of others. Teach me the glorious lesson that occasionally I may be mistaken.
Keep me reasonably sweet; I do not want to be a Saint – some of them are so hard to live with – but a sour old person is one of the crowning works of the devil. Give me the ability to see good things in unexpected places, and talents in unexpected people. And, give me, O Lord, the grace to tell them so.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Eight Years Ago Was a Very Good Day

You know how Facebook likes to remind you of posts from previous years? Today mine recalled a post I wrote eight years ago: "I have been reunited with my luggage, and am about to go riding on a beach in Durban (really!)!"

That was a fantastic day--a fantastic gallop on a bright white entirely empty beach, surf crashing, searing South African summertime sun, my Zulu guide, Cyprian, with his head thrown back, laughing--I remember that day like it was yesterday. I treasure it. Today it was a very good memory for me as I continue to be frustrated by my concussion, because that good day in Africa was born out of a bad day in Bristol, a bad day which led to a lot of good changes in my life.

Nine years ago, nearly exactly, my husband ruptured his Achilles tendon while coaching middle school basketball. The surgical repair did not go as well as we hoped, and recovery was long and difficult. For several bleak winter months my husband thought he'd have to give up his passion, golf, and he wrestled with frustration as well as physical pain. (Being my husband, he took exactly two days off work, for an injury that usually sidelines people for six months or more.) I was just beginning the four-year odyssey that would result in my book Jefferson's Sons, the book that ended up transforming the way I write. Of course I didn't know that at the time.

In recovery my husband spent a lot of time on the computer, looking for websites and chat rooms about golf and golf course architecture--if he wasn't going to play golf he was at least going to study it. I decided to knit a pair of socks. It was January, 2008, a summer Olympic year, and I was sort-of friends with a person who had a shot at making our Olympic team in my esoteric sport, eventing. (Now that my daughter fences, I understand that fencing is much like eventing: even though making the Olympic team in any sport is really, really tough, the number of overall participants in fencing is so small nearly every one who fences knows at least one former Olympian. I had two pointed out to me at my daughter's recent fencing match.) Anyway I sat down and designed a pair of Olympic socks, and they were really cool, and for some reason they pissed my husband off. We'd be at another middle school basketball game, and one of the other parents would ask what I was knitting, and I'd say, "A pair of socks for a friend of mine that might make the Olympic team." My husband would interrupt with, "She is NOT your friend." Dunno why. I had the woman's cell phone number, and if I called her she'd pick up with, "Hello, Kim" because she had mine. That was friendship in my book. Still is.

But I knew my husband was suffering so I didn't let him get to me. Until spring, that is, when he announced that he'd invited one of his new internet friends, a man prominent in golf course architecture, plus the man's entire family--wife, two kids--to spend a weekend with us at our house in the mountains. "We've never met these people!" I said.

My husband said, "SO? You're knitting Olympic socks!"

I sort of got what he meant. Who was I, to knit socks for a famous person? (Famous in a small pond, but still--famous) Who was he, to entertain famous people at our home? (Famous in a small pond, but still--famous).

My friend made the Olympic team. She loved the socks. She made the team again in 2012; not only did I make her another pair of socks, I went and watched her compete. Not kidding.

My husband's friend came with his kids and wife and we had a fantastic time. Halfway through dinner the first night, well into our second bottle of wine, the architecture guy said, "Hey, we've got a group going to South Africa for two weeks this winter--you guys should join us."

My husband and I looked at each other and grinned. What the hell.  We'd learned a thing or two. "We'd love to," we said, and we did. We loved every minute of that trip. Furthermore, taking it--taking the risk of taking it--opened our world in a thousand different ways. It made us unafraid of reaching out to people and unwilling to postpone adventure.

My husband got hurt, and then he got adventuresome. I knit socks, and ended up at the Olympic games. I'm sitting here healing my head, working on my new manuscript, learning to write a movie script, and planning my travel calendar for the year. I can't wait to see what's happening next.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Whose Side Are We On?

So I'm still hanging out with my concussed head. Getting very slightly better very slowly. The pace of change is not within my control, and, I'll be honest, I tend to be annoyed when things are not within my control.

And then there's President Trump.

I've said repeatedly that I have no political home: my personal beliefs don't mesh with either party. Never has that been more true than now. I have friends on both sides of most of the arguments.

I would really just like to write about my horse. Or my books. Or something that is not politics. Anything.

At the same time, this seems to be one of the times when we as a people are going to be judged by our actions. I don't just mean our votes. I mean what we do after we vote.

I didn't march anywhere--honestly, I couldn't have physically managed it. I hate that, but it's true. But I knit a hat that was worn on a march, and I read my sisters' stories of marching. I'm trying to keep abreast of the real news. Writing and calling our congressional representatives--great. Voting every chance I get--absolutely. I support social justice with my money and my time. I'll keep doing that.

My biggest gift is with words. That's where I can make the most difference: the stories I write now, and the ones I'll write in future.

My novel Leap of Faith starts with a girl, the protagonist of the story, stabbing a classmate in a middle-school cafeteria. When I first school-talked this book I was surprised by the number of students who disliked my protagonist at the start, and only gradually came around to having sympathy for her. I always tell the students, "I'm firmly on the side of the kid with the knife." They're puzzled--they understand, and correctly, that Violence Is Bad--but I think that by the end of the book they understand my point of view.

I'm pretty sure I'm not making much sense today. Sorry about that. We'll blame the concussion, shall we? I might as well get some use out of it. What I'm trying to say is that we need to decide who and what we can defend, who and what we can uphold. And then do it. This is no time to be idle.

That's not really about President Trump. There has never been a time to fail to do good.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Nothing To Report Here.

Hi everyone.

I'm back. Back-ish. The head trauma is slowly healing, to the extent that in 20 minutes I will leave for a Beginner Yoga class.  Hooray! My third attempt at yoga since my accident, December 17th, and what I've learned is that I'm mostly capable of a Beginner class, but can only do about half of a Room Temperature But Not Beginner class. Apparently my head still doesn't like being moved swiftly in three dimensions, which means sun salutations are no good for you. But it feels excellent to be moving, however slowly, again.

I'm still months away from riding again. I miss it like crazy.

Right now I am full of News that belongs to other people. It's frustrating the way not being able to do your life's work because you have a concussion is frustrating. I could tell you all some really awesome stuff, except I can't, because it's not mine to share.

That's something I've really learned writing this blog. There are stories that are entirely mine, and stories that are part mine, and even some stories that are not mine at all but are okay for me to write about--with permission--and then there's a whole lot that are really great stories, really fabulous, and sometimes I can even see the perfect way to write about them, the structure and the words and everything--and they are not my stories and I don't write them.

I've come to realize that the job of a novelist is to take all the other stories and mix them up with your own, and use the feelings you get from them to write about some completely other fictional world in a wholly authentic way. When I talk to schoolchildren about The War That Saved My Life--which I do a lot, thank you email and Skype--they want to know what parts of the story are based on my life, or on anyone's actual life. I tell them, almost nothing. For starters, I wasn't alive in WWII; my parents were, but only barely. (My mother was born on the one-year anniversary of Pearl Harbor.) But the emotions are real; I know about them either by feeling them or by paying very close attention to other people's feelings.

So anyway, here's today: full of joy and happiness, and glad to be feeling that way. It's not my story, but it is my joy. 

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Jesus and My Effing Socks

So on Wednesday I went off to do my usual job of data entry at Bristol Faith in Action, for the first time since getting thwacked on the head a month ago. It didn't go well. Apparently shifting between several computer windows and scrollboxes and handwritten interview forms, is not something my brain is up for at this time. I left FIA after an hour with a headache, and slept all afternoon.

The next day I had a small work crisis when I discovered that the proposals for next year's NCTE were due at 8 AM P.S.T., not PM as I'd thought. Fortunately I am on E.S.T., so I had 35 minutes to write up my kick-ass proposal, once again needing to pull together information from several open computer windows and my handwritten notes, and once again I slept all afternoon, and I was cranky at my exhaustion and felt sorry for myself.

I am blessed with so many good friends. I may have sent one of them a sad little text. This was a friend I ride with, and it happened that yesterday was the day she was moving her horses down to Florida for a few months. I will not be taking my horse down to ride with her this year, because it doesn't look like I'll be in any way cleared to ride until spring, if then, and of course this is a minor problem on the grand scale of my very privileged life, yep, I recognize that, and I am still allowed to be sad.

So yesterday morning I started out feeling sad. I recognized that it was a fine day for my new socks, the ones my editor gave me for Christmas. Intarsia knit, with bright flowers in bold colors, and the caption, "I'm A Delicate Effing Flower" in big letters on the side. Only they don't say Effing.

They are the best socks in the world. The only thing I love more than these socks is that MY EDITOR understands me well enough that she sent them to me. They were perfect for yesterday, and I put them on my feet.

I didn't get a text back from the friend who was driving her rig from Kentucky to Florida, and I understood, of course. It wasn't until about 10 o'clock at night that I noticed I actually had a voice message from her, sent very early in the morning, encouraging me to phone her anytime. My friend said, "This is just what the Lord has in store for you right now."

Somehow it was exactly the right thing to say. This particular friend has a rare gift for saying the right thing. I took a deep breath, and I let myself understand that I can not in any way control my recovery, and that I am not the sole author of my own story, and that it was all actually okay. I've got amazing friends, a fair bit of faith, and fantastic effing socks.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Not Quite Back...

...I'm working on normal, or at least as normal as I usually get. Nearly four weeks post-concussion, I'm still not there. I get a bit closer most days. It's been Christmas, of course, and family came to visit, and then we went to Florida to see more family (it's a convenient place for them to live, this time of year), and I had a quick trip to Nashville and we celebrated my daughter's birthday a week early before she headed back to school. I'm deep in Revision Nine of TWIFW (that would start to sound like a bad joke except I'm really happy about it) and I'm reading books for the Golden Kite Awards and for review, as usual, so it's not like I've been doing nothing, but also, there have been an awful lot of naps. Sometimes three a day. I'm not really cleared for exercise yet--couldn't be, as I'm still waiting for my neurology appointment--but everyone seems to think I shouldn't be doing any serious exercise--weight lifting or hot yoga or anything that gets my heart rate high--until I quit having symptoms, and people seem to feel that several naps a day is a symptom. So there you are.

Even using a computer is a challenge. Something about how the screens work, especially if they're scrolling. I wrote my two post-concussion blog entries really quickly without revision, and still had to go nap afterwards. It's only in the last 10 days I've really been writing, and still not for very long at a time.

I'm trying to sort this all out. I hope I'm blogging normally soon.