Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Turn on the lights.

I am the person who turns off the lights.  You know, the one person in every family who actually realizes that lights have been left on--in the garage, in the basement, in the pantry, the bathroom, the closet.  Every morning, evening, afternoon, I walk around the house and methodically turn off lights.  Sometimes I turn the pantry light off five hundred times in one day.  I'm the only person here who seems to find this important.

This morning, after walking back into my bedroom to turn off the light in my husband's closet and the light on my husband's side of the bathroom, I went downstairs and turned on the Christmas tree lights.  I didn't feel wildly Christmassy this year.  I didn't feel anti-Christmasy, and I've certainly enjoyed all my traditional Christmas stuff (knitting gifts, eating Rae's cookies, and especially spending an entire day at Diane's gal-pal brunch, where the question "white or red?" is cheerfully asked at 10 am), but I've got a lot going on this year and Christmas kind of crept up on me.  We usually put our tree up on the Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend; this year, we put it up December 6th.  (The people we buy the tree from every year were a little concerned, wondering where we were.  Yes, we live in a small town.  Also, in addition to the tree, we buy 2 huge wreaths (for the barn doors) and 17 small ones (for the dining room and kitchen windows), so we're kind of memorable.)

To my surprise, the tree made all the difference.  I wasn't longing for it until it was already up and decorated--until, every dark morning, I could fill the living room with all those little lights.  And then I loved it.  I loved the tree, I loved the light, I loved anticipating Christmas

Can you see where I'm going with this?  It's practically a parable.  It's an answer, at least a start, to yesterday's question (WTF?).  Christmas.  Fill the world with light.  Fight the dark.  Turn on the lights.

Just please, not in the pantry.

(If I could find one functioning camera in the entire house, I would take a photo of our Christmas tree and insert it here.  But I can't.  So pretend.)

Tuesday, December 18, 2012


So.  It's five days after a bunch of first-graders were murdered in Connecticut.  I want to blog about it because I can't imagining NOT blogging about it--talk about your elephants in the room--but I'm having a hard time figuring out what to say.

I really appreciated the post on mental illness and gun control at Rage Against the Minivan. (Kristen Howerton is a therapist and I think it shows.)  I read the post, "I am Adam Lanza's Mother."  I listened to my housekeeper say that she thinks teachers ought to carry guns, and to my friend Mack, who always travels with a gun or three in his pickup, say that he thought it was time to ban assault weapons.  I prayed for the victims at Mass on Sunday.

Mostly I thought WTF.

Can you remember yourself in first grade?  I had long hair I wore in two ponytails, one on each side.  After two years, I'd finally grown new front teeth (I'd lost my baby teeth early, falling off a swing).  I knew how to read, fluently, and was beyond disgusted with those beginning readers 'Dick and Jane' which I read completely in about a minute.  I adored my teacher, Mrs. Colvin, even though she wouldn't give me anything more interesting to read.

I was in a Brownie troop.  I had surgery to remove a tumor that turned out to be benign.  In the spring each grade studied a foreign country: first grade did Japan.  I learned how to sing a song about cherry trees, in Japanese.

Do you remember yourself at first grade?  Your children?  Mine were so small.  They were bold, and funny, and beautiful--they still are. 

There is no why for things like this.  WTF?

That's a question someone once asked Cheryl Strayed, when she was answering questions as advice columnist Sugar at the Rumpus internet magazine.   Nothing else, just "WTF?"  Strayed responded with a long, personal, and deeply moving essay, and then she wrote, "Ask better questions, sweetpea.  The f-- is your life.  Answer it."

This is our life, in a world where first graders die.  It's clear to me that we'll have to answer it, but I still don't know how.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

On the incredible sweetness of Dial's accepting my book.

Yesterday I had a bad cold and spent most of the day on the couch in flannel jammies, alternately sleeping, working out the plot of a new book in my head, and playing Bejeweled on my iPod.  (I am ace at Bejeweled.)  Also, I was waiting.

I wasn't fully truthful in my previous blog post:  I'd admitted to waiting for my summer schedule to sort itself out, for my son to hear from the college of his choice, and for Christmas, but I hadn't said a thing about the email I'd gotten from my editor last week, which said, "We'll call you next week!"

This is code for, "we're probably going to make an offer for your manuscript next week," and I was rather keyed up about it.  But whereas I believe "next week" should be code for "Monday, before 10 am," my editor was apparently taking the more traditional interpretation of "anytime before Friday at midnight." 

Mostly I love my books.  (A few, not as much.  They know who they are.)  I love this book (It doesn't have  a title yet--I refer to it as my WWII book or my English book.).  I loved it long before I wrote it.  I even dreamed about the characters, which was weird but also helpful as my unfettered dreaming mind had some pretty good ideas.  At first I really struggled to transfer my ideas to the page--it was the first book I'd written since the 4-year marathon that was Jefferson's Sons--and my editor's response to the first part of the first draft was, "Are you sure this is what you want for your next book?"

Which is code for, "No way are we publishing this."

It's also code for, "Because it sucks."

That's pretty daunting, but as my characters were flitting happily through my dream life I figured it was the writing that sucked, not the story.  So I wrote back to my editor, "I'll just have to keep working on it until you like it, because this is DEFINITELY my next book."

My husband and daughter, being supportive, read those early starts.  "Grim," my husband said.  OK, nobody likes grim.  I fixed it.  I changed it.  One, two, three, four, five, SIX times.  Six starts before I knew I had finally found my protagonist's voice.  After that we were off to the races.

"Do you really need a pony?" my husband said.  "I thought this was a book about World War II."

"It's set during WWII," I said.  "The pony's important."

"Dunno," my daughter said (and she HAS a pony, for goodness' sake), "it's a lot of pony."

I quit letting them read the manuscript.

Which brings us back to yesterday:  late afternoon.  I'm still on the couch.  My husband is home--it's his early day.  The phone rings, and it's my agent.  She's already told me she loves the book ("so much heart," she said).  Now she's telling me my editor loves it, too, and is in fact offering to buy it.

It still needs work.  It needs quite a bit of work.  I've got a little list on my desk of details I'd forgotten to put in.  My editor will send me her thoughts, and they'll be extensive, and also intelligent, thoughtful, and mostly correct, because she's an excellent editor.  I trust her.  She'll make me work harder than I want to, and I like that.

And sometime in the next 18 months or so there it will be--my new book, my next book, no longer in my dreams but solid, ready for everyone to read.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


I am a data-driven person.  I like answers.  I like schedules--preferably schedules planned well in advance.  I am not a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants sort of person, nor do I generally believe that no news is good news.  I believe no news is an unacceptable lack of information.

Which makes this time of year rather difficult.

Right now my husband is trying to plan his vacation time for summer  2013.  His call schedule and his clinic schedule are both set months in advance, and trying to shift either at the last minute is enormously difficult.  He would like to take a week off for a golf trip with our son, and a week for a family vacation.  I'd like that, too, but I also want to go back to the riding camp my daughter and I have attended for the past several summers.  The problem is, my friend, who runs the camp, hasn't set its date yet.  She never has the date set by December; every December, when I ask her, she says, "Kim.  You know I don't know yet." 

This year we don't even know when my son will start school in the fall.  He'll be going away to college--but we don't know which college, not yet.

We are awash in uncertainty, and I don't like it.

Did I mention it was Advent?

Yesterday I drove my old horse, Gulliver, to the University of Tennessee vet school and back, in a miserable pouring rain.  Gully had a seizure last week.  He seemed fine afterward, but an 1100-pound animal who drops straight sideways with no warning is a danger to himself and others, so I had to get him checked.  I'd looked equine seizures up on the internet, and the whole drive to Knoxville I replayed an endless loop in my head of all the horrible things that could be wrong.  Eastern equine encephalitis.  Equine Protozoal Myeloencephalitis.  Brain tumors.  West Nile.  I thought of returning home with an empty trailer.  I prayed, hard, that Gully would be all right.

I didn't get an answer.  I got partial answers.  His blood work was normal:  no EEE, viruses, or liver disorders.  His neurological exam was normal:  probably not EPM (though they're doing a longer blood test to be more sure).  The choices are down to brain tumor (very rare, though not unknown) or random odd event (rare, but not prohibitively so).  They told me to take him home, and wait and see if he had another seizure or developed other symptoms.

I had the gall to be disappointed by this.  I didn't get an Answer.  I didn't get a tidy response, data-driven, factual, easy to explain.  I was told to wait.

At home I resisted my husband's attempts to cheer me, until he finally said, "Would you have wanted an answer if you'd gotten a bad one?" and I remembered that dread of driving home with my trailer empty. 

Sometimes we wait.

I'm reading an Advent meditation book centered around excerpts from the writings of Catholic theologian Henri Nouwen.  Today's theme is passionate waiting.  Nouwen says, "we can learn to be obedient people...who recognize the fulfillment of our deepest humanity in passion, in waiting."  And then there's the prophet Isaiah, chapter 25, verse 9: 

"Lo, this is our God: we have waited for him, so that he might save us."

Okay, I get it.  Today I'll wait.  But I'm not making promises about tomorrow.