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We spent the holiday with my family in Michigan. We weren’t sure we’d be able to make it. The Weather Channel was calling for the next weather apocalypse to sweep across Pennsylvania just about the time we were planning to head across the border. Pennsylvania is a large state, with lots of hilly terrain and very few rest areas, which makes it lovely to drive through as long as you don’t have to stop.
This was not the Dude’s first Thanksgiving rodeo. He knew what to expect. First, there would be dinner out at a restaurant or two, where he must dress accordingly, which doesn’t include shorts and a hoodie. Second, it would be colder than all getout, which means one needs something more substantial than shorts and a hoodie. Third, we were driving into a freaking snowstorm, and if we got stranded, he’d want to put something over his shorts and hoodie.
We set off in the late afternoon, and hit snow about an hour and a half into the trip. We’d missed the worst of it, but we hit small squalls from time to time, and strong winds buffeted the car throughout the trip. I watched the snow swirl on the roadway and a little voice in my head said I don’t remember him wearing a coat, do you? I turned to the Dude. “You did pack a coat, didn’t you?”
Cue the crickets.
“It’s okay, I have a hoodie and a beanie.” He smiles and holds up his ski hat.
“We’re driving into a blizzard, and you opted not to bring a coat?”
He got all defensive. “I assumed you’d pack it for me.”
Forehead, meet palm.
My husband said, “Did you pack underwear? I didn’t pack that for you either.”
My husband and I launched into the typical parental lecture–what if we broke down, we’re driving through mountains, there are no rest stops or towns, there are no exits, for heaven’s sake, etc. He was resolute that we should have taken care of this for him, and it was no big deal anyway because he never gets cold.
We stopped for dinner, and was about to leave his phone and wallet in the car. His father saw this and told him it was the best way to make sure he no longer had a cellphone and wallet.
“But I don’t have any pockets,” he asserted.
“Then put it in your coat pocket,” my husband answered. It’s amazing how many times one can work you idiot you went to Michigan without a coat into a joke. My family was very adept at it. My husband and I barely had to raise a finger. So there he was on Thanksgiving, playing the family football game in… shorts and a hoodie. But it’s okay, because he had a beanie on.
When it came time for Thanksgiving dinner, he had changed into a dress shirt and khakis.
“Where is your suit coat?” I asked. I made sure it was cleaned and pressed and left it on his bed to make sure he wouldn’t forget it. The crickets had followed us all the way to Michigan. “So let me get this straight. You didn’t bring a jacket because I didn’t tell you to, yet I set out a suitcoat and you decided to leave that behind.”
I got myself a large glass of wine.
Friday evening we had about an hour to kill before leaving for dinner, when I saw the Dude running outside to play football with his cousins wearing khakis and a dress shirt. I was about to nag him, but he huffed at me before I could say anything. “I brought a change of clothes.”
I was about to apologize, but a little voice in the back of my head whispered how many dress shirts does he own? As he headed out the door, he said, “It’s shorts and a hoodie, but it’s too cold out to wear them.” The little voice in the back of my head whispered he never did answer the question about bringing underwear. I decide to tell the little voice to shut up because it only makes things worse.
By the time we headed home, the Dude had reached his limit. No more coat jokes, please. I can only hope that the lesson sinks in. Then again, I hope for world peace and a self-cleaning bathroom. He can rely on the hoodie and beanie all he wants. This year I’m thankful for wine.
Words by J. B. Everett
Photograph “Hoodie” by Davharuk © 2010 Creative Commons
My husband asked me what I wanted for Christmas. Every year it gets more difficult to answer that question. I really don’t need much. So I thought about what would really improve the quality of my life, and decided that I need a Roomba.
Writing and anal-retentiveness are not happy cohabitators. I freely admit to both. The chaos that is my house distracts me from my work, but not enough to actually do something about it. If it comes down to vacuuming the bedroom and banging out a new chapter, the chapter wins every time. Frankly, if it comes down to vacuuming the bedroom and staring at a blank screen cursing my lack of inspiration, that would win as well. Just because one likes a clean environment does not mean one likes cleaning.
My cats also work at cross-purposes to me. They are petty and vengeful creatures. Look Sasha, the big cat just finished tormenting us with the big noisy thing. Let’s retaliate with an epic fur-tossing argument. You just ate, right? Maybe you can hork up your breakfast. While you do that, I’ll go downstairs and walk across her keyboard.
My husband, the tech dude, is convinced that the Roomba will not do the job as well as a regular vacuum, and might only work on half of the rooms in our house. My response was that the Roomba does a better job than he does, even if it sucks and only works on a quarter of the rooms in our house.
The Dude also thinks the Roomba is a stupid idea, and doubts that it would actually work. I said it won’t work on his room because it won’t climb over laundry, at which point he suggested they ought to make a Roomba that vacuums up one’s laundry, washes and dries it, and spits it out folded and ironed, like a laundry Zamboni machine. The child is a genius. Not that he could build this, however, he can barely remember that electronic items need to be plugged in. He’s an idea guy.
What I really want is a house elf. My husband says he’d give me one, but with the plethora of socks the Dude leaves around the house, he’d be free within hour. In any case, he’ll double-check to see if Hammacher Schlemmer sells them. I think I’ll have to stick with the Roomba.
After all, the Roomba might have entertainment value. I’m hoping my cats will ride it like the cat in the YouTube video. I won’t bother with the shark suit, however, nor am I getting a duck. If they don’t, I can live with that. I might have five minutes of a cat-hair free bedroom each day. As long as they don’t hork on the Roomba itself, I’m ahead of the game.
For a woman who has her shit together, I’ve been doing a lot of explaining lately. I’m not talking about justification–where you know you’re probably not doing the right thing but you want to convince the world and yourself otherwise. I mean explaining as in, I know you don’t agree with my actions, but here’s why I can live with that.
When I say it that way, it sounds lovely. Empowering even. Why isn’t it?
Because it’s none of your business.
I know that sounds really harsh, and I don’t mean for it to, it’s just that I feel…oh wait, that’s another explanation.
I’m not talking about my husband, or my son, or my closest dearest friends. I’m referring to those who feel it’s their job to judge how the rest of us live. They are quick with the “If I were you’s” and the “Well I would never’s” and “You should really’s.”
I spent a considerable amount of time in a conversation this weekend that went around and around in circles. You know when someone gets a bee in their bonnet? That argument or statement that they just can’t let go of? It happens because someone doesn’t feel heard, so they say it again and again. I knew that’s what was happening, but I kept explaining rather than saying “I understand that would like me to feel x, but I don’t.” Instead, I tried to convince them, and they tried to convince me, and neither of us was willing to budge.
The reality was that neither of us needed to. What I did or didn’t feel about the situation had absolutely no impact on them whatsoever and visa versa.
A friend led me to a wonderful epiphany a couple of years ago. I was complaining about someone else’s actions, and she said “Is this your problem to solve?” The answer was no. Most of the time, the answer is no. My problem is my jealousy, or insecurity or my fear of judgement.
I’m doing the best that I can. I assume that you are as well. I’m sure from time to time, however, I look at your choices and think, “Wow, that’s really effed up.”
And it’s none of my business. Please don’t spend twenty minutes explaining why you’ve done what you’ve done, unless I’ve asked you for advice about my own situation. If I’m thinking “that’s really effed up,” I probably haven’t.
We come to our decisions and choices from a base of experience that is wholly our own. We can walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, but we can’t possibly experience it the same way unless we’ve walked the previous 1000 as well. Like most people, I strive for acceptance, and part of that is living within acceptable societal norms. The thing is, while I’m stressing over being judged, my family (myself included) is about as far outside the norm as the Cleavers. In fact, as families go, I’d say we’re a good, solid B+.
Instead, take the 20 minutes and tell me what’s been going on with you. Any cool projects you’re working on? Read a good book recently? If you want to assuage your guilt, buy me coffee instead. In your case, better make it a grande.
Words by J. B. Everett
Photograph : “Coffee Cup” by cuorhome © 2005 Creative Commons
I’ve been hard at work trying to get to my 50,000 words. I’ve had a few setbacks–a skunk invasion, a concert, music to track down. My head is so full of my story, that I have no thoughts left to throw away. Instead, I’ll share an excerpt of what I’ve written. It’s a rough draft, so it will be interesting to come back in the future and see how it has changed.
Jasper had taken a book from the library. Cummings. The infidels called him Keats, but that just happened to be what he had on hand at the time. He loved it all, the way the words skipped across the page, bled past their borders. There was so much life in and around them. He wondered how humans could have ever let them go. Humans gave up reading around the time they stopped being rational. The time they stopped being…human.
He laid down on the long grass, taking in sunshine and green. When he closed his eyes he could still see the light, a soft glow in the midst of the darkness of his mood. He even thought he could see the trees in the distance, knowing it was only a trick of his memory. He could see Aaron, putting a long blade of grass through his hands and blowing through them to see if they would sound for him. Olivia would laugh, loud and unfettered. She would throw herself on the grass next to Aaron and ask Jasper to read to her. He’d choose something inappropriate just to see what she’d do. May I feel, said he. She would grab the book and read in that raspy voice, full of the world. Aaron would blush, his freckles standing against the pink in his cheeks, not wanting to hear his sister say the words, yet listening, still, as was he. He once thought he loved her, but he decided that he loved the sound of her voice, with the sun, and the smell of grass, and a memory that was clean.
Jasper came up the path, kicking up dust, a huge canvas satchel slung over his shoulder. “Aren’t you a lazy lot.” He’d grown in the last year. He bested Corbin by at least two inches, despite being two years younger. He dropped the satchel on the ground with a thud and a wicked grin.
Aaron and Olivia sat in the overgrown back garden of Arcadia. Their uncle had to let go of the gardener, and their aunt wasn’t exactly about to get on her hands and knees to weed the place. Aaron was chewing a piece of grass, while Olivia watched the sun shine through a leaf, examining the veins like paths from stem to stern.
“What’s that?” Aaron and Olivia both grabbed for the bag, but he tsked them, so they stopped.
He jumped up and stood on the bench that Olivia had abandoned, and raised his arms to the side. The sun filtered through the tall pines behind him, backlighting him like some sort of deity. “I bring you the true Enlightenment.”
The war had been waging for over ten years at that point, with no end in sight. In fact, it had only gotten larger. With each county until Bureau control, two more were added to the liberation list. Occupation wasn’t easy, either. The Infidels didn’t come to The News with the enthusiasm The Bureau had expected.
“Jasper, stop being a drama queen and just show us what you’ve got.” His eyes were full of promise. He might not have had Olivia’s flair for drama, but he generally delivered in the end. He opened the satchel and dropped a pile of books on the ground.
Olivia wasn’t impressed. “That’s the big reveal? Uncle’s library is full of the things. It’s like trumpeting the arrival of a chair. Not even—a chair one could actually use for something. These are a decorative relic from a less-enlightened age. You had me all excited, Jas. I feel so cheated.” She flopped back onto the grass with a dramatic sigh. “Now I’m so bored.”
“Have you ever looked at them?” He did that eyebrow thing. Corbin could do it too. It was an appropriate punctuation mark for so many different conversations.
She shrugged. “Every day, you moron.” Aaron cocked his head like a confused dog.
Jasper sat on the ground, and picked up one of the books. “There are words inside. Stories. Amazing stuff. Some of it real, some of it imagined.” He opened the book to show her. It had words and drawings, elaborate and colored, but they didn’t move like News tablets, and they didn’t speak either.
“They certainly smell funny,” said Aaron. They had a musty scent, and the paper was yellowed and brittle.
“You have to be careful with them. They are very old.” Olivia continued to flip through the pages, scanning the text. It was a story of a mongoose and a snake. “What is a mongoose?”
“It’s a type of animal.” Jasper pulled out another book. “This one is all about different planets.” The pictures in that one looked more like the tablets. Not drawings, but still photographs.
Aaron picked up another book with only words. “Are they all like this?”
Jasper nodded. “Every last one of them. Father caught me looking at them and thundered at me, ‘What are you doing, boy? That’s an offense against the state.”
“What did you do?” Aaron’s eyes were wide and frightened.
“I asked him why we had them, then. He told me they were decorative, like paintings. I was to look but not touch.”
“So you didn’t get in trouble?” Olivia continued to skim the pages.
He looked at the book over her shoulder. “I told him that you dared me to do it.” He laughed and she pulled a hunk of grass and threw it at him.
Aaron was still engrossed with the book in his hands. “This is… amazing.”
Jasper lit up. “I know! Isn’t it? I think we ought to read all of them. We’ll meet here, every day. If we’re careful, no one will notice that the books are missing. But no one can know.”
“Not even Corbin?” she asked. She imagined she and Corbin poring over a book, heads together.
“Especially not Corbin.” Jasper rolled his eyes. “He won’t understand, and he’ll tell Father. He won’t be able to keep it to himself. Neither would Rosamund.” He was right. Misbehavior was not high on their to-do list. “So it’s a deal?” He put his hand in the middle of the three of them. She put her hand over the top, and Aaron joined.
He had started it, the chain from there to here. What would she be had he not held apple for her to taste? Would she still be in Eden?
He thought of Aaron’s face, open and sweet. He would whistle tunes that he imagined he’d heard, with words long forgotten. Jasper would dance with Olivia, both of them spinning until they fell to the ground. Jasper once thought he loved Aaron as well, but decided that he loved being drunk with joy, knowing that when he fell, the ground was there under his feet.
But then Aaron’s whistle became the sound of the drone, and he saw Aaron’s face under a helmet. The sun behind his eyes became the flash of fire, and he felt the heat against his skin, and he heard the wave again. He spun, but Olivia didn’t have his hand, and he couldn’t feel the ground beneath his feet. He grabbed at the grass with his hands, but it screamed and pulled away, and the world began to tilt. He tried to scramble up the slope, but the wave came after him and he knew if it reached him it would pull him onto the rocks below where he would splinter and break.
He could hear Aaron singing. Imagine there’s no heaven. There is no heaven. Not any more. And the wave kept coming.
When he captured his breath again, he was drenched with sweat, clutching handfuls of grass, the book still at his side.
It’s been a heady, liberating experience. My writer friends have asked me – What’s my secret? It’s simple. Don’t think. Write.
I generally work with careful deliberation. Every move considered, planned, and re-evaluated. I like to do things right the first time, or at least limit the amount of rework required. My biggest work complaint was the ready, fire, aim nature of the business I was in. The pace of our projects didn’t give me time to think, only act, which only created more work down the road as I had to fix what never should have been wrong in the first place.
Sitting down to write a novel in one month is a daunting task. Writing 2,000 words in a day is not. These posts are generally 500 words, and as much as I love you all for reading my work, I don’t spend four hours making sure my thoughts on every subject are crystal clear. On the other hand, I have a nearly finished novel. It’s taken me four years to get where I am, and it’s still not right. I’m still agonizing over bits of dialogue, and the ending that isn’t paying off the way it needs to, and moving the lens to focus on a different part of the story.
To succeed at NaNoWriMo, I had to let go of the idea of having it be right. It won’t be right. A first draft never is. I don’t even consider this to be a first draft. I see this as the primordial soup that I will draw from when the real work of creating a first draft begins. I have an outline. I know where the plot is going. I have the main characters in place. Each day, I target a list of scenes and let the words go. No editing. I repeat. No editing.
I know there are inconsistencies. I will fix them later. Some of the places need names. They will come to me later. I type asdf and move on. A scene is in the incorrect point of view. That character is speaking to me for a reason. Roll with it. Some scenes don’t move the plot forward. They inform the plot, however, and will make the first draft that much richer when I craft it.
I’m not growing a novel. I’m tilling the soil from which it will grow. Perfectionism has its place. I do not leave the house without directions to where I’m going. I’m learning, however, that while the devil is in the details, the joy is in the chaos, and I have to wonder how often getting it right has prevented me from just plain getting it.
So this week, I loosen the stranglehold of control I impose on my life, and in the wise words of Steve Winwood, just roll with it, baby. Like one of those little snowballs in the cartoons, when I reach the bottom of the hill, I might be big enough to take out the whole chalet. Look out, here I come.
Words by J. B. Everett
Photograph, “Playmobile Snow Day,” by Scorpions and Centaurs © 2009 Creative Commons
I just voted. Sure, I had to get in the car and drive to the library. It took away from my writing time, and now I’m behind. But honestly, people, it takes me longer to make a sandwich.
If you want to turf the asshats that are running the joint, vote.
If you’re even more afraid of who is looking to replace the asshats that are running the joint, vote.
The Democratic Party gave out donuts at my polling place. They only needed a few. They gave me two, and a hug. The Republicans did too, but they saw me pulling up in the Prius and didn’t offer me any. I’m an Independent, so I could have had both and not felt too guilty.
I’ve voted in every election since I was eligible. There a couple that I’d like to take back on both sides of the aisle. But not once did I have to stand in front of a tank, run a military gauntlet, or choke on tear gas to do it. All I had to do was take a moment out of my day, and fill out a few circles. Does that sound so difficult?
Regardless of who you are voting for, vote. And if you don’t, I don’t want to hear you complain when it’s over. ‘Nuff Said.