Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Harvey's Best Day

We had to make the heartbreaking decision to say goodbye to our sweet dog, Harvey, last weekend. It was the single most difficult decision I have ever made, but it was absolutely the right thing, even though it completely broke my heart. He had a degenerative neurological disease called Degenerative Meylopathy. It is incurable and ultimately fatal. He was a big guy, and his back legs were in the early to mid stages of paralysis. He fell down a lot and had a hard time holding a squat long enough to poop. He was in danger of falling and breaking a bone. If he didn't fall, eventually all four legs would have become totally paralyzed.
I wrote the following short story as a way to try and process my pain and grief. The last week of his life was spent getting yummy food and extra love and short trips to the front yard. We worked hard to make sure that the last day of his life was the absolute, very best day it could possibly be. We said goodbye to Harvey at home. In our arms, listening to our music. And I like to believe it was the happiest day of his life.
I should probably add a trigger warning for this story. Spoiler, the dog dies.

Harvey's Best Day
Mama and Daddy have been letting me sleep in their room lately. I have a big bed in the living room, but I only sleep there sometimes in the day. At night, I used to sleep in the hallway, so I could see Boy’s room and Mama and Daddy’s room. It’s a lot of work to protect everyone, but I think I do a pretty good job. But now they let me sleep all night long in their room. If I fall asleep when they’re watching TV, they even wake me up and tell me to go to their room to sleep. I like it a lot. They leave the door open so I can look down the hall and see Boy’s room. I can still keep the whole family safe, and I get to sleep in the big room. I only wish my legs would work the way they used to. I bet they would let me sleep in the big bed with them if I could still climb up. That would be the very best, but I’m happy on the soft rug at the foot of the big bed in the big room.
I’m not sure why my legs don’t work so well anymore. I still try and do all the things I used to do, but I fall down a lot. My back legs especially get tired and they slip out from under me when I try to run. But the very worst is when I lie down on the cool wood floor and then try to get up. No matter how I try, I can’t make my legs stand up when I’m on the slippery floor. Daddy and Mama went to the store one day and came home with lots of new rugs. They said they were just for me. Now there are rugs all over the house, and I don’t fall over when I walk from room to room as much anymore. That’s good, because even though my body doesn’t usually hurt, it sometimes hurts when I fall. Plus, the rugs are super duper soft, and they are good sleeping spots. Especially now that they smell like home instead of the strange rug store.
I can’t even believe my luck these days. I must be the luckiest dog in the whole world, ever. At dinner last night, Mama cooked up some steak. I like it when she makes steak because sometimes they give me a little piece or they let me lick the juice off the plate when dinner is over. But last night was the best night. Mama sat down with a plate full of steak that she chopped into little pieces. That’s not how Family eats steak. They cut it up with a knife for every bite. That seems silly to me, but I don’t understand human things. I tried to sit down between Mama and Daddy. My legs slipped a little bit, so I layed down instead. Then, oh boy oh boy oh boy, Mama put some steak on the fork and she fed it to me! She didn’t even start eating her steak yet, but she fed me right off the fork! I love fork eating, especially if there is juicy steak on the fork! Then Daddy fed me some steak, then it was my Boy’s turn. They all fed me steak right off the people plate with a fork. It was so delicious and it made me so happy! I smiled and smiled and made sure to use my soft mouth so I wouldn’t accidentally bite them.
It was still kind of darkish when Daddy and Mama got out of bed this morning. They have been crying a lot and I just try to let them know that I’m right here. I don’t know why they are so sad, but I try to make them happy. Daddy walked over to me and petted my head. I panted and smiled at him, even though it was still dark and I was still very sleepy.
“Do you want to go for a walk?” Daddy asked me. Of course I did, but it wasn’t all the way day yet, so maybe he was joking. Mama came over and hugged me.
“Where’s your leash, Harvey? Let’s go for a walk to the field.” I tried to stand up but it took me a little while. Standing up was hard. But I finally got up and followed Mama and Daddy to the kitchen where I could smell coffee. They said “leash.” That always means I get to go out the front door. I like the front door more than the back door because there is more of the world out the front door.
Boy woke up, and that was strange because he never wakes up so early. But he hugged me and that wasn’t strange, it was good. He asked me where my leash was and I wobbled to the front door. Daddy clipped the leash to my collar and we all walked out of the front door together. It was light now, but not hot. Just early light. When Mama or Daddy takes me out the front, they only let me go to the mailbox or, if I’m really lucky, up the yards for three or four houses. They make me stay in the grass, though, because I can’t pick up my back feet all the way and the sidewalk scrapes my paws, and then they bleed.
But on this day, Daddy took me across the street. My paws went scrape scrape scrape on the road, but I didn’t mind too much. He was taking me to the big field where they used to let me run without my leash. We got to the grass and the whole, big field was empty, so Mama took off my leash and, oh boy oh boy oh boy, I ran! Well, I tried to run. I fell, but the grass wasn’t as slippery as our wood floor, so I was able to get back up. Plus I was on the trail of a rabbit! I didn’t know where it went but I could smell it close by. I ran all the way up the field and only stopped to pee on some of the grass that the rabbit ran through. I almost fell over lots of times, but I was able to stay standing up.
Mama ran up to me after a little while of chasing the rabbit smell. It used to be that she couldn’t ever catch me when I ran, but now she caught up to me easy peasy. She wasn’t even breathing hard. She must have gotten really fast, because I was running so fast I was almost flying.
“Let’s go home, Harvey,” Mama said. I didn’t realize until she put my leash on that I was very tired. My legs didn’t want to walk at all anymore and I wanted to just rest in the big field. Maybe the rabbit would come and see me. But Mama handed the leash to Daddy and he said I was a good boy and it was time to go home for some ice. Ice is my favorite treat. It is crunchy and cold and I love it. So I walked home with Daddy, but I had to go slow because my back legs were all shaky and they kept getting tangled in the grass.
At home, I got to eat lots and lots of cold, crunchy ice. And then, the most best thing ever happened. Mama chopped up more steak and put it on a people plate. Boy took two eggs and scrambled them and put them on the plate, too. Then, oh boy oh boy oh boy! Boy sat down on the floor next to me and he fed me the eggs and the steak right off the fork! Steak for dinner and for breakfast! And sleeping in the big room, and going for a run and having ice! It was my most favorite best day ever!
“Hey, Harvey,” Daddy said. “Do you want to go for a ride? Come on! Let’s go for a ride! Get your leash!”
A ride? Really, really? I don’t get to go on rides anymore because of my legs. Getting into the back seat is really hard, even with a ramp, so mostly I stay home and guard the house when they go for a ride. But not today!
Mama and Daddy helped me up the ramp and I stood up in the backseat of the car. The car is very little and I don’t fit in it too well, but that’s okay. Mama sat in the back seat with me and reminded me to sit down so my legs wouldn’t get hurt. I wanted to listen to Mama, but there were so many birds and I wanted to bark at all of them! Daddy rolled down my window, and I stuck my head out. My tongue went flap flap flap and my ears went flop flop flop. It was the most funnest ride I ever went on. When we came home I got to even more ice!
Family cried a lot, but then they would hug me, and I made them feel better. Mama took out the toothbrush and brushed all of my teeth for me. I love toothbrush time. It tastes good. Then she got the fur brush and brushed me and brushed me and brushed me for a really long time. She sang The Harvey Song to me, and cried, but I just smiled at her and hoped she would keep brushing me.
Daddy said that a lady was here. I heard him open the front door and say hello. Boy yelled and started to cry, and that was kind of scary. Mama hugged me hard and cried some more, but then she stopped and went to talk to the lady. It took me a little bit, but I finally got up to see her.
The lady had a big brown bag that was full of strange smelling things. I didn’t like those smells, but I liked the lady. She scratched me behind my ears and told me I was a beautiful boy. She was very nice. Since she was nice, I didn’t have to protect Family from her, so I went to my favorite spot by the dining room table and laid down. There is a big window, but I didn’t want to look out of it, I wanted to watch Family and the lady. Mama and Daddy moved the table out of the way and everyone sat down with me. Mama looked out the window at the birds and squirrels, and I looked at her. The lady was talking a lot, and the whole family was crying some more. I wish I could talk to them and tell them that they don’t have to be sad because I’m right here. But I can’t do human talking, so I just put my head down and looked at Family and hoped they knew I was right there for them.
Then I felt a poke in the back of my body and that kind of hurt, but not for very long. After a little while the stinging feeling went away and I just wanted to lie down. The sun came in through the window and my back side was in the patch of sun. It was warm and it felt so good. I was getting very, very sleepy. Daddy picked up my head and petted me. Mama scratched my snout, just the way I always love. Boy was petting my back.
“Mountain Dog,” said Mama. “Do you remember going camping in the mountains with Daddy and Boy? Do you remember how you jumped right over the pile of logs? You were so fast!”
Yes, Mama. I remember that. I loved being Mountain Dog. I was the best mountain dog.
“And remember hiking to the waterfall? You would run ahead of us to make sure we were safe, and then you’d come back and get us. You never went too far away. You always came back.”
I had to, Mama. I couldn’t leave you in the mountains! I had to keep you safe from all the things in the mountains. It was a big job and I was very good at it.
“And do you remember playing in the river? We’d shout ‘Search and rescue!’ and throw the stick into the water. You would jump right in and bring it back. You would swim and swim until you couldn’t swim anymore. You loved being River Dog as much as being Mountain Dog.”
Those times were fun times. Can we go back to the mountains soon?
“Buddy boy,” Daddy’s voice was sad. I tried to look up at him, but my head was so heavy. “We’re all going to go to the mountains. Right now. We’re all going to go and you can be Mountain Dog again. There will be a river and you can be River Dog and Mountain Dog at the same time.” He put my head in his lap and I sniffed in his Daddy smell.
“Can you see the mountains, Harvey Doo? Can you see the trail and the trees? Can you hear the water? We’re going to go play in the water now, Harvey.”
I could see the mountains! We really were going to go run! And I could hear the river, too! We were going to swim in the river again! Oh boy oh boy oh boy!
From far far away, I heard the lady say that she was going to give me another shot but it wouldn’t hurt. I didn’t feel anything in my backside this time. I just felt the wind blowing down the mountains. I smelled the trees and the birds and the mountain lions. I smelled fish and the river. And I smelled my Family. They were with me in the mountains.
It was my very best day.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Interview With the Writer

Last weekend, I was approached by a couple of lovely young ladies from Plano West High School here in Texas. They need to write and illustrate a children's book for an AP English project, and they asked if they could interview me. I'm not certain how helpful I was, but I was touched that they reached out to me.

Good luck on your project, Maya and Tiasha!

Interview Questions:

1. What inspired you to write your book(s)? My son inspired me to write Average Simon. One day when he was about nine, he said that he didn’t want to be famous, he just wanted to be an ordinary, average kid. That planted the seed that eventually became my book.

2. What is your creative process when writing/illustrating for children? The process is messy. First, I think about it for far longer than I probably ought to. I reach into my mind and try to talk to the characters and ask them what they have to say. I’ll even write out interview questions and have them answer them. I have to be in an emotionally quiet place to do this, though, because characters can be slippery or shy. Then I’ll sit down and start writing. I may or may not create a rough outline of the book. I tend to let the story tell itself instead of trying to make the story fit an outline. Writers often classify themselves as either “plotters” or “pantsers.” The plotters will work off outlines and plot things through. The “pantsers” will just fly (or write) by the seat of their pants. I’m definitely a pantser.

3. Do you have any recommendations for anyone interested in the children's writing field? Write every day. It doesn’t all have to be children’s books. It doesn’t matter what the topic or genre, you can’t be a writer if you don’t write. Also, read. Read as much as you can in as many genres as you like. Definitely read books that fit within the genre you want to write, but read outside the genre, too. Read things you love. Read things you hate. Take note things that stir you or make you feel something. The one thing I’d advise you not to do, though, is to copy someone else’s voice. You are your own person with your own unique voice, so let it out.

4. How did you come up with an original idea? That varies. Sometimes, like with Average Simon, an idea is born from a conversation with someone. Sometimes the idea is a little seed planted by a dream or sometimes it’s a news story. Sometimes it just comes from the either. I basically walk around every day prepared for random thoughts and ideas to come into my head. My husband and son know this about me and we have ongoing jokes about the stories that are always playing, like movies, in my head.

5. How did you simplify your ideas or writing to make it easy to read and enticing for children? Well, I have to know my audience. Average Simon is an upper middle grade novel, so it’s great for kids who are about eleven. Once I know my audience, I let the characters take charge and tell the story. If I’m feeling stuck or unsure if something is too complicated, I’ll ask for input from someone in that age range. My son and his friends were a huge help to me with my book.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

An Angry Young Woman Grows Up

When I was in my early twenties, living alone in my very first apartment, I spent my days chasing a creative writing degree and working my ass off in a preschool. My nights nights were devoted to poetry slams, reading insane amounts of  Pablo Neruda, working the local poetry open-mic circuit, and writing. Poems, mostly, but also also a fair amount of short fiction.

One of my friends at the time, a much older poet who happened to look a lot like Pablo Neruda, said my work was good but that it was "angry young woman" poetry, so it was hard for him to identify with it. Looking back, I think he was just trying to say something nice about something he couldn't understand.

When I look through the overflowing and torn folder that holds the writing from that period of my life, I realize I was an angry young woman and that my target audience was not tender-hearted fifty-year-old males. I had a bone to pick with the world, and words were my weapon.

I've changed a lot since then. I grew up. I realized that poetry isn't my passion. I got married and had a kid. Sometimes I can hardly remember the girl I used to be. But I still have a couple of things in common with her. I'm still mad as hell, and words are still my favorite weapon.

There are times when I feel overwhelmed with the world. I can't believe that there is so much hostility, hatred and injustice out there. Sometimes I feel like I'm being crushed under the weight of bigotry, misogyny, and ignorance. It makes me angry that women don't have a voice in their own healthcare. It infuriates me that the color of someone's skin determines how they are treated by law enforcement and society as a whole. Rape culture is alive and well as women are told to restrict their actions to avoid becoming victims.  Gay marriage is still controversial.

Although today is Women's Equality Day, there is still a lot of work to be done before women (and people of color, and the LGBTQ community) are truly on equal footing.  I look forward to the time when there will no long be a need for such holidays as Women's Equality Day. One day, we can all see and treat each other as equals, and I won't stop being angry until that time comes.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

A Writer's Forgotten Dreams

When I was in junior high, I wrote my first novel. It was a story about a girl whose father was murdered and she was kidnapped by the murderers. Turns out her dad was a bad guy who did bad stuff and when crap went down, he ended up taking a swim wearing a pair of cement shoes. I wrote it long hand, on loose leaf paper during study hall and lunch. After I got a cheap typewriter, I spent months teaching myself how to use it. Eventually, after lots to tears and correction cassettes, I had an error-filled (but typed!) manuscript. Oh, it was beautiful, that stack of eighty-two typed pages. It proved that I had what it takes to write a book from beginning to end. It was proof that I could be a writer if I tried hard enough. It proved that my dream of being a writer wasn't stupid. There was only one thing left to do: get it published.

http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/420366.article
I went to my town's only public library and checked out a woefully out of date Writer's Market. Back at home, I flipped directly to the Publishers section and wrote down the addresses of a few publishers that would accept unsolicited work. At that point, I didn't understand what an agent was or why they were important. Mostly, I thought agents were something you had to pay for, like a lawyer or therapist, and that gave wealthy aspiring writers the upper hand. The whole thing seemed unfair to me and I wanted no part of it. Youth is full of misconceptions.

My school counselor was impressed that I had written and then typed a novel, and he gave me permission to use the faculty copier to make a single copy of it. The smell of paper, fresh and warm from a copy machine, still makes my heart hammer with excitement.

I deliberated a long time over which publisher to send the only copy of my baby to. I don't remember who I picked or why I picked them, but I can recall that dropping my book down the mailbox chute felt like abandoning my beloved dog. I was pretty sure I'd have to barf into the bushes before I got home. Good thing for every homeowner along my route, lunch stayed in my belly.

Weeks later, I got a personal reply from that publisher. I don't recall who sent it, but I do remember how kindly worded the rejection was. She said that, unfortunately, they no longer accepted unsolicited manuscripts (damned out of date Writer's Market!), but that she had taken it upon herself to read my novel. She said it was promising for someone so young and that I shouldn't give up. She said it could use some polishing and that maybe finding an agent would open more doors for me. She ended the letter by saying she felt confident that I would go far in my writing career if I kept at it.

I was crushed. All I could see was the rejection. The nice stuff, the encouraging stuff, didn't register. It didn't occur to me what an amazing person this woman was for taking the time to read all eighty-two pages of my poorly written, unsolicited manuscript and then to take the time to craft an encouraging rejection. My good fortune was completely lost on me.

Life continued. I went to high school, got a job, went to college, got married, and had a baby. Somehow, that memory of my first submission and rejection got buried. It wasn't until just recently, when I started the process of querying agents for Average Simon, that I remembered. It's sad that something so huge was shoved to a dusty corner of my mind and left to rot. But I'm grateful, too. I'm grateful querying brought the memory back. That recovered memory is as much of a gift as the long lost letter the publisher sent to me.

The years have taught me that writing, from the first draft to the querying stage, is full of hidden gifts. Forgotten emotions. Abandoned memories. And that, sometimes, it can take decades to remember that your dreams are worth chasing.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Well, Why Not?

Being responsible for another human is, quite possibly, one of the most difficult things a person can do. The job is full of sweat, blood, tears, snot, and vomit. It’s full of stress, worry, heavy lifting, and sleepless nights.  I suspect that’s why some parents feel the need to be heavy handed disciplinarians or to indoctrinate their children in a specific, often monotheistic, belief system. Filling a child with the fear of punishment, eternal or fleeting and earthly, goes a long way in making a parent’s job a little easier.
As atheists, my husband and I don’t have religion to help us scare our child into behaving the way we want him to. And as rational people who completely eschew physical punishment, we don’t have the fear of physical threat to coerce him into acting or not acting in a certain way. What we do have is words. Lots and lots of words. We also employ logical consequences and are open and receptive to hearing our son’s point of view on any given topic.
Well, Why Not?All this sounds great in theory, but in practice, it’s not always tulips and wine. There are times when I want so badly to cross my arms and say “Because I said so. Don’t argue.” It’s exhausting to have to rationalize every parenting decision I make.
Before I answer a question or refuse to grant permission, I ask myself “why not” and if I don’t have a solid reason, I don’t say no.  Sometimes I really have to dig deep to find out I don’t have a particular reason for him not to play on the computer, and sometimes I have work at it to get to the root of why I don’t want to extend his bedtime to 10:00. But in the end, all the digging and questioning I do in my own head serves to make me a very deliberate parent. It also helps pull emotion out of the equation, which is especially necessary if my son’s emotions are already running high.
The side effect of parenting him with “why not? instead of “no” is that sometimes he questions absolutely everything. But, since I say “yes” as often as I possibly can, he usually won’t push an issue if I’m sticking to my guns. He knows that I always have his best interests at heart and that if I take firm stance on a subject, it’s probably for a pretty damned good reason and fighting me on it won’t get him anywhere. He learned from any early age that some things I’ll bend on, and some things I absolutely won’t.
When he was a toddler, he hated his car seat and would do everything in his power to prevent us from buckling him in. Obviously, not being buckled in wasn’t not an option, so my husband and I told him that it was “non-negotiable.” By the time the kid was 20 months old, he was using the phrase “non-guh-gosh-able” For all sorts of things. Sometimes in the right context, sometimes not. With tears streaming down his face, he’d let me buckle him in and say “It’s non-guh-gosh-able” with such heart wrenching emotion that I wished we could just stay home. As the ice cream truck tinkled past our house, he’d run outside in nothing but his diaper and shout “Ice Cream Man! Stop! It’s non-guh-gosh-able!”
As he grew older and learned both the proper pronunciation and usage of the word, he was able to participate in discussions about why isn’t wise to go out in the snow without shoes or why it’s a good thing for him to clear his own place at the table. When he was about 9, he got his hands on a bunch of index cards and wrote up a little speech about why we should re-instate the allowance we had taken away. He made his case beautifully, and we re-instated allowance. Since forever, my husband and I have encouraged him to question authority, us included.
Now we have a full-fledged tween-ager on our hands, complete with occasional hormonal attitude and irrational thinking. But, even when he’s stomping around with a case of the Pre-Teen Grumpies, I can usually talk him through it, though it’s not always easy. Sometimes my wonderful, intelligent, intuitive boy pushes my patience to the very limits of human tolerance. Sometimes I yell. Sometimes I overreact. I’m a parent, not a saint. But after we’ve both had time to calm down, I make a point of sitting down with him and talking. We talk about making good choices and about how our words and tone of voice can hurt others. We talk about our hard limits and our soft limits. We work together and negotiate.
Some things are negotiable, but giving my son the opportunities to speak and act on his own behalf will always be non-negotiable.

This blog was originally posted on GroundedParents.com where I am a contributing blogger.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Mommy Has a Milk Mustache

I thought long and hard about what I wanted to say in my first blog post for +Grounded Parents. After all, it’s my introduction to the world. In case you've never introduced yourself to the world, it’s a lot of pressure. That whole first impressions thing. I spent many long hours, walking my dog and ignoring my kid, trying to figure out exactly how I wanted to introduce myself. I could talk about so many deep and meaningful things. Things that might make readers nod sagely or widen their eyes in disbelief. Things that would make them clamp their sweaty palms over their mouths to stifle a guffaw. The possibilities were endless!
Here’s a thing about me, though. When I’m trying to think, I find myself embracing the most awful tasks in order to find guilt-free time in which to (avoid) come to a decision. I can only walk the dog for so long before he starts limping and whimpering to go back home for a drink of water.
After doing a bunch of laundry, I still didn't know what I wanted to write about, so I decided to clean the master bathroom. Maybe scrubbing soap scum would jog my creativity.
Go write your post now, Mama. No more laundry or walks.
Go write your post now, Mama. No more laundry or walks.
I armed myself with baking soda, vinegar, and essential oils and headed into the closet-sized room.
I got down on my knees, sprinkled a bunch of baking soda in the shower and started scrubbing. We recently moved into this house and I had no idea how often the people before me cleaned things out, so I popped off the drain cover and peered down into the slimy hole. It didn't look promising. Or maybe it did if you happen to be someone who embraces disgusting tasks in order to (get out of writing) think.
The shade of red that greeted me was horrific. It reminded me of what a mouth must look like if a deranged dentist yanked out someone’s teeth with a rusty trowel. Without anesthesia. A shiver ran through me as I contemplated the logistics of prying teeth out of a struggling victim who desires to keep all his teeth. But, ever the (procrastinator) diligent homemaker, I let out a deep breath and dumped about a cup of baking soda down the gaping maw. I followed that with a few drops of orange essential oil and I slowly added the vinegar. The bubbling was immediate and strong. A god-awful pink sludge oozed out of the hole and the bottom of the shower started to fill with gross gross-ness. It bubbled and filled and filled and bubbled...But it didn't drain.
Oh dear god, what did I do? I’d need to find something to stir the sludge with. Maybe that would break up the clog and allow the goop to drain. I stood up a bit too fast, fought off a dizzy spell, and went in search of a wire coat hanger. We don’t actually own wire hangers, but the house had about a dozen or so when we moved in. Maybe they had escaped the recycle bin.
Luck was with me and I found one hanging in my office closet. I grabbed it and took it back to the bathroom. The bubbling had stopped but the goo still wasn't draining. My eyes darted from goo to vinegar. I decided to go ahead and add more vinegar to the drain before sticking the hanger down there. Maybe more liquid would unclog the clog.
My vinegar container holds just under 1.5 gallons. I get it on the cheap at Costco and I use it for everything. This particular container had about half a gallon left, and the bottle made a deep glugging noise as I poured its contents into the drain. More bubbles rose and popped, and the goo went from pink to gray to almost black. And dear lord, the smell! It burned, it burned! The smell freaking burned! Like farts and rotten eggs and shit and death. Tears pricked my eyes, but I’m way too stubborn to let a smell make me cry.
The hanger waited in my hand, like some sort of awesome, hooked sword that would save the day. But first, I’d need something to stifle my gag reflex. I took my trusty weapon to the kitchen where I found the open bottle of crappy wine from the night before. Right next to the bottle was my wine glass, also from the previous night.  A classy mom would have opened a fresh bottle and gotten a clean glass, but I never claimed to have class. My thought process went something like this:
Death is bubbling up from my shower drain. Literally. I saw the freaking scythe. If death is gonna take me, he’ll take me whether or not the wine and glass are fresh.
I pulled the fancy stainless steel stopper (I don’t think I ever sent a thank-you card for those stoppers...what was that? Four years ago? Eight? Oh well. I bet whoever gave them to us has forgotten we forgot to send a thank-you card) and poured it right into the dirty glass. I carried it and my trusty sword back to the bathroom, where the smell hit me in the face like a million dirty diapers left rotting in the sun. I swallowed the entire glass of wine in two gulps and set the twice-dirty glass on the counter like a cowboy slams his mug of sarsaparilla on the bar.
l stuck the hanger down the drain and swirled it around a bit, but the hooked end wasn't doing the job. I’d have to figure out how to straighten it out. My hands were covered in pink and grey funk and the needle nose pliers were who knows where. Probably still buried in a box. I picked up the nasty rag I was using to scrub the floor of the shower and unhooked the hanger. I could tell right away that it wouldn't be long enough. Well, a hanger is really just one long piece of wire that’s twisted into a funky shape. I had managed to unhook the hook, maybe I could untwist the twist. Slimy rag in hand, I set to transforming my trusty weapon into a misshapen, vaguely straight, poker thingy.
   Tools of the trade
The quickly guzzled stale wine was getting to my head, and my imagination was running, running, running. No longer was I an almost forty-year-old mother avoiding writing a blog post by unclogging a disgusting drain in a rental house. Nope. Now I was a hero. A she-knight. I was the castle’s only hope against an evil drain snake that was taking over the kingdom. I raised my sword above my head and plunge-twisted it right into the gaping mouth of the horrible beast. I can’t be certain, but I think I uttered the phrase “Die, you evil bastard!” under my breath.
It didn't want to die. I felt something deep inside give, and another blast of rotten egg farts hit me in the face. I reeled backward and sucked in a few breaths of the sweet air outside of the bathroom.
Screw this...I need more wine.
With tears still swimming in my eyes, I took a deep breath and dashed back into the toxic bathroom for my wine glass. I caught my reflection in the mirror and I noticed what seemed to be a little pimple or something in the corner of my mouth. I raised my hand to touch my face but realized I was covered in baking soda and death, so I brought my hand down without touching.
Back in the kitchen, I topped off my wine, sipped down half of it, and topped it off again, thereby killing what was left of the bottle. I eyed the crimson liquid in the glass and realized it was just a tad too full to carry back to the bathroom. Better just sip down a bit so it wouldn’t spill. Really, that was the only responsible thing to do. Looking back, I think drinking a glass of water would have been a bit more responsible. But you know, that whole hindsight is 20/20 thing.
The smell in the the bathroom had mostly dissipated by the time I made it back. I took one more small sip (gulp) of wine and set the nearly empty glass on the counter. The drain seemed to have stopped bubbling, which I took as good news. I picked up my weapon and jammed it down into the black pit of doom. I swirled and scraped it around and pulled out clump after clump...after clump of hair. Someone else’s hair. Someone’s long and tangled and slimy hair.
The nausea came on fast and my imagination was doing triple time. As a clump of hair dangled from the misshapen hanger, I was realized that it wasn't human hair at all. No. Surely there couldn't be so much hair down a drain. Somehow, a mouse had found its way down there and gotten stuck. That was the only thing that made any sense at all. That would explain the smell and the slime...Oh. My. God. I had been mutilating a mouse corpse and now I had to fish it out, piece by putrid piece. Half drunk. With a damned crooked hanger!
I grabbed the bathroom trash and flung the mouse remains into the can before fishing for more.  Two, three, four clumps later, I looked more closely and saw that I wasn't pulling out a mouse. It really was nothing but bunch of slimy hair. The relief was so intense, I could almost taste it.
It tasted like wine.
When I got all I could stand getting, I ran the shower to make sure the drain would, well, drain. Then I scrubbed down the floor and walls of the shower, rinsed everything again, put a few drops of orange and tea tree oils down the hole, replaced the cover and inhaled deeply. The shower was sparkling and the whole bathroom smelled clean and fresh. I squatted there a moment, taking pride in my June Cleaver-like domestic prowess.
I tied the the trash bag and went to the sink to wash my hands. My reflection revealed that I had a second little pimple type thingy on the opposite corner of my mouth. Weird.
I leaned in for a closer look and laughed at my reflection. I didn't have zits or weird blemishes at all! All I had was a red wine mustache.
And a decent introduction to the world.
This blog was originally posted on GroundedParents.com where I am a contributing blogger.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

A Long Break

A lot has happened in my life since my last post. The biggest thing is that my family and I relocated from Albuquerque to the Dallas, TX area. It was a rather sudden, but mostly welcome move. I'm glad that I finished Average Simon before the relocation, though. Since we came out here about two and a half months ago, all of my energy has been in getting settled. Or, rather, helping my son get settled. This move has been more difficult on him than anyone else, and he's needed an awful lot of love and reassurance. So, my days have been spent unpacking, exploring fun places in DFW, going to Six Flags, trying to make connections in the local homeschool community, generally doing everything I can possibly think of to help my eleven-year-old make friends. Every now and then, I will look longingly at my computer and wonder where I'll find the time to sit down and get back to writing.

I can't help but think, though, that this extended break has been good for my creativity.  Stephen King, in his awesomely awesome book On Writing, suggests taking a break and letting your manuscript marinate for a good long while before doing revisions. I didn't take much of a break between drafts of my novel, but my query letter and synopsis have been marinading for months.

Over the last couple of weeks, I've been coming back to those two documents and reading them again and again. I can see room for improvement, but I can also see that they're both pretty strong. That's a far cry from how I felt before the move. When I packed them up in boxes in Albuquerque, I was completely convinced that they amounted to kindling. Honestly, I was  ready to light both on fire and spread the ashes somewhere in the desert.

I'm glad I didn't. If I had, I would have had to start both from scratch, which would have been so disheartening, I likely would have just built myself a permanent pillow fort under my desk. Instead, I read the query letter, assessed its strengths and weaknesses, and tweaked it. And tweaked and tweaked and tweaked until I came up with something that I believe is better than passable or decent. A break allowed me to re-work my query with fresh eyes and to *gasp* finish it.

My synopsis up for assessment and tweaking next. My gut is telling me I may need to scrap it and start that one all over again, but that I'm okay with that. Writing can be a lot like a science experiment. Sometimes you get the desired results, sometimes you don't. Just because the results are different than what you expect, that doesn't mean the experiment failed. It just means that you've ruled one thing out that stood in the way of success.

I could have never come to that conclusion without a long break.