Category: | Musings

Entertaining Myself at LAS International

LAS airportI’m sitting at the airport in Las Vegas and two things have caught my attention. The first is that I can entertain myself for a while by taking pictures of people’s shoes as they walk by. The second is that the people on either side of me are both writing in journals, with pens.

The guy on my right is working in a large, unlined book, writing tidy paragraphs in blue ink – too small to read from here.

On my left is a woman writing in a smaller, lined journal. Her handwriting is full and curly, and she is close enough to spy on. Don’t hate. As a writer, peeking into people’s lives is an important part of my job. Oh, and I’m a terrible snoop. ANYWAY, she wasn’t writing anything all that exciting, just that she is “exhausted” and “got a lot of work done.”

The reason it caught my attention is not simply because I like to pry. I write in my own journal almost every day and sometimes I feel like that’s an uncommon thing. But it’s really not. For all our technology, people still like to hold a pen and paper. There is something so satisfying about writing in long hand.

I feel such a sense of kinship with these two and their journals. Makes me wish I hadn’t forgotten mine at home. I would much rather be writing in my journal than taking pictures of people’s feet. But, you know, what else am I going to do?

And why am I in the Las Vegas airport waiting for a delayed flight? I am on my way from Sandpoint, Idaho to Quito, Ecuador. I’ll forgive you if you need a minute to Google those to realize that it’s a long trip. My cousin-in-law is getting married on Saturday in Quito, so yesterday I flew with the kids to the great northwest where my dad lives with my step-mom in a lake-side condo. The kids are staying with them for the weekend.

I’m looking forward to a couple days with the hubby. I don’t even mind all the time I’m spending in airports. I’m actually getting a lot of work done (just like my fellow writer here on my left). The only bummer is that we’re not staying in Ecuador longer. We are basically turning around immediately after the wedding to get back to the kids.

Oh, looks like we may FINALLY be boarding.

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Old Longings and New Homes

Old longingsFor my birthday, a friend gave me a copy of “A Field Guide to Getting Lost,” by Rebecca Solnit. The title seemed appropriate, as this is a friend I used to get lost with all the time. We’ve happened upon glaciers in Canada, explored the Mojave desert by moonlight, and wondered through Berkeley on mushrooms. We’re good at getting lost.

Normally, I’m not really into books that just kind of explore ideas without plot or purpose, but this one is so beautifully written that I made it all the way through, underlining several passages along the way.

In one section of the book, she talks about “strays and captives,” people who are far from home, with every intention of returning from where they’re from. She writes about the “stunning reversal” that often happens when, at some point, “they came to be at home and what they had longed for became remote, alien, unwanted.” She goes on:

For some, perhaps there was a moment when they realized that the old longings had become little more than habit and that they were not yearning to go home but had been home for some time…

I’ve been thinking about this in terms of stories and how to end them. So many stories are about people with old longings trying to find something or get somewhere, only to realize that what they really needed was right in front of them all along. It’s a satisfying ending.

The transformation of longing into recognition makes for good story because of the suffering that comes between the two. We try to get home, or go back, or find the love lost, but striving only brings suffering. When we let go and recognize that we are home, or that we have what we need, the suffering ends.

This is not true just for story either. It’s something to consider in our lives: the things we hang on to cause suffering. And maybe that’s why it rings so true in fiction.

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Spirit rock
Two women with bibles in their hands just knocked on my door.

They kindly asked if I struggled with anxiety, and suggested that I reference my bible Matthew 6:18 for some guidance on how to deal with it. I thanked them (because we all deal with anxiety) and I told them we’re a buddhist household. I own a bible, a beautiful one that belonged to my mother when she was a child, but I keep it on the shelf for reference. I find it comes in handy when I’m writing, particularly when I’m writing religious characters.

This stumped them. I’ve had the experience before. You tell a bible thumper that you’re buddhist and they just don’t know what to say. They know buddhism is a religion (though I prefer to think of it as a philosophy), but they don’t know much about it. They smiled and continued with the script: It’s good to have somewhere to turn when anxiety builds up.

I couldn’t agree more. In fact, I spent all last week in silent meditation at the Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Norther California (pictured above – isn’t it beautiful?). No talking, no writing, no reading. Just me, and 100 or so other people, sitting silently with our own thoughts. People think it’s the silence that’s hard, but for me, it’s not reading. I have trouble falling asleep at night without reading.

This was the third retreat I’ve done, and the shortest. Still, even just having a few days to be quiet and meditate is such a welcome change of pace. My hubby and I try to make space for each other to go once a year, but for many years I’ve chosen to do writing retreats instead. Taking this time felt like a nod to balance in my life.

Anyhow, I didn’t tell the nice ladies at the door all this. I simply thanked them for their care and concern and wished them luck on their walk. Next time I think I will invite them in for coffee. I would LOVE to know what motivates them. How is it that they spend their days walking from house to house singing the word of the lord? There’s a story there.

But I already have a story, and right now, that’s what I need to be working on.

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I am Voting for Hillary Because She Has a Vagina

Yes, that’s right, I said it. I am voting for Hillary because she has a vagina and you can’t stop me.

I can already hear the men in my life protesting (hi dad). You can’t choose whom you’re voting for based on what’s hanging, or not hanging, between their legs. To that I say: like hell I can’t.

Hillary Penis Free

What are we really doing in an election? We are choosing someone to represent us in the governmental goings on of our country. If you’re a man, then the county has been represented by someone like you since its very inception. Everyone ever elected to presidential office in the US has had a dick.

The dicks have been running the show for a long time, and frankly, I’m unimpressed.

So this year, given the opportunity to vote for a representative who actual represents me, as an American woman, I’m voting for Hillary.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not voting for Hillary JUST because she is a woman and I wouldn’t vote for JUST any woman. Take Palin, for instance. There’s not enough guacamole in Mexico to make me vote for that nut job.

But given two good choices (one male, one female), I’m giving the woman an extra ten points simply for being her.

I know a lot of people will object and I suspect that most of those people are male. So guys, take a minute and try to imagine a country where every president has been female. Just attempt to conjure a history wherein only a fraction of our representatives (from mayor on up to the senate) are men. Consider what it would be like to live in a country where men made 79 cents for every dollar a woman made – and that was considered improvement.

The truth is, if you are a white man in America, you have no perspective on this.

And ladies, I understand you may not agree. You may honestly think the men are doing a fine job. For all I know, you would prefer to elect a former reality TV star that derides anyone who isn’t a white male. You might also be a redneck idiot.

Take a moment, ladies, and consider who it is you really want to represent you. Then vote accordingly.

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Best Books of 2015 (says me)

Okay, folks, here it is, just under the wire. My best-of list for 2015. As a quick disclaimer, it’s a list of the best books I HAVE READ in the past twelve months. Not a list of the best books published in the last 12 months. (My blog, my list.)

Best Books 2015

So here goes. (No spoilers, promise)

The best books I read in 2015, in no particular order, were…

The Golem and the Jinni (2013) by Helene Wecker
I love, love, love this book. It’s magical, but grounded. It’s a love story, but not. It’s almost historical fiction, painting a New York of old with amazing detail, but it’s much more the story of these two characters – the golem and the jinni. A must read.

The Signature of All Things (2013) by Elizabeth Gilbert
Stunning. This woman can write. I loved this book so much that I slipped my Kindle underneath my papers at work and turned my back so no one would see that I shifted the work aside and just fell into the story. I couldn’t put it down, and then felt kind of depressed when it was over. It is also highly discussion-worthy. If you’ve read it, please let me know because I am dying to debate some of its finer points with a friend.

The Night Circus (2011) by Erin Morgenstern
My friend Brian McGackin bashed this one on his own blog. I was shocked. It was fantastic. A love story told in the setting of a magical circus, created by an eccentric old rich guy trying to win a bet. The story telling is highly visual, which is a real feat given that most of the things she describes are completely fabricated. Inventive and engaging.

Purity (2015) by Jonathan Franzen
My favorite Franzen yet.

The Invention of Wings (2014) by Sue Monk Kidd
This one took a few pages to grab me, but by the mid-point I was totally hooked. Her characters were based on real people, dealing with slavery, religion, family, and politics in the 1800s. It was a beautifully woven story.

The Adventures of a Helicopter Pilot (2014) by Bill Collier
I think this was the only nonfiction I read this year. It is my dad’s memoir. I love it, and though I may be biased, being his daughter and all, it has been really well reviewed on Amazon and he’s sold over 2000 copies so far (go dad!). It’s definitely worth checking out. You can buy a copy on Amazon.

So there it is. I would love to hear your favorites. I am always on the lookout for recommendations, though Brian’s picks will be a bit suspect after his panning of The Night Circus.

Happy New Year!

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Updating My Dreams

As I mentioned a couple weeks back, I have officially made the decision to let go of working as a freelance writer ever again. I love my job, I only work four days a week, which leaves me some solid time on Mondays to work on my fiction, and I get a regular, totally respectable paycheck.

I’ve been sitting with this choice for a few weeks, and am more and more comfortable with it. I don’t know why it took so long to realize what a good set up I’ve managed to land myself in. And I’m so glad I did realize before I did something drastic. Sometimes, when the writing isn’t going well, I get a little crazy.

Anyhow, I noticed a couple days ago that my dream board needed updating. Don’t laugh, I have a dream board. I give full credit to my hippie parents, who are big on visualizing outcomes. Besides, if Oprah does it (and she does), then there must be something to it because that woman is amazing. I mean seriously. How cool is it that she puts herself on the cover of her magazine every month? I love that shit.

So the dream board. I made it about year ago. It has the cover of my novel (or at least a hand-drawn version of how I see it looking), and the next, and some tiny little fake checks made out to me from fancy publishing agencies. It had the covers of all the magazines I was going to write for with mockups of the articles I was going to write (with my byline of course). It had a little drawing of me and Daniel and the kids flying off to some exotic place on one of my writing assignments.

Well, half of it was still good. The other half needed to change. And I had a few free minutes (yeah, being done with all that wedding craziness!), so I grabbed some scissors and glue and went to it. When she saw what I was doing my daughter asked: Don’t you want to travel with us anymore? And I said: Of course I do, but not for work. Which reminded me to grab a travel magazine I had been reading and add it to my pile of supplies.

Here’s how it came out:
Writer's Dream Board

You’ll see three book covers there. The Feathered Tale of Tallulah Jones, Book 2 (I have a title but don’t like it), and the Northern California book, which I’m told WILL some day be published. I also left one article. I have, ever since I received Issue #1 in the mail years ago, dreamed of writing a Spin The Globe piece for Afar magazine. If you don’t know that magazine, you should totally check it out. Best travel mag going. You’ll also see an outline for my third novel with a SOLD tag on it. The fine print dictates a bidding war and a seven-figure sale price.

The best change is that I got rid of all that extra freelance business and wallpapered the board with travel images: Great Barrier Reef, Zion, Yellowstone, mountain biking, SCUBA diving, hiking. These are the things I want most outside of work. Adventures with my family. And the coolest thing of all? Even if I don’t make seven figures on any of my books, I have a steady job that allows me to save up for these kind of vacations.

In short, I’m feeling pretty good about my choices lately. I hung the new board over my dresser and see it every day. My folks, and Oprah, say there’s power in that.

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Ditching the Laptop: FAIL

If you’ve been following along, you know I’ve been experimenting with the possibility of ditching the laptop and sticking with just my iPad.

The backstory is that when I started my last job (back in 2011), the company bought me a computer. At that point I gave my laptop, which was getting pretty old anyway, to my mom. Then, when I left that job and took this new job, I had to return the “new” computer. My sister-in-law had just bought a new laptop, so she was good enough to let me borrow her old computer, but it was super slow (which is why she got a new one).

Because it was so slow, I was using my iPad more and more for everything, and finally I decided to try making it my main computing device. Well, I can officially report now that the experiment has failed.

MacBook Air

There’s something so pretty about a new computer. All fresh and clean and full of potential. Like you could do anything with it. And it’s so fast. And it’s almost as light as the iPad, if not as compact. And I didn’t realize how much I missed the full-sized keyboard.

So, that’s that. It was a worthwhile experiment, but I just couldn’t make the iPad work like I wanted it to. I need to be able to jump around, from research to writing to email. There’s a fluidity that the laptop has that (at least so far) the iPad can’t match.

Onward and upward!

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Comparing Prose

I recently re-read Lonesome Dove. I wanted to read it more critically this time, to really consider why it captivated me so excruciatingly the first time I read it. At nearly 1000 pages, the worst thing about it is that it’s not longer. I feel like I could live in that book. If I had to choose one story to take to a deserted island, that would be it. And it held up on the second read, just as it had on the first.

So I got to thinking, what is it about McMurtry’s writing that is so effing awesome? Well, down at the good old Silver Lake Public Library I found myself a few other books by the man and set to reading. What I discovered was that I don’t actually love all of his writing. I couldn’t even finish Leaving Cheyenne. But I couldn’t quite say why. This seemed like a tremendous opportunity.

I pulled a passage from Leaving Cheyenne at random:

When we got to Molly’s she bandaged my hand and we sat up in the kitchen, eating all the stray food and talking over old times. We were all in high spirits and Johnny told us a lot of stories about life on the plains. Finally me and him slept awhile on her living room floor, and about sunup she came in in her nightgown and bathrobe and woke us up and cooked the best breakfast I ever ate.

Then I flipped to a page of Lonesome Dove:

By the time she got to her back porch the rain was slackening and the sun was already striking little rainbows through the sparkle of drops that still fell. Pea had walked on home, the water dripping more slowly from his hat. He never mentioned the incident to anyone, knowing it would mean unmerciful teasing if it ever got out. But he remembered it. When he lay on the porch half drunk and it floated up in his mind, things got mixed into the memory that he hadn’t even known he was noticing, such as the smell of Mary’s wet flesh. He hadn’t meant to smell her, and hadn’t made any effort to, and yet, the very night after it happened the first thing he remembered was that Mary had smelled different from any other wet thing he had ever smelled.

In looking at these two passages, as a writer, the first difference I see is in the detail. The first passage just sort of tells what they did. The second has the most wonderful details: little rainbows through the sparkle of drops, the smell of Mary’s wet flesh. And I love the phrase “different from any other wet thing he had ever smelled.” It made me giggle, and it evokes the smell of wet things. Wet things smell different than dry things.

The second thing I notice is the passing of time. Both passages cover the better part of a day, but the second has more context to the passing: the water dripping from his hat on the walk home, laying on the porch half drunk thinking of this woman. Compare that to “me and him slept a while on her living room floor.” I guess you could chalk that up to details as well. Maybe that’s why Lonesome Dove is so long. It’s all the details. But I’ll tell you, it’s those details that make it absolutely delicious.

The third is the narrator. Lonesome Dove is third person, jumping from character to character (to character – there are a lot of them), while Leaving Cheyenne is first person, which is inherently limiting. You just can’t tell as grand a story from first person. The main character in Leaving Cheyenne would never notice rainbows in raindrops. It just wouldn’t fit.

My novel is in first person, but I really feel like it needs to be. It’s a personal story. It’s subjective. It does limit perspective a bit, but I think the lesson here is to bring the details, make it visceral. My character is not above noting details, so I think there is reason to aspire to the heights of Lonesome Dove.  Not that I could ever write something as genius as that, but a girl can dream…

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Tough Mudder Tomorrow!

I gave myself a few mornings off this week. I’ve been training really hard for this race I’m doing tomorrow, and decided that I needed the extra rest to be at the top of my game.

In case you haven’t heard me yammer on about this race yet, let me tell you a little about it. It’s a 10-mile obstacle course with the tag line “quite possibly the toughest event on the planet.” Now, I have no frame of reference for the validity of that claim, but I do know there will be 12 different obstacles, some of which involve electricity, fire, dumpsters filled with ice water and barbed wire. I’ve been training for a long time.

My partner for the race (who also happens to be in my writing group – see how I always bring it back to the writing?) is my friend Alex. She and I just checked into our hotel. It’s a Ramada, so you know it’s pretty nice. It’s 11pm, and way past my bed time, but I’m too excited (nervous?) to sleep yet.

Our start time is 11am. 12 hours to go – yikes. We’re hoping to finish by 4, and I honestly don’t know if that’s optimistic or if we’ll finish way before that.

Daniel and my mom are meeting us back at the hotel with the kids. We decided it wasn’t worth the entrance fee to have to chase them through a crowd of adrenaline junkies. As much as I would have loved to have them at the finish line, I’ll settle for beer and a burger in beautiful downtown Temecula.

So wish me luck.
I’ll post some pictures as soon as I’m able.

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Office Break In

This is the scene that greeted me Friday morning when I arrived at work.


At first I glanced in through the wrecked door and saw Daniel’s monitor on his desk, so I thought the door broke on its own some how, but upon closer inspection I realized my monitor (which is newer and frankly a lot fancier) was in deed missing.

The funny thing is that on the way to work that morning I was actually thinking to myself – why do I lug my laptop home with me every night? Sometimes I do it so I can write in the morning, but I knew I wasn’t going to be writing on Friday morning, so I felt kind of lame for bringing it home, until I saw this.

After calling 911 and being transferred to dispatch to call for the cops to come, I peered in again and saw that Daniel’s laptop was also missing. Then my hands started to shake a bit. He has been working SO hard on this screenplay, and he is notoriously bad about backing up. I called home and broke the news and was very happy when he asked if his backup drive was still there. I looked closely and reported it was and he exhaled. Turns out that last time his computer crashed and took all his files he started backing up daily.

So that’s the silver lining. My back up drive was also untouched (though it sits on my desk right next to the monitor and could easily fit into a pocket), so all our files are safe.

It took three hours, but the cops finally did show up and take a report. (Fun side note – they had no record of my 911 call at 7am – I had to call three times. Government shutdown in action or just the LAPD at work?) Their finger print guy will be in some time today to see if he can get anything and we are thinking pretty hard about what new security measures we’re going to take. I’m pushing for metal doors, but seeing as we don’t have any windows, that would make the space kind of cave-like. Bars are icky. Maybe one of those metal grate things you pull down over the glass at the end of the night. The landlord seems unconcerned, but I’m thinking, now that the thief knows it’s that easy to break the door and take our shit, why wouldn’t they come back? I worked at a restaurant once that was robbed two nights in a row by the same guys. It happens.

These things happen.

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