Sunday, March 31, 2013

My First Liebster Award!

After years of seeing the badge on other people’s blogs and not really knowing what the heck it is, I have been nominated for the Liebster Award by one of the unimaginably awesome people I've recently met: Rebeccah Giltrow. 

So, of course, I begin by thanking Rebeccah for being the amazingly wonderful person she is and ask that you all take a moment to visit her over at Rebeccah Writes and see who else shares this nomination.  And to Rebeccah: words cannot express how grateful I am to you.  You just astound.

Next up: the rules (as I understand them): When you get nominated you 1) Thank the super cool person who nominated you (see above), 2) post 11 random facts about yourself, 3) Answer 11 questions about yourself, 4) Nominate 11 other awesome bloggers for the award and 5) Pose 11 new random questions to them.  Sounds like fun, right?  So here we go:

11 Totally Random facts About Me

1)      My favorite movie of all time is Garden State (and given how many movies I’ve seen that’s saying an awful lot).

2)      When I was a kid I mispronounced my R’s and S’s.  I went to speech therapy for a year.  We played games.  I was sad when the impediment self-corrected and I didn’t have to go anymore.

3)      When I was in high school I had a monstrously large crush on Steven Burns, the original host of Blue’s Clues.  I thought he was so adorable that I referred to him as my “future husband Steve”.  This earned me an endless supply of weird looks.

4)      My favorite singer in all of existence is Billie Holiday.  ‘Nough said.

5)      When I can’t find the word I’m looking for I substitute the word “thingie”.  I use this word so frequently that it tends to corrupt the vocabulary of those around me.

6)      I cannot whistle.  Physically incapable of it.  No idea why.  
7)      My very first career aspiration was to be an art teacher.  This was replaced by park ranger after seeing Yellowstone Park for the first time.  I have never been either of these things.

8)      The windiest place I’ve ever been is the recreation yard on Alcatraz island.  The wind blew so hard I literally got knocked on my ass.  It was sort-of awesome.

9)      My greatest accomplishment thus far: receiving 2nd Dan (2nd degree black belt) in Tang Soo Do.  Soon to be replaced next summer when I test for 3rd Dan.

10)  If I could be any animal it would be an eagle simply because flying seems like the greatest feeling you could possibly have.

11)  In first grade I almost got left back because I struggled so much with reading.  Thanks to my mother’s tireless advocacy I was allowed to advance, placed in a special class that taught the Slingerland method, overcame my disability, and have worshiped the written word ever since.  Thanks, Mom!

And now, 11 answers to Rebeccah’s questions:

1)      Where in the world are you right now?
I live in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, a suburb about 17miles north-west of Philadelphia.

2)      What has been your best gift?
I know this is sappy, but I’d have to say my significant other.  He’s been the best part of my life for the past 7 years and embodies the idea of home to me.

3) Can you play a musical instrument?
I have played: the flute (5th to 8th grade), the trombone (9th to 12th grade) and the piano (one year in college).  Sadly, I no longer play any of these things.

4) If you could time-travel to any period in the past, where would you go?
As a woman?  Nowhere- it's been a pretty recent development for women to enjoy the freedom we currently do and I would not want to go back to a time when I would be disenfranchised and/or owned.  But if I could be a rich, white male I would go to the Renaissance and be the first person to create some new form of art or scientific discovery (but hopefully something that wouldn't get me burned for heresy).

5) What is your favorite dessert?
My favorite food in existence is ice cream (gelato if in Italy, which is rare, so ice cream).  If I were going to eat myself to death, it would be with ice cream.

6) Who was your favorite teacher at school?
My 8th grade American History teacher.  He was once a smokejumper and had pictures from his training that he would show us via slideshow.  He also frequently told us that if we didn't have time to study we could use our textbook as a pillow and learn by osmosis.

7) Do you have any pets?
My dog Buddy makes every day better simply by existing.  I write about him often here.

8) Where did you go on your last holiday/vacation?
Dave took me to Manhattan for my 30th birthday in August.  I saw the High Line for the first time, ate real pizza and fancy ice cream (duh), saw The Book of Mormon on Broadway and re-visited the Natural History Museum and the Cloisters.  Due to simultaneous family events at the time I visited with my parents and my in-laws.  It was wonderful.

9) What languages do you speak?
Sadly, just English.  I took Italian from 7th to 10th grade but failed miserably once we reached conjugated verbs.  If I could learn any language now it would be Spanish, for utilitarian purposes.

10) What's your favorite word?
Bucolic- adj- of, pertaining to, or suggesting an idyllic rural life. 
Evokes all sorts of wonderful daydreams involving sunlight and vast expanses of land.

11) If you could exchange lives with anyone who would you choose?
No one.  It's taken me 30 years to reach this comfort level in my own skin, the prospect of getting to know myself as someone else is entirely too exhausting to consider.  Besides, I actually kinda like myself.

And now, the nominees!
5) Icy Sedgwick
6) mazzz-in-leeds
7) Catherine Russell
8) Katherine Hajer
9) Michele Wallace
10) Marc Nash
11) Cheney Giordano

Now it's your turn to answer these questions:
1) What is the last book you purchased?
2) Recall your last dream.  What happened?
3) Name something that you do alone that you wouldn't do in front of others.
4) Name the last album you purchased.
5) Any scars?  If more than one, pick one and tell us how you got it.  If none, tell us about your most bone-headed injury.
6) Favorite quote?
7) Most exotic (your definition) location you've been to?
8) If you could meet any famous person from history, who would it be?
9) What are your nicknames?
10) Favorite childhood T.V. show?
11) If you could have a super power, what would you have?

And that's it!  Thank you again to Rebeccah- I am so thrilled.  And to the awesome writers I've nominated: go forth and spread the love!

Happy Easter!

Friday, March 29, 2013

Celebrate the Small Things

As part of my ever-expanding list of connections to other writers that has been growing exponentially in recent weeks, I discovered VikLit over at Scribblings of an Aspiring Author and, subsequently discovered this blog hop.  Having completed and posted my #FridayFlash yesterday I am free to finally create my own list today!  So here we go:

My FridayFlash piece: I’ve never considered myself a poet.  I dabbled in it in high school and after creating a number of horrifically angsty pieces I sort-of gave up.  But every now and again I write something that just requires that format.  And this week’s piece really did.  I’m celebrating both the fact that I was brave and bit the bullet to put it out there AND that it seems to be getting good reviews.  Maybe I am a poet after-all.  (Not!)

My very-first totally random Twitter Shout-out:  This Wednesday while checking my e-mail I stumbled upon a twitter notification which informed me that my friend Chuck Allen- who writes some of the most heart-warming and poignant stories I’ve ever read- gave me a #WriterWednesday shout-out just for being encouraging and (*squee*) a “darn good writer”.  It’s been an ongoing theme that the support pouring in from other writers is just blowing my mind but it’s even better when it comes out of nowhere!

The up-coming A to Z Challenge:  I’m simultaneously in a state of panic and overjoyed excitement.  Panic at the fact that so many other writers seem to have already scheduled their posts while I *ahem* have not.  But crazy excited at the energy of this thing- so many writers (passed 1500 today!), so much encouragement, so many new blogs to discover and amazing people to meet.  It’s gonna be absolutely amazing!  I’d say I can’t wait but I can because I need the weekend to schedule at least the first few posts if I’m gonna have a chance of keeping up with this thing.

And now that I’ve gotten my list posted, I’ve got some hopping to do (which is terribly appropriate given the upcoming holiday).  See you all on Monday!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Me... with the memory of you

I dreamt about you again last night.
One of those strange visions that felt like a memory
but wasn’t. 

You and I were in a museum,
looking at the bones of history
and stumbling through the passages of silence. 

I had my coat tucked under my arms; your hand was in your pocket. 
I lingered at the placard,
hesitating to move on
hoping that you might brush my sleeve as you passed. 

When I looked up you were gone
and I tiptoed through the glass display cases
searching for you.

Room through room I chased you. 
Your presence wafted behind
like the scent of fresh rain
in the arid day. 

But all I found were the faces of strangers
and monsters’ remains. 

I discovered you in the gift shop,
amongst the toys and kitsch. 
You’d stumbled upon an old friend
who was going to take you away from me. 

I was jealous.
I always was. 

But all I could do was stand there looking stupid,
and watch you walk away. 

As you stepped out into the daylight
the glass doors caught your shape. 
I thought I saw you holding something in your hands…

and I watched another moment of chance fade away.

I awoke
feeling unsettled and spent.
Your ghost still haunting my conscious thoughts.

Like always, it seems:

with the memory of you.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Because Karate Really Is That Awesome

There are a lot of things in life that have the ability to make me crazy.  Some minor, some major, but all infuriating in their own way.  Even writing, as much as I clearly need to do it, tends to make me crazy.  I worry, I criticize, I agonize over it.  There’s a whole lot of stress coming from it, rather than stress relief.  I hope someday that will change, but historically that’s just been how it is.

Needless to say, I need things that make me feel better.  Things that help me de-stress.  Things to keep me sane.  I love my home.  I love any time I get to spend with my boyfriend. I love snuggling and playing with my dog.  I love quiet moments where life pauses for just a second and you feel rather than act.  And I LOVE karate.  Karate is my number one stress reliever, my number one aid.  It keeps me sane.

And on days like Saturday, when the entire day is all about karate, I feel particularly blessed.  Because we had our annual home tournament on Saturday.

My gym’s tournament team is pretty active.  They do local competitions, state-wide championships, national tournaments, even a few kids got selected to go to the international tournament.  But I’m not on the tournament team (another story altogether) so I miss most of that.  But when we’re home in our own gym welcoming other schools it’s a big deal.  Everyone is involved.  And I was very involved this year.

I got to judge, which I’ve never done before.  It was a little nerve-wracking at first because I had no idea I’d be asked to judge until I got there Saturday and they explained the judging rules to us all.  I was nervous the first few rounds, but I got comfortable with it pretty quickly.  Seeing the little kids do their forms with so much intensity was awesome and being able to contribute a high score to the ones that clearly deserved it was great.  (And being able to put the medal on them at the end was pretty great, too.)  It was one of many activities that gave me that warm, fuzzy feeling I so desperately crave and I can’t wait to do it again next year.

And then I got to score-keep (which I did last year so I was far more familiar/comfortable with it).  I got a kick out of that because the masters of our gym and my friends got to perform their forms and I got to call out their scores.  They all did absolutely amazing and it was a great reminder of the character of the people I train with.  Their passion and drive pushes me along, too, and I know that I owe so much of my progress to the teaching and camaraderie they’ve given and continue to give me every single class.  I love the people of my gym and truly believe that I am damned lucky to have fallen in with them.

I know that I’ve never been at another gym so I can’t really speak to the character of other establishments- but I can’t help but get the feeling that some of them exist for the wrong reasons.  Money-making gyms that test you 20 times a year just so they can get another testing fee out of you and sell you another belt.  Gyms where the founders are clearly interested in using the art as a source of power rather than teaching it and spreading the knowledge.  Gyms where physical violence is praised and the techniques are taught for the purpose of fighting rather than art.  Gyms where the traditional values the art was founded on are non-existent.

I am lucky.  Our Sah bom nim has so much respect for the art form itself that he is constantly pushing himself to be a better teacher, to learn more, to expose us to more practitioners who can show us more than he can, to push us to excel ourselves- usually at the sacrifice of his own training.  And because of his character he’s attracted a truly amazing group of people to him.  People who feel so good being part of this amazing organization that they will happily donate their time, effort and energy to pulling off a huge operation like Saturday.  People who demonstrate the meaning of the word community.

I started karate, originally, because I was bored.  I needed something to do with my free time, other than sitting on the couch like a slug and watching massive amounts of television.  I liked it because it was (and remains, mostly) the only form of physical activity I have to prevent me from gaining a hundred pounds and suffering a heart attack by 40.  I continued because I felt really good about myself when I learned a new form or performed a technique correctly. The belt colors changing and the pride my teachers had in me as I advanced kept me going. 

It’s only in recent years that I realized what karate was really doing for me- keeping me sane.  Not just because of all the reasons I just said, but because I am a part of my gym and we are a family.  These people- these amazing, passionate, genuine people- are my family.  They love me, they push me to become better, and they offer me the chance to be part of something I so desperately need to be a part of.  They welcome me with open arms each and every time I go to class and are always glad to see me.  It’s like coming home at the end of a long work day.  But with jump kicks.

And on days like Saturday when I get to be a part of something so wonderful I can’t help but feel overwhelmed by it.  I am so lucky.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Big Reveal

So, apparently it's not enough for some people to blog for 87% of the month, they have to have themes.  Like it's not enough that you're writing, posting, hopping along to other people's blogs and reading their posts, commenting, tweeting and generally going crazy with the whole thing- you have to pick a theme?!?  Really?  What are you, nuts?

Well, apparently I am too because I've decided to pick a theme.  And here it is:

Snapshots.  I've written several fiction pieces that depict a snapshot in time.  Either a particular moment in a character's life, a scene with cinematic features, a place observed for a moment.  The idea is always to try and capture what makes that moment that moment.  So that's the goal for this challenge: 26 snapshots, capturing 26 moments in time, each one written in less than 500 words (because brevity is something I've always struggled with and I could seriously use the practice).  Hopefully, I will be able to precisely capture the moment with a few words that are adeptly chosen and end up with a very clear picture that goes straight to the heart of it. 

I gotta say, it's a little intimidating, this theme.  It's gonna require a lot of concentrated effort and energy on my part.  But then again, what worthwhile endeavor doesn't?  I know it'll be good for me and I need to do it.  So I'm gonna.  Wish me luck!

P.S.- I almost forgot!  It's not too late to sign up for the A to Z Challenge!  You don't have to have a theme or even a clue as to what you're going to write about, you just have to commit to write.  And once you do, you can hop along to all the other bloggers participating in the crazy event with you.  It's gonna be awesome!  Really.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Just Connect

For years now (4, if you’re counting), I’ve been participating in NaNoWriMo every November and winning by accomplishing what still seems like the impossible task of writing 50k words in 30 days.  And what’s more is that in spite of the incalculable insanity that is the month of November I’ve not only reached the goal every year, but I’ve actually had fun doing it.

Now, for those of you who have read my past posts about my writing process, I’m not usually a person who enjoys writing.  I guilt myself into it, agonize over the entire process, and feel such sheer relief after it’s done that I usually have no interest in doing it again.  Sure, I like the pride I feel from having accomplished it- but I don’t like it.  I like having done it.

And I’ve wondered why it is that I can’t repeat the same maddening but wonderful process that makes NaNoWriMo the amazing experience it is during the rest of the year- why it is that November seems to have cornered the market on writing.  I’ve thought that maybe it was simply a matter of writing everyday.  (It’s not, though that is a great thing to do and I know I would benefit from doing it.  But one step at a time, here.)  I’ve wondered if perhaps it’s the fact that I’m writing a novel rather than a short story.  (That’s not it, either.)  I’ve thought that perhaps it’s because during NaNo no one reads what I write. (I admit this is a big draw, but it’s not what makes NaNo wonderful.)

It’s only recently that I’ve come up with the blaringly obvious, I-must-be-mentally-retarded-for-having-not-realized-this-sooner answer: it’s the people.  (Yeah, I know.  Duh.)

I have, until relatively recently, lived with the delusion that I was in this alone.  While I certainly followed other blogs and Twitter feeds I didn’t really feel connected to the people I followed because I believed that they were real authors and that I was entirely too far below them to be in the same league.  They, after all, were getting published and read by large audiences and had projects in the works that might actually yield them money.  I couldn’t relate to any of that!

And yet, the more that I’ve allowed myself to open up to all these other authors the more I’ve seen that underneath whatever hero worship I may have naively placed on them they’re actually people.  They, like me, have lives that often get in the way of them writing.  They, like me, have jobs and families and bills and pets and daily life bull-shit that they have to deal with.  And they, like me, have other interests aside from writing and are not actually chained to their computers coming up with stories 24/7.

And most importantly: they, like me, have doubts.  I, amazingly enough, am not the only writer to think my writing is crap.  Nor am I the only writer to struggle a great deal with the process of writing.  Nor am I the only writer to wonder- very frequently- if I should even be writing at all.

It turns out that these thoughts and fears which I thought set me apart from all these other amazing writers is actually the exact thing that brings me together with them.  Epiphany.

And sure enough, when I did start to expose myself (and my writing) to these writers I found more and more similarities rather differences.  More and more thoughts coming from their minds that are identical to my own.  More and more reasons to try doing what they’re doing: writing.

So, I started connecting.  On Twitter, on Google+, on Blogger, on everything I can think of.  And the more connections I made the more cool people I was finding to connect to.  Plus, the more I connected, the more they (you) connected back.

I am overwhelmed.  I am awed.  I am thrilled.  I am feeling incredibly stupid for not realizing this sooner.  But most of all, I am determined.  I want the magic of NaNo all year long.  And I’m on my way to it.

So I’m going to write more.  More flash pieces for #fridayflash, more insights on writing for #amwriting and now, for the first time, 26 more pieces for the #atozchallenge!

That’s right!  Beginning April 1st I’ll be embarking, along with so many other awesome people it’ll be like NaNo all over again, on a 26 post journey.  I will be writing, posting, blog-hopping, reading, commenting, tweeting, sharing and reveling.  And it’s gonna be awesome.

Because I’m not alone, unless I isolate.  I’m not a shitty writer unless I conclude that I am.  I’m not unproductive unless I avoid doing what I so obviously need to do.  And I’m not stupid enough to forget this invaluable (if painfully obvious) lesson: Just Connect.

Thursday, March 14, 2013


"You’re probably gonna think I’m crazy… and the thing is, you might be right.  The world stopped making sense the day I saw her in a bathtub full of blood.

"And I could even guess what you think happened.  You find your sister like that and you’re gonna be a bit traumatized.  Anybody would be.  So you think I built up this delusion as part of PTSD or some shit like that.  And if that’s how you’re looking at it, it makes sense.  It fits.  People like it when things fit.  But sometimes they don’t.

"Sometimes you can’t explain away what happens with a pre-existing understanding.  You can’t just categorize everything, slap a label on it and file it away.  Cause some part of you (maybe not the logical part, but some part) knows it doesn’t fit.  And when that happens, you gotta wonder.

"Like when they pulled her out of that tub- she should have been dead.  And I think she was.  I know she was.  No one agrees with me, but I know my sister.  She died that day.  They may have pulled her body out of there, stitched up the cuts and pumped it back full of blood- but she was already gone.  I knew it as soon as I saw it in the hospital.

"They let us go in (my dad and me), and as soon as I saw those eyes I knew.  They were the same blue eyes as my sister’s but they weren’t hers anymore.  Something else was looking out of them.

"And I’m sure it’s about now you want to see if facts and logic contradict the story.  You wanna point out that anyone would look different after trying to kill themselves.  That I was looking at someone who was too depressed to seem like the person I knew.  But I did know her.  I knew my sister and I knew her depression.  She’d been depressed as long as she’d been alive.  It was just part of her personality.  I know that sounds weird, but it’s true.  And that wasn’t it.

"It wasn’t depression that made it lie and manipulate every single person it came in contact with.  It wasn’t depression that made it start sleeping with every guy in school.  And it certainly wasn’t depression that gave it seemingly magical powers over everyone.  And it wasn’t those meds they prescribed, either.  Every kid in school, every teacher, every neighbor, even my dad- they were all under its spell.  Jumping and posing and bouncing like marionettes.  Depression won’t do that.  Meds won’t do that.  And my sister sure as hell wouldn’t do that.

"And I’m sure you wanna point out that my dad knew her, too.  Say that a man would notice if his own daughter wasn’t there anymore.  But the fact is he was too busy worrying about her to really see it.  See it where she had been.

"I don’t know what it was.  I don’t know what they pulled out of the tub that day.  I did a lot of research trying to figure it out.  And you want crazy, there’s plenty of that on the internet.  I may be crazy but I’m not crazy.  I never figured out what it was.

"We stopped going to church when my mom died and since I was so young I don’t remember much of it.  But there was one thing the pastor said that stuck with me.  He said that evil was opportunistic, that it preyed on the weak willed and that we had to secure our will in God in order to protect ourselves.  I didn’t know what the hell he was talking about at the time.  Not until I saw my sister’s body in that hospital bed.  Then I remembered.

"I said I didn’t know what it was and that’s true, I don’t.  But I know it was evil.  You don’t do that kind of shit if you’re not.  My sister wouldn’t do that kind of shit.  And don’t tell me that sexual promiscuity or whatever you call that bullshit is normal in disturbed people- that’s not what it was.  It was control.  It was removing the order from the world and putting chaos there instead.  It was breaking things down and creating… I don’t know what.  I just know that within three months things were so irrevocably fucked up that there was no repair, there was just damage control.

"Telling my friends that it wasn’t her who sacrificed them in the public eye and left everyone whispering in the hallways every time they walked to class.  Telling the quarterback (who I don’t even like) that there was more to life than football after it crashed his car and left him in a wheel chair.  Trying to get my dad to go to the doctor when he kept having those pains. 

"I should’ve done something sooner.  I think he might still be alive if I’d realized the twisted shit it was doing sooner.  Or if I hadn’t been such a fucking pussy about doing something about it.  And I know you think that was a heart attack- but it fucked with his pills, I know it did.  I don’t know what he was taking instead of his heart meds, but whatever they were they killed him.  And there’s nowhere else they could’ve come from.  There’s no logic you can use to argue that one away.

"It looked at me at the funeral, you know?  It held my hand, to make it look it good.  And that’s when I realized what had happened.  Why he was dead.  And that’s when I realized I had to do something.

"So I know you think I’m crazy, because you think I shot my sister.  But I had to use a gun- cause the slit wrists and legs didn’t do it.  It had to be a shot to the head.  Well, several.  But that was the only way I could be sure. 

"And I know that’s a crazy thing to do, so I accept that I might be crazy.  But that’s not the question- is it, doc?  The question is, if there’s a diagnosis for that.  The question is if I fit.  Cause if I don’t fit the label you gotta wonder… know what I mean?"

Monday, March 11, 2013

Park, Interrupted

Saturday was a gorgeous day.  The sun was out, the temperature had climbed into the low sixties, there was a nice breeze in the air and the humidity was the lowest it’s been in months.  So of course, Dave and I had the same idea as everyone else: go outside.  And since Buddy had just recently become blissfully cone-free we were eager to let him run and romp in reward for the weeks of discomfort he’d braved.  So we put on the leash, packed up his ball, treats and water, and walked to the park.

It was deceptively empty when we got there.  It usually is.  So we let him off the leash and let him run.  For a few minutes, it was heaven.  Him running his little heart out, his little ears flapping in the wind, that look of unadulterated joy on his furry little face.  Lovely.

But then (of course) some kids showed up on the play ground.  Which wasn’t that big of a deal since we could just move further out into the field.  So we did, and we continued our game of fetch.

But then a guy showed up with his two dogs and we got wary.  They were normal sized dogs, technically.  But a normal sized dog is still a giant in comparison to Buddy so we always have to be careful. 

But at first it seemed like he was just going to walk them through without actually coming into the park.  So we just kept an eye on them and threw the ball a little closer.

But then he let one of the dogs off the leash.  Again, at first it seemed like it might be ok since the dog was staying within a few feet of him.  Some people train their dogs well so there’s less cause for concern.  This dog was not well trained.

I was just bending down to put Buddy’s leash on as a precaution when I heard Dave yell out a surprised “Hey!”  I looked up and there was a split second of seeing this dog (which seemed like a Husky mix of some kind) barreling towards me as fast as its rather sizable legs could carry it before Dave’s leg blocked my view.  He threw it out linebacker-style in an attempt to deflect the dog from getting to Buddy.  I instinctively grabbed him up in my arms.

He let out a loud yelp and in the confusion I didn’t know if it was from me grabbing him or the dog hitting him because a fraction of a second later the dog had bounced off of Dave’s leg and hit me in my back as I turned.  I didn’t think about it, the only thing in my brain was “get Buddy in arms and up off ground NOW!”

That might have been the end of the crisis except that this dog (who we learned was named Max when his owner called him and he totally ignored it) was a very good jumper.  So he jumped.  And I turned, to keep Buddy away.  Then he jumped again, and I turned again.  And so it continued- Max jumping wildly, me twisting and turning like a ball carrier trying to evade a tackle.  He was impacting pretty hard each time he jumped at me.  Buddy’s leash was dragging on the ground, getting tangled in my feet.  Dave was desperately trying to get a hold of Max and failing as he jumped and got on the other side of me.

Max’s owner, apparently in disbelief that his dog could possibly do any harm to my tiny bundle, kept calling out “He’s friendly!”  As if that meant that Max- who was at least 20 times the size of Buddy, at an extremely conservative estimate- wouldn’t hurt him by accident.  He’s tiny, as I’ve said many times.  Not to mention that he just had major surgery.  Needless to say, friendly didn’t mean jack to us at that moment.

So I started booking it to the other side of the park.  I didn’t look back to see if Max was chasing us, I didn’t try to explain to his owner that I really didn’t mean to be rude, I just ran.  When I heard the din die down I looked back and saw that the man (who was looking rather bewildered at the whole thing) had finally gotten a hold of Max and Dave was walking after me. 

As my heart started to slow I remembered that I’d heard Buddy yelp so I checked him to make sure he was ok.  I pulled on his legs, checked his face and undercarriage.  He acted normal so I started to breathe again.  I didn’t put him down and let him walk on his own again until we’d left Max safely on the other side of the block.

Dave I spent the rest of the walk home talking about how it had been a good idea, at least.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Occupational Hazard

In honor of International Women's Day...

In the darkness, the light from the fire was blinding.  She could feel the heat on her skin.  She wanted to run, but she couldn’t move.  She wanted to scream, but she couldn’t breathe.  There was no air in the blackness, no ground, nothing except for her and the fire.  It burned her.
Sarah shot up like a trap.  For a second, everything was quiet.  She sat there in the bed, her eyes trying to see in the darkness, wondering what had awoken her.  Then she heard the whimper again and remembered.  She threw the covers off and jumped out of bed, running the short distance to her daughter’s room.

The small girl was tossing in her bed like a ship in a tempest, thrashing and whimpering in her sleep.  Sarah grabbed her in her arms and cradled her but she didn’t wake and the action earned her a strong kick on the shin.

“Ali, Ali- it’s ok!  Wake up, sweetie- wake up!” she shouted, half rocking and half shaking her as she did.

“Noooo-“ Ali whimpered, tears seeping out from under her closed eyes.  She thrashed and pushed against her, nearly dislodging herself from her mother’s grip.

“Ali!” Sarah yelled, her desperation causing her voice to shriek.

“Na-uah” Ali screamed as she opened her eyes.  She stared wildly for a second before her eyes fixated on the image of her mother leaning over her and then tears started in earnest.  She buried her head into the folds of Sarah’s nightgown and unleashed a sea of tears and angry, muffled sobs.

“It’s ok, sweetie- it’s ok” Sarah cooed, stroking the small girl’s head as she rocked her back and forth.  “It’s ok, mommy’s here.  You’re ok.”

It was a long time before the sobbing slowed and the girl calmed in her arms.  Sarah could feel a dampness spreading across her belly from where her face had been buried.  There was the sound of muffled words and Sarah stopped her rocking.

“What is it, sweetie?  What happened?”

“They were burning!’ Ali cried, pushing back from her mother’s embrace to look up at her.  Her face was dimly lit in the meager light from the turtle-shaped night light on the bed side table but Sarah could see the shine from her tears all over her face.

“Who was, sweetie?” she asked, her voice calm and soothing.

“They were burning and I- I couldn’t get out!” she yelled.

Sarah smoothed the tears from her face and wiped the sweat from her forehead.  “It was only a dream- you’re safe now.  You’re here with me and… where is he?”  She held onto the small body as she leaned across the bed and felt through the mess of sheets.  Then she leaned to the other side and reached around to the floor, her fingers finally brushing the small, fluffy object.

“Uhn- here he is!” she said, grabbing the stuffed monster up off the floor and brandishing it above her head triumphantly.  “You’re here with me and Mooby and everything’s ok,” she said as she placed the stuffed animal into her daughter’s hands. 

Ali grabbed onto it and smothered it against her chest.

“There, now- that’s better.”  She continued to rock her daughter, cooing slightly. 

“But what if it comes back?” Ali whined, her voice shaky.

“Well, if Mr. Mooby would do his job,” she said, pointing at the fluffy, purple monster with an accusatory finger, “then we wouldn’t have any nightmares, now would we?”

“Yeah,” Ali pouted.  “He’s supposed to chase the other monsters away!”

“I know- what’s up with that, you slacker?” Sarah asked as she raised an eyebrow at the stuffed animal.  “Well I know somebody who’s not going to get that raise he was asking for.”

“Yeah, you slacker!” Ali parroted as she poked the small monster in the face, then hugged him more fiercely than before in punishment for his misdeed and settled back into her mother’s lap.  She kicked and pushed as she curled herself up in the embrace.

“Ooof-“ Sarah said as a small knee jabbed her in the stomach.  She pushed herself up a little further on the small bed and leaned back against the headboard.  “Well, I’m sure he feels bad and he won’t make such a terrible mistake again.”

“Ya-eah” Ali said in a yawn.  She settled back into the warm embrace and closed her eyes.

The adrenaline which had hastened her arrival wearing off, Sarah found herself yawning. She stared off into space as her sleepiness started to wear her down, then realized that the small burden on her lap had already settled.  The small, even breaths let her know that she’d fallen asleep already.

“Uh, oh- now.  Let’s not fall asleep until mommy can-“ she said, trying to move the bundle from her lap. 

Ali made a soft, protesting noise as her bed moved underneath her.

Sarah signed and settled back into the small bed again.  She pushed one of the pillows behind the crook of her back and tried to get her other leg up on the bed but the awkward angle prevented it and Ali was nothing more than dead weight now.  She rubbed her eyes wearily, wondering how long she would have to stay like this.  Then Ali made a small snort as she snored and Sarah smiled at her.  She sat there for some time watching her sleep until her eyelids grew heavy. 

She would fall asleep there, as she had many other nights, and pay for it in the morning with a back ache and sore shoulders.  But she’d never complain.  It was just part of the job, she thought.  And she was proud of it.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Best Thing About Nicholas Nickleby

My father grew up in the age of John Wayne and Gary Cooper.  He was the 3rd generation descendant of Russian immigrants growing up in Cold War America.  And most of all, he is a man.  Communication was never his strong suit.

Which is why my dad never had the easiest time communicating with us kids, especially me- the girl.  We developed a routine rather early on in my life where his primary method of displaying his affection for me was to tease me.  Mercilessly.  Over time I developed the ability to tease him back and the two of us spent the bulk of our interactions teasing each other, my father’s unequivocally weird sense of humor dominating the logic of these conversations.

He struggled when “real” issues were brought up and despaired when I cried.  It wasn’t something he was able to fix for me and I think he kind-of felt like a failure for that.  He’d tried to make me laugh, he’d try to cheer me up.  He’d he ask me who Fat Burns was and tell me, if I didn’t guess it immediately, that he was the son of Skinny Burns.  Sometimes it’d actually get a laugh out of me.  But of course that wasn’t what I wanted and it wasn’t long before all crying spells were automatically referred to my mother because he just didn’t know what to do for me.

During my adolescence, at the height of my teen angst and rebellion, I gravitated toward him because his quiet nature was less imposing than my mother’s and he’d suffered more hardships over his life that I could relate to.  He’d had his heart broken (before my mom).  He’d struggled to make friends.  He’d felt alone- unlike my mother whose gregarious nature awarded her with an active social life for as long as she could remember.  It was the first time that we were able to converse about “real” issues and I secretly treasured them as something that made our relationship special.

Then I went to college and fell into the trap that many people do: every time I called home my mom would pick up and in many calls my only communication with him was through her.  Sometimes I would call specifically when my mother wasn’t home to talk to him about something from school- he was always a huge history buff (still is) and had a love and respect for literature that served to establish common ground.  But over the years it became more and more common for us to converse primarily through my mother and in all honesty I didn’t work hard enough to keep our relationship separate.

So last night when I called home, I asked if I could talk to just dad for a while after getting the regular weekly update from my mom.  My mom hung up and I broached the subject I thought would be fruitful: the book I just finished, which he had said he’d read when I mentioned it earlier.  I can’t tell you how much joy it brought me to have a real conversation with my dad about both that particular book, and the work of Charles Dickens in general.

He had his own opinions about the humorous tone of the book, where Dickens got his inspiration and which of his works executed certain literary tasks better.  He knew about the historical impact of many of his works; specifically about the impact this book had on the Yorkshire school systems.  (He always knows those historical factoids and I love that about him.)  I learned that his favorite book of Dickens is A Tale of Two Cities and he has a very different perspective of Sydney Carlton than I’ve always had.  We argued about it.  It was wonderful.  And after my endorsement of David Copperfield, he promised to go get a copy from the library so we could talk about that, too.

I know my dad loves me.  And I wish that we could find a way to honestly talk about life, without my mother and without the awkward trips and falls that often get in the way.  But literature and history come so much more naturally.  Some of the best conversations I’ve ever had with my dad have been over Shakespeare’s history plays, The Lord of The Rings trilogy or the Harry Potter series or about something I was just watching on the history channel.  It’s our common ground, it’s where we meet.

I don’t get these conversations with my dad very often.  Which is probably why I feel so good right now for having just had one.  And of all the things I’ll remember about Nicholas Nickleby, this is the best.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Up Next

Nicholas Nickleby was engrossing.  It was intense.  It was challenging, interesting and very filling.  But most of all, it was LONG.  So this month, to take a complete and total departure from all that, I'm reading the second book in the Nikki Heat series from Castle.  I'm assuming that it will be easy, fun and very light.  And of course, short.  Short is good after an 800 pager.  Stay tuned.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

#NaNoReMo Book Review: Nicholas Nickleby

Well, it took me a full 30 days rather than the given 28, but I finally finished Nicholas Nickleby.  I have to say that I’m proud of myself, even with the extra time it took.  This was NOT an easy read.  And I’ve been thinking that it isn’t necessarily Dickens, but more just the style writing of the time.  I say this because many of the things that made this such a laborious process were the same things that made getting through Pride and Prejudice so difficult last year: the stylistic trademarks of the literature itself, rather than the voice of the author.

Sure, Dickens has a penchant for what I would qualify as run-on sentences.  A large number of those contained in the book average at a paragraph in length with more commas and semicolons than my mind could take in easily.  I found myself having to re-read several parts as my brain tripped over the wording and tried to make sense of the syntax which was so unfamiliar to me.  Not to mention that this book, like Pride and Prejudice, is now riddled with highlighted words and written-in definitions that came from stopping to look up something in the dictionary every few pages.  I have to admit, a lot of them seemed like pretty useful vocabulary and I’d be proud if I could absorb them all into my rather limited word bank.  But there were, of course, some that described things that one wouldn’t find outside of nineteenth century London and therefore were interesting only for historical purposes.  But again, that’s the style of the time and it’s impossible to look at this book separate from the period it took place in.

It’s also impossible to look at this book separate from the author who wrote it.  I’m sure that many might view that as a shortcoming, but it’s how Dickens made his career and earned his spot in the poet’s corner of Westminster Abbey.  Dickens is famous for his depictions of London lifestyle: the inhumane school systems, the corrupted legal system, the horror of the debtor’s prisons and the immoral treatment of all those who can’t buy their place in high society.  And his voice not only criticized but inspired enough public outrage over these systems as to actually bring about some change.  This is very clear in this volume where he takes aim at the Yorkshire school systems which he depicts with more clarity and reality than any of the characters.  People were so appalled by the depiction of Dotheboys Hall that many of the Yorkshire schools were shut down due to disgraced parents pulling their neglected children out of them.

Another setting which seems very real and fleshed out is the theatrical one in which the troupe of actors live.  The actors themselves make up their world with their costumes, speeches and posing.  And the tricks and tools they use to get funding, find new locales to play in, entice an audience and create their dramas seems like vivid recollections rather than creations (because they were).

But the bulk of the action takes place in London itself and Dickens fleshes out each street, neighborhood and district with the sights, smells, sounds, actions and characteristics from his own experience.  And the country side which he found so comforting comes out just as beautifully as they must have looked to him.  Every book of his that I’ve read has excelled in this way and again, I think that’s what made him so well-liked.  People would read his stories and know exactly where they were and what he was describing.  And his depictions of the small homes in which our heroes stay are so comforting one could wrap themselves up in them like a blanket.

Perhaps it is because his settings are so intensely real that his characters are critiqued so disparagingly.  A brief disclaimer here: Nicholas Nickleby is one of Dickens’s early works and comes from his light period- his career having been separated into two parts of light (earlier works) and dark (later works).  Every other book of his that I’ve read comes from his later era and has a decidedly darker tone.  In Nickleby, while there’s a lot of dark stuff that happens plot-wise, the bulk of the scenes are comedic and therefore the characters are meant to be humorous.  All of the actors, some of the family members, the high and low society peoples and even some of the villains look funny, do funny things and behave in funny ways.

I don’t know if it is because of this that so many of them are so one-dimensional, but that’s what they are.  They’re characters, images, stereotypes rather than real people and while they earn laughs they rarely show anything beyond the surface.  Even the main characters are pretty shallow and seem to be either plot devices (as is the case with the Cheeryble brothers or, as I call them, the two Santas) or blank slates upon which a moral structure is built.  The woman, especially, are terribly shallow and seem more like caricatures serving the satire or personifications in a morality play rather than real characters with thoughts, wants, or shortcomings.

The only character with any real depth is the primary antagonist who is more introspective, questions his own motives more and has a larger arc than any other character.  Ralph Nickleby is both the most evil and my favorite character in the entire book.  And several others who seemed promising in the beginning end up being big disappointments.

This was a harsh reality for me because after Great Expectations where the woman are just as conniving, scheming and struggling with their deficiencies as the men are I had hoped to see a similarly rich development here.  Especially since, unlike Great Expectations, Nickleby is told from the third person narrative so there’s a lot more room for observations,  judgments and questions.  While Dickens takes full advantage of that when talking about the characteristics of London lifestyle he drops it completely when talking about the woman here.  All this to say that when I make my next selection of Dickens it will certainly be from his darker era because it seems like that’s the place to find real character development.

Last but certainly not least, the plot.  Nicholas Nickleby is, at its most basic form, a love story.  There’s a double marriage at the end with a third close on its tail and all the heroes, for the most part, do live happily ever after.  There's also a lot of filial love and the love one feels in friendship which (in my opinion) hits home a lot more than straight-forward romance.  And it's is worth note, that another main character who is tragic at both the start and finish is mentioned in the very end: the very last scene has the children from these marriages playing on the grave of the poor, mistreated Smike.  It's a last reminder of the harsh reality of Dotheboys hall and of the wreakage left by our main protagonist's life and it was very gratifying.

But the interesting, meaty stuff is the many sub plots that proliferate the entire tome- the schemes, the downfalls of villains, the comeuppances of people who earn their new stations.  Dickens often juxtaposes these by splitting scenes, trying to introduce humor when things seem bleak and reality when things seems too hopeful.  And he often has different characters overlapping each other on the timeline and will remind you at the end of one scene that you only what these characters did, so he'll take you back to see what the other were doing.  It keeps you on your toes and breaks up the narractive in a way that I rarely see.

And of course, most of these both originate and end with Ralph Nickleby (thus why he has so much room to gain dimensions and why he's my favorite).  But the big problem with that, of course, is that the main character goes through all of this right along with him and ends up looking just as shallow at the end as he did in the beginning.  There’s a sense of having just witnessed a bad actor do a part that might have been much better liked with someone superior portraying him. 

None of this is to say, strangely enough, that I didn’t like the book.  In the end, I would have to say I did.  While it doesn’t hold a candle to any of his other works I’ve read it is endearing in its lightheartedness, I like a lot of the ideas espoused in the pages, the sub plots are interesting enough that I’ll remember them and Ralph Nickleby is a good enough villain that he will be added to my list of great Dickens characters, right along with Miss Havisham- a woman!  And most of all, Dickens plays around enough stylistically that it serves as a good example of how to broaden traditional third person narrative so my appreciation for him as an author is not at all deteriorated from having read this.

In the end I’m glad that I read this, but I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone.  If you’re a hard-core Dickens fan, it’s a must read.  If you’re a Dickens hater, skip it because this will probably just give you more ammunition to fire.  And if you’re a Dickens virgin, start with something from his later works because that will open up the door a lot wider than this could.