Wedding Bells!

Huzzah!!!  I have a wedding to go to next month! Excellent news, as it’s for a dear, dear relative.

And yet . . .

Terrible news, as I have nothing to wear. Literally. Because I never go anywhere. Literally. Except for work, because if I didn’t, the mortgage wouldn’t get paid and the bank would throw me out of the house that I never leave. Literally.

(Don’t worry, all you nervous O’Keefes, who have seen so little of me over the decades. Your brother’s phantom wife will leave the house for this wonderful, momentous occasion.)

I shop online (how else?) and bought a lovely top, plummy red with soft sparkles. The top fits but is rather lumpy.

The lumps are me.

I had the horrible realization that I may also have to purchase a (shrieeeeeek!) foundation garment. In the parlance of the common folk, this means a girdle stretching from the tip of my cute little toes to the top of my cute little ears.

Updates to come. Unless my head explodes first. Literally.

Blog Assessment

I started this blog on January 1, 2013, as a way to unclog writer’s block, a kind of written Drāno. The description is accurate, given some of what’s been flushed out. To both continue the metaphor and to mix it:

And for the stinky I am yet to write, mea maximum culpa.

The process of written Drāno for writer’s block is oxymoronic: to start writing again by not writing. But it feels true. Hair of the dog. Little black dogs.

All I can do is measure progress by quantity. Three months = thirteen weeks = nineteen posts = a pinch less than one-and-a-half a week. Not the two to three a week I was über-confident would magically flow from my fingertips. And not the zero a week I was terrified I’d choke on.

So … How do I assess my first quarter?

The non-writers I know, which means virtually everyone in my everyday life, are always puzzled when they ask about the blog, and despite my bravado in answering, I’m always uncomfortable. I’m still not quite sure about the whole thing. For now, I’ll try to answer just one of their most frequently asked questions:

I don’t get it. How do you write by not writing?

I am a fiction writer. Even though I paid the bills for twenty-five years writing junk ma—(cough, cough, cough)—I mean direct mail, a business newsletter, educational materials, and assorted work for hire, and even though these have given me a (very) modest full-time living, in some way nonfiction is not “real.” Only fiction is real. Another oxymoron.

This is the part’s that’s hard to explain, one of those situations you try describing and end up trailing off with, “It was sooo much funnier than it sounds. I guess you just had to be there.”

I have sweated over articles like “17 Critical New Changes to the Tax Law Business Owners Can’t Ignore!” But I have never bled over them. I have bled over monsters and angels and bunnies and bears.

Steven King once said that if writers didn’t get paid, there’d be a psychiatric diagnosis for them in the DSM (the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). I knew, perhaps presuming too much, that he meant fiction writers.

There is no paycheck in the blog. No post-to-post topic. No outside-imposed deadline. If I stopped tomorrow, it wouldn’t affect my day job. It wouldn’t affect future work for hire.

At the down-and-dirty level, the blog is simply a way to get into the habit of writing regularly, edging into it backward, totally blind to what’s back there, relying solely on the muscle memory of my hands on the keyboard, my fingers on the pen.

My psych professor once said that a patient enters therapy when the pain of not going finally becomes greater than the pain of going. So the blog is (1) to get me writing regularly, and then (2) to get me writing fiction when the pain of writing nonfiction finally becomes greater than the pain of not writing fiction. (I say this with profound apologies to any “real” nonfiction writer who may read this.)

Is it working? I don’t know. Some days I think I just like to hear myself talk in print, which thwarts the purpose. Other days I get unbelievably angry that I have to waste so much time on these blasted black dogs, time that would be so much better spent writing fiction.

What fiction? And that inner voice, down deep in the pipes where the Drāno hasn’t reached yet, laughs and laughs and laughs.

Is that understandable? Maybe you just had to be there.

Adopt a Highway—But Don’t Tell Him

adopt a highwayWhenever I see this. I envision the gathering: anxious Mom and Dad and clueless Little 24 South, all at the kitchen table. Dad clears his throat nervously and speaks first:

“Son, have you ever wondered why you don’t look like either your mother or me? Or why you’ve got a direction in your name, even though we’re not hippies or actors?”

Mom leans in, a tear glistening in her eye.

“Honey, have you ever wondered why you don’t go clothes shopping, you get resurfaced? Or when your acne breaks out, why kids don’t call you pizza face, they call you pothole face?”

Dad, a bit more insistent: “Did it ever occur to you that when someone says you have rocks in your head, it may not be a metaphor? Hmm? What’s that, Son? What are we really talking about?”

Mom and Dad look at each other, panic-stricken. Although her voice quavers, Mom tries to explain.

“The school psychologist called. And the principal. And the police chief. They said you were in an incident involving the … faculty parking lot. The school has a zero tolerance policy about everything, and it’s only because they don’t have a word for what happened that they won’t suspend you … but if they did have a word … for what happened … there’d be a zero tolerance policy against that too.”

Dad cuts in to save her: “Son, what your mother means is, Are you sure you have never, ever wondered why you don’t look like either one of us? Because you really, really, REALLY don’t look like us.”

Aww, ain’t that cute?

The parrots hate being put back into their cages—especially on weekday mornings, when their time outside the cage is measured in nanoseconds.

Ha! you scoff. They can’t possibly tell the difference between weekends and weekdays. Tut, tut. It’s so easy even a dog could tell. On weekends, my blood pressure is normal and I don’t swear. On weekdays, it’s … and I … plus I run around frantically, thinking I should buy a lottery ticket. Because this time I’ll win.

But back to my very important topic. Wallace, the African Jardine, really hates weekdays, but he would still rather have ten nanoseconds of playtime than none. Weekday playtime involves burrowing into my blankets while I get dressed. Then, when I look under the blanket, he says peek-a-boo. Actually he’s not much of a talker, so it comes out eek-a-oo, but Moms are great interpreters.

Aww, ain’t that cute? Yeah, but he may then bite me when I try to put him back.

wallace 5Some descriptions of Jardines say that the enormity of their beak relative to their size gives them a clownish look. Ha ha. See me laugh. Now see the blood squirt from my finger. This description was obviously not written by a Jardine owner. Wallace has taken lessons on biting from pit-bulls trained by drug dealers: bite, lock your jaws, and never let go. As a result, I always use a towel to return him to the cage. (A towel! OMG! No! Just like the vet!)

I leave his head out so he can grab onto something with his beak (as opposed to just flinging him into the cage). Once he’s steady, I let go and shut the door. However, he’s made a discovery: If the “something” that he grabs is this certain rope toy, and if he’s fast enough, he can use it like a trapeze to swing himself back out of the cage before old Fumblethumbs here can make her move.

His touchdown dance (clearly in violation of NFL rules) is to toss his head, cluck, bob rapidly, and look extraordinarily pleased. I believe the human equivalent encompasses everything from “Check and mate” to “Booyah!

GromitMeanwhile, the African Grey, already in his cage, watches our every move with his wise, yellow eyes.

“What’s wrong?” His tone is impatient. “Did you poop?”

I like to think that he’s asking Wallace if that’s why he’s being returned to the slammer—as opposed to asking me about the state of my own bowels.

Either way, I smile and think, Aww, ain’t that cute?

There is no script!

Okay, media folk, we got it. As everyone seems to be so endlessly pleased to remind us, Papa Francisco is not Pope Benedict XVI. ¡Olé!

The new guy is modest and unassuming and doesn’t wear red shoes. He takes public transportation. As proof, right after being elected Pontifex Maximus, he took the bus back to the hotel to pick up his own luggage. And, because even clerics take pictures with their cell phones, he didn’t even send one of the red-hats scrambling so he could bogart a window seat.

You folk also insist on saying the new guy keeps talking off-script. Enough! This is not the president with a speech writer. There is no script!  There has never been a script!

Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI were both theologians. They were also both prolific writers with numerous books to their credit, especially BXVI. It is entirely logical that they wrote (and no doubt rewrote) their homilies, so that they would say exactly what they wanted to say. And with their having gone to this trouble, it was entirely logical that they would then read what they had so carefully written. There was no “script” written by someone else.

The new guy is not a theologian. He is theologically orthodox, he is theologically articulate, but he is not a theologian, which is different. He is, as your sound bytes reduce him to, a “people person.” I’d prefer to describe it as his having been given the charism* of presence.

He is, as blogger Rocco Palmo wonderfully describes him, the Pope of Chaos, which is what’s been keeping the media busy. But exactly what kind of chaos are we talking about?

Like, unexpectedly mingling with the crowd. A news report used the words—I am not making this up—“He breached the perimeter.” Maybe that was the walkie-talkie chatter from the Swiss Guard trying to keep up with him, their lovely ceremonial swords at their sides, their Lugers hidden within the voluminous folds of their gaily striped uniforms.

The very nervous Guard may have worded it more primitively: If the new guy keeps breaching the perimeter, we’ll need bigger pantaloons for bigger guns.

Anyway, this is getting old, because modest and unassuming is boring. So let’s do this sooner rather than later, and leave the new guy alone right now. Let him go about his modest and unassuming way of giving all of us, myself included, our much-needed dose of humility by example.

And let us pray that we be open and receptive for the real “shocks” that Papa Francisco may have for us, many of which may seem unlikely coming from the warm and fuzzy people-person stereotype that’s being created even as I type.

* Charism. This is not a typo for charisma. A charism is a magic-mojo Catholic thing, a specific grace by the Holy Spirit given for the benefit of the Church.

Why I Broke Up with Big Willy

Okay, okay. I didn’t break up with Big Willy. We didn’t even date. The entire extent of our sordid relationship is that he wants me to open his spam, and I won’t.

I’m not above a bit of sordidness now and then. All things in moderation. I’ve even opened spam now and then, and with full knowledge. But Big Willy is one of those loutish brutes who’s too dense to read my signals.

From Big Willy: Enlarge Your Manhood 2-4 Inches Permanently

Big Willy, can’t you see the name Susan right in the e-mail address you keep spamming? Susan is not ambiguous, like Pat or Chris. I have no manhood of my own, not in your sense of the word, which you keep using in hopes that its quaintness might circumvent the spam filter.

Words have meaning! I can’t tell you how often I scream this while I toil as a copy editor at the dreaded “day job.” We’re all guilty of misusing words, myself included—of not seeing the implications of what we write. Spam offers excellent examples of this:

Try Our e-Cigarettes FREE!  —Ahhh … e-cigarettes. Not quite as satisfying as paper cigarettes. On the other hand, e-nicotine doesn’t cause cancer.

Guys: Make any girl want to f&*k you?  —A question mark. Why? Is it an actual question? Rhetorical? An exclamation point would have been better. Make those ladies pant! The question mark makes me actually, and not rhetorically, question the spammer’s ability to work mojo in affairs of the heart.

Re: Your $1,500 Overnight Deposit, 60 sec Approval, All Credit OK  Why does my $1,500 deposit need approval? A $1,500 deposit means I have $1,500.

From Anna: Hey hot stuff, guess who? —Um … Anna?

Erectile dysfunction is a reason for you to turn your head, but don’t give up!  —Erectile dysfunction may feel like a reason for you to plead a headache, avoid parties, or, basically, keep your pants on at all times. But if it’s “a reason for you to turn your head,” it strongly suggests a very disappointed voyeur. And that’s pretty darn creepy.

From Adrian Gillian Bayford: Surplus Greetings  —Huh? I repeat, Huh?

From Engr Muhammad Sanusi: CAN I TRUS YOU  —No! (ROTFLMAO)

From Big Willy: Enlarge Your Manhood 2-4 inches Permanently

Big Willy, will you never learn? I am not a boy named Sue.

A Test! Oh No! Did You Study?

Warning. Warning. This is just a test.

I changed my Gravatar a while ago. I did this because my profile pic face was appearing with my posts on Facebook, and then my big giant Gravatar face was also appearing with the posts on Facebook, and that’s just too many of the same face… on Facebook.

So I made one of my doggies my new Gravatar. However, since then I also used pictures in two back-to-back posts. And when Facebook picked up the post, rather than picking up my new Gravatar, picked up the pictures both times.

Hence this return to pure prose, no pictures, just to see what shows up on Facebook. Not my face, I hope.

Good-Bye and Be Well

papa[1]

Reuters Files / Giampiero Sposito

These past three weeks, the conspiracy theories have been plentiful. The truth is the painfully humbling yet prosaic experience of one’s grandfather handing over the car keys because he knows he can no longer drive safely. An awareness of the enormous responsibility of driving includes an awareness of when it’s time to pull over and stop.

John Paul II chose to remain pope during his very long illness in order to publicly show physical suffering, that it isn’t something to be hidden away because it affects all of us, and we are no less human for being stricken with it. He was castigated by many for hanging on too long, to the point where he may have been befuddled.

Benedict XVI is choosing to turn the Church over to someone with more physical strength than he has. He’s an old man of failing health, who knows how much vigor is needed to lead the worldwide Catholic flock. He’s being castigated by many for not “staying on the cross” till the end.

Perhaps it was those critics he addressed during his final general audience when he said:  “I do not abandon the cross, but remain in a new way near to the Crucified Lord. I no longer wield the power of the office for the government of the Church, but in the service of prayer I remain, so to speak, within St. Peter’s bounds. St. Benedict, whose name I bear as pope, shall be a great example in this for me. He showed us the way to a life which, active or passive, belongs wholly to the work of God.”

I wish Benedict well. And I don’t care what damn color his new shoes will be.

5 Reasons Why I Didn’t Write Yesterday

Five reasons why I didn’t write yesterday. These are serious. Not a single lame “the dog ate my keyboard” kind of excuse:

1. I am Too Sensitive and Easily Bruised to be exposed to the Cruel World.

2. No one really understands my work. For example, the opening lines of my picture book Baby Day are—

BabyDayBaby high
Baby low
Baby fast
Baby slow

It was reviewed as a study of manic depression in infants.

3. I’ve forgotten how to write. I’ve forgotten how to write every time I finish a book, especially the novels, and it is terrifying. I have dozens of books, which seems to indicate that I remembered again dozens of time.

Never mind that. This time I’ve forgotten how to remember.

4. I can’t keep up with the changes in publishing. My first acceptance came written in hieroglyphics on papyrus. My latest was automatically pumped into my head, like M. T. Anderson’s Feed, so all my Facebook friends, e-mail address contacts, smart-phone contacts—and the Google guys and Government guys who monitor my every online click—could Oooh in unison with me.

5. My mother toilet trained me too early.

Don’t Give Away Your Rights!

This being a writing—or, rather, a not-writing—blog, one might expect that I’m talking about literary rights. In a way, I am. This is my foggy, much delayed response to President’s Day.

No one in this country needs a special occasion to shop, which is what national holidays have become. I myself find that 1:30 has the unholy power to make me buy something shiny. Since 1:30 occurs twice each day, my already-ensnared soul does not need George and Abe rapping about the mega shoe sale goin’ on.

Instead, President’s Day prompts me to talk about the Bill of Rights,  the first ten amendments to the Constitution. They were all proposed on the same day, less than seven months after the Constitution itself had been ratified. Indeed, for many states, the promise that these specific amendments would be proposed was their prerequisite for ratifying the Constitution.

Beneath the furor of today’s issues—from gun control, to the use of drones, to control of the Internet—are such additional questions as: Can we still use the Constitution in making decisions? Or is it by now a historical artifact as useless as a musket with wet powder?

I read the Constitution and the Bill of Rights this week. Each of them is surprisingly short, given the length of today’s laws. Basically, the Constitution says what the government can do, and which part of the government can do it. The Bill of Rights says what the government cannot do. The Constitution lays out the government’s power. The Bill of Rights makes sure the people are protected from abuses of that power.

Each of them is also surprisingly open to modern interpretation. For example, in the Constitution itself, it is set down as a duty of Congress—

“to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries” (art. 1, sec. 8).

The Founding Fathers could not foresee a future in which writing would also mean big screen, little screen, radio, Internet, apps, and so on. What they could foresee was the possible danger of a writer being denied the rights to his or her own work.

Both documents are written in this careful open way. Their principles are as sound now as they were when written, probably because neither the Constitution nor the Bill of Rights is liberal or conservative in itself. Together they are simply a way for the government to get things done without infringing on the rights of the states or the people.

I neglected history in high school and totally avoided it since then—to my current regret. So my ability to express myself here is limited, and I have grossly oversimplified matters. At bottom is an invitation: The Constitution. The Bill of Rights. Read them. Then, when someone says they’re irrelevant, you will at least be able to agree or disagree with some knowledge.

Ahem.

I do believe my soapbox has now collapsed beneath the weight of my earnestness. But I did write over 500 words.

Which I now I have the right to post. And which you now have the right to flame.