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Sunday, December 7, 2014

Floods, vermin, and a multitude of blessings

Life is hard. We all know that. Granted, no one is shooting at me, and I have not contracted any strange viruses, but I am nonetheless bogged down by life events, those I chose and those I didn't. So, if you've been wondering why I am not posting more often, here's the rundown:

The Great Flood

Why should a flood resulting from a freak summer downpour still be affecting my life in December? To begin with, it joined the parade of "one damn thing after another" from which so many of us suffer. Rain flowed in through the basement windows with ungodly abandon, soaking Persian carpets and the wall-to-wall Berber beneath them while I slept peacefully upstairs. I had no idea what had happened until I went downstairs a day or two later to see why the smell of mold was beginning to waft its way up. My first step onto the basement floor went squish. Crap.

Like many people who have too much stuff, too many collections and too little sense of organization, our basement--all 1000 square feet of it--is a labyrinth of cardboard boxes, unsorted piles, forgotten files and out-of-favor furniture. Not to mention one small room I had converted to a clothes closet. Just add water, and the entropy of our lives had begun to meld into one soggy and possibly sentient being.

Even after the cavalry arrived with their fans and vacuums, I was still removing 12 litres of water from the air every day for weeks with my newly purchased dehumidifier. Hauling, sorting, and tossing preceded the removal of the carpets, more drying and finally the installation of a new floor. Even though the tasks are now completed (well, almost...I still have a little bit of organization to take care of) my nights are filled with dreams of swelling books, molding dolls, floating receipts and seeping water.


I never like to say anything bad about Oregon, but, in addition to the friendly beaver and majestic Roosevelt elk, the Norway rat is indigenous and prolific here. Further, recent destruction of a wooded area in our neighborhood stirred up the local population of rodentia and sent it looking for new digs down the street. Our street.

Rats! Plague-ridden, destructive, and evil! A family of them appeared in our laundry room in early fall, entering through a hole Mom and Pop rat had chewed along a pipeline. The parents succumbed rapidly to traps, but their children were observant and smart. We ended up buying several kinds of traps, and experimenting with different kinds of bait after the wunderkinden had learned to avoid peanut butter, dog food, cheese, rice, etc. My husband, Jose, master of gadgets, bought a device called a Raticator, which boasts an "infrared sensing zapper."
This eerie chamber worked on the last two. Or, rather, I thought they were the last two.

I didn't see any physical evidence, but from time to time my Scottie, Whisky, sniffed behind the couch and barked down the heating vents. Whisky is a retired ratter, though, and had achieved little in the area of pest eradication until last week when he wrought such a hullabaloo of pent-up vengeance as I will not soon forget.

Whisky had been sniffing and growling around the dishwasher and Jose, resorting to the least technical of mouse traps, decided to block the entrance to the kitchen with sticky paper designed for trapping unwanted interlopers. I didn't like the idea. Getting stuck and then tossed into a dumpster sounds like a bad way to go, even for a rat. At least the Raticator offers a quick end to life's travails. However, Jose is as stubborn as a terrier. Down went the sticky paper on the other side of the baby-gate that keeps the dogs out of the kitchen, and off to bed we went.

We had no sooner turned off the light than I heard a high-pitched Skreeee-skreeee-skreeee! from the kitchen accompanied by an outraged barrage of Scottie barks. "They will both get tired," Jose said laconically. Not so.

I made Jose get up to see what was happening. He came back and said, "There is a rat on the paper." I already knew that. Skreeee-skreeee-skreeee! Woof-woof-woof!

"Are we going to let that poor creature stay stuck there all night?"

 "Whisky is very interested," Jose said.

"What if he knocks that gate over?" Skreeee-skreeee-skreeee! Woof-woof-woof!

"Whisky cannot knock the gate over. It is a strong gate." Skreeee-skreeee-skreeee! Woof-woof-woof!

Immediately, a crash came from the kitchen, followed by a yip. Then silence. The gate had been breached.  I swear, if Jose didn't say everything in a cute Brazilian accent I'd have smacked him.

We went out to the kitchen. There was no sign of the rat, but Whisky was stuck to the paper. Crap.

I grabbed a pair of scissors to separate Whisky from the paper, lifted him by the tail (this convenient, strong handle comes standard on all Scotties) and found the rat underneath, rather untidily disemboweled. I dropped the tail and pushed the whole mess away with my foot without thinking. My bunny-eared slipper was now stuck to the paper as well.

I think you can imagine the rest. Snip-snip, curse-curse. Detritus out to the trash. Lysol clean-up. Dog and me into the shower. To bed by 2 a.m.

I still think there's one more. Either that of the spirits of rats past are eating the bait in the Raticator--that device appears to have given up the ghost.

AND... There's also good stuff in my life that also keeps me from posting here. 


As usual, just when I despaired of my students, they have stunned me again with their insights. and I remember why it is I do this.


I found a critique group that works for me. They are fabulous readers who offer practical, insightful feedback. Now I need to write more fiction, too.


Earlier this year, I started RenegadeBooks to publish my own work, as well as books by authors who don't fit the mold of today's romance publishers. They don't want to write 50 Shades of...Yikes!  So far, we have 11 titles and a website that needs work. If you want to know more, read Peter Jordan’s Marriage or Here for You Always by Margaret O’Neil.

So that's what's up with me.  I will post more...soon I hope.  Maybe my students will keep me honest and give me some due dates.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

A Re-Post and a Conspiracy Theory

The political season is in full-swing again (does it ever stop?) and we're getting ready for another mid-term election. Fingers are pointing, excuses are fumbling and fear is mongering. Same old stuff. I was going to blog on this topic and lead into a conspiracy theory that's been percolating in the back of my head, but I decided to repost the following instead, one of my favorites from the last election:

I Got the Foghorn Leghorn Blues 
 "The blues isn't about feeling better. It's about making other people feel worse..."
   -- Bleeding Gums Murphy to Lisa in The Simpsons 
Have you been reading SalonHuffington Post? Watching the news on MSNBC? If you have, you know the Democrats have got the blues, and they've got them bad. The Democrats are good at having the blues. It keeps them from having to do anything substantive, but provides great talking points and finger pointing opportunities.  
There are rules for having the blues and I highly suggest you read them here. The Democrat Blues differ somewhat, however: 

  • You cannot have the blues on the back porch or "down by the river". You must have the blues in public, preferably in front of a camera.
  • Even if you shot a man in Memphis, it wasn't your fault -- but you can tell everyone which obstructionist Republican tripped you on the way to a meet & greet and made you fall on the gun he was carrying and it discharged, killing the man in Memphis (who, by the way didn't have health insurance).
  • Your blues tragedy cannot be brought about by hubris. Rather, you were done wrong by a low-lyin' Don't Tread on Me snake who had promised you his/her vote, but instead voted the other way after some soul searchin'.
  • Et cetera...
Politically, the blues are the irrefutable domain of the Democrats. But if the Dems have the blues, what's left for the Republicans? Well, there's no need to worry. They got something even better. Republicans got outrage. Luckily for them, outrage has no rules and the Republicans, those champions of deregulation, like this a lot. They can, will, and have been outraged over everything. They don't much like Bleeding Gums Murphy, for obvious reasons. Instead they've modeled themselves after the irascible Foghorn Leghorn.
There are no accidents in the universe, so it is not in the least surprising that Foghorn Leghorn was brought to us by Looney Tunes in the1950s. Foghorns don't need to make sense -- they just have to be loud. They can rev up indignation over anything: replacing crรจche scenes with "holiday trees," Super Bowl ads, and video games that reward sustainable community choices.
They rant against and blame the current administration for our economic woes, blithely forgetting their role in its inception. In the name of protecting life, they can vilify a woman who defends access to health services and at the same time support the death penalty. They can spout a simplification of any complex problem into an endless loop of self-serving sound-bytes that appeal to the ignorant masses who are products of a school system they continue to cripple. Blather, wince, repeat. It really doesn't matter which side offends us the most or more slyly undercuts our liberties and livelihoods: there's not much to choose between them.
But where do we fit in? Don't fret. We also play a role in this cartoon show: the dependably trusting Yakky Doodle who doesn't realize his own peril until he's roasting in the Fibber Fox's oven, and finally quacks: "I think you're the FOX!" In the series, Yakky was always rescued by his friend Chopper the Bulldog. But this is where my metaphor breaks down, as metaphors always do. However much politics in America may resemble the funnies, it's very real. And all of us are sitting in a pot waiting to be stewed again.
Well, we only have to change out a few words--Ebola or ISIS, for instance--and this post is completely up to date. However, I'm beginning to think it is no accident that politicians can't compromise anymore, refuse to consider the common good and fling a constant barrage of accusations: lying, treason and horn-swaggling. The atmosphere of distrust and aggression is so consistent, I begin to fear it is deliberate. I fear the "opposing sides" are actually working together to ensure that nothing gets done. A frustrated populace eventually tires of the farce and turns its attention elsewhere. Why else would anyone play Candy Crush into the late hours, photograph their dinner for the delectation of FaceBook friends or watch Honey Boo Boo?
Safely attached to our various devices, as I so surely am, there is little fear we'll notice what's going on in Washington, much less the rest of the world. Perhaps we'll sign a few more petitions or post a few protests. But the blinking ads in the margins of our monitors call like Sirens to Odysseus and we sail faithfully into oblivion.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

The line draws me

I made yet another New Year's resolution this year.  I've done this before, but this time I've actually honored my resolution for the month of January and the first of February. Before, I never got much past the first week, as abandoned folders on my desktop ("Poem of the Day," "Story Idea of the Day" -- never, mind you,"Housework of the Day") will attest. But this time I put it out there -- as on FaceBook-- that I would create "a picture a day."

The notion of audience is powerful, as are digital tools. Using those at catapulted me past the logistics of supplies, and messy spaces, spaces for display and allowed me that remarkable--almost godly--bulwark against false starts, the UNDO button. (Which of us doesn't wish we had one in life?)

I've been hearing the call of art from the time I could hold a pencil, and avoiding it like crazy. Drawing in the flyleaves of books, on the woodwork, on the cardboard rectangles that used to be part of the packaging for my mother's hosiery, and later the margins of notebook paper in school and yellow legal pads at work, I made almost all of my efforts casual. In these latter places, I rarely wrote down much and, although I could usually remember what I should have been writing down just by looking at the pictures, I was often reprimanded by teachers and even written up by a supervisor for my "inattention" during meetings.

I've done some formal art from time to time--a couple of restaurant murals, a few paintings that went to a friend's gallery (where my mother promptly bought them so I'd think I was successful, just as she once sent me an anonymous bouquet of pink roses in college so I would think someone liked me) but little else. Usually, however, the burden of knowing I only had one canvas or sheaf of paper stunted whatever free-flow might otherwise have emerged. (I am the same way when someone gives me one of those beautiful blank books to write in--the stress of writing something worthy of the gift closes me down.)

I began without expecting much of myself -- it was to be a discipline. I believed real art was always done with brushes and paint, or chalk or ink. Sadly, I've even held that photographs weren't quite on the level with other art. Snob! Further, I've always seen my art as going from brain to hand to canvas or page. I didn't realize it could happen the other way around.

In the past when I've done digital art, I've used a stylus and tablet. This time, however, that would have meant actually going downstairs to my desk. The dogs need supervision, however, so I stayed in my chair and drew with my finger on the track pad and drifted back to my days of finger-painting, admittedly with a much better set of paints. My first efforts resembled my marginal doodles, especially the man in the moon I've been drawing for about 20 years. There was a progression, though, especially when I started using filters and overlays, achieving effects I could never approach with my own techniques. Such fun!

"Evil Moon"

With the three images above, I already knew I was going to draw a moon and play around with it. The art became better, however, when I started without an idea and let the initial lines not only tell me what they wanted to be, but began to tell me stories as well. I revisited memories and the titles of the works changed according:

"Wyoming Road Trip, January, 1963"
"Moscow Pullman Highway in Spring"

The line I didn't know became both evocative and communicative, and I would suddenly understand, remember what I was drawing.

Even more interesting was when the line took on a life of its own, and I had no idea what the picture would be until it was done. Here is an example:
Beginning line: I had no idea what it was.

Second line, all in one stroke: It was a face in a babushka!

When I saw the addition of the babushka had turned the first line into a face, I thought for a moment I was drawing Baba Yaga. I decided to add some shadowing where the eyes would be and start the body. Again I was surprised. The eyes, the emerging face and body were young and joyful. I knew, too that my girl was blind.

She emerged, unexpectedly.
I added a background, a skyscape, I had created some months before and for the first time saw the image of a swan I hadn't noticed before. Cygnus.


"Blind girl sees Cygnus"

What's happening here seems miraculous to me. I begin to feel as if I have channeled this art. It came to me, and all I had to do was recognize it, birth it, and send it out into the world. It is the same when I write. I have so often begun one story that became another, encountered characters who would not behave, and words that became the instigating line in a world of surprises. All art is in a constant state of becoming.

In both art and writing, it seems, it is the line that draws me. My friend Tim Gillespie once told me, "The muse follows the call of the moving pen..." or cursor. It surely does. And perhaps I am not even writing or drawing, rather pulling a thread from the web of meaning that surrounds us, and following it into possibility.