Sunday, December 28, 2008

Miscellaneous thoughts

On their own, none of these thoughts add up to a blog post. Even as a collection, they are sorely lacking. It's all I've got right now.

It's obvious my daughter is as happy to be home as we are to have her back, but every so often she gets a certain far off look in her eye and I know she's planning the next adventure. You can't un-climb a mountain.

Having both my kids here makes me realize there are a great number of people who are accustomed to opening the back door and walking into my house with, at most, a perfunctory knock to announce their arrival. One day soon I will sell this house and move to another and I feel certain there will be at least a few people who won't get that news. I hope no one ends up in jail.

When you're in the shower and the power goes out and the door is closed and your shower room doesn't have a window, the sudden absolute darkness is disorienting and it's strange to realize how much more awkward it is to rinse shampoo from your hair in the dark, even though it's a familiar task and one you perform without ever being able to see what you're doing.

If you leave the package of dog treats on the mantle, the Wonder Dog will know they are there and will go to great lengths to draw your attention to that fact and not be concerned in the least that you are highly amused by his lack of dignity.

I find it very odd that once you tell people you plan to spend a stretch of time focusing intently on writing, pretty much to the exclusion of all else, they develop an increased need to contact you, interrupting the concentration, sometimes just to ask how the writing is going. As if they suspect you are in truth sitting on a beach somewhere, doing absolutely nothing, inexplicably in dire need of company and conversation. It's very odd. Perhaps I should have said I'm doing something significant and worthy, maybe studying for bar exams.

I realized today, during one of those "just calling to check on you" conversations (which are at once charmingly touching and infuriatingly distracting -- not that I'm complaining about them, exactly, just saying), that I have never eaten a lamb chop and that my son is now the same age I was when I first started dating his father.

The rest of my thoughts these days, the ones unrelated to writing that is, are even more random and equally banal. So this seems like a good stopping point -- for this post and perhaps for this blog as well. Doesn't seem to be much point to it lately. But I've felt that way before, many times, and then end up changing my mind. We shall see.


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Sharing the music

Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24 by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra is one of my favorite Christmas songs. When the hectic hurry up and get it done insanity of holiday preparations has taken its toll and left throbbing aches in your head and back and feet and shredded the thin veil of your patience, there are few things more reinvigorating than turning up the volume, closing your eyes and letting this music fill all the depleted spaces. So I went looking for a worthy version to post over here for you all to enjoy. During my search I wandered over to Wikipedia and found some interesting history about the song:

Paul O'Neill explained the story behind Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24 in an interview published on ChristianityToday.com:[1]

... We heard about this cello player born in Sarajevo many years ago (Vedran Smailović) who left when he was fairly young to go on to become a well-respected musician, playing with various symphonies throughout Europe. Many decades later, he returned to Sarajevo as an elderly man—at the height of the Bosnian War, only to find his city in complete ruins.

I think what most broke this man's heart was that the destruction was not done by some outside invader or natural disaster—it was done by his own people. At that time, Serbs were shelling Sarajevo every night. Rather than head for the bomb shelters like his family and neighbors, this man went to the town square, climbed onto a pile of rubble that had once been the fountain, took out his cello, and played Mozart and Beethoven as the city was bombed.

He came every night and began playing Christmas carols from that same spot. It was just such a powerful image—a white-haired man silhouetted against the cannon fire, playing timeless melodies to both sides of the conflict amid the rubble and devastation of the city he loves. Some time later, a reporter traced him down to ask why he did this insanely stupid thing. The old man said that it was his way of proving that despite all evidence to the contrary, the spirit of humanity was still alive in that place.

The song basically wrapped itself around him. We used some of the oldest Christmas melodies we could find, like "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" and "Carol of the Bells" (which is from Ukraine, near that region). The orchestra represents one side, the rock band the other, and single cello represents that single individual, that spark of hope.

But the video clips I found left me unimpressed and disappointed. I mean really, who wants to watch an animated light display some guy set up in his front yard? And then I saw a version that told a story. Maybe not quite the same story as the one related above, but a story nonetheless. I found it intriguing, full of the possibilities of "what if."



May your Christmas be one of magic and wonder and hope, and may you be filled with the fierce stirring strains of the spirit of humanity.

 

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Homecoming

After five long months of studying abroad, my daughter returned home today.

Sometimes words are profoundly inadequate.


Friday, December 19, 2008

Counting pages, and minutes

Yes, I have been writing. Mostly I've been adding and deleting bits here and there. Not writing huge entire scenes, because lately I can't concentrate to save my life (concentrate, hell, I can barely manage to dress myself and get out the door to work this week). So I've been filling in parts and pieces. Okay, maybe I wrote one scene. Or two.

How much have I written? Well, interesting thing about Scrivener (and by interesting, I mean frustrating), it doesn't give you page counts. Or, if it does, I don't know where to find them. And it only gives you word count within each scene, not for the entire document. So I had no idea how much "progress" I'd made. [Please note: I refuse to limit the definition of progress solely to page count. There's more than that going on here. Really.]

However, there is a feature in Scrivener called "Compile Manuscript" that will supposedly take all your pages and put them into manuscript format. At which point you can count said pages. Words, even. Sounds pretty cool, huh? Yet just the thought of clicking on that option sent a cold chill down my spine. It sounded so final. Was this some irrevocable last step, after which one could not go back and continue writing and editing? Was I just a click away from one more excuse to put off finishing the damn book already? Surely not.

Tonight I decided to recklessly succumb to the lure of curiosity and give it a try. (Hey, as I write this, my daughter is sleeping on the floor in the airport in Santiago, Chile. Tomorrow night, Miami. I needed a distraction here.) I think I made three backup copies first. Just in case. And then I clicked on the magical "Compile Manuscript" option. Made me feel very accomplished, as if I were a real writer who had an entire ms that needed compiling. At first I didn't even bother looking at the new version. I was too busy frantically clicking on the old version to see whether the work-in-progress was still, well, workable. And it was. Exactly the same as before the momentous transformation.

So then I looked at the compilation. Very cool. Very professional. This program is amazing. And I was pleasantly surprised by the page count. Once my daughter gets here and I've hugged her and kissed her and counted all her fingers and toes and made sure she has arrived unscathed and hugged her some more and generally cried happy tears all over her and can finally obsess abou--, er, concentrate on something other than her safe return, I'll go back and see how many of those new pages are worthy of the name fiction. Because I suspect more than a few of them contain distracted ramblings about the inadvisability of letting one's children wander off to foreign countries for months at a time in the name of higher education. Really, what the hell was I thinking? Next time, I'll go with her.

Saturday can not come soon enough.

 

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

It was on this day . . .

I subscribe to The Writer's Almanac daily newsletter and every morning in my inbox there is an interesting and informative email containing "Poems, prose and literary history from Garrison Keillor." [Thank you, Merry, for sending an email that contained a link to the site.] It's a nice way to start the day. Plus, it's free.

This is from today's newsletter:

It was on this day in 1950 that William Faulkner received the Nobel Prize in literature. When a Swedish correspondent in New York called to give him the news that he was being honored, Faulkner was busy working on his farm in Oxford, Mississippi, and he said, "It's too far away. I am a farmer down here and I can't get away."

The man pleaded for him to go the award ceremony, and so did Faulkner's friends, relatives, publishers, editors, agent, and other American writers. But Faulkner resisted. Finally, his wife devised a plan. Their only daughter, Jill, asked for a trip to Europe as a graduation gift — she wanted to accompany him to the ceremony in Stockholm and then go to Paris. Faulkner relented.

Faulkner was a raging alcoholic at the time, and his wife came up with another plan, this one to make sure he would be sober by the departure date. Faulkner intended to drink heavily in the days leading up to the trip. He was set to leave on a Wednesday, so the Friday before, his wife and daughter came into his bedroom and told him that it was Monday, time to start sobering up. He started to space out his drinks, but that afternoon he realized that he'd been tricked, and he drank for three more days. But he did manage to quit on Monday.

He flew to New York with his daughter on Wednesday and went to a party in his honor, where he drank Jack Daniels and came down with a fever. He and his daughter arrived in Sweden on Friday. He had continued working on his speech on the flight over. On the day of the award ceremony, he told the American ambassador that he'd never given a speech before and that he was afraid.

There was a formal dinner before the speeches. Faulkner wore a tuxedo with a white bow tie. But he hadn't shaved, and he wore his ragged, oil-stained trench coat over his nice suit. When he got up to give his speech, he didn't stand close enough to the microphone, and no one in the room was able to understand him. It wasn't until the next day, when the text of the speech was printed in newspapers, that people realized what a brilliant speech he'd given.

He said, "The young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat. He must learn them again. He must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid; and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed — love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice."

A half century later his words still resonate, his advice remains valid. 

As I said, it's a nice way to start the day.

 

Friday, November 28, 2008

Thankful for new things

I am thankful for many things. Yes, all the usual suspects: family, friends, health, employment. But this year I discovered new things for which to give thanks, things I had never before considered part of the list:

That not making Thanksgiving dinner (for only the second time in 26 years) means I do not have a turkey carcass taking up space in my refrigerator the next day.

That my daughter and her boyfriend are taking turns, during their Epic Journey Through Patagonia, sending reassuring emails to their parents (yes, we threatened them) and that the one he sent yesterday morning covered all the important stuff: Hey families, made it safe and sound to Puerto Madryn. We're going to go see some whales today. We'll try to keep you updated.

That my son and his girlfriend spent the last two nights here, as well as a good part of each day, and I still really like her.

That Adam Sandler's movies have improved somewhat since the last one I was forced to watch.

That my son knows how to make a fire in the fireplace, and did.

That after going to three different grocery stores on Thanksgiving Day, none of which had any frozen pumpkin pies left, it was no big deal to track down a can of Libby's pumpkin goo, read the recipe on the label, label, label and make my own. It was delicious.

That Pillsbury makes the crust so I don't have to. Hey, it was more than enough nonsense making the Oreo crust for the grasshopper pie.

That my son's friends feel welcome in my home and don't hesitate to drop in without notice for a piece of pie, or two (this is not new, the excess of pie is).

That, as much as I loved spending time with everyone while they were here, all those people are gone now and I can relax and enjoy the balance of what I had thought was going to be a very quiet holiday weekend spent writing.

Ahh, and as I finish typing this, here comes a new reason: That my daughter has inherited my tendency to go on and on and on, and does so even in email:

Hey there families! A and I have made it safely to Trelew. We went whale watching yesterday in Peninsula Valdes and it was absolutely incredible. We saw so many whales, and they were all really close to the boat, some even passed under the boat! They were Southern Right Whales, and some were up to 16 meters long, which is about 50 feet! We also got lucky enough to see a few of them jumping out of the water, which was probably the coolest thing ever. We have lots of pictures! Today we are visiting a dinosaur museum and hanging out in the city of Trelew, which was founded by the Welsh. Tomorrow we go to see the PENGUINS!!!!!! From there we will keep heading south until we get to Puerto Natales. Happy Thanksgiving (A is silly and forgot to say that yesterday)!! Love you and miss you!

Yes, many new things this year for which to give thanks.


Sunday, November 23, 2008

Pictures from on high

I really like the way the Mac handles pictures. Here are several my daughter took* last week during her three-day trek on Aconcagua (ref. previous post). I still can't quite believe she was there, that she saw and experienced all this. But there she is, with Aconcagua looming in the background:

*Edit to correct photo credit:  Her BF took some of them. Notably, the ones of her.

She captioned the one below: "This photo is of Puente del Inca, which supposedly when the Incas couldn't cross this river, they prayed to the gods and this rock bridge magically appeared the next day. Pretty cool looking."

Standing in the glacier. Obviously, it's the time of year when it melts a bit.

She said this is: "Our nifty little stove and pot!" And I thought, Oh good, she's learning how to cook. Or at least, how to boil stuff.

More glacier:

Aconcagua. The highest peak outside of Asia:

My daughter, hiking across a glacier. She's turning into a mountain goat:

More glacier:

Very pretty reflection in the lake:

Her host sister said this looked like meringue:

Daughter's boyfriend, hiking across the glacier:


Obviously, I've been playing way too much and not writing enough. I'm having a very tough time concentrating so far this weekend.

I'll go have a stern talk with myself now. Really.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Climb every mountain . . .

My daughter has been climbing again. 

Here she is several weeks ago on "a mountain behind the Cerro Arco," trying to scare me into an early grave.

And doing a damn fine job of it.

She called last night to tell me about the latest adventure. This time she and her boyfriend decided to do a three-day hike and climb Aconcagua (6962m/22,841ft), the highest mountain outside of Asia and one of the Seven Summits. For reference, Mt. Everest (8848m/29,029ft) is the highest mountain in the world.

No, they didn't go all the way to the top.

They started in Mendoza (761m/2497ft), where they've been going to school. Along the way they hiked across a glacier . . .

"Really? You walked on a glacier?"

"Yeah, it was pretty amazing.  It comes down the mountain and across a valley and back up the mountain again. We didn't walk across the river part of it, that would be stupid. Too slushy."

"Did you have a guide?"

"No, you don't need a guide. There's a path."

Oh, of course.  A path across a glacier. Silly me.

. . . to a base camp (3300m/10,827ft) and camped in their little tent . . .

"That little nylon tent I saw on your last blog post? Didn't you freeze?"

"Our little tent is very cozy."

. . . then hiked up to Plaza Francia (4200m/13,944ft) another base camp. And they saw an avalanche.

"At first, it looked like this huge white mist, billowing up and spreading out, like something out of a Stephen King book, coming to get us."

"It was coming at you?!"

"No, mom, it was a mile away. You'd have to see a picture. We weren't in the path of it or anything. And you could hear it. Like rumbling thunder. Wait until you see the video I took. So awesome."

Uh huh. Awesome.

I remember she had problems with altitude sickness back in July on the hike to Machu Picchu (2400m/7875ft -- and I thought that was a big climb), so I asked whether that had been a problem. She said, "Not really. Usually after a climb I'm starving, but when we got to Plaza Francia I could only eat half of my peanut butter sandwich, so that's one sign. And I had a headache, of course. So it wasn't too bad."

Then she told me the trail just opened on November 15. Before that date it's too cold and too dangerous. Gee, so glad they didn't do anything dangerous.

Next Tuesday they leave for Chile and points south. Where they will see penguins. Oh, and did I mention the ten-day hike they have planned in Torres del Paine National Park? Sounds lovely, doesn't it, camping and hiking in a national park? Innocuous even. 

Right. 

Once I got off the phone, I decided to do some research. Because by comparison, writing more pages in a thriller seemed like such a tame activity. Here are some pictures of Torres del Paine I found on Wikipedia, that calming informative presence on the internet and a friend to mothers everywhere:



Looks benign, doesn't it? And the flora looks so non-toxic and, um, highly edible:

I'm sure it will be perfectly safe. No worries.

Time to go write some soothing fiction about killers and conspiracies.


Monday, November 17, 2008

Oh, something shiny!

I had a very interesting weekend, thanks for asking. There is a person in my life, let's just call her my older sister, who has a tendency to be outrageously generous for no apparent reason. And I never know what might set her off. For instance, last weekend I casually mentioned how nice it was that my son had left his laptop at home when he went out of town for the weekend. And how nice it was to be able to use that to write on for change, sitting comfortably on the couch, rather than at my desk using my PC. Seemed like a perfectly innocent comment at the time. I had no idea I had just revealed an unacceptable deficit in my arsenal of writing tools she then felt compelled to correct.

So I was mightily surprised on Friday to receive a box from FedEx that contained a shiny new MacBook. Especially since I've never used a Mac. Once I had sufficiently recovered from my shock, I called to thank her and asked, "Why a Mac?"

She said, "Well, I have one and really like it, so I thought you would too. Consider it an early birthday present."

And I said, quite reasonably, "But my birthday is still several weeks away. And we stopped giving each other birthday presents YEARS ago." Seriously, we always call each other, but that's the extent of it.

To which she replied, "Whatever." Sometimes she acts like she's still twelve. Regardless, she's still older. Then she said, "You really needed a laptop. Besides, Macs never crash."

Okay, just for the record: I have never crashed a computer.

So I spent the weekend trying to figure out how to use the darn thing. After ten minutes trying to find the power switch, and realizing that waving my hand commandingly over the keyboard wasn't having the desired effect, I decided to read the manual. Things got easier. Lucky for me, there were also online tutorials. So I proceeded to conquer internet connections and email and MS Office 2008 for Mac. And Bubbleshooter. Yes, it works on a Mac. Damn it.

Then I remembered I had heard a bunch of writers talk about a fantastic writing program (compatible only with a Mac) called Scrivener. It had been touted as being a really good way to organize all the bits and pieces of a large ms. I figured I could use some help in that area. So after some research, and more tutorials, and because two shiny things are always better than just one, I decided to try the free 30-day trial version.

Oh. My. God.

I'm not even sure how to describe it. Except maybe to say that Scrivener might well be worth all the considerable aggravation of re-learning how to do EVERYTHING on a computer. I might even forgive the Mac's pitiful substitution of a "backspace" key for a real "delete" key. WTH, Mac users never make mistakes worth deleting?

I digress. My ms is now broken down into not only chapters, but scenes within each chapter. And each scene has a notecard thingy with a brief synopsis of the scene (a synopsis I had to write, but let's not quibble). And I can now view a corkboard with all these notecards on it or switch all that info into an outline. I haven't even figured out yet how to input all the info this thing can assimilate. It can even do pictures. And if I want to move a scene, I just grab it and move it. And the notecard automatically moves with it.

It's amazing. It's also amazingly easy to see, looking at these notecards, when a scene works and is doing everything it's supposed to do. And when it's not. [sigh]

Yes, this all took a lot of time. Especially since my old version of Word is so old it's not even compatible with Office 2008. I swear I saw the new program roll its eyes and heave a sigh of disgust before pronouncing my ms to be incomprehensible. I'm pretty sure that was a technical opinion, not an editorial one. So I had to improvise just a wee bit. But I entered all of the old pages, even the ending, and the updated page count thing over there reflects that and not any new pages. So, great progress, just no new pages.

Of course, this means I'm going to have to come up with a new reward for when I finish. Whatever it is, I'll be sure not to mention it to my older sister.


Friday, November 14, 2008

It's all downhill from here

"The first draft of anything is shit."
-Ernest Hemmingway

That makes me feel so much better.

Well, the great reconstruction -- the reckless slash-and-burn, um, that is, the careful re-reading, editing, re-writing and general whipping into shape of the old ms and copying it into a new document -- is at an end. There are several dozen pages that didn't make the cut (my page count is significantly lower than when I started, which is disheartening), but they needed to go. There are also a few dozen pages I've written that go at the very end and that won't get added until I actually reach the end. Yes, I've written the ending. And I like it. For now.

Going through this painstaking process of reconstruction has been an educational experience. I can see where there are great gaping holes in the plot and where things need clarification and expansion. The story needs more action and more suspense and more conflict -- no, that's not quite accurate. All of those things are there in the story, I just haven't yet managed to put them on the page.

Interestingly, there is a lot more sexual tension than I remember writing. Oh well. Still, this is not a romance. I've never been all that interested in the fictional romantic Happily Ever After and there won't be one in this book. I'm fascinated by the journey -- if these characters survive that, they can go off and do whatever else they want with the rest of their lives. Really.

So. Now comes the hard part. The slow part. The agonizing process of pulling pure crap out of the murky depths and boldly exposing it, slapping the stinking fetid mess of it onto the blinding white scrutiny of the page. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be any other way to write the rest of the story.

What the hell, if it worked for Hemmingway . . .

Sunday, November 09, 2008

9 Nov: This is not working

This daily reporting nonsense is not only making me crazy, it's hurting my writing. I realized today that last week I pasted in a scene "as is" that should have been re-written -- because I was anxious to report that I had made progress. Idiot. Eventually I'll have to go back and re-write it. Or maybe delete it. But not now. Now is for going forward and making progress and reaching The End.

So the daily post part of the plan has been scrubbed. I'm not convinced anyone reading this is all that concerned about daily page totals anyway, just that I'm writing. The posts over here will go back to being about whatever, whenever.

For me, writing is not a race or a contest. And I can't make it be something it's not. I can't sacrifice quality for volume. Sometimes writing means sitting quietly and thinking, plotting, seeing and hearing and knowing a scene before it turns into words on the page. I need to write it in my head first. That's my process. It works when I let it. This month is about remembering how to put words onto the page again, and then regaining the discipline to actually do it. Thank you, Merry, for sending the poem. It made me realize I don't need to reinvent the wheel, just put it back on the cart.

I still have my (rather short) long-term goal, that feels amazingly good, and I'm still focusing intently on writing this entire month. I do kind of like the page count tracker thing over there in the corner, so I'll leave that and update it as I go. It reminds me there is an end in sight, however distant. But if it becomes irritating, it's toast.

My determination to accomplish this goal has not wavered. If anything, it's stronger now than it was a week ago.

7-8 Nov: a much needed break

On the 7th the week caught up with me, big time. After work, I had to do some stuff in preparation for a Board meeting the next day and then realized I HADN'T READ ANY FICTION FOR MORE THAN A WEEK! *gasp* No wonder I was feeling cranky. I was exhausted so I picked up the fluffiest book I could find and tried to read. Instead I fell asleep on the couch at an embarrassingly early hour.

The 8th was five and a half hours of meetings, with a break for lunch, and hanging out with some of my favorite people, other writers. Big changes on that front in the coming year. I've relinquished one responsibility [happy happy joy joy] but am taking on another. And while part of me is wondering why the hell I can't just keep my mouth shut instead of saying, "Sure, I can do that," a larger part of me is excited and happy about the new challenge.

But all that talking and listening just wears me out and I needed to hibernate for a while afterward to process everything. So I finished reading the fluffy book and thoroughly enjoyed it.

No writing. Didn't even think about the book. And I needed the break. This effort is teaching me the truth of something I've always suspected but never actually tested: I am not a seven-days-a-week kind of writer. But I'm also discovering that there are times (of the day, of the week) when I had thought I couldn't be productive, and I was mistaken.

Back to it.

Friday, November 07, 2008

6 Nov: trying to focus

Re-writing. Heavy editing.
Trying not to drown in this muck.

New pages: 5-ish? I've lost track.
Total pages: 82

Write a blog post?
Oh please. I'm busy here.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

5 Nov: reflections on race

Here is a truth I rarely acknowledge about myself: Sometimes words and ideas get stuck in my head. And there is nothing I can do to get them out, to let others take their place, until I put them in writing. Sometimes it matters to me that others read them, sometimes not. Whether that is OCD or simply the mark of a writer, I neither know nor care. But these words were there and now they're here. And tomorrow [today, by the time you read this] I will be able to regain focus and allow others to fill the space -- with any luck they'll be words that belong in the book I'm supposed to be writing.

For me, and for many people I know, the Presidential election was not about race. I can't tell you how many times in the past months I've heard people say race didn't matter in this election. I don't think any of us were being disingenuous, but we were profoundly mistaken.

Anyone who knows anything at all about me knows I supported and voted for Barack Obama -- in the Democratic primary as well as in the general election. In order of importance, I based my decision on the following: He's a Democrat. I agree with much of what he said about issues. He is extraordinarily intelligent and articulate. He seems genuinely passionate about implementing change in ways that I think will improve this country. His spouse is completely awesome and she thinks highly of him. He's young and energetic and charismatic, yet also calm and confident, a natural leader. And, oh yeah, he's "black" and wouldn't it be amazing and historically significant to elect a black President.

I didn't vote for him because he's black, any more than I would have NOT voted for him because he's black. His racial makeup, define or describe it how you will, had virtually nothing to do with my decision. Neither, for that matter, did his religion.

Maybe I'm just terribly naive, but until Tuesday night I assumed the majority of people in this country felt the same. Oh sure, I know there are plenty of bigots and racists -- all over the country, not just here in the South -- who would never vote for a black person no matter the office. Especially not for the office that is arguably the most powerful in the world. I like to think those people are a minority. Then again, I also like to think I can eat chocolate with impunity.

But my assumptions about the importance of race changed Tuesday night, watching black people react to Obama's election. Seeing Andrew Young, one of the most gifted orators of our time, so overcome with emotion he could barely speak. Seeing Jesse Jackson with tears streaming unchecked down his face. Seeing all the (predominantly) black supporters gathered in Chicago's Grant Park, obviously in the grips of powerful emotion and overwhelming joy.

Okay, I know the Bush years were awful and many of us were desperate not to have four more years of the same, but these people were reacting to much more than having escaped the prospect of that.

And then I saw Oprah Winfrey in the crowd. She wasn't there as a superstar. There was no hoopla, no bright lights spotlighting her, no reporters lining up for an interview. She was standing patiently with friends, waiting to hear Obama speak. Just another face in the crowd, her quiet presence so unremarkable it was stunning. And the expression on her face. I can't even describe it. It was as if all her wealth and power and celebrity, all her very impressive accomplishments, were in that moment meaningless. Insignificant when measured against Obama's achievement that night. She was there not as Oprah, but as a black person. Standing witness to what for many was an overwhelmingly important milestone in history. American history. Certainly I had known this event would be cause for celebration. Deservedly so. It was the depth, the intensity of emotion it brought forth that caught me off guard.

Right then, everything inside of me took a sharp breath and held it and became very still and then a quiet voice in my head said, simply, "Oh." And I couldn't believe I had not realized until that moment how very much race does still matter in this country. How very important it is, not just to small-minded bigots, but to those who have suffered, in too many cases are still suffering, because of it. And how very mistaken some of us were in our assessment of its continued weightiness.

Barack Obama was not elected solely by black voters. Millions of white Americans had to believe race was not a pejorative issue -- in fact, many considered it to be irrelevant -- in order to vote for a man in an election in which, for millions of black Americans, the race of that man was of vast importance.

And I can't decide whether that's ironic or hopeful or somehow just heartbreaking.


Wednesday, November 05, 2008

4 Nov: being present in the moment

I tried to write, really I did. But how can you not watch history in the making? I wanted to be a part of it, even if from a distance. I wanted to see the numbers add up as choices were made and voices were heard. I needed to witness Andrew Young, a man I came to admire and respect during the years I lived in Atlanta, brought to tears and near incoherence by the significance of and his gratitude for this day. I needed to hear the graceful and gracious concession of John McCain and the eloquently hopeful acceptance of Barak Obama. It was not a night for turning off the TV.

There were numbers more important yesterday than pages in a manuscript:

  • North Carolina elected its first female governor, a Democrat.
  • North Carolina elected only its second female US Senator, sending a Democrat to fill a seat held by Republicans for the last 36 years.
  • It appears North Carolina narrowly gave its electoral votes to a Democratic Presidential candidate for the first time since 1976.
  • And the United States elected its first black President.

I've always been proud to be an American. Watching those results last night, I was proud of Americans.

There are times fiction can't hold a candle to reality. I couldn't not watch.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

3 Nov: Monday, Monday . . .

. . . sometimes it just turns out that way.

On Monday I was an employee (exhausting day) and a viewer (LOVE that dancing show) and a friend (very long phone call).

I was not a writer.

I imagine tonight I will be a concerned citizen. Perhaps I'll be able to multi-task, concentrating on fiction and reality at the same time. We shall see.

I want everyone who comes over here today to say, "I VOTED!" It will make me feel better about my lack of progress.


Monday, November 03, 2008

2 Nov: headaches and waterfalls

Sunday I woke up with the mother of all headaches. Not to mention the yelling father and four screaming kids and six barking dogs of a headache. Enough pain to last all day. Which it did. I did not want to write. It hurt to think. If I hadn't known people were expecting to see some progress, I wouldn't have done it.

So mostly I focused on editing. Copied good stuff from the old ms and pasted it into the new. In the correct order. Deleted a lot -- can't believe how bad some of it was. Added and tweaked a bit -- rather pleased by how much I've learned. Net result: 2 pages of new writing. Total ms now at 51 pages.

I also took a long nap. It helped.

Oh, and I also slashed the hell out of, um, that is, edited a synopsis for a friend. Who may someday forgive me. [sigh] The things I do.

I can't express how much I appreciate you all coming over here to check on me. As a special thank you bonus, and because I know these updates are mind-numbingly boring, here are some pictures of Iguazu Falls in Argentina (or perhaps the Midwest, if you're looking at Wapak's map) that my daughter took while she was there several weeks ago:


Sunday, November 02, 2008

1 Nov: a good start

Okay, I can already tell it is going to be irritating as hell to write a post every day. Maybe I could do one every other day? No, I know. That wasn't the deal. Every day it is.

So yesterday, before I could write, I had to clear the decks. Really. I recently took an online quiz about distractions in your environment. It was interesting. I realized I have way too many things in my space that are distracting me. So I gathered up all the stuff I had taken out of the closet in there, but had not gotten around to actually doing anything about, and shoved it all right back into the closet. And closed the doors.

Then I had to go to the grocery store to stock up. I know, you're thinking this was just a delaying tactic, but it was actually quite essential. For instance, last night at 10:00 when I realized I hadn't eaten dinner yet, it was very helpful to have something quick and easy I could zap in the microwave.

When I am this intensely focused on writing, I tend to lose track of things. Like eating. And going to bed. Good thing The Wonder Dog is staying with His Favourite Person this weekend.

So yesterday, last night really, I wrote eight new pages. I'm slow and that's a decent output for me. And I copied over four old ones. So the new ms now has 12 pages in it. Including an excellent new scene, with two new characters. One of them dies. That's a good start and I'm happy.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Getting Serious, Setting Goals

Okay, time to get serious here. About writing. I've decided November is going to be devoted to writing and not much else. Well, except for the day job and the cooking and cleaning and laundry and the holiday baking and shopping and hiring a different roofer because four unsuccessful tries to find and fix that damn leak is enough already and of course I have to GO VOTE and then watch election results and . . .

Start over.

I've decided November is going to be devoted to writing. I've also decided I need a deadline. I function really well with deadlines. The day job is all about getting things done by a certain date. I might put things off-- okay, I always leave things to the last minute, but I never miss a deadline. Perhaps I've become too dependent on that and lost the ability to be truly self-motivated, but I know I function well that way. The deadline has to be something that matters to me, one with consequences. And some accountability.

I've been advised that it's a good idea (we'll see about that) to make all this public. Nothing like a big dose of public shame and humiliation to get your muse to sit up and pay attention, right?

So this is what I've decided:

  1. On 5 January 2009 I am going to send a submission to an agent. Even if I'm not done writing the book. And since it will kill me to send a submission of an unfinished book, it WILL be finished by then. Why this date? No one in publishing does much during the holidays and it seems the first reasonable date. Coincidentally, this is also the date I'll probably put the house on the market. What the hell, live dangerously.
  2. Once I send off the submission, I will buy myself a laptop computer, something I've wanted for a very long time. Someone suggested chocolate, but food rewards don't work for me. I want a laptop.
  3. Every day in November, I will put up a short post here, detailing my progress, or lack thereof, with daily page counts. [With my method of formatting, the finished book will be roughly 400 pages; at 250 words per page, this will result in a standard 100,000 word single title novel.]

Now, one note about "progress." I've already written a huge chunk of this book. But it's a mess. No really, it is. Most of it is terrific (yes, humility in action here) but sections of it are out of order and parts of it have to be deleted and other parts have to be re-written. So I'm going to start over. What I mean by this is that I'm going to open a new document and start writing. There's a scene I want to put at the beginning that I haven't written yet -- it's been in my head all week and it's good -- and I'm going to start with that. Then, as I get to a part I've already written, I'll copy and paste it in, editing as I go. So at first, page counts may seem very impressive. Don't get used to it. I don't write that fast. So things will slow down.

Feel free to stop by occasionally and chastise me if I haven't made much progress or haven't posted about it. Really.

And now that I've spent all this time writing about writing and not actually, you know, writing, it's time to get started. Right after I eat lunch and clean up the kitch-- ARRRGH!

Focus. Need to focus. I can do this.

Friday, October 31, 2008

come dance with me

Today is Halloween. This is what my sister, Booko, does to pumpkins this time of year:


Yes, she carved each and every one of them. Amazingly talented, is my sister.

Being much less adept with a knife, I think of Halloween as the annoyingly predictable day when the neighborhood kids come to ring my doorbell, sending The Wonder Dog into frenzied fits of insanity and the cat into traumatized seclusion, interrupting my solitude with their insincere and unconvincing cries of “trick or treat!” Of course, there are the practical souls who stand there silently, petulant, stubbornly holding out their buckets and pillowcases, recipients of a largesse earned by mere entitlement rather than effort or threat of force, their young faces costumed in ghoulish aspects of expectant greed.

No, this is not my favourite holiday. How could you tell?

But today is also Samhain, the dark twin of Beltane, sometimes known as All Hallow’s Eve -- a night when it is said that the veil between the worlds of the living and of the dead is at its thinnest. Some say it is a night of unimaginable power. A night cloaked in mystery and pagan ritual, shrouded by superstition and fear. A night when the spirits of the dead roam freely among us, causing mischief and harm, unappeased by meager offerings and reined in only by the approach of dawn. Tales are told of incautious souls unwary enough to be lured by curiosity to the other side, and of those unfortunate few who do not make it back before night gives way to light.

As an antidote to the crass commercialism of the modern holiday, and just generally to cheer myself up, I tried to find a poem I could post here that would convey the dark eerie spookiness of the old pagan beliefs -- that the threshold between the living and the dead is easily crossed on this night -- but couldn’t find any that quite fit the right mood. So I wrote my own. I hope it's as much fun to read as it was to write. May your Hallow E’en be a night of safe travels, one disturbed only by visitations of benign spirits.

come dance with me

they come in the darkest of night
to be
afoot in the absence of light
and see
the souls who have given the right
to me
to waltz upon their graves

they come now to witness the dance
and see
how fortune has done more than glance
at me
and evil has won the last chance
to be
the footprints on the graves

and oh how they quiver with fear
of me
and how their own lives they hold dear
and flee
though fate never has been more clear
to see
'tis written on the graves

the game has already been won
you see
and night will give way to the sun
and be
the lament of words left unsung
to me
the keeper of the graves

they say 'tis sheer madness this night
to be
awash in the absence of light
and see
them link hands this unhallowed night
with me
and dance upon their graves

come
dance
with
me

Sunday, October 26, 2008

What will it cost you?

My daughter called from Argentina the other day, relieved to report that she'd finally received her absentee ballot. We requested it weeks ago and she was starting to worry it wouldn't get to her in time. This will be the first Presidential election in which she's been old enough to vote and she's extremely excited about that. She's taking the whole thing very seriously. She even went online to research the unfamiliar candidates on the ballot, so she could make informed decisions.

So it was a huge shock when a friend, who is also studying abroad, told her not to bother sending her ballot back via regular Argentinean mail. Apparently, the mail service there is unreliable and quite a bit of mail never makes it to its destination. And it's so slow that even if the ballot were to make it all the way to the U.S., it would be too late to count. Her only option would be to send it via UPS. And doing that would cost the equivalent of fifty US dollars.

I can't even describe how upset she was to learn this. She's a college student on a tight budget and has pretty much accounted for every conceivable expense while abroad, including extracurricular travel she hopes to do. She's counting every penny until she comes home and can get a part time job to earn spending money again. She doesn't have an extra fifty bucks just sitting around. So she asked me what I thought she should do. Take a chance on the Argentinean mail system? Spend the money on UPS? Or just not vote?

We discussed that last option first. Talked about the cynicism of whether one vote really made a difference, whether or not it would even matter if she voted. She told me again how important this was to her, to finally vote in a Presidential election. How much she had been looking forward to it, how much it mattered to her. She debated taking her chances with regular mail, and realized how unacceptable it would be to never know whether or not her ballot had been received. And she agonized over the significant expense of doing what was required to make sure her vote was counted, that her voice was heard.

So I suggested maybe it would help to put it in a broader perspective. To think about what others had sacrificed, throughout history, in order to vote. To consider what others had been willing to pay for the privilege. How the colonists had defied king and country and gone to war for the right to have a representative government. How women risked reputation and imprisonment to obtain that right. How African Americans risked their safety, their very lives, in that struggle to have a voice. So many people in our country's history have been willing, have found it necessary, to risk everything for a privilege we now take for granted. And I told her something I truly believe: if you fail to exercise your rights, fail to live up to the responsibilities that come with those rights, you risk losing them.

She decided to pay the fifty dollars. She gets a sticker.

You might wonder why I didn't offer to pay it for her, or at least offer to chip in. There are two reasons. First, because she didn't ask. She didn't come looking for a handout, she came to me for advice. I'm proud of her for that. Second, and more important, because every time she votes in the years to come, I hope she will remember the time she had to pay a price that, at the time, was a dear one. And remember why she decided it was important to do so.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Killer Trees

My trees are trying to kill me. Their weapon of choice? Acorns.

You think I'm kidding? Look at this:

In the thirteen years I've lived under these trees, I have never seen so many acorns. Some people say this increased production is a sign we'll have a harsh winter. Bah! I know the real reason. It's in retaliation for this:

Yes, this summer I had the tree guys come and trim some branches off the trees. I even had them cut down a few scraggly specimens whose branches were scraping on the garage roof. And they removed two that were dead. They did a great job and the "canopy" looks so much better. They even cleaned up every leaf and twig of their mess. Very professional.

But now the trees are on the rampage, getting back at me. These acorns aren't just falling, they're being hurled. Thrown with force. You should hear the noise these things make when they hit the roof. And the gutters. Do you know how much it hurts when an acorn traveling at high velocity hits unprotected body parts? Walking to the end of the driveway to get the mail is courting serious injury. If the acorns don't hit you, you risk turning an ankle when you step on them. This morning I backed out of the garage and was barraged by a series of violent explosions bouncing off the roof of the car. Acorns. Personal injury isn't enough, now they're going for property damage. I'm surprised I could even hear it though, since there are so many acorns covering the driveway it sounds like driving across acorn-filled bubble-wrap.

I'm convinced the squirrels are in on it. It's a conspiracy. They're miffed that I disrupted their travels on the super-highway from the maple tree in the back yard across the roof to the big oak in front. I had the branches trimmed so they couldn't do that.

Hey, they've got plenty of trees. They don't need to be climbing all over my house too. I can picture them up there, three and four in a group, pulling back on the leafy end of an acorn-laden branch, stretching it tight like a slingshot, waiting for just the right moment and then letting go, releasing a hail of acorns, strafing the siding and pelting the roof over my bedroom. They do this several times each night. Yes, it wakes me up. Every single time. I see them the next morning when I open the blinds, sitting on the branch outside my window. Smirking.

But I'm onto them and I have a plan. I'm going to stay inside until they run out of ammunition. I figure it shouldn't take more than another month. Or so. Okay, I didn't say it was a particularly good plan.

Next thing I know, they'll be trying to smother me. With leaves.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Guest blog from the past

I notice it's past time for another post, but I'm so busy right now I don't think I could put two thoughts together and be coherent. So here is another letter from my Great Aunt Mabel, who was an Army nurse during WWII. Someday when I have a website -- someday when I've finished writing this book and it's under contract and I'm working on the next one, someday soon I hope -- I'll put all her letters up in a space of their own for people to read. They really are an incredible glimpse into another time and place. Hope you enjoy this one, from the early days while stationed in Colorado:


Camp
Hale
U.S.
Army Ski Cantonment
February 11, 1943
2:45 A.M.

This is my 7th night on Night Duty. 8 more to go. We stay on only 15 nights at a time and that is long enough of 12 hour duty. It isn’t half bad – in fact I rather enjoy it. The only trouble is you don’t do anything but sleep and work on this shift. Before I went on nights I was a patient in the hospital for six days with a sore “Pando” throat. I had it for several days before and worked but when my temperature was elevated they put me in for a rest cure. G got the measles. We have to be on duty at seven P.M. I have three wards to look after. There is a ward boy on each and I have decided that a good one is worth his weight in gold or silver or whatever else is valuable these days. They really are a great help. Ward 12 is orthopedic.. a back injury – a fellow who got kicked by a mule. Several knee injuries and fractures. Most of them are ambulatory. Ward 14 is a surgical ward.. that had always been my pet ward. Have a couple of new surgicals as of yesterday – a hernia and an ingrown toe nail – big stuff!! Last night we had an emergency appendix – spinal. They do most everything under spinal. They brought a Sailor in off the train with an arm infection.. a Sailor of all things! He needed quite a bit of attention – such as getting his arm all fixed up with hot packs – sulfathiazole – forced fluids etc. Guess the boys thought I was taking too good care of him – they were all more than kidding us. Then to top it all off – he is from Chatfield… so I asked him if he had ever heard of Rochester. Then the boys just knew for sure they wouldn’t get any more attention tonight… the Navy had taken over Camp Hale! Ward 16 is the woman’s ward. Wouldn’t you know it – they’d have one even in the Army! We have 10 private rooms – use them for nurses as far as they reach. I make rounds several times to all three wards – feel like Florence Nightingale herself, walking through those big wards with a none too bright (at times) gov’t issue flash light. Often I expect someone to go “Boo” at me out of the dark but no one has as yet. Guess they are too glad to have a nurse come around. I find them sleeping in the funniest positions – sometimes I’m almost sorry I looked! But the main thing is to find them sleeping. They all wear gray p.j.s (gov’t issue) and red bath robes – when they wear one. I know for sure it will be a treat to see a man with civilian p.j.s on again ! We have so much snow. Everything is covered. Sometimes it thaws a little during the middle of the day and the snow is swell for snowballs. The icicles continue to fascinate me. They are so huge. They say it can snow here all the year around. See where shoes are being rationed. I feel quite at home. I must transplant easily – like a dandelion or some such weed. Wonder if they put me over in Siberia if I’d feel right at home.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Does summer end if school doesn't start?

Twenty years ago, I sent my oldest child off to attend pre-school two mornings a week. Every year since then -- in fact, most of my life before then -- has been in some way shaped and defined by the concepts of "school year" and "summer." Until this fall.

This fall, that oldest child has completed his formal schooling and is working full time. My youngest child is still in school, but she's studying abroad this semester and it seems more like she's just on a very long extended vacation. Helping her pack belongings into a suitcase and putting her on a plane in the middle of summer just wasn't the same as moving her into campus housing this fall. I haven't even had to buy textbooks. Instead, I'm fighting the urge to run out to the store and pick up some three-ring binders and loose leaf paper. I'm at a loss without the back-to-school rituals that signal the end of summer.

This is different from the "empty nest" thing you hear about when the kids leave home. I've discovered, much to my surprise, that I like living alone. I truly enjoy that my son is living with me right now, but we both know it's temporary. And I'm fine with that. I'm delighted by the prospect of having the nest all to myself. Just as I'm delighted my kids know the door is always open and a light is always on. Even if it is just the refrigerator.

But this, this disassociation from school, is different. This changes the basic order of things, the way I view what happens and when. For the past two decades, planning a vacation, even a quick trip to the beach, always took into consideration the school schedule. When did winter break start and end? Where did the teacher workdays fall and which ones added a day off to a holiday weekend? Was that enough time to get to the mountains and back? Where should we go over summer break?

But suddenly this fall, I realize my life is losing that structure. My daughter will have three semesters to complete once she returns home. A year and a half. And then my life will no longer be influenced by the school year. At all. I'm not sure I like that.

This feels odd, wrong somehow. Yet at the same time, strangely freeing.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Another loss

My father-in-law died this morning in a hospital in Wisconsin. Of pneumonia and the frailty of old age. He was 87 years old and everyone called him Bakka. He had Alzheimer's, though he still knew who he was and mostly still remembered his family. He couldn't remember how to take care of himself so he was living in an assisted care facility. With every day, the quality of his life was becoming more intolerable, to him and to everyone who cared about him. The decision not to resuscitate had been made long ago. The end came quickly.

I am no longer married to his son and I hadn't seen Bakka in several years, but he still has a very special place in my heart. It is hard to realize that I have no place among the mourners. I am not able to share my grief with those who knew him and loved him. There is no one with whom to share memories or to celebrate the fullness of the man's life. I am not even able to comfort my own children on the loss of their grandfather, as one is in another country and the other is out of town attending a friend's wedding. It's a lonely sort of grief.

Bakka and Nana came to stay with us many times over the years and he continued to visit after she died. He could be a difficult old curmudgeon, and often was, but I've been thinking today about the way he would laugh at something one of the kids said or at some playful antic of the kitty. He had a wonderful laugh. He'd get a look on his face that was almost surprise, as if he hadn't expected to find something funny just then.

One of the last times he came to stay with us his doctor had just told him he had to give up chocolate. He was indignant. Told me that he'd already given up alcohol and red meat and coffee, even the decaf he loved so much, and he would be goddamned if he was giving up his Oreos. And then he grinned as he lifted the lid off the cookie jar. I always bought Oreos for him.

So I will quietly grieve in my own way. Just as I will always remember and love him in my own way. And it will have to be enough.

Rest in peace now, Bakka.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

March of the Penguins, Flight of the Cat

Yeah, I'm busy. So you get more words from my daughter. She's more interesting than I am right now anyway. She's an animal lover. She especially loves penguins. She made me watch that movie "March of the Penguins." Twice. If you haven't seen it, you should. It's an amazing story of determination and survival in brutally harsh conditions. But I digress. So, she loves penguins. Almost as much as she loves dogs. And cats. Here is an excerpt from one of her Argentina blog posts:

I absolutely adore my family here! I have a madre whose name is A, and two sisters X and C. They are so nice and friendly! And a kitty whose name is Michi, which actually means “kitty,” just like my cat’s name! Michi looks just like my cat, except where Kitty is black, Michi is gray. But Michi has white paws and a white belly, but he doesn’t have a white nose like my kitty. He already recognizes me and will jump up on my bed to sit with me. Apparently he doesn’t do this with anyone else! My madre jokes that Michi has fallen in love with me. The other day when I was in the shower, he was sitting outside the door meowing because he wanted to come in to see me. And Friday night when I got home at 4am from going out, Michi was outside because he had to use the bathroom in the middle of the night (he doesn’t have a litter box but goes outside like a puppy), and he came running across the street to see me, meowing the whole time. I was surprised that he’s learned to recognize me so quickly! And unlike my kitty, he actually lets me pick him up too, much to my delight!

Note: We rescued our cat from the wild when she was just weeks old. Her idea of snuggling is to sit on the far end of the couch and glare. Suspiciously.

So I emailed my daughter the link to the article in the last blog post about the penguin being knighted. I knew she'd find that delightful and it would make her smile. Last weekend was a four-day holiday and she and some friends traveled to Cordoba. I didn't expect to hear from her while she was there, but she sent me this email:

my ancestors just knighted a penguin!!! that made my day! because i have had quite a bad time today... michi had a bad accident on thursday morning. our house is 3 stories, and he climbs the neighbor´s tree and jumps onto the roof...well thursday he missed, and impaled his stomach on the top of a gate, and had to have surgery. and my madre just sent me a text today saying ¨"michi se fue de casa" which means he left the house. i dont know if he ran away (to die because of his wound), or if that´s a nice way of saying he died, but in the house. either way i´ve been very sad all day, and that news about the penguin just made me very happy. love you!

You send your child off to a foreign country and there are so many things you warn her about, so many dangers you want her to be aware of. Caring too much should not have to be one of them.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Benighted in Scotland

When is a king really a knight? When he's a penguin, of course. Yes, a king penguin has been granted knighthood. By those notoriously funny Norwegian Royal Guardsmen.

From an article in Edinburg's Festivals Guide:

Nils Olav, a king penguin at Edinburgh Zoo, was knighted Friday 15 August at a ceremony conducted by Tattoo Chief Executive and Producer Major General Euan Loudon, acting on behalf of the King of Norway, King Harald V.

The king penguin already enjoyed the ‘rank’ of Honorary Colonel-in-Chief of His Majesty The King’s Guard of Norway after being adopted as a mascot by the Royal Guardsmen in 1972 and promoted through the ranks on five prior occasions.

The ceremony was attended by 130 members of His Majesty The King’s Guard of Norway - who are appearing at this month’s Edinburgh Tattoo - along with the Acting Norwegian Consul General in Edinburgh Mrs Kjellaug Myhre, the Lord Provost of Edinburgh George Grub and representatives of the Tattoo including Tattoo narrator Alasdair Hutton OBE TD, upon whose shoulders fell the task of reading the citation from King Harald V of Norway. The citation concluded:

“We being well satisfied with loyalty, courage and good endowments of Our Trusty and Well-beloved Nils Olav, and reposing entire trust and confidence in you as a Penguin every way qualified to receive the honour and dignity of Knighthood and the Office aforesaid.”

As Alasdair Hutton spoke, Nils Olav waddled through the assembled ranks of His Majesty The King’s Guard of Norway, where he was met by Tattoo Producer Major General Euan Louden bearing the sword of the Norwegian King, brought to Scotland especially for the ceremony.

Describing the event as “indeed an honour” as well as “probably a first in Scottish history” Euan Louden then tapped the penguin on both ‘shoulders’ and announced him ‘Sir Nils Olav’ to the applause of the gathered crowd.

Speaking after the ceremony, Alasdair Hutton said: “the penguin was very conscious of the honour bestowed on him. It was perfectly clear that he realised that he was carrying one of the highest honours that Norway could convey.”

More details here in the Daily Mail article where they report:

Darren McGarry, Animal Collection Manager at Edinburgh Zoo, said: ‘Nils always recognises the Norwegian Guardsmen when they come.

I'll just bet he does. And this:

Norwegian King’s Guardsman, Captain Rune Wiik added: ‘We are extremely proud of Nils Olav and pleased that an enduring part of the Royal Guard is resident in Scotland helping to further strengthen ties between our two countries.

‘I understand he continues to carry out his duties as Honorary Colonel in Chief in an exemplary fashion and this latest award is clearly very much deserved.’

It would appear that, although most of the more vicious pillage-and-burn tactics of my Viking ancestors have faded into the mists of time, Norwegians are still invading Scotland with sword in hand to perform unnatural acts upon the hapless wildlife.

And you thought Norwegians were stoic and humourless.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Guest Blog: from Argentina by way of Cusco, Peru

Okay, I'll admit it: I worry. Having a daughter studying abroad in Argentina has done nothing to make me worry less. You could even say it has made it somewhat worse. Okay fine, the usual worry has combined with my writer's imagination and developed into full-blown paranoia. With delusions.

You would think I could take it in stride that she didn't call on Sunday as she usually does. Or that it would be no big deal that she hadn't replied to the last three emails I sent. And of no concern whatsoever that it had been more than a week since I'd heard from her. Nine whole days. Not that I was counting.

So I finally got an email from her:

Well, [BF] hadn´t talked on the phone to his mom in a month! I´m way ahead of the game! It´s just that the computers at COPA are very slow, and there are only 3 for 41 people, so I don´t always have access to them. And I don´t have internet at my house, and I don´t go to a cafe with wifi everyday...it´s different here! People aren´t glued to their computers, it´s nice. But I am doing wonderful! I WENT SKIING!!! on saturday a group of about 15 of us went to a ski place for the day and it was so much fun, but the slopes are definitely a lot harder here than they are at snowshoe! i´m getting better though!

Oh, well, good. Because I was thinking maybe she had made some rash political statement that caused an international incident and was being detained until the State Department could be contacted. Or that rebel forces had abducted her and were holding her for ransom. Maybe next week. So glad it was just a ski trip. Now all I have to worry about is her falling off the side of a mountain and breaking a leg and being unable to summon help and freezing to death and leaving wild beasts to fight over her thawing carcass in the spring. Sigh.

I had asked whether I could post excerpts from her blog here. Because some of you were curious to know what she's been doing. Besides, I'm busy and have nothing of particular interest to say right now anyway. She replied:

i guess you can copy and paste some stuff of what i wrote in my blog, that´s just kind of odd though, can´t you just tell them what i´m doing?

Um, no. My version would contain too much anxiety over bad things about to ensue. Isn't it odd how the apostrophes are backward? Is that a magnetic thing in the southern hemisphere or a characteristic of computers used in Spanish speaking countries?

Here is some of her post about when she was in Cusco, Peru:

So, some key details about Cusco. While taking the taxi from the airport to our hostel, which was about a 10 minute ride, we put our lives in the hands of a truly Crazy Taxi driver. (Those of you who play video games will understand my horror.) There are no traffic laws, maybe two stop lights in the whole city, no lanes, no rules that anyone seems to follow. Our taxi driver drove seriously two inches away from the car next to us. I was amazed we arrived at the hostel in one piece. Also, attempting to cross the street was an adventure as well. Generally in the US pedestrians have the right of way at crosswalks, and most drivers will stop before they run you over. Well, in Cusco it is the opposite. A driver will not hesitate to run you over if you are in their way. Also, there are about a billion punch buggies (VW Beetles) in Cusco.

And you wonder why I worry? She continues:

The food was incredible! Everything was fresh, which is something that is hard to come by in the US. Fresh squeezed orange juice, fresh vegetables, fresh meat, etc. It is incredible the difference in taste between fresh food and processed food. And everything was so inexpensive too! One night as we were going out to the Plaza de Armas for dinner we were stopped by a parade of children. It looked like elementary school aged children, and each grade/class was performing a different traditional Peruvian/Andean dance, complete with costumes and music and everything! They paraded around the entire plaza in the street, and the kids were absolutely adorable in their fancy dresses and costumes doing these wonderful dances! All of their families were out there taking pictures, it was truly incredible. From the restaurant we could continue to watch them because every restaurant in the Plaza is on the second floor and has a balcony (with windows to be open air or closed to be inside) where you can sit and eat and look out at the plaza from above. At the restaurant there was a band playing traditional Andean music, and the lyrics were all about harmony between people and the earth, and Pacha Mama (Mother Earth) and very spiritual stuff, but spiritual in the sense of being connected to the earth and your surroundings. The music was so beautiful. [BF] bought their CD too!

Okay, that's enough for now. Maybe later I'll "let" her guest blog about the trek to Machu Picchu. It's harrowing, I tell you. Dangers abound.