Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Halloween!!

At first, Ben mistook the puppy for a bundle of wet rags. Then he noticed the tail swish as he slid the glass door open. Half his porch had flooded in last night's rains and water was still dripping from the porch of the unit directly above his. A dark pool of water sat in the curve of the old stain on the concrete. The sleek black puppy was curled just above the waterline. Its tail moved faster until it thumped into the water.

The splash must have startled it, because both heads came up. Ben stopped. Two puppies? Some jerk must have dumped them last night at the vet office in the shopping center just next to the apartments. There was a narrow zone of hip-high weeds between them, vestiges of a property dispute that went unnoticed in this ragged neighborhood north of Houston. At least it was puppies and not a giant snake.

At that point, it stood to shake itself and Ben realized there were two heads, but only one dog. They didn't seem to notice, both sets of large chocolate puppy eyes fastened on Ben. He turned around, went down the hall to his bathroom, and grabbed one of Jester's towels. He frowned. Sorry, boy. Miss you.

The puppy was already exploring the edge of the dining room carpet when Ben returned. It let him wrap the towel around its body and didn't seem to mind him rubbing each neck. No collar on either. Both mouths tugged at the edges of the towel. Once it was dry, Ben set him down. "Heckyl, Jeckyl let me get you something to eat." The names just came out.

There wasn't any puppy food, but there were several cans of the lamb and rice mush Ben had hand-fed to Jester after the cancer revealed itself. Ben had to crush his mouth tight to open the can and scoop it into the ceramic "J" bowl on the counter. He filled the matching water bowl and set both down in the kitchen.

Heckyl and Jeckyl ate and drank, dragging the bowls out so that they could edge around them and eat and drink in tandem. Ben leaned against the counter. "Shouldn't have named y'all. It's going to keep raining, though. Not a night for collarless dogs." Because of the vet or because of tenant complaints, the apartment had a zero tolerance policy for unleashed or unidentifiable pets. They spread rumors of coyotes and let the maintenance personal carry guns on property.

Ben got another set of dog towels and the pet gate that he'd used to confine Jester to the back bedroom. He set the gate up at the entrance to the hall, piled the towels in heap by the window and clicked his fingers for the pup. He--Ben decided on a singular pronoun for a singular dog--waddled over and pulled the towels over to the gate.

It was at this point Ben understood the gate might have been a bad idea. Heckyl and Jeckyl sat like a sphinx on the towels, their eyes picking up every green phosphor highlight in the watery morning light. Shadows curled on the wall leading to the bedrooms and the one bathroom and the hallway felt darker than it should be. The back bedroom window occluded by a shadow outside and, for the first time, Ben heard a low growl roll from the dog.

When he glanced down, he saw the growl was directed at Jeckyl, who was sniffing a rawhide bone he'd found under the table. Heckyl growled again and dropped his jaw over one end of the rawhide. Jeckyl barked and grabbed the other. Flames slid down the bone like saliva. Ben was reminded of the chemical fire they'd started in the shower at Sam Houston, trying to clean the dorm room in a hurry before someone's parents visited. He stepped forward, but the two of them seemed content to gnaw the flaming bone.

For the first time, Ben felt the tilt of the land toward the creek, despite being built up for the complex decades ago. Dark grass and a wet sky seemed to run toward the water and the lean of the land pulled at Ben. Heckyl and Jeckyl stopped chewing, dropped the bone, and walked over to nuzzle at Ben. He petted both heads, rubbed ears, and kept his eye on the bedroom window.

"Open your heart like a saloon door and something looking for trouble will eventually push in." Ben shook his head. That had been advice for his sister; bad advice, from a notoriously conservative grandfather, but it looked like Ben might have let it in. He looked down at Heckyl and Jeckyl. "Jester would have been game for a change. Welcome to your new home."

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

October Nights

This close to the Gulf Coast, October nights are however the long breath of the Gulf and the dramatic cold sighs of the arctic whisper to each other. Tonight is mild, the air soft against you when it moves. It is strong enough to carry the clouds quickly overhead and to shape the spray paint penumbra over the eggs my brother is painting into the ghosts that he will say laid the eggs on Halloween night.

It is full dark, after nine, and his front lights are dead, so we step directly into the vestibule of the night when we leave the house with planks of plastic eggs and cans of fluorescent and glow-in-the-dark paint. This used to be my grandparents' house; it no longer is. These empty gravel beds and the lack of a sweetgum tree seem to open up under the moonlight. There is enough light from occluded porches up and down the street and from the moon that we can walk across the front lawn quickly. It is dark enough that we do.

After being secured to the planks with hot glue and painted green, yellow, and glow-in-the-dark, the eggs glow a fungus green and the strands of glue give the impression of their just having been laid, perhaps by some spectral insect ticking its thorax in the darkness.

I used to walk this street without fear in the dark, with a sense of place that made the unknown fall back before me...what could be unknown on this street that I had been learning since before I started school? Tonight is mild, the night rests easy against me; yet, it doesn't let me forget that I have changed, that I have learned other streets and other nights. My brother walks me back to my parents' house when the eggs are done.

The same houses now full of different spirits channel us home.

Friday, October 25, 2013

This morning I went to the arboretum; yesterday was a day of clumsy hawks and brief smears of comets and today I wanted to see whether blooms tight a day or so ago would be open. This is what I saw and how I came to see it.

I wore a long-sleeve shirt and shorts. The breeze chilled my hands and legs and face until I could only see, my breath was quiet and my skin numb, my nose muffled until only the sharpest ginger could pinch it awake. First of all, I saw the squirrel sitting in the bird feeder and the young blue jays swooping to the corners, darting in to snatch food, and swooping out again. The squirrel stretched along one side so that the jays could have the open length of the feeder, the one built like a framed doll barn, to pop in and out. They watched me take a few pictures, black eyes round in grey feathers, leaping away as I lowered or raised the camera.

I followed a trail over a small pond and along the upper banks of Cypress Creek, pressing my camera once to my throat as if I was going to swear to it or speak through it. Continuing around the edge of the arboretum I came to the ginger bushes, warm as the holidays in the back of my throat and hot against my chill sense of smell. Moving inward, I found the beauty berries, small clumps of purple as if someone had carved giant raspberries out of purple crayons and stuck them on bare limbs. I want to pluck the branches and scrawl purple on the benches until the rain washes it into the small ponds and the water lies lilac under the winter sky.

Thinking purple thoughts, I go back to the formal gardens and the sprays of purple and white spotted toad lilies. We had one of these as a house plant when first we moved into the house and these profusion a are like seeing the intervening years gathered in a heap, with all the good memories stretching to the sun.

Somehow, the cold has brought me not only further into my skin but also into the desire I had as a child to see all the tiny flowers, to find the way the weeds celebrated beside ditches or in the otherwise well-kept grass. There is no wild purple bindweed here. Instead, I find things I can't name: flowers blooming just above the ground or soft, dry clusters on tall, pale stalks just inside the butterfly meadow.

I remember gathering leaves for a seventh grade science project with Holly and want to take some of these back to Mrs. Kyle...see what I am still finding?

On the cobblestones in the formal garden I find a dead bee. Not far away the wind chimes are ringing with the wind and vibrating with cars passing on Aldine Westfield along the front of the arboretum. The chords should be a slow march for the bee, like the rest of them, drifting their heaviness from flower to flower, harvesting even those flowers that would barely fit a bumble bee. I imagine that it is the rose mallow ringing for the bees, those great hanging crinolines and bowers so pale pink I think they are white at first. Such heavy petals should ring in wind.

It is only time to leave when the sun begins to wake up my skin and I realize I've taken the last picture of the moon in the cold morning frame of pine branches.

Off the Shelf

It used to come from the shelves, this book enchantment. Pictures gleaming or protected beneath translucent sepia jackets and soft feather pages whispering against my thumb, trailheads marked by a few paragraphs on the back. Perhaps they would come from the shelves of friends, piled against my wrist as I left, back when you hung out deep in the heart of your friends' houses, when living rooms were for the formalities of your relatives.

I still read as if it was just another autonomic response. More often, the enchantment comes from books that are suggested to me--books I would never have pulled off the shelves on my own. I had dismissed Harry Potter when it first came out; it is easy to assume you've read enough to not have the capacity for one more Book X...high fantasy, under 18 protagonist, whatever. So I borrow someone else's enthusiasm and realize it makes you happy, too.

That happened once again this weekend when I read Cory Doctorow's Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. A passing mention in a writer's group caused me to download the novel. Once I started, I sank into the words so deeply that my husband opening a door made me jump. I had to curl up in a back bedroom, shut the door, and read until it was done. Like the best books, the ending seemed to leave the created world on the edge of infinity instead of shutting the narrative down.

Later, I found that ideas such as the end of scarcity and the use of reputation for currency would shift the way I perceived my own media consumption; these ideas are still percolating.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Queen of Air and Wireless

The rains of Friday are still with us, in the puddles and damp sand in the low spots along the trails in the arboretum. Tree roots are soaked smooth so that they lie like dinosaur bones stalking the wind as it shivers the leaves in the shade. Along one low bridge over a resurrected swamp, a mother is coaxing her baby to roll forward and smile for the camera.

I'd come out to the arboretum because I realized last night while listening to critiques of others' stories that the story I was working on had logical problems that could best be solved by determining how my main character ended up on his current path. Now, seeing the baby, I find myself wondering whether she will ever visit a bookstore. Shade and heat settle on my skin and last night's discussion reminds me that I have, have had since high school, unfashionable taste in literature. Where will stories find readers in the future? Where will the readers be?

Friday, October 18, 2013

Light the Lights

I am a fan of epistolary novels and have a weakness for reading collections of correspondence, pulling bits of awareness from them of others' lives. Blog collections, too--at least the funny ones--find themselves on my shelves. I could imagine e-mail collections, although I've never seen one.

Then, recently, I tried to write a letter. A card, really, the equivalent of two postcards, long sides together. I wrote a few sentences and started making big loopy letters, making the text larger, hurrying toward the close, my signature, and doodles of the two dogs to take up space. Organizing a letter, writing a few paragraphs about the day, the dogs, the weather and it's ramifications seemed unnatural; I could no longer easily think in the rhythms of letters, only in the brevity of simple, visible posts on my own semi-private wall on the Internet.

There is in these posts the awareness of the baleful twins of Judgment and Disregard, a sometimes desperate feeling of being briefly onstage and trying to capture an audience rather than speak to a friend. The art of correspondence has been dulled by the constant showmanship of a child or the political hectoring of placard-waving marcher.

Does it matter? I am no less living my life, whether I am posting pictures of the arboretum and sharing sarcastic posts or sending paragraphs on the birds at the bird feeder or the frustrations of early drafts individually. In one, however, I feel as if I'm lifting the front curtain for a flashbulb and in the other as if I'm sharing a conversation. Conversations can be cheap, shallow, and scripted. I'm not arguing for the perfection of one form over another, just that I feel as if brevity doesn't do me many favors. I meander. I build worlds out of that time. Out of the things I find on the slow perusal of other lives.

But hey, it's the twenty-first century. Light the lights.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Mall Food

Last night I never did get around to writing, thanks to a wicked panic attack caused by my esophagus...which is still out to get me for some reason. I'm having my revenge by eating mall food--fried rice & some kind of blackened, glazed chicken--for lunch. Take that, homicidal esophagus!

In addition to an iffy lunch, I spent the morning in the arboretum. It was just chilly enough for the shade to be sharp against my skin. There were two points that let me stand as a still point in the morning, beneath a sycamore tree whose leaves are burning slowly in the fall and in front of the bird feeder, the one that looks like a framed and roofed doll cabin. Sycamores are one of my favorite trees. It is their bark which I adore, white and silver in the spring, then tan, moss, grey, and wheat later in the season. A book of line drawings and ink washes could be illustrated in those colors and the drawings would be as expressive as the reader's dreams staining the text.

Bird feeders are different. Standing nearby, still as I can be with a camera balanced in my hands, I am trying to make myself invisible to the eyes of a dozen wary birds. In this case, an adult cardinal, adult blue jay, juvenile blue jays, chickadees, and the ubiquitous anonymous brown birds. What better metaphor for the wariness of a writer trying to remain unseen by the inner editors, the imagined embarrassments, the characters themselves while recording them than an amateur photographer watching young blue jays bounce in circles on the edge of the feeder roof, waiting for that one moment when the sun catches the nascent blue in the grey feathers? My camera isn't quite up to certain colors and I think most of my images are washed out, but the best part was just standing there as one or two birds swooped by or tried to find a way in past the other birds, balancing and bouncing as if they were tenuously present on their feet.

As this day moves through me, I hope those are the images that catch. The drive and the stress can disappear out the round blue of the window at the edge of the food court.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013


Today I am stuck on the silence side of language and silence. Langauge & Silence is the book that I'm half reading, half griping over instead of working through my stack of October reading (or writing). While this isn't a book to validate spending time on a genre novel (it is a book to induce guilt over being monolingual), it isn't the only brick in Wall o' Writer's Block...the vast majority of those are high-pitched, whiny barks courtesy of a fratchetty Merlin. The architecture of thought is there, only to be repeatedly dynamited by Merlin reminding me he is bored, unappreciated, and hungry.

Varda, on the other hand, is practicing her black & white starlet poses on the couch. She's taken to draping her neck over the arm or over the back of the couch. Quietly.

I have been avoiding this draft until the doubts have fully infested my headspace. So, instead of reminding myself how much I enjoy reading a good story, I'm reminding myself of why writing is potentially unethical, reinforcing the glare without focusing the light, as it were. I am seeking out excuses. I am an expert at this. reading this evening. Writing instead.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Stray Books

Our Muppet dog is on antibiotics this week, which means both dogs get food twice a day, a mix of wet and dry, because Muppet dog needs to be encouraged to eat in case the pill upsets his stomach and because I always fail my escape-feeling-guilty saving throw versus the otter daughter's reproachful expressions. The otter daughter only gets pumpkin purée mixed with her food, as she is on a diet.

The diet came about because we almost never walk in this neighborhood of nameless neighbors, stray dogs, and reckless cars. We sit on the couch together; I read, the otter daughter slides along the surface of the blankets, twists belly-up, and snoozes. She dreams of running and kicks my hip. I dream of walks I used to take and rub her tummy until the kicking stops. All of this folderol requires a certain kind of book, reminiscent or adventurous, slim, easy to move from the page to your thoughts and back again. Poetry works well.

Last week, the perfect book came unexpectedly into my hands while I was visiting the library. Am I the only who checks out books because I feel guilty for glancing at them, prejudging them, and putting them back on the shelf? This is what I did with Kathi Appelt's My Father's Summers. In this book, Ms. Appelt limns her memories of her childhood in Houston before and after her parent's divorce in brief paragraph poem chapters. These chapters are illustrated by family photos and the book feels like a fascinating photo album you might have found tucked away in someone's closet. A behind-the-scenes extra for the sunny family picture that made the official family album. None of which I knew when I pulled it off metal shelf, glanced at the blurb, thought "depressing!" In that judgy mental singsong, and shoved it back on the shelf.

I moved on. But...Houston! Memoir of a contemporary in a city you've found fascinating ever since your mother declared it was horrible and that she hated it and then sent you to college there! And how many people end up down on the floor, skimming that lower shelf? I glanced back and felt the first hopeful wag of its imaginary tail. It was coming home with me and it would be the first thing I read, curled up on the couch with the otter daughter wedged against my hip. Then, the specificity and brevity of each chapter, the whisking from scene to scene, began to build a momentum that slipped me from page to page, each vignette slipping like a film across the surface of my own memories.

It's not that we shared childhood experiences per se, but the author's voice encouraged a dialogue of memory--it amazes me how memoirists manage the impression of remembering in flashes of narrative that are organized but feel like thought, drained of the chaos but retaining its character.

Just writing this post I can feel the difficulty of that.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Deenie and Delaine, or An Unexpected Cardinal

Ahead of this week's cool front, flocks of hummingbirds have been darting around the arboretum. I have been chasing a good photo of them, practicing a patient, aimless lurk beside the bushes they seem to favor. I now have a collection of photos of invisible hummingbird wakes, dark hummingbird shapes giving me the cold shoulder, and blurry commotions near Turks' caps and sage blossoms--and memories of cartoon sound effects as they zipped by my shoulders.

It was to see if any hummingbirds lingered after this first, minor cool front that I was once again lurking by the sage bushes yesterday. I slipped around a curve in the path to find a crimson cardinal hanging on to a thin stem of sage, just a few inches above the mulch. It saw me, dove upward through the lilac and white sage flowers, and was gone. The colors...that velvet red, the delicate purple tint, and the spotlight-bright white...were a perfect clash that threw each into relief, a flash of upcoming holidays--joy as lightning across your memory.

And I, immediately trying to bleed the awe from my experience, decided to make fun of it, to turn it into the symbol for a chick lit fable. Quilts, Christmas, and Delaine on her porch thinking about her grandmother Deenie...maybe a brief snapshot in honor of the real photo that I missed.

Deenie and Delaine, however, moved right into my brain and have decided to stay and chat. They think Nano sounds interesting...a novel in a month? Won't that be fun! Let me tell you...

Now it looks like my November novel draft will be less bees and lizards and Sunflower Queens and more grandmothers and legacies. Maybe it's a good time for that. I'll save the bees for next summer.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Favorite Word

Following a challenge in one of my ever-present writing guides, today I'm introducing you to my favorite word, grey. You probably already know the word and may be already correcting my spelling. The variable spelling is, in fact, why "grey" is a favorite.

Needing an essay description for a shading? For the color creeping inexorably from your scalp? "Gray" is your word. Need a word that rings with major-key practicality? "Gray" is your descriptor. Need a way to drag blue into your shadows? That "a" does it (for me, anyway).

On the other hand, if there is a conjugation needed to make those shadows firm enough to step into, to draw up the lichen-green bark into a dryad's girdle, "grey" is the spell(ing). Grey is the Lorien cloak beneath which I slip into the fantastic. It is the neutral border between two bright fields, the fog beyond the fields we know. It is the minor key modulation that opens the threshold to the haunting.

A favorite word functioning as a talisman to keep me fixed on the difference between obscurity and clarity, between familiar and alien, between what is revealed and what is concealed, "grey/gray" is a good symbol of the shifting that lives in fantasy.

What's your favorite word?

Monday, September 9, 2013


I am asleep; I am waking up in a narrow, high-ceilinged hotel room. The dream is luring me from the facsimile of sleep with music. I get up and cross to a desk, navigating a screen of music to a new Stevie Nicks song and then the room itself wakes up and the music is lost as the giant tv clicks on. I violate the taped instructions for the wall of TV and click the power button. Everything turns off.

A door opens and I am invited next door, to another narrow room. This one has a small grove of potted ficus trees full of chickadees. A woman is talking and I know she is older than I remember her, although I don't recognize her. She is talking about her hawk. She has taken him to a sanctuary and is explaining that he had given each of her friends nicknames and has begun to call for her. She is going to pick him up from his sanctuary, bring him back to the grove of ficus trees. One of the chickadees begins to call, his white cap standing up like a kingfisher's crown.

I wake for real with the entrance of my dogs into the dream and into the room. It occurs to me that today would be a good day to find my way back to something. The lingering effects of vacation are dislocation.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Sock Puppets and Sulfur

Varda, our retriever mix (retriever blend? Demi-golden? Full-blood couch hound?) is on a diet. The vet suggested cutting her dog food with veggies, such as raw carrots or canned green beans. As long-time readers might know, whatever canine genetics spell out V-a-r-d-a, behaviorally, she is a reincarnated Lady Who Lunches. Bell peppers, tomatoes, stringy grass, mushrooms...she eats all of these, when she can get them. Chopped carrots mixed with protein croutons a la Iams? This is a perfect lunch for one at chez Bowl. Although, it doesn't remove the joy of scouting and inhaling white backyard mushrooms for an aperitif.

Chopping carrots one morning last week, I realized that I am lacking whatever disposition associates cooking with anything other than a chore, although chopping carrots while nattering on as if your are the star of Dogs on Diets for one of the cooking channels is hardly a chore. It is silliness you can actually consume (as long as you snag a carrot prior to the introduction of the dog food).

This is the kind of cooking that I enjoy, the kind my dad perfected in which a skillet, random ingredients, and a fat (usually butter) rendered weird but often edible food. Like the buttered tortillas served by friend's mom, this was something that was either a remembrance (my mom made this once upon a time) or a creative challenge (will you eat this before I tell you exactly what it is? Will you eat it if it comes from a plastic tub of chicken organs?). To this day, I prefer making dishes in our big silver skillet...and I still pretty much think onions and tortillas are primary food groups.

The Pumpkin King, on the other hand, comes from a completely different familial tradition. His is based on his mother's (excellent) cooking and involves starting from scratch and involving the entire kitchen, and possibly the entire family, in each meal. If there are five steps to the dish and twelve pots, so be it. Not only will he work through each one, but he will attempt to clean as he goes. Except for the giant pans, which somehow are left soaking for the singing mice that do our dishes.

When we were first married, I assumed that I'd grow into that twelve-pot tradition. I did not. In experimenting with it, however, I used to check out cookbooks from our local library, including some old Time Life ones detailing recipes from various cultural traditions. Our favorite (to eat) were the stroganoff and linzer cookie recipes from the Russian volume. Since this was during our mobile phase when we switched apartments often, those recipes have long since been lost.

Today, though, we found a new flavor of treat for the dogs...not, perhaps the perfect diet treat, but something that inspired me to reach for the silly/creative cook and the formal recipe cook--these treats look like little linzer cookies for dogs flavored with apple and bacon. Apple jelly and bacon linzer cookies? Sign me up! They might turn out inedible...but they might be good. Or edible. Or a great joke when family visits.

The question is cookies with bacon bits with jelly centers? Sweet cookies with apple jelly centers spiked with maple bacon? Sweet cookies with a swirl of bacon jam and apple jelly in the center? Can I find a recipe before my Dad visits?

If so, they'll have to come wrapped with the sock puppet story about a dad and daughter who have to seal up a dimensional portal with sulfur-rich caramelized onion steam, which is about as silly a concoction as my mental skillet can serve up. Part one of the new draft should be my next post!

Have a yummy Labor Day & don't forget to season with a bit of silliness!

Friday, August 30, 2013

Zoned for Autumn

Spring cleaning around here is more often known as the please-can-we-take-down-the-Christmas-tree, post-holiday great ornament stuffathon. Given the heat and the way the house is designed, fall cleaning is our Windex holiday of choice. As soon as the temperature falls into the mid-70s during the day, we can open windows and air out a house grown stuffy with months of continuous a/c and begin scrubbing things down for family visits and so on. And decorating.

This year, we're putting together a Renaissance Festival scene in the former TV alcove and spreading Halloween around the living room. Fantasy, Renfest, and Halloween go together for me and I've put aside a couple of books for the month of October that promise to make the most of the beginning of tale-spinning season. December is also a great month for reading, when (if you leave a window open), huddling in great drifts of blankets puts me in a reading mood. In the middle of the reading, decorating, and celebrating of October and December, November is NaNoWriMo (national novel writing month) and I have a shaggy dog of a story for this year's NaNo.

This was all brought to mind this morning when I saw two tan doves hopping around in the baked brown grass of the median as I was stopped at a light. In between the two lanes of traffic on my side and the two lanes of traffic on the other side of the median, the wide median yard was a wild fall scene of bird and groundcover. In order to watch the doves, you couldn't pay attention to the CVS across the way or the multiple lanes of traffic in the far lanes opposite. The doves matched the grass, which had no small trees in the center and so had been spared any extra water during the summer.

The contained scene, like an illustration from a children's book, was both an intimation of fall and a reminder of decorations tacked to bulletin boards in elementary school. Proto-scarecrows were scattered in the grass. Stories are tucked in the chest, waiting for cooler weather to slip out like ghosts on our breath.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Reading, Writing, and Tuna Noodle Salad

Varda is in a particularly pensive mood; it's raining and that means neither dog is looking forward to wet grass, dripping skies, or giant towel hugs as they eel in the back door. Varda in particular is skilled at escaping the towel and making it to the couch. Right now she could be an illustration for a clever dog in a children's book, watchful and sleepy. She is wavering between the image of the towel and the smell of damp mushrooms as yet undiscovered. The heavier her eyelids grow, the taller the grass becomes and the more enticing the mushrooms.

I am enticed by the idea of first-day-of-school Tuna Noodle Salad, which I tend to make on nostalgic days in honor of my grandmother's friend Aline, who provided me with bowls of it on visits to her house when we were on vacation as kids. Her backyard, visible from the table through the sliding glass door, was a tiny adventure...which seems odd now since it must have dominated by a spinning clothesline and one single large tree. It must have the color of the concrete, the shade, and the sense of getting out from underfoot that provided it with the charm it had. The concrete was the color of the heavy rain clouds outsid and was cool underfoot, even in the heat of summer. Every other stop in Port Arthur was hot--the asphalt motel parking lots, the open driveways and backyards of my cousins, the car as we drifted between all of them--but not Aline's backyard.

That coolness in the midst of heat has become, for me, a good metaphor for what I look for in books. It's what I found in Sabriel, in The Photograph, and in Helen & Troy's Epic Road Quest, all of which are sitting in the Goodreads stack in front of me. The other books in the stack didn't quite form pocket parks for my imagination, either because the story wasn't as well tended (arrrghh Mortal Instruments arrrghh) or because I wasn't a good reader for the subject matter.

It is raining and the couch is warm and well stocked with velvet, snoring dogs. I am full of tuna salad and I am looking for the latch in the glass door.

And then we stopped by Borders for an Italian soda

Lately, I've been turning into a book rat. Even though my current reading list could be converted into an effective book fort, when I am in a B&N, the idea that I could lose my last great haunt of caffeine and guided daydreaming ensures that I peel another book off the shelf and add it to the pile. I miss Borders, which always had a better feel and seemed to carry itself more like a well-put-together, intelligent friend than B&N ever did. Not to mention, more than one bookstore didn't carry with it that apocalyptic, fin-de-siècle vibe that the One Last Remaining Chain Bookstore assumes by default (and shabbiness).

Today I realized that it wasn't only books that could induce that feeling. Sears succeeded in convincing me to but a moose toothbrush holder because I felt sorry for the store itself. It's never been my favorite place to shop because what it sells, the overarching theme of Sears, is handy families with trim lawns and a big-screen reality tv addiction. Or, when I was younger, yard work = family. This isn't me. I'm a hide in my bedroom and read kind of girl. The dogs and the birds tend to get my backyard veggies (although The Pumpkin King does pretty well with the mint & basil). Sears doesn't attract my attention except that it is familiar and, like Service Merchandise, a place through which I will always, in some corner of my mind, be trailing my parents as we spend part of another weeknight walking around the Brazos Mall.

Therefore, when The Pumpkin King manages to break the toothbrush holder and I, being freakishly picky about such things, am in the mall looking for a circular metal and glass holder without an enclosed cylinder and find a single moose holder on sale in the far corner of Sears, tucked away from the giant Kardashian Bath display, I am unable to resist adding it to our bathroom decor, even if it doesn't precisely go with beachy, seashell decor. Sandy the Beached Moose is a solid totem for those things I miss and for the unexpected things that wander through your life...although, really, I'm just happy to have a toothbrush holder that's easy to clean. Especially giving the reading I need to catch up on.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Undertow

Yesterday dissolved in a haze of City of Bone with the result that I've gone rather cold on the movie. Something about the world-building, possibly the shiny teens at the center of it, felt like too much glitter on too thin paper. It's probably a case of right book, wrong came pretty highly recommended and I may try the second book later. Then again, it could be that I can't help but compare it to Supernatural, the TV series in which there are angels, demons, and monsters but a more (to me) coherent link between them. Everything isn't quite true in that universe.

I wasn't planning to read today, at least not as long. I was a third of the way into Soon I Will Be Invincible and that was about were I flipped a page too deep and became caught up in the undertow, dragged from chapter to chapter trying to guess what the ultimate twist or reveal would be. Mr. Grossman kept throwing up these descriptions that would flash against the the pull, such as the description of a punch from the summer of 1976. Each of these would give me chance to catch my breath as it precipitated an emotion or scene from the plot. Even if nothing seemed resolved (and I guess super narratives don't, as a rule), it was difficult to put the book down. Except for the character list that followed and just seemed to repeat info previously presented. Why?

Soon it will be cooling down and I will stop hiding out during the day and the book stacks might grow again. Guess I should give in and just move on to the next one.

Thursday, August 15, 2013


I came home with a short stack of library books yesterday and then a wiggly puppy and a critique partner's draft sent me to the one shelf of books from my parents' house to pick upThe Phantom Tollbooth. This is joy pressed in ink and paper, a back pocket adventure of beguiling charm.

It is also the answer to a riddle I've been pondering in a draft of mine. A trusted, gifted reader suggested that this draft lacked an effective path, dropping the reader in a pile of tentacles-from-nowhere and undercutting the thrust of the beginning. I did what I generally do, grumble to myself, put the draft out of sight for little while, and then poke at it until I was ready to revise.

The revision did not begin well. I agreed that the tentacles were confusing; they had snuck up on me while I was in the middle of a soporific beach scene and I decided to let them flail away. I added some stuff to the beginning, slowly setting up the conflict and brushing on some sepia nightmare tones, remembered from old movies. Movies that I had, to be honest, hated. The kind where a sliver of the monster scuttles off to terrorize again in a sequel. Perhaps we don't defeat monsters, really, and yet, I don't want to use a template of something I dislike for a story that is close to my heart. The tentacles needed a reason, though.

As i was thinking (daydreaming) about the draft, my brain picked up the memory of a recent draft shared in my writer's group. One of our members is skilled at using a kind of fairy-tale rhythm and this, combined with my own ideas about my beginning, brought me to the Tollbooth. One of the great things about this story is the way that the author limns an initially unlikeable character and yet doesn't lose the reader. In the beginning Milo is bored and restless in that annoying manner of someone who could be diverted but is too lazy to make the effort. By the end, you are feeling Milo's regret at his journey's end and regret at leaving Milo's company. Along the way, you encounter creatures that are the essence of fairy--language made fanciful and dizzy until you are caught in the spin.

I think I need to lose myself in that spin again to find out what path my story needs to take--it isn't yet twirling fast enough to cohere. I am already in the fratchetty, diverted-by-shiny-Internets mode, it's time to make the effort to steer this draft into the swirl.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Rain Officially Still Scares the Crap Out of Me

Okay, I thought the panic occasioned by being out in the rain was finally over and done; however, it's not. A meeting at the library this evening coincided with "pop-up" thunderstorms, now conveniently trackable in all their, green, orange, and purple glory over a wide swath of the state via my notebook. It's like my own private adrenaline shot.

At least it gets me to leave early enough to scour the shelves (Don't you have books at home? Yes, yes I do.) for more HP Ryan novels. Of which there is one and it happens to be the one I polished off this afternoon. So no more Jake and Jane until September and none of anything else right now. Well, no suspense novels. I don't really need suspense novels AND rain, do I?

The Pumpkin King actually has to drive home in this, but it doesn't freak him out.

The library is actually relaxing right now, bright lights, murmur of the children's section, clicking of the PCs behind me. Books everywhere with crinkly jackets like candy. How could I resist taking some home? This week's stack includes Soon I Will Be Invincible, Bass Cathedral, and The Photograph. All of them are short and one of them is an epistolary novel (one of my favorite kinds...I fear it bespeaks a certain nosiness of character); all of them are spread out on the table in front of me.

Not sure why this week doesn't include nonfiction. Unless I'm finally acknowledging that my nonfiction reading tends to be less diligent than otherwise, particularly with library books. So far, I'm learning more by listening to the historian in our writer's group. This October, when I'm doing Nano warm-ups, I'll have to pick the Texas history up again for some background for a haunted house story. I'm trying to get a better handle on settlement patterns and community make-ups for...late 1800's? Early 1900s?

Yikes. Chorus of children's voices rises in a half-song in a language I don't know on a rainy night in a far corner of the library? Creepy. Better get my brain out of October and back in August.

Cozy reading, y'all!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Digital Beaches

Before I was in school, when the library was a storefront full of metal shelves, pale linoleum, and an odd entrance fountain, joy in reading has been linked to the physical sensation of the books themselves. Paper edges that fur as you thumb them, spines that relax as you bend them, and ink and air and paper that combine into a certain smell that breathes over you when you ruffle the pages. Books could be a type of pet, carried around and cared for.

This doesn't make me a great candidate for digital readers. My eyes are tired from years of reading, low contrast screens don't help, and there is something about that glass window that doesn't yet let me in as deeply as the crease between the pages. However, some stories do lend themselves to the medium and I'm discovering that my gateway into digital books is through an unexpected avenue.

Despite being a lifelong reader, romance novels were something that I gave up years ago, never making the leap from Sweet Valley to the historical or contemporary shelves. Instead, I gravitated to the fantasy and mystery shelves and then, slowly, to the literary fiction shelves and essays. Then, romance decided to make a beachhead in fantasy and urban fantasy and paranormal romance began to move into the section. Books seemed to suddenly bloat, trying to distinguish themselves from those "other" stories by way of excessive page count or hyper violence. I thought I should get serious about my own writing and shifted my reading into non-fiction.

During this time my husband has been consuming e-books like candy. He reads on his reader, on his cell phone, on his screen. I tried a reader, eschewed it, and stuck to books. Then we found a reader that I could play with, do other things on, become comfortable with all without using it for reading. I could IM, follow my e-mail, play Frogs (become addicted to Frogs, go cold turkey on Frogs), and write on the thing.

At the same time, a few members of our writer's group started to work in the romance genre. There was no one left to object to this turn of events (not to say that anyone would have originally) and I found myself taking a second look at the genre.

Shazaam! This turned into the perfect mix of device and story to finally convert me to the e-reader. Having recently completed the fun Gaming for Keeps and well into The Other Woman, it seems that I'm finally learning warming up to digital books.

However, I'm still mostly a book-in-hand reader. In addition to the stories mentioned above, I read Garth Nix's Sabriel over the weekend (paperback, of course) and loved it. It is a compelling story and one that I'm glad I have sitting beside me at the moment, reminding me of the great story within. It's the kind of book that warrants rereading, if for no other reason than that the world-building is stellar and different from what I've seen before.

Perhaps the digital/paperback divide in my head runs like this: Paperbacks are the Old Kingdom; their magic is real and substantial and links me to the past while digital books are Ancelstierre; they work best when structured around a recognizable, social milieu whose present is concurrent with my own? Not sure if that makes sense or if it will continue to be that way, but that's how it works for me, for now.

Good reading,

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Buckle Down and Turn the Page

Whether it turns out to be one or not, this past week has felt like a pivot point. One of the potential changes deals with the way my day is structured and which family commitments I'll be able to keep in the coming months. As I was thinking about this, I went back to Lake Jackson to spend a few days with my parents. I had just finished reading Stina Leicht's of Blood and Honey and was reeling from that novel. Traffic on I59 was awful; the slower the traffic moved, the more present the novel was in my head. The story was less fantastic than I had expected and yet the layering of the fantastic and historical conflict keep me reading. I didn't really want to.

Having read all the "good for you" literature that I ever wanted to read as an English major, I gravitate toward stories that are lighter in tone. I don't understand why anyone would want to read about war and cruelty when it is too present in everyday news. There is an unsettled layer, a kind of emotional fault line, I possess that responds with absolute fury to cruelty or certain kinds of inevitable destruction. It takes time to come down from that. Not only was this story darker than I'm used to, it was also set in a time period in which I was living a calm, happy suburban childhood in Texas and I kept flashing back on that with each new chapter and date indication. It was this contrast that partially triggered the trip to LJ.

of Blood and Honey refused any escape. The fae heritage of the main character didn't take away the human concerns and decisions he made and it didn't make him a hero by some kind of magical genetic ethical absolution. And why should it?

When I got home, I had the opportunity to take a day trip with my dad. We argued about whether we'd taken a trip to an old plantation near West Columbia and whether I'd been old enough to remember it. Despite hours of reconstructing family vacations, the move to Lake Jackson, the birth of my younger brother, etc., I never did remember going to the planation as a child. What I did remember was that one of my favorite things was going on family trips and being in that outward-focused mode that let us elide any internal conflicts.

My approach to conflict is to dive into details of something else, something concrete and factual. It shows up in my stories, as the detail grows excessive while the conflict withers into implication and elision. Fantasy was a good place to hide.

I'm not sure whether it still is.

Sunday, June 23, 2013


So...this post is partially to keep from slapping my monitor after running into the political morass that Facebook tends to be when people are otherwise occupied. My monitor doesn't deserve the abuse.

Instead, let us focus on Apollocon 2013, which ended today but lingers for us until tomorrow morning, when we will be cleared out of our hotel room and back home with the dogs. Based on this year, neither of us is sure we're going to attend next year and I'm back in anxiety mode. This year, the primary hallway along which in previous years various clubs, self-pubbed authors, and crafters have set up tables mostly consisted of tables advertising other conventions. There were fewer authors in attendance and fewer new authors.

We attended interesting panels and had fun poking around in the dealer's room and daydreaming our way through the art show. For the first time in the years that we've been attending, the Sunday panels stole the show and weren't denuded of people due to early departures. The Friday panel (Cows in Space!!) was bloodier than expected but hasn't left my head in the days since. If we are considering leaving the planet, what will we take with us? What kind of biosphere will we pursue? This was reinforced by the sci-fi transportation panel in which the idea of increasingly sentient transportation was brought up. If horses were an important way to extend our perceptions and travel ability on earth, do we need similarly (or more advanced) sentience in our space vehicles? What about here on earth? Do we need intelligent transportation? Do we want it? What kind of cultural space will this create and how will we adapt? While I'm not enough of a sci-fi person to work on stories directly addressing these questions, they will inform the short stories that I'm currently working on and how I build the world of the new-ish novel I may or may not be drafting. On the whole, I was energized by the discussions.

This is the first year, however, that made me really feel as if books were over. For the first time, many panelists mentioned short stories rather than novels and e-books weren't mentioned at any of the panels I attended. It was almost as if we were attending a wake for all the physical culture that is dying as we move into the future. For a sci-fi based con, the potential of that future to be alienating was an oddly chilling component of the weekend. I never really felt that I was plugged in to the con, which seemed to be taking place for the exclusive amusement of the invited panelists.

On our way to breakfast this morning, the Pumpkin King & I were discussing the bad dreams we'd both had the previous night and I brought up the way that my dreams have for the past several years had a component of distorted space--stairs that lead to tiny crawlspace doors, giant stores that are barely navigable until they run out into small hallways, second story rooms that are barely large enough to stand in. I had assumed that this spatial distortion was just one of the components that everybody experience; however, the Pumpkin King assured me that it was just me. Or, at any rate, not him.

Perhaps, then, I just have a distorted perspective.

I do know that I'd like to attend Space City Con this August and see whether I feel the same.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Wind, A Creak, and The Glory of the Morning

Let's begin with the morning glories. A cool spring has twined around the trellises and rung the sky-blue trumpets for each morning, rainy or clear.

Remembering last year's moonflowers, I spent one morning waiting for the morning glories to open by the back fence. As it turns out, morning glories do not unfurl like a belly dancer's skirt, they shiver themselves awake bit by bit for about an hour and then flop open, exhausted.

Until then, however, they form blue stars that grow larger and looser.

Early in the season, the front vines filled their space with blooms and it looked like the wind was blowing a kind of verse to the sky on the open lyre of the fan trellis.

When then wind rises, as it has today, they dance.

And although I spent the morning the morning in the park, fascinated by the vines that formed elf hollows of the log piles and small trees and by the creak of a pair of pines, one toppled against the other and both thin and shifting against the sky, it this image of the edge of the sky from the shore of a morning glory by which I am ultimately enchanted.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

We Have A Squirrel!!!

We have a squirrel temporarily resident in the small oak tree in our front yard. While those of you in more established (or undeveloped, as the case may be) areas may be tired of your squirrel population--yes, Mom, I know they can be destructive little buggers--I am finding our single squirrel both a salve to my conscience considering the clear cut suburb we live in and a quiet, alert alternative to the tiny, loud flock of birds who are also living in tha little tree.

The birds, in fact, are approaching deer status in my mind. It wasn't until we moved out here and I had a few surprise trail encounters with deer in local parks that I decided that unfenced deer actually scare the bejesus out of me. Although a flock of small brown birds are probably not capable of running me over in a dark corner of the yard, they do have a tendency to explode from rustling bushes or swoop down from low perches while you are trying to move quietly so as not to startle the two birds you can see. Step, step, whoosh! Ten birds you didn't see are zooming past your face. Psych!

The presence of the birds that feasted on sunflower seeds last year reminds me that I need to get more sunflower seeds in the ground (more birds, more seeds, right?) and move my writing out to the back patio with the lizards and the wasps and the birds. Maybe this summer will be the year that I finish the tale of King Derf the Half-tailed and his war with the Red Army of the Sun Queen. Whether said army will be composed of ants or wasps...not sure. Both of them tend to hang around the sunflower bed. Maybe an army and a flying division?

Working outside will be a good way to break up the writing day, since it's only really pleasant in early morning or late evening.

Next post will be all morning glories, since the one in front finally bloomed. Maybe with a bit about King Derf? Who is probably looking forward to the vines becoming extensive enough to become his summer palace...according to the Pumpkin King, a version of Derf spent part of the winter hibernating in the giant bag of potting soil that I left on the porch. Just part of the unexpected links between vampires and anoles.

Friday, April 12, 2013


We were traveling west this evening, first down FM 1960 to pick up comics, then further on the same road until it became Hwy 6 to find a burger. It wasn't until we passed under the freeway that signaled the road's name change and the conversation shifted from where to eat to whether dinner should be the final stop before the great turn and the homeward drive that I noticed it.

Trying to determine whether a new bookstore was in the same place--and possibly a reincarnation of--a store we'd visited just post-college, during the first iteration of Magic, for gaming paraphernalia, we began talking about the first house.

We didn't have it for very long. It was in a small neighborhood just off Hwy 6 and down from a tiny mall that felt like a pin in the outer boundary of the city. Beyond the mall it could be all cattle and two-lane, dwindling until caught by the spur of another expanding town. I had one cool season to enjoy the second-story window ledges, an elbow and a glass of tea balanced on them while I read on the floor in a pile of pillows or laundry.

We locked ourselves out on the patio on New Year's Eve Y2K because we weren't yet familiar with the way the aluminum bar fell just so. One of the women I worked with recommended a Mexican restaurant down the highway and we went for the pickled carrots and the double height ceilings and the food.

Once, we came home from visiting my in laws up I45 past Buffalo, exiting 1960 and taking the long road home. We must have hit this section at a similar time in the evening, with a car full of sleepy dogs, and I know that we usually came to the gaming store in the evenings after work. Tonight the sun is sinking but far enough from the horizon to blear through the windshield. If we keep going west, I imagine we can get to the house, get back to Wynn and Baron as they were then, when our backyard was large enough to run through and pears fell into the back corner.

Driving west on the broad, pale road is tracing backward toward the last time that forward motion felt like progress. I miss the house I barely got to know and the dogs who knew so many other places, even this house so much further north and east.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013


Last night's meeting showed me once again that although I'm smart enough to understand that I tend toward obscure prose, I'm not quite smart enough to identify obscure prose during revisions. Thus, this morning's stroll kept bringing me back to the topic of specificity. I'm sorry this gadget doesn't support uploading pics, but the ones this morning weren't necessarily good; rather they were about the fine details in the weeds bordering the woodland trail.

There are gorgeous, showy delphiniums and poppies in the curated beds in pastel and deep purple shades. Along the woodland trail, though, there are the tiny salmon flowers that I used to love in elementary school. These are plants that reward being low to the ground and grows in the shadow of trees and in the semi-mowed grass of playgrounds. It's a detail that might have been lost in the clover and dandelions but wasn't because it was previously familiar to me.

Similarly, details build a story by letting the reader borrow familiarity with situations and emotions they might not otherwise have.

I tend to mistake pretty details for important ones.While the delphinium beds are pretty, the salmon weeds trigger a personal reverie. I remember a spring afternoon on the playground listening to Tammy list all the items she'll bring to gym locker when we go to the junior high next year and have a formal gym class. She ticks off deodorant, hairbrush, etc. She's leaning against a tree, the rest of in a circle around her. For a few minutes, she's an expert on transitioning from kid to teen. Tammy's ordinary playground aggressiveness is now a social strength as we think about reverting to the bottom of the totem pole. It's also the last year that I see her, since I believe she moved that summer. By the next year, my focus was on the post-lunch cliques rather than the weeds that survived their feet. Thinking about growing up in Lake Jackson also reminds me of that initial drive to write.

Back to the draft, therefore, and the missing details and the unnecessary filigree.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Angst and Good Taste

Last Friday, I asked my husband to read a draft, which turned into a massive argument regarding the epithet "angsty" and whether it's possible to critique fiction in a genre you neither respect nor care for. It was a fun discussion.

--digression: Varda just popped up on the chair to give me a kiss on the forehead. Trying to determine if she's trying to play or barf up the twigs she ate earlier.--

Okay, angst. Not sure why that particular word lodged in my consciousness and is functioning like a Pong paddle (ancient reference alert) in blocking revisions. To me, "angst" is what I'm supposed to grow out of in my writing, it's self-aggrandizing melodrama. If my characters are angsty, they are annoying. If my plots are angsty, they substitute fake emotion for authentic.

When the backpedalling began (isn't lit fic basically all angst?), I was already re-evaluating what I was trying to accomplish. It seems sometimes that I am like the bug in the Phantom Tollboth who swam through the Sea of Knowledge without taking on a single drop. Critiques are difficult to take on and I'm not great at it. Not unlike this post, I'm tempted at times to deconstruct the critique while taking all the negativity on board.

I didn't want to hear the word or see the broad outlines of how I construct a story. I tend to start with an image and emotional impulse rather than a plot, a distinct voice, or a miniature movie. My characters rarely begin life in motion. Perhaps I'm just as stuck as they are?

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Sunday in the Park, No George, Several Tiny Dragons

After spending yesterday working in the backyard beds, I was eager to visit a more complete garden and so headed to Mercer first thing this morning. In addition to flowers and quiet and squirrels, the arboretum is where I get a chance to poke around in my "story brain" without feeling pressure to commit perfection to paper; it is a place where writing and play and make-believe are kissing cousins.

This began earlier than usual this morning, with a beige bra strewn in the middle of one of the roads that curve through the neighborhood and a great black dog with a feathered coat and an odd bend to the back legs--skinwalker out for a morning jog? With her family, perhaps...there was a man jogging with a stroller just around the next corner. Urban fantasy isn't really my genre, but the imagination takes what it can from the morning, stealing not just scenes but, if one is lucky, the pull of the wind and the sense that you are in the same vigorous current that pushes the clouds, the imperative motion of spring

The arboretum itself more high fantasy. As frustrated as I get with my writing, there are always new nuances hiding in the delphiniums and poppies and azaleas, in the lizards rustling beneath the greenery, in my trying to walk silently so as not to scare the frogs until they've been thoroughly photographed, and in my own inevitable paranoia about spiderwebs in my hair, frog squeaks as they leap underwater, and deer. (Which I love to see from a car window or behind a fence but not perked and staring on the same path on which I'm walking.) Fear and the wonder are fairy tale elements well mined from the morning.

I was taking pics of amaryllis when I saw with pollen sacs the color of Cheetos trying for another few grains from a highrise stalk of yellow flowers. In another section of the garden a specimen yaupon tree leaned toward the path, trunk the color of old, smooth concrete. The way the trunk flattened in the middle and swelled at each side as it bent--two trunks that had merged, maybe--reminded me of the curbs I used to take on my bike when I was younger. There is a Yaupon Street in the town where I grew up. The bee and the bicycle are going in different directions, feeding divergent storylines.

There are so many beginnings that exist in the arboretum and I am sometimes surprised to find how much of it has colonized my writing. Then again, it is a pleasant place to wander.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Fairy Season

Spring has overtaken the garden while I have been clinging to my desk, fighting whatever fear or anger buffets me via the Internet. Creeping out from under last year's pots are this year's pansies, which are also peering up from the I repaired crack in the patio, carelessly broken and patched by the cheap builder from whom we purchased the house. Their slipshoddery has worn into a narrow rivulet of purple and yellow faces and one vine that is reaching up for the table like a toddler morning glory determined to ramble like it's mother through any patio fixture it can reach.

Instead of putting out needing plants, i've been discovering volunteer snapdragons hiding under the bushes in the front yard. Some of the stems grew along the ground until a thumb-stalk of pink flowers bloomed. When I knelt down for a closer look, the foot tall stalk blooming beneath the dark branches of a nearby bush was revealed. A dragon in its lair, for all the sugary pink.

This morning, the new crop of morning glories, the first to have reseeded, are blooming in among last year's dead zinnia stalks. We've had a cathedral of white morning glories and towers tufted with pink; however, each of these gave us a season and withered without remembering itself among the beds and lawn the way the purple has done this year.

It is this insistence on the part of the pink and purple remnants of yesterday's beds to slip into the rest of the yard and peer out from cover and patio that chimes with fairy footstep sneaking away from the devastation the winter and I have made of the beds.

Monday, February 4, 2013


Since the clouds are strewn silver and white from horizon to horizon, today's arboretum walk is apparently about flight--the shift of bird sillouhettes from pine to pine in the drought-thinned thicket, the drift of seeds delicate with fine, false feathers, and the shift of thought from drowsy to reminiscent to remorseful. Any alliterative embellishments are unfortunate leftovers from last night's Gloom, a card game of morbid mayhem that allows one to indulge one's Gorey/PBS Mystery dark side upon a tableful of one's friends. Perhaps that should have made this morning a grey whisper of crows; however, it is not.

Grey taffeta mockingbirds with black and white hems are slipping through the undergrowth and a fidget of tiny brown birds are zipping away from the azalea hill into the trees on the creek bank as I walk through a slow rainfall. Wondering if these large palm fronds would be effective umbrellas, I step under one and look up. Not making it underneath the tight base of the frond, I get a raindrop in the eye. The sharp fringes are not so much effective.

Following the palms through to the prehistoric section, I see that more cycads, etc. are being planted. This means that the frog pond area is under construction and I'm detoured over to the fairy tale pond, where I find a nice, large frog sitting with his face above the water as the rain continues to ring the water like a visible tone from an invisible bell. At the edge, someone has been cleaning up the lower branches of a tree that I don't recognize, save for the Froudian baby goblin frowning from just above the mulch.

The contrast of the flying birds and the falling rain runs like a bar of music through me and I find myself in a very Mumford & Sons mood as the rain drops strike faster and the birds call ever louder. A jangle of grey and a glissando of water and the begging of my own brain to be braver and hardier and less distracted push me to wake up, although I don't feel--standing in the park, in the daylight, shoes on my feet--as if I've been sleeping.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Mercer by Morning

It's not my hundred-acre wood; yet it makes a good stand-in in this suburban wasteland of green anoles and mockingbirds and cats and dogs and grass like a weathered welcome mat all around. Instead of reminding me of poetry, of which I know very little to heart, the garden reminds of specificities and ephemera from my own history.

My mother grew azaleas in the back of the house when I was little, when my bedroom formed the back wall and had a window on the backyard. Azaleas don't seem to care much for the clay soil but they do like blue Miracle-Gro dissolved like plant Kool-aid and sprayed on them in season. It wasn't until a few years ago that we traveled to her home town for a funeral and Dad drove us around their old neighborhood that I realized that azaleas looooove Port Arthur. They were not what I took away from vacations to my grandparents, however. Those were Pink Lady bubblegum slushies, green tomatoes off the vine with salt, soda in small glass bottles, tuna-noodle salad (today's lunch) and a gothic sense of family dynamics. Azalea season at Mercer reminds me to call Mom instead of long for family vacations.

The ephemera arrives as we move beyond the azalea banks and come to the velvet petunias, whose purple and cream streaks remind me of fruit and cream lifesavers and make me hungry for fake grape--the flavor of a bank lollipop, rough and sugary from the plastic, or the smell of a scented sticker ripe from the roll. This is the reason that I have "wine" candles in my bedroom. Purple grape is one of my favorite flavors/scents and it wraps around the back of my tongue while I'm looking at the petunias. I wonder what flavors hummingbirds find at the throats of the flowers at which they drink.

There isn't a concession stand in the arboretum. If you're on this side of the trail system, you're not supposed to be eating or drinking anything. The sun is warm and thoughts of grape slushies are making me too thirsty to linger, even among the red & white camellias. Instead, I head to the frog pond.

The tiny frogs in this dark plastic pond the size of a large bathtub are relaxing to observe, provided you don't startle them all into splashing into the water before you realize they are there. I've been practicing quiet approaches for days now just to stand at the edge and stare at them as they float with their eyes and nose above the surface of the water. Although I'm not a fan of the heat, the frogs are making me long for pool weather and the ability to float just like that while on vacation in LJ. Just relaxing into stillness to try to get a good photo lets me relax and ignore everything else going on around us. Part of me is worried about snakes (there are lots of yummy frogs not three feet from me), but I'm hoping it's too cold for them yet. Float, breathe, float, breathe. Watch the ripples to guess where the others are hiding. Lift the camera, focus on the eyeballs focused on you, click. Breathe.

After a bit, the hammering of the woodpeckers and the calls of the cardinals slips into focus and the trees and bushes are busy with birds. The day loses interest in you and moves on, while you float your camera to your eyes and breathe.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013


There is no focus in my brain today. There is a stack of two books and a magazine beside me, several more in the bedroom, and one in the office. Some of them are sporting chic pastel page markers in the hopes that I'll either take notes or make the dishes therein. It's been windy enough that the chimney has been sighing and the table umbrella that James tied with an old belt after the last windstorm has been wobbling. I intended to start this morning in the arboretum, but I haven't left the house. The dogs are sleeping.

Not leaving the house tends to be a problem for me, because it lets me haunt Facebook and play Skyrim and in general fill up the day with the kind of chores that just keep the house together. The neighborhood feels like an experiment in isolation--how long can you shuffle clothes through the laundry room, a vacuum across the carpet, the dogs in and out of the backyard before your sense of purpose cracks?

I would have liked to walk through the arboretum on this windy afternoon and get out the last of the insomniac cobwebs lingering from a broken sleep out of my head. Instead, I listened to the hyper weather predictions and stayed here. With the stacks of books. That need to be read. Now.

Not happening. There has come to be a tension between my reader and writer selves. Neither believes they are fully compatible with each other. A good novel is enjoyable, but also a rebuke the work I'm doing. A bad novel reminds me that I'm flailing around in this same not-quite-there world and then reinforces the judginess that's already zooming around the writer self like a flock of bees. Zzzzzz. Bees are totally taunting the insomniac part of me as well.

The reader self is perfectly happy with reams of lit crit or fantasy novels, the writer self insists on contemporary romance or urban fantasy because those are genres that sell and disputes the lit crit while simultaneously wishing itself clever enough for that kind of depth.

There isn't much compromise on a day when I'm this easily distracted. I've deleted and rewritten this post several times to no great avail. It's still windy. The chimney is still thumping, the open windows whistling. Something is blowing in, although it is not yet here.