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Monday, December 31, 2012


There are no ornaments on our Christmas tree, not because we've already removed them, but because they were never hung.

Making time to pull out boxes and unwrap ornaments was an off and on conversation, my husband finally deciding he was too tired after work, me deciding I was also tired and had other things to do, more important things like organizing cluttered closets and plucking tiny hairs from my chin. 

Priorities, you know.

The tree is artificial with built-in lights that come on automatically at dusk.  The lights match those coiled around the stair balustrade, bright points tucked in plastic green garland, and mine, a skinny strand as old as my marriage, is falling apart.

The only other decorations are two four-foot nutcrackers, three smaller ones, some fake poinsettias and other shiny, glittery, sparkly things that are easily lifted and set down; no assembly or unwrapping required, no ladders needed or repackaging.


I felt bad for the children, for my seven year old who asked three times when we could decorate the tree.  We offset this desire by planting enthusiasm for all the gifts she would receive this year, those from Santa beneath our bare tree, and those from extended family in San Antonio where we travel each year.  Eventually we won, or materialism did, and Christmas came and went without another word about the missing ornaments. 

We forfeited the usual ceremony of family and tradition, dismissed the memories not made.  And I regret that.

Tomorrow the tree and nutcrackers will go back upstairs to the storage closet.  We'll welcome 2013 in some underwhelming manner, probably before it's time since midnight just seems too late to stay up for anymore.  There's not much fanfare associated with celebrating the new year when you have young children, when you choose to stay home because you're too tired to go out.  The TV metro hoedowns are shallow, the celebrities with glitter eyeshadow and microphones, cheerful falsettos.  But we watch them anyway, and won't bother staying up for morbid reasons, to see if Dick Clark's speech has improved, because he's checked out of the New Year scene now.

We will hang up new calendars, two in the kids' bedrooms, one of baby animals and another called Cats Doing Yoga.  Ornaments for the passage of time.

I have secretly vowed to override my own or anyone else's excuses for not hanging Christmas ornaments next year.  I used to step up and take over when everyone else's enthusiasm deflated, but I was deeply a-spirited this year.  Cheerless.  This is no excuse for robbing the children of tradition, of holiday process and cheer. 

I'll just have to buy a taller ladder, to reach the peak of the artificial tree, top it with a bright plastic star. 

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Get Out of the Way

Writing prompts that involve several words have never appealed to me. I need something very basic but full of possibility, like a single word. If someone says, "Write about faith" or "Write about filth" I might write about religion. If they say, "Write about worms" or "Write about politicians", it's the same topic. But I get to interpret with fewer boundaries. No one is asking me to incorporate "Tea, sidewalks, amusement parks and trout" into one writing. That's too narrow. I have to really think about it which gets in the way.

Thinking too much is self-consciousness, like pulling fragile petals from blooms.

I think we write best when we stop thinking about writing, about words, grammar and spelling. Those concerns are for the later edit. The left brain. Stephen King once wrote that we should write our first draft "with the door closed". We should write without concern that anyone in the world will ever read it, without any thought that anyone else even exists. It's just us and our story, a whole that moves unselfconsciously, like a toddler or Mother Nature without pruning.

I do struggle with this. In fact, I edited the last eight words I wrote twice before I put a period at the end. It's like an itch I can't ignore, fixing something the moment I know it's wrong. But did I lose my flow? Forget my point? Lose a bloom of right-brain wholeness as I pulled the petals off mid-flower?

There are few instances that we don't have to worry about how we are perceived. Those moments usually happen when we're alone, windows covered, doors locked. We can walk around naked, watch infomercials or eat an entire gallon of Blue Bell peppermint ice cream. We can pass gas, scream expletives or touch ourselves. No one will see. No one will ever know unless we tell them or gain fifty pounds from the Blue Bell. But personal writings meant for the public eye are subject to criticism.

Writing is the only art measured by itself. Paintings aren't critiqued with more painting. Songs aren't reviewed with more singing. Only writing is reviewed using the same canvas, brushes, microphones and voices. And this difference makes it more vulnerable somehow. It is easier to take apart "i" with another "i".

Maybe we'd write better if we weren't so nervous about being naked, so protective that we stand in the way. Maybe every writing prompt should begin with the phrase: Get out of the way...

I wish I could.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

I Miss Pencils

I've never bragged about being computer savvy. I'm not. In fact, I have two documents I can't send at the moment because I can't seem to turn off the "underline" element. I highlight the text from top to bottom, click the hell out of the Underline icon and nothing happens.

I lost my car manual long ago. It tells me what all the buttons of my Mercedes do, way too many buttons, just like my computer. Way too many buttons like my home alarm system, thermostat, and TV remote control. Even if I had a manual for these things, they'd be too thick to read in any button emergency.

My iPhone and iPad are different. They explain themselves, communicate telepathically. Here, tap this. Yes, that's it. Good girl. You're there now. My other devices taunt and insult, ignore me. I hate them. I hate complicated things that look down on me, live without my input, require no intimacy.

What ever happened to the good ol' pencil? You didn't have to call the Geek Squad when your pencil broke. It didn't get viruses. It didn't crash. It didn't cost much more than a postal stamp.

And what was so wrong with typewriters? Or at least tell me, why do we need so many buttons? How many fonts do we need to communicate? Why can't we choose one margin and tab setting and live with it? Why do we need so many useless confusing features?

There's an underlying premise to all advertising: Convince consumers they need what they don't. Selling is just that. Pushing a choice that will make the seller money. Food and clothing aren't just that anymore. They're necessities broken into a zillion unnecessary options. Choices gone awry. Viral. Expensively so. Grocery stores and malls give me hives. There's too much sensory input, price tags everywhere, carnivorous kiosks, blinding strobe lights and hypnotising ad campaigns. How many versions of ketchup do we really need? How many brands of sanitary napkins? C'mon.

So I'm about to send one hundred pages littered with underlining to an editor because either my button's stuck or I'm still stuck in the pencil era. He'll probably decide I can't be represented if I can't operate my own equipment, if a simple button has me baffled. I can't say I blame him, but the ultimate insult would be for him to reject me by snail mail. Plain stationary. Cursive. All in pencil.