26 February 2008

Domestic as a Plate

I love poetry! If I don't read at least a tiny poem every single day, my spirit might curl up and die -- or something equally dramatic. (If I could think of anything equally dramatic, which I can't.) Fortunately, a dear friend gave me a page-a-day calendar of poems for mornings that I don't have time to peruse the bookshelves. Saturday's offering was "Grown-Up" by Edna St. Vincent Millay. It's one of those simple/profound gems that one feels compelled to share. (So of course I thought of you!)

Was it for this I uttered prayers,
And sobbed and cursed and kicked the stairs,
That now, domestic as a plate,
I should retire at half-past eight?
(from Selected Poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay, The Millay Society, 1922, 1950)

That is so me!

Interestingly, it is so not Edna, whose friends called her Vincent. From everything I've read, she was quite the Bohemian. (If she went to bed at eight, I suspect she either wasn't alone or had a cold.) Unlike Emily Dickinson who simply defines life for me, Edna rarely gets it right from my perspective. But this time she did and I love her for it!

Isn't it marvelous that a poet can say in 28 words what a novelist can't seem to nail in 78,000?

15 February 2008

The Mormon Major-General

Have you ever tripped and sprained your brain?

Early this week, in navigating the treacherous floors that lead to my computer, I tripped over a Lyle, the Kindly Viking toy. This made me think of the delightful Veggie Tale take-off of Pirates of Penzance which in turn reminded me how long it had been since my last Gilbert & Sullivan fix. I rushed to the CD cabinet. Big mistake. Since Monday I’ve had “Major-General” stuck in my head.
(Sombody...please...get him out!)

Since I’m a little hazy on most of the lines that come after I’ve information vegetable, animal, and mineral... I was forced to make up my own lyrics as I went along. With sincerest apologies to W.S. Gilbert, I'm posting my version here. If you’re as hazy on the score as I am the lyrics, the best G & S site on the web is at http://math.boisestate.edu/GaS/pirates/web_op/operhome.html (Sorry, you'll have to cut-and-paste to get there; Blogger's web link isn't working for me this morning.) There you can read the operetta while listening to the music!


I am the very pattern of a modern Major-General,
I’ve information vegetable, animal, and mineral;
I know the books of scripture, and I quote prophets historical,
From Abraham to Joseph Smith, in order chronological;
I’m very well acquainted, too, with Mormon lit that’s fictional,
I’ve read five dozen Whitney books from romance to fantastical;
About the Cub Scout program I am teeming with a lot o’ news;
With interesting facts about the banquet that is gold and blue.
I’m very good at critter care and tending kids without a fuss,
I cook, I clean, I Visit Teach; sometimes I write – miraculous!
In short, in matters quite mundane, relevant, and trivial,
I am the very model of a Mormon Major-General!

14 February 2008

True Love is Like a Ghost

(excerpted from Counting Blessings)

The tag line of my second Nightshade book, Ghost of a Chance, is: True love is like a ghost. Many people believe in both, but few find either. I don’t remember where I first read that line, but I believe it.

For the record, I do not drag my husband to cemeteries to hunt for ghosts. (Although graveyards are the most common site for portal hauntings; more about that in a later blog.) We went to the cemetery because I thought a graveyard would be a unique place to take a picture for my web site, and the old Citizen’s Cemetery in my hometown has long been one of my favorites. (Everybody has a favorite graveyard, right?) Buried therein are the remains of men who served as Rough Riders with Teddy Roosevelt, and women who served . . . um, something . . . in the Bird Cage saloon on Whiskey Row back when Doc Holladay was a drop in.

It was a great place for a photo shoot. Unfortunately, the cemetery’s high, wrought iron gates are closed and locked at dusk. In order to sneak in, we had to park in one of the less-desirable parts of town and ignore the drunken party that was going on nearby. (We also said a quick prayer that our hubcaps – and the car to which they were attached – would still be there when we returned.) We then lowered ourselves over a rock wall and into the graveyard. Thanks to the miracle of gravity, this wasn’t too difficult, even for a pudgy, middle-aged novelist and her CPA husband.

For about an hour, I led my eternal companion from one old sepulchre to the next (and the next and the next and the next) in search of the perfect spot in which to be photographed. While I graciously carried the compact digital camera, he carried my 50-lb antique typewriter. It was cold, dark, and suitably spooky, even for me.

By the time we had enough pictures to make me happy, we’d attracted the attention of several drunks and one police officer – but no ghosts. (Nor did an orb show up on our pictures, darn it.) My husband boosted me back over the wall, handed up the typewriter, considered the wall’s height and his blood pressure, and then sat down to wait for the cemetery’s gate to open or for heaven’s trump to sound, whichever came first. No, seriously, he scaled a crumbling pile of rocks and loose mortar that would have given Spider-Man second thoughts.

I probably don’t have to tell you that Gary would have rather been home watching football and rooting for ASU. (Heck, he’d have rather been at a dentist’s office having a root canal.) Nor do I need to tell you that I’ve found true love. You can judge that for yourself.


13 February 2008

Do Not Try This at Home

In spite of appearances over there on the right side of the page, having my picture taken with my pit bull was about as easy as a walk in the park (Central Park. At night. When the muggers come out), and roughly as much fun as a barrel of monkeys. (Wild, rabid monkeys. On uppers.)

Here, in photo-essay form, is what it took to include Bandi here and on my website.

STEP ONE: The Bubble Bath
Directions: 1) Drag dog into bathroom and close door without decapitating same. 2) Bathe dog. This requires at least four arms, two nose plugs, and 60 gallons of water -- 59 of which will be on the bathroom floor when you finish. 3) Dry dog. Note: my daughter is not smiling. Nobody smiles when bathing Bandi. That look comes from having a 75-lb pit bull stand on her foot. 4) Reward dog with promised treats. Be quick or she will eat the camera.

STEP TWO: Stage photo shoot. This went precisely as well as it looks.
DISCLAIMER: No animals were harmed in the making of this blog. (But don't think I didn't consider it.)

07 February 2008

Bequest of Wings

(Excerpted from Counting Blessings, coming to a bookstore near you March 1!)

Bad things do happen to good people. Sometimes the worst things. Right now, a handful of the best people I know are facing the most difficult things I can imagine—cancer, serious illness of a parent, abandonment and divorce, and the death of a child. I wish I knew what to say to any of them.

My life is easy in comparison, but there have been some low points. One of the lowest was the day I was diagnosed with MS. I couldn’t understand why God let this awful thing happen to me. Hadn’t I tried hard enough? Been “good” enough? What? I couldn’t talk to anyone here on earth about my pain and fear and lack of faith, and I was barely on speaking terms with God. About all I could manage in my prayers was, “What now? How do I get through this?”

God answered me in the words of my favorite poet, Emily Dickinson, who wrote: Read, sweet, how others strove, Till we are stouter; What they renounced, Till we are less afraid. That quatrain became my lifeline. As Emily suggested, I read the words of “brave men” and “celestial women” who “bore the faithful witness” through the ages. As I did I gained perspective and strength.

One woman I met while following Emily's advice was Dame Julian of Norwich. In 1342 she wrote, God allows some of us to fall more heavily and more grievously. And then we, who are not all-wise, think that everything which we have undertaken was all for nothing. But it is not so, for if we did not fall we could not know so completely the wonderful love of our Creator. We shall truly see that we were never hurt in His love, nor were we ever of less value in His sight.

I figured if that was true in the dark ages of the fourteenth century, it was probably still true in the twentieth. I began to look for things I could do instead of mourning everything I couldn’t. I could still sit, for instance—for very long periods of time, in fact—and I had always wanted to write a book. My first novel The Heart Has Its Reasons was published about eighteen months after my diagnosis.

I still search for words of inspiration when I’m afraid. (Frankly, because of CNN that’s pretty much every day.) I also keep a quote from Margery Wilson in my journal. In 1917 the world contemplated the War to End All Wars. Margery wrote: Though life seems to challenge us harshly at times, to make us eat bitter bread with the sweet, nevertheless, if we will stop wailing and look we will see a sustaining arm across our shoulders, the arm of infinite love—and if we listen we can hear a voice whispering, "Deep within you is the strength to bear anything, the nobility to be willing to do so, and the intelligence to create magnificently and beautifully, come what may."

Possibly I should admit that not every piece of writerly advice I cherish is touching and profound. I often empathize with these words by Walter Brooks’ Freddy the Pig (1953):

When life’s at its darkest and everything’s black,
I don’t want my friends to come patting my back.
I scorn consolation, can’t they let me alone?
I just want to snivel, sob, bellow, and groan.

Whether I've chosen to snivel through or survive my challenges, the written words of others have seen me through some of the darkest and scariest days of my life. When I’m most stressed, I reach for an old friend on the bookshelf and things seem better right away. Well, usually.

A couple of years ago, I took my husband to the hospital with chest pains. Knowing he’d be in tests most of the day, and fearing to be left alone to worry, I snatched up a well-worn paperback to help keep me sane. As I sat in Gary’s cubicle in the emergency room, I struggled to keep my eyes on the pages because I was terrified of all the tubes and machines that were connected to the man I love. Nurses and doctors came and went, and each gave me curious looks. Hadn’t they ever seen anybody read before?

Finally, my long-suffering husband sat up and said, “Do you have to read that right now?”

Startled, I closed the book. Looking down at the cover I saw that it was a copy of William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying.

The point is that William, Emily, Margery, et al, have helped me through the darkest, scariest days of my life. Another of Emily’s poems describes me to a T:

(S)He ate and drank the precious words,
(Her) spirit grew robust;
(S)He knew no more that (s)he was poor,
Nor that (her) frame was dust.
(S)He danced along the dingy days,
And this bequest of wings was but a book.
What liberty A loosened spirit brings!