It’s Alive

Every Halloween, after I’ve handed out the last of the candy—okay, I save a few Kit-Kats for myself—I turn out the lights, curl up on my sofa and watch Young Frankenstein starring the sorely-missed Gene Wilder. The script, co-written by Gene Wilder and Mel Brooks, is brilliant. I’ve seen it so many times I can recite the dialogue. I even know when to whinny like a frightened horse when someone says, “Frau Blücher.” I love the scene where Dr. Frankenstein reanimates the creature, who has mistakenly been given the brain of someone named Abbey Normal. While a huge storm rages, the white-coated doctor, with his mad scientist eyes and his wind-ravaged hair, looks up to the dark, menacing sky and shouts, “It’s alive!”

Now you’re probably wondering what this has to do with writing, but stay with me. I really do have a point. Continue reading “It’s Alive”

The Key Graveyard

In a fall cleaning frenzy, I tackled my kitchen junk drawer. I chucked expired coupons, dozens of plastic bread ties that I’d saved in case of a severe bread-tie shortage, and handfuls of dried out rubber bands that broke when stretched. Then I ran across a box of old keys.

Hmmm? I lined them up on the kitchen counter. There were nine car keys, which was odd, because in my life, I’d only owned four cars.

I found the spare key to my 1968 Ford Falcon. Three on the tree, pull-out choke on the dash. I bought it used for $200, drove it for three years, and sold it for $250. I couldn’t find the spare key for the new owner, so I’d had a copy made. It cost 35 cents. Today a new key is $200—the same price as this entire car.

I found the key to my first new car. A 1976 Toyota Corolla, which ironically, got keyed the first day I parked it at work. It was Rah! Rah! Bicentennial! Buy American year!

Here was the key to my old boyfriend’s house. We broke up two decades ago when I ‘d found another woman’s underwear tangled in the bed sheets. “Oh, those belong to my fiancée,” he’d said, having never mentioned a fiancée before. It made me wonder if saving this key qualified me as a masochist. Continue reading “The Key Graveyard”

The Art of Procrastination

Judy Tenuta once said, “My parents told me I’d never amount to anything because I procrastinated too much. I told them, ‘Just you wait.’”

Procrastination is a skill that takes decades to properly master. A childish amateur might miss a deadline and attempt the old cliché, “I tried to do it, but the dog ate my homework.” But it takes a really skilled writer to bring procrastination up to the level of a fine art form. As Roy Peter Clark says in his book, Writing Tools, “Never write today what you can put off until tomorrow.” With that mantra, I’m surprised he ever finished his book. Harold Ross of The New Yorker said, “Like many people, I started blogging out of an urgent need to procrastinate.”

The word procrastination is derived from the Latin cras—meaning “Tomorrow.” This tomorrow does not have the same hopeful, uplifting message Little Orphan Annie belts out with her show-stopping song. Many famous writers suffer from procrastination and have taken the word tomorrow to literally mean tomorrow. Mañana. The day after today. Or maybe the next.

Douglas Adams of Hitchhiker’s Guide fame says, “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.” On missing a deadline, Dorothy Parker remarked, “Somebody was using the pencil.” Robert Benchley said, “Anyone can do any amount of work providing it isn’t the work he is supposed to be doing at that moment.” The New Yorker writer Susan Orlean not only confessed to being a procrastinator, at the recent Long Beach Literary Women Conference, she gave a few tips on how to do it at home. Her first tip was to organize your bookshelves by color, then to move on to your clothes closet. Her theory being, “I’m organizing, I’m accomplishing, so how can I be a procrastinator?”

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Literary Conference Wisdom

 At this year’s Literary Orange, I learned many tidbits to help inspire writers. Did you know that only 4% of people who start to write a book ever finish it? So if you have finished a book, congratulations, you are in rarefied territory.

Here are a few memorable quotes from the conference:

  • We write to make sense of the world.
  • We don’t know how strong we are until we need to be.
  • If you don’t work on your dream, someone else will hire you to work on their dream.
  • Stubborn writers make it.
  • If you write books about yourself, you have enough for one novel and three poems.
  • Nothing in fiction actually happens, but it’s all true—emotionally.
  • In a book you only have to give instructions to a kid once.
  • Everyone experiences a family differently. You and your siblings have the same parents, and yet you don’t.
  • Torture your characters without forsaking them.
  • Failure is the key to success.

I also learned to never give up. That seemed to be a running theme of the conference. Best-selling author Jonathan Evison, who was wearing a T-shirt that said: “Careful or You’ll Wind Up in My Book,” never did. He wrote eight books before being published, and continued writing despite a major setback– his agent quit to go to clown school. Mr. Evison was so desperate that he asked his agent if he could still represent him when he wasn’t studying pratfalls.

Keynote speaker Fannie Flagg had her own never-give-up story. She started by revealing that her real name is Patricia Neal, Patsy for short. (She had to change her name because the Screen Actor’s Guild doesn’t allow two actors to have the same name, and Patricia Neal was already taken.) Ms. Flagg then told this anecdote. Someone once said of her, “She writes those feel-good books.”

She smiled, but a friend told her, “I don’t think that’s a compliment.”

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Do You Know the Way to Cupertino?

 I just watched the National Spelling Bee and was mesmerized, no, the correct word is shamed, by the contest’s youngest-ever entrant, six-year-old Edith. She and her bouncy, blonde curls made it all the way to round three before being eliminated.

At our grade-school spelling bee I was always eliminated in the first round. I could never remember which letters were doubled or if it was supposed to be “intro” or “intra.” And to this day I still have to recite, “I before E except after C.” That’s why I rely so heavily on my computer’s Spell Checker to correct my spelling before my words go out into the world and embarrass me. Which, ironically, is one of those words I can’t spell. When I use Spell Check—that magical I-won’t-let-you-look-like-an-idiot feature, I only have to type in a close approximation of a troublesome word and a box comes up with alternate suggestions. And strangely, looking at the choices, I can tell which one is spelled right.

Spell Check became my best friend. But it also became my worst enemy when, one day, it said, “I’m tired of fixing your stupid-ass mistakes. Let’s have some fun.”

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How to Pick a Cat

Dogs are easy to pick. You walk into a shelter and all the dogs bark, which is canine for, “Pick me, pick me. Me, me, me.” Then the tails wag, which means, “I’m friendly. I can be your new best friend. Say, have you lost weight? Because you look like you’ve lost weight.” Next is the licking. And ladies, here is the short-skirt warning: Any exposed skin is fair game. So cover any lady parts you don’t want licked. Dog slobber says, “You are mine. Take me home.”

The final step in choosing a dog is to close your eyes and pick any one of them; you can’t go wrong. Now cats are a different animal. While you pick a dog, a cat picks you. You may think you have control of this process, but that’s what cats want you to think. Play along with their grand scheme.

Let’s examine three cats.

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Kitchen Rules

If you are what you eat, then I’m fast, cheap, and easy. But, I can live with that. What I can’t live with—yet have been forced to endure—is a messy kitchen. Every day I wonder how my sacred space ends up looking like a before photo on a hoarding show. Well, not quite that bad, but you get the idea. And the ironic part is that I’m a very neat person. Not up to the tidiness level of OCD—I don’t bleach grout with Clorox and Q-Tips—but I wipe counters, wash dishes, and scour sinks. So why is my kitchen always stained with a Rorschach test of drips, spills, and splashes?

Let me answer this question in one word: Husband.

My husband is a messy guy. He doesn’t mean to be; it just comes naturally, like snoring. I’ve lived with this for over thirty years—the messiness, not the snoring; that was cued with a C-Pap machine—yet still I insist on believing that I can retrain him when I know, deep down in my heart, that this bit of wisdom is true: Shoes don’t stretch and men don’t change. Continue reading “Kitchen Rules”

The Theory of Time

All time is relative, as demonstrated by one of its ruling principles, Tallman’s Theory of Relatives. It states that each day your relatives visit, actually lasts for 30 days. This explains why your crazy mother-in-law’s three-day stay feels like three months.

This abstract and somewhat fluid concept of time may confuse you; so let me clarify. Time exists on two parallel planes: real time and perceived time. This can be demonstrated when my alarm clock goes off at 7:00 am, and I close my eyes for five minutes. But when I open them again, it’s 8:45.

Perceived time is a paradox, as illustrated by this opposite example. At work when it’s 3:30, I close my eyes for five minutes, and when I open them again, it’s still 3:30. This sub-principle is known as The Microwave Misconception, derived from the doctrine that states: Microwave Minutes, or MM, are, in actuality, longer than Actual Minutes, or AM. So when expressing this mathematically, remember that MM is always less than AM.

For proof, I give you Tallman’s Theory of Toaster Waffles. I’ve viewed countless displays of this thesis, which states that, though it should take five minutes to toast a waffle, it will, in actuality, take one hour. Longer if you’re really hungry. Continue reading “The Theory of Time”

A Purrfect World

I’m young at heart. And I have a very youthful pancreas. In fact, my doctor said I have the gall bladder of a 20-year old. But though I think of myself as a kid, there comes a time to give up childish things—yet luckily for us, there is also a time to take them back. I think that time is around my age and the childish things I’m reclaiming are cat videos.

A few days ago this revelation struck me. I’d started to work on a chapter of my novel when a friend sent me a link to a cute cat video. This cat runs at top speed, dives into a box, slides across the floor and crashes into a sleeping dog. The dog wakes up and looks like, “What the heck just happened?” Continue reading “A Purrfect World”

Finding Doric

Being a bit obsessive, I unpack as soon as I return from a trip. After my last trip, I opened my suitcase and there it was, what we all hate to see: a TSA Notice of Baggage Inspection. Yes, strangers have pillaged my panties and bandied my brassieres. The notice said, “To protect you and your fellow passengers, the TSA is required by law to inspect all checked baggage.” Yet, this is not reassuring; it’s icky. No amount of Tide can wash away that violated feeling.

 The notice also said, “At the completion of the inspection, the contents were returned to your bag.” Really? I thought, picking up an unknown shoe. The TSA believes I travel with—not a pair—but with one gladiator sandal. Maybe they should amend that notice to read, “And if we can’t figure out where an item goes, we will randomly toss it into the nearest suitcase.”

Continue reading “Finding Doric”