Thursday, November 26, 2009

Holiday Hotline

A little Thanksgiving story for you...and may your oven never explode...


"Holiday Help Line, this is Matthew. How can I help you?"

"I’m going to slit my wrists," she says. "This is it! I hate Thanksgiving. I hate that the Christmas decorations have been up in the stores since Halloween. I hate the Macy’s parade and the Rockettes and the cranberry sauce and all the cooking and cleaning and the men sitting on their fat asses watching football and I swear, I’m going to do it, when the sweet potatoes are done I’m going to take the biggest knife I have and..."

Matthew’s pulse races as he casts a frantic glance around the cubicle farm for someone who’d been on the phones more than an hour. But there’s no one except the other newbies, and his supervisor had gone out for a smoke. He’s supposed to ask questions. But can’t remember which ones. He grabs his training manual. A corner of the binder catches on the shelf, a sheaf of notes from orientation slip out of the inside pocket and spill across his desk.

"Oh, crap," he mutters, and shoves papers back together. Then finds the page he needs. Step One. Clarification. "OK. Ma’am? You need to slow down and tell me what the problem is."

She lets out a soft sob. "It’’s...the turkey. It’s ruined. I have twelve people coming to dinner, and it’s ruined, it’s horrible. I hate turkey anyway, why do I even bother making it? I have no idea what I’m doing!"

"OK," Matthew says, feeling his confidence grow. "Turkey. OK, that helps." Step Two. Restate the problem. "It sounds like you’re saying that you’re upset about the turkey."

"No, I’m upset about the value of the dollar on the overseas market! I always call complete strangers when I’m worried about the world economy! Of course I’m upset about the turkey!"

"I’m sorry, but I just wanted to make sure..." He thumbs through the index of his binder. "Turkey...turkey...uh...OK! Here it is!" Then refers back to his problem-solving cheat sheet. Step Three. Get to the root of the issue. "So...uh...what’s your relationship with poultry?"

Total silence. "My relationship with—? What are you, some kind of crackpot?"

"I’m just trying to get to the root of the issue."

"Issue? It’s just a turkey, and I don’t really think—"

Matthew nods. One of the first things they’d told him in orientation was that it was never just about the turkey. "I’m only trying to help you, ma’am." Step Four. Reassurance.

"Ma’am," she says in a mocking voice. He can hear the sweet crack of a bottle top. He imagines it to be a beer, would love one himself. But no drinking on the job. Never. He is expected to remain sharp at all times. "If we’re going to talk about my relationship with poultry, then you might as well call me Rita."

"OK." He smiles. "Rita." The sound of her name makes him long for the warmth of his sister’s house, the family spilling in, hugging each other, laughing.

But that only reminds him of Patsy.

"Do you like turkey, Matthew?"

Crap. There is no Step Five. By now, the hotline program must assume that he’s resolved the problem and is ready to pick up the next call. They don’t say what to do when the caller starts asking him questions.

"Um...well, this isn’t really about me."

He hears the smack of solid against solid, possibly the beer bottle set down too hard against the counter. "It’s so boring!" Rita says. "Just because it’s Thanksgiving, I have to stick some big dead bird on the table? Why can’t we just have lasagna or a nice roast beef or something I know how to cook? Or if it’s decreed by the constitution that we have poultry this one day of the year, why not Cornish game hen? Squab? Goose?"

Matthew considers the possibility that she’d gone off her medication. But there’s nothing about that in the index, and he can’t think of a sensitive way to ask. He shoves the pages aside. This is no way to truly help people—a white cubicle, a book, a blinking phone.

"Or a nice roast duck?" she says. "Why not a duck?"

"Why not a duck?" Patsy used to make roast duck for Christmas. Before the accident.

"It’s easy," Rita says. "It fits in the oven, brush it with a little apricot jam and you’re done."

He scribbles a note on his message pad. "Apricot jam?"

"Yeah, it’s really good. Don’t get the cheap stuff. Then just take a basting brush and cover the whole thing."

"Really? That’s all you need?"

"That’s it. Why, what do you do with duck?"

"Well...Patsy used oranges."

"Oranges." Rita laughs. "That’s a bit...unimaginative, don’t you think?"

Not the way Patsy made it. How he misses her little curlicues of zest, and scallions. The way she used to dress things up. People underestimate the value of a good garnish. God, he wishes he could wrench that beer through the phone. "We’re here to talk about you, Rita."

"Is Patsy your wife?"

"Fiancée. Well, ex-fiancée. She...left me. Two years ago today. Right after the accident." She was baking pies to bring to his sister’s for Thanksgiving. They’d argued. The oven wouldn’t light, gas filled the room. It was ugly. Meringue and pumpkin everywhere. Matthew’s eyebrows still hadn’t grown back. The prospect of spending the rest of her life with an ungarnished man must have been the final straw. That, and the rippling muscles of the fireman who rescued her.

"Oh, you poor thing," Rita says. "That’s why you work the phones."

"I do what I can." Matthew’s voice cracks. He clears his throat. "Now about the turkey—"

"The hell with the turkey. I think we should be talking about your relationship with poultry. Where are you, anyway? Do you live in the city? We have plenty of food, my sister-in-law’s stupid Pekingese only got a small chunk of the leg when the turkey fell on the you have somewhere to go?"

"I usually go to my sister’s. This year I couldn’t get away, and..." He gathers himself. "But again, this isn’t about me."

She lets out a long sigh. "Right. It’s not about you. Three quarters of you shrinks go into psychology to get your own therapy, but it’s never about you."

Matthew scrunches together the bare ridges that used to be his eyebrows. "I’m not a shrink."

"Of course. It’s the holidays. The real shrinks are probably all out of town. What are you, Matthew, a grad student? Intern?"

"Well. Intern. But not in psychology. I’m studying Culinary Arts."


"Yeah. I want to be a chef. I’m going to open my own restaurant one day." His heart beats faster. He’d never told anyone this before. Not even Patsy. She would have laughed, said he could barely boil water. She should see him now! "I’m only going to serve comfort foods. Pot roast, fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, overstuffed sandwiches with those little furry toothpicks—"

"I’m talking to a chef."

"Well. Not yet. I need 72 more credits to graduate."

"Pardon me. I’m talking to someone who needs 72 more credits to become a...chef."

"Yeah, but I made Dean’s List my first two semesters."

"I’m ready to slit my wrists because of this turkey, and they give me someone with no training whatsoever?"

He’d been prepared for tears. He’d been prepared for lumpy gravy. Stove fires. Stained tablecloths. But not for her. Over the holidays, they told him in orientation, most people would be happy to speak to anyone with a calm voice and a good ear. "Who’d you expect on Thanksgiving, Martha Stewart?"

"I expected at least some relevant experience!"

If she ever came into his restaurant, he’d spit in her soup. Too bad, because he’d sort of liked her. The sound of her voice, her throaty laugh. He frosts over. "Well, lady, I didn’t expect to work the how-not-to-screw-up-your-turkey hotline on Thanksgiving, so we’re even. Turkey," he snorts. "It’s the easiest thing in the world. Every year the magazines are filled with pages and pages of how not to screw it up. And they still call. ‘How do I know when it’s done, do I put the stuffing inside the bird or not, what do I do with the guts in the plastic bag,’ every little thing."

"Guts in the plastic bag—" Her voice shrinks. "This isn’t the Holiday Stress Line?"

Crap. He should have known that this was one of those calls his supervisor had warned him about. The listings are one atop the other in the directory. Holiday Help Line, Holiday Stress Line. Some people called the wrong one by accident, too distraught about the mashed potatoes or the alcoholic parent to parse the difference. He should have given her the number right from the start. But he thought he could help her. Obviously he’s worthless at that, too.

"No," he sighs. "Sorry. I’ll get you that number."

"No—you don’t have to. I’m feeling better now. Really. I mean, it’s only a turkey, right?"

He smiles. "Your sister-in-law’s dog really chewed on the leg?"

"Only a little," Rita says. "Stupid mutt. Can I still serve it? What do you think, just put the dog in a roasting dish and brush him with apricot jam?"

"Normally I’d recommend orange on Pekingese. But perhaps we should talk more about your relationship with dogs."

"I seem to do better with humans."

"I seem to do better with food."

"Oh, stop," Rita purrs. "You helped me."


"Come for dinner, Matthew. Please? If you have to work late, maybe you could still come by for dessert? No one should be alone today. I made three kinds of pie. You like pie?"

He scratches his missing left eyebrow. "Not especially."

"Not even apple? With vanilla ice cream?"

Patsy never made apple. And never a la mode. Matthew fumbles for his pen. "Where do you live?"

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Post-NaNo Blues

This year's NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, which, through the hard work of founder Chris Baty and others, challenges intrepid writers all over the world to write a 50,000 page novel in the month of November) is leaping, galloping, limping to its close. I'd so eagerly anticipated November 1, because for the first time, I had writing buddies at my side. I also had a decent idea for a novel. But a tiny critic inside me dreaded the actual writing. "You've been editing old manuscripts for the past few years," it said. "And before that, you were freelancing exclusively and weren't focusing on your own work at all. What makes you think you can just switch gears and write a first draft of a novel?"

I raised my hand, like a timid child wishing to use the rest room. "Uh…because…because…I want to?"

"Who cares what you want?" it said. "You have a mortgage. You have a heating bill. Not to mention cable, telephone and…you like to eat, don't you?"

"Uh-huh…once in a while…"

"Organic apples don't come cheap, you know. So what business do you have dithering around writing a novel now? What do YOU get out of it?"

Hey, I thought. I don't have to take this. Especially from some wimpy little inner critic who doesn't seem to know me at all. I felt myself growing taller, and pointed a finger down at him.

"Look, you," I said. "Maybe you haven't noticed, but I've got a bunch of novels in the closet. I've done two NaNo challenges already. And what I get out of it is, first of all, the satisfaction of knowing I can blast through any stupid blocks –that includes you – to write a first draft of a novel, beginning, middle and end. Who cares if it's crap? That's what second drafts are for. And third drafts. And fourth drafts. And it's fun. What do you have against fun, you bitter, dried up old twig?"

"Hmpf," the thing said. He grew smaller, and smaller, until he disappeared.

Thanks to a number of stars lining up in the right order (a light schedule, the enthusiasm and support of my writing buddies, and the pulsing need to get back to my own fiction), I crossed the finish line on November 20. I ran downstairs to tell my husband the news.

He merely responded, "Thank God."

I was disappointed. I'd hoped for "congratulations," or at least something that showed his recognition that this challenge was important to me. But no. From the start, he just thought it was "crazy" to try to write the first draft of the convoluted plot I'd dreamed up in a month, let alone 20 days.

I felt my inner critic smile with glee, itching for another chance to hack me off at the knees. Fortunately, I got over my spouse's lack of response and savored my giddiness, my private shock that I'd accomplished this task, and my secret smiles.

Then, as Bill Murray's character said at the beginning of "Stripes," depression set in. I'd birthed a baby in the form of a 52,000-word messy first draft and soon afterward I developed post-NaNo depression. A kind of void. I'd thrown myself full-bore into this novel…ate, breathed, slept it until my little word-counter flashed green. And then…nothing. The rest of my life, the part I'd shoved to the side so I could devote so many stolen hours to the adventures of my characters, came flooding back. The unanswered mail. The piles of papers in my writing room. The stress.

That was it…stress. I hadn't put it together before, but breathing life into my new fictional world – not to mention all that typing - sucked up a lot of energy. It was good stress, but still it left me depleted.

"You need to heal," said holistic nutritionist Jennifer McKinley. I'd been taking part in a series of weekly workshops given by Jennifer, and the last one coincided with my completion of (and depletion from) NaNo. The agenda that night was a kind of catch-all, and over a potluck of amazingly delicious tidbits (we agreed to each make a recipe from the bounty Jennifer had given us over the 8 weeks) we talked about strategies for getting through the holidays eating healthfully, to keep our energy up and our stress levels down. I told her what had been on my agenda. Including the possibility of a neighborhood cookie swap.

She shook her head. "First priority is taking care of your health."

So when I finally realized what was going on with my body, and my spirit (it's all connected, I believe), I took myself back to square one. While I wasn't exactly living on Red Bulls and Pop-Tarts during NaNo time, I'd slipped back a bit. Too much chocolate. Eating almond butter out of the jar with a spoon. Skimping on vegetables. Not keeping the pantry stocked with healthy, energizing snacks. So I've been focusing on healing foods, like whole grains, beans, kale and other green leafies, ginger and garlic. Scrupulously avoiding foods that sap me, like sugar, gluten, and dairy products. No skipping the daily meditation.

It's helping. Slowly, I'm coming back. And for this next chapter of my life (more to come about that), I'll need to be sharp.

I can hardly wait.

As for next year's NaNo? I'll probably still do it, stealing away for hours at my computer like I'm meeting a secret lover. But between liaisons, I'll take better care of my body, mind and spirit.

No inner critics allowed.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Look! Another NaNo Excerpt!!!

When she told him, Drew's eyes squinched a bit, and he took a moment before speaking. The pen tapped tapped tapped against his leg. "It may be a bit early for you to be tossing aside major characters," he said.

"But she just…she doesn't seem to fit. It's Miranda's story, not Jean's."

He nodded. "And you know that already?"

She felt herself backing down, smaller, somehow, underneath his cobalt stare. His eyes probed her, challenged her. "I…think so…"

This earned her a sarcastic grin. "Conviction. That's what I like to see in a writer. OK. Instinct is good. It can be very good. So try it. Toss Jean and see how it feels."

"The thing is…" She felt her throat closing into that squeak again. She vowed never to squeak in Drew Anthony's strange little house again. "I…well…I…there are so many missing pieces in Miranda's story. In her life."

"She has amnesia?" Drew said, obviously playing with her for the amusement of the group. Dionne smiled, Rupert quickly followed. Sam ducked her head.

Of course not, you asshole, she wants to say. Instead, she squeaks out a little, "No…." when he didn't respond, just stared in her direction, she added, "There are things I don't know about Miranda's life."

Those eyes bore into her, utterly fascinated. Or at least that's the face he was putting on. For all she knew – and this was a distinct feeling she was getting – he was a spectacular actor and was bored silly by her whole lame attempt at writing a novel that was clearly way out of her league. "So ask her," he said.

Jess's eyebrows scrunched together. "Ask her."

"Why not?" he said. "She's telling you her story, is she not?"

Just go with it, her instincts said. She sighed. "Well…of course, but…"

Sam wiggled her little hand in the air, a few inches above her head, as if asking for permission to go to the toilet. "Could I…" Drew nodded. Jessie could almost feel Sam perspiring. She drew her hands down the length of her thighs and left them there, cupped around her kneecaps. "Um…we did that last time…it really helped me to interview the Emerald Fairy, to find out why she wanted to leave paradise…"

"And if I remember correctly, Sam," Drew said, "You had a major breakthrough following that."

Sam smiled shyly, the apples of her cheekbones and the tip of her elfin nose pinking. Jess wished she could blush like that. A dainty little pink trimming, a teensy brushstroke, instead of her whole face inflaming to the color of a pomegranite.

"Well. If everyone's had their say about your writing weeks, why don't we do that exercise tonight?"

He led them through the standard relaxation…close the eyes, feet on the floor, let the body go limp. Just like she'd done at her mother's house last night. She'd tried to hone in on the sounds in Drew's house, but as soon as she got a bead on something – the whir and hum of the radiator kicking on – he began talking softly, leading them on another adventure. He took them into a plush and private room, one that's complete with everything that makes you comfortable. Jess pictured her mother's sunroom, and she was sitting in her favorite chair with one of Carol's cats on her lap, Bear, the tortie with fur as soft as a cloud and a lovely musical purr. And then, a person walks into the room. Maybe you catch a whiff of perfume or aftershave, or some distinctive scent. Jess smelled the sweet stench of alcohol on someone's breath, mixed with perfume. You take in every detail of this person…while he or she takes a measure of you. Jess saw Mirabella in her favorite outfit, a silky pair of black slacks with a matching top, wrapped dramatically with a wildly colored scarf – hand painted by a local artisan – and pinned with her mother's brooch. Her hair was all done up, the still dark curls cascading free, and her makeup there but not too there, the way it sometimes was. Introduce yourself, and invite this person to sit beside you. And when you feel comfortable, begin asking questions, and listen carefully for the answers.

Then Drew stopped. Jess let her mind float free, watching Mirabella move – the grace taught to her so many years ago still remained, and the glided across the floor, her sexy shoes barely making as much as a click. Jess swayed slightly, as she did last night, trying to recapture that feeling, that open feeling that would allow Mirabella in.

Mirabella set a manicured hand on Jessie's knee. Bear continued purring, as if he sensed Mirabella was another person he could trust.

"Honeycakes, we can dispense with the introductions."

Jessie was floored. She was there! Mirabella was actually there! But she was afraid that if she thought about that too much, she would vanish in a puff of perfumed smoke. So she continued with her breathing, as Drew had instructed.

"I miss you," Jessie asked in her mind.

"Oh, and you, too, doll."

"You wanted me to tell your story…"

Mirabella smiled a Cheshire cat grin. "But you are! Just look at you go. Working with that famous and might I add very handsome author. Excellent job."

Jess eased open one eye a fraction. Drew was sscribbling something in his sketchpad/notebook. Damn. Mirabella was right.

"Eyes over here, darling," Mirabella said. "Feast later, when I'm gone."

That blush again. She even blushed at people who lived in her head! "Oh, but…I wouldn't…I mean, there's Luke. We're practically married…"

Miranda gave her a sly look. "What does that pretty black girl sing? 'If you like it, then put a ring on it?' Something like that. And I don't see a ring on that beautiful hand of yours."

"Mirabella, stop! I was hoping we could talk about you."

"But I'm so terribly boring. Him, I want to hear more about."

Jess was starting to get a feeling that this whole exercise was going terribly wrong. "But…if you want me to write your story, I need to know more about your life."

Mirabella leaned back in the lounger. Carol's other cat, Alice, jumped into Mirabella's lap, and instead of shooing her away to prevent shedding hair, she merely stroked her fur absent-mindedly, but Jessie could tell that her mind was still mentally undressing her writing teacher.

"Mirabella? Please?"

"I'm waiting, honey. You've got the floor. Althought I wouldn't mind getting him on the floor."

"OK. Last night I envisioned your wedding in my head."

"I was a beautiful bride."

"Yes, you were. I loved the dress."

"Half-price. At a bridal warehouse in Brooklyn."

"OK, so you told me a little bit about how you met your ex-husband. But to tell your story right, I need to know about your marriage. About him. What happened."

Mirabella's face turned to stone. Her hand not only stopped stroking Alice, but she shooed her off her lap rather firmly. Mewling, Alice trotted off and Bear hopped off of Jessie and followed him. Then, she said in an icy tone, "You'll have to ask him."


It was useless. Mirabella's image began to fade, to wither into a ghostly pale reminder.

"No, wait…"

She was gone. Jess could still smell the whiff of perfume and rum. And the chair, still rocking from her huffy retreat, rocked itself into stillness.

Jess was left in her mother's sunroom, alone.

She kept up her breathing, kept her muscles loose, swayed a little as she honed into the musicality of the radiator, but she couldn't get Mirabella back. And she had this awful sense that she'd never see the woman again.

When Drew gently suggested they begin writing, Jess scribbled down the few things she'd experienced – Bear's soft fur, the brook babbling nearby, Mirabella's entrance, the scent of her perfume, her interest in Drew…and then how she'd vanished when Jessie asked the one question she so desperately wanted to know. Tears welled up behind her eyes.

Drew called time, and ask that they bring their writing to a close, making notes for later if they needed to. When she looked up, she felt like she'd just woken up from a deep sleep and couldn't quite place where she was. A tear had splashed onto her notebook, dissolving a splotch of ink. She rummaged around for a tissue.

"Well. From the looks of some of you, that seemed powerful. His gaze locked on hers. She blushed, and ducked her head. "Jessie, would you like to read?"

"Pass," she said, dabbing at her eyes.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Look! A NaNoWriMo Excerpt!

Yesterday I looked up from my computer and thought, "Hey! Why keep the crappy first draft of my NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) project to myself when I can share it with all of you?" But I take no responsibility for typos, sentence structure or dangling anything. Now back to my writing...


"This can't be it," Jessie said under her breath, after Luke had done his job and bore his pall to the front of the church, then sat next to her on the pew. Gio was in the front row, with a couple of people she assumed were relatives, although she'd never met them. They seemed about as old as Mirabella – she'd never revealed her age but Jessie knew it from the information Gio gave to the police (and couldn’t believe she was actually in her 60s.) So maybe they were brothers or cousins. "I mean, there's hardly anyone here."

"Yeah," Luke whispered back. "Sad, right?"

Jess nodded, and for the first time in the last three days, felt tears welling up behind her eyes. Luke took her hand and gave her a Meaningful Look.

With her free hand, she fumbled through her purse for a tissue. "I mean…I mean…if only a half-dozen people came to my funeral….I'd just die!"

The two of them realized the humor in that and stifled giggles at the same time, holding each other so they couldn't break free.

"But yeah," Luke said. "I know what you mean."

"Yeah." Then, like a flash of light, Jessie realized what Mirabella's bedside note meant. The conversations the two of them had had where Mirabella made her promise to ghostwrite her life story. That's why Mirabella simply wrote that Jessie would know what to do.


Her mother poured another cup of coffee. "Honey. Just because you said you'd write her biography doesn't mean you're beholden to it."

This was days later, when Jessie drove over to Woodstock to return the dress. "I don't feel obligated," Jess said. "I just think…well, someone ought to tell her story."

Her other mother, Carol, wandered in from the garden, where she'd been planting bulbs for the Spring. She washed her hands in the sink and poured herself a cup of coffee. "Whose story are we writing?"

Jess sighed. "Mirabella's. She asked me and I sort of agreed."

"Is she the one who was abused and keeps a gun in her purse?"

Jess nodded.

Her mother told Carol, "It was in her suicide note. It said…what did it say, honey?"

Jesse stared into the black pool of her coffee cup, and sighed. "Jessie will know what to do."

Her stepmother set her mug on the counter and gave Jessie a methodical look. "That's cryptic," she said. "What you think it means?"

"Just what I said -- that I'm supposed to write her life story. But I don't know it all. She died before she could tell me."

"Well," Carol said. "You could simply fictionalize it. That gives you a whole lot more room to play with."

Of course Carol would suggest this; she's a novelist, and a pretty good one. She's even had a book published. "I suppose."

"I was telling Jess not to feel beholden to this Mirabella woman's drunken request."

Carol's eyebrows shot up. "That's awfully…judgmental of you, Sue."

Jess too was surprised at her mom. But then, a lot of people believed the myths about Mirabella. "She's not crazy! I mean, wasn't…" It would be hard getting used to putting Mirabella in the past tense. She is – was – one of those people who are larger than life.

"I know you think I'm awful," her mother said. "But I have my reasons."

"I always thought that you thought all women should stick together. Especially the ones who were abused," Jess said, pouting.

"Here we go," Jess's mother said. "The Rules and Regulations of The Lesbian Club."

"You're making fun of me," Jess said.

Carol smiled at her partner. "I'm putting that in the hopper. What a great novel title."

"You're welcome," Sue said. Then she turned to Jess. And touched her arm. "Honey, you're wonderful to want to do this for Mirabella. I'm just afraid…well, you're so sensitive, and…"

What the hell? Jess thought. Was she wearing some kind of sign around her neck? "You think I can't do it, either!"

"No, it's not…"

"You and Luke! You both think I can't write a novel!"

Her mother and Carol exchanged the quick, sympathetic look that Jessie knew very well. That "we must be careful with our next word as not to upset our sensitive child" look. Sigh.

"Honeycakes," her mother said, patting her hand atop Jessie's. She watched their combined appendages, realizing how little they resembled each other. She'd figured this out only upon doing a writing exercise from a book Carol had given her one Christmas. It was all about "my mother's hands," and you were supposed to stare at your own and find the resemblances and the metaphors, etc. She'd turned it into an interesting poem – at least she thought so, and so had Luke – but the interest was in the fact that she didn't have her mother's hands – she had her father's. And despite years of therapy, her mother still had not evolved enough for Jessie to say this to her without anger and recriminations. She'd never read the poem to her mother.

Her mother continued, "It's not that I think you can't write a novel. I'm sure that you can do anything you set your mind to. It's just that you write such beautiful poetry – " she looked up at her partner, "Doesn't she, Carol? Simply lovely, evocative…but sometimes authors who write multiple genres are more facile in one than the other."

Multiple genres. Her mother and Carol were not simply melding into each other, as she'd been told long-time couples often do (she couldn't even imagine the polyglot she and Luke would make, if they stayed together that long), but they'd adopted each other's language. Her mother, an algebra teacher, was starting to talk like a writer.

She must have appeared not to understand, so Carol jumped in. "Like Marge Piercy. You've read Marge Piercy, haven't you, Jess?"

Jess nodded.

"She writes novels, too. But I think, anyway, she's a much better poet. Yes, there's something to be said for those writers who can float easily from one to another, but you're such a strong poet that what I think you mother is saying is that, well, it's good to stretch but she doesn't want you to lose your strength."

Jessie took a deep breath. She should have just mailed the dress. Or left it on the porch when the two of them were out. She loved her mothers, but sometimes she got the feeling that they thought she was still a child, or so sensitive that the slightest slight would cause her to shatter.

"Thank you for your input," Jess said, slugging down the rest of her coffee and putting the stone mug into the sink.

"Oh, now honey---"

"No. It's OK. Whatever. Maybe you're right. I should stick with poetry. After all, why try anything new when what I'm doing is working so well?"

"Sweetie, there's no call to be sarcastic—"

"Who's sarcastic?" Jess said, turning to face them both. "I'm just agreeing with you."

Then she grabbed her jacket and huffed down the stairs. She'd show them. She would write Mirabella's story if it killed her. So she hadn't lived long enough to tell Jess the whole thing. That's why fiction exists, right? So she could make up the parts she didn't know.

The thing is, she had no idea how to write a novel.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Some days you win, some days you lose, some days it rains

It's not every day that I get an e-mail from a client that starts with those foreboding words, "Thank you for your service."

Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon occurrence in today's economy. But fortunately, my skin is rhino-thick from years of rejection by literary agents and publishers.

Or, so I thought.

While I'm not new to literary agents' form letters (my first novel netted me 138 of those suckers, and I've saved every one), I'm a newbie at getting dumped by a client. Apparently, one teensy patch of my skin is not as tough as the rest of my hide.
Call it my "freelancers' heel."

It sounds like an affliction, doesn't it? Maybe we can have a telethon, raise some money, start an awareness campaign. Assign a day to it. Sell a boatload of those rubber bracelets.

But anyway, thanks to a friend who has been a spiritual mentor, I've deepened my understanding of the relationship between crisis and opportunity. My usual pattern was to face a crisis with what I call "act, then collapse." First, I calmly do what needs to be done -- call 911, tie a tourniquet around the wound, make an incision and suck out the snake venom, place the appropriate phone calls to the appropriate service providers -- and then fall in a heap when I feel like the crisis is under control.

Perhaps even come down with a cold.

This woman challenged me to stare into the teeth of a crisis and find the lessons. Not six months later, after I've wallowed about staring at the rubble, but as the tornado is sweeping me into the next state. While the monsoon is monsooning. When I see the head of human resources walking toward my office wearing a black suit and thousand-yard stare, carrying what looks like important paperwork.

I tried staring into those gnarly, unbrushed teeth today. As I was reading and rereading the e-mail, I thought about a former boss who, when asked in the middle of an economic downturn what would happen if he were fired, said, "It might be the best thing that ever happened to me."

So this might be for me as well. The assignment was hardly a trial -- I really enjoyed it -- but I thought about what I would gain by losing it. I could reallocate the time I spent on it toward looking for new opportunities. Finding new clients. Building my business.

I'm already getting excited about the possibilities that await me.

If this had happened to me a year ago, I might have been crushed. But now I know that life goes on after rejection of all stripes. Excuse me, my monsoon is calling.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Son of Haiku Spam

Directly from my inbox, here are more of those silly bots' attempts to sell me male enhancement products. But the results are too humorous to keep to myself…Scooby snack, anyone?


philosophers tuba player gentle

usually toward bicep takes a coffee break

or marzipan of grand piano


cream puffs bullfrog orbiting

accurately from scooby snack leaves

and cup inside


waifs line dancer flabby

almost from looking glass gets stinking drunk

and photon beyond


hands garbage can phony

amorously for cab driver procrastinates

or behind particle accelerator