100 Days…

Show Up | 100 Day Project

It was Deb’s idea, actually. She’s been listening to me whine that I feel disconnected from my writing, and especially from my blog.

She’s also been fielding my email messages about how I keep having ideas for things to write about but can’t find the right image (because blogging is ALL about the art now, and never mind how good the writing might be, right?) or had to finish wrangling dogs/cooking dinner/doing laundry/whatever and lost the thread of what I wanted to write.

Now, she’s a pretty patient friend, but she’s also a fixer. I mean, you wave a problem in her face and she wants to solve it. I love that about her, but the thing is, you have to want the solution.

And sometimes it’s easier just to whine.

But then the sent me a link to Elle Luna’s 100 Day Project, and at first I thought, “well, the thing I would like to try is kind of similar to what she’s already sort of doing,” but I was intrigued.

I was really, really intrigued.

So I emailed Deb and said, “I’m kind of thinking of doing something with post-it notes.” And she thought it was different enough, and ME enough that I should go for it.

Since that conversation, I’ve decided that either 3×5 or 5×7 notecards might be better, though I’m still planning to affix them to my fridge. Then, after the 100 days are over, I’ll use them for blog- and fiction-fodder.

But at least I’ll be doing something I can complete, and that will keep me interested in amused.

For more about the project, in general, follow the link above (you can click on the image in this post).

For my stuff, specifically, you can follow me on Instagram: @Melysse.

What would YOU like to do for 100 days?

Practice (2015 Lent: Day 1)

Cello Practice

My first online presence was my own website, way back in the ’90’s hosted by SDinternet.

My first online writing, however, was at OpenDiary (which is now closed). It predates LiveJournal, and while I played in LJ’s sandbox for a while, I prefer my own space, the ability to write short pieces or long pieces as the mood strikes, and the lack of high-schoolish drama.

For the longest time, everything I posted was essay-length, and now I’m much more likely to do short bits. For the first several years, I posted daily. Now, while I still write daily, it’s usually not stuff I post, but sections of longer pieces I’m working on offline.

I go months without posting here, often without realizing just how long it has been.

A few days ago, I found a site with a suggested list of 47 words (47 because they included Sundays and didn’t end on Maundy Thursday) to be used as inspiration for a Lent project. It asked for people to share pictures that embody the daily word, but I prefer words to photographs most of the time, and as I don’t really belong to the church that suggested the project, I feel funny about participating directly.

Still, I seem to like having some degree of external accountability, even if it’s only committing to a project only I know about.

Today’s word is “practice.”

When I was doing music every day, I didn’t like practicing very much, just like I never liked doing homework, but at least now I recognize the value in the former. (I still don’t see the point of homework.)

This blog, however, was created, in part, to be my writing practice. As I’ve explained more than once, I don’t keep paper journals. I don’t see the point in writing things no one will read. (I do have stacks of notebooks, but they’re filled with fragments of stories, and will eventually get used.)

I’m not promising to be a slave to this Lenten project, but I don’t think it would hurt me to return to a practice of daily blogging.

Maybe it will even help me – I’m between projects, and am always happier and more productive when I have lots of different things going on.

Photo Credit: alenavlad @ 123RF.com

SNL from Behind the Couch

SNL 40 Weekend Update

I was five when Saturday Night Live began its run. At that time, my favorite book was still Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, my ice skates still had two blades, my bike still had training wheels (and tassels), and there was a really good chance my hair would be in braids, mostly because it was the only way to keep it from tangling.

My mother watched SNL from the beginning. I don’t think she watched it religiously, but she watched it. And I watched it with her, though she didn’t know I was. You see, I watched it from behind the couch. I’m pretty sure I didn’t understand a lot of the content back then, but I’m also pretty sure the rhythms and cadences of fast-paced sketch comedy were absorbed by my young brain and as-yet-invisible pores.

By the time I was ten, I sometimes dropped references to SNL in conversation with my mother and her friends, who would look at me with expressions that read, “Who is this child, and is she psychotic, or merely precocious?”

By the time I was fifteen, SNL had ceased to be my mother’s show, and had become mine. I stayed up late on Saturday nights to watch the whole thing, usually alone in the living room, my mother and step-father long since asleep. Every so often, in an attempt to form order from the chaos that has always made up my sleep patterns, Ira would come out to the living room and point out the time.

“It’s late,” he would say. “You should be sleeping.”

I would grin and reply, “So should you.”

He would agree that yes, he should, and sometimes he would watch with me for a few minutes. Then he would ask if I understood something, or if I really thought it was funny. We’d analyze a sketch, and then he’d wander back to bed and leave me to enjoy the mystique of being the only person awake in the house at 12:45 in the morning.

I’m willing to confess that I harbored a secret crush for Dennis Miller, but that was before we knew he was bat-shit insane – and not in a comedic way, but in a politically skewed way that seems to imply some kind of traumatic brain injury.

I stopped watching SNL, for the most part, when I moved to Texas ten years ago. It’s not that I don’t still find it funny. When I do catch an episode, I laugh at it.

Partly, I stopped watching because when I’m awake at that hour, now, it’s because I’m caught in a story that I’m writing, and don’t want to stop.

Partly, I stopped watching because while it’s still entertaining, I watch it now with the perspective of having done improv on stage for a bunch of years, and having interviewed a lot of writers and actors who came through Second City (still the proving ground for comedy writers and actors, still the pool from which many SNL cast members emerge). I analyze it. I pick apart the sketches. “Why is that word funny, when another one wouldn’t be? How would I change it?” And when they go for an obvious joke, or make a poor word choice, I’m as upset as a sports fan would be when a baseball umpire calls SAFE when a player was clearly OUT.

Mostly, though, I stopped watching SNL because I live in the Central time zone, and that means it starts at 10:30, which is too early for SNL. True, it’s not prime-time, but it’s not late enough to be late-night, either, and without that 11:30 start time, it feels like just another mainstream comedy show.

The humor is still there.

But the mystique is lost.

Maybe this means I’m getting old.

But maybe, just maybe, it means that I prefer my comedy a little bit dangerous, a little bit edgy, and if it’s happening at 10:30…it’s not either. (I could DVR it, and watch when I want to, but the thing is…I wouldn’t. It would be wrong somehow, to DVR something that’s supposed to have the element of risk associated with live performance.)

Still, 40 years is an impressive run. There’ve been good casts, great casts, and a couple of truly awful casting choices that were quickly rectified, but on the whole it’s remained a good barometer of what’s going on in our world.

Even so, I think it was best viewed from behind my mother’s couch, when I still had the innocence of a five year old.

If I’d known then what I know now, I’d have embraced comedy in general, and improv specifically, much earlier in my life.

Begin as You Mean to Go On

Red Cups

I don’t quite remember where I heard the phrase, the advice, really, “Begin as you mean to go on,” but I think it might be a paraphrase of something from Louisa Alcott’s Little Women. In any case, I decided last year that the way one begins a new year should set the tone for the whole year.

Last year, as the calendar page turned, I was finishing a story, but it was the all-day celebration – music and laughter, friends and phone calls, that really set the tone.

This year, I rang in the New Year from Texas with the population of Newfoundland, because I was still so tired from traveling back from Mexico the night before. This morning, I woke to a sore back, but with a happy disposition, nevertheless.

I cooked and baked, shared some new recipes and some old, had friends at my table to share brunch, and played board games with some of them until late in the evening. I cuddled dogs and enjoyed the heat of my fire (though we’re now out of fire logs) and now we’re curled up in front of the television watching season 2 of Call the Midwife on Netflix (I’ve seen it all, but Fuzzy got hooked on it while we watched it with Mom over Christmas), and waiting for a quiche to finish baking for a late supper.

While we watch television, I’ll be finishing chapter one of a new story, and all-in-all, I think that’s a good way to start a year. Writing and coffee, friends and family, dogs and delicious food, laughter and fun and quiet time – all in balance. All in harmony.

What more could one want?

Holidailies 2014

Photo Credit: Alexandr Kornienko / 123RF.com

Christmas in La Paz: Close to the Edge

september-in-the-park-500-by-JohnnyBerg-stockxhcng

“The wind shows us how close to the edge we are.”
~Joan Didion

Roaring through the arches of the patio, the wind here is mournful and heavy, almost a tangible presence.

My parents live in the desert, a desert that ambles down to the water’s edge, but if all you knew was the sound of the wind you’d think they lived on the open prairie.

I remember a line in one of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books about women on the prairie going mad from the combination of relentless wind and isolation. How much different were the women who lived here? Were they more resilient? Were they more mentally stable? Or is wind one of those things that spooks even the strongest of us, as it whistles through our hair and tickles our skin.

Outside, it sounds of pan-flutes and empty bottles, of breath and sadness.

And yet, the wind itself brings refreshment, cooler air, fewer insects, even as it stirs up clouds of dust and dries your skin.

If you’re already close to the edge, even the slightest breeze could push you over.

And if you’re not? If you’re well-grounded with your feet firmly planted, does it nudge you toward that precipice or merely tease you with ghostly caresses and wordless whispers?

Wind.

It’s power and breath and life.
And dust.
And despair.

Never ceasing.
But not always discernible.

Holidailies 2014

Christmas in La Paz: Grasshoppers

On the Banks of Plum Creek cover “Is the wheat okay?” I asked my mother earlier tonight. I was joking, of course. Her house sits on desert soil, and is surrounded by saguaro cactus, not stalks of golden wheat, but in context my jesting query made sense.

You see, we’re being attacked by grasshoppers.

I’m not sure when the grasshoppers began to arrive in such great numbers, but they form rafts across the pool, the living ones stepping gingerly across the weakened corpses of the dead and dying. They also buzz the windows, and cling to the screens, as if they’re peering inside the house and trying to discern whether or not there’s anything edible to be had.

Sadie, the larger of my mother’s two dogs – roughly 35 pounds of Mexican mutt – likes to eat the grasshoppers. She waits for their bodies to dry in the sun, then brings them inside, and crunches on them at her leisure. Sometimes she holds them in her mouth, biding her time until they’ve reached whatever special state means ‘just right’ to her. Sometimes they’re still alive, and the little legs sticking out past her muzzle are kicking and twitching in their insectoid death throes.

I’m sure there are worse fates than being eaten by a small dog.

I cannot think what those worse fates might be.

In the fourth of her “Little House…” books, On the Banks of Plum Creek, Laura Ingalls Wilder described the arrival of grasshoppers (locusts, really) like this:

“A cloud was over the sun. It was not like any cloud they had ever seen before. It was a cloud of something like snowflakes, but they were larger than snowflakes, and thin and glittering. Light shone through each flickering particle….”

“Plunk! Something hit Laura’s head and fell to the ground. She looked down and saw the largest grasshopper she had ever seen. Then huge brown grasshoppers were hitting the ground all around her, hitting her head and her face and her arms. They came thudding down like hail.”

“The cloud was hailing grasshoppers. The cloud was grasshoppers.”

The grasshoppers here sound like popcorn as they plummet onto the marble patio or plink into the screens or splash into the pool. If enough of them worked together, I’m fairly certain they could open the sliding doors and hop or fly right into the house.

It’s a good thing we have Sadie to crunch them to bits for us.

I hope the wheat survives.

Christmas in La Paz: Desert Notes

Christmas Brunch

Table set for Christmas brunch. Click to embiggen.

Every morning since I’ve been here, I’ve been awake before the dawn, lying in bed next to my snoring husband and listening to the desert waking up outside my window. This morning, I chose to return to bed instead of padding out to the living room and kitchen in search of coffee, and when I woke again, the sky had brightened.

“This morning is drawn in pencil-strokes: the sketch of a cloud, the faintest blush of pinkening sky, the spiny cactus saluting the sun.” That’s what I posted on Twitter, my attempt at a word-painting, since grabbing the phone to snap a shot through the window would have ruined the stillness of the moment.

Yesterday morning, too, I missed a great photographic moment: a caracara bird, a type of local falcon, had been strutting around my parents’ front yard. I’d stepped out back to try and capture the image of this great bird of prey wandering around like a chicken, and as soon as I approached the edge of the patio, it took off from the ground and flew by me, mere inches from my face.

Caracara birds may walk like chickens, but they have the wild piercing gazes of true predators. I made sure to tell my mother to keep her smaller dog inside that morning.

I don’t mind the missed shots. Why? Because I firmly believe being IN the moment is more important than taking a picture OF the moment. For me, a memory is indelible, and a photograph is the mere echo of an event, with no flavor or context.

Christmas Eve in La Paz: Home for Christmas

Christmas in La Paz

It’s 11:35 PM on Christmas Eve, and as I write this I’m sitting on the bed in the guest room in La Paz, BCS, where my parents live. We’re in the house they’re renting while they build a new house – probably the last house they’ll ever live in, directly across the street.

All month, as I’ve been preparing for this trip (we arrived yesterday), my mother has been telling me things like “Gari-Ellen wants to know if you’re coming to coffee with us,” or “Jesse is looking forward to having you come to his restaurant,” or, “Patricia said she’s very excited because her sister’s daughter is coming.” (Patricia, in this case, is my mother’s dear friend, and adopted sister. She’s got a heart as big as the universe and looks like Betty Boop.)

I’ve never really felt like I’ve had a hometown. I mean, there’s the town I consider home, Atlantic Highlands, N.J., because my earliest memories are there, and my family roots are there, and my mother’s first home with me was there, but I didn’t get the experience of growing up there.

I grew up in lots of places, really: New Jersey, Colorado, California. And then I’ve lived in South Dakota, California and Texas, during my marriage.

My parents moved here, to La Paz, Baja California Sur, Mexico in 2000, and at first visiting them never felt like home. When they moved into the house they built, I liked staying in the casita, but it felt like staying in a guest house.

I know my mother was depressed, but I never realized how much until we drove into the development where she lives now. There’s an ease about her, a lightness, that she hasn’t had in years, and that lightness has wrapped itself around her life, extending into the very walls of this house.

She calls it the “Barbie House,” because it’s tiny, but it’s not uncomfortably so – really. But rental or not, it’s the first place she’s lived in, here, that has felt like coming home.

And I realized, as I was packing, and then even more as we made the journey up the canyon, up the highway, from Cabo to La Paz, that I’ve been here, to this funky, quirky, lovely city on the Gulf of California, enough times that coming back here feels like coming home.

I didn’t grow up here, but this year, I’m not merely visiting my parents, I’ve come home for Christmas.

Santa’s Bakeshop

Maxi-Claus

It’s the kind of day – grey, heavy, thick, cold – that would mean an impending snowstorm anywhere else in the world. Here it just means…it’s grey, heavy, thick and cold. Well, cold-for-Texas. Which is not the same as cold anywhere else in the world. Not even close.

I designated today as Baking Day. (It is also wrapping day.) I’m baking stuff for US, and stuff to take with me to my mother’s on Tuesday, and stuff for other people. The wrapping is all for other people, obviously.

On the docket are cinnamon bread and chocolate ginger bread with candy cane frosting.

And then I’m making meatballs, as well.

Because…meatballs.

I feel like my house has turned into Santa’s Bakeshop, and yet, oddly, I don’t feel like it’s Christmas at all. Which is weird. And kind of odd, because usually I’m all about the holidays.

This year, though, I find I resent the intrusion of holiday into writing life. I feel like I have all this pressure to Get Things Done, and I haven’t Done Enough.

Oh, well.

I can sleep on the plane, right?

Perfect Attendance

Once again, it’s nearly midnight and I’m scrambling to figure out what to write. It’s not so much that I have nothing to say as that I’m still exhausted from being up so early yesterday, spending the day on a cold hard bench in a chilly courtroom, and then staying up too late again last night.

I came this|close to skipping tonight’s blog entirely, but I’ve been doing so well this month that I don’t want to give up my shot at “perfect attendance.”

(I’ve been less than stellar with the podcast, though.)

So, this is my perfunctory blog post for tonight. It’s over a hundred words, at least.

And tomorrow? There will be baking.