Scene on a Winter Evening

Kindle the taper like the steadfast star
Ablaze on evening’s forehead o’er the earth,
And add each night a lustre till afar
An eightfold splendor shine above thy hearth.

~Emma Lazarus, “The Feast of Lights”

She holds a single, lit, taper in her hand, and watches the tiny flame dance on the end for a moment before using it to light the rest of the candles on the table. A menorah is glowing in the window, but there’s a Christmas tree sharing the space, neither diminishing the other.

The candles on the table now ablaze, she replaces the taper in one of the mis-matched (on purpose) silver candlesticks she’s had since college, and lifts a hand to brush a stray hair from her forehead.

She hasn’t had time to vacuum the rugs, but the lights are dimmed, the house lit by candle and star, and she knows her steadfast friends are coming for the company, the companionship, not to judge her housekeeping skills.

Her mother taught her well: dinner is warming in the oven, ready, but with no need to rush, hors d’oevres are waiting to be devoured, music just a click away from being played. Her husband comes up behind her in the dining room doorway. “Stop worrying,” he says. “You always worry that no one will show up, and they always do, and they always have a good time.”

She relaxes against him, lets his strength, as solid as the earth itself, kindle confidence within her. “Do you ever feel like you’re just playing at this whole grown-up thing, and that one day you’ll wake up and realize you’re still ten years old?”

He chuckles in her ear. “Trust me, sweetheart, you are no ten year old.”

The innuendo is playful, and she laughs in return. “No, I know. But…do you?”

“Never,” he says.

He turns her, in his arms, so that she is facing him, and seeing the love in his eyes sets her heart ablaze all over again. “Never?” she asks, disbelieving.

“Never. When I was ten, I hated girls.”

They share a laugh that turns into a kiss, and for a fraction of a second they flirt with more, but the doorbell rings, and they pull apart. She heads for the door, but he catches her hand and pulls her back, using his thumb to wipe the smeared lipstick from below her lips. “Later…” he says, and she knows exactly what he means.

“Count on it.”

* * *
Written for the Cafe Writing Holiday Project, Option Two: Pick Three.

Indistinguishable From Magic

A 2008 Best of Holidailies Selection. Thanks, Holidailies Reviewers!

That’s the thing with magic. You’ve got to know it’s still here, all around us, or it just stays invisible for you.
~Charles DeLint

The Cafe Writing Holiday Project asks us to write about seven magical things in our world…

  1. Plastic Christmas Trees: Fresh from the box, they look every inch a fake tree, but once they’re decked in lights and ornaments, positioned in the window in just the right way, wrapped in a skirt, and playing host to presents, they become as real as the trees that grow from the earth. As they age, plastic trees even drop needles.
  2. Crayons: The texture of the paper wrapping, the scent of the wax, the colored strokes across paper, rough or smooth – there’s something so innocent about it all, and so amazing as well, in the possibilities they represent.
  3. New Nightgowns: Whether plain or lacy, cotton or satin, or not a nightgown at all, but brand new flannel pajamas, new nightwear makes you feel sexy or sweet, cozy or carefree, depending on the weather and the style. A new nightgown at Christmas has long been a family tradition. (This year, mine is red and strappy.)
  4. Cookie Dough: Sugar, flour, vanilla, spices, love and magic. Mix it up, roll it into balls, eat half of it raw, and then bake the rest.
  5. Hot Chocolate: There are coffee moments and tea moments, but once the weather turns chilly and the skies turn gray there is nothing more magical than a steaming mug of hot chocolate. Garnish with whipped cream or marshmallows, stir with a candy cane or a chocolate coated spoon. Sip alone while curled up by the fire, or around a table full of conversing friends. It warms your heart as much as your belly.
  6. Fog: This is nature’s soft-focus lens, and it makes everything seem a little less harsh, blurring edges and softening lines. Lights twinkle more in fog, whether they’re traffic lights or holiday lights, and fires seem to crackle more. Fog is a soft cotton blanket, one more layer between yourself and cruel reality.
  7. Laughter: It turns a shy child into a witty conversationalist, a wallflower into a star, and a dull day into an amusing interlude. Best shared with others.

Turning the Key An Interview with Me

My livejournal-buddy Robert invited his readers to answer his questions, each of which were tailored to each of us. This was on July 31st, and I left for San Francisco on August 4th, so this is the first time I had time to answer them.

* * * * *

No matter the profession, everyone has the dilemma of writing for pleasure/writing for fun/writing for work.

When one writes on-line content for compensation, the dividing lines get a bit more tricky. What steps do you take to try to separate paid web-logging or other on-line writing endeavors from general endeavors?

It helps that most of my non-paid writing involves topics I choose, and that a good portion of it is fiction, even if some days, all I have time for is flash-fiction or micro-fiction (stories under 750, and 400 words, respectively, though neither is an absolute number).

Physically, I write in different places. Blogging for fun, writing for fun – often happens in bed or while I’m doing something like cooking. (This is why I have laptops in my bedroom, and living room, as well as having a dedicated writing room that I am no longer referring to as an office.)

I write in a different voice. When I write for money, the language isn’t necessarily any loftier, in fact, since some of my fiction is literary, it’s decidedly less so, but there’s less humor in it, and more hard facts. It’s dryer, partly because it has to be, and partly because it’s WORK in a different way than writing fiction for publication, or working on All Things Girl is work.

What’s really difficult is when the two blur. For example, the corporate blogging I do is someone else’s blog, and the articles I write are topics I wouldn’t usually write about (I mean, I’m sorry, but no one really chooses to write three or four articles a day about insurance or breast implants, both topics I’ve covered), and much of that work also doesn’t have my real name on it. But last July I began an experiment in which I did paid posts in my personal blog. Ultimately, the service I signed up with was one which provided text to link, but didn’t require advertorial posts, so it was as much like answering writing prompts as possible. I’ve since stopped doing such posts, because I don’t like being obligated to blog. (This is ironic, actually, because I started blogging to give myself something external to force me to write daily, when I was still doing loans for a living. As to doing loans…there is not a single day when I don’t wake up and offer thanks to the Universe that I had the foresight to leave the mortgage industry before it tanked. I hope I will never go back.)

If you could write whatever you wish and sell it, what would you write?
Well actually, I’m working on this, at the moment, but I really want to write stuff that blends folklore, science fiction and the genre-formerly-known-as-chick-lit, as well as more literary fantasy that borders on magical realism. More recently, I’ve been thinking about something based on my own life – being named after shampoo ingredients because an AWOL relative called from Canada to insist I not be named after him, and growing up with activist parents, etc. But fictionalized.

On the other hand, the notion of being a female Douglas Adams (with better hair) is hardly unattractive.

What kind of formal education did you get? What kind of further formal education would you seek, if you had but world enough and time?

I went to the University of San Francisco, which is a private Jesuit university about three long blocks off the Haight, because a) they gave me a lot of money and b) they had a Great Books program that I loved at the time. But I’d just come from four years at California’s first performing arts magnet school, and I was really not into being in classes. In retrospect, I’d have been a lot better off if I’d taken a gap year, toured Europe, and then gone to a less traditional University (my dream school, if I had to do it all over again, is Bennington in Vermont.) Some of my financial aid package was need-based, and we were in the middle of a real estate boom – I lost my scholarship because my parents made too much money. Even if I hadn’t, though, I probably wouldn’t have finished, and I didn’t finish.

Instead, I drifted for a year, and then went to work for my mother, but I’ve always been a voracious reader, and I’ve always self-educated, and made a point of surrounding myself with people who were mentors and guides as much as friends. I ultimately got a real estate broker’s license, and a bunch of computer certifications – if you add everything together, it exceeds a four year degree, and I’ve never needed the piece of paper. I tell myself that I’ll go back to school some day, but the reality is, I don’t have time, and I really have zero patience for classroom situations. Just give me the material and let me read it, please. Besides, I was an English major / drama minor who didn’t want to teach. I made more money, and more contacts, by NOT finishing college than I would if I had, and ultimately, I was happier for it.

More recently, in my one-on-one with the leader of the writing workshop I recently attended, I was asked if I’d ever taken a creative writing class. I said, “No.” He said, “Don’t.”

You’re given a task which you must complete. You’re to create and honcho a viral campaign in support of a cause for social good. You’re to use your writing skills, your internet networking skills, and you’re to seek out people with skills you don’t have to assemble a massive viral ‘net marketing campaign to promote a cause or charity. The cause or charity must be grass-roots rather than a national institution.

What cause or charity do you pick? What skills do you bring to the table? What skills do you need to use/make friends to acquire? What is your business plan to make this assignment work?

My pet causes are reproductive rights, housing for the homeless, and literacy, but all of those have organizations to support them already.

Coming from California, where schools are desperate for money to support arts education, however, to Texas, where the local high school orchestra actually comes to my neighborhood and gives outdoor concerts in October, but where the libraries are open 7 days a week, and actually have staff and free coffee, I’d want to do something to bring performing arts and literature to anyone who wanted it, sort of a combination of community based Shakespeare in the Park, a city orchestra, and NaNoWriMo, but tying all those things together, and not using it for anything particularly PC like teaching tolerance, but just infusing each community with a real love of words and music. Modern storytelling.

As to skills: I write well, and in many styles, and I am fortunate to know many people who are active in art, literature, music, theater, and finance. The first person I’d hire, however, is someone who knows how to write a business plan, because frankly, that is NOT a skill I have. I’d want someone like Derek Powazek on board, and the amazing Clay, (da_zhuang at LJ), as well.

STORY is a very big thing with me. I read an essay by Madeleine L’Engle where she said that the Judaeo-Christian concept of God was wrapped in Story, and that – it wasn’t such a big impact as much as a “click” moment, where ideas I was already beginning to form fell into place. So, anything I can do to share the love of, and importance of, STORY, that’s what I want.

What wisdom did you think you had at 17 that you see now at a slightly more advanced age that you perhaps instead lacked?

When I was seven, I wrote a poem declaring that I wanted to be an author, but at 17, I’d lost sight of that goal, and when I started at USF, I hadn’t really committed to anything. I majored in English because I liked to read, not because I really wanted to be an English major. So, as I mentioned before, I wasn’t happy or successful. College was the first and only time in my life I utterly failed at something (at the endeavor, not at actual schoolwork), and in retrospect, I would never have gone, or would have taken the gap year I mentioned.

I also thought, because even though I was baptized Catholic, my mother had left the Church by then, and my stepfather is ethnically Jewish, but doesn’t practice his religion, that I didn’t need religion. I’ve learned since that while I don’t particularly need to have a personal relationship with God, and that I’m not even entirely certain how I perceive God, I lack an important set of American cultural references.

I recognize that now, and I also recognize that while I don’t really have religious needs, I do have spiritual needs. In fact, I’m considering going back to the Unitarian Universalist tradition that I was part of as a ‘tween’ and teenager, because while I love the ritual and music of high church, I just don’t fit there. I’m too accustomed to picking the bits of various religions that I find applicable and mashing them together. (Also I have big political issues with the diocese of Fort Worth, which both Episcopal churches in Grand Prairie report to, despite the fact that we’re in Dallas county, not Tarrant.)

I’m not sure these answers are what you were looking for, Robert, and I suspect I’ve been too babbly, but apparently I’m pretty candid when I can’t sleep.

Chasing Shadows

For me, shadows generally come in the form of restlessness and lack of focus, rather than deep depression. Whatever the cause though, there are things I do to chase them away. Here are seven.

  1. Sing. Like a little kid, when no one’s around, if I have the time, I can perform entire musicals in my living room.
  2. Dance. Tap, mainly. Sometimes I use the railing of our upstairs hallway and do barre work – it’s kind of Zen. Other times it’s just mindless grooving to whatever music I hear.
  3. Soak. I’ve always responded to water, and taking a bath is completely comforting. Warm water, scented bubbles, a good book, and NPR for company.
  4. Read. I have a shelves full of “comfort books,” – novels I know as well as I know my closest friends. Re-reading them is like visiting home.
  5. Bake. It’s impossible to feel at all blue when there’s something in the oven – bread, chocolate, cinnamon. Doesn’t matter.
  6. Swim. Bubble baths are good for relaxing, but a swim is refreshing. Invigorating. And involves sunshine. Usually.
  7. Sleep. I used to hate sleeping, but now I find it restorative. Also, a bit of melatonin now and then guarantees deep, restful sleep with lovely dreams.

If writing seems conspicuously absent from this list, it’s only because writing is a constant for me, like breathing. It’s there whether there are shadows or not.

For the July/August editon of CafeWriting