We live down a quiet little private lane along with two other residents
Some famous author once said that when a writer finishes writing their novel, a sort of depression sets in, not unlike the postpartum blues women suffer from right after having a baby. I can't relate to postpartum depression, nor can I say rightly that I get down after completing the last chapter of a novel. you see, I just finished the last chapter to my work, a 97,000-word "upmarket commercial" effort. And I did not get depressed. What I wanted to do was immediately start revising, so I did, looking specifically for two of my blind spots - passive voice and "echo," a term we writers use to describe using the same important word twice within close proximity of each other. That proximity blind spot can be annoying, a speed bump interfering with the reader's flow and proximity to a smooth narrative.
So I did that, weeding out my blind spots. What's next, you may ask?
When Stephen King finishes a novel, he sets it aside for a month or more and does something else, such as going for long walks or watching Boston Red Sox games, or reading what other writers are publishing.
My urge was to get back to working on my fourth Thomas O'Shea novel, since the first two are published (Signs of Struggle 2012 and A Far Gone Night 2014) and a third (The Face on the Other Side) is scheduled for an early 2017 release. So I plan to get after number four in the series, Of Mists and Murders.
I am a professional writer, so I have a compulsion to write, and I am itching to produce that next O'Shea novel, and it nags at me. But first, I am going to follow King's example and take some time off, starting with a long road trip with my bride, watching college football on TV (especially my Iowa Hawkeyes), and enjoying the changing of the seasons leading into my favorite month - October.
I will, however, keep a notebook in close proximity at all times, just in case I need to jot down a piece of dialogue that comes to mind, a vivid setting, or a conflict among my characters I had not thought of previously.
So, no more blogs for a while, but please look to hear from me and my writer's journey when the leaves turn to gold and orange and red.
I hate snakes. I don't even like the useful ones, like blacksnakes, who supposedly eat rodents, copperheads (folklore, I believe), and ATF employees because the main purpose for all snakes is this - scare the bejeezus out of me the instant I see one. I don't want to see one, but I am ever vigilant that there is a snake somewhere just waiting to jump out at me and say, "Aha!" at which point, as soon as my heart starts beating again, I go get a shovel, hoe, or gatling gun to KILL IT. But by then it is usually gone, blogging to other snakes about what fun it was to make me wet my pants. I hate snakes. So, when my long-suffering wife, Lisa, came in the house to tell me there was a snake in her little vegetable garden (one of only two manmade creations visible from outer space the other being The Great Wall of China), I asked, "Do you want me to kill it?" she replied, "No, I want you help me to free it."
A simple, non-assuming, modest rat snake, about 3-4 feet long, had gotten itself entangled in a roll of mesh Lisa uses to cover our blueberry bushes to keep the local birds from ripping us off when the berries are ripe. The poor snakey-wakey was twapped and couldn't get fwee! I told Lisa I'd go get a shovel and put it out of its misery. I mean, it was a freaking snake, not a bunny wabbit.
My wife, The Snake Whisperer, prevailed. While I used a long stick to pin the snakes little noggin, Lisa took a pair of clippers and snipped away at the mesh, holding the snake by its tail as she did so. Finished, she let go and I let go and the snake slithered away, no doubt giggling about more opportunities to sneak back and surprise me.
I hate snakes.
Yesterday, dawn began with Dawn. Dawn is my hygienist and I had an early appointment with her at my dentist's practice. She gave me a good report and said she'd see me in September. This did not surprise me, but still, it was a relief that nothing needed to be scraped, filled, bridged, removed, or reconfigured. Then I headed to the mall with my computer, which, for some reason, had basically quit on me. I did not have an appointment at the Apple store, so I was resigned to waiting there all day to be helped. The Apple store in the Mall (I hate going to the Mall) didn't open until 10, so I waited, dreading spending the rest of the daylight hours waiting for a helper to minister to my techno-frustration.
But a helper-person came out of the Apple store with a little device in her hand and began scheduling appointments for those of us waiting for the store to open. I couldn't believe it. She took down my information and said, "We'll send you a text when your appointment is ready." I said, "I don't text." She said, "Oh, well, just come on in about fifteen minutes from now." I did. Another young woman, named "Sunny," ran a bunch of tests and we figured out the problem was me. I'm not going into that. Suffice it to say that my morning appointments' timing corresponded with the names of the people with whom I would be dealing. I'm just glad I didn't have a lunch reservation somewhere only to find out the waitstaff's name was "Nooner."
The rest of the day was fine and dandy. I met my long-suffering wife at a local soccer match because some of her 9th graders were playing another group of 9th graders nearby. After watching a flotilla of teenage boys kicking each other in the shins, wandering around aimlessly, and bonking the ball with their heads, I remain unpersuaded about the efficacy of soccer as a sport. Waiting for something exciting to happen in a soccer match is like waiting for a politician to tell the truth. So, after the game, I went from the ridiculous to the sublime; that is, a dinner date with my long-suffering wife.
A fine and glorious day, all in all. A blessing every which way.
Today I emailed back and with a friend from high school days who currently lives in Dubuque, Iowa. He mentioned that he was supposed to be in Des Moines today for a presentation (he works for the ACT people) and a second presentation tomorrow. He said it looked like both would be cancelled due to the winter storm warning that was declared. The weather nerds are saying 18-24 inches for a good part of the state, including Des Moines and Dubuque. This information brought to mind our local (Upstate South Carolina) winter storm a few days ago and how my long-suffering wife and I survived being 30 hours without electricity. At first, it was an adventure. Fortunately, we had plenty of propane for our gas logs, so the front of our cozy cottage stayed comfortable. We shut off the gas logs that first night and retreated to our bedroom. We woke up the next morning raid to extend ourselves from the warmth of the bed. No wonder. When I checked the thermostat, it read 49 degrees. Indoors. I nearly sprained my ankle running for the remote control thingy that fires up the gas logs.
During the day, we entertained ourselves reading by the light of the sun. When it grew dark, I broke out the Coleman lanterns I had wanted for Christmas. Also, I unpackaged the Coleman stop and fuel that were part of my Christmas gifts. So we had hot food. If we were to have a son, I would name him Coleman. I am not kidding.
I was thinking how fun this was, you know, camping and enjoying "roughing it," yet staying indoors protected from any snakes and bugs that weren't frozen. We had plenty of wine, cheese, bread, and several other goodies, and so the romance maintained. When it got dark, we scooted for bed and flipped on the Coleman lanterns to read by for a while as we snuggled.
All this time, our young pit bull/terrier rescue canine was loving it, running out in the snow and leaping and biting the white stuff, then turning on the afterburners to race back to the front porch and inside to hang out in front of the fireplace. She thought it was romantic, too.
The electricity returned just before dark on Saturday night, but we still weren't able to get out due to the snow on the ice on our upward-inclined driveway. Not to mention all the trees down in our neighborhood, blocking roads. So we just settled in some more, but with the delights of electricity.
And hot water. Without it, romance can fade quickly. Trust me on that one.
I'm sure you've all read or heard or seen the news reports about the 12-years-old boy who was arrested and taken away from school in handcuffs for kissing a 13-years-old girl. On a dare. He probably should have been pistol-whipped every step of the way to the police car, and there should have been an armed escort to the police station. The cad!
Sounds like adolescent humor. No harm, no foul.
On the other hand, unwanted was his advance. The girl was not pleased, flattered, or otherwise made happy. She was offended. She did not like it. She protested. Good for her. But I'm wondering if perhaps a less drastic resolution could have been had under the circumstances. Maybe she could have slapped him, or punched him out. My daughters would have. So would have my wife at that age. I know of a female to whom I am close who, when she was in junior high and a boy snapped her bra strap, she turned around and punched him. Hard. That took care of it. Self-reliance is cool.
But arrested? And handcuffed?
When I was in 6th grade a girl kissed me, without my asking. It was at her birthday party. The kiss was nice, and I floated as I journeyed the dozen blocks or so to my house. And I forgot to take her to court for sexual assault. Her name was JoAnne.
The response to my male shopping blog last week was so overwhelming, I have decided to do a short series of blogs about shopping habits of myself and my long-suffering wife, Lisa. A few decades ago, we purchased an abandoned stone house in the country in western North Carolina, and set about transforming the place. One thing it needed was nails so we could proceed with some basic carpentry, so I took the truck and drove into Morganton to the Lowe's. I bought the nails, and also a stove, which we also needed.
Imagine Lisa's surprised when I came home with a stove instead of just nails! Talk about a smart shopper. I don't think she expected me to return with nails AND a stove, but, hey, we needed one, and I'm pretty sure they were on sale. It was beautiful. White. And it worked right away.
I think that was the first of our Carenen family shopping saga, and a story that refuses to go away, appearing and reappearing in small gatherings of family and friends. And, heck, why should it go away? I'm proud of it.
Anyway, I hope you, dear reader, are impressed with my shopping acumen and overall wisdom when it comes to participating in our capitalistic, consumeristic society in which we live so comfortably.
Next blog? Well, I want to surprise you, but it has something to do with arrowroot. Stay tuned.
I'm afraid the main reason for the season around the end of December is, for many people, shopping. We're all familiar with people being stomped to death fighting over bargains, shoppers shattering glass doors of Big Box stores to beat each other to sale items, lunatics camping out for days in line in order to seize good deals ahead of anyone else. These behaviors call for a Three Stooges group slap to bring them back to their senses.
I do not engage in such activities. I DO shop, and I'm good at it. For example, when my niece was getting married a while back, down in Florida, it was decided I needed to buy a suit. I used to have a couple-three suits. Back in high school, where I played basketball (and the older I get the better I was), I had two 3-piece suits available for road trips, where we had a suit-and-tie dress code. But I didn't shop for them. My mother did. And they fit.
So, with a wedding looming and pressure to suit up, I went shopping. By myself. I forget the name of the store, but it was a big store, a chain, and it had men's clothing. Seven minutes after entering the store I was leaving with my suit. And it fit. I had gone directly to the "Men's Clothing" department, found a conservative dark gray suit with light, narrow pinstripes, and bought it. On sale, a detail I didn't know until I paid the cashier. Truth is, it would have been a "5-Minute Suit" except that I tried on the jacket still wearing my sweatshirt, which made it a little snug. But an astute sales lady suggested I try the jacket on without the sweatshirt. Perfect. And I was on my way. Today, the "7-Minute Suit" is a quirky part of family lore.
At Christmas time, I enjoy giving gifts. But my long-suffering wife buys the gifts for our daughters, so that frees me up to shop for her. Sometimes our younger daughter feeds me info-tips on what my bride might like, data acquired over the previous year while they were hanging out. This year, a few days before Christmas, I went shopping downtown (I hate malls). It took forever to purchase my beloved's gifts. Fifteen minutes. One store. So, what did I buy her? Well, three gifts, actually - an article of clothing, a scarf accessory, and earrings - all coordinated aesthetically into one stylish fashion statement. She was genuinely pleased.
And the article of clothing fit. Some of us have the gift, others not so much.
We are now living full time in our country cottage up against the mountain, woods all around, a lovely meadow out the front door, and nice neighbors halfway up Paris Mountain who fire weapons on Saturday afternoons. In other words, bliss. The condo we're about to put on the market has about 1,800 square feet. The cottage has 1,030. In other words, for you math majors out there, we have 770 less square feet, which makes us truly appreciate the 30 in our 1,030. We have learned a great deal about efficiency, and these truths have set us free, in a sense.
We have learned to be efficient with space. My long suffering wife, Lisa, is an expert when it comes to making good use of space. She amazes me how she can create useful storage out of nothing. Take closets, for example. We have three, the largest just big enough to hold two cats at once. However, I have learned that one clothes hanger can support three pair of slacks, four shirts, five neckties, and a belt. Who knew?
And a tiny utility room that housed one shelf and the electric control panel has been transformed into an efficient little pantry that contains enough food to last through the end of the year, two bins of pet food (one feline, one canine, interchangeable), a trampoline, a life-sized stuffed American Bison, and a wine cellar.
I suspect we will learn more about consolidation of available space. For example, Lisa looked at me the other day and asked, "Dear, do you think you could learn to sleep standing up?"
Just think how much room that would save.
Lisa said, "That's right." And she was. Somehow, no matter how many covers I start out with, she ends up with approximately 82% of them. I don't mind very much because I don't really need those covers most of the time. Still, it was a revelation.
Women also live longer than men as recompense for having to visit a gynecologist on a regular basis. But that's another story for another time. In any case, I don't begrudge women the extra years. They earn it.
SNAKE! Of course, that one word grabs everyone's attention. On Saturday afternoon I was reclining on the sofa, at least the part my Zimbabwean Cattle Retriever - Crested dog, Roxie would allow me to enjoy. Then I heard my long-suffering wife call from outside, "John, come quickly!" So I did. She was looking over the edge of the front porch, pointing down into our flower garden. It was a SNAKE! It slithered back into the bushes.
I hate snakes.
Lisa went inside. I peeked over the railing and there it was again, enormous, farther out in the yard. SNAKE! My heart went pitty-pat. My body went to the out building for a shovel. I came back. It was still there. Defending my family and territory, I drove the shovel down and nearly cut it in half. Still, it slithered away around the courner when I pulled the shovel back. It's guts were emerging, yet it was still alive.
I pursued but could not find it. I poked around with the shovel, wishing it had a longer handle, and the SNAKE emerged, weaving back and forth. I nailed it again, shouting ancient Irish epithets and channeling St. Patrick. It would not die, striking again and again at the shovel. Creepy.
Finally, I finished it off, separating the head from the body, then went inside to Google its identity. I knew if it had been a black snake I would have left it alone, even though I think I mentioned that I hate snakes.
It is dead now, dumped on the dry bird feeder so our friend Mike, an expert, can identify what I killed. Lisa is sad. She is more of a naturalist than I. Google confirmed my suspicions that it was either a King Cobra or a Green Mamba. Mike's coming over tomorrow after church. He'll know.
Stay tuned, dear reader.
Valentine's Day is looming and so I'm going to come right out and say it: I am a romantic. The Oxford English Dictionary's second defintion of romantic is, "of, characterized by, or suggestive of an idealized view of reality. . . " Further, the OED defines "idealized" as "regard or represent as perfect or better than reality."
My idealized view of reality has many faces. For example, I believe certain scenes in movies are real. The battle scenes in The Lord of the Rings, for example, are real and make my heart swell every time I see them. They make me want to participate. I believe, and I don't want any additional footage trying to convince me that special effects, camera angles, and choreography were involved. I DON'T WANNA HEAR IT!
Another face of my romanticism works for me in literature. For example, I believe every word of The Life of Pi. I believe the story. I believe Richard Parker was a real tiger and that he and Pi made it to Mexico and Richard Parker strolled off into the jungle and found a girl tiger and they had cubs and a nice habitat and pizza delivery. So don't tell me Richard Parker was a symbol for something else. He was a tiger.
Also, I tend to be a romantic when it comes to sports. I believe my Iowa Hawkeyes will win next year's BCS championship and this year's Final Four. And the Red Sox will win the next World Series.
Finally, I must say that my romantic view of my long-suffering wife is based on facts that interface perfectly with "an idealized view of reality" and "perfect or better than in reality." You can look it up.
Shortly after Christmas, my long-suffering wife and I drove to Florida for a visit with her sister's family in Melbourne. An unexpected highlight awaited. Given the choice of watching a bunch of men in shorts kicking each other's shins or accompanying my wife, her sister, and two nieces to The Bridal Boutique, I chose the latter.
I had wisely avoided such enterprises when my daughters married, so why was I going now? Well, my gifted, talented, lovely, witty, and brilliant niece is getting married in March. She had purchased a wedding gown and was going in for a fitting. Being a lifelong learner, I thought I'd tag along.
While Anna was getting fitted, I roamed around the estrogen-rich environment, looking at wedding gowns on a rack that extended about the length of a football field. The cheapest gown was $1,800, and they escalated into the low 4's. Off the rack. Above the rack were posters of the Bulemia All-Stars modeling various gowns. One young woman appeared to have failed in her attempt to escape vampires.
Backtracking to the front of the business, I proved useful in picking out the color for the Mother of the Bride dress. Blue. Later passed over for a mauve taupe sea mist stone aqua.
And even though Anna looked radiant in her tasteful gown, I just might pass when it's time for my niece Amy to visit the Bridal Boutique. And maybe give soccer another look.