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Saturday night in winter

This was a day of endings and beginnings, for looking back and moving forward.

It’s late now, after midnight. The football game and our team’s season are over, the television and stereo silent. My son has gone to bed, his friends gone home, the echoes of good-natured shouting and cheering fading even as car doors slammed and engines revved their way to a quiet distance through the night streets.

Outside it is raining, not hard, just enough to coat the deck boards with a cold wet gloss, enough to mirror the white glitter of holiday lights still strung along the rails.

My lifting muscles are pleasantly sore, a small scrape on the back of my hand evidence of the afternoon’s labour. My daughter has called three times since the last box was unloaded and I drove away into the waning rays of a winter sun painting the rain clouds on the horizon, the sound of our voices reassuring both of us as she settled into the unfamiliar campus apartment.

The day began early with caffeine and coffeecake, camaraderie and conversation, the confident direction of an experienced Board turning over heavy files and weighty responsibilities to the apprehensive yet eager vision of the new.  The pleasure and honour of two years’ hard work and stewardship balanced by the guilty, almost giddy relief of finally handing it off to the care of others, knowing ours was a job well done, trusting their effort will be no less.

Now at the end of the day it is quiet. I am tired but reluctant to get up and go to bed, to shift the warm slumber of the cat snuggled against my side, disturb the utter stillness of the night. The tree in the corner seems to stand a bit taller tonight, as if it knows these are its last moments as a fragrant shining symbol of past laughter and tears, of future hopes and dreams, its lights reflecting a bit brighter on ornaments that tomorrow will return to storage to wait for their next season, the next tree.

Tomorrow there is work to be done, one more year of memories to carefully wrap and pack away, needles to vacuum, boxes to be filled. But tonight is peaceful with the quiet contentment of things accomplished, ended to make way for the future.


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How time does fly

At the beginning of November, I set a goal for myself and said, “On 5 January 2009 I am going to send a submission to an agent. Even if I’m not done writing the book. And since it will kill me to send a submission of an unfinished book, it WILL be finished by then.”

Well, I was mistaken. Not to mention foolish. It happens.

The book is not done. And there is no way in hell I’m sending a submission of an unfinished manuscript. A writer pretty much gets one chance to impress an agent and I hope I’ve learned enough about the process not to take that lightly.

So I’ve granted myself an extension. Hey, the published authors I know get extensions all the time.

I expected I would feel defeated and demoralized if I didn’t meet this deadline and I’m rather surprised to find that is not the case. This goal-setting experiment has left me even more determined to finish. It was also educational.

I have learned that December is probably never going to be a very productive writing month for me. I’ll take that into account in the future when some publisher asks me how long it will take to write the next book.

I have learned that setting a goal with a specific date really does improve my productivity. I accomplished so much more in the last two months than I would have without a goal.

I have also learned that when my daughter is home for any length of time without homework, I will watch a lot of television. Whether I want to or not. And that Prime Time is in direct conflict with Writing Time. I am now caught up on all the happenings with House, Grey’s Anatomy, some other show I can’t remember the name of, AAC basketball, NCAA football, NFL football, various movies (the funniest of which was Little Miss Sunshine — watch it if you haven’t), Jeopardy, Wheel of Fortune and Planet Earth (which is awesome). My daughter has thoughtfully set reminders on my cell phone so I won’t miss the new episodes of 24 and Burn Notice. Sigh.

So, new deadline.

Scientific process at work here. Really. Jupiter (my, ahem, ruling planet) enters Aquarius today, which is supposed to be good for communications. However, Mercury goes retrograde on 11 Jan and this is apparently a bad time to, among other things, submit manuscripts. I kid you not. [I hope it’s a good time for college students to return to campus, because that rare astrological event happens about the same time.] A writer friend said Saturn went retrograde a few days ago and that bodes well for finishing things. Like manuscripts. There is a solar eclipse on 26 Jan and the new moon also goes retrograde. Then on 1 Feb Mercury goes direct and the dish runs away with the spoon.

I have NO IDEA what any of this means. Except that it sounds as plausible as anything else and I have decided 2 Feb is my new deadline. Because I’m supposed to give Mercury an extra day to stabilize.

Whatever. You all should watch for falling stars and things that go bump in the night sky. I’m going to be busy writing.


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Miscellaneous thoughts

On their own, none of these thoughts add up to a blog post. Even as a collection, they are sorely lacking. It’s all I’ve got right now.

It’s obvious my daughter is as happy to be home as we are to have her back, but every so often she gets a certain far off look in her eye and I know she’s planning the next adventure. You can’t un-climb a mountain.

Having both my kids here makes me realize there are a great number of people who are accustomed to opening the back door and walking into my house with, at most, a perfunctory knock to announce their arrival. One day soon I will sell this house and move to another and I feel certain there will be at least a few people who won’t get that news. I hope no one ends up in jail.

When you’re in the shower and the power goes out and the door is closed and your shower room doesn’t have a window, the sudden absolute darkness is disorienting and it’s strange to realize how much more awkward it is to rinse shampoo from your hair in the dark, even though it’s a familiar task and one you perform without ever being able to see what you’re doing.

If you leave the package of dog treats on the mantle, the Wonder Dog will know they are there and will go to great lengths to draw your attention to that fact and not be concerned in the least that you are highly amused by his lack of dignity.

I find it very odd that once you tell people you plan to spend a stretch of time focusing intently on writing, pretty much to the exclusion of all else, they develop an increased need to contact you, interrupting the concentration, sometimes just to ask how the writing is going. As if they suspect you are in truth sitting on a beach somewhere, doing absolutely nothing, inexplicably in dire need of company and conversation. It’s very odd. Perhaps I should have said I’m doing something significant and worthy, maybe studying for bar exams.

I realized today, during one of those “just calling to check on you” conversations (which are at once charmingly touching and infuriatingly distracting — not that I’m complaining about them, exactly, just saying), that I have never eaten a lamb chop and that my son is now the same age I was when I first started dating his father.

The rest of my thoughts these days, the ones unrelated to writing that is, are even more random and equally banal. So this seems like a good stopping point — for this post and perhaps for this blog as well. Doesn’t seem to be much point to it lately. But I’ve felt that way before, many times, and then end up changing my mind. We shall see.


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Sharing the music

Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24 by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra is one of my favorite Christmas songs. When the hectic hurry up and get it done insanity of holiday preparations has taken its toll and left throbbing aches in your head and back and feet and shredded the thin veil of your patience, there are few things more reinvigorating than turning up the volume, closing your eyes and letting this music fill all the depleted spaces. So I went looking for a worthy version to post over here for you all to enjoy. During my search I wandered over to Wikipedia and found some interesting history about the song:

Paul O’Neill explained the story behind Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24 in an interview published on[1]

… We heard about this cello player born in Sarajevo many years ago (Vedran Smailović) who left when he was fairly young to go on to become a well-respected musician, playing with various symphonies throughout Europe. Many decades later, he returned to Sarajevo as an elderly man—at the height of the Bosnian War, only to find his city in complete ruins.

I think what most broke this man’s heart was that the destruction was not done by some outside invader or natural disaster—it was done by his own people. At that time, Serbs were shelling Sarajevo every night. Rather than head for the bomb shelters like his family and neighbors, this man went to the town square, climbed onto a pile of rubble that had once been the fountain, took out his cello, and played Mozart and Beethoven as the city was bombed.

He came every night and began playing Christmas carols from that same spot. It was just such a powerful image—a white-haired man silhouetted against the cannon fire, playing timeless melodies to both sides of the conflict amid the rubble and devastation of the city he loves. Some time later, a reporter traced him down to ask why he did this insanely stupid thing. The old man said that it was his way of proving that despite all evidence to the contrary, the spirit of humanity was still alive in that place.

The song basically wrapped itself around him. We used some of the oldest Christmas melodies we could find, like “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and “Carol of the Bells” (which is from Ukraine, near that region). The orchestra represents one side, the rock band the other, and single cello represents that single individual, that spark of hope.

But the video clips I found left me unimpressed and disappointed. I mean really, who wants to watch an animated light display some guy set up in his front yard? And then I saw a version that told a story. Maybe not quite the same story as the one related above, but a story nonetheless. I found it intriguing, full of the possibilities of “what if.”

May your Christmas be one of magic and wonder and hope, and may you be filled with the fierce stirring strains of the spirit of humanity.



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After five long months of studying abroad, my daughter returned home today.

Sometimes words are profoundly inadequate.


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