Now I Lay Me Down

No Telling

This is where I should be right now. It’s calling to me, promising to erase a wicked week of bad scheduling and Thing That Went Wrong. I must deny the bed, though, at least a little longer. I’m a few hundred words behind on NaNoWriMo and those unwritten words won’t let me relax.

The story, you see, is riding piggy-back with me through every waking moment of my life now. This is how it happens, and this is, in fact, a good thing. It’s whole reason I love the ridiculous goal of 50.000 words in 30 days – complete immersion.

I forgot that the living part of life likes to kick me in the ass every now and then, though. I just shake my head.

Fine, then. I’m going to finish out this scene, catch up on the word count, and go do it all over again tomorrow. I plan to spent the better part of the day with a whole gaggle of National Writing Project teachers sipping coffee, scribbling, and moseying through the little shops and flea markets at Pickles Gap. I believe they have a petting zoo there as well.

Southern psychiatry: Pet some goats, buy some junk, scribble a story, and eat homemade fudge. By late tomorrow afternoon, I should be cured.

The Facebook Curmudgeon: Peer-Pressure Never Ends

No Telling

Okay, so after 3 1/2 months of Official Facebook Abandonment, I’m back on. I don’t have to like it, though.

I just don’t get it, really. Am I missing something? I Twitter, and that’s even beginning to make a little sense as long as I don’t follow people who tell me they just brushed their teeth. I follow a lot of editors, bloggers, and friends. I even follow Christopher Walken who’s certifiable and therefore entertaining. I’m not doing it very well myself, but it’s interesting to follow others.

Not so much with Facebook. After all those months the “friend requests” were staggering, as were the “gifts.” No one can convince me those apps are a good time. I don’t want virtual houseplants or anything that requires me to List Ten Things.

Ive discussed my history with Facebook before. You know, five years ago you couldn’t sign up without a .edu email address – it was nothing but college students. I signed up as a classroom experiment in which I made Facebook groups for each class I taught. For contacting students and answering questions, it worked beautifully.

Last night I logged on only to find I had over 500 friends – a scary mix of old high school buddies and recent students. It was decision time, and the youngsters lost out. I deleted over 400 students I’d accumulated over four years of the online classroom experiment. All that deleting was exhausting and gave me the terribly feeling I’d thrown out all the babies with the bathwater.

When the carnage was over, I peeked at my Friend Feed to see what was left. What remains reminds me of those old party-line phones where you picked up and heard other people’s conversations. Do I need to know Shelly lovingly prepared Spam and tater tots for dinner? Or that it’s late and Barry is tired? Is it any of my business that, without explanation, Linda’s changed her relationship status to “single”? No, no, and no.

My daughter wandered in as I sat there staring at the screen dumbfounded. Em tried, bless her heart, to convince me Facebook could be interesting. She showed me how to “lurk” or “creep” – clicking willy-nilly through and across and over layers of friends to find out the poop on everyone. It was like watching digital macrame and the end result was the same: I couldn’t make myself care. Besides, all her friends are funky and in their risk-taking years. All mine are dull and in their heart-attack years. She doesn’t see a lot of Spam-and-tater-tot updates, for example.

I did learn something important from Em’s Facebook Stalking Tutorial: if you don’t update your status, no one looks for you. Looks like I’m in the clear.

It all boils down to this: As terrible as I am at Twitter, I’m a much, much worse Facebook friend. My colleagues and closest friends are aware of my failure to socially-network properly. They forgive me in that Southern way by bless-your-hearting my digital eccentricity and trying to include me even if I never respond.

I’ll post a link to this on my Facebook status update as an act of contrition. Baby steps.

A Fairy Tale With Teeth: Part Second

No Telling

(A continuation from Part First.)

magine, if you can, the fluttering mother-heart of the round-eyed woman as she crept like a strange midnight ballerina toward what might certainly be a particularly Geraldo scenario complete with masked gunmen and duct tape. The irregular sounds from the living room mixed with the panic throbbing pizzicato in her clenched and stylishly-ringed fingers. With her hair still wild from dreaming and the whiteness of her satin nightgown reflecting moon through the windows, she looked just like the twisted moonflower and passion vines that came up like demonic accidents around the front porch of the June-blue house. An unfortunate camouflage for a woman inopportunely stalking certain ski-masked disaster.

In the living room, she used the tennis racquet’s edge to flip on the light.

There was no one there. She breathlessly leapt to the kitchen, the dining room. Still no darkly-dressed, robber-band infamy.

The irregular thumping came from the unattractively secured and jagged piece of raw plywood used to seal up the underbelly of the chimney. Knowing instantly that the thumping could only be the muffled sound of a trapped bat or two slinging themselves selfishly toward the safety of her children, the round-eyed woman stopped and though a bit.

She thought about heinous, rabid, slobbering, madnesses-incurable waiting in spiky bat teeth. She thought about unendurable abdominal injections in the smooth tummies of the sleeping small ones.

She thought about Old Yeller and became all misty.

For some reason the H&P (Handsome and Powerful husband) found it easier to wake this time, and did not protest at all when asked to climb upon the roof of the June-blue house in the very midnight of a late September. The round-eyed woman kissed the sleeping children’s fuzzy hair softly and with great assurance that their perfect pink bellies would be safe from all that was rabid and rodent-borne.

With the H&P tottering on the steeply pitched roof making repairs (there is another story of him falling from the roof, but he does not die in that one either), the round-eyed woman was at long last able to snuggle into the bed and dream sad Erendira moments of men in lines and things undone.

A few hours later, when the round-eyed woman heard hail gently bouncing and tumbling at the windows, she automatically rose to check the weather. She was accustomed to this, having lived cheerfully many years in a small southern town where the weather enjoys unaccountable changes and whirling tornadic things fall from the sky with regularity.

My lovely beans, she thought as she pulled back the soft sheets, will be beaten down to a fray. And this made her sad, because she adored the natural William Morris-like spirals pristinely curled for morning pickings.

By the time the she understood that the sound was not hail at all, not the rattling pieces of her broken heart, that the hail storm was not outside, but inside the house, the repeated flinging of blinded bat bodies casually slamming themselves into the post-war two-inch metal blinds had risen to a roll thunderous enough to wake even the sleeping H&P.

She turned the bedside light on with a gentle twist…

To be, of course, continued ~

A Fairy Tale With Teeth: Part First

No Telling

(The snake incident and a comment from a friend reminded me of this ditty I wrote some years ago. It’s ridiculous. It’s in three parts. And like all fairy tales, it’s true.)

nce upon a time a lengthy long time ago there lived this round-eyed woman in a mid-sized, downtown (right side of the tracks, but only just) old blue house. It was the color of the this very June sky, just two shades lighter, and had been built at the turn of the century as something better than a diamond ring to attract the unending love of a woman (now dead) who wanted not the house at all, but the ring.

Several owners later, the round-eyed woman moved in with her little toddling girl, one very black dachshund puppy, a part-time son, and a handsome and powerful man (hereafter, the H&P). She planted a garden where she grew broccoli too late and buggy foot-long green beans in matted heavenward spirals. It was very lovely place to be, and the round-eyed woman spent all her free afternoons tape-recording the voices of the young children for posterity while they played on the Wal-Mart swingset (model no. 2345-77-92002). In the evenings they would all gather in the back yard and cook assorted grilled meats to eat with the beans, staying outside until the swallows could no longer tell the difference between the round-eyed woman’s hair and the high wall of bean tendrils. The whole summer passed by sweetly.

One night, late in a September when the sun was still hot as three forgotten hells, the round-eyed woman looked up in evening light to see a new kind of swallow dipping and flailing. It only took one very close fly-by (a wing-breeze, really) for her to understand that the swallows had been replaced by some creepier flying thing.

Bats, she said, and ran into the house with a little one under each arm like floppy laundry, singing “Moon Shadow” (the children’s only lullaby) in an failing attempt to create calm in a sea of bats.

Later that evening, just after the round-eyed woman had snuggled the wiggling children into beds Rose and Transformer, and before she balled up in the tapestry sofa with the excruciating rhythms of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, there came an unusual sound from the fireplace, there, just to her left. It was some highly-placed screaming, almost a whistle.

And then a lone, wayward bat excused himself from the chimney’s esophagus and sailed through the open fireplace, afterward whooshing delicately about the room in uneven elliptical panic.

The woman quietly fell to the ground, Marquez still in hand, plotting in two and one half seconds just how long it would take to get the sleeping children and car keys free from the June-blue house. Before she could move, the reclining H&P deftly took three giant steps across the room (catching, of course, the only forgotten Lego squarely in the arch of his right foot), and as he fell his hand caught tightly one very collectible Billie Jean King wooden tennis racquet. A fortuitous weapon for such a moment.

Twenty or so increasingly violent back-hands and many freshly-strung expletives later, the bat lay in the floor, a flattened, fuzzy/brown, smallish thing. Much smaller, the round-eyed woman thought, than the drooling buzzard it had appeared to be just moments earlier.

To quiet the now frenzied round-eyed woman, the H&P promised to perch his life precariously on the roof the following morning and seal up the gaping and crumbling chimney so as not to let this ever happen again.

I’ll risk my life to save you from the bats, he said to the woman whose round eyes flicked tears of youth and motherhood into the new Stainmaster Series Nine carpeting.

Tomorrow, I promise, he said.

And as the round eyed woman calmly began packing enough clothes, diapers, and He-Man accessories for a week’s stay at her mother’s, the H&P found scrap plywood, gooey glue stuff and a gun-like instrument. He began to seal up the fireplace from the inside, and as a means to cease the packing and the frightening calm of the round-eyed woman, because he was most aware, suddenly, that he had said “tomorrow” perhaps one too many times.

Satisfied, the round eyed woman went to sleep and began lightly dreaming of angel-sized bats with very enormous wings and handsomely drowned and barnacled bats, because Marquez can invade even a June-blue house despite the application of epoxy sealants.

It was the irregular thumping that woke her, sounding for all the world like a madman playing rasta rhythms on the front door. Unable to arouse the sleeping H&P, the round-eyed woman crept a stealthy path down the hall, pausing only to lift the now loosely-strung and somewhat gory Billie Jean racquet from the elegant mahogany hall tree. Taking only the slightest moment to appreciate the contrast between the two, she continued to creep low, fingers bloodless for a two-fisted backhand…

To be continued tomorrow~

Why We Should Name the Storm

No Telling
Oldest known photograph of a tornado – August 28, 1884. South Dakota.

Yes, it’s hurricane season. I’ve been watching reports lately about that feisty Jimena, the one who threatens to ugly-up the Baja peninsula. Odd are she’ll wrap herself up once inland and head right straight through Arkansas. They always do, and even though these hurricanes are watered down by the time they visit us, there’s usually plenty of rain and a few fiery storms to make things interesting. We’ll have an errant tornado or three.

The tornadoes we’re stomped with have no names, at least nothing as swanky as “Jimena.” It must be because hurricanes are measured by what devilry they may bring, while tornadoes are only measured afterwards. All storms have numbers – category 4, F-3, that sort of thing – but only hurricanes have names.

So why can’t we name our tornadoes? I think we need a frame of historical reference at the very least. Here’s an example:

“That twister back in ’93 was a demon. ‘Member it?”

“That one that took Mr. Hightower’s fence and made a necklace of it over to the water tower?”

“Naw, I’m talkin’ about the one in the fall, the one that sliced the Chevron station in half. Found that ‘Pay Inside’ sign – remember? -stuck in the front glass of daddy’s Ford. You was there.”

“Damn. I thought it was that one closer to Christmas when we found all them dead fish from the waterspout. Them filleted ones.”

“Naw, now, that was the Chevron twister. Picked up the whole stockpond and shook it like a hound.”

“Ohhh, yeah. You’re right. I was there.”

You see my point. Our disasters need naming just like anyone else’s. Probably even more so, because we can’t rally ’round a good storm story if everyone’s confused.

I realize the National Weather Service (NOAA) has a lot on its plate just now, what with all the hurricane naming and warnings and projected paths and such. I hate to give them more work than they can comfortably handle. They’re performing a vital service and I’m sure many of their employees are working long days.

So here’s my proposal, NOAA: You name the tornadoes whenever you feel it’s warranted, and I’ll do the gruntwork necessary to supply the names. Gratis. In fact, I’ll start out with a few right now. Feel free to use them as you see fit and let me know if you need any more. I found these in the local phone book and there are scads more where these came from.

Tornado Names: Female

Anaverle, Beulah, Cozetta, Dymple, Elva, Flodine, Georgia, Halogene, Iva, Jo Nell, Kitty, Lurleen, Mavis, Nevetta, Otha, Pearlene, Queenie, Rowleena, Sissy, Twanette, Una, Vernice, Wanda, and Zelma.

Tornado names: Male

Ace, Buford, Clyde, Dax, Elmore, Finis, Garrett, Harvenious, Israel, Junior, Kimbro, Lester, Millard, Noble, O’Dell, Percy, Rusty, Skeeter, Twig, Ulis, Vester, Windle, and Zeke.

I left a few letters out, mainly because I’m not partial to names beginning with Q, X or Y. Makes no difference. What’s important is that we give each tornado a distinct identity. Simply calling a twister an “F-2” is hardly personal, and believe me, nothing is more personal than finding your car twisted around the uprights at the local ballfield.

Besides, using local names gives the storm a regional flavor. Retelling the storm would be much easier, and dire warnings more effective.

“Get the kids in the cellar, honey! This’n makes Skeeter look like a soft breeze!”


Snake Charming with a Big Shovel

No Telling

It’s entirely too early on a Sunday morning for this kind of excitement. I’ll need to huddle in my office and shake this off with a few more cups of coffee.

The weenie-dog doesn’t understand Weekend Time. Neither does The Perfect Grandson, but only one of them has to go outside on a leash in public at odd hours. I have a love/hate relationship with Bobo. His real name is Boner, and that explains a lot. Thankfully The Perfect Grandson is still practicing the language and has made hollering at the dog a little more acceptable. He’s Bobo now (pronounced Baaahhh-bow) and thank God for that.

Regardless, Bobo had to go outside before my second cup of Sunday coffee. I wear a lot of hats, but Em wears the one that says, “take the damn dog out.” Not my job. Besides, she looks cute all the time and I need a little spackling before I go out in the street.

I’m a Southern woman of a certain age. That carries a lot of lipstick-baggage.

So out they go and BAM, they’re back inside. Em’s hyperventilating and doing an odd tiptoe dance, Bahbow strains at his leash and throws his little black body repeatedly against the front door. Em finds enough breath to tell me there’s a baby SNAKE by the MAILBOX. She thought it was a big WORM, but then it STUCK it’s SNAKEY tongue OUT.

It was the closest thing to rap music that’s ever happened here at my house, what with the breathless emphasis and the hopping around and the thump, thump, thump of the weenie-dog slinging himself rhythmically at the door.

How silly, I thought, we live in a walled subdivision with an iron-clad set of Homeowner’s Association Rules and Regs. Snakes aren’t in the bylaws.

I snatched up The Perfect Grandson and we – all four of us – went out to the mailbox. Sure enough, there was a little brown snake half in the grass, half on the driveway. Both halves together were probably all of six inches long. It stood it’s ground and we kept our distance.

I know there are some snake-huggers out there who might take offense at what comes next, but babies and weenie-dogs and possibly-poisonous reptiles don’t mix. The snake had to go. Em high-stepped back inside dragging a frothing Bobo on a leash while I held The Perfect Grandson high and eyeballed the snake to make sure it made no fast moves houseward. The worst kind of snake is the one you can’t find. I have experience.

“SSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!” said the boy, pointing down.

“You got it, buddy. That,” I said, “is a snake.”

Em came flying out of the front door, having traded Bobo for a really big garden shovel. I won’t give the gory details play-by-play, but you can assume Em’s mama-bear instincts kicked in and settled the standoff. Several times. Don’t worry, I whisked The Perfect Grandson away before he could witness the carnage.

The issue now is snake identification. Since it was a baby, there’s always the possibility of more. We need to know what we’re up against. According to the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, it was either a deadly-venomous copperhead, or something harmless like a king snake. This isn’t an easy ID because, 1) the snake was young and those look different from the adults, and 2) it’s not easy to ID a snake that’s in approximately seven pieces.

Em got a little shovel-happy. I don’t blame her. If it’s any consolation, snake-huggers, she shouted something like oh God, I’m killing someone else’s baby just before the shovel hit concrete. On some level, she’s remorseful.

The distinction, though, between poisonous-killer and harmless snail-eater is an important one. We’ve got more research ahead of us. I’ll need another cup of coffee and an hour of sensibility before I can say for sure.

Think I’ll put on a little lipstick and look over those bylaws again.

Here Comes the Bridal Shower

No Telling

I‘m supposed to be at a wedding shower in a few hours and forgot to buy a gift. Down South that’s a real faux pas. I’m sure they have the same rules of etiquette up North, but down here something like this can severely damage your reputation. Permanently. Social mistakes are somehow written indelibly on your DNA thereafter like a fow-pah tattoo.

“You know Monda over there? She teaches over at the college…writing or literature or…”
“Oh yes. She’s the one who showed up empty handed at that Bannister girl’s shower.”
“1988. That’s her. Here she comes…”

I can’t let that happen. Luckily, today’s brides register everywhere, even Wal-Mart although I find that practice too tacky to even acknowledge. Target is perfectly fine, Wal-Mart is NOT. You might as well put on the announcements that you’re registered for linen and china at The Dollar Store.

Or change your last name to Duggar. They registered for Gatorade and beef jerky at Wal-Mart.

In my mother’s generation, young brides registered for china and silver – real silver – and that was it. Girls in the ’50s expected to get four toasters and odd clocks. That changed a little for those of us Generation Jonesers. We made it more casual by registering for “everyday” dishes and flatware. While we sere more casual, we still had to sit through “tomato aspic” bridal showers thrown by our mothers’ women-friends. The rules were strict and the etiquette, unbendable. Legs crossed at the ankle and embossed thank you notes, that sort of thing.

These women are still around. In their golden years, all they do is go to church and rattle their pearlsls at showers. And they still scare me to death. Besides, these old gals remained married to their high school sweethearts while most of us Gen Jones brides made more than one trip to the altar.

Gen Y brides aren’t afraid of anybody. I love that about them. They register everywhere and run around with little electronic guns shooting a very specific gift list onto the internet. No worries about four toasters for these young women. They show up to their bridal showers in flip-flops and bring their men. Whoa. Maybe they learned something from our mistakes. I hope so.

Since I’ve procrastinated, I’m scouring this bride-to-be’s online gift registries and wondering what opens at 9:00 so I’m not socially banish-ed forever. It seems she’s signed up for everything but a perfect life. Bed Bath and Beyond probably doesn’t carry that, though.

Someone should.

A Blight on Your House

No Telling
(Dante’s Tomatoes by Dore’, with a little help from me)

Or on your tomatoes, thanks to “Southern growers” and according to The New York Times. I was alerted to the tomato pandemic via a bit in the Arkansas Times, and while there are no fingers specifically pointing Arkansasward, we know who they mean.

We’ve unwittingly contributed to the disaster by shipping plants to unsuspecting northern farmers who, if you can believe such rumors, actually grow tomatoes for sale. Why anyone would want a tomato grown in outdoor temperatures of less than 105 degrees is beyond me. That’s like importing watermelons from Canada. Ridiculous.

I guess we know how to get even, though. The NY Times says,

“According to plant pathologists, this killer round of blight began with a widespread infiltration of the disease in tomato starter plants. Large retailers like Home Depot, Kmart, Lowe’s and Wal-Mart bought starter plants from industrial breeding operations in the South and distributed them throughout the Northeast. (Fungal spores, which can travel up to 40 miles, may also have been dispersed in transit.) Once those infected starter plants arrived at the stores, they were purchased and planted, transferring their pathogens like tiny Trojan horses into backyard and community gardens.”

I can envision thousands those baby Arkansas plants flinging killer spores like confetti-tears all the way to New Jersey. Sounds more like a pitiful cry for help. Remember Hansel and Gretel and those breadcrumbs? Exactly.

(Titans Recoil by Dore’ and Monda)

So does this leave us tomatoless down here? Hmmm….

“So what’s going on here? Plant physiologists use the term “disease triangle” to describe the conditions necessary for a disease outbreak. You need the pathogen to be present (that’s the late blight), you need a host (in this case tomatoes and potatoes) and you need a favorable environment for the disease — for late blight that’s lots of rain, moderate temperatures and high humidity.”

The emphasis is mine. Clearly, if God meant for tomatoes to flourish in places like Vermont she would’ve turned up the heat considerably. In fact, I suspect this may be God’s way of telling those folks to grow Brussels sprouts instead.

There’s talk that we might have a shortage down here, but barring some apocalyptic meteor-disaster climate change or salmonella outbreak, anyone living in Arkansas could reasonably put in a few plants right now and harvest tomatoes clear through Halloween. How’s that for trick or treat?

Thar She Blows

No Telling

Just found this video of last Tuesday’s waterspout. Tornadoes aren’t so unusual around here, but these water-twisters are. Lake Conway is about five feet deep most of the time, so I figure up close this was probably a Moses-parting-the-Red-Sea moment.

So did it sling crappie and catfish for the whole three or so minutes, or did the waterspout lift it all aloft then set the whole business politely back down? The news said no one was injured and no damage reported, but surely someone driving down I-40 took a game fish in the windshield.

There has to be at least one good story out there.

Art for Art’s Sake

No Telling

A regular stop on our yearly Little Rock Writing Marathon is The River Market’s ArtSpace on President Clinton Avenue. Aside from being an excellent place to write, it’s also one of those galleries where I could easily mortgage my house and fill it with every single piece I see.

These paintings, for example. The artist is Megan Chapman, a blog acquaintance of mine who lives and paints in Fayetteville. These sorry cellphone shots don’t do her work justice, so you’ll need to visit her site to get a better look. She also has an Etsy shop where she sells smaller works on paper.

Imagine my surprise when, four days later, the River Market ArtSpace announced a sudden and permanent close. Something about a failure to renegotiate a lease. After twelve years, it’s going to be a food joint or a – hell, I don’t know – a souvenir shop for cheap presidential trinkets. What it won’t be is a gallery featuring the finest local artists Arkansas offers.

Artists like Marc Hatfield. I went to kindergarten with Marc and scads of other professor’s kids. His father taught art and is still creating – the walls of the building where I teach every day are covered with his work. His mother, one of the loveliest women I ever met, attempted to teach me French in college. The story of their lives is the stuff of novels.

Why does any of this history matter? Because a couple of years ago I wandered into the River Market ArtSpace and came face-to-wall with the visible attainment of Marc’s kindergarten hopes. He wanted to be an artist when he grew up and there he was, canvas after canvas.

I spent the next hour in the basement of the Flying Saucer weeping into bar napkins and scribbling in my notebook. I was half tempted to barter my car for one of his paintings. If I hadn’t given all those teachers from Yell county a ride, I might have done it.

So there’s more to a gallery closing than hanging a sign and turning it into some burger joint. It’s a personal loss for me and for all the writers I take to the River Market. Next year, we may get our passports in order and set sail for Hot Springs instead.