Wednesday, August 31, 2011

If I get shit at work today I'll know the boss reads my blog

So. Imagine me as I Love Lucy and you'll get general gist of what I'm about to tell you.

It was a dark and stormy night... hell no, it was a dark and stormy day at the office. Busier than a one-armed paper hanger. Busier than a two-peckered rooster in a henhouse. Suddenly, the work stopped. I had a 10 minute hiatus while other people got their shit together. Being the conscientious employee that I am, I decided to take my lunch dishes to the kitchen. There, before my helpful eyes, was a loaded dishwasher waiting to be run. I added my dishes to the dirty fray and then looked under the sink for some dishwasher soap. There was a teeny, tiny, itty, bitty couple of granules in the bottom of the box.

Feck, I said to myself. It's just like home when someone leaves a mouthful in the bottom of the milk pitcher.

Oh well, sez I, as I dumped the remaining bits in the soap dispenser. Realizing there wasn't enough soap in there to clean a missionary's mouth, I decided to add a bit of Palmolive dish soap to the mix. You know, the stuff you normally put in a sink. There still didn't seem to be enough so I squirted it generously around the bottom rack, and then gave the top rack a squirt for good measure. I closed the dishwasher door and started it up and, as I walked back to my desk, a swing in my step and a halo over my head, I thought, what a good employee am I.

Still with nothing to do momentarily, I struck up a computer chat conversation with my pal Sarah, who works in a different office than me, and she was telling me about an appointment she had when I got an e-mail from the office manager. It didn't have a subject line but it was addressed to everybody in the building. It was a one-sentence message.



The unmistakeable smell of dish soap wafted all the way from the kitchen to the back of the building where I sat, red-faced and panicked.

I interrupted whatever the hell it was Sarah was saying and started typing.

C: I just got an e-mail and it said, 'WHO RAN THE DISHWASHER THIS AFTERNOON?' From the office manager! And it was me! I put Palmolive dish soap in it and now I think it's exploded with soap suds!


C: I can smell the soap! I think there's a big mess in there. What should I DO?

S: My friend did that once and there were bubbles all over the place, I mean it exploded with bubbles. Don't tell them it was you!

C: BAHAHAHAHAHAHA!! OMG, don't tell them?

S: NO, don't tell them! LOL!!!

C: People are talking about it. Someone just walked by and was complaining about the soap mess in the sink. "All we can figure is some dumbass put Palmolive in the dishwasher and let it run."

S: BUAHAHAHAHAHAHA! I'm starting to snort.

C: I know! So am I! I'm, like, almost wheezing and my face is all red.


C: I know! ROFL! If someone asks me why I'm laughing, I'm dead meat.

S: Don't tell!

C: OMG, I won't. I'll be in such shit. I was just trying to help. And I put extra Palmolive in so it would do a better job.


C: This reminds me of the time when I joined a gym and there was a jacuzzi and there was a sign that said NO BUBBLE BATH ALLOWED. So I just put a little tiny amount of bubble bath in there. And there was freaking bubbles EVERYWHERE. They were TAKING OVER. I ran out of there so fast!

S: BAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA...  snorting! I'm snorting here! Sounds like you really learned your lesson!

C: There was no sign saying don't put Palmolive in the dishwasher. Who knew? I didn't know. OMG, everybody's talking about the smell. There's bubbles floating around in the production room. I'm gonna pee myself, I swear I'm gonna pee my pants.


And so it went.  I was laughing just like this:

Oh feck, I hope the boss doesn't read my blog...

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

No Jann Arden for me

Yesterday I was, like, JANN ARDEN IS COMING TO HUNTSVILLE! And then three minutes later I was, like, HER CONCERT'S SOLD OUT? ARE YOU KIDDING ME? I JUST FOUND OUT!

Sorry about the all-caps. But that was my face, one big round all-cap. I love Jann Arden, are you kidding me? I've been trying to see her in concert since forever and every damned time I get wind she's going to be performing anywhere near my neck of the woods, she sells out in 30 seconds. OK, so I exaggerate. Maybe it's more like 45 seconds. She was in North Bay a couple of years ago but I missed her because I wasn't quick enough. Toronto – not quick enough. Both cities are a ways away from me but I was willing to make the drive because, as I have said, I loves me some Jann Arden.

Then, yesterday, I found out she would be performing in Huntsville, which is 20 minutes up the road! Twenty minutes! Jann Arden! I was woot-wooting all over the office ... until my workmate, Lynda, discovered the concert was already sold out.

Excuse me. I must pause. I'm tearing up again.

When I finished pouting and wailing I got busy and started my Stalk Jann Arden Campaign. I sent her about a 406 messages on Twitter trying to weasel a ticket out of her stellar self. I think I even promised her an interview here on my blog (that hardly anybody reads because it's been so boring lately, and hey, I can't blame you) thinking that Muskoka River blog coverage would give Jann the publicity, fame and fortune she has so far been sadly lacking. Yes, I think that's what every celebrity needs, a post here at the River.

Mizz Arden, sadly, did not get back to me. Probably she was too overwhelmed by my offer, I'm thinking. But. And here's a pretty cool but (not that kind of butt) – SHE STARTED FOLLOWING ME ON TWITTER!

Now I'm all weirded out. The pressure to tweet only good stuff is intense, so I'm not tweeting anything at all. Not that I tweet a lot to begin with but, still. Jann's listening. So do I pretend to be all cool, like I don't notice that she's following, just like when you're in high school and a cute boy walks by and you're like la-dee-dah-dee-dah at your locker, pretending your heart isn't in your tonsils? Or do I get all smarmy and send her smeemy messages like, "Thanks for the follow, Jann." Or, the classic, "how's it going, eh?" because she's Canadian and probably likes having other Canadians say eh to her a lot.

On a completely different note, also requiring all-caps, I WAS DOWN ANOTHER FOUR AND A HALF POUNDS LAST NIGHT AT WEIGHT WATCHERS!!!!!!!! Woot! Woot! Root beer toot! That's 19 pounds in six weeks, NOT THAT I'M COUNTING or anything!

Who's dancing all over the kitchen right now?

P.S. So I just saw Laura Eno's comment... Laura, get outta town, you don't know who Jann Arden is???? Won't do, sistah, won't do at all. Here's one of her biggest hits – take a couple minutes to listen and tell me you still don't know who she is!!! Also, thanks for accepting all my poundage! I sincerely appreciate that! (And hugs to Laurita and Delores - love you guys!)

Monday, August 29, 2011

And then she said

I've got blog-blank-page-itis. I'm staring at this screen thinking, there is absolutely nothing new in my life but there is, actually, I just have blog-blank-page-itis.
I have new hair, for starters. Tracy at The Renaissance in Bracebridge gave me a sassy slanted bob. The back is cut to army regulation, right at the hairline, and the front is cut to my jawline. Almost all of the dead-kilt-by-blonding hair has been chopped off and what's left of it has been dyed to a satisfyingly rich chestnut brown.

I remind myself of my cousin, Kelly. Kelly, if you're reading this, I look just like you for some reason. I mean, I probably look nothing like you but when I look in the mirror I'm all, "hey Kelly, how's it going?"

Oh, and I have a new exercise bike. I now have a treadmill, an eliptical and a bike, which is practically an entire home gym, so why do I still look like the side of a barn? I am working on that. This week has been another good one, diet-wise. I'm finding the Weight Watchers program easy-peasy and the built-in cheat mechanisms mean I'm not going hungry. Tonight's my Monday weigh-in/meeting and I'm hoping for another couple pounds down the drain. Or should I say down the toilet. When you eat as many vegetables as I do, you spend a lot of time whizzing. So anyway, I've been feeling real thin. The bathtub is getting wider, my clothes are loosening up and I have a ton of energy. But then I went into Canadian Tire on Sunday and caught a glimpse of my reflection in the security mirrors and I couldn't reconcile the old fat woman in the mirror with my sleek new self. (Who has self-image problems? heh) Who cares what I looked like in the stupid mirror – I was there to buy a bicycle and get all fit!

I've been faithfully riding my bike up and down the road for a few weeks now but was stymied last week by work and social schmoozing and couldn't get out on my bike at all. When I had time it was pouring rain. Not to mention the days are already getting shorter and soon the snow will be on the ground. I didn't want to give up all that pedalling goodness so I decided an exercise bike was the ticket. Yes, I have a treadmill and an eliptical but I have bad knees and I really can't take the impact. The bike lets me sit on my arse and pedal without knee stress. So I went to Wal-mart because our local Canadian Tire doesn't sell exercise equipment, and bought a recumbent bike for $299 plus tax. On Sunday Dave put it together and the damned thing wouldn't work. The electronics were all screwed up. So we took it back and then went down the road to the Gravenhurst Canadian Tire where we picked up a way-better bike for a way-better price. This bike was regularly $399, on sale for $199. Bargoon, eh! I don't know why I buy anything at Wal-mart. First of all I hate the way they treat their employees and their business practises. And a lot of the stuff they sell is just crap. Live and learn, I guess. Having said that, you'll probably see me there next week.

I'm hoping all my friends on the east coast are doing OK in the wake of Hurricane Irene. I've been watching the news and crossing my fingers for you, hoping and praying you're safe and sound and dry.

Speaking of weather, I had to laugh this morning while watching Canada AM. The weather guy, Jeff, announced that the temperature high in St. Johns, Newfoundland, would be 27 degrees C. "Finally," he said, "they're getting summer temperatures just as summer is over." When Dave and I were in Newfoundland last October it was as hot as hades. I packed sweaters but I should have brought shorts. Ninety degrees in the shade, it was. Oh well. To Laurita and Alan and the folks, enjoy it while you can!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Because you need a laugh

Go here. Trust me. You will laugh.
Siren makes me laugh out loud. She's wry and witty and sarcastic, but nice. She's been through hell and back (oh god, read her older posts about her horrible young life and you will weep) and now she's carving out a nature-loving life for herself with her partner, Diane, and a bunch of pets. I've come to admire her and thought you might, too.
The post I'm referring you to? About the Bruces? It's an original. Never. Seen. Anything. Quite. Like. It.

Harry B. Sanderford asked how I could hate touching fish so much when I go fishing all the time. Well, Harry, going fishing has nothing to do with touching or eating fish! Dave baits my hook, takes the fish off the line and he throws the fish back. See? No fish are involved! Salmon sandwich on the counter? That's a whole different kettle of fish.

I just noticed somebody cut down a dead tree in our front yard. I was out late – came home in the dark, and Dave was half asleep when I rolled in. Funny, he never mentioned cutting a tree down. You'd think when I asked him how his night was he might have referred to cutting down a tree. Kind of a major bit of news. But there it is. A chopped up tree. Huh. Excuse me while I go outside in my pajamas and take a picture. For evidentiary purposes. Just in case there is a mad man with a chainsaw running around the neighbourhood cutting people's dead trees down.

One more thing: I am NOT shaving my head. OK? Even though y'all want me to shave my head. My head is not pretty like Laurita's head. Trust me. Or even Mike's head. My head shall not be shorn in the best interest of those who pass by. I know. I'm noble.

OK, OK, so one more thing. Have you voted for the Best of Friday Flash Reader's Choice story yet? You should! I just happen to have a story nominated, you know, if you can't decide who to vote for, mine is, ahem, available. Y'know, if you need a suggestion... you know me, always trying to help... Here's the link... go to the bar on the right hand side and click madly.  And thank you. Really. Thank you.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Great, now my fingers stink

Uck. I accidentally touched goo from Dave's salmon sandwich when I was cleaning up the kitchen just now. I had purposely avoided touching any crumbs on the counter but didn't discover until my fingers were in the goo that he had made the sammich on top of the dishwasher. Touched the goo, smelled my fingers, went "blech," scrubbed fingers with Palmolive. Smelling my fingers just now and they still have a lingering fish smell. May have to go wash fingers again. Once a guy from work brought smoked trout and sauerkraut to work and heated it up in the microwave. The whole building smelled like gack. The boss came in from lunch and said, "Who the fuck died in here?" So the legend goes. I didn't actually hear him because I was at my desk, retching.

The key word in that paragraph? Dishwasher! It's, like, the best thing that has ever happened. In. My. Entire. Life. Some day I'm going to do an entire post about the dishwasher, complete with erotic photos of its loveliness. Maybe even a centrefold with a staple in it's silverware rack.

Lost three and a half pounds at Weight Watchers this week. That's 14 and a half pounds in four weeks. Nobody has really noticed any changes yet but I know, for a fact, that my ass is getting smaller. My underwear actually go around it now, not hovering nervously waiting at the top, worried about stretching over the whole thing. My ass is like a planet, but not Saturn, because it doesn't have any rings, unless you want to count my underwear, which sort of ring it. So yes, it's exactly like Saturn.

Tomorrow I have a hair appointment. Did I mention my hair? I hate it right now. What's left of it. About half of it broke off. I seriously have hardly any hair. I look like I've been through chemotherapy. I have to do a comb-over or one side is balder than the other. My once thick locks are now stringy and thin and fried to a crisp. It's the blonding that killed it. Bleached it off in chunks, it did. Made it all brittle. Then I went to bed a couple times with a ponytail and it snapped off where the ponytail holder was. So now I have a dilemma. Do I get it all cut off and start over? Do I cut off to chin length and wait a couple months for the balding areas to catch up to the rest? Do I keep it blonde and risk killing hair in order to avoid skunk head? Or do I go back to brown and do root touch-ups every week? Will seriously consider any advice on this very important topic ...

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Au Revoir, Jack

I can't let this morning go by without saying something about Jack Layton. His death yesterday, from cancer, wasn't a surprise but it was a shock and a tragedy for this country. I just read his last letter to Canadians and the fact he wrote it two days before his death speaks to the love he had for his job as Leader of the Opposition, for his political party and, mostly, for his fellow Canadians.

I thought he was the best federal leader to come down the pipe for a long time. He had integrity, honesty and energy, in spades. I am happy that he enjoyed such huge political success in his last year; you can't "go out" with much bigger of a bang than he did. But how bittersweet for a man who wanted to change the world as much as he did, to have that power in his grasp, only to succumb to the pitiless grasp of cancer.

You can read his entire letter here. It's a wonderful letter. But I leave you with his final paragraph, words to live, and die by:

"My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world."

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Momster Tales

I have a secret. Shhhh! Hardly anyone knows about it so be very, very quiet. It's a new blog, okay? A mommy blog. Don't you be turning your nose up, I saw you, don't deny it. Just because you a) don't have kids, or b) don't like kids, or c) all of the above, doesn't mean you won't like what I'm sellin' ya. You'll like it because it's funny and it's really well-written. Really, really well-written. Try saying that three times fast.

Here's the secret-secret part, it's partly written by someone you know. Yup, you know her. You even love her. You do, you do, you do.

And nope, not telling you who she is. You'll just have to guess.

This post? Killed me.

Notice I am the only comment. Remedy that, would you?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The 10-Pound Ribbon

There's a new blue ribbon in my Weight Watchers kit, the kind of ribbon a prize pig gets at a county fair. "I LOST 10 POUNDS," it proclaims in bold gold lettering. The 10 is inside a gold star.

Stupid ribbon. What am I going to do with a ribbon? Am I going to pin it on my shirt and wear it to work today? (Does the fat lady really want to draw more attention to herself by increasing the resemblance to Babe?) I will probably wind up taping it to the fridge door. Then, every time I think about eating something I shouldn't, I'll see that ribbon and think twice. Still, it's just a dumb ribbon. So why did I care so much when I almost didn't get it?

Last night I went to my Weight Watchers meeting, my third one, and I was a little disappointed when I only lost one and a half pounds. Yes, it's still a loss but, compared to the nine and a half pounds from last week it seemed a minor accomplishment. "Oh, only one and a half pounds?" I said to the lady weighing me. She made a face at me when she was filling in my information. "You've lost 11 pounds in three weeks," she snapped. "That sounds like a pretty amazing weight loss to me."

There are all kinds of rewards at WW; things like star stickers and ribbons and key chains. I can't even tell you what they are because I'm new and I haven't figured it all out yet. At the end of each meeting the leader goes through the reports from everybody's weigh-ins and announces milestones like who has reached their goal; who has lost 5% of their body weight; and who has lost 10 pounds. I thought, I've lost 10 pounds, and waited for the leader to call my name.

She never did call my name. She called many other women's names, but mine wasn't among them.

I felt ignored. Unimportant. And kind of mad, too. I asked the woman behind me, "Did you get that for losing 10 pounds in one week?" She shook her head. "No, it's just for 10 pounds, period." So I stuck up my hand and when the leader called on me I said, with some embarrassment, "So you get a ribbon when you lose 10 pounds?" She said yes. Then I said, "I lost 10 pounds. Actually I lost 11 pounds." And she made a big fuss and came over and gave me a ribbon and I felt my face go red, but in a good way. The leader then proceeded to say that when we reach a milestone we have to let the ladies at weigh-in know so they can write our names down on the sheet and claim our rewards. "You have to ask," the leader said. "You've earned it. You deserve it. Make sure you ask."

Funny how life is. Yesterday I had a similar thing happen at work. Our company is launching a brand new newspaper and I was asked to design it. The whole newspaper. Exciting, right? I know! I have designed an entire newspaper once before and it was the most fun I ever had in my job. And quite an honour. To me it is a sign of respect that I was asked to perform such an important function. I'm also aware that I'm saving the company big money. Once upon a time, a long time ago in a land far away, I worked in the big city for a national medical magazine. When it was time to have the publication redesigned, the company paid half a million dollars for a big-name designer and his crew do the work. That man has designed some of the most prestigious publications in the world. Now, I don't even pretend to produce the kind of work he does and my stuff isn't even close to being worthy of that kind of dough. Still, I produced a good-looking style for the newspaper, a style that was accepted by my superiors with nothing but praise, for only the cost of my regular wage. In other words, cheap!

Today our first issue goes to press so yesterday was all about getting down to the nitty gritty. Part of what I did yesterday was design a two-page spread outlining the 'who we are' part of the paper. The  editor had given me a rudimentary map: he wanted pictures of the big wigs here and pictures of the not so big wigs there, and he divided the paper into three departments: sales, editorial and distribution. There was no composing department. No recognition of my work as the designer and as the ongoing person who puts pages together; no recognition of any of the production team, except for our manager. I felt slighted, to say the least.

Composing is usually the least prestigious part of most newspapers. Composing and distribution. We're the magic elves who make the thing look pretty, who make sure it gets to the press and the ones who deliver it to your mailbox. We don't sell advertising and bring the money in. We don't have the celebrity caché of the reporters, who rub elbows with the big wigs in town. We just hunker down and do our jobs and basically get ignored by everyone else. If we screw up we sure hear about it; but there is no morale-boosting bonuses or recognition. We just toil away in the salt mines and dream about pats on the back.

Last week was kind of bizzare, though. Last week we had a union vote at work. The lines of warfare were evenly distributed between advertising, which is generally company-oriented, and editorial, which is generally union-oriented. The wild card in the mix was production. Nobody knew how we were going to vote. Suddenly we were the most popular kids on the block. People in editorial who barely said good morning to us were suddenly greeting us with smiles at the back door. The company head honcho was sending us e-mails saying "Dear Colleagues" beseeching us to consider not voting for the union. We felt uncomfortable but very popular. I actually took the opportunity to send an e-mail to the head honcho, pointing out that we were generally ignored by the company and perhaps the occasional pat on the back or including us more often as part of the team would be a good idea. I got a great response to the e-mail. I thought my message got through.

And then yesterday. No acknowledgement whatsoever of the part composing plays in the new newspaper. I wondered how to react. Should I just ignore the situation? Should I demand that pat on the back, that blue "I lost 10 pounds" ribbon?

Hell yes. I earned it. I deserve it. I am just as important as anybody else. Every time I allow myself to be treated like a doormat reinforces the idea that it's okay to treat me as a doormat. It's hard to ask for recognition. One most levels I believe good work should stand on its own merits; that my own satisfaction is enough – who cares what someone else thinks? But deep in my heart of hearts I am still that child who seeks approval from her parents, from her teacher, from everyone.

It's just a stupid ribbon.

But it's mine.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Nine-and-a-half pounds

I had the most amazing day yesterday. One of those perfect days where everything goes right and "Suddenly I See" by KC Tunstall (above) is the theme song for your life.
I joined Weight Watchers two weeks ago but didn't get to weigh in last week because Monday was a holiday in Ontario and there was no meeting. I stayed on track like a saint for those two weeks and was excited about going to last night's meeting, hoping I lost at least four pounds.
But nope. I lost nine-and-a-half pounds! I got on the scale and Darlene, my weigher-in lady, stumbled a bit when she calculated the loss. Me? I WHOOPED! I mean, WHOOPED! People stared and smiled and congratulated me. I got a silver "bravo" star. I felt AMAZING.
Then I came home and saw a bouquet of flowers on the kitchen table. Dave had bought me flowers! "No matter how you made out at your meeting I thought these would put a smile on your face." Awww! Poor baby, he wasn't feeling good, either. I made us a healthy chicken and veg supper and he went to bed.
Then the second amazing thing happened: I sat down at my computer and wrote nearly 1,400 words on my novel.
Nine-and-a-half pounds and 1,400 words! I was so excited when I went to bed that I could hardly sleep! I still feel like it's Christmas this morning! There are not enough exclamation points for how good I feel!
Some of the old birds at the meeting sniffed a little at my big weight loss. "She's new," they said to each other. "It's always easiest the first few weeks." Hey, they're absolutely right. The first few weeks is all water as your shocked body starts to release its death grip on all the fat that's been laying claim to you and yours. The hard part in weight loss is several months down the road when every half pound loss is a victory and you're bored of the food and your enthusiasm has waned. That is true. I've been there. I know. Still. NINE-AND-A-HALF POUNDS! I feel like anything is possible right now. I can see a thinner version of myself. It's all within my grasp. The light switch in my head has snapped to "healthy" and I'm going with the flow.
As for the novel, wow, I am making great progress. This is the most and the best writing I've done in my life. I have struggled with my own self-worth as a writer for too long, mulling over whether it is possible instead of buckling down and doing it. Every time I turn away from my project I worry if I have what it takes to get back on it and write more. I swear, it's even harder than the diet. Both, I'm realizing, are lifestyle decisions. I am healthier. I am writing. I can do this.
Thanks to Tammy and Lou for inspiration on both counts. oxoxo

Friday, August 5, 2011

Camp Journal Day #7 - On Writing and Stephen King

Can't believe I'm on the last full day of camping. Where has the week gone? Where does every week go? Where does a lifetime disappear to? One minute you're crapping in your diddies and the next minute you're doing the same thing – only the brand name changes, Pampers to Depends. And the shit gets smellier.

My dear friend Mark Kerstetter asked me to list some of the things I found helpful about Stephen King's On Writing. He said he finds King's writing "bloated and vulgar;" the funny thing is, King is used to all kinds of critical comments and he addresses them in On Writing.  I can't say I agree with Mark on this point. Truth is, I've been a fan of King's work since forever. I actually find his writing style sparse and lean, just the way I like it.

Liking King or disliking him has little bearing on this book, though (although King fans will love his "life story" section and the chapter about his accident). What came through, for me, is some basic writing advice, a plan of attack for getting things done and some good, old-fashioned inspiration. Here's some of the things I "got" from the book:

1. Read a lot. Reading, King says, is just as important as writing, and reading a bad book is just as important as reading a good one. He really stresses reading as the best teacher of writing. He even lists his favourite books of all time at the back. He calls himself a "slow reader" but ploughs through 70 to 80 books a year.

2. Take the act of writing seriously. "You must not come lightly to the blank page." King says: "You can approach the act of writing with nervousness, excitement, hopefulness, or even despair – the sense that you can never completely put on the page what's in your mind and heart. You can come to the act with your fists clenched and your eyes narrowed, ready to kick ass and take down names. You can come to it because you want a girl to marry you or because you want to change the world. Come to it any way but lightly. Let me say it again: you must not come lightly to the blank page. I'm not asking you to com reverently or unquestioningly; I'm not asking you to be politically correct or cast aside your sense of humor (please God you have one). This isn't a popularity contest, it's not the moral Olympics, and it's not church. But it's writing, damn it, not washing your car or putting on eyeliner. If you can take it seriously, we can do business. If you can't or won't, it's time for you to close the book and do something else. Wash the car, maybe."

3. Build a writing tool box. King compares writing with carpentry and stresses the importance of keeping your tools close at hand. Everybody will have their own tool box, filled with different kinds of tools, but he has suggestions to help you build your own. Common tools, he says, go on top.

"The commonest of all, the bread of writing, is vocabulary. In this case, you can happily pack what you have without the slightest bit of guilt and inferiority. As the whore said to the bashful sailor, "It ain't how much you've got, honey, it's how you use it."

He goes on to compare paragraphs of famous writers, some with vocabulary that will stumble even the most literate among us; others that are simple yet beautiful, like this paragraph from John Steinbeck in The Grapes of Wrath: "Some of the owner men were kind because they hated what they had to do, and some of them were angry because they hated to be cruel, and some of them were cold because they had long ago found that one could not be an owner unless one were cold."

He compares Steinbeck to Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian: "Someone snatched the old woman's blindfold from her and she and the juggler were clouted away and when the company turned in to sleep and the low fire was roaring in the blast like a thing alive these four yet crouched at the edge of the firelight among their strange chattels and watched how the ragged flames fled down the wind as if sucked by some maelstrom out there in the void, some vortex in that waste apposite to which man's transit and his reckonings alike lay abrogate."

Still with me? That was a mouthful. King says, "The Steinbeck sentence is especially interesting. It's 50 words long. Of those 50 words, 39 have but one syllable. That leaves 11, but even that number is deceptive; Steinbeck uses 'because' three times, 'owner' twice, and 'hated' twice. There is no word longer than two syllables in the entire sentence. The structure is complex; the vocabulary is not far removed from the old Dick and Jane primers. The Grapes of Wrath is, of course, a fine novel. I believe that Blood Meridian is another, although there are great whacks of it that I don't fully understand. What of that? I can't decipher the words to many of the popular songs I love, either."

King says, "Put your vocabulary on the top shelf of your toolbox, and don't make any conscious effort to improve it. (You'll be doing that as you read, of course...). One of the really bad things you can do to your writing is to dress up the vocabulary, looking for long words because you're maybe a little bit ashamed of your short ones." That sentence meant a lot to me.

I also enjoyed what King had to say about grammar, the next tool in your tool box. There are no lectures; no debates about what constitutes good grammar or bad grammar. He pretty much throws all that stuff out the window and frees writers to write what they feel, rather than worrying about subjects and predicates. "Take any noun, put it with any verb, and you have a sentence. It never fails," he says. For those who insist on learning more about grammar, he has this to say: "If you want to refurbish your grammar, go to your local used book store and find a copy of Warriner's English Grammar and Composition – the same book most of us took home and dutifully covered with brown paper shopping bags when we were sophomores and juniors in high school. You'll be relieved and delighted, I think, to find that almost all you need is summarized on the front and back endpapers of the book."

He also has an amusing passage about his own likes and dislikes in sentence style and structure, disliking the passive tense passionately. And don't even get him started on adverbs! "The adverb," he says, "is not your friend." And then (this makes me smile): "I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops. To put it another way, they're like dandelions. If you have one on your lawn, it looks pretty and unique. If you fail to root it out, however, you find five the next day ... 50 the day after that ... and then, my brothers and sisters, your lawn is totally, completely, and profligately covered with dandelions. By then you see them for the weeds they really are, but by then it's – GASP!! – too late."

Something else he writes about is dialogue attribution and I am on the same page with him. It's always better to use "said" as simply as possible.

"Put down the gun, Utterson!" Jekyll grated.
"Never stop kissing me!" Shayna gasped.
"You damned tease!" Bill jerked out. All King's examples of nasty attribution.

He finishes his section about adverbs and attribution with his wise advice: "All I ask is that you do as wel as you can, and remember that, while to write adverbs is human, to write he said or she said is divine."

King then spends a great deal of time talking about style and structure, particularly paragraphs. You'll have to read the book for the details but his summation is this: "I would argue that the paragraph, not the sentence, is the basic unit of writing – the place where coherence begins and words stand a chance of becoming more than mere words."

4. Write every day. King likes to write 2,000 words a day. Every day. That's his personal goal – no wonder he can write a novel so quickly. In fact, he says a novel shouldn't take any more than three months to finish. Any longer than that and he starts to lose his enthusiasm and the novel's "voice." He admits not everyone can write like he does – especially for those, like me, who have full-time jobs. He does suggest beginners start out with 1,000 words a day and taking at least one day off. This sounds a lot like the process fellow writer John Wiswell went through when he wrote his novel this year. This is SUCH a good idea. Maybe 1,000 words is too much – I think it probably is too much for me. But 500 words is doable. I think I can commit to that and getting writing done is making that commitment to put your ass in a seat and write. This is the best practical advice I've ever seen on writing. If you don't read anything else in King's book, read this. He also has good advice on setting up a writing space and turning off the TV.

5. Write what you know. John Grisham writes about lawyers. Patricia Cornwall writes about medical examiners. Don't try to copy their style, just because it's successful. Write what interests you. Also, don't write for money. Write because of story. Write because you love it. Write because you have to.

I'm a big fan of King's books but I have no real interest in writing horror. When I do try it, I do it badly. I can admire his work, and Grisham's, and everyone else's, but I must stick to what is in my own heart. When I do that, I write well.

6. Forget about the plot. King doesn't plot his books and he suggests other writers do likewise. Stories, like lives, are organic. They come to life of their own volition. Writers, King says, are mere transcribers. Allowing the story to take the writer where it needs to go will result in a better story.

I do have a bare outline for the work I'm doing now but the outline is in my head. I have no notes. Every time I sit down to write the story takes on a life of its own. I can see where having a definite plot would stagnate the creative process.

7. Description. "The key to good description begins with clear seeing and ends with clear writing, the kind of writing that employs fresh images and simple vocabulary."

8. Dialogue. "Some people don't want to hear the truth, of course, but that's not your problem. What would be is wanting to be a writer without wanting to shoot straight. Talk, whether ugly or beautiful, is an index of character; it can also be a breath of cool, refreshing air in a room some people would prefer to keep shut up. In the end, the important question has nothing to do with whether the talk in your story is sacred or profane; the only question is how it rings on the page and in the ear. If you expect it to ring true, then you must talk yourself. Even more important, you must shut up and listen to others talk."

Brilliant advice from King, just brilliant. People sometimes say I write good dialogue. Part of that may come from 25 years as a reporter, listening to people talk and writing their quotes down verbatim. So much listening does translate into knowing how people talk. One of the things I've loved most about King's books is they read like people talk; they read like the thinking going on in my head. You can tell Mr. King is a very good listener.

There's more to this book, of course, but I fear I am already way past "too long." I'm also half afraid somebody from the King publishing world is going to slap my hands for quoting him so much. I hope not. No one's a bigger fan of this man than I am (gawd, sounding like Annie Wilkes here).

This week I put what I learned from On Writing into practise. I went through my WIP with a fine-toothed King, knocking out adverbs, smoothing out excess description and killing more than a few of my darlings. I am so happy with the results. It was like having The Great One hanging over my shoulder. When I get home from camping, back to the regular routine, I am going to, I swear, force myself to write at least 500 words each and every day. The more the merrier, of course.

Feel a need to go buy On Writing? Of course you do! Get it while it's hot, folks. The Kindle version is avaiable here.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Camp Journal Day #5

You should see my hair. On the other hand, maybe you shouldn't. Oh, and I rolled out of bed at 9:32 a.m. Plus, Dave's making pancakes. All sure signs that we're on vacation.
Yesterday I made a run into town to pick up some poison ivy stuff. Sam had a rash on top of both his feet and there is tons of that noxious weed around here. I google-imaged poison ivy to see if I could see my son's rash – big mistake, unless photos of humongous blisters, swollen eyeballs and scarlet red asses turn your crank. What I didn't see was any little red rashes a la Sam but I decided to get the treatment just in case.
This is what you do: wash the "affected area (!)" with soap and warm water (that always kills me, the "affected area." Of course you wash the affected area - do you think you wash your hair? Your arse? Sheesh, how dumb are we people-who-write-instructions-on-the-back-of-medicine-bottles?); follow that with a wash of rubbing alcohol; apply a hydrocortisone cream; then take a Benadryl or a Reactine. And don't itch it, unless you want an infection. Sam seems better today. "It's still there," he says, "but it's getting better."
I'm reading Stephen King's On Writing. What a fabulous book for a writer. I'm enjoying it even more than a novel.
I read it years ago, when I was only thinking about writing, and I thought it was merely ok. Now that I'm in the midst of a project, it is invaluable. Inspirational. I want to talk more about it but Dave has just put a pancake in front of me so I must go.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Camp Journal Day #3

I had to write something to get rid of that last post. Stick my head down the toilet and flush it? Omigawd, can I be any more dramatic? Thanks for all your messages of support – means the world to me, honest. You'll be happy to know Day #2 and Day #3 have been completely fabulous. Or maybe you might have been happier knowing I was unhappy because nothing cheeses a person off more than a person on vacation having too good a time. Oh come on, admit it. The minute somebody starts yakking about what a great time they had you zone out, start thinking of that salami sandwich you had for lunch, and how every time you burp it still tastes like salami.
Not that I had salami for lunch. I joined Weight Watchers, see, and I've been scarfing down a lot of chicken and veg. My friend Tammy said, "You're so brave joining WW just before going on vacation," but honestly, this is the best kind of vacation for waistline trimming. All we do all day is swim, bike and walk. Everything is a walk when you're camping; even going to the bathroom is an aerobic workout and I'm not talking about the pushing!!!
Must go - my camping buddies have shown up for the de rigeur campfire. They are exhausted from carrying chairs and crap down the road to our campsite. "My arms are falling off," complained one.
See? Aerobics, I tell ya.