Saturday, December 19, 2009

Mailing it in

I'm shocked my husband and I have any friends left. The problem is, we are tired all the time. And we're forgetful and perpetually overwhelmed. Translation:  We're terrible about returning calls, we're too tired to entertain, and our long distance correspondence is nonexistent. The whole gift-giving thing around the holidays pushes us well beyond our capabilities. We once showed up to a holiday dinner at a friend's house, after mentioning we would not be exchanging gifts that year due to a job layoff, to find beautiful gifts waiting for us. It was too late to make a mad dash to a store, so we sucked it up, ate their food, accepted their generosity and left. Awkward.

Our dysfunction originates from the core of our existence. Our home. It's an unfixed fixer-upper with never-ending projects. Environmental chaos. Our happy home is enhanced by a large, big-toothed "crazy-eyed" dog that barks psychotically at every person who has the unfortunate experience of driving down our street. In reality, our dog is afraid of kittens and truly can't jump the picket fence because of an artificial hip and leg injury from an accident that happened before we adopted her. You'll have no trouble at all outrunning her. Plus, once you are safely inside my front door, you will be fed well and offered an assortment of live animals to warm your feet. Not all of them bite.

As I empty our mailbox of holiday cards and letters, I find myself more than a little surprised by the loyalty of my friends.  I appreciate their ability to look past the fact that my husband and I seldom remember to send thank you notes or birthday cards. We've never sent out a holiday card with a family update. I don't have a mailing list. Alas, when my cell phone dies, so will the numbers of just about everyone I know. I keep no records, and I'm not much of a numerical memorizer.

I do feel guilty. Perhaps instead of sending out a New Year's card (something I fantasize about doing but I have never actually done), my husband and I should send out a blanket apology letter addressing our negligent behavior over the past two decades. Something like this:

Dear Family and Friend(s):
If you are receiving this, it is because we consider you a friend and we recognize that compared to you, our family sucks in the manners department. Perhaps one day we will be able to make it up to you, but please don't hold your breath. In addition to lacking basic organizational skills, we tend to buckle under pressure. 

We know that if you have stuck around through our flaky behavior, you must really care about us. Even though we don't always show it, we care about you, too. If you haven't stuck around but are still receiving this letter, it is because we deserve your wrath and disdain, we acknowledge your hurt feelings, and we want to offer you a sincere apology and let you know that we didn't pick on you personally. We treat all our friends like this. And we're sorry.

So here you go, this is an official letter off apology to all we have offended. I'd suggesting keeping it, perhaps even framing it, because it may be another two decades before we get around to doing another one. And, trust me, in two decades we'll owe all of you another one.

Remember the thank you note you got from us for that wonderful gift you sent? No? We want you to know that your gift and gesture was fully appreciated. We loved it, and probably still do love it. Unless it was wine or candy or homemade cookies, then I'm sure we loved it at some point in time, but now it is long gone and if I remember correctly, it was super delicious.

The clothes, scarves, bath robe, hair accessories and jewelry have all been worn and admired. The lotions and scrubs used and appreciated. The gift cards spent and enjoyed. The toys played with by the kids and probably the adults, too. 

Mostly, though, we want to offer our support if life is treating you like crap. Those are the calls and cards we most regret not doing. To those of you whom this applies, know we keep you in our thoughts and are always hoping for the best.

For those of you who are wondering about us, here's an update:

Grandma Lonna is still kickin and not taking crap from anyone. The doctors keep telling us she is going to die. It could be any day. Obviously, someone forget to tell Grandma because she is back to chugging around town in her Volvo, moving boulders single-handedly from one end of her garden to the other, and attending her twice a week Yoga class. If you're in her neighborhood, remember to look both ways before you cross the street and run like hell if you see her coming.

Our kids are thriving, and sucking every last penny and bit of energy out of us. Alex is a passionate musician and math whiz. He is taking clarinet lessons. We often start our mornings at 6:00AM to the tune of "I've Been Working on the Railroad" in the highest octave possible. We wish you were here to enjoy it with us. 

Erika is still doing gymnastics, training over twenty hours per week. That doesn't include the physical therapy for her knee or the massage and ice treatments before bed. Somehow, she fits in homework and continues to excel at everything she does. Except for ball sports. If throwing her a ball, please don't aim for the face, because that's usually where the ball hits first before she considers catching it with her hands.

Our family's contribution to society - we are doing our best to help with the water shortage. Our landscaping requires zero water and provides tons of free fertilizer. You guessed it, we still have seven rabbits. They won't die. They have eaten everything, and I mean EVERYTHING in my backyard, to include a peach tree and a lemon tree. My idea for making Tur-rabbit on Thanksgiving was vetoed by the rest of the family. Bummer, because I'm pretty sure I could have fit three rabbit carcasses inside the twenty-five pound turkey I cooked. I would have found a way.

We hope this nonexistent letter, that will never be mailed, and perhaps would be seen as the biggest offense from our well-meaning little family, finds you well and happy. Dear friends, know you are loved and appreciated, and we'd like to wish all of you a wonderful 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015...


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Ants In My Pants

Killing ants is a mesmerizing activity. I find, for instant ant killing, Fantastic spray works fantastically. Except that it gives my husband a headache. The smell of the spray, not the ant killing itself. We're both all-for ant killing. This month alone, I've killed thousands. I hate ants. They are coming in through the cracks in our kitchen tile grout. It's like watching a miniature horror film. 

It has been a challenging month, ant-wise. We've made gingerbread creations dripped with sugared frosting and dotted with candy. Ant heaven. Cat food, meat balls and bacon grease. All making quite the holiday feast for my little ant friends. My daughter built an igloo-shaped ice house out of sugar cubes for a class project. I know the ants watched from their hiding places as my daughter layered sugar cube after sugar cube on her house. They must have been thinking she was making a custom paradise home just for them. Or perhaps they were recognizing they had just wandered into the home of one of the dumbest human families ever. Yeah, they hit the mother load. Little ant high-fives going on in my house.

After completing the sugar house, we hid it in the microwave for the night, but not before a few ants got stuck in the powdered sugar mortar. We left them there for added effect. I'm not sure if my daughter earned any extra credit points from them.

With so much stacked against us in the ant war, thinking ahead is key. Instant dish washing a must. Keeping food out of the bedrooms seems like an obvious rule to live by. I probably should have posted a sign or something, because the other day I had a nasty surprise. My husband hid his candy stash in MY underwear drawer. My dresser is closer to his side of the bed, if you are wondering why he picked MY drawer. I'm sure it wasn't personal.

First it was poop in my washing machine - hence,  a load of shit, now it's ants in my pants. I'm getting a feeling I'm in some sort of writer's hell, forced to live out every bad cliche ever written and destined to a life of vigorous and immediate dishwashing and emergency loads of laundry.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Dark Side of Funny

Someone asked me the other day if the humor in my writing is something I have to work at or if it is always there. "Always there," I replied without hesitation. Not to assume everyone thinks my writing is funny. My best friend told me she would find my stories much funnier if she didn't know for a fact that I actually meant everything I wrote. It's how I think and process everything that goes on around me - by grabbing the funny parts and hanging on for dear life. I'm not sure how happily optimistic people can be funny. They're too busy being happy. The funny people I know are often tortured people who are trying to survive Bad decisions and Unexpected embarrassment and Uncomfortable social events and Unpleasant people. Usually the choices are: See the funny or become heavily medicated. I vote for funny.

Some people think of themselves as pessimistic Eeyore types and others as optimistic Pooh Bear types. I admit, I have my happy, delusional Pooh Bear moments, but those who know me will vouch I'm mostly Eeyore.

Some call it pessimism, I call it being prepared. Being an Eeyore is not a bad thing. When you start off with a rocky track record and low expectations of what life is going to bring you, you are often pleasantly surprised when things turn out better than expected. Pooh Bear may have a sunny disposition, but let's face it, the only way he's able to pull it off is by being muddled when the honey pot falls on his head.

I don't like being muddled. It's cute when a confused little yellow bear walks in circles exclaiming that it's awfully dark until a friend pulls a pot off his head. I'm finding when a happy-go-lucky grown-up human tries the modern-day Pooh Bear approach to life, it's significantly less charming.

After I sold my first picture book, I refused to celebrate. The bottle of champagne sat unopened on my counter all year. I worried the publisher would have a change of heart. Then I worried the book wouldn't sell. Then I worried I wouldn't sell another story. It was my way of protecting something that was deeply important to me. My daily feelings of anxiety and paranoia are the fuel that keeps me pushing forward and always trying to do better. 

What Pooh doesn't realize is Eeyore understands humor and has a healthy ego to boot. Seriously. Every time something goes wrong there's the satisfaction of the *I told you so* moment. Ha. My husband will attest to the fact that I LOVE the *I told you so* moment. Watching bad decisions spiral into bad situations is often funny. I'm not referring to *ha ha he broke his leg* funny. That's not funny at all.

I should probably mention that I've had to rethink the Eeyore approach to parenting. Before my daughter's first dance recital. I knelt down, took her little hands in mine and gently told her her, "Don't worry if you mess up, sweetie. If things go horribly wrong, we'll still love you." My husband grimaced and quipped, "Nice pep talk, mom."

For myself, I'm going to plod along doing my best and expecting the worse. Then I can find unexpected happiness in unexpected places. I do relish those moments - knowing they'll never last and something horrible is probably lurking around the corner. If I ever start actually expecting good things, please someone pull the honey pot off my head and tell me to get back to work. I prefer being able to see where I'm going.

Friday, December 4, 2009

My Word Cleanse

My silence is related not to the busy holidays, but to my accomplishment of writing over 50,000 words in the month of November. I did it. I had never met NaNoWriMo until November 1st, but I am grateful. So grateful, that I made my donation, ordered a travel mug, AND grabbed up a winner t-shirt before they sold out. The guy said to hurry, that they were going to sell out. Then I noticed they still had t-shirts left over from the previous years. Hmmm. Nothing worse than a marketing professional (me) falling for a marketing ploy. It was for a good cause, so no hard feelings. Of course now I'm thinking I probably didn't need to rush for that credit card, pry it out of my pleading husband's tightly clenched fingers, and announce to the kids there would be a few less presents this year because Mama was going online NaNoWriMo shopping. No, not necessary at all.

So, the big looming question is whether or not I'm now going to focus on novels instead of picture books. I'm thinking not. At least not in a big way.

So why did I do it? Because my picture book voice was feeling flat. My ideas were running dry. My children won't be away at college for another nine years. My Mother in Law is dying, but not dead. Let's just say I am still needed around here and no one is cutting me any breaks. And so I fell into some unhealthy habits. I'd been forgetting to take my daily recommended allowance of writing. My word counts had slowed. Some days they stopped altogether.

The NaNoWriMo approach worked. It was like taking a big word enema. The pipes are clear, and the ideas are flowing. Life is good once more. All because I forced 50,000 unwilling hi-fiber words from my body during one of the most difficult times in my life. I came through it lighter, happier, more productive from the effort.

I now see that going back to a healthy daily dose of words will prevent me from having to take such drastic measures in the future. 

I am committed to sticking to my recommended daily allowance of writing. Just know I'll be doing it while sipping coffee from my new NaNoWriMo travel mug - and I'll be wearing my Winner T-shirt with loads of pride and absolutely no guilt.