Thursday, December 11, 2014

Fun, fun, fun! Holiday Contest Poem

I had so much fun writing this for Susanna Leonard Hill's 4th Annual Holiday Contest. The premise:
350 words or less about a wacky weather holiday experience. Here's my take, hitting the word count right on the nose (whew!):

The Rumbledy, Jumbledy Holiday Feast

          The last week of school before winter vacation
Miss Chipper’s class planned a unique celebration.

“C’mon,” said Miss Chipper. “With your help, I bet -
we’ll make this a party we'll never forget!”

Ricardo piped up from the very last row,
“Why don’t we watch Rudolph and sing about snow?”

“Or maybe make gingerbread houses,” said Lee.
and string up some popcorn to hang on the tree.”

“But those are the same things we do every year.
There’s nothing unique about that!” said Jahir. 

“I got it!” cried Rachel. “Why don’t we include
“our family’s traditional holiday foods?”

“Super-fantabulous!” Miss Chipper sang.
“Our first international winter shebang!”

The next several days all the children were busy –
They fried, fricasseed and sautéed themselves dizzy!

At last the day came; they set up their displays
with casseroles, baskets, and platters and trays.

“Bravo!” said Miss Chipper. “This feast looks delicious!
Now tell me about all these wonderful dishes!”

Imani presented a round flattened bread.
“We call it Chapati in Kenya,” she said.

Jose brought pasteles, a savory pastry -
In warm Puerto Rico, considered quite tasty.

Mei-Lin made some dumplings to bring New Year’s luck
prepared with fresh chickens she helped her mom pluck.

When all had presented, they lined up to eat,
but just then a tremor rose up from their feet.

The ground shook and shifted; it shimmied and shivered.
It wiggled and wobbled and trembled and quivered!

Miss Chipper was heard above all of the shaking:
“Take cover, my dears, ‘til the classroom stops quaking!”

The chairs began sliding, colliding, and bumping!
On top of the table the dumplings were jumping!

The rice balls were bouncing; they fell to the floor.
They whizzed passed the children then flew out the door.

Latkes were launched in an eastward direction;
They toppled a chocolaty Belgian confection!

A baklava rocket whooshed into the air,
then landed in Annabel Sanderson’s hair.

At last it was over; they rose to their feet.
The table still held plenty goodies to eat.

“Wahoo!” said Miss Chipper. “Time to dig in.
Let the rumbledy jumbledy feasting begin!”

Saturday, December 6, 2014


I have a few confessions.

1. I once placed a "Tacky Christmas Award" on some hapless family's mailbox. Yes, it's true. 
In my defense, I was new in town and coerced by a band of merry, eggnog-infused co-workers.

2. When I go to the movies, I sometimes sneak in contraband water bottles. Don't judge me. 

3. During my ninth grade Spanish exam, I whispered an answer to a classmate. BUSTED. Parent conference and abundant mortification followed.

4. When I was fifteen, my friend Sheri and I soaped up a neighbor's windows on Halloween. But he was the creepy, walk-around-in-your-underwear-with-the-curtains-open kind of guy, so he deserved it. 

5. I was one of the dancers on Richard Simmons' original Sweatin' to the Oldies video.

Ok, I made up that last one. I did own the VHS, though. That's embarrassing enough.

So here's the BIG confession - the ONE you've been waiting for. Are you ready?????? Here goes:

SHHHHHHHHH...    I'm a perfectionist.

Disappointed?  Lame? You were expecting something juicier? Sorry to disappoint. But don't go yet; there's a point to my "confession," I promise! 

Those who know me well won't find this at all surprising. Take my mahjong girls, for example. I'm pretty sure they take secret bets about how long it will take me to straighten an out-of-place tile. In fact, I would bet they sometimes tap a three dot or a six bam slightly out of line just to watch my internal drama unfold.
 First, I surreptitiously eyeball the errant tile a few times. Next, I begin to squirm and lose focus (another advantage to their devious machinations). Then, when I can no longer stand it, when my head is about to come unglued and start spinning like a zombie-child's plaything, I nudge the offending tile into perfect alignment with its brethren and finally exhale, amid their laughter, eye-rolling, and stealthy exchange of quarters under the table.

Here's another example. From my junior year in high school, until I graduated college, I worked at Service Merchandise. Remember that place- the king of catalog showrooms in the eighties? I was a check-out girl, and the perfect employee. I showed up on time (Yes, friends, there was a time I was punctual!), polished the display silver until it was fit for Buckingham Palace, and meticulously dusted the endless rows of glass shelves and everything on them. I also maintained a cheerful and professional demeanor, even on Black Friday, or when a customer, irate because each of his items was out of stock, forgot the boundaries of personal space and human decency. Well, actually, one time I broke down in tears. The guy's wife was scandalized and apologized profusely while pushing him out the door. 

In any event, I was (in the immortal words of Mary Poppins) "practically perfect in every way."

So imagine my surprise, when during an annual review, among the glowing comments from the assistant manager, Mr. Hornfeck (his real name), I heard the following words: "Your only fault is that you're too perfect."


"Your perfectionism slows you down," he said. "You don't have to polish the backs of the silver platters; no one sees them. And you can miss a piece of dust here and there. No one but you will notice."

To add insult to injury, instead of the maximum seventy-five cent raise, I was awarded fifty, bringing my salary up to a whopping $5.25 an hour. I am still not over that.

So what does all this have to do with writing? With MY writing? Simply put, everything

Perfectionism can be crippling for a writer, especially in the drafting phase. Instead of focusing on the story, the perfectionist gets caught up in the nuance and sound of the words, the placement and use of punctuation, the careful crafting of phrases and clauses -- all those things that should come later, during the revision stage.  If I give in to the compulsion, I could revise one sentence eight to ten times before moving on. Thank goodness for word processors. If we were still in the typewriter days, I would undoubtedly spend a small fortune on correction tape! 

But that's not productive writing. It disturbs the flow of ideas and stymies progress, leading to exhaustion and frustration, not to mention that nagging, uninvited guest: self-doubt. 

So what's a poor perfectionist to do? It's not so easy to turn off the inner-editor, but it is possible. What works best for me is to have a deadline and a clear goal. Challenges like NaNoWriMo, PiBoIdMo and the like, are perfect for the perfectionist, as it forces us to concentrate on the content, rather than the craft. Not that craft isn't important, but as I read somewhere, readers will forgive mediocre writing if it's a great story with compelling characters, but they'll quickly abandon a work with gorgeous writing that lacks those same things. 
By the way, I change "mediocre" four times in that last sentence (sheepish grin).  What can I say? Old habits are hard to break. I'll just have to remember Mr. Hornfeck's words: 

"You can miss a piece of dust here and there. No one but you will notice."

Happy (unfettered) writing, my friends!


Sunday, November 23, 2014

Space to Grow

a few of my favorite things
Today, I am officially jumping into the blogosphere...Yay me! For about a year, I have toyed with the idea, even starting a blog on WordPress, but alas, it wasn't to be. I'm hoping that the more user-friendly Blogger platform will keep me motivated.

So, for my first post, I'll talk about my writing space.

Thinking back over the past several years, I have written on the beach, in the car, in a hammock, by the riverside, on a park bench, on a plane, (Is this starting to look like a lesson on prepositional phrases?)

Well, you get the idea - I've written pretty much everywhere, including on a boat, though I realize the Norwegian Getaway is not exactly a dinghy.

The strange thing is that the only place I couldn't seem to write - the only place where my ideas dried up like my tongue when I was tricked into trying an unripe persimmon - was my office. This was the office I meticulously decorated with Pottery Barn-ish furniture and accessories. It was chic, spacious, magazine-worthy, and hopelessly devoid of any personality. It didn't work. It really wasn't me, after all.

So for a time, my go-to writing space was a comfortable chair and ottoman in my sunroom, where I would sit with my computer on my lap, my neurotic schnauzer across my feet, cup of tea on the end table, birds outside the window at the feeder, and the smell of pine drifting in the open window. It worked. The ideas just kept coming, and I felt good about my writing.

What didn't feel good, though, was my neck. According to the physical therapist, it wasn't a very "ergonomic" setup. So after three months of physical therapy, muscle relaxers, and several rounds of dry needling (Look it up if you're not squeamish!), I decided to nix the chair and create a new space.

Ella is not happy without my feet here.
But the sunroom was so me - the greenery, the birds, the sun, the blissful quiet - how could I abandon my muse-worthy enclave? It had to be in there, but it was already packed with furniture and plants, with no possible space for a desk and "ergonomic" chair.

After lots of mental maneuvering, a few awkward interactions with a tape measure, and several conversations with my not-so-easy-to-convince husband, I had a plan. I would remove one of my giant plants, shift the sofa down a few feet, and voila! Room for a writing desk (not the Pottery-Barnish desk that still sits unused in my office). This desk had to fit my personality, bring forth my muse, conjure up images of Hemingway and Dickinson. It had to ooze a writerly essence. Was I asking to much? Was this to be my Holy Grail?  Could I find it for less than a month's salary??? I was resourceful, savvy, clever; surely I could make this happen. Sadly, however, an exhaustive search on the Internet and treks to local antique stores proved me wrong. It seems unique = expensive. And I didn't have time to take an old fixer-upper and transform it into my dream desk.

So, while I was cursing the furniture gods and bemoaning my general fate, I had to make a dreaded visit to a neglected room in our basement we use for storage. And that's where it hit me. Well, I hit IT, actually; While I was digging around for whatever it was I needed, I bumped my head on a piece of furniture. That piece of furniture was a the desk I had used all through college and my first seven years of teaching - an antique sewing table that a close family friend had refinished for my mom. A heavenly light seemed to shine around the desk (or maybe it was the cartoon stars that were swimming in front of my eyes from the pain). Either way, I knew I had found the answer.
writing quotes & notes

With a little rearranging, it fit into the corner of my sunroom perfectly. I filled my little niche with my favorite pictures, books, and objects (none from Pottery Barn), and now I have the "perfect" space - one that suits me, nurtures my writing, and just feels right.

Now, if I can just find the perfect chair..

Happy writing, y'all!