Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Picture This

I am on a quest to prep hundreds of family photos, shaping each into 2-inch by 2-inch squares so that they will fit into stylized animated photo albums set to music.

The project is a chance to chronicle, as best as I can, both sides of the family: the Greenes (mom's side) and the Turners.

I've created folders within folders, in which I dump the prepped images, using a naming convention I will remember later. Like "mom_and_dad_1, mom_and_dad_2" etc. Or "sonny_1, sonny_2"

My mother has five siblings, and amongst them they have 12 children, and amongst those children are countless children. Add to that my mother's four children and all of our children. My father's family tree is similarly branched. Four siblings, 10 children, numerous offspring.

All of these humans - the Turners and the Greenes - have had their lives photographed in thousands of different occasions, in bad light and in good, cropped queerly by the photographer and framed perfectly by others. Taken digitally or by Polaroid and every type of camera in between.

Some photos are scratched and dog-eared. Others are so old and yet so pristine that you feel like you're handling the Mona Lisa when you slip them out of their frames.

There are long photos and short; rectangular and a few ovals too. There are images of cousins making goofy faces that, when I look at them, I think Hmm. That one's going to be used.

Until I come upon a picture of my sister and I flaring our nostrils and sticking out our lips. Then I think Hmmm. We'll conveniently lose that one

In the end I hope to build musical slide shows for each family, place them all onto a DVD and distribute them to the Greene/Turner masses.

Why, pray tell, would I do this you say?

There is something therapeutic about taking an inventory of family pictures. You can't help but feel reconnected. As each image comes under the Photoshop knife, you are naturally forced to give pause and reflect. You name the people in the image and you try to recall when it was taken and what was happening at the time. A family reunion. Uncle so-and-so's birthday party at Whatchamacallit Lake in 19whatever. And who the hell is that little snot-nosed grubber there in the corner? Cousin Angus? Wow, he used to have hair?

And for those photos taken before my time I am particularly intrigued by. I wonder who took the shot. What the occasion was. And who the unfamiliar people are. I want to know their names, where they are now.

Photography captures only a single moment. No sound or motion. No running monologue you can listen to. It's a flash and a frame and that's it and with my writer's mind constantly in overdrive, I find myself adding a semi-fictional narrative to embellish what little I know.

Take a photo I have that includes my parents before they were married. Probably shot in 1955 or 1956. Now, I know as much about the mid to late 50s as the movies have taught me, which means I know a lot of cliches. The jukebox in the corner spinning Chubby Checker. Coke bottles. The rolled up cuffs of jeans and everyone smoking, even the girls. No-good kids draggin' out on Route 55.

Poodle skirts and The Stroll.

My father is wearing a tuxedo, so I'm guessing it's prom. He and his friends are all lounging about in someone's living room either before or after the dance. Did he take mom? Did they jitter bug together? Did they share a beer out behind the dance hall before they went in?

What was the topic of conversation among this bunch of rowdies? Girls? Sex? I doubt it was about the weather. Were they planning a rumble with the local college kids (it was in Farmington, home of the University of Maine)?

Did they all have switch blades? Were they gonna break out into song, snapping their fingers and singing as they lurch, in perfect formation, down a side alley toward the college pukes who were tryin' to steal their chicks?

When you're a Jet,
You're a Jet all the way
From your first cigarette
To your last dyin' day.

Anyway. This quest I'm on. To prep and organize decades of history in the form of hundreds of images. It's more than a labor of love.

It's more like a history lesson wrapped into a trip down memory lane rolled into a Broadway Musical Soundtrack.

Crap. I can't get West Side Story out of my head now.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Consider Me Blessed

This morning, at 9 a.m., we trek to the local offices of DHHS for our second and final home study interview, the results of which (we hope) will clear the way for us to adopt.

This second interview will include our children. All six of them, answering questions about their home life with us. Three are teenagers. One is 11. The other two are too little to understand but they still need to be asked questions apparently.

The teens are predictably THRILLED to be dragged out of bed while on Christmas vacation to go talk about how often we beat them.

In truth, Corrine and I are nervous. This sort of exercise brings into focus, for the first time, what our children think of our parentage. Think about it. How often does a child get asked questions specific to their home life? It's one of the closely guarded secrets. I was certainly never asked, while I was growing up, by a total stranger. It puts the spotlight on us as parents. It exposes us in a way we've never been exposed before.

We're not afraid that they will reveal anything bad. We're afraid that their interpretation of growing up, and how they frame it to the DHHS social worker, might get misconstrued.

I picture Ty, the 11 year old, thusly:

DHHS: Does your mother or step-father ever hit you?
Ty: No, but Andy says the F word when he watches football.

DHHS: Is there alcohol in your house?
Ty: Yeah, but mom makes sure Andy doesn't drink out of the can. He has a special glass.

Or how about our 2-year-old, Gabrielle, whose favorite thing now is to wear a bikini top over her shirt and call it her "boobies"

DHHS: Do you like being with your mommy and daddy?
Gabi: Wanna see my boobies?

DHHS: Does mommy spank you?
Gabi: I have pretty boobies

You see, it's a matter of context and interpretation when it comes to the answers children give, something DHHS has no angle on. They read questions from a list on a piece of paper and jot down the answers. I fear, with our lot, DHHS will get some of the most outrageous answers and not being able to apply the proper filter.

The interview will conclude with a sit-down with Corrine and I to finish out the process. I will be dying to know what she gleaned from her talk with our kids.


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

My Seven Wonders

Griffin Alan Kent
the little king of our hearts
whose smile is at the ready

warming in its brillian
brilliant in its purest of love

Gabrielle Marrae
alone in a field of dandelions
the blue-eyed daisy
wanting to be picked
and held forever

Ty Gabriel
who marks time
unafraid to ask a question
twice or thrice
and yet his well of knowledge
will never be as full as his capacity to love

Alyssa Jean
the girl with a will
matched only by her mother
who raised her not to be a shrinking violet
but to stand as tall
as she is beautiful

Harrison Scott
my prince
my guide and my star
who embodies all the goodness
and achieves all the great things
I once dreamed of

Fallon Paige
will always be
the first of many things
for me
to see cry
to see laugh
to hold
to be hugged by
to see come
and to see go
but always always my first

she will always be the
work of art
I had no hand in creating
but cherish the most

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

400 And Counting

I'm closing in on 400 pages of the new novel, and I'm at a pivotal point in the creative process.

There comes a time, at least for me anyway, when I have to put the brakes on and do a full review.

You see, I write from the seat of my pants, laying down the tracks just ahead of the engine, so to speak. I don't plot a thing. But there comes a time when, in the journey, I have to stop and look back. If I don't then the journey would never end.

That's what I've been doing these past few days: reading the entire rough draft. All 390 pages. I don't edit a word. I don't change a single punctuation mark. Rather, I write notes about the story in the margins. I ask questions about things like character motivation ("Why would Hamish say that?"; I express ideas of how I could tweak a certain passage ("Syssa would say more about this here") etc.

This is an important point for me. I know that if I've gotten to this stage, then there is a light at the other end. It means I'm probably a few weeks away from finishing the first draft, and that it's all downhill from there. In a good way, that is.

Someone with a lot more experience than me once said that the process of writing the first draft was like an archaeological dig. You know something is hidden deep down, so you've got to start somewhere. You begin with the miner's pick.

You're probing, chipping away, burrowing through layers, looking for the good stuff underneath. It's a very clear analogy as far as I'm concerned. Each word I type is a swing of the pick until, at some point, I've reached the skeletal remains of ... something. I'm never sure what it is until after the first draft.

I move to the softer archaeological implements at that point, like a brush, because I don't want to destroy what I've unearthed so far with heavy tools.

That's where I'm at. I've got a really good picture of what I've excavated, I just need to take stock and plan a course of action.

I need to see how far I've come before proceeding, and that's a great place to be in.

At some point I expect to reveal, at least in small ways, what I have, but I'm not ready to do that yet.

In the meantime I'll wipe the sweat off my brow, take a break, and then get back to work on the next stage.

Monday, December 22, 2008


My best friend's mother passed away last evening. I'm saddened by the loss, but heartened by the notion that she is, at last, no longer suffering.

Her single greatest attribute was her personality. That sounds odd, perhaps, but what I mean is that her soft-spoken, nurturing, and kindly disposition came to her easily the way I have brown eyes or you have five fingers on each hand. Fran just never had to put on, so to speak.

She was the type of best friend's mother who never got demonstrably angry. At the height of her anger the fiercest you could say she ever got was "a little cross." That set her apart from the adult women in my own life; aunts, mostly, on both sides of my family, whose anger was loud as a whip and never, ever left you in doubt of your transgression.

I knew Franny since birth, literally, when she visited my mother shortly after I was born. She was a nurse in the public school district. I'm not sure why she came to see me. I guess I always thought it was customary. Have a child and the school nurse stops by to check out the goods. This was 1968, mind you.

Or perhaps it was her affiliation with my parent's church, and therefore she came as a friend? I don't really know. I guess my mother's recollection (on which I have to rely because, let's face it, I don't remember) has had me thinking all these years that she came in her professional capacity as a nurse. This is because my mother said she "marked down on the form that you were a "preemie." My mother was appalled. She has insisted I was never premature. I think my mother mistook what she was saying. My mother went full-term, but I was tiny. My mother - and I'm guessing here - must have thought Fran was under the impression I came small and early.

It's neither here nor there.

I'm just relating a story about the first time I "met" Fran Coulombe, my best friend's mother. I imagine her wearing a starched, white nurses uniform, with the little nurses hat, holding me, smiling, cooing to me in that petite voice she always had. It was Minnie Mouse cute. Adorable, even when I became an adult. I loved her childlike, small voice.

Ted, her oldest of two children, and I became friends later on so I spent countless overnights at their house or at their summer camp. Those were the moments you recall later on. The times you spend with the closest of friends. A best friend, and I had but one. And I will say it was because of Franny that Ted became that for me.

I can't recite, with any fairness, why that was. All I can say, at the risk of being unoriginal, is that Fran made me feel like I was more of a son than her son's best friend. To put it another way, I never felt like I was visiting someone's house, but their home. That's the best I can do today. Maybe, as time has worn on, things will clear out and become crystalline.

Her death, late last night, came at the end of about 20 years of battling cancer and the residual effects that the treatment brings about. I'm not intimate with the details, all I know is that she has fought, off and on, since around 1988 when she was first diagnosed and Ted was a student at Bates College.

I am glad she is with her God this morning.

I am grateful that she finally must not have to fight and that she can be forever at peace.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

But Alice, I'm HUGE in India

Show of hands. How many remember David Hasselhoff? I do. I used to like watching that racy, popular show he starred in back in the day. You know. Night Rider?

Anyway, David secured himself in the celebrity pantheon by not once, but FOUR TIMES making a comeback after his 15 minutes were over.

First, they canceled Night Rider and hundreds of avid fans were crushed. Like me. He was dropped from the celebrity A List faster than you could say "Ich bin ein Berliner!"

Then, out of the blue Pacific ocean he sprang, jogging up onto the beach and into our hearts. Glinting smile, perfectly coiffed chest hair, chiseled abs. You know. Like me. Except for the chest hair. Ewwww.

Anyway, Baywatch was so damn popular that the Shah of Fucking Iran used to watch it, and I'm not kidding. Entire generations of Middle Eastern boys thought every woman in America looked like Pamela Anderson, and all the men .. well, they really never looked at the men, let's face it.

So, David was back on top. Then, the show's popularity eroded (Get it? Baywatch. Eroded...never mind) and David once again fell out of the limelight.

Until, that is, he started a singing career. I shit you not. A pop singing career. And once again he was a huge hit.

In Germany.

In America he was laughed at. In Germany, girls were throwing their silk höschen at him and screaming "Ich liebe dich! Haben mein Baby!" at the tall drink of water.

Then, just recently, he made his most recent comeback by being one of three hosts on some talent show. I don't know what it's called. Something like Americans With No Talent or Americans With As Much Talent As David or You Too Can Be A Star In Germany.

Anyway, I told you all of that to tell you this.

Last night I couldn't sleep. So, what do I do when I can't sleep? Surf for midget porn, of course. It's a short list of sites, of course. There's very little to choose from. Not a very tall order to find them.

Okay, enough.

Actually, I Googled my name: Andrew Scott Turner, and I discovered, aside from my Facebook page and this blog, my name comes up in numerous sites for the novel. I was amazed. But what really excited me was that many of them were listed outside of the country. There was an online store from New Zealand. Oy! Several from the UK. And, drum roll please, three from India!

India! Isn't that wicked cool?

Okay, so I'm not really selling in these markets, but still. I was elated to see my name on these book seller's sites. It was a thrill. To know that, if some 13-year-old in India did a search for "books about girls who swim that takes place in the future and underground" MY NAME would appear!

Small steps. Small steps. It only takes ONE New Zealander to happen upon this book and presto! I'm selling like hot cakes.

I wonder what the German translation would read like.

"Ja, ich weiß! Ich weiß! Ich versuche"
Liv unraveled dem breiten Band der Stoff


Monday, December 15, 2008

Home and Away

Being laid off was the best thing that could have happened to me, despite it occurring within weeks of the birth of our daughter and the purchase of our house.

1. Because it forced me to finally take sides in an argument I had been having with myself for a long time: do I want to be a serious writer or do I want to be a ______ (fill in an occupation, and precede it with the word soul-sapping).

2. Because it allows me to wear sweatpants and the hand-me-down slippers my mother-in-law gave me. (I have little Sally feet, like my little Sally hands. They came as a set, in fact)

I was laid off in the fall of 2006 after two years as web master. Great job. Great pay. Great benefits. Great co-workers. Translation: I was miserable.

That is to say, I was comfortable, which means I was not writing. Which further means that, deep in the well of my soul, I was a disappointment to myself. No, not that self, the other one. The one who didn't want to be a writer, he HAD to be a writer. I was pretty good at self-loathing, if you will. A daily mantra my conscience would whisper to me as I showered and dressed: "Stephen King published HIS first novel when he was not yet 30. But hey, I see you're busy getting ready for your important job, so I'll let you get back to it. Nice tie, by the way."

The voice in my head - the one dogging me about not growing a pair and actually striking out on my own to be a writer - has always been there. It was always needling me. Goading me. For years. Until the day I was laid off.

My boss at the time sat across from me in his office and said the magic words: "We're not funding your position after this fiscal year."

A quick calculation in my head put the end of "this fiscal year" at 30 days from that moment. I was further told that I was not expected to work for the next 30 days, if I didn't want to.

My reaction surprised even myself. I was elated.

Okay, yes, of course, I was stunned too. I mean, getting laid off is a form of rejection. You can't help but feel like someone is pointing at your acne and laughing. It, you know, kinda sucks.

But I got over it fast. I remember saying "Well, that's too bad."

That was it. No indignation. No feelings of betrayal. No rumblings of sudden, deep loss. Honest to God I felt free. At the time I really didn't recognize where the feeling was coming from. Why did I feel like a prisoner being released? I liked what I did for work there. I was proud of my accomplishments. I got along with everyone. And yet, when I left his office, left for the day before noon - only to return for a few more days to help train - it was like I had been let out of school and told I didn't need to return.

I didn't worry about getting gainful employment. I did not rush home to check out the classifieds. I just didn't sweat it.

It was Corrine, actually, who made me realize why I had been so cavalier about just losing our meal ticket. She said four words.

"Now you can write."

The words - the verbal permission slip - I had been wanting my whole life to hear.

At the moment of being laid off I had been freed to make a decision. I didn't have to quit a good-paying job, it had been decided for me. I was given a clean slate, and Corrine had green-lighted it by her show of support and understanding.

And it has turned out to be everything I had expected: financially tough, but creatively enabling. A trade off, to be sure. But one I will take any day, now that I know what it feels like with the shoe on the other foot.

I don't loathe my days anymore, or myself for enduring them.

That, in a nutshell, is what has made it worthwhile.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

If I Had A Hammer

My father will be 70 in April. I had to write it down and look at that number because of the unreality of it for me. It has this ethereal quality when you put it in the same sentence with "My Father".

I am not one whose annual birthday has bothered him over the years as an adult. I've never cringed at admitting my age to anyone. In fact, when I turned 40 last March I felt no middle-aged flutter of the ego. No desire to buy a sports car or jump from a bridge. I remember thinking "Okay, it's just a number. A nice, round, even figure."

But my father turning 70 is bothering the hell out of me.

I could wax maudlin about "The Man Who Raised Me," or "My Dad, My Hero." There are a million words to be written about one's father and I won't lay them out here for you. There's too much histrionics involved between Arthur Ralph Turner and his youngest son to do any justice to the impact he has had on my life.

There usually is for anyone talking about either parent or grandparent. Mom or Dad or Nana or Grampy. An essay is a cruel sort of injustice, I think, to a doting parent. The high school "What Does Your Father Mean to You" kind of sap is a worthless endeavor.

But why 70? Why is my father going to be 70? Why can't it be 60 and stay there? Or better, 50, when I was 20 and out of my acerbic, confrontational teens and on the verge of becoming a father myself? When our conversations were constructive and friendly again, the way they were before I became Mr. Know It All.

This past summer he came to our house with a toolbox, perhaps the single collection of objects I will always associate with him forever. My father's lifelong occupation was as a public educator, first as a teacher of science, then a principal, and finally as a curriculum director. He ended his career, happily, one step away from superintendent, a position he swore against pursuing because of its political entanglements.

But his affinity for fixing things is what I like about him. He was raised in Farmington, Maine, and grew up on a dairy farm throughout much of his youth. He would rise early and milk the cows, go to school, play sports, and return home for more farming chores. A real, honest-to-god, uphill both ways in a snowstorm to get to school kind of childhood.

So, by association or familial osmosis, he learned how to use a hammer, and other tools of carpentry, from his own father. He also learned how to fix motors and to diagnose most household mechanical anomalies.

So he showed up this summer at our 1850 farmhouse to repair the decrepit front porch. The part of the porch that suffered the most footfalls and whose boards were rotting away.

And with him he brought his toolbox, along with a collapsible table saw and a couple of handmade sawhorses. The familiar sawhorses he's had kicking around the house forever.

And for the better part of the muggy summer day he measured and cut, hammered and leveled, fitted and refitted until, at last, we had a new porch floor and a healthy pressure-treated substructure beneath to absorb the heavy traffic.

I, as ever, stood by dumbly and watched, every so often handing off a tool the way a nurse hands off a scalpel to a brain surgeon.

I loved this, to be honest. It's been a long time since I stood by my father and watched him work like this. Not since I was a kid, frankly. I hovered and paced and asked questions and he answered patiently, even when a certain joist wasn't fitting properly or he had to crawl in the dirt beneath the porch to hammer a queerly angled nail into a two-by-four.

At nearly 70.

Do I regret not ever learning how to do these things myself? Sure. Of course I do. It would be handy to have, given that we live in a house built by Moses himself. But I have to tell you, had I known, then I would not have needed to ask him to bring his toolbox.

70. Jesus Christ. That's a heavy number.


Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Love in the Time of A Home Heating Crisis

Last winter, in early March, I believe, we got a bitter taste of Maine reality. Winter had decided, in its cruel way, to hang around beyond its welcome.

It stormed all day on a Sunday and straight into Monday, and when it was all over, we had been nailed with 16 inches of snow. School was out. Which means all of our kids were home and all of the daycare kids. The house was rockin.

By Monday night the skies had cleared and that means the temperature plummeted to below zero.

In one night:

We ran out of propane, which heats our water and is used for cooking.

We ran out of home heating fuel, which, well, helps to heat our house.

We were out of firewood, having only ordered six cord the previous fall and due to the longer-than-usual winter last year had burned it up already. Frankly, with March here, we really were only looking at a month until spring. Usually. (This year, we ordered seven acres, just to be safe)

So, here's the patchwork of Yankee ingenuity we stitched together in order to get warm.

1. I found pieces of unused boards in my basement, left over from the previous owner, who had been a carpenter of sorts. I took these assorted boards and cut them using a skill saw. Me. Using a skill saw. I'll paint a picture for you: Barney Fife holding onto a growling saw with its round, toothy blade inches from my hand, my eyes closed, head turned away, imagining those Discovery Channel stories about men eviscerated by fly-away skill saw blades.

2. I purchased four armloads of Cumby Wood. Cumberland Farms, for those not living in Maine, is a convenience store. The kind where Joe the Toothless Chain Smoker buys $12 worth of scratch tickets and proceeds to narrate each goddamn scratch. All while the rest of us stand in line and wait.

"Yessa. I think I might have a winna, theya. I come down last week, ya know, and bought me a ticket and I'll be damned if I didn't win fahty dollas. Mutha got all riled up and I bought her a pint of Allens Coffee Brandy."

Scratch. Scratch. Scratch.

"Nope. Shee-it! That one was a looza. Can you toss that in ya circulah file, honey?"

3. I bought two 5-gallon K1 jugs, cuz in Maine if you don't use the correctly rated fuel container, Al Gore himself will kick your ever-loving ass. The state has contracted this service from him, so I've heard.

4. I cut out the bottom of a 2-liter Pepsi bottle using Corrine's favorite scissors. The once-sharp kind.

5. I trudged around the edge of our house, waist deep in snow, carrying these two K1-rated fuel jugs until I got to the oil pipe. Which is buried from the last storm.

6. I place the neck of the decapitated Pepsi bottle into the top of the oil pipe, and proceed, cautiously, to pour the kerosene into my oil tank, which is actually in our basement. Picture this: Barney Fife, one knee bracing the Pepsi bottle so it won't tip over, tongue stuck into one corner of my mouth, head turned for fear of kerosene splashing out and into my eyes and all the while worrying that someone's cell phone will ignite me. Hey, don't laugh. There's a reason you're not supposed to use those things at gas stations.

7. After pouring in the 10 gallons of kerosene into our 275-gallon oil tank (it sounded like someone pissing into a culvert. it sort of left me feeling really cold and empty) I then start fires in our living room and kitchen stoves, using the old scrap furniture wood from the basement and the Cumby Wood.

8. Corrine gathers the nine tiny ceramic space heaters used for thawing out pipes beneath the kitchen sink (also left over from the previous owner) and places them around our living room the same way you would set up speakers in a surround sound home movie studio. We have enough extension cords in use that I'm fairly certain we'll trip the breakers in all the houses on High Street.

9. All of our children amble down to the living room and immediately begin to bitch about it being cold, apparently oblivious to anyone or any circumstances more than an inch beyond their own skin. When told we ran out of heating fuel, one child had the temerity to say, under her breath (but let's face it, audible enough for us to hear it), "Daddy's house is always really warm," in reference to her father, who lives in another town in the House of Perfection and Perpetual Warmth and Love and Proper Parental Care

10. I offer, subtly, to escort said child to her beloved father's, by way of my foot up her ass, but Corrine shushes me before I get to "Listen, you..."

11. I go downstairs to prime the motor to the furnace. This is a set of sub-steps as follows:

a) Take a 3/4 inch wrench and place it on a nut at an impossible 90-degree angle to the motor. I have schoolgirl hands. Small, petite, feminine in their smallness. I'm not ashamed to admit that. I make up for it in other -ahem - areas. I do, however, ponder how the hell Kirk the Oil Furnace man, with his MAN HANDS (no joints, just sausage fat fingers) can possibly do this task.

b) I take an empty 12-ounce Mt. Dew bottle and place the neck up under the nut. Folks, if you make crude sexual jokes about this I will hunt you down.

c) With my girl hand firmly wrapped inside the motor, clutching the 3/4 inch steel wrench (it's cold in the basement. Imagine wrapping all fingers around a bar of ice) I gently loosen the nut, holding the Mt. Dew bottle in place with my knee, and I push the furnace reset button. The same furnace reset button that has, above it in bold capital letters, DO NOT RESET THIS MORE THAN ONCE.

Picture this: Barney Fife, kneeling on the cold half-cement/half dirt floor of our basement, little Sally hand tucked into the guts of a motor, holding a cold wrench, turning said wrench to loosen a tiny nut, bracing a Mt. Dew bottle with one knee, depressing the small reset button, eyes closed, head turned, and picturing that scene in Die Hard when the skyscraper loses an entire floor after officer John McClain drops a whole pound of plastic explosives down an elevator shaft.

What happens when you trip this reset button is that the motor chugs to life. You loosen the nut to allow actual fuel to squirt out into the bottle, sputtering sputtering sputtering until you get a good unbroken stream, then you tighten the nut. If you did it right, the air is out of the line and the fuel is then injected into the furnace, which roars to life WITHIN INCHES OF YOUR LITTLE PATHETIC SALLY DAINTY HAND

Of course, it never takes the first time. It usually means doing it three or four times. Three or four reset button trips, despite the ominous warning. We had it looked at later that year and I'll be a son of a bitch if Kirk the Oil Furnace Fat Sausage Finger Man didn't turn to me and say "Have you reset this more than once?" in that accusing, I'm a professional and you have girly hands, kind of way. I just said "Huh? Reset button what?"

So, the furnace is back purring and billowing beautiful warm air up up up into our house and leaking out through the various porous spots around every window, the eaves, and the roof, which is why we don't have an energy audit because let's face it, we KNOW we're heating the maple trees. We don't need no stinking energy audit to tell us that.

And then we break the news to our children that there is no propane. Which means there is no hot water. Which means no showers. Which means, heaven help us, the girls might not be able to break the record for most consecutive days with a shower that they started when they were 12, the same day they discovered boys.

We have a remedy for this too, of course. We gather every pot in the house, fill them with water, and place them on both stoves. When the water rises to a nice, toasty luke warm, we instruct them on how to bathe in the shower with the pot of water at their feet and a plastic cup.

Ever see the poster of the monkey in the hot springs? His coat of hair is covered in snow, only his head is above the steamy water and he's got the cheerless, You've-Got-To-Be-Effing-Kidding-Me look?

That's our children. Wrapped to the necks in blankets and sleeping bags, hair askew from slumber, and wearing looks of disgust that only a mother/step-mother could love.

They relent, because they have to. They understand that no amount of foot stomping, pouting, cursing and conjuring the name of their other, more reliable parent, will get them any closer to getting clean.

That happened in one day last winter. The perfect storm, if you will, of bad luck. But hey, as we told our mirthless, shivering, blue-lipped children: what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Nearly Seventeen

Fallon, my first
This daydreamer's first great dream
Now, nearly seventeen

She used to fall asleep on my chest
And her breathing was syncopated against my own
As if needing to establish an independent rhythm from the start

She now walks in the froth of the cold Atlantic
Her back to me, looking out into the ocean
This girl of mine

This child who is my first
Who takes after me, with her back turned, looking outward
Imagining anything and everything possible

This daydreamer's first great dream
Is now, nearly seventeen
But I still feel her on my chest

Friday, December 5, 2008

Mistakes Happen

Okay, there's been something bothering me lately, something that cropped up into my consciousness the way weeds do in an untended garden. And if I don't clip this particular mental weed, right now, It's going to choke me to death creatively.

I published a novel a little over a year ago, for middle readers. It was my first published work of fiction and I was proud of the accomplishment. I was scared, too.

Here I was, with a 404-page work, some 150,000 words. Two years of hard labor had produced an actual novel, with a beginning, middle, and an end. With characters talking and doing things. I had finally, at the age of 38, done something I truthfully thought I would do 20 years earlier.

I was elated. I was in love with my book. I reread the finished draft eight times, swimming in its pure perfection.

I was also in a hurry. I wanted to see the sucker in its final form: with a glossy cover, page numbers, my bio on the back.

So I made an executive decision to forgo paying for a professional editor. My only real BIG mistake of Surfacing. I mean, there were little ones here and there. Mistakes I mean. But really, the only BIG mistake, the rear view, hindsight-is-20/20 kind of mistake was not shelling out the $400 to have the thing scrutinized by a real editor.

Not by a friend. Not by some schmuck I used to work with at one of the three newspapers I used to work for back in the day. A real, honest-to-God, editor. Someone who could dig deep into the story but still catch the niggling grammatical slips.

I stand before you today and agree, had I done that last step before firing it off to be published, Surfacing would have been an improved story. That's how that works. It's common sense.

I admit it.

But in my defense, I was a boy with a new model airplane on his birthday. I wanted the thing to fly RIGHT NOW. And forgot to glue the parts together before sending her off on her maiden flight.

Some 15 months after the book was published, I am not unhappy with it. I don't lose sleep over the whole editor gaff. I've read it since it has been published, I catch a glitch here and there, but I'm supremely proud of the accomplishment.

Here's what is nagging at me. It was an email I received from a former coworker - of the newspaper variety - about six months after it was published. In it he begins by saying he purchased the book online and had read it.

Now, being that the book is for middle readers, when an adult tells me they've read it I'm a bit happily surprised. It's basic reading, folks. It's not John Le Carre. That's not being modest, but honest. It's a book for kids.

Anyway, he goes on to say, and I am quoting roughly here because I deleted the fucking email right away, "It's filled with mistakes."


I got stuck by that word. A splinter beneath the skin.

And then, he went on, "You really should have someone check your work."

I had one of those moments when you're being confronted by someone unexpectedly and the light around the corners of your vision blurs and your face gets really hot.

That was how the email ended. Not a word about whether he liked the story or the characters or something.

I went into a week-long tailspin after that email. I reread the book in search of all those errors, determined to find one on every page. I hammered my own ego with the various self-inflicting comments only writers can relate. Unworthy. Fraud. No talent. Poser

Different things happen to most writers when their delicate egos have been bruised. For me, I conjure old writing adversaries - the kid in my sophomore English class whose writings were glorified by our teacher while my own efforts were ignored. Or the guy I worked with at a newspaper who won awards for reporting when my own reporting fell short.

I'm better today. But lately that email has come back for some reason. Maybe it's because I'm 80,000 words into a new novel. I don't know. What I do know is that I am certain of this: that email was a shitty thing to do to someone. To say you don't like something is one thing. But to generalize and claim melodramatically that it was filled with errors was cruel. But, given who the person is - we were not friends at the paper, but mere colleagues - it makes more sense today.

Today, I weeded out a nasty strangler. One that has been creeping up again that I should have rooted out a long time ago.

By admitting that there will always be better writers, smarter writers, better-read writers. That's the way of things.

By learning from my mistake of not going through one last, professional edit.

But also by admitting to myself that Surfacing is not filled with errors, but a few.

And that that email writer is filled with shit.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Scary Spice

This was shot when Gabrielle was only a year old, Halloween 2007

Had to include it here because it's too damn cute.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008