Monday, October 29, 2012

Zits and Hairballs

I've spent the day using Photoshop.  I like using Photoshop.  You can blend away blemishes, a person you don't like, or even an errant finger in the corner of a picture.  If you get going, it can look more like a painting than a photo. 

Mike said I shouldn't add any zits to anyone's faces.  Bummer.  That would have been fun, just to add a couple of red dots and some shine on a forehead.  I'd only do it to the bitchy ones.  I actually think I could have carried that off.  What I learned was that if you zoom in closely enough, you have control of each pixel.  That was so cool. 

Just watch the red-eye reduction feature, though.  In one shot, the guy's eyes were at an angle and the red-eye feature changed red from his lips into dark grey!  Then, I got to playing with that little bucket toy, where you can pour paint into an area.  That went totally wonky.  I lost nearly half a woman's face to that because it was in shadow and happened to be the same value as what I intended to change.  Value is a funny thing, isn't it.  You can put a hue next to two very different values and make it look totally different.  It's the difference in value of the neighboring colors that counts. 

Blah, blah, blah.

I think my cat just threw up.  I have to go now.  I'm busy cleaning up hairballs and adding zits to shiny faces in Photoshop.

Thank you for listening, jules


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Sailing the Garbage

So, I'm calling my friend to see if she's okay after the trauma of losing her cat.  It feels like it's too late to call.  It's only 8:27pm.  Since when do we look at our clocks so closely?  Since we started using our phones instead of wind-up wrist watches, since we moved to nuclear time.

Who even wears a wrist watch any more?  Well, I followed a very funny post on Facebook the other day when a friend said she didn't know where to go to get the batteries replaced in her watch.  Mike had that same problem and since the watch never worked right after he had it done, he asked me to buy him a new one.

This pisses me off.  Manufacturers don't build things to be repaired any more.  Televisions don't have any visible screws.  Dishwasher salesmen tell you that your new dishwasher is guaranteed to fail within the next seven years and you should spend another $300 for the five-year service contract in case it explodes early.  They said that about our refrigerator too.  We bought a new espresso machine just like our old one and it isn't put together as carefully.  It leaks sometimes, so I don't believe it will last half as long as the last one did, which was almost twenty years. 

We can't get a stupid can opener that works at all.    Why the hell can't we get a can opener that opens my damn cans of garbanzo beans?  We've bought three of them in the past six months.  At this point, we have to struggle to make the one we have work.  Where the hell is my receipt for this thing?  I want to return it.  Why is all this stuff failing?

It's because manufacturers have colluded with each other to deny us the ability to shop for the highest quality that we can buy.  It just doesn't exist any more.  All of the dishwashers were made using the same cheap plastic parts.  What the hell?  Not even the most expensive one was worth spending the money on because it was built out of the same crappy parts. 

Stone age
Bronze age
Iron age
Plastic age

If our culture survives what we're doing to it now, it will be known as the age for which all future cultures paid the price.  Oh hell, it might just be known as the petroleum age.  Did you know that 4.6% of our petroleum goes toward making plastic parts?  And half of this crap will be floating in our oceans in about ten years.  The site where I read about this said that they can't even say how big the 'great Pacific garbage patch' is, possibly bigger than the state of Texas. 

So, imagine that you want to sail around the world in a sail boat.  It's a beautiful picture in your mind.  You imagine spending some time in the doldrums.  You figure you'll stay up for 72 hours straight at some point battling stormy seas.  You'll lie on your deck sometimes and soak in the sun.  Your distance vision will get more acute as you stare at the shifting line between ocean and sky.  You'll study the stars.

And you might spend a week traversing the Pacific garbage patch.  How does that fit into your vision of your expedition?  Did you plan on that?  Imagine going with your husband or wife.  Do you want to take a midnight swim in that? 

Well, let me know if you find my old dishwasher in there.  I'll come pick it up.

Thank you for listening, jules

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A Crisis a Day

Can't I get a break?  This morning, just before dawn, a tree fell and took out two other trees in our front yard.  The trees out here are tall.  These were cedar, maple, and alder.  The good news is that nothing else was smashed except that the strain relief broke on the power line and the cable and phone lines are now lying limp across the garage roof.  All afternoon, we cut and stacked wood and piled up the brush. 

I'd really like time to process one thing before the next crazy thing happens, but life doesn't hand it out that way, does it? 

I can't keep up.  I'm still dreaming of intestines spilling out all over into my hands when I close my eyes to try to fall asleep. 

There are things that just aren't normal to say.

"I had intestines on my shoes."


"His intestines got tangled up with the seat belt." 

At least I spoke to my friend Tracy this morning.  Remember the vet who is also a very good friend?  She's amazing.  She told me that whatever I did wouldn't have made a difference for poor Ruger.  She told me that intestines are hard to handle and not to worry that I was bumbling, that I was trying to help him. I keep thinking about this poor cat who was still alive during all of this.  Oh that poor sweet cat needed help that I was inadequate to give.

I generally feel inadequate.  I knew I couldn't clear the driveway by myself today either. I spent all day working with the power and phone people to get the lines fixed.  Tomorrow, I need to call the cable people.  I hope this guy doesn't want to talk. 

This morning, when my car was blocked in by the fallen trees, I had to drive the kids to school in our old truck.  When I got to the market afterward - I needed milk - my truck had a strong smell of fresh gasoline.  Oh right.  When I got home, the smell was still hanging about.  It's an old truck, sure, but I'm not certain I want to be driving around in a bomb, at least not that kind of a bomb.  One thing at a time would be nice.  Not an option, is it?

The hardest thing about handling extraordinary things is when I'm still expected to attend to ordinary things.   Meetings, groceries, dishes.  My friend was worried about one of the boys getting his feelings hurt and sent me more than fourteen long text messages about it.  I kept trying to tell her that we'd work it out, but we need to wait for the other mom to get back to us.  The funny thing is that I think the boys should be setting all this stuff up.  I know that they're not quite used to it yet, but they need to start.  And isn't there a point when you just get on the phone and talk about it?  Texting has its limits, especially when I was in a meeting tonight and the texts kept piling up because I was trying to be polite and pay attention. 

One thing at a time would be nice, really nice.

Tomorrow night, the notary is coming so we can refinance our house properly.  I just my name is right on the paperwork.

You could say that I'm getting about one thing a day to deal with, one thing I need to manage, then I get to stop with yesterday's thing and start working on today's thing.  I just hope I'm not too surprised by tomorrow's thing.

Thank you for listening, jules


Some days are inspiration for a horror movie.  Today was that day.  The hell of sleeplessness is still with me.  Three hours of sleep is all I got last night.  What is that?  It's not enough for me to work with. 

Oh, my day started okay once I was awake, sad, but okay.  A good friend, Ashley, lost her husband a year ago and she had his memorial at the National Cemetery this morning.  I tell you that if Mike's Boy Scouts could have seen the Honor Guard, they would have had more of an understanding of what lies under that flag, the lives of the men and women who served.  That is why respect is needed.  In this case, Sid, the veteran, outlived the war and he lived a good and unusual life. 

I didn't get going here to tell you about my friend's husband.  I will tell you, however, that her cat, Ruger, lost three pounds after her husband died.  Ashley told me that he'd just begun to recover, to gain the weight back.

I'd gone to lunch with her and some friends after the ceremony.  We laughed.  We toasted Sid.  We told stories.  I mostly listened.  I was off my game, what with night after night of being awake.  No one noticed and maybe, for once, I listened better than I spouted. 

I had just gotten home and hadn't yet changed out of my funeral duds when my phone rang, Ashley's special ring. 

She was screaming, crying into the phone.  "Ruger's been attacked by something.  He's by the door.  His gut is hanging out!" 

"I'll be there in five minutes," I told her. "I'll call my friend Tracy on my way there."  Tracy is a veterinarian, a good one.  I told the boys that I had to leave again, that Ruger was sick.  They'd been doing their homework when I got home.  I asked them to finish and I'd be back as soon as I could.  At the bottom of the driveway, I texted Mike to let him know the boys were alone again. 

I pulled out onto the highway and started crying as I dialed Tracy's office.  She asked me to bring Ruger in rather than try to put him out of his misery myself.  I hadn't brought a gun, so what was I supposed to do?  I pictured myself using a big rock and knew I couldn't do that, leave him unrecognizable for Ashley.  Tracy told me that she didn't even need to see Ruger to know that with exposed intestine, recovery would be a long hard way to go if it was possible at all.  "The infection," she said and let the words trail off.  I told her I'd bring him to her office if I could. 

See, Ruger looks just like my cat.  Whenever I'd see him, sitting on his outdoor perch, waiting to be petted, I'd feel just a little sorry for him, having to brave the cold, the damp, the predators, and the highway.  Ruger always seemed to love being outdoors though.  He was a well-muscled version of my indoor kitty.  He had the run of the carport and a heated kennel.  Still, I worried that Ruger struggled more than my cat did in his daily life. 

I zipped up my hooded jacket over my favorite cream-colored sweater and had gathered my wits by the time I turned into Ashley's driveway.  I took a couple of deep breaths as I turned the car around, ready for a clean exit.  I grabbed the dog's furry blanket from the back of the car.  I knew I'd need to wrap Ruger in something for the ride, if he was still alive.

Ruger was lying in the carport.  A loop of his intestine was wrapped half way around his litter box with dirt and cat litter stuck to it.  I took another steadying breath.  This poor guy was still alive and I needed to keep my head to be able to help him and Ashley.

I dropped the blanket over him, praying it wouldn't hurt him too badly when I rolled him over onto it.  He groaned.  I crooned to him that he was going to be okay.  It was not going to be okay.  It really wasn't.

When I stood up with him in my arms, Ashley walked toward me and screamed.  Ruger's intestines were dragging on the floor.  Oh man. I tried not to jostle him as I used the blanket to pick them up and fold them in.  They were slippery and I dropped them at least twice.  What the hell was I doing, laundry? 

I looked into Ruger's eyes and he looked at me. 

"Oh honey," I told him as Ashley gently took him from me.  "Where do you want to go?" I asked her.

"I don't know," Ashley said.  I know we said more than that, but I don't remember what.  We both knew that Ruger wasn't going to make it.

"Can I take you to Tracy's office?"  She nodded.  I pulled out the seat belt and carefully buckled her in.  Ruger kept looking at me and it's a wonder I didn't rear-end another car on the five minute drive to Tracy's office as I looked back into his eyes.  He struggled.  He even nipped Ashley's finger.  I tried to distract her by talking about his strength, by asking how bad it was.  I could see it was just a scratch, though a cat bite always seems to become infected.  Ruger struggled some more.  Ashley tried to rock him and hold him in place.

"Try not to move at all," I told her.  The rocking might be comforting her, but probably felt like torture to him.  I told her that intestines don't have pain sensors on the outsides.  I don't know if that's true or not, but it seemed to settle her a bit.  Ruger tried to roll out of her arms.  She held on, holding the blanket tighter.  I'm afraid I didn't wrap him tightly enough.  I felt like an ass.

When we pulled into the lot, I unbuckled Ashley's seat belt, jumped out, ran around and opened her door.  I leaned over to get the seat belt off of them.  His intestines, more than a handful, got tangled up with the seat belt.  I winced.  What was all this bumbling doing to this poor cat?  I lifted them up and folded them into the dog's blanket, not worrying about getting blood on my hands.  There wasn't much blood.  Dog hair was all over the blanket.  There was no sense worrying about keeping it clean now, but I wished I'd had the foresight to bring a clean sheet.

We were both crying as we walked into the office.  Ashley took Ruger straight in while I went back for my purse.  I figured someone would have to give the office staff some information.  When I came back in, a cheerful little dog approached me wiggling and wagging her tail.  Without thinking, I put my hand out to pet her.  She cringed and started to shake, turning back to stand between her owner's feet. 

"I'm sorry," I told her as I backed away.  The smell on my hands.

They took me back to where Ashley waited.  Tracy walked in from another door just as I finished washing my hands. 

"There isn't anything we can do.  He's in shock now and the damage is just too extensive," she said.  Oh, she explained and Ashley listened, nodding now and then, but I kept wanting Tracy to rush to Ruger's side and put him down before he suffered for one more microsecond.  It may have taken just one minute for both of them to make the decision, but it seemed one minute too long.  Thankfully, I held my tongue.  There was no bumbling going on with them.  Decisions needed to be made.  Ashley's response needed to be considered.  Tracy really is an amazing veterinarian.  In another moment, she came in with Ruger wrapped in a clean towel, like a baby snuggled in after a bath.  She had already given him the injection.

Ruger didn't look like he was sleeping.  His mouth and eyes were open.  His teeth seemed to be bared. There was no rush now, no pain to be considered except for Ashley's.  It was only a few more moments until Ashley was settled back into the car with a little box in her lap.  I hugged Tracy, wanting to tell her I was sorry for all the bumbling. 

I drove Ashley home, hoping I was going no slower than I'd gone before.  I wasn't at all sure if I'd been speeding.  When we pulled into the driveway, she said, "I want to put him up behind that trailer of Sid's.  Ruger and Sid really did have a connection."   I knew that the story needed to start there, the story that would make Ashley forget the horror of seeing her cat's insides on the outside.  I let her talk for a while

"I need a shot of something," I said. "Do you have anything good?"  I didn't need a shot, but Ashley did.  She poured us tiny portions of a licorice liqueur from Finland. 

"Here's to Ruger," she said.

"He was a good cat," I said and tapped my crystal to hers.  It burned a little on the way down, but it was a good burn.  I asked a couple of times if Ashley was going to be okay to bury Ruger on her own.  She nodded.  I let her talk, trying to get her to talk about Sid, a wound that wasn't quite so fresh.  Two and a half hours from the time of her call, I got back into my car to drive home and started bawling.  I'd held something together, but it was unwinding now, spilling out.  I called Mike on the phone and blubbered so much that he couldn't understand what I was telling him.  I canceled my night out with friends, got into a hot shower, and spent the rest of the night in my fleece robe, one that Ashley had made for me. 

I got to thinking about the day-to-day business that Tracy runs, examining, cleaning, stitching, healing, euthanizing, and comforting.  I have no idea how she does it, how she looks at a loved pet with something this gory gone wrong, this agonizing, and manages to keep her head.  I was a mess.  I still am.

Thank you for listening, jules

Monday, October 22, 2012

Common Sense and Pet Selection

I may be crazy.  I've been talking to my family about getting another cat. 

Here's why I shouldn't. 
  • I'm too busy.  I have a cat, a dog, and two frogs already, not to mention a boy who invites over a couple of other boys on a regular basis.  Isn't that enough wildlife for one household?
  • I've volunteered myself into oblivion, so that I'm never in one place from one day to the next.  Who has the time?
  • I don't want to have to train yet another animal not to leap onto the counters or eat out of the garbage. I'm still working on teaching the boy.  Just kidding, Jack.
  • I don't need any more fur stuck to my clothes.
  • I don't want my toilet paper unrolled and dragged across the floor. 
  • I like my earrings and necklaces where they are.
  • Boarding three pets is more expensive when it comes to vacation.  And have you ever tried to load three pets into the car when it's 6:45am, and you have to drop them off to board before your flight at 8:35?  By the time you step up to the ticket counter, you're hairy, teary-eyed, and sweaty already. 
  • One more - the litter box. 
So, am I going to back out of this?  Am I going to be sensible and say that we have enough pets now, thank you? 

Probably not. 

Thank you for listening, jules


Friday, October 19, 2012

Wicked and Heart-Pounding

So what's the soundtrack to your life? 

Most of the time, I hear the world, birds chattering, the bus grinding, people talking to me, the dog groaning.  It's usually a pretty quiet life but I don't get to tune out. 

Today, I've got Pandora blasting in my ear.  I want to tune out to loud and fast.  I know it won't help my deafness, but I'm already half deaf.  What's a little more?  You know those kind of days.  It feels as though my life is a movie and I'm just a character in it.  I know that's twisted, but bear with me.  I'm wading through the past few days on three or four hours of sleep and by now, I'm kind of punchy.  So, I'm playing my role according to my personal soundtrack as refereed by Pandora. 

The problem I'm having is that the music it's selecting for me keeps getting slower and slower.  I've picked Jason Mraz to start.  That shouldn't be a butt dragger, but each successive song just drags slower and slower.  I wish I could go back and see a list of what I liked.  Pandora, did you hear that?  I want to be able to buy stuff that I liked.  Are you seeing dollar signs yet?  You should be.  And pick up the pace while you're at it.

Hey cool, I just saw the history part of my Pandora.  At least I can see what I liked the best.  At least I'm not a total moron.  I didn't see a way to pay for a download, though.  Hey, Pandora, I'm standing down here at the end of the bar with a twenty dollar bill flying in the air.  You want to sell me a beer, or what?

Hell, I just started a new track with Pearl Jam as the starting point.  Better.

Can't I send a code word to them? 


Okay, now I've graduated to two word descriptions.

Slower.  And.  Slower.  And grinding to a halt.  What do you think I should start with to get the pace moving?

After a while Pandora doesn't let you skip tracks.  Why the hell not?  You know, don't you Pandora, that I'm just going to turn the damn thing off after a while if you're trying to make me listen to stuff I don't like?

They've taken all the old fogey songs from Pearl Jam and Nirvana and are throwing them at me like a bone.  Red Hot Chili Peppers is stepping it up, but I liked the vocalist for Pearl Jam better. 

Oh, so now I'm suddenly a music critic?  Lame.

All right, I'm off to my next thing like I'm ticking of items on a list.  We've moved onto Audioslave's 'Show Me How to Live.'  Cool.  I like the bass line.  It's still not heart-pounding, but I'll live up to their geriatric view of the world if I need to.  I have to go make pie. 

It's going to twist my mind around, making pie to 'Metallica.'  No, I should not be listening to nice music for making pie.  I'm not making ordinary pie.  I'm going to make wicked good pie. 

Adios amigos!

Thank you for listening, jules 


Insomniac Starring Paul Giamatti

I hate when I'm tired and I wake up early, after only four hours of sleep.  Then, sometimes I sit in bed with my book, my eyes unable to focus and yet, I am not able to fall back asleep.

This morning, the whole family was up an hour earlier that we needed to be.  What is the deal?  We're all standing there wondering what we do now.  We don't need to get ready yet.  Nobody feels like getting anything accomplished. 

Those are the moments when television is the only answer.  What the hell did people do in their teepees when they couldn't sleep?  Did they get up and wander around camp in the dark hoping not to get turned into meat by a roving cougar?  Did they build a fire and poke sticks at it while listening to people snore?  I hate listening to people snore when I can't sleep.  Did they yearn for the comfort of their animal furs and cosy communal sleeping or did they lie there in the dark listening to everyone breathe? 

Heaven and hell can tip so easily between being rested and being exhausted.  Even a challenge feels great to meet when you're rested and attempting the ordinary can seem like torture when you're sleep deprived. 

I keep imagining a movie called 'Insomniac' that stars Paul Giamatti in which his whole life unravels because he can't sleep.  He can't remember to get milk or do basic things to help.  His wife nags him.  He can't relate to his teenaged daughter because he's just too damn tired and her music drives him insane.  He isn't performing well at work.  He isn't going to be fired either, but that doesn't help him all that much. Okay, this movie doesn't exist, but can't you see him nailing that part?

Sometimes I live that part.  It sucks to be a girl Paul Giamatti.  It's really not pretty.

Thank you for listening, jules

Thursday, October 18, 2012

'One Bullet Away' by Nathaniel Fick

I'm reading 'One Bullet Away' by Nathaniel Fick. It was recommended by Nancy Pearl so I had it put on hold for me at the library. It's a good book, an adrenaline pumping book. I keep wanting to read sections of it to my son, Jack, who loves anything military, anything historical. Isn't it funny how history for a boy begins just a few years ago? 'One Bullet Away' is a book for an adult, but I think he would like it anyway.

Here's what is driving me nuts about this book - somebody edited the pages. I'm not kidding. I just want to ask this person, "Who are you that you have the right to edit a library book, a book that someone else wrote?" I guess that begs the question as to whether Nathaniel Fick has the right to mark up a book of his that is owned by the library. I seriously doubt it was him, so it just pisses me off to no end.

There are lines through words and other words inserted. I want to say, "Fine, buy a copy and write all you want in it. Just don't muck up a copy from the library that a bunch of other people will be reading. I have no interest your opinion of the words Nathaniel Fick used. You are not a better writer or more knowledgable than he is. You have a lot of gall. If it's so important to you, then write your own damn book."

Okay, I feel better now. I'm going to go back to reading. I'm up to the part where Fick's platoon is headed to Kandahar in a helicopter. Even that ride is not ordinary. Fick describes the sights, sounds, even smells so that I can have an experience I never had and never will. I wonder if i would have been at risk of not being alert and walking into the tail rotor blades as i exited the bird. Fick writes about real military people in comparison to great leaders in history. His commanders are not what I expected.

He's so deft with his characterization that I've populated his book as if it's a movie. I think I would have him played by Bill Pullman, an actor who can carry off leadership and humor but show a bit of vulnerability as well. I guess my choices show my age, don't they?

So if you have the slightest inclination to read about what it's like to lead a platoon into war in Afghanistan, possibly to their deaths, then maybe you should check Fick's book out from the library too. Just watch out for kamikaze editors.

Thank you for listening, jules

Monday, October 15, 2012

Wanting the Good Toys

Did you ever notice that when toddlers play, the only thing they want is the toy they cant have?

I really want my computer. I haven't been able to use it since 2:30 this afternoon when the Dell guy came and changed out my hard drive under a warranty repair. Right now, Mike is reinstalling the programs on it. It's taking too long.

I'm spoiled, right? That's what you're thinking, isn't it? I guess, but without my computer, I don't quite know what's going on. Oh, I can look at Facebook on my iPhone, but its simpler on my laptop. I can basically see YouTube on my phone too. The blogs I read are impossible unless I have the bigger screen.

Oh, I could have used Jack's laptop, but it isn't set up for me the way my own is, or was.

No matter how careful Mike is, stuff is going to change. Will I lose any files? Will icons be moved around?

Yup, a spoiled brat.

Thank you for listening, jules

Monday, October 8, 2012

Giving an Extra $16,000 to Chase

Today, my Dove chocolate horoscope told me to 'love every moment.'  I love my Dove chocolates, but I do not 'love every moment.'

I do not love when I have to make ultimatums to my son Jack to do what he's done every night by himself when he was four, brush his teeth.

I do not love the time I spent on the phone with a surly employee at Chase who didn't want to bother getting my name right on the documents for our refinance.  We were supposed to go through the entire document crossing out the incorrect name and putting in the correct one. 

I do not love finding out that we would actually be paying off $16,000 more than we currently owe if we refinance our loan.  Tell me, just how did that work out that way?  We're not getting a check for $16,000 in the deal.  We're not raising our interest rate.  Somebody please explain just what happened with that one.

Oh right.  Is that why they were in such a hurry to get us to sign?

I did not love that every time I tried to look at my dog Teddy's foot he yelped as though I was the one hurting him.  I didn't see anything.  I really didn't, but who could see when the dog kept yanking his foot out of my field of vision.  I do not love that I'm going to have to take him to the vet just to find out what's wrong with his foot.  Maybe Mike can hold him while I look.  Either way, it'll involve a lot of yelping. 

Speaking of 'field of vision,' I did not love having to get down on my hands and knees at the grocery store so that I could actually see the writing on the empty slot for the type of vitamins I wanted.  You'd be thinking I need vitamin A for my eyes.  You'd be wrong.  I needed chewable sunshine, vitamin D. 

So, I'm going to leave you with your happy moments, chewable sunshine blowing up your skirt as you kneel in the grocery store in the form of a hidden $16,000 bill and someone yelping in your one good ear.  I'm not claiming these moments for my happy-time scrapbook.  You can have them.

Thank you for listening, jules

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Working Through the Pain

I turned my ankle today.  It isn't a really bad, but it was tough walking back along the lake to get to the car.  Ice and Advil will do the trick and it's a pretty purple right now.  Mike and Jack walked ahead to bring the car as close as they could to the trailhead.

Along the way, some exercise junkies stopped me to chat.  I was obviously limping and leaning heavily on a stick that Mike had given me.

"Had a great workout today on the trail," he said.

"Ah, that's great.  I'm not going to be so lucky," I said.  I didn't really want to talk details about my medical issues with these people.

"Oh, did you make it to the top?" she said.

"No.  I was walking around the lake,"  I said. 

Awkward silence. 

"Not up to going up the hill today," I rambled. "My dog usually needs about two miles a day, but ..." I trailed off, knowing that no excuse would be good enough.  It was embarrassing.  I turned to limp away. 

"Well, I know what you're talking about.  My mom had her knee replaced," he said.  At least he was trying, but do I look that old?

"You should just burn through it," she said.  She was wearing yoga pants.  I have to say that no one really looks good in yoga pants.  Her butt was way too flat for them. 

"You know, just keep going and work through the pain.  That's what you should do," she said.

"Thanks," I said and hobbled away as fast as I could.  I would keep going as far as the waiting car.

Thank you for listening, jules


Thursday, October 4, 2012

An Argument Against Outlines

So, a friend asked me to help her son with his writing.  He's eleven years old and he already has writer's block.  No surprise.  The school method is to teach the kids to write outlines at the start, before they even get a good flow of words going.  Then, they're checking their spelling and grammar. When are they supposed to get creative in all that? 

The easiest way to break writer's block isn't to ask a kid to look at what's wrong with his writing.  It isn't to spend half of his writing time looking in a dictionary for the right spelling or a bigger word.  It isn't to drag the whole process out into a queasy sphincter-tightening process that seems interminable and produces four mind-numbingly boring sentences.

I just asked my husband, Mike, if he ever used an outline. 

"I don't write stories," he said. 

"Yeah, I know.  You're a manager.  You write memos and procedures.  Do you start with an outline?"

"No.  I just start writing and then try to organize it when I've said everything I want to say."

There you have it. 

Sometimes priming the well can get the writing loosened up.  Start with a good subject.  So I looked up writing prompts to see if there were any good ideas on some of the educational websites.  Oh my God!  Most of these were the kind of thing that makes a boy tune out entirely.  Hell, they made my eyes roll into the back of my head.  You could kill me with the boredom and correctness of it all.

Here's one:  Good habits improve our physical, psychological and financial health.  Select one of your good habits and persuade others to make that habit a part of their lives. 

I think you'd get more of a response if you tried this instead.  You want to go to the Zombie Thriller Night.  You want as many friends to meet you there as you can.  Write about why your friends should come with you and what will happen there.

Another of the correct prompts says this:  What kind of job do you want to do and why?

And another: Tell about a time when your parents were right. 

No wonder these kids don't want to write.  The subject is just so .... bbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbb vvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvv ggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggggg mmmmmmmmmm                                     cccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccccc

I just fell asleep with my head on the keyboard, sorry.

Instead, they need to ask kids questions like: You're hanging from a cliff by the middle finger on your left hand.  Your shirt is caught on a root and has begun to tear.  It's all because of your arch nemesis, Phantom.  How did you get into this predicament and how will you get yourself out?

There's a venomous spider slowly dropping down over your best friends head, but he's fallen twenty-five feet down onto a narrow ledge of a cliff. You only have a pocket knife, a match, eighteen feet of rope, a roll of duct tape, and a single carabiner.  How will you rescue him? 

Describe a day in your life if you had a billion dollars.

Write out an argument for why your parents should let you take sky diving lessons, go dirt bike racing, or go white water rafting.  You name the activity.

Why are all of these prompts about lecturing a kid to do the right thing, become responsible, get a job?  Are you worried that you'll raise a bunch of adrenaline-junkie anarchists? Can't they just be kids for a while?  Can't you let their imaginations float up instead of weighing them down with all this ballast?

It just seems to me there's a better way.  I hate outlines. 

Thank you for listening, jules