She’s not here anymore

As soon as I knew what battle ax meant, I associated it with my grandmother. It must be something that comes with being named Margaret, though most called her Peggy or Peg; to us kids, she was Nana.

She grew up in an affluent Philadelphia suburb but followed her husband to Missouri and eventually back to his home state of Florida. She was born between the Depression and World War II which showed itself in her unwillingness to let anything go to waste but truly enjoying the finer things she would allow herself to have.

She worked as an elementary school library and secretary for Westinghouse, the local school board, and an estate planner, her typing and dictation skills acquired at secretary school admired by her superiors. She was fortunate that she was such a skilled typist, as her half-cursive, half-print handwriting was nearly impossible to read.

She did not falter when my grandfather passed away suddenly, my youngest aunt still in high school. She rearranged the furniture, made basic repairs to her house, and actively managed her finances. She moved into a small duplex a bit closer to my parents when I was in elementary school, only moving out when she was convinced by her children that the big blue house was too much for a woman to live in (and take care of) alone.

By her physical form, it wasn’t surprising that she was a high school field hockey player. She was short with calves which lead straight into ankles with no discernible difference in thickness. Her hair had a slight curl, made more prominent by foam rollers each night. Between her desire for modesty, sense of practicality, and perhaps a little bit of self-conscience about her legs, she often wore wide-legged culottes though, of course, a skirt was the only appropriate attire for a woman in church on Sunday morning.

She was stubborn, holding to her belief of what was right despite all attempts to convince her otherwise. She was more politically conservative than my centrist parents though famously adored Bill Clinton, even through his sex scandal. (My mom joked that it was because she thought he was attractive.) She thought woman could work outside the home but that their most important role was to care for the home and children. She was a Christian who shared her faith with everyone she met, her answering machine message starting with a rousing off-key chorus of “This is the day that the Lord has made.”

She baked, maid freezer strawberry jam, and was famous for her spaghetti sauce, a doctored up version of Ragu. She made popcorn the old fashioned way, using a pot on the stove. She sprinkled her portion with Mrs. Dash but let us use salt from her Tupperware salt and pepper shakers.

She never learned to swim but loved to wade. Nearly every Saturday afternoon in the summer she would take my brother and I to the Bathtub beach. We’d play in the water or sand as she rested on her knees in the shallow water. After ensuring we had almost no sand clinging to our bodies, she drove us from the beach to a small convenient store to pick out whatever drink we wanted. We almost always chose Yoo-Hoo.

At her house, she was creative with how she entertained us. We were put to work but she had us competing for who could dust, scrub stained concrete, remove cobwebs, or do dishes faster than the other. We raced sticks, dropping them in a small stream on one side of a bridge then running to the other to see whose got there first. We were allowed to watch TV but the schedule was usually filled going back-and-forth between a cooky comedy variety show named Yee-Haw and old videos of Victor Borgia routines.

She traveled whenever she could. While many trips took her to see her two children who lived outside our town, I remember her trips to Brazil, Puerto Rico, Israel, and Egypt. Sometimes she went as a tourist, others times as a missionary or humanitarian worker. She was proud of her weeks spent laying cement block in the summer heat during the Brazil trip. When my dad was a child, she lead the family on a driving tour of California. She joined the Wandering Wheels trip which toured Europe by bicycle, my dad and his sisters in college or out by that time.

She passed away in the summer between my sixth and seventh grade year from glioblastoma multiforme, an especially aggressive brain cancer. She had to come back to my aunt’s house when she went ill during a trip to Egypt; she lamented not that she was ill but that she had missed seeing the Great Pyramids. She had surgery to remove the main masses but, as we were told by her neurologist, it was the tentacles spread through her brain which would grow and, eventually, kill her. I was lucky enough to be able to spend as much time I desired with her as she had come back to my hometown to be treated; I talked to her about wanting to go to the beach and wade or eat Mrs. Dash popcorn. The original prognosis was six months to a year but did not come to be true. Only six weeks after her first MRI, she was gone.

It’s becoming harder every year to remember her. The sound of her voice is gone from my memory entirely. But I remember her character, her passions, and her slightly crooked smile. She was my Nana. I refuse to let all of her be lost.

(Day 3 of Writing 101 told us to write about someone or some thing we lost. While this post was very difficult for me to respond to, I couldn’t ignore a tugging to write about my Nana.)

Room with a View

Right now, I would love to be transported to my perfect writing location. It’s a clean yet cozy room, with a large window overlooking a beautiful scene. Something not tranquil but busy, so I can keep focused on what I’m working on, amused at the hustle and bustle outdoors. The room is cool but not too cool, at that temperature where you need to wear a fuzzy sweater and snuggle into your seat to be warm. There are other people here, working on their own writing or art. They provide me something to stare at or pay attention to when my head is too empty or too full to put words to paper. I talk to them occasionally, making small talk about the lack of decent coffee or the slightly too-cold temperature. I sit on one of those fancy chairs that’s both super comfortable and supportive of your back. It’s on wheels, rolling back and forth slightly as I fidget, the back rocking slightly at the same time. I have my laptop – a much faster and lighter one than the one I actually have – but also a yellow legal pad, whiteboard for outlining, and bunch of pens, colored pencils, and markers if I’m in the mood to draw. My water bottle is full of cold, filtered water but I also have a chilled Diet Coke, hot Cuban or Turkish-style coffee, and endless supply of gummy candies and salty snacks. (The laws of thermodynamics don’t work here, so everything stays at its ideal temperature always.) The table in front of me is large in width and depth, allowing me to fully spread out my things as I need to. There’s a small wastepaper basket a few feet away, at just the distance I could barely make baskets into when I reject a paper-recorded idea or feel like playing some basketball. There’s sound in the background that I either work actively to ignore or try to cover-up with my iPod, full of all of my favorite music that I’ve ever heard and set up so I have no wires hanging between my earbuds and the device itself so I don’t accidentally pull out the buds when I shift in my seat. I’m wearing fuzzy socks which isn’t a trip hazard because the floor is a soft, plush carpet.

Where’s your favorite place to write? Are you alone or surround by people? Do you listen to music or spoken word or just the sound of your typing?

(Above was a new response to the Room with a View topic which corresponds to Day 2 of Writing 101. I decided to go in a different direction than last time. This is one of those prompts that’s so general I can see myself coming back to it again and again.)

Just write, they say

Just write. Write whatever comes to mind. Don’t edit. Go for what’s hard to talk about or embarrassing or crazy. Just write. Keep going until the twenty minutes you’ve been allotted have ended and you are forced to stop, even if it’s in the middle of the sentence.

But they don’t tell you what to actually write about, just to write about whatever it is that crosses your mind.

People who talk while they read drive me nuts. So do people who can’t communicate properly. Effectively. Effectively is the right word here. We just talk around one another, both of us maybe talking about the same thing but using different enough words that we can’t at all understand what the other person is thinking. We have to keep going back to teh basics – who did what. What did you search on. What data did you start the analysis with.

But it’s evening. I shouldn’t be thinking about  and definitely shouldn’t be talking about work. No one wants to hear about that. I don’t even want to hear about that.

What else. What else.

California. I’m embarrassed to tell anyone that I watch if it but, you must admit, it’s a pretty great show. The characters have real relationships, messed up as they are. Charlie is really a great friend to Hank. Hank is an overgrown child. Overgrown? Adult child. Maybe. Yes, that’s it. Karen is lost in her head. Marcie is just sick. The daughter, wise for her age. But now gone. Europe, right? You can assume. No one takes a literary pilgrimage to New Jersey. And she added “abroad.” No one says they’re going abroad to Asia, though it is, you now, abroad. They said they’re going to the Far East or to Thailand or to some small village in the Himalayas. But not abroad. Abroad is to Europe.

But, back to Californication. It always inspires me to watch thats how. Inspires me not to sleep with random people or do drugs (never!) or to party with rock stars. But to write. Not that Hanky Moody does a whole ton of writing on the show. He just sleeps around and does drugs and takes his daughter for ice cream and ever, really, gets the girl. Or does he? WE’ve still got a few episodes of the last season to go. Time will tell. This one doesn’t seem as dark as the others. He’s not even wearing his black t-shirt anymore. The blue dress shirts really bring out his eyes.

But, writing. I’m inspired after I watch each episode, because Hank, in the end, is a writer. he writes books and for movies and even attempted to write for that rock opera for that crazy British guy Atticus Fetch. (My mom would find his name amusing, To Kill a Mockingbird is one of her favorite books, way back from when she taught ninth grade English. But she would hate everything about his life style, especially his bright red leather pants and messy hair.)

I always want to find myself a typewriter and sit, a glass of whiskey nearby, and write. But maybe not whiskey. I can’t drink that stuff for more than  glass. Maybe white wine. Now I sound like an alcoholic. I rarely drink anything at all when I write. Maybe a bit of water or my blessed Diet, Caffeine Free Coke (fancy colored water, it is).

He’s got a way with words, that Hank Moody. Makes everything into a joke. But not a particularly clever joke. Well, clever but as told by a 12 year-old. And not a very mature one at that.

Writing straight for 20 minutes is hard. I should have set a timer. I’m just writing away, driving Matt crazy. He just got up and walked away, tired of sitting next to me as I ignored him. He was reading something on his iPad but gave up, going into his office to look at the same stupid crap on his actual computer rather than the iPad.

I keep checking how much time has passed. Started at 9:16, it’s 9:25. Do the math. Only nine minutes have passed. How can nine minutes last so very long?

Like when Squirms was only a few weeks old and it took FOREVER for her to drink her 2 oz bottle. I would be up with her at 3 am, begging her to just eat faster so I could pump and go back to bed. I loved my bed so much and just wanted to be back. Now she sleeps through the night. So I get a full night of sleep but I don’t get adorable baby snuggles at 3 am. Just an angry baby when she wakes up just before our alarm goes off at 5. She’s desperate for food, as soon as I’m up. But i do my thing first. Use the restroom. Grab her bottle. Disconnect the iPad from the charger. Because it’s 6 am and the snuggles I get are nice but I convince myself that checking my email and Facebook are more important than giving her my full attention. She just wants to eat, anyway. Or so I tell myself.

She stops halfway through her bottle, without fail. She straightens her back and pushes the bottle away. saying “mmm” because she’s had just enough to no longer be angry. So I bring her to me, giving her kisses on her cheeks like there’s no tomorrow. The iPad ignored until she’s ready for more, her desperate hands searching for the bottle again.

Why does my mind always go to her? She’s my everything. I say this, no thinking. But what about Matt? And the cats? And work? Family? Friends? Do I even have friends anymore? My best friend is in Cleveland and we barely talk, not that we don’t work at the same company and can use IM whenever. I don’t know what to say to her. Tell her about Squirms. Ask about her new house. Because it’s been too long since we’ve been in the same place. That was in May but seems like an eternity ago when it’s someone you used to see a few times a month. I suck at keeping in touch with people.

Five minutes left and my brain is nearly empty. It’s only Monday night and I’m already tired of this stupid week. So much on my shoulders at work, trying to fix things broken for awhile. Trying to establish a pattern without even having a desk assigned to me. Trying to shift to reporting to work an hour later, only managing to get in a few minutes after I used to at the old job because I’m so much closer now. Four more minutes and the noises in the house are loud. Cat snoring. Dishwasher going. Dryer making no noise because it dinged a few minutes ago and I’m still pretending I didn’t hear it, though it was silent then and Matt and I both stiffened when it played its song. I’ll deal with it tomorrow. I won’t. I’ll just fluff it, grab out an outfit, and tell myself I’ll deal with it after work.

After work. Plans for yogurt using a coupon. Thai chicken for dinner. Ugh. Dishes to be done. Stick dishes. But Squirms will get to try Thai food and probably love it. If only it were vegetables, too. She cracked up when I sang her the Veggietales theme song this afternoon. “If you like to talk to tomatoes…if a squash can make you smile.” How do I still remember that, fifteen years later? Why does the memory of the hairbrush song make me laugh? Staying up late, listening to the radio. The one Dj always played the Audio Adrenaline version as his signing off song. Wonder if he’s still there.

(Post script: I’m a bit more formally participating in the Writing 101 course here through WordPress. The first prompt was to just write for 20 minutes and post whatever craziness came to mind. The only edits are to fix spelling and typos so I could be understood.)

Transient

Day 14 wants us to write a letter using an interesting word:

Pick up the nearest book and flip to page 29. What’s the first word that jumps off the page? Use this word as your springboard for inspiration. If you need a boost, Google the word and see what images appear, and then go from there. 

Today’s twist: write the post in the form of a letter.

(I’m ignoring the twist on this one, focusing on the word-as-inspiration part.)

What book do I have closest to me? Java – a Beginner’s Guide. (Because I decided that I should probably re-teach myself Java (again) since it would be helpful at work to, you know, actually be able to review the code I’m testing if there’s an issue.) Page 29 has a listing of the Java keywords and a little blurb about what keywords are and what they mean, then goes into the next section about classes (the programming kind, not things with teachers and students and learning). Most interesting word there? Transient.

Transient, in Java speak, means just what it means to normal folks: temporary. It’s only there for some brief period of time but will go away as soon as it’s no longer needed. It’s for purposefully denoting something that will go away. But, in life, we can’t always control things as easily as in programming and I’ve had to learn that lesson again and again. Things don’t stay the same forever. Things change. You’ve got to learn to adapt.

Continue reading “Transient”

Back in the Day

Day 11 asks us to go back in time:

 

Tell us about the home where you lived when you were twelve. Which town, city, or country? Was it a house or an apartment? A boarding school or foster home? An airstream or an RV? Who lived there with you?

 

This prompt is amusing that it comes now, because I was just in my hometown, where I lived when I was 12. It’s a small South Florida town that’s not a city or the country but not a suburb, either, as it’s too far from a major city to be one. It’s just my hometown, the Sailfish Capital of the World.

Continue reading “Back in the Day”

Birthday Dinner

The Day 10 prompt is well-timed as my birthday is actually coming up:

Tell us about your favorite childhood meal — the one that was always a treat, that meant “celebration,” or that comforted you and has deep roots in your memory.

Free free to focus on any aspect of the meal, from the food you ate to the people who were there to the event it marked.

Today’s twist: Tell the story in your own distinct voice.

First, let me say that I think I’ve finally found my voice here. I’ve been writing daily – or, when I haven’t had the time – writing then scheduling multiple posts at one time which means I don’t have the time to think when I write. My writing here has mostly been the same as how I talk with friends, with more punctuation so it’ll make sense. I ramble, use too many prepositional phrases, and rely on parenthesis, dashes, and some key phrases (So, As, and Therefore come to mind) heavily. It took me quite awhile to find what my voice was and it’s obvious when I’m using someone else’s voice or the voice I use when I’m writing for work. I feel like I’m comfortable because I’m not trying to sound like (or not sound like) someone else who’s writing I admire. I’m just trying to sound like me. But online.

Back to the prompt. Memorable meal of celebration. Let’s go back to my childhood and wonders of cheeseburger rice casserole.

Continue reading “Birthday Dinner”

That time when I met Chuck Yeager (but had no idea it was him)

(John from the Chris Brake Show commented that I should be allowed to respond to the day 6 prompt – writing about the most interesting person you met the last year – with my over 10 years old Chuck Yeager story. And I do things strangers tell me to do. Wait, no, that sounds wrong. Oh, never mind. Here’s that story. I’ll continue my trek through other prompts tomorrow.)

When I was in twelfth grade, I got to meet Chuck Yeager. I spent an entire afternoon with him, talking to him, even. And I had no idea it was him. Because, while I really am a detail person, I can be pretty unobservant.

It was at the 2003 FIRST Robotics Championship (though, then, I think we all still called it Nationals as it had just switched formats) in Houston, Texas. I chose to volunteer at the even rather than spend the time hanigng out with my team and watching our matches because the food was better and I got to hang out more with my friends from other teams (like Matt, who was still just a friend at the time). That year, my job was assisting with field reset. So, I sat the edge of one of the four fields and, well, reset the game pieces between matches. That year, it involved stacking up a bunch of plastic storage bins at the top of a ramp (and trying not to fall on my face stepping over the low railing).

Occasionally, we’d have some VIP come through who needed to be told what FIRST was, how the game was played, and get a calmer play-by-play. Though I didn’t know the volunteer coordinator that year, she brought several folks by for these talks. One of them was an older man, with bright eyes I was simply introduced to as “Chuck.” His assistant or handler or whatever she was dropped him off and told me she’d be back an an hour or two. Like I did with the other VIPs – mostly Vice Presidents of Outreach for defense firms or car companies – I did my little FIRST 101 speech. He asked a few questions and commented on the apparent skill of the teenage robot creators and drivers. Then the woman came and fetched him, thanking me for taking the time to talk to him. I smiled and turned back to the match that was going on.

“So – did you enjoy talking with Mr. Yeager?”

I think my brain took a full ten seconds to put it together. Older man. Bright eyes. Named Chuck. Seemed to know about engineering. Yeager.

Oh, my. I’d spent a good two hours talking to Chuck Yeager. CHUCK YEAGER. Yes, the man who broke the sound barrier. And I just rambled on about robots and made small talk about the competing teams. We even sat in silence for stretches of time.

Maybe it was a good thing. He’s probably tired of talking about speed records and being a pilot and having it pointed out that he was a pioneer. I talked to him like a normal person who wants to know about something I am passionate about. Or maybe he thought I was an idiot for having no clue who he was and not fawning over him, at least a little. But I’ll pretend it was the first thing.

Excuse Machine

(Or why I’m giving up on the whole Writing 101 thing…or at least skipping a few days of prompts.)

I don’t think I’m going to continue responding in turn to each of the prompts from the last go-round of Writing 101 here on WordPress. But, boy, do I have some great excuses.

There’s Day 6:

Who’s the most interesting person (or people) you’ve met this year?

Today, write a post focusing on one — or more — of the people that have recently entered your life, and tell us how your narratives intersected. It can be your new partner, your newborn child, or the friendly barista whose real story you’d love to learn (or imagine), or any other person you’ve met for the first time in the past year.

Today’s twist: Turn your post into a character study.

I am not particularly good at describing people. People tend to have the personal characteristics of “sweet” or “intelligent” or “a jerk” when I describe them. Looks – that’s even worse. Average Height. Brownish hair. Looks like a high school kid. It’s not that I don’t pay attention to how people look or act, it’s just that I can’t describe them unless I talk in examples. Oh, how I enjoy to talk in examples. It’s one of my crutches in life, the explain-by-example. Or, technique, yes, you could call it a technique.

The most interesting person I met this year, well, I’m not so sure I met anyone all that interesting.

Who did I actually meet this year, other than Squirms? (I could describe her to you, all at once, but that’d quickly get tiring and I’m going to be doing enough of that, already, without excuses for doing so.)

I met new coworkers; no one wants to write about coworkers when they have an office job – it’s too work-interfering-with-personal-life.

At a wedding, I met the wife of a friend and a couple who’s been friends with Matt’s parents for years.

I honestly can’t think of anyone else who made an actual impression. Coworkers. Mary. Stan. Carolyn. That’s it.


The Day 7 prompt wanted a conversation of contrasts:

Write a post based on the contrast between two things — whether people, objects, emotions, places, or something else.

Bringing together two different things — from the abstract and the inanimate to the living and breathing — creates a natural source of tension, and conflict drives writing forward. It makes your reader want to continue to the next sentence, to the next page. So, focus on your two starkly different siblings, or your competing love for tacos and macarons, or whether thoughts are more powerful than words, or…you get the idea.

Today’s twist: write your post in the form of a dialogue. You can create a strong opposition between the two speakers — a lovers’ quarrel or a fierce political debate, for example. Or you could aim to highlight the difference in tone and style between the two different speakers — your call!

I’ve never really written dialog before and am not likely to here or elsewhere. In person, I often describe conversations I’ve participated in but I do it by (badly) imitating peoples’ voices. (My friend, Dan, uses a Jimmy Stewart voice every time he mimics someone, even though he tries to actually talk like them. Me, everyone talks like me, but with a deeper voice.)

And that “stark contrast” part? Eh. I hate conflict so that’s out. Style and tone would just lead to me pretending that Squirms and I were having a conversation and she was saying things that would just be silly coming from a baby (“Let’s go skydiving!” is a common phrase Matt and I pretend she’s saying.)


Day 8 reminded me too much of English class:

Go to a local café, park, or public place and report on what you see. Get detailed: leave no nuance behind.

Thoughtful writers create meaning by choosing precise words to create vivid pictures in the reader’s mind. As you strive to create strong imagery, show your readers what’s going on; avoid telling them.

Today’s twist: write an adverb-free post. If you’d rather not write a new post, revisit and edit a previous one: excise your adverbs and replace them with strong, precise verbs.

Yeah, yeah yeah. Show don’t tell. Avoid adverbs and forms of the verb “to be.” Text in parenthesis can almost always be omitted. I follow almost none of these rules – though I don’t think I use adverbs very often. Heh.


Day 9 wanted you to write from a different point of view.

A man and a woman walk through the park together, holding hands. They pass an old woman sitting on a bench. The old woman is knitting a small, red sweater. The man begins to cry. Write this scene.

Today’s twist: write the scene from three different points of view: from the perspective of the man, then the woman, and finally the old woman.

I read the words “knitting a small, red sweater” and got completely off track.


But, Day 10, oh, I could do Day 10. But I’ll leave that for tomorrow.

Other Peoples’ Letters

Day Five is a real challenge for me and it’s not for the reason you’re thinking:

You stumble upon a random letter on the path. You read it. It affects you deeply, and you wish it could be returned to the person to which it’s addressed. Write a story about this encounter.

Today’s twist: Approach this post in as few words as possible.

I can be brief, really I can. My work requires me to be able to distill complex topics into very succinct forms like a single page white paper or two Power Point slides or three minutes of audio explanation. Brief I can do, it’s the invasion of privacy that the prompt is asking you to consider that bothers me.

Like my notebooks, I would hate for someone else to read my letters. Even though they’re usually not all that personal, just sort of a rundown of what’s going on in my life or the life of whomever is writing me. I hate knowing someone else has read something that’s supposed to be private, no matter how small.

Like when Mike, the kid who sat next to me in 8th grade science class, found and read my journal, one with sunflowers on a bright blue background (really, brain, you remember this and yet can’t remember to take out the trash each Tuesday morning). At one level, I was mortified because he would now know that I liked him; this secret was already blatantly obvious to everyone, with the way I fawned all over him in class. At another, it was that he knew everything else I’d bothered to write down. I spent the week he held onto my journal – why I never complained to an adult to make him give it back, I will never understand – not being able to sleep, worried what other revelations he would reveal. He never did say anything other than that he already knew I liked him. We went to different high schools and I ran into him at a football game in eleventh grade, both of us drinking cool, made-from-powder lemonade after performing in our schools’ halftime shows. I asked him why he never said anything to anyone about what he’d learned; his response “Who would have cared?”

There is a narcissism there, that someone else would care about what I wrote in a letter or had written to me. For most people, my letters would be banal, beyond boring. Little notes about what new tricks Squirms had learned or how our (pathetic) attempt at gardening was growing. (Like, you know, the sort of thing I write about here. Heh.)

That letter, the letter I find on the path. I don’t try to return it to its owner, not because I don’t care about my fellow human beings, but because returning the letter means the correct recipient (or sender) would know that someone else did read it. They now know that I know whatever that very private thing is. And who wants that?

Serial Creator

Day Four of Writing 101 got a little dark with its prompt (and it’s title — The Serial Killer):

Write about a loss: something (or someone) that was part of your life, and isn’t any more.

This doesn’t need to be a depressing exercise; you can write about that time you lost the three-legged race at a picnic. What’s important is reflecting on this experience and what it meant for you — how it felt, why it happened, and what changed because of it.

Today’s twist: Make today’s post the first in a three-post series.

Which is why I’m going to ignore that whole part about writing about a loss – not that I won’t write about it later – but am going to run with the idea of a serial.

You’ll notice a new page will appear on my blog the same time this posts does with a list of Features. These are recurring topics for blog posts I’m planning to get started with, well, tomorrow. This will provide me some much-needed structure and direction for this blog because without either I’m likely to post about as often as I did on my previous blogs (which averages to once a month over the last 15 years).

See you tomorrow.