Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Video Game Club Plays Oregon Trail

“Today, you will be playing a classic computer game,” I announced, as the video game club shuffled into the library computer lab for their monthly meeting. “Oregon Trail is a historical fiction game where you guide a wagonload of settlers across the plains to a new life on the American frontier.”

The kids clicked the link I had prepared for them on the school’s server. “Mrs. H?” one said as he opened the game’s title screen. “This doesn’t look right.”

“You will be disappointed in the graphics, but I expect you to get over it. This game was played by the people who grew up to make games for people like you. You will respect the history of this.”

The club, mostly eighth graders who thought they were signing up to play Halo, groaned collectively.

“As an added incentive,” I said, “I have here in my pocket five dollars cash for the first among you to reach Willamette Valley and thereby beat the game.”

Excited murmurs filled the room. David, an introspective library assistant, smiled as he said, “How hard can it be?” while Mike, my star pupil, was already spending all of his money on bullets.

----

The students chatted amiably as they prepared for the journey. They were delighted to discover they could name all their party members. Tom named his party members after his friends, including Justin, who was sitting next to him.

“That will make it awkward when they all die,” I said.

“You can die on this game?!” Tom squeaked.

“Of course.”

“But you can continue, right? Or start again from the graveyard?”

“Sweetie, this game is old. They hadn’t invented continues yet, or spawn points, or health packs. This game is cold, hard, and brutal.”

A cheerful song rang out from Mike’s speakers as he began his journey with nothing but a wagon full of ammo.

“Ignore the song,” I said. “Brutal. Don’t forget it.”

----

The wagon train proceeded smoothly at first, but then they were beset by hardship. What had seemed like clever character names in the beginning began to look ridiculous when illness set in.

“Kirby has dysentery!” someone shouted.

“Ate the wrong enemy, I imagine,” I said, eliciting laughter from the students.

“Yomama has measles!” said another.

“Let’s not bandy insults during club time,” I said, grinning.

“House has typhoid!”

“It’s never Lupus,” I said, but the laughter grew strained as each player encountered difficulties of his own.

----

“Thieves stole my bullets!” David proclaimed in astonishment. “Why wasn’t I able to shoot them?”

“At least you’re still alive,” said Justin. “I died of dyslexia!”

I had to think about that one for a moment. “Do you maybe mean dysentery?”

“Yeah, that!”

“I died because they wouldn’t let me buy food!” said Chris.

“What do you mean they wouldn’t let you?” I asked.

“It wasn’t for sale in any of the towns I stopped at.”

“Why didn’t you hunt?” I asked.

Chris stared at me in uncomprehending silence.

“I’ll let you think about that for awhile, okay?”

“What the?” David shouted, drawing my attention. “Renee has a snake bite. How on earth did she get a snake bite? She’s on the wagon! Who told that girl to get off the wagon? This child is special! Now I have to rescue this child ‘cause she got a snake bite and she prolly gonna die.”

“She might live,” I said comfortingly.

“No, she gonna die,” he said, without hope.

----

When Jamal’s self-named character died, I guided him through the process of filling out the tombstone (“Here lies Jamal. He was the best.”) as other students looked on, like rubberneckers at the scene of a pileup.

Others were less sentimental about the game’s unforgiving nature. “Here lies Mario. Stupid typhoid,” aptly portrayed the sentiments of the moment, as did “Here lies Renee. I told you she was gonna die.”

When Tom’s Justin died, he sheepishly turned to the real Justin, who glared. Voice heavy with heartfelt sincerity, Tom asked, “What do you want your tombstone to say?”

Through gritted teeth, Justin replied, “I’m with stupid.”

----

Disease wracked their bodies. Bones were broken. Oxen drowned. One by one, parties fell by the wayside.

“Forget it,” Jamal muttered, giving up. “I’m gonna do math homework instead.”

At the last minute, David came unhinged. “Now Zeke has a snake bite! Jee-sus Christ! Who keeps telling these people to get off the wagon? These people are stupid! You know what? I’m done. Oregon just isn’t gonna be populated. It’s a mythical land that don’t exist.” So saying, he gathered his things and left the library, followed by the others.

Alone in the library with Mike, I watched as he used the keyboard’s arrow keys to steer his wagon down the Columbia River and into Willamette Valley. As I slipped him the five dollars, I asked, “What did you think?”

“It was fun,” he said. “I don’t know what they were complaining about.”

“Well, Mike,” I said. “Some people just aren’t prepared to face the harsh realities of life. Just… well, do me a favor and don’t tell David you won.”

Mike smiled. “But, Mrs. H, what about facing the harsh realities of life?”

“Plenty of time for that later,” I said.

“Like maybe next month?” Mike asked.

“Sure,” I said. “Wait ‘til you see what we’re playing then.”

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Meeting Media: Critter Carnival

Meeting Media are created during actual and very important meetings while I really was paying attention. Names or other identifying information, or inappropriate comments about my boss, have been blocked out to protect the illusion of innocence.

Happy Glades

In an effort to embrace the country ethic of our new home state, my husband and I wandered the Kansas State Fair with enthusiasm and gusto. We discussed the admirable qualities of the show horses, though neither of us has ever been into horses. We cheered on the pig races. We watched a chainsaw artist demonstration. Sometime after the red velvet funnel cake but before the quaint, toothless, old farmer in the livestock barn lectured us on earless goats, we found ourselves in the John Deere display.

“Let’s go back to that taco stand we passed,” I said.

“Sure,” said Matt, before he did a double take toward the tractors. “Is that a tank over there?”

Looking back, I said, “So it is…”

“Why would it be with the farm equipment?” Matt asked. The tank squatted among the tractors like a fat toad, completely out of place. There was no military recruitment booth nearby.

“I suppose it depends on what kind of animals you raise,” I said.

We gazed silently at the tank for a moment, and then our eyes met. “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”

“Yes,” he said. “T-Rexes.” This is one of the many reasons I married this man.

“I’m going to write this down later, you know.”

“I hope you do.”

“What’s the name of our T-Rex farm?”

“Happy Glades,” he said.

---------------------------

Welcome to Happy Glades Farms, Home of the 400oz Steak!

Our family-owned, rural Kansas farm is your best choice for locally raised, all-natural T-Rex. At Happy Glades, we believe in a holistic approach to agriculture, using small-scale farming for off-the-scales livestock. All of our meats are produced right here on the farm, 100% free-range in the fresh air and sunshine of the mid-American prairie.

Here at Happy Glades, we know how important it is for you to feed your family wholesome, nutrient-rich foods. That’s why all of our Tyranosaurs are farm-raised, USDA certified organic. Our mouth-watering selection of specialty steaks come only from the very best organically produced grass-fed-beef-fed Tyranosaurs, resulting in the rich flavor of real meat. Additionally, given the realities of Natural Selection, we personally guarantee that our choice cuts of meat come from only the healthiest animals.

Our dinosaurs are never injected with synthetic hormones or vitamins, not only because Tyranosaurs tend to eat the vets who administer the shots, but because hormonal growth enhancers are bad. They’re bad for humans and bad for the environment. Also, artificial hormones come too close to playing God and we’re already pressing our luck with the genetically re-engineered dinosaurs.

But it doesn’t end with steaks! In addition to our fine meats, Happy Glade Farms offers seasonal organic produce, carrying on a fine family tradition of ecologically sustainable growing practices that enhance the environment. The unparalleled flavor of our produce comes from the quality of our all natural, residue-free fertilizer, which is available from Happy Glades in bulk year-round at extremely reasonable rates.

We know you have a choice when it comes to your family's health and diet. For quality, integrity, and really big steaks, choose Happy Glades.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Man Versus Spider

We had a lovely date. Dinner and a movie. Making out in the theater. A pleasant drive home with the top down.

It’s nice that our marriage is still great after all these years, I thought to myself. I am SO going to make a move when we get home.

But when we pulled into the garage, something else was moving.

“Holy crap! That spider’s huge!!” Matt said.

I had been wistfully planning the next hour’s entertainment – which did not include spiders – and was brought up short as my mind tried to change gears. “What spider?” I said.

“How can you not see that?” He pointed at the stair rail.

I saw it ringed by one of the headlights, like the spotlit star of a Grand-Guignol. “Oh my god,” I said. It was truly the most horrific thing I’d seen all week. I needed to remember it forever. “Don’t startle it. I’m getting a picture.”

I crept closer to snap a few shots with my phone, all the while expecting it to leap at me, baring ichorous fangs.

“Put your hand by it for scale,” Matt said from the safety of the car.

“Like hell,” I said. But, no, he was right: the shots needed scale. I raised my hand to it slowly. Ichorous fangs continued to be absent.

“What kind is it?” Matt said. Ever since I took up bird watching, he’s always asking me the nature questions.

Of course, insects are not birds, so I had no idea, but I assumed if Kansas hosted a venomous spider that large, I would have heard stories about it, frightful tales whispered in the break room at work. Dredging my memory for the name of a harmless arachnid, I said, “Texas Cotton Spider.” Congratulations, whatever you are. I dub thee Sir Texas Cotton Spider, and so you shall henceforth be known for all your days.

“Is it dangerous?” Matt asked.

“No,” I said, which was probably true. Satisfied with the photos, I put my phone away and looked over at my husband. Damn, but he sure looked good in his fancy sports car. “Anyway, we were going inside, yes?”

Matt, still focused on the spider, ventured forth from the car, grabbing a metal garden stake from a nearby shelf. “I’m just going to relocate it first,” he said, using the stake to scoot the spider down the stair rail and along the garage floor.

“That’s not necessary,” I said edging toward the door (and the bedroom beyond). “I’m sure it’s fine.”

“No, I’d rather not think about it making a home in my tool box.”

I sighed and sat on the steps to watch.

Sir Cotton Spider, who had apparently been quite content on the stair railing, rebelled against this forced march outside, waving its hairy little legs at Matt in a manner that suggested ichorous fangs were not far off. “Harmless, right?” Matt asked.

“Totally,” I said from my seat on the stairs.

Matt poked it with the stake. “Go on,” he said gently, but the spider was having none of it. With astonishing speed, the spider dashed to the left and made a break for the stairs. I shrieked, but Matt headed it off with the garden stake, simultaneously facing down the spider and cringing back from it.

“My hero,” I said.

Matt smiled briefly before the spider regrouped for a second charge. The spider was everywhere. If Matt stepped left, the spider went right. Uttering colorful curses, Matt wielded the garden stake like a weapon, poking and stabbing toward the spider in the time-honored duel of man versus beast, making slow progress.

When he finally reached the edge of the garage, he seemed to be losing patience. Taking aim at the spider, he swung the stake like a golf club, connecting with a muted “thwock”.

The spider sailed up into the night.

And came back down again.

We know not where.

Matt turned to me, eyes wide, the question plainly writ on his face.

“I didn’t see it land,” I said.

He jerked into motion, arms flailing. “Is it on my back?” he said, rapidly turning in circles.

“I can’t tell,” I said, leaping to my feet. “Hold still.”

Instead, he rushed past me into the house, still thrashing. “Must take clothes off!” he called back over his shoulder. “Now!”

I smiled. It had taken longer than I expected, but it seemed the evening would turn out as I had hoped after all. I hit the button for the garage door, watching to be sure it closed before I went inside. As I looked over the garage, I might have seen movement in the area of the toolbox, but I didn’t investigate. I had other things to do.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

A day in my life: Psychoanalysis at the Craft Store

The contents of the craft closet had disgorged themselves across the whole house and the ribbon I desperately needed for the project currently at hand had not presented itself. Fists were shaken heavenward but the gods were pitiless and cruel.

I would have to go to the craft store.

Unfortunately, craft stores and I do not mix well. In fact, ever since the notorious Photo-Box Incident of ’07, I am outright forbidden to set foot in craft stores. But I needed ribbon. The need was undeniable. If I put it off too long, the inspiration for the project would dissipate and I would be left with yet another three-quarters-completed project, nicely folded in one of many decorative photo-boxes in the craft closet, waiting for inspiration to strike again.

Taking many deep breaths to steel myself, I set forth.

Oh, I was focused. I was a champion focuser. I was there for ribbon. I would leave the store with ribbon and nothing else. “Ribbon, ribbon, ribbon,” I chanted to myself in the parking lot. We would not have another Photo-Box Incident on our hands.

“Ribbon, ribbon, ribbon,” I continued to chant to myself in the store.

“Can I help you find anything today?” a helpful woman in a blue apron asked.

“Ribbon?” I said.

“Oh, sure,” she said. “What kind of ribbon did you need?”

“Ribbon ribbon?” I said, clinging to my wavering focus.

“Well, let’s see, there’s wire ribbon, satin ribbon, curling ribbon, sequined ribbon… I’m sure if you visit each department you’ll find something that’ll work.”

Visit each department in the craft store? I wondered if, somewhere across town, my husband had sensed a disturbance in the Force. “Ribbon,” I said to her as I walked away.

“Your welcome!” she said.

I started in the floral department. Having never actively pursued floristry, I sailed elegantly through the department, gazing with cool disdain over the sprigs and sprays of dried and artificial flowers that presumably have names. They would not distract me from my goal. “Ribbon,” I continued to chant. “Ribbon, ribbon, ribb- ooh! Feathers!”

And then, my Super Ego apparently decided it was time for a break. I felt my psychic apparatus fracture into distinct and separately functioning pieces. There was Id-Tori, blissfully tossing handfuls of product she did not need into her shopping basket, and there was Ego-Tori, thinking, “What happened to focus and control? ‘Ribbon, ribbon, ribbon,’ remember?”

As Id-Tori pleasure-principled her way through half a paycheck, Ego-Tori marveled at the ingenious organization of the craft store:

For example, she mused, there is no “ribbon” section in the craft store. One finds ribbon in the floral department, the sewing department, the craft department, and the scrapbook department. The same goes for stickers, paints, feathers, and photo-boxes. These and a dozen other products besides are scattered and duplicated across the store, in every department. To find the perfect product, the shopper is forced to search the entire facility, encountering hundreds of unplanned purchases along the way.

One could argue, cleverly and well, that it makes sense for the store to be organized by hobby, whereby the scrapbookers can find all their supplies in the scrapbook section without searching the entire store, and seamstresses needn’t sully their creative energies with, say, knitting yarns. The florist need only concern herself with flowers; the artist, with paints and brushes.

One could say it may not occur to the aforementioned scrapbooker, who works primarily in paper products, that she could use ribbon in her layouts. By keeping the ribbon in the scrapbook aisle, the craft store is, in fact, selling more ribbon by planting ideas in the heads of these grossly uncreative people. “Oh, my! Look here! It never occurred to me to use ribbon in my pages before. My eyes are opened!”

Craft stores, Ego-Tori observed, are ironically the only stores where the managers are creative for you. They don’t do this sort of thing at Walmart, for example. They don’t keep the eggs in the baking aisle, no matter how logical it may seem to do so. They don’t keep the hamburger with the hamburger helper. They don’t keep the honey and whipped cream in the women’s underwear section. Shoppers are expected to make these clever connections on their own.

Id-Tori smiled and nodded through Ego-Tori’s economics lecture. With a cart full of lovely things that were not ribbon, she continued her search, visiting each aisle in each department, checking all the ribbon, finding none suitable for the project du jour. She didn’t care. She’d found scrapbook paper, stone beads, quilt fabric, and a decorative photo box. She was past the checkout lane and halfway to the car before Super Ego slunk back into the room, soliciting a “Where the hell have you been?” from Ego.

At home, I unloaded the car. No longer motivated to work on the three-quarters-completed ribbon project, I folded it nicely into the new decorative photo box and stacked it in the craft closet with the others from the notorious Photo Box Incident of ’07.

“What now?” I wondered.

“Maybe,” said the Id, “we could make something out of all this lovely new scrapbook paper.”

“Good idea,” I said.

Outnumbered and largely ignored, Ego protested, but it was no use.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Meeting Media: For the Hoard

Meeting Media are created during actual and very important meetings while I really was paying attention. Names or other identifying information, or inappropriate comments about my boss, have been blocked out to protect the illusion of innocence.

Friday, July 29, 2011

100 Word Increments: Road Trips

"It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to." J.R.R. Tolkien

Mental Wanderlust
I’m very good at road trips… or very bad, depending on your point of view. On the plus side, I’m easily entertained in the car. “Mental wanderlust,” my husband calls it – my mind flits from thought to thought with little provocation. Every billboard is an adventure: I want to eat at every restaurant, shop every flea market, experience every roadside attraction.
Unfortunately for my long-suffering family, this is also the downside.
“Can we stop there?”
“No.”
“Doesn’t that place look neat?”
“Not really.”
“Can we stop there?”
“Maybe next time.”
It’s like a tradition, the repeated requests and subsequent refusals.

Rodeo Pawn
A billboard in the middle of nowhere read, “Rodeo Pawn – Best saddles, jewelry and guns”
“We could stop and get a gun!” Matt said.
I scoffed. “You can’t buy a gun from a Texas pawn shop!”
“Why not?”
“It might be possessed by the vengeful cowboy spirits of old!”
He blinked in confusion. “What?”
“Endlessly riding through the desert on horses of spite and flame, digging in their lightning spurs, rustling the shady cattle of the Damned – Get along, dark little doggies! – and you want to buy their gun?”
Matt sighed. “Dear,” he said. “I love you, but you’re crazy.”

Beach Wishes
Everything’s beautiful when you’re going to the beach. “Look at that!” I said, pointing out every lovely thing we passed. “I wish we had one of those!” I said more than once.
We arrived disheveled after having stopped to play in the waves. I showered while Matt checked the condo’s closets for beach gear. “Dear!” he called “You get your wish!”
“An inflatable turtle floatie?” I asked.
“No…”
“A paddle ball set?”
“No.”
“A parrot kite?”
“No! Sheesh! It’s a rainbow umbrella!”
“Yay!”
“Good grief! You have a lot of beach wishes!”
But, see there? One of them came true.

Mascot
When we passed “Sunnyside Elementary: Home of the Dolphins”, Matt and I glanced at each other, obviously sharing the same thought.
“Ouch,” he said.
“I know, right?” I said. “Dolphins? What kind of mascot is that?”
“I bet they get beat up all the time by the schools with cooler mascots.”
“Definitely,” I said. “All the bigger, world-weary kids go to school down the block.”
“Their mascot is the sharks,” Matt said.
I giggled. “Dolphins vs. Sharks! It’s a slaughter every time.”
(Later, I said, “You know, in the wild, dolphins really kill sharks.”
Matt patted my knee. “I know.”)

Signs of the Times?
It was one of those church signs: “Sign broken. Message inside.”
Farther down the road, another said, “Forbidden fruit creates jams.”
Sarah said “I wonder, is there a book that they get these out of?”
“No,” I said “The puns are passed down orally through memorization by members of the secret society.”
“Enlightened Keepers of the Sign?”
“Yes,” I said. “Other people ponder the Bible’s cryptic references to signs and portents, but the Enlightened Brethren merely nod knowingly to each other.”
“Because they know which signs the Book is referring to,” Sarah said.
These are the signs of the apocalypse.

Wanderlust Fulfilled
“Ride with us!” Matt’s parents said. “Matt can meet us there.”
But after the fiftieth “Can we stop there?” I wondered if Richard and Leann regretted their decision to have me along on the drive across Texas, collecting adventures from billboards like a magpie gathering shiny things.
“Let’s eat there!” I said.
“Not hungry,” Leann replied.
“An outlet mall!” I exclaimed.
“Don’t need anything,” Richard said.
Then a billboard said, “Drive-through safari”.
“Can we stop there?” I said.
After a long silence, Richard said, “Actually, I’ve always wanted to do something like that.”
Leann nodded. “Me too.”
So we did.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Spirited Shopping

The billboard was for a fashionable boutique. “Spirited Shopping!” it proclaimed, in stylized calligraphy.
“Wait…” I said. “What?”
“I know,” Matt said.
“What kind of advertisement is that?” I said.
“Maybe they sell ghosts,” Matt said.
“Huh,” I said, articulately.
Maybe they do…

The bell above the door jingles. A well-dressed salesman says, “Can I help you find something today?”
“Yes,” I tell him. “I was hoping for a little something for the house.”
“Corporeal, Incorporeal?”
“Incorporeal would be preferred.”
“Excellent. Right this way.” He leads me through many fine displays, before stopping at something ragged and loud. “Is this what you had in mind?”
The ghoul before me rattles spectral chains.
“I like the shrieking,” I say, “but I don’t think the chains match the rest of my décor. Do you have something less tormented? More sort of forlorn and mopey?”
“I think I know just what you need.” I follow him toward the smaller spirits at the edge of the showroom floor. “Now this here is your standard banshee. Heavy on the shrieking and angst, but maximum translucence to match any style.”
“Ooh! Nice!” I can just picture it in the living room, by the fireplace.
“Plus,” he says, gesturing to an end table floating in midair nearby, “they come in varying levels of poltergeist activity. I’m sure we can find one that suits your taste.”
“Do you only have redheads available?” I say.
“We import these from Ireland. I don’t believe they make any other color.”
“That’s okay. I think I like it.”
“So, will I be sending one of these home with you today?”
“Let’s talk price!” I say.

“Do I even want to know what you’re giggling about over there?” Matt said.
“Probably not,” I said.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Meeting Media: The Tree's Wish


Meeting Media are created during actual and very important meetings while I really was paying attention. Names or other identifying information, or inappropriate comments about my boss, have been blocked out to protect the illusion of innocence.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Demons Beyond the Hills

This disturbing little scene came to me in a dream one night. It's resisted all my efforts to coax a full-length story out of it, so I've relegated it to flash fiction. This version clocks in at exactly 300 words.
----------

We know why you have come. We can see it in your eyes, the hunger for revenge. You seek the demons? Sit at our fire and we will tell you what we know.

It is said they never kill children, the demons beyond the hills. It is true. They spared us the night they destroyed our village. At dawn, we stumbled through the ruins with ashes in our eyes. Too young to hunt, too young to sow or reap, we could only cry.

We found no solace in the neighboring villages. “You will draw the demons down on us,” they shouted as they drove us away. Alone against the world, we prayed to what gods we remembered that they might spare us from our enemies until our revenge was complete.

Somehow we did not die. We lived on bugs and tree bark. The forest made us hard and lithe and strong. In time, we made our way over the hills, and when we found the demons in their beds, we killed them with our bare fists and they did not even resist us.

We knew peace then for many years.

But the gods were too generous when they answered our prayers, for we soon discovered we could not die. No enemy could kill us – not hunger, nor hardship, nor mortal spear. We grew weary with the weight of our winters but still we lived.

At last, in anger, we vowed that if we could not die, others would die in our place. And so we waged war throughout the land.

But we never killed children.

And now, at long last, you have come: kindred spirits, whose suffering mirrors our own. You could never be our enemies. In fact, we welcome you as daughters and sons.

We will not even resist.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Conversations with Noah, Age 4 (Part IV)

By the fourth weekend of the Oklahoma Renaissance Fair, to hell with camping: turns out, there really can be too much of a good thing. Instead, the ten of us and the kids had a sleepover at a nearby house, laughing over board games well into the night.

In the morning I practiced my daily yoga on the living room carpet as my friends packed up around me. At home, my yoga is usually free from interruptions and watchful eyes but I thought to myself, This too is yoga: not only the poses, but the concentration on breath and the working through distractions.

If I can focus on Warrior II even when my husband pinches my ass every time he walks by, I can tolerate anything.

A podcast on my iPhone guided me through the last series of poses – “In Warrior I, take an inhale. Exhale, open your arms to Warrior II.” – as Noah, wearing a plastic knight’s helmet and waving a plastic sword, galloped into the room on an invisible horse.

He watched as I moved through Extended Side Angle and Reverse Warrior. “Whatcha doing?” he asked.

Exhaling through Chaturanga, I said, “Exercising,” then inhaled through Upward Facing Dog.

Noah nodded. “That’s good for the body.”

“Yes,” exhale into Downward Facing Dog, “it is.” Inhale. It’s hard to hold a conversation while focusing on breath, I thought.

“Exhale,” the recording said. “Bend your knees and step through to a comfortable seated position.”

“I exercised by punching a bag once,” Noah said.

Perhaps this too is yoga, I thought, an opportunity to deepen my own understanding through teaching. “Sit with me like this,” I said, crossing my legs and bringing my hands up to prayer position.

The recording said “Honoring the teacher in all things, exhale as you bow forward. Namaste,” and ended with a chime. I ignored it in order to sit with Noah for as long as he might be willing to sit.

Which wasn’t long. “What are we doing?” he whispered.

“Meditating,” I whispered back.

“What?” he said, blank-faced.

“Think deeply,” I said, thinking deeply myself (namely: how does one reach the age of four without learning that word?).

“About what?” he said.

“Think about the universe.”

Noah frowned gravely and lowered his hands to his lap. “I don’t like to do that,” he said.

That was an unexpected reaction. Surely he was too young to be disillusioned by his own insignificance compared to the vastness of space. I asked, “Why not?”

He said, “Someday the planet spins really fast and it breaks apart” – he made a ball by interlacing his fingers, then tore it asunder – “like this.”

I blinked, stunned in equal turns by his horrific dramatization of our impending destruction and by his shaky grasp of verb tense. “Who told you that?”

Noah pointed behind me. I twisted to see my husband watching our exchange from a nearby chair, no doubt waiting for another opportunity to pinch my ass. His eyes widened at the accusation.

“Matt, you fiend!” I said.

Matt raised his hands defensively. “I don’t know where he learned that but it wasn’t me!”

I turned back to Noah, who was fidgeting, legs at an angle as he inspected his big toe. “That’s a yoga move,” I said. “If you stretch your leg out like this, you’ll have a seated Toe Lock.”

Noah adjusted his form to match mine.

“Great!” I moved into another pose. “This one’s called Seated Forward Bend.”

Noah copied me once more, giggling as his plastic knight helmet fell down over his face.

“Now,” I said, placing the soles of my feet together in Cobbler’s Pose, “see if you can make your nose touch your toes.” I demonstrated.

Noah pulled his feet in but seemed unable to bend forward.

Funny, I thought kids were supposed to be flexible. “You’re going to be here for a while,” I said. “Keep thinking about the universe.”

He continued to struggle.

“Okay, we’ll try something else.” Obviously, a kid with tight hips needs Pigeon Pose. “Do what I do,” I said, moving slowly into the pose so he could follow along.

His plastic helmet fell off as he moved. “I can’t do that in my knight mask,” he said, flopping to the floor.

“Then take it off. Yoga is more important than being a knight,” I said.

“I need to fight the dragons!” he said. Again with the dragons. Always, this kid, with the dragons.

“Yoga,” I said, channeling my inner (though sexier) Yoda, “is about fighting the dragons in your mind.” I touched my finger first to my head, then to his.

Noah cocked an eyebrow at me. “That’s not my mind. That’s my forehead.”

The force is so not strong in this one. “You’ll never reach enlightenment at this rate,” I said.

Noah merely smiled, crossed his legs, and raised his hands to prayer position as I had shown him before.

You know what? I thought. This too is yoga.

“We have to bow to show we’re done,” I said. “Can you say ‘Namaste’?”

“Namaste,” Noah said, bowing.

Honoring the teacher in all things, namaste.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

100 Word Increments: My Job at the Public Library

“Look at this book!” Leslie says, waving a paperback from the pile of books she’s just checked in. Kathy and I look over at the romance novel entitled “My Devilish Scotsman.”

I snort when I laugh sometimes. It’s very unattractive.

Kathy steps in for a closer look at the buff male model on the cover. “Is that… Is he wearing a mini-skirt?”

Leslie’s hand flies to her mouth. She looks scandalized. “It’s a kilt!” she says.

“It’s a mini-kilt,” I say.

“There’s no such thing!” Leslie scoffs.

Oh, honey, you haven’t been to as many ren fairs as I have.

---------------------------

The cart weighs more than I do, and I’m not exactly twiggy. I take a deep breath to prepare my soul. The young adult section is mine, my baby, and I will see it shelved.

It’s easy to ignore the books at the circ desk – we’re always so busy there, and things go so fast – but shelving is dangerous: I notice the titles, the beautiful covers. I’ll end up with eighteen books to read over the weekend.

But not today! Today, I will shelve these books without stopping to read any of them.

Cue “Eye of the Tiger”.

Bring it!

---------------------------

“May I use your phone?” says an old lady with coke-bottle glasses.

Angela passes it to her. The old lady dials and listens for a moment.

I clearly hear the voice on the other end. “Hello?” I glance at Angela, who nods. She heard it too.

“Hello!” the old lady says.

“Hi, grandma!” The voice is definitely coming from the audio book section. “What are you up to today?”

“Just visiting the library,” she says.

“Really?” A teenager with a cell phone steps out of the stacks and waves. “So am I!”

The old lady hangs up. “Thanks,” she says.

---------------------------

Listen, sweetheart:
Times are tough all around.
No one ever said life was fair.
You don’t always have a choice.
Sometimes, things have to be done and you have to be the one to do them. There’s not always a reason and there doesn’t have to be.
Everybody has to make sacrifices for the good of all.

So when the library director tells you it’s National Donut Day and outright orders you to eat the maple glazed (with sprinkles), then, by God, girl, you eat that frakking donut and you like it.

Now shut up and do your civic duty.

---------------------------

“You owe a fine,” I tell a good-looking man in an expensive suit.

“Can we let it go just this once?” he says, flashing me a perfect smile.

Flirting? Seriously? Does that ever work? “Not for fines over a dollar,” I say.

“What’s it for?” he asks, still smiling.

I open the record. Must… maintain… straight… face… “That would be a cake pan.”

He stops smiling.

I clarify, “A Dora the Explorer cake pan.”

He nods, lips in a tight line.

“Maybe your wife checked that out?”

“Probably,” he says.

“Will you be taking care of that fine today?”

“Yes.”

---------------------------

I like processing the new stuff: being the first to see what we’re going to have, the repetitive motion of taping covers and applying barcodes. It’s good work, appreciated by the community. Whether it’s a novel or a DVD or an audio book, someone out there is waiting for me to get it ready for the shelf. Someone will smile at my work.

And if it means that I get the smug satisfaction of sticking a barcode right on top of Bill’s smarmy face as I process the case for Trueblood: Season 3, so much the better.

Go, Team Eric!

---------------------------

Cheri, the acquisitions librarian, polls the three of us at the circ desk: “Zombies or vampires?”

We stop processing books for a moment. “Zombies are more ruthless,” I say.

“But zombies are easy to kill,” says Benjamin.

“So are vampires,” I say.

“Vampires are more romantic,” says Angela.

I nod. “Rotting flesh isn’t sexy. What about werewolves?” I ask Cheri.

“Werewolves are fuzzy,” she says.

“Yes, they’re known for it,” I say.

“I mean they’re a grey area,” Cheri says. “So vampires are cooler but zombies are scarier, is that it?”

“Yes,” we say.

We go back to processing books.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A day in my life: Inertial Groceries

I operate entirely on momentum. I never want to get out of bed in the morning until I'm out of it. I never want to leave the house until I've left it. I never want to go to the grocery store until I’m already there. It’s a chicken and egg dilemma, especially when I’m out of chicken and eggs. And absolutely everything else.

I put off going to the store as long as possible.
--------------------------------------------

Having grudgingly made my way there, I love it. The colors! The smells! The choices! The endless creative possibilities inherent in the choices!
Look! Bell peppers are on sale! Just imagine all the delicious things I can make with bell peppers!
(See also: Look! Mac-n-cheese is on sale! Just imagine the tastiness of this completely fake food when I don't want to cook!)
Everything is delightful. I debate over brands and flavors:
Do I want chicken tenders or chicken strips?
Fresh broccoli or frozen?
Chupacabra on a stick or diced for stew?

I taste all the free samples. I wave at the live lobsters. I visit each aisle at least once. I read labels. I fill the cart. I fill the bottom of the cart.
--------------------------------------------

I do yogic meditation in the checkout line. I'm in no hurry: I'm living in the present moment. I don't mind that the checkout girl methodically takes her time - that makes her good at her job, just like I'm good at my job. The world is a beautiful place. I had fun shopping. I have groceries. I shall cook them. It shall be glorious. Om Shanti Shanti.

The bag boy smiles at each customer. "Can I help you to your car?" he asks a guy who only has two bags. "Can I help you to your car?" he asks an old lady, who politely declines. “Can I help you to your car?” because it’s a great day and it would be nice to get out in it.

That’s when I notice a trend among the people in front of me: ten items or less all around. Did I choose the Express Lane by mistake?

I check.

No.

Meditative calm flies right out the window.

Frak! I think. Am I the only irresponsible person in the world? Does no one else wait until the last minute? Have I violated social etiquette without knowing it (again)? Am I secretly the only person who actually likes food? Is that why I’m fat? Frak!
The bag boy stares with haunted eyes as I unload my cart. "I'm so sorry," I say. How could I be so inconsiderate as to put him through this?
"I've seen worse," says the checkout girl. Was that sarcasm? I can’t tell! What must she think of me?

People in desperate need of yogic meditation line up behind me, tapping their feet impatiently, waiting to purchase only one or two things. I check again: this is still not the Express Lane. I am fine. I am not a horrible person.

Would it kill them to open another lane? Gah - focus! Present moment. Om Om Om.

I want to shout “Quit Judging Me!!!” as the checkout girl announces my total and passes me a receipt as long as I am tall.

The bag boy doesn’t make eye contact as he offers me the cart of bagged groceries, nor does he offer to help me to my car. I have broken him. He has faced malevolence and found himself lacking, like a fallen hero to be pitied rather than scorned.

But my heart is strangely devoid of pity as I cross the parking lot where it has started to rain.
------------------------------------------

Safe at home, I just manage to put the groceries away before my momentum runs out. I am mentally and spiritually drained, a dried-up husk that only vaguely resembles personhood. I read on the couch for the rest of the day. And do nothing else. I might be persuaded to flee the house if it caught fire, but it would require a highly compelling argument.

To revive me, my husband makes a show of being impressed by the groceries. “What did you get today?” he asks, pulling me into his arms as he sits next to me on the couch.

“Tilapia was on sale,” I say, my soul tentatively returning to my body. “And they had this cheese, and I stocked up on broccoli. I had fun!”

“That’s good,” he says, kissing the top of my head. “Why don’t I make dinner? I could do carbonara.”

“Okay!” I settle contentedly into the cushions. The world is a beautiful place after all, and we have groceries and they are glorious.
Then he calls from the kitchen, “Did you get any eggs while you were out?”

Frak.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Conversations with Noah, Age 4 (Part III)

For Pirate Weekend at the Oklahoma Renaissance Fair, the Castle of Muskogee hired a professional Jack Sparrow impersonator. After hours spent unsuccessfully attempting to get a decent picture of him, I returned to the booth to ballyhoo. “Ballyhoo” means sensational advertising. It’s what they used to call the man who stood outside the side show tent telling people to “step right up.” I learned the word from my maternal grandfather, who ballyhooed for the circus as a lad. Also, I like saying “ballyhoo.” Ballyhoo.

Standing in the walkway holding a display piece with both hands, I advertised our educational booth in the Children's Realm. "Make the assassins work for it!" I cried to a large crowd. "After a free armor making lesson from Miniver Mail, you'll be able to make chain mail to protect your vulnerable bits against all manner of ninja attack."

“Tori! Look! A pirate!” Noah said.

“Where?” I said, looking about hopefully for Johnny Depp’s doppelganger.

“Me!” he said.

I looked him over. Hands on hips in what I’m sure he imagined was a heroic pose, he looked more like Peter Pan than a pirate, despite his suitably billowy shirt and a wooden sword. Still, he earned points for trying. “So you are,” I said encouragingly.

To a man with an expensive looking camera, I called, "Chainmail is very photogenic! Stop by Miniver Mail and see for yourself!" The man shook his head and walked on.

"What's that mean?" Noah asked.

"Means it looks good in pictures," I said, then called after the man, "Chainmail is good for the soul! That empty feeling in your heart? It's because you're walking away!"

"You're funny," Noah said, sitting in the dirt at my feet.

A family of four approached. “You want to touch the chain mail,” I said, holding out the display piece.

“Cool!” said the boy, who might have been twelve.

“We give free lessons,” I said, gesturing to the booth behind me. Father and son took seats at the lesson table with undisguised glee. Mother stood close to watch, smiling beatifically.

Score one for the ballyhoo, I thought. Turning back to the wide dirt path, I came face to face with a thin girl, no more than six years old, sporting short spiked hair. “Are you lost?” I asked.

“No,” she said, pointing to the family at the table behind me. I remembered it had been a family of four. “I’m a knight,” she said, brandishing a wooden sword of her own.

Noah relinquished playing in the dirt to stand by the girl. “I’m a pirate!” he declared.

“Knights are better,” she said.

“Nu-uh!” he said.

As they argued, I stepped around them to continue the ballyhoo. “Ladies and gentlemen, there are two types of people in the world! Those who love chain mail…” dramatic pause “And those who do not yet know they love chain mail! Stop by Miniver Mail for a free chain mail lesson to determine where you stand.”

“Can I be your assistant?” said the girl. I looked down to see her smiling cheerfully while Noah looked sullen, probably because knights really are better than pirates.

“Sure,” I said, handing her the display piece, smiling as Atlas had smiled to Hercules. “Hold this.” I flexed my unburdened fingers and faced another crowd. “We at Miniver Mail promise that chain mail is one hundred percent zombie proof! If your chain mail fails under zombie attacks, we guarantee a full refund on the price of your free chain mail lesson!”

I was interrupted when Noah startled the crowd by clumsily slashing his wooden sword at the girl, who deftly swung the display piece up to defend herself. Grabbing Noah’s collar with one hand and the chain mail with the other, I said, “As you can see, chain mail is the best defense against both zombies and pirates.” Then, for good measure, I added, “And zombie pirates!”

“I say, chain mail isn’t much defense at all against zombie pirates!” said a familiar voice. The crowd parted for Captain Jack Sparrow. “I’ve been a zombie pirate, so I should know!”

The man I had been trying to photograph all morning stood two feet from me, while my hands were full of children and chain mail. I am being punished, I thought, for some wickedness that I have not sufficiently regretted yet. As soon as I figure out what it is, I’ll repent good and proper.

The two children stared in awe as Captain Jack carried on, “Nor, might I add, is it any defense against Krakens!” Turning to the crowd, he said, “But I’ve not yet tried it with mermaids! If you’d like to see how I fare against the likes of them, my new movie opens next Friday.” He bowed for the crowd, which began to disperse, then swaggered away.

“Hold this,” I said, shoving the chain mail at Noah to chase the man down for a picture.


When I returned to the booth, the girl and her family were gone. Noah stood with the display piece. “Chain mail is nice!” he called to people passing by. “Come see the chain mail!”

“That will do, Noah,” I said, holding out my hands.

Smiling, he passed the piece back to me and played in the dirt once more.

The ballyhoo commenced.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Meeting Media: Carl


Meeting Media are created during actual and very important meetings while I really was paying attention. Names or other identifying information, or inappropriate comments about my boss, have been blocked out to protect the illusion of innocence.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

On Religion and the Rapture

“You know what you should write about next?” my buddy Amanda said. “You should write about the Rapture.”

Am I really the best person to discuss a religious topic? You do realize God has smote me with lightning once before, right?

But since this is a tiny blog, and Amanda comprises roughly one-tenth of my readership, I figured I should give my audience what it wants. Since my religious grandmother makes up another tenth, I also figured I should approach the topic as delicately as possible.

So, the Rapture happened last weekend. How’s that working out for you?

Yeah, it’s about that way for me too.

I am somewhat relieved that I’m still here: When I heard the Rapture was allegedly imminent, I was more concerned about Game of Thrones than my own eternal fate -- “If the Rapture is today, does that mean they won’t finish the series? I'm only up to episode 4, after all!” -- until I realized that with the abundance of boobage on the show everyone involved in it, including the audience, wouldn’t make the cut. Crisis averted.

As you can imagine, I’m not overly surprised at my continuing presence on this lesser plane. If you were to graph my life, with “Religious Activity” on the Y-axis, and “Age in Years” on the X, you’d have a mighty steep slide, suitable for any amusement park.

Many of my friends feel the same way. One night over dinner, Matt listened politely as I discussed religious degradation over time with our friends Alex and Sarah. Matt found the topic especially interesting because he’s never been particularly religious. “When I was a kid, I only ever attended church on Scout Sundays,” he said.

“I’m surprised you turned out so well,” Sarah said.

Matt shook his head. “It’s a lie. I live in sin and iniquity,”

I laughed and said, “You were a goody goody before we met! I’ve led you into more iniquity than you ever got into on your own.”

After a moment’s thought, he said, “You’re right.” Pause for comedic effect, completely straight face: “You whore of Babylon.”

I said, “I do believe that’s the nicest thing anyone has ever said about me.”

I digress.

I was raised in a religion that does not embrace the Rapture but that instead believes in a Second Coming where we'll all still be here on earth, and we have a lot of work to do to get the house in order for company: vacuum thoroughly, put clean sheets on the guest bed, delete any bootleg torrents of Game of Thrones that happen to be on the hard drive. Mind you, by “house,” I mean “the whole planet,” and by “company,” I mean “Christ and all his saints.” It’s supposed to be the best thing ever, like an unexpected visit from your favorite person in the world.

When I lived out of state, I once got a call from one of my favorite people in the world, the aforementioned religious grandmother, saying she just happened to be passing through and wanted to stop by. I only had time to quit what I was doing and drive home before she arrived. “Sorry about the mess! I didn’t clean or anything!” I said.

“I came to see you, not your house,” she said. She truly meant it.

In that vein, given a choice between the Second Coming, where His Holiness drops by my house without warning, or the Rapture, where I am invited to His house on rather short notice, do I have a preference? Not really.

Like my grandmother, God is, of course, welcome to drop by my house at any time with or without calling ahead. I’ll greet Him the same way I greeted her. “Come in! Sorry about the mess! Would you like some tea?” and I’ll be too delighted in His company to worry about the state of my home. If He loves me unconditionally, He won’t care either.

However, if the Rapture did occur last week and God didn’t invite me, He’s not the friend I thought He was. That’s okay. From the looks of it, he didn’t invite my iniquitous husband either, or my grandmother, or my buddy Amanda, or a number of my other favorite people in the world. That’s okay. We’ll have our own parties. We can have them at my house. I may even vacuum first.

Friday, May 20, 2011

A Year in the Church of Urban Youth

In August when I accepted the job as librarian at the inner-city high school, the principal told me, “Don’t bring anything to work with you that you don’t want stolen.” I filled my office with impersonal yet pretty things to brighten my days: a few art postcards, a scented candle, a fake plant. They didn’t do much to improve the job.

Inner-city students are somewhat famous for not reading. Days would go by, weeks, where not a single book would circulate. I had become a librarian because I loved books and reading. What was a library without patrons? What good a librarian? In the Church of Urban Youth, I was a heretic, posting my READ posters on the door like a proclamation, but to no avail. I was useless. I was utterly bored.
____________________________________

In September, I decided I would at least have the best organized library in the district, starting with the library’s walk-in storage closet.

“What if someone needs you while you’re working in there?” the principal asked.

“Then that would be a miracle,” I said, but to appease her, I put out one of those clerk bells you see at stores.

A week later, the principal called me to her office to berate me. She’d stopped by the library while I was cleaning and found no sign of me, and no way to summon me.

They’d stolen the bell.
____________________________________

In an effort to boost circulation, I gave a staff development presentation in October on improving our reading scores, where I laid it all out for my coworkers.

“This is a list of bestselling books that we have here in the library – many of you have probably read a few of these.” The assembled teachers responded with nods and murmurs. “If enough of you tell your classes about the titles you’ve read, we might reach someone.”

Within days, students were coming in to ask about the bestsellers. Which were gone.

They’d stolen the books.
____________________________________

Opening the library before school one winter morning, I found the door kicked in. Accompanied by the principal and the dean of students, I surveyed the damage from the robbery. None of the computers were missing, nothing had been vandalized, but everything had been picked over. They’d taken the peanut butter crackers out of my office, the cute stop sign that said “SHH!” on it, a few of the art postcards.

They’d stolen the pretty scented candle from my desk.

"Bell, book, and candle!" I laughed out loud.

“Laughter is not an appropriate response to this situation!” the principal chided.

“Excommunication latae sententiae,” I giggled.

“Leave her,” said the dean. “She’s confused. I don’t think the poor dear has ever experienced robbery before.”

What I had experienced…

…was REVELATION.
____________________________________

My conversion was swift and absolute. Stripped of Puritanical notions of running my library through hard work, I became a student of Zen.

One December day, my lunch was stolen. Deep breaths. Present moment focus. “A moment ago, I had an unstolen sack lunch. In this moment, that is not the case.” I learned to live in the lunch-less moment, to meditate on the experience of hunger.

In February, my twenty-seventh stapler was not missing because it had been “stolen” but because it was “seeking enlightenment through travel.” I did not request a new stapler from the school secretary: I respected the wishes of all staplers everywhere to journey whither they pleased.

When they told me a new printer was not in the budget, I spent March contemplating the broken printer’s state of being. If a printer doesn’t print, is it still a printer? Is this still a library? Am I a librarian?
____________________________________

By May we knew the state was closing the school due to unacceptable test scores. I was a sea of calm in an otherwise chaotic world. The principal suffered, arranging the paperwork for an official audit of the school’s resources. My coworkers fretted over their résumés. I started library inventory with serenity and grace.

In a world full of fabulous movies and video games, trashy novels on the couch with hot tea, swimming pools and sunshine, or dinner with friends, right now, I was doing library inventory. And because I could not change right now, I lived in and I enjoyed it. Because it was my library, my work, pure and purposeful. I was at one with the library. I was genuinely happy. It’s one of my happiest memories.

It was the day I achieved nirvana.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Conversations with Noah, Age 4 (Part II)

One of the perks of working at the Oklahoma Ren Fair is the opportunity to camp just off the castle grounds Saturday night, for easier set-up Sunday morning. Camping! The beauty of nature! The great outdoors! The late nights spent laughing around a fire with dear friends --

"What was that?!"

-- and their young children.

"That would be a truck," I said.

In the glow of a lamp, I commiserated with the women while the men raided Walmart for snack cakes. Our feminine discussions of Ren Fair dresses and Firefly were only occasionally interrupted by Noah, age 4, the only wakeful child remaining, curled in the camp chair next to mine.

Around us, other vendors and actors camped in tents and RVs. From the parking area on the other side of a copse of trees, another vehicle engine roared. "It sounded like the dragon!" Noah protested.

A “life-sized” fiberglass dragon is one of the highlights of the Fair. I pinched the bridge of my nose. "Of course it's not the dragon," I said. "The dragon is sleeping. So should you be."

I tried to pay attention to the women’s conversation, but Noah spoke again: "What if it woke up?"

"Impossible,” I said briskly, “All dragons sleep at night."

"All dragons?"

"All night. Every night.” I focused again on the adults.

I had not completely lost the thread of a discussion of favorite quotes from Firefly. I was about to share mine (“I swear by my pretty floral bonnet I will end you.”) when Noah said, "Even robot dragons?"

"Ye- what?” Lords of Kobol, I thought. I can’t lie to a child about the inherent superiority of robots. “No,” I sighed. “Robots don't sleep, that’s what makes them so devious.” Martyrdom sucks. I wondered aloud, “Where does one even begin to find a robot dragon?”

“The basement,” Noah said.

Logical. If I had a robot dragon, that’s where I’d keep it. With all my other toys that aren’t currently working. With that in mind, I said "The batteries are probably dead. Robots get horrible battery life."

The sound of yet another vehicle roared through the trees. “Then what’s making that noise?” Noah asked, eyes wide.

“Probably just a cow,” I said.

“A monster cow?”

“No.” The mournful cry of a peacock filled the night. I had no hope of rejoining the girls’ conversation by now. I resigned myself to the topic at hand. “Where would a monster cow live anyway?”

Noah cocked his head in thought then said, “In the basement.”

“With the robot dragon? Are they roommates?”

Noah nodded.

“I'd love to see the lease agreement,” I muttered, then said, “We're nowhere near a basement. We’re in the woods. You can sleep without fear of either robot dragons or monster cows.”

Noah gasped at the sputtering of still another engine somewhere. Where were these people going at this time of night? I thought. Didn’t they know there were cows about?

“What about the real dragon?” Noah asked.

“What real dragon?” I asked, derailed by the introduction of a real dragon at this stage of the conversation.

Noah gave me the exact look my physics-educated husband gives me when I’ve missed something obvious about quantum tunneling. “If the robot dragon is in the basement, the one over there must be real,” he said.

Touché.

Thinking quickly, I said, “You don’t have to worry because real dragons don't eat little boys.” Here, I realized that the girls’ conversation had stopped because they were listening intently to mine. Why were they not steering the narrative back to Firefly? “They eat sheep,” I said. “At dragon restaurants, they serve the finest woolly steaks and fuzzy stews. Lots of white fluffy things. Sheep and cauliflower. Dragons love cauliflower.”

“We should go fight the dragon!”

“Loving cauliflower is hardly a punishable offense,” I said.

“We should kill it while it’s sleeping!”

Break into the locked gate surrounding the castle grounds to fight a fictional dragon? Hell no, I thought. Out loud, I said, “That wouldn’t be chivalrous! We’ll get a good night's sleep and set out in the morning when we're refreshed.”

“But what if the dragon attacks us at night?” Noah said, as the men were returning from the store. Matt, my husband, tossed me an oatmeal cream pie.

Noah’s dad, Charley, unloaded a grocery bag into an ice chest. “Wait, what? Who’s attacking us?” he said.

“No one is attacking us,” I said to Noah, “Because your father has valiantly volunteered to set a watch on the camp. That's where he’s been all this time, scouting the terrain and making preparations. Go ahead, boys: tell him how you were bravely shoring up our defenses against nocturnal dragon attacks.”

“Sure,” said Matt around a mouthful of snack cake. “Of course that's what we were doing.”

“Okay,” Noah said. “We’ll kill the dragon in the morning.” He kissed his parents, said, “Good night,” then ducked into his tent.

In the silence that followed, Charley blinked in the lamp light. “What?” he asked.

“Dude,” Matt said, patting his shoulder. “Just let it go.”

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Conversations with Noah, Age 4 (Part I)

The first weekend of the Oklahoma Renaissance Fair is always miserable: a cold, wet, last gasp of winter fighting hard on its way out. This fact is absolute and predictable. You can plant crops around the Ren Fair schedule. It's better than any Almanac.

Pathetic in the light rain, I huddled in a camp chair under a tarp while my friends set up our booth before the Fair opened. Sarah, my best friend, passed me another blanket as she pulled up a chair next to mine.

"So, how are you enjoying the Ren Fair?" she asked.

I practiced my evil glare, but she only laughed.

When Nicole arrived, I practiced my glare on her son Noah, age four. Noah, shaking from the top of his head down to his cute little ren fair boots, red hair damp under his pint-sized cloak, took one look at my pile of blankets and crawled into my lap.

I made a mental note that the evil glare still needs work, but decided to make the most of this tiny heat source. I pulled the blanket close around us as Nicole set about organizing the merchandise table.

Sarah and I chatted for several minutes. When our husbands strung a rope across the booth, Noah, no longer shivering, turned to watch. “What are they doing?” he asked.

“They’re hanging a curtain,” Sarah said, “so we can nap behind it if we get tired today.”

The green sheets flapped in a wet breeze. “They look like ghosts,” Noah said.

“Nonsense,” I said. “They’re green. What kind of dead creature would leave behind a green ghost?”

Noah thought about this. “Trees,” he said with a nod.

I looked at the trees around us. There was certainly a lot of green about. “I suppose. Tree ghosts. Not the strangest thing I’ve heard. What about the red sheet over there?”

Noah looked in the direction I pointed. “Fire ghost,” he said.

“The ghost of a dying fire. That’s downright poetic,” I said.

Sarah sighed. I ignored her. “Tell me, young man: how does one go about fighting tree ghosts?”

“Optimus Prime could fight them,” Noah said.

I too believe Optimus Prime can conquer any foe, corporeal or otherwise, but I pressed on regardless. “Indeed. Well, sir, where do you suggest we find Optimus Prime at this time of day?”

Noah, immediately crestfallen, said, “I don’t know.”

At the sudden change in tone, I looked to Sarah for guidance. She shrugged. In the telepathy I have that comes and goes, I knew she was saying, “You started this. You’re on your own.”

“Why don’t you know where to find him?” I said.

“I had Optimus Prime, but I lost him!” Noah said, tiny voice breaking slightly.

With genuine feeling, I said, “I was the same age as you when my own Optimus Prime was stolen, but the important thing to remember is that Optimus Prime is always in your heart.”

Sarah’s husband Alex, who had stepped behind the booth for a drink of water, stopped at this and, shaking his head, immediately went back out again, leaving the tree-ghost curtain open behind him.

“Maybe Bumblebee and I can look for Optimus Prime together,” Noah suggested.

“Gosh, that would be quite an adventure,” I said.

“Can you take me to get Bumblebee? I left him at home.”

Sarah smiled. In telepathy, I said with a sidelong glance, “You knew this would happen, didn’t you?” Her sweet expression very clearly said, “Yes, and I’m enjoying the aftermath.”

I told Noah, “You can’t go on an adventure with Bumblebee.”

“Why not?” Noah said.

“You’re not old enough to drive. Bumblebee’s a car. How will you look for Optimus Prime together if you can’t drive?”

“Bumblebee can drive himself!” Noah said.

“That’s right, he can,” Sarah agreed.

“Hush you,” I told her. To Noah, I said, “You should wait until you’re tall enough to look out the window so you can search for Optimus Prime while Bumblebee drives.”

“We can’t wait that long!” Noah said. “What if Optimus Prime is in danger?”

“Yes,” Sarah said. “It could be an emergency.”

I practiced my evil glare against Sarah once more, but it did nothing to calm the child. Through the open curtain, I could see Charley, Noah’s father. I decided it was either him or me.

“I’ve never been to your house before, Noah. How can I take you to Bumblebee? Do you know the way to your house from here?”

“No…”

“You have to find someone who knows the way. Maybe if you tell them Optimus Prime is in danger and it’s an emergency, they’ll take you home.”

Forsaking the warmth of the blankets, Noah leaped from my lap and ran to his father. “Daddy!” he called. “Optimus Prime is in danger!”

Across the space between us, Charley glared at me. In the telepathy I sometimes have, his eyes said, “What have you done?”

I whipped the tree-ghost curtain closed. “I really need to work on my evil glare,” I told Sarah. “Mine is nowhere near as good as his.”

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Know Your Enemy

I’m smart. I don’t say this to brag. It’s simple fact.

But a fair chunk of those smarts – and I really am bragging here – I had to fight for. Yes, friends: if you want to be smarter, you have to earn it. I have acquired my vast intellect through bloody combat. I wage a constant war against Intellectualism.

You know the kind of Intellectualism I’m talking about: heavy-hitting pillars of literary merit, dripping with themes and allegories and politics; books constructed of prose so potent you can smell it from across the room; films with subtle visual effects and understated symphonic soundtracks. We’re talking Intellectualism with a capital I.

You have to go looking for Intellectualism. They don’t keep that stuff prominently displayed on the endcaps at Barnes and Noble. People would get hurt. Intellectualism is vicious. Dangerous. It leaves scores of weaker minds unconscious in its wake. (Intellectualism, I’m sure you’ve heard, is an excellent sleep aid.)

I go digging for it.

In the library stacks, I stifle giggles and struggle to contain my anticipatory glee as I read the jacket-flaps on these tomes, the sort of books that grant you honorary IQ points just for carrying them around.

And I struggle through these books.

I, who sometimes read a book a day, will slog against these literary mires for weeks.

I suffer.

Liking it is not the point.

I come away from the experience noticeably smarter. I’ll subtly steer any conversation toward my new pet topic in order to show off my arcane, ill-gotten knowledge, spouting facts man was not meant to wot of to the horror of my captive audience, displaying understanding beyond the ken of mere mortals.

Secure in my intellectual prowess, I then go back to reading trashy novels without shame or embarrassment. Books with scantily-clad Italian men on the covers. Books set on space ships. Books with the word “dragon” in the title.

And hereby do I lose the Great War: for later I find that I’ve learned something from the rubbish.

Playing Trivial Pursuit with family, I rattle off a correct answer about the War of the Roses that I picked up from a slutty romance novel.

For breakfast one morning, I make eggs-in-a-basket because my favorite fictional detective eats them that way. They turn out pretty good, actually.

A library patron needs books about islands for a vacation she’s planning, and I know which islands to look up because they were on the helpful map inside the cover of the pirate adventure I read last month.

Trashy books are ninjas.

You’re minding your own business, intrigued by the plot, when BLAM! Shuriken in the night. You’re suddenly smarter and you never saw it coming.

It’s Ninja Intellectualism.

Also known as defeat. Devastating, total, utter defeat. Because I didn’t earn all that. That stuff infiltrated my ranks. I can’t admit to associating with that stuff.

Back at Trivial Pursuit, my family looks at me like I have two heads. “Good God, woman! How do you know these things?” my husband laments from the men’s team.

“Textbook,” I mutter. “Found it in the reference section. Looked interesting.”

Grandma, believing herself on the winning team, nods knowingly. “I’ve always said she’s a genius.”

But I know in my secret heart who is really winning this war.

Monday, May 9, 2011

A Splendorous Post

Recently, I was confronted by the word “splendorous” in an actual book review. Rather than entice me to read the book, the presence of that word made me question the validity of the review: it is my (granted, unprofessional) opinion that to call a book “splendorous” is a serious accusation. This is a word that I don’t imagine gets a lot of use, the sort of word that I personally would only come around to after playing “Six Degrees of Separation” with a thesaurus.

“Okay! I’m writin’ myself a review for a ridiculously awesome book! What’s a synonym for ‘awesome’? (flipping through thesaurus) Let’s see… ‘Tremendous,’ which leads to (flip flip) ‘Superb’? No… (flip flip) ‘Magnificent’ seems promising… (flip) ‘Splendorous’. Hey, that sounds about right.”

In the spirit of fun, I then looked up many other (supposedly) professional book reviews and copied down a few entertaining words. The resulting list, divided into these convenient columns, I now present here for your edification and entertainment.

Create Your Own Bullshit Book Review!

Adjective Noun Verb Thing Whatever
shocking
elegant
strange
unsettling
generous
clichéd
lyrical
melodramatic
overheated
dense
complex
piercing
tender
distinctive
memorable
flowing
musical
brilliant
splendorous
wondrous
magical
story
intelligence
humor
language
novel
characters
prose
speech
heroes
closing pages
setting
dialogue
antagonist
resolution
confrontation
theme
climax
chronicle
style
chapters
prologue
spins
establishes
manages
encapsulates
yields up
conveys
patterns
chronicles
depicts
picks up
makes
harkens back to
decries
flaunts
portrays
recreates
balances
conjures
flashes
confuses
creates
degeneration
myth
hopelessness
inevitability
milestone
affirmation
hope
energy
drive
intensity
impressions
paradigm
archetype
resurgence
decline
epitome
horror
fantasy
hypothesis
regret
insight
American West
black experience
Digital age
feminine perspective
patriarchal society
current economy
war in Iraq
obesity epidemic
New Age demographic
Industrial Revolution
institution of marriage
bi-partisan system
housing crisis
generation divide
trade situation
modern rap scene
Holocaust
urban youth
newspaper industry
Medieval Europe
civil unrest

The (Adjective) (Noun) (Verb)(s) the (Thing) of (the) (Whatever).

The (Noun), while often (Adjective), is never (Adjective).

The (Whatever)is neither (Adjective) nor (Adjective) as the (Noun) (Verb)(s) the (Thing) of literary theory.

The author’s (Noun) of (the) (Whatever) (Verb)(s) the (Adjective) (Thing) of today.

The (Thing) of (the) (Whatever) makes the (Noun) all the more (Adjective).

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Interloper

The day at the thrift store when he purchased the jackal-headed statue that could summon the Egyptian god Anubis on command, he assumed the valuable artifact had accidentally been discarded with the picked-over remains of some elaborate estate. But as he prepared to return to the Salvation Army for the fourth time that week, he knew the statue had been donated on purpose.

“Get more beer while you’re out,” Anubis called from the couch.

“Will do,” he replied, then set out once again to look for the other statue, the one that would dismiss the Egyptian god Anubis on command.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Editing, it turns out, sucks.

In February, when I signed up for National Novel Editing Month (NaNoEdMo for short, an internet movement that encourages participants to beautify their ugliest manuscripts for at least fifty hours during the month of March), my friends and family were concerned that I was manifesting latent masochistic tendencies, hitherto unknown. I played light of the situation, insisting I was doing it for fun. “It’s a spiritual exercise!” I said. “To prove to myself that I can! It’s good to have goals in life!” Pollyanna would have been proud.

The truth is that over the years my writing has gone in several directions, not all of which were paths the human psyche was meant to travel. I have a pile of ugly manuscripts chained in my basement, there to mock me and act as my secret shame forever, hidden from public eyes lest they bring disgrace upon my house and name. They need only a firm and loving hand, I thought, to beat the insolence out of them so that they are fit to see the light of day. I would be that hand.

On March 1st, I started my endeavor by asking some published writers I know online if they had any editing advice. “Fire is a powerful, cleansing force,” one said. At the time, I wondered what he meant.

The first week, I edited with Justice in my heart. No paragraph was safe from my scrutiny. The fixes were easy and obvious. I had plans! I had a vision! My pure faith in NaNoEdMo would sustain me like the white light of Heaven in these End Times!

But my fervor was short lived. Error sprang up after error, like the heads of the mythical hydra. Even the bits I had already edited still needed more editing. It was an unending battle. I remembered the writer’s advice: Why hadn’t I started with fire?

There’s a scene in World of Warcraft when Prince Arthas Menethil chooses to burn the city of Stratholm, killing all within, rather than risk the spread of the undead plague that he believes has already taken hold of the populace. It’s an act of genocide, the first step in the moral decline of a once-great man who later descends to unspeakable evil.

By March 21st, I decided Old Arthas was onto something.

But I lack the strength to set alight my blighted manuscripts. Defeated, I relegate my grotesque creations to their quiet corner of the basement yet again, too ashamed to look at them. I hear their pitiful cries as I lie awake in bed at night, with plans and visions of next March, when NaNoEdMo comes again.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Meeting Media: Robots



Meeting Media are created during actual and very important meetings while I really was paying attention. Names or other identifying information, or inappropriate comments about my boss, have been blocked out to protect the illusion of innocence.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Ending the Movie

The ruptured appendix was ill-timed: I had waited three years for Fellowship of the Ring to come out. Two days out of the hospital, stoned out of my gourd on pain meds, I sat in the packed theater on opening night propped between my husband and my father, the latter only there to help my husband carry me to the car if I passed out. He had never read the books, was only somewhat interested in the film. I felt bad about dragging him along: I needed him to like this movie.
Fellowship was long enough for me to pass out for an hour in the middle and still catch an hour on either end. In my pharmacological euphoria, it was the best movie I had ever seen. Beautiful! Perfect! A thing of wonder to behold! At the film’s conclusion, I looked starry-eyed at my father, awaiting his thoughts.
"They end it there?" he cried. "They haven't destroyed the ring yet!"

Ah, yes. That.

I hate it when movies don’t end well. Fellowship of the Ring can be forgiven, seeing as how it’s the first of a trilogy: we had to wait two years for it, but Return of the King ended at least three times.

Other movies have no excuse.

I seek the worst from my movies: Pure Escapism. I am not in this for the art. I am in it for the explosions and the symphonic soundtrack and the satisfying ending. It doesn’t even have to be happy – it just has to be a clearly delineated ending.

Few traumas compare to the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach when the credits roll prematurely. It’s a broken, soulless feeling. Blinking in the raised lights of the theater, after two hours that I’ll never get back, too heartbroken, too shocked to cry, I say, “I wonder how this movie ends…”
Because ending and stopping are so not the same things.
At all.

How could you do this to me, Hollywood? I trusted you.

The only way to cope with the betrayal is outright denial.

I’m particularly fond of pretending the producers simply forgot to end the movie. Picture, if you will, this happy and contented scene:

It’s 68 degrees and sunny, with blue skies and a gentle breeze. The producer is sitting on the veranda, having coffee and doing the crossword, perhaps humming to himself.
His wife comes in and lovingly kisses his cheek. She moves to stand behind him, rubbing his shoulders, maybe pointing out the answer to number twenty-three across. He loves that she’s so clever. She says, “Didn’t you have to be somewhere today?”
He puts the paper down, thinks, stares off into space. Then he says “No… No, I don’t think so.”
She shrugs her shoulders. “Oh, well. More coffee, dear?”

Meanwhile, some camera guy passes through the quiet studio on his day off. I don't know why he's there - maybe he forgot his cell phone? Anyway, he has nothing else to do that day. He was feeling productive but the hardware store didn’t have the parts he needed for his latest home-improvement project. Oh, what he wouldn’t give for something creative and productive to do… And that’s when he spies the poor unfinished film on the cutting room floor! “I’ll just tack some credits on the end of the last roll,” he says. He calls to his buddy, the janitor, “Hey, Mac, wanna be a producer?”
“Sure!” says Mac. Why, he’s never been a producer before!
The two of them have the time of their lives! They’re so happy as they slap the film in a can – if only they could bottle this feeling of accomplishment and carry it with them always!

And off to the theaters it goes.


It makes me happy for them, these imaginary people, when I tell myself this lie.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Vignettes: The Not-Literature

I.
When I was an English student, my course advisor, who was English department chair, used to lend me books from the heavy-laden shelves in her office –romance novels, “beach reading,” murder mysteries – in an effort to broaden my horizons. I would read these books, despite their lack of dragons, out of respect and admiration for this woman, and discuss them with her over long lunches at a restaurant near the campus green. We would be laughing over the plots and characters, describing what we enjoyed about each book and why…

Then she would soberly say, “But of course it’s not literature,” and take a slow sip of coffee as she stared out the window.

My God, it was like someone had shot her dog.

II.
During my first month as librarian at the inner city high school, I opened the fifty heavy boxes with anticipation, relishing the new-book smell. The last librarian had qualified for a generous grant and ordered hundreds of new titles, but accepted a higher-paying job elsewhere before the order came in. They were beautiful! They were shiny! They came with free library processing! I basked in their light without having to do a lick of work. It was glorious.

The principal did not share my excitement. Herself a product of the inner city, she held high expectations of her low-achieving students. Picking through the “Hi-Lo” page-turners, designed to be of “high interest” to young adults reading at an elementary or “low” grade level, she saw Not-Literature, such as my old professor had lamented. She wrinkled her nose as she picked up a Goosebumps book. “Why would the librarian order this trash?”

Because reading trash is a step up from not reading. To this day, I kick myself for not saying that aloud.

III.
When the state closed the inner city high school due to low achievement, I landed at a magnet middle school. “These kids read all the time!” my predecessor claimed before she retired.

But the English teachers told a different story. “They only read enough to earn their AR points, then they stop.”

I sighed as I surveyed the generous library, packed wall-to-wall with shiny, untouched Literature.

“If I get them to read more, do you care how I do it?” I asked.

“Knock yourself out,” the team leader said.

My days blurred together, spent at the shelves as often as behind the desk, pushing Not-Literature into unsuspecting hands.
“This one’s got spaceships in it,” I told the kids,
and “You’ll like this one: there are pirates”
and “Just read the first page, and tell me you’re not interested. I dare you,”
and “You look like you need a ghost story.”

The reading scores improved.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

When the Zombies Rise, We'll Carpool to Walmart

We had all moved to the same backwater town, about a half hour outside of the city, for the cheap rents during grad school. Our four households not only doubled the town’s population of twenty-somethings but comprised the entire geek scene, a new species migrating in from hipper climes. When gas prices skyrocketed after Katrina, we were in a unique position to carpool together.

We changed it up often, tweaking our rides and our schedules, using different combinations of carpool buddies to keep things fresh, but the months of carpooling strained our conversational talents and we often fell back on ye olde standby: the zombie plan.

“I’m telling you,” Sarah told us on the way home that day, “Walmart is the way to go. We weld the carts into an impassable cage structure in the entryway and hole up for the duration. We’d have clothes, food, tools – heck, they even have ammo. We could spend our days on the roof, sniping the zombies in the parking lot.”

“But how would we get there after the invasion?” I asked. “It’s half an hour away. So much could go wrong.”

“Infestation,” said Alex. “You said ‘invasion,’ like they’re some army waiting to invade our borders. You meant ‘infestation.’”

“Fine, but that doesn’t answer the question,” I said.

“Oh, but it does,” Alex said. “No bio-terror zombie infestation is going to start here. We’re in the middle of nowhere! We’ll hear about it on the news with days to spare.”

“Hang on, now,” Matt said. “If we’ve got advanced notice, we can do better than Walmart.”

Sarah scoffed. The Walmart plan is, of course, genius, and we all knew it. “What did you have in mind?”

Matt drummed his fingers on the steering wheel. “What about a fortified island?”

“That’s a terrible idea,” Alex said, bluntly. “We’d be sitting ducks.”

“I don’t believe the shambling undead are coordinated enough to swim,” Matt said.

“You’re right,” Alex said, “but obviously the virus that causes zombification is anaerobic – I mean, zombies don’t breathe, right? – so zombies wouldn’t have to be able to swim. They could just walk along the ocean floor.”

I wasn’t convinced. “They wouldn’t make it. Zombies are dead things and fish eat dead things.”

“Not so!” Alex said. “The scavengers that eat dead things only eat fresh, non-diseased dead things. They would smell the zombification virus and leave the zombies alone. Besides, even if the human zombies got eaten, things that eat zombies become zombies. An island would leave us vulnerable to zombie fish.”

We drove several minutes in silence as this sank in. “Remember that shark at the aquarium?” I said. They all nodded. The shark with the crooked jaw had teeth curling outward at a variety of odd angles. It was just the sort of shark I could imagine becoming a zombie.

Sarah shuddered and said, “At least zombie sharks can’t get out of the water.”

The car settled into silence as we pulled up in front of Alex and Sarah’s house. It seemed as good a place as any to end the conversation, until Matt said, “But if you give the shark a skateboard…”

“No,” Sarah said. “Just no.”

“Well, think about it,” Matt said. “It will give us something to talk about tomorrow.”

Monday, February 14, 2011

I read fantasy because I lack imagination.

When I was in fifth grade, my class read On My Honor by Marion Dane Bauer, the story of two boys who sneak off to the river to go swimming without telling their parents even though they're not supposed to. One of the boys drowns, and the other agonizes over whether or not he'll tell anyone. If he does, everyone will know he disobeyed the rules. If he doesn't, he's the only one who will ever know what happened to his friend. When we finished the book, our teacher asked us what we would have done. The class was divided over "tell" or "don't tell" and each side had good reasons for their beliefs. I was horror-stricken. This question was irrelevant! I wouldn't have been at the frakking river in the first place! Their parents told them no!

I was a goody-goody child. I did what I was told. I had a disobedient brother who was always getting in trouble and I was smart enough to learn from his mistakes without making my own. Mom gets mad when you don't do the chores like she told you to, so just do the chores. You got in trouble for lying about the thing you broke, so it would have been easier to fess up in the first place. You broke the thing because you were playing ball in the house; that must be why mom told you not to do that. Watching my brother get in trouble for his antics instilled in me a deep fear of authority and I grew up doing as I was told.

This had the unintended and unforeseen consequence of ruining realistic fiction for me for the duration of my childhood, and far into adulthood as well, because I couldn't imagine myself in the main characters’ shoes. To my childhood self, moral dilemmas were a stupid basis for a plot: Everyone knows these things don’t happen if you follow the rules. How stupid can you be?

You know those people who talk to horror movies? ("Don't go out there! The killer's outside, and you're in your underwear!") I talk to realistic fiction. "Don’t lie to her about that! Lying only causes problems!”

However, I’ve never had this problem with fantasy. The more unbelievable it is, the easier I find it to identify with the characters. If I were the good, true, noble knight in the story, would I be able to do the right thing, tell the truth, and stand up for what I believe in? Duh, of course I would. I know these things about myself.

But would I be able to slay the dragon? Have the courage to confront the evil witch in the scary castle? Could I trek across Mordor to cast the ring into the fires of Mount Doom? Finally, some questions I can’t answer! I’m interested in the outcome for the fictional characters because I don’t know what I would be capable of in these situations.

As I get older, I find more gray areas so I'm more and more able to read books in other genres, but it took years to convince me to pick up any book without a dragon on the cover.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Meeting Media: Methods of Teaching class notes

Meeting Media are created during actual and very important meetings while I really was paying attention. Names or other identifying information, or inappropriate comments about my boss, have been blocked out to protect the illusion of innocence.
These notes are from my college years, specifically a coma-inducing class for English majors with an emphasis on education. See references to types of teachers, punctuation, and grammar. The coloring also took place during class. The professor was too caught up in his lecture to notice.


Thursday, February 3, 2011

Lit Theory and I Never Got Along

At the risk of losing your respect, I will freely admit that I hated Lit Theory.

My undergraduate studies in English largely consisted of enjoyable book-club discussions of highly interesting works, so it was a rude awakening to learn that grad school involved mucking about with literature the same way Dr. Frankenstein mucked about with human anatomy. From my first semester, my Lit Theory professor and I argued about the point.

Every class was the same. The professor would trot out abhorrent specimens of film and prose – taped-together images draped over skeletal plots – that left us all scratching our heads. Then the professor would demonstrate his carefully constructed analyses of the “texts”, like a magician whisking away a cloth to reveal a hidden rabbit. “Is this not a work of genius when viewed in this light?” he asked.

“It… no. That there? I think I just broke my brain,” I said. “What’s the point of reading a story that’s only good after careful analysis?”

“It makes us better than the masses,” he replied, stuffiness apparently being an acceptable life-path for some people.

But my grades were at stake, so I kept at it. After hours of course work, the brainwashing kicked in. I analyzed everything, dividing it into “literature” and “not actually literature.” No sitcom was safe. Every commercial contained hidden commentary on the war in Iraq. The Disney channel became a statement about disillusion and the inevitability of old age.

My friends and family thought I was paranoid. “None of that stuff is actually there,” they said. “Okay, maybe we can see the Disney channel thing, but you’re way off on the rest of it.”

It was easier to believe my professor was full of it than that all of my loved ones were too dense to properly interpret written and visual media, so I started counting the number of times contributors to my writing group said, “It’s interesting that you saw all that in my piece. I certainly wasn’t thinking about that when I wrote it.” I quickly noticed that they said this every time, and confronted the Lit Theory professor with this condemning information.

He replied, “Of course they weren’t thinking about it: authors don’t really write their works, they merely channel the deeper beliefs of the subconscious mind, which we then uncover and interpret to find the true meaning of the text.”

…Whatever. I heard all that as, “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. I am the great and powerful Oz.” I was knee-deep in a degree program that I was beginning to suspect didn’t actually contribute to society. However, when I still couldn’t stop analyzing everything, I stopped reading and watching television, instead spending my free time playing solitaire and listening to music that didn’t have lyrics. I was miserable.

One night, on my way to make a sandwich, I passed through the living room where my husband was watching a movie. “What do you suppose they were trying to say, with the glass on the floor like that?” I asked.

He stared at me. “Did you just… Are you seriously deconstructing Die Hard?”

I had to think about it. Deconstructing was just so natural by now. “I think so. Maybe. Yes?”

He turned off the TV and made me sit beside him on the couch. “Dear, this has to stop. This is an intervention.”

That was the end of English for me. I abandoned all plans for a PhD and took up Library Science instead. I joined book clubs, and ran a few myself. I read more not-literature and watched more movies with explosions in. I may not be better than the masses, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Meeting Media: The Place with the Zebras

Meeting Media are created during actual and very important meetings while I really was paying attention. Names or other identifying information, or inappropriate comments about my boss, have been blocked out to protect the illusion of innocence.