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…


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.


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?”


“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
closing pages
yields up
picks up
harkens back to
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
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


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.