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redman photo 82 side k pref head vert typaI had a very strict mother. Not about everything, you understand. She was actually quite a free-thinker, an intellectual and a good deal ahead of her time, feministically speaking. 🙂 But she believed in a certain kind of public behavior. Manners. Refinement.

Lucy at typewriterWhatever you call it, she must have made a bigger impression on me than I realized. I like to think of myself as terrifically open-minded, a little avante garde in a very ladylike way, not at all repressed or repressive.

Imagine my shock, then, when my daughter told me that, way back when she was in elementary school and someone did something crazy, her friends would pose the sardonic question, “Irene, would your mother call this vulgar? Or tacky?”

OMG. That is how they saw me? Cool, intellectual, free-thinking me? Apparently.

puzzle monsterSo, just for the record, girls, here’s how you know what’s vulgar, and what’s tacky.

TACKY is just a bit cheap, poorly made, or the etiquette equivalent of poorly made. It hints that you might not have champagne tastes or the Queen’s manners. Nobody gets hurt with tacky. It includes innocent sins, like showing too much cleavage at a funeral, or letting your dog lick your plate when you’re finished.

VULGAR is much, much worse. Vulgar is when you send naked pictures of yourself in a Santa hat as Christmas cards–and you actually believe it’s sexy, not gross. Vulgar is when you make body-function jokes in front of your maiden aunt, or tell strangers too many details about things that should be private.

Tacky makes you look bad. Vulgar makes other people uncomfortable.

Or so my mother taught me.

However, there are quite a few things that the world probably considers tacky (and I *KNOW* my mother did!) that I absolutely adore. Don’t we all have some? Here’s my list of my top five Tacky Treats.

St. Francis corner1) Yard knick-knacks. I know…I really do know…that a dozen cheap little ornaments scattered around your yard don’t look very swanky. But I don’t care. I’m addicted. I do keep my shame in the *back* yard, though, to avoid embarrassing the rest of the family.

beach store mannequin2) Kitschy beach stores. I love the smell of plastic beach toys shaped like alligators, and what we used to call “suntan oil,” but now would undoubtedly call “sunscreen.” I like towels embroidered with the name of my favorite beach: Indian Rocks. I like flip flops and straw hats and yellow plastic buckets with crenelated bottoms for making sand castles. I even like…get ready…little people and creatures made entirely of shells, like these poker players.

puppy in christmas lights

3) Christmas lights hanging crooked, or mismatched. I love the idea that real people who want to twinkle a Merry Christmas to their neighbors actually get on ladders and string these babies up…maybe getting a little cranky, even, while they do it. I like yards that have gone a little too far (not Griswold far), or who clearly let the six-year-old pick out the color scheme. I don’t really like those net strands of lights, because they look too neat, too linear, as if someone professional put them on.swing at christmas I also love lights that stay on all year. I have an outdoor swing that I decorate with fairy lights. I have some in all different colors–pink for Valentine’s Day, red-white-blue for Fourth of July, purple and orange for Halloween. I’m hopeless.

glitter

4) Glitter. This is obviously a hangover from childhood. We had a babysitter once who knew how to draw a ballerina using only a very few lines to make a fluffy tutu skirt. And then she’d let us paste glitter along each ruffle of the skirt. Oh, it was magical, and I never got over it. Also, we used to drive to Indian Rocks Beach on Florida’s Gulf Coast every summer, and somewhere along the way we passed a billboard that had a strip of something metallic that glittered in the noonday sun. I can’t remember what it advertised…if anyone else remembers, please let me know! I see that glittering sign in my dreams!

Tiara5) Wacky costume jewelry. I don’t wear this, you understand. Not because I’m afraid of offending the memory of my mother. She thought costume jewelry could approach true art. I don’t wear it because I wear four piece of jewelry, the same ones all the time. A necklace, a watch, my wedding rings, and a pair of earrings. I got them all from His Highness on special occasions, and, except for the earrings, I never take change them. The necklace hasn’t come off in twenty-six years…although don’t worry–it does take showers. But in a purely “museum” way, I love a fabulously tacky piece of costume jewelry. The more color and kitch the better! I particularly can’t resist tiaras. 🙂 Pinterest was invented to allow people like me to indulge interests like that. 🙂

Big blue monsterI also love wonderful, horrible tearjerker ballads, like “Shake Me I Rattle, Squeeze Me, I Cry.” But those songs can’t be on this list, because they’re corny, not tacky. Don’t believe me? Ask your mom. 🙂

How about you? What do you insist on loving, in spite of snob pressure to renounce it?

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Prueba1675

Today is the official Day of Joy recognized by every writer on the face of the earth, I would be willing to bet. Today is the day after I finally submitted my overdue manuscript. My book is complete. (Until my brilliant editor finds the goof-ups and guides me toward revisions that will make it GOOD book!).

I am a free woman.

redman photo 82 side k pref head vert typa

But that first day of freedom, after weeks and weeks, sometimes months and months, of enslavement, is always strange. I come creeping out of my deadline cave, hunched and blinking at the daylight, asking everyone, “What year is it?” And then, just when I thought I would run skipping all over my world, screaming, “FREEDOM! BRING ON THE FUN!” I am oddly paralyzed. I’ve forgotten how to do anything but write. I’ve lost the knack of feeling anything but guilty, pressed and terrified that my words won’t be good enough.

That’s when a quiet day of reading can provide the perfect bridge. The quiet place between deadline Hell and (temporary) freedom Heaven.

I’ve got so many books stacked up I hardly know which one to select. Here are the ones I’ve started with:

penelopiad coverTHE PENELOPIAD, by Margaret Atwood.
This one will probably win, because it’s a very cool retelling of the Penelope/Odysseus myth, only this time from Penelope’s POV. I’ve begun it…and Penelope is such a wry, honest voice that I don’t see how I can switch to something else till I’ve heard what she has to say. Plus, this is a library book, and it’s due soon.
🙂

zelda book
Z: A NOVEL OF ZELDA FITZGERALD, by Therese Anne Fowler.
No, wait! This one might win, because I just saw THE GREAT GATSBY, and it put me in the mood!
I loved the Luhrmann version of Gatsby, though I have some great friends who disagree with me…almost violently! 🙂 If you saw it, I’d love to hear what you thought!
Shakespeare and Dickens booksSHAKESPEARE’S TREMOR AND ORWELL’S COUGH, The Medical Lives of Famous Writers, by John J. Ross, M.D.
This is one I can pick at, a chapter at a time, so it’ll probably just wander around with me for a few weeks, filling in odd moments. But doesn’t it sound cool? It explores the “medical mysteries” of some famous and fascinating writers.

DICKENS AND THE DAUGHTER OF THE HOUSE, by Hilary M. Schor.
This one probably appeals only to lit-geeks, because it explores the role of the daughter in Dickens novels. However, because I *am* a lit-geek, it’s made the short list.

babysitting ShoshieOr, I could just go out on the back porch and watch my son’s puppy play in the yard while I get started on my next book. We’re puppy-sitting for a few days, and the little rascal provided a wonderful excuse to write outside as I polished the last few chapters. I love my office setup, but there’s nothing like birdsong and sunshine to provide the inspiration a romance writer needs!

What about you? When you finish a long and difficult task, what do you do to celebrate?

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Once, on a hot summer afternoon a couple of years ago, His Highness found me in the back yard, weeding out an old flower bed I’d ignored for ages. “What on earth made you decide to—” Then he stopped. “Oh. You’re starting a new book.”

We’ve been married a long time, so he knows. It’s always like that. The anxiety, the nerves, the sheer mind-breaking work involved in creating a new story are so awful that I’ll do anything, anything rather than sit at my desk. I reorganize my closet, create a card catalog for my books, paint my office, polish the silver. Bed out forgotten gardens. It’s all easier than trying to spin the straw of my chaotic thoughts into the gold of a finished book.

I’m working on a new story now, which of course means I’ve been working on the yard. This weekend was especially grueling, as we raked up the last of four million oak leaves and discovered more weeds than grass underneath.

As I reached down, perspiring and muttering, to uproot the nearest interloper, a sprinkling of deep green leaves and lavender blossoms, I flashed back to my childhood.

My best friend and I played outside for hours, and we made houses in the garden for our toys. We hunted for those small stray flowers in the grass, yellow or purple, or (my very favorite) one with a little navy blue center surrounded by white lace. When we found them, we always built our houses there, where obviously the fairies had sprinkled diamond and sapphire and topaz in the night.

Later, when my own daughter was a little girl, we came across clover sprouting in the back yard. I told her they were fairy houses. She squatted in front of them for long minutes of silent awe, her starfish hands on her knees, studying them. She believed in the invisible fairies, without any evidence except the glossy emerald beauty of the tiny stem and rounded roof.

Where did that sense of wonder go? That easy joy, the awareness that beauty was everywhere, and magic rained in the night? When had these jeweled surprises become problems? When had I become so obsessed with the responsibility of “maintaining the lawn” that I forgot to smile at the little lavender fairy’s house, half-hidden under the leaves?

And suddenly I understood why I dreaded starting that book. I’d lost the wide-eyed joy, the sense of play. Why should I be afraid of beginning a new story? It is the most magical time of all, when nothing is set in stone, when everything is possible. When spontaneity, whimsy, and imagination are the ingredients that, brewed with joy, can create a fascinating new world.

I didn’t pull the little purple weed. My eyes opening, I spotted a yellow one, too, over by the wall. I got my camera and took pictures of them, ignoring the look His Highness gave me across his rake, while he obviously tried to recall the symptoms of sunstroke.

And then I came in and started to work…no…started to play on my book.

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