Sunday, February 22, 2009


Nothing's more fun than realizing you're smack dab in the middle of the very place and space you talk to your students about all the time. On the one hand, it validates your discussion. On the other hand, it really just plain sucks.

I've started four different novels in the last three months, none of which seem to be going anywhere. I do know enough to know that I need to keep following them, but the honest truth is that I am extremely lonely when I'm not living with a bunch of characters. I feel incomplete. I feel like I'm searching for the rest of me.

In the last three months, I've reworked a proposal for Shambhala once again. This proposal, tentatively called The Writing Warrior, has made it off my editor's desk up to the grand poobah of acquisitions. This means nothing. I've been here before. I've rewritten a novel originally intended as literary fiction for the YA market. I completed a memoir and now am going back through it to take out what doesn't fit. I have proposed a creative writing textbook to Pearson/Longman and wrote a sample section over winter break. The book is now with the senior editor in its peer review journey.

Lots of work. Lots of stuck-age. Stoppage. Blockage. Lots of waiting. Editors are losing their jobs. Publishing houses are restructuring. Bookstores are closing. Lots of work piled up at the train station. Nowhere near enough trains leaving.

I received an anonymous postcard this week. I've gotten a few of these over the last year or so. The postmark is Vermont. I don't know anyone in Vermont, so I'm kind of excited to have a secret Vermont admirer. The postcard said: If your train doesn't pull into the station, go out and find it. Very appropriate for the past few months. Of course, the next logical question is: Go where? Go west, young (ahem, middle aged woman) go west? Go east? Go north, south, inside, outside, upside down, underneath ... ah, so many prepositions. So little time. But the gist is -- move. Everything else may be held up at the station, but all those things are never in my control. It's just a bit easier to believe in the illusion of control when the world is in a bit better shape.

I feel like I'm putting myself on hold -- waiting to hear from Shambhala, from Pearson/Longman, from Simon & Schuster. I am unable to settle into any project because if another one hits, I'll have to leave the one I start and focus on that one. It's a mind-trip. It's not real. None of it. Not the possibility of success. Not the possibility of no success. All that matters is the work. All that matters is the work. One more time: All that matters is the work.

And speaking of blockage, stoppage, and stuck-age, this week one of my kitties experienced a terrible thing. I'll not go into it here, other than to say it involves many things not mentioned in polite company, including ... oral medication.

Ever tried to give a cat oral medication? It's a bit like trying to get a train to leave the station that's not moving. It's a bit like trying to force the world to notice your novels. It's a bit like ... yeah ... trying to make something happen when the time isn't right.

Steps to giving a cat oral medication:

- Timing is everything. Sneak up on her when she's asleep if at all possible.
- Hide the syringe behind your back while calmly tricking her into believing you just came by to say hello.
- Prepare for a 6.5 pound sleeping ball of fur to suddenly have enough force to leap to the moon if necessary.
- Hold the scruff of the neck firmly while bringing the hidden syringe forward toward the lips.
- This will work once. Then she'll know you're coming. She'll know the smell of the medication. She'll recognize the syringe. And no matter how sick she is, she's moving out of your way.
- In one quick motion, inject all the medication into her mouth before she can remove your fingers with her teeth.
- Have towel ready to mop up the medication she spits back at you.
- Tell her in a few days it'll be over and she can return to her normal life.

Sound at all like trying to get a book published. Yeah. Thought so.

I'll leave you with this vlog from Jackson Pearce. She manages to tie bathing a cat into shelving a novel.

May your medications, bathing, and waiting go down smoothly this week.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Laraine's Economic Stimulus Package Plan

I love clothes.


Not in the "yeah, I gotta wear something so it might as well match" kind of way.

In the "my body is a canvas and everything I put on it is an artistic expression" kind of way.


I might pull this off better if I were 5'10" and a size two, but hey, the artist works with the materials at hand. I get really excited when I find a unique item of clothing. Really excited. It's like finding a dinosaur fossil. If you were interested in finding dinosaur fossils. Which, if you ask me, is nowhere near as exciting as finding one of a kind purple and yellow pants with tassles. I don't need Prada and Gucci. I just need funky. (And please, nothing beige. Ever.)

Clothes are my hobby. I don't drink. Don't smoke. Don't go clubbing. (As if you could in Prescott). I don't go out for lavish dinners. I don't fuel up my private jet to go to Italy for the weekend (though if the possibility arose...) I buy clothes. I don't like to wear the same outfit twice ... ever. Not that I won't wear something twice -- just not in the same way.

This has resulted in problems. At one time my credit card debt looked more like the national debt. At one time I bought everything I could to avoid dealing with my own personal crap. But those times are past, and now I buy clothes like a painter buys acrylics. (Really, it's not my fault that being a writer requires such a minimal investment). Clothing (of the non-beige variety) makes my heart dance.

This results in new problems. Namely, what industries am I supporting by buying clothing? What are their work policies? What kinds of fabrics are being used? Are they sustainable? Are the dyes used in the clothing environmentally friendly? Were those buttons put on by slave hands? What is a diva attempting to be conscious to do?

I've come to a few conclusions (um...rationalizations...)

1) Buy bamboo, organic cotton, organic soy, or hemp clothing as much as possible.

2) Buy clothing from distributors or designers who contribute their profits to causes I support and/or create their clothing in sweat-shop free environments. Examples of such places: jonano, earth creations, and avatar clothing. There are many more. These are just some of my favorite places.

3) Support locally owned businesses for clothing. Prescott only has a few of these left, and unfortunately, they're not funky enough for me. They're more prairie-cowgirl in stiletto fashion. But they must work for someone. I have found some places in Northern Arizona -- Fool on the Hill and Magpie's in Jerome. Animus and Rainbow's End and Sundara in Flagstaff. Come on Prescott! Your destiny awaits.

4) Buy from individual people making individual funky clothes. How do you do this in a rural conservative environment? Enter your favorite series of tubes known as the Internet. Here's a site for you: Etsy. Etsy is more than clothes. It's jewelry. Pottery. Scarves. Kitsch. Recycled and upcycled items. All handmade by women all over the world. Seriously.

Here are some of the way cool things I have purchased:

Way funky upcycled sweater from katwise.

Beyond Yoga pants in organic cotton from herbandevi.

Patchwork Om Pants from sewingsmyfavorite.

Belly dance pants from avantgarbe.

I could go on and on. Here are the coolest things about Etsy. You correspond with the individual seller. They often can custom make the item to your actual body size. Think on that. Your actual body size. Often they'll hem something for free. The prices range from about ten dollars to over three hundred (I haven't bought anything in the high end range -- most of what I buy there falls between $30 and $50 bucks). Last time I strolled through Dillard's I couldn't buy much for $50. The seller is the designer, so she's totally jazzed about her work, and she's totally jazzed that you love it. She'll write you notes thanking you for purchasing from her store. She'll say that your purchase helped her to be able to remain a stay at home mom. She'll say that your purchase allowed her to pay an unexpected medical bill. She'll ask you about your own life, work, hobbies. You'll order a scarf and hoodie and the designer will embroider "Flow. Love. Breathe. Write." on the inside pocket as a special surprise for you. She'll send you a follow up e-mail to make sure everything fit and that you love it.

I don't understand the numbers of our national debt. I don't understand the math of the credit crisis, the mortgage collapse, the 30% loss of the stock market in 18 months. I do understand that right now, I am lucky enough to have a job. I can use the money that I earn to help an individual, or I can hoard it, or I can go to Target.

I do all of these things, lest you think I have achieved enlightenment. :-) Haven't. But I do my best to keep my spending at an individual level. Restaurants and coffee shops in town which are owned locally. Clothing designers who live everywhere, but who all are making art, one piece at a time, one customer at a time, trying to bring more color and funk to the world.

Check out the Etsy site. It's good folk.

And today, wear something funky. If every news report is going to talk about the impending doom of the universe, we might as well listen to it wearing burgundy velvet and a handmade purple scarf.

Saturday, February 7, 2009


It was a precarious time. Tenth grade. We were in our second house in Phoenix, and our final house as a family. I was making my way through high school in a dark blue trench coat and very tight Levi's (yes, there was a pre-lycra day). I thought I was very fat with a 27" waist. Many of the girls had 21 and 22" waists. You could tell because Levi's always stamped your waist size right on the back of the jeans on the little canvas-colored tag. A 21" waist and a 34" inseam was ideal. Alas.

We were in a bizarre place. Phoenix. I was still looking for a neighborhood. I was still looking for friends to walk to school with or walk home from. I was looking for trees. When I got my driver's license, my friend J and I drove up to Prescott for the day to see trees. It's possible Phoenix could have worked for me if it had been lush with trees. If huge eucalyptus branches hung over buildings. If oak trees that had seen the Civil War lined the streets. If autumn brought not a dip below 100 degrees, but a wash of colored leaves instead. But that is not Phoenix.

Another friend, C, got it. She was a woman of horses and lived off of Bell Road in the middle of nowhere which is now Arrowhead Mall - one of the most congested areas of Phoenix. I talked to her about the trees and she understood. I read books on druids and fairies and nature-based religions. I read The Autobiography of a Yogi. I read about astral-travel and Hinduism, and I knew that not only had I left North Carolina and the path that life would have taken me, but I knew I had left the Christian path that had been laid out for me. There was too much else out there to think about. There were too many other ways of viewing the world that all seemed to have the same center with different accessories and rituals. Someone may want to paint their living room mauve and green and someone else may want a pure white room, but it's the same room. The paint is the accessory. The space is neutral. That space is God, to me. That's Tao.

I learned at 15 that I really can't group. I can't join. I can't do community in the way that so many people seem to thrive in. I can't say, yes my way is right and your way is wrong, and I certainly can't say I know the first thing about the nature of God or Goddess, except that because I do understand the shortcomings of language, and I understand that language is only a label -- a symbol -- of the thing it is describing, not the thing itself -- I understand that all the names of God are only symbols of something we may feel but can't yet articulate.

There's no shame in having no language. The shame comes when the language becomes the thing -- the way, the truth and the light, so to speak. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God" (John 1:1). Interesting grammar. If the Word was with God and was God, then the Word being discussed in the book of John is not the dualistic language we work with here on earth. It's a way of communicating in which that which describes the experience is the experience. We aren't there yet on this planet. Saying the word "shower" doesn't give you the feeling and experience of taking a shower. But maybe we can get there one day. Maybe that's where we're heading as our consciousnesses evolve. If we do get there, we'll truly be walking in the words of Rumi:

There is a field beyond wrongdoing and rightdoing.
I'll meet you there.

Tenth grade. I missed trees. Eleventh grade. I missed trees. Twelfth grade I missed trees. Still, today, I miss trees. I told my parents at the dinner table in the tenth grade, "I used to be a tree." They were worried. I held a tiny gold pine cone charm in my hand. I wore it around my neck for years. I missed my earth.

In eighth grade, I was forced into a confirmation ceremony at our church that I did not believe in. I told my parents they could make me go and say the words but I didn't believe them. The house rule was I had to get confirmed and then I could decide about church. I've never looked back on the door I closed to that church. And, I still don't believe those words I was forced to say in 1981, and I still feel no compelling need to join a group of any faith. Something about joining anything gives me the creeps. I tried to join groups in college -- the National Organization of Women, the ACLU, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Amnesty International -- but I never got beyond one meeting. I just loathe groups.

I do, however, love individuals. A lot. I like meeting people underneath their faiths and beliefs and labels. I try (sometimes with more success than others) to see underneath the labels the person has given themselves and find the actual person. I try to do this in my classrooms. I try to find where we're connected rather than where we're separated.

I was a tree. I may be a tree again. When I die, I want the cheapest pine box. I want to be underneath a big tree with roots that stretch for miles, and I want my flesh to be food for that tree. And when that tree dies, it will become food for other creatures. And so it goes. Everything connected and dependent on everything else.

"I am large! I contain multitudes!" proclaims Walt Whitman.

Indeed. Let's start there.