Wednesday, July 17, 2019

The King and All of His Friends

I made this terrible thing.  Like no… whatever you’re thinking, you don’t understand.  I made a terrible thing.  It was a castle tower out of plastic canvas that I covered with felt and stitched shut.  I also bought a bunch of little wooden people to play in it.  I never finished it because even though my method for working with the plastic canvas and felt worked theoretically, in actual practice, there are significant reasons why no one does it, even though both materials are inexpensive and plentiful.  It was like stitching together wooden planking.  Awful.

And my son would sit at my work table and play with the unfinished tower and march the unpainted people into onto the different floors.  I’d feel sick with guilt.  I should have done better for my son.

Finally, this spring, I accepted that I was not going to finish the tower.  Then I decided that I would buy him a wooden castle, but I was loath to just go to a store and buy one.  I let the idea float in my mind like a hot air balloon and waited for a birthday or Christmas to come.

So, I was driving and I got the idea to pop into a Salvation Army thrift store.  They had a Melissa and Doug castle there with no people for $15 (usually retails at around $100).  It had been on the shelf for about 15 minutes when I snapped it up.

From the picture, it looks like it’s in pretty good shape, but it wasn’t.  The floor looked pretty rough.  A child had been writing on it and pressing so hard erasing it was not an option.  So, I decided to redo the floor.  I used a type of faux black leather contact paper.  I wanted to use it everywhere, but the paper wouldn’t stick to the stairs, so I painted them black.  That worked beautifully, so I painted a few of the rooms blue.  That was fun.  And taught me a lot about paint quality.  I don’t think I will ever buy craft paint from a dollar store again as long as I live.

Next, I had to work on the people.  I started with the king.  What needed to be done for him was the most straightforward.  I had to make the patterns for the clothing, so I used a compass from a child's geometry set to get the perfect curvature.  I have a coupon organizer filled with tiny bits of felt and I was mostly able to use scraps for the clothing.  I'm good with a needle and thread, but I had to use a surprising amount of fabric glue, but I'm okay with that.  I had it on hand.  So, still talking about the king, he took an hour to do.  My expectations were low, but I was pleased the fabric glue worked well enough to keep his crown on.

I, then, made knights.  I've only pictured one, but I made three.  Since they were all basically the same, all three of them took an hour.  The shape of the piece of felt that covers his head laid out flat is fascinating.  Their feathers are made from me mutilating a piece of felt to make it look like a feather.  I wish I'd had actual feathers small enough.

The girls I made day two, starting with the witch.  I think she's the best one.  Her pinkish red hair was because I had a scrap of red yarn left over from a shawl I crocheted.  It was hardly anything, the tiniest bit of yarn, but she turned out so good.

The princess is the only one who got lace (thank you HP) and I'm pleased that I chose to make her crown pink instead of yellow.  That's all we need is gold crown, gold hair.  Her hair in braids was difficult.  She's like two inches tall.  She's also the only one in this set who got a pearl at her throat.

The last one was the fairy.  Her wings are amazing.  If I was doing a post on only her, I'd show you how hot the stitching on her wings is.  I did seed beads in veins through the wings.  There is almost no thread showing because every time I dove through the fabric with my needle, I put another bead down.  When I got to the end of the line, I had to go back with the needle exactly the way I came.  That is fastidious work.  My hands cramped at the end, because yeah, she's two inches tall and I had sadly already attached her wings to her back.  Let's talk about her hair.  It was way harder than it looks.  I tried half a dozen things before I decided to give her a huge bun (and I know it almost looks like a chef's hat), but I'd already committed to the white hair by that point and there was no going back.  Thanks to HP, I had the green ribbon and only about as much as you're seeing in the picture. 

And now the plague of my guilt is lifted.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

She's a Writer

Sometimes people come up to me and ask me if I’ve written a book.  My natural reaction to this is to gawk at them and then fume about why they would think a respectable person like me would have done something so ostentatiously frivolous as write a book.  
Then my brain clicks.
I’ve written 21 of of them.
I’m the grandmother of novelists.  
My problem is that I am viciously opposed to self-promotion, self-congratulatory yap, and even telling people I’m a writer.  I feel a lot of shame about being a writer, which is why only one of my 21 novels is in print right now.   I feel physically ill whenever I give someone a business card or admit that I’m a novelist at all.
I need a pen name.
People ask me what kind of novels I write too, and that poses all sorts of problems.  I write a little bit of everything.  I don’t even know what to call it.  Is it YA?  Sometimes.  Is it romance?  Sometimes.  Is it fantasy?  Sometimes.  Is it science fiction?  Sometimes.  Is it chic lit?  Sometimes.  Is it horror?  Sometimes.  Is it non-fiction?  Sometimes!
Then people ask me what my book is about and I am paralyzed.  I can think of about six ways to describe that particular project.  How much time to they have?  I feel this intense pressure to tell someone about my novel using the fewest words possible… and that is not very enticing.  
So, I feel this way.  
Then I meet someone who tells me they are a writer.  I ask them about their writing and 99% of the time, they haven’t written a complete first draft of a novel yet, and they’re calling themselves a novelist.  A lot of the time they don’t even know they need to write something 60,000 words long for it to constitute being a novel.  
And I’m staring at them because I don’t understand what just happened.
Do they understand what it is they are claiming?  I work at a novel almost every day.  I’m ashamed and they’re romanticizing it?  Do they have any concept how embarrassing writing a novel has the potential to be?  
When I read someone else’s book, I can usually make an educated guess as to how they got their information.  I can make bets as to how they did their research, what their romantic experience has been for them to churn out the book they’ve written.  I can tell the gender of the author.  I can give some basic ideas as to what that author is likely to be like in person, and possibly an idea as to what their mental health is like.  Sometimes I can even say what their age and weight are before I’ve seen the picture.  
All because books don’t come from nothing.  Anything that is written well comes from someone who has experienced something.  
Writing a book is like stripping and the self-promotion is like calling people over for a better look, obviously not at your body, but at everything that you are.  
At this point, I bet you’re wondering why I have even one book for sale.  It’s a moving story.  I was in my bathroom, here at the lake, and I was standing under my skylight.  I was thinking that I had better stop writing books.  I had better stop writing anything.  
You see, the other problem with writing a book is the spot it hits on an effort versus reward diagram.  The opposite of writing a novel on that chart is sewing a button on a pair of pants.  You know the button I mean, the important button that keeps your pants on, positioned over the zipper.  Without that button, the pants are useless.  If you take the two minutes it takes to sew that button on (low effort), you could use those pants for years more (huge reward), you don’t have to buy a new pair of pants, and everyone who sees you doesn’t know they should be grateful, until you start traipsing around with no pants.  Everyone wins!  A book on the other hand is a lot of effort for no guaranteed reward.
Writing a book is a lot more like playing the slots than anyone would like to believe.  Yes, you can improve your skill.  You should improve your skill, but you could write something perfectly wonderful and have no one take any notice, even if you get a publishing company, even if your mom likes it, even if you have honed it for ten years.  As a matter of fact, even if you stack the cards in your favor you are still likely to lose.  Yet another reason why admitting to being a novelist is mortifying.  It’s very similar to admitting you’re a gambling addict.
That idea brings us back to the chart of effort versus reward.  The consuming of a novel takes effort.  My book Behind His Mask takes over eight hours to read aloud.  It’s hard to gauge how long it would take a person to read it silently and get my message.  This means that this process is a lot of effort at both ends.
Now if I stop and think about the reasons I was drawn to writing novels in the first place, there are a couple motivations that stand out.  Firstly, I like the dissection of complicated issues, thus a novel is like an intimate conversation where you spill the complex juicy details in a private setting.  The novel is long and there is room enough for the conversation (eight hours apparently), which could never take place over tea.  Secondly, I am a reader that is exceptionally hard to please because my imagination is so vivid.  I have a list of pet peeves in other people’s writing a mile long.  I can’t even come up with a list of ten novels I think are indispensable reading.   
But I have already accomplished a lot of what I wished to accomplish with my writing within the pages of the 21 novels I have already finished.  So, why am I still writing?
Yes, so back to the bathroom.  I was standing under the skylight and I realized I have never felt that the Lord took much interest in my writing.  There is a lot of blood, unnecessary surgery, passionate kissing, setting things on fire, and meddling in other people’s business in my books.  I never even asked the Lord if he was a fan, because I felt for sure that he couldn’t be.  
And under the skylight I was deeply considering giving it up.  It would have been a good time.  I hadn’t written much in the few years before because I was busy with my little children.  I was very tired of the effort versus reward diagram and it never going my way (referencing my first book published with a publishing company being a flop), and I felt certain it couldn’t matter to a single soul if I gave it up.
And then, it was like the Lord came into the room and stood behind me so I couldn’t see him and whispered in my ear, “You are past the point of no return.”  
As I read that last line back, it sounds ominous, but it isn’t, especially if you’ve heard Elder Uchtdorf talk about flying.  The point of no return is when you’re going between two points and you’ve now traveled far enough that even if you have a problem it is easier to head on to your destination than to turn back.
So, the Lord said like a tickle behind my ear, “You are past the point of no return.  Other people don’t know what you know about writing.  There are girls out there who want what you have earned badly and they are twenty years off of getting it.  You are much closer to your destination than you think.  This is your life’s work and you need to keep going.”
And I felt like crying and screaming, “But I don’t know how to go on.  Publishing is horrible!  I can’t do it.”
And he said, “I’ll show you.”
So, he’s been showing me, and yes, it’s horrible.  Yes, it’s such an uphill slog it’s hurtful.  Yes, self promotion makes me want to blow my brains out.  And yes, whenever I meet a new person who tells me they are a novelist, I shudder, and I want to warn them not to get where I am.  Don’t write.  Don’t hope.  Don’t tell stories unless you are willing to write them in your own blood.  Turn back now, save yourself, because I’m afraid and I have to continue on.  
Half of me wishes someone in my past had known enough to tell me to stop.  The other half of me reads the part in Behind His Mask where she slaps his masked face so hard, the mask flies off and smashes on the cobble stones, and I think, Yeah!

Thursday, July 4, 2019

What Writer's Block Really Means

If you haven’t finished the first draft of your manuscript…

If you haven’t worked on it in over a month…

If you don’t know where to take the story and have to keep scraping chapters…

If you keep reworking the old chapters hoping something will come to you…

Yes.  If you answered yes to any of these questions, then the answer is yes.  You are suffering from writer’s block.

The reason for writer’s block, from my experience, is that you have chosen a project that interests you instead of chosen to tell a story that is already inside you.  It is possible to tell a story that isn’t yours, but that way is less authentic.  No matter how much effort you’ve put into it, it will taste like frozen pizza instead of Italy.  When you are writing a novel, the experience should almost always feel like a slip and slide.  That what you want to write is so natural, it’s only a matter of getting it down on paper.

Obviously, a lot of writers do not enjoy this reality.  It means they’re exposed, vulnerable, and the feeling ranges from slightly embarrassed to downright ashamed.  If you refuse to put yourself in your writing, you are losing out on the opportunity to offer the audience something they can’t get anywhere else… you.  You are honestly different from everyone else, as well as a little the same as everyone else.  It’s truly beautiful when it’s done right, which is what makes people want to become writers in the first place.

I have written 21 books, but I have no idea how many manuscripts I have begun with the hope of it turning into a complete novel only to realize that I only had a premise, not a full adventure.  I’ve had to abandon things for all kinds of reasons, but boiled down, it was the same problem over and over.  I admired something, wanted to make something similar, couldn’t and had to be the writer I was born to be instead of the writer I imagined myself to be.

I’ve only been able to continue a blocked manuscript twice.

The first time, I was blocked because I had something framed in my mind as something that should not happen in my book.  Whatever happened, THIS ONE THING was not going to happen.  I got to the part where I was supposed to put in my plot twist and if the manuscript was a bread bag with a twist tie on it, the bread bag would not have stayed closed.  I thought about it and slowly I realized that if I did not do THE ONE THING I didn’t want to do, then I was finished with the book.  The book was about the thing I didn’t like.  I buckled down and wrote about THE ONE THING I didn’t want to write about.

The book is a complete triumph.  I’m very pleased with it.  Sorry, I can’t be more specific.  The book is not quite ready yet.  Still needs some edits.

The second time, I opted for collaboration.  I didn’t have what the story wanted inside me, so I found someone who had that type of story inside them and got them to advise me.  That situation has its own troubles, because the best person to get is someone who doesn’t write and has no ambition to ever write.  It means they can’t help you with a lot, only a general direction.  It’s really slow going compared to when I have the story inside me already.

Anyway, in order to celebrate the blocked writer and their creations that are never seen, because there wasn’t quite enough to push it through, I’ve prepared something special for all of you.  A bit of a blocked book that will probably never be much more than I’ve included here.

If He Wraps it Around a Tree

“I think we should break up,” Lindsay said to Oliver in the darkness.  Her voice was little more than a cracked whisper that spoke more of her pain than what her words actually meant.

“Are you hurt?” he asked, his hand reaching for hers, though he couldn’t see her well from around his inflated airbag.

“I told you you’d drunk too much to drive,” she replied, refusing to answer his question.  “And yes, I’m hurt.  My airbag didn’t inflate.  I hit my head.  I’m bleeding and my legs are pinned between the seat and the dashboard!”

“Okay,” he said, collecting his wits.  “Can you reach the lever that pulls the seat backwards?”

She reached down and found it.  Tugging on it, it moved the seat and she felt blood flow into her legs again.  

“It worked?” he questioned, still unable to see her.

“Yes.  It worked.”

“Can you open your door?”

Lindsay pulled the lever on the door, but it didn’t move.  “No.”

“What about the window?  Can you open that to get out?”

“I am not opening the window,” she objected immediately.  “It is freezing outside, raining, and if I open it I might not be able to close it again afterwards.  We might be stuck here for hours waiting for a tow truck.”

“Can you reach your phone?”

“It doesn’t matter if I can or can’t.  It’s out of power.  I told you that before we left.  I shouldn’t have let you drive.”

“I’d only had two,” he said, stiffly defending himself.

“Yeah.  Two too many.”

Oliver stuttered some sort of apology, but Lindsay couldn’t hear it and even if she could, all she could think about was the string of men who had disappointed her before that moment and how she should have expected Oliver to do the same.  When actually, she knew why she hadn’t pegged him for the same pig from a different litter as all the other men she knew.  It was because something about Oliver always made her feel like she had come home.  He was like the brother she’d never had, the cousin who found her in a crowded room and introduced her to everyone like she was a star.  

The plan for her to come work at his family’s hotel during the winter had been in motion since before she had agreed to be his girlfriend, and being his official girlfriend had seemed like a good choice, until he wrapped his car around a tree.  At the moment of impact, her first thought had been wondering if they would die.  

When she saw that they hadn’t died, her next thought was that she needed to break up with him.  Lindsay had never been one to postpone difficult jobs.  

Now, she had to do the thing victims sadly needed to do sometimes.  She turned to Oliver and asked him the question that to forgo would make her inhuman.  “Are you hurt?”

“Yes,” he said quietly.  His legs were not squashed between the wheel and the seat.  He was very tall and therefore had the seat as far back as it could go.  He’d hurt his wrist and his neck, he admitted in wheezy half breaths.  

“Do you know where your phone is?” Lindsay asked him.

“It’s in my back pocket.”

She let out a huff of annoyed air.  “And I’m supposed to put my hand down your pants to retrieve it?”

“Only if you want to call a tow truck or an ambulance,” he replied crossly.

Lindsay had never heard that tone out of his mouth before.  He was always so charming, so carefree.  

“I love it when you talk that way,” she said, unbuckling his seat belt and trying the back pocket closest to her. 

“What?” he sputtered.  “You never love anything.  You told me as much the other night when I asked you out.  You said you never fall in love.”

“I don’t.  Something always happens to spoil love before it can really grow in me, but you were always so puzzling when you smiled and played nice.  I didn’t even know your voice could do grouchy.  It’s reassuring.”  She felt behind him into his other pocket.  It was empty also.  “I thought you said it was in there.”

“I thought it was,” he said, peeking around the airbag.

“Charming,” she said drolly.  “If it’s not there, then where do you think it is?”

“It’s probably in the front pocket,” he said quietly.

“And why can’t you get it?” Lindsay asked, almost at the end of her patience.

“My wrist hurts, on that side and I can’t reach it with my left hand over the air bag,” he whined.

She patted his leg before diving into his pocket.  “It’s there,” she said, reaching in with two fingers to grab it.

When she turned the phone over to look at it, the screen was already lit up.  Someone was calling, but the ringer was turned off so they didn’t hear it.  

“You’re getting a call,” she said.  “Someone called Gavin.”

“It’s my brother.  Answer it, and hold it up to my ear.”

Lindsay answered the call.  “Hello, you’ve reached the phone of Oliver Grantford.  Please allow a moment for me to connect you,” she said, not having lost all of her spunk.   

She held it up to his ear while he spoke.  

“Yes, we were on our way up tonight.  The girl?  She’s my girlfriend.  I thought she could help with the renovations since it’s always hard to get people to come.  Yes… that may be… She’s a woman.  I’m sure we’ll be able to find something for her to do… You don’t need to be so tactless.  She might hear you… Yes, I was driving when you called.  No, we’ve stopped.  Just outside Victoria.  We just had a little accident.  We should be back on the road in no time.”  There was a long pause before Oliver finally got the chance to speak again.  “Fine.  You’re right.  We had a big accident.  I need to see a doctor and maybe she does too.  Fine!  Do that!”

The call abruptly ended and Oliver mushed his face into the airbag like he might suffocate himself.

“What’s going on?” Lindsay asked.

There were muffled sounds coming from the airbag and it was quite some time before Oliver could stand to pull his head away from the thing enough to take a fresh breath in and to admit to her that his brother, Gavin, had been in Victoria for the evening and was coming to get them.  “He says we can have the car towed in the morning.”

“Okay,” Lindsay said, opening the vanity mirror over her head to see what the damage was.  The cut on her head had bled, but that didn’t mean it had done much to spoil her good looks.  The car still had power and a light appeared to show her that she looked exactly like a zombie in a haunted house.  She knew exactly what the zombie in the haunted house looked like.  It had been her summer job two years in a row.

She hunted around for a tissue.  “Don’t you at least have an old Tim Horton’s bag with a few napkins in it?”

“I cleaned out the car for the drive,” he explained, his head still resting on the air bag.

“Shouldn’t that thing have deflated by now?”

“Probably,” he said sounding desolate.

“Should we pop it?”

“No.  I like it.  It’s homey.”

“Homey?” she repeated, thinking that was how she felt about him.  He got the same feeling from what was basically a safety balloon?  

“It’s a lot homier than Gavin is going to be when he gets here.”

“He’s going to be really mad?”


Oliver didn’t offer anymore of an explanation than that, and Lindsay didn’t ask for one.  Instead, she sat with her head back and listened to the rain on the roof of the car.  After a minute of that, she turned to him and said, “Don’t sleep.  People with head injuries aren’t allowed to sleep.”

“And I was so looking forward to our first night sleeping together,” he said in a shallow monotone.

She laughed.  “Our first night together is obviously a success if no one is sleeping.”

He laughed too.  Then he turned and looked at her with the vanity light still on.  “You look like a zombie.”

“So do you.”

“Do you know any good necrophilia jokes?  That would be a good way to pass the time.”

Lindsay groaned.  “What do you call it when two necrophiliacs go on a date?”

“A group funeral?” Oliver offered.

“Your guess is as good as mine.  I asked without having a plan as to how to finish it.  I thought you’d nail it without me having to come up with a punch line.”

“I have a head injury, if that’s any excuse.”

“I’ll take it,” Lindsay said, using the sleeve of her shirt to blot at the blood on her face.  It didn’t improve anything and so she closed the mirror and turned out the light.

“What’s your favorite thing to do, Lindsay.  Your favorite thing in the whole world?” he suddenly asked quietly.


“I want to do that with you.  That’s part of the reason for being here.  I want to take you somewhere where we can do what you like.  The ocean here is great.  We can surf.  I love to surf, but I don’t think that’s your dream.  What is your dream?”

“Why aren’t you just taking it for granted that I want to be an actor?  We have been taking classes together in Vancouver for months,” she reminded him.

“I know, but I don’t think that’s what you really want.  You don’t seem as bummed as I am when we both go out on auditions, and you don’t get the part you wanted and neither do I.  I’m heartbroken.  You seem like you expect to fail and you don’t really care if you succeed.  Why are you so disconnected?  What is it you really want?”

“To eat Jell-o,” she replied, giving him a simple answer to his complex question.  “I don’t want to be rich or expensive or whatever.  I just want to eat Jell-o and live simply.  It’s okay if I don’t get a fancy acting job.  I have got by okay just working odd tourist jobs and living cheaply with lots of girls.  Working with you seems like a dream come true.  You’re always so calm and fun.  I like that.”  As she talked, she realized that she actually only thought of him as flavored goo.  Balloons and Jell-o, that was what they thought of each other.  “We’re going to have a good time, and we can practice our jokes.”  

The last class they had taken together was an improv class.  She had loved doing it, but she felt he was better at it.  As far as she was concerned, being an actor didn’t suit him well either.  He was going to be a stand-up comedian, and she was excited to see what his future would be.

There had been headlights that passed from time to time, but nothing could really have prepared Lindsay for the truck that pulled up behind them.  At first, she thought it was a tow truck and then she thought it must be some sort of emergency vehicle, but did they have headlights shaped like parentheses?  At any rate, why did they have their brights on?

“That’s Gavin,” Oliver said, trying to open his door with his left hand and failing at it.  

Gavin opened the door for him, said something messy Lindsay couldn’t quite hear, deflated the air bag and helped Oliver out.  He had an umbrella and he escorted his brother around to the passenger side door of the truck before coming back to the wreck of a car.  

Lindsay couldn’t open her door, so she scooted across her seat and into the driver’s seat.  The side view mirror was practically blinding her when Gavin came back to help her.  He had a flashlight in his hand and it blinded her further as he shone it in her face.  She leaned down and found the release for the trunk and pulled it.

“What are you doing?” the man with the flashlight asked.

“Opening the trunk.  My bag goes where I go.”

“I’ll get it,” he said as he grasped her upper arm in his and lifted her to her feet.  

“What are you doing?”


“You’re hurting me!”

He let go and without the support, she suddenly found that her bruised legs didn’t give her much to stand on and she fell, knees first, into the wet grass.  He caught her again, but only so she didn’t fall further.  Dropping the umbrella, he put both arms around her and lifted her back onto her feet.  Her head was swimming.  

“You don’t have to,” she wheezed.

“I think I do.”  Gavin picked her up the rest of the way and carried her gingerly to a seat in the back of the over-sized truck.  He turned on the cabin lights and looked at her, but all Lindsay could do was blink at the light and cover her face with her hand.  “I think you’re right about the hospital,” he said to Oliver.  “That will have to be our first stop.”

See what I mean?  See?  Exactly like that!  That is the first chapter of a book that is doomed to blockage.  There are more chapters, but… boo… boo… boo...

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

The Scent of Vanilla

Ah… Father’s Day.  Like a normal holiday except what you do doesn’t matter.

A little after I moved here, I started looking for vanilla.  I wanted some good vanilla.  Maybe white vanilla.  I had had enough of artificial vanilla extract, and looked everywhere, willing to pay any price.

Later, I was sitting at a picnic table at the kids’ school BBQ and a lady next to me was chatting on the phone.  When she got off the phone she explained that she was speaking to her father.  I said what I always say, which is that she’s awfully lucky to have a father, leaving out that my father has been dead since before any of my children were born.  She told me her dad was hilarious because he was always going down to Mexico and bringing her huge bottles of vanilla.

Long story short, I haven’t really seen or talked to that woman since, but she left an enormous bottle of real vanilla at the school office for me.

I like to pretend that it was a present from my father… even though, yeah, he’s been dead for almost 15 years.

My mom used to give me vanilla too.  White vanilla.  That was actually the last present she gave me.  From now on, there will be no more presents.

I think of my father the most often when I look at my hands.  My father had beautiful hands, probably the most beautiful I have ever seen, and I got them.  Slender bones, mildly protruding tendons, very little hair, browns easily, pretty shaped, strong nails.  And now his hands are gone, like all my other ancestors on that side.  All gone.  Just me standing with my fingers rustling the tall grass, and it’s fine.

And I feel alone.

It’s a lie.  There’s my one son running by with his perfect eyebrows and his unusual twisting conversation.  Another one is glaring at me with green eyes that say he hates me, but his eyes are not green because my eyes are green.  Another boy is blond, hair so light people don’t think he’s my kid.

And my daughter asked me what she could do to celebrate Father’s Day.  She made brownies.  The vanilla is in them.

And he is in all of them.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

My Adventure in Red Satin

Every year, my husband has a work party before Christmas.  It’s in a ballroom at a fancy hotel on the waterfront.  I look on it as one of the events of the year and what I wear to it totally matters.  When it comes to the dress I wear to such an event, I think of it with relatively the same feelings I have when I buy wrapping paper.  As long as it’s shiny, it only has to last 15 minutes, so quality is not the main concern. 

This last year, an obsession took hold of me with its deep vermilion claws.  I had to wear a red dress to this party.  The year before, I wore a gold dress I bought for literally eleven dollars.  It looked like crap on the hanger because the dress had no shape, but I knew its potential.  Obviously, it had not been flashy enough if I had a hankering to wear red.  Not just any red.  I wanted to wear red satin. 

I looked everywhere.  Sadly, shopping is not one of the charms of this part of the island.  But I had been infected by this bug and I had had my eye out for a dress for most of last year.  Actually, it was hard to find any at all.  It seems islanders don’t wear dresses (or pantyhose).  The date for the party was coming up fast, and I hadn’t found anything.  I ended up resorting trying on everything in my closet hoping to figure out what to wear.  I had a few options, because my closet is awesome, but none of my options were the red I had been fantasizing about.  Three days before the party, I was at a Salvation Army going through their dresses. 

I found something.  It was $13.  I’m not even sure if it was satin.  Like I said, it’s wrapping paper so the satin look was all I was going for.  It could have been made of paper for all I cared.  I didn’t even bother to try it on, it was so obviously going to fit. 

I went up to the register to pay, and as I was standing there, waiting for my turn, something about the way the fabric twisted in my fingers touched a nerve, brought me back to another place and another time.  It was a familiar feeling, and suddenly I knew that my dress was not a dress. 

It was a nightgown.

I let the thing unfurl and held it up.  That was why the fabric was in such incredible condition.  It was a nightgown circa 1997 and it had been mushed in the back of someone’s drawer for twenty years.  The reason it wasn’t with the nightgowns in the thrift store was because nightgowns are not made like that anymore.  Nowadays your nightgown is see-through, or it doesn’t cover your thighs, or it’s cotton and stored with your period panties.  This red satin number was a classy piece of opaque beauty and I saw then that the neckline was extraordinarily low, because… you aren’t supposed to wear a bra with it.

The teller called me forward and I bought the thing anyway.  I took it home and ironed it, found that it had a rip in it, which I immediately, expertly repaired.  Then I tried it on.  The neckline was ghastly, but I’m not incompetent when it comes to altering clothing, so I brought it up a few inches.  Then I styled the thing.  I got a black belt, a black shrug, black stockings with a rose pattern (they had holes in them in at least four places, but I treat my pantyhose like we’re in London in 1943, so we’re good), black high heels with the criss-crossy straps, red stone necklace where the stones are carved into leaves, and red and black feathers for my hair clip.

Then I showed my husband what I planned to wear.  I told him very specifically, “Now honey, some of the ladies at the party might be sassy enough to know this is a nightgown and say something about it.  Are you going to be able to deal with the fallout of my wearing this highly inappropriate outfit to your special party?”

He shot me a weird look and quipped, “I’ll just tell them you’re already dressed for the after-party.”  Then seeing my smile, he continued, “Really, you’re being crazy.  You are covered from elbow to calf.  No one is going to make the connection.”

Yes, nothing weird happened, except I have something to say about wearing your nightgown to a party.  It’s awesome.  Nightgowns do not have the same binding stitches and seams of normal party clothes.  My belt gave the garment shape it wouldn’t have had otherwise and I was supremely comfortable all night.  I tucked some slippers in the car for the ride home.  I would be driving, so I tossed the heels and put on my slippers.  I was very ready for bed by the time I got home.

I have a shiny, strapless iron grey ball gown in my closet.  I wear it to the opera if you’re wondering where I would wear something like that.  Regarding this particular dress, I had this fantasy of wearing a white, short sleeved, collared, button-up-the-front shirt under it.  A few weeks ago, I was in the mall and in a ladies clothing store.  The sales rep approached me and asked me what I was looking for.  I said my fantasy shirt and the lady said, “I’m sorry, we don’t have anything with short sleeves.  We do have one with long sleeves if you’d be interested in trying that on.”

I said no.  I wanted short sleeves, because if you know anything about getting laced into a strapless dress, you'll know, that's warm.  You're not going to want long sleeves.  I did not explain this, but instead moved to leave when her coworker piped up, “You’re not going to be able to find anything like that with short sleeves here in the mall.  You should buy the one we’re selling and take it to a tailor to get it altered.”

I scoffed pleasantly and said I did not want that.  I know a bit about altering clothes and do you know what’s the hardest (at least for me)?  Sleeves?  Do you know how much difficulty everyone is spared when a garment lacks sleeves? 

But the Lord gave us sleeves!  He gave us sleeves so we would not sunburn our shoulders!  He gave us sleeves so we didn’t have to worry about shaving our armpits daily!  He gave us sleeves so we wouldn’t have to beg for the coats of creepy men we don’t want to owe anything to!  And so that the nice men wouldn’t be forced to chivalrously remove their coats and then freeze or forfeit their niceness!  He gave us sleeves so we would have to think harder, think about curves and how to sew a tuck, so we would be resourceful and brave when it came to cutting expensive fabric!  He made us independent and bold… with two sleeves, because asymmetrical blouses make zero sense.  Just saying.

Back to the store, the saleslady kept saying that the only way I could get what I wanted in a short sleeve was to buy their shirt and have it altered, expensively at a tailors.

I snagged my shopping buddy and moved for the exit, as I casually explained that I would not hire a tailor.  I knew enough about altering clothing that it would be better for me to simply recut one of my husband’s old shirts rather than do what she suggested.

And the sales girl literally said with a hostile snoot, “Good for you.  There’s a Tip Top down the hall.  I’m sure they can help you.”

I really could not get out of that store fast enough. 

My friend and I had to shake off the icky all the way to the next store, where I found a white, short sleeved, collared, button-up-the-front shirt in my size for $5.  For the record, it was not a Tip Top and it looks exactly how I imagined it would look under my dress.

P.S. Sorry about the lack of pictures.  You're going to need to use your imagination.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Strap a Camera to her Head

Have you ever seen a movie called Dark Passage?  Probably not.  It’s a Humphrey Bogart movie where a good deal of the first part of the film is filmed in the first person.  It was probably revolutionary at the time.  It’s kind of like a first person shooter video game where all you see is the gun you’re carrying and the targets.

In Dark Passage Humphrey’s a convict escaped from prison.  It’s the first few hours of the chase and anything could happen.  At first, you can hear Humphrey’s voice, but you can’t see his face.  All you can see are his hands and his legs when he looks down and anything he sees, you see.  For all you know, you are the one experiencing the action.  You don’t know who to trust.  You get in a car with a man who offers you a ride and he tells you how he made the upholstery for his seats out of an old circus tent.  You listen to the radio and the announcer tells the listener to be on the lookout for… you.  Eventually, you make it to a cosmetic surgeon who lost his medical license.  When you wake up and take the bandages off… and… sadly the story reverts to a third person presentation and you are no longer Humphrey Bogart hiding in shadows or showering in a beautiful woman’s apartment while she buys clothes for you.

I was thinking about reality TV today and how I don’t think I’d be particularly interested in watching a show where an actress is filmed from a third person perspective.  You know what would be more fun?  If you just strapped the camera to her forehead and we got to see what really goes on. 

Can you imagine hanging out from Charlize Theron’s perspective while she taught the male cast of Mad Max to knit and then imagine you were still with her when she went home to read her maid’s complaints.  Just as an aside, those are both rumors about her.  That she refuses to speak to her maid.  If her maid has something to tell her, she has to write it down in a book, which Charlize will read when she is dang good and ready.  Beats me if either of those things are true, but that does sound like a good day to me.  Knitting with steam punk clad boys to return home at the end of the day to no housework.

The idea of the reality show would be to remove the actress’s beauty from the equation.  Half of what’s fun about filming an actress in reality type role is to keep the camera on her and on her prettiness.  This would be taking the whole thing from a different perspective.  It would be to give the audience an idea of what it’s like to be the beautiful actress.  How do people talk to her?  What do they say?  Does she regularly have to deal with a lot of difficult news?  People complaining and wanting more from her?  Is she paid so much that everyone simply expects her to do everything and carry a production?  Are fans always nice?  Do they whine to her that the movie didn’t end the way they hoped?

I was watching an interview with Kevin Bacon where he said he got all dolled up by professional makeup artists in order to experiment with the idea of anonymity.  Meaning, he walked through a mall without being recognized.  He said it was awful… and obviously not what he was used to.  So, if he gets recognized everywhere he goes, try strapping a camera to his head and show the audience what it’s like to be Kevin Bacon for the day.

Okay… the camera needs to be discrete.  Maybe he could have a camera pen over his ear.  I’d watch that.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

I Don't Always Read, but When I Do...

I read something no one has read lately.  I mean, why would they?  I finished reading this book this week and here are my thoughts on it.

A Winter Away by Elizabeth Fair (copyright 1957)

My second favourite novel of all time is Something Light by Margery Sharp.  I was checking out the adorable new cover the novel has lately been given on Amazon and the suggestion box at the bottom suggested A Winter Away.  It’s about a young lady who goes to work for an extremely cranky estate owner who wants her to help him catalog his library.  I am a trifle ecstatic when it comes to the idea of cataloging a library the old fashioned way.  I’m going to do that for my own collection of books someday.  Sadly, there is not much adventure in the library in the novel.

The book has such understated romance in it, I honestly thought it was going to end without Maud having selected a romantic partner from the two young men presented.  I felt that would have been very modern for the time, but alas, she does choose one of them in the last chapter.  Though, I honestly have no idea why she bothered.  She spends the entire book complaining about one and then the other.  And I do suppose it’s good to smash the idea that one can only love perfection in one’s partner… it was also good to have a hard boiled egg roll across the floor and have everyone stop what they’re doing to stare at it.

However, I would like to take this opportunity to insert what I would write about a girl cataloging a library, which I think is utter perfection.  However, it will be obvious why I never write a book about my fantasy very quickly.

Lilian sat down at the desk.  She changed the height of her chair twice before she got to the height she found most satisfactory.  Reaching across the desk, she chose a pen with a long feather on the end of it.  It was not a ridiculous pen.  It was a safe ball-point pen even though the feather attached to the end of it was decorative.  

She scanned the stack of books to her left and without prejudice selected the book on top.  It was a book about bathrooms.  It gave tips on how to design a beautiful bathroom, and later how to clean your bathroom of choice with as little fuss as possible.  It was a cherished book.  

Lilian flipped open the front cover and removed the paper cover attached.  Then, without a moment’s delay she threw the paper cover immediately into the recycling bin without looking at it for another second.  Now, the book would always be held comfortably without the villainous, flimsy paper cover biting into another reader’s hand.  

What was left was a book with a white cover with gold lettering on the spine and on the front cover.  It had become, with that simple step, a thing of beauty.

With her spidery handwriting, Lilian prepared the envelope and card for the back cover.  She wrote the name of the book and the name of the author.   After the ink was dry, she peeled the wax paper from the adhesive on the back of the envelope and carefully centered it on the inside of the back cover.  It went down perfectly without a bubble or a ripple.

She nodded her head in delight and set the finished book aside.

The second book on the stack was a paperback.  She’d have to construct a hardcover for it!  Adventures in the library never ceased!

I hope you all enjoyed that.  There was nothing like it in that book.