Tuesday, June 29, 2010

I Only Have Eyes for A Z N T P

I've never been a confident test taker. It doesn't matter if I know the material cold, I still sweat the process.

I hate getting answers wrong. Even when there is no wrong answer, like in my eye examination today. The doctor asks a simply question -- What's the smallest line that I can read. I want to read the tiniest letters at the bottom of the chart, as if that's the difference between an A and a B. Then I overexplain. "Well, if I squint, I can read the last one from the bottom. See? That's an R. No, maybe a P. Wait. Let me blink my contact lens back into position. Ahhh, it could be... oh hell, a D?

The questions get harder.

"Is it better this way or ..... that way?"

The first way!

"Better the first way or this way?"

Oh shit. I don't know. Pretty close.

"Better 1, or 2?"


"Better 1 or 3?"

Uhh, 3?

"Better 3 or 4?"

3. I said 3. Yes, Definitely 3! ARRRRGH.

So many choices. So much potential for picking wrong. I'm almost apologetic in my answers and wish, just once, that the doctor would give me some positive feedback but he doesn't say anything aside from presenting the questions and telling me when I should move to the other chair so he can shine a super bright light in my eyes and ask me to blink only once, then open my eyes as wide as possible.

With all the questions asked and answered, the doctor sits on his chair and grades my performance. He jots more notes, audibly mumbling to himself. I swear I'm nearly holding my breath waiting to hear if I passed or failed.

How goofy is that? There is no pass or fail, just an analysis of whether my eye sight needs adjusted correction or not.

Someday, they'll invent an optical scanner that "reads" our eyeballs and automatically figures out what we need. Then I'll finally stop feeling like a student who didn't study enough for the big exam.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Quiet but not Boring

When I was younger, if I didn't have something planned for every day, I was bored. Luckily, I loved to read from the moment I learned how, so I could always journey into a book and entertain myself for hours.

Now that I'm a lot less young, I'm a lot more balanced. If I have something enjoyable planned for a Saturday or Sunday, great. If I don't, that's great, too. Unscheduled days are filled with opportunity. I can do whatever I like, even if that means doing very little. Today was that kind of day. It began with breakfast on the porch with Nat and Pyxi, the newspaper, a hot cup of tea, warm sun, and a cool breeze. After that, I sort of spread some chores out over the hours. Straightened a little clutter, washed some clothes, did a little needlework, finished a book.

Every so often, I walked outside just in case by some unexpected weather miracle the wind had stopped blowing. In that case, I would have changed my non-plans and gone out on the boat for a couple of hours.

I thought about going uptown to the supermarket, but tossed the idea in minutes. I was too relaxed and at ease to want to change out of my "doing chores" clothes for a
public appearance.

Funny how smoothly the hours rolled with no boredom or restlessness. I websurfed a little, participated in the on-line class I'm taking, and played with the dogs.

Turns out that you can really accomplish a lot on a day with no plans. You get a lot done without ever rushing or stressing.

Now I've prepared and consumed a yummy, simple meal. I've even written a blog post.

Got a few hours left in this Sunday. Wonder what else I'll do on a day with no plans.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

World Cup Wondering

If my Facebook friends, brother, and the media are any indication, World Cup Fever has spread across the nation like a particularly aggressive flu.

I haven't watched an entire soccer game since my nephews were in grade school, but I'm tuned in today for the USA-Ghana match. I might not be a soccer afficionado, but never let it be said that I don't have a full amount of national pride. If the U.S.A. had a team playing in the World Series of Kumquat Pickers I'd root for them.

I'm not convinced that most of America really cares that much about soccer and I bet that if the U.S. gets eliminated, the television interest and beer consumption in all 50 states will plummet.

I'm a little confused at how the World Cup works. I listened to a recap of yesterday's results. Apparently there were two games where the teams fought to a no goal draw. They tied at not scoring and yet all four teams advanced in the tournament. Essentially, they could have stayed in the locker rooms and achieved the same results.

I'm pretty sure that the U.S.A. advanced after playing a tie-game in the first round, but at least they scored.

Tie games should be eliminated from all sports. Baseball doesn't accept ties. I once sat through a Phillies-Padres game that went 18 innings on a hot August afternoon before the Phils finally won. Two tennis players at Wimbledon played 138 games in the fifth set to decide a winner! Their match took 11 hours. If two lone guys can put up that kind of battle, I think an entire team of soccer, football, or hockey players ought to be able to keep going to a win.

Oh well. Who am I, a Mary-come-lately to the World Cup competition, to criticize how soccer is played? I guess I'll shut up until it's time to yell, "U-S-A! U-S-A!"

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


Last night I went out to dinner with two friends to a local restaurant. In addition to enjoying a good meal, we wanted to participate in the team trivia competition. Something I realized about myself a long time ago is that I'm a good sport, a gracious loser, and I really, really want to win.

I take games seriously, whether it was the team trivia last night, or a board game with friends and family like Pictionary or Cranium or Tabu. My favorite board game is definitely Scrabble. There's an app for that and I downloaded it to my iPhone. Even though I'm competing against a computer, I'm still really pleased when I win. Computers don't play defensive Scrabble. It isn't enough to get a Triple Word score for yourself, you know. It's important to block your opponent from getting it instead.

Sadly, nobody in my family will play Scrabble with me any more. I don't know why. It's not like I do an end zone dance and get all in their faces when I clear my rack on a triple word!

I'm semi-addicted to Bejeweled on Facebook. So is my boss. Good thing she and I have an excellent relationship because trash-talk ensues. I had a higher top score than she did last week. The scoreboard reset yesterday and she's already over 393, thousand points! I definitely have my work cut out for me to top that score this week.

So what's behind the competitive nature? Is it personal drive/motivation or rampant ego? Do I care if anyone knows that I won, or is it enough that I know?

Do I need everybody else around me to acknowledge that I beat them, that I am, at that moment apparently, a superior human being? (Inside joke for Pastafarians. :-) )

Things to ponder. Is the need to win tied into the need to survive? Is it an instinctive drive, whether the challenge is mental or physical?

Like I said. Things to ponder. What do you think?

Our team rocked. We won!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Bare Bones

Specialized calendars have become really popular fundraising projects for a variety of causes. Our dog park group put together the Paws in Paradise calendar last year and earned some good money toward the building of our dog park. There are calendars with shirtless firefighters, nude older women, dolphins -- you name it.

Thanks to Alastair Stephens, I've now seen it all in the world of calendars. The X-Ray Pin-Up Calendar.

Give yourselves a good chuckle this Sunday. Check it out!

Thanks, Alastair!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Why of the Blog

I took an official break from blogging for a while, but truth be told, I'd fallen off from it for ages before making it "official". I believed that I didn't have anything new, fun, or interesting to write about, and if I don't think I can be interesting, I sure wouldn't expect someone else to come here and read.

So why am I returning to the blog on a more regular basis? I don't think it's a coincidence that after taking a welcome hiatus from fiction writing, I am choosing to restart that area of my life, too. I'm currently in the "discovery" phase of a new story. Lots of mulling, musing, and playing with soundtracks, placeholders, other images to uncover the story and the people who live in it.

The best part of blogging for me is that I look at the world around me with a different kind of focus. I'm telling stories here. Sometimes they're about my own experiences. Sometimes, I tell you about something or somebody I observed. Other times, it's my take on a current event. In every case, I'm no longer cruising through life as only a participant. I'm also an observer. I discover different things going on and come here to tell the stories. This is so similar to my process as a novelist.

The practice of blogging sparks a different part of the creative area of my brain. Apparently, that't the same brain area that I use to develop characters and then tell stories about them or, even better, the characters tell their own stories.

That's the why and the way of the blog. I'm glad I discovered this. It explains a lot.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Odd Bus Man

This morning on the drive to work, a bus moved into my lane without warning, cutting me off. No blinker, no nothing. Twice. The driver simply muscled his big ole vehicle over, clearly knowing that I wouldn't play chicken and risk a collision.

The first time I was in the process of turning out onto the main road when the bus suddenly decided to switch lanes, so I had to veer off onto the shoulder. I was definitely annoyed, enough so that I blurted out an obscenity inside the car, but the only one around to hear it was one of my dogs. I'm not given to rolling down the window to scream at another driver or give him/her the finger.

Even annoyed, I could have gotten over this if it had only happened once. Everybody makes mistakes, forgets to use the turn signal, let's their mine drift for a minute. Hell, I've done all three. So, quick annoyance then over, done gone.

Until it happened again, mere blocks later. The bus had returned to the left lane while I motored happily in the right. Then the bus driver spotted the upcoming road construction too late and instead of slowing down and waiting for an opening to pull into the right hand lane, he again just steered the big bus over, forcing me to put on the brakes so he wouldn't clip me.

This was a tour bus and the number of the company appeared on the back end of the bus in big numerals. I thought about it for a few seconds and then, when I was stopped at a light, I dialed the number. When a man answered, I asked, without yelling, if he could figure out which of their drivers was currently bringing a bus through the lower Keys. When he said he could, I suggested, "Please tell him he needs to learn to use the turn signal instead of cutting me off twice in five minutes."

The guy on the phone assured me he would and asked if there was something else he could do for me. When I told him 'no', he said, "Thank you for letting us know about the problem and thank you for not yelling at me."

That surprised me, but I managed to reply, "You weren't the one driving the bus, sir. Thanks for your help."

I disconnected the call and wondered how many people must call and yell at him if he was noticeably appreciative that I didn't.

Then I wondered if I'd overreacted and if I just should have let the whole thing slide. I finally decided that a few good things might result from this action. One, maybe the bus driver will pay more attention tomorrow and the next day and, perhaps, that will save an accident from happening in the long run.

Last but not least, some faceless guy who's used to taking crap from callers about mistakes made by other people got a little positive reinforcement for being helpful.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

View from a Boat

I shot this picture yesterday with my iPhone during a leisurely cruise around the harbor in my boat. (Yes, I know it's crooked, but I had one hand on the steering wheel at the time.) Since I wrote the Ocean Mourning post, I thought I should show you the harbor that I love so much. My profile picture gives another view.

I love being out on the water and always have. I was born and raised an ocean girl. With the exception of the year we spent in France and my last two years of high school, I've always lived within easy reach of the Atlantic. At our family home in Ventnor, I fell asleep in summer cooled by ocean breezes floating through my window and could wake up, look out the window and see the endless expanse of blue sea. Countless days we spent at the beach, enjoying each other's company, reading books, and jumping, playing and swimming in the ocean.

It took several years of living in the Keys full time for me to take the plunge and buy a boat of my own. (Hmm, talking about plunges might be the wrong imagery to use when speaking of boats and water.) Now my 22' ProKat sits on its lift outside the house. I can lower it and cruise off at will. This freedom to leave land behind and head out to the ocean is empowering, uplifting and soothing all at the same time.

Empowering because, hot damn, I am captain of my own vessel. I've worked hard to reach the point where I am confident enough in my skills that I'll take out the boat my myself. Honestly, backing off the lift away from the sea wall and then returning are the most difficult things if I'm taking a simple cruise. I'm not always perfect, and keep testing myself with different amounts of wind and current, but so far I haven't hit anything. :-)

Lately, I've gone out for a few hours at a time to work on skills in other places. There's an empty marina not far where I can practice turning in narrower spaces, docking to either starboard or port when there's also a wall in front of me, and doing steering maneuvers in reverse. I want to be so familiar with these things that they are instinctive.

The weather was so beautiful yesterday with little wind, that after I practiced for awhile, I headed out of the harbor and ran out to Washer Woman light. As my boat skimmed across the surface, sheer joy filled me. I was flying -- literally and emotionally. At the light, the water was so clear that I could see fish swimming below. I drifted across for a bit, just enjoying the play of the fish, and the dance of sunlight on the gem-like water.

After that, I powered up and headed for Sombrero, picking up the channel markers for Sister Creek. There are a number of gorgeous homes along Sister Creek. Every time I cruise past, I see something that I didn't notice before. Frequently, I pass other vessels and trade waves with the people on board. I believe this practice is unique to boaters. Motorcycle riders do something similar, usually a fist salute down at their sides. It would be impossible, and unsafe, to wave at other passing motorists when driving, but out on the boat, it's an easy courtesy.

Turning for home, I cruised into home port. A successful docking (successful meaning I didn't ram anything and got my boat onto the lift.) makes me smile and engenders a physical reaction of pride. Seriously. Somethng swells inside and I think, "I did it. I did it."

This leads to my most important realization. A personal and world view from my boat. How many years did I go without a boat and, more importantly, without the realization that I could, indeed captain one and go enjoy the water that I love so much without relying on other people to take me?

How many other experiences that we yearn for do we put off or, worse, never do, because we don't think that we're capable?

I've come to believe that there are no limits except those that we place on ourselves, or allow others to place on us. If we don't know how, we can learn. I didn't just buy a boat and take off. I grew up going out with my parents on the family boats. I took a course a few years ago that focused on hands-on skills. Last fall, I took a Coast Guard Auxiliary course. When I'm out with friends, I watch, I ask questions, I learn. I practice.

Apply this technique to anything you want to do and you, too, will find yourself doing instead of only dreaming. Then see how the experience enhances your view.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

According to Taste

All my life I have hated seafood. No, I'm not allergic to fish and shellfish. I just don't like the tastes. At all. It doesn't matter if it's the whitest, least fishy tasting variety. The smell and flavor make me gag. Same thing with lobster and shrimp and don't even get me started on mussels, clams or oysters.

Suffice it to say, this is not a menu choice for me. Ever. I have not eaten fish since 1968. For those of you who are not-Catholic, prior to 1968, Catholicism decreed that we could not eat meat on Fridays. I would have been perfectly happy with macaroni and cheese or eggs for dinner, but Mom decided that every once in awhile I had to eat fish. She realized that she could get me to do so if she baked up some frozen fish sticks. (Poor Mom. A gourmet cook, she could broil, bake, saute or poach fresh caught filets in a variety of ways. She must have hated pulling a box out of the freezer for my sake.) She didn't know until I told her as an adult that the only reason I choked those rectangles of indeterminate fish flesh down was because I smothered them in ketchup.

My nephew once challenged me to prove that I really do dislike seafood. I barely managed to chew and swallow a bite of his grilled grouper without heaving. A couple of years ago, a friend dared me to eat lobster. Even drowned in melted butter, that forkful barely made it down the throat.

I wish I liked fish. It would make protein choices a whole lot easier. I live in a place where restaurants serve up fish that was swimming freely earlier that day. Sadly, I am unable to partake.

I have other food taste oddities, too. I love tomato sauce, stewed tomatoes and salsa but won't put a slice of cold tomato on a sandwich or cut it up in salad for love nor money.

Mushrooms gross me out just by existing. I can feel the tiniest bit of one in soup and get skeeved out.

Carrots, cabbage, beans, peas, cauliflower, broccoli - yum! Cucumbers, not so much.

Blueberries, blackberries, strawberries -- serve 'em up. Raspberries? Blech.

There are four major taste groups -- sweet, salty, bitter, acid. Some studies suggest that a person's taste preferences are largely inherited, but that upbringing, culture and familiarity can play a part. In that case, I'm a family oddball. Nobody else in my family of origin dislikes as many things as I do.

What I want to know is if it's possible to change my tastes. I know there are things we dislike as kids that we grow to love as adults, but I haven't been a kid in 45 years. Now, admittedly, if I got lost on a deserted island I would catch and eat fish rather than starve. At least I would after I ran out of coconuts. I'd prefer to not have to immerse myself in Survivor level tactics.

Is it possible that I could train myself to like, even enjoy, the occasional piece of freshly prepared fish?

Please don't hand me the line that it tastes just like chicken. If that's the case, I'll keep eating chicken. Why change?

What do you think? Got any suggestions?

Friday, June 11, 2010

Beautiful Evening, Ocean Mourning

Right now as I look out the window, the harbor is still. With little breeze, scarcely a ripple disrupts the water. Where the water is its shallowest, the surface reflects like a polished mirror. The rest is a sweet, soft blue.

In the quiet, I can stand on the sea wall and look down to the floor of sand, coral and undulating sea grass. Small silver fish zip by, as well as the occasional young spotted ray. Once in a great while, I'll catch sight of a nurse shark, grazing the bottom, not an ounce of menace in its demeanor. On evenings like this, when I look farther out toward the middle of the channel, I'll often see a flash of silver and a brown fin stick up from the water as a tarpon rolls.

When the weather turns and the wind churns, the water roils in a dark gray-green. I've watched a storm blow through with such fierceness that it obliterates the scene before my eyes. In the north, "white outs" are associated with blizzards. Here in the Keys, it's like someone pulled a curtain of rain across a stage, blocking the set from view. Fronts often move fast and, before long, the boats, buoys, and island across the way emerge once more.

I like to take my tea and a book out onto the porch and relax outside with the dogs. It is always peaceful and most days a breeze keeps it from being too hot. Sea gulls, pelicans, cormorants are neighborhood regulars. A heron or osprey might make an appearance. It isn't uncommon for dolphins to swim by on their way out to the ocean. Sometimes, I'll hear a loud "chuff" and know to scan the water for signs of a passing manatee.

This is my home. Tonight, while I breathe in the cooling air and watch the sky color up with pink and lavender, I embrace the beauty with my heart. And I worry.

Way up in the northern Gulf coast, thousands of other people sit on their porches, balconies and in their backyards, look out at the water that borders their land and are horrified. Sludge mars the beauty and murders the eco-system. They are beyond worrying about what might happen and forced to confront the reality. Day after day after day.

At this point, the Keys might be fortunate. The Loop Current could pull it away from the islands and take it up the coast. We might never see the sludge and tar balls fouling our home.

But we will not be unaffected. The harbor outside my window flows out to the Atlantic, only a few hundred yards away from the Gulf of Mexico. It's all connected.

Tonight there are people hundreds of miles away who are mourning because of the oil spill.

Here on our islands, surrounded by still beautiful water, we feel that pain.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Confidence Conundrum

I'm musing today about confidence. Specifically, it puzzles me that we can be entirely confident in some areas of our lives and quivering, breathless fearnuts in others.

What's up with that? I'll use myself as an example. It is not rampant egoism to say that I rock my day job. My bosses regularly reinforce this and I have quantifiable results. Moreover, I know that I'm knowledgeable, strong, sure, efficient, forward thinking and creative. I can't leap tall buildings in a single bound, but I'm darn good at what I do. Ask me to write a newsletter article or press release, coordinate a media shoot, do a stand-up interview for television, or produce a script for an in-house video? No problem. I am confident in all those situations.

Now let's consider my career as a novelist. A few years ago, I wrote and sold a couple of books. They received great reviews and reader feedback was terrific. Unfortunately, they tanked at sales. It doesn't matter how much I consider that I was with a smaller, independent publisher with limited distribution. When I saw the royalty statements, the actual numbers were overwritten in my mind's eye with FAILURE blinking in bold, red, print. Not only did this depress the hell out of me, it also obliterated my confidence. Clearly, I could not produce a successful book.

That self-inflicted shot to my confidence progressed untreated. I'd start a new project, be excited for a little while, and then lose interest. That happened at least four times, which means I have the beginnings of four books, none longer than 50 pages. I'd go to conferences and conventions and feel like I should write Unsuccessful Loser on my name badge under my name. I felt like a fraud, and wanted to duck my head every time someone asked, "When's your next book coming out"?

I was honestly thisclose to closing the door on that part of my life. Hey, I have a dream day job that I adore, so giving up the other dream wasn't a big deal, right?

Wrong. The truth is that at heart, I am a storyteller and I want to write books in addition to my day job. To anyone who thinks, "It's better to have published and not done well than to never have published at all" let me say, "Think again." Yes, I will always have two books to my credit, but giving up and walking away means I will always have an unhealed, bleeding wound. It's not okay for something, or someone to make me feel inferior -- not even myself.

Maybe I shouldn't be so focused on the financial side of publishing as a measure of success. Truthfully, I wrote two good books that entertained readers. This IS successful. I could be happy with that if not for the lingering feeling that I am not giving my dream its best shot. It's like I'm packing up the balls (double connotation) and bats and refusing to play the game because I'm afraid of further failure.

I can't live that way. It's damaging to my psyche, to my emotional health, and to my identity. I won't live that way. So, I've decided to give it another shot and commit to writing a new book all the way to completion, revision and submission.

And I'm scared that I'll fail.

I do not know how I can write every single day of my life with complete confidence in my talent and ability and worry that I won't be able to develop a readable story with great characters that will entertain readers. It's not like someone plunked me down in an operating theater, handed me a scalpel and said, "Perform this appendectomy, Mary, or the patient's gonna die." I'm a writer. I can write.

My solution for all this is just to do it. Look the fear and shaken confidence in the proverbial eye and tell them to kiss my ass. I'm a writer and I will do this. I said recently that one should never underestimate the power of acting "as if". For today, I'm telling myself that I am not a failed novelist. I am a great writer and my new book is going to be excellent.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Still Reconstructing

I know, I know. It didn't take this long to reconstruct the South. Then again, Rome wasn't built in a day and neither was this blog. I've done a lot of deep thinking about what this blog should be from here on out. Seriously deep thinking, like the kind that can only be done accompanied by a few goblets of excellent wine.

I'm philosophical like that. Not.

Anyway, after ample pondering I decided that thinking outside the box and not reinventing the wheel do not need to be mutually exclusive. Blogging about anything and everything that interests me has served me well in the past, so I'll continue that method of topic selection and run with it.

My goal, always, is to entertain. I won't always be funny. Some days I might be insightful as all get out. Other days? Well, in the game of baseball, even the best hitters only connect a third of the time. If I bore you to pieces one day, please drop by again. The odds are in my favor. (For those of you with razor sharp statistics skills who realize I contradicted my analogy, Shhhh. I'm a writer. I use a different piece of my brain.)

Tonight I leave you with this thought. How on earth did civilizations 1500 years ago look at cacao beans, which sort of resemble small animal droppings, and figure out that they would yield chocolate and be fabulous? I have to believe that natural curiosity zinged through those ancient brains and they investigated and tested everything. There's a lesson in that practice. Question. Investigate. Examine. Ponder. Marvel. You never know where it might lead and how people thousands of years in the future will be glad you did.