Monday, November 18, 2013

Acts of Kindness

One of my friends posted something recently about how Facebook is the place where you complain about life all year long but in November you post things for which you are grateful.

It's true, this is the time of year we get a lot of "pay it forward" and "random acts of kindness" crap that should be showing up in our August or February or other months of the year.  But to be honest, I like living in a world where tens of thousands of people lined the streets of San Francisco to help a five year old realize his dream of being Batman for a day.

Then there are the little acts people don't see en masse that make a huge difference in just a life or two.

Yesterday my husband and I grabbed a late breakfast (probably it should be called brunch because of the time we ate) at a local greasy spoon we hadn't been to in years.  They were starting to close up when the cab driver for one of the patrons came in to let her know he was there.  She was an older woman and getting up to get out the door was a chore for her.  One of the waitress, who appeared to be high school aged, stopped what she was doing.  She helped the woman up and then took the time to walk her to the curb and helped her into the cab.

It took quite some time as the woman had difficulty moving.  She did so in a way that was more of a companion, preserving the woman's dignity by clearly chatting with the woman as she shuffled along.

My first though was how much it said about the girl who, instead of rushing to get out the door, took the five or so minutes to walk an older woman to her cab safely.  That she did it with grace was touching and it spoke volumes about the restaurant itself that other people picked up her tasks without saying a word.  It truly was teamwork.

Further, they didn't rush the last few of us stragglers either.  They offered us more coffee (free refills I should add) and made sure we were comfortable.

There were no twitter feeds, news cameras or headlines for what that young girl did but it is certainly worthy of celebration.

So today, instead of posting something you're grateful for on Facebook, take action.  Make whatever you do be something someone else would be grateful for on Facebook.  Then do it again and again and again because you never know who is watching.

My husband and I have a new breakfast place now because any place that would hire that staff is a place we want to patronize.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Late night shenanigans

Travis is sitting in a chair.

I get up to answer nature’s call and when I come back the stage direction is clear: Travis is sitting in a chair.

How the hell did Travis end up in my novel?  The son of bitch must have put himself there knowing I was half asleep at the overnight portion of the 24 hour write in and now he won’t leave.  He’s just sitting there, reading a book and chortling.

You heard me correctly.  The son of a bitch is chortling because he knows I can’t just write him out.  If I try, he’ll just come back and keep on bugging me.  First he’ll casually saunter  by the edges and maybe give a little wave.  Then, when I write him out again, he’ll sashay right down the middle of the page before he stops, turns and blows a little kiss.  A third write out would most likely involve a tirade of sarcasm unmatched since the death of George Plimpton passed back int 2003.

Now there was a writer.

Plimpton was only 76 when he died of a heart attack.  This is the man who was the man when it came to participatory journalism.  The circus, the Detroit Lions, you name it and he did it before he wrote about it.  This is the guy that made me want to be a writer.  He made me excited to think that this was the best way to inspire and change the world.  Hell he pitched in Yankee Stadium against the National League!  Of course it was totally a joke but his book “Out of my League” detailed the story.  He trained with the Bruins (black and gold we raise the flag) as a goalie and played in a preseason game.  He made me believe that even someone like me might be able to get a day with the Red Sox or Bruins.

Oh how I would love to do that.

But I have to say my favorite thing about George Plimpton was the whole Sidd Finch gag he did for the April Fools edition of Sports Illustrated.  The idea of a Buddhist Monk tossing a fast ball so fast that the only way to prepare the catcher was to drop balls out of the Goodyear blimp to match the monk’s velocity… well, yeah it grew to the length of a book (that was funnier than I sometimes want to admit) and worth any money I used to buy it.

Yep, that George Plimpton really was a writer.

Travis is… well, guess you could classify him as a writer given that he has written a novel for NaNoWriMo every year for several years now and he makes me laugh, but he’s no George Plimpton.

Oh shit, now I’ve just insulted him.  Now I’ll never get rid of him.  He’ll be like the lawyer in “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” going crazy in the bathtub stabbing grapefruit with a  razor sharp knife while tripping on acid and demanding I throw the radio in the tub at the height of “White Rabbit.”  

Even if I pull the plug at the right moment so that when the radio hits the tub , nothing happens, he’ll still be as pissed off at me as  Hunter S. Thompson’s lawyer was pissed of at him for not following direction exactly as scripted.

Speaking of scripting, I’m a little worried this Travis may never leave. 

See he’s kind of digging in his heels about this point.  That whole Travis is sitting in a chair only now his hands are tightly crossed against his chest and he’s looking at me.

No, make that he’s glaring at me.

I can rain down atomic bombs, slings and arrows and all sorts of things but he will remain just where he is and there is nothing, absolutely nothing I can do about it.

Nothing but sing.

I mean, if Travis is going to sit there in my novel, glaring away (or blowing kisses in a better mood), then  I might as well start singing.  I can sing “Kumbaya” for all he cares.  I can break into a full song and dance choreographed by Bob Fosse.  Whatever floats my boat (so to speak) at this point.  While I’ve never seen Travis swing into a full scale number like that, it doesn’t mean he may not decide to do so this time through.  He’s been known to do things like that on a whim if it suits his nefarious purposes.

Still he sits there laughing his ass off.  After all, I’ve tried everything.

Everything but one thing… I haven’t tried really talking to him yet.



“You are in my novel.”

“Yes, it appears that I am in your novel.”


“Because you wrote me here.”

“No I didn’t.  I went to the bathroom and when I came back the screen simply read, “Travis is sitting in a chair on the blank page.”


“So, why are you sitting in a chair in my novel?”

“Is this your novel?”

“Yes it is.”

“My apologies.  I thought you understood but now I realize you must be a special kind of snowflake.”

“Fuck you.”

“Thank you but you have the wrong plumbing.”

Rolling my eyes, I try again.


“Are you still here?”

“Travis. this is my novel.”

“So it is.”

“Can I have it back now?”

“Let me ruminate on that for a moment.”  


“Well what?”

“Can you please leave my novel.  You throw off the rhythm of that whole thing.”

“I do don’t I.  Did I give you a favorite wrimo sticker yet? Red or black?”

“I have both already.  So, may I please have my novel back?  I think that would be a great way to let me know I’m your favorite wrimo.”

“I have ruminated and I have decided.”

“You have?”

“I have.”

“And….  I’m waiting for your decision.

Um, Travis.  I’m still waiting.

Still waiting Travis.

Any time now.  Really Travis, just spit it right out.”

“Guess what.”

“What Travis?”

“I ruminated on it and made a decision.”

“I know, what is it?”

“You can have our novel back.”

“Really!  Wait… our novel?”

“I’m in it ergo it is now our novel.”

“Are you going to count my words towards your count?”



“I’m just going to take them.”


“Shhh don’t tell anyone, but you’re my favorite wrimo.  Here, have a sticker.”

“Um, thanks.”

“Later you can ask Anna for a ‘like’ sticker.”

“Tell you what, if you leave my novel and don’t screw tine my word count then I’ll do that at the Intermission today.”

“I know when I’m not wanted.”




“Um…. Travis?”


Travis is no longer sitting in the chair.

Perhaps it really was that easy.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

and now for something completely different...

Well, not really but...

This morning there was a lot of buzz about a blog post by Stephanie Metz.  She ranted about modern parenting but, in particular, this one piece is generating a lot of comments:

There was a time - not too long ago - when bullying was defined as slamming someone up against a locker and stealing their lunch money.  There was a time when kids got called names and got picked on, and they brushed it off and worked through it (ask me how I know this).  Now, if Sally calls Susie a bitch (please excuse my language if that offends you), Susie's whole world crumbles around her, she contemplates suicide, and this society encourages her to feel like her world truly has ended, and she should feel entitled to a world-wide pity party.  And Sally - phew!  She should be jailed!  She should be thrown in juvenile detention for acting like - gasp - a teenage girl acts.

Modern parenting and thinking makes me crazy.  The young generations of today (yes, I sound old.  I realize I'm only 29 years old.) are being taught that they shouldn't have to ever put up with anything doesn't make their hearts feel like rainbow colored unicorns are running around pooping skittles onto piles of marshmallows.

Modern parenting is creating a generation that's not going to be able to function in society.

While many parts of the full post are to the point, I wanted to address this part specifically to Stephanie:

Stephanie, you need to understand what bullying really is.

Bullying is not a single action situation (your example of calling Susie a bitch and her world falling apart is not, on its own, bullying).  Bullying is a repeated and constant behavior that does not abate in spite of being addressed.  So, in her example, Sally's actions would only be considered bullying if this were a constant, repeating situation that was part of a systemic attack (verbal or physical) on Susie.

If you want your kids to learn about the real world, then consider this, Sally's actions are called assault.  If it is accompanied by a physical action, it's called assault and battery.  People are arrested for assault and battery.  People can be jailed for assault and battery.  That's the real world because, when you're a grown up, bullying is called abusive behavior.  It's not a question of toughening up, growing a thicker skin or however you want to categorize it.  In school situations, we try to address it so kids understand their actions have consequences.

I get it, you're 29 and your kids are young.  I'm half a century+ in here and my kids are college age and beyond, so my perspective is rather different.

You're upset your kid's toy may be perceived as a gun.  Ask parents who live in areas where violence is common how they feel about the idea of guns in schools.   It is sad to say that, for many, schools are the only safe place for their children in this country and the thought of guns in that environment would be too much for them.  I am truly grateful I have never had to cower with my children in the bathtub when that all too familiar "pop pop pop" begins to resound - but there are way too many people in this country who do.

Your kid may come from a home with loving parents that do their best to raise them.  He may be sitting next to a kid who, on the surface, has a great life but, at night, dad beats mom and the kids if he had a bad day.  He may be in a sharing group with kids who rely on school lunch as their only meal of the day (unless your school also has a breakfast program) or any number of things that can be happening with the other 20+ kids around him.  That perception of a gun is no big deal to you, but to a kid who is constantly picked on and - yes - bullied, it may be the thing that gets him thinking darkly.

The teacher, that adult in the front of the room, needs to be aware and sensitive to all that in hopes the kids can make the benchmarks some politician that has no clue what happens in a classroom has set for them and your children.  They also have to be aware that Susie has an "uncle" that's acting a bit too friendly because she alluded to it in a piece of fiction and is working behind the scenes with a social worker, principal and others to help find out if she's safe.  So maybe Sally's calling her a "bitch" that day was nothing in your mind, it may have been the straw that broke the camel's back for Susie.  Maybe you heard it once but Sally said it every time she saw Susie, posted it to her facebook wall, tweeted it and captioned the embarrassing photo of Susie which Sally caught in the locker room on her cellphone that she then instagramed out to the world.

You never know because we're humans and that's why our facebook pages are filled with cat videos and happy observations.  We put up a good front until the whole thing comes tumbling down.

So yeah, I think you need some perspective on that part of your rant.  As far as the constant entertaining your children and the electronics - you're on the right track.  I am a true "blessing of a skinned knee" kind of person that believes the best path to success is overcoming failure.  I am also a person who believes balance is key in any situation and you're not seeing the other side of the scales you're sitting upon.

I hope your child is never bullied the way my son was in 3rd grade.  He's now a college graduate but he still carries the emotional scars of the constant and consistent verbal and physical attacks of a classmate that culminated in me insisting an adult always be present to keep my son safe.  Even then, the bully was still able to attack my son and our best solution was to just move to a different community.  You can call that an extreme situation, but it is far more common than you think.

Bullies grow into abusers.  Their targets can grow into victims.  You don't know who is bullied at home and under what circumstances so to say "kids need to..."  "parents need to..." "schools need to..." is a perspective you're welcome to so long as you are open to learning about why others will pushback.

It's called real life and it's what you were advocating for in your post.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Liner Notes

Every year I participate in a mix tape (well, CD) swap with other NaNoWriMos.  Sometimes I take the time to produce a quality insert and this year was one of those years.

I selected the runner with the pencil from the NaNo logos and wrote the following liner notes for this year's collection, "I'm Yours Boston."

Yeah, I'm yours Boston - you're my home.

And we have had quite a year here in Beantown.  A couple of punks tried to blow up our marathon, our hockey fans moved the world to tears a few nights later singing the "Star Spangled Banner" and leaving Renee Rancourt speechless on the ice, mike hanging from his hand and a look of wonderment on his face.  Our Red Sox - predicted to do nothing or less by the experts - won the World Series and two players stopped the duck boats in the middle of the parade to place the trophy on the marathon finish line bringing things full circle.

That week set me up for NaNoWriMo this year and I found myself going to a lot of concerts, a Red Sox game or two, drank a lot whiskey and/or rum, writing a lot thoughts down and creating my story this year.

Most of the bands on here are Boston based: the Dropkick Murphys, Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers, Big D and the Kids Table, FORT! The Band, Thick as Thieves, and Passion Pit.  Others on here are bands that I found that made me smile, dance or just plain got me through the insanity of those topsy-turvy six months of emotion so that I could write with my fellow Boston wrimos - an event that warms my soul.

The concerts, the rum, the writing all got me from the mile 18 water stop - where I volunteer - to Nano.  Writing is a marathon.  Sure you can sprint along the way but the whole process is long and steady.  I'm talking be more like Bill Rogers and not Usian Bolt here folks.

Boston and writing, like Ken Casey's rose tattoo, are signed and sealed in blood.  I hope this collection inspires you the way it has inspired me.

The CD starts with "Tessie," the song the DKMs wrote associated with the 2004 World Series Red Sox and ends with the Standells (who are NOT a Boston band) doing "Dirty Water."  In the mix are Jonathan Richman's "As We Walk to Fenway Park (in Boston Town), Big D's "I'm Yours Boston," Thick as Thieves "Here's to Waking Up," and Passion Pit's "Sleepyhead."

The non-Boston songs are ones that got stuck in my head or are from bands that made me dance my cares away at concerts.

It also helped me rethink some things.

My novel wants to focus on the battle in Lowell, not the airships and characters in Waltham.  I will think a little more on things tonight as I finish packing up my CDs and mail them off to the corners of the US. I know Tara's story will get told along with the story of her guardian auntie Miranda who, as a result of the battle of Lowell, is now part cyborg and totally dedicated to a higher power.

Go listen to some local music tonight.  If you have half a mind, find some local band at a local dive and support them tonight.  You never know what may be unleashed inside of you.


Monday, November 4, 2013

Writing in the morning...

Today I get to experience one of the parts of my job I love - getting kids to write.

The librarian and I are sponsoring write-ins for National Novel Writers Month at the school library before school for our 4th and 5th graders.  Friday five kids showed up and parents stopped me Friday afternoon to ask if we'd be there today.  I reminded them every school day in November, so I'm hoping for more today.

What surprised me were the kids who did show up as they weren't the ones I expected.  It excites me that we are encouraging another generation of writers.  It also reminds me the power of my words - not the written ones, the spoken ones.  I tell kids all the time to think about folks like Christopher Paolini, the author of "Eragon," and how he was just a teenager when he published for the first time.  I tell them that age doesn't matter.  I tell them what does matter is taking the chance.

The librarian at the middle school was thinking of doing the same, which would be great for some of my older students who are now there.  Of that first group of students four years ago are now 7th graders and many make a point of telling me they are still writing.

I want to build a generation of life long writers.  Maybe they will stick with fiction, maybe not.  I just think the more we all write, the more we all stay in touch with what's important.  Writers tend to be readers and learners and one of the big problems in this country is at some point being educated and being smart became something to be mocked.  If we start the habit of always being learners, then that attitude can start to fade away.

I'd like to think that maybe part of fixing the world and solving some of our big problems can be solved by people willing to take the leap of faith.  What bigger leap of faith for a kid than trying to write a novel at the age of 10?  It may not be "War and Peace," but it will be a sign that they are willing to try and tackle a big project.

Time to get ready to head in,  I have to set up for some kids to get writing. :)

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Another NaNoWriMo, Another Fine Mess

It's that time of year where I feverishly write and write and write until December 1.  Each year I take a different approach.

My personal approach to the 50k this year hit me hard when the characters were just sitting there staring at me all day November 1 with their arms crossed and a scowl on their faces.

"We're not telling you jack," one of them said to me.

"Seriously, you're on your own," my heroine piled on.

What the?

I hit 1700 words of tell, not show (cardinal sin number one for a fiction writer) late Friday night and had a headache when I was done.

This year's quest started 6 months ago at the Waltham Watch City Festival (the steampunk weekend in Waltham).  I was having dinner with my family at a local restaurant we occasionally enjoying visiting.  (They have a lot of good, local craft beers on ice and fried foods - ummmm what's not to like?)  Looking at the placemat of Waltham during the Revolutionary War, it hit me: what if Waltham and Lowell were competing city-states in a steam punk world?  Boston was more like Beaumonde in Firefly: a steamy underbelly of a port; while Salem is the NYC of a port.  Waltham is aligned with Boston and New Bedford while Lowell is aligned with Salem.  The Americas are still British, Spanish and French colonies (the Spanish own west of the Rockies and the southern regions while the French have the Midwest and the British are East of the Mississippi).  There are empires, city states and other rather odd collections for things but the focus here is on Waltham vs Lowell.

I researched the hell out of this one: reading up histories of the two cities, going back to my American History and Western Civ notes and texts about the Industrial Revolution and Francis Cabot Lowell's dream of Utopia via the Waltham/Lowell system.  I jotted down 6 months of notes in my writer's journal.  I created a mythology - all the things good writers do with such things.  This year I was READY with a capital R (followed by all caps EADY).

I found myself struggling on day one in spite of the research and notes because - as I figured out this morning - I have a large number of stories going on in this universe.  At some point it became Firefly without me realizing it.  But not just Firefly, it became Wagon Train, Lost Ark, Star Trek and all those episodic stories having to do with the wild west in a variety of settings.  The backdrop is truly the battle between Waltham and Lowell but Tara, I mean, Miranda, I mean Amelia, I mean... oh what the hell...Victoria (Victoria?) kept bobbing and weaving through my visions of this world.

Joss Whedon and Nathan Fillion on the set of Firefly
Curse you Joss Whedon for your inevitable greatness of story telling and vision.

This is what I get for getting ideas watching Firefly marathons on the science channel over the summer or Castle reruns on TNT (yeah Nathan Fillion - you're not blameless in this debacle either).

So what to do?  Do I follow one core group of characters?  Do I tell of a key battle from different angles?  But what about Auntie and Uncle and their small farm in Waltham that are core of everything?  What happened at St. Patrick's school for young women in Lowell when the evil puppet masters controlling Mayor Elisha Huntington try to shut the school down, arrest Amelia's mother (or was it Victoria's blood sister?) sending poor Edmund, Tara's brother (or was it Amelia's) back to the farm to make sure his twin sisters were safe?

You see my confusion.

So today I will make some decisions but it looks like this is shaping up to a "Lythande" or "Tales from a Space Port Bar" situation.  That series of stories around a time and group and still keep it upper MG or YA so my students can read this at some point when I'm ready to unleash it on the world.

If I remain frustrated, I still blame Joss Whedon because, well, truth is he would tell this story so awesomely and I can only hope that one day I will be equally as awesome.

So I'm about to sit down with my coffee and think... and think some more before I write off yesterday as something to be revisited and begin anew.  Thank heaven for tomorrow's write in when I will have a chance to fix this mess.

One Post Script here: if you have no idea what Firefly is or how awesome it was, I suggest you go to Netflix and watch the episode "Trash" (my favorite) or start with the first episode (Serenity) and watch all of the ill fated season that the Fox executives had no idea what to do with so they cancelled it after showing episodes out of order.