Horrifying Gifts for the Holidays

If your family is like mine, it’s big, and ungainly and the truth is, you just don’t know each other well enough to buy each other anything but an Amazon gift card. This will, of course, in no way stop you from wanting to play Happy Families, so you will spend a massive amount of money to say “Look, I bought you a Gift.”

In general, the rules for these Gifts are simple:

  1. The Gift must be something durable enough to result in the on-going ownership of something the recipient does not want, or  the awkward disposal thereof.
  2. Recipient will, of course, feign gratitude and acceptance of said Gift, even if Giver has had a lifetime to notice that she/he does not use __________.
  3. Anaphylaxis in no way excuses you from rule #2. Eat another nut bar.
  4. Gift will most likely be identical to Gifts given to every other family member of your Rank and Gender. (ie: Female Cousins, Uncles, etc.)
  5. In the event that Pansexual Nymphette is the Giver, you MUST maintain the pretense that Gift is as G-Rated and Family Friendly as Possible. Do NOT say “figging oil” when you could say **ahem** “massage oil” or better yet, “gourmet cooking oil.”

There is, of course, an unspoken 6th rule: Gifts given to people other than yourself will be even more inconvenient to you.

Your Grandmother will be given a photo-calendar made from a picture of you taken at a Ballroom Dance exhibit. She’s not going to throw it out. That would be hurtful, both to you, and to the relative who gave it to her.


She’s going to drive a new nail so it can hang prominently in the living room all year long.

You will spend the entire year fielding questions from random acquaintances about a dance partner you don’t even perform with regularly.

No. We’re not getting married.

No. He’s not special… well, I guess his wife and kids might think so.

Yes, his wife knows we dance together. That’s her on the left.

Yes, I’m sure he’s not special!

No, he’s not Gay. Pretty sure his wife would have told me. And no, I will not introduce you, Steven.


No, you do not get to meet him. No, he’s not with his family for Christmas this year. He’s with them for Hanukkah.

What? You got all six of my great-aunts the very same calendar? In smaller sizes? Oh, well, then…

Fuck it. What’s his name and I are getting married. It’s just more convenient.

I’m sure his wife will understand.

Today Is My Day!!!

For the last couple of years, I’ve participated in the Independent Bookworm Advent Calendar. It’s a literary countdown to Christmas, and every day, there’s a different short-story. I think it leans toward the Sci-Fi Fantasy end of the spectrum, but I’ve never really done the math.

Today is my day.

The door opened, and there I am. Me and my short story about a nose hair trimmer. If you subscribed to the newsletter at the beginning of the month, you also got my fabulous recipe for puppy poop cookies with flies. Yes, I know that’s disgusting. But it keeps the children busy, and it also has butterscotch and chocolate.

I got a real kick out of doing it, and it sounds like people are actually enjoying the story.

If you haven’t already, head over there and check out the calendar, and if nose hair trimmers aren’t to your taste, there are plenty of stories that don’t have them.

Let me know what you think.

Writing as Real Life

Someone asked me if I was married, the other day… if I have kids… the usual small talk from someone I’d just met. She showed me pictures of her husband, her kid (he was pretending to be a Box Troll. I still haven’t looked up Box Trolls.) And I told her that I’m not much of anything. Not married. No kids.

Maybe someday? she prodded, optimistically.

I nodded. Maybe someday.

Truth be told, I was always more the loaner children type. Something about the idea that I can send them home appeals to me. Lots of fun, and very little commitment.

I could do marriage. In fact, there are times I’ve barely escaped with my life. **ahem** Thought about it.

And then, after you get through the small talk, there’s the real me. I’m writing a book. No, it’s not my first book. It’s…what? About two years old, now.

This was the kind of conversation that reminds me how close to the surface I really am. Not a lot of small talk, here. Other people–sometimes it seems like their whole lives are small talk. They’re perfectly willing to tell a complete stranger about their kids, or their remodeling job, or the husband who refuses to smile right in pictures.

Maybe it’s something off the introvert/extrovert scale.

Maybe it’s just that writing a book is so far off the beaten path that it almost takes another writer to hold up the other end of the chat.

There’s a lot of insecurity in that silence. I find myself comparing my art–my writing, my painting, my dance–to their lives. Their very real, real lives, with the spouse and kids, and the Box Trolls on TV, and feeling… inadequate.

I have a lot to show for my work. Honestly, I do. And objectively, I know that.

But I don’t want to show it to every coworker I can find. And the ideas of not having anything I’m willing to show them and not having anything at all get mixed up, sometimes. Goodbye confidence. Hello, what ifs.

What if I should have gotten married, had kids, raised radishes on the terrace? What if my projects never add up to anything, and I never have anything to show the coworkers or the family? What if… what if… what if…

The Secrets That Define Us

Years ago, before my grandmother died, one of my cousins was the first girl on the block to get donor insemination.

About the same time, I broke up with the college boyfriend, and my grandmother–who was very much a matchmaker at heart–would bring him up regularly, probe for hints about the odds of us getting back together, and then end with… well, you can always do what your cousin did.

No, I don’t think she actually wanted me to do donor insemination. I think the general idea was BRING BOY BACK! And I certainly never told her that I was the one who broke up with him, or that the reason was that he wanted kids, and I didn’t. (Simplified version.)

I can’t tell that story, anymore. Not in front of family, anyway. Because a few years later, cousin #2 went right ahead and did what cousin #1 had done. Twice.

Cousin #2’s mother sees herself as refined, liberal, and all-embracing. **cough** bullshit **cough** (This probably happened instantaneously, overnight, when she moved into The City. No, The OTHER city. NO… The OTHER Other City.)

The flip side of that is that she presents her family–back in Nebraska–as being uniform, monochromatic, and uhm… well, basically a bunch of under-educated, under-read hicks. She cherry-picks a few stories to pass on.  The fun stuff.

By now, you probably think the Secret here is donor sperm.

It’s not. After all, Cousin #1 was a pretty good test case for that, so Cousin #2 isn’t much worried about that. We were told.

Nope. The Secret–the one I’m not even supposed to know, myself–is the donor’s ethnicity. “Welsh” would be a euphemism for “Not Welsh.” Shhh. Don’t tell. Like I said, it’s a Secret.

Interesting information is: Your grandfather used to rent an elephant to advertise his business.

Relevant information is: Be sure you know your carrier status before you settle on a sperm donor. (PSA–this is not an expensive round of testing. Personal Opinion? If you’re an American, you should really consider it.)

And it’s the relevant information that always seems to be a Secret. Change your name, change your port of origin. Write “protestant” on that form at Ellis Island. Tell your family the donor was “Welsh” ’cause that’s the flavor of the month.

I have the feeling there are more secrets, now. Rumors keep floating back from the Other Other City, and now and then, a tiny scrap of fact. A flurry of genetic testing. A hint that something’s wrong with someone’s hearing. Random outbursts of emotion.

And even if there aren’t more secrets… how do you tell your kids I had to lie about you? People just wouldn’t accept you, if I told them the truth.  Do you tell them? Or do you just let the lie fade into fact?


Nostalgia and Fugue

In a fit of nostalgia, I let myself be talked  into the idea that I  should go back to the town I used to live in, and the house where I spent the better portion of my childhood.
Five hours later, I was there, staring at a town that could have been anyplace, and a few buildings that might have been familiar, one remodel and half a dozen coats of paint ago.
It’s a strange feeling, going back to a place you haven’t been in years. I spent some time looking for the old landmarks, and finding nothing. A neighbor’s house, that was still recognisable thanks to the distinctive windows was as close as I got to identifying anything.
Two trips past a house that must have been mine, once,  and I still don’t feel like I’ve been home. I don’t feel it. I do know that those pines used to be little, and once, you could see into the back yard, and there used to be a cottonwood tree somewhere in the front.
There are a lot more houses in the neighborhood than when I lived there. Closer together, and almost claustrophobic. No one has horses, anymore, and the field where Other Karen’s father used to pull our sleds behind his snow mobile? Gone.
It’s not the first time I’ve gone back. Last time, I was horrified to find a buffalo skull above MY garage door, but at least it was still MY house.
This time… I had to go back to the main street and look again to convince myself I really had turned at the right place. Things had changed.
My old school got a gym. And a bunch of plastic things in the yard. When I was there, we had old fashioned swings and merry-go-rounds. And…  I’m ashamed to say… It looks like someone may have removed the tractor tires we used as forts.
There aren’t many people left, either. None of the mailboxes had names I recognized, and anyway, it’s a mobile society.
I kept track of a few friends for a while. Saint Louis for one, Lincoln for another. Followed them until their older sister went to the Air Force, and their mother had a replacement baby, or until we ran out of letters, one way or another, and stopped writing. They aren’t there for me to look up, at any rate.
I can still find one. I might track him down some other time. If and when I feel like talking. Or… If and when I need him for points in the next blog hop scavenger hunt. Whichever.
And by the way… Blog hop deadline today. Few hours left.

Hello, Family. Good news! You’re My Blog Topic for the Day.

I’ve been keeping score. The number of times one particular aunt asks how I am vs the number of times she asks how some material possession is. Not exactly a nail biter here. Material possessions are slaughtering me. If this were a football game, the fans would have packed it in and gone home at half time. My current score? Zero. Aunt has not asked how I am once. Not when she was talking to me. Not when she was talking to anyone else.

I’m having one of those lives where I tend to wonder how long it’s worth trying to salvage relationships with people just because we happen to share a few alleles.

This is a woman who is so loud, and so outgoing, that she gave me panic attacks when I was a child, and she never noticed.

I don’t have a lot in common with my family. I’m incredibly guarded when I’m around them. I don’t know whether that helps or hurts the situation. Maybe they’d be impressed that I’ve written n novels, or that I’m looking to publish. Maybe they wouldn’t. Either way, I’m sure they’d feel entitled to read and comment, and probably get out the red pen. **shudder** Tell me what I’m doing wrong. Take credit for what they think I’m doing right.

So, what’s new? Lately, I’ve been looking at this more and more as a zero-sum game. I don’t want my creative space invaded. I don’t want to pretend to be someone else in order to be accepted in their space. I definitely don’t want to become someone else.

And my family wants me to be someone else.

I want out. And in a strange way, I think I’ve always wanted out.

The first time I can remember not wanting them around was fifth grade. Wanting them NOT to be there, I mean. There was a banquet for an award I had won, and I didn’t want to invite them. Didn’t invite them.

I want belonging, but all I get is tolerance. And after a while, the difference adds up to a lot of weight.

So, here’s the question, for all you writers and creatives with meaningless day jobs, while you work toward your real goals… How do you get along with the people who think you’re just your day job? How do you strike the balance?

Beginning at the End

Over lunch today, I started in on that memoir. The one that’s probably in bad taste, and definitely too soon, and maybe will never see the light of day, no matter how much time I put in on it.

And it isn’t half bad.

There’s a voice in the back of my head that tells me no one cares. That no one will ever care about anything that small, or anybody that insignificant, and that the people who do care–no, that’s not contradictory–will be royally pissed off and hate the whole thing.

They will probably set fire to my books, my home, and me, personally.

I’m having one of those weeks, where Facebook turns into a mob, and even though there’s not one thing anybody can do about it, people don’t stop trying.

And–as it turns out–stirring shit really doesn’t make it smell any better.

Who knew?

So, anyway… I started writing the writing that’s coming to me, now. It’s not what I usually write. I haven’t done anything with autobiography or memoir since… well, since the last time one of my teachers made me.

Over my lunch hour, I got enough words in to know that it’s going to be tough to write. Well, I knew that. I got enough words in to know it’s going to be tougher than I thought it would be.

I might not ever finish the thing. I might go back to writing about aliens an psychopaths. But I think I’ll keep working on it for now. When I have time, and if I feel like it. I don’t have to decide what to do with it until after I actually have a manuscript.

I’ll think about it.

Help! Real People are Sitting on my Muse!

There’s something about bad news that brings out the opinions. People you’ve heard from twice in the last five years are suddenly front and center, telling you everything you’re doing wrong, how you could do it better, and how they could do it best of all.

Hell, no! They’re not in my creative space. Most of them don’t even know I write, much less get draft copies of my writing. It has nothing to do with my work, itself. It has to do with all the other things people are weighing in on. The things that they didn’t notice, until bad things happened. And… suddenly… Opinions Everywhere!

I have an aunt.

And on paper, we seem to have everything in common. Well, a lot in common. She’s the aunt who gave me my first journal, when I was a kid. The one who reads a lot and writes a little, and who actually loves a lot of the same books I do. Who introduced me–with varying degrees of success–to a lot of the arts and music, and intellectual pursuits that I enjoy.

The personalities just don’t click.

We did better, back when she was the erudite adult, and I was the awe-struck kid.

Not well, but better.

And now… We. Do. NOT. Agree.On.ANYTHING.

And we aren’t just talking tastes. We’re talking real, functional differences.

And my opinion–which is reasonable, in my opinion–is drowned out by the roar of she’s right and I’m wrong.

Families are strange things. Ungainly and inconvenient. And there are so many awkward, ill-fitting pieces that you have to deal with.

A little bit stressed, now. Thinking of grabbing a back pack and hitting the rails. I had a great-great-uncle who rode the rails. During the depression. But I could do that. I don’t mind over the hill bananas, or the smell of trains. I could be a hobo.

Of course, three relatives will insist on coming with me, and another forty will want regular updates, by Skype and E-mail, and the remaining twenty or thirty thousand will talk. Mostly about what I’m doing wrong, and how hurt they are that I didn’t name my boxcar after them.

I just want some silence. Some tiny, little bit of shush to keep me from forgetting… me. Keep me from getting absorbed.