Maybe That’s Where Trappist Monks Come From

Tomorrow marks the beginning of Lent. I had to look that up. Not being from a liturgical background myself, Lent comes and Lent goes, and mostly what it means to me is yummy fish tacos and 40 days of my Lent-ing friends being in vile moods ranging from I gave up sugar to I gave up serial murder and cocaine. (Wait… you mean my friends didn’t give up serial murder and cocaine?!!)

In my childhood, Lent was something that just existed on TV. Something that either showed piety, or got laughs. You know, like Corporal Klinger giving up atheism for Lent? It’s not that we didn’t have Catholics and Lutherans… it’s just that they existed in their own schools over there, somewhere. And in the event that there was mixing, you were much more likely to be talking about Girl Scout cookies and camping than religious dogma.

So, I had the abridged, television explanation: Lent was the time leading up to Easter, and you gave things up for it. And then–when the Lent-ers ran out of private school in 9th grade and we wound up in school together–Maybe don’t offer to trade sandwiches, and don’t eat that chocolate in front of them. You know… it’s a tradition, and it’s good they’re doing it.

So, I was quietly supportive. You know the drill. “You can do it” and keep my mouth shut about the fact that I’m not doing it.

Oh, yes, I was ever so appropriate and supportive until…

One day I ran into a friend who had given up smoking for Lent, and there he was… cigarette in his teeth, doing his best imitation of a chimney.

Well, screw quiet support. I liked the guy. I liked his kids. And frankly, children deserve a father with pink lungs and an intact aorta.

What are you doing?

Well, panicking, obviously. He knew he’d been caught. And by the way, I’m not even slightly fooled by that look of confusion on his face. Cheater.

I thought you gave up smoking for Lent.

And that confused look just stays there. Like he doesn’t have the slightest idea what I’m talking about. Lent’s over, he said.

What do you mean, Lent’s over?

To be honest, until that moment, it hadn’t occurred to me that people gave things up for Lent temporarily. It never crossed my mind that after Easter, they all got to go back to drinking, smoking, and serial murder. I mean, if a thing’s a sin, isn’t it a sin all year around?

Nope. What they really meant was, I gave up smoking for the duration of Lent.

And fine. I admit that giving up smoking for a month is better than not giving it up at all. That probably is one to think about giving up permanently.

And maybe I really hadn’t thought much about it. I mean, if people give things up for Lent, and never go back, shouldn’t there be a bunch of really old Catholics running around living off water and oatmeal after a lifetime of Lents, and griping that this year, it’s down to the oatmeal?

So, happy Lent, everyone, and if you’re giving up something truly unhealthy, please think of your lungs and aortas–and hell, your erectile function–and maybe really do give it up confused-teenager style.

**this story may have been edited for dramatic tension and coherence.

Other Peoples’ Hobbies and Me

I can kill a plant just by looking at it.

My grandmother–the amateur botanist–spent most of my childhood reassuring me that I was not cursed, and sending me home with various clippings to start plants of my own. In my time, I’ve killed day blooming cactuses and night-blooming cactuses and African Violets (which, admittedly, had no chance to begin with), wax plants, spider plants, plant-plants, bromeliads, and even philodendrons.

I did the best with outdoor plants. I can do roses, and sometimes crocuses, and my forte, Kentucky Blue grass. (I have thousands of Kentucky Blue grass plants, most of them doing quite well, thank you.)

Ultimately, though, I’m just not good at gardening. I’m the person who spends all spring watering, and fertilizing, and hoe-ing, and winds up with that one tiny strawberry about the size of your fingernail, and mostly still green as the over-ripe parts start to rot away.

I got to spend plant-time with my grandfather, too. He didn’t actually grow anything, but he’d settled neatly into his role as head-procurer of manure. This is an especially honorable and important role in the household of a botanist who does not own a farm or ranch of her own.

I carried the bag on long treks through the pastures, while my grandfather picked up the chips for, well… whatever gardeners use cow chips for. (No, I never got that far.) I don’t remember talking about anything in particular, but I do remember the words to the cow-chip song. Those odorous cow-chips. Those hash-cooking cow-chips.

They arrived with a trunk load of gifts, and they left with a trunk load of cow chips and sand.

Isn’t that what all grandparents do?

Deep Breath, and Very Carefully Cut…

I am working my way through my rough draft, taking all those pieces of… stuff… out of the old file and putting them in chronological order in the new file. I’m also cutting out a lot of the **stuff that doesn’t happen in the revised timeline** stuff and a few tons of **wow, this is smutty** type smut. I wouldn’t call it romance, exactly. Or erotica. More like the Kinsey Report on The Indigenous Cultures of the Penitent Planets.

We will also be removing a significant section of work dealing with furniture, and specifically, chairs.

Well, my inner editor will. My muse is both endlessly fascinated by chairs and incredibly indignant that his masterwork is being butchered. I’m not taking sides.

And I’m not entirely sure my Muse has figured out that “chairs” probably means no tables, either.

There’s no way around it. I honestly have no idea how I wound up with that many pages describing chairs. Someone else must have broken into my house, hacked into my computer, affected my writing style, and started yammering away.

I mean… chairs. Plus or minus an upholstery job or two, I have no strong feelings about chairs. They’re just there.

Except… in my manuscript, they’re so much more than there. They’re described. In detail. From the first ladder-back to the the last spring.

Well, that’s why I’m doing this. Because if I left all the chairs in situ in the manuscript, I might not notice. I might not realize how much weight the chairs have. I might wind up being… that writer with the chair fixation.

I’d wind up with legions of fans, all of whom simply adore chairs. People who would carry their chairs on their backs to get them signed, and who consider merely sitting in a chair to be utterly pedestrian.

And I would wind up staring at them in gaping idiocy as they talk about chair-back settees and barrel chairs.

What?

It’s that one over there.

You mean the red one?

Yes. The red one.

And my entire fandom heaves a collective sigh.

Booksellers, Men, and the Cabinet of Sin

We sold pornography at the bookstore where I worked. Not a lot of it, and nothing that would compete with Jugs, Jugs, Jugs down at the local Kum&Go. Sex-positive, consent-positive, feminist, GLBT, fetish stuff. Non-violent. It lived in a cabinet behind the counter, and if you didn’t know it was there… well, you wouldn’t know. Strictly a word-of-mouth kind of thing.

The cabinet of sin was about four feet wide and three feet tall. Double doors. Opaque. And, if you happened to find a group of Booksellers gathered around it, there’s a pretty good chance we weren’t analyzing the latest Haruki Murakami. Hands down, it was the most open and accepting set of co-workers I’ve ever had.

Oh, and then, there were the customers…

You got to recognize that Look, eventually. The Please, Miss… might I trouble you for something from the Cabinet of Sin Look. The… Please, I’ve read this high-quality gift book about garden gnomes three times because I’m just that nonchalant Look.

So, you’d wait for the other customers to go away. The women, and children, that attractive, but is-he-or-isn’t-he guy, the older couple who look pretty much just like anybody’s grandparents. And then… only then… You’d “notice” him standing there.

Can I help you?

Oh, no. Just looking.

Well, fine. I believe you. Besides, what am I supposed to say? Oh, you are not. I know you want something from the Cabinet of Sin, and since I put away today’s shipment, I’ve got a pretty decent idea of what you want?

Moving on.

Noted. One of the unwritten rules of masculinity–apparently–is that whenever possible, you buy your porn from other men.

Or, possibly, female Booksellers are just that terrifying.

Or innocent-looking, or wholesome, or … something. Maybe I sold their kid a copy of One Fish, Two Fish the week before. But the script was always more or less the same. They’d loiter until some man showed up to sell them a magazine.

And, as it happens, most of the time, I did just happen to have a spare man just lying around. Well, not so much lying as laughing his ass off behind a partition. (The unwritten rules of masculinity–apparently–do not apply to SuperBookseller.)

In the end, SuperBookseller always had to sell the–whatever it was–and he was the king of straight faces.

Oh, yes… The women tried to be approachable. We tried to look understanding. We tried all kinds of things:

  • Putting things away in and/or organizing the Cabinet of Sin.
  • Sympathetic smile.
  • In a rush and much to busy to notice, even if someone tried to buy 3 kilos of cocaine and a baby elephant.
  • Sitting on the Cabinet of Sin.
  • Sitting on the Cabinet of Sin while eating a cookie taken from the Cabinet of Sin. (Yes, there are cookies in the Cabinet of Sin. Stop judging.)
  • Sitting on the Cabinet of Sin while eating a cookie and reading a paperback copy of deSade (Yes, the one with the picture.)

None of them worked. Once a guy decided he was not going to buy porn from you… well, mostly his mind was made up. He’d be there for hours, just… waiting… if you let him.

What are you going to do?

SuperBookseller, HELP!!!!

That’s why I named my vacuum cleaner after him.

Things I Don’t Need

You’ll be happy to know my favorite electronics store has sent me yet another email full of wonderful things I do not need. They do this fairly regularly. Because they love me. At this exact moment, there are actually only two things I’m really thinking of buying. I could use a new laptop, and I’m fairly sure the Smithsonian is going to show up and collect my current phone at any moment.

By the way, if GRRM said something like that, he’d already have fan-boys from a number of stores in a death-race to get his new laptop to him. Leaping over lava pits, and things like that.

I never loved the current laptop, but it gets the job done. There is a slight issue with the W key, in which it **may** brush the fan–just a little– if I’m typing while watching videos. (The key also a little wobbly, but I got used to that a while ago.)

I can also write on my phone, with my miraculous folding keyboard–ooh, something else I could replace–and if I don’t overdo it with the apps, it doesn’t complain about memory shortages too much.

I had to delete the Kindle App in order to make room for another phone number.

I happen to live in one of those little blank spaces on the coverage map, so if I don’t do the work to make sure I have the right cell-phone mojo. Otherwise, I have to go to the cemetery at midnight, stand on hallowed ground, and face the east to get a signal.

So, I’m shopping and not buying.

I’d like to get as much use out of both before they start smoking or making hissing noises.

So, on to looking at the things I really, really don’t need. I do not need a drone. I do not need an X-Box or other console gaming system. (My inner twelve year old wants one, my to-do list doesn’t.) Actually… I’d also have to buy a television for one of those. Maybe a fitness tracker would motivate me to… uhm… what is it fit people do again?

I think I’ll get on one of those configure-your-own websites where I can just keep hitting Yes… yes… YES… and see how high I can make that price tag go. Seven thousand, eight hundred and twenty three dollars?!! Oh, no. No, no.

All I Really Wanted Was a Cookie.

The Judeo-Christian gift-giving holidays are gaining on us, and that means two things. The girls at work want to buy a dildo for our manager, who really needs to get laid. (Or anything else that might tend to bring about a radical attitude adjustment. Nobody’s all that picky.)

And I just received a Christmas-themed care package from the mortuary that handled my sister’s **ahem** “arrangements” (not the “services”) this spring.

It’s an 8×5 envelope stuffed with “literature”.  You’d think a mortuary might understand that cookies would help with the grieving process, but no. What I got is more of a litany of things it’s “okay” to feel during CHRISTMAS, and an actual checklist to help determine which flaky CHRISTMAS traditions are really it wouldn’t be CHRISTMAS without them type traditions, and which ones I can skip.

How many stockings should I hang?

Same number as always. Zero.

Should I decorate the rooms in my house?

Why? I’m not going to be there.

The literature has a high emphasis on children. Perhaps I should go visit some at the zoo.

Between the oddly secular psycho babble and generic advice, there are two sentences for “if you celebrate Hanukah” and a page long poem from the POV of the deceased on “first CHRISTMAS in Heaven.” (Not a hundred percent sure whether that’s copyright infringement or not. Pet Peeve alert.) And not a word about any other religious or secular tradition.

And, of course, they’ve included some New Year’s resolutions and a nifty grieving diagram that looks a lot like the diagram of cell mitosis from my high school biology textbook.

**sigh** Every time I get one of these things, my first response is always “Oh, fuck… what paperwork do they need, now?”

Yes, I know they’re trying to help.

I think I’ll go get some cookies and caffeine, now.

Yes, I Actually Think I’m Funny…

I just sent in my story for the annual Independent Bookworm Advent Calendar. I decided to go with “funny” this year, because I don’t have much “heartfelt” left in me, right now.

And I did manage to find an idea. And it was the kind of idea that I was chuckling over the entire time I walked home, so I have the sense that it has some mileage left in it. (Home is about three miles, so at least that much.)

So, I got home, and I started writing, and that’s when it stopped being funny.

Or maybe, I just stopped being in the mood for that brand of humor.

Either way, the doubts kicked in.

A thousand words of “funny.” Wow, that’s a lot. And I do have an off-beat kind of sense of humor. And, quite frankly, between a long day at work, and a long walk home, I was really just too grouchy to tell whether anything was funny or not.

I went to bed.

Thought about it.

Sent it in, anyway. (I did send a note with it, saying I’d send something else, if it’s not up to snuff.)

I’m still not as confident about the piece as I was, when I first came up with the idea.

Idea’s great. Or maybe not. Or possibly, I should be in insurance sales, and not a writer in the first place. At any rate, there we go. One holiday-themed, semi-funny, worst-gift-ever type story.

I’ll be checking my email with great trepidation in the morning.

Maybe I should have sent something with elves.

“Words,” Editing, and Tastes

When I was young and poor, one of my roommates was a conservative Christian. She had one of those set-top boxes for the TV which was supposed to block swear words. It ran off of the closed captioning, and basically muted the TV for the entire time the word was on the screen. Mostly, it worked. You didn’t hear the swear.

But you didn’t hear any of the other words that happened to be on the screen at the same time, either.

It would miss typos. So, if the “word” was not spelled correctly in the transcription, you’d hear it.

And if the captioning wasn’t synced up to the audio, you’d hear the “word” and then silence. Or silence, followed by the “word.”

There were about two hundred words on the naughty list. I never figured out exactly what they all were.

They were exclusively American “words.” That always had me rolling on the floor. If you were listening to Brit-com, you’d be hit by a row of obscenities that would curl your hair, followed by silence when they finally hit a relatively mild “word” the box knew. (Kudos to the BBC for well-synced closed captioning, by the way.)

And some of them were ludicrous. Cinderella could go to a ball, but Lydia Bennett most certainly could not go to two or more balls. That would be obscene. And no, it didn’t matter in the slightest that the thing turned Pride and Prejudice as a whole into a roaring comedy.

I’m not quite that finicky. Refined. I figure three or four “fucks” to a manuscript and poor Lydia can have as many balls as she wants. It’s not a swearing extravaganza, but I also don’t have a set-top-box to keep it out.

Still, the experience did leave a sense of utility. Does this word change the meaning of the sentence? Can someone follow the story without that word? With a different word? I suppose Lydia could go to cotillions or something…

And I could say “very.” Very is indeed a most excellent intensifier.

The truth is, I don’t write for children, and I think I’m pretty moderate, anyway so I’m not all that worried about it. I do notice if I go over my average for the big ones. An I have other words I over use, and I’m always on the lookout for them.

Do you have to think about this? Quotas or guidelines? Or do you have a hard ban on profanity in your work?

Mrs. Willoughby’s Heart

There were still a few pieces of Mrs. Willoughby on the slab, after the master finished his do-it-yourself project. All of the intestines. A bladder. No one wants the hassle of taking a monster to the toilet, after all. And there were other things. Odds and ends the monster wouldn’t need. A pair of emerald-green, sling-back pumps. Her right hand, still clutching a worthless can of pepper spray. The master had replaced that with spare parts from his Jeep. And Mrs. Willoughby’s heart.

The monster, you see, ran on propane and electricity, and a beating heart was just a relic.

Igor was supposed to clean up.

He was supposed to sweep the leftovers into the bin, and carry them down to the incinerator. He was supposed to hose down the lab, and empty the filters on the floor drains.

But the whole process had been horrific.

Mrs. Willoughby didn’t want to be a monster. She wanted to be a second grade teacher. And when Igor finally did get her back to the lab, it turned out the master didn’t want a second grade teacher. He wanted a Woman. Not a woman. A Woman. Not a woman. The master repeated himself with curse-words and fury, and in the end, Igor pretended to understand.

Then, there was the dissection.

Igor threw up four times before the master threatened to dissect him.

By the time they got to the electro-ressurrection, Igor was a little dizzy. He could barely stand up, and he would have gone home, if he had any sick-time left. He didn’t have any sick time left, though, so he pushed himself forward. Willed himself to keep going. He was careful. Slow and careful, and if he took his time–
The master threw the switch.
Mrs. Willoughby’s body convulsed. All at once, her muscles contracted, and then… The master cut the electricity. Mrs. Willoughby’s fist shot out, and hit Igor in the face.

And the Master threw the switch again.

And again.

And again.

Igor was black and blue before the thing that had been Mrs. Willoughby sat up and started to recite the times table.

By the time the monster got to thrice eight, the master cut out its vocal cords, and there was silence. Then, the monster began calisthenics. And the monster wasn’t content to do calisthenics alone. Oh, no. It grabbed Igor by the ear, and made him touch his toes.

The master just laughed and watched, and by the time calisthenics were over, Igor was black and blue, and out of breath, and exhausted. None of the other monsters had been that much trouble.

Then, the master took his new monster and left to do whatever peasant-chasing, village-burning things mad scientists and monsters did together.

Igor did intend to clean up. He intended to put things away, and tidy up the lab, but he dozed off.

Mrs. Willoughby’s heart was the first thing he saw, when he opened his eyes. She had a beautiful heart. It was perfect. Big, and warm. And it was his favorite shade of red. It quivered a little, as if it had been crying, and didn’t want him to  know.

He still knew. He could feel the heart sobbing in his brain. And he knew why, too: Mrs Willoughby didn’t want to be a monster, and her heart didn’t want to go in the bin.

The mess was still there, too, but the master could clean it up, himself.

And while he was at it, the master could get his own Women. He didn’t like the way Igor did it, anyway.

Igor put the heart in his knapsack and hefted it over one shoulder.

He was leaving. Mrs. Willoughby didn’t want to be a monster. Her heart didn’t want to go in the bin. And he didn’t want to be a laboratory goon.

On the climb down the mountain, Mrs. Willoughby’s heart chirped encouragement. Sometimes, the sound was lost in the waking songs of birds. And sometimes, he got distracted by flowers, or the rising sun. But by the time he made it back to the village, he knew what to do.

He was going to teach second grade.