Friday, June 15, 2012

Who’s Your Daddy?

“Money does NOT grow on trees!”
~ Dad

“Dad, we own a NURSERY – for all intents and purposes, it does.”
~ what the eye roll meant
(I thought it was time you knew)

Growing up, I had one of those “old school” dads. He never cooked a meal, cleaned a tub, or changed a diaper.
Actually, that last bit’s not true. He did, in fact, change a diaper ONCE – when my 1-year-old brother crawled over and handed him a fresh cloth, indicating that he was feeling “not so fresh.” Dad was in a tight spot. Mom was out, and I was 6 and could not be trusted with diaper pin weaponry. Somehow he managed.
And although Dad was not one of those touchy-feely, androgynous fathers that inhabit the planet today – he worked hard, built a successful business from a field of dirt, and made certain that each of his kids had the college education he himself never acquired.
He also had a lot of completely unfounded faith in my abilities. In fact, somewhere along the line, he got it lodged in his noggin that I had the potential to be the first female president of the United States. I mean, he really believed that this was a possibility. And to prove his faith – although he was not known to be a book-buying man – he even went so far as to purchase a weighty tome (87,000 pages, at least) called A Political Education and give it to me…
for my 10th birthday.

I didn’t have the heart to tell him that introverts aren’t so inclined to seek public office.
However, his belief persisted for a long time. And let me tell you, if The Secret by Rhonda Byrne holds any water whatsoever – my father is 100% responsible for Sarah Palin’s rise to VP candidacy (see Doppelgangers). Now you know who to blame or, er, credit.
And alas, even though my office today is more rectangular than oval…
I wanted to use this “public” opportunity to say thanks, Dad – for believing in me, teaching me the value of hard work, and getting me started on those degrees that hang on my wall.
Happy Father’s Day!

PROMPT: I swear – some dads were put on the planet just to provide writers with awesome material. Justin Halpern would have to agree. He wrote a New York Times Bestseller based solely on the fascinating “stuff” his father says. Doesn’t your dad deserve such a book of his own this Father’s Day?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Get Messy!

Endings can be orderly.

Road races have those clearly marked finish lines, and runners cross them fist-pumping.
Students march up row by row alphabetically to get their diplomas.
Even death can be tidy – some folks simply slip out quietly in their sleep.

Beginnings are another matter.
Beginnings are never nice and neat.

Every runner’s first steps were nothing but a series of face-plants and pratfalls.
All of this week’s graduates started in kindergarten chaos.
Births – my goodness!
They are MESSY and LOUD!
Nobody here on the planet just tiptoed in without SOMEBODY noticing.

So, maybe you’ve just ended…
some schooling
or an old job.
And now you’re taking your first steps…
in a new location
or a new career.
Maybe you’re simply starting a project
or a novel.

Whatever beginning you are just beginning…
here’s a friendly reminder just for you –

Every GREAT start is SLOPPY,
It can even be CONFUSING and CHAOTIC

And isn’t that wonderful to know?

So haul out the finger paints, mud, and whole wheat flour.
Make wild clumsy leaps and fall without grace.
Really egg it on –
The messier the better!

And it will be the start of something GREAT –

PROMPT: Make the messiest, most awful, first draft imaginable. I mean seriously. Make it so bad that your EYES would blush from shame if they ever saw it published.
Now THAT’S a great beginning!
And you can bet your bottom dollar that ALL GREAT books began exactly this way.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

What’s in a Name?

Barbara – from the Greek word barbaros meaning “foreign” or “strange.”

My father wanted me to be sensibly named after the “sensible” people in the family. Jane or Peggy would have suited him just fine. My mother, however, wanted to name me after her wild and crazy sister. Throughout my gestation, my parents squabbled over this – a lot. Then somewhere between the first labor contraction and delivery, my dad caved.
Because “sensible” can be boring.
And when I was a baby, all indicators suggested that I was frightfully sensible. Goodness knows how easily I could have tottered into boring territory, had I been dubbed another’s namesake.
My Aunt Barbara was NEVER boring.
She was a cool Jersey girl long before it was cool to be “Joysey.”
In fact, she once owned a record shop in Freehold – yeah, the hometown that “The Boss” was Born to Run from.
And she was the kind of aunt who would show up for a visit unannounced…


Everybody needs an aunt like that.

When other family members were teaching me ditties like Three Blind Mice and A Tisket a Tasket
Aunt Barbara was teaching me all the words to Maxwell’s Silver Hammer. You know, that lovely Beatles tune about Mr. Edison and his murdering mallet.
After my “lesson” we rode all around town singing it at the top of our lungs –
top-down in her Grand Prix convertible.
It’s a good bet that that was one of the moments my dad wished he’d held out for the doubly sensible “Peggy Jane.”
When I was a teen, Aunt Barbara taught me how to forge her name…
Then she gave me her credit card AND the keys to her car so that I could spend the day at Six Flags Great Adventure with friends.
Yep, she was “foreign” all right – in an out of this world kind of way. And she was “strangely” wonderful.
She stayed up the latest.
She laughed the loudest…
and the longest.
As some would say, she was a character.
And isn’t that the BEST kind of aunt a writer could ever wish for?

PROMPT: Are you named after anyone special? What does your name mean? Were there any “characters” in your family? Come on, admit it – you know there were.
It’s all material, Cupcake.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

And Now for the News…

There was a sticky situation in Kentucky last Thursday. Apparently, a semi tractor-trailer loaded with Log Cabin syrup overturned on Interstate 75 and spilled its contents all over the southbound lanes.
The accident occurred when the truck swerved to avoid a car, lost control, and slammed into the…
Buttermilk Pike overpass.
I am NOT making this up.
The accident is still under investigation. My guess is that they’re trying to determine whether Mrs. Butterworth was driving that crash-causing car.
The police officer in charge said the whole thing was a royal pain in the pancake. Actually, he said it was a royal pain in something else, but I prefer not to mix metaphors.
Read and enjoy it for yourself here.
You know, this incident had me recalling those old Paul Bunyan tales. How I loved them when I was a kid! And if I still have my Bunyan facts straight, I’m pretty sure that it would have taken an entire semi truckload of syrup to fix him one breakfast (had semi trailers actually been invented back when he was hacking down the forests of North America).
Anyway, remember how the cooks strapped bacon fat to the bottoms of their shoes and skated around to grease up his griddle?
I figure if Paul wasn’t bothered by a bunch of fellers’ smelly feet messing with his flapjacks, he’d have no problem slurping up I-75.

PROMPT: Today would be a fabulous day to create a tall tale – even if it happens to be true. Or you can simply Google “news from Kentucky” for writing inspiration. Trust me, you will NEVER be disappointed.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Rat Race

“Your assignment, should you choose to accept it…” my Experimental Psychology professor said solemnly as he placed the rat into my hands.
What a joker. There was no “choosing” in this assignment. The rat was the course’s final exam.
My job was to recreate this rodent into a lever-pressing dynamo. So I dubbed him “E.B.” – he was a White rat, after all – and set to work.
Well, it turned out that the gods were smiling on me that day. I had hit the rodent jackpot – E.B. was a GENIUS!
By the end of day two he was hitting the lever like a champ and living the good life – fat and happy on food pellets. He was AMAZING!
Trust me, his lever-pressing success had nothing whatsoever to do with my animal training skills. Just ask my dog to perform any of the basic canine commands and you’ll get only an eye roll. I am THAT bad.
Anyway, my professor tested E.B., and “we” aced the final exam. However, since “we” had accomplished our task so early, the professor suggested that I challenge my charge.
So I added a small light with a pull chain. E.B.’s task was to pull the chain with his teeth to turn on the light, and then press the lever for the pellet.
No Sweat!
E. RAT-of-the-YEAR B. mastered that in a few days.
“Add another challenge,” said Dr. Professor.
So AWESOME RAT NINJA E.B. sniffed the back corner of the cage, turned on the light, and then pressed the lever.
Again and again and AGAIN.
And you can probably guess what my professor said after that.
So the next plan was this – sniff the back corner, turn in a complete circle, switch on the light, press the lever, and rejoice in pellet rapture.
But things did not go according to plan.
E.B. sniffed the back corner like a champ. Then he spun in a beautiful circle worthy of the Nutcracker’s Rat King. The pull chain part was a different story, however.
Instead of simply pulling the chain, he made a wild leap, latched his jaws onto the top of it, and would NOT let go.
E.B. swung around that cage like some demented rodent Tarzan.
Apparently, he had reached maximum rat brain capacity.
I gave him a handful of pellets, smoothed his soft fur,  and thanked him for the "A". Then I let him retire his ratty training shoes.

It’s funny how often my old lab rat comes to mind these days – especially when I am working on my laptop and pressing these little keys (levers).
Because sometimes when I press them – I get EMAIL! (pellet) WRITING ASSIGNMENTS! (pellet) FACEBOOK NOTIFICATIONS! (pellet) SKYPE! (pellet) BLOG COMMENTS! (pellet).
And then there’s the biggest pellet dispenser of all – Google hits for the insatiably curious. As in…
So what exactly was the conclusion of Julius Caesar’s autopsy report?
Wow (pellet).
Do frogs really use their eyeballs to swallow?
Whoa (pellet).
Exactly how do you neuter a billy goat?
Yikes (pellet).

So, for the past month I’ve been the subject of my own experiment.
In order to keep myself from reaching maximum rat brain capacity, I completely shut down the lever machine once a week from Friday night to Sunday morning.
And you know what?
I think I may have missed a Kardashian wedding or two.
It feels GREAT!

I haven’t swung from a light chain in weeks!

PROMPT: Don’t just take my word for it. There’s some evidence to suggest that we could all benefit from unplugging for a day or participating in a “digital detox” vacation. It’s worth a try. Free your mind… creative thinking is sure to follow!