The Magical Tale of a Tail

The world is full of random flukes, right?

We’ve all experienced a flush of good timing, poetic justice, or quirky happenstance. Something we look back on and say, yeah, that was weird, but seriously, how cool.

As a writer of fiction, I know I can drizzle a bit of curious coincidence into my stories, but I treat it as though it was a ghost pepper hot sauce—a little goes a long, long way. And too much will kill my reader’s appetite for any more of my story.

I mention all of the above because my life would never be considered believable fiction.

My editor would toss it back and say it was filled with way too many unexplainable flukes. Events that appeared for no reason, simply to push the narrative arc along. It’s too farfetched, too fortuitous, too implausible.

And yet … this is the contents of my life.

I write about magic in some of my books. In one it is simply sprinkled about, in several others it is the main focus, widespread and thoroughly researched. As authors we are encouraged to write what we know. But I wouldn’t say I know magic per se, I’d instead phrase it as I experience magic—or what some would define as magic—nearly every day.

And I don’t mean magic in the sense of ‘wand-casting-turn-you-into-a-toad’ type magic, nor would I lessen it to the side of the spectrum which might be confused with abundant gratitude. As in the warm rush of excitement at seeing a rainbow, or a water funnel, or a squirrel escape unharmed from the opposite side of your moving vehicle as it dashed out in front of you.

No. My magic is more the serendipitous kind and mostly the unexplainable. Unexplainable, as far as science is concerned. And I do believe science will one day have an explanation for my wonky situations. That chapter just hasn’t been written yet.

I don’t have rational answers for why, when visiting religious sites, or landscapes of great historic relevance, I am overcome with a physical dis-ease so great it can send me to my knees. Someone theorized that perhaps the pseudo-science stating the correlation between ley lines and magnetic fields might be an influence—and my body simply has an abundance of iron that interferes.

*shrug*

I have no reasonable explanation as to why I am forever running into self-proclaimed witches, soothsayers, mystics, and wizards. This week alone the tally is already up to three.

Surely, you think I jest.

I certainly would.

And it’s not like I belong to any covens, Wiccan moots, or regularly visit Renaissance festivals. These individuals just find me. Or, as I have heard explained to me numerous times, I find them. But I take issue with this declaration, as the last one I “found” was literally fifteen minutes ago—someone who marched up to my front door to say hello as I’ve been working on this article.

*sigh*

I know. It’s supremely absurd.

I feel like erasing this entire confessional essay, except that I’m writing to tell you about one of my most beloved repeating serendipitous occurrences: meeting my favorite people.

(The reveal is coming up, so hang tight.)

I was recently away at a massive book festival in Tucson, Arizona. Over one hundred and thirty thousand people attend this three day event each year, and I was lucky enough to be invited to participate.

A bazillion flights, ubers, panels, and tacos later, I lug my bags across the threshold of my home, my luggage filled with the contact info of countless authors, publishing reps, moderators, and book sellers.

I toss it all up on the kitchen counter and glance out the porch door where movement catches my eye. A wretched face glances up at me, curled up upon my swinging rocker. Two large chocolate colored eyes effortlessly convey the message of I’m cold, I’m hungry, I’m lost.

Unlike the countless other things up on the mountain where I live, this animal has no desire to fight me back for territory taken, and only wishes for a quick solution to his mounting problems.

I rush out to greet the sweet and gangly-legged hound and usher him into the warmth where aid is in abundance. “Sammy,” as his tags indicate, is one of the most grateful tail wagers I’ve yet to lay eyes on.

He tells me, in a way that only animals can, how the water has never been so thirst-quenching, the food has never been so filling, and yes, please scratch right there until I tell you to stop. I adore animals and their gratitude for simple needs met. I wish more people were so.

I quickly make contact with Sammy’s owner—a doppelganger of me, had I been on the receiving end of the phone call: thrilled, desperate, relieved. She is on her way.

Sammy and I find the warmest, sunniest room in the house to await her arrival, and many attempts at my poor human-to-dog speak message of, “I promise, she’s rushing here to get you,” prove unsuccessful. His eyes still say, Make my two-leg appear, please.

And minutes later when she does, I can see in her eyes the same urgency as was in Sammy’s, and my “chatty Cathy” habit is getting in the way of reunification.

Paula is clearly a perfect match for her companion—warm, gentle, intelligent, personable. It’s almost as if she was a …

“What do you do for a living?” I ask her.

“I’m a school librarian.”

I drop all pretense of politeness and inhibition. I hug her.

“You are my favorite kind of people!” I look at her hard. “Did you somehow know that I run a campaign to erect monuments to all librarians? Because I write that on the jacket flap of all my books!”

She shakes her head. She did not know. And eyes the door.

I thrust three of my books into her hands. “For your school, if you want them.”

We will be friends. I’m sure of it. I will make it happen. And I will try to tone down that unnerving affection.

But it comes naturally when you’ve been surrounded by all this wonky magic your whole life. I may look askance at all the other lunacy that regularly shows up, but I will never question fate or the three siblings in charge of it.

And if Clotho, Lachesis, or Atropos—the three Sisters of Fate—should toss a librarian onto my front door’s welcome mat, I will treat her the same way I would any lost and loved puppy: with open arms and great goodwill.

Also a big spoonful of peanut butter.

~Shelley

Sammy was lost in the forest for two long winter days. And because of his perseverance and suffering, I suggest he receives a spot at Paula’s feet within the mold of her bronze cast—once her school raises enough money from bake sales. Come on, Western Albemarle High School. Get baking!

For the time being, the blog is closed to comments, but if you enjoyed it, maybe pass it on to someone else. Email it, Facebook it, or print it out and make new wallpaper for the bathroom. If it moves you, show it some love and share. Cheers!

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all gossiped about down in the pub. Or check out last month’s post and catch up.

 

 

 

Phoning It In

As a writer, it is a mortal wound to have your words identified as cliché.

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To have nothing new to say, and nothing novel to offer, is to look down and see spurting lifeblood flowing from the femoral artery of your quill. You might as well place your hands upon your chest and lie flat with the waiting of the inevitable.

As a human being, to live a clichéd life is to miss out on the depth and breadth offered when handed the menu of all that is available whilst you still draw breath.

Would Madam prefer beef or chicken tonight? Or perhaps the fish? The chef has a lovely bit of Dover sole.

“No, tonight I shall have cricket as my protein.”

As you wish.

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But sometimes, no matter how hard you try to order ‘off menu,’ you are snapped back to form as if your life were fired in the kiln of shape memory alloy.

Turning the page will reveal a predictable, cringe-worthy, mulish experience. Sometimes there is nothing left to do, but soldier on.

And then blog it.

Words are everything to me. They are the more than one million flavors of communication available at my beck and call. They reside on my shelves, bound between covers in several ‘parts of speech pantries’ I never need to restock. But I have a preference as to how I like to use them. I rarely dish them up straight from the pan, hot and bubbling, but rather allow them to cool, their flavors to meld, taste-tested a dozen times before serving.

I like to write. Not so much to speak.

Which is why I detest … THE CONFERENCE CALL.

And if you have ever spoken to an individual in business that is part of an organization consisting of more than two people, and those ‘more than two people’ must communicate a lot of information that needs addressing soon and fast, you’ll likely have heard about just how bad conference calls can be. Or annoying. Or snooze-worthy.

Or disastrous.

I’m getting used to them. But I hate them more than I hate the thought of eating a slice of stinkbug pie—

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with a side of cowpie patty ice cream.

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Really.

I like to be prepared. Over-prepared. I don’t like surprises. I like to know what’s going to be discussed, and will have given it all a great deal of thought with most of those thoughts written down for handy reference. Spontaneity is not my friend. It is as if spontaneity and I met one day at a snow cone shop and spontaneity grabbed my cone and threw it down on the side walk. And all I can do is look at my cone melting in front of me with no idea what to say or do because I didn’t rehearse this part of life.

Yeah, meta.

But if I’m going to have one of those spontaneous, disastrous moments occur, I want it to be MY moment. And not a repeat of the cosmic collection of moments everyone else has already had and tweeted about.

But I didn’t. It was so … predictably, boringly normal.

Was I prepared with all my notes that I’d been gathering, writing and crafting for the last three weeks? Check.

Was I sufficiently caffeinated for focus, and now holding a brimming cup of chamomile tea to counter the effects of the previous jittery drink? Check.

Had I used the bathroom? Was my phone plugged into the socket so that soon it would be fully charged? Did I have a timer set to make sure I’d not call in late? Check, check and check.

I was ready.

Did my alarm not go off, and being fully immersed in work, I would not recognize it until ten minutes passed the call time? Check.

Once integrated into the call, did the house phone on my desk begin to ring with shrill hysteria, and did I suddenly discover that this phone had no ‘off’ ringer switch? Check.

Did the answering machine on the other side of the room kick in at full volume making it sound like someone else joined the call? Check.

Did the above scenario repeat itself verbatim sixty seconds later? Check.

Did the doorbell ring and set the dog into an absolute frenzy because someone unexpectedly showed up at a place that requires a travel agent and a spirit guide to gain access to? Check.

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Did I embarrassingly have to excuse myself to answer the door and calm the dog and yank the answering machine from the drywall? Check.

Did I return to find my phone had died because it hadn’t been properly secured into the outlet and therefore I’d dropped off the call from battery failure? Check.

While plugging it back in beneath my desk, did I bump the desk so hard that it knocked over my cup of tea onto all my well-prepared notes rendering them unreadable? Check.

Did I phone back in to join a group of people who were now seriously doubting whether I was firing on all cylinders? Check.

After sixty seconds of rejoining the call did my phone alarm finally go off reminding me and everyone else that it was time to phone into the conference call? Check.

Had I mistakenly allowed one of my girlfriend’s children to play with my phone the day before only to realize that the smarty pants had changed all my sound notifications to that of Pac Man dying? Check.

Did everyone on the phone call gasp in horror and accuse me of playing video games whilst on the call? Check.

Yes. It was disastrous. I failed miserably. And I have nothing new to offer the scenario of disastrous, failed, humiliating conference calls.

I am cliché. I am watching the lifeblood bleed out of what could have been an interesting story. I am resigned.

I am silent.

I am thoughtful.

I am determined.

Tomorrow, I eat crickets.

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~Shelley

*BONUS ROBIN GOTT CARTOON!* (click)

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

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Unconventional conventions

Convention in session, Chicago  (LOC)

Convention in session, Chicago (LOC) (Photo credit: The Library of Congress)

I would assume that many of you have, at some point in your life, attended a conference. Most of us have visited more than one. Some of us have registered at several each year. And there’s a chunk of the population who make it a weekly habit to show up at the gathering of any crowd bringing in more than a dozen people—whether it’s the opening of a seminar, a movie, or even a paper bag. Something exciting must be happening, right? Except I’m not entirely sure how they make a living in order to financially skip around from place to place and meeting to meeting. I’m guessing it has something to do with the ability to subsist on free coffee from Starbucks, ample soap in the washrooms and the talent to sleep beneath one of the long, cloth-draped banquet tables in Ballroom C.

As a little kid, I was dragged to countless music conferences. These were meetings where, in place of your regular instructor telling you that you were holding the violin bow incorrectly, someone roughly the same size, but with a different hairstyle and an accent did it instead. We paid a lot of money to hear those assessments.

Bart Simpson oversized statue

Bart Simpson oversized statue (Photo credit: Gage Skidmore)

Following that, there were a few times when I realized I had to make money to pay rent and would agree to work with a couple of friends at the convention centers. We never got the fun jobs of Hopsitality Hero Ambassadors, handing out bumper stickers, wrist bands and key chains—the stuff everybody truly wanted–but instead were pressed into service dressing up as mascots for whatever “themed” group booked the convention center for the weekend. Our jobs—mine in particular—usually involved wearing a multi-layered, polyester costume with a giant head that required several extra pairs of hands using excessive force to shove it through a doorway. Why folks from auto shows or handicraft fairs wanted to have their photos taken with Simpson characters was a total mystery to me. Nickelodeon was like fairy dust. Everyone wanted a handful.

Hannibal1 (800x672)For a while, I’d occasionally tag along with my husband to medical conventions, but those symposiums were dry and serious. None of the booths offered any interesting toys. Pharmaceutical companies refused to hand out samples. Medical device companies had big slogans that involved words like insert, slice, and strip away.Hannibal2 (800x738) And all the lectures showed slides of pink organs, green organs or spurting wounds. I usually fought the urge to raise my hand and ask the presenter to repeat the last fifteen minutes because he lost me somewhere around the phrase uncontrolled colonic cell growth.

Still with me? *snap*snap* Yeah, let’s move on.

Having  just attended a multi-day book festival in my town for the umpteenth year in a row, there is one thing I’ve come to realize that holds true as a sort of “golden rule:”

As diverse as the vast population is in the “outside” world, there is a fistful of personalities that exists only within a convention center.

1. The person who stakes out a seat—front and center—and shows up to do so 45 minutes before a speaker’s presentation. Apparently, they believe the lecture might involve magic—some sort of sleight of hand rather than the usual umm … I don’t know … lecturing.First (800x678)

2. The person in the back of the room who, without fail, and within the first ten seconds of a session, will stand up and shout, “WE CAN’T HEAR YOU!” I bet there’s an audio/visual guy who’s sitting three chairs down from that fellow who’d love to clock him one and scream back, “GIVE ME A FRICKIN’ CHANCE, DUDE!”

3. The person presenting who has never seen a microphone, never talked to a crowd and believes she’s just sitting up on a platform, sharing a glass of cold water with a few colleagues entirely bemused as to why there’s a guy in the back of the room who keeps shouting at her.

4. The person who, when Q & A time comes, and after being politely asked not to by the moderator, stands and asks a three point question with follow-ups. Who are you? Helen Thomas? Did I walk into a presidential press conference?

5. The person who, after receiving the nod from the moderator to ask a question, flips to the front of their notepad and begins to strip away all credibility of our panelists by throwing in head-spinning phrases like statistics illustrate that, and in consonance with Google analytics, and according to four out of five dentists surveyed. I think you get my point. No one likes you. Please sit down. You’re way too important to be here anyway.Statistics (643x800)

And finally:

6. The person who is obviously following you around. And sitting next to you. And wants to share. And do lunch. And decided to come to the conference because she simply had to “get out of the house.” Huh? Coming to a lecture about writing for technology and publishing digitally was really a better option for you than laundry? I would have chosen laundry. It’s a good thing she was there, though, because she let me copy all her notes after I fell asleep on her shoulder ten minutes into the talk.

Yes, there’s a lot out there in the world to discover. And going to a convention is a great way to get out of your office chair and learn something that hasn’t been turned into a TED Talk yet. Plus, it’s probably a heck of a lot better for your social life than simply conversing with like-minded folks on Twitter.

Let’s not forget the biggest perk. There’s a good chance you may get a photo op with Bart Simpson.

~Shelley

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery (here) and what we all talked about down in the pub (here). And to see more of Robin Gott’s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone–click here.