Worth the Waiting

Tuesday night was a really special night for me and a friend of mine. For my 40th birthday, my husband purchased two tickets to Art and Letters Live’s Diana Gabaldon talk in Dallas. I was thrilled! He was willing to accompany me even though he has not read any of her books (having instead listened to me prattle on for years), but he knew that the occasion would be even more special if I went with someone as equal in nuttiness over this author as me.

And so it was that I left work about 3:30 in the afternoon and picked up my friend. In exchange for the blessed ticket, she offered to drive us and buy my dinner. We stopped at Wal-Mart to each pick up an extra copy of the latest book to get signed for friends.

The night involved a lot of standing in line. About a half hour waiting in line for our books. Another half hour waiting for food at the museum’s cafe. Almost that much again waiting to get in to the church sanctuary for the talk. And then a staggering two hours waiting to get the books signed. Standing up past my bedtime with about 15 pounds of books in my arms was exhausting! And the crazy part was that when we left the museum after 11:00 that night, the line still stretched back farther than the point where we had managed to start. I am very curious what time the last person got her (or his, but likely her) book signed. I wonder if she got anything special for her determination.

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It would have been hard for me to have been this cheerful at this point if I were her.

The best part of the night, though, was without a doubt the talk. After about 20 minutes of waiting in our pew in the balcony of the church (at least we were sitting), we were regaled with the sounds of bagpipes and drums coming up the aisle below us. I was terribly amused when the five gentlemen in full Highland regalia turned to face us because one – the drummer, front and center – was actually not in “full” regalia. While the others were wearing the traditional tall socks and matching shoes to go with their kilts, he was wearing sneakers and ankle socks! I’m guessing someone had forgotten part of his costume.

After a lively and entertaining introduction from a very funny reporter from the Dallas Morning News, Diana Gabaldon took the stage to a standing ovation. She is a dynamic and outgoing person and I couldn’t help but wonder how hard something like this might be for a shy author. When she began to speak, I noted just how raspy her voice was. Of course. She had been in Ontario the night before and had been doing this nearly nightly for two weeks! I almost felt bad requiring her to talk that night. Almost.

Some of you may not know who this author is so let me save you the trip to Wikipedia. Diana Gabaldon is the author of the Outlander series of books, which is slated as a new mini-series premiering on the Starz network on August 9th. There are 8 books in the main series, published over the last 25 years, and numerous books, novellas, and short stories about various side characters.

The basic premise is that a British Army nurse from World War II named Claire accidentally falls through time, landing herself among some Scotsmen of the 1740s. Her modern sensibilities and dress make them and others instantly suspicious and launch a series of events making it impossible for her to make it back to the stones that would return her to her time.

The books track her, her 1740s husband Jamie, and a number of other engaging characters through time and space, encountering historical figures, danger, magic, and more. It’s full of adventure, intrigue, romance, war, betrayal, and questions of loyalty. It’s also full of really big words that I’m always looking up, which I love… especially since I read on my Kindle, which will open up the dictionary entry with the touch of my finger on the word in question!

Her talk mostly concerned how she came to be a writer and how the first book formed. I knew that she had been a biology professor, holding a PhD in Quantitative Behavioral Ecology. What I didn’t know was that she had programmed in Fortran to support a colleague’s research (on the contents of bird gizzards).

That programming experience, coupled with some comic book design work for Disney and a need to earn some extra income while her husband built his new business, caused her to contact Byte magazine and another early computer periodical about creating software programs for them. As part of that gig, she was given some access to CompuServe, one of the forerunners to the internet. On CompuServe, she joined a literary discussion group composed of readers and writers.

When she decided to try her hand at writing a novel, she didn’t tell any of her CompuServe friends because she had seen how the professional writers in the group seemed to react to the wanna-bes. She also didn’t tell her husband out of fear he’d try to get her to stop.

This wildly popular series around the world started like this:

Hmmm. I don’t know if I have adequate imagination to make up my own plot so I think I’ll go with historical fiction so if my mind isn’t up to the task, I’ll have existing stuff to work with. Ok, now what? Or… when?

She saw a Doctor Who rerun where the doctor picked up a companion in the 1740s – a young Scotsman in a kilt – and she thought Ooh! Man in a kilt – I like that! Ok, so 1740s Scotland. Fiction requires conflict and she quickly found Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobite Rebellion.

She wanted a woman with this group of Scottish men, to add some sexual conflict, and thought that making her English would add even more conflict, so she threw the men into a cottage and had the woman walk in. (This is how she writes – no outline, no planning, just throw the characters together and see what happens).

One of the men looked up and said, “Who are you?”

To which the woman replied, “I am Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp. Who the hell are you?”

Hmmm. That’s a problem, she thought. Eighteenth century women wouldn’t talk like that.

Try as she might, she couldn’t keep Claire from behaving like a modern woman. She finally caved to her character and decided Claire had to come from the future and thus added time travel. Claire also took over the story – she’s the first person perspective in the novels.

And so it began.

She eventually put pieces of the story on CompuServe and asked around about literary agents. She then had a series of experiences that is every starting author’s dream. She got an introduction to the (highly successful and very selective) literary agent she wanted. He agreed to look at excerpts of her manuscript (which was incomplete). He found her to be a great storyteller and agreed to take her on. He then sent her manuscript to five publishers, telling them they had 30 days to respond. FOUR days later, he called her to say that 3 of the 5 had already responded that they wanted the book. And just like that, she was a fiction author.

To her chagrin, the first book was marketed as Romance. It has been shelved under many different sections in bookstores including Romance, Historical Fiction, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Horror (have no idea why), and… History! She found that one at a little bookstore in Britain. When she pointed out to the young man that the books didn’t belong there, he explained that there was a little old lady that determined where all the books should be shelved and she insisted that’s where it belonged. “Apparently, she believes in time travel,” he quipped.

The romance reputation turns a lot of people away before they even break open the book. That’s a mistake. I’m not going to lie – there is considerably more sex than in most novels I’ve read. She’s known for writing very good sex scenes. But the books do not follow the usual rules for romance novels and the sex is not the point of the stories.

(A quick aside: As her main characters aged from their twenties to their forties about twenty years ago, she was asked if she thought people really wanted to read about people in their forties having sex. She responded, “Well, I’m 42 and my husband is 43. I don’t plan on stopping having sex any time soon and if he knows what’s good for him, he won’t either.”)

I’m sure that many of her fans – admittedly mostly women – are in it for the sex… or for Jamie. But I’m not. I genuinely enjoy the writing, the dry wit, the complex story lines, the dialogue, all the (very accurate) detail, the conflict, the history… all of it.

After waiting for two hours to get my books signed, I finally got to stand next to her. The museum staff were very efficient. Someone had already stuck a post-it note with my name on the appropriate page and had me mark it with the book flap. As I approached the front of the line, one woman took my phone so she could take a picture of me with Diana. Another took my purse so I’d be unencumbered. Another took my books and, glancing at the two post-it notes, asked which person I was so she could introduce me.

Before I knew it, I was standing next to Diana as the lady slid the book in front of her and introduced me. Diana said hello, addressing me by name, as she signed the book. I said hello and commented that we were happy to see she had a glass of wine to help her get through this.

“Actually, it’s Diet Coke. I wish it was wine.”

I mumbled something in response and then my friend approached her and commented on the wine. “She probably thinks we are such lushes!” she remarked later.

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That’s Diet Coke, not wine, as it turns out!

I enjoyed hearing the history of the novels and picking up some writing tips and meeting her, however briefly. Mostly, it was just nice to get a glimpse into the mind and face of the person responsible for one of my favorite series of books.

Taking Your Licks

Jane recently made some cupcakes from scratch. She didn’t use a box mix, she used extra vanilla, and she poked holes in the top to add hot blackberry Jell-O.

They were tasty.

Very tasty.

As such, they disappeared quickly. She made more but those disappeared quickly as well. In fact, one recent night, there were only a few left and the kids were fighting over them.

From the other room, I could hear Hal objecting because someone had eaten his cupcake.

I heard my husband tell him that he could have “this one” when he finished his dinner. “It’s ok,” he tried to assure him. “There’s enough for everyone. You can have this one.”

I then heard Daryl apologizing for eating Hal’s cupcake. “I didn’t know you wanted that particular one.”

All three people in the room attempted to comfort Hal, calm him down, convince him that the available cupcake would be sufficient and equally tasty.

Through the sobbing, I heard Hal’s desperately sad little voice:

“But I wanted the one that I had licked!”

I guess he hadn’t figured out that licking something to claim ownership only works if people actually see you do it.

Lucky Radio Happenstance

“Oh! It’s USA vs. Portugal!” he exclaimed, looking up at the dashboard and putting away the game he was playing on his phone. From the driver’s seat, I gave an internal sigh and retracted my hand from the search button on the radio.

If only I’d found something interesting before we got here. I could have stayed on the Mexican station. That music is kind of fun… even if I can’t understand the commercials. Was the country station really all that bad? Now I’m stuck listening to a soccer game? Groan.

As if reading my mind, he laughed and said, “Do you know what the only sport is more boring to listen to on the radio than baseball?”

“Soccer?” I asked.

“No! It’s golf!” And he dissolved into laughter. “Seriously. It is. Oh, hey!” He turned his attention back to the radio. “We’re tied! That’s awesome!”

I settled myself with the prospect of listening to a British guy and an Irish guy talk about players whose names I didn’t know running up and down the field and absolutely no goals scored. I’m not a soccer football fan. I don’t dislike the sport – in fact, I enjoy watching it. I’m just not a fan. Then again, I’m not really a fan of any sport… except hockey.

Anyway, I was contemplating the possibilities of glazing over mentally and whether that would impact our safety since I was the driver, when the British and Irish guys started getting excited. I didn’t know who had the ball but obviously someone stood a chance of scoring. I didn’t expect it to actually happen but the excitement crescendo-ed and I realized that… someone… had just scored.

And a split second later, I figured out it was us.

My husband and I thrust our arms in the air and yelled, “GOAL!”

Suddenly, I was feeling the World Cup fever. I was excited. Our pastor, a major sports buff, had used the World Cup as the starting point for his sermon that morning. He had jokingly indicated that our chances of advancing were extremely slim.

I turned to my husband and said, “I guess our chances of advancing are a bit better than somewhere between 1 in a million and 1 in a hundred?” (This a reference to the sermon).

He smiled and we settled in to listen to the last 9 minutes of the game. The guys (I enjoyed listening to the Irish guy in particular) kept remarking on how Portugal looked like they had already given up. How great the American team looked. How it was already over and USA was locked into at least second place and thus advancing.

It was exciting. I remarked on the good fortune to turn to the game right before an exciting conclusion, instead of having to listen to nothing happening.

The ref then added 5 minutes to the clock as soccer refs are prone to do, estimating the stoppage of play throughout the game. I sighed but trusted my British and Irish eyes and ears. This game was all but over.

As an Oklahoma State Cowboys fan, I wasn’t relaxing, mind you. I have plenty of experience with teams losing it at the end. Still. There was maybe a minute left. I could hear the crowd chanting “U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!”

And then those dang guys started to get excited again. And with a disbelieving tone. And then. And then.

And then.

Portugal scored a goal in the final seconds. That might happen a lot in basketball. And maybe even in American football. But soccer?

We both sat there stunned. We had lost.

Fifteen minutes ago, I hadn’t even known that the game was going on. Was no more than mildly interested in the outcome. And now I felt like someone had just stolen my ice cream cone.

We listened to commentary for a few more minutes and then I resumed my search for music.

“Well that sucked,” he said.

“Mmm-hmmm,” I replied, feeling down.

And, yeah, the loss kind of sucked. But it feels kind of special that we caught it. And got to be a part of it. I guess it was better than catching a good song. They play those on the radio all the time.

Is There A Doctor In The House?

One recent Saturday morning shortly after seven, as I lay in bed reading and delaying getting up, an eerie sound started up in the boys’ room. It sounded like some sort of special effect from a science fiction movie. Before I could identify the noise, it was punctuated by a robotic voice menacingly declaring “Exterminate! Exterminate!” The music continued and then the voice cut in again and so on.

I soon heard the rustling of sheets and sleepy voices mumbling to each other, first softly and then at a near shout when it became clear that neither wanted to get out of bed. “Turn it off!”…”You turn it off!”…”You are closer!”…”So?! I don’t know how!”…”But I’m on the bunk bed! Just do it! Hurry!”…”I don’t know how!”

Then there was the sound of someone stumbling out of bed, some bumping and exclamations, and then the Dalek and his background music desisted. Some slight rustling as the vanquisher returned to bed. And then silence.

I turned to my husband and smiled. He smiled back. “That was awesome,” he laughed quietly. And, indeed, it was.

You see, that Dalek was ours before it was taken without permission. It had sat placidly in our bedroom not threatening anyone for well over six months since we received it for Christmas. If you press on its head, it will project the time on the ceiling. Pressing its head while the alarm is going off will also act as a snooze and we both continued to smile as we could guess how the boys had likely quieted the Dalek.

Sure enough, ten minutes later, it started up again and the entire situation played out much the same. Only this time, the young bottom-bunk dweller opted to retire to our room after performing his duty so that he couldn’t be tasked with silencing it again.

The next morning, the Dalek greeted us shortly after seven. And again the next. One night, as I tucked the boys into bed, I picked it up and said, “You know, when you guys took this from our room, you fiddled with it and turned the alarm clock on. You need to figure out how to undo it.”

They shrugged me off. I, in turn, shrugged them off. They had dug themselves into this hole and we found the Dalek not merely amusing, but pretty helpful, guaranteeing that our boys would be roused shortly after seven each morning.

After a week or so of this, I went to tuck the boys in last night. Hal looked up and pleaded with me, “Mommy! Will you please, please take that Dalek out of here?!”

“No,” I said, “I rather like it being in here. It does a good job of waking you guys up at 7:15.”

“But I don’t want to wake up at 7:15!” Daryl protested. “I want to wake up at 8:15!”

“Please!” begged Hal. “It scares me. Please?!”

His tone was genuinely that of a scared little boy. I got to thinking about my reaction when I heard that alarm the first time and firmly told my husband he was to never enable the alarm. And how much I had jumped when someone had nevertheless inadvertently turned it on.

I took the Dalek out of the room.

My husband was waiting for me at the dining room table for our budget discussion. I set the Dalek down in front of him. He looked up at it and burst out laughing.

I smiled.

The Dalek had been a gift. One that we had suggested we’d enjoy – mostly because we were after the projected clock. That feature worked but not the way we had intended. The gift, however, has not gone unappreciated. This past week gave us all the enjoyment we needed.

Pavlov Shakes His Head

Our dog, Rose, has a crate.  It’s typically nestled back into a corner of the “big room” – this being an all-purpose office, library, sewing room, guest room, exercise space, photography area, and general junk storage.  She stays in the crate when we are not home and also at night when we go to bed.

She doesn’t dislike her crate.  Granted, if we are going somewhere, she’d rather go with us in the car.  And she’d rather sleep on her pillow in our bedroom at night (this is disallowed because I have issues with sleep and she snores).  But she likes her little den just fine.  She’ll even retire to it if she wishes to rest and we are in the big room.

She knows it’s time to get in her crate when she hears the treat bag rattle in the kitchen.  Wherever she is, when she hears the bag, she hops up and runs into the big room, climbs into her crate, turns around, and waits expectantly.  We give her the treat and shut the door.

Sometimes when we have company, the particular guest isn’t interested in sharing the room with the dog – even with the crate.  Such a scenario existed this past weekend so we chose to move the crate into the living room.

By Sunday evening, she had spent two nights in the crate in the center of the living room.  The kids went to bed and I sat down on the loveseat to fold laundry.  The long couch, where she usually lies, was empty.  But she didn’t jump up on the couch.  She trotted into her crate and curled up.

When my husband sat down on the couch, she glanced up at him but didn’t hurry over to be with him.  She was perfectly comfortable.  In fact, she spent the rest of the evening sleeping in the crate.

When it was time for us to retire to bed, I contemplated just shutting the door on the crate.  Before I had a chance to act on it, my husband started the usual ritual by opening the treat bag in the kitchen.

Rose’s head shot up.  She looked around.  And then she ran out of the crate and headed for the big room.  I stood there dumbfounded as I watched her disappear.  A few seconds later, she returned and hurried into the crate.  I know she’s just a dog, but I would swear that she had a rather sheepish look on her face.

I’m Thankful

There is a sweet woman at my church who picked up a new habit over a year ago that she found charming and a great opportunity to witness.  She first brought it up in a group we were both part of by talking about the rather inane greeting habit that I, too, find rather pointless.  Assuming you have eyes and ears and a working tongue and have left your house since adulthood, you have participated in it.  It goes like this:

Two people approach each other from different directions.  Whether they know each other or not is irrelevant.  Maybe they make eye contact, maybe they don’t.  Maybe they smile, maybe they don’t.  Maybe they nod, maybe they don’t.  Maybe they slow down, most likely they don’t.

“Hello,” says one. “How are you?”

“I’m fine.  You?”

“Fine.”

Whether any variation of that last line occurs depends heavily on how fast the people were walking and whether they actually know each other.  It’s usually either mumbled or not bothered with.

I’ve always found this pointless.  Likely, neither party actually cares how the other is doing.  They certainly don’t slow down to absorb the information, not expecting more than a one word response.  The second party almost always responds that they are fine, regardless of whether they are.  If they respond that they aren’t fine, it’s almost a social faux pas.  They’ve deviated from the script.  We are just making noise.  We don’t really care.

We might as well just grunt at each other in passing.

Some people have changed from “fine” to “I’m blessed”, which they imagine to be a more positive response than the rather bland “fine”.  Initially, this annoyed me even more because I found it too full of sweetness.  Eventually, though, I recognized it as just another phrase that that particular person uses every time in the silly little greeting play and left it alone.

The sweet woman from my church had also found “I’m blessed” to be too rote and pointless, although I think she found it an improvement over “fine”.  Someone that she heard on TV or radio said that Christians should respond to “How are you?” with “I’m thankful!”

I reacted to this the same as I did to “I’m blessed” but held my tongue as she continued.  “When you do that,” she said, “it takes people by surprise and they ask you why you are thankful and then you have the opportunity to tell them!  You should always be ready with a response!”

I personally thought that many people would respond with an internal groan and a roll of their eyes but I didn’t say so.  Several of the other hearers of her wisdom, those possessing of less cynicism and more grace, exclaimed that they thought it was a wonderful idea.  And so it came to be that this woman and one of the men replaced their “fine” with “I’m thankful”.

I have an almost visceral reaction to people manipulating me, whether the manipulation is nefarious or not.  If I know you want me to behave or respond in a certain manner, I will resist.  Especially if I find the whole process silly.  In this particular scenario, I know the game.  I know they are saying they are thankful in order to provoke me to ask them why and I refuse to play along.

Ironically, I can’t drop the decades old habit of asking people how they are doing, or of responding to a similar request with “I’m fine – how ’bout you?”.  Which means I’m inevitably faced with their “I’m thankful” response, to which I have always responded with some variation of “that’s nice” or a smile and a nod.

After a year of this, one such exchange happened recently between me and the sweet woman’s disciple while the sweet woman was present.  She turned to the man and said significantly and with reproof, “She didn’t ask you why you’re thankful.”

“No, she didn’t,” he responded with mild, slightly feigned disapproval before saying matter-of-factually, “She never does.”

It hadn’t struck me that we had exchanged greetings often enough for them to notice my passive aggressive refusal to play along.  I smiled at them and said truthfully, “It’s because I know you are expecting it.”

We are different creatures, them and me.  They happily absorb themselves in sweet platitudes and feel-good moments and habits.  Me, I am cynical, logical, and analytical – to a fault.  I find a system of interaction that you have constructed with expectations for people to respond in a particular way to be at best silly and at worst exclusionary.

On the silly end, I don’t find their habit of saying “thankful” any different than anyone else’s habit of saying “fine” or “blessed”.  I don’t see why they should expect anyone to ask why someone is thankful any more than asking why someone is blessed (or fine, for that matter).  I would bet that most people don’t ask why so I don’t feel compelled to ask just because I know they are fishing for it.

On the exclusionary end, those that “get it” can respond appropriately and make the thankful person feel good about the response.  Those that don’t, the thankful person can categorize in his or her mind as inattentive and unloving for not caring to ask.  As a person who knows what they want yet not willing to give it to them, I suppose I don’t get even the possibility of benefit of doubt.

Hopefully they just think I’m stubborn rather than insensitive.  I’m learning to be true to myself, regardless of how people expect me to behave.  I’m pretty sure those two people still love me so I guess it’s working out ok.  Then again, if I’m not going to make myself into the image that each person I come across expects, then I suppose I’ll also have to be content with some folks deciding they don’t like what they see.

When A Man Lacks A Dragon

The conversations that can be heard over the cubicle walls in the morning are sometimes a bit louder and more joyful than those that occur later in the day, people having not yet settled themselves down to their work.  There was one such conversation taking place this morning down the hallway.  A young recent college graduate was talking to a couple of the more middle-aged men in the group.

She apparently expressed her wish to see “How To Train Your Dragon II” this weekend.  One of the men, who prides himself in being obstinate and contrary, loudly questioned her sanity for wanting to see a sequel to a children’s movie, obviously believing that the only reason grown adults see such cartoons is because they are dragged there by their children.  This, being a sequel, was even less likely to be worth viewing.

“But I loved the first movie!” she exclaimed.  “Haven’t you seen it?!”

“No, I haven’t.”

“You haven’t seen How To Train Your Dragon?!”

“No, I haven’t because I don’t have a dragon so why would I need to know how to train one?”

I contemplated standing up (on my tippy toes or no one would see me over the cubicle wall) and supporting her claims that the movie was worth seeing.  I heard the other two men reluctantly confirming her assessment of the movie (having, indeed, likely only seen it because they had children of the appropriate age).  I felt it perhaps wise to not get derailed within minutes of arriving at work so let it be.

As the conversation continued, another woman poked her head in my doorway laughing and shaking her head.

“Conversation annoying you, is it?” I asked with a smile, knowing that the conversations often did since this particular coworker is easily irritated by even the most minute sounds.

“Yes, but…” she shook her head, laughing.  “But… just because this friend of mine… she… she put this thought in my head concerning the title of that movie… and now!  Now… I can’t hear it without thinking about that.”

Not being a person good at picking up on innuendo, I nevertheless reasonably guessed what that thought likely encompassed and started chuckling myself.

“So…” she continued, “when he said… ‘I don’t have a dragon‘…”  She dragged out that last word and raised her eyebrows to provide more emphasis.

By now I was fully laughing with her.  The conversation down the hall was full of laughter but now my cubicle was as well.  She returned to hers in short order and I returned to my work.  But now we were primed to hear every remark in the movie conversation in a much different light and I wondered… if the people down the hall heard us… whether they wondered what exactly we were finding so funny, each in our own separate cubicles.