Seeking Books, not Avengers

I returned to my primary, and first, love twice this week.

Credit the over‐rated, over‐hyped, over‐long, and over‐done Avengers: Endgame movie. Its over‐abundant onslaught of k-pow, k‐bang, and k‐boom bored me to sleep.

I attended the film because of an ancient promise made to DH: for every movie I choose for a Mate Date, he selects our next one. I’ve seen every new James Bond movie since 1984. He’s slept through Amélie, Mamma Mía, and others.

The cinematic misadventure sent me to the bookstore. Not one, but two book readings. In less than a week. A first.

Monday delivered Delia Owens reading her When the Crawdads Sing. It’s topped the New York Times bestseller list since January.

I admired Owens’ lyrical writing and her treatise on loneliness and isolation. However, I grimaced at the formulaic and, ultimately, predictable plot.

Yes: both an unpopular and ornery stance.

When I read fiction, I seek some degree of escapism. This novel sent me, instead, to paroxysms of “no‐young‐girl‐could‐manage‐this‐way‐this‐long‐no‐way‐ever.”

By attending Owens’ Houston reading, I hoped to observe and learn what a bestselling author’s reading offers. Surely, there’s elevated air for both readers and authors in the big leagues.

Held at a west Houston church—thanks to an expected large crowd—I snapped a single picture then heard a warning: no recordings of any kind, pictures included.

Why?

While reading from a prepared script, Owens explained her novel’s themes of isolation and loneliness. According to her website (www.deliaowens.com), both have been lifetime challenges. Owens offered that we all land in the swamp sometime in our lives but “we can all do more than we think we can.”

At week’s end, author Jennifer duBois asked at her reading for The Spectators, “what haunts you and why?” In her novel, duBois explores what we look at, and why. She uses the frame of 90’s reality shows (think Jerry Springer) amid fallout from the AIDS epidemic and the gay rights movement.

In a relaxed question & answer session after her reading, duBois referenced what she calls The Big Question, something she said must prompt a novel’s birth. And the Big Answer? duBois admitted that, invariably, multiple viewpoints arise. Perspectives from many voices. 

Now, that, I thought Real Life.

I returned to my studio, pumped.

And, I’ve returned to my novel.

The Big Question seeks The Big Answer as I cross fingers that, soon enough, I’ll stand in my own story shoes. Publicly.

Spring Trips: As Simple as A‐B‐C‐D

A random burst of spring decluttering (aka: anything‐but‐writing‐That‐Scene) led to rediscovering this relic.

From a bygone era, it’s an engraved sterling silver baby cup. Look closely and you’ll recognize the name.

When I first opened the box, years of accumulated tarnish hid the baby’s identity. Extended elbow grease reminded me of two things: 1) why I’d stored away this boxed cup, and 2) why I do not use, collect, and will‐never‐in‐any‐way amass pretty, shiny, high‐maintenance metal things.

Even so, the oddest experience unfolded as I admired the newly‐cleaned silver piece. Words dropped in—A Baby’s Cup of Dreams. As simple as A‐B‐C‐D.

Messages from other places. That happens sometimes. It’s a weird writer, woo‐woo thing.

When the voice speaks, I listen. Then launch.

To my writing space, I ran. My fingers grabbed specific tokens, all stand‐ins for my authorial adventure. I moved intuitively. No second‐guessing permitted.

Items included a miniature Christmas ornament, Novelist pin, a Glimmer Train magazine, a TRHOF pin, a tiny silver shell engraved “Touch Hearts,” a gratitude blessing circle, and a “Let’s Go on a Road Trip” sticker.

A few days later, my dear friend Pat Clark (a fellow Road Broad who you read here last summer) gifted me a most groovy Road Bag.

That two‐lane highway is only part of the bag’s glory. Check out those colors! Every character in my novel is represented.

Ahem, and uh, no. Most writers don’t color their characters. I’m not every writer. I am my mother’s daughter, my own person as she was herself. 

Such an attitude matters in this world of color-by-other’s-numbers.

What also matters is recognizing the road signs that arise on the journey.

I see signs daily, each echoing springtime on my four mile walks. When the ancient baby cup resurfaced, I recognized the sign of something old, granted in a new season.

The zipper bag landed as a sign from an old friend, a woman I’ve known since 1984 as journalist and now, fellow writer. I recognized her gift as something new for how I’ve long traveled: on many roads.

Arriving home, I realized the new bag needed old supplies. Not mere symbols of meaning but useful tools to bring dreams to life through renewed storytelling.

Journals.

Pens.

A closet dive reminded me I’m well‐stocked. Embarrassingly so.

There’s nothing I need.

I’m ready.

I’m supplied.

A‐B‐C‐D is going places this spring season, journeying into my field of dreams.

How about you?

When the Road Goes #&$^%!!

Sometimes, the road fails a broad.

A weekend excursion to a Houston‐area arts market beckoned. A knee‐high pile of to-do’s flashed yellow. Is this really what you need to be doing today?

I printed a cursory Google map—home to market—and announced, “we’re set.”

We parked at the recommended parking garage—free parking! I turned us left onto the street, chatting like a bird as I followed my phone’s blue line.

Ten minutes later, DH‐with‐the‐built‐in‐satellite‐dish‐in‐his‐head asked, “We’ve been walking a long way for the short walk you promised.”

I shoved my iPhone in his palm. He coughed.

We were 10 minutes in the wrong direction.

Twenty minutes after we began, we spied the art market.

And spotted a block‐long row of walk‐this‐way cones.

Another half block and more orange soldier‐cones later, navigation time arrives. The electrical cords on the sidewalk offered one challenge.

But the power saw laying on the concrete only ten steps later?

Across the street—where the multi‐colored tents stand—we found one food truck for the multiples promised on the website.

The art was well, bleh!

That’s tough truth coming from a woman who loves to support local artists. None of it—acrylic paintings, drop earrings, and enlarged photographs—was what either of us wanted, needed, or craved.

The best site was this sculpture. What is it? A vertical bike offering a ride to…? And those bonus parts are…?

I smiled.

Sometimes a single piece of art can turn around a moment‐in‐time.

Turning to my right, I spied something to widen that smile.

The wall’s simple, powerful message bettered an entire day. A fierce reminder for each of us, if we choose to see it.

Leaving the art market, we spotted a heretofore hidden parking lot across the street. One left turn and 30 seconds later, we stood before our car. Well, duh!

DH mentioned hunger. 2:30 in the afternoon. He chose a burger bar nearby for linner—as in a lunch/dinner combo. It was millennial‐loud. He ate what they advertised. I chose greens

We reviewed how south the excursion had gone. How do you rescue a Road Trip Gone Bad? We embraced four learnings:

Rescue your Emotions. Slow down.

Revise your Map. Double‐check details.

Reorganize your Agenda. Get flexible.

Return to your Passions. Find new haunts.

To close the day, we relaunched with that last learning. A final round of googling and we discovered a rebranded tea bar. There, we read novels for the rest of the afternoon.

Delicious details on that part of this road trip next Sunday. And it’s a first.

A to‐be‐continued blog post.

When Sex & Allergies Collide

When the Yankees take on your pollen count, you know the joke’s on you.

Houston’s pollen count — 2536 spores for oak trees alone — led the nation last week.

That translates into more sneezers and wheezers in the Bayou City than anywhere else in America.

Nowadays on my daily walks, I see sights like this pile of oak tree pollen on every sidewalk and driveway. Emphasis on every sidewalk, every driveway. For four miles.

These piles congregate to pollinate. In other words, it’s plant sex.

Holy moly, are they promiscuous!

The yellow wormy, stringy things are called catkins, also known as the flowering male of the tree. They morph into pollen then ride the wind, hunting receptors known as stigmas and pistils (the flowering female of the tree).

When male pollen grains meet female flower stigmas, voila! Acorns (as in: nuts!) sometime result.

That Mother Nature recreates this act every spring amazes, in and of itself. But that She, concurrently, creates allergic misery for so many of us humans strikes me as the epitome of irony.

Who’s in charge, you say?

Copyright, Sig McKenna Izbrand

My San Antonio friend Sig McKenna Izbrand dubs this year’s agony “Pollengedden.”

One photo from her backyard illustrates why.

Would you want to swim in those inviting waters after seeing that line of pollen?

The line resembles a crossing‐of‐the‐Rubicon of sorts: what’s in the water, what can I not see?

What’s a RoadBroad to do?

Pack eyedrops, an extra wad of tissues plus sore throat drops then hit the sidewalk.

Sagging senior thighs outrank four miles of sniffles.

Ball of Beauty…or Beast?

The sight at the top of the hill caught my eye.

How many bird’s nests in that tree?

Walking closer, I notice it’s not bird nests I see.

Those are amalgams of twigs, needles, sticks, and gray grassy things clumped together in round balls, all nestled atop bare tree branches.

I walk this path every day, and have for seven years.

How did I never see this?

A second question springs forth: what is this T.h.i.n.g.? 

My writer mind imagines an alien deposit left every Tuesday after midnight.

Ah, Story begins. I smile.

Four miles and five Siri e‐mails later, I arrive home.

Google informs the mass is ball moss, or tillandsia recurvata. Botanists call it an epiphyte—fancy way of saying it’s a non‐parasitic plant that lives on other plants. More bromeliad than moss; a percher, not a sapper. Translation: ball moss sits on tree branches but never sucks away its host.

Some people disagree, claiming ball moss kills every tree it nests.

I don’t care. I see beauty lurking in these branches. This tree carried 45 ball moss clumps. At least where I stopped counting. 

Some nests looked massive, others teeny as embryos. To my virgin‐noticing‐nature‐eyes, each pom‐pom appeared glorious.

I looked down and cheered. An orphaned wad lay on the ground. The sticks felt spiky and sharp but strong. The natural world excels. Again.

At home, I placed the ball moss in a vase. Within weeks, it b‐l‐o‐o‐m‐e‐d. To my endless surprise and utter delight. Melanie and home‐grown flowers = a first.

Our most recent Yule featured ball moss as the table centerpiece. It lasted from Christmas and well past New Year’s Day.

The petals eventually devolved into white wispy things. Carrying them outside one windy afternoon was not a good idea.

I waved them away then realized three things ball moss taught me:

My thumb’s not black.

Growth offers pleasant possibility and an expanded life, especially for a strong ego.

Noticing nature changes a life.

Poet Mary Oliver nailed it with this: “there are moments when the veil seems almost to lift and we understand what the earth is meant to mean to us.”

I’ve held onto this story for three months, awaiting Spring’s arrival. Now, she’s waking up, winking green in our oak trees.

She’s also birthing yellow tree pollen. Which delivers allergy agony.

That’s next week’s blog post. Today, I sniffle, dab my eyes and walk on, watching as beautiful ball moss disappears into nature’s arms. 

Call Me Silver‐Haired Devil?

From the road, Buc-ee’s beckoned.

Rather, my gas tank and bladder issued a joint siren call. One empty, one full, and both talking for 48 long miles.

Why did I wait so long—nearly an hour—to answer?

There’s gas stations and there’s Buc-ee’s. The Madisonville, TX store promises the most‐est in unique memories for any road traveler.

Dozens of gas pumps and restrooms.

Hundreds of drink and food offerings. Few of them good for you.

Thousands of worthless trinkets from clothes, rockers, backpacks, and the unrecognizable.

The line of cars to enter the two parking lots offered first warning.

An unruly crowd paced the parking lot I entered. Women holding children’s hands. Single men holding up their own hands, stopping traffic. TLC and Privilege butting heads with cars, both snaking around and between anything that moved. Which was everything.

What else is Buc-ee’s but a joint that moves, like a Friday night dance floor on the second round of drinks.

Inside the store, agitation spiked. Lines wiggled and squiggled as young, middle‐aged, and old jockeyed for quicker access to the need du jour. The longest lines surrounded stations for drinks, sandwiches, and candy.

Understandable. Road trips extort stomach energy and activate head nerves.

Both sets of bathrooms bore growing lines. Have you ever seen a man forced to wait to do his business? It was the antsiest column in the building. I smiled.

After years of traveling Interstate 45, I’d never seen this degree of traveler mania. Questions flooded in.

What’s wrong? Why this edgy‐nervous‐tense mood? Who lost a football game? 

That last question was valid—Texas A&M isn’t far from Madisonville. Then I remembered: Spring Break. Last weekend.

Alone in my car, I whooped, “Why, of course! How could I forget?”

Then I looked away, upward, to my rearview mirror.

I spied It.

My first gray hair. Actually, gray hairs. Plural.

What color are they? White? Gray? Silver?

Amid the splash of red and brown that threads across my crown, when did bleach join the party?

The longest white strand looks at least six inches long. That’s an easy six to nine months of hair growth. How did I not notice this earlier? Psychic blindness?

To my naked eye, these invaders loom larger than Antarctica. Soon enough, they won’t loom. They’ll rule.

Is this Mother Nature’s belated 62nd birthday present(s)?

I feel rode hard.

Make that road hard.

Stages on the Road

My past beckoned.

To the beach I returned.

Shooter & talent near the beach. Working, not looking for it.

From wet, windy, and cold Galveston Island, I said, “Reporting live from Virginia Beach.”

A longtime client had called. Their upcoming oil spill drill needed our team of roleplayers and camera crews.

The money was right. I was available. The road summoned.

A year ago, I left what I’d practiced for 30 years: providing crisis communications expertise to companies in trouble. We trained clients in all 50 U.S. states and 18 foreign countries.

Sometimes they had a big, immediate problem. Others worried about one occurring. Smart companies called proactively. Stubborn bosses crossed their fingers. I bit my tongue. 

Our clients included people mostly trying to do the right thing. They failed sometimes because humans are good at that. Companies mix up their priorities, forget who they work for, and leave the lasting damage for others to clean up.

At the beach, I learned nothing has changed. Storytelling in the business world remains the same: risk exists, problems occur. The only crisis is who’s in trouble today.

“Love Hurts” storytelling: on‐stage @ The Moth — Houston

An opposite sort of storytelling shows up on stage during Houston’s recent “Moth” night.

Simple rules: share a true story from your life. No notes. No props. 

Easy for an experienced crisis communicator. What’s a story but a tale seeded in crisis?

The night’s theme, “Love Hurts,” revives a Wyoming road trip — Trooper stops DH for speeding. I get the ticket. 

Twenty‐two storytellers sign up; ten names will be drawn.

Then I hear my name and remember the emcee’s earlier crow, “500‐plus of you came out tonight! We’re SRO!”

I walk to the stage. 

Remember lines. Remember gestures. Remember emphasis points. Remember eye contact. 

I begin. Sea of stranger eyes looking up, a long, wide, deep rectangle of black chairs. Primal Texas twang replaces broadcast voice. Knees wiggle, legs twitch.

Hands move, on their own, in all the right places. Eyes find friendly faces. Applause erupts in unexpected places.

I finish. Every line remembered.

I can do this. 

The emcee walks over, applauding; whispers, confirming: “YOU are a storyteller.”

Future and past merge onto a stage I never imagined.

Note to Reader: The words ‘shooter’ and ‘talent’ in the TV news business refer to 1) the camera person recording the story and 2) the reporter delivering it. Imprecise terms, one of which is less used nowadays. For obvious reasons.

Flick ‘n Fling at the Courthouse

When people take pictures of your shoes, it’s time to write about them.

Especially when Photo Time occurs at the courthouse.

We three women sat next to each other, awaiting the outcome of round one: would we be picked for jury duty? Bailiff updates droned on through rounds two and three. We began to chat.

After a few minutes, the woman sitting two places to my left eyeballed the shoes I’d worn on this road trip:

Both women erupted in surprise when I mentioned the paint job was mine. A cacophony of non‐stop questions and amazement followed. While secretly delighted, I finally said, “they’re only shoes.”

The first woman asked to take a picture. For her daughter, she said. The other, sitting next to me, noticed the faux gemstones.

I explained the white dots are not gems, only sticky white dots. Stand‐ins for old stones that disappeared who knows where, when or how. 

The picture‐taker leaned in and whispered, “so, how do you DIY shoes?” 

Why are you whispering? I wondered. Are these creations too weird? Am I?

I paused before the directions rolled like warm honey off my tongue. My fingers followed along in an artful sign language.

Easy‐breezy: shoe paint, leather shoes, and your fingers. Only four: index, middle, and ring fingers plus a thumb. All you do is flick and fling!”

I giggled at the ad‐lib, morphing it into Flick ‘n Fling Fun. then added, “Best part? No one in the universe will ever own shoes like yours. Who wants to be like everyone else?”

My two new friends nodded in agreement. Our shared middle‐to‐senior ages encouraged that collective attitude. We talked more nitty‐gritty details of painting shoes. Finally, we exchanged our names.

Sheila.

Melanie.

And Melanie.

Jury duty with a namesake.

Who also wished her mother had named her Scarlett.

Who parked two places away in the parking lot; who sat two spaces away in the courthouse.

Four synchronicities for the price of one.

Who says jury duty is a chore?

And, no, none of us was picked.

Lava on the Road, Story on the Page

Only weeks ago, I resolved to find magic in this New Year. It landed last night, courtesy of an unexpected gift.

The weekend crisis du jour sent DH and I on the road. A new lamp shade beckoned.

We arrived home with that and a bonus: a Lava Lamp for my writing studio.

In the store, the colorful box screamed, “All this color! You know you want me!” Curious, is it not, that all the box’s colors match my novel characters? Can you identify the six shades?

Looming larger, this toy offers a different kind of road trip—straight down memory lane. But in my 70’s teen days, I never owned a Lava Lamp.

Having one up‐close, I’ve realized a Lava lamp is essentially an electric candle, sans wick, parked inside a glass bottle. It works when a glob of bottled wax gets heated, rises then dances inside glass under illuminated by a tiny light bulb.

Lava Embryo With Legs speaks of new life, new creation, new start. And unable to stand.

This mutant look compliments reality. Nothing’s ever perfect as it’s born.

All applicable for what’s been an ongoing funky new year. Maybe now as we begin week number five, it’s full‐on reboot time? Isn’t that what last week’s Full Moon with a Wolf SuperBlood twist teased? Saying goodbye to the past and moving forward with gusto, finally free?

An hour after plug‐in, Lava Embryo With Legs grows up, sprouting a semi‐carpet of background grass.

Technically, my inner feminist says this should be Lava Woman. I squinted to identify relevant body parts.

It becames that: It. Or SkullScoliosisRump. Alien doesn’t fit because this image resembles no creature I’ve seen in the best (and worst) sci‐fi flicks.

Still, it’s perfect, mimicking change with scary precision. Is change ever easy to figure out?

Two hours in, an entire new world arises: Lava Universe?

This unfolding lava world reminds me of watching last week’s eclipse. Shadows and colors changing on the moon as a memorable lunar evening reveals itself. We changed, too, watching, absorbing.

As I unplugged Lava Lamp three hours later (and DH already in bed), the meaning of the night roared in.

We writers do all this as we pen the stories that call us to the page (or the computer).

Like solid wax in a cold lava lamp, Story remains static, unborn, unchanging. But give Story enough heat, time, and attention, and it rises to new life, changing shape, spawning tales, and building the form that was always inside. Waiting.

More than a half century ago, Michelangelo wrote: “The greatest artist has no conception which a single block of white marble does not potentially contain within its mass but only a hand obedient to the mind can penetrate to this image.” 

Substitute a few words and you’ll find a writer’s truth: “The greatest writer has no conception which a single page* does not potentially contain within its mass but only a hand obedient to the mind can penetrate to this image.”

We’re not working alone.

The Story is already inside us, awaiting heat, time, attention.

Like a lowly little lava lamp.

*Substitute computer screen, piece of paper, notebook, etc.

*NOTE: The Michelangelo quote is verbatim from 1501, thus verbiage rings/reads somewhat stiff and awkward to 21st century ears/eyes.

3 Days, 3 Roads, 3 Adventures

Tuesday. Drove to Hermann Park with Dear Friend (DF). We wanted to spend some time outside on a beautiful cool day with art, squirrels and ducks. This particular park is a wonderful place to go for a walk. There are concrete paths, gravel paths, and lots of grass to walk on. There are also many trees, benches and picnic tables. DF and I walked and sat and walked and sat some more. We absorbed as much of the park as we could and committed it to memory. I took pictures with a real camera (as opposed to the camera on my phone).

This particular sculpture was a topic of discussion last year when I took the Women In Art class at the Glassell. The artist who created this piece was sculptor, Hannah Stewart. The title of the work is Atropos Key and is located on top of the hill at Miller Theater.

Since it was a weekday, there were not too many people. Foot traffic did pick up during the lunch hour with several people escaping an office setting to commune with nature. Some folks just walked and others sat on benches and visited with the ducks. Some folks walked alone, some in pairs and others in small groups. The squirrels kept an eye on everyone who wandered through.

Wednesday. DF was in the hospital getting ready for some surgery. Nothing major or life threatening, but necessary. Sometimes a road trip involves being wheeled around a hospital (or accompanying someone who is being wheeled around a hospital). From admitting room, to pre‐op holding room, to operating room, to recovery room, to hospital bedroom. I spent the day either by his bedside or sitting in the waiting room. Surgery was scheduled for 11:30 a.m., but he was not wheeled into the operating room until 1:00 p.m. He pulled through the surgery like a champ. Only a 5 hour wait in the recovery room before DF is moved to a private room. Once I was assured he was comfortable in his room and tucked in for the night, I left with the promise to return the next day to transport him home. Nurses checked on him every hour.

Both before and after surgery, we spent time in curtained cubicles where we caught some strange snippets of conversations.

A doctor said, “Your wound is safe. You could put WD40 on it and it still wouldn’t get infected. You won’t have any problem with a shower.”

A nurse said to a co‐worker, “No, it’s an hour and a half. Do not try to add another 1/2 hour to my life.”

A nurse said towards the end of the shift to someone we could not see,“I don’t like coffee. I don’t like the way it looks. I don’t like the way it smells. I don’t like the way it tastes. I don’t even like the look of coffee beans. Coffee is not my friend.

Thursday. DF and I had hoped for a hospital discharge by 11:00 a.m. No such luck. There were no more road trips around the hospital. Lots of waiting in the room. The nurse continued to visit every hour. Finally by 3:00 p.m. DF was sitting in a wheelchair on his way to the front door of the hospital.

Once out in the sunshine, we drove off in my car. We went to a drug store for meds and then to Brasil’s for an early dinner. I drove slowly through tree lined neighborhoods. Classical music played on the radio. Now life began to return to what can be considered normal.

Until next week.….