August 3, 2011

Health food

Today I visited the health food store two towns over. I go there infrequently to get the kinds of gluten-free stuff I don’t want to buy in bulk. I’m not sure why all health food stores smell the same. Like vitamins, maybe. Any time I go in, the customers are invariably me and the kind of middle-aged women who I can tell have spent a lot of the last few years on an elliptical machine. Their eyes slide off me, like I’m not even there. And that’s just fine.

August 2, 2011

Severe thunderstorm warning

There was a crazy thunderstorm this evening. The tornado sirens went off briefly and I huddled in the basement with my two rotten cats while P was in a stopped train somewhere between work and home. After the storm passed, the air outside was a weird red color. My neighbor, a former stormchaser, stared up at it suspiciously. “I’ve never seen anything like this,” she said, which as you can probably imagine didn’t make me feel much better.

August 1, 2011

The August Break

My lovely pal Kim, one half of the team at The Deep Old Desk, pointed me to The August Break, where participants are encouraged to share their Augusts through photos.

Working with the Doctor

The Doctor and I are very busy.

July 25, 2011

Been caught smoking

I didn’t get caught smoking until after my freshman year in college.

To be fair, I didn’t start smoking regularly until I moved to Albuquerque in the first place. The small town I grew up in – technically New Mexico, but only five miles from West Texas – was a hornets’ nest of neighbors, my parents’ old friends and any number of Gladys Kravitzes more than willing to snitch on a teenager. My mother had eyes everywhere.

I’d had a cigarette or two before I went away. One time at a debate tournament, my friend and I sneaked a pack on the bus and tried to smoke in our hotel room. We’d barely lit the first one when someone knocked on the door. The cigarette was quickly flushed down the toilet. The pack was tossed down an empty hallway in an anonymous high school as soon as we got a chance.

At UNM, though, I discovered the magic of keg parties and learned pretty quickly that smoking and drinking at the same time felt really good. After a while I realized that a smoke first thing in the morning felt really, really good. And soon after that I figured out that smoking after sex – well, you know.

It was only a matter of time before I started buying my own hardpacks of Marlboro Lights at the grubby Diamond Shamrock across the street from campus, where on a lucky day they would cost under two bucks. My friends and I all agreed – if we had to choose between smokes and food, cigarettes always won. Smoking covered up hunger pangs so that we could make it through long, hungover Saturday afternoon till it was time to drink again.

Those were very heady days.

The summer after my freshman year, I moved home and spent a lot of late night time playing Nintendo with my friends. I much preferred driving in endless circles on Mario Kart to driving in endless circles through the streets of Hobbs, where getting pulled over for imaginary infractions was just a matter of course. People always gathered in our living room – we had the house where stray teenagers, refugees from difficult parents or untenable jobs would end up, perched on the couch or in the kitchen eating sandwiches. Most every night someone was available to carouse with, even if only mildly.

One night in June, I went outside to stand watch while my other friends smoked – none of their parents knew, either. For whatever reason, I was not smoking at that particular moment. Thirteen years later, this is still my contention.

My friend Laura, absent that evening, called my parents’ phone number to see where everyone was. She asked my sister if I was outside smoking. My sister conceded and then heard a telltale click, the sound of my mother hanging up the phone on her own extension.

My sister hurriedly got off the phone but the damage had been done. My mom stormed into the living room and inquired as to my whereabouts. My sister pointed outside. My mom opened the door and called me over.

“Your friends need to go home,” she said, calmly.

Which meant certain doom.


Not quite sure what had enraged her, I shooed my friends off and came inside. I catalogued a list of my more pressing sins but couldn’t come up with anything immediately. Being naturally pretty sneaky, I was out of practice in plausible deniability.

I barely even got in the door before my mom confronted me.

“Do you smoke?”

Honestly, what choice did I have? I’d been smoking for months, including when I visited home, and hadn’t been caught. Clearly I was invincible. I picked the most prudent course of action – bald-faced lying. “No.”

She leaned in and said, more quietly, “Do you smoke?”

I backed up against the foyer wall. My voice wavered, but I was committed. “No.”

She came so close that I knocked my head into the mirror behind me. “I’m going to ask you one. More. Time. Do you smoke?”

And then I broke. I cried like a baby and spilled secrets like I’d taken codeine. My sister sat curled in the corner of the big purple couch we’d inherited when my grandparents died, watching the free show.

She spoke up. “Don’t be too mad at her, Mama,” she said imploringly, like a little match girl left outside at Christmas, or maybe a cobra. “I smoked a cigarette once.”

It took every bit of what was left of my fortitude to keep a straight face. I happened to know for a fact that my younger sister, who had started smoking long before me, had an entire carton of cigarettes secreted away under a blanket and several half empty bottles of Febreze in the trunk of the Dyna-Ride, her maroon Buick. A carton! Buying a carton is a commitment. It says, “I am not going to quit smoking for at least ten more packs.” If you’re taking the long view when it comes to smoking, something is wrong. I have never in my life purchased an entire carton of cigarettes and yet. And yet! My sister was the picture of innocence and I was left to take the brunt of the blame.

The wailing and gnashing of teeth went on for a good half hour. My mom kept repeating, “Just wait until tomorrow. Your daddy is going to wake up and you’ll have to look him in the eye and tell him that you smoke.”

My father smoked through most of my childhood. He underwent hypnosis and lasers, eventually succumbing to the indignity of chewing acres of cinnamon toothpicks before he finally quit just in time for his daughters to start.

After all the noise, my father finally wandered out of his bedroom, wearing tighty whiteys but not his glasses, so that he squinted in the bright light. It’s worth noting that the last time I saw him up in the middle of the night like this was when my mother overheard my sister’s eyeliner wearing boyfriend offer casually to kill my parents. That time, he had his shotgun. To be fair, my mother overheard that conversation by listening in on the extension, too.

My mother shoved me forward by the shoulder. “Tell him. Tell your daddy what you did. Go ahead and break his heart.”

When I made my confession, he looked disgusted. Always a practical man, though, after a bit of a lecture, he announced that it was time for everyone to go back to bed and disappeared into the recesses of the back of the house.

Being found out was actually a relief. I didn’t have to sniff my hair for smoke and I could loiter in the front yard all day long if I wanted. I didn’t have to worry about any nosy relatives or neighbors driving by and then frantically calling my parents, hoping to be the bearer of bad, bad news.

When my mom and I went to the doctor together that summer to get diet pills, my blood pressure registered incredibly low. “Hey, at least I smoke,” I told her. “If I didn’t, I’d probably be dead.” I think she wished I hadn’t said that in front of the nurse but in the end she had to agree with me.

July 18, 2011


We were just out of Seminole when I turned to P in the backseat of my mom’s car and told him, “You know there’s a smell, right?” When driving into Hobbs, about five miles out, there’s a faint, distinctive smell that’s somewhere in the vicinity of cow shit and burning oil. He did not know there was a smell, but I assured him that he’d get used to it quickly and he did. After maybe ten minutes it becomes part of the overall landscape. It’s called habituation.

I was nervous to bring him home. He’d only ever seen me in Albuquerque, where I was arguably a different person. How do you show someone your whole life in just a couple of days? Especially when you wanted to eat at all the restaurants you loved one more time before you left?

We’d taken my mother’s car to get him, because at the end of his short trip I was flying back to Chicago. I’d sold my own car, the Chevy Blazer my parents gave me when I went to college. We had to drive to Midland, Texas, an hour and a half away, because there’s no commercial airport in Hobbs. The only way in is by land.

I guess I was happy to show him around; I’d spent the better part of the previous ten years plotting to get away from that place forever. I was more interested in looking forward, to the vintage apartment I’d only seen in pictures, to a whole new city I’d met only once before. When I was younger and dreamed of getting away, I’d never thought of Chicago as an escape. My dreams were more about New York, of course, or sometimes L.A., when I thought about being a screenwriter. What did Chicago have to offer me? Now it offered me a partner, and that was good enough for me. I was ready to go.

Once we got back to my parents’ house, we were carless again. There was really nothing in walking distance. In the Southwest everyone drives everywhere. It’s so hot for most of the year, and everything is so spread out, that driving is just easier. The air conditioning technology is marvelous.

We had to walk back behind a little church’s parking lot to get around the cul-de-sac the house faced. Once around the other side, we stood on the edge of an expansive field, full of ankle-high scrubby grass. I could barely see the sun glinting off the windshields of the cars passing on the highway that formed the field’s other border.

“See this place?”

He nodded uncertainly. It looked like any other field out here in the almost-desert. He’d seen enough of them on the drive in. They weren’t like the corn and soy fields that he was used to. This was no fertile farmland.

“This is like, a scorpion fuck-fest. This place is littered with them, and when it gets dark they come out. My parents have to get an exterminator in every year.”

He turned pale.

“Yeah, they like to get up in the attic. Oh! Make sure you check your shoes in the morning. Easiest thing to do is to just turn your shoe upside down before you put it on. Give it a little shake, because sometimes they can be stubborn. I don’t know if they have claws or what, but – “

He cut me off. “Can we just go back to the house?”

We walked back home. When my mother returned, I’d get to take him out and show him more of the place I came from.

July 4, 2011

Three things make a blog post.

That is internet law.

1. The first week of Pilcrow Social Media has been amazing. People have been so supportive and awesome and I couldn’t have asked for more.

2. There are several good reasons why not going to the RWA National Conference in New York last week was the right choice for me this year, but that didn’t stop me from feeling sorry for myself. I think the low moment was when I went to the grocery store and Arthur’s Theme was playing on the Muzak.

Every time I reached for an onion or a head of lettuce, I heard “New YORK City…” I pretty much walked through the store like this.

3. We’ve been watching a lot of Arrested Development.

June 27, 2011

Big news! Pretty big news!

I am super excited and pleased to announce my new venture: Pilcrow Social Media, social media training, strategies and management for creative types. It’s a perfect marriage of my love of the internet and community and my love for teaching. Please let me know what you think, and if you know of anyone who could use some help, please send them my way.

I would be remiss in not thanking my dear friends Nancy J. Parra and Erica O’Rourke (who has a book coming out TOMORROW!) for their help in conceptualizing Pilcrow, and of course P, for tireless behind-the-scenes tech help.

June 20, 2011

Spoiler alert

I am not a fan of spoilers. Part of the joy of consuming a text, to me, is not knowing what will come next. I have just as much fun trying to figure out the plot twists in Doctor Who as I do actually watching the show. It’s tough, though, because there are lots and lots of shows and movies and books that I haven’t seen or read yet, and it’s hard to avoid finding out the truth about Buffy when the show ended more than a decade ago, you know?

I was pretty convinced that I was right about spoilers, until I started talking to Erica (her debut YA novel Torn comes out next Tuesday, by the way. Just saying.) about them. She loooooves spoilers. Part of her love for spoilers, I think, is that she is free to concentrate on the structure of a story, since she knows what is coming next. (Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong, E.)

So I’ve come around to the realization that neither of us are wrong. There’s no one right way to interact with a text.

Which is why I was so irritated to read this, from Steven Moffat, regarding the new season of Doctor Who:

It’s heart-breaking in a way, because you try and tell a story, and stories depend on surprise, stories depend on shocking people, stories are the moments you didn’t see coming – those are what live in you and burn in you forever. If you are denied those, it’s vandalism.

To have some twit who came to a press launch write up a story in the worst, most ham-fisted English you can imagine and put it on the Internet … I just hope that guy never watches my show again, because that’s a horrific thing to do. It is exactly like that boring man in the pub, who waits until you’re nearly finished your joke and jumps in with the punchline, and gets it slightly wrong. You hate that guy, you just hate those guys too – can you imagine how much I hate them?

… It’s only fans who do this – or they call themselves fans – I wish they could go and be fans of something else!

It’s not that I disagree with him! But I firmly believe that creators of art have to send their creations out in the world and then let them go. You don’t get to pick how people consume your art! You just don’t. Scolding someone and saying that you wish they weren’t your fans? That’s pretty crappy, if you ask me. You have to let go, and relinquish control.

Take Game of Thrones. There have been a few plot twists over the last couple of weeks that left a lot of fans howling in the aisles. One of the brilliant things about those plot twists, though, is that they came directly from the books, and fans who had already read the books kept their mouths shut. I’m sure if someone wanted a spoiler, they could have found it, but there wasn’t a widespread goal to spoil things, like there was when the last few Harry Potter books were released.

What are your thoughts on spoilers? Do you hate them, seek them out, or are you indifferent?

June 13, 2011

Delicious things are delicious: Green Chile Chicken Stew

Since I have been exiled to the frozen north from my New Mexican homeland, I really, really, really, really REALLY REALLY miss fresh green chile. Like, every September I get cranky because I’m nowhere near the chile roasts. It is a sad time.

However, luckily, I can get green chile here. Mostly in cans, but as is the way of all exiles we take what we can get. Literally twice a week or more we have this stew for dinner. I serve over rice with a lot of shredded extra-sharp cheddar and tortilla chips. It freezes beautifully.

2 boneless skinless chicken breasts. I poach a whole bunch at a time in the crockpot and freeze them in two-breast packages so that I can just throw it in the pot once I get a hankering. I prefer poached in this recipe because I like the shreddy texture but it’s not mandatory. Diced is okay.

2 Tbsp (or so) of oil

1-2 garlic cloves. You’re not looking for garlic to take over here.

14 oz can of diced tomatoes. I like Muir Glen fire roasted.

2 1/2 cups chicken stock. If you’re using the 4 cup aseptic thing, and you’re like me and always waste the rest of the stock because you don’t think to use it in time, use the rest when cooking the rice.

20 oz New Mexican green chile. Fresh is best, frozen next. Canned is what we work with. I buy it from Trader Joe’s. Hatch Green Chile is a great brand, but very expensive outside of the southwest. Also, this is not a hard and fast amount — if you want more, (or less? but that doesn’t seem possible) go for it.

3 heaping Tbsp of flour. (Any gluten free AP flour mix would work here. I use Better Batter.)

Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste.

If you’re using fresh chicken, brown it in the oil, but if it’s already cooked just kind of toss it in there. Dice the garlic or use a press, whatev. Then put in everything else, stir it all up, and bring to a simmer. Simmer for at least thirty minutes, though longer is fine. Stir fairly often — every 8-10 minutes. I don’t know if it’s the nature of gluten free flours or what, but it can scorch a bit on bottom without some supervision.

This makes a TON of food. We get at least four meals out of each batch, but, you know, there’s only two of us.

June 6, 2011

Our Long National Squirrel Nightmare is Over

My walls are blessedly silent now. The exterminators came and set up a complicated system, with mesh nailed to the roof and cardboard things and a cage balanced precariously on what was left of the gutter. This is all my observation from below, as we do not have a ladder and I did not plan on going up there.

The first day, the squirrels managed to get the bait out of the cage without getting stuck. I did not know that this was even an option! Shouldn’t there have been a cage that was technologically advanced enough to outwit a rodent? When the tech came back the next day, he told me that was normal. I showed him my suspicious face.

I guess he was right, though, because a couple of hours later, while napping luxuriously, I woke to an ominous thumping outside. I leapt up in glee and ran outside with my camera and, oh frabjous day, THERE WAS A SQUIRREL IN THE TRAP. Ha ha, I crowed at it. Ha ha, you magnificent bastard, we’ve got you now. The squirrel glared down at me. I think. It was awfully bright outside.

When P came home, we went out to see the trap. He wanted proof, too. But by that time the weather had changed. It was cold and only minutes from rain. The squirrel stared down at us. We stared up at it. It wrapped its tail around itself and settled in for the night.

We felt like total monsters.

This happened twice more over the next few days. Overcome with guilt, I stopped checking the trap at all. Apparently the word got out to the other local squirrels, because there have been no more visitors and the walls are quiet.