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Category: Winging It: A Memoir of Caring for a Vengeful Parrot Who’s Determined to Kill Me

Help! I've Forgotten and I Can't Recall!!!

Yeah, I know, sort of a lame take on the iconic 1990’s television commercial featuring an elderly gal with a medical emergency who urgently needed assistance with her feeble self. Thanks to “Life Call,” she had someone who was able to prop her up, and all was well.

So far I’m not in need of Life Call to rescue me from a frail bone-related fall, but I am in dire need of some sort of life call to save me from an increasingly enfeebled brain. They say the mind is the first to go, and my memory–which until recently I’d successfully prodded into action with a regular machine-gunning of reminder alerts on my iCal each day–has taken a day at the beach and decided it doesn’t want to return just yet, if ever.

Thus, I have placed practically my entire memory in the evidently disabled hands of my MacBook’s iCal, which it seems has aged in dog years itself and is failing in its own wretched memory to remind me of all that I can’t help but forget. Two operating systems ago, my iCal reminders worked regularly, even though I overloaded the application with unrealistic demands: most every function of my day popped up to remind me to do it, short of basic hygiene functions such as “remember to brush teeth.” So many demands that while it reliably reminded me, it also crashed constantly. So I upgraded to a new operating system and the failures became rampant. My reminders would pop up for one event, but not for the next. But I’d not remember to check my calendar to see what it was forgetting to remember. The next upgrade failed me even more. I’m a victim of the memory of both me and my fail-safe computer, failing all over the place.

Since my calendar can’t even remember to remember, I’m holding out hope they soon come out with helper dogs for failing memories.

I felt a little relieved after chatting with my friend Tana the other day on the phone while she was preparing to leave for the gym. As she was talking on speakerphone, I heard water running in the background.

“Don’t worry, I’m not going to the bathroom,” she said. “I’m just filling up my water bottle.”

Well, of course any woman with good girlfriends knows that occasionally we all happen to race into the loo while on the phone—it’s a hazard of friendship. So I just laughed and told her it wouldn’t have mattered regardless. We talked for a minute more when suddenly Tana stopped.

“Oh, crap. Where’s my water bottle?” she asked.

As if defining my dilemma for my own affirmation, she did what I regularly do: forgot the simplest of things in the shortest period of time imaginable. It’s what we do best. All day long. And fight it with the meager tools at our disposal to keep us from having to purchase ear horns and walkers and resign ourselves to our dwindling age and capabilities.

The other day I suffered the hat trick of memory shortcomings. First, I lost my reading glasses in the time it took to swap out shirts. A few minutes later, I became vexed because I couldn’t find the enormous pile of tax information it had taken me an entire day to find, which I’d then put somewhere I’d know where to find it. Shortly thereafter, I needed to recall the brand of car I’d rented a few days earlier, as I wanted to be sure we didn’t consider it while shopping for a new car. I’d made a point of remembering the brand. To no avail.

And that’s the thing. I’m always putting things where I know I’ll remember them. And rarely do. I walk to a food cabinet while fixing dinner, forgetting in six short steps what I’d gone there to retrieve. I wake at 3 a.m. with brilliant ideas, but don’t want to wake completely to write them down, certain I’ll recall by dawn. Never do. Yet then I wake up in the middle of the night over mundane things, like forgetting to soak black beans for dinner, only to not be able to sleep, recalling everything I need to remember to do that I haven’t done and worry that I won’t remember to do it. I leave notes everywhere, only to not know where the notes are. I record reminders on my phone. Only to forget to listen to them later.

Maybe life’s pressing needs are actually squeezing my brains dry. Sounds like I could use a good vacation.

A conversation between me and Tana these days goes something like this:

“Did you hear about, oh, what’s her name? Long brown hair, lives up that narrow mountain road.”

“Yeah, the gal with six kids?”

“Exactly. And that dog that smells like death. Her husband played in a band when he was in college—”

“Oh, what is her name? It begins with a P, doesn’t it?”

“It rhymes with my mother’s middle name, I think.”

“What’s your mother’s middle name?”

“Amanda.”

“Nothing rhymes with Amanda. But anyhow, we’ll think of her name. But did you hear–they’re getting a divorce.”

No! I always knew he was up to no good.”

“Who? Her husband?”

“Yeah. What’s his name?”

Well, you get the idea. We have all the minutiae committed to memory but the barebones facts have evaporated from our gray matter, by some brain-fog that has settled over our memories, doomed to cloak our thinking and force us into some Sherlock Holmesian effort to recall. Our trail of deduction requires mental bloodhounds, and it seems as if our dogs have got up and went.

“Between the two of us we have a brain,” Tana said. And she’s right. Which makes me think maybe I need to simply be paired up with someone, 24/7, from here on out. Because clearly at this point two heads must be better than one.

Welcome Prolific Guest Author Megan Crane

Megan Crane has been writing for what seems like a long time now. And keeps herself busy by writing in all sorts of genres, also using the pen name Caitlin Crews. She’s releasing not one but two books this month, so we’ll put in a plug for both and hope you find one that suits your fancy!

Tell me a little about your book.
Everyone Else’s Girl is the story of Meredith, who isn’t at all who she thinks she is, and how she figures out who she might be.

Pure Princess, Bartered Bride is the story of the arranged marriage of the ruthless Luc Garnier and the perfect Princess Gabrielle, and how they fall in love with each other despite that kind of beginning.
What got your writing in the genre in which you write?

EEG: I started writing chick lit/women’s fiction because I was living in England at the time and had discovered Anna Maxted and Marian Keyes, and I thought: yes.  And then: I wonder if I could do something like that?  I’d grown up on romance novels and the first person, confessional tone was like a light being switched on for me.  I had to try.

PPBB:I finally started writing romance novels years and years and years after I started reading them, and years after I was published, because I figured I had to at least TRY to write in my favorite genre.  I have such high expectations about the romance novels I read that I had pretty low expectations about my own.  I really didn’t think anything would come of the experiment.  But it turns out that writing romances is almost as addictive as reading them!

Favorite thing about being a writer?
I get to make up stories in my head, and then tell them, and make my living that way.  It’s more than a dream come true.  And I don’t, in fact, need algebra, as I told my math teacher in high school long ago!

Least favorite thing about being a writer?
Well.  The blank page is usually filled with all my doubts and fears, and that’s not a whole lot of fun to sift through to get to the words I need to write.  And you can never really take a vacation, because the work is always in your head.  And I become a little bit of a crazy person as a deadline approaches.  But I wouldn’t give any of it up.

What is the most interesting thing that’s happened to you since becoming a published author?
So many things!  It’s indescribably cool to see your book on the shelf of a bookstore, and even cooler to get the opportunity to hear what perfect strangers think of it.  I mean… all of that was IN MY HEAD, and now they’re TALKING about it!  That’s pretty fantastic.

What’s your favorite type of pie?
I love my mother’s pecan pie.  I wish I had some right now, in fact!

Now That I've Recovered from the Wild Weekend...

Last weekend I had the great good fortune to be part of one of the most creative (and fun) book-related events on the planet.

When Kathy Patrick invited me to attend the Pulpwood Queens 10th Annual Girlfriends Weekends, I was thrilled to take her up on the offer. I’d heard it would be an entertaining weekend, but little did I know you really have to live it to know how very much fun it is.

Founder and hostess Kathy Patrick—dressed as Tippi Hendren Barbie (note attacking crows)—with author Melissa Conroy (Little House on the Prairie Barbie)

It was my first time in Texas (apart from flight delays in DFW airport, which definitely don’t count) and what a place in which to be initiated, suthuhn stahl, y’all: Jefferson, Texas, a lovely little town rich in history with a cache of fabulous shops and antiques stores that could keep you busy for weeks (more on that later). The town—affectionately dubbed Mayberry on the Bayou-–boasts a bevy stunning historic homes converted into bed and breakfasts. I enjoyed a delightful stay at the Hale House Inn, thanks to my lovely hosts Timm and Karen Jackson, who provided sumptuous meals each morning for both me and my new author friend Mary Kay Andrews, who is a stitch.

Mary Kay Andrews trying not to spill gumbo on herself

The weekend commenced Thursday evening with an author dinner in which the 30 or so guest authors served and bussed a mouthwatering meal prepared by author chefs Debbie Thornton (Any Blonde Can Cook), Janis Owens (The Cracker Kitchen), and Lynn Frederickson (Lynn’s Specialities of the House). The keynote speaker for the weekend was an author who has held a place in the pantheon of Great Southern Writers, Pat Conroy (The Great Santini, Beach Music, Prince of Tides, South of Broad and others).

me, Pat and Melissa Conroy
me, Pat and Melissa Conroy

Pat has long been one of my favorite authors, and I was hoping to possibly get a glimpse of him maybe from the back row in the auditorium while he spoke to the group on Saturday (it ended up being a lovely little room, no inhospitable auditorium at all). Little did I know that Pat fully intended to get his hands dirty, however, and he did indeed roll up his sleeves, don his apron (signed by all attending authors), and graciously pour wine and serve up gumbo to the Pulpwood Queen Book Club members in attendance.

Prior to our serving the Pulpwood Queens, we got to enjoy the meal ourselves (I’m buying their cookbooks; it was that good), while Pat regaled us with tales of his youth. He’s quite the raconteur, and held all authors—many of whom are highly regarded NY Times bestsellers in their own right—rapt in his spell. Pat had accompanied his sweet daughter Melissa, who has a most charming children’s book out titled Poppy’s Pants.

Meanwhile, having been a waitress in my heyday, I enjoyed taking up the tray again (well, not really a tray, I just carried plates), and was thrilled I didn’t drop food on anyone (college dining hall flashbacks, anyone?). Our evening ended at the bar in town, Skinner’s, a honkey-tonk speakeasy sort of bar you wish every town had (with a fabulous waitress who even remembered my drink two days later!).

Friday we all convened at the visitor’s center for two days of panel discussions led by Kathy and the hilarious and debonair author Robert Leleux with a host of amazingly talented and interesting authors, including: Ad Hudler, John Pritchard, Jamie Ford, River Jordan, Shellie Rushing Tomlinson, Kathi Kamen Goldmark, Sam Barry, Tracy Lea Carnes, Karen Harrington, Kerry Madden, Judy Christie, Mary Kay Andrews, Kathryn Casey, Nicole Seitz, M. L. Malcolm, Lauretta HannonRon HallPatti Callahan HenryJanis Owens,and Hester Bass, among others.

Tracy Lea Carnes (Cougar Barbie) & Mary Kay Andrews (Bitter First Wife Barbie)
Tracy Lea Carnes (Cougar Barbie) & Mary Kay Andrews (Bitter First Wife Barbie)

Friday night was a Happy Birthday Barbie! party, with authors strolling the “catwalk” posing as their favorite Barbie. Mary Kay Andrews dressed as Bitter First Wife Barbie; Ad Hudler was Obsessive Compulsive Ken; I forget the other costumes. Pulpwood Queens’ costumes were incredible–ranging from the Threesome Barbie to a svelte gal doing an exact replica of The Original Barbie. Since Parrot Barbie didn’t seem to be a viable option, I went instead with June Cleaver Barbie. I forgot to pack a dress however, and my signature rubber gloves I take to signings got signed by authors the previous night, so I spent a short while in an amazing vault-from-the-past antiques shop across the street from the visitors center, a store with five city blocks worth of vintage everything. I was able to accessorize after finding a slightly musty black dress, adding in white gloves, a clutch purse and perfect June Cleaver velvet hat (complete with netting) and chandelier earrings, all for under $20. My bargain of the day. I was pressed for time or I’d have spent all week in this store–as I wandered around I found several things that we had in our house growing up–books, toys, even a dress I swear my mother owned. Talk about blast from the past.

Some Wild Pulpwood Barbies
Some Wild Pulpwood Barbies
The Original Barbie (doesn't she look like her?)
The Original Barbie (doesn't she look just like her?!)

Saturday found us back for panel discussions, the first one showcasing an author whose writing informed my own, Elizabeth Berg. Her bestselling novel, Open House, was one of the first books I read after having abandoned reading anything more mentally taxing than People Magazine when my kids were little. She tackles relationships in a very different way than I do in books, but I love how evocative her writing is and that taught me a good lesson in how to write to draw in the reader’s emotions. I was lucky enough to have my picture taken with Ms. Berg before she departed for the airport—a picture I’ll be thrilled to add to the photo album (as soon as I get that copy!).

Pat Conroy spoke to the group during a fabulous locally-catered Texas brisket lunch on Saturday, again holding us all spellbound with his tales. Other compelling speakers of the day included Jamie Ford (Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet), Ad Hudler (Househusband), River Jordan (Saints in Limbo) and the hilarious Shellie Rushing Tomlinson (Suck Your Stomach in and Put Some Color On). I had the pleasure of sharing a delightful lunch with Kathi Kamen Goldmark (founder of the literary rock band the Rock Bottom Remainders and author of My Shoes Keep Walking Back to You) and her new husband Sam Barry (talented and funny harmonica player and author of How to Play the Harmonica: And Other Life Lessons, and also brother of Dave), along with M.L. and Tracy.

During the entire event Pat Conroy was entirely approachable and hugely supportive. He thoughtfully and generously made sure to purchase (and have signed) books from every author in attendance. He was indeed the anti-Diva author, a sheer delight and an example to all authors of how not to let success get to your head.

me, Pat Conroy and Kathy Patrick
me, Pat Conroy and Kathy Patrick

Throughout both days Patti Ramey, a manager with Barnes & Noble in Tyler, TX, worked tirelessly to sell-sell-sell authors’ books to a very enthusiastic and generous audience of Pulpwood Queens, all of whom clearly have a passion and abiding respect for the written word. I don’t think Patti sat down the entire weekend. I enjoyed visiting with her during my frequent forays into the makeshift bookstore for yet one more book acquisition. Later Saturday afternoon, there were also awards handed out to those working hard to advance literacy, and Kathy, so generous in spirit, ensured that local organizations got in on the act by selling concessions to benefit local organizations. Each author supplied a silent auction item, the proceeds of which went toward providing books for the Dolly Parton Imagination Library Project to promote literacy in an area of the country (East Texas) with a high illiteracy rate.

Kathy Patrick really knows how to put on a party. Here's she dressed as a Texas tornado
Kathy Patrick really knows how to put on a party. Here she's dressed as a Texas tornado, and what a force of nature she is. I was blown away but what this Texas tornado was able to put together for the weekend, and the lengths to which she goes to support both authors and literacy projects. She's the real deal.

Saturday night was the infamous Great Big Ball of Hair, with this year’s theme being Over the Rainbow. And what a ball it was…The lengths to which the Pulpwood Queens went to outdo one another in spectacular costuming was mind-boggling. Each time I saw a stunning Wizard of Oz-themed outfit I thought I’d seen the best of them, until I witnessed yet another. One group came garbed in ethereal white gowns as Glinda the good Witches, complete with white wastebasket-turned-jeweled crowns atop their heads, wired with glowing lights. Their coordinated table was topped off with a mojito-flowing fountain (a very popular destination that evening) served in neon-flashing shot glasses. Another group dressed as singing bluebells. Another still, Wizard of Oz in hot pink (and anyone who knows me knows my affinity for all things hot pink, so I did love their costumes). I could even get used to a hot pink flying monkey—far less creepy that way.

I loved these costumes--I mean they found hot pink flying monkey costumes. How clever is that?
I loved these costumes--- they even found hot pink sequined pumps for Dorothy, which I coveted
Are they the most amazing munchkins?
Are they the most amazing and adorable munchkins?

The best costume prize was awarded to a hilarious mother/daughter team who dressed as munchkins and they really could have walked right off the set of the movie, they were so authentic. (Oh, and my costume? I went with the easy-to-pack Judy Garland: the Dark Years and simply tied my hair in a scarf, strung a host of pill bottles around my neck, and sucked on a cigarette holder while toting a wine bottle all night. Judy Garland, Liza Minelli, I felt very interchangeable).

Ad Hudler as the Wizard of Oz (fabulous costume created by his daughter)

I can’t talk about a trip to Jefferson, Texas without mentioning incredible pie. I knew I had to stop on my way out of town Sunday for a slice of the Hamburger Store’s famous pie. I was yearning for something meringue but knew it wouldn’t travel well, so instead opted for triple berry, which was the perfect layover dinner in the Houston airport later that day. Those who know me know I am a pie snob, and I wouldn’t lie and tell you the pie was good if I didn’t believe it. Trust me, the pie alone is worth the trip to Jefferson.

I swear, y’all, I came home with a thicker accent. Having lived in Virginia for more than half my life, I have co-opted the word y’all, much to my kids’ chagrin; but for the most part I don’t usually sound like much of a Southerner. But for one weekend this January, I couldn’t help but feel as if I was part of the Deep South, heritage be damned.

***I had planned to put a whole host more pictures up here (including White Trash Dorothy and Auntie Em, the ethereal Glindas, and more) but I had such problems uploading images that I finally had to give up and leave it as is. Maybe if I have time I’ll try to add some more, but I have many of them posted here if you’re interested (and will put up the rest of them there as soon as I can).