The Curious Incident of the Lady in the Corvette, Pt. 1

I had an unpleasant run-in with a stranger the other day. The encounter occurred at a large children’s sports complex where my son was to have a rec-league soccer game. We arrived at the complex twenty minutes prior to the game, but the parking lot was already jam-packed and cars spilled out onto the surrounding streets for blocks. Dozens more cars arrived by the minute, all swarming around the perimeter of the complex, hoping against hope to find a spot within walking distance. I dropped my son off at the entrance so he could join his team for pre-game practice while I slowly snaked my way through the chaos of congestion in search of a place to park my minivan. 

I watched as dozens of patrons lugged folding chairs, blankets, sports gear, snacks and siblings as they trudged for blocks, all headed one direction – toward the complex. No one seemed to be leaving. As it was, my search for a nearby space seemed futile and I had all but resigned myself to following the long chain of cars parallel parked along the neighboring streets until I came to the tail end, then add my own. That is, until I came across a relatively wide breach in the chain. A single car, a red late model Corvette, was planted awkwardly along a fifty-foot stretch of prime curb real estate. It was parked in such a way that there were about ten linear feet of curb behind the Corvette, maybe enough space to park a motorcycle, but definitely not a car. However, in front of the Corvette was a space large enough for a full-size vehicle such as my own… if a crane were to lift said vehicle and skillfully place it into the space. Unfortunately, there wasn’t quite enough wiggle room for the back and forth motion necessary to parallel park. However, as luck would have it, I noticed that a female driver was still sitting inside the Corvette.  I relished in my good fortune!  I now needed only to get her to back her car up a few feet, as she had room to spare, and I could take advantage of this coveted location.

Let me pause for a moment and clarify that I live in a small suburb just outside of Wichita, Kansas, in the heart of the Bible belt. A good majority of the population here are neighborly folks. They smile and wave and lend each other a helping hand.  The Golden Rule is the law of the land. And so it was that I did not think it would be necessary for me to first approach the woman in the Corvette to ask her to please back up and make room for my car, I presumed that she would identify my need and comply accordingly.

Just like they taught us in high school driver’s education class, I pulled up beside the car in front of the parking space and began the precision maneuvering required to back into the spot. As I inched my way back toward the luxury sports car, I assumed the woman would see my van drawing closer and closer to her front end and would put her vehicle in reverse to give me the extra space needed to park along the curb. I assumed wrong. Instead, as I peered at her through the reflection in my rear view mirror, she just glared at me and shook her head.  Her actions seemed to suggest that she thought I was delusional to believe I could squeeze my van in in front of her. But my idea wasn’t to fit into that too-small space, it was to fit into the space afforded me once she backed up.
As I inched and angled my van back and forth, back and forth into that spot, she watched me from the front seat of her vehicle unwilling, though perfectly able, to lend a hand. She seemed adamant about maintaining her protective parking bubble.  

Perhaps she thought I would eventually give up trying to squeeze my van into that space and would drive on to find another spot. But what Corvette Lady didn’t realize is that I am a vigilante of social justice. She didn’t know that there are few things in this world that make my blood boil more than people who believe they are somehow exempt from common courtesy. So, with my van jutting half-way out into the street, blocking the flow of traffic along the narrow artery where cars were still swarming near the sports complex, I exited my vehicle and approached the driver’s side of the Corvette.

The woman watched me approach, a look of annoyance on her face. Her window was already cracked open, so I leaned over and asked her if she would mind backing up a few feet. I admit that by this point I was quite frustrated and filled with disgust for this person who had watched me struggle, understood my need, knew that she was able to assist me, yet stubbornly refused to do so. So when I spoke to her my voice betrayed my perturbedness. Still she stared at me and just shook her head. 

I explained that she had ample space behind her in which to reposition her car.  That’s when she told me that she had been parked in that spot along the street for over two hours already and she was trying to conduct some work (she pointed to some papers on the passenger seat.) “OoooKaaay?” I said, not understanding what relevance the length of her stay played in her refusal to be courteous, “please back your car up.” 

“There are several spaces right there,” she said, pointing to the parking lot. I explained that those were handicap spots and again asked, although not quite as politely, if she would back up. She refused. 

“Look,” I said, genuinely agitated, “just because you have a shiny car doesn’t mean you’re any more precious than the rest of us,” I gestured to the mass of cars stacked up behind where my van was blocking the street. 

This is when she actually opened her car door and climbed out to confront me. With only her car door acting as a barrier between us, she stood flagging her arms in the air and yelling at me about how she was there first and how rude I was to demand she move her car.
I admit that what happened next was not the type of behavior that is representative of my faith in Christ: I raised my voice and squabbled back with her. I told her that it didn’t matter how long she’d been parked along the road, she doesn’t own the municipality and she should be considerate of other people and move her car.

I shouldn’t have done it. I shouldn’t have shot back at her. My tongue is often my greatest enemy, it gets me into trouble time and time again. This time was no exception. Corvette lady scolded me; “You know what, you can find yourself another spot.”

“Okay.” I said quite calmly. The kind of calm where you know the sh*t’s about to hit the fan. Then I turned and marched back to my van. It was then that Corvette lady realized her folly. She and I both knew I had no intention of finding another spot.  I would make my van fit into that space come hell or high water. 

Although I would have loved to ram her car for dramatic effect, I never would have actually done so (the last thing I need is a lawsuit and higher insurance premiums.) However, Corvette lady didn’t know that.  So at long last she finally turned on her ignition and backed her car up a few feet so that my van could glide nicely into the space in front. A small victory.

When I parked and locked my car, I walked behind hers and took a photo of her license plate (just in case she decided to retaliate and harm my vehicle in my absence). I then passed by her window and said to her, “See now, that wasn’t so difficult after all,” then I sauntered off to catch my son’s soccer game. 

Unfortunately, this was not the end of my encounter with Corvette Lady. Look for Part 2 of this blog post forthcoming.

Death Ain’t Worth Fussin’ Over

There are few things about this life I’ll miss when I’m dead and gone. I’ll miss my family and friends, of course, and perhaps a few gastronomical delicacies (namely artichoke pizza and baklava)…but little else. I definitely won’t miss my degenerating body and its many ailments. Nor will I miss this world and the depraved state it’s in ecologically, economically, and societally. I won’t miss housecleaning, no sir! I won’t miss having to live within a budget. I won’t miss car repairs or lawn maintenance or taxes. I won’t miss swimsuit season nor the painstaking process of trying to find a pair of jeans I can tug over my generous helping of thigh meat. I absolutely will not miss cellulite. I won’t miss counting calories, counting the seconds, or counting sheep. I might miss music, but not speed metal…or smooth jazz…or anything by Justin Beiber.

I can’t wait for the day when I no longer have to persevere through check-out lines, rush-hour traffic, and automated phone systems. I won’t miss Washington or Hollywood and the volcano of sh*t that spews out of both. I won’t miss mosquitoes. Lord knows I won’t miss menstruation. I won’t miss Saturday nights with no plans and nothing good on TV. I won’t miss squabbling with my children, haggling with a salesperson, or defending myself against the scores of people who dole out injustice like it was Halloween candy. I will, however, miss being around to witness my kids and grandkids experience the fullness of their lives; but I certainly won’t miss the pain of seeing them hurt, or God forbid, pass on before me. I won’t miss 25-or-more grams of fiber per day. I won’t miss sports commentary. Heck, as much as I love her, I won’t even miss my own dog.

Nope, I’m pretty content to leave this life behind. And, seeing as how I am a hard-core, born-again Christian, I believe I‘ve got a first-class ticket on the express train to glory waiting for me at will-call. When I die and my spirit reaches the gates of that supernatural Disneyland, I don’t think I’ll look back on my life on earth and miss a thing. No ailments, no torment, no cellulite – what is there to miss? I doubt I’ll find anything about my previous life attractive or compelling enough to be homesick for it.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my kids like cRậziИesš! I am, without exaggeration, one breath away from a straight-jacket over my adoration of, allegiance to, and inextinguishable delight for my two amazing boys. Yet as vast as my love may be, I doubt I’ll have time to miss them in the human sense. I imagine that when I experience the Creator of the Universe, Lover of my Soul face to face, and when I am – in His presence – transformed into perfection, even the memory of my own children will seem like a vaguely familiar face at a class reunion…nostalgic yet trivial. I expect that they too will faintly recognize me once they come face to face with God Almighty, and I’m just fine with that.

And so I tell you: I’m not scared of death. The actual act of dying freaks me out a little – mainly because I hope it doesn’t hurt (I’m a bit of a pansy that way). But even if my suffering is long and unbearable, I know that it is momentary in light of eternity. I know that I will soon enough be taking a victory lap around the pearly gates wearing nothing but a firmly supporting sports bra and a thong to show off my cellulite-free angelic form. Hallelujah!

Puzzling together a storyline

I’ve always loved puzzles.  I get this particular gene from my father who is a master problem-solver.  Although I earned my degree in Art, I spent many of my early years in the workforce as an accounting professional.  Art and accounting are considered polar opposites on the creativity spectrum, but the leap between the two came easily for me.  I attribute this to the fact that the business of accounting is less about mathematics and more about problem-solving. And, as I mentioned earlier, I love puzzles!

There is also a creativity spectrum when it comes to writing.  On one end of the spectrum are those writers referred to as Pantsers.  As the name implies, these writers tend to write “by the seat of their pants”, or without any formal direction.  On the opposite end are the Plotters, who carefully outline their story before beginning the creative process of bringing the story to life.  There are pros and cons to both practices, as discussed in The Write Practice blog post  here.

When I began my first novel, The Cry of the Loons, I did so as a Pantser.  I had an idea for a story, opened up my laptop, and began writing.  But as the plotline became more and more complex, I soon realized I needed some form of guidance tool if I wanted my storyline to make sense and actually go somewhere.  This is when I discovered the delightful process of plotting – puzzling together a storyline.  Because The Cry of Loons follows the relational odyssey of doomed lovers over a period of 25 years, I began by creating a timeline on which I marked all major events including when new characters were introduced.  This was an especially tremendous help since the storyline begins when the protagonists meet – she being 19 and he a mere 13 years old.  Their age difference is obviously a major obstacle in their relationship, so it was important for me to be able to refer to the timeline I had created to see how old each character would be at the time of each event.  I couldn’t have a sixteen-year-old boy that had a full-time career and owned a home…not when he was supposed to be a sophomore in high school and still lived under his parent’s roof.  Likewise, by the time the male protagonist turned eighteen, the female protagonist would be twenty-four, no longer in college, and having already begun her career.  It was imperative I keep their life stages accurate if the story was to be believable.

Next, I created a chapter outline.  In the case of The Cry of Loons, the story is told in the first person by the co-protagonist.  Meaning, the male and female lead characters take turns telling the story from their own points of view.  As if this wasn’t complicated enough, they also take turns telling the story in parallel timelines: one beginning when they meet in 1990, the other beginning when they reconnect in 2012.  So the novel unfolds in a four-chapter cycle as follows:

1 – Female point of view, present

2 – Male point of view, present

3 – Female point of view, past

4 – Male point of view past.

This pattern repeats 7 1/2 times…I’m not sure I could have made the task of writing this story any more complex if I had tried!  Hence the importance of the chapter outline.  I made brief notes of each event that needed to occur and each clue that needed to be revealed by chapter.  I didn’t want to reveal an important piece of the past before it became relevant in the present.  Nor did I want the present characters to refer to an episode from their past that hadn’t yet occurred in the parallel timeline.  It was indeed a giant puzzle.

This time around, as I begin preparing to write my next novel Crackpot Messiah, I have been diligently crafting an outline before I put a single word to paper.  Thankfully, this story is to be told in the third person by an omniscient narrator as it unfolds in chronological order.  In other words, it’s going to be written old-fashioned story-style…no fancy shifting points of view and no confusing jumps between timelines.  Just a beginning, a middle, and an end…in that order!  However, I still feel it is equally imperative I have an outline to refer to so that I know when conflicts and foreshadowing should come into play, when the action should escalate or decline, and when each character should be introduced and interact with others.  I liken the process to reverse engineering, as I first need to determine an ending (a resolution) to my story so that I can work backward to figure out how the plot will fit together along the way.

Although I am chomping at the bit to write Crackpot Messiah, the discipline of puzzling together the storyline not only gives me greater confidence going into the task, but is also (at least, to me) a wildly enjoyable part of the creative process.



The Little Writer Who Could

This is the story about how I never aspired to be a writer.

It is a story based on true events. My account of those events, however, are only as accurate as my faltering memory.  It is for that very reason that I first sat down with my laptop and unwittingly reinvented my life.

My story begins in grammar school where I learned to wholeheartedly despise the subjects of language and composition. I would have rather gouged my eyes out with a #2 pencil than diagram sentences. I felt it was a monumental waste my of time to learn the elements of sentence structure when I was certain that my innate understanding of syntax would adequately carry me through life. My laissez-faire attitude led to me garnering mostly Cs and Ds in those subjects – about which I gave zero f*cks.  After all, it’s not as though my dream was to one day become a writer.

My mother used to read to me before bed each night. When she grew tired of reading the same book eighty-seven times over, I took the task upon myself.  By the age of four I was a fluent reader.  By kindergarten, I would be asked to fill in for my teacher to read books aloud to the class during circle time. But, unlike my father and older sister who can swallow a 300-page novel in one setting, I was – and still am – very slow to slog through a book. To add insult to injury, my middle and high school curricula were packed with required readings that flowed like molasses. I had been weaned on Dr. Seuss, raised on Judy Blume, and had come of age with Kurt Vonnegut; the Scarlet Letter and A Tale of Two Cities did nothing but put me to sleep. My education wasn’t entirely for naught, however. Intermingled with the narcolepsy-inducing Beowulf and The Red Badge of Courage were some of the greatest loves of my life: Lord of the Flies, The Great GatsbyTo Kill a Mockingbird and The Grapes of Wrath.  It was my regard for these titles that sparked a desire to later work my way through a list of other classics. I became a voracious reader: first of literature then of memoir, commercial and genre fiction. As much as I loved to read, I had no interest in writing.

As I grew into adulthood I began to realize I had a gift for storytelling.  When I would relay a recent experience to friends or family members I would often use humor to entertain my listeners; I would spin an ordinary incident into a comedy sketch and keep my audience in stitches.  Over the years, I collected an arsenal of topical anecdotes which could be plucked from my vault when the situation called.  Later, when I became a mother and my brain cells began to die off en masse,  I decided it might be wise to preserve some of my best stories for the sake of posterity.  Should my descendants ever inquire about me, I wanted for them to be able to read all about the time that great-great grandma Kristin got into a bar brawl.  So I set about to do precisely that. But, I didn’t consider myself a writer.

I scribbled down about a dozen or so stories before I lost interest in the project (my life wasn’t nearly as fascinating as I had originally thought.)  For lack of subject matter, I decided it might be fun to try pulling a story out of my rear end rather than rely on my life to provide comedic fodder.  Once I conceived of what I felt was an interesting storyline with a unique twist, all I needed was to sit down and pound out the next great American novel.  Except, it turns out, that writing – serious writing – is a heck of a lot more difficult than just jotting down your recollection of the time you visited France and accidentally familiarized yourself with a bidet. In fact,  it turns out that those boring lessons on grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure would have come in handy after all. It also turns out that there’s more to writing a book than just having an idea for a story.  I began to invest a great deal of time and resources into learning the craft: plotting a story, creating a hook, building a climax and all the other important elements of novel-writing.  Yet I still didn’t dare to call myself a writer.

I thought that real writers had cottages in Nantucket and summered in Europe – they weren’t stay-at-home moms who live in Wichita, Kansas and wrote from their kitchen table. I thought real writers woke up every morning with their journal in hand and went to bed each night with 5000 words under their belt – surely they didn’t go days, weeks, and sometimes even months without touching their beloved masterpiece.  I thought real writers had MFAs and congregated in elitist groups where they would wax poetic to one another – they weren’t without formal discipline and their social circle didn’t consist primarily of the ladies in their neighborhood bunco group. If this was the criteria, I most certainly was not a writer.

If it wasn’t for the support and encouragement of the select few friends I allowed to read my writing, I likely never would have finished the novel, let alone pursued publishing. Feeling empowered, I registered for writer’s conferences in NYC and San Francisco where I met a myriad of people from all around the globe. Every race, religion, sexual orientation, political faction, and socioeconomic group was represented.  We couldn’t be a more diverse group of individuals.  But we had one major element in common: a passion for conjoining words into thoughts that bridge the distance from the page to the soul.  Sure, some of them had quaint retreats where they could dedicate themselves to their writing, others carried tattered journals that had obviously seen a lot of mileage, and still others looked down their noses as they stood on their soapbox of artistic integrity.  But the vast majority of the people at these events were similar to myself in that, by no direct intention, they had found themselves creating stories that the world needed to read. Could it be that each one of us were writers?

As of this moment in time, I have completed my first full-length novel (well, nothing is complete until the publishing editor signs off on it, but you get the idea) and am preparing to begin the first book of my new trilogy.  Although I am not yet published, I will be.  I absolutely will be.  In the meanwhile, I now say with full confidence: I AM IRONMAN.

Maybe not so much.  But I AM a writer!