Wednesday, March 26, 2008

O Brave new world, that has such people in it.

INT: Quinn's Office, DAY. 

Quinn, arrayed in something stained, enters and sits in front of her computer. She starts typing. The computer speaks. Unaccountably, Quinn doesn't seem alarmed.

COMPUTER: So, writing a blog, are we?

QUINN: It would appear that way.

COMPUTER: Done with writing the book?

QUINN:For the moment.

COMPUTER: Should we go visit some gossip websites? I think someone pretty has done something stupid in a public restroom.

QUINN: Not right now, thanks. I actually have an idea for a blog.

COMPUTER: Don't let me interrupt.

For a few seconds, there is only the sounds of typing and Quinn frowning in concentration, which actually does make a sound.

COMPUTER: Where's the guy? He didn't check his email at three in the morning.

QUINN (Distracted): Oh, him? He's out of town for the next couple of days.

A second later, she realizes what she has said and claps her hand over her mouth in horror. Too late; the computer cackles in delight.

COMPUTER: Just the two of us, is it?

QUINN: I mean, he's in the other room! Pricing new computers!

COMPUTER: Yeah, you wish. I'm

With that, the computer seizes up, grabs its throat and falls to the floor in a dead faint. The screen is black with the exception of glowing number 7, blinking ominously. Quinn falls to the floor next to the computer, in a fetal position. For a moment, there is only silence. We then hear from another room.

APPLE LAPTOP: I feel fine! I always feel fine! But could someone please come into the kitchen and monitor the fridge? It seems to be spewing something. And the washer is throwing clothing at the back door, which isn't closing. But I feel fine!

All it takes is Consort taking off his shoes for security reasons, and this house starts its inexorable path back to the nineteenth century. Even the parts which still work seem to do so begrudgingly; the light switches have to be toggled two or three times before the lights come on with an audible sigh of "Oh, all right...". The car develops a rash and a limp. I yell, I foment, I rail to the skies before noticing the crack in the bedroom ceiling appears to have widened since yesterday. I then get very quiet and stock candles and use the last working phone in the house to inquire discreetly about purchasing an abacus, a team of oxen and some leeches for the computer.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.

This blog is dedicated to Commenter Jeff,who travels with his cat from New York City to his weekend place upstate and has never mentioned being deaf.

I am in a strange place right now, this place between Writing and Rewriting. I had been told by several experienced writer friends that I might experience something akin to post-partum depression when the first-draft was done. What I feel is more like the weird manic spurt of energy I felt when I sent Daughter to her first day of pre-school. The small emotional blip of “My baby…! My baby has a lunchbox…!” was quickly superseded by “I have three hours to call my own. I’ll…go to the gardening store without someone sticking her tiny fingers into bags of peat moss. No, wait! I’ll start taking ballet again. No, no, I’ve got it! I’ll join a daytime book club, and…wait! I can do all three! Today!” The book is only absent until it is present again and when it comes back it will come back with notes. To flog the analogy of the child at school: before I know it, the book will be home from school, vomiting and sporting an itchy rash. I had to gather my rosebuds while I may.

So, of course, I took the cat to the vet. Lulabelle's vaccinations were sorely overdue. When half of one's meals fervently object to being meals and tend to bite and scratch their way through the process of becoming digestive material, one get exposed to more diseases than the average indoor cat. As I've mentioned before, I don’t like Lu being an outdoor girl but she came to us as an outdoor cat and it’s nearly impossible to unring the bell of freedom and bloodlust once it's been set in place. I knew she needed her shots but between the holidays, and then starting to home-school, and then finishing the book, getting the cat jabbed in the backside kept slipping below the waterline of my list of priorities. I even kept the vet's reminder card in my purse so I would feel a nice cuticle-rip of guilt every time I looked for my keys. Eventually, though, I just factored pet vaccination guilt into all the other guilts which assault me upon purse-opening; things like “I really must use up these Christmas stamps…” and “Augh! Dental floss! Close the purse!”

Finally, I had no excuses left. Daughter and Consort were spending the morning together and the book was nestled snugly in the bowels of Hyperion Press. The cat was waiting around for her breakfast so she hadn’t left for the day. I glanced into the bedroom. She lay on the bed, lolling in the morning sun. I crept into the back room and quietly, patiently, slid the cat carrier down from it's shelf. I walked back out, hands empty. History had proven that if I even thought about a cat carrier or a veterinarian, Lulabelle would crouch in the two-inch space between the armoire and the wall for up to a week at a time, so I deliberately thought about sandals. Fat lot of good it did. I got to the bedroom door and Lulabelle’s head snapped up like a fire alarm. She sneered at me and made a break for it. I barricading the door with my body. She veered back and dived under the dresser, a place from which she can bat at me and I retaliate by getting batted at and inhaling a lungful of spider-carcasses and dust. When I paused to try to cough up what seemed to be one of Daughter’s hair-ribbons, Lulabelle made a bolt for the bedroom door. Being the moron I am, I grabbed her around the abdomen, compounding her shame by yelling something like “Ha HA!” which Lulabelle took as a request to walk across the length of my body using only her claws and incisors. Deciding that my most attractive traits are stubbornness and unstaunched bleeding, I chose to continue my hold on to her torso as she dragged herself and me out of the room.

Reaching the doorway, she gathered her strength and sprung from my grasp. Summoning my inner Cirque de Soleil, I vaulted forward, grabbing what I could reach of her, which of course was her tail; my chest and knees bouncing off the floor as I slid behind her like a water-skier. Her patience with me now thoroughly spent, she spun on her front legs and stuck her back nails in my nose; I howled in outrage and grabbed any part of her not currently giving my face edgy new piercings. It was then that the dog walked in. The cat and I froze, one of my hands holding her tail, another trying to put her in a headlock, her nails in my nose, her sphincter perilously close to my mouth. Whatever the dog thought, he backed out of the room, his eyes averted.

It took another fifteen minutes and three heartbreakingly close near-misses, but I was finally able to lock Lulabelle in her crate with nearly all of my extremities intact. It was then that the morning got really lively. I wasn’t entirely truthful before: her vaccinations had been postponed not only because of a wide-ranging schedule, but because Lulabelle is the least pleasant driving-companion I have ever known. I’ve had cats who vomited when driven places, or urinated, or made their feelings known vocally, but never had I had a cat who could pull off all three in under a minute. Wisely, knowing her ways, I had chosen not to feed her that morning, but that didn’t save me from her noise. If you will, imagine a motorcycle which revs eternally but never turns over. Now, layer over that a spoon caught in an industrial-strength garbage disposal and a sample of the world’s oldest man trying to cough up a pimento. That’s my baby. She makes this noise without cease until she is brought home and sprung from her molded plastic hell-hole.

I jammed the case into the car.


I put in my iPod.


I turned up the volume slightly.


A trash truck went by, dragging a pipe behind it. We drove by a building being demolished. An ambulance sped past. I heard nothing from outside the car.


The parking lot for the vet was full. This was street-cleaning day and the legal side of the street was packed. I parked three blocks away. The fresh air invigorated her.


I held the case away from my body because she kept trying to sever my tendons. People on the sidewalk gave me the same look the dog had.

We walked in to the vet’s office, into the usual cacophony of nervous owners and nervous pets and classical music playing loudly to remind us all to relax. Please. Just relax. This annoyed the cat.


All the humans stopped talking. The animals shut up and looked at one another in terror. The Wagner playing seemed a childish imitation of force of darkness and evil dwelling inside my crate. My demonic imp and I tiptoed up to the counter; the others parted to let us pass. I smiled at the receptionist in what I hoped was a gargle-negating way.

I began, “This-“


I thunked the side of the cage with my hand and began again.



I screamed in a ladylike way, “THIS IS LULABELLE, SHE NEEDS SHOTS.”

I then smiled primly.


The woman typed in her first and last name while also covering her ears. She frowned and said, “But-“



“THAT’S IMPOSSIBLE,” I shrieked over Lulabelle’s hellish rantings, “HERE’S THE NOTE YOU SENT ME.”

The woman took the card and read it and handed it back to me.




I thought over the gargling. I swore over the gargling. I believe I made a Pekinese cry.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Baby, You Can't Drive My Car

(Sorry about another rerun but I'm still a little fried from finishing the book. I promise I'm nearly back among us. I rerun this post in honor of the tiny, incredibly elderly woman who backed into my car today in a parking lot. She was the size of a ten year-old and too unstable to put the keys in the door without leaning against the side of her car but she possessed both a driver's license and a leaden foot. Miraculously, my car was unscathed but she neither stopped nor even looked my way as she careened off to inflict mayhem in parts unknown. Look for her: she's driving a dented Mercedes. The only thing you'll see in the interior are coral-painted nails wrapped around the steering wheel.)
* * *
It’s been a bad month for good behavior. First, I had to restrain myself from hitting someone, and now I’ve yelled at an old man.
You may call me Gandhi.
Getting a battery replaced at Sears should take no longer than twenty minutes unless, of course, you are me. Then, you get the slowest-moving mechanic in the free world and a new battery which refuses on principle to speak to the computer which has to sign its adoption papers. I read every battered Golf Digest in the waiting room. I then read the radial tire brochure. I then read the tag on the underside of my chair. Eventually, my mechanic lackadaisically motioned me outside.
Unwilling to expend the energy to talk over the whine of an air hose, he simply motioned to me that it would take no more than five minutes. I was standing next to my car, staring off into space, when I noticed an old man. He was standing next to his dusty sedan about ten feet from me, waving to get my attention. I walked over, thinking he needed some help.
“Do you need some help, sir?” (I’m not burnishing my reputation here. I actually said “sir”. In light of the following conversation it’s important to mention that I was raised right even if it was a very long time ago).
“Is it my turn to get a battery? Was that man (pointing to my lethargic battery guy) waving at me?”
“No, sir. He was just telling me that my job would take another five minutes.”
The old man chuckled.“I can’t see too well from a distance.”
Wow, I thought. Ten feet shouldn’t be an insurmountable distance with the thickness of those glasses you’re wearing. But I held my tongue.
He continued, “I’m heading down to San Diego today; want to make sure the car is in shape.” At this moment the mechanic indicated that my battery had at last chosen to acknowledge the computer and I was finally free to go.
“Well,” I said brightly “I guess you’re next.”
I watched him slowly teeter back to his car, walked to my own car, and drove off. It is a testimony to my desire to have this errand done and be on with my life that it took me a full block before I finally put it together: This old man couldn’t see a car length in front of him and didn’t seem to have full use of his legs and yet was about to drive over a hundred miles on the freeway. I spent one block convincing myself that this was none of my business. I spent another block telling myself he would get to his destination without incident and that it was also none of my business. I spent another block thinking about how dearly I had wanted to leave Sears forever and how this was none of my business.
I then turned around and drove back.
I found the man leaning against a post next to his car. I hailed him, and noticed that he didn’t recognize me until I was about eight feet in front of him. Believe it or not, I dearly hate conflict so I tried starting this off as neutrally as possible.
“I happened to notice,” I began nervously “you had some difficulty seeing.”
“It’s bright out.”
“I agree,” I said, thrilled to have found common ground. “It is bright out. But it’s going to be just as bright when you drive to San Diego. Perhaps there is some other way of getting there which wouldn’t be so…bright.” I trailed off because I was now uncomfortably dwelling in None-of-My-Damn-Business Land and the temperature there gets pretty cold and the natives are unfriendly.
Understandably, he waved me off.
“I’m due to take my driver’s test in September. I’m sure they’ll revoke my license. So why don’t you just [suggestion made which can only be achieved by certain Cirque de Soleil performers]”.
Readers, that’s when the yelling began. Not because of what he suggested I do; although it was odd to hear coming from a man who could have voted for Roosevelt (Franklin, not Teddy. He wasn't that old). I yelled because he all but admitted he could no longer drive safely, but was prepared to put himself and others at risk for another month until some government agency told him to stop. Let me sum up the next few minutes. Please imagine both sides being said at top volume:
MAN: I’ve been driving for fifty years.
MAN: I’m only driving to San Diego.
QUINN: I’m supposed to be relieved you’re not driving to San Antonio?
MAN: [Anatomically unlikely suggestion is repeated].
QUINN: I’d sooner do that than drive near you.
MAN: If you don’t like it, call the DMV.
QUINN: I’ll just do that.
So I took down his license plate, drove off, went home and called the DMV (I had some free time today, can you tell?). You’ll probably be unsurprised to know the DMV could care less about this information. There is no button to push to report a potentially unsafe driver. I finally hung up and said a silent prayer for anyone who might unknowingly drive near this man today. I know it was none of my business but all I could see was was a rusting two-ton weapon in the hands of someone who admitted he shouldn’t be using it.
What would you have done?

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Cut and Paste.

The contract was clear: my first, rough draft of the book was due on March 1st. Actually, I believe the contract stated that the “Manuscript (Hereafter known as ‘Manuscript’) will be delivered, sent, shipped, mailed, passenger-pigeoned to arrive at the publisher’s office no later than March 1st, 2008, of the traditional European calendar, not the Muslim, Jewish, Chinese, Baha’i, Hindu or Zoroastrian calendars”. But that’s what happens when your legal department needs to justify their jobs. In any case, March 1st was looming. I wasn’t exactly afraid of this deadline, but I did note three things:

1) March 1st fell on a Saturday which, after a quick call to the editor, meant my book wasn’t due until Monday. I could email it on Monday and still be within my deadline. Whee!
2) 2008 is a leap year. One extra day to work, whee!
3) Any word with the word “DEAD” looming out at you has no interest in being your best friend. Deadlines are fine with no one wanting to sit with them at lunch.

The Monday before the due date I ceremoniously handed Daughter off to Consort, gave the dog a new squeak-toy and hinted to the cat that there was a whole new species of squirrel outside who doubted her killing ability. Everyone thus occupied, I set to work. Most of the pieces were as done as I could make them and longed for the cool editorial eye of someone who knows story-structure and grammar but a few were still in the larval state. I had started quite a few of them and had gotten to a stage where I thought in frustration, “Yes, but Quinn, what in the hell are you talking about?”. I then saved what I had written and gaily thought “Later! Later I will figure out what the hell I was talking about and write the other half, or two-thirds, or seven-eighths. How exhausting and frustrating that will be…later!” Being as I had many months, I would then start another one, and then another, and then another still; I had a basket of literary body-parts. Every once in a while, I would open one of those stories and think “Ew!” and then I would think “Later!”

Now, it seemed, it was later. These graceless lumps of word-clay had to be molded into something recognizable and possibly pleasing. I had to create written ashtrays. Mostly what I created were dead ends. Had you stopped by the home-office at any point during the week, there was a better than average chance you would have found me looking peevish and hitting the “Delete” button. I wasn’t quite certain what the stories were, but every hour I would learn some new version of what the stories were not. Motivational speakers might find great meaning in how my missteps were somehow leading me to my goal, but when Consort tried that line of reasoning, I rewarded him with a scowl, followed swiftly by a sigh and a martyred look. Daughter, having some extrasensory understanding, waved at me from across the house a couple of times a day. I would blow her a kiss, and then turn back to my ugly problem child, the book.

One by one, I finished the seemingly never-to-be-completed. Now, even among these half-finished half-thoughts, there were better and worse ones. By Saturday night, I was down to the last two, and I certainly hadn’t saved these because they were the easiest ideas to flesh out.

When Daughter was one, she had a game Consort and I called “Not That”, wherein she would point to a high bookshelf and say “Eh”. We’d bring her a book and she, in frustration, would shake her head and say “EH!”. She would then point again. Lather, rinse, repeat, until every single book was given to her and we finally figured out she wanted the spider web in the corner of the shelf. For these two essays, everything was “Not That”; each was a proudly ungainly half-page waiting for its prince/essay to come, and only one prince would do. I wrote doggedly, trying to create the rest of these stories, only to read what I wrote an hour later and delete the entire thing. I ate a great deal of toast with immoderate amounts of butter, hoping shiny hair and clogged arteries might distract me from the growing fear that I might be writing these two essays by hand into each printed copy of the book.

By late Sunday night, it was down to one essay, which lashed against its restraints like a wild horse. It would not go nicely into a larger story; it did not want to be a book with a shiny cover with the other stories; it would kick and bite me until I allowed it to roam free and unfinished in my computer forever. I had other ideas. The battle wasn’t for the faint-hearted. And it certainly wasn’t being helped by my doing this...



Flip hair.




Flip hair.


Flip hair.

My bangs were two weeks’ past their “Sell-by” date and were punishing me for my lack of attention by trying to slither down my nose and up my nostril. Every third action was in some way related to being able to see, which I decided could not be helping the taming of Misty of Manuscript here. It was very dark and quiet in the house; the only thing I could hear was the cat snoring, my fingers typing, and the Jiffy-Pop sound of my old whiplash injuries every time I flipped my hair out of my eyes.

I was very tired.

I had hours left to go before the book was due.

I hadn’t had a non-toastcentric meal in three days.

One of these is the reason I decided it would help things if I cut my bangs.

I strode into the bathroom, found a pair of scissors which seemed sort of sharpish, separated out the bangs from the rest of the hair, measured them down to my eyebrows, and cut. Within seconds, I knew I had made a mistake, mostly because my bangs sprang back up and were now in the middle of my forehead. My eyes blinked out in confusion, unaccustomed to seeing light without the protective shield of hair. The good news was that I no longer resembled one of the Ramones, but I wasn’t sure it was an improvement to resemble Moe the Stooge. I moved the cut hank of hair back and forth, trying to decide whether straight down was worse or flipped horizontally was worse. Each version leapt around in its chair, arm raised, shouting “Pick me! I’m the one which makes you look like a mental patient! No, no, pick me! I’m the one which makes you look like you did your own trepanning!”

And the voice in my head said coolly “They’re fine. It will look like Audrey Hepburn if you just even them out.”

I ran from the bathroom, slamming the door. I may be dumb and consist mostly of toast, but no adult woman has ever had a haircut improve by listening to the voice which tells her just to even the bangs out.

The rest of the night should have been nothing but work, what with not having to remove my bangs from my eyelashes and nostril cilia, but what used to be spent trying to fight with my hair was now spent opening a compact and trying to decide how I would hide my shame from the world. I just had to do this on a Sunday, with all hair salons being closed on Monday. I’d have to spend twenty-four hours looking as if particularly aggressive scrub jays used me for nesting material. I gasped and covered my mouth with the hand which had been pulling at my hair, trying to get it to grow; Consort! He’d see me like this! I couldn’t decide if it was the ugly or the crazy which bothered me more, but he simply couldn’t see either. I slithered into our bedroom, past his blameless sleeping form, and attached a baseball cap to my head. Somewhere around the grey light of dawn, I slipped into bed. After some adjusting, I created a kind of head-scarf of sheets, duvet and pillow; the sensation of smothering was only slightly alarming. I slept uneasily.

The file which was my book shipped the next morning. Consort, having done all of the heavy lifting of pagination and structuring the actual pages, looked tired and proud. I looked enigmatic under my baseball cap. We hugged in relief.

My friend Veronica called; could she stop by and pick up some school supplies from me? I glanced in the mirror and hesitated.

Hearing my hesitation, she said “Just leave them outside, if you’re still working.”

“Thanks, but the book is done. It’s…”


“You can’t see me.”

“Sure, okay.”


“Why can’t I see you?”

I moved away from the part of the house where living things were and whispered, “I got a little stressed last night and…I cut my bangs.”

Veronica hooted “What are you, twelve?”

“I know,” I sighed, tucking the phone into my shoulder so I could look in a mirror and pluck at my hair again.

"They have these new things. Their called barrettes."

"At three in the morning, cutting your hair sounds like less work than pinning it."

I blame the toast.

She came by. Of course, I had to show her. She moved them around a little bit.

“It’s not that bad,” she finally declared.


“Just don’t try to even them out. And congratulations on the book!”

I watched her drive away. Consort and Daughter walked up and hugged me. The voice inside my head said “You know, during rewrites, you and I can finally spend some quality time reshaping your eyebrows.”