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Saturday, March 19, 2011

Princess rules

There are billboards all around town for "Disney's Princesses on Ice!"  They make me smile.  One of my characters is called Princess by her father and she passes the legacy on to her daughter.  You see, the problem with being a princess is that some day, you might have to be queen. 

With all the hype of the royal wedding, I remembered reading that the current Queen Elizabeth realized at about nine or ten that she would have to rule her country one day.  How about that for a mind-blowing experience?  In times past, those of royal lineage were essentially taken away from their parents, set on a path of "training" as it were for their duties.  So, with this resent obsession with the giggly, pink tulle, tiara princess culture for little girls (I can't imagine the sound level at the stadium!), my concern is that we're raising a crop of females who will expect a handsome prince to come along and rescue, then take care of them.

I didn't have that luxury.  My brothers were 12 and 14 years older than me and my parents were in their 40s when I was born.  Joe and Ed told me I could do anything I wanted.  I took the science and math classes, knowing I might have to make my own way in the world, make my own fortune.  I read through my brothers' science fiction books and all of the ones at the library, too.  Some of the authors at the time were outright misogynistic, others just didn't know how to write strong female characters, but there were a few role models.  Mom read tons (literally!) of the Harlequin Presents, which at the time involved a little hand-holding and heavy breathing and always resulted in a happily every after that involved a ring from an alpha male.  The subtext was the woman's relief that she wouldn't have to work anymore.  The funny thing was, Mom worked, even in the 60s and 70s and got subscriptions to "MS. Magazine" and "Playgirl."  She was fierce before it was in fashion, but she sent mixed messages. 

So, when my handsome prince arrived, I was almost thirty and making more money than he was.  Luckily, I recognized him and held on tight.  We'll celebrate our twenty-third wedding anniversary the day after Kate and Wills say their vows.  We've been through some tough and humbling times, but found we can get through anything depending upon each other. 

That's the kind of story I want to tell with my fiction.  Tales with real characters, who are a little messed up, but are navigating the road with each other.  So, yes, my heroes are handsome and wealthy, but far from perfect.  The only way they're going to survive is with my heroines' help. 

Those fairy tales have been so overdone.  Pink means to "Fight Like a Girl" (the Breast Cancer Awareness slogan) and young women know it's better to be alone than in a hell-hole of a marriage.  While the "popcorn for the mind" of an occasional fairy tale or Harlequin is a worthy diversion from the trials of real life, we must remember the world needs all of us, male and female, to contribute in order to get by.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Confessions of a not-so-great housewife

I knew I loved the man who would become my husband when he stayed at my apartment and cleaned my kitchen while I was at work.  He said he had to, because there was a green slimy thing making off with one of the forks.  In fact, he took it personally when I didn't invite him over.  He thought it was because I didn't like him.  I had to confess, it was because my apartment was so messy.

So, he knew exactly what he was getting into, when we moved in together, then married.  I made the effort, not wanting to be a total embarrassment, but I never was taught how to clean.  Mom always had something better to do.  The only time I remember helping her clean as a kid was when we used the putty stuff in a can to clean the wallpaper for the family reunion, in the '60s.  I do remember her frantically cleaning when it was her turn to host pinochle club.  My room was terribly messy as a kid, though a lot of that was just too much stuff. 

My mother-in-law, on the other hand, raised seven kids and cleaned every day.  I had a friend who dusted all the woodwork in her massive house every Tuesday.  These were alien concepts to me.  I usually waited until the dust bunnies were the size of tumbleweeds before I got out the cleaning pad.  My husband and I agreed that if we did have kids, I'd have to get the job that paid well enough for him to stay home.  The house would be a lot cleaner, but the kids would be more psychotic. 

I used to love to do laundry and cook. I started doing the wash after he shrunk a designer sweater down to doll size.  Chris took over doing dishes, until he remodeled the kitchen.  He then declared his work there ended and it would be my job to cook and clean.  He took over the laundry, because it was something he could do on his breaks from on-line poker games.  I miss laundry, but have to admit he's improved.  There's something soothing in folding and sorting socks.  I've gotten that from doing dishes, that once hated task.  I can think about my fiction and often come up with ideas and solutions, while doing a job that doesn't require but a portion of my brain. 

As I get to be a "parent" to my characters, I'm not going to impose all of my shortcomings upon them.  Lizzy/Elizabeth loves to do laundry and Mary Margaret always did the dishes.  I've worked scenes into my fiction that illuminate the characters and their reactions to everyday things, while extraordinary events swirl around them.  Rob learns to garden, aversion therapy for his OCD.  Will learns to cook some special dinners to surprise his wife. 

And I'd better get into the kitchen and do some more dishes. 

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Things we can control

I went through my massive collection of beads and findings recently, sending out gifts to several people.  Today, I updated and printed out my book list and I'll do the same for my music list here in a bit.  I have a couple of needlework patterns I need to put away in my ring binders. 

Does it sound like I'm anal-retentive?  Which BTW, I've been told is hyphenated when used as an adverb.  Not really.  It's just that there are things I can control in my life and I find comfort from that.  When my husband and I were excavating (correct choice of word) the boxes of @#%& in the office to organize things, I had to force myself to NOT micro-organize every little bag of embroidery floss.  It was important at that time to get the larger problems solved (clean out that corner, pack bag of things to donate, recycle paper and cardboard, throw pictures in box to organize later) and get it done, while I had help. 

You see, I'm the daughter of two pack rats, married to a pack rat.  These past few years, I've forced myself to get rid of things, even when it kills me.  I had to do it at work, when I moved offices and by golly, threw away three huge trash bins of old workbooks, meeting notes and assorted junk.  I had to do it, when I sold Mom and Dad's house.  I promised myself I would not channel Dad and keep every single twist tie, plastic utensil and margarine tub ever.  Also, I promised myself I would go through my canned goods regularly and not keep anything that hissed when moved (the umpty-ump cans of pork & beans on the shelves on his back porch) or clanked when it shouldn't (the can of pumpkin Dad used as a rhythm instrument). 

Digital photography, scanners and flash drives have simplified my life also.  I'm truly blessed that my parents had a ton of pictures, but I can get rid of the ones that are out of focus or don't have anyone recognizable in them.  If a tragic fire happened, I have the family pictures in a fire safe and copies with several relatives. 

So, in my writing, editing and character design, I am desperately trying to do the same.  Yeah, I did a good job crafting that paragraph, but my novel is over 550 pages, so it gets cut.  I did save it in a file where it may be used elsewhere, in another form.  When I changed from 3rd person to 1st person, I hugely simplified my writing and cut over 100 pages (yes, my original draft was over 700 pages!).  It was a relief to get rid of some awkward sentence construction and let my characters tell their stories in their own words. 

But, there comes a time when I find things I can't cut or get rid of.  I put that in a scene in my second novel in the series, where the middle daughter, Mary Margaret, digs a ring box out of the trash to keep.  The hero, Rob, starts to make fun of her, then realizes it wasn't just a ring box, it was a memory.  On one of the organizational shows, the host was talking about not being able to honor your possessions and memories, if they can't be displayed or enjoyed. 

I can control what I keep.  I will have these memories and representative things that I can find fairly quickly, if I need to.  I will not end up on "Hoarders" or its ilk.  Any brothers or sisters out there who will give an "Amen"?