Mockingbird

“I was like a well trained pianist who knows which note to hit, but can’t make the music his own.”
― David Benioff, City of Thieves

I’ve come to discover I’m something of a mockingbird. My art is often more mimicry than original.

My funniest moments usually entail bringing up something that has already been deemed hilarious, the memory even funnier in a new context. I have decent comedic timing and quick wit, but most of my jokes are not my own.

I’ve noticed it in my writing, too. My personality is a bit obsessive so once I get into a show or a book I can’t stop until I’ve absorbed it entirely. I start thinking in terms of the story, using similar vocabulary and diction as the characters, and when I try to write my own stories, this mimicry flows through.

I got the full series of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman for Christmas one year, and I wasn’t halfway through the box-set before my characters were using words like “ma” and finding rugged, outdoorsy ways to occupy their time. While reading Robin LaFevers’s His Fair Assassins trilogy, my own writing stopped using contractions and took on the elevated diction of a medieval noble.

Usually upon editing I can get back into my own character’s heads, my own story’s voice, and I can make the necessary word adjustments to return to my own style.

There are a few writers whose actual style lingers deep in my subconscious, though. Mark Zusak (The Book Thief, I am the Messenger) is probably my favorite. Every so often, I’ll write something oddly poetic, and I’ll have a burst of gratitude for Zusak and his impeccably beautiful prose.

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Mark Zusak, The Book Thief

It’s said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. And like a child watching her world with awe-filled eyes, I am easily shaped by the words and experiences I’ve immersed myself in. I only hope I will continue to tug out my own, original voice from the web of adoration I gladly weave around myself with each new book, with each beloved movie.

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Beach Beach Beach Beach!

This is the mantra of my week. Because this weekend, you guessed it, I’m going to the beach.

It’s the annual Wildcards Beach Trip, so the Outer Banks better beware. We’ve spent our time making so many plans that will likely not come to fruition (no matter how awesome “Pickle Back Monday”* sounds) and just repeating “beach” to each other over and over that I am like a child in her last week of school. Who cares about anything at all? THE BEACH IS NEXT WEEK!

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Last year, due to so many of us getting hitched and having our own private beach vacations (aka honeymoons), we did not do a beach trip. You can bet this year we will be sure to make up for that fact.

We’ve tried to learn from past “mistakes” (but really, none of our ideas are bad ideas), and attempted to make a grocery list for when we arrive. The normal behavior is a large group of us to rush into the store, grab a cart, panic and just grab everything we see. We all like sandwiches, so we each get a loaf of bread. We all buy our own gallons of milk. We make fun of the one person who always buys donuts, and then we all eat them all week. Inevitably, there are one or two of us who fill their carts with cases of beer, and the ladies in the group insist it’s too much and the men insist it’s not enough and then make it their goal to prove themselves right (we always end up needing more beer. Because we’re garbage).

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Our first Wildcards beach trip occurred over spring break our senior year of college. It was amazing. The house had an elevator. For that reason alone, it was the best house. Even when the hot tub stopped working, our guys just carried boiling water in pots down from the kitchen on the top floor to dump into it.

That’s also an excellent shot of our Wildcards team shirt.

There was a room just for video games. There was a nice long table in the dining area for a vicious game of Peanuts (the last time this group ever played due to “cheating” — does it count as cheating if you announce you’re doing so? — and over-competitiveness) and for extensive puzzle-making.

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And, I mean, it had a bench by the pool table which was clearly for liquor storage.

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Note for Mom: We did not finish all this alcohol in one week. We are not animals.

Another important factor, our self-designated (and uncontested) group-mother laid out an organized chart of which pairs and trios were in charge of dinner each night. Of course, we made it a competition (how else would we live our lives?), which resulted in pretty amazing food each night (except the night the grill-masters under-cooked some of the burgers, but to be fair, I think we were pretty impatient. Alcohol kills bacteria, anyway, right? WRONG).

Since that trip, others have taken turns being the ringleader of the trip (i.e. facilitating the discussion of dates, choosing the house, determining how to charge everyone for the nights they are staying, etc). These trips have been awesome — because, Wildcards — but also extremely disorganized by comparison. (Group-Mom is so organized there’s no hope of anyone coming close).

Whether this trip will be as organized as spring break or as chaotic as is typical of the Wildcards, it’s going to be fan-freaking-tastic. We’ll eat pounds of mac ‘n’ cheese and shout “VACATION!” to justify it. We’ll make classy cocktails and wash them down with cheap beer and drinking games. We’ll lay in the sun and play bocce ball in the sand and throw a football in the waves.

A few of the guys will likely try to dig a hole to China because that’s apparently still a thing kids do. We’ll talk trash and have life chats, and for one week, nothing else will matter.

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Continue reading “Beach Beach Beach Beach!”

My Father, the All-American

My dad has always been in great shape. As far back as I can remember – in snippets and photographs, mostly – I’d ride a rocking-horse contraption in the garage while he worked out.

After we moved to “the homestead,” his exercise routine grew, and so did the yard work. Rather than a simple vegetable garden in the back yard and a couple carefully-mulched trees, we had acres of land, and my dad filled them with rows upon rows of corn and carrots and tomatoes and beans and potatoes and…you get the picture. We have landscaping that wraps around the house — rosebushes and daffodils and barberry bushes — as well as apple trees and pear trees and cherry and plum and apricot trees, not to mention the Japanese maple that moved with us. Dad started making up his own weight-lifting techniques to strengthen his back for splitting wood and push-mowing the yard and digging out a pond for turtles and goldfish.

He’d visit my school or come to track meets or drill competitions and my friends would all make a point of telling me how hot my father was. (Nothing better captures my feelings when people do this than Gene’s comment in an episode of Bob’s Burgers when a student compliments Bob: “He’s married! And to a friend of mine!”)

He and my mom recently stopped by my work and my boss and co-worker had a high-school-girls moment after they left, gushing over how good he still looks. One of them said they’d seen Facebook pictures of him when he was younger and he’s only gotten better looking. As usual, I uncomfortably thanked them and thought well, at least I’ve got good genes, right?

He threw the javelin in school. We have a pretty sweet picture of him in all his college glory, posing with the javelin and looking boss.

Now, he throws the javelin in the Senior Olympics. And by that I mean he pretty much cleans up at every meet. He’s medaled over and over. He’s been named All-American. He recently out-threw every competitor at the meet, aged 35-70.

He’s too humble to brag and feels silly making a big deal about it, but that’s what people have kids for.

I should probably mention, he’s dealt with a lot of joint issues. Every meet, he’s got his wrist or his back or his knees or his ankles (sometimes all of the above) wrapped. He stood on crutches at one competition, waiting for his turn to throw, and he still did amazingly well.

Dad gets his strength from his Savior. He throws to bring glory to God. As long as he’s blessed with the ability, he’ll use it to showcase how good God has been to him.

With Father’s Day around the corner, I think my father deserves a little recognition, too. He’s an All-American, and a hero to his family.

My “Sister” is a Bitch

I mean, seriously (she’s a dog):

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But also, she can’t even look at me when I’m talking to her? Rude.

Heidi (II) is the most recent in a long line of pups my family has owned. Since before I was born, we’ve had a Heidi (the original), Lucky, Pete, Becky, and Sasha.What makes this one so special?

This Heidi is my mom’s baby.

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This is a big deal because my mom is not really an animal person. She hates cats. She tolerates dogs. She’s responsible for several guinea fowl murders (they cackle and poop and are ridiculously ugly, so the jerks were one hundred percent asking for it).

Heidi II came along when Mom was empty-nesting hardcore. My brother was graduating college in a few months. I was getting married a few months later. And really:

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Can anyone help falling in love?

Being named for the family’s first dog is a great honor. The Original Heidi was, quite honestly, the best dog ever. She adored us. I remember napping on her, and riding her like a horse, and, I mean, just look at her:

She freaking pulled us around on a saucer in the snow.

This Heidi is crap compared to her namesake. She’s a diva. Here she is rolling her eyes at us:

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Such a bitch!

She barks if my mom hugs me too long. She wedges herself onto the couch between my dad and me. And yeah, she’s “not allowed” on the couch, but who would dare stop her?

Honestly, my brother’s gotten the worst end of the deal. He’s used to being the baby. The precious child. You know, living the “it’s all about the baby” kind of life. And now here comes our parents’ new furry child to fill the gaping holes we’ve ripped in their lives by simply growing up, and my brother has become the dreaded middle child, aka chopped liver.

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Blissfully ignorant of the fact he’s soon to be irrelevant.

But seriously, Heidi is all right. She’s sassy and has dumb moments like Sasha. She likes sneaking onto couches like Becky (even though Heidi is way better at it). She’s sweet like Heidi the First and loves to play fetch almost as much as Pete did. Her personality is strong, and it’s a funny, familiar combination of our past dogs. And she keeps my parents young and laughing. So I guess she can stay. Even if she tries to bite my feet when I visit. Even though she chewed on my mom’s wedding dress because I tried it on. Even if she’s not at all what I had in mind when I would beg my parents for a baby sister.

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The Painful Joys of Writing: Oblivion

Writing is both cathartic and stressful. In my mind, I see a story unfold or envision an excellent conversation or picture a vivid scene, but when I’m ready to translate the images into words, many times I end up frustrated with the result.

But there are times, glorious times, when the perfectionist in me can let go. I draw a blank–literally, a blank on the page–to be filled in later, I’ll put big question marks over something I’m not sure of or at the end of an awkwardly worded sentence and just move on. My writing picks up and the world melts away.

I ran cross country in high school. (Stay with me–this is related). It was hard and painful and I told myself and my parents and coaches and friends that I did my best but honestly, I’m not so sure I ever did. My brain and my lungs and my legs were all like “yep, that’s all I’ve got,” but looking back, I don’t think my heart got there. See, everyone talked about this idea of a “Runner’s High,” where a person pushes herself beyond the pain and the struggle and the fatigue and suddenly, it all disappears. I never broke through that wall with running. I ran for a lot of reasons and a lot of people; I ran with the varsity team during several meets my sophomore year and all of junior year, I medaled at a meet (once), and I did push through shin splints and stiff knees and sore ankles, but it was never for me. I never ran just for myself, and so I never really experienced that promised high.

I get it with writing. My hand cramps up and my eyes strain and my back aches and my neck pops. But I keep going, sinking further into the words coming out of me, the life swirling inside of me, until there’s nothing and no one but my characters. My handwriting turns nearly illegible, or my typing is filled with those obnoxious red squiggles, but perfection can wait as the letters and words tumble out faster than my fingers can form them.

When this happens, time has no meaning. I’ve sat at a desk for six hours after work without noticing the sun setting. I often have to be jarred out of this trance-like state if there’s any hope for me to rejoin the land of the living in a timely manner. And don’t expect me to be pleasant if I’ve been pulled away just when my story is flowing well. In general, it is usually better to let me taper off.

My husband is getting very good at this. There have been times when he’s come home to me furiously typing or scribbling and I’ve told him there’s no dinner and I’m not sure when there might be (side note: I’m the cook in the family. He can boil up some rice like nobody’s business, sure, but dinner is my forte). He’ll remind me I need to eat, too, before going across the street for sandwiches. Then he’ll return, gently trying to coax me away to eat something. I tell him just a little bit longer and I’ll grab something. The next thing I know, all the lights are off and the apartment is silent and it’s past midnight, and I’ve completely forgotten that I was supposed to eat.

I’ll show up at work the following morning bleary-eyed and ravenous, but the worst part will be struggling to pick up the fast-unraveling thread of a story from the night before. Too often, it slips through my stiff, swollen fingers.

But the promise of another Writer’s High keeps me going. Because I’m doing this for me. And nothing energizes my spirit like a solid night of bleeding my story onto the page.