Tag Archives: fiction editor

field trip

In school, did you like field trips? I always did. I’d do anything to get the hell out of the classroom.

Today the blog is going on a field trip to Kit ‘N Kabookle, the online home of fellow traveler/colleague Mary DeSantis. She has been posting visiting editorial tips for some months now, one per week, and I’m up to bat.

For my topic, I decided to talk about choosing an editing mode beginning from the writer’s viewpoint: in plain English, what exactly is a given writer seeking from an editing professional? “I need an edit” is very inspecific. It’s like saying “I need a car repair” without talking about what’s wrong.

I always think it’s nice to know the name of what one wants, myself.

Mary’s site has plentiful information resources. She was pleasant and professional in arranging and scheduling this, and I thank her for her kind e-hospitality.


Now it’s in the air at night.  True of me:  I love ice.

It does help to be highly resistant to cold, with some sort of insane internal heater that fires up the minute I feel ice in the air, or on my skin.  Sure, I have a fast heart rate and more than my fair share of insulation.  But I don’t think it’s just that I seem to be so resistant.  I’m not immune.  Not many people alive can describe what it feels like to be dying of third-stage hypothermia, and I can.  It almost got me that time and it could again.  So it’s not just the resistance factor.

Rather, it feels spiritual.

Some people feel closest to the divine on a beach with their feet lapped by surf.  Others feel it in deep forests.  Many feel it near lakes, and some out on prairies.  For some, it’s the altitude and the sight of mountain crags.  Perhaps some find it everywhere.  I could easily see feeling spiritual in a nice hot tub.

For me, it is the pitiless slap in the face of a gusty wind when the mercury is in the teens.  It is the muffled calm of a world struck soundless by a foot of fresh powdery snow.  It is ice in my mustache and beard.

It is midnight walks at -5º F, with no one out (and for once, no stray dogs).  It is hauling firewood in periods of sustained cold, bulling the wheelbarrow through the snow and feeding the fire with snow-crusted hunks of pruned apple branches.  It is shoveling snow, feeling it on my flesh, or hacking a path up the cul-de-sac’s packed ice.

It is scraping my wife’s windshield, feeling ice shavings on my wrist.  It is gripping the steering wheel when it feels like a well-cooled beer bottle.  It is chaining up the truck, hypercautious driving, the controlled fishtail turn I must throw in order to climb a 17% cul-de-sac without those chains.

Most of all, it is interdependency, a nearness to others, rare and dear for us natural loners.  It’s making sure Mrs. Anderson’s walk is shoveled and icemelted.  It’s helping push stuck cars, palms on frigid metal.  It’s putting out a little food for the birds, and giving the dogs as much as they want.  It is being gladder to see others.  It has a religious quality, a sense of good cheer and all being in this together.

Perhaps it’s the time when I most feel the gods like me.

I empathize with Linus

Every year I go Linus.  Not Full Linus, but partial Linus.  Just as adults gave me candy at Halloween, I look forward with great enthusiasm to the chance to perpetuate the tradition and have fun with the kids.  I put on an ogre mask and some sort of hat (this time a fishing hat from Puerto Rico), and speak only in monster growls:  bluuueeeagh, blluuuaaaaagh!  I tone it down slightly for the real little ones, but most of the kids think it’s great fun.  “Thank you!”  “Blueeeeaaagh!

Unfortunately, correct trick-or-treating (which involves the children coming to your door and saying ‘trick or treat’), is on the wane.  It’s being replaced by the bubble-wrapped-kid option of trunk-or-treat, taking away 100% of the adventure and 90% of the fun.  Can’t have Precious learning to take care of him or herself while walking around in the dark, because as we know, the density of lurking pervs is about four per square yard.  Those not brutalized by the lurking per patrol will all be given a razor-blade-loaded bit of candy by the ten psychotic homeowners per block.  Step outside the bubble wrap, certain death.

No wonder so many of them can’t handle adult life when they reach it.  They never got the opportunity to learn or adventure.

Anyway, these days I feel much like Linus, with my bowl of candy and my lit pumpkin clearly displayed, lights bright so it will be obvious someone is home and would probably hand out candy.  One year we got zero.  Three is about average.  This year, three trick-or-treating groups, and one of them produced the funniest thing that has happened to me on Halloween in living memory.

We have some great neighbors to the north and west, Mary and Bill.  (We have great neighbors in all directions, but these are the droids we want.)  They have two daughters and a son:  Kate, Nathan, Sarah.  Kate is now married with an adorable one-year-old daughter; Nathan’s giving mice diabetes in med school.  Sarah I used to hire in high school to help with work; now she’s out in the working world, doing well.  Over time we have all become friends.  Kate, hubby Thomas, Sarah and little Clara stopped by, kind of a tradition, Clara in a tiny Princess Leia outfit with the danishes hat for her head.  I did my usual thing:  bluueeagh!  Little Clara smiled happily at the noisy monster in the fishing hat.  Of course, I invited everyone in, and removed my hat and mask to beam friendly greetings at the tiny Princess Leia.

Faced with my true countenance, smile and voice, the child bawled out a wail of shocked disgust.  Right on cue.

I actually had to lean against a wall to compose myself, I was laughing so hard.  So were my visitors, except for the tiniest one, who glared at me and wept frustration throughout the visit while parents, aunt and neighbor chatted.

Someday it will be a hilarious story to tell her, when I am near retirement and she is a young teen.

Sprint taken for a huge ongoing scam

First, I refer you to this fascinating article:

How Sprint loses millions monthly

The amazing thing here is the utter toxicity of the culture there.  There are so many people in on the game that they can undo the efforts to stop it.

Deb and I can relate because the last time we renewed with Sprint, it was such a complete goat rodeo that we swore to fire them as soon as our contract was up, which is not far away.  I really cannot wait to be rid of this outfit, especially when I realize that my costs are higher because of losses from internal scams Sprint lacks the intellect or will to prevent.

Facebook chain sermons about animal love

Don’t get me wrong, I understand that a lot of folks find themselves deeply moved by some of these–and sometimes they even affect me.  Today I had a good rejoinder for one and was feeling self-promoting enough to share it, with the kind permission of Lisa, who gets props for being a great sport about it.  It accompanied a cartoon picture of a couple in bed, each perched on an edge, with several animals hogging the middle:


  • I could walk around the yard barefoot in safety
  • My house could be carpeted instead of tiled and laminated
  • All flat surfaces, clothing, furniture and cars would be free of hair
  • When the doorbell rings, it wouldn’t sound like a kennel
  • When the doorbell rings, I could get to the door without wading through fuzzy bodies who got there before me
  • I could sit on the couch and bed the way I wanted without taking into consideration how much space several fur bodies would need to get comfortable.
  • I would have money and no guilt to go on a real vacation.
  • I would not be on a first-name basis with 6 veterinarians, as I put their yet unborn grandkids through college.
  • The most used words in my vocabulary would not be: out, sit, down, come, no, stay and leave it ALONE.
  • My house would not be cordoned off into zones with baby gates or barriers.
  • I would not talk ‘baby talk’. ‘Eat your din din’. ‘Yummy yummy for the tummy’…
  • My house would not look like a day care center, toys everywhere.
  • My pockets would not contain things like poop bags, treats and an extra leash.
  • I would no longer have to spell the words B-A-L-L, W-A-L-K, T-R-E-A-T, O-U-T, G-O, R-I-D-E, C-O-O-K-I-E.
  • I would not have as many leaves INSIDE my house as outside.
  • I would not look strangely at people who think having ONE dog/cat ties them down too much
  • I’d look forward to spring and the rainy season instead of dreading ‘mud’ season.
  • I would not have to answer the question ‘Why do you have so many animals?’ from people who will never have the joy in their lives of knowing they are loved unconditionally by someone as close to an ANGEL as they will ever get.”

How EMPTY my life would be!!!

[last known credit:  Wanda Jones]

I thought about it for a moment, then replied:

“Well, I’ll be able to go along with that the day an actual angel uses my basement as a celestial urinal, or lays a holy steamer next to my wife while she’s decorating our fake holiday tree, or throws up angel yack on my bedroom carpet causing naked me (coming in late and in the dark) to slip and fall on my bare ass in about six quarts of angel vomitus.”

No, I wasn’t making that up or exaggerating.  It happened about six years back.  We have a Labrador Retriever named Fabius.  I named him for Q. Fabius Maximus Verrocosus Cunctator, Dictator of Rome, for a number of reasons.  The chief one was that as a puppy (he was primarily ears and paws), Fabius would not come on his leash.  He delayed us frequently.  Fabius Maximus’ epithet ‘Cunctator’ means ‘the delayer’ or ‘the procrastinator,’ depending on whether you are admiring his tactics of wearing Hannibal down, or grousing that he doesn’t immediately win the war for Rome…’Fabian Tactics’ remain the term for this in military science to this day.  I finally had to drag him along until he got the idea, thus, ‘Fabius.’

Anyway, around 1:30 AM, I came in to go to bed, shucked my clothes in the pitch dark, and worked my way along the base of the bed with caution for the Thigh Hunters–the square bedpost capitals that seek out an author’s quad if he is incautious in the dark, causing him to hiss a curse.  It did not occur to me that Fabius might have cut loose with a spectacular vomit on the carpet, nicely cooled down by now.  I stepped right in it, barefoot, slipped, and landed on my butt with a thud and a volley of pain-pumped swearing.  While I realize this is not what my lovely bride wants to wake her up at 1:30 AM, you try falling on your nalgas in dog puke at that hour (without advance warning, mind you) in silence.  Let me know how that went.

I didn’t take it out on Fabius.  While certainly one shouldn’t, I still think I deserve at least a minor commendation ribbon for not losing it.

Feel free to share your funniest pet disaster in the comments.

“I have sex for money!”

No, not me.  Someone else.  Patience.

Back when I was in high school, we had an exchange student from Finland.  Her name was Paulamaria, and she was a wonderful young lady, a year or so older than me, tall, broad shouldered, blonde and (at first) terrified.  She spoke okay English at the start.  Anyone could sympathize with her plight, sent to live for a year in a tiny lumber town very far from all she knew.  In hindsight I respect her courage and sense of adventure just to do it.  She lived with us for part of the year, and with a couple of other families later.  But she got our dysfunctional household first.

The budding language junkie in the family already spoke some Spanish and Russian, but no Finnish.  Paula taught me some, and how to pronounce it, which itself is fairly challenging.  In listening to her accent, I came to understand that Finns have terrible trouble with our consonant blends.  It takes them extensive practice to articulate the sounds at all.  Finnish is a very tough language, but it’s not that hard to pronounce.  Great:  a language where you can easily be understood, but knowing what you said is not so easy.  Paula would never call herself a Finn; she would say she was a ‘Feeneess person.’  She spoke ‘Svediss’ and ‘Zerman’ in addition to ‘Eengliss’.  I am not making fun of her at all, just illustrating her pronunciation issues.  She also had guts.  When my mother, on the way home from picking her up, made the absolutely horrifying blunder of asking her if Finns were related to Russians, I saw her eyes flash fire before she had even seen her new home.  “Ve are not Russan people!” she exclaimed.  I had winced.  Good one, Mom.  They take that one real bad in Finland.

Of course, hardly anyone in town even knew where Finland was, except me (who spoke no Finnish) and a lady up the street (who remembered enough from her youth to converse a bit).  Didn’t matter.  Paula picked up English quickly enough, while teaching me how to swear (perrrrrrrrkele!), be grossed out (oooooouuuck!) and be wheedled (ollahyvää???? (please)).

Paula had some resources, enough that she could pretty much go shopping whenever she wished.  She often wished.  We helped her set up a checking account, which made that easier.  So one day my mother, my biological sister, my Finnish sister and I were all riding to town together.  Paula and I were in the back seat.  Now, our household was very religiously conservative, with my father’s interpretation of the tenets of the Missouri Synod of the Lutheran Church and the Bible as the law.  We were self-righteous snobs about it all.  I had only somewhat begun to rebel.  Paula wanted to go shopping with some friends, and said so.  My mother, always keeping an eye out for the details, asked from the driver’s seat:  “Now, Paula, do you have enough money?”

“Oh.  I have sex for money.”

My mother’s very Lutheran head snapped around.  “You do what?”  I attempted to suppress some laughter.

“I have sex!  Oo know, sex!”

Mom spluttered, not angrily but in vast consternation:  “Paula, I have no idea what the customs are like in Finland, but they are different here, and we must have a long talk before you go anywhere.”

For her part, Paula couldn’t understand what the issue was.  Why was everyone reacting this way? Her American mom was discombobulated; her American sister was doing I’m not sure what, and her American brother was snickering like Muttley.  There followed a discussion of much confusion and some concern, but the language junkie finally figured it out.

I pulled out a checkbook.  “Checks, right, Paula?”

“Yes!  Sex!”

You may imagine my mother’s relief.  Once Paula knew she was properly understood, she too was relieved.  Time to shatter that relief, like a proper brother.  I told her what exactly she had been saying.

It’s amazing how pink a very white, Nordic face framed by a bunch of light blonde 1970s hair can get when its owner gets a little uncomfortable.  Almost magenta.

The gift of the Lakota

This was some years back, when Deb and I drove to Kansas to visit the tribe. (Not the Indians; my family.) We travel together very well, and this trip was no exception. On our way back, we crossed South Dakota and went to Mt. Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial (a work in generational progress).

Mt. Rushmore itself didn’t really do much for me. Whatever upwelling of nationalism I was supposed to feel, I didn’t feel it. Paha Sapa (the Black Hills) were sacred ground for the Lakota (Sioux), and unfortunately, they contained gold. That they would be appropriated and exploited, in the 1800s, was foregone. That this place was chosen to carve sculptures of Great White Fathers, well, to me that’s just washing the Indians’ faces in it. It’s not like there aren’t other mountain ranges in the West suitable for sculpting, after all. Why choose this one, if not to hammer the nail deeper?

It bothered me, and I had come prepared.  Now, I am not an enrolled member of the Hiotna (Honky Injuns Of The New Age) tribe. (Credit to my bro John L. for the hilarious phrase, fairly typical of his main-gauche wit.) Their cultures are theirs, and mine is mine; my sliver of Indian heritage is the social norm for American whites today and signifies nothing. I did, however, desire to do a small observance, as a visitor to Paha Sapa. I had brought tobacco and cornmeal, offerings one might give to a holy man in some Indian cultures. And if they weren’t exactly right, I supposed that whatever called Paha Sapa an ancestral home, it would get my drift.

One tradition my bride and I share is the collection of heart-shaped rocks. Wherever we go together, we seek them out, and somehow we always manage to find one. We have dozens. Usually I do the looking and finding; it is a marital joy.  This autumn afternoon, we really weren’t thinking of that. We headed off down a side road, parked, and walked off into the woods together. I love remote forests and feel completely at ease there, the mirror image of the big-city denizen who feels at home walking on concrete, and who would quiver in terror at the mere possibility of wildlife. In their comfort zone, I would be as they are with a timber rattler, so I get that.

While I did my observance, Deb wandered off into the forest a bit. (Alaskan and Western, she is as much at home there as I.) She was at that short distance where I can see her, but not clearly, when she cried out: “Oh my god!  Jonathan, come here!”

When you’re out in the woods and your wife hollers for you, you get the hell over there. I ran toward her. She was standing before a boulder, but not just any boulder.

It was about the size of a washing machine, sloped on top, in our direction. Atop the boulder, a piece was broken off, like the edge of a top layer crumbling. It was fine-grained, probably metamorphic, charcoal-colored, covered with lichens. The broken piece was very recent, to judge by the lack of lichens where it had snapped off.

This piece was a near-perfect heart shape. Except for the upper left corner being a little pointy–imagine a home plate shape with a perfectly located notch in the upper middle–it called to mind nothing so much as a heart. Much larger than our usual heart-shaped pebbles: maybe ten inches across and six inches thick.

I suppose it’s possible that we just happened to pick that particular road, just happened to wander into the woods at that particular (unremarkable) stopping spot, just happened to blunder into the forest at just the right spot, and it just happened to break off very recently, and we just happened to notice it. That level of coincidence is less credible to me than the alternate explanation, which is that we were meant to find it. Of course, I didn’t come expecting to take anything away with me. If you had asked me beforehand whether I was planning on grabbing a souvenir rock from the Black Hills, I’d have said “Hell, no.” But what else does one conclude? What would you conclude?

Seemed to me that, for whatever reason, Paha Sapa had a gift for us of the kind only Deb and I would find, notice and care about. I took it up with care, examining it; probably weighed eight pounds. I think I was too awed to say anything more profound than “thank you.” Much moved, we took it to the car with us and went on our way. (We had a safe and easy trip home, except of course for the bone fragment through a front tire sidewall just outside Butte.)

The stone resides on our mantel, with all the lichens still covering it. (Early on, Deb suggested I clean those off.  No way, I said. We keep it as we got it. She did not demur.) And every time I look at the gift of the Lakota, I feel like they are my friends. Whatever we did or did not do, something noticed, and we felt a token of welcome and camaraderie.  And if there’s an issue, and there’s a Lakota side to it, I admit to a bias their direction.

I want to go back to Paha Sapa in the future, just to say hello. It now feels like a place I am not such an interloper. Not a native, of course, but at the very least, someone with a visa to visit, a safe conduct. I wonder how it will feel.

On aging

One of our greatest challenges in life and maturity is to see the world through other eyes, empathize with how other people feel.  There are limits to it.  A man may, with significant effort, apply the assumptions of femaleness to life, and see that life somewhat through her eyes.  An adult may quite easily see the world through a child’s eyes, having once owned a pair.  A white person will probably strain to empathize with the experience of being black, but to a degree, it can be done.  Most of this is really a matter of thinking things through:  what would it be like for the other person, and what attitudes, preferences and behaviors does this explain?

One firm bar exists that I do not think we can breach:  age.  I’m 48.  At 24, half a life ago, I could not have conceived how it felt to be double my age, much less quadruple.  This, it seems, only years confer.  My grandmother is 92, nearly double my current age.  The impact of the changes, cycles, generations, the sheer accumulated mass of people she has known, the realization that a vast percentage of them have passed on, the icy reality that even in excellent health and with much luck, the clock of life ticks ahead, these I believe are beyond me despite the greatest effort I might make.

This is why it’s good to talk to people older than ourselves.  They simply know things we do not.  Even a glimmer of their realizations is precious to those of us younger.  And once those realizations fall silent and still with the passing of life, or fade into forgetfulness or loss of mind, they are lost and gone forever.  There will be others, but that set of memories and that gathered mass of realization is no longer available.

I will share with you one bit of it I gathered up, just over half a lifetime ago.  It was the time Queen Elizabeth II came to UW for a visit, and ROTC cadets and midshipmen were invited to volunteer to help the police and Secret Service with security.  There’s a lot else about the story, but the pertinent part here is where we were assigned to help usher people to their seats.  Well, the bleachers at Hec Ed are not always an easy climb for the ancient and frail.  Noting a very elderly lady struggling to get up to her place, a NROTC midshipman and I simultaneously arrived at her sides.  We somewhat helped and somewhat lifted the lady up the bleachers into her seat.  An unremarkable act of duty in itself, but what was remarkable was her eyes, eyes that had known at least four British monarchs despite the considerable longevity of Her Majesty.  As we set her down gently on the varnished wood, she looked at each of us in turn with an intensity that pierced the soul.  She said quietly but very firmly, “Thank you, you young gentlemen.  Someday, someone will do this for you.”

You’re welcome, ma’am, but I wasn’t the giver.  What I gave was insignificant in comparison to what I received.

Grandmother’s Land

For our anniversary, we went up to Canada.  It was a great pleasure:  marital togetherness, great hosts, all the scenic beauty Canada has to offer, the basic warm goodwill of rural Canadians, and Tim Horton’s.

Did you know that Indians of the northern Rockies referred to Canada as the Land of the Great Grandmother? We’ve all heard, of course, about the concept of the Great White Father in D.C., though I suspect a few of the Indians realized how utterly paternalistic the reference was (among its other detracting characteristics).  Anyway, since Victoria I was Queen of Canada during the white invasion of the West, and Canada was often thought a refuge (often it was anything but), some Indians called it after Her Majesty.

One of the best parts was our success at smuggling by full disclosure.  We were bringing two six-packs of Ice Harbor IPA to our friends, plus some homemade salsa.  Problem:  you cannot bring in alcohol as a gift duty-free.  If it’s for your own consumption, yes; as a gift, no.  You also can get in trouble bringing in homemade food.  Bozo, our navigator and planner, put the salsa in with the beer in bubble-wrap to keep it safe.

So we get to the border.  I won’t name the crossing lest it get the guard in trouble.  Customs Canada, which isn’t called that anymore, asked most of the usual questions.  They are more inquisitive nowadays, and make an effort to catch one in a fishy story.

“Do you have any alcohol?”

“Yes, two six-packs of beer.”

“For your own consumption?”

“No, it’s a gift for our friends.”  This was an answer so retardedly honest it was plausible.

“In the future, you may want to reconsider that.  The duties are fairly punitive on alcohol, unless it is for your own consumption.  Please pull around to the left and stop, remaining in your vehicle.”

I was pretty sure we were going to be in trouble, at least to the tune of C$50 for the duty.  When I saw a sign about a C$1000 fine directly before us, I assumed the salsa would be found when they inspected.  We would be asked why we had not disclosed it, and there would not really be a very good reason.  Ouch, ouch.  However, I have an inkling that when they have you pull around, in part they are watching to see if you hurriedly dive back into the back seat and start trying to rearrange things/cover up contraband.  That would have been very unwise, so we just sat cool. After a few minutes, the officer brought back our passports and wished us a safe drive.  No duty, and no trouble for the salsa!

When we reached Jenn and Marcel’s (our wonderful hosts), Jenn advised me from the description that we’d gotten the border guard she considered a ‘douchebag.’  Well, all I can say is that in our case he combined taking his duty seriously with a sense of fairness and goodwill, which is a great combo in a border guard.

Score one for giving a response so self-adversely candid and true that it is believed, since no one would make up something like that.   And thank you, Customs Canada, for not being rough on us.