Wednesday, December 31, 2008

I seem to have veered off course...

The last few weeks I’ve been on the Tangent Express. I’m blogging about the weirdest things, which is making me sound, well, weird. Sure I’m odd, but I promise it’s not in a "she really shouldn't have children" kind of way.

So, this being the last day of the Gregorian year, I should probably get back on track. This is a blog about writing, and I’ve had some people ask me lately what my book is about, so maybe I should post a little something about it here. Hmm, but where to start? How do I summarize it without sounding…uh, weird? I’ll give it a go:

The Prophecy of Days
More than 2000 years ago, when Paris and London were nothing but shoddy villages, the Maya were building immense cities and practicing advanced math and astronomy. After their great culture was destroyed, one cryptic legacy was left: a set of 20 prophetic calendars. The most important of these, the “Long Count” calendar, ends mysteriously on Dec. 21, 2012. For thousands of years the surviving Maya have had their Daykeepers tracking the Long Count daily, all leading up to this end date. What is meant to happen between now and December 21, 2012? This is where The Prophecy of Days picks up.

The Prophecy of Days is the story of Caity Mac Fireland, a funny, tech-savvy girl from San Francisco whose parents drag her to an isle off the coast of Scotland to manage some family property. Caity finds that a Mayan relic is concealed there, intentionally left centuries ago by Mayan Daykeepers. After seeing Cortez land on their shores, burn their books, and destroy their culture, the Maya secreted this relic away in an attempt to keep their profound knowledge alive into the current era.

As she delves into this world of secret information, Caity is helped along by a visiting family friend and Feng Shui master, Uncle Li; the castle groundskeeper, Thomas; a Mayan elder named Bolon; and Mr. Papers, a pet monkey that communicates through origami. A handsome Scottish lad gets pulled into the intrigue, as do several other people with questionable motives and loyalties.

Caity must weave together a tapestry of information in order to make her radical discovery, a mystery protected by an elite coterie of power-brokers who influence world events and world economy. Caity’s twenty-first century mind is put to the test as she tries to uncover the answer to an ancient riddle while trying to outwit this powerful group that will stop at nothing to control the secret, and her.

Book one of a two-book series The Prophecy of Days is a story rooted in science, myth, and ancient knowledge.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Man Who Ate Barbies

Eugene, Oregon is an interesting place. Home of Ken Kesey, the Merry Prankster himself, Eugene has long been Mecca for people with alternative ideas and hippie sensibilities. Many of the hippies who relocated there in the ’60s and ’70s are now homeless and live around the campus of the University of Oregon. When I was in school, the most famous homeless hippie of all was the Man Who Ate Barbie Doll Heads.

I first met Barbie Head Man at the Oregon Country Fair, a three-day barter, craft, and music event held just outside Eugene every summer. This is a place where time stands still; the people you see attending today look just like the people who attended 40 years ago when it began. Heavy on hair, light on deodorant. Acres of tie dye.

I hate dust. The Oregon Country Fair, with its 45,000 attendees traipsing through woods, involves a lot of dust. So when a group of women dressed as faeries tripped lightly by with spray bottles of water and asked if I wanted a spritz, I welcomed the gesture. What I didn’t know is that these faeries treated their water with tabs of acid, and that potent LSD can be absorbed through the skin. Needless to say, it was an interesting day. I experienced the best burrito of my life, appreciated jazz for the first and only time, and met the Barbie Head Man.

Barbie Man always wore a sarong and had a rope necklace on which he tied Barbie heads. This made a lot of sense to me that day at the Country Fair; I saw it as something akin to a candy necklace—when the mood strikes you just bite one off. Apparently, the mood struck often and he routinely had to go to the emergency room to have the heads removed as they could not make it past his stomach. His abdomen was fiercely distended that day at the fair. I think he'd been on a bender.

Barbie Doll Man was a gentle soul, a lunatic to be sure, but not one of those stark raving mad homeless guys who runs around swinging a waddy and yelling obscenities. When you gave him a buck every now and then you knew he was far more likely to spend it in the doll section of Goodwill than in the malt liquor section at 7-11.

My senior year, Barbie Doll Man was killed by a city bus. Legend had it that one of his prized Barbie heads rolled into the street and he couldn’t bear to watch her get squished so he ran out after her. I’m not sure exactly how it went down, but I knew the corner of 13th and Alder would never be the same again.

Thanks to writer Sarah Frances of Plot This, who recently posted an eerie set of photos of mangled Barbies she’d discovered around her yard, including the photo on this post. This exquisitely bizarre photo took me right back to Eugene, circa 1987. I suppose you could legitimately call it an acid flashback. Unintentionally imbibed, of course.

For an interesting ode to the Barbie Doll Man of Eugene, check out this short bit on the Future Tense Books website.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Confessions of a Psychic Junkie

True confessions: I’m a psychic junkie. I use psychics like other people use therapists. Seriously, why spend years yapping on about your issues when you can spend an hour with a clairvoyant who can tell you all you need to know? Most people—first and foremost my husband—find this strange, so I try to keep it on the down-low. But this time of year, as we rollover to a new digit on the calendar, I get the itch to make an appointment with a seer.

In my defense, I blame my parents. They started me early—my father booked appointments for each of us with a renowned local psychic when I was just 14. Not that my dad is some kind of hippie; at first glance you'd assume he was very conservative. He held a job with a large corporation and went to mass most Sundays, but he’s always had a healthy fascination with the dark side. He grew up going to Catholic school so naturally he was in to anything macabre. The shelves of his study were crammed with books on crime families, the supernatural and medical anomalies. I’m not exaggerating when I say that the subject of hermaphrodites came up at least once a week in our house. While other kids were reading their Golden Books, my sister and I were looking at grainy pictures of elephantiasis.

So the psychic thing was not such a stretch. In fact, it was probably inevitable.

We arrived at the psychic’s home, a normal-looking house in a newer subdivision, in our Oldsmobile sedan. Only when the door opened did things start to get weird. We were greeted by a man in a wheelchair who introduced himself as the psychic’s brother. He was ferrying three small white dogs with yellowed beards on his lap, and although he was dressed in jeans and a flannel shirt, he was also wearing rouge and a woman’s wig. This was not a long, luxurious Cher-style wig but rather a short, curly gray and white wig that a woman in her 80s might wear—what my grandmother would call a “wash and set.” At first, I thought the hair was his own until I caught a glimpse of the flesh-colored mesh cap that anchored the wig hair.

He welcomed us in and asked us to sit on the couch where we would wait for our individual appointments. The smell of dog pee permeated the house and I followed Mom’s cue of sitting while having the least amount of contact with the couch. I wondered if my parents were having second thoughts about toting their young daughters to a psychic who lived in such slipshod conditions and may or may not have some unseemly relationship with the rolling dog ferry who calls himself “the brother.”

As the youngest, I was allowed to go first. On my way in, Dad slipped me a dollar and instructed me to walk up to the ice cream shop when I was finished; they would all join me one by one. As I prepared to enter, I tried to recount all of the ice cream flavors I could remember so he could not read my mind and hear the voices in my head that said Run! The guy’s a fraud! A slob! Quite possibly a pervert!

I walked into his office and was greeted with the wet, toothless grin of an elderly man sitting behind a small white desk that was so short his belly could rest on the edge of it. He wore a tight plaid shirt, kind of cowboy style with pearl snaps and curly stitching on the pockets, and he twiddled his thumbs. I had never seen someone actually twiddle their thumbs before—I’d only seen it used as physical punctuation after a joke about being bored. His hands were large and rough so the twiddling made a sound like nylon-clad thighs rubbing together. I said hello while chanting Butter Pecan, Heavenly Hash, Strawberry Cheesecake over and over in my mind until he said, “Why did you stop playing the violin?”

His question stunned me. Two things ran through my head: Oh my God, he can read my mind, I had better not think bad thoughts, and Oh my God, he can read my mind, maybe now someone can understand me. All of a sudden the need to be understood, the yearning for someone to really know who I was eclipsed the fear of having someone read my mind. “Can’t you see how awful I was?" I responded.

I had played the violin for three years but my playing was remarkably unremarkable. I used my mother’s childhood violin so I thought my playing was extra important to her. One day I mustered up the courage to tell my parents that I was going to stop playing the violin and would be taking an extra science class instead of orchestra. They just shrugged and complemented me on my practicality. It became clear to me that my playing was as painful to my family as it was to me.

“Is it important that I play? Are messages coming from my music?” I asked, thinking that angels might be speaking through my strained rendition of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, one of the few songs I could play by heart.

“No, I can see that wasn’t the creative outlet for you. But you must remember that what you produce is not as important as the creative effort behind it. Remember that. Now I see beautiful writing. Lots and lots of beautiful writing.”

This delighted me. My new passion in art class had been calligraphy, and I was prolific. Nearly every day I pumped out a new poster-sized calligraphic rendering of Pink Floyd’s lyrics and I was extremely proud of the gold-leafed illuminated letters I had done on Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven.

“Wow! Will I become a famous calligrapher?” I asked eagerly. He laughed so hard I was able to see that he did indeed have a few teeth back in the grotto of his mouth and he said no, that’s not really what I mean sweetheart, you’re quite a literal girl aren’t you?

With much lisping and smacking, he mumbled on for nearly an hour about my future, which was surprisingly uninteresting to me—at fourteen hearing about your future seems as irrelevant as listening to someone’s dream. I simply could not reconcile what he was saying with my own life. In fact, as soon as he told me I would not be a famous calligrapher he lost me.

Afterward, I met my sister and parents at the ice cream parlor and listened to them excitedly tell each other their predictions, which was even more boring than hearing my own. I was much more interested in the Rocky Road milkshake I was drinking than anyone’s future. So I tuned out and started to calligraphy the words to Comfortably Numb on my napkin, itching to get home to see if my dusty violin had a secret message for me.

Only later, after the dog hair had been long washed from my clothes and the stale smell of the house had faded from memory, I realized I was hooked. Still am. But let's keep it on the down-low, okay?

Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Startstuff of Which We Are Made

We are wondrous beings in a wondrous world.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Crying Indian

Between Facebook and YouTube it's like the '70s exploded in my head. I'm reconnecting with people I made sugar-cube igloos with in first grade and reliving the horrors of having a "Mrs. Beasley" in the house as a child. Watching the Chrissy and Velvet commercial, with it's poor-man's-Paul-Simon jingle, brought back painful memories of not being able to grow my hair long enough so I could sit on it.

But those are like aspirin compared to the heroin of all '70s commercials: The Crying Indian. I remember this commercial more clearly than any other minute of TV I’d watched as a child. Seeing it again some 30 years later made my brain feel like when you pull the coffee pot out too soon and the hot liquid starts pouring out onto the burner, sputtering and bubbling. It was as if long-severed neural pathways were reconnecting or something. If you are 38-44, watch with caution: Like a solar eclipse, this kind of powerful nostalgia can damage your retinas.

I think it’s so disturbing because I can clearly remember when it was okay to throw your garbage out your car window, or leave trash on a park bench, or drive with a can of Oly wedged between your legs (with all the drinking and driving that went on, you’d think cup holders would have been invented way earlier).

In sum: the ‘70s sucked on almost every level.

Post script: my husband just dug up a hilarious commercial about "Big Jim" and "Big Josh" that had to be made by out-of-work Tom of Finland designers.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Behold the Raedeke Rhythmic Automaton

In terms of technology, writing could be considered the original tech tool; writing was the first way to store information even after the author was long gone. Cool, right? Apparently not. This fact gets me no credibility here at the House o’ Robots.

There are a lot of robots around here but not one does anything useful; there’s no laundry robot, no window-washing robot, no cleaning the icky white bolt covers at the base of the toilet robot. Instead, we have the robot that walks like a spider and shoots things, the robot that does a creepy dance, and the robot with tank-like wheels and a wireless video cam that the kids drive into my office to spy on me. I could go on. And I’m not just saying that.

So the newest addition to our Robot family was quite a surprise - it actually does something sort of useful. Okay, maybe useful is a stretch, but at least it’s amusing. Behold the Raedeke Rhythmic Automaton. If this short video does not make you chuckle then check your wires because you, my friend, are a robot.

For details on the how and why, see the 8 Bit Ghost Blog. Nice work, Scott. Maybe the next one could make Almond Roca or something?

This Is Some Amazing Marble

I just read on Facebook that my friend Orla, who lives in Saudi Arabia, is going for a warm walk on the beach. Here we have several inches of snow, enough to bend the boughs of my hardy rosemary. It's days like this that I wish teleportation was a reality.

I do love how quiet the snow makes everything; it's like living in a recording studio where nothing bounces off the walls. Except the children, of course! Nothing gets kids excited like fresh snow.

Speaking of snow and riled up kids, does anyone else make snowcones with snow and maple syrup? It was something I did as a child but my husband thinks it's mildly insane.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

If the Universe Had A Logo...

I'm editing a new book on Yin-Yang Theory from Dr. Shan-Tung Hsu of the Blue Mountain Feng Shui Institute, and I'm finding it incredibly interesting to dive deeper into this subject.

We see the tai chi symbol - the icon of yin and yang - everywhere now, but often the wrong image is used. Can you guess which of these is the correct expression of the tai chi?

My favorite marketing misuse was in an ad for Salem Menthol ciagrettes; the designer had used the most negative of all four of these (counterclockwise yin over yang), essentially equating cigarettes with death. Take a drag of that!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Juliet Rocks

After I put up a post on the Plague on the House of Ra(edeke), Juliet looked at me with her big blue eyes and said, “You always do funny stories of Hank but I only make it on your blog when I bring a plague home.”

Sadly, it’s true. I often mention my Hank, but rarely mention Juliet. I think it’s because Hank is a bit peculiar, a tad quirky, so it’s easy to talk about him without feeling like I’m bragging. Talking about Hank is the equivalent of being self-deprecating. But Juliet, the child who practically popped out of the womb speaking in full sentences and could build robots before many of her classmates could read, is extraordinary. It’s impossible to believe Scott and I grew her from scratch. So it’s difficult to say anything about her without feeling like one of those Moms who’s always dropping “gifted” within two words of her child’s name. (I hate the term “gifted” as applied to children; I find it pretentions and offensive. If one child is gifted it means another is without gifts and that’s just plain wrong.) See how hard this is for me? I can’t even stay on track here. It’s time for a Juliet post. A Juliet Rocks post.

Last night she had her first concert as part of the Mokumbe Marimba Club and it was amazing. The marimba is one of those instruments that sounds great even when played badly, but when played in concert with ten other marimbas—the massive bass tone and several tenor and soprano marimbas—it’s music that you feel it in every cell of your body. I was stunned to see her working the keys with her mallets, looking as though she’s played marimba all of her short life. It’s a beautiful thing to see children play music together (even if they were forced to wear “crazy hats” by her groovy marimba teacher, who can be seen in the left corner of the photo).

So now, in addition to being a super smarty pants with an amazing sense of humor, Juliet can add marimba tenor extraordinaire to her 8-year old resume! Great job, Juliet!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Get An Eyefull of Extreme Perigee!

Tonight would be a good time to sneak onto a golf course, curl up with some blankets and hot toddys and howl at the full moon! Today luna will be just 222,000 miles away, closer than it's been since 1993; we won’t see it this big again until 2016. Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

I'm getting Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder from these Victoria's Secret holiday catalogs

As soon as I finished college, I moved to Seattle into an apartment with two other roommates and one permanent couch surfer. Job hunting was tough, so as an interim solution I took a job as a sales girl at Victoria’s Secret making a whopping $6.25 an hour. The only thing worse than working a crappy job while in college is getting out of college and realizing all you can get is another crappy job.

This was in the late ’80s, before Victoria’s Secret instituted the No Couples in the Dressing Room rule, so a typical day at work might begin with me hearing people getting it on in a dressing room. I always tried to escalate these situations to the manager, I mean doesn’t this seem like a management issue?

“Jenny, there are people doing it in dressing room three.”

“Did you tell them to get out?”

“Yeah, they got quiet and pretended to not be in there.”

“Here, take the master key and break it up.”

So off I’d go, with my degree in Journalism and the manager’s important-keys-on-a-wristband, to bust some girl in a teddy and her horndog boyfriend.

“I know you’re in there and I’m coming in if you don’t come out right now,” I’d yell through the door, trying not to sound too much like the wolf in The Three Little Pigs.

Almost always they were indignant, “Well if you’re going to get snippy I won’t buy this bustier.”

I wished they could see me roll my eyes.

After they would leave, I’d spray some Lilly of the Valley perfume (the only tolerable scent in the cloying VS collection) in the room and pick up the soiled garment with two hangers, chopstick style, to deposit it in the “NO SALE” box in the back room.

I’d wonder about my destiny—was I always just going to pick up after other people's deviant adventures? In college I supplemented my gin allowance by working in a tanning salon, which, in rainy Eugene, Oregon saw a lot of action. The job was brainless: all I had to do was schedule tanning sessions and disinfect the beds after every use. College boys are a randy bunch and apparently they cannot lie still in their underwear for 30 minutes without getting frisky with themselves. They were conscientious about cleaning the bottom of the bed but they never remembered the top of the clamshell that came down over them. So basically I had been in the soft-core sex industry for years.

I was working at Victoria’s Secret because I could not find a real job. After months of discouraging interviews with advertising agencies, I honestly considered moving up in the ranks of retail; I was a great sales girl and often won the monthly sales contests. Any meager bonus would have been appreciated, but they rewarded us with lingerie instead of cash—just what someone making minimum wage needs. So each morning I scrounged up bus fare from the bottom of my roommates’ closets in an eighty-dollar garter belt and real silk stockings.

My winning sales tactic was simple: target men and use guilt as a sales tool. I’d approach a short man looking at sleazy lingerie and say, “Hi there. Can I help you find anything?”

“Oh, hi, I’m looking for a present for my wife. It’s our anniversary. I really like this," he’d say, holding up a porno-style red and black lace teddy. "What do you think?”

“Well…if she were buying it to surprise you, this thong-back teddy would be perfect. But this is for her, right? The ultimate gift for any woman is the cashmere robe. I promise you she will never, ever forget this present.”

“A robe? Really? Doesn’t seem very... Uh, wouldn’t she want me to get her something sexy?”

“Ask any woman in here, this is the sexiest thing they could ever receive. Cashmere is the ultimate. Shall I gift wrap it for you?”

“I guess. Uh, okay. Sure.”

I would run off quickly to wrap it and ring it up because the kind of man who shops at Victoria’s Secret may shrivel inside when he finds out that cashmere robe costs $275, but he would never, ever say he couldn’t afford it.

After a long day of peddling lingerie, I’d ride the bus home to our bleak apartment that always smelled like curry and moldy carpet, eat a tortilla or mac and cheese or something equally cheap, and envy my roommates for their real-ish jobs.

I’d go to Lynne for solace and comfort. Lynne was a weekend guest who turned into a roommate; she slept on the couch and used the hall linen closet as her dresser. She was stunningly beautiful in a big-eyed-Teutonic-blond kind of way and was as vapid as you would expect for someone so pretty, but she had a heart of gold. Lynne went out partying nearly every night and would pass out on the couch in her dress, nylons, and pumps. Before she would black out she’d say profoundly nice things to me, which I shamelessly sought out before I tucked her into the couch.

“Goodnight Lynne, can I help you out of your hose and shoes? Wouldn’t you be more comfortable in your pajamas? Do you have pajamas?” I’d ask, fruitlessly before she’d nod off with her mouth wide open, her breath smelling of Mudlsides or B-52s or Pina Coladas.

Then I’d go back to my bare room with a red pen and the want ads and curl up on my futon in the expensive silk pajamas I’d won...

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Books and More Books!

This season why not forgo the glass chess set for your phlegmatic, pipe-smoking uncle and return the super-fuzzy slipper socks you picked up for your impossible-to-buy-for mother in law and head to the bookstore?

God knows the Fed is not going to bail out the publishing industry, so there’s a movement afoot to save the world by buying books as gifts this holiday season. Editorial Ass has an incredibly useful post up today listing books for a number of different types of people you may have in your life. Check it out, there is something for everyone!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Mmmm, Sugar...

I'm not a big believer in extraterrestrial life, but the fact that glycolaldehyde, a key sugar molecule, was found in a hospitable place in the galaxy has me rethinking the Greys.

Glycolaldehyde helps to build RNA, which is basically the central molecule involved in the origin of life on Earth. It was discovered at the center of the galaxy awhile ago, but now they’ve also found it on the star-forming part of the galaxy where there are potentially habitable planets. Sweet food for thought, no?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Damn you, previous post!

Had I not just put up a post in which 14% of the words were "tight pants" and "camel toe" I'm sure this blog would have score at least College Level in the blog readability test.

Once again, thanks to AC, finder of all cool blog toys, for this link to the Blog Readability Test. Anyone out there got a Genius Level blog like Literary Agent Janet Reid? Tip: Scrub your blog of middle-schoolish phrases like "what happened to darryl hannah's face" before checking it or you'll be back with me in 6th grade making fake fingernails by pouring Elmers in that groove in the center of your ruler. (Yields ten 1.2" press-ons by lunchtime!)

Are We Our Keywords?

I wonder if there’s a way to psychologically profile someone by the keywords that drive people to their blogs? Just as The Web Bot Project is able to predict trends and provide useful day trading info, do the words that lead people to our site somehow form a picture of who we are?

For the love of god, I hope the answer is NO.

I just looked at the phrases people used to get to my site. Frightening. There’s a whole category that just includes the words “tight pants” from which a sub-category of “camel toe” quickly emerges.

Would the FBI be able to sketch a psychological profile of me based on the following keywords that led to my blog?

three-legged fetish
what happened to darryl hannah's face
ornamental hermits
wound vac
latex ballgag
worst photographer
c'est la vie c'est la guerre
catholic hermits
escher moment
1984 parachute pants
excessive vamping
generic alleve
bat wings grafted onto mice
bottomless pool mexico
blog funeral dirge
funny physical cautions
nacked yungen
freaks of nature
worst essay in the world

Searches JUST about tight pants:
tight pants pain
high school tight pants
stalking secretary tight pants
tight work out pants camel toe
tight trousers and pants cause pain
tight ski pants camel toe
tight pants pain risk
tight pants camel toe

(Anyone else think I should alert the authorities in Joensuu, Finland, where the search “stalking secretary tight pants” originated?)

If we can take anything away from this it's that any post involving "tight pants" and/or "camel toe" is a traffic driver....

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

What Now, You Ask?

So the revised manuscript is off, I am left with no immediate deadline, and children are at school. These are my plans:

1) Get back in pajamas
2) Turn on electric blanket
3) Turn off phone
4) Position large cup of Starbucks on bedside table
5) Open up "Astrid" manuscript and read cover to cover
6) Generally wallow until 1:00 conference call about freelance project

Ah, looks like a good day stretching out before me. After working so intensely on P.o.D. for the last few months, I'm really excited to dig in to Astrid. I wrote this manuscript last year, channeling nervous energy while I was waiting for an offer on P.o.D. and I really, really like it. Agent Laura had some major issues but I think I know how to fix it now, having had some distance from it. It's always exciting to go back and read something for the first time after a long while away. In this case it's been six months since I've cracked the Astrid manuscript.

What's that? Oh, it's my electric blanket calling—gotta go!

Monday, December 1, 2008

DONE!!! For now...

After an arduous three days of non-stop writing, I just sent the revised manuscript off to my editor and agent. I feel both elated and terrified; happy it's off my plate for now but so afraid I missed the mark.

I honestly can't type another word, so adieu for now...