Métro, Boulot, Dodo

Life, and Other Animals

Howdy folks. As you may (or may not) have noticed, I haven’t been ’round these parts over the past few weeks. Things have been pretty madcap and hectic on my end; between a destination wedding, finishing the second draft of my manuscript, and moving house and home all the way to Boston, I haven’t been finding much time for this here blog.

Plus–as if all that wasn’t enough–due to a series of incredibly unfortunate events I had my laptop stolen last week. Fortunately for my sanity, I had just backed up the second draft of my WIP to the Cloud, otherwise I would currently be enjoying a very close relationship with yellow wallpaper and reciting lines from the Scottish play (sorry, old theater habits die hard). But even though I had made sure to back up all the most important things, like completed manuscripts and wedding photos, so many of the smaller tidbits that accumulate in a hard-drive were lost for good. Incomplete short stories. Camera-dumps from college, many of which I never bothered posting to Facebook or other social networking sites. Old emails. Term papers. Midnight ramblings. Music. Lots and lots of music.

All gone.

"Billions of blue blistering barnacles." Pretty much my reaction...

“Billions of blue blistering barnacles.”
Pretty much my reaction…

I’m trying not to think about it too much, because it’s often the case that the things you rarely use you don’t particularly need, and if I don’t think too much about the small things I’ve lost I’ll eventually discover that they weren’t very important after all. Still. After a certain point, a hard-drive becomes an accumulation of a life being lived, and part of me feels like I’ve lost some vestigial limb. Yeah, I might not use it that much, but the fact that it was there was somehow important.

Anyway, life keeps on going, and I’m sure I’ll get a new computer and fill it with all the crap I accumulate over the next seven years of my life. I’ll write new short stories (and maybe complete them). I’ll take new pictures, and write new emails. And sometimes loss is a good thing, because it reminds us of all the valuable things we still have, and how to better protect the valuable things we’ll find or create in the future.

So I guess thanks, Universe. Because this crappy experience will definitely make me more vigilant about saving the important things somewhere a thief can’t take them.

Thanks, but no thanks. I better have some awesome karma coming my way.

Have you ever had something like a laptop that died or was stolen? How did you get over all the things, big and small, that you lost? Comments welcome below!

Look Away, Dixie Land

‘Tell about the South . . . What do they do there? How do they live there? Why do they?’     –William Faulkner, ‘Absalom, Absalom!’

Southern Live Oak.

Southern Live Oak.

Last week I wrote about how much my family moved around when I was a kid. But despite that, most of my formative childhood years were spent in Florida. And not the Florida you see in movies or TV; no white sand beaches here, and few palm trees to speak of. This is North Central Florida, where the humidity rarely drops below 90% and the live oaks stretch their great branches down to skim the ground. Sandwiched between the prairie and the swamp, my Florida is the land of sharp palmetto fronds, bayonet plants, and cypress knees. Of armadillos and gopher tortoises and red-headed buzzards. My Florida is the South, plain and simple.

I grew up in this Florida. I remember spending summer days knee deep in Hogtown Creek, hunting for sharks’ teeth and fossils, relics of Florida’s prehistoric past. I’ll never forget the sweet taste of fresh blueberries picked from the bush, still hot from the blazing Southern sun. Dancing in an afternoon downpour, building tiny dams out of pinecones and not caring that I was soaked to the bone. Diving into the aquamarine depths of a natural spring, the water as clear as glass and as cold as ice. Buying watermelons not from the supermarket, but from sunburned farmers on the side of the road selling them out of the back of battered and muddy pick-up trucks. Tubing down the Itchetucknee and kayaking on the Suwannee. Avoiding the cold, prehistoric gaze of six-foot alligators sunning themselves on the banks of Lake Alice.

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The Wild Rover

Dear me, I apologize for my short but unexplained absence. As I mentioned in my last post, spouse and I were moving away from London permanently, so last week was a bit overwhelming what with packing and cleaning and goodbye-ing, and I’m afraid I let my blogging go. Sorry! Not that things are quite settled yet–June promises to be relatively hectic in its own right, with visits to family and weddings and other excitement.

What a ragtag bunch of gypsies we are! Photo taken by my mom in Ireland.

What a ragtag bunch of gypsies we are!
Photo taken by my mom in Ireland.

And all this packing and cleaning and goodbye-ing has had me thinking a lot about moving. This certainly is not the first time I’ve moved in my life. Not by a long shot. My father is a sailor and my mother is a piano teacher, and both parents’ careers proved to be relatively mobile throughout my life. I was born in Florida, but when I was two we moved to Colorado for a few years, then back to Florida, then to Ireland for a year, then to North Carolina before finally winding up back in Florida again. Some stays were longer than others, but every few years my family would pack all our belongings in our station wagon or a UHaul, and move somewhere different.

As a kid I hated moving. I hated having to throw out half of my toys and books and clothes every few years. I hated having to say goodbye to my friends. I hated having to start at a brand new school and navigate a whole new social minefield as an outsider. I hated when distance and time transformed my old best friends into some people I used to know. Moving was always emotionally overwhelming, and I dreaded the inevitable day when my parents would once more announce, “We’re moving!”

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Leaving London Cookies


Rainy day cookies.

Rainy day cookies.

Let me tell you a secret about London: the weather is terrible. I know, I know. This is hardly a secret, you think at your computer screen. Everyone knows that. But I’ll tell you why it’s so bad. It’s not because it rains most days, and the sky is usually a flat expanse of dark, unrelenting gray, or because it’s cold nine months out of the year. Those things are all true, but that’s not why the weather is so awful. No, that would be too easy. The weather in London is so unbearable because sometimes it’s actually quite nice.

Yep. Approximately seven days out of the year London gives us glorious, warm days with cloudless skies and cool breezes. Everyone goes outside and picnics in the park and throws around rugbys and plays with their children. And for those seven days you find yourself forgetting that for the other three-hundred and fifty eight, the weather is, to put it kindly, pure shit. 

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A Life Reinvented

On Writing Well, by William Zinsser

On Writing Well, by William Zinsser

A few weeks ago my husband sent me an article that he’d stumbled across in the New York Times and thought I might enjoy. The article is about William Zinsser, author of On Writing Well, and how his career has grown and changed throughout the decades of his very long life. Zinsser has been many things: student, soldier, journalist, novelist, professor, editor, jazz pianist, and that’s naming only a few. And now, legally blind and 80 years young, Zinsser has embarked on yet another career: mentor and writing coach for novelists and journalists struggling to succeed in the difficult world of publishing.

I found this article incredibly inspiring. There are few people in this world who can truly call themselves masters of any one career or trade, let alone become leaders in many fields over the course of their lives. Zinsser has approached each new opportunity in his life with passion and determination, but also with the curious attitude that when one thing inevitably passes, another opportunity will, also inevitably, arise. I’ve heard people say “When one door closes, open a window;” I think Zinsser might say “When one door closes, open all the windows in the house, plus air out the basement and the attic and poke your head in some wardrobes to see if Narnia is hiding inside.”

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This is, more or less, my father. Image belongs to Herge.

This is, more or less, my father.
Image belongs to Herge.

My father is a sailor, which meant that for most of my life he was off at sea for long stretches of time, usually four months or more. And when I was little, four months was an incredibly long time. Practically a lifetime. Goodbyes were always difficult when it came time for him to rejoin his ship, but I remember one particular time when I was seven or eight when my dad’s departure left me particularly upset. The whole family saw him off at the airport, and when he hugged me he must have noticed that I was blinking back tears. After a moment’s consideration my dad reached into his pocket and handed me a quarter.

“There,” he said. “Now, whenever you feel sad about me being gone you can look at this quarter and know that somewhere in the world, I’m thinking of you.”

There was nothing special about the coin. It was just a quarter, with George Washington’s familiar mug printed on one side and an eagle rampant on the other. No particular year; no particular mint. Just a quarter. But I treasured that quarter like it was made of gold. Not because of what it was, but because of what it represented: a brief, special moment shared with my dad. Whenever I saw or touched the quarter, I was reminded that my dad loved me and missed me too. Its power lay not in its monetary value, but in its symbolic value. It had become a keepsake, a talisman whose power was invisible to all but me.

Often my favorite books become keepsakes.

Often my favorite books become keepsakes.

As I’ve grown older I have collected many other keepsakes, objects that symbolize or spark a remembrance of a time now past. Most, like the quarter, have no real objective value, yet are nonetheless precious because of what they symbolize to me. A collection of long emails exchanged between my husband and me when our relationship was still very young. A much dog-eared copy of the Once and Future King given to me by a dear departed friend. A Claddagh ring my mom gave me when we first moved to Ireland that now barely fits on my pinky finger. Each keepsake recalls a time that, on most days, I have no cause to think of otherwise.

Maybe he gave her that helmet as a keepsake.

Maybe he gave her that helmet as a keepsake.

But keepsakes can also be less tangible. Singular moments can themselves be keepsakes of larger memories or past experiences. An off-hand phrase or comment that, though immediately forgotten by the speaker, I keep tucked away in my mind so I can occasionally take it out and admire it. A private glance shared between friends silently recalling some inside joke. A meal, a drink, a slice of cake. Like snapshots of another time, these brief memories glint like stars against the ever darkening landscape of our memories, totemic in their ability to represent experiences or memories now long gone.

A keepsake isn’t always a good thing, however. I know that I keep souvenirs of my failures and losses as well as keepsakes of love and happiness. Somewhere, tucked away in a box or in the back of a notebook, is the very first exam I ever took in college, on which I got an abysmal grade. Similarly, I sometimes hang on to memories of deep embarrassment or shame, or words flung at me in disappointment or anger. But, unlike that quarter my dad gave me long ago, these negative keepsakes do nothing but sour otherwise good memories, casting a dark pall over happier moments. They are the seeds of grudges and resentments, destined to fester if they cannot be purged.

At some point I lost that quarter that my dad gave me. I don’t know when or where, and when I eventually realized it was gone it didn’t really matter. Why? Because it had already served its purpose, and when it eventually disappeared I had learned other ways of remembering that my father wouldn’t be gone forever. Our keepsakes can act as positive talismans to help us move forward, but they can also hinder us, reminding us of pain or failure better forgotten. So treasure your keepsakes, both physical and intangible, but use them well, and let them go when their work is done.

Do you have souvenirs or keepsakes that symbolize past experiences? Are they positive or negative? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below!


Oh dear, I’ve just remembered that I’ve forgotten (?) to write a blog post today. Now it’s almost bed-time and I have absolutely nothing to write about. I could try to pull together a review of a book in a few minutes, but honestly I doubt it would do the book or the author justice. Bad literary karma, you know.

Instead, I will leave you with this inspiring video. Sometimes you just need someone to remind you that if you believe in yourself, you will get the hang of it! (Also, thumbs up for rock n’ roll.)

Sticks ‘n Stones

Sticks and stones will break my bones
But words will never hurt me.

Sticks and stones....

Sticks and stones….

How many times do we hear this growing up? I don’t remember the first time I heard this simple rhyme, but I know that I have heard it hundreds of times since. And on one level, it is excellent common sense: don’t let someone get a rise out of you, don’t retaliate with violence, don’t freak out over an insult. But on another level, it is one of the most mind-bogglingly false adages out there. Because words hurt. Sometimes far more than a simple broken bone.

Yes, sticks and stones may break a person’s bones, but interestingly enough, the human body does not remember pain. The brain can remember having been in pain, and the emotions surrounding that pain, but the actual physical discomfort cannot be conjured up again without actually inflicting the same pain on the same nerves in the same way. So a broken bone will knit. A bruise will fade. A cut will heal. But anyone who has ever been badly wounded by a carefully chosen sentence or two will know that it is not so with words. The memory of an insult, criticism, or verbal abuse can sting or even damage long after the moment has passed. Often, it will even grow worse with time, burrowing deep into the psyche until nothing can dislodge it.

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Onward! Upward!

A lovely sunny day on the Thames

A lovely sunny day on the Thames

Hello again! It has been quite a busy month, but I am happy to say that I am still alive and am ready to start blogging regularly once more! Furthermore, I am able to report that spring has officially sprung in London! Blue skies…tulips blooming in Regent’s Park…sunshine! O, frabjous day! Calloo! Callay!

Ahem. Dear me, I fear I’ve gotten a bit over-excited about the reappearance of that beamish substance known as sunshine. I’m afraid it has been a long, cold, wet, gray sort of winter here in Her Majesty’s England, and considering the fact that May is just around the corner, I think I’m entitled to a bit of childish glee when faced the with the prospect of short sleeves and bare feet. Pardon me while I take a moment to gyre and gimble in the wabe.

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Break-ing Bad?

Get it? 'Bear' with me?

Get it? ‘Bear’ with me?

Hello all! I’m working a temporary job that is quite intensive; I thought I might be able to keep up a regular blog schedule but I don’t think I will be able to after all. Bear with me for the next two weeks, and after that I promise to get back to a regular blog schedule! Thanks for your patience.