Civility in Real America

I'm consuming way too much news. For a while (read: during the 2016 election), I was ignoring most everything. I deleted that Apple News app and put myself on a media blackout.

I do think I was happier then. Obliviousness has its benefits.

Then the world became too dangerous to ignore. The headlines are burdensome, but it's become obvious that ordinary people need to pay attention. Bad things are happening.
Living a quiet life in a sleepy suburb north of Pittsburgh, it's easy to delude oneself into believing that these things are all happening elsewhere. The border with Mexico. Big cities. DC area restaurants. Even the frequent protests calling for police accountability in the shooting death of Antwon Rose can seem distant though they're really just a 30-minute drive away.

Here in southwestern PA 'burbs, we're all just minding our own business. Those trendy "elite" fads take years if not decades to make it here. We're insulated. So even in these tumultuous times, we're living our lives the same way we always have. Aren't we?

Maybe not.

A few weeks ago, circumstances led me to put in an order for a Wal-mart pickup for 6pm on a Monday. I've used the Wal-mart grocery pickup regularly for about six months (this is not an ad, my blog is too cool for paid promotions). My usual plan is to grocery shop via app in the evening and schedule the pickup for the first available in the morning. On this particular Monday, I missed it. Needing groceries and totally unwilling to actually go INTO the Walmart, I took the evening appointment.

It hadn't rained in weeks, so it was Alanis Morisette ironic that on the evening of my sojourn to Wally World, the area was pummelled by torrential downpours. Some areas were hit with 2" of rain in an hour. There was significant flooding.

My husband drove the whole family over to the Pittsburgh Mills where we were to pick up the Walmart order and pop into Sam's Club for items that were absolutely required for the next day. We arrived at the grocery pickup parking lot. No one came out. Three more cars parked to wait for their groceries. No one came out.

Finally, I called the phone number on the sign in front of our parking space. The friendly grocery pickup person said that they don't come out in an active lightning storm (makes sense) and I should go to the store to get the order.

So that's a good bit of info for future Walmart pickup orders. We managed to fling the food into the trunk without getting completely soaked. Just mostly soaked and there was still Sam's Club.

We decided that I would go into the store with my daughter and my husband would come get us when we were done. He could put the car under the loading dock awning at the appropriate time.

We set out to effect this plan. It was like Armageddon in the Sam's Club. All of the emergency exit doors had several inch deep puddles extending in a six-foot diameter semi-circle into the store. Employees were running around with trash cans, moving pallets, and catching torrents of water coming in through the roof.

Meanwhile, in the parking lot, my husband assessed the situation and determined it would be least disruptive for him to maneuver the car and put just the back end under the roof. He was in constant communication with me (that was fun in the floody store) and was sure not to inconvenience any other shoppers looking for relief from the rainstorm.

The owner of a big black pickup truck that had parked under the roof for his ENTIRE Sam's Club shopping trip returned just as my husband was getting out to open the trunk.

"You better not *&^@ing block me!" was his opener.
"Excuse me?"
"You better not be @#%%ing blocking my truck!"
"It will be okay," my husband said. "You have room to get out."
There may have been even more expletives from the truck guy, I'm not sure.
"You have a blessed day, sir," my husband says.
The truck driver drove off (he could do that because my husband hadn't blocked him) and gave my husband the finger.

At this moment, I came out of the store with my cart and my daughter. I was feeling pretty smart because it was still coming down in buckets and here was my ride where I could load stuff in near complete dryness. And Tim, my husband, is smiling and waving at this black truck.

"Did you see someone you know?" I asked.
"I made friends with that guy," he said.

We exchanged storm stories on the way home and marveled at this mature (nearly elderly) gentleman's word choice. How did he manage to get so instantly angry? Does a lack of national civility work its way into our insulated bubble that quickly?

There's no way to know for sure. It is frightening to think that our fellow humans are walking around with that much rage inside them at any given moment. It's as though we're missing positive role models and our calm suburban lifestyle isn't that insulated at all. Perhaps this loss of small-town civility is a bigger warning sign than the daily national news headlines. It will definitely be harder to ignore.

#IWSG Ultimate Writing Goals

July 3 question - What are your ultimate writing goals, and how have they changed over time (if at all)? 

The awesome co-hosts for the July 3 posting of the IWSG are Nicki Elson, Juneta Key, Tamara Narayan, and Patricia Lynne!

I’ve been on a long and rather complete break from writing this summer. I’ve rarely written so much as a grocery list, choosing rather to express my creativity through other media. 

This is a panorama wherein I failed several times to align the arrow with the line. It still captures the chaos of my crafting quite nicely, even if it made the furniture look pretty weird.

The hot glue, glitter, and cardboard forms of expression dominated our dining room for over a month. All of this stuff was eventually transported to our church where it served as the set for Time Machine VBS. It was the 70th summer our church has hosted vacation bible school. Something about all of that history really inspired me.

So now, I've achieved the post-VBS phase of my summer. I got rid of as much as 95% of the glitter spilled during the decorating of the time machine. I did laundry and emptied the dishwasher. I performed a round of organic dandelion removal. And I figure it's time to attend to the work in progress...

...Right after I finish this blog post. See how advanced my procrastination skills have become?

Anyway, the "ultimate writing goals" are constantly changing. After publishing my first novel (No Room for Hondo - see the sidebar), I figured that was all I ever needed to do. I was a writer. A non-zero amount of people read my work. Some of them even liked it.

Job done.

The bit no one told me is that publishing one book would make the occasional person want more. "Are you writing anything now?" and "Are you going to publish another book?" are frequent conversation starters among my family and friend. (Friend is singular on purpose.)

Social support (if that's what this is) paired with an idea (I have one) is really all the motivation I need to give it another go. Check back in 5-7 years for the unveiling of fiction book #2.

Just like that, the Ultimate Writing Goal went from achieved to a glimmer on the horizon. This is good. I'm way too young to retire.

In other writing news, you can find me and my books at the Beaver County Book Fest in September. I'm so excited! 

Definitely (Not) Laughing at Dad

At an early age, I realized my dad liked to laugh. He tells jokes. He prefers comedies. He's never shied away from telling an embarrassing story when humor is involved. From farting in the hardware store to angrily giving another driver a thumbs up instead of the finger, Dad has always willingly sacrificed himself.

I think his influence is what led me to become a storyteller. And like my dad, I prefer comedies.

Father's Day brought out a lot of sentimental Dad stories. "What's your favorite memory of your dad?" was asked via several media outlets. And though I missed the special day and it's difficult to pick a favorite, I've decided on a strong contender.

Dad and Jo in a Canoe

When the grandkids were small, my parents planned a group vacation for the whole extended family. We rented a pair of duplex cabin-type units at the Flying W Ranch in Tionesta, PA. My husband popped in during the day, opting to head home rather than stay overnight without air conditioning. So my sister's family occupied one unit while my parents, daughter and I stayed in the other.

That summer we all had this terrible cough. My side of the duplex sounded like a tuberculosis ward. We rose, hot and groggy, to meet the day.

My dad (pappy) with Julia and me at Kennywood.
Of course, I can't find the pictures of us in the actual canoe.

My dad had rehabbed this canoe. Or maybe it was a rowboat. I'm still not sure how to tell the difference. We took the boat to a little pond-ish area to give the kids a little ride.

I was selected as the second adult (possibly the first mate) that would take care of the kids during the short water excursion. This is owing to the fact that I can 1.) swim and 2.) don't melt if my hair gets wet. Also, I have excellent water shoes.

Dad shoved us out into the pond where we quickly realized that our weight distribution was totally off.

"I need to be in the front, I think," he says while rowing inefficiently with the nose of the craft high in the air.
"What do you want to do? Should we go to the shore?"
"Duck down."

I obeyed his command which was lucky because he was already preparing to straddle me. I jammed my head between my legs and held still as my dad awkwardly crab-walked over me. The sound of my sister laughing could be heard even with my head stuffed down in the boat.

Long moments passed as he continued his scrabble over my back. The boat rocked.

"Are you there yet?" I yelled.

He wasn't.

By the time he achieved the front of the boat, my sides hurt and tears were streaming down my face. I straightened up to see my sister with her camera poised. She later expressed disappointment that she couldn't really capture the scene.

We paddled a lap around the small watering hole. The kids were unimpressed. To my knowledge, that rowboat/canoe wasn't ever used again. As a rule, I now try to avoid playing leapfrog in boats with my dad, but the memory of the one time we did it can never be erased. I've tried.

#IWSG: Character names or book titles?

The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs.

Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. Visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer - aim for a dozen new people each time - and return comments. This group is all about connecting!

Visit IWSG to sign up. The awesome co-hosts for the June 6 posting of the IWSG are Beverly Stowe McClure, Tyrean Martinson, and Ellen @ The Cynical Sailor!

Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!

The question for June:

What's harder for you to come up with, book titles or character names?

BOOK TITLES! I have just the worst time thinking of a title. For instance, my first novel was originally titled, Marty Unmedicated. Then it spent a while being called Six Days on the Fifth Floor. I still sort of like that second title. And I've never gotten completely used to having the nonsense word "hondo" in my book's title. It is explained in the end and gives you one of those "ah ha" reader moments, so I feel moderately confident I picked the right moniker.

My second publishing effort, Magic Ear Kids, was somewhat easier to name. I thought for a while I would call it She's a Magic Ear Kid. After all, I only have the one kid and "kids" leads a person to believe my experience is more extensive. A quick trip to the Google revealed the search string "magic ear kids" leads back to my hearing loss blog. The name followed the Internet presence. If I was going to call my collection of stories about parenting a child with hearing loss by a different name, I should have thought of it ten years ago!

My work in progress is currently named "No Title." 

Character names seem to pop up in my mind with no effort. I tend to write mostly composite characters made up of several of the people around me. I give the character a name that's most like the main influencer in the fictional version of reality I've created. For instance, if a person that I most modeled the character after has a common name found in the Bible, I'll just pick a different common name found in the Bible for the fictional character. Mom of two kids with normal names that are spelled weird? There are lots of weirdly spelled normal names! It's a system that's been working.