Friday, March 15, 2019

Defying the Laws of Physics

Imagine you're speeding down the highway and a police car suddenly appears in your rear view mirror, lights flashing. You panic. With pounding heart and a mouth as dry as the Sahara you frantically try to pull over--right as the cop screeches past you into the night.

I felt sweaty just writing that! Look, I've gotten a ticket before and it's no big deal but the lizard part of my brain freaks out anyway. You'd think I had a body in the trunk or something. Which leads me to my point--how detective shows want us to believe a person would just go about their business after committing a heinous crime. When the worst thing a character ever did (before committing murder) was jaywalk, how did they suddenly turn into a sociopath? Where's the guilt, the remorse? Where's the Lady Macbeth trying to wash the blood off her hands, or the narrator who hears the tell-tale heart of his victim beneath the floorboards?

Every work of fiction asks the reader to suspend their disbelief to a degree. The author may condense time or sprinkle in some amazing coincidences, but the reader doesn't mind. The reader wants to believe. Otherwise, there would be no Harry Potter, no Game of Thrones. But there is a line that cannot be crossed, at least for me. Okay, two lines. The first is the Hannibal Lecter syndrome I just described. The other is when the writer defies the laws of physics. When a hundred pound woman kills her rival and moves her body down several flights of stairs and then hauls her away in a car to bury her in the woods I lose my mind. I can't even carry ten pounds of groceries that far. Yet it happens all the time, people effortlessly moving bodies hither and yon without anybody seeing them. Not only that, there's an episode of Castle where a woman supposedly hangs a body upside down from a catwalk. I need to know who her personal trainer is. Why isn't she entering body-building competitions instead of murdering people? She missed her calling.

One of my favorite scenes of tongue-in-cheek self-awareness is from the film, My Cousin Vinny, where Vinny questions a witness.

Vinny: How could it take you five minutes to cook your grits when it takes the entire grit-eating world 20 minutes?
Mr. Tipton: Um... I'm a fast cook, I guess.
Vinny[across beside the jury] What? I'm sorry I was over there. Did you just say you were a fast cook? Are we to believe that boiling water soaks into a grit faster in your kitchen than any place on the face of the earth?
Mr. Tipton: I don't know.
Vinny: Perhaps the laws of physics cease to exist on your stove! Were these magic grits? Did you buy them from the same guy who sold Jack his beanstalk beans?

Yes, Vinny, the laws of physics do cease to exist on TV, but if you miss them you can always switch off the TV and pick up a book. No, that won't work either. Why don't you carry a heavy bag of groceries up and down the stairs and then bury it in the woods? I promise you the laws of physics won't disappoint.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Safe :-)

Those of you with overseas relatives may remember a time when communication with loved ones was not so easy. There was no internet, texting, instant messaging, WhatsApp, Facebook, or cell phones. Sure, there were landlines but calls were expensive. (Were you expecting me to say telegrams? Carrier pigeons? How old do you think I am anyway?) What we did have were those tissue-thin, faded blue, self-folding aerogrammes, the cheaper way to send a letter. The aerogramme is one of many things I learned about from my husband. (Others include: hot lemonade is good when you're sick, and for some reason beyond mortal comprehension Australians love Vegemite).

I used to watch my future husband dutifully write to his parents each month filling the aerogramme front and back with his neat handwriting and then carefully folding it up and sealing it. It would take a week for that flimsy piece of paper to reach India and it was nothing short of a miracle that it did. His parents always wrote back, sometimes separately, and those letters also took a week to arrive. As a native Floridian attending college in New Orleans I saw my parents frequently and couldn't imagine being so far away for such a long stretch; I also spoke with them every Sunday. This formal process of communication that took weeks to complete was fascinating to me. It was like looking up at the night sky knowing the light you saw had taken thousands of years to reach your eyes. That star could already be a supernova but it would take generations to find out. In other words, it was old news.

My husband would let me read the letters he received and explain to me who everyone was and their backstory. It took me a while to notice that every letter from his mother had the same word at the top right corner--Safe. When I asked about it, he said that's how he knew everyone was okay and the letter wasn't bad news. Even then, when I was only 24, I thought that was wonderful. Isn't that the first thing you want to know about your loved ones, that they're safe? In their case, of course, a lot could change in the week it took a letter to arrive--but that's what telephones were for, right? Now, 33 years later, I reflect on all the times I've received bad news and how the delivery was never fast enough to keep my imagination from running wild. Once, my mother called me up crying and I thought something had happened to one of my sisters. By the time she finally got around to telling me my 87 year old great-aunt had passed away, I was faint with relief. Safe, why couldn't she just start with that?

After my husband and I were engaged I started writing to my future in-laws on aerogrammes. I soon learned that if you try to erase a mistake, you'll tear the paper and have to start over. When I was a kid I had a pen-pal I never met so I had experience writing letters to strangers, but it was weird to do it as an adult with your future mother-in-law. We got to know each other though and soon felt comfortable enough to joke around. When she wrote to me that we would have to work on my handwriting, I responded good luck with that.

Now I can communicate with my mother-in-law in India instantly and by Skype. Sometimes when we're chatting on Facebook my brother-in-law in Australia will jump into the conversation, all of us in different time zones, one waking up while the other gets ready for bed. It's amazing and I love it but the best thing is I don't have to wait. I always know everyone is safe.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Saving the World in My Pajamas :-)

Batman and Superman are cool but you have to wonder why they fight crime in their pajamas. You're not crazy, they do--and I can prove it. When I was five, my mother bought me a Batman costume for Halloween and it said right there on the label: "Costume can be used as sleepwear". And sleep in it I did, probably until the next Halloween. It made me feel strong and mighty, a girl batman, a real bad-ass. Not much has changed. I did stop dressing up for Halloween when my kids stopped and even then my costume consisted only of a witch's hat ('cause witches are bad-ass too), but I kept the job of world-saving in my heart. 

But how do you save the world when you don't have a single super-power? It's a dilemma, for sure, and a problem I thought about for a long time. Wealth is a super-power as money can save lives, heal the sick, house the poor, but I didn't have that either. What did I have to offer? I was just one person with good intentions and there were so many things that needed fixing. I didn't even know where to start. Then I thought, what would Batman do? He wouldn't hesitate, he would leap into action even if he might not succeed, or it wouldn't be enough, or he might die (don't worry, Batman always lives), so I took a leap. I joined a civic organization, I wrote a letter to the editor, I joined activist social media groups, I gathered signatures to restore the vote to the disenfranchised. I kept going until one day I realized things were changing, and I was helping.  

Sitting at my computer late at night sending e-mails, planning meetings, and writing letters, I realized that I, too, am saving the world in my pajamas. And Batman and Superman showed me how it was done.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

My Mother's Lipstick

When our mom died of cancer, my sisters and I were desperate to hold onto our memories of her. Over the next few days, we wore out her voicemail so we could hear her voice again and scrounged through her to-do lists for a memento of her thoughts. We divided up photos and letters. One sister kept her silver mirror, another, her cookbooks because they had always cooked together. 

But what did I want? I wanted to bottle her laughter, preserving in perpetuity our silly jokes. I wanted a soft blanket of her kindness to warm me when the world was cold. I wanted more time.

What I took was her favorite lipstick, slightly worn down and not my shade. The following year, on my son's birthday, I took it out of the drawer and put it to good use. While he slept, I wrote Happy Birthday on his bathroom mirror with that lipstick. I drew a cake and balloons and hearts. He started his birthday with a big grin on his face and was touched to learn it was grandma's lipstick. Now, every year, on everyone's birthday, my family starts the day with a lipstick celebration and feel the love their grandmother brought into their life.

The opposite of a Horcrux, that lipstick is an object imbued with love.

My oldest son, now an adult, happened to be in town for his birthday this year and settled into his old room for the night. Of course, he awoke to an elaborate lipstick panorama of birthday wishes on his mirror. After he left town, I saw that he had wiped his mirror almost clean. All that remained was a single lipstick heart. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2018


"So I'd like to know where, you got the notion…"

My brain likes to sing. I know that sounds like fun--except it's not. My brain gets stuck on one phrase, singing it over and over without any help from mouth or vocal cords. How does it do that? Is this what madness sounds like? When King Lear said that a person's notion weakens he meant they were losing their grip on reality. It shouldn't be surprising then that an antonym for notion is reality.

"Don't rock the boat, don't rock the boat, baby"

Notion comes from the Latin word notio (idea) and from notus (known) and is remarkably similar when translated into a number of languages, all of which use a variation of the word notion or idea. Seems like everyone has notions, wherever they live. Only in North America does notion also mean a sewing item, like buttons, pins, zippers, and hooks.

"Our love is like a ship on the ocean
We've been sailing with a cargo full of love and devotion."

A cargo full of love and devotion. Ah! Who wouldn't want that? We have The Hues Corporation to thank for this catchy song and lovely rhyme. What other words could they have picked to rhyme with ocean? Not as many you would think: Emotion or potion could have worked, but I don't see any possibilities when it comes to commotion, promotion, demotion, or lotion. Personally, I would have loved to see them try to use Laotian.

A notion can simply be an idea or it can be so much more. A notion can be an idea that springs to life because of your beliefs, your impressions, your opinions, and most importantly, your perception of the world. There's a Spanish phrase, cada cabeza es un mundo, which translates to each head is its own world. In other words, your perception of reality is your reality.

A notion can also be an impulse or desire, especially the whimsical kind. Oh, whimsical, you're one of my favorite words but, Shh…don't tell the others.

According to, a notion is lighter than a theory and embraces a whimsy that a simple idea never could. If you share a far-fetched idea with others, someone might respond with where did you get that notion?

You just tell them, "Be quiet, I'm singing."

Friday, November 2, 2018


Everyone has a hobby, no matter how strange
It may seem to others who think you're deranged.
Collectors especially are looked at askew,
What's normal for them seems crazy to you.
An oologist collects eggs, which makes them quite reckless
Especially when they're eyeing your breakfast.
A dipterist collects flies, much like a spider.
If they spin their own webs, does that make them a writer? (Some pig!)
My hobby is harmless, I collect funny words.
And I'm gobsmacked by the ones I find most absurd.
English is chockablock with odd words, I'm chuffed to say.
I feel panurgic, like I could do this all day.
I'm not knackered or peckish, though it seems dodgy to you
I could lollygag all night on a word like jejeune.
The world is on fire and it may seem Quixotic
To spend my time on words so exotic.
If you prefer someone who seems like they care  
Find an arctophile, they collect teddy bears.
But I'm a logophile and I won't apologize.
Just be grateful I don't collect flies,

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Blast from the Past--The Witches of Eastwick!

Time travel with me to 1987 when the film "The Witches of Eastwick" debuted with its musical score by John Williams and its coven of lovely witches played by Cher, Susan Sarandon, and Michelle Pfeiffer. When the trio conjure up the perfect man (played by Jack Nicholson with a maniacal, diabolical flair) their lives spin out of control, delightfully at first, but then the danger becomes apparent.

Who will win this battle? Listen to me join the discussion on the Literary License podcast episode of "The Witches of Eastwick"--where we delve into both the book and the movie. 

You can find the podcast here: