Handling the Madness in Rural Oklahoma

Living in this corner of America during a pandemic means the following:

My life has only changed in that the powers-that-be continue to make broad, sweeping, sometimes unconstitutional decisions about what I can or cannot do and where I can or cannot go. (Reminder to my fellow Americans: Our constitutional rights, including Freedom of Assembly and Freedom of Religion, do not go away just because people are sick and scared. Beware a government who takes away your rights “for your own good.” Our church went to online services without the need of a governor mandate because they have common sense and don’t want the elderly in our church exposed to possible illness. Elon Musk, Ford, and GM started working on making ventilators without the government demanding that they do so; the same is true for distilleries who are now making hand sanitizer and places like our local t-shirt company who is now working on masks for healthcare professionals. To paraphrase and add to an old chestnut: America is great because she is good–but only if her people are allowed the freedom and the trust to be so.)

I will now be conducting my college English I and II classes online. Since I teach reading and writing, it isn’t too much of a stretch. That library job I was so excited about still exists, though we shut our doors to the public. I must say, the way people rushed in to check out books like we were the Walmarts with the last rolls of toilet paper on the planet did my heart good. Literacy lives, people!

Living in rural Oklahoma during a pandemic means:

Nature hasn’t been told there is a pandemic. Grass is growing, morels are begging to be hunted, and flowers bloom and bloom and bloom. I forgot that my Irish skin needs to be slowly coaxed into a suntan and got my first serious sunburn of the season yesterday when I sat outside for an hour on a bench (yes, at a safe distance), visiting with my lonely 84-year old widowed neighbor after taking her some lasagna. I’ve wandered over to see my folks a couple of times this week, and they are busy cutting grass, hunting morels, and watching those flowers bloom and bloom and bloom. The red wasps are out (devil insects!) and I’ve joined the fat furry carpenter bees in fighting them off. The bees chase them relentlessly, and if any get past, I am ready and armed with long-range wasp spray. We shan’t rest until every crimson demon and its unnecessarily aggressive stinging is vanquished!

Instead of stress-eating, I’ve been stress-hiking–through the acres of land surrounding my own, up and down hiking trails, down country roads and back. Alone, there is no one who shouts “social distancing!” at me or asks me to ring a dang bell when I approach (that’s the latest suggestion from the city when using their trails–absurd). I march around the countryside 5 to 7 miles a day, praying out loud, listening to great audiobooks, whispering new possible book ideas to myself. I come home exhausted and sometimes covered in ticks, but my mind is clear and I’m fine.

Really, I’m fine. I hope you are too, in your corner of the world.

No Dream Is Too Small

I’ve always loved a good library. When I was a kid growing up in Kenya, East Africa, in the mid-1970s and 1980s, I didn’t really know what a library was. I’d never see one, and the idea of a place that let–nay, encouraged–you to read their books FOR FREE was as foreign a concept to me as color tv and letters not written on blue aeograms. It’s unfortunate that I was such a voracious reader, then–my only option for a variety of books was the used bookstore in the capital city, six long hours away from my town. I’d agonize over my two or three book choices, weighing my interest against sheer size–it would be a long two months before I’d return to sell the books back to the bookstore owner at a reduced price and make new choices. After much soul-searching and gnashing of teeth, I’d buy my books and have the first one read by the time we reached home.

Cue my first encounter with an AMERICAN library. I was in fifth grade, and we were in the States for six weeks on deputation. When my grandma took me to the library and told me that I could borrow up to ten books FOR FREE, and, when I finished, could return the books and borrow ten more, continuing the cycle all summer long until we flew back home to Kenya, I honestly thought I’d died and gone to heaven. It was then and there that my life-long love affair with libraries began.

And so, when I saw an ad for a job as a library page in our town, I decided it was time to cross something off my bucket list. A word about my feelings about bucket lists: I have no interest in jumping out of a plane, going white-river rafting down the Colorado, or deep-sea diving in the Pacific. Maybe because I grew up in a foreign country and have visited many different places and experienced other cultures in ways that lots of people have not, my bucket list items are, well, small.  Everyone I know thinks I’m nuts for taking the job–I’m still an adjunct professor at our local college where I’ve been teaching English for over eleven years now, and my colleagues are bemused by me. My husband thinks I’ve lost my marbles, and even the ladies who hired me seemed a little astonished that I applied–“You do know this is just a part-time, low-level job, right?” they asked me at one point, to which I nodded and beamed.

I told my English Composition students about my new job the other day, and I ended that day’s lecture with the exoration, “People always tell you to dream big–to reach for the stars. I’m here to tell you that there is nothing wrong with dreaming small, either. If you want to shelve books part-time for minimum wage at the age of almost-fifty just because you’ve always dreamed of doing it, well, then go ahead.” Their smiles told me that either they understood where I was coming from, or that they’re used to me being a little crazy and this was just par for the course. Either way, I’ll take it.

What’s next on my list? Oh yeah. Getting that novel I wrote published. I just hope I don’t have to wait forty years for that one.


And Just Like That, the First Draft Is Done


book first draft (2)

And by “just like that,” I mean after HOURS and HOURS and HOURS of research, planning, bleary-eyed writing, and a first rough edit. Dreaming about characters, fussing at plot, boring all my nearest and dearest with how I need to FIX my plot, closing my eyes and seeing black letters on white pages marching along . . .  . Also I lost my capacity to spell. Or type. At the end of some days I couldn’t even make my fingers unbend. But who cares? 86,000 words+ later, 276 printed pages that stand almost 2 inches tall, the first draft of my novel manuscript is DONE.

book depth.jpg

Can I get a hip-hip, huzzah, y’all? Now is the time on Sprockets when we dance !




Where Writers Write

Roald Dahl’s desk, found in his “writing hut,” was a winged-back chair with a long tray that was covered in dark green billiard cloth. The tray/desk was balanced arm to arm on the chair, sometimes supported by a rolled pillow. Before settling himself into the chair and positioning the writing tray across his middle, he would first stick his legs in a sleeping bag in order to stay warm. (Now here was a man who no doubt would have appreciated a good Slanket. Alas, for him, progress moved too slow.)


Jane Austen wrote at a dainty octagonal wooden desk while seated in an uncomfortable-looking, cane-bottomed chair that was positioned by the window for the light. Flannery O’Connor’s schoolroom-style desk and straight-back chair were wooden too, minus the cane bottom but with the addition of a floral needlepoint pillow. Virginia Woolf, Kirkegaard, and Nabokov eschewed seats altogether and often wrote standing up.


Some people are coffeeshop writers, enjoying the white noise of conversation as they create. Others write in quiet libraries or peaceful parks. When searching for advice to writers on where to write, you may find the mildly offensive exhortation to “Designate a room in the house as an office, and when writing, always sit at a chair and desk as if you were at a real job.” Fair point; after all, Hemingway once said that “There’s nothing to writing. All you have to do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.”


I do have a writing office in my house, and I love it–it’s a tiny room upstairs, narrow because of the enormous built-in bookshelves stuffed with things that I treasure (like my ever-expanding collection of signed books–getting literary superstars Margaret Atwood, Amy Tan, and David Sedaris to sign my books ranks up at the top of my “I can die happy now” moments), things I use (like my too-many books on teaching college composition), and things a Lit major like myself is required by Lit-major law to dig (Shakespeare, Edward Albee, and Euripides have to hang out on the shelves with Stephen King and Yann Martel, because all the shelf’s a stage, and all authors merely players). The entrance to my office is a wooden Dutch door, salvaged by my husband from one of his jobs. I don’t care that it’s supposed to be an exterior door–it is for ME and I love it so.

office door

My desk seat is a red vinyl director’s chair, a hammock for the butt. My writing desk is another salvage–from the 1930s and enamel-topped, it was given to me by my late Grandma Jean. I had to scrape and scrub to get the rust off of the legs, but it was worth it. Once while watching the awful movie Walk on the Moon,  starring terrible Diane Lane and only-good-in-LOTR Viggo Mortensen, I yelped in delight when I spotted my table on the screen. Then I finished watching the movie and was sad for both me and my table.

Holla at my girl Miranda Hart and her “What have you done today to make you feel proud?” Heather Small tributes. Heather keeps us all accountable.

So yeah, I love my table, but let’s get real–I am more of a recliner than a sitter. Therefore when I DO write in my office, I shun the butt hammock and too-good-for-Viggo desk and instead stretch out on the antique fainting couch I found at a local flea market. Obviously I have smothered it in pillows because comfort (and Michael Jackson) are king, and I am queen.

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But to be really, REALLY honest, I spend 98% of my writing time not at a desk, not in an office, but propped up on more pillows on the bed in my bedroom. Regardless of how uncool it is to admit that my writing is best when I lounge on the bed, gazing out at the trees beyond the window (So unprofessional! Not like a real job at all!) it’s the truth: a semi-prone position works for me.

bed desk

Now before you judge me too much, allow me to direct your attention to other lie-abed writers such as Truman Capote, Mark Twain, and Edith Wharton. And as to the question of where the best place is to write, I humbly submit that we vein-openers should do what we do in the way that we do it, and we need make no apologies.




See? I Told You It Works

Referring to the previous post:

word count

Go forth and do likewise. (Whoah, that got bossy real quick. Go and do likewise if you want to. I mean, I’m not your mom.)

So I Have to Market This Stuff Too?

That’s what I read on the interwebs–writers these days have to write their books, sell their books to agents, help their agents sell their books to publishing houses, sell published books to readers, and, oh yeah! KEEP selling books by maintaining a sparklingly witty blog that has 4 bazillion entranced readers. Fool, if I had 4 bazillion entranced blog readers, I wouldn’t NEED to sell my book now, would I? I would just sit back and wait for a publisher to notice me. (Holla, those quirky cooking-blog-gals-who-show-up-on-Ra-Ray’s-show-all-the-time.)

Oh, for the good old days when I might have to publish under a man’s name because “women can’t write!” but someone ELSE was in charge of the marketing. Okay, whatever. Here it is. Me and my blog again.  With a recipe for instant pudding. Because this is as good as it gets with me, chums.



  • Apron. Because cooking is messy.

apron (3)

  • 1 box of whatever blasted flavor of pudding is your favorite. I’m partial to butterscotch my ownself, but all I have in the pantry right now is vanilla.  Sadly, vanilla is the vanilla of vanilla.
  • 2 C. cold milk (Why cold? What else would it be unless you’re planning on squeezing it straight from the cow’s teat into your bowl, and if you ARE, then we need to talk. Because that’s just nasty, my friend. Believe me, I speak from reluctant experience–I grew up in a foreign country where we had to buy smuggled illegal milk from the neighbor, and his wife squirted Bossie’s offerings right into our freshly-washed Tree-Top bottles, and brother! There’s nothing on this planet grosser than warm milk straight from the cow. Sometimes there were even little cow hairs floating on top. Hence my lifelong hair-in-food phobia, but that’s a story for another day.)
  • Whipped topping, otherwise known as Cool Whip, whether it’s the branded version, the generic version, or the shooting-out-of-the-can version. It’s Cool Whip, just like all sodas are Cokes. Don’t question me on this.


Open pudding mix. Dump into bowl.

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Dump in milk.

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Whisk until your forearm aches. (Or 2 minutes, for you Popeye types. Show-offs.) Stick pudding in the frigidaire for five minutes or until you decide you’ve waited long enough. Five minutes is like an HOUR in dog years, y’all.

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(So it turns out that I don’t have any Cool Whip in the house either. Though it is an inferior experience, pudding can be consumed without it just fine.)

Eat a sensible serving, telling yourself you will just have a teeny bit, and then hide the bowl behind whatever your family hates the most in the fridge. (I keep a package of collard greens simply for pudding-hiding.)

hidden pudding (2)

After an hour, sneak back in, remove the bowl from its hiding place, and finish the whole batch while standing in your hall closet so you don’t have to share with the kids.

Be prepared to be judged by the dog. He knows what you’re doing in there, and he does not approve. Also, doesn’t he look a little like those scary twins in The Shining? REDRUM, REDRUM.

Make sure you rinse the evidence away so that when your husband comes home and asks you what’s for dinner, you can say, “Oh, let’s just go out. I’m starving–I’ve barely had a thing to eat all day.”

There. I made a foodie post. Are you not enter-taaaaaained?