Category Archives: Writing

Go Fly a Kite

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I used to like kites until the day one tried to kill me. At this point, you’re imagining a Ben Franklin experiment involving a thunderstorm and a key, but it was nothing so glamorous or so foolhardy. I was simply trying to buy a loaf of stale bread.

I had been living in Indonesia for more than two years, and I knew that the only place in town to sell bread was a tiny store on the outskirts of town. I was out of flour to bake my own, and the purchase of more meant a trip up the coast along a winding road that hugged a cliff. It was only 50 miles, but by the time you dodged goats, cows, chickens and people who sat their fannies on the actual asphalt of the highway, you had two hours invested in the venture. So until that monthly trek rolled around again on the calendar, I had to content myself with bread that did a marvelous imitation of bleached cardboard. I had just such a loaf of this striking wheat rendition in my motorcycle basket as I whizzed along through the village at the speed of baked beans.

The other thing you should know is that not only is sitting on the highway after dusk all the rave, but flying kites before dusk is also one of the more popular hobbies in a small fishing town. It falls somewhere between cleaning your day’s catch and beating a ridiculously large spider to death with a machete. If you’re between the ages of 7-14, then it’s pretty much all you do unless it’s raining.

So on this ordinary day, Wonderless Bread in custody, I was puttering along when I noticed a young lad not far ahead, standing beside the road holding a kite string. I immediately scanned the sky for the kite. Not because I wanted to ooh and aah over it, but because its location was mission critical to my journey home. Kids flew those blasted things in the road all the time, something about parents not wanting their cherubs to get swallowed up by lurking pythons in the rice paddies, and if you weren’t careful, you could run through one of those lines with your scooter. So I swiveled my head back and forth trying to find that kite. I shouldn’t have bothered because the string found my face instead. Did I mention that they use twine for kite string? I’m not sure what test it is, but I think you could land Moby Dick with it and he’d feel like a guppy.

A picture of real, honest-to-goodness, Indonesian twine

A picture of real, honest-to-goodness, Indonesian twine

So I’m still riding my scooter as twine slices across my face. You’d think survival skills would kick in at this point and I’d hit the brake, but there’s something about searing pain and panic that short-circuits my brain. I clawed frantically at the demon burrowing with the vigor of a groundhog on crack until the twine won its game of tug-of-war and pinned me right there in the middle of the street. Ever been snatched backwards off a bike doing 25mph? It makes one grouchy to say the least.

So I lay there in the street, staring at the sky and hoping that Jesus was going to appear and just take me on home to glory, but my scooter, a real go-getter by nature, went another 20 feet before falling on its sword out of respect to its felled rider. By this time a crowd of thirty or so people had gathered. No one offered to help me get up or even checked to see if I could. The kite owner was so overwrought by my near demise that he stood calmly aside, slowly wrapping up his kite twine, no doubt checking it for blood stains that could impede future flights. This is the only time in my life that I’ve ever considered throwing something at a teenager. Like my scooter.

One man finally broke the code of silence and picked up my bike and rolled it over to me. At this point I knew my bones were still intact, but my pride lay shattered in pieces that even an atom couldn’t see.

I drove home more slowly than usual. I stood in front of one of the few mirrors in my house and surveyed the burn marks across my face and throat. I have to say, it’s one of the most painful sandwiches I’ve ever made.

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Writing Tour

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If only the books in that box had my name on them ...

If only the books in that box had my name on them …

From time to time fellow bloggers will send a writing challenge your way, and I actually liked the content of this one since it involved the craft of writing. I was also threatened with seven years of bad luck if I broke the chain, so that was another powerful incentive to put fingers to the keyboard. I’d like to thank Jon Eekhoff from South of the Strait for including me on this tour. Jon is a fellow teacher down in the trenches of education, but I most appreciate his travel writing about his incredible European adventure last summer. Jon can pull you into a story and make you laugh as he offers you the good, the bad, and the hilarious of some of his perceptions. Now onto the questions!

  1. What am I working on now?

Mostly packing labels and apartment applications. And while these are only marginally less likely to land the Pulitzer than my unpublished novel, they are certainly more functional since they will provide me with a place to live and dishes to support my chicken salad after a long day at work.

My other work involves one novel, The Truth of Wishing Wells, which is a story about the disappearance of a young woman from a small, southern town, and the aftermath her husband and daughter must face as they wade through a deluge of gossip and conjecture.

I’ve also written reams of memoir about my time in Indonesia, but I don’t have enough structure to roll it through a printing press.

And then there’s my blog. Anecdotal in nature, my posts are intended to sharpen my writing skills beyond the cryptic little scribbles I make along the sides of the student essays I grade. When you spend countless hours jotting comma splice, misplaced modifier, and really? in margins, you lose the finesse of dialogue.

2. How does my work differ from others in the genre.

If I’m considering my novel, I start snarling over that word genre since many agents kicked it around to mainstream fiction. Told from a dual point of view, the daughter’s and the husband’s, it was neither young adult nor women’s so mainstream was the best sticker to put on it. When I wrote the blasted thing, I simply wrote the story that unfolded from an idea; I didn’t realize how essential it would be to pigeonhole it.

3. Why do I write what I do?

I’ve always heard to write what you know. Consequently, my settings are either small, southern towns or remote fishing villages with only one awkward, white woman for hundreds of miles. Unless you count those rude European tourists in their tank tops and blatant disregard for the local culture, which I did not. I know what it feels like to live in a fishbowl on both foreign and domestic soil, so I write accordingly.

4. How does my writing process work?

Since I’m the most consistent with my blog, I seek out post material based on the following criteria: if it was embarrassing, awkward, or downright painful, then I’ve usually got a good story to tell. If something more than a bit of humor emerges, great; but if not, then I know I have a gracious group of followers who will say, “Oh, look. Traci wrote about doing a face plant in McDonalds. Isn’t that cute?” Like.

And now to tag a couple of innocent bystanders. I nominate Rebecca White Body from Moments of Unexpected Beauty and Marian Beaman from Plain and Fancy.

Rebecca is a kindred spirit who is a former English teacher, lover of words, and craftsman at the keyboard. She shares about her life and even some of the past from her family members.

Marian is the Barnabas of bloggers. If you need a word of encouragement, stop by her blog and make a comment. She’s one interesting lady with her Plain background and Fancy conversion, and she’s one of the most gracious people you’ll meet on the internet.

Ladies, the baton is in your grasp.

There’s Peanuts and Then There’s Just Nuts …

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We’ve always been the type of family to own pets. Never too many at one time, you understand, but we always had one good yard dog and a friendly house cat, maybe two. But in recent years, the felines that have come to live with my mom have been a tad on the strange side. Let’s take Mr. Billy, as an example.

Mr. Billy was a gift from my brother, who had the very best of intentions. He was a Ragdoll breed and was probably the prettiest cat I’ve ever seen with his seal point markings and bright, blue eyes. His breed was known to be lap cats, and for this reason alone, my brother just knew that my mom was going to love him. He even came with papers, which was a real change from the kittens we normally picked up at the dump. But there was a problem with Mr. Billy. His high breeding and sophisticated bloodlines had left him nervous about life in general, and he had a terrible compulsive disorder that manifested anytime Mom tried to change the furniture in the living room. The day she rearranged the recliners, he strolled in from a nap, saw the chaos, and began howling in earnest. The very idea that people should watch television facing due west was more than his tender nerves could bear, and subsequently, became more than any of our nerves could bear, either. Restructuring applied to people as well as to sofas, and if Mom and Dad tried to switch places from their assigned seats, Mr. Billy would dart back and forth between the two, screaming about a world gone mad until my parents relented and put the universe back in its proper place. He was a fragile soul that never would sit in laps, but he looked lovely curled up on an ivory afghan.

Years after the departure of Mr. Billy, mom found herself the benefactor of feline charity in the form of two kittens she dubbed Linus and Lucy. While not from an aristocratic family tree, they still came with eccentricities that we link back to the unconventional manner of their birth: they were found in an empty cement mixer in July. So while it’s difficult to ascertain if soaring Florida temperatures did anything to upset the delicate balance of their psyche, we knew from the beginning that mom had a couple of atypical felines on her hands. They gnawed wallpaper from the sheet rock like a couple of termites with an appetite for interior design, and to this day they have a difficult time with sudden movements that they deem sinister in nature. Like opening the refrigerator. One crack of that door and Lucy will all but rupture a disk hightailing it around the hall corner, claws clicking along the wood floors, to disappear under the bed where she will remain for a modest 6 hours or until I go home. Anytime Mom and I observe one of their psychotic episodes, we simply wag our heads and say, “A little too long in the cement mixer.”

Linus is thinking, "Little does she know, I just unraveled great-grandmother's pink doily."

Linus is thinking, “Little does she know, I just unraveled great-grandmother’s pink doily.”

 

Mom sometimes mentions that she wouldn’t mind having a little dog in the house, but I always ask her, “What if you get one like Linus and Lucy?” And that sobering thought is enough to stave off any adorable canines for the immediate future.

© 2014 – Traci Carver