ellen mcbee

She's always up to something…

A Poem Happened Today

So, those of you who know me in person know that I don’t write poetry. At all. I don’t even really like to read it. Have something to say? Well, say it so we know what you’re talking about! Let’s all move on with our lives!

Maybe it’s because the Polish Scouts project has taken a sudden turn for the literary. It’s turning into the kind of thing I might need an MFA for it to be taken seriously. I have a really good idea that I’m still not sure I’m skilled enough to pull off. And earlier today, I finally got my first fragment of this story: the ending scene popped into my head, and I wrote it down.

Tonight I took my son to Santa Fe for orchestra and waited for him at Joe’s Pizza (WHICH IS AMAZING. Shout-out to my new buds there, who seated me near the bar and surrounded me with beautiful artworks). I was doing research–“Nazi Women,” which includes a lot of personal profiles. And I was still thinking about the structure of the book and what I’m going to have to do to it to make it readable and meaningful. And while I was thinking about that, this poem started stalking me.

In the five minutes between leaving Joe’s and arriving at Santa Fe High School, this poem started talking to me. I really can’t describe it better than that. I don’t feel like I wrote it. When I stopped the car I wrote it down, and here at home I spent some time cleaning it up. And here it is.

Evil is never fully-formed

arriving in precise jackboot strides

banging on the door in the middle of the night while we wait, breathless, on the other side

shoving you down the alley, impatient, hot demands into the side of your neck

wearing the burka or the swastika or the turban or the diamond cufflinks

running in the streams of blood, in our veins or at Babi Yar or the ravines and shadows of places even further away

fired from the big gun in the hands of the little man

Evil doesn’t announce itself.

Evil comes in small pieces.

In the relief that the knock is for the neighbor and before that, the casual lie that the neighbor is to be feared. Not like us,

we’re normal.

Calling me a bitch for not being afraid of you, not subservient enough, not decorated enough.

Creeps in the window left open just a crack for the night air to cool you, to soothe you to sleep

(it won’t hurt if it’s just a little bit)

(and it isn’t really bad)

(and no one saw, no one knows I’m meeting you here)

But I did.

Evil in small doses, like a live vaccine

And we think we’re immune

When it’s already living in us.

I’m not afraid of evil that marches in sloppy formation and shoots to kill.

The worst evil shoots to wound, to hurt on purpose.

Wounds heal, and we are not who we were.

Evil floats in on a breeze of not caring, the night air carrying the screams

and we pretend it’s just crickets.

It sees the streams of blood and says “Not mine. So what?”

Starts with a dry academic idea debated by men with voices like dead leaves

Reduces Them to ashes and shadows on the sidewalk.

“So what? It’s just Them.”

An easy lie, smooth words that you think are the truth or you don’t care that they aren’t the truth. “They deserve it.”

And then you help.

And the face of evil becomes your own.



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Young People

Is anyone else tired of hearing about all the flaws of young people today?

Well, I am.

Young people are narcissists. They don’t think of anyone but themselves. Entitled, shallow, wanting trigger warnings, too connected to social media. Staying inside on the couch and never going out and doing things. Spending mom and dad’s money. Their parents are to blame! They don’t have any manners. They don’t respect their elders. When I was their age…

Yeah, that stuff.

I will admit that my oldest sits on the couch. I prefer this to him sitting in his room alone. From that couch he has now taken 11 AP classes, ranging from Calculus B/C to psychology to economics. He’s a talented clarinet player; he’s gone to All-State every year since he was a freshman, and he goes to clinics and classes and National Honor Band last year. He’s a leading light of the Santa Fe Youth Symphony Orchestra. He also volunteered to learn two more instruments for the school musical last year–and may I say there’s nothing more startling than coming home to hear “Always Look On The Bright Side of Life” being played on the saxophone, when as far as you know no one in the house plays the saxophone. And there’s more; he’s also getting famous on Reddit, where he is making the argument that Trump’s supporters on a particular subreddit are a hate group. It’s convincing; he just uses the posts these people make themselves. He’s talented, he’s engaged, he’s better educated than I was after two years at Sewanee, and you know what? He’s done all of it himself. Yeah, that kid’s entitled and lazy, that’s for sure.

My middle child is on social media all the time. She can’t do gymnastics anymore because of her knees, but she’s teaching it. She just started in marching band, where she plays the flute in spite of being told all of last year by other girls in her section that “she wasn’t good enough to be second flute.” She replied that she must be good enough or she wouldn’t be there. When I told her someone who was once a family friend would be at her sports practice and that she didn’t have to interact with him, she said, “That’s OK, I’ll just smile at him.” She still plays hockey, even though the attitudes that plagued us when she was younger are still around (I blog under my real name so I don’t want to be more specific). She draws and makes things, including an incredibly sophisticated cat costume for herself. She’s good with her siblings; she can make absolutely anyone laugh. Sometimes I find myself depending on her too much; she’s emotionally mature and she calms me down sometimes when no one else can. Yeah, that kid is sure too connected to electronics. And entitled.

My youngest is still learning that she can’t do everything! She is learning trumpet and sings in the choir, she does ballet and modern dance, she’s on the gymnastics team. And she’s a great friend; her brother and I used to despair because the kids she invited over here were quite often high-energy and hard to deal with, kids who didn’t have many friends at school other than my daughter. I never really know who’s going to be here when I get home; she has the most amazing assortment of people she likes to be around. And somehow, it all works when she’s there in the middle of them, making compromises and redirecting. She loves animals of all kinds, she loves her brother and sister, and she’s sad that next year her brother will be in college, maybe far away from us. She’s a sensitive soul, sometimes to the point of annoying me. She loves to read, and even more than her sister she makes things and we have craft supplies EVERYWHERE. Yeah, that kid is so entitled and doesn’t show any respect for her parents.

I know there are lots of other kids and young adults out there who are like my kids, making a life for yourselves and engaging on many levels. I love young people! And so should everyone else!

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Beta Reads Are Go!

Since my last post, I’ve gotten two beta reads back and now I’m waiting for the third. I’ve already done more editing since it went to the beta readers. Ah, well, it wouldn’t be me if I wasn’t editing, right?

I answered a request from a friend so I have some more reading to do.

It’s an interesting experience to beta read for someone. Getting through the whole entire book isn’t difficult, exactly; it’s just that you can see something that isn’t working, say, on page 100, but there are still 200 more to go. You have to disengage from the thing that’s bothering you and push onward.

Getting a beta read was interesting too. One of my readers sent me a paragraph or so, and it didn’t really give me the information I was looking for. But the second did in-line commentary and also big story arc thoughts. I’m taking most of her advice to heart, although not all. I think about 80% of the issues she had were from me taking out the backstory.

But, no writing for me today. I’m going to the elementary school for my Yearbook Club, then my big kids have flute and clarinet lessons, then taking oldest to a college information session. I’m considering waiting for him in the car so I can do some work. And I’ve had to get a friend to pick up youngest from gym. Meanwhile I have about 1,000 phone calls to make, but am I making them? No, I’m messing around on Facebook.

And my husband is getting me a new laptop. I’m still using the old one, but I’m starting to be grouchy about it. I think a MacBook Air is in my future.

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Mom Life Wins Again

Wow, I really haven’t posted since June?

Well, I can say that my summer has been eventful and tiring. I went on the band trip! The kids all had pants! Only one person had two left shoes, and I had a pair of marching shoes for them!

The day after the parade I had long talks with the band directors about the props for the marching show this year. I will be sewing and cutting things out and ordering stuff, but that should actually be finished well before the first competition. So they’ll be able to practice.

The exciting writing thing that’s happening is that my book is out to three Beta readers. I’ve never sent the whole thing out before, so this is a new experience. People like the individual chapters, but I don’t know what they will say about the arc as a whole. And finally, someone is going to talk to me about how the entire book fits together.

How mom life won: after the band trip, I took the kids on a brief road trip through Williamsburg to Duke and then to my mom’s house. Where my son’s mother board was fried, probably by the iffy electrics in my mom’s house. So, guess whose laptop has been commandeered?

That’s right…

Consequently I am very far behind on the draft of Book 2. I’m trying not to be a wreck about that.

And yes, I know I could just take the laptop back. But I’m using the time to do all those cleaning/organizing tasks no one ever does, like cleaning out the big freezer and the pantry and organizing the vast collection of food storage containers. And going to the movies. Watching TV with my kids.

I’m leaving the election alone at the moment. Well, one comment: REALLY????


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Why I’m Weird About Guns

I’ve been kicking around the idea of this post for a while. Yesterday I almost put it on Facebook, but then didn’t. It seems like a heavy story to carry though.

In April 1990, just before my college graduation, my now-husband’s brother was murdered with a handgun. Brother was a battered spouse who had recently left his wife. She had lured him to a wooded location, where she shot him a total of nine times, once point blank in the forehead, three times to his body, and, after reloading, five times in the back after he was on the ground.

Husband’s brother was 27 years old. He worked on the COBE project at NASA. He was a talented artist and cartoonist.

None of the measures being debated now would have saved his life.

The woman who shot him had never been diagnosed with a mental illness. She had never committed a crime before. The gun she used had been in their home for a long time (they had been married for 10 years) and when he left he didn’t want it, so she kept it. She was certainly not on a terrorist watch list. He had never even reported the domestic abuse. On one occasion she had slammed his head in a door, giving him a concussion. Another time she stabbed him with a screwdriver. And because he was a man, no one would have taken it seriously anyway.

I guess I have a couple of points here. I think that not allowing people on the no-fly or terror watch list to buy guns won’t solve any problems. Here we are, pretending to think the Orlando shooter was a Muslim terrorist when we all know that it isn’t true. He had no ties to any terrorist group; he’d been interviewed by the FBI because of the way he talked.

And being anti-gay isn’t going to get him put on the watch list. Even though maybe it should.

So what am I saying about the current issues?

I suppose what I’m saying is that keeping people on the terror watch list from buying guns isn’t a real solution. There’s no due process involved with being on the list or with being taken off of it. And it wouldn’t have kept the Orlando shooter from getting a gun. It wouldn’t have kept any of the rest of these guys from getting guns either.

This is the fake excuse for what happened in Orlando, the thing we can blame this time. Before, it was the Confederate flag. Now we’re talking about depriving Americans of rights because someone suspects them of wrongdoing.

But, it’s better than nothing?

I think it’s just an easy fix for a problem that is way more complicated. A band-aid when a quadruple bypass is needed.

I think I want meaningful gun reforms. I want there to be funding for studies on gun violence. I want to have actual solutions, choices, other ways to solve the problems of gun violence. If my would-be sister-in-law hadn’t had access to a gun, she might have mowed him down with her car or poisoned him or taken some other path to kill him. If we’re going to leave guns in people’s hands, we need to find ways to keep them from being used to take lives.

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Other People’s Monkeys

I swear, these past few days have been so stressful I’m considering locking the door, pitching the phone out in the yard, shutting off the internet and throwing the router or modem or whatever the hell it is out there too, and putting a big sign on the door that says “SHUT UP AND GO AWAY.”

Yes, I took on a lot of tasks this year. Did I do them because I wanted to? Because I thought, gee, I really need the recognition/adulation/admiration people give you when you take on stuff nobody else wants to do? No. I did it because there was no one else. And it’s not that I think people owe me anything. It’s that I don’t know why so many people think they have to go out of their way to make life more difficult.

Yes, I’m happy you all have opinions. I’m happy you have ideas and suggestions. The job was open and you could have taken it. You could do it now, but you won’t.

No, I don’t want to listen to any more people tattling on each other. I don’t want to be chided for not publishing information that was common sense. There are things that you might be curious about that I CAN’T DISCUSS WITH YOU. Because there are rules.

And yes, I’m tired of putting my own, real work aside so that I can deal with the people bringing the stress.

What if, instead of being so concerned about your own wants, you considered the well-being of the organization? Would that really be so hard?

Sadly, yes.



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Say “Yes” To Defending Your Neighbor

A thoughtful post from a local pastor who I admire greatly.


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The Biggest To-Do List In The World

Yes, my mom life took over my writing life again. I know how surprised you all are. Today’s list had six items for the pool, one item for the gym, a grocery list, two items for the yearbook, …

Source: The Biggest To-Do List In The World

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The Biggest To-Do List In The World

Yes, my mom life took over my writing life again. I know how surprised you all are.

Today’s list had six items for the pool, one item for the gym, a grocery list, two items for the yearbook, and three items for the band. Then of course I had my housework schedule, which I’m only halfway through.

On the bright side, I was done with the rest of it by 10:30.

I wish I could figure out how to put this energy into the book. Or maybe it isn’t energy so much as it’s dedication? The idea that I can do these tasks and then I’ll be finished? Some days I don’t even want to look at it. I want it to be done and I want to write the next one, and the next one, and the one after that. I won’t speak of how long it’s been since I did any research for the Polish Boy Scouts project. I’m serious about all of it, but some days there’s just no motivation.

And if there’s clutter or some kind of housework that needs doing? It depends. I get overwhelmed by housework easily, so there’s a schedule. Typically I try to spend half an hour or so on the house every morning. Make the bed, wipe down the bathroom, do the dishes, that sort of thing. If I don’t do it, I can’t write because I feel too guilty.

I think that might be the biggest part of this journey. I’m looking at Colorado Gold because I’d like to go; I have friends who are teaching at it. But it’s September; there will be band and kid things and leaving kids with husband. I love him, but feeding the kids something they will eat isn’t one of his strong points. Having my own tiny room for work, not having a full time job, a lot of writers dream about exactly this.

The space is here, but so are the obligations. And the things I feel driven to do that aren’t writing. I think this is what makes that “cabin” fantasy we all have so attractive. Mine is on Crete; it would be a small, sun-drenched space with comfortable seating and lots of windows to let in the ocean breeze. Well, of course it would be on the beach! And the colors would be bright, and food would appear by magic, and nobody there would even know my name, and I would turn out words and paragraphs and chapters and books and then I would call it Art.

Well, it’s a good daydream.

Okay, butt in the chair, coffee at the ready. A thousand post-it notes for my edits, and now I’ll…I’ll go pick up my fourth grade daughter and take her to lunch, the library, and dance. It’s half day Wednesday.

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How To (Re) Write

What a magnificent day it is! We’ve gone from snow and cold to sunny and clear in just a few days. I’m continuing to hope that my apple trees didn’t freeze. They did, though.

Yesterday I finally sat at my desk for the first time in three weeks. Dental surgery, swimming pool, elementary school yearbook, band uniforms, gymnastics meet…it all adds up. I’m hoping that things will be relatively clear for the next few weeks, because I’m deep into rewrites on “What You Stand For.”

After the retreat in Colorado Springs (which I TOTALLY want to do again!), I started thinking that I’m a more critical reader than I used to be. When I read other people’s work for critique, I’m very quick to point out bits of lazy characterization or a plot that skips around. And, my favorite–front-loading the backstory. I think I’m so sensitized to that because I do it myself. How many opening chapters of this book did I go through before I finally jumped into the action? I needed a sequence that explained what the sorority meant to these girls and how it was different from the others.

I read an article when I was in that process about how every chapter in the whole book needed that same kind of detail and polishing and thought. What is that scene accomplishing? Is this character the right one to say that? It seemed exhausting to think of going through twenty-odd versions of every chapter! Maybe writing wasn’t really worthwhile after all?

Fast forward to the retreat and I’m going to self-publish these books. I want to have them all up somewhere around the first of the year, and I’m hopeful I can get there because I’ve learned so much on this journey so far. Looking over the draft of “What You Settle For” helped me realize that I’ve gotten better at first drafts. Here’s hoping that will translate to getting better at third and fourth drafts, too.

Meanwhile I’m going over “What You Stand For” in detail. Yesterday I was doing a read through looking for a particular emotional moment and I realized that Chapter 12 wasn’t reading “tight” enough. There were passages of dialogue and action, but an awful lot of the action was from the outside. Getting in deeper, and as a result going bigger, are the goals now.

Someday, this book will be finished; I have high hopes for mid-May. Meanwhile, the rewrites are making it funnier and more immediate and it has more emotional impact. It’s like I’m pointing at it: “See? Here’s why you’re supposed to care!” I’m feeling good about where it’s going.

Of course, marketing is still terrifying.

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