ellen mcbee

She's always up to something…

Yeah, Twice a Week. Really!

Hi, out there!

I really am still here. But today my husband brought home my NEW LAPTOP. And so i’m sitting at my desk in my office wondering why the hell I didn’t have one of these before!

My old laptop, as you might recall, bit the dust. It’s still usable but only barely. So now here I am with the Dell Inspiron  15, 7000 series. It has a 15″ touchscreen and you can flip it around so it’s in tablet mode.

I don’t honestly think I will ever use it in tablet mode, at least not without a big table to put it on. It’s pretty lightweight. And most importantly, the keyboard is the one they have on the 13″ screens.

Yes, I’m that woman.

When Bic came out with pens that were sized for women? Secretly happy. My hands are small; my wedding ring is a size 5 1/2. My son has a big 17″ laptop and I can’t type on it because the keys are so far apart. This one? Perfect.

I just wish a new laptop made the writing shinier.

I’ve spent the past hour or so…in deep research for the Polish Scouts? Which I’m going to start drafting on Tuesday? No, I’ve been looking for my passwords so I can put all my accounts on here. And I’d like to pretend that this was the first one, but it’s more like the fifteenth.

By the way, Dell hasn’t paid me for my input. But if they want to? I’m totally open to taking money.

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Goal-Setting

I’m really terrible at setting goals for myself.

Seriously.

This is not because I’m lazy or because I don’t like to have goals. It’s because I have incredibly unrealistic ideas of how much I can really accomplish.

For example, this summer, I was supposed to finish What You Stand For, and I expected to be deep into the third draft of What You Settle For by now, with a tentative start date of September 1 for drafting the Polish Scouts project. I’m going to have to give some thought to a title for that. Instead I spent the summer cleaning the house and driving people around, so now I am at the beginning of the second draft of What You Settle for, still tightening up What You Stand For, and still plotting the Polish Scouts project.

But it’s all good, I guess. I’m going to get finished with the Brooks and Kit books and then I’ll be moving into this scouts project.

Anyway, I’ve decided recently to add a goals section to my bullet journal, mostly so I can think about what I need to get done every week. I’ll be away next weekend but in the meantime the goals are:

  1. 2,000 words a day.
  2. Blog twice this week.
  3. Prepare lunches and dinners for the days I’ll be gone.

The third goal is mainly because, though I love my husband, he’s terrible about feeding the children nutritious food. If I’m not here he goes to the grocery store for every meal, and buys pre-made food of some kind. Doughnuts. Mac and cheese. Greek pizza. When I get home they are all in a bad mood and he doesn’t get the connection.

I’m kind of excited about the trip, which I will be posting about later in the week. Meanwhile, the dirty dishes are calling my name.

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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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Excitement galore!

Ah, I’m finally back in my office!

Every time I think things are settling down and everything is getting back into its routine, something new happens. This time it was a broken computer; not mine, my son’s. It just stopped turning on when we were at Mom’s house. So, husband ordered him a new one. Which right out of the box was broken.

Then we had a few weeks of son using my computer and me getting no work done. Son is taking 7 AP classes this year, and did most of his summer assignments on my computer, on my desk, in my office. Know how much work I got done? If you guessed “none,” you are mostly correct!

It’s OK though. I sent the book out for Beta reads and have already decided I cut too much of the back story, so I have started restoring some. Not very much. I still think it brings the story to a grinding halt. I even thought about a new beginning, but no, I like my beginning. It’s really the first time I have taken a stand on some particular thing in the book; this time, I like the beginning.

I’m also Beta/critiquing a book for one of my readers. I’m slow, because computer issue. The big desktop I got from my husband freezes up once a day.

Finally, husband ordered son a new laptop, which has been working for a week. But during the time he had mine, he left it on the edge of my desk in my office and guess what? It fell over (or the dog knocked it over) and now the screen has little thread lines on it! Husband is coming home Sunday and I am getting a laptop of some description that doesn’t have a broken screen.

There’s always research, right?

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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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Florida, Or Who You’re Supposed To Be

I don’t know why it is, but whenever there’s a big news week with lots of things to blog about I don’t. Maybe it’s just that I don’t want to jump in too quickly, before my thoughts are really formed. In any case, I have my knee-jerk reactions to things that when I’ve taken more time to really look at what happened, I quite often change my mind.

First, the shootings in Orlando broke my heart. Seeing the pictures, seeing the families, a crime scene, the horrific numbers. The shoes of the surgeon who worked on a lot of the victims. I do not pretend to have any kind of line into the mind of the shooter, but whether it was terrorism or a hate crime, or he felt like he wasn’t included enough in the Pulse family, this guy took revenge on these people because he thought they weren’t acting like they should.

Next, a little boy got dragged in by an alligator at Disney World. After the family saw this happen, they were vilified online. Because people think the parents aren’t careful enough, watchful enough; they aren’t who they should be.

I guess my theme is pretty obvious now.

The people attacking these parents online, the man with the weapon, both had one important thing in common: they were judging people for not acting the way other people think they “should” act. In the case of the people going after these parents, there’s a huge dose of Why This Will Never Happen To My Child. Of course I’m not inside the mind of the Pulse shooter, but whatever his reasoning at the base of it was They Don’t Act Right.

And the basis for both? Eventually, it’s I Am Better Than Them, So I Can Act Any Way I Want. They Deserve What I’m Going To Do To Them. Whether that’s by putting hateful words on the internet, or putting bullets into people who are already dead, it comes from the same place.

Eventually it doesn’t matter if the hateful words come from Franklin Graham or from ISIL or from the Huffington Post. Words are weapons; there’s no controlling who they wound. I still believe in telling our own truths, but pushing our own agendas onto other people is wrong, however we do it. Does telling people who they “should” be have any good outcomes? This is the definition of marginalizing; telling people they don’t belong, and they aren’t doing it right, is not what America is for.

These mass shootings, and mass shamings, are all eventually vigilante justice. When people think the law isn’t doing its job, they take it into their own hands. America is a nation of laws, laws made by the people who live here. Seeing the Senate filibuster this week, when elected legislators took gun control into their own hands? I got emotional, partly because I feel like someone is finally doing something (although that’s a subject for another post), and partly because I saw America working for change.

Incidentally, I’m calling him the shooter or “that guy” because I don’t remember his name and can’t be bothered to look it up. And I think we should skip all the media coverage and making him famous and speculating about motive and just call him Another Judgmental Bastard. They could even call them that on the evening news: “Today, Another Judgmental Bastard opened fire before turning the gun on himself…”

I think America is for personal fulfillment, whatever way we see that. For generations it was about financial gain. Religious freedom. Freedom from fear and persecution. Let’s not become the thing our people left the Old Country to get away from.

Don’t be Another Judgmental Bastard.

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About Opinions and Learning New Things

So, today I was so stressed by what was going on in my life that I posted something on Facebook. I hope that no one took it personally; I don’t do the passive-aggressive Facebook post. Although, if I did, I have collected some nice ones on Pinterest! I was having a lot of trouble expressing to myself why I was feeling so abraded. Why were so many things suddenly rubbing me the wrong way? And where did I go first? Well, to “people don’t get it.”

“There’s only one thing that I really wish more people understood about me. There are very few things in the whole world that I’m certain about. Otherwise, I am learning; I’m always open to real discussions and other people’s experiences but almost never to blanket statements. I don’t even make blanket statements.”

(A friend pointed out that it’s a blanket statement, to say that I don’t make them. And he’s right. I was trying to get to the way that whenever I express an opinion or ask a question, people seem to think I’m saying This Is The Truth. I didn’t want wimpy language and say “I try not to make blanket statements.” It’s more a statement of purpose.)

“An idea that sounded scary to me yesterday sounds like it could be a useful experience today. This is who I am, and who I’ve been my whole life.”

(And sometimes it’s still scary. A lot of the time, in fact. I still don’t like to confront people; I don’t like the idea of firing employees or telling people they’ve screwed up. My whole life I’ve been concentrating on fixing things, when maybe it would be better to throw them away. On the other hand, I went whitewater rafting for the first time two years ago. You’re never too old, etc.)

“This is why, whenever I am portrayed in a skit, character-me always starts with “I wonder….” or “What if?”, and everyone in the room knows who it’s supposed to be. (More times than I would like to admit, they are wondering something completely bizarre, like whether coyotes like celery. I don’t do that, probably.”

(Everyone knows coyotes don’t like celery! But in all seriousness, all my life I’ve had a reputation for non sequitur. I’ve sometimes wondered if I had ADHD or something. I don’t trust ideas I have that I haven’t tested myself.)

“Those of you who knew me when I was young might be surprised to hear that I’ve put away the anxiety I used to have about this truth; now I’m puzzled that others seem to put so much weight into my words when I’m still in the discussion phase, not the decision one.”

(I must sound very sure of myself when I speak, is all I can say.)

I think opinions are worthless without facts, and without your own truth to inform them. And sometimes you have to ask a lot of people to get to the facts, and it’s humbling but liberating to ask others for answers when you don’t know. And I think sticking to your guns even when you know you’re wrong is the biggest dishonesty you can commit against yourself.

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