Monday, January 30, 2012

NASCAR Hall of Fame

A quick getaway dash to Charlotte. A beautiful cloudless day in the sixties. A lovely downtown hotel. Fun dinner at a noodle bar with exotic dishes. Walking the sidewalks at night with the lights from streetlamps creating soft halos on skyrise storefronts.  Two days without estate headaches.

We used visiting the NASCAR Hall of Fame as our excuse. We'd wanted to go for ages, so we went. What we really did was escape the pressure we'd been under for months. Two days isn't much, but we had such fun studying the older race cars, reading the bios of the Hall of Fame winners, admiring the architecture of the building, and finally, when we needed to sit a bit, listening to the State of the Sport as given by Brian France et al. Reporters didn't fill the prepared seating, so we sat around the outside edges, listening closely to the blah, blah, blah that middle-aged men in suits seem to use to mask any real substantive comments or remarks.

I was struck by how far removed these men (all of the speakers and head honchos) seemed from the real sport of stock car racing. Not a bit of grease under a fingernail. Not a ball cap between any of them. They weren't so hot in the public speaking department, either. But when B. France referenced how they planned to make the stock cars more car-like next year, and how surprised the manufacturers seemed, but nicely so, I realized what the difference is. Fans, racers, mechanics, crew chiefs, owners, all care about winning and the moves on the track that get to P1. Making that hot rod faster than the speed of light (only theoretically) is the name of the game. The NASCAR suits are all about making the corporations happy. Money. Everything is aimed for bringing in more bottoms in the stands, i.e., money, and more sponsor dollars for the ISC crowd. France said there had to be "a story" for the year to be successful. Give the media a theme. Give the fans something other than racing. Baloney. Phooey. Poohdiddle.

Kurt Busch has the right idea. Go back to racing for fun, for winning for the guys who slaved over your car late at night, for your owner who has grease under his fingernails as well. NASCAR has become so much about big business, I fear the real joy racing embodies is on the endangered list.

I sure hope not. How I wish Cale, Ned, Smokey, Dale, Lee, and all that crowd ran the sport today.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Red Shoes

During these grayish, icky winter days, I find I crave color. Yesterday, I painted my kitchen. A spur of the moment act, it brought a fresh, clean look to a room I've stopped seeing because it's so familiar. Then I pulled on my dressy black jeans and felt as if I'd dropped into the wintery hole once more. Thought a second, because I really like these jeans and they're warmer than my Levis, and it hit me. I own red shoes. Three pairs. Loafers, pumps, and heeled sandals.

Red loafers it was. Instantly, I felt perkier. I may live in these red shoes until April.

So if you can't paint your kitchen, buy red shoes. Or do both.

Thursday, January 19, 2012


Just finished reading a memoir by a woman who was raised by a mother who was a serial adulteress and fertility rabbit, as well as pill addict. The writing had depth. Some stylish phrasing here and there. A good feel for place and time.  But I felt as if I were reading something I shouldn't. Dirty, almost. A peep show I emphatically didn't want to see. Stories I'd rather not hear.

A well known author touted the book on its cover. Since I like that author, I thought I'd take a chance. Wish I hadn't. The Southern girl in me was raised to keep the family dirty laundry in the tub. One did not, never, ever, disclose family members to public shame and judgment. That's what this memoir did.

I understand, intellectually, coming to terms with a "difficult" upbringing, though mine was anything but.  This memoir was, as the saying goes, probably cathartic. But really? Do you have to publish this expose' about your family? Trashy is as trashy does. Sorry, but I feel sorry for the author's family. They didn't have a choice about this memoir, and I just hope they can someday forgive her. Though I'm not sure I would.

If memoirs are to succeed, the stories should be delightful, the characters a joy, and the reader must wish to know these people in real life. Lawrence Durrell's MY FAMILY AND OTHER ANIMALS is a prime example of how to do the job right.

Otherwise, keep it to yourself.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Women, Art, and Critics

I was watching a show about the quilts of Gee's Bend. I've admired them in books and on U.S. stamps, but I knew nothing of their history and how they came to the public's attention. The art dealers who worked to get them into museums noted that many critics dismissed them as "women's crafts." In other word, less than art. Even mainstream quilters, who are largely kept out of art museums unlike the work of the Gee's Bend quilters, slammed the bright, boldly patterned quilts because they don't have careful stitching or don't follow traditional patterns.

I've known traditional quilters. My mother was one. Fabric and the stitches that quilted the top to the back, through the batting, were carefully planned. Piecing is an art form. Precise points, minuscule stitches, careful planning go into a classic quilt. The ladies of Gee's Bend start with an idea, a few strips cut from some old clothes, and an imagination unfettered by tradition.  They sew by the seat of their pants.

What does this have to do with writing? 1) Romances have a formula, of sorts. Now don't start screeching at me. The truth is, in a romance, you have to have the hero/heroine meet right fast, or the romance readers slam the book against the wall.  There're all sorts of romances, all kinds of level of hotness, and a stunning variety of stories and themes. But you have to get your boy and girl in the same room pretty quickly. They don't have to do "it," but they've got to have face time of some sort so the romance can get underway.

Traditional quilts are stunning in their breadth and width.  Within the patterns that have been around for centuries, you can play around, but you'd better keep your feet on the ground and mind the pattern's rules. Basically, this is your classic romance. Good stuff. No complaints. Women have made careers and fortunes off this. Think Nora Roberts. These amazing women artists and writers have my greatest admiration.

And then you have the books that can't be stuffed into the traditional rules.  Pantsers understand this.   People who love "different" romances know what I'm speaking of. The stitches may be unruly, the colors crazy and clashing. True love may not start in the first chapter.

Both types of books are great. There are readers aplenty for both. Yet both types get slammed regularly for being "women's books." Romance.  You can hear the disdain without listening.

Nothing makes me angrier. Well, animal and child abuse do, but this form of criticism hits my hot button big time. Quilts, books, anything created primarily by women is somehow less. Women don't need to attack other women who work in the arts. Let's support each other. We have male critics by the bushels.

I love the Gee's Bend quilts, traditional quilts, classic romances, and the off-the-wall kind, too. If it's a good read or a piece of fabric art that speaks to me, I don 't care how you got there, your age, your gender, whatever else you are or aren't.

The end result is all that matters.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Beretta on church row

After the sun gave way to a magnificent moon, and the dinner dishes were stashed in the dishwasher, I headed over to church for a committee meeting. The residual winter light was pale, at best, but the road fairly bright because of the spotlight of a full moon.  My church is one in a row of places of worship on a two-laned, quiet little road. We're all lined up neatly, the Presbyterians, the Episcopalians, the Baptists, etc., and except for traffic jams when we get out of church Sunday at the same time, nothing too thrilling happens along church row. (Of a physical nature. The metaphysical is another matter.)

I had to slow down to see what was blocking a large portion of the road. A big rig with a huge trailer was half-in, half-out of the road.  Since we never see big rigs on this tiny bit of road, I took a good look in the wavering  moonlight. "Beretta" was emblazoned on the truck driver's door, and a fancy wrap with pictures of black, sleek handguns decorated the trailer section.  It idled on the side of the road, the black and gray designs of the guns fading quickly into the night, and I couldn't help but wonder who on earth would get lost on church row with a rig full of Berettas.

Then again, maybe the truck hadn't been lost. Hmmm. Churches as agents of violent change? I couldn't imagine it on our quiet strip of road.  But I felt as if I'd just seen a Yeti on Easter Sunday in the deep South. 

That surprise factor is what keeps me reading a book.  The juxtaposition of the mundane, the everyday world with an off-kilter jab in the gut. Like those children's books where you're supposed to pick out what doesn't belong in the picture, the Beretta truck had me wondering, imagining, curious. and eager to know more.

I don't.  Know more, that is. But I can imagine all I want, and there's a story in there somewhere.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Action and Verbs

My favorite words are verbs.  They push ideas like the best kind of caffeine. Static, passive, going-nowhere sentences are usually dealt a death blow by their verbs. Every sentence needs a push, a pull, a kick in the rear to get the best out of it, and without strong verbs, the cause dies a-withering on the vine.

Have you noticed that people who "do," versus those who "don't," are the most interesting, the most happy, and often, the movers and shakers of our world?  Except for the power of passive resistance (thank you, Ghandi!), being passive won't get you diddly. Carpe Diem has become practically a cliche', but what the heck - it's a great idea.  But ideas need action. March that first step. Trill that song. Scream that anthem.

The man who taught me about verbs was a fellow western writer, Richard S.Wheeler. He's a master with them. Read his books, and you'll see what I mean. Today is my day to give credit where credit is due, and he deserves a boatload. This is me - doing - not just being.