Impractical Magic

I’ve wanted to own a Ford Mustang for about as long as I can remember. Last year I finally bought one… and it’s the most impractical car I’ve ever owned. But I love it all the more for that fact.

I saved for several years in order to purchase my dream car and planned to buy it on or around my 50th birthday. My dad would be visiting then and I figured shopping for a car together would be something fun to do. We’re both pretty interested in cars: we both used to race (in amateur leagues), can talk about tires, and will turn our heads at the sound of a particularly nice engine burble.

I started shopping in about October 2017, cruising local dealerships and Ford’s certified pre-owned website for something about two years old with low mileage. Why buy new when I could save about ten grand by getting a gently driven model with a similar warranty? I knew I was buying a somewhat impractical car, so I figured I could be logical about the purchase.

Then came the question of where to put it. We already owned two cars and our house came equipped with two garages—which we actually do use to shelter the cars. No towers of boxes or piles of old furniture for us! (That’s all in the basement. Thank God we have a basement.)

We decided we should build a third garage. My Mustang definitely needed to be garaged and my older Toyota wouldn’t last much longer if it had to live outside, and the Durango is our all-weather car. It needed to be inside and ready to go. So, a third garage. Practical, right?

We came up with several plans for the thing, a number of which included adding the garage as an extension to the house.

“We’ll bump out the far wall of our bedroom and add a decent bathroom and a proper walk-in closet!”

“I could have an actual office up there. With a door that closes!”

“We could do a little patio, too. Overlooking, the… swamp.”

“Maybe not a patio.”

“What if we put that here, and then we could put a sunroom by the kitchen, and bump out the…”

You get the idea. We contacted a few builders and got all excited about the plans to renovate. All so we could buy a car. Then the estimates started rolling in and we decided to build a freestanding garage next to the house instead. It’s a shed. A very large, very nice shed with one and a half garage doors, plenty of room for the Durango and all of the requirements of suburbia: lawn mower, leaf blower, snow blower, weed whacker, chainsaw, shelves full of inert fertilizer, boots none of us remember buying, tubs full of rotting sports equipment, and at least one paint can from every room in the house. And a few boxes, and one piece of broken furniture.

We finalized the plans for the new garage about a month before my 50th birthday. Then it started to rain and rained about every day for four months. You can’t dig a foundation in the rain—not when the lower corner of it is pretty much part of the swamp. The official designation is wetlands and it’s nice having twelve acres of wetlands as our back yard. Not so much when you want to dig a hole in part of it.

The garage was completed in September 2018 and I started car shopping. I was still looking for a trusty second-hand vehicle with low miles and a great warranty. Then I found a new one at a local dealership in a colour I hadn’t seen before: royal crimson. I ran the numbers. Taking into account a few Ifs, I could afford it. Just. But buying a new car was so impractical! I’d be just fine with a used one. I could get more features with a used one. I wouldn’t be as paranoid about scratching the paint on a used on.

Before I could convince myself to buy it, the car disappeared from the dealer’s inventory. That was the universe telling me I had made the right decision.

Finally the weekend we’d put aside to Buy Kelly’s Mustang arrived. We visited a local dealer and asked to see their preowned selection. It was two cars, both of them older than I wanted, one with a soft top. My list of wants and needs was fairly small: I wanted a V8. I wanted a manual transmission. I wanted the fastback body. I live in northeast Pennsylvania. It rains a lot here. It snows. And I have hair. We figured we’d make the trip worthwhile by at least taking one of the new models out for a test drive.

You know those moments in life that make up a very special album? Your first apartment, meeting The One, meeting The One Who’s Actually Meant to Be, seeing your kid smile for the first time, and actually having a complicated dessert turn out just like the picture on Pinterest. Add pushing the start button on a V8 Mustang to that list. Oh, the sound. The rumble, the roar, the vibration through the seat. It’s… amazing. It was everything I hoped it would be.

Then I drove the thing. My test drive was fairly sedate because while I already acknowledged that a Mustang wasn’t a terrible practical car, I did want to know how it would feel as an everyday sort of car. Something I could drive to the store and back. As you can imagine, the car handled beautifully. It was a dream to drive.

The dealer, of course, wanted to know if I’d be interested in buying it. I was, but not that particular car. It was white and just… white. I wanted royal crimson. Or a dark grey, like the $50K super upgraded model parked next to it. But I didn’t have $50k and I couldn’t afford that loan, so we talked second hand again.

Then we found a new one. V8. Manual. Royal Crimson. 600 miles away. In my price range. Our salesman all but got down on one knee to offer it to me and I said yes. Then I had a panic attack. I was about to spend what amounted to a year of my daughter’s college tuition on a car. Money that many people would consider an annual salary. I could feed hundreds with this money. Clothe people. Educate them. Yes, I’d saved for years for just this moment, but what if it was wrong. What if…

And I hadn’t driven a Charger

Did I forget to mention that part? Every time I looked online for a Mustang, I’d check out comparable cars that were more practical. The Charger has an all-wheel-drive option, which would be great for the snow and rain and hills. And it’s a pretty mean looking vehicle. Predatory. Then there are those smaller SUVs that would make so much sense when I’m carting boxes of books from the library to storage. Or broken furniture to the hard waste collection. Or, just, you know, grocery shopping. Did I really need a V8 engine? The cost of gasoline would be ridiculous. Especially with all these hills.

Did I really need a new car? I loved—still love my Toyota. I’ve had it for fifteen years. She’s been a truly faithful partner and the idea of not driving her anymore made me more than a little sad. Thankfully, she’d remain a part of the family—as my daughter’s first car.

So, anyway, after sweating it out (literally) for five days, I got a call from the dealership. They had my car and it was beautiful. When did I want to come to pick it up?

Max (the Mustang) is a beautiful car. The colour is almost shocking in its allure and I think I’m the only person in 600 miles driving one just like this. Everyone in town knows it’s me. I park him at the end of every lot, away from all possible door dings and spend every minute in every store paranoid that some teenage hooligan is going to run a key along his glossy side.

Getting into the car is a bit like making yourself into human origami. You have to fold in the middle, with your legs one way and your arms another.

I’m only just tall enough to see over the wheel comfortably and the bulge of the hood (housing those glorious eight cylinders) is so high that I pretty much just have to trust the road is there, where it should be when I crest certain hills.

No one older than five can comfortably sit in the back seat and I’ve stopped tossing my purse in there because I did something to my neck contorting myself to get it out. Likewise, I can’t fit my bag of books back there without shifting the seat.

My travel tea mug doesn’t fit in the cup holder.

I get one mile per gallon.

It doesn’t cost a fortune to fill the tank. Sticker shock is somewhat allayed by a fifteen-gallon tank. And it runs just fine on regular. Is in fact designed to run just fine on regular.

It doesn’t fit through the drive-through lane at the bank.

I can’t drive it when it’s raining because the angle of the back window is so acute that it’s constantly awash in water making visibility very, very bad. Also, the car is somewhat low-slung and we get a lot of water on the roads when it’s raining.

I can’t drive it in the snow. There’s a setting for it, for the traction, but… no.

The seat belt is so far back that I nearly put my neck out the other way reaching for it and pulling it over my shoulder.

But…

Every time I push the start button, every impracticality fades beneath the burble of eight cylinders doing their thing. I could sit and listen to the engine for hours. I’ve actually turned the music down on occasion to do just that as I’m winging around the tight corners.

Max is so much fun to drive. The way he clings to corners and leaps up hills. The sound of the engine when I change gears, the roar up and down. The feel of the wheels on the road. The suspension. The fun extras like the fact the speedometer is labeled Ground Speed and when I open the door, the word Mustang lights up on the jamb, reminding me every time I fold myself in half, legs one way, arms another, that my car is special.

I could write another post, longer than this one, about the times I’ve chosen the practical direction. I’m a plotter and a planner. I save my pennies, buy everything on sale, and hate spending money. I plan our weekly menus around one main ingredient. (This week it’s sweet potatoes.) I’m not allowed to book family vacations because no one wants to go on practical holidays.

I require advance notice in triplicate of any change of plans.

But

I love my car and despite the fact I still fret about spending so much money on one frivolous thing, I’m glad I bought it. I worked hard for that money. My husband and I both did. And when I’m out driving, or just visiting Max in the garage, I’m happy in a way that’s difficult to describe.

I guess the closest I can get is to say it’s probably the feeling you get when you finally realize a dream. One long-held, one planned for, one you really didn’t think would actually happen.

And the fact that it ’s not practical or sensible only makes it more magical.

 

(At some point, I’ll stop talking about my new car. At some point. In the meantime, here’s another picture!)

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Colour My World

You know how some people want to know your star sign? And as soon as you admit you’re a Taurus, they offer a sage nod before telling you stuff you didn’t really need to hear. Or have heard before. A hundred times. We Tauruses are not stubborn, by the way. We’re determined. Huge difference. For stubbornness, look to your neighbourhood Aries.

I don’t make a habit of asking people their star sign. Instead, I want to know your favourite colour. I know the favourite colours of all my friends. I don’t attach any mystical theories to the knowledge but it does come in handy when I’m buying gifts. Also, colour is important to me and always has been.

Orange and purple
Like this, but with more purple in between.

When I was a kid, my favourite colours were orange and purple. Together. My bedroom was a bit of an eyesore, but I loved it. I had these brilliant curtains decorated with huge orange flowers and purple leaves and when the sun shone through from behind, the flowers glowed. My wardrobe was painted bright purple and we called it the Purple People Eater. My chenille bedspread was orange and I had a purple rug on the floor. I loved my room. It was every four-year-old’s dream.

I don’t really remember what came after the orange and purple phase. We moved a lot and usually rented our houses, so I didn’t really get around to a lot of personal space personalization. When we finally settled just outside of Washington DC, however, I finally got to decorate another bedroom and I chose a blue floral pattern. Looking back, I’m not sure why? I think I was heavily influenced by my mother. We’d bought an old farmhouse and she had definite ideas about what it should look like, inside and out.

argyleAlthough I’d settled on blue as my favourite colour during my teens, I did go through an odd phase in eighth grade where I only wore grey and yellow clothes. I even had this amazing pair of grey and yellow argyle socks that I would wash out every night so I could wear them again. And again.

I was so weird.

(To my never ending amusement, Google completed my search for grey and yellow argyle with the word socks and then provided me with dozens of wonderful pictures. I might have to order a pair!)

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“Wagon Wheel” from the grey on grey on grey period.

In tenth grade I chose an art elective because I thought it would be an easy class. This simple choice would impact my life in a number of ways. It wasn’t an easy class. Our teacher was a working artist with an extensive knowledge of art history. We started with hard black pencils and gradually moved through the numbers. Then we got to use charcoal, then conte, then ink washes. Finally, after six months of grey on grey on grey, we were allowed to use colour. My first painting was a black stick figure surrounded by flecks of every colour imaginable. It was my mind exploding—in all the good sorts of ways—and it was during these months that I first thought I might like to be an artist. My love of art has coloured my life ever since.

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“Kissable Lips” from my more colourful period. (Portait of Solange)

One of the things I love to do is sketch the bare outline of a face and then flesh out my portrait with coloured pencils, building layer upon layer of colour until I get the right skin tone, the contours of cheek and nose, and every hint of colour in the hair.

Blue was still my favourite colour when I was a teenager, and I remember associating a lot of my personality with the supposed traits of blue: I was a loyal and steadfast friend. I was honest and fair. Or I wanted to be.

I had also decided around then that yellow was a terrible colour; that it stood for cowardice and shame. And grey wasn’t really a colour at all, was it?

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The Ballroom Forest (Cam Blake Photography)

As I grew into my twenties, my favourite colour changed to green and there’s a simple explanation for this. I traveled a lot and a lot of my travel included hiking up and down mountains and through rainforests. There is a place in Tasmania called the Ballroom Forest and it’s absolutely enchanting. The name comes from the green carpet of moss that covers much of the ground, and the way the trees curve around and up, giving the few clearings the feel of an enchanted ballroom. It’s a beautiful place, as is much of the untouched wilderness of Tasmania, and even now, I can never get enough of those shades of green.

My house now is decorated in a mixture of blues and greens, with blues for the sleeping rooms and greens for the awake rooms (kitchen, dining, family). I have twelve acres of forest behind me and one of my favourite things to do is to look out of the window from the couch to see the green of the forest framed by the green of the family room wall. It’s harmonious.

And right now, if you asked me my favourite colour, I’d probably say green.

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His name is Max.

But I just bought a red car and it’s the most gorgeous shade of red imaginable. Ford calls it royal crimson and it’s like a black cherry—dark and rich and delicious. I also chose red as the colour for the new logo for our bagel shop. A bright, vibrant red. Red is cheery. I always feel happy when I look at red. I like red wine! I also like red apples, but not those cheating red delicious that are never delicious at all. I love Twizzlers. Red is good.

I did think about getting a blue car. My previous car was blue and I loved the deep indigo colour. I also thought about a dark grey. But the other colour I considered did come as a bit of a surprise: competition orange.

competition orangeNow, I don’t really think I could drive an orange car forever, but look at this orange. It’s gorgeous. So warm and sunshiny! It’s a really nice colour and looking at it reminds me that orange is and has been for quite some time, my second favourite colour. It’s warmer than red. Friendlier. It’s hard to feel sad when you’re surrounded by orange. My four-year-old self was on to something.

Is there a point to this post? No, not really, except as an excuse to ramble on, because I haven’t had the chance to do that much lately, and so when I got the idea to write a post about colour, I got all excited. There hasn’t been enough rambling about nothing on this blog!

So, what’s your favourite colour?

Following Your Heart

following-your-heartIf I had to pick the underlying theme of my many blog posts about writing, it would be me asking: what am I doing this for? The question isn’t unique to my profession, or even to creatives. From time to time, we all take a look at what we’re doing and ask why. Or we should. And it’s not something you can ask once and be done. The answer changes with time.

I set goals at the beginning of this year and felt pretty good about not only the direction I wanted to take my career, but in the number of books I wanted to write. It was a good number. Very doable. Then I got to work and started writing the wrong book. Henry and Marc’s HEA was number three on my list of projects. I went with it, though, and by the time I hit the 6k mark, I’d entered that wonderful phase where the story started to tell itself. I was golden; writing 1500-2000 words every morning, revising a two or three chapters of Irresistible, the novel I drafted last year, every afternoon.

Then I finished drafting this second book and suddenly had two books to revise. Revisions on Irresistible had ground to a halt as Counting on You hit the phase where all I wanted to do was write another chapter so I could see what happened next. This is a good thing, usually. It’s one of my favourite parts of drafting. I rushed past the finish line, took a few days to recharge, and started revising Counting on You.

So I was attacking my To Do list out of order. What did it matter, so long as I got all the books written by the end of the year? Continue reading “Following Your Heart”

A Pantheon of Superheroes

I’m not the first person to draw parallels between superheroes and the gods of classical myth. It’s a subject that’s been written about endlessly! But as happens when I try to educate myself, I want to apply what I’ve learned. Or at least talk about it.

For the past few weeks I’ve been listening to a series of lectures on Classical Mythology. I’ve always been interested in Greek myths. They’re an integral part of our culture; they’re the stories nearly everyone knows. Having finished this series of lectures, however, I have gained a sense of just how deep the appreciation and appropriation of classical mythology runs. While these myths didn’t necessarily invent the art of storytelling, the people who wrote them down, or paid homage to them when penning their own epics, used the ideas conveyed by these myths to shape the art of storytelling forever. That might have been to do with the fact once these myths were written down, the act of writing became an act of storytelling, and it had to make sense. Or it could simply be that these tales speak to a need in all of us to make sense of, well, everything.

Our stories of superheroes continue this tradition even if in a more fanciful sense.

On the weekend I watched Justice League: War. I got sucked in by the snarky banter between Batman and Green Lantern. They traded insults throughout the entire movie. It was awesome. I also really liked the interpretation of Batman in this instance. He’s my favourite superhero, so I’m always a little sensitive when it comes to how he is portrayed.

Anyway, at the end of the movie, Wonder Woman makes a comment along the lines how much she enjoyed being a part of the pantheon once again. Superman, the lovably clueless lug, says something like “Huh?” Diana then nods to the heroes lined up beside her, giving each one a Greek name.

This got me thinking.

(here we go…)

Here are her match-ups:

WonderWoman_Diana

Wonder Woman, Alex Ross. Diana the Huntress, Giampietrino.

First of all, for Diana to assume she was part of the pantheon means she must be one of these gods (or goddesses). Given her name is Diana the most obvious choice for her is Artemis, goddess of the hunt. I think it’s a good fit. Artemis (and her Roman counterpart, Diana) is the protector of young women and animals and mistress of the wilderness. This works well with Diana being a warrior princess of the fabled Amazons, which places her in the same category of myth! I could dig deeper, but then this post would get long and boring.

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Batman, Jim Lee. Hades, Wrath of the Titans

Batman is Hades (according to Diana). I really like this comparison and not because Batman is dressed in black and Hades is overlord or the underworld. Let’s start with Batman’s superhero name. It’s a nod to the fear he has overcome. Hades name ends up becoming synonymous with the realm he rules over. I think there is a parallel there. Moving on, Hades is not an evil guy. He’s actually portrayed as quite altruistic and with a reasonable temperament. He is a god of balance and change. He’s also the keeper of human souls, from the moment they are born until they enter his realm. Batman’s search for balance, or the meaning of his existence, is a key component of his character. He’s also the most human of the superheroes—because he is human, unalterably, using only technology (and oodles of cash) to defeat his enemies.

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Green Lantern, Ethan Van Sciver. Apollo, ArcosArt.

Diana called Green Lantern (Hal Jordan) Apollo. I don’t know much about Hal as a Green Lantern, so I had to do a little research for this one (woot)! Apollo is a really complex god who had a finger in a lot of pies. He’s depicted as a patron, leader, defender and oracle. Hal’s a cop and a superhero and, well, a lot of everything. As Parallax he’s one of the most powerful beings in the DC pantheon. Apollo is also extraordinarily powerful. I think the simplest parallel is in the way a Green Lantern uses his powers. He can shape them into anything, and his imagination is fueled by his willpower. This fits with Apollo’s ‘jack of all trades’ godding. (That’s a word. Really. Okay, maybe not.)

Flash_Hermes

Flash, CWTV. Hermes, Unknown.

The Flash is Hermes. This is an easy parallel as both of these guys have winged feet. They’re fast. They’re both supposedly cunning and witty, which Flash, Barry Allen, is in Justice League: War. The Barry Allen of the current TV series is charmingly naïve, but still makes a fair comparison with his other skills—being able to move between worlds and seeing himself as a protector.

Cyborg_Hephaestus

Cyborg, Lee Bermejo. Hephaestus, Riordan Wikia

Cyborg is Hephaestus. Before Googling Hephaestus, I assumed he’d be the burly sort—seeing as Cyborg is big. Hephaestus is the god of blacksmiths, metallurgy, fire and volcanoes, among other things. Greek gods rocked at multitasking. So the similarities are obvious. Blacksmith doesn’t necessarily mean weapon smith, but they are handy with tools. Cyborg pretty much is a tool. He thinks and it is. Also, he’s rather fond of blasting fire at things.

Shazam_Zeus

Shazam, DC Comics. Zeus, Injustice: Gods Among Us

Zeus as Shazam (Captain Marvel). Well, it’s obvious, isn’t it? They both wield lightning. This connection can be explored on a much deeper level, however. As portrayed in Justice League: War, Shazam is a geeky kid in his human form and a terrifically built dude in his superhero form. Zeus is, at the same time, both the youngest and oldest son of Cronus and Rhea. According to myth, fearing one of his children would grow up to kill him, Cronus swallowed each one as they were born. Rhea substituted a stone for the last, Zeus, and sent her son away to be raised elsewhere. As an adult, Zeus freed his siblings from Cronus (in some stories, they were disgorged, in others they were rescued from his slit belly) and they were ‘born’ again in reverse order, making Zeus the first born and therefore the oldest. I kinda like how this parallels with Shazam being a young kid, and then an adult superhero.

Diana doesn’t match Superman to a Greek god. She instead tells him he’s something else entirely. Which is interesting! In other match-ups, he’s inevitably paired with Zeus. I really like the above comparison, though. So who exactly is Superman? I guess that’s for you to decide. 🙂

(Featured image is from Justice League: War, DC Comics)

Right Here, Right Now

The practice of yoga is, essentially, the practice of breathing. In preparing to exercise, we first concentrate on our breath. Become mindful of it, use the stir of air through our lungs to feel out our body and expel anything problematic, whether thought or that niggle in the lower back. I have a lot of those. Niggles. As such, I find the beginning of practice difficult.

Part of it is the sitting. I’m…getting on…and sitting cross-legged is really only comfortable for toddlers and people with mechanical knees. My thighs hurt, my ankles feel as if they’re being crushed, my skin itches and my back…oh, my back. When my mind isn’t wandering among myriad hurts, it’s skipping and bouncing through plot problems, my to-do list, and what I want for lunch. And I’m supposed to be breathing. Finding those points of tension and loose thought, collecting them into a bundle of insignificant noise, let’s say a hum, and breathing them in and out.

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It sounds hard and it is. It’s pretty rare that I get through the beginning meditation without switching position ten times and having to chase after my thoughts eleven or twelve times. But you know what? That’s why we call it practice. Also, the very act of trying is a meditation of a sort. Really, it is.

Once we’re on our feet we move through a series of more physical exercise, again using our breath to direct and power these motions. It’s ALL about the breath. In and out. Find that point of contention and breathe through it. I do much better at this part, even when I think something might snap, because I enjoy movement. I’m one of those people who finds it difficult to sit through a three hour film because, for the love of all the cheese in the universe, who can sit still for that long?

After moving comes another round of meditation. I like it when we lie down on our backs and imitate a corpse. I often feel like one at that point. The final meditation is designed as a cool down period, but also to ‘set’ the changes wrought by the preceding exercise. It’s also another chance to find your breath and use it for good (as opposed to thinking up ways to destroy the yoga studio).

Last week, after making like a corpse for a bit, we listened to some final thoughts from our instructor. I always find these thoughts…instructive. After twisting this way and that for an hour, chasing my breath and sometimes finding it, it’s nice to hear something encouraging. Something I can take away from practice—other than pain.

(Gale, if you’re reading this, grant me artistic license on that last part, I usually feel pretty good after practice!)

The final thoughts that week were about the practice of breathing, and how by simply taking a moment to think about breathing, we can practice yoga. Wherever, whenever. We can exist only in that moment, right here, right now.

The pace of our lives might seem very much in line with this. We do a lot of living in the right here, right now. We’re all about instant gratification. We can 1-Click just about any book ever published. Same with music. We can stream TV and movies. We can video chat with our friends and family. We can Google things we never needed to know, or could have quite happily lived without knowing. FOREVER. We Tweet about what we’re doing right now. All the time. Twenty-four hours a day.

But none of that is, well, breathing. That’s simply living. When was the last time you took a step back from all that instant gratification and existed in a moment of…nothing? When was the last time you had a conversation with someone where all you did was listen? Do you always watch TV with contingencies plans and distractions close by? Phone, book, laptop, remote, knitting?

How often do you miss what someone said because you were looking at your phone?

These questions and situations all come from my own life. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve looked up from one screen or another and thought “was someone just talking to me?” And I often have to compete with the same when talking to someone else. And sometimes I get really tired (not just because I’m, er, getting on). I think it’s because so often my days are filled with INPUT and I haven’t taken the time to make like a corpse for a bit. To just sit still for one minute or five—right here, right now—and let it all ‘set’. To pay attention to my breath, follow it through all the information, sort it, get rid of what I don’t need and file some for later.

So, yeah, to me “right here, right now” has taken on a new meaning. Sometimes we just need to take a little time to breathe.

For breath is life, and if you breathe well you will live long on earth. ~Sanskrit Proverb