Scarlet Letters

The not-so-private thoughts and rants of Elizabeth Donald, journalist/author and founder of the Literary Underworld.

Monday, October 31, 2011


I have an odd dilemma.

Next week, I'm on vacation.

No cons. No travel. No signings or readings or meetings of any kind.

Of course, it's not actually a vacation. It's not like I'm hopping a plane to go lie on a beach somewhere, sip margaritas and bathe in the sun. Or even to a bed-and-breakfast on a lake where I can work on my laptop in peace and quiet. Too broke for such nonsense.

And I'll still have to haul my ass out of bed at 6:30 in the freaking morning every day. I may be on vacation but the Spawn is not. There is still breakfast to be made, a bus to be caught. There is still homework to be done and errands to be run. 

Still, I'm not sure what to do with myself. It's use-it-or-lose-it vacation days, and I'll still have three to burn once this little exercise in self-indulgence is over.

What in heaven's name am I going to do with myself?

Well, it's Nanowrimo. And I do have two freaking manuscripts vying for my attention. J's idea is that I should go off to a coffeehouse each day and slam on the books. Get a metric ton of writing done.

There's also this hazmat site of an apartment. We're making progress, sure, but I could bust my ass on the place all week and see what I can get done. Enough trips to Goodwill and the dumpster and this place might look like adult humans live here, just in time for Christmas.

I've been invited to an all-women's backpacking trip the weekend my vacation starts. I'm a tentative yes on the list right now. I'm thinking about bailing, in part because I don't know anyone going and I'm shy. And in part because it's freaking November and I'm going to freeze to death. J thinks I should go, because I haven't been backpacking in two years and I miss it constantly and he thinks it would be good for me to do it. Either that or he's secretly plotting my death in order to get his hands on my millions. What do you think?

I could bake things. All those experimental recipes I never tried because I didn't have time. Full course meals all week. Om nom nom. I could knock out all the Christmas shopping in a week, if I had any money.

If I had any money I could do one day of utter self-indulgence. Manicure, pedicure, facial and massage. One day out of five wouldn't be excessive, right? That's rather appealing, if I had the money lying around doing nothing.

And then it'll be back to the usual circus. And I must say, it's wearing on me more this year than in years past. Either life is simply getting harder as time goes on, or like the man says, I'm getting too old for this shit.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Yosemite Memories

A few years ago, I took my son to visit my grandfather.

It was the first time my boy had met my mother's father. He was a fascinating man, a naturalist who had a real affinity for growing things. He owned a nursery and created a new kind of tree, the fruitless mulberry. He took me on my first camping trip in the place he loved the most in all the world: Yosemite National Park.

He loved Yosemite. It was the place he led countless troops of Boy Scouts in his decades as a Scoutmaster. An Eagle Scout himself, he lived to walk among the trees, and he married my stepgrandmother in their shadow in a small chapel within the park.

But disease and age robbed him first of his active life, and then of his mind. By the time I led my small boy into his nursing-home room, he was barely conscious of us. I don't think he recognized me, or the significance of meeting his only great-grandson, all of age six.

Or so I thought.

Papa Ivan died not long after, finally escaping the prison his body had become. Of course I didn't have the money to fly out there. So instead I coordinated a charity drive to raise money for the Yosemite Conservancy in his name. I figured rather than people buying overpriced flowers that would be thrown out in a week, they could help preserve the natural beauty he loved all his life.

We raised a few hundred dollars in a memorial fund, and I signed up to give them $5 a month ever since. It isn't much, but it's what I have. Yosemite is one of the truly wondrous places in this world, and my love of the outdoors began there.

It's been more than six years since Papa Ivan died. Tonight, my mother called me. It seems my stepgrandmother was cleaning out a closet and found an envelope. On it was written: "For Ian, the new Scout."

Inside was Papa Ivan's first Scout knife. It was his knife, the trusty blade that he carried from the time he first got a carry chip through all those trips to Yosemite. And he set it aside for his great-grandson, the little boy he barely remembered meeting.

I find myself moved nearly to tears. There is little enough that our family passes on to us - a book, a coat, the small things that become imbued with who and what we are. I am honored that he chose to leave it for my son, in the hopes that something of our past carries on through the next generation. It's the closest thing any of us will have to immortality - to live on in the memories of others.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Eternal Flame

I feel oddly like I did when Gene Roddenberry died. An imperfect genius gave us something that transformed our culture in ways we barely understand, from the mouse to the iPod.

Those who continue to cling to Mac vs. PC nonsense are already making jokes, but business leaders recognize that Jobs' innovations helped user in the computer age, and the culture he helped form will continue to evolve in ways as yet unknown.

Rest in peace, Mr. Jobs.

P.S. My 1989 Mac SE is still operating just fine, thanks. I consider that a miracle of modern engineering.