Why the Journal?

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Img Why the JournalMost of us have a drawer–a trunk, a closet, a garage, a basement–filled with things we don’t use but can’t bear to part with. Some of it’s useful, some of it’s not. Some of it’s interesting, if only to us. A lot of it is sentimental. But we keep it because somehow it’s become part of our lives. It says something about who we are and what’s important to us.

Writers not only have the usual stash of tangible stuff, most also have files and notebooks filled with intangibles—fragments of story ideas, notes about experiences, op-ed pieces on topics they’re passionate about–that they haven’t sold or maybe even tried to sell, but that haunt the attic of the mind. Continue reading

Spring’s Promise

A perfect camellia blossom in every little girl’s favorite color: pink.

Spring is a season of hope, as I learned many years ago as I recovered from illness in Japan. And hope is needed this spring as the world faces a pandemic. This spring in Oregon has come with unusual gifts.

The days of April in Oregon are usually spent under gray skies, and we count the days until the Fourth of July when our rainy season typically releases its grip. The only compensation we get in April, but it’s substantial, is the explosion of spring flowers. You name it, we got it: snowdrops, crocuses, daffodils, hellebores, tulips, daphne, cherries, flowering quince, flowering red currants, rosemary, ceanothus, bleeding hearts—and that’s just what’s in my yard.

But this year, when so many of us are confined at home, the weather in the Willamette Valley has given us a boon: blue skies and warm temperatures. We’ve all gone gardening mad. Neighbors are putting in gardens and planting. There are piles of compost and the smell of fresh-turned earth everywhere.

The Northwest Editors Guild had planned a “Stet Walk” just before we were all sent indoors, and I’m sorry we had to miss that. It’s been great weather to get outside. Everywhere you turn there are walkers, runners, bikers, and the flowering shrubs and trees are putting on flamboyant, welcoming displays. There is no doubt that these are dark days, as the sight of masks and gloves reminds us. Times ahead will remain dark with illness and deaths as the days go by. People have lost jobs. For freelancers, work is hard to come by. For all of us, money is tight. Yet the warmth of the sun, the smell of the spring earth, and the beauty of flowers and leafing trees can give us hope and a few moments of respite from the darkness that we need, this blessed spring.

The Haunted Office

If you work at home, there are many ways to procrastinate. (If you are a not a procrastinator, you are not normal. My opinion.) I have engaged in most of them. But I was once pushed out of my office by a ghost.

Really.

Let me just say that my house is not haunted. Before this happened, I’d lived and worked and procrastinated here for several years. I didn’t need help from ghostly ectoplasm.

I’d just come home from a working trip to Seattle. But before I left the city, I decided to take the Underground Tour, walking through Seattle’s kind of creepy basement. Sorry, Seattle, but, meh.

When returning from a trip like this, I’m always slow to get into the work groove. But by the third day home, I was ready to get to my desk. Ideas were firing, and it was time to start putting them down. I went into the office, sat down…

And found myself standing in the hall.

While it’s not unusual for me to procrastinate by heading to the kitchen, I ran down the usual list of reasons not to work:

Food? No, I’d eaten.

Beverage? No, my water glass sitting on the desk.

Bladder pressure? No, I didn’t need a bathroom break.

Avoiding work? No. I really wanted to get started.

So, what was I doing in the hall? I almost couldn’t remember getting there.

I turned and went slowly to the door of my office.

There was a…pressure…in the room keeping me out. It was like a balloon of air filled the space, stopping at the door. It was more than a little unnerving, but, hey, it was my house. So I went in.

Sat down. Waited.

I had the strangest feeling that the room was facing the wrong way. Like it should be turned 180o toward the south. The source of the “presence” seemed to be in the northeast corner of the room. This time I was very aware of the insistent pressure on my chest pushing me toward the door. Not malevolent. Just determined.

Seattle, dang it. You’d given me a ghost.

Yes, I took the Haunted House ride at Disneyland, the one where, at the end, they make it look like you have a ghost in the car with you. I’m here to tell you that’s what happened. Apparently whoever designed that ride knew all about this kind of thing.

But it was obvious I was going to get no work done that day. (Pre-laptop.) So I got up and left the office.

Bill Murray wasn’t available so, who ya gonna call, right?

Fortunately, I have a friend whose family is very much into ghosts and ghouls and things that go bump in the night. Two of her brothers are ghost hunters.

Within the hour, I had five ghost-busting enthusiasts at my door. One checked the exterior of the house to be sure there wasn’t any outside reason for whatever was happening. The rest gathered in my office.

My friend, sitting on the floor, said she had the strangest feeling that the room wanted to turn 180o toward the south.

I hadn’t told her about having the same sensation.

Her husband said it felt like the presence was focused in the northeast corner of the room.

I hadn’t mentioned that, either.

And then he went and stood in that corner.

Every one of us felt the energy drain from the room into the floor at his feet.

My office no longer felt like it was facing the wrong way. There was no more feeling of pressure.

My friend’s husband then asked me if I had a picture of a polar bear. I swear.

I happened to have one (!). Do normal people just happen to have pictures of polar bears? I did, on a postcard a friend had sent from Alaska. I also had a Gund stuffed polar bear, a gift from another friend. My friend’s husband told me to put them in that corner and the ghost wouldn’t come back.

Listen, the man had gotten rid of the ghost. Was I going to question him?

That is why, if you look at the photo of my office on my website, you will still see a polar bear in the corner. Better safe than sorry, right?

And he was right. The ghost hasn’t come back.

My advice for everyone working from home? Get a polar bear. You’ll never have a ghost push you away from your desk.

Leap Year Editing Special

Is there anything that lightens up a dark February than Leap Year? I love that magical 29th day at the end of the month that only appears every four years. To celebrate, for the month of February only, I’m offering copyediting services for half price. So if you’ve been saving up a manuscript or two, now is the time to get on my schedule. See my Editing Services page for copyediting rates.

John Walton Thompson II

john-obit-cropped-3My brother, John Walton Thompson II (b. August 6, 1954), passed away on September 14, 2016. He was 62. He would have hated that I have revealed both his middle name and the “II,” the “two-th,” after his name. He hated the Walton, for reasons obvious to anyone old enough to remember the television program “The Waltons” and “John-boy Walton.” Our family was sworn to never reveal his middle name–an old family one foisted on my father and my brother by our Grandmother–to his friends. (Sorry bro, but if you’d wanted to keep these secrets, you should have stuck around.) It was ironic that, after 9/11, “John Thompson” became a suspected terrorist name, and when John wanted to fly, he found it easier to use “J. Walton Thompson.” Continue reading

I’m Being Swallowed by a Boa Constrictor

It was said in Vaudeville that you should never work with children or animals.

I don’t know about the children, but I do know about the animals.

For five years, I was a docent at the Los Angeles Zoo. Mostly that meant taking fourth-grade to middle-schoolers around the enclosures and explaining that, no, that wasn’t the elephant’s fifth leg—or his trunk. Continue reading

Hangs Thereby a Tail

Assyrian relief from Nimrud. British Museum. Photo Acrossky, www.arcalog.com

Assyrian relief from Nimrud. British Museum. Photo Acrossky, Arcalog

He was a tall, thin man in his early fifties, with long graying hair retreating from a high forehead, and an erect aristocratic bearing better suited to a baronet than to an artist and professor of art history. He gave no hint that he harbored the kind of curiosity that leads to mortality in felines. Continue reading

Dandelions from Hell

Photo Tiia Monto via Wikimedia Commons.

Photo Tiia Monto via Wikimedia Commons.

My friend spotted an unusual coffee table at the Portland Saturday market a few months ago. It was one of those knobby burl-type affairs topped with a sheet of glass. The identity of the creamy white wood mystified her.

“Dandelion root,” responded the furniture maker when she put the question to him.

“What?” she said. “Dandelions don’t have roots that big.”

“Nope. Normally they don’t,” he replied. “But then this here is Oregon dandelion root.”

She stalked off with scarlet cheeks, certain he was putting her on.

He wasn’t. Continue reading

Off the Beaten (Brazilian) Track

When asked which side of the road Brazilians drive on, one must in all honesty reply, “Both.” Drivers weave from one side of the road to the other avoiding potholes and each other in an intricate samba guaranteed to age the uninitiated. In true Brazilian style, all of this takes place at speeds as high as the condition of the road allows. It must be admitted, however, that with death appearing to be imminent those speeds always seem magnified. Continue reading

Quote for Friday, January 15, 2016

Aside

“The world, the human world, is bound together not by protons and electrons, but by stories. Nothing has meaning in itself: all the objects in the world would be shards of bare mute blankness, spinning wildly out of orbit, if we didn’t bind them together with stories.”

Brian Morton, Starting out in the Evening

as quoted in Our Lady of the Lost and Found by Diane Schoemperlen

The Voyage of the Beagle: A Very Short Tail

It was the dogwatch when the crew slunk across the poop deck, tails between their legs. Old Scratch led, lifting his leg on the mainmast as he passed. The captain contemptuously exposed a canine.

“Me and the others decided, Cap,” barked the old sea dog, pulling out a dog-eared document. “We all put our paw prints right here.”

“He made us, Cap’n,” whined Wiggles, crouching low and piddling on the poop.

“You yellow dog!” Scratch snapped at the cur. “Longer rations, Cap. And that keg o’ doggy biscuits you got buried.”

“I’ll give you a short leash, you hound!” growled the captain.

“Meet our demands, Cap,” said Scratch, “or you’ll wish you had fleas!”

“No dirty mongrel threatens me,” the captain snarled.

The lookout yelped, “Ship ahoy! Flying a cat’s paw!”

The sight of the floating cat house made the crew pant, tongues hanging from their mouths.

“To your stations, you dogs,” cried the captain. “There’ll be enough little Friskies for all! Bring her around! Hoist the Jolly Rover!”

As the skull and Milk Bones rose, the pack trotted off, Scratch dragging his tail.

The captain watched him go. “I’m gonna run that puppy through one day,” he muttered.