2009: A Year’s End Reflection (watch out for that glarespot)

(Cut for being image-heavy. More behind the cuts.)

Everywhere I turn, people are bidding the year farewell with a double up-yours: “Good riddance,” they say, “and now just go AWAY.”

I’ve had years like that.

But this one really *wasn’t* QUIIIITE one of them.

It has, however, been an eventful year. Mainly, it’s tough to realize that the first decade of the twenty-first century is over. Back when we were kids, 2010 was a fantasy. We expected a “Jetsons” life, complete with Rosie the robotic housekeeper. What I want to know is: where is my flying car? The members of our family who are no longer with us on Earth would be amazed to see us using cell phones, iPods, laptops, and other accoutrements of the digital age, so I suppose we should be happy with the technology we have. It has definitely changed the way the younglings’ brains develop, I think: the other day at the mall, a boy was yelling at his brother, “You need to reboot now, or Mom’s going to delete you!” Seriously, consider all the ways we handle things now as compared to the old coping methods (secretaries doing it all for bosses versus bosses, even Presidents, having BlackBerries and learning to type e-mail), and marvel at our “advancements.” Or wonder what exactly we’ve given up, and whether it was better the old way (though there’s no going back: the scene cannot be unseen, the word never unsaid.)

Hubby has had quite an active career year. He’s a staff engineer at the Plano branch of Bell Labs, developing a new product that has generated a lot of excitement. In August, he was sent to San Diego on a business trip to resolve some software issues with a vendor. His boss said, sure, take your family if you want to pay the added expenses–you’re going by train, anyway.

Right, by Amtrak. Remember the doctor’s note he has on file with them, the one about how his ears don’t drain properly because of a congenital malformation, and how if he flies, he’ll lose part of his hearing every time? He’s already lost some of it from having flown in the past. (We researched ear tubes and a few other things, but the doctor said we’d still be taking a chance the first time he flew–and he doesn’t like to fly, anyway, so he’s perfectly happy. We love the train.) Thus, the company knows he can’t fly, and they don’t generally send him out on trips. But they were willing for him to go by train–it was that important for him to see the vendor’s site and the product in operation.

So I thought I was going to get to ride the Sunset Limited. But after weeks of wrangling, my mother convinced me she wasn’t going to stay alone (and couldn’t take care of the dog because she was “too weak to pick him up or take him outside”) and couldn’t find anyone who’d let her stay that long (almost two weeks), so we decided that we’d all go. The big bosses dithered on whether or not they’d actually be sending him, so booking the trip had to be done at the last minute. Amtrak books up quickly, so the train was already completely full between Dallas and San Antonio on the day we needed to depart. The only place we could pick it up was in Houston, at 11PM on a Thursday. We packed the car and took off in the middle of a grand thunderstorm with high spirits and hopes.

I never knew there was a huge statue of Sam Houston next to I-45 until we saw it coming up. (It’s actually on the northbound side, but we glimpsed it from the southbound lanes.)

It’s definitely something to see in person. And there’s a grand rest stop just past Huntsville that you should plan not to miss:

By the time we got to the Robin’s Nest Bed and Breakfast in Houston’s Museum District, though, my mother was truly exhausted and feeling poorly.

*Digression about the B&B*

It was still pleuting (raining) like hooty-toot when we checked into the Robin’s Nest B&B.

Lovely place–but the owner has a Doberman that walks the property with her and comes to meet you, so be sure your children and pets are secured until after she makes her visit *grin*. We had the house to ourselves that night. It was just like staying at my great-aunt Glad’s old Victorian mansion, but with better furnishings. It’s in Houston’s museum district, close to a small college. If you visit the area, definitely make this one of your landing pads.

*end digression*

There were a few other problems developing, tearing holes in my Grand Plan. (I had been trying to convince Hubby that we should drive the entire way, taking turns at the wheel, and stopping at the B&B of an online acquaintance located about halfway there, but *everyone* kept insisting it would take longer and be more tiring than the train trip–which probably isn’t true, but let’s not go into that right now, as I was soundly voted down.) It was obvious that she couldn’t continue the journey. Fortunately, we had a backup plan, which was for the two of us plus doggie to stay the night alone at the B&B (which was on our tour list anyway) in their largest downstairs room, and to drop Hubby off at the train station to start his journey. The train didn’t depart until 11 PM (when it rolled into Houston, coming from New Orleans), so we had dinner and a short quiet time in our room. There was much fit-throwing and many tears, but finally I let him get on the train.

I still think it was a rip-off that I didn’t get to go.

Just outside the train station at night

An interesting tourist destination

A cool Midcentury office building (Dallas tears these down)

We spent the next day touring Houston. Mostly this amounted to my driving around through and past neighborhoods that my mother had known very well from 1960 to 1967 while she gasped and pointed and shrieked. She kept saying, “Are you sure this is the way to the Interstate?” But of course it wasn’t. I was headed across town on Westheimer to Memorial Drive. Destination: our old neighborhood, Gaywood, and ultimately 13103 Conifer, my childhood home. We lived there while my father, Dal, worked at NASA as a rocket scientist–no, I’m not making that up. “That’s where the Henke-Pilot used to be,” my mother marveled as we passed an updated Midcentury shopping center. The venerated old grocery store had apparently fallen sometime in the 1970s.

We turned on Gaywood Drive (marveling that they hadn’t changed the name sometime in the intervening years, and proud of them for not panicking during the 1970s when silly people would have been carrying on about it after the word gained a new meaning) and my mother started pointing out houses that hadn’t changed AT ALL. But as we approached the corner lot on Conifer, our trepidation rose. What if the house wasn’t there? What if, in the intervening years, owners had completely changed it into something foreign? I remembered how upset we’d been at seeing my aunt’s old house after she’d moved to the duplex where she now lives, mostly claiming it was because the old hackberry that had been at least 100 years old was gone. The dog looked up at us with big round eyes, not understanding why the ambient tension had risen so high you could butter toast with it.

The house was gorgeous. Both of us broke into tears, which wasn’t the reaction we’d expected (it confused the dog terribly.) The residence has been sensitively remodeled (and enlarged a bit–which worked out, as it was on 3/4 acre, heavily wooded) and its best points as a Midcentury Modern brought out. We sat stunned for a few moments.

I couldn’t resist–I leaped out of the van with my camera to take a few photos. The reason I was so brave: workmen were on the premises doing maintenance, had the backyard gate open wide, and were standing in the side yard making some sort of calculation. I crept up the walk (which is where our driveway used to be; they’ve changed the garage so that it opens to the side, which is good) and into the courtyard. It looked exactly as it had, except for the lack of greenery: Mama used to have it filled with banana trees, elephant ears, and caladiums. The front doors that my mother had painted in an orange Harlequin pattern had been changed out for sandblasted glass, and the original garage had been enclosed to make a formal living room. As casually as I could manage, I approached the front door, thinking I might ring the bell and explain myself: “I lived here from toddlerhood until I was eight, and I think you’ve done a marvelous job with the house . . . can I take a look inside?” But I chickened out. Instead, I ducked around the side to peer into the back yard through that open gate. You can’t go home again . . . but we wanted to.

It was ultimately unsatisfying, as well. The people I loved were not there, of course. Across the street to the west stood my baby-sitter’s house . . . and of course they’d moved away around the time we had, even if the house still looked as if I could walk into the huge sunken living area and start playing with their collection of abstract building toys. Next to that, the home of more family friends. But I knew that the era had passed. New people lived in the houses and were making the neighborhood theirs. So it goes. It was right, somehow.

My childhood best friend’s house next door looked as it always had (we compared the current photos with one taken in the driveway in 1964 that showed both houses), but many of the homes (yet not including Dan Rather’s old residence on Indian Creek two streets behind ours–I used to play with his daughter, Robin) had been updated and McMansion-ified as the neighborhood gentrified. Our own neighborhood here around Casa el Dumpo has been undergoing the same transformation in the past few years, as well. My mother can pick ’em (as far as upcoming real estate). Too bad we have no money to invest in more houses.

It was a trip into the past without benefit of drugs. I wouldn’t have wanted to miss it. Seeing that house again was on my lifetime to-do list.

Still, nothing really made up for missing the San Diego excursion. Hubby’s trip lasted eleven days, and he visited the famous beaches and landmarks. As luck would have it, it was Comic Con weekend, so the city was full of tourists. He took plenty of photos of the route, including the restored Los Angeles train depot. We’re going to go back to California on our next big vacation, and this time I insist on going!

Meanwhile, it became clear that Mama’s medical difficulties were more than just her asthma/COPD. Soon she was hospitalized to receive a blood transfusion and a pacemaker. As soon as the pacemaker was installed, her heartbeat came up from 25-30 beats a minute to 60, which was the target. The transfusion brought her blood count up far enough that they weren’t panicked any more. Over time, she has gotten better and better. She has been feeling so much better since the problem was corrected that we’re planning to attempt another (shorter) trip in the spring, if we can manage it. Maybe no farther than Austin and San Antonio, though.

I spent the year trying to sell a novel to a major New York house, of course. The publishing industry is undergoing some major changes, and it’s being dragged into the twenty-first century kicking and screaming; we’ll see what happens. Not so many people are buying books or even reading them. Could part of the reason be that they don’t find anything they want to read? Hmm. Must ponder this.

I broke down and released three of my novels for the Kindle on Amazon. They’re each $1.99 for the entire novel, or you can download the first chapter free.

I thought long and hard about doing this, but in the final analysis I decided that the facade of traditional publishing is crumbling, and that the economic downturn is going to dictate changes in the way books are delivered to readers. If I want to be read . . . well, I can’t wait forever; we don’t HAVE forever, alas. I’ve already gotten a review or two on Amazon from people I’ve never heard of, so perhaps word is leaking out here and there.

I published the urban fantasy as Shalanna Collins, but used Denise Weeks, my birth middle name and married name, for the mainstream books. It probably won’t hurt that there is now a famous soul singer named Denise Weeks, and I’m constantly getting her referrals in Web searches. I’ll take any accidental publicity I can get. (grin)

AMAZON Little Rituals by Denise Weeks; literary women’s fiction or OCD-flavored chick lit with a paranormal twist

AMAZON Murder by the Marfa Lights, an Ariadne French mystery by Denise Weeks. Cozy/traditional, Snoop Sisters-flavored, and with a supernatural tinge

AMAZON Camille’s Travels by Shalanna Collins; a dark urban fantasy that may or may not be truly YA

I’m still marketing my newer works the traditional way, as any regular reader of this screed knows. Did you know that this Christmas, sales of e-books outpaced sales of traditional books and audiobooks? Maybe something’s in the air.

Finally . . . this year was our 25th wedding anniversary. We’ve beaten out a lot of others to get to that number!

It snowed three inches across D/FW on Christmas Eve. That set a record. We’ve never seen such a snowstorm for a White Christmas. But it did cancel our plans to meet my mother’s elderly relatives up North. We’ll probably go sometime next week, during the week, when traffic has returned to normal. Not that I’ll get any presents *Wink*

Hope your New Year contemplations leave you serene and that the celebration is life-renewing.

Best wishes to all in the coming year.


Author: shalanna

Shalanna: rhymes with "Madonna" and "I wanna," and is not a soundalike with "Hosanna" or "Sha-Na-Na." Aging hippie with long hair, husband, elderly mother, and yappy Pomeranian. I've been writing since I could hold a crayon. I started with fiction, which Mama said was "lying." “Don’t tell stories,” she would admonish, in Southern vernacular. “That's all in your imagination!” When grownups said this, they were not approving. So, shamed, I stopped telling stories for a few years--rather, I stopped letting anyone read them. I'm married to a fellow computer nerd who doesn't really like hearing about writing, but who reads sf/fantasy and understands the creative drive. I'm actually a nonconformist/hippie still wearing bluejeans and drop earrings and the Alice-in-Wonderland hair with headbands and sandals. Favorite flavor is chocolate/orange, favorite color is either Dreamsicle orange (cantaloupe) or bubble-gum pink, favorite musical is either Bye Bye Birdie, Rocky Horror, or The Producers . . . wait, I also love The Music Man. Is this getting way too specific and irrelevant yet? Obvious why I don't sell a ton of flash fiction, isn't it? To define oneself, I always say, it is good to make a list. How about a booklist? Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird Frank and Ernestine Gilbreth, Cheaper by the Dozen C.S.Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (all the Narnia books) J.R.R.Tolkien,The Hobbit/LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy Gail Godwin, The Odd Woman F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby J. D. Salinger, Catcher in the Rye (before dismissing it, actually read it) George Orwell, 1984 Kurt Vonnegut, Cat's Cradle Donna Tartt, The Secret History Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn James Allen, As A Man Thinketh Mark Winegardner, Elvis Presley Boulevard James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times The Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum Winnie-the-Pooh/House at Pooh Corner, A. A. Milne Peter Pan, J. M. Barrie The KJV and NIV Bible (each translation has its glories)

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