Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A Jump to the Left?

Well, then. Here we are at the end of a decade. A momentous occasion, to be sure, especially considering how quickly this year has passed. Riff Raff was correct; "It's astounding, time is fleeting."

So, dear reader, here is the question. Will we let madness take control?

I am all in favor of a little madness, a touch of nonsense. Without it, life would be incredibly dull. Take, for instance, the necklace I got for Christmas. It would be easy enough to simply say "thank you" when someone remarks on the fun eccentricity having a stylized octopus around my neck. That would be polite and, quite frankly, boring. Instead, I have taken to saying I have been inducted into the Cult of Cthulhu. This has rewarded me with many expressions of the "wtf?" variety (which I must say are absolutely hilarious). But I will continue to say this in the hope that one day I will be rewarded with a knowing nod, a wry smile, and a hastily mumbled "Cthulhu fhtagn."

And thus we come to the crux of my post. While you are busy plotting out your resolutions for the coming year I hope you will make room for a little bit of madness in your life. After all, according to that famous candy maker, a little nonsense now and then is treasured by the wisest men. Take time to daydream, be silly and spontaneous, and, occasionally, do the Time Warp.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Being Resolute

I love the days between Christmas Eve and December 31. Last week I spent time with loved ones laughing, catching up, singing, worshiping, cooking, and gorging. This week I’m enjoying time at home and savoring the last days of Christmas lights and sparkly greeting cards. It is also the time for New Year’s resolutions.

I can hear you groaning. I admit resolutions do not have an auspicious history. The American mercantile ship Resolution had its crew massacred in the Cumshewa Inlet in 1794. The Resolution was also the name of an airliner that crashed in San Francisco on October 29, 1953. All nineteen passengers died. Of the 100,000,000 Americans who make New Year’s resolutions, four out of five do not follow through. That means by the time we’re toasting 2011, 80,000,000 Americans will have failed.

Despite those facts, I love resolutions. The idea of mapping the next 365 days of my life thrills me. Actually, I make resolutions twice a year. Every year on my birthday and on January 1, I sit down and write a recap of the great things that happened in the previous year. I include what I did, where I traveled, who I met, the relationships rekindled, the ways I came to know my husband better, and any other memory that makes me smile. My thankful-lists take up many pages of my journals. Then, I plan how the upcoming year can be as great as—or better than—the previous one.

For 2010, I am determined not to be one of those 80,000,000. I will have concrete goals. I will outline steps to get me there. They will be quantifiable, so I know when they are achieved. They will depend on me and my actions, not the goodwill of the universe. For example, I cannot make editors or agents love my story. I can make sure I write every day and send my work out to x-number of agents and/or editors in 2010.

And I will be resolute.

I believe that trait is the ingredient missing from many of those 80,000,000. Perhaps they do not have the firm determination necessary to see their goals through, even if the goals are concrete, quantifiable, and attainable. Perhaps these people do not really think they have it in them. Maybe they doubt whether they are worthy of what they want.

Did you know that Merriam-Webster lists faithful as a synonym of resolute? I love the idea that we can be steadfast in our loyalty to ourselves and our future. We can be faithful to ourselves and our dreams.

And we can be faithful to one another. The expert go-getters say enlisting a team of supporters helps people work toward their goals. I’d really appreciate it if you would be part of my team. I’m going to list a few of my work-related goals. Feel free to cheerlead, taunt, or give a motivational kick in the arse.

  • I will read at least 100 books this year. You can follow my progress here.
  • I will finish my current rough draft and take it through my editing process. (The process is already outlined, but I won’t bore you with it.)
  • I will let at least five people read the finished manuscript.
  • I will post to Fantastic Spatula before 9 pm every Monday.
  • I will write over 500 words every day, come hell, high water, or family reunions.

Of course, I will return the favor and cheer you on. What are your plans for making magic or mayhem in 2010? How do you want me to spur you on?

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Magic

My Dear Friends-

I hope that for the next few days you find something to celebrate and be glad in. For some of us this means Christmas. Stockings and bows and packages galore. For some of us this it means reunion with both blood kin and family of no relation. Still, others will celebrate silently and on their own.

Whatever the reason, wherever you are, whomever you're with- rejoice and be glad in it.



Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Kindness of Strangers

First off, dear reader, let me wish you warmest felicitations and good cheer on this Christmas week! It’s hard to believe that the Yuletide is nearly upon us. Ah, yes. That time of good will and joy and peace on earth has come upon us quickly this year. And amidst the panic of last minute gift shopping and burnt holiday themed goodies, I’d like to say something that is, quite frankly, rather sobering.

I am abandoning my usual shtick in favor of a true story. Be warned. It is kind of somber, but the message is one that I feel needs to be told, especially in a time when an event as beautiful and, dare I say it, magical as Christmas has been shaded with consumerism and general feelings of ill will.

The story begins ten years ago yesterday. My mother, who has the most uncanny knack for this sort of clairvoyance, was in Durham doing some last minute Christmas shopping with my aunt. They were on the way home when my mother spotted one of the many vagrants who stand in intersections advertising their bad luck. She pulled over and offered him whatever change she had.

“Why did you do that?” my aunt queried. “He’ll just spend it on liquor.”
My mother pondered for a bit and replied. “He probably will, but I was just thinking. Under different circumstances, you or I could be homeless.”

Perhaps it was the Carrington clairvoyance or just one of those things that happen occasionally, but at that moment our house was burning. Four days before Christmas and we were indeed homeless. Depressing thought, I know, but bear with me, for there is a moral to this story.

The outpouring of support we received in the days after the fire was quite simply amazing. People whom we had never met, complete strangers, were donating clothes, money, food, and even a place to stay and if strangers were this kind to us, you can imagine the love we received from family and friends. And at Christmas time, that love and support, that kindness from strangers and family alike was the most marvelous present we could imagine. My faith in humanity was bolstered that year. At the risk of sounding like a reject from a Hallmark movie, I saw the true spirit of Christmas.

So, dear reader, let me give you some unsolicited Christmas advice and thus end this maudlin post. Give thanks for what you have and rejoice that there are people who love you. And if you should ever see a vagrant in the crossroads I hope you will remember that under different circumstances, that could be you.

P.S. I think Mr. Tim Minchin sums up the sentiment nicely; check him out.

Don't worry, the snark will return next week. Alonzo is happy for the vacation.

Oh yeah, dead chuffed.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Magic of Imperfection

Is anyone else frazzled?

A nor’easter made my home look like an Irving Berlin musical. It is the first time I remember seeing this much snow before Christmas. The tree is set, the treats are baked, I survived last week’s holiday party, the gifts (at least some) are wrapped and under the tree, we have plans with loved ones, and the Christmas lights reflect on immaculate ground. Everything is perfect.

Except me. I’m exhausted by trying to treasure this holiday time.

Then I remembered that the holiday season isn’t about perfection. I know that goes against almost every marketing campaign you’ve seen. At least, it does for me. I am told it is supposed to be the time we come closest to tranquility, peace, selfless concern, or at the least, not wanting to rip out the throat of the woman holding up the grocery store line so long the eggnog curdles in my hand.

The oil burned in the Temple for eight days though there was only enough for one. That is the miracle. Defilement, revolt, scarcity, and the threat of darkness were parts of the imperfect situation that gave it opportunity.

A baby was born in a backyard barn to scandalous parents. There is nothing idyllic about going into labor between a molting hen and a braying jackass. What about the baby? It was probably a shriveled, squalling, indignant thing. It was probably a while before Mary ever had a silent night.

But, if you believe as I do, this baby was divinity wrapped in the troubles of humanity. It didn’t look like perfection. Nothing in the child’s life would be what we would call idyllic.

Both situations, both causes of celebrations, are a reminder to me of how adversity accompanied a miracle. They celebrate magic that was cloaked by brutality and opposition but persisted and gave hope. In the mundane there was a spark of eternity.

When you look past the December trappings and life’s blemishes, what magic do you see?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Forests & Dreamscapes

There is no set path for me to follow. The rolling hills are blanketed with golden leaves. Though the ground is covered, the trees above and around still maintain their full branches. The dark trunks of the trees stand in sharp contrast to the gold chaos that surrounds them.

Often times, I am alone. Sliding, climbing, hiking, dancing thru the forest. Other times I am in the company of women whom I have never met. Our laughter is loud and raucus, and echoes thru the canopy. Stomping gayly, we make our way to an unknown destination. Together. A tribe.

When I am alone, I do not feel afraid. I am exhilerated by my surroundings. I do all that I am capable of to remember my time in the woods. My daily routine consists of chaos and disorder and man made madness. But here, still, quiet- there is nothing but nature. The only sound is the wind, making chimes out of the leaved branches. When I am here, I feel most alive.

Try as I might, I cannot recall the first time I came to visit these golden woods. This forest has been a place of refuge, but I cannot call upon it. The forest has to visit me. Whenever there is a shift, a time in my life when something needs to change, the forest itself will come to me in my dreams.

Dream decipherers say that to dream of being in the woods symbolizes a search for something more simple. A journey for what is real, and genuine, and natural. Gold, in dreams, indicates richness and splendor and of good forutne forthcoming.

Even without these assigned meanings, I know that my time in the woods is meant for reflection and soul work. I know that when it is time for me to emerge from my shaded oasis, I will be stronger-wiser- more gathered in myself. That is why I love to dream this dream. This recurring vision of something more, and something less. Such a small dream, that leaves me happier upon waking. Alone, or traveling with my faceless companions, there is also something to learn from the trees.

Where do your dreams take you? To the wild? To a home? To a time long forgotten, or a time left alone. To a memory you wish you could forget? To a loved one, you left and regret? Do they take you somewhere dark, or take you to the light? Do they give wings? Or roots? Do they take you into the woods? My hope for you, right now, is that one day- they will. And if, or when, they do- I hope to see you there.

Welcome, the woods are calling.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

It's A Kind of Magic

Y’know, smiles are funny things. There are very few things in this world that can be so versatile.** For instance, a smile can be pleasant, or playful; charming and charismatic. Smiles can mislead and smiles can give the truth away. The good smile and so do the wicked. We smile when we are happy and when we are sad.
For being such a small and effortless thing, smiles have a tremendous power over us. If there is magic in this world, then it must surely exist in the act of smiling.

How else can it be explained that a quick smile turned a dreary Monday morning into a bright happy day?

Some dishy toff gives you the glad eye and you call it magic? Rubbish.

What he looked like is beside the point. The fact is it worked. His smile brightened my morning and put me in a pleasant mood for the rest of the day. And the funny thing is, smiles are contagious. I smiled as I walked into the store after work and the sullen bag boy grinned and nodded.

Wot? Some corker smiles at me, I’d girn like an idiot m'self.

Point is, Alonzo, that my smiling made him smile. And in turn, he made some other miserable soul smile. And in an age where everyone is so self absorbed and oblivious to others isn’t it nice that such a simple gesture can make such a big difference. Isn’t that what magic is about?

A Japanese proverb speaks thus, “Never trust the glory of the morning nor the smiles of your mother-in-law.

Well, you do have a point, Len.

**The only other one I can think of is chicken.

Monday, December 14, 2009

A Misanthrope’s Guide to Making Magic at the Office Holiday Party

I was striving for something reflective and meaningful for this week’s post, but I decided to go with something more in line with my personality.

  • On the way to the party, listen to holiday techno, like Joy Electric, in an attempt to put yourself in a better humor. Ultimately, it will fail, but you can say you tried.
  • Take along a potato gun for launching ornaments at the karaoke Christmas caroler.
  • Imagine your favorite literary characters crashing the party. I like to think of a Wild Thing eating up the witch in the short, electric-blue dress. A close second is an invasion by the cast of The Hunger Games and a re-creation of their arena in the Omni ballroom.
  • Cough loudly at the hors d’oeuvres buffet and tell people you’re getting over swine flu, leprosy, and tuberculosis.
  • Now that you have the food to yourself, there is a special treat for those of you with orthodontic apparatus. Collect cocktail toothpicks, the ones with the frilly ends add a festive touch, and turn them into projectiles using the rubber bands on your braces. For extra fun, dip them in hot sauce from the Tex-Mex table before firing.
  • Consider prepping for the cocktail dress by shaving your legs sometime during the preceding three weeks. If you prefer to keep your winter coat, string tinsel and twinkle lights through it and say it’s your impression of a Fraser fur.
  • Take the control top pantyhose that have been cutting off your circulation all night and use them to garrote the woman who is trying to convince you child birth is the “most amazing thing.”
  • If the proud, picture-showing parents descend, announce that you think children are parasitic lumps of flesh that latch on and suck your will to live for the next—at least—eighteen years.
  • Try the Electric Slide using a stun gun.
  • Three words: Steal. The. Booze.
  • Only hide the liquid cheer after you’ve seen a room full of white-collar yuppies do the chicken dance and YMCA. For extra points, snap a photo and slide it into their annual evaluation.
  • Go for post-party cheesecake. Bribery in any form is always appreciated, especially if you’re the date of the person who actually belongs to this motley.

So, how would you make magic at the party?

Disclaimer: In no way am I advocating actual bodily harm. Being snarky, however, is condoned and even encouraged.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Hunt for Magic

It's December. And unless you were hiding in a cave without any access to the outside world, let alone indoor plumbing, you were probably already aware of that. December means Christmas. Christmas means a whole host of things. Consumerism, commercialism, religion, family, gifts & get togethers to name a few.

But Christmas also means magic. Partially why I decided to start up this blog at the beginning of this month was for this very reason: That we are in the Magic Season. Yes, it's cheesy. I'm highly aware of this. Keep in mind though, that I'm not talking about your usual avenues of magic. Sure balloon animals, card tricks, wizards, wands, and fairies are all well and good. However, the kind of magic I'm looking to create is a deeper kind of magic. We have all touched upon it somewhere in our lives. Just as we realize that we are living it...we tend to lose it. Magic is fleeting and thus the very characteristic that draws us to it.

Magic isn't always nice enough to seek us out. Like any other kind of inspiration, sometimes you have to go out and hunt for it.

Several weeks back, I set out to do just that. I went to one of my favorite local shops, aptly named "Enchanted Surroundings". Like every year before they had decked out to the entire store to the nines in Christmas themed commercialism. And I decided that I wanted to work a bit of my own magic with my handy I-Haven't-Broken-It-Yet 35mm. What I lay down before you here are a few of the results. I hope you enjoy!


Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Magic of Hello

Recently my sister and I have been keeping in touch through video blogs. It’s a new idea for me. I reserve thoughts and deams and “what I did today’s” for a red spiral-bound notebook, and seeing all of those things coming from my face in a video blog is a little unnerving. Admittedly, I was inspired to start vlogging after watching the youtube channel, vlogbrothers. Two brothers reconnect with each other wherever they are in the nerd universe through youtube. There is a lot of talk of star wars and nerd fighters and I just can’t help myself when people star talking nerdy.

So, my sister and I have been vlogging just to say “hello” and report some silly thing like “I saw Elvis yesterday in the canned fruit isle at the grocery store.” I love you, I miss you, and I’ll see you later are constants.

Sometimes I cry a little inside at how ridiculous I think I sound. I shake my head to think how idiotic it may seem to someone who happens to put in “ta2” in a youtube search and up pops the video I made for my sister about corny jokes. (What lies at the bottom of the ocean and twitches? A nervous wreck.)

In my mind, any college cinematographer would have B-rated nightmares for months after watching one. But, the magic isn’t in the vlog’s quality - it’s the hello. My sister doesn’t care how ridiculous I am. In fact she loves that I’m ridiculous, and I think the videos I get from her are little pieces of magic. I get to hear and see her. She is only two hours away at college but she doesn’t travel home often, thanks to exams, student teaching, and other various perils of college life like indigestion from refried burritos.

The magic comes from knowing she’s thinking of me. When she says, "Hello, sister. I have so many things to tell you," I just get so happy inside. Actually, there’s a little magic that comes from knowing anyone is thinking of me. Like when someone smiles at me walking down the street, or when a friend calls and says, “Hi there I just heard Mmmbop on the radio and thought of you.” And I’m completely undone when I get a text from that special person, “Hey there pretty girl, I hope your day is going well.”

I call these feelings "the happy inside body squeeze." You may have a different name for it but I know you know what I'm talking about. These videos and the little hello they contain, like the little hello's everywhere, are what I call magic.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


Well, now, isn’t this cozy? Hello all you happy internet folk! I suppose an introduction is in order. My name is Clara Maxwell, but I also go by the name of my crime fighting, pin up alter ego, Charlotte Foxtrot. I was asked to be a contributor to this web journal by my dear friend, Miss Lucy, and while I found the idea a bit daunting at first, I couldn’t say no. It’s just not done, you see, saying no to Miss Lucy.

Getting into the habit of writing on a schedule is going to be pretty hard for me. I mean, it is difficult enough finding time to work on my own projects. But I figured if I can’t write a little something every week (and for a friend) then I have no business trying to write at all. Anyway, it can only help, right? And in the immortal words of Jeremy Clarkson, “How hard can it be?”

So, there I was, sitting at my desk while the sound of Frodo whining played softly in the background. I’d been wracking my brain trying to find a subject befitting my first post on this (hopefully) soon to be illustrious journal. A million subjects raced down my neural pathways and each seemed more ridiculous than the last.

I suppose that it is a good thing a theme of sorts was set for this journal. If not, then I’d surely start rabbiting on about super cars. (Unapologetically, I must warn you that I am a car bore. Under no circumstances must you engage me in talk about cars; I’ll never shut up.) I also gave Miss Lucy my word that I would not follow the natural inclination of my mind, which leans heavily towards smut.

It all seemed hopeless then, since the only thing my brain wanted to think about was all the fun that could be had in a Lamborghini Gallardo. And then I heard a noise behind me; a soft rustling, a small tinkling of bells. I turned and looked. An apple, one of my favorite ornaments, had fallen from my Christmas tree.

As I placed the apple reverently on its branch I was struck with how very beautiful a Christmas tree can be and, in particular, how beautiful my tree was. It was an uncomplicated beauty with just the right amount of ornaments in a simple color scheme; red and gold, green and white. I stood there admiring the soft glow of the white lights and then I had it. In the space of a few seconds, this tree had made my car addled mind calm and serene. It made me happy and I felt a great growing love for humanity, which is odd given that I’m normally a misanthrope. Now if that wasn’t magical, I don’t know what is.

I dashed to my desk. Almost feverishly, I began a stunning and brilliant essay on the wonderful magic that a Christmas tree holds. It was poetic, it was meaningful, and it was everything this journal was supposed to be about.

I was nearly finished with my epic thesis when another sound came from my tree.
“You have got to be kidding me.”
The sarcastic voice drifted, unseen, from the fake pine boughs. This is impossible, I thought, as a frustrated sigh escaped from behind an embroidered angel.

As I approached the tree, I began to wonder if perhaps my piece of writing on the magic of Christmas trees had been so magnificent that it had driven me mad, sort of like Geoffrey Rush in the movie “Shine.” I needn’t have worried.

“That is the biggest load of bollocks I've ever read.”

I looked deep into the recesses of my tree and came face to face with my small red dragon. He had been relegated to the status of ornament and judging by his expression he wasn’t too happy.


“Who were you expecting, the Queen Mum?”


“Apparently,” Alonzo smiled as best a dragon can, “Christmas trees are more magical than you thought.” He twisted his tailed around a neighboring branch and gave it a shake, causing an angel to float helplessly to the floor.

Well, isn’t that something? Somewhat bemusedly, I studied the dragon who had until so recently been a toy sitting on my stereo. While I marveled at his tiny, consternated expression and his beady little eyes, I was struck by a surmounting horror; a horror which surpassed the miracle of a life-giving Christmas tree.

What had happened to the other toys I had put in my tree?

“Happy fecking Christmas.” Alonzo’s snarky tone dripped mellifluously from the tree as he sank back into the pine depths.

Oh, great.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Thoughts on Magic and Spatulas

This is not the best week to write my introductory post on making magic. I’m wrapping up my current rough draft, but there is a swamp of scene worksheets, loose ends, and emotional arcs gone awry between me and the end. Decking the tree and trimming the halls were lovely, but they cut into writing time. And I’ve procrastinated by reading about the fate of my favorite local grocery chain.

Of course, this is the season for magic. Target sells it for $9.95 plus tax while supplies last, but I must provide the batteries. I can fill my house with more lights, addictive ditties, and tiny model people than the It’s a Small World ride at Disneyworld.

But that isn’t helping me make magic. So I think about the spatula part of the title, and my mind immediately goes to a quote from author Robin McKinley on the subject of writing, “…on good days you'll fly higher than a peregrine cruising for dinner, on bad days someone will have to scrape you off the floor with a spatula.”

That feeling I know. Some days I plummet from cumulus to concrete with the speed of a diving peregrine. My husband uses pick axes, spatulas, and encouragement notes attached to the office wall to exhume my spirit. It works, but we both know if I want to soar again, the work is up to me.

This is where the magic comes in. It isn’t in the finished story. It is in the struggle. For me, it is magical that I manage to crawl from a warm bed at 5:15 in the morning so I can write for a couple hours before heading into the day job. It is magical to find the will to continue after rejection letters and hearing the odds against any artist of any type ever being able to devote over forty hours a week to the art. It is magical that I’ve been able to squeeze out over three hundred words when my brain is in a funk.

I think there is a type of magic involved whenever people find the strength to do what they must: the postmaster directing the torrent of Christmas cards; the farmer venturing into the frozen morning; the student slogging through exams to get a step closer to graduation; the nurse bracing herself for the unexpected wounds; the electrician looking out for coworkers who’ve been zapped one too many times for normal brain function.

In this magical season, I hope you can find a spatula to scrape yourself off the floor and the strength to strive toward your passion. If not, you can borrow mine. It’s used but still pretty fantastic.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A Brief Introduction to Making Magic

Dear Friends,

Thank you for visiting! If you have found your way here to us by fortune, fate, or referral- we are grateful.

Here, a starting band of four authors and artists who came together out of necessity. Whether it was to spill open, let loose, let go, imagine, risk, create, or just to escape-this was just the place for it. So here we are.

What you will find here is a concoction, a brewing, a laying down of the tangles, messes, and worries in order to manifest fulfillment of a higher sort. There will be articles, stories, musings, videos, photos, brush strokes and quarter notes- all for your enjoyment and perusal. Please feel free to lay back, enjoy, soak it in, and..dare I say it?: Contribute. From now on, you're in this story too.

The simple truth to this is thus: we are here for one purpose. What is the meaning of all of this? Why do we exist? What is our soul purpose?

Answer? Simple: To make magic.