Martha Stewart, Snoop Dog, Mary Richards, and me

Bloganuary: How do you show love?

These final week prompts are getting a little personal.

I don’t know how true this is, but the first thing that came to mind was I do things for the people I love.

But not big things.

I’d be terrible at throwing someone a surprise party. Sure, I’d be able to keep it a secret. But, if you’re of an age, you may remember The Mary Tyler Moore Show. You may remember Mary Richards and her inability to throw a party.

I make Mary Richards look like Martha Stewart. I’m assuming Martha can throw a party.

People, wait. Wait. I just Googled Martha Stewart and discovered she had a reality show with Snoop Dog called Martha & Snoop’s Potluck Dinner Party. How did I miss this? Okay, I’m going with yes. Yes, Martha (and Snoop) can definitely throw a party.

Anyway, we’ve established I’m not throwing a party for anyone. (And really, how can you compete with Martha & Snoop’s Potluck Dinner Party?) But everyday things? Like making someone a cup of tea or finding their lost keys? That’s totally me.

In fact, if you’ve lost your keys, give me a call.

I might be able to find them—along with your missing homework assignment, the jazz shoes you need for dance class (the black, not the tan), and your favorite T-shirt.

However, if it’s a party you want, you’ll need to consult Martha and Snoop.

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The stakes are a lie

Bloganuary: What’s a lie you tell yourself?

Well, this one’s a bit salty.

For me, it’s this idea that sometime in the misty future, I’ll be able to earn a living with my fiction writing.

This notion is so ingrained I’m not sure I can completely rid myself of it. But I’m trying to. Not because I dislike making money from my writing. I enjoy that.

But it was never my original motivation for writing fiction in the first place. I’ve been thinking a lot about this over the past several months. Interestingly, writing these prompts every morning has helped clarify some of the thinking, even those prompts that don’t relate to success or goals.

Or maybe especially those. It reminded me that I love to write. That my first motivation for doing so was to have stories I couldn’t find anywhere else.

When I started writing, I recognized the gap immediately. What I was writing did not match what I was reading in published novels. This frustrated me.

So I used publication as a way to gauge my progress. It was a great way to work with editors and learn.

At some point, instead of being a means to an end, publication became the end. Back in the days when traditional publishing ruled, the author with the most contracts (or awards or bestseller lists) won.

And I was—frankly—miserable. I maybe didn’t show it, but deep down, I was.

Then indie publishing came along. For a good couple of years, I had so much fun—again, learning and making progress. I love creating books, from the wispy first ideas to the finished project.

But then sales and money became the markers of success, to the point where it’s binary. If you aren’t earning “good money” (however you define that) with your writing, you should quit. Or at least, this is what it feels like. The notion permeates so many conversations about writing and publishing. It’s the water we swim in. (Which is why I’ve opted out of most of those conversations.)

For me, at least, it’s not a binary choice. Perhaps this is unique to American culture. But holy cats! We don’t need to monetize every last thing we do. Writing has worth. Whether you earn six figures from it or you simply blog for the joy of it.

I’m trying to unlearn this lie. And while I like it when people buy my books, it’s not why I write them.

So I’m searching for a new way forward. Perhaps, if I reach into the past and take the hand of the woman I once was, we can find our way into the future.

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Girl Detective to the rescue

Bloganuary: What was your dream job as a child?

It was my heart’s desire to be a girl detective.

When I wasn’t reading the Betsy-Tacy books, I was probably reading a mystery. I even wandered into the adult stacks at the library and pulled Agatha Christies off the shelf when I was still fairly young.

But the mysteries I loved most were the Trixie Belden ones.

Yes, I read Nancy Drew. But Nancy was so … so … perfect. Trixie? Not so much. Trixie got into trouble, sometimes said the wrong things. To my young mind, the mysteries felt like they really could happen, and Trixie (and her club) really could solve them.

Which meant that maybe there were mysteries out there for me to solve.

I was certain there had to be. For instance, at least one mystery must have been going on in the dilapidated old workshop at the end of a dirt road not far from my house. It stood next to a copse of manicured pines—a strange sight for this part of our town. We had the slough and hills of deciduous trees, but these pines were clearly cultivated, but for what purpose wasn’t clear.

Truly a mystery. And they made excellent cover for spying on the neighborhood, particularly that old workshop. I only gathered the courage to approach the main door once. Then I thought I saw a face in the second-floor window (probably the old man who worked there and whom I was no doubt annoying). I’m not proud to say it. But.

I ran.

So much for my career as a girl detective.

On a positive note, I did not get into trouble for trying to solve mysteries that didn’t exist.

Sometime later, I realized that you could experience mysteries and adventures by not only daydreaming them but writing them down.

What a revelation!

I’m not sure where this early love of mysteries came from. Even now, I love reading (or writing) stories with secrets and mysteries. And I think I may need to go find one. The temperature is below zero, with no signs of warming up, and I could use a good mystery or secret to help me brave the day.

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Down in the valley

Bloganuary: Who is your favorite author and why?

Like Anno, what I’m reading and why depends so much on my mood that I wasn’t sure I could pick a single favorite author.

But actually, I do have one.

It’s always bothered me that Maud Hart Lovelace never received the same attention as that other author who spent time in Minnesota.

The Betsy-Tacy books were my constant companions when I was growing up. How many times have I read the series? No idea. And I can’t remember when I “graduated” from the elementary school stories and started reading the high school (and beyond) ones. Relatively young, I think—I remember being dazzled.

I grew up in Maud’s Deep Valley (AKA Mankato). My house was in the area known as Little Syria in Maud’s day. And if I trudged up a sizable hill, I ended up in Betsy’s old neighborhood.

In fact, when I was in junior high, I had a paper route where I delivered papers to Betsy, Tacy, and Tib’s old homes. If you’re of an age, you’ll remember the weekly shoppers that landed on your doorstep—advertising and classifieds held together with a smattering of human interest articles. The route was only once a week (rain, shine, or snow). And I didn’t have to collect any money. Again, if you’re of an age, you’ll remember that part of newspaper delivery.

And it was in junior high that I needed Betsy the most. The progressive school I attended—which was run by the university—closed down when I was in sixth grade. The only other option was the public school system.

So on the first day of junior high, I had no friends. Worse, on the first day of junior high, I already had a reputation—as did everyone who attended the progressive school. Fill in the blank with every derogatory term for mentally deficient, and you’ll have what I was called daily.

By eighth grade, I had a friend group. By eighth grade, I’d spent every quarter on the honor roll, so I was deemed a bookworm, a brain, a nerd.

But in seventh grade, when the days were dark, and I was sore from lugging papers around the neighborhood, I’d pull the Betsy-Tacy high school books off the shelf. I’d escape into her world of picnics and dances, the crowd and crushes. My first inklings that I, too, could be a writer began with watching Betsy write.

There’s much I owe both Betsy and Maud. And that is why Maud Hart Lovelace is my favorite author.

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But where will the vacuum live?

Bloganuary: What irritates you about the home you live in?

Our house was built in the late 80s and still has some of the décor to prove it. (We did finally rid the kitchen of the pink and green wallpaper—a major achievement.)

I’m not sure what the builders were thinking, but while there’s storage space and closets, there’s no good spot for storing upright cleaning equipment—like a vacuum.

The house still had wall-to-wall carpet when we bought it (with dusky pink borders). You’d think someone would’ve paused, looked around, and realized the vacuum needed a place to live.

But really, it’s a minor irritation, and at some point, we’ll rid ourselves of the last vestiges of the 80s. In the meantime, the vacuum will stand sentry, tucked away in one corner of the bedroom, constantly reminding me that I still need to vacuum something.

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Tangled up in green

Bloganuary: What color describes your personality and why?

If you had asked about my favorite color from the time when I could answer that question, I would have said blue.

But I don’t think blue describes my personality.

What does describe my personality has been there from the start, in the author bio I’ve been using for publications:

Charity Tahmaseb has slung corn on the cob for Green Giant and jumped out of airplanes (but not at the same time).

She spent twelve years as a Girl Scout and six in the Army; that she wore a green uniform for both may not be a coincidence.

No, probably not a coincidence. What it is, though? I’m not sure.  

But green feels right, and that’s the answer I’m going with.

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With extra maple syrup

Bloganuary: What’s your favorite meal to cook and/or eat?

I think we’ve already established how I feel about cooking dinner.

That being said, I do have some favorite meals:

  1. Lubia Polo: This is a Persian dish I’ve tried to replicate without much success. I spent an afternoon watching my mother-in-law prepare it, writing down her every move, asking her questions. I’ve attempted my sister-in-law’s version as well. And again, something’s missing. There’s some magical Tahmaseb ingredient that the rest of us simply don’t possess.
  2. Kashke Bademjan: This is another Persian dish, but I’ve only eaten it at restaurants. It’s an eggplant/garlicky concoction that also serves as an appetizer. I love it. I hope to grow some eggplants this year and try making this dish myself.
  3. Breakfast for Dinner: Pancakes, in particular, but all breakfast foods are invited. There is nothing like breakfast for dinner after an especially rough day.

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Hot pizza on a rainy day

Bloganuary: Describe the happiest day of your life

I decided to filter this prompt through the advice in Our Town by Thornton Wilder. If you choose to revisit a day, make it an ordinary one.

It was late spring, a weekday, back when my kids and I were taking karate classes together. The weather was warm enough not to need jackets, so we didn’t bring any to class.

A storm blew in while we were doing roundhouse kicks. After class, it was still raining hard. To wait out the storm, we decided to skip along the covered sidewalk of the strip mall and order take-out pizza for dinner.

Except, when the pizza was ready, it was raining even harder.

Pizza in hand, we debated. Go for it and risk soggy pizza or wait and content ourselves with cold slices when we got home?

We were too hungry to wait. We hunkered over the pizzas, cardboard boxes hot against our palms, and raced for the car. After a few steps, we were soaked through. By the time the three of us were secure in the car, we were laughing.

Maybe it was the endorphins from karate, or the promise of pizza, or that it was so close to summer vacation, but we didn’t stop laughing for the entire drive home—or when we had to race inside through that same downpour.

After we toweled off and hung up our karate uniforms to drip dry, the pizza was—somehow—still hot. It was nothing more than franchise pizza, but we ate and laughed, laughed and ate.

I don’t remember what happened before karate, and I’m not sure what we did for the rest of the evening. But this window of time is something my kids still mention in conversation, even now.

I think this is how those important life milestones should feel but never quite do. It was a burst of pure joy, pure living that can’t be manufactured.

You simply must trust that life will give you some of these moments.

Hot pizza on a rainy day after karate class doesn’t sound like the ingredients for the happiest day of my life. But if I had to pick one day to go back and live again, it would be this one.

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The green, green grass of home

Bloganuary: Do you have a memory that’s linked to a smell?

After the war, after we left Kuwait for Saudi Arabia, after everyone started calling it Operation Desert Sit, I had the chance to drive into King Khalid Military City.

At the entrance sat a patch of lawn that was so green, so lush, so potent that its scent sliced through the desert air. It struck us—physically. All of us craned our necks, exclaimed, and inhaled deeply. Whoever was driving the Humvee nearly veered off the road.

This perfect bit of golf-course grass was so opulent that it was practically obscene.

And after all the waiting, first in the desert and then in King Khalid Military City, I remember stepping off the plane and being hit with that same sort of extravagance of a German spring. Never mind that we landed at Rhein-Main Air Force Base, in the heart of industrial Germany. Never mind the jet fuel in the air or the exhaust from the buses waiting for us.

It was like walking into a wall. The scent of vegetation was so thick you could touch it, taste it. When I finally returned to my BOQ, I wanted to leave the windows open. My rooms faced a small preserve within the city of Darmstadt. It was so calm, and peaceful, and green. But, compared to Saudi Arabia, the air felt so cold, so damp, so heavy.

I had to content myself with staring at the greenery through the glass. And I did so, for hours.

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Published: Field Manual for Waiting

Yesterday, I received my author copies for Issue 29 of the Blue Earth Review.

Isn’t it gorgeous?

It’s been my aim, for a while, to get a piece accepted in this publication. This might seem like a random goal, but I had my reasons. A handful, actually.

The Blue Earth Review is Minnesota State University, Mankato’s literary magazine. I grew up in Mankato, my father taught at the university for 28 years, and my daughter recently received her Associate of Arts degree from there.

It is a literary magazine, however. Normally my writing does not skew literary. I’ve only submitted there once before, with a piece I thought might fit. (Clearly, it didn’t.)

This time, I submitted a piece I wrote during a class I took this past July on writing about grief.

“Field Manual for Waiting” is written in the second person, present tense, and ties together two events that occurred 30 years apart. (And yes, where else am I going to send something like that but a literary journal?)

I’m pleased the piece was a runner-up in the creative nonfiction category of their Dog Daze contest. I’m really pleased with the production values. Again, this little journal is gorgeous, and I’m glad “Field Manual for Waiting” found a home there.

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