The Spirograph Obsession

My fellow Coedxian, author Elaine Isaak, sent me a tweet yesterday asking about my “recent obsession with Spirograph.” I thought perhaps this deserved a better-than-140-character explanation.

It was Memere who had the Spirograph at her house — we might have owned one, but I don’t ever remember playing with it at home. Only ever at Memere’s house.

There were a few activites particular to Memere’s: Strawberry picking and making fresh daiquiris from the fruits of our labor (virgin daiquiris, of course–it wasn’t en vogue to call them “smoothies” back then). Eating Bugles with ranch dip and watching the Miss America Pageant. Sneaking into the blue room and thieving candies out of the pretty dishes there and not getting caught. Sledding down the mountainside backyard. And walking to the Morse Farm Sugar Shack, of course.

Memere (or “Gram,” as we often call her) eventually had a pool installed in the back yard, but by then we were too old to summer in Vermont anymore. No, what Soteria and I loved as girls was the large bureau in the guest bedroom whose drawers were full of games and toys and pens and paper. One of those “games” was Spirograph.

Soteria and I, both artisically-minded young girls (as most young girls are, though ours never wore off) would spend HOURS bent over circles and cams with pens of all colors, desperately attempting to recreate the gorgeous designs in the booklet. As with most art projects, Spirograph took a steady and careful hand, and huge amounts of patience. Eventually that patience would wear thin, or it would be time for dinner, and the projects would be packed up in the box and filed away in th drawer to be met again on another vacation.

I wonder what happened to all those games and things when Memere sold her house and moved to the condo. I hope whatever child got it treasured the magic in those ovoid bits of plastic (if not out myriad attempts at achieving perfection).

Every so often, a conversationĀ  about the Spirograph pops up between Soteria and me–especially now that Memere is in hospice with Alzheimers and we try to remember older, better, more lucid times. Inevitably, Soteria’s in the shop and I’m at work, and the idea never gets scribbled down on paper as a quirky Christmas gift item. And so it goes, for months and years.

So yesterday, when I saw someone post a picture of the Spirograph on Fecebook, it was a simple enough thing to repost. And then, as happens with social networking, it exploded. Everyone shared links and memories. My friend Mandi even shared some Spirographing she’d done with her niece!

I thought it would be a fun game to give swag away to anyone who comes to me at a signing orĀ  convention appearance and gives me a spirograph cam or circle. I’d love to have a huge collection I can bring back to the Afterschool program next year!

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Driving Gloves & Limousines

My friend, author Nathan Long, recently commented on one of my Facebook status updates. Something he said reminded me of the gloves he wears while driving. Like an amnesiac with an epiphany, like a dream shattered upon waking, an entire week of my life came back to me.

A few years ago, I spent a week in Los Angeles. It was one of the worst weeks of my life, so bad that I created a complete mental block around it, so bad that I can’t even tell you the details. Not because I’d have to kill you, but because someone might come kill me, and I’ve grown quite fond of this awesome life I live.

But this is not about the bad; this is about the good things that shone in the dark night. I saw my dear friend Hillery before she moved to Australia. I met some amazing people who have remained my friends all these years. And at the very end of that week, I met Nathan for the first time (and then promptly and rudely fell asleep on his couch, the first time I’d been able to relax in seven days). We had some time so he took the scenic route to the airport. I remember the unforgiving sun that day, the wilting white rose I had stolen the night before, the ostentatious house (that surely housed a flamboyantly gay Greek man), and Nathan’s driving gloves.

Limousines remind me of that time too, though I don’t associate it with the evilness because it was an encounter had on the flight west out of Nashville. There had been problems with the connections and the plane was late–Nashville was something like the third stop on this particular flight’s journey (the way Southwest does), so my plan to get a nice cushy window seat in the first five rows was pretty much destroyed. However, a very tall man standing up front (played in this memory by Sam Elliot) took one look at me and offered me the middle seat beside him in the front row. Flattered, I took it with a smile and not another thought.

I wish I could remember that man’s name, but I remember his wife’s: Mary Kate Alben. Mary Kate was the one who ended up sitting next to me, telling me stories the whole way to L.A. What should have been one of the most strenuous flights of my life was over far too soon. Mary Kate had the most beautiful hazel eyes. She and her husband had been through a lot–they’d met when he was playing Santa Claus at a local mall. He had seen her and asked a friend to introduce them. Skeptical, Mary Kate brushed him off quickly. When he met up with her again later and shyly asked her out she decided to accept because 1.) she was a strong woman, 2.) she had a gun in the car, and 3.) he was still wearing his Santa Claus boots.

The two of them knew the Southwest crew like family–their job was to pick up limousines at the factory in L.A. and then drive them cross-country to the Baltimore harbor to be shipped overseas. Mary Kate had another great story about defending her pink limousine from four very large, very intoxicated Native Americans near a reservation. She was a wonder, my Mary Kate. She gave me her email address, which I still have somewhere, and she emailed me her address so I could send a copy of AlphaOops to her. It was a while before I pieced my life back together, returned her email and sent her the book, but I did. I didn’t hear anything more from her. But I think about her every time I see a limousine. I was driving through Baltimore recently and saw two white limousines on the highway. I made sure to pull alongside one long enough to check to see if it was her, even though I knew it wouldn’t be.

They say that smell is the strongest trigger for memory, but it was not the scent of a fading rose that pulled me back to that time, it was those driving gloves against the steering wheel. Funny how strongly they swept me back to that place, crashing through all those walls I so painstakingly built. The memory left inside replays like it happened to someone else, in soft focus, hot and sunny and covered in bougainvillea, dreamy and idealized as the City of Angels should be.


Nathan has a new book: Bloodborn, about Ulrika the vampire, set in the world of Warhammer. (Don’t worry, you don’t need to play the game to read the novels.) It releases on May 25th — I just got my review copy in the mail last week. It’s a gorgeous cover. I’m really excited about digging into it. Be sure to check it out!

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