Twelve Years, One Hundred Words, and a Sea Turtle

flying honu

I work on the airplane, but this is better than flying.  Especially today.  I slip between the waves and the very atmosphere, now thick and green, lifts me up.  I hover above the turtles, roll among them, dive.  Under the dancing shadows of the great round shells, I look up; the sun behind them sparkles impossibly close, riding the waves just like the blondies on their longboards up the beach. I hear wet, the occasional wave, but little else.  No cacophony, certainly no cries, here where there are no skyscrapers, and, in any case, no airplanes to fly through them.

What Happened When The Kaspersen Brothers Met Myrna McGee

My approach to National Novel Writing Month consists of five main components: 1. A catchy title (see above).  2. An enticing synopsis (see below) which gives me a plot arc to follow but plenty of leeway to veer (way) off track as necessary.  3. My NaNo coffee mug.  4. My Safeway-brand NaNo peppermint white chocolate coffee creamer.  And 5. My “Write On” t-shirt, which was gifted to me by my very best friend, himself a writer, on the eve of my first NaNo and which, when all else fails to inspire, can crank up my word count like nobody’s business.

This year’s story, as you will see, is about Hawaii.  More specifically, about a tourist’s-eye-view of Waikiki from the cheesy (and ever-so-awesome) Food Court Oasis that is the International Marketplace, where my cousin and I once decided would be a perfect place to open a wedding planning business.  Everything you’d ever need for a wedding — leis, muumuus, gift items, cheap local food, heck, even Live Entertainment — is available on-site, all under one banyan tree.  I don’t plan to examine authentic Hawaiian culture, naturally, but rather to use Hawaii, the Tourist’s Paradise, as a setting for a story about family, friendship, and getting a hold of yourself.

In years past, I have blogged my novel as I’ve written it, allowing a rollicking, day-by-day glimpse into my Creative Process and spamming Facebook with almost daily updates, no matter how horrifying.  Last year, though, I had to quit publicizing my output about halfway through, the better to allow myself to smear the page with the disaster that became necessary to drag my story across quite a few rough plot holes to stick a satisfying ending.  I started with a strong idea and some delightful characters, and who knows?  Properly edited, something could yet come of it.  But mostly it served as a reminder to me that the whole point of the exercise is to take loads of time off work, sit down, and make it happen, for better or for worse.  I might post excerpts this year; I might tweet funny quotes or particularly embarrassing dialogue; I might write the entire Masterpiece in secret.  But write it, I shall, and if you want to be super proud of yourself in thirty days, and maybe get out of doing the dishes in the interim, I’d encourage you to join me.  It’s hard, it’s exhausting, and it’s more fun than I know how to have with a cup of coffee in one hand without spilling it.  I’m born again as an artist every November; can your favorite Safeway-brand product promise that?

About this year’s novel:

When a long-forgotten uncle of her long-dead first husband shuffles off this mortal coil, Myrna McGee inherits a Waikiki condo and a stall at Honolulu’s International Marketplace, and along with them a ticket out of Saskatoon and a crack at a fresh start. With help from capricious local cutie Lio, she runs the Wiki Wiki Wedding Chapel and Hawaiian Honeymoon Clearing House, which quickly becomes a favorite fixture of the giant tourist trap. When the three Kaspersen brothers and their B-Movie Mom find themselves with a gay wedding to plan, Myrna and Lio sign on to deliver the perfect party on the cheap. But when opposition arises from an unexpected corner, the wedding is the least of the things they’re called on to try and save.

We start tomorrow!  Sign up at

Eleven Years On

I don’t expect that I shall ever forget being jarred awake with the news that my workplace had been flown through the side of someone else’s, resulting, naturally, in the fiery destruction of both.  In the ensuing worldwide panic, fear, and sorrow, the airplanes (and, lest we forget, the people on them) were quickly reduced to little more than the visually arresting catalysts of a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day, but to airline employees, and to air crews in particular, September 11th is an especially sacred day of remembrance and reflection.  In a way that the media rarely does, we remember our co-workers and the sacrifices they were called upon to make.  Pilots and flight attendants who lost their lives in the line of duty in ways that we had never previously been called upon to imagine (murdered point-blank with box cutters, used as components of flying Molotov cocktails, disintegrated in a Pennsylvania field helping to fight for positive control of an airplane-turned-missile in a world gone mad) and that since we are forced to confront every day.  We empty our pockets and take off our shoes and isolate our laptops and publicly submit to an elaborate security screening ritual, knowing that box cutters are permitted in passengers’ carry-on luggage, an unfathomably boneheaded First Step in allowing the entire horrifying process to one day repeat.

It is my intention each year on September 11th to remember the sacrifice and honor the lives of the 25 flight attendants who were killed.  I knew none of them, and if I’m completely honest, my professional respect for each of them and my sincere sympathy for their friends and families is tempered still by a profound gratitude that flooded me as I stood at a payphone in a Big Island laundromat eleven years ago, weak in the knee and weeping with relief that I recognized none of their names.  I honor them as colleagues and ache at the idea of a fear that I can’t fully conceptualize and hope never to glimpse, but true grief for them belongs to others, and is mine neither to appropriate nor to define. Continue reading

Forty Things I Never Would Have Gotten to Do (Part II)

“Aloha” from the Biggest Pool in Hawaii!

So, I’m in the elevator in my hotel in Oklahoma City this morning, en route to the lobby, and the elevator stops on the third floor.  In piles a gang of about seven kids, all around eight or nine, who are running amok in the hotel the way eight- or nine-year-olds will (is there anything quite as thrilling as a hotel elevator at that age?).  Their leader, a curly-haired girl in glasses, decrees the second floor to be next on their itinerary, so it’s not ten seconds later that the doors open again and the gang swarms off.  Just before she leaps off the elevator to assume command of the second floor recon, their leader stops.  Leaning against the elevator door so that it cannot close, she turns to me and asks, “Are you a pilot?”

“Flight attendant,” I tell her.

“Oh, a flight attendant,” she repeats.  “So you go from hotel to hotel all over the place?”

“Well, yeah,” I say.

She cocks her head, considering this.  I usually wear my uber-neutral Passenger Face in hotels, too, when I’m in my uniform, but perhaps it’s not quite as neutral as I imagine, cuz this nine-year-old girl reads it like a billboard.  “It gets old, huh?”

I laugh and say “sometimes” to the closing elevator door.  Her investigation concluded, she scampers off to explore the great unknown of the second floor, and I ride to the lobby, then trudge off to the airport van.

And now I’m in another hotel in another city, and have just hung up the phone from talking to my husband, who thought I was going to be home tonight.  He’s bummed out that I’m not coming home, which bums me out, and this is one of the main ways that going from hotel to hotel all over the place gets old — it’s less the hotels themselves and more the time spent away from home.  Away from the kitties and from waking up next to my husband and from good coffee that doesn’t cost $3 a cup.  But I’ve had loads of fun at hotels, too, with this job  — fancy ones, tacky ones; waterfront hotels and downtown high-rises and sprawling off-brand complexes miles from nowhere.  And so, in keeping with my effort to highlight the fun (or at least funny) parts of this gig, and having been called out this very day by a nine-year-old for wearing my oh-so-over-it heart on my sleeve, I dedicate Part Two of our Forty Things I (probably) Never Would Have Gotten to Do If It Wasn’t For My Airline Job feature to hotel adventures!

30. Skinny dip in the largest pool in the Hawaiian Islands on Kauai

29. Crash the very grand luau at the Grand Wailea on Maui

28. Sling trays for three legs on a 727 with the whole sweaty crew smelling like the gym after our hotel in Louisville, Kentucky ran out of water

27. Cross “Sleep with a Pilot” off of my “Now That I’m a Flight Attendant” To-Do List in Reno, Nevada

26. Be pampered by a Japanese toilet

25. Attend the Great Midwestern Polka Festival poolside at our Chicago layover hotel instead of sleeping (an option ruled out by the Great Midwestern Polka Festival poolside) after an all-nighter

24. Re-enact a Brady Bunch episode after putting (Body Shop Satsuma Orange, I remember for some reason) bubbles in a hot tub in Las Vegas

23. Be an audience member at a real-life Newlywed Game at an airport Holiday Inn in Hartford (“Grand” Prize for the Winning Couple: one night at an airport Holiday Inn in Hartford.)

22. Stay at a Fairmont

21. Be asked, along with the rest of my crew, to leave a wedding reception in a New Jersey hotel, only to welcome the newlyweds aboard our flight the very next morning.  We showered them with champagne and our best wishes, and, as was so often the case back in those days, a good time was had by all.  Now there’s an extra fee for that.

Your Secret’s Safe With Us

Tomorrow we embark on a much-anticipated trip to Hawaii, where we will meet up with my cousins who live on O’ahu, stalk sea turtles across the North Shore, ogle beer-bellied honeymooners in Waikiki and ransack the souvenir stands and the lunch wagons at Honolulu’s International Marketplace.

Setting sail (albeit on an airplane) for the Sandwich Islands puts me in mind of a story.  I fly for a large, international airline with flight attendant bases in five countries, but at heart, our work group is more like a small town, and anybody who cares to can know your business.  Stories abound of the two girls together on the jumpseat rhapsodizing about their wonderful new boyfriends, everything sunshine and lollipops until the identical photos are busted out and yet another pilot is found out for the dog he is.  On a Maui trip many years ago, I worked in First Class with the captain’s ex-wife while his new wife slung trays in Coach, and I don’t mind saying, a more uncomfortable hotel van ride I have yet to endure.

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