The Fishing Pablo

•May 11, 2017 • 1 Comment

The Fishing Pablo needs help! His tree is dying.



Yes, his name really is Pablo, and yes, I know that’s weird. There’s a story.  This one starts in Mexico. It starts with this man.

Rachel McMahon Phill


This is Phill, my husband of twenty years. He plays the guitar, he sings, and he builds things. He also makes things up. If you know him, you probably have a nonsense-o-meter that goes off when he speaks. I have a finely tuned one, but it still sometimes fails me.


We were eating in a restaurant in Cancun. The atmosphere was amazing. Massive melty candles, lanterns, live music delivered by three men with stringed instruments. When they came to our table they asked us if we wanted our song to be happy, sad, or romantic. I can’t remember what we chose, only that I giggled the entire time they sang to us. It’s what I do when someone stares me in the eye and sings to me. I giggle.


When they left us for the next table, I began to examine our chairs and proudly noted that ours were cooler than the chairs at many other tables. Ours had artwork carved into them. I’m a fan of carving, though I’ve only used my limited skill at it on pumpkins. I pointed out that the carver of our chairs must not be good at carving faces, because it was the image of a man whose face was covered by a sombrero. My husband, very seriously, and with the air of someone who KNOWS THINGS replied, “You must not recognize the famous painting they represent.” He answered my blank stare with more information. “It’s The Sleeping Pablo.”


If anyone but Phill had told me this, I would have believed it before thinking it through. But my nonsense-o-meter was screaming. Why would this artwork have an English name, and why would Phill know it? I asked him to tell me its true name, and of course he couldn’t. We turned to Google to learn how to properly say it in Spanish. We laughed about it, took a picture of The Sleeping Pablo, and finished our meal. But it had started something. Suddenly there were Pablos everywhere.


The shell-hugging Pablo:


The I Can’t Wait to Dive in Pablo (left) and The I Can’t Believe it’s Over Pablo (right):


And our saddest friend, The Fishing Pablo:



Pablo’s tree was sold to us by a woman on the side of the road. She kissed my hands and placed Pablo on the soil beneath the tree and gave me a book that told me how to care for them. And for six months I did a pretty good job. I’ve watered up, not down. I’ve given it fertilizer and just the right amount of sun. But now it seems six months is just how long it takes a Bonsai to show that its owner is inept. I’m currently taking advice on what I’m doing wrong. Pablo begs for help. He offers his toothpick fishing pole as a reward for any information that can save his tree.


A New Need

•March 27, 2014 • 2 Comments

The members of the board gathered around the table, already sipping their coffee with smug grins on their faces. 

“What will we be selling today?” one asked. He had on a new suit, and he turned as he spoke to make sure everyone noticed.

“I have an idea,” someone piped up. “A new vitamin.”

“That’s too concrete,” another said. “We need something abstract. They gobbled up that socialization thing. Let’s go with something like that.”

“Socialization isn’t marketable,” one man said. He was wearing the same suit he’d worn last time.

New Suit chuckled. “Not marketable, says the man who doesn’t own ten preschools.”

Old Suit scowled at him. “What’s your idea, then?”

“I suggest we create a new need, something to scare parents.”

“Like a new shot?” someone asked.

“People are getting too suspicious about that,” Old Suit said. “They’ve noticed how many immunized kids keep getting sick.”

“Yes,” laughed a woman at the end of the table. She had two chairs, one of them reserved for her designer bag. “But they still blame the anti-vac kids. All we have to do is pay a few doctors to write scary announcements and allow the pro-vaxxers to share them all over social media.” She frowned at a smudge on her fingernail. “It’s easy.”

“What scares parents most?” New Suit asked. “Aside from their kids dying of chicken-pox.” He snorted at that.

“The idea that we’ll fail to prepare our kids to survive in the world and be successful,” said a woman across the table from him.

“Exactly. Socialization myths work, because we told them their kids have to be placed in a closed environment with several kids their own age in order to learn to navigate the real world effectively.”

Designer Bag got caught up giggling. “Because they’ll all go to work one day in a room with thirty people their own age …”

“I realize,” New Suit said, clearing his throat, “that the theory is flawed. But it sells. This time I propose creating a new product that trains children to develop a skill no one knew they needed before.”

Old Suit sat up. He owned a handful of factories, so he loved hearing about new products. “What skill might that be?” he asked.

New Suit smirked. “I’ve seen a lot of quizzes online lately about being right-brained or left-brained. What if we convinced parents that allowing their children to write with only one hand led to an inability to easily use both sides of their brains?”

A few members groaned. That was a stretch. But hadn’t everything they’d thought of started that way? Smiles began to spread.

“I’ve already done some research,” New Suit said. “Unfortunately, there are studies that suggest being ambidextrous is harmful. We’ll have to bury or undermine those.” He smiled at Designer Bag. She was best at that. “But I’ve also compiled a list of famous people who were ambidextrous. We could title the new product after one of those people.” He passed the list around.

“Leonardo da Vinci!” Old Suit said. “He’ll appeal to anyone.”

New Suit sat down and let the idea take hold. He could already feel another new suit on the way.

The Answers to your Questions

•January 22, 2014 • 2 Comments

Dear Rachel,

I hate to hear that you’ve eaten all my chocolate, not only because I was so looking forward to enjoying it, but because it is likely to break you out and make you fat. If you happen to frequent the store again, please go ahead and pick some more up. It’s more difficult for me to do it myself, you see. Most men don’t recognize me, but women tend to glare.

To answer your question, no, I never said you were ugly. I am not, however, one to sugar coat anything. If your pants won’t button, perhaps you should take my advice and stop taking my chocolate.

It does my heart good to hear that you are sentimental about seeing me. I remember the first time I visited you, and I thought then that you would never welcome me. I do apologize for coming to your middle school and surprising you the way I did and for not warning you I was coming. I’ve never felt less welcome anywhere in my life. The way you hid my presence from all your friends made it perfectly clear how you felt.

It also hurt my feelings when you didn’t invite me to your wedding. I’m told that you actually planned it around my visit. Can you think of anything more hurtful than that? But don’t worry; I haven’t been put off seeing you.

I can’t think of any reason for you to cry over bacon or chipmunks. Perhaps the chubby cheeks on the chipmunks remind you of how chubby you are? Bacon, of course, only adds to that. Also, bacon comes from pigs. I’m sure you see the connection. I wouldn’t put too much thought into it. Your husband says you cry at odd things (including insurance commercials?) every time I come. As for you crying during “Saved by the Bell” … Was it perhaps the episode where Jessie takes the sleeping pills? When she sings “I’m so excited, I’m so excited, I’m so … scared”. Well, it chokes me up, too.

If your back is giving you pains, you should take your medicine. I know you resist it, but you’re not getting any younger. Why, Mena was just in here inquiring about this letter. When she saw the reference to “Saved by the Bell” her eyes lit up. She immediately put you on her list. I’ve informed her that I decide when my time is finished, but she just cackled and cranked up that bloody machine of hers. I must warn you, she does like to pop in and let people know she’ll be coming soon.

Mena disrupts my visits when she can. She’s jealous, you see, because no one is ever happy to see her. I, however, have earned many screams of joy. Imagine my glee upon hearing someone shout, “Oh, thank God!” at my arrival. This seems to happen most often among college women. They must be so lonely after leaving home. On these visits, we drink wine, and my host calls all her friends to tell them that I’ve arrived. I can hear the happiness that comes through the phone. I don’t point it out to be rude, but I don’t recall you ever doing that.

I must go now and pack for my visit. Don’t worry if you feel crabby. You can always blame it on me.

Aunt Flo

The Uninvited Guest

•January 21, 2014 • 4 Comments

Dear Aunt Flo,

It has come to my attention that the time for your next visit is near. I’ve made preparations, as usual — there’s chocolate in every room — but I still don’t feel ready. Are you coming more often of late? Please don’t think I’m hinting that you shouldn’t. It’s only natural you should come. I do have some questions, however, and I hope you can clear up these small matters.

I hate to ask this. I don’t want to accuse, but did you, by any chance, ever tell me that I was ugly when I was a child? I only ask because each time your visit draws near I become increasingly convinced that I’m hideous. What’s odd is that my clothes seem to agree. I have to wear special jeans, because the ones I normally wear refuse to let me button them. Do you know what it does to a girl to be rejected by her pants? If you didn’t say anything cruel to me, then please forget I mentioned it.

On a brighter note, I seem to be terribly sentimental about seeing you. I keep crying for no reason that I can see. Maybe certain things bring back memories from my past; things I can’t recall? Perhaps your memory is better than mine. Is there any reason you can think of that I should cry when someone says “chipmunk” or “bacon”? I also cried while watching an episode of “Saved by the Bell” today, and it took great strength just now for me to admit it. (Please don’t tell anyone.)

I’ve noticed that these worries have made me crabby. I snap at everyone in the house for things that normally don’t bother me. I have to wonder if you’ve figured out how to make me snappy before you come so that by the time you get here, I’ll be too tired to complain. It happens every time! But again, I’m not accusing.

I have to cut this letter short now, because you’ve requested that I gather a great amount of water, as you always do. It wasn’t much of a bother when I was younger, but in recent years, I have to admit, carrying it around has started making my back ache. What in the world do you need it for?

I’ve been told by my elders that when you stop paying me visits, your older sister, Mena, whom I’ve never met, will replace you. I’m also told she is less predictable and more troublesome (sorry, their words, not mine). Does she really hate cold so much that she carries around a special machine that connects directly to Hell? They say she isn’t good at aiming it at herself and often blasts her host with it. If so, please inform her that I’m not fond of heat, or of Hell, for that matter, and she can kindly leave me off her list.

P.S. again
Please bring your own chocolate. Talking about Hell made me cry, and now I’ve eaten what I bought for you.

Much love,


•November 3, 2013 • 2 Comments

It’s NaNo time, which I’m sure you’ve heard. Maybe more than you want to! But I’ll be brief. (I admit that it’s mostly because this is my first year to participate, so I know next to nothing about it.) I’ll start by saying that the idea of writing 50k words in a month doesn’t bother me at all. If anything, I write too fast. I’ll have that 50k in no time if I can keep my mind on the book I’ve started for NaNo. What I find daunting is the idea of writing straight through and not polishing as I go. I need to learn this. I know I do. And I swear I’m going to!

This post, by Chandler Baker, made a little bell ring in my head. Her description of writing as if someone is reading over her shoulder fit me perfectly. It’s what I do. It makes me take fewer chances and examine single words in ways that only slow me down. I know I just said I write fast, but when I think about really letting the words fly, I realize that I’m still slowing myself down. I’ve read countless bits of advice saying that editing as you write is a bad practice, but I still do it. And I know why. It’s because someone will read my rough draft. For this reason, I’m afraid to allow it to be what it’s supposed to be. Rough.

I hope to gain two things this month as I work through Nano. First, I plan to become more disciplined about writing daily. This is good timing, since I now have a publisher. Second, I plan to write a rough draft. If 50k happens or doesn’t happen, I’ll be happy as long as I meet these two goals.

Happy NaNo!

Another Blank Page

•August 27, 2013 • 2 Comments

When I finish a first draft, there are a few things that always happen. The first is a happy-dance, though my version looks less like a dance and more like the moment after Kevin realizes he made his family disappear—running, arm waving, and since I tend to finish drafts in the middle of the night, silent screaming. When I was in theatre, I always said there was no feeling like the curtain going up. This is the closest I’ve ever come to it. I’m done! I celebrate until I need my inhaler.

The second thing that happens is not so fun. The silent scream of excitement becomes a silent sob, and I plop down wherever I stopped running and stare at the wall. It’s like the moment when I’ve read the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and I realize it’s over. I still have questions. I’m not finished being in that world. How can it be over? But it is. I’ve spent so much time living in my made-up world that the real world is too dim for me. I open a blank page in Word and stare at it. It isn’t the same as opening a work in progress. It’s frightening. I start a few lines and then pummel the backspace button. It’s too soon. I close it, scoffing when my computer asks if I want to save the blank page.

The next step is a drive down memory lane. I open every manuscript I’ve ever started and read all of the short ones and then follow by reading the opening chapters of the long ones. I remember that I’ve been caught up in other stories, other characters’ struggles, and other worlds. I may get sucked in enough to revise one of them, but mostly I just look through it all and try not to think about the book I’ve just finished. The urge to open it and start reading is overwhelming. But I swear this time I’ll take King’s advice and let that manuscript sit. This step goes on for days. I clean the house. I paint something. And then I give up.

I’ve seen so many posts about why writers write that I feel there could hardly be more to say on the matter. But the simplest way I can put it is that I write because I love doing it. I write for the same reason a mountain climber climbs and a couch potato watches TV all day. I love it, I love it, I love it. I’m addicted to the whole process. I can’t wait to stare at the blank page again, and I can’t wait for the storm of words. I can’t wait to look it over and find too many adverbs and too many uses of the word “seemed” and strangle them out of my manuscript. I can’t wait for feedback from beta readers, and I can’t wait to run around crazy and then cry like a baby.

The last step is a brief return to blogging, where I tell the world that I’ve finished my draft, and now I need something new to do. It’s the moment when I admit to myself that no amount of vacuuming or painting will keep me from opening up a blank page and doing what I love.

A Difficult Decision

•August 22, 2013 • 4 Comments

Last night I Googled ‘Do vaccines cause Autism?’ for probably the fiftieth time. It’s a debate I return to often, and one that never fails to leave me with more questions than answers. In light of the recent Measles outbreak, it seemed fitting to remind myself that while there are those who roll their eyes at such a claim, there are also those who, like me, have seen something that can’t be denied.
I had my first son, Noah, in 1998. He was three months premature and weighed two pounds. He does not have Autism. He had all of his vaccinations, and though he had complications after them, I never feared for his life as a result of them. For that reason, when I had Gabe in 2004, I had no reason to question the effectiveness or safety of vaccinations. Not after my two pound baby received them and survived. I knew what it was like to fear that I would lose my child, after watching Noah struggle for two months in NICU, and I had no intention of going through that again. Not if I could prevent it.
I didn’t follow the news then any better than I do now, so I hadn’t heard any claims that vaccinations could cause Autism. I was given the little packet that listed the vaccines and explained away the possibility of side-effects. Autism wasn’t mentioned. Death was. And brain damage, and a long list of unlikely but horrible outcomes, including actually catching the diseases the inoculations were meant to prevent. I was asked to initial those sheets and told by the nurses in sly whispers that nothing could really go wrong. They just had to prove I was informed of the risks. Well played. Of course I let them give my son the shots. What kind of sick, evil mother would refuse them?
Before his eighteen-month shots, Gabe was a typical child. He knew his name and responded to it. He made eye contact. He had a personality. I hated watching him receive the shots, but I wasn’t afraid during the visit to the pediatrician. I had been assured nothing could go wrong. But by the time we got home from the doctor’s office, Gabe had developed a fever. It was mild, but I called the pediatrician anyway, because there were other symptoms. I remember the questions I asked. I wanted to know why my son had stopped looking at me when I called his name. Could his hearing have been affected? Did he catch a disease from the shots? When would it stop?
I was told he was having a mild reaction to the shots and that he would be fine. I should watch his fever and let them know if it didn’t go away. His lack of eye contact was ignored and chalked up to him not feeling well. (Yes, I forget my name when I feel bad, too. Don’t you?) He didn’t snap out of it, but in the way that life plays out, we got used to the new Gabe. It was a setback, nothing more. He didn’t seem to have any diseases, and the fever went away. And I remained ignorant.
The next time he got a series of shots, the same thing happened. I said on that day that it had happened before, and I was starting to suspect that he just couldn’t tolerate vaccines. I called the pediatrician’s office again and asked the same questions as before, reminding them that it had also happened the last time. He seemed dazed, he wouldn’t respond to his name, and he wasn’t talking. It happened too soon after the shots—on that very day!—for me to believe it was anything else. This time he was crying, though he was typically a happy child. The nurse’s response was, “babies cry,” which she delivered in a tone that made it clear she considered me a complete idiot.
Again, Gabe didn’t snap out of it, and a new list of symptoms appeared. He withdrew from relationships, he treated his toys differently, he didn’t talk, and he rocked constantly. I’m not talking about slow progress. I’m talking about going backward. I’m talking about losing part of his vocabulary and refusing to look at me in the eyes. He was diagnosed with Autism. The symptoms used to make the diagnosis include the symptoms that appeared on the exact days of his last two rounds of shots.
I’m angry today, and I have a right to be. I’ve been called evil for refusing to inject my child with something that I know destroyed part of who he is. It’s only said by people who have never experienced what I have, and I can even imagine myself as one of those people. Had the nurses told me on the day my son got his shots that many people had gone nuts and stopped immunizing their children, I would probably have called them bad parents and self-righteously patted myself on the back for doing the right thing. But now here I am, terrified of immunizing and also of not immunizing, and knowing that whichever way I go, I may lose my son.
If you think watching your child suffer from Measles or any other illness is worse than watching them disappear into a mental fog, then you’re probably right. But consider knowing that the moment before the needle goes in might be the last time your child wraps his arms around you or looks into your eyes. Don’t just move past this, thinking I’m being dramatic. Actually take a moment to think of how it makes you feel to see your child connecting with you. Think of what it does to your heart to hear her call you mommy or daddy. And imagine losing that. Consider not being convinced that the vaccine is necessary or as effective as you’ve been told, and still making the decision to give up your relationship with your child just because the media tells you it’s safe. Just because the very people who sell the drug give evidence to support its use.
I weep as I write this, because it’s a decision I have to make. Not just now, but every time something causes me to question what I’ve learned, every time an illness breaks out, every time someone calls me a fool. I love my children more than anything, and I won’t choose one side because it makes me comfortable or because someone famous said I should. I research, I pray, I read, I do more than most parents of typical children ever have to. And despite what we’re told, evidence does exist that connects vaccinations with Autism. Some of that evidence exists in the lives of people like me who simply know what they’ve experienced. But there are also studies out there that show links. (You’ll find them under expensive rugs purchased by the companies that profit from the use of vaccines.)

I even understand, on some level, the logic in hiding the truth. Imagine if we learned tomorrow from some reputable source, that vaccines do indeed cause Autism. Case settled. The result would be pandemonium worse than if we found out the Roswell stories were true. Some would still get the shots, claiming that a chance of Autism is better than the risk of Measles. But many who teeter on the edge would fall on the other side.

I can’t say I like the idea of abandoning vaccines, and I can’t say I’m convinced by either side of the argument. But after studying the statistics regarding the number of people affected with Measles in unvaccinated areas and comparing them to the statistics regarding Autism here in America, I’m not sure I think we’re doing the right thing. Autism is still on the rise, and I have to ask myself if I’m more afraid of Measles or the idea of a whole generation of adults who can’t care for themselves. That’s a decision every parent has to make. Or one they can allow someone else to make for them.
I don’t hate anyone for immunizing their children, even those who do no more research than skimming the latest article posted on Facebook that may or may not be true and was likely written by someone with a slanted view. I respect that each parent has to evaluate the evidence and also use their own experience to make an informed decision. And I would like the same courtesy. But I know I won’t get it. Because it’s easier to just do what you’re told and believe it’s right. Until you learn that it isn’t.

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