My mom, who lives a couple miles from my son’s college dorm, reported this morning that he came over for dinner and laundry last night, but left after only one NCIS episode because he “had some writing he wanted to do.” I’m grinning just writing that. (Christian hasn’t spoken to me in five years, but [sorry, Kid!] he continues to be very ME.)
She noted that he does a lot of research for his fiction, which made me grin again: I spent all of yesterday surrounded by untidy piles of books and my “nerd notebooks” (indexed and topic-tagged!) of information collected for my own piece of fiction. See, Research is part of the FUN! (You did catch that part about being a nerd, right?)
For my story set on a whaler, that means unearthing my sailing manuals; whaling novels, histories, biographies, and news stories; whaling films; websites of whaling museums, historical societies, rigging diagrams, weaponry… I just sent off an email to a model-ship-builder whose website engrossed my attention for two hours last night…
I know perfectly well that of all this stuff I’m soaking in, maybe only ONE detail will end up on my page.
But man, will that ever be an AWESOME Detail!
And man, do I ever enjoy a good mind-wind tangled through a themed thread of Research. I guess that’s the thing: this Quest is recreational in its own right. Even if I never wrote a word with it.
This evening’s project? FACES! I’m collecting faces. I’ve got a whole ship-crew of blank paper dolls needing features, and I’m pretty sure this is what Pinterest is FOR!
For four decades I’ve been submitting an annual catalog of book-titles for your consideration. (And okay—some other, less-noble-sounding stuff as well. Thank you, by the way, for that Pink & Pretty Barbie in 1981: a fantastic exhibition on your part of compassionate acquiescence in the face of a petitioner’s truly horrendous personal taste.)
As the bookshelves will attest, you have been very good to me over the years, and I’ve always tried to do my best by you in return. I hope, for example, that you enjoyed the peanuts and beer I used to put out for you. It was Daddy who pointed out that you might be tired of milk and cookies (though I also hope you don’t mind the substitution of coffee once Daddy & I both got Sober). And I’m pretty confident (based on the hoofprints in the snow that Mommy pointed out to us one Christmas morning) that Rudolph & Co. enjoyed the carrots we put out, even if the water-bowl froze over and was kind of a bust.
Well, Santa, I know you haven’t had to do a whole lot of adapting over the centuries—so I thought I’d better give you a heads-up, before you gear up and hit the road sky next week, that the world got wonky this year, and there are some new rules.
Note #1: Face Mask
Before you leave your lovely, safe, isolated and quarantined North Pole (are you SURE you want to venture out this year??) you will need a face mask. Perhaps for any accompanying elves as well—I don’t believe the science has thus far addressed this species-specific question, but as presumable primates they should probably play it safe.
If you’re not wild about the aesthetic of a surgical mask with your uniform, I recommend hitting up my mom and her sewing machine. (I mailed her a box of my husband’s used-and-abused KOA tshirts, and she sent a return packet of enough uniform-matching masks for our whole KOA staff! Comfy ones, too.)
Note #2: Social Distancing
Mask or no, it’s 2020 protocol to keep a distance of six feet between yourself and any person not from your own household. (Or your own “Bubble,” which is a Thing now. A Bubble being the circle of people with whom you have agreed to interact, on the understanding that none of you are interacting with any other people outside the Bubble. Not sure a “Bubble” is a practical proposal in your case, though.)
So this year when Cindy Lou Who creeps down the stairs, you’ll need to maintain an appropriate Social Distance while in her living room.
(Good luck with that, by the way. I personally recommend traveling with a six-foot stick. Makes it easy to assess the distance, and doubles as a prod if you need to fend someone off from your personal space. Maybe, St. Nick, it’s a good time to resurrect that old shepherd’s staff you used to carry in earlier iterations…)
Note #3: Zoom Conference
I’m assuming by now you’ve got the North Pole wired, and possibly an IT department among your elves, and I’m sure the little guys will be happy to help you with this next one. See, pretty much all the things we used to do For Real, out in the world, we now do while sitting at our computers and using Zoom. (Yup, that’s a Thing too. Lots of new terminology this year.)
There are definitely some pluses to this, like having a much richer array of A.A. options online than what used to be available in this small (one-Meeting-a-day) town. Or “attending” my sister’s Seattle-area church from my couch in Oregon. Or chatting face-to-face (sorta) with my mom, my godparents, my sister and her kiddos… In the absence of in-person contacts, I’m grateful for Zoom.
But Santa, I MISS HUGS. I miss hugs before church, I miss hugs after A.A. meetings, and I so badly want to squeeze my little niece Marian when she opines, using my mother’s and my family nicknames: “I miss Grandy and Aunt Sam!” I will admit to some amount of cumulative “Zoom Fatigue” (that, too, is a Thing now—as evidenced by its examination in venues such as Psychiatric Times) but it’s a tool to tide us over, and I’m sure your elf-staff can handle rescheduling your usual Mall Appearances to Zoom.
Note #4: Local Laws
Boy oh boy, do I hope you have a legal department, because the world is currently a crazy-quilt of different restrictions and regulations. From nation to nation, state to state, county to county, even sometimes town to town, there are different laws in place to clock and comply with. It’s tough enough for the travelers passing through our RV park, scouting ahead to see what’s open and what’s required and what’s forbidden, and they’re only crossing a couple jurisdictional boundaries a day.
I can at least make it easy for you here: Dining In is prohibited in our county, but I’ll have your snacks ready in a take-out bag!
And just a thought: you might want to consider using people’s porches instead of their chimneys this year… because if you come down with COVID, the Contract Tracing will be a bitch!
BOOK covers. I’m between the BOOK-covers of one of the hilarious social commentaries novels penned by Charles Dickens—and this particular copy of this particular book has me thinking…
I really do love the heft and the presence of a real paper book. BUT. Because I don’t have the shelf-space for a thousand books; and because a thousand books are portable on the iPad; and because I pick up all kinds of books for a couple bucks a pop from the Apple bookstore’s “sale bin;” and because I can look up, with a touch, anything I become curious about; and because I can read in bed without keeping a light on when my husband is sleeping; and… Well, because of lots of “becauses,” I do almost all my reading these days onscreen.
Still, when a mention (in another book) of this book prompted me to pick it up, I definitely went for the paper version. Because for this book I have a copy that belonged to my great-grandpa.
As I turned the pages I got to thinking (in that rabbit-trail manner with which my mind works) about what age a work of literature gets to be before it begins to merit designation as “a Classic”—and that, then, got me wondering what age this printed copy of this classic might be, given what I did know of its provenance.
An easy answer was not forthcoming. Nowhere on the book could I find a publication date, edition number, or any other reference to the year. (Fitting, I suppose, for a novel that opens, “In these times of ours, though concerning the exact year there is no need to be precise...”)
Ultimately,I ran down my answer in a history of the publishing house, which went belly-up in 1898—the year after printing its run of Dickens novels. Huh, I thought, that’s kinda cool. (I mean, I knew it was Great Grandpa’s—but age-wise, that only guaranteed its birth-year preceded mine.)
Considering the hundred-and-twenty-three-year age of the book in my hands, my mind jumped next to pondering how new the novel itself was, when this copy of it went to press. (Did I mention a propensity for looking-stuff-up?) The answer, to frame it differently, is this: when this book printed, Our Mutual Friend was the same age of Tom Clancy’s Patriot Games NOW. Or Robin Cook’s Outbreak. Stephen King’s It. Fried Green Tomatoes. The Whale Rider. Mrs. Doubtfire. Where’s Waldo?
Imagine a Dickens novel being even a relatively recent piece of pop culture! What a shift in perspective, to think of Dickens in any light but “Historic”…
In my own mind that word—“Historic”—used to mean “before ME.” And when I was young-ish, that was a pretty decent working definition. But closing in on my own half-century mark, I acknowledge that the boundary line, the one delineating “History” from “Regular-Stuff-That’s-Familiar-to-ME”… Well, it’s moved. In fact, that line scoots right along, keeping pace behind me like a stick tied to a string tied to my belt loop, all the time converting some portion of Regular Stuff Familiar to Me into that “Other” category I think of as History. (Did I think only other people’s lives slipped into Historic rear-view? Did I think that regardless of how long I might live, my entire life would feel to me like “Now”?)
This book imparts an unexpected lesson of… Perspective.
As in… It Doesn’t End Here.
As in… I am not some grand culmination of everything History was building up to; in fact, I rank merely as “someone else” to everyone else in the world.
As in… What shall I DO with this role of “someone” in everyone else’s History?? It’s lovely to imagine, in 120 years, a great-granddaughter enjoying a book from my shelf. Better yet, from my pen. Maybe even, by then, “a Classic”?
I’m enjoying the book. Though I do miss the built-in Definitions I’m accustomed to summoning with a touch. (Because I don’t care how great your vocabulary is—Dickens requires a dictionary!! …Terpsichorean?? Anyone? Anyone? Beuller? …Nah, me neither. I’m gonna go look that up.)
If you have ever joked that you’re “in danger of becoming a Cat Lady,” well… I’m sorry—you probably already ARE one!
But in case you’re still uncertain, I’m happy to offer this handy scoring system:
#1: PHOTOS. You might be a Cat Lady if…
…you’re thinking of writing a “cat lady” post and go looking for photos to accompany it and realize that more than half the pictures on your phone involve your cats. +3 C.L. points.
Additionally… +2 C.L. points if this is true even though you also have human children.
+1 C.L. point if you can reach that “half-the-pictures mark” only counting your pictures of SLEEPING cats.
Oh, and let’s not forget… +1 C.L. point if you are (do you hear yourself??) thinking about writing a “cat lady” post! (As we say in A.A.: “normal” drinkers don’t spend time wondering whether they might be alcoholics. In other words: If you’ve asked the question...)
#2: BUDGET. You might be a Cat Lady if…
…you haven’t paid for TV channels in a decade, but you have multiple birdfeeders (a.k.a. “KITTY CABLE“) in front of your window and purchase birdseed in eighty-pound installments. +3 C.L.points.
Additionally… +1 C.L.point if the UPS man secretly hates you for your quarter-ton monthly shipments of cat litter and cat food.
+1 C.L.point if you have ever uncovered more than two dozen cat toys by moving a single piece of furniture.
+1 C.L. point if you hang and fill a Christmas stocking specifically for a cat.
BONUS:+2 C.L.points if anyone outside your household has ever wrapped and shipped a Christmas gift to your cat.
#3: BATHROOM & BEDROOM. You might be a Cat Lady if…
…you close the bathroom door not for privacy, but because a cat climbing your legs is more painful when your pants are down, and/or because a cat likes to pop up through the leg-hole of your panties to comment. +4 C.L. points.
+1 C.L. point if an industrial outdoor storage-tote serves as your litter box.
+2 C.L. points if your husband has actually constructed a tiled enclosure in your bathroom to contain said box and prevent the litter from getting kicked out all over the bathroom floor.
+1 C.L. point if you regularly find cats playing “hockey” in the shower with your hairclip / dental floss / chapstick / phone charger / prescription bottle / [fill-in-this-blank-with-literally-ANYTHING]
+1 C.L. point if the “other woman”—you know, the one sharing your husband’s pillow—is purring when she does so.
+1 C.L. point if your love-life may have sacrificed a smidge of spontaneity thanks to the prerequisite herding-everyone-out-of-the -bedroom.
+3 C.L.points if you and your spouse sleep together quite comfortably in a Full-size, but you recently bought a larger bed solely because you had insufficient room for the CATS.
#4: NOTORIETY. You might be a Cat Lady if…
…yours is the town’s most heavily-trafficked Foster Home used by the local shelter for harboring “found” kittens until they’re adoptable. +5 C.L. points.
+1 C.L. point if you have ever had more than a dozen foster kittens in the house at once.
+1 C.L. point if you have become the person folks call when they’re thinking about cat-doption, and you have used your fostering to “test drive” kittens and match up half a dozen friends with THEIR current cats.
+1 C.L. point if your neighbors know your indoor cats from their window-appearances, and/or if someone in your neighborhood has given you a “Cat Lover” mug.
+1 C.L. point if your mother emails you cat-related comics at least once a week.
+1 C.L. point if you have ever been handed a bag of cat treats by someone whose name you don’t even know.
#5: YOU MUST ADMIT. You are most certainly a cat lady if…
+1 C.L. point …if you sometimes know a kitty’s name the minute you meet it, and you know you’ll be keeping it even though you’ve SWORN you wouldn’t have more than [fill-in-this-blank with the number of cats you currently own]. (Exhibit A, Cat #4: Yoda, on the left. More than 50 kittens came through our house this spring—but THIS one was instantly mine! Also, instantly “Yoda.” Exhibit B, Cat #5: Footprint, below. Due to his weird ability to turn off his bones, we also refer to him as “kitty putty”…)
+1 C.L. point …if you don’t even flinch when you step on a mouse in the dark because you know there are probably at least eight dozen toy mice stashed around the house.
(BONUS:+1 C.L.point if you still don’t flinch when you realize the next morning it was an ACTUAL mouse’s head, because all you can think is: “What kind of crazy-ass, kamikaze moron of a mouse ventures into THIS house??”)
+1 C.L. point …if you have ever glanced down at your clothing in public and blurted the horrified exclamation: “I’m wearing my CAT!”
+1 C.L. point …if you keep a pump-dispenser of Johnson & Johnson no-tears baby shampoo right beside the pump-dispenser of Dawn at your kitchen sink, specifically for the purpose of washing CATS.
+1 C.L. point …if you habitually tip out your shoes before putting them on, because one of them is invariably hiding a toy mouse deposited by a CAT.
+1 C.L. point …if you and your spouse habitually refer to one another around the house as “Mommy” and “Daddy” when your only shared children are CATS.
BONUS:+2 C.L.points if you “do VOICES” for the cats!
BONUS PLUS:+3 C.L.points if you have your SPOUSE doing voices for the cats!
(No points for talking TO the cats, by the way. That one’s such a no-brainer it’s a freebie.)
Ready to score your quiz? Out of the 50 possible points…
In the years since Jon married me, I’ve lost count of the number of people who have apologized for swearing around me. Ironic, really, because in the years before marrying Jon I had a serious, Pirate-Sized Potty Mouth. (He never chided me for my language—but my F-bombs suddenly felt disrespectful around someone whose outcries in adversity never exceeded “Son of a Biscuit!”)
Now, because they don’t hear me use them, people assume obscenities offend me—when truthfully I’m merely saving them for situations that REALLY call for that level of emphasis. All that said, I have one word to pronounce today:
I have never talked government stuff here—there’s no tag in my cloud for Politics—but this morning’s Relief encompasses so much more than just Government. And (as a bonus) for the first time in my life, the Electoral College vote purporting to represent me actually reflected my Actual Vote! It only took a move from my native Idaho to Oregon… The Electoral College stupidness is a another whole rant—but since I don’t talk Politics here <wink>…
How’s THAT for a strong finish? Thus ended my first book.
Back when “book” meant folded sheets of gradeschool writing paper (blue dotted lines to guide the letter-heights) stapled within a construction-paper cover, illustrated ala Crayola. Come to think of it, “Annie Ant” also became my first published work—-a result of living in a town so small that its news-starved local paper printed the contest-winning, 12-sentence text of a first grader’s “novel.”
My seven-year-old self suffered from no excess of modesty—and so, as easily as that, I assumed my place as A Writer. Not even doubting my right to the title. By Third Grade my self-published works included “Other-Books-by-this-Author” pages. (Not even joking.)
Through all the permutations of things-I-want-to-be, and four decades’ worth of things-I’ve-BEEN, “Writer” remains firmly embedded in the mix.
HOWEVER. The rapid story-wind-up I quoted above does point to a detestable Deficiency in my Practice. I skimp on Editing. No, let me be even more shamefully specific: I am LAZY about Editing.
“Annie Ant” shot its wad in the set-up: a girl (named for myself, naturally) found an orphaned ant and named her and carried her around and made her a house from a shoebox and then… “She went to school and stuff like that until she died.” Wait, what?! I mean… I know First Grade didn’t cover “story arc” or anything—but that there is just plain LAZY storytelling.
This week I set myself the task of EDITING my own unfinished novel. For reals this time. Printed pages and actual red pen and all.
Five pages in, sufficiently horrified by how MUCH red pen they required, I admitted to myself that I’ve read those same pages several dozen times without improving anything. Lazy. If I’m not willing to make the most of what I actually write, I may as well just slap a wrap-up on the back end and call it done.
(Oh, I have a good one: “And stuff like that until she died!”)
Junior High Journalism class first impressed the term “White Space” on my mind.
In the context of a yearbook page, it’s just what it sounds like: the portions of page with nothing printed. But White Space took on a life of its own as we created layouts arranged around the White Space Statutes as stated by our instructor. Mr. Bromley (bless him!—the man who put Jane Austen in my hands! ) laid down Layout Law… almost all of which revolved around what one could (or couldn’t!) do with White Space.
For example. Never “trap” White Space in the interior—it always needs an “escape.” Which pretty much means you don’t want a boxed-in block of EMPTY in the middle of your page. Like what I’m doing here: THIS is what you never do. The emptiness in the middle of the page draws the eye away from the content it’s meant to be looking at.
At the time my 14-year-old mind never pondered the prospect of being trapped BY White Space. But I am recognizing it now: White Space has never had a consideration for MY rights on a par with the efforts I have made on behalf of ITS freedom all these decades…
Nothing paralyzes my brain more quickly than a blank page.
A blank screen.
A blank whiteboard.
Case in point: I opened the screen for this post over the weekend, and let it loom in all its BLANKNESS for two days while I tinkered with themes and photos and settings on the blog, all the while studiously ignoring this one browser tab. [Can I call it “studious” when I’m NOT attending to it?]
I’m certainly not the only writer with this particular hang-up, though I maybe carry it to extremes. As I do with most things. I think it’s why I gravitate so strongly to color. I’m no artist, but on my desk I keep mugs full of rainbowed pens, pencils, highlighters, oil pastels, brush markers, Post-its.
I paper my planners with stickers and doodles, color-code my lists, collage my office door with cards and decals, decorate my desk with washi tape, paint with stencils on my wooden furniture.
You won’t even find a white wall in my house. I have vanished every one of them, so WHITE SPACE never overshadows me.
If you think that takes a literary conceit a little far, well, I just won’t invite you to sleep in my turquoise guest room.
Truthfully, I wasn’t thinking of pages when I painted. But also truthfully: White Space traps me if I let it.
And MOST truthfully: I recognize the only true escape from the empty page… WRITING on it.