I’ve been terribly negligent with my inbox. So many unread emails, so much blog reading I’ve fallen behind on. So little writing done that I’ve lost the ability to see a proper, preposition-free way to end that last sentence.
I’ll catch up on the blog reading, no worries there. Preposition-free endings are over-rated, so sail on archaic grammarian, sail on.
I might have done a little reading. Speaking of reading, do any of you subscribe to the New Yorker?
Neither do I, but I get their free weekly newsletter. They let you read four articles a month before you get the dreaded, “You have exceeded your monthly free articles, subscribe now to continue reading” notice.
Anyway, on account of it being Halloween, reading a few Shirley Jackson tales might be in order. And just for kicks, here’s a short article on the first paragraph of The Haunting on Hill House and why it’s possibly the best first paragraph in literature.
As for my own Halloween plans, I’ll be with my kids who are visiting for a few days. We’ll be doing our family custom: watching The Abominable Dr. Phibes, a campy horror flick with Vincent Price, and gorging ourselves on candy. (Fellow bloggers: I’ll be catching up on your antics in-between Vincent’s diabolic murders.)
A more serious concern: Neighbor Buddy tells us to expect “around 100 to 200 trick-or-treaters.” He says many of the rural families drive into town, park, and let the kiddos wander the neighborhoods. (Eek!)
For context, see this article on how several towns are making it illegal for teenagers to go trick-or-treating.
However you stand on the proper age for trick-or-treating, you gotta admit that spending time and energy on passing a law is the type of folly this blog feeds upon. 🤗
Hello, I’m Roger Stolid and this is your evening news.
Our lead story tonight — trick-or-treaters are making their rounds tonight, but before you pass out those mini-Snickers, be aware: You might be abetting a criminal. On location with this story is Paula Propellant. Paula, what have you found out for us?
Paula: Thank you, Roger. Yes, it’s true, some of these trick-or-treaters are risking steep fines and possible jail time for soliciting suckers from citizens. I’m standing at the corner of 12th and Ambrose Street and by my side is Officer Handy, who’s been patrolling the area. Officer, who are these desperate individuals seeking sweets?
Off Handy: Well, Paula, it’s now illegal for anyone over the age of twelve to trick-or-treat, and that means we got ourselves a situation. Fact is, some teenagers think it’s fun to get all dressed up like, oh, I don’t know, vampires or serial killers or Hello Kitty. And that’s all well and good. But if we catch them going door-to-door asking for candy? We’re just gonna have to run them in.
Paula: I see. What should homeowners do if they suspect one of the children at their door is past the age of legal trick-or-treating? Should they attempt any action on their own?
Off Handy: No, I don’t recommend that. There’s no telling what a teenager might do in that kind of situation. I’d say the best course of action would be to ask their age and if they’re over twelve, tell them to kindly step away from your porch. But if they say they’re younger and you think they’re lying? You can call the station with a description and we’ll send someone over.
Paula: I see. They could say something like, “There’s a witch on fifth street who looks old enough to drive.”
Off Handy: Exactly.
Paula: What do we tell parents whose child looks big for their age? Like, let’s say their ten-year-old looks fifteen? Should they be concerned?
Off Handy: We’ve thought of that Paula. What we’re recommending to parents is if their Tommy makes a tall mummy, consider slipping his birth certificate into his treat bag. That way if anyone detains him, he can prove his age.
Paula: What if they bring their school ID? Would that help?
Off Handy: Problem there Paula is school IDs don’t show their age, and we might have a SquareBob SpongePants who’s been held back a few years.
Paula: You mean SpongeBob SquarePants?
Off Handy: Yeah, that guy.
Paula: I see what you mean. Like over there, that boy in the banana suit. He looks like he needs a shave.
Off Handy: I’m on it! Hey, you there! Drop the candy! (Runs across street; Banana splits.)
Paula: Thank you, Officer Handy. Roger, we’re also speaking with Bella Buttinsky, head of the local watchdog group, No Treats for Teens. Bella, when did your group start meeting?
Bella: Let’s see… I guess it started after last Halloween. One of my neighbors posted on Facebook that a Batman grabbed her whole bowl of candy. I mean, he just took it! The whole bowl! So we were all like, how old was he? That sort of thing. She was pretty sure he was a teenager. It’s a real problem. These kids are just too blame old to be trick-or-treating. I know with my kids–
Paula: So all this is on account of one rogue Batman?
Bella: No, he just started it. Her post wound up going viral. I think it got over a hundred likes.
Paula: I don’t think that’s what “going viral” means.
Bella: Well, there were tons of comments. Everyone agreed teenagers were ruining Halloween. I mean, honestly, parents need to–
Paula: Did you have any specific concerns about teenagers? Other than the lone Batman?
Bella: Of course we did! Anytime you get a group of teenagers hanging around together, you’re just asking for trouble. They’ll be smoking, drinking… they could be selling drugs to your little princesses and cowboys. Listen, all you have to do is let your imagination run wild and then you’ll see my point.
Bella: And teenagers are just plain rude. The little kids will take whatever candy you give them, but these older kids are all like, “Don’t you have chocolate?” and “I hate coconut.”
Paula: Okay, thank you, Bella.
Bella: If you’re begging for candy, you take what you get!
Paula: Thank you for talking with us, Bella.
Bella: Where are their parents? That’s what I want to know. I mean, when my kids were little–
Paula: Thank you, Bella. Roger, we were hoping to speak to someone in favor of teens trick-or-treating — or just in favor of teens in general — but we couldn’t find anyone. Until now, that is. Roger, this is Bud Light, a concerned citizen and father of the banana we saw earlier. Mr. Light, were you aware there was an age restriction on trick-or-treating?
Bud: Damn straight, I knew.
Paula: And yet you allowed your son to go trick-or-treating?
Bud: Allowed him? Hell, I told him to do it! I said, “Son, if you want to go out with your friends and enjoy Halloween, you damn well do it.” I even helped pay for the banana.
Paula: Even though you knew he might get fined or arrested?
Bud: Oh hell, the banana suit cost more than the fine. Listen, it ain’t often the boy still wants to do something fun from his childhood. If it means I have to pay a little fine to help him do it, then I damn well will.
Paula: I see. But what if the fine was higher? What if it was five hundred dollars?
Bud: The fine is five hundred dollars?
Paula: No, I think it’s a hundred dollars.
Bud: It’s a hundred dollars?! He told me it was twenty-five dollars! That damn kid lied to me! (runs across street)
Paula: Sir? Sir?!
Bud: (from a distance) Someone grab that banana!
Paula: Well, that’s it from me. Back to you, Roger.
Roger: Paula, what about adults? Can adults trick-or-treat?
Paula: I don’t think so, Roger. The law states no one over the age of twelve.
Roger: Oh, that’s a shame. Guess I’ll have to break it to the wife. Haha.
Paula: Haha. Happy Halloween, Roger.
Roger: Happy Halloween, Paula. And Happy Halloween to all our viewers out there. Have fun, be safe, and keep a lookout for fugitive bananas.
If you’d rather I read this story to you (think of it as story time for grownups) click here:
Once upon a time there was a very useful garden shed; it was made of wood and painted red. It had no windows, but it had two big doors that stuck a little in humid weather.
The shed belonged to a blogger named CJ Hartwell.
CJ was a gardener, or at least she liked to say she was a gardener. Between you and me, she kinda let things go to seed.
One afternoon on a frosty October day, CJ decided it was time to pick the last of the apples on her apple tree. She put on her coat and her Isotoner gloves and walked out to her garden shed to get a ladder. For the apples were very high on the tree and she could not reach them.
First, she unlatched the big wooden doors and pulled them all the way open. Next, she pulled out her seldom used lawn mower and her even more seldom used rake. And who do you suppose she saw hiding behind the rake?
Why, it was none other than Ethan, who made the garden shed his home.
Ethan was a mouse.
Ethan looked at CJ; CJ looked at Ethan.
Ethan didn’t say anything because Ethan was a quiet, unassuming little mouse. CJ did say some things, but we will not repeat them here because some of the words were naughty, and good little boys and girls ought never to use them.
Ethan didn’t know what the fuss was about, for while the garden shed was a modest home, he did his mousy best to keep it tidy and clean. So he squeaked a soft little squeak, which was to say, “I’ve seen your house, lady. You think you can do better?”
Did it do any good? No! CJ stomped her feet on the floor making a terrible racket!
This frightened poor Ethan something awful. He called out to his very special lady friend, Tiffany, who had come home with Ethan after a romantic evening together in the woods.
At this particular moment, Tiffany was on CJ’s bicycle.
Mid-stomp, CJ saw Tiffany scurry down the bicycle. She garbled a few more choice words for now there were two mice!
Ethan called out to Tiffany, “Hey babe, over here!” and together they raced underneath the ladder that was leaning against the wall.
Quick as a flash, or rather stumbling in her haste, CJ put the mower and rake back in the shed and shut the doors, latching them tight. She said to herself, “Screw it! The apples can rot!”
Then she went inside her house and opened a bottle of red wine that she had bought at Costco for $8.99. She had two glasses, one for each mouse.
After her second glass, she decided mice in the shed were better than mice in the house, and she was very happy she had a cat in the house.
As for Ethan and Tiffany, they were very happy CJ left. They agreed the less they saw of her the better, but Tiffany did enjoy a nice bike ride now and again.
Later that evening, Tiffany made a nice dinner of mushroom salad with a rotten apple compote. Ethan said it was the best meal he’d ever had.
Afterward they had consensual sex and fell asleep in the bed Ethan fashioned out of an empty box of Milk Duds.
This is my first real Autumn in I don’t know how long.
My first, honest-to-goodness, stomping-through-piles-of-leaves kind of Autumn.
It’s not like we didn’t have Autumn in Phoenix, it’s just that we faked it.
In Phoenix you wear sleeveless shirts in fall colors, switch out your flip-flops for brown sandals, and drink iced pumpkin lattes.
And it’s not like I haven’t lived in areas with four seasons before, it’s just I don’t remember being wowed by the colors. When we lived in northern Arizona, the first snow came sudden-like. Shocking the leaves into a quick drop. When we lived in Iowa and Nebraska, there were too few trees to matter.
Clearly, Minnesota is hoarding all the trees.
Real or fake, I love this time of year. In truth, it’s the transition phase between the seasons I love best, and I’m thrilled to be living where it’s so apparent.
I’m not alone in my appreciation; several homes are decorated for Fall. I’m told it’s quite common for Minnesotans to have quirky lawn decorations and from what I’ve seen, it’s true. A home near us has 11 screen doors in front — eleven!
This is a permanent display and I’ve no idea how they mounted them, but I wondered if they’d add anything for the seasons. I’m pleased to report, they do:
Looking forward to seeing their Christmas display.
Our decor is more understated, but not without its admirers.
Last Saturday when our newspaper was delivered, I saw the delivery girl taking a picture of our display. (I wonder if we’re trending on Twitter?)
At the website for Minnesota State Parks, you can enter your email address for “color alerts.” The state park in our town, the Charles A. Lindbergh Park, is currently listed at 25% to 50% color.
I think the Hartwell Maple Tree is nearly 60%:
Neighbor Buddy told me not to worry about raking leaves; he’ll use his leaf blower and take care of them for the whole street. The total number of homes on the street being three. Even so, he’s a nice guy.
(Probably a requirement for anyone named Buddy.)
In my backyard hidden among the leaves is a petunia. I didn’t plant it and there are no petunias in the vicinity. Yet there it is. A petunia.
It’s a Petunia Miracle.
I asked someone how long we’d have the color, she guessed another couple weeks.
Guess we better enjoy it while it’s here.
Something I did in Phoenix to commemorate the seasons is to change my computer’s desktop background. My favorites pictures included curving paths, usually through woodsy areas or by rivers.
Never in my life have I lived in an area with more desktop-worthy scenes:
Question is, which photo do I use? Current contenders are first, second, and last pictures in this post. Your opinions are appreciated.
Meanwhile, if it’s Autumn where you are, find a pile of leaves and stomp through them with abandon.
About a week or so ago, I said I’d be working on some unfinished stories I had. Here’s the first one completed, an odd story involving Google Calendar and a budding office romance.
“Jeremy? You got a minute?” Mandy lightly tapped on his desk. It was an open office plan at the Great River Insurance Agency — no doors. Amy’s desk was at the other end, near the copier; Jeremy’s was near the water cooler.
“Sure, what’s up?”
“Did you respond to Mr. Tolleson’s invite yet?”
“What invite?” He opened his laptop and tapped the space bar. “Hey, did you see what moved into the old burger place downstairs? They do street tacos.” He opened his desk drawer and pulled out a flyer, handing it to her. “Wanna try it for lunch? I think they deliver.”
She read the front: Voted Best Street Tacos in East Madison!
“How can they be voted best if they just opened?”
Jeremy shrugged. “No competition, I guess.” He tapped a few more keys. “Okay, yeah I got it: ‘Planning meeting with Tolleson, Wednesday the twenty-second at eight-thirty.'”
“Right. But it doesn’t say what we’re planning. Are you going to accept it?”
“Is there a reason I shouldn’t?”
She pointed at the screen. “Look where he has us meeting. Click on it.”
He did so. “The admin conference room in– oh.”
“Yeah, see what I mean?”
“Well, yeah but…” He peered closer. “He can’t be expecting us to… I mean, it has to be a mistake. Just go in his office and ask.”
“No way! Last time I asked a question he called me a– well, you know what he said. You were there.” She slapped his shoulder playfully. “You ask him. You’re his favorite.”
Jeremy laughed and leaned back in his seat. “Favorite? Tolleson doesn’t play favorites, he hates all of us equally. Frankly, I’d rather go to Nepal.”
“Right?” She shook her head and sighed. “Listen, why don’t you do a quick search. Maybe we can get a cheap flight.”
Meanwhile, in Nepal…
“This is most exciting,” began David Karki, addressing his staff at the Best Nepal Electronic and Export Center in Sanfebagar. “In two weeks there will be river insurance people from…” he checked his notes, “Wees-con-seen, using our Admin Conference room!”
A cheer rose from the table where his employees were gathered.
“I know that place,” said Amir Thapa. He was BNEEC’s accountant and considered an expert on all things American. He graduated from Michigan State.
“What time do they have it?” asked Alina Baral, who handled refreshments.
“Well, it’s set for 8:30 their time, so…”
“Four-thirty in the afternoon,” said Amir.
Amir was wrong by three hours, but he said everything with such conviction they never doubted him.
Alina frowned. “Do you think they’ll want a meal? I can make rice and tarkari.”
David shook his head. “They’re Americans. Give them pastries.”
“Yes. Many pastries. And be sure to offer bottled water and very sweet coffee,” added Amir. “They like sweet coffee very much.”
Ever since the BNEEC’s conference room began autofilling in the Google calendar location box (the moment you typed in ‘a-d-m-i-n-c’), they were visited by bleary-eyed, confused workers from around the globe. Workers who had no idea why their employer was sending them to Nepal and were too insecure in their position to ask for clarification.
Priding themselves on their most excellent hospitality, the staff at BNEEC formed a Welcoming Committee. In the last month their conference room was used by three groups: a union meeting from Sacramento, two editorial assistants from Toronto, and eight bankers from Southampton.
The first time it happened was last April when they were going over their week’s numbers. Amir had a chart and the others were feigning interest in said chart.
“You’ll see here our numbers are declining in sections three and four, but in one, two, and three they are holding steady.”
David stifled a yawn. Just then three school administrators from Omaha entered the room. Each took a seat, pulled some papers from their folders — school administrators always carry folders — and looked at Amir’s chart attentively.
David cleared his throat. “Namaste,” he began. “We are very pleased to have you join us.” He smiled and held his hands out, palms up. “Please, if you would be so kind as to tell us your names?”
They introduced themselves: Fiona Owens and Vick Alteny, assistant principals at St. Timothy’s High School, and Gerald McNamara, dean of attendance.
“Yes, yes,” David said, nodding and smiling. “Ah, yes, we are most honored to have to join us. Most honored. But please, if you would be so kind, why are you joining us?”
They didn’t know.
“I got the invite last month,” said Fiona. She opened her folder and withdrew a copy of her calendar invite, handing it to David. (She always printed her emails, just in case.)
“Yeah, same here,” said Vick. “Fortunately I had my passport, but man, making the flight arrangements was a bitch, I’m telling ya. Nearly lost hope of making the meeting.”
Gerald remained silent as he looked at the view from the conference room window. They didn’t have views like this in Omaha.
David glanced at Fiona’s invite. “Yes, yes… I see you reserved our conference room.” He passed the sheet to Amir who studied it more closely.
“That’s right,” confirmed Fiona. “We have it for an hour.”
“We’re a little early,” admitted Vick. “There should be two others. Dr. Harrison is the one who set up the meeting and I think our bookstore manager is supposed to come.”
“No, Ursula isn’t coming” said Fiona. “She couldn’t get her passport in time.”
“Oh, that’s a shame.”
“Do you have any bottled water?” asked Gerald.
After two more such visits (a liquidation firm in London and a medical supply group from New York), something had to be done. It was not the loss of their Admin Conference room that concerned David, as they could always meet in the break room. It was their failure to provide a proper welcome to their guests.
Amir, who was also the IT man, worked on it. Soon their calendar for the Admin Conference Room showed the outside meetings as well as their own. They saw when the room was overbooked and, if they weren’t able to contact the organizer and ask if they truly intended on meeting in Nepal — “We’d love to have you, of course, but…” — then other arrangements were made. Other arrangements being refreshments, accommodations, a tour guide, and, if they intended on mountain climbing, a Sherpa.
As their brochure stated, “Offering the best meeting experience in Upper Nepal!”
Two weeks later, in Madison, Wisconsin…
“Where the hell is everyone?” demanded Mr. Tolleson, addressing an empty conference table at the Great River Insurance Agency.
His secretary entered the room carrying copies of the agenda. “Margorie called in sick and Ed is on vacation,” she explained. “I believe everyone else is in Nepal.” She pulled out a chair and sat down. It was her job to take minutes at all meetings, regardless if people showed up or were in Nepal.
Mr. Tolleson stared at her. “Nepal? What do you mean, like the country?”
“Where is that? India?”
“No sir. It’s in Nepal.”
“Well, why in God’s name would they be in Nepal?!”
“You sent them there, sir.” She opened her tablet and wrote at the top: GRIA Planning Meeting, Present: Mr. Tolleson and Elise Hargrove, Absent: Everyone else.
“What– What do you mean I sent them there? I did nothing of the kind!” He pointed at her. “You’re the one who sets up meetings.”
She shook her head. “Don’t you remember, sir? You were angry because I set up the last annuities meeting on the day you told me, because you said I should have known what you meant–”
“Oh for God’s sake! When do we have meetings on Saturdays? You should have known–”
“And then you wanted me to set up this meeting, but then said…” she flipped her tablet and read the last entry, “Never mind, I’ll send it out myself. You’re so f… effin’ incompetent…” she glanced at him. “If you don’t mind, sir, I’d rather not read the rest out loud. In any case, you said you would send the calendar invite yourself.”
She stood and handed him a copy of the invite. (Elise printed all her emails as well.) “So you see, sir? You sent it out. You sent them to Nepal.”
He stared at the page and sputtered, “Oh… this is… how can… what kind of stupid idiot goes to Nepal?!”
“I hear it’s quite nice this time of year.”
“Why didn’t they say something? They could have asked me, the stupid $@&% idiots!”
She walked to the door. “If it’s all the same to you, sir, I’m going to take the rest of the day off. Beings how there’s no one here.”
She didn’t wait for his response. She also didn’t show him the text she received earlier from Mandy:
All thanks to Google Calendar…
Elise had a marvelous day off and everyone else returned to the office two days later, relaxed and bursting with interesting stories. One month later, Jeremy and Mandy moved in together.
Mr. Tolleson was transferred to a branch in Dayton, Ohio. He never called another meeting.
Note: Earlier this year at my previous job, the administrator I worked for set up a meeting and accidentally located it in Nepal. We had a great laugh over it. But I got to thinking, what if there’s an office in Nepal expecting them and there’s someone right now setting up coffee and donuts? That’s how the middle portion of this story came to be written. (Feels good to have it finished at last.)
On to the next story!
Not sure if I’ve mentioned this before, but I have an apple tree.
Here, look upon my apple tree:
Beautiful, is it not?
Better yet, it provides a marvelous view from my kitchen sink.
Here, look upon the view from my kitchen sink:
The window screen makes it a little fuzzy, but you get the idea. It’s a damn fine view.
For comparison sake, here was the view from my former kitchen sink:
You’re probably wondering why I bothered taking a picture of a brick wall.
About three months ago, give or take a day, I got a wee bit concerned about our move from Arizona to Minnesota.
I started thinking that at some future point — say, in February when it’s 30 below here and 70 in Phoenix — I’ll think to myself, “HOLY FREAKIN’ COW, WHAT HAVE I DONE?!”
So in preparation for that event, I took pictures of all the things in our Phoenix home that drove me nuts. Hence, the picture of a brick wall.
(Just curious, what’s that say about a person who plans ahead for panic attacks?)
I also have shots of my kids’ rooms (cleaning is not their strong suit), our “music room” (it was more a catch-all room), and – my personal favorite — a stack of dirty dishes one of my kids left by the empty sink.
The question is, will looking at a picture of dirty dishes ease the pain of moving away from my kids?
Um… yeah. It has. (I’m a monster.)
Anyway, back to the apples. I’ve no idea what kind they are except they are wonderful for baking. (Score!) Also, I’ve come to a better understanding of why commercial growers use chemicals. Up close and personal, my apples are not pretty.
Tell me, would you pay good money for these apples?
Neither would I. Yet they’re delicious in your morning oatmeal with a bit of cinnamon and brown sugar.
So far I’ve made a couple pies, muffins, several bowls of oatmeal, and a wonderful cake that I will share with you in a moment.
(*gasp* She’s actually sharing a recipe?!)
This weekend I plan on picking the entire tree; I believe it’s time and the bugs have had enough of a feast. I foresee a batch of applesauce and apple butter in my future.
But first, cake!
This cooler weather (54° this morning) put me in the mood for baking. I scoured my cookbooks for recipes using apples and found no less than five for cake, all a tad different. I took what I liked best from each (more apples and spices here, less oil and eggs there, ooh a glaze!) and came up with this one. It turned out marvelous and it works either as a coffee cake or a dessert.
By the way, the town in which I now live has the best coffee. Really! It’s a downtown shop called Reality Roasters. Their beans might cost a little more, but dang, they’re worth it.
Granola or rolled oats for topping (I used Full Circle’s oats & honey granola)
Glaze (see below)
Mix together sugar, oil, eggs and apples. In separate bowl mix together flour, spices, salt, and baking soda. Add to the apple mixture, stir well and pour into a greased 13 x 9″ baking pan. Sprinkle with about 1/2 cup of granola or rolled oats. Bake at 350° for 50 to 60 minutes, until cake tester comes out clean. Prepare glaze while cake cools.
Butterscotch Glaze: In small saucepan over medium heat, stir together 2 Tablespoons butter, 3 Tablespoons brown sugar and 2 Tablespoons heavy cream or half-n-half. Bring to a boil and stir for one minute. Remove from heat and stir in 1 teaspoon vanilla extract. Let cool slightly and drizzle on top of cake.
Can serve warm or cooled. 🍂
*I know it sounds like a lot, but the two teaspoons of baking soda is correct. 🙂
There’s a story of a ceramics teacher (and if I had the gumption I’d find the source for it) that carries a lesson for us all. It goes as follows:
It was the end of the year and the teacher gave the class two options for their final project: they could choose to have their work graded by quantity or quality. Those who chose quantity were challenged to see how many pots they could produce in one week’s time. It didn’t matter what the pots looked like, only that they were completed. The students who chose quality only had to make one pot, but it had to be the best pot they could create.
Half the class chose quantity and began churning out pots right and left. As soon as one was done, another was started. And so on. All week long.
The other half of the class spent their time working out their designs, analyzing their methods, pondering and planning and pouring over every detail, in order to create their one perfect pot.
At the end of the week, the results were graded and an interesting discovery was made. Not only did the “quantity” group produce the most pots, they also produced the best quality pots. Over and above the “quality” group.
Reason being, or so we can infer, they focused on the process rather than the results. And because they kept churning out pot after pot, they were learning and correcting errors as they went.
The article wherein I found this story related it to our own creative endeavors. Whether writing, painting, quilting, woodwork, music — anything we do where we hope to improve — the key is to focus on quantity over quality. Push yourself to produce as much as possible.
Want to improve your writing? Push out story after story. Your drawing? Create five or more drawings every day. Your photography skills? Take pictures everywhere you go. Really annoy the hell out of everyone you know.
You get the idea.
This concept was driven home to me a few days ago. I was working on a project, actually it was the “Bible Stories in Text” project I mentioned before, and I wanted to include some limericks and silly rhymes for it.
How hard could that be?
Turns out pretty hard. I spent one hour alone on Jacob and Esau and still didn’t like it. I was about to give up when I thought of the ceramics story. For the next hour I produced five more rhymes. None of them particularly good, but at least they were done. I shut the laptop and left to run some errands.
I had to go to my credit union because like a dope, I left my debit card in the ATM when I last used it. (No worries, nothing bad happened other than a dent to my ego.) On my way home I decided to stop at the park and sit on my favorite bench, the one under the willow tree. And though I never noticed it before, this time I read the inscription:
There was something about “Tuesday Bridge Club” that tickled my fancy. I grabbed my notebook — another article I read said you should always carry an idea notebook — and jotted down:
Soon 15 more lines appeared under it in some semblance of a poem. (I’m guessing since I spent the morning in rhyme, it just naturally flowed out that way.)
Not knowing anything of Bridge, I googled the rules and added a few references; once I got home I finished it up and within the next hour had that bad boy ready to post.
My point is, I’m fairly certain that had I not spent the morning focused on those silly rhymes, had I not pushed myself to produce several even though I was dissatisfied with them all, Dick’s tribute poem might never have happened.
Of course I can’t prove any of this, but it feels right and I believe it so. Plus I’ve got that ceramics teacher backing me up.
Here, let’s look at the guy again:
Quantity over quality.
Now in truth, none of this is too surprising. If you want to improve at writing, write. If you want to improve your singing, sing.
All together now: Duh.
But the fact is, however much we know this truth we still fail to put it into practice. Or at least, that’s the way it is for me. Maybe you’re self-disciplined to the core, wake every morning at the crack of dawn and write 20 pages before your first cup of coffee. In which case I don’t like you very much and I think you should go away now.
For the rest of us, we need reminders to keep going in spite of the drivel we produce. To push on, produce, finish our stories and trust the process. Let go of our need to produce lovely rhymes or charming stories, to let go of our desire to like everything we’ve written. Eventually — hopefully — we’ll like what we’ve written, but we’ll probably produce plenty of crap before we get there.
Perfectionism is a mean, frozen form of idealism, while messes are the artist’s true friend. — Anne Lamott
I have a stack of messes. About five or six unfinished stories I found while unpacking, one of which I barely remember. Each one began in a fever of creativity, that much I remember, but as soon as the going got rough they came to a screeching halt. As I look at them now… well, they’re not horrible. Some spots are quite good, others maybe not so much, but overall they don’t suck.
So here’s the thing: I’ve decided I’m going to dig them out, one by one, and give myself a timeline for finishing them. Let’s say one story per week.
They may appear in this blog — that part I haven’t decided yet. I’m not in the habit of printing much fiction here, so I’ll give it some thought.
(Okay, technically, I suppose there’s fiction here. For instance, I have no idea if Dick liked white wine or if he was a bourbon man.)
Mainly I thought that if I told others what I was doing — Hey guys! I’m spending the next 6 weeks writing 6 stories! — I stand a better chance of actually doing it.
The key is, and golly I sure hope I remember it, is to finish them even if I don’t like them. Because maybe by the sixth one I will.
By the way, I don’t think I’ve ever shown you the cover of my idea notebook:
I’m not expecting too much here, believe me. I just want to get the stories finished. And if you’re reading this, I expect you have something unfinished to work on as well, or some skill you wish to improve?
He was a good man, was Dick Heinrich,
He played a fine hand; he took many a trick.
He never bid short when he should have bid long,
He never lost his cool when his partner bid wrong.
Every Tuesday night from six until nine
The four met at Patty’s for cards and white wine.
Besides Patty and Dick, there was Jack and Simone,
None of them married, they all lived alone.
But on Tuesday nights they played in pairs
Every week sitting in different chairs.
Jack would bring cheese and Simone would bring bread
(Good crusty bread, it ought to be said).
Patty made her dip, leaving Dick to bring wine
And he never complained though he brought it every time.
It’s no wonder they liked him, he was always so giving;
It hit them all hard when he was no longer living.
In memory they established this bench and this tree
And they’re seeking a new partner to bring Riesling or Chablis;
So if you like Bridge and you know something of wine,
It’s Tuesdays at Patty’s — Mind your bidding and you’ll be fine.