The Scary State of My Inbox, Shirley Jackson, and Other Halloween Horrors

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.

What’s sad is I don’t have a good reason for falling behind in email. It’s not like I traveled with WD to Florence, or Dave on his excursion to Ireland, or toured Basque country with Joe.

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.

Their last newsletter included a link to Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” — first published in the New Yorker in 1948, as well as an article on the letters they received after its release (most of them not nice.)

Shirley Jackson

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.)

Abominable

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!)

Suddenly my inbox doesn’t seem so bad.

rawpixel-1048261-unsplash

Happy Halloween, all.

Love in the Age of Google

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.”

Workplace
Photo by John Schnobrich on Unsplash

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.

“Right. Four-thirty.”

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.

Nepal
Photo by Kalle Kortelainen on Unsplash

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?”

“Yes sir.”

“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:

text from nepal

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.

conference room
Photo by Drew Beamer on Unsplash

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!

Quantity Over Quality: Master the First and You’ll Achieve the Second (Theoretically)

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.

Ceramics teacher
Let’s pretend this is the ceramics teacher. He’s kind of cool, don’t you think? (Photo by Mahir Uysal on Unsplash)

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:

In Dick's memory

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:

written in notebook

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:

Ceramics teacher

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:

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?

Quantity over Quality: Ready, set… go!

In Dick’s Memory, From the Tuesday Bridge Club

In Dick's memory

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.

Thoughts on Squashed Snakes, Self-Publishing, and the End of the World as We Know It

What with one thing and another, mostly another, I found I was without a blog post for today.

I mean, sure, I wrote things. A feeble response to an online article I read, the beginnings of a short story that went nowhere, and a silly thing about the Biblical character Job calling Heaven’s customer complaint line. Funny, but too long for a blog post and I wasn’t sure how well people knew the story of Job.

Anyway, rather than skipping this week and ruining my record of posting in a timely manner two weeks in a row, I’m going to toss out some random thoughts that were cluttering up my brain.

Here goes:

Thought One

I wore boots yesterday and it’s still August. What’s more, I’ll probably wear boots again today. Ain’t life grand?

My boots

Thought Two

There was a squashed snake on the side of the road the other day. I saw it while walking to the post office. It was a pretty one, slender and long with bright yellow stripes. No idea what kind it was, but it looked like it nearly made it across the street before it was squashed. Poor guy.

snake in the street, alas
I’m not showing the squashed part, only the pretty part. You’re welcome.

Thought Three

I need to buy a rake. It’s not for leaves, though we know they’re coming. It’s for all the acorns. Our yard is full of them. So many that when you walk in the backyard, you don’t walk so much as roll. And I think the squirrels here are lazy. They don’t seem to be working very hard at storing food for winter. (Maybe they know something?)

acorns

Thought Four

So this is how it is. You write something funny about the Book of Job and think, gosh this is great. This is worthy of publishing. And so you check the submission guidelines for humor sites and magazines. That’s when you discover there just isn’t the market for snarky humor pieces about the Book of Job like there used to be.

Thought Five

I need more boots. I only have two, both black, one short and one tall. These were the ones I thought worthy enough to pack and able to withstand Minnesota weather. I’m thinking I need multiple types. Money is no object! (Who needs food?)

Thought Six

Back to the squashed snake. Why was he crossing the street? The side he left was woodsy and green. The side he was heading toward was rocky. Had he been satisfied where he was, he might still be alive today. What possessed him to leave his happy home? Was he unfulfilled as a snake? Was the weight of his responsibilities too much to bear? (*Gasp!* Did he, like our squirrels, foresee the future and found no reason to carry on?!)

Thought Seven

Maybe what I should is bundle together my Bible stories in text, Samson’s online dating snafu, and the piece on Job — add a few more texts and alternate stories — then self-publish the whole lot of them.
Hmm. It might work. I’ll have to think about it.

Thought Eight

If the squirrels and snake are onto something, if we have but a limited time on this earth — okay, I guess we always knew our time was limited, but let’s say it’s more limited than we thought — does that change anything? Does it change how we live, how we act, or how soon we snatch up boots on sale?
Or work on the book we have percolating in our head?
Hmm.
Excuse me. I should get back to work.

Lamentations of the Teacher

What does the Teacher require, but to sit still, do your work, and keep your eyes on your own paper?

Bring me a student who desires knowledge and I will fill her up.
But yea, the students of Babylon do not study.
The Snapchat and the Tumblr, they cry out to them.
They hear not my voice,
I weep for this generation.

Sad teacherThus says the Teacher:

Concerning Cellphones

There shall be no cellphones in this classroom. No cellphone shall be on your desk, nor in your hand. Nay, I do not wish to see it. Put it away, for it displeases me.
It shall make no sound and neither shall you text. Not to your friend nor your mother shall you text.

Laws Pertaining to Food and Drink

You shall not have snacks in the Classroom; the eating of food is strictly forbidden. You shall not bring in bags of potato chips and open them, neither shall you eat them, for I hate the crunching noise.
Of crunching you shall not do.
Of drink, you may have bottled water. No soda may you drink, neither shall you have anything with a straw, for then you make that slurping sound when it is almost gone and push the straw up and down so it makes that squeaky noise.
There shall be no squeaky noise.
And when your bottle of water you have emptied, you shall not squeeze the bottle in your hand and make the crinkly sound.
Lo, how I detest the crinkly sound.

Of Tardies and Absences

For the first two days, of these you may be late, but after these two days you shall not be late. No, never shall you be late.
Why are you late? No, do not speak. I turn my ear from your excuses; they displease me. You shall be thrown into detention, where there is groaning and gnashing of teeth.
I say it again: do not be late.
Of absences, there shall be none. But if you are absent, your parent or guardian must call, or else there shall be no makeup work. You will fail, and oh, how great your failure!

Concerning Homework

Woe to the student who does not do their homework, for they shall lose points.
Of Extra Credit, there is no Extra Credit. O Foolish one, why do you ask?
Do the work, and no Extra Credit do you require.

Limitations of Teacher Authority

There are no limitations of Teacher authority. Nay, I say it again, there are none.
Do not question my authority, for the one who questions my authority will be thrown into detention, where there is groaning and gnashing of teeth.

I, the Teacher, have spoken.

Sharpen your pencils! Grab your notebook!
For I shall put you to the test!
It shall be multiple choice and short essay.

Blessed are they who listen, for they shall find wisdom.
Their grade point average shall not falter, forevermore.

O Legislature! O Destroyer!
You cut funding and raise up standardized tests against me!
But I, the Teacher, shall not fail,
Neither shall I surrender; nay, never shall I surrender.
Though one day, maybe next year, I shall retire.
A condo by the lake would be nice.

How pleasing it is when a child learns,
It is like honey on the lips and lovely to my sight.

I, the Teacher, have spoken.

happy teacher

Here’s wishing all my teacher friends their best year EVER! ❤️

On Serenity, Striving, and Shall We Gather at the River

A few days ago, at the park near our house, I stopped and sat on a bench.

I point this out because it is highly irregular for me. I wasn’t tired, I had no book with me, no tablet in which to write, ergo, no reason to stop.

Only there was a bench, the bench was near the river, and so one stops.

So I stopped.

bench by river

I sat there for… well, I’m not sure how long I sat there. You lose a sense of time while staring at a river. It may have been hours, it may have days. In any case, after a time my attention was drawn away by a man standing at the boat landing a short distance from me.

He had sighed. A clearly audible, contented sigh.

He saw me and smiled. “My God, this is beautiful,” he said, by way of explanation. I agreed. He asked me how long the path continued along the river; I admitted I didn’t know.

“It wraps around the bank over there,” I indicated toward the left. “Then it curves around a really pretty swampy area.”

I sometimes forget not everyone finds swamps pretty.

Swampy area

“Oh, very nice! I’ll have to check that out,” he said, my fellow swamp appreciator.

“Isn’t it funny,” he continued after a moment, “how it’s not until you’re old that you find serenity?”

“Yeah,” I said, though I thought it an odd thing to say. He wasn’t that old. I mean, he couldn’t be much older than me and … oh.

Now that I’m home again, I’ve been thinking about this discussion with the old swamp man. What he said about serenity, old age, and what-not.

I wonder, is it serenity we are finding in our golden years, or is it just a sense of oh-well-good-enough?

Or — hold on to your hats now — could it be they are the same thing?

se·ren·i·ty
səˈrenədē/
noun
  1. the state of being calm, peaceful, and untroubled.

Sounds good, yeah? But it’s not a state we can reside in for any lengthy period of time, and I propose we shouldn’t even try. Sure, pay a visit on occasion, appreciate what you have, yada-yada. Consider your place under the stars, only don’t stop reaching for the stars.

To butcher Browning: “Our reach should exceed our grasp, or what’s a heaven for, so get off your bum and do something already.”

I took another personality test recently (trust me, this relates somehow), though I honestly don’t know why I take these blame things. They all lead to the same conclusion, that being I’d either make a great scientist or a serial killer.

This particular personality test, the Enneagram Type Test, I’d heard of it before and been meaning to do further study on it. Then I visited the site of one Sarah Bessey, a progressive feminist writer/preacher, and there on her sidebar (when you’re a blogger, you pay particular attention to sidebars) she proclaims she’s an “Enneagram 9.” Leading me to look up the description of Enneagram 9s and finding out, among other things, they are progressive feminist writers and preachers.

Long story short, I took the test — always on the lookout for new items to add the old sidebar — and found out I’m a 5. Or in true Enneagram verbage, a 5w6.

If this means something to you, I salute you. I had to look it up.

Besides making one damn fine scientist and/or serial killer, the description said that a 5w6’s life, “is characterized by a deep sense of longing.”

Come now, I thought. Isn’t that true for everyone?

We may not long for the same things — for some it might be a sense of meaning in their life, for another wealth and success, or we might simply yearn for the perfect chocolate fudge brownie.

The point is, we all have longings. And I find it unlikely they disappear with the advancement of age. Or rather, they don’t disappear, but change.

The longing for wealth may change with a realization there are different methods for measuring wealth. A longing for meaning might soften into an understanding that you had more control over it than you ever realized. And a longing for the perfect brownie recipe may end with a humble acceptance that several store-bought mixes are quite good.

So yes, to some extent we may find a sense of peace and serenity in our life. A sense that, “oh hey, maybe I don’t have to beat myself up quite so much.” But I don’t think it’s a given.

All this is to say, the achievement of serenity is not an end to itself, or even an end. Without a sense of striving in your life, a continual grasping for something better and wiser just out of reach, than how can one truly be content? It’s the striving that makes it so!

Or at least I think that’s the case. I’ll have to get back to you on that.

Another couple years by the river should do it.

By the river

Welcome to Our Little Blog

So glad you stopped in.

Feel free to look around. Please excuse the dust in the corners, it’s been awhile since we’ve cleaned over there.

Oh, and you probably saw the sidebar hasn’t been updated in… um… well, let’s not go into that right now.

The thing is, we deeply appreciate your visit here today because we know there are bigger, mightier blogs you could be reading instead. And if there’s anything we pride ourselves on at Feeding on Folly, it’s appreciation for our readers.

Also, we’re big believers in Blog Awareness.

Blog Awareness is a lot like Self Awareness, only it applies to Blogs rather than Self. (Not sure if you caught that?)

You see, we here at FoF (that’s Feeding on Folly for the acronym-challenged among you) strive to know the Who, What, Where and Why of our internet presence.

For instance:

  • Who: CJ Hartwell & her various alter egos
  • What: A humor site with occasional recipes and questionable comma usage
  • Where: WordPress under the domain name feedingonfolly.com
  • Why: The world needs a respite from those who take everything so damn seriously. Also cookies. The world needs more cookies.

Happy with our Sense of Blog, much like one has a Sense of Self (hope this isn’t proving too difficult for you), we were satisfied with our place and forged ahead. Never looking back.

Though now we have reason to fear we grew complacent. For it’s come to our attention that while we were jotting down observations, posting our cutesy illustrations, passing off texts as worthy stories, far bigger and more important blogs were rising up.

Casting an ever-growing shadow over the FoF entity.

FoF gal overshadowed

And how do we know this?

It came about like so: Back at our last place of employment (before we left Phoenix to become a Minnesotan, dontcha know), an email was sent out to all school staff by a dear friend, giving the Feeding on Folly link. Making dear friend dearer still.

In no time at all, the comments rolled in:

“I didn’t know you had a little blog!”
“I heard about your little blog!”
“I love your little blog!”

So you see? What we have here is One. Little. Blog.

There’s just no getting around it, friends. Here was a group of well-educated professionals who visited our blog and found it short.

Now it’s true we’ve not been blogging for a lengthy amount of time. A mere three years. Barely a blip in internet years.

But in that time, we at Feeding on Folly have worked hard – well, maybe not hard, but off and on, when the mood was right and we had an ample supply of Pepperidge Farm Dark Chocolate Milanos – to develop this space into the smattering of articles, recipes, and scribblings you see before you.

In truth, we’re rather proud of what we’ve accomplished here, and the cookie crumbs under the cushions speak to that.

So these comments reducing FoF to Lilliputian status were troubling. Where did we go wrong?

Is it the lack of ads?

Two years ago we paid big bucks ($15) to make this space ad-free. Was that a mistake?

Hey, if it’s what we need to be taken seriously…

Pickle ad

Then again, I follow a few pros and they don’t have ads.

For reference, see Chuck Wendig, Mark Manson, Leo Babauta

It’s true, they have other things they sell. Books. Classes. Seminars. Workshops. Speaking Engagements.

Hey, you can hire us to speak at your next Rotary Club Meeting!

Oh man, that’s the ticket! Anyone who speaks at a Rotary Club Meeting has just gotta be taken seriously!

FoF gal

What’s that you say? You don’t belong to Rotary?

Well, screw that then.

So here’s the thing: what’s Chuck, Mark and Leo got, that FoF doesn’t got? (Besides better grammar.)

Do you see where I’m going with this?

Bingo! FoF doesn’t have something dangling between her legs!

And that, my friends, is what makes her little. FoF gal mad as hell

Now before you slam your laptop shut and accuse us of getting all feminist on you, think about it. In all honesty, can you imagine the following being said to a male blogger:

“That’s so cute you have a little blog!”

No. Of course not.

But here’s another thing to consider: Everyone who referred to this blog as little, or told us it was cute, was a woman.

Yes, you read that right. A woman.

Every. Damn. Time.

Really, we shouldn’t be surprised. Women are so used to having their efforts diminished, we don’t realize when we’re doing it to each other.

(Ah dang, I just heard 20 more laptops slam shut.)

Okay, before we lose anyone else, let’s consider one more thing. How many times do we — male and female — talk about our creative work in a diminishing way?

“I do a little painting now and then.”
“Yeah, I enjoy writing, but it’s not like I’m published or anything.”
“I love taking pictures, but really it’s just a hobby.”

Listen, if we feel more alive when we are creating, if these activities are what gives us pleasure and seem more real to us than any stinkin’ job, can that be called little?

What’s more, how can we expect others to respect our work – to see how important it is to us – if we don’t treat it as such?

From now on, let’s present our work with the same joy it gives us in creating it. Let’s make no qualifications for it whatsoever. 

And when someone says it’s cute? Or when they call it little?

Little? Little?!

You must be mistaken.

Baby, this is BIG!

cropped-feedingonfolly1.png

Ratatouille in 5 Minutes, With Help From Trader Joe’s and No Help From My Cat

Plus, a brief history on the founding of Feeding on Folly…

Recently we dined at Macaroni Grill. I won’t say it’s my favorite Italian restaurant, but their complimentary herb bread is lovely and they know how to grill salmon right.

bread

However this time, not being in a salmon frame of mind, I ordered their Ratatouille instead. Have you tried it? They serve it over grilled polenta, which I find inspired. (I don’t get out much.)

Anyway, the other day at Trader Joe’s, I saw they have polenta and *angels singing* I was inspired! For less than $10, I had all the ingredients needed to make a copycat recipe of Macaroni Grill’s Ratatouille.

And given how I hadn’t shared a recipe with you all in… let’s see… going on a year now? Unsure. It’s been awhile, I know that.

Funny how it used to be such a regular feature of this here blog, and now it’s but a distant memory.

Anyway, I gathered together the ingredients and prepared for the picture. Merricat rushed over to help.

Merricat 1

I swear this cat knows when I’m holding a camera.

Merricat 2

So the main ingredient to look for, the one that makes this recipe so darn easy peasy, is in Trader Joe’s frozen food section. It’s called Misto Alla Griglia, and it contains grilled eggplant, zucchini, and red peppers.

Now of course you could buy fresh eggplant, zucchini and red peppers, or pick them from your garden should you be so lucky, but that would add on extra minutes and then this wouldn’t be 5-minute Ratatouille, would it?

Oh, Merricat walked behind the ingredients! Quick, take a picture!!!

Merricat 3

So now you see what the Misto Alla Griglia looks like. Also, you’ll need their polenta which you slice in thick rounds, and a can of their Organic Tomatoes “diced in tomato sauce”. I already had the fresh basil, onion, garlic, and jar of capers. (You can skip the capers if you don’t like them; I think they add a nice peppery taste.)

Back when I was regularly sharing recipes on this blog, I learned how to write some code so the recipe would appear in a nice little box with its own print button. But I don’t remember the code and I’m too lazy to look it up, so you’re out of luck. Sorry.

Here’s an interesting tidbit: the reason I added recipes when I first started blogging had nothing to do with the name “Feeding on Folly” and everything to do with my insecurities as a writer. I believed that if I didn’t offer something helpful – such as recipes – no one would stick around and read my little stories.

Okay, so you’ll want to let the Misto Alla Griglia thaw a little. The veggies are in large pieces, but they’re easy to chop once they’re partially thawed. While they thaw, chop half the onion and mince three to four garlic cloves. Saute in olive oil until softened.

Merricat monitored the thawing for me.

Merricat 4Once the onion and garlic are softened, add the can of tomatoes, the chopped Misto Alla Griglia, and two tablespoons capers. Add some Italian seasoning — maybe a couple teaspoons? — and salt to taste. Keep over medium heat until hot, a few minutes or so. As it cooks, fry or grill the slices of polenta.

I bet you’re wondering how I came up with Feeding on Folly for my blog name, am I right? Glad you asked.

About the time I was puzzling and puzzling until my puzzler was sore over what to name my blog, I was reading a collection of James Thurber’s essays called Lanterns & Lances. In the forward, he explained his main purpose in writing:

“Much of what follows, therefore, is my own attempt, in my own little corner of the struggle, to throw a few lantern beams here and there. But I also cast a few lances at the people and the ideas that have disturbed me, and I make no apologies for their seriousness.”

I rather liked that. You might say I was inspired. And I was particularly fond of the alliteration with Lanterns & Lances.

Alliteration is something that tantalizes my thoughts and sustains my soul.

I set out to find my own and spent an inordinate amount of time doing so. Eventually, in a moment of happy luck, I landed on Feeding on Folly. Nervously, I did a quick internet search to see if it was taken. It wasn’t, but I found this:

The discerning heart seeks knowledge, but the mouth of a fool feeds on folly. — Proverbs 15:14 NIV

So there you go. Bible approved.

Also, cat approved.

Merricat 6

To serve (the Ratatouille, not the cat), put two fried slices of polenta on a plate, spoon the ratatouille over them, top with fresh basil and shredded Parmesan if desired and serve with garlic toast.

Ratatouille

To recap, I may from time to time, as the mood strikes me, continue to share recipes with you. But as dropping their weekly inclusion hasn’t seemed to adversely affect my readership, and no angry mob has appeared at the Feeding on Folly doorstep, we’ll just let that ship sail.

As for dear Thurber, I don’t know how many lantern beams I’ve thrown and I’m terrible at casting lances, but the folly I’ve witnessed has fed this blog well. Thank you for the inspiration, good sir.

For the record, this Sunday — April 1st — marks my 3rd year blogging.
So there, person who told me I couldn’t do it!

Oh, wait… that was me. 😜