On white decor, deaf dogs, and a folly-challenged blog

I’m taking a lesson from my wise friend Andrew and decided not to wait for something clever to pop into my head before I wrote a blog post.

Just write, he said. So that’s what I’m doing. Just writing.

(The advantage of this is that if you don’t like the result, blame Andrew.)

It’s 25° as I’m writing this and we haven’t seen temps on this side of 0 for some time. Lord knows when we will again, so I should be outside. Only my jacket is in the dryer right now, so there you go.

This is what happens when you buy a white coat — this is my smaller coat, not the huge quilt I showed you in my previous post. This one is more like a ski jacket, very lightweight but waterproof and windproof and surprisingly warm. It’s also white, because I have a thing for white coats.

That reminds me. There was a new alto in choir last Wednesday. She just moved into the area and was telling me how hard it was to find a house to buy. They looked at seven in their price range and one was really, really nice, but it had white carpeting in the dining room. So they went with a different house that wasn’t as nice, but at least it didn’t have white carpeting.

This led to a discussion among the altos and a couple second sopranos as to what sort of person chooses white carpeting for a dining room. The general consensus was that it was a childless couple with no pets. “And they only drink white wine,” I added.

Though really, it goes without saying. Only Pinot Grigio goes with white carpeting.

I used to have a white couch. It was a beautiful couch. I loved it very much. Then we sat on it. It wasn’t white anymore. But man, for those first 15 minutes? It was gorgeous.

One of the second sopranos said people who choose white decor are delusional. “Do they think it’s going to stay that way? They’re insane!”

I disagreed with her, but I kept it to myself. You just never know with second sopranos. They look harmless enough, but they can be feisty.

I think white decor enthusiasts know exactly what they’re doing. They know it will show dirt. It’s kinda the point. They want to know when it’s dirty so they can clean it. Such is their dedication to cleanliness.

And I am right there with them, too. Boy howdy. Totally with them. If I lived all alone, that is. And didn’t live in a slushy area. And have a black cat. Or drink red wine.

Like, ever.

white couch
Photo by Roberto Nickson on Unsplash

Yeah. Totally there.

Gah, I just had to let Dog out for the second time. She paws at the back door to be let out, then she walks around to the front of the house to be let in, waits five minutes and then paws at the back door again. Pretty sure she wants a walk.

What I should do is grab my coat and take her outside, but, you know, it’s in the dryer. And my other coat is way too warm for 25°.

The annoying thing is that the whole time Dog is outside, and I’m meaning the whole time, Merricat, who is not allowed outside, meows. On and on and on, she meows. And she doesn’t stop until Dog comes back inside.

Merricat in window

Oh dang, I just missed Dog at the front door. When I got to the door she had already turned around and was walking away.

She’s pretty much deaf now, so the only way I can get her attention is by throwing something at her.

Snowballs work, but I’ve got lousy aim. So now I have to wait until she’s facing me again. While Merricat sings the song of her people.

Don’t you wonder about dogs when they go deaf? I mean, they don’t know they’re deaf right? So they’re probably wondering why we’re not talking to them anymore.

Or maybe they feel bad for us. “Oh, my poor human. Her mouth is moving but no sound is coming out. I wonder if she knows?”

Dog

You know what I think my problem is? (I’m off the topic of deaf dogs now, she’s back inside.) This is regarding coming up with ideas on what to write.

I think it has to do with my title, Feeding on Folly. It’s hemmed me in. Fact is, I’m not seeing a whole lot of folly nowadays.

There was a time when folly was all around me. Working at a high school in an affluent area, people taking themselves too seriously, taking their jobs too seriously, taking everything too seriously. Especially the secretary who worked right across from me, the one who left anonymous notes in the breakroom regarding coffee cups she never used. Man, she supplied me with countless example of folly.

But now, working at a convent? There’s a woeful lack of folly. It’s weird, but of all people who probably have a right to take themselves seriously, nuns don’t.

chapel at convent
Sacred Heart Chapel (just down the hall from my office)

By the way, did you know they’re not technically nuns? Technically speaking, nuns live in a cloistered community. If they work outside the convent as teachers or nurses or whatever, they are sisters. All nuns are sisters, but not all sisters are nuns.

Fascinating, don’t you think?

Not that it matters much. One of the sisters told me most Catholics don’t know the difference either, so they don’t worry about it. If people call them nuns, they just roll with it.

Anyway, what was I talking about? Oh yeah, a lack of folly. What to do, what to do…

Here’s some ideas:

  1. Write about the convent, what it’s like to work there, what I encounter and such, keeping in mind very little of it is folly-related. OR,
  2. Now that I no longer work at the school and there can be no repercussions, really let loose on the folly I witnessed there. OR,
  3. Alternate between the two, cause why not? OR,
  4. Write whatever the hell I want. Folly or not.

You know, this is about the time we should start questioning Andrew’s wisdom, but maybe he was on to something. (We probably shouldn’t tell him that, though. He’s a nice guy and we don’t want him to get a big head.)

Oh hey, my coat is dry and oooh, it’s so white and clean! Guess I’ll be taking Dog for a walk after all.

Okay, so that’s it for this post. Stay tuned til next week when we’ll be talking about nuns… I mean, sisters… or my folly-filled memories, or whatever the hell I want.

Keep it real, friends.

Beating the brrr

Most of our readers know we live in Minnesota and most of our readers – being the savvy, intelligent people they are – were aware our temps recently hit record lows (-59° wind chill). Hence, our deepest apologies if our hiatus caused you any worries.

Rest assured. We are alive.

In answer to your question as to how we managed it, we did so in the same way we handled Phoenix when it hit a record high (122°). We skipped town.

The week of the dreadful cold, we were in Denver for Hey You’s funeral.  And then our two day trip became a full week because for some reason airlines weren’t anxious to fly back to Minneapolis. Meaning I spent a full week sans laptop.

Yeah, yeah, I know I should have packed it. But it was only supposed to be two days and going through TSA is stressful enough for me. I don’t need to add a laptop to the mix.

So there I was with just my phone, checking my emails but only halfheartedly because if you’re going to get stuck in a city, Denver is one of the better places to do it. They got some mighty fine restaurants and many of them reasonably priced.

omelet with salad on top
Breakfast at The Early Bird Cafe (who ever thought to put arugula and roasted hatch chili on top of an omelet? It’s genius!)

In any case, all this is to say that once home, my inbox was cluttered beyond reason. No matter how much I tried, I could not gain the upper hand. Something had to be done.

But first, a word about the cold.

You gotta be wondering about it, yeah? How this Arizona gal is holding up? Is she filled with remorse, wondering what in God’s name she was thinking moving to such a place?

pine trees covered in snow with mailboxes in front
Pine trees at their finest

Even if you’re not wondering, I feel I must say something to my naysayers on Facebook. Those who, when I posted pictures of the first snowfall back in October with a caption that read, “It’s soooo pretty!!!” (or something to that effect), responded with a snarky and most predictable, “Tell us what you think of it in February!”

It’s now February. It’s still pretty.

bare trees in deep snow
View from my backyard. The Mississippi is back there somewhere.

Personally, I don’t see the point of complaining about weather. Back in Phoenix there were those who got upset about the heat. Some of them even seemed angry about it. Now where’s the sense in that?

Ducks at a frozen pond
The park near our home, right before the severe cold hit. I assume the ducks have left by now, though you never know with ducks. They probably have a cottage nearby.

It was about a year ago when we realized a move to Minnesota might be a possibility. Naturally, I did some research. Using search terms such as, “Winter tips” and “Surviving brutal cold” and “How do Norwegians stand it?!”

Christmas decorations in snow
Christmas lasts longer in these parts.

I learned there’s a Scandinavian saying,

There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.

With this in mind, I bought a Queen-size quilt with arms:

quilted down coat with fur-lined hood

Maybe you won’t find it on the cover of Vogue, but it’s rated at -50 “in moderate activity.” So far the coldest I’ve been in was a wind chill of -31°. Dog needed a walk and I couldn’t talk her out of it.

I’m here to report that Dog can do her job amazingly fast when she’s properly motivated. Also, L.L. Bean doesn’t lie. That coat is damn warm.

I learned something else from the Scandinavians: the key is not to endure winter, but to enjoy it.

Get outside when you can, appreciate the glistening snow and brisk air, wear comfy sweaters and curl up with a good book and a cup of tea.

Find the beauty in a red shed covered in snow.

Red shed covered in snow

After all, winter won’t last forever. It may seem like it, but eventually Spring will come.

So no worries about this Arizona gal. She’s handling winter like a champ.

Her inbox on the other hand…

Okay, so on Saturday I set a timer and whipped through Gmail’s Promotions folder and Personal folder in two half-hour sessions. I was on a roll! Then I hit the Social folder and it all came to a screeching halt.

That’s where all the bloggers I follow wind up, and Lordy they are a productive lot. Initially I thought I’d delete all the old posts and only read the most current, but after deleting a few I got to thinking. Is it their fault I got behind?

So then I thought, oh I’ll just read them fast and click “like” without commenting, but… well, that felt wrong too. Instead, I decided to throw caution to the wind and read every single one of them and comment too. (I’m reckless like that.)

As of now, I’ve 28 left to read. Which doesn’t sound bad but the day is young. There’ll probably be 14 new posts by dinnertime. Meaning the cold might not be bad, but the emails might do me in.

But hey, I’m not complaining. I’ll just brew a cup of tea, curl up by the fireplace with my laptop and read its soft, blue screen.

fireplace

Living in Minnesota ain’t so bad at all. 😉

Ceiling Theology

According to my blog’s stat page, I haven’t written squat since Christmas Eve. Is that right?

*receives note*

Okay, my editor says I shouldn’t openly admit how long it’s been since I last wrote, and…

*receives another note*

Okay, I’m also not supposed to mention how my editor sends me notes.

*receives third note*

Oh for cripes sake, I TOLD you the chocolate is on the second shelf, toward the back. Sheesh!

Anyway, sorry for ghosting on you. Been a bit busy and all that. I’ve got a couple blog posts percolating, but nothing quite up to snuff. So instead we’ll be doing a quickie for today.

This came to me via a sister from the convent. She works with college students at a volunteer ministry and they were studying the creation story. One of them brought up the scene from the Sistine chapel. The part where God is reaching out to Adam.

You can picture it in your mind, right? I don’t need to show it to you.

Okay fine, I’ll show it to you:

creation

So the student pointed out something I was aware of, but never really thought about.

Look at how how God — he’s the one on the right — is stretching out with everything he’s got. You can see his muscles at work, he’s straining, doing all he can to reach Adam. The angels look like they’re holding on to God, afraid to let go.

And then there’s Adam. Lounging about, taking it easy, barely managing to hold his hand out.

I mean, he’s not even looking at God.

creation (5)

Did you ever notice that? I didn’t.

I don’t know what Michelangelo had in mind, but I couldn’t help thinking this is like an extremely condensed version of the entire Bible.

God — forget for the moment he’s shown as a white-haired old man (this is art, baby) — God is always reaching out to us.

creation (2)

Come on, people… just a bit farther… you can do it!… I’m right here

And we’re all, like…

creation (4)

Hmm? … Oh, yeah… um… I don’t know, God. I’m kind of swamped right now...

Isn’t that interesting? And when you think about the Biblical stories — taken as a whole, I mean — then it seems clear that…

*receives note*

Okay, my editor thinks I’m getting too religious and need to back off. But you all know I work at a convent now, right? It’s gonna be hard not letting it creep in a little.

*yet another note*

What do you mean you can’t find it? You freak out over a misplaced apostrophe, but you can’t see a box of chocolates right in front of your face?! Geez!

I better go. I’ll see you all next week. In the meantime, keep reaching…  😉

On blogging, self-analysis, and a whole lotta $%*t

Several bloggers I follow recently announced they will be taking a break from blogging. Most gave a time frame for their return, others said, “we’ll see.”

They will be missed, but I commend them for taking a needed rest. Especially those who said it wasn’t fun anymore. I mean, if you’re not enjoying this blogging thing, then why do it?

working, frustrated, writer's block
Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

Which led me to think about this here blog. This Feeding on Folly.

You might have noticed our posting has been a bit sporadic. For the first three years there was an article every Wednesday, and sometimes a Saturday too if we were feeling especially productive.

But since this last June, around the time we relocated closer to Santa, the posting schedule has been hit or miss. There might be a Wednesday post, it might be Thursday, possibly Friday, or hey, maybe none at all. (Oh, the suspense!)

So after reading the fifth blogger in a row who wrote, “this will be my last post for the foreseeable future,” and I swear I heard a dirge playing in the background, I got to wondering if that was my problem. Maybe I’m in need of a break? Am I facing blogger burnout?

Has Fun left the building?

We decided to give the matter some serious thought. It was time for Self-Reflection, and if you’ve been following FoF for any reasonable amount of time, you know that Self-Reflection is our game.

For our evening of Rumination and Cogitation, we selected the chair nearest the fireplace and poured a glass of zinfandel.

Some might say pinot noir is a better choice for Introspection, but there is much to be said for zinfandel. The primary one being the zinfandel was on sale for six bucks and the pinot wasn’t. So there you go.

Sitting in the chair with Me was the Me doing the analysis. The Me doing the analysis was drinking Earl Grey, as she wanted to keep her wits about her.

Our conversation went as thus:

Me: It’s nice to see you again. How are things going?

Me: No complaints. You?

Me: Same. I noticed you didn’t do a blog post last Wednesday. Is everything okay?

Me: Aw, you noticed! That’s so sweet!

Me: Well, I didn’t notice right away. Truthfully, I forgot it was Wednesday.

Me: Right?! It’s so hard to keep track of those things.

Me: So was that it? You just forgot? That’s… troubling.

Me: Is it?

Me: What about Thursday, Friday or Saturday? You could have posted something one of those days.

Me: Meh. I just wasn’t feeling it. And now I’m kinda worried I might be facing burnout.

Me: Uh-huh. And how does that make you feel?

Me: Rotten.

Me: Interesting. Tell me, has the well run dry? Are you lacking ideas?

Me: No, I’ve got plenty of ideas. I just wasn’t sure any of them were blog-worthy.

Me: I see. Listen, how about you tell me one of the ideas and I’ll tell you what I think of it?

Me: Gee, I’m not sure…

Me: Hey, if you can’t trust me, who can you trust?

Me: Okay… well, for one of them I was writing about my new job at the convent and about how last week I was helping with this workshop thingy and when one of the nuns realized she forgot something she said, “Oh shit.”

Me: Really? A nun said shit?

Me: Yeah.

Me: That should be worth a blog post. A nun saying shit.

Me: Is it though? I mean, so what if a nun says shit? They’re human.

Me: Yeah, but you don’t expect them to say shit. That’s what makes it funny.

Me: Maybe. But there’s only so many times you can write shit before you wind up with a post full of shit.

Me: I see your point. What else have you got?

Me: Well, then I started thinking about how different this job is from my last job. You know, going from a high school to a convent.

Me: Go on.

Me: And how after two months of working here it was the first time I heard shit, but there–

Me: You heard it every two minutes?

Me: Something like that.

Me: Okay, yeah, I could see that being funny.

Me: Yeah. But then I got to thinking I was sounding all goody-goody, like I had a problem with people saying shit.

Me: Uh-huh.

Me: And really, I don’t care. I mean, hey, sometimes I say shit too.

Me: Uh-huh.

Me: But not at the convent. I don’t say shit there.

Me: Uh-huh.

Me: Some places aren’t shit-appropriate.

Me: Uh-huh.

Me: And then I started writing about how I finally met the oldest sister at the convent. She’s 103.

Me: No kidding? A hundred and three?

Me: Yeah.

Me: Is she the nun who said shit?

Me: No… though I bet she does, don’t you think? Say shit?

Me: Maybe.

Me: I bet she does. Heck, when you’re 103, I bet every morning you wake up and realize you’re still alive you say, “Oh shit.”

Me: I suppose.

Me: Yeah, I bet she does. I bet she says shit.

Me: Uh-huh.

Me: Listen, about this blog. What do you think? Give it to me straight – am I facing burnout?

Me: No, I don’t think this is burnout.

Me: Really?

Me: Really. Borderline psychosis, maybe. A touch of schizophrenia. Mild hysteria leading toward an eventual breakdown, sure. But not burnout.

Me: Oh, that’s such a relief. I feel so much better.

Me: Glad I could help. Now pour me a glass of Zin.

relaxed scene of sofa and two glasses of wine
Photo by Guillermo Nolasco on Unsplash

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.

In Which I Channel Beatrix Potter and Write a Tale of The Two Mice in My Shed

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.

cute mouse, drawing of 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.

small mouse on 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.

drawing of mice in a bed

It was a busy day after all.

The end.

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!

What Does Your Bookshelf Say About You?

My friends, look upon this book:

book ideal bookshelf

My Ideal Bookshelf — I found at the library. It’s a collection of writers, actors, musicians, artists — cultural movers and shakers — talking about their favorite books.

As I read it, I was struck by a couple thoughts. For one, I’m woefully under-read. Not only have I not read most of the books listed, many I’ve never heard of. It’s shameful, really.

Another thought: this book is strangely voyeuristic. Like you’re peeking into their personal lives and getting a sense of what makes them tick.

But really, isn’t that what our bookshelves do? They tell a story of our interests and hobbies, our upbringing and education level, even our fears or obsessions.

And tell the truth, when visiting someone’s home, don’t you look at the titles on their bookshelves and judge them just a little, based on what you find? (Yeah, me too.)

Knowing full well you’ll probably judge me for this, I’m going to pull out a few of the titles on my shelf that I think describe me best. These are the ones I either read over and over again, or I’m deeply sentimental about them. So much so, that moving them from Phoenix to Minnesota was a no-brainer.

(Note: Nearly all links lead to abebooks.com, my favorite site for buying used books.)

My bookshelf and me

On the far right is my Betty Crocker’s Boys & Girls Cookbook. I think it was a gift when I was in the fourth grade and I credit it for igniting my love of cooking. Right next to it are Anderson’s Fairy Tales and Blackbeard’s Ghost. I read those two over and over again all through my youth, and to this day have a strong preference for fantasy. Oh, and that fat book toward the left without a binding or cover? That’s a book of poetry, both silly and serious, that my dad often read or quoted from. I believe it explains my penchant for dark humor:

Willie saw some dynamite,
Couldn’t understand it quite;
Curiosity seldom pays:
It rained Willie seven days.

Next up, let’s consider my teen years: That Certain Something, Jonathan Livingston Seagull and way over on the left, Dr. Zhivago. Probably the weirdest collection for a teenage girl to be found. That Certain Something is a book on developing charm, of all things. You might say it was the first self-help book I ever read. It even has a quiz at the end to see how charming you are. (Note: for those of a certain age, the author was Arlene Francis — she of game show fame.)

As for Jonathan LS … well, as a matter of fact, yes. I was one of those teenage girls who thought Jonathan was deep. Truly deep, man.

seagull

Dr. Zhivago is when my serious reading began. It took three attempts and a course in Russian history before I finally understood the novel was waaaay more than a love story. I felt oh-so-smart when I figured it out, and in the process learned some books are worth a second (or third) try.

From there it was an easy jump to other classics, my favorites being The Great Gatsby and Pride and Prejudice. And then there’s Giants in the Earth, by O.E. Rölvaag.

Never heard of it? Neither did I until I heard a portion of it on the radio. I immediately ordered two copies, one for me and one for my dad. Reason being, the book is about Norwegian immigrants to the Dakota territories and it opens with a man walking ahead of their ox-pulled wagon — the same story my dad told about his grandfather.

Later when my dad was hospitalized with congestive heart failure, I visited him. He brought up the novel and I found out things I never knew — like how his dad would tell him stories of trolls and other folk tales, and I learned more details about his mom’s depression after his dad died (in the book, the main character’s wife suffers from mental illness). My dad passed away a few months after our impromptu book discussion. Some books you enjoy, some you recommend, others hold treasured memories. Giants in the Earth is all of those things for me.

Closing in on our Final Five, you’ll see there’s Lanterns & Lances by James Thurber. I’ve mentioned before this served as inspiration for the Feeding on Folly moniker, and as I said in my ‘about me’ page, I’m a huge Thurber fan. This book doesn’t include his most well-known writings, but it’s about 60 years old and it smells lovely.

As I Live and Breathe, A Sense of the Morning, and Here Be Dragons were all accidental discoveries. Either found in used bookstores or at a “friends of the library” sale, they weren’t my usual choices of reading but became instant favorites. As I Live and Breathe is a sweet, humorous tale of the author and his wife in the ’40s and ’50s. A Sense of the Morning contains essays on nature, but it’s so much more than that. This book reminds me how to look at the world with a sense of wonder. And Here Be Dragons… well, that book taught me way more about the world than any science class did. If you have any interest in evolution or plate tectonics, or even if you don’t have interest, read this book. It explains things better than anything else I’ve read.

That leaves us with Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott. Hands down, my favorite book on writing. Whenever I start feeling sorry for myself and thinking I’ll never write anything good, it helps to think of this book and picture Lamott whispering over my shoulder, “go ahead, get that shitty first draft done.” (Hmm. Might be time to reread this one.)

And there you have it, 15 of the books from my shelves. I could have shown you more, but these are the ones I feel influenced me the most – either as a writer, a reader, or simply as a human being (if being human were so simple).

And now it’s your turn. Think about the books you’ve read that made you who you are today. They might be ones you prominently display on your bookshelf, or it may be you read it once and can’t get out of your head.

List them in the comments below or, if you have a blog, write about them on your site and link it here. I’d love to get more book recommendations. After all, I’ve got some extra space on my bookshelves just aching to be filled.

my bookshelf for featured photo

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.