1971: Before I could read

A few decades ago, my father asked me if I thought it was possible that someone who knew how to read could view text in their native language and not be able to read it. I never asked him why he had asked the question, but I believe that my answer at the time was No – I didn’t think that a literate person could not be able to read something.

I still think that answer is basically true. A stroke or a bout of aphasia could impair your ability to read for a certain amount of time, and acute trauma could impair your perceptions to a degree that might include reading or speech, but I don’t know that personal literacy is something you can voluntarily disable. (Officer: “Didn’t you see that stop sign back there?” Driver: “The red sign? I saw it, but I decided not to read it. Did it say something important?”)

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When I went off to kindergarten at age five, I could not yet read. I remember the thick workbook that we used that year, full of colorful pictures and words and phrases in simple black type. I remember the meaningless, the flatness of it before I was able to crack the code. I also remember the thrill that came over me when I realized that I could do it — I could read the words! I could read all the words, including the ones on the previous pages. Yesterday I was going through the motions, but today I could really read!

Epiphany

Because my birthday is in the middle of summer, I can guess that I learned to read when I was about five and a half. But I had been surrounded by words much longer — probably all my life — and my parents thought I already knew how to read. I was outed during a visit to West Virginia, when I sat with my great-grandfather and we read my favorite book, “Hop on Pop.” Everyone was impressed with my precocious abilities until Grandpap turned two pages at once and I proceeded to recite the text printed on the skipped page. (You would think that my family members would have been even more impressed by my ability to memorize an entire book, but that was apparently not the case.)

After I did learn to read I was rarely without a book, or any other collection of words. I strayed from the shelves of books at my reading level so that I could try something more advanced. At the public library this meant moving from the children’s books room to the shelf just outside that held the Encyclopedia Brown series, and later to a book on how to write Chinese characters. At the school library this meant leaving the Matt Christopher sports series (and exciting titles like Catcher with a Glass Arm and Slam Dunk!) for the thickest book on the nonfiction shelf (which turned out to be a stultifyingly dull book about wildflowers or botany or something; ugh). I read voraciously in the two newspapers that came to our house every day, the Columbus Citizen-Journal in the morning and the weightier and more conservative Columbus Dispatch in the evening. I typed up my own attempt at a neighborhood newspaper on my manual typewriter in the fourth grade (there was only one edition; it’s quite the rarity) and eventually I began writing my own short stories and longer pieces.

Kids these days are a bit quicker on the draw than I was, and all of mine learned to read before I did. My third child, probably out of sheer boredom, taught himself to read at age three by playing Pixar movies with the captions on. His younger brother thought this was normal, and duly copied him. But all four of them have discovered, enjoyed, written, and illustrated stories much more complicated than “Hop on Pop,” to which dozens of homemade chapbooks detailing the adventures of Toilet Man, Captain Chale, and the TIME HOLE attest; the elder two are writing fan fiction and moving on to create their own complex and realistic fictional worlds, for which I occasionally serve as a sounding board and consultant.

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Can they look at something and not read it? I’ll ask them without telling them why I want to know.

 


 

Knitwise, I have finished the two pairs of slippers for my grandmother; I only have to seam them up. That’s close enough to actually being done to let me think about the next project I should finish: Oliver’s blanket. I will have some crocheting to do for that blanket to realize my original vision. (Actually, my original vision called for someone else to crochet the squares.) Alternatively, I could frog the squares I’ve knitted and just knit a regular freakin’ blanket, which might take less time but would have more joins. Where’s the fun in that? (To hasten my work I’ll try to think about how cold that poor newborn child must be during our round after round subzero temperatures, and I’ll ignore all the cuddly, snuggly Facebook pictures already posted by my friend, his doting grandmother.) When I’m done with the baby blanket it will finally be time to finish the Swedish Surprise.

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Published in: on February 5, 2018 at 10:15 pm  Leave a Comment  

A year and a life

It’s New Year’s Day and time to ensure that I have thoroughly overbooked my next flight ’round the sun.

Resolutions? Check! I have a crap-ton of them shoved hastily into my carry-on bag that I know will absolutely fit into the overhead compartment if you give me just one. More. Minute. No, that’s okay. I got this.

Responsibilities? Check! Full time job, health concerns, four children, and a terrier who is slightly…off. That adds up to many mouths to feed. May I have an extra bag of peanuts, please?

Reading list? Check! Tremendously out of control, with bookcases double stacked and groaning more loudly every day. (Currently Actually Reading: Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. The fact that I’m reading it has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that they are filming the movie version now and David Tennant is playing the lead. Well, hardly anything. Well, maybe a little bit. Well, maybe it’s none of your business. But it’s a wonderful book.)

Running out of alliterative subheads? Check!

Each year brings me closer to the end of my string (one might say rope, but one would not want to indulge in histrionics). Less time to knit up my stash, cook up everything in the pantry, go to all the places, do all the things, write all the novels, and save the world in my spare time.

If we knew the length of our string, we could set an appropriate pace. However, the passage of time occasionally reminds us that, in the absence of an accurate measurement of the length remaining, we should just get off our butt and do a few more things before we go to bed each night.

Last summer I turned fifty. I didn’t dread it, not was it effusively celebrated by anyone (other than 73 birthday greetings from Facebook Friends, for which I am grateful), but it eventually led to a time of introspection (i.e., this morning) at which time I realized that fifty is almost fifty-two. Let’s not dwell on the fact that it took me six months to figure this out.

Here’s what I’m going to try. Once a week I will sit down and write a story about something that happened in one year of my life. By the end of the year, I should have covered the entire time up to now. (Except that now it’s called then, and then it will be called now. Oh, never mind.) And by the end of the year I will be fifty-one, so the yearly installments and the introduction add up perfectly.

I will also, as the urge strikes me, write about other topics, let you know how the knitting projects are coming along, and even write in another of my blogs (the one about baking; I’ll provide a link to it when there’s new content to read).

So. Happy new year. Keep warm. And buckle up: next week we’ll be going to 1967.

Published in: on January 1, 2018 at 9:16 pm  Comments (3)  

Thoughtful

In 2014 I actually did a lot of knitting. It’s hard to tell this because I didn’t spend much time on Ravelry fussing with my queue, creating new project files, updating old projects, or taking and uploading digital photos of my projects at each stage of progress. (Actually, I didn’t spend much time on Ravelry doing anything.) But I always had a project to take to Knit Night, and things slowly got done.

I finished the Drunken Octopus Sweater.

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I finished Citron.

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I finished Traveling Woman.

Travelling Woman

I finished a pair of socks.

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I also knitted slippers for my appreciative grandmother, squares for a group-project blanket, and probably a few other things for people who really didn’t care much one way or the other.

In 2015 I’m still looking at my pile of WIPs (Works in Progress) with an eye to finishing them before I start any new projects of substance. A few of these WIPs are small and need just a bit of focused attention (green wool slippers) to move them to the “finished” column. Some of them are big and tedious (Scrabble blanket) and will take many months to properly complete. Others are ambitious and filled with complex lace or cable patterns, and got stalled out early.

That being said, a baby was recently born on the other side of the country, and in a fit of love and familial compassion I whipped up a pair of booties for him and even threaded them with blue organza ribbon. And then I thought up a simple baby blanket scheme (I wouldn’t call it a pattern, but I suppose you could if you wanted to) and cast on and started knitting like the wind. The baby’s already been born, you know. You have to knit more quickly after the baby’s been born, or you might as well forget the nursery accessories and start planning a size 10 Wallaby pullover.

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I’m finding now that I’m taking more time to think about which project I want to finish next, and why. I need to think about why I’m knitting it, and for whom I’m making it (if it’s not for myself). I need to think about when and where I’ll be able to work on it. Some of these projects will need some serious recon time before I might be able to take them to a public place to work on them.

This type of thoughtfulness seems to be spilling over into other areas of my life. I’m more thoughtful and deliberate about how I spend my limited time at home, what I wear to work, how I want to accomplish a task, and how I interact with friends and acquaintances. I don’t feel the need (or perceive the value) of rushing through things as quickly as possible. It’s all right, and sometimes better, to reply with “no,” or “wait,” or “let me think about it,” or “I’m not sure, but probably not.”

Quick reactions often lead to more crises for me — I don’t have the time to fully understand my situation, realize my options, or decide upon the optimal solution. It’s good to be able to slow things down when I can, to have some space around the decision point. It gives me more time to take care, to make a better choice, to think more than one move ahead. (It might even aid my chess game.)

One of the things I’ve been thinking about is my writing. I didn’t do much blogging last year, but I did start a journal. I reviewed a movie on another blog. And I wrote a lot of song lyrics. I lost count, but there were a few dozen. Most were shared with just one or two trusted friends, but some were “published” only for my own sight as I still need time to deal with both the wording and the emotional message being expressed. I intend to continue the journal-keeping, and I also intend to return to this blog with more frequency, whether I’m writing about my knitting projects or some other topic.

Resolutions are fun to make (remember my own Sheep and Wool Challenge? yikes), and intentions are just intentions until they’re backed up with action. One of last year’s epiphanies was that, to be blunt, nobody is interested in what I want to do. But if I actually do something, some people might be interested in what I did. Most people won’t be interested, and that’s fine. But I still need to do the things, for my own varied reasons. I’ll share some of the things I do. If you are interested, or appreciative, or appalled, or intrigued, give me your feedback. And please feel free to share with me the things you’ve decided to do.

Paperback Writer

I have started writing again. Maybe it’s more correct to say that I have resumed being a writer. Anyway, I’ve been musing over some of the things that have helped me resume a former identity and be more comfortable with it.

Read

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The first thing is reading. Writers read constantly, continually, and compulsively. When I was a writing student in graduate school and met my friend Stephanie (not his real name!), I chastised her for only owning about 3 books. How could you be a writer and not be reading every book you could get your hands on? I didn’t understand.

When I was growing up in Columbus, my family took both the newspapers — the morning Citizen-Journal and the evening Dispatch. They were read to me until I could read them myself. After that point I read everything that came into the house, and learned that excellent writing was to be found even in magazines that did not reflect my core interests. Because of my father’s hobbies and interests I learned to flip to the last editorial page of magazines like Guns & Ammo and Road and Track and enjoy the editorial gems to be found there. Even today, I’m thrilled to be in a waiting room of any kind if I can get access to Field and Stream, Sports Illustrated, or AutoWeek rather than pap like People, Us, or Family Circle.

Lately I’ve been actually reading my Sports Illustrated issues. The level of their journalism and creative nonfiction is such that I can enjoy almost any article except something on professional basketball. (That league is a shoe commercial; I don’t care.) I garner new data. I relish a clever turn of phrase. I want to keep turning the pages forever.

 – ad

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Advertising and commercials, though clever, don’t usually count as good writing. So I’m finding my reading matter in high-level magazines like SI, and in memoir (Carole King’s A Natural Woman), biography (Mark Zwonitzer’s Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone?: The Carter Family and Their Legacy in American Music), and fiction (Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series). Good writing takes you out of your self and your life and carries you somewhere else. It takes you to funny, clever, thoughtful places you could not have gone by yourself. Give me three pages of McCall Smith and a hot cup of rooibos tea, and I am in Botswana.

Quiet

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It’s not that I really want to world to go away. I like lots of things about the world. It’s just that I want the silence to be able to enter in, have a lie down on the couch, and get really comfortable. I love music, but when I listen to it constantly I realize I am listening to someone else’s writing, crowding out my own potential ideas and words and melodies. How much worse are television and radio for providing Hulk-level train-tossing derailments of your independent creative thoughts? So much of television consists of the reporting of distressing news, speculation on the future, the escalation of interpersonal conflict, and criticism of those who have talent and success. That kind of background noise really stifles one’s sonnet-writing abilities.

– et

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If I’m working hard enough at my writing, I’m not eating for the wrong reasons. We know what they are. Boredom. Frustration. Loneliness. Anxiety. Anger. Jealousy. Fear. Unrequited love. Confusion. And, ironically, writer’s block. If I come across a sentence that flashes across my vision and makes me chase it through the forest so I can write it down, I won’t care about that bowl of chips. The act of writing can burn calories by means of a pre-emptive strike.

Red

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I am such a fan of color coding that I should turn professional. I have certainly put my years into the craft. I color code my hanging files, my kids’ drink cups, and everything I can lay my hands upon. And for as long as I can remember, I’ve color coded my school folders, from the first Trapper Keeper until yesterday. Green is for life sciences like Biology. Yellow is for Chemistry and other hard/applied sciences. Blue is for History. But red… red is for literature, for writing, for strength through creativity. Red is a power color. Red is for blood, lifeblood. Red is for rage. Red is for anger, passion, fury, heart. If I want to find my old writing, I go to the basement, open a repurposed Hammermill Graphicopy paper carton, and pull out a red folder. Any red folder will do. My writing, from whatever era, will be within.

Read – ad + quiet – et + red = Required

Writing is required of me. It is who I am before I am anything else. It is what I do when I am at my best. It is what I turn to when I am at my lowest. My people have been “makers” for many generations, mostly with wood, but I “make” with words. I may not have a published book, but I have journals, a blog (all right, many blogs), a Facebook page, and private notes in which I record my thoughts, my frustrations, and my songs. Some of my writing is shared and some of my writing will stay private forever. It takes the form it needs to take, and I do what I must do.

Published in: on April 16, 2014 at 11:22 pm  Comments (1)  

Don’t Stop Me Now

To clarify, this week’s post title is quite different from the phrase “nothing can stop me now,” which is engraved in my family’s history as the ill-fated phrase my brother has triumphantly exclaimed immediately before numerous and painful occasions. Some of these occasions are accompanied by gruesome photographic documentation. Be glad I do not possess copies of such documentation; they are not to be viewed by the faint of heart. Suffice it to say that I will never utter the phrase “nothing can stop me now” for the rest of my life. It sorely tempts fate, which, frankly, doesn’t need much tempting in the first place.

This week I was able to indulge in some hours of intense activity as well as some moments of introspection. The activity consisted of a cross-country ski session that, while quite fun (I’d do it again! I swear!), pushed the edges of my personal envelope with regards to pain; it was icier and “slopier” than I’d expected, and although I hiked the trail and carried my skis for most of the trail, I did take some rather spectacular spills, one of which my ski-partner may have managed to catch on video.

Let me know if you’ve already seen this on YouTube. Specifically, from 0:14 to 0:17. This documents Crash #2 of 5. Or of perhaps 6. I started to lose count after a while.

Happily, especially because I do *not* at the present moment actually have any health insurance, discretion became the better part of sanity by the end of the trip, and I retreated from the ski trails before any body parts broke, dislocated, disintegrated, or exploded. Many of them were bruised, but I cannot give an accurate accounting of how many, because I am daily discovering new bruises in some unlikely places. After Crash Five (or Six) I cut my ski-partner loose to do something besides wait at the bottom of the slope to see how long it would take me to get up, and speculate as to whether or not I’d be able to retrieve my hat, cell phone, or skis without his assistance. I suppose he went skiing for a while or something.

After several ice pack sessions (okay, bag-of-frozen-peas sessions) on my sore right shoulder, I had time to speculate on the size of my personal envelope.

Don't spend it all in one place, folks.

Don’t spend it all in one place, folks.

My friend’s personal envelope? Well, considering he already has a pilot’s license, skydives, rides a unicycle, and is learning to juggle, I assume it’s considerably larger than mine.

largest envelope

This might have room for enough postage to mail someone to the Moon.

The neat thing (well, one of the neat things) about hanging out with someone like this is that their idea of reasonable activity is so far above “sitting on the couch watching videos” that almost anything you do helps to expand your own horizons and challenge you beyond what you thought you were capable of. For example, on Saturday morning I often felt I was not capable of standing up again. But I did stand up again, over and over. I’m stubborn as hell a persistent soul, and I wasn’t going to fail to live up to whatever I thought the expectations were. And even though I felt on Sunday morning as if I’d been a rock in a tumbler, I still had a great time on Saturday.

Resting up gave me a chance to think about all the things I don’t usually do, and all the things I’ve wanted to do but haven’t pushed myself to accomplish over the years.

What, really, is stopping me besides myself?

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I used to set ten-year goals and for them, create a five-year sub-plan and a list of reasonable one-year tasks. Heck, I used to have goals rather than random resolutions — though I don’t mean to denigrate the effort I put into the random resolutions. Some of them might not have been quite so random. But at some point (perhaps when I was at home with four kids ages seven and under?) having any kind of long-term goal was ludicrous. Day-to-day survival was a much more reasonable achievement. Keep everyone alive for now, and we’ll deal with the big picture later. Capisce?

But now we’ve all survived that period of intense-personal-care parenting. The “kids” range from almost 15 to almost 8. They’re able to go along with most of the things I’d like to do (even if they’re not yet willing), and even help with the planning, preparation, and performance of said “thing.” (Not so much on the putting-away afterwards, but we can work on that.)

Now, I can get back to my thing, which has always been writing.

What I’m knitting this week:

I finished the first and second “Don’t Shoot” cowls — one was done in time for last weekend’s road trip to Ice-Land, and the second one was finished two days later. Moving on!

Don't Shoot! number 2.

Don’t Shoot! number 2.

This week I’m knitting a meme — more accurately, the knitting instructions I read in a meme that’s been making the rounds on Facebook.

It's not rocket science, people... it's more like fiber-based topology.

It’s not rocket science, people… it’s more like fiber-based topology.

Here is what I have so far. Actually, that’s not true. I have several more inches of this by now. It’s just that it’s such a simple pattern that it puts me to sleep when I knit it, and if I use up all the yarn I have allotted for it, I’ll probably be sleeping for the next twenty years, which is not how I wanted to spend the next twenty years.

Got coma?

Got coma?

Part of me is screaming inside: All right, now you know what it looks like! Rip it out and knit something more interesting! That part of my brain is doing battle with the part that controls the hands to calmly turn the work around, pick up the free needle once again, and think: Well, it’s not as if it’s hard… and people need scarves….

Published in: on January 16, 2014 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  

Week Fifty-Two: All Good Things

This week WordPress sent me a little “happy anniversary” notice. It was seven years ago when I registered my first blog with them — the one you’re reading now. I’ve started several other blogs since then, to focus on different fringe interests, but this is the blog that keeps going and growing, and gradually absorbing the other topics back into itself. I wonder why December 23 was the special day, when I had a six-month-old baby Tommy and three older children to take care of. It was probably time to switch to a blog from my e-mail newsletter, Wisconsin Crafter, because it was the end of a year.  I like starting new things on January 1, on Sundays or Mondays, or on the first day of a month. Launching a new initiative on, say, May 17 just wouldn’t make sense to me. How would I ever keep track of it?

But since WordPress is keeping track of it for me, well, happy anniversary to me! Hallmark’s website tells me that the traditional gifts for a seventh anniversary are wool or copper. (The modern gift is a desk set. I do have an antique desk at which I sit in front of my modern computer and write, and I do have a desk set somewhere; maybe I’ll tidy it up and use it.) I think I have bought enough wool for myself that I could knit up a little something special just for me. Copper is a bit trickier. Jewelry seems like an obvious path to take, but I don’t have pierced ears and I don’t wear rings, watches, or necklaces. I do have a few friends who make custom jewelry, and maybe they can give me some suggestions for some sort of commemorative item. A copper pen? A little hand-hammered copper bowl? I’m not sure.

Scratch that; I just found and ordered a hank of wool/silk laceweight yarn in a gorgeous tonal copper colorway. As my son James would say, “Achievement get!”

Well, now, since I’m closing out the year, I’d better be honest and take one last look at those resolutions I published 52 weeks ago.

Thusly, I resolve that, in 2013 (!!!) I shall:

  1. Blog on Chocolate Sheep again, and regularly. Dare I say, weekly?
  2. Finish the Doctor Who scarf I’m knitting for my friend Ginnie.
  3. Complete my calculus class.
  4. Learn one new cast-on.
  5. Find a Most Excellent Job in my chosen field of technical and scientific editing.
  6. Learn one new cast-off.
  7. Help my kids be awesome.

Seven looks like a good number, don’t you think?

I think I can honestly say I accomplished numbers 1, 2, 4, 5, and 7. Number 6 just didn’t get much attention, and Number 3, as mentioned in greater detail a few weeks ago, was a spectacular failure. Overall, though, I think I did pretty well. The weekly blogging was sometimes a challenge, but I did learn how to use the Schedule function for posts so that I could publish pre-written ones when I was traveling. After a while I got used to the rhythm of writing what was essentially a weekly column, and I found I could usually produce something mildly entertaining by Thursday (sometimes Friday).

So, do I have any new and impressive resolutions ready for 2014?

No… not really. I still have a lot of unfinished business around here. I would like to become more monogamous with my knitting, and finish the really large projects I’ve been working on for the last couple of years. I’d like to start quilting again and make some more durable and functional quilts that the kids and I can use. I’d like to deepen my friendships. I’d like to be braver. I’d like to be a better cook. I’d like to study more math and physics. And most of all, I’d like to keep writing. I can’t (and won’t) promise that I will keep to a regular weekly schedule for my posts here, but it’s quite possible that I’ve picked up a very good habit and that’s when the writing will appear.

All in all, it’s been a pretty good year for me. See you on the other side!

Week Forty-Eight: Thank you

Thank you.

Thank you for reading.

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Thank you for commenting.

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Thank you for visiting my blog before I have something new published, because you know it’s almost time.

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Thank you for sharing the link to my blog.

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Thank you for clicking “Like” after a post that you liked.

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Thank you for responding to my surveys and questions.

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Thank you for following my news feed.

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Thank you for hanging out in this space, my little corner of the Internet.

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Thank you for believing that I could accomplish all my crazy resolutions.

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Thank you for trusting that every week really would bring a new blog post.

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Thank you for tolerating such a wide range of writing: knitting play-by-plays, philosophical musings, weather reports, “Hamlet” commentary, nerdy math posts, room makeovers, photo essays, and even a sonnet.

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Thank you for scrolling down.

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Thank you for laughing at the silly pictures I find and embed.

End of Internet

Thank you for coming back.

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Thank you for sharing your feedback.

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Thank you for encouraging me.

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Thank you, on Thanksgiving Day and every day.

Published in: on November 28, 2013 at 9:00 am  Comments (2)  

Week Forty-Seven: Creative Mode

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This week we had a little incident at home in which my middle son delivered a burn worthy of an arsonist.

It was bedtime, and it’s been years since I’ve read my kids bedtime stories, or sang them bedtime songs, or performed more of a bedtime ritual than giving each one of them a backrub and well-wishes for peaceful slumber. But on this bedtime, Jack demanded a fable.

“Mom?”

“What?”

“Can you tell me a fable about why I should go to sleep?”

“Um…right now?”

“Yes. A fable like this one: ‘Once upon a time…’ ” And he launched into a Proper Fable about that very thing. (By the way, props to whoever is doing the Fables unit at school.) Then he wrapped it all up and challenged me again. “Can you tell a fable better than the one I just told?”

“Well, probably not.”

I was too concerned with being honest to notice that he’d been verbally stacking dry tinder around me for the previous three minutes… until he tossed the lit match.

“Well, Mom,” he said, “it’s a shame your creativity burned out thirty years ago.”

———

I told myself that my degree wasn’t in Drama, or Theater Performance, or Improvisation. But, as a matter of fact, I have a Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing and in English Literature. I’ve been telling people for years, with a wink and a smile, that I have a degree in Making Things Up.

So why can’t I just make up a bedtime story?

One answer is that I don’t practice storytelling. I’m not a verbal person; my voice doesn’t command attention, and my spoken word goes unheard in large groups. If I am drafted to stand behind the microphone and say a piece I will do my duty, but I don’t enjoy it or feel comfortable doing it. Even reading a storybook to a classroom of kids of any age typically ends in disaster: I’m not interesting enough, the kids’ attention wanders, and the teacher gets hoarse from reminding them to LISTEN TO OUR GUEST and USE OUR MANNERS. This amount of negative feedback is sufficient for me to avoid storytelling gigs with as much grace as I can muster. And that’s a gig that calls for me to read someone else’s published text, not spin a yarn of my own.

I’m fascinated by improv, I really am. I admire tremendously the comics and writers who thrive on it. I attended a performance of the Second City Touring Company when I was in college, and I couldn’t believe that people could just go up on stage, ask for a few prompts, and create a unique, evolving show from it. Granted, they were different people — extroverted in inverse proportion to my introverted nature, and mugging to the camera instead of hiding from it at every opportunity. They wanted people to look at them, to react to them, to interact with them. And in more recent years I watched several seasons of Whose Line Is It Anyway?, and Last Comic Standing, and Kids in the Hall, and SCTV, and Big Train. Some people are born to perform. I am not one of them. I can watch them on The Green Room or Inside the Actors Studio, talking passionately to each other about baring their souls in front of cameras and live audiences. My own soul is safe in the bottom drawer of a locked filing cabinet in a dark room behind a basement door marked ‘Beware of the leopard,’ so their public trials are my escapist literature. I could listen to them for hours.

Personally, I need structure for a story. I need to know who’s in it, and why they’re there, and where they’re going, and what the crisis is, before I can start writing. I need to see it before I can write it down.

But I also know, from having studied Story and Literature, that everything has been done. It was thousands of years ago that someone wrote “there is nothing new under the sun.” Intellectually I know that there are only novel combinations of tropes and themes. You learn the rules so that you can break them when it’s appropriate, but you do learn the rules.

So, what do we mean when we call something “creative”? If we take it literally, it is the act of creating something, making something that is completely new. But if there is nothing new, what can “creative” mean?

To Jack, it might mean “say something I haven’t heard before.”

To Neil Gaiman, it might mean “say something in a way that no one else dares to.”

To Frank Herbert, it might mean “create a world nobody else has imagined.”

To Ursula LeGuin, it might mean “change the rules and keep going.”

To me, it means “be different; be eccentric; be surprising.” But if you’re writing, you must plan ahead to be able to surprise others… which makes for a rather tedious bedtime story. Sorry, kids.

———

All my kids are adept at the “game” of Minecraft, which is really an interactive virtual world. You mine for elements, you craft items, you build structures, you battle evil creatures. It sounds simple, but I’ve seen Minecrafters create amazing things: player pianos, quiz boards, electronic sorting devices, elaborate prank wars, collaborative games, and challenging adventure maps. There are so many ways to use the toolbox that Minecraft gives you. One of them is the mode you choose: Creative, or Survival. In Survival Mode there are creepers, zombies, witches, silverfish, and all manner of possible deadly attackers; you play in this mode with your head turned, certain that something bad is sneaking up behind you. Because it is. Given enough time, your screen will tint red and you’ll see a button that reads “You died!” (Even worse is Hardcore Mode, in which your entire world is destroyed upon your death. That’s hardcore, all right.)

DinnerboneDied

In Creative Mode, however, the rules are dramatically different. You have unlimited resources, no enemies if you don’t want them, and you pretty much have superpowers. You can fly. And the only way that you can die in Creative Mode is by tunneling so deep in this Flat-Earth construct that you fall through the last level of bedrock and go out into the Void.

In Creative Mode, you’re the sixth son of landed gentry. You don’t have to be a doctor or a minister or a lawyer or a soldier — you can follow your heart and your whims. You can build a castle on shifting sand and nobody will raise a hand to stop you. You don’t have to watch your budget or your back. You have the luxury of godlike powers to assemble, build, create, and design. You have what every director in Hollywood wants: creative control.

Mount_Olympus

How would your real life change if you could live it in Creative Mode? If you didn’t have to worry about not getting your paycheck or your support check? If you knew you couldn’t get hurt and wouldn’t get sick? If you could arrange things your way? If you always had reward without risk? Would complete safety and freedom lead to innovation, or to sloth? Would you write your own story, or read someone else’s?

Published in: on November 21, 2013 at 8:01 am  Comments (1)  

Week Forty-Two: The Oncoming Storm

When October’s chill is in the air

And time draws nigh for forty-second post

I scratch my head and sit upon my chair

To think about the things that matter most.

Should I about my new employment write?

Share knitting-feats accomplished in a week?

Discourse on winter’s soon-approaching blight?

Or take a poll; learn what my readers seek?

Instead, I choose departure from the norm.

From Miami’s old degree I blow the dust,

Selecting an extravagance of form

With elegance which soon demands I must

Find comfort in a blanket weaved from words,

And snuggle in with wineglass and cheese curds.

Published in: on October 18, 2013 at 9:00 am  Comments (1)  

Week Twenty-Nine: The Big 4-0-0

This post is my 400th post on this blog, which I started on December 21, 2006. I also note that on Ravelry I have 198 projects listed, and I’m sure I will cast on for two more very soon — just because.

I’ve been oft accused of always starting and never finishing, but those numbers demonstrate that I’ve been putting in a lot of work over the years, from weaving sentences and stories to knitting everything from celery to blankets and even (gasp!) doing a bit of crochet. In that time I also learned to spin on a wheel, started a local knitting group, and initiated an annual social event to coincide with the Wisconsin Sheep and Wool Festival. Cybersocially I’ve joined Facebook, G+ (for all the good that does), LinkedIn, and goodness knows what else. I have also started a bunch of other blogs, but since I haven’t finished them, I won’t speak of them now. So there.

My first knitted item, from 2005.

My first knitted item, from 2005.

So, what action befits a 400th post? Casting on for a 200th project? Knitting something from all the scraps of the previous 199? Trying something completely new? Or just saying “happy accomplishment to me” on the blog?

It may be time for a poll. (“A poll! A poll!”)

Note that you can add your own unique reply, and/or vote for as many existing answers as you like. I will monitor the results and respond appropriately.

Published in: on July 18, 2013 at 10:00 am  Comments (1)