1989: The First of Four Elephants

Several life-changing events happened to me in 1989, but in order to choose a story to tell I will have to ignore a very large elephant that happens to be crowding out almost everything else from the room. One of the rules I set for myself in this storytelling series is that I would try not to tell anyone else’s story, and writing about my first marriage definitely qualifies as telling someone else’s story — even if the someone else isn’t likely to read it or to care about what I might have to say. This rule is self-imposed, and it’s about respect. It’s my rule and I’m sticking to it.

Elephant_in_the_courtroom

In the spring of 1989 I took the GRE and applied (and was accepted) to graduate school at Miami; in May I graduated with honors from Miami University with a double major in Creative Writing and English Literature. In July I got married, took a brief honeymoon in Denver, and returned to Oxford just in time to take an intensive pedagogy class for graduate assistants who would be teaching freshman English in August. In that class I met someone who would become a fast friend; in fact, you could say he owns the second elephant.

The summer of 1989 kicked off a complicated and stressful time in my life that persisted for entirely too long, and I didn’t often make the best decisions. Thus, we witness the generation of a series of elephants which shall not be discussed. (Special note for those who are 22 years old and think they know everything about the world: You don’t. I’m sorry to have to be the one to tell you. But it’s all right; I know you’re not listening anyway.) I’ll let you know when one of my elephants has wandered into the room, and we can talk about something else while it has a bit of hay and water.

Four_elephants

To avoid talking about my elephants or anyone else’s, let’s go back in time a bit to the spring of 1989, when my capstone project for the Honors program was due. Because my degree was in creative writing, I didn’t have a research project to present. My requirement would be fulfilled when I read from my work, to an audience in Hall Auditorium. I repeat, my degree was in creative writing. Not speech, communication, theatre, drama, broadcast journalism, or performance art. In silence and solitude I had written my words, considered them, revised them, and offered a portfolio of short fiction to be evaluated by my “thesis” committee in the creative writing program. Now, for the sake of the Honors program, I had to make the transition from the page to the stage.

Hall Auditorium, located on the other side of the campus library from Bishop Hall, was originally constructed in 1908 and named after Miami’s fifth president, John Hall. Over the years I had attended several events there, including a reading by Tom Wolfe and a performance by the Second City Touring Company. It has a seating capacity of 750, and in my day it was sometimes the site of huge lecture sections of Western Civilization classes.

hall-interior-2-800x400

After a $6.5 million rehab in 1992….

It looks pretty big when you’re in the audience, and it has the curious property of looking even larger when you’re all alone on the stage, looking outward.

Mine wasn’t the only “act” on the agenda for that afternoon. I waited backstage for my turn to approach the microphone and read my work to whoever was in the audience — other members of the Honors program, I assumed. The student before me concluded their talk, received a round of applause, and walked off stage left. Everything was going just fine as I walked on from stage right. I placed my pages of text on the podium, took a deep breath, and began to read.

I heard my voice, small and soft in the large space. When I was a few sentences into my story, I noticed strange looks on the faces of the audience. When I was a few paragraphs in, I realized that they could not hear me well and it was possible that the microphone, which had worked perfectly for the previous speaker, was now not working at all.

As I continued to read, I brainstormed. Had the person before me turned off the mic before walking away, and had I been expected to turn it back on? No. Had the mic really just broken without warning? I wasn’t sure, but something did seem to be broken. Was it going to come back on? Perhaps. Should I keep reading, trusting that the mic would turn itself back on? Maybe. Should I stop reading, apologize, and start over?

The repercussions of my last question to myself were what made me decide to just keep reading and pretend that all was well. I was keyed up enough as it was; if I stopped now there was no guarantee that I would be able to calm down enough to start the reading all over again. I also couldn’t fix the mic, so there was no guarantee that it would be able to start all over again with me. There was a tech person on the stage, just behind the front curtain. Presumably they would be able to fix the mic if it were broken. (If I broke down, I wasn’t sure that I could be fixed.)

If that’s true, I asked myself, why haven’t they come over, stopped me, and fixed the mic? Maybe it’s not broken after all and I just THINK it’s broken.

So I kept reading, paragraph after paragraph, maintaining the gentle momentum of the text, staying as calm as I could. The short story itself was more of a tone poem with plenty of onomatopeia and internal rhyme, with a rhythm like a rocking chair, and it propelled me forward.

Two sentences before the end of the story, the microphone came back to life. My voice boomed through the auditorium as I read the last few words.

“Thank you,” I said, and exited stage left to a round of tepid, confused applause as my legs tried to turn to jelly.

I had done my reading, even if nobody heard a word of it, and there was no way they would get me back out onto that stage again.


Knitwise, I have completed the Grey Shawl of Eternity. Have I the proof of this accomplishment? Nay! I cast off last Tuesday night, displayed the shawl to my Jefferson knitting group, and folded it up and tucked it into my knitting bag. I then started a project with the only pattern I had on hand – for loafers, of all things – with the closest yarn to what it required, an orphan skein of brown-and-white marled bulky wool that ranged from extremely thin to extremely thick. It wasn’t fun or satisfying, but it was knitting. Two days later I took the shawl to my Whitewater group, unfurled it, and handed it over to the woman who had given me the donated yarn in the first place. While she wrapped herself in the Shawl of Eternity I knitted two more rows on the unsatisfying loafer pattern, paused, and then pulled out the needles and frogged the project.

Kate Hepburn knits

What would Katherine Hepburn knit?

I am open for suggestions.

Advertisements

1982: The Book Behind the Desk

The years run together, and much of what I remember from high school is not exactly what my teachers would have hoped for. I was finishing my freshman year and beginning my sophomore year. I experienced my second year of “this one time, at band camp” as we returned to Proctor (of Proctor & Gamble) Farms somewhere south of Mt. Sterling during the hottest week of August.  (It wouldn’t be band camp if you didn’t suffer somehow; my section didn’t haze anyone but others did; my best friend nearly broke his toe on a metal bed frame, and several people regretted not taking water breaks during the post-lunch practice.)

Algebra I turned into Geometry, Life Science turned into Biology, and English 9 turned into, well, English 10. I remember them more for the stories within them than for the content they tried to impart. Algebra I was more filled with story than you might think, as James Clavell’s epic novel Shogun, later a miniseries starring Richard Chamberlain, came out in paperback that year — 1,012 pages of paperback. I’m sure I wasn’t fooling Mr. Mudd when I read that book every chance I had. Each day in class I hoped that he would start on my side of the room when he asked us to answer the odd-numbered questions from the book; that way I would be number 3 or 5 (easy problems) rather than number 35 or 37 (much more difficult problems, which I would have to work much harder to solve). I was obsessed with the adventures of Anjin-San, and every minute spent working out algebra problems was a minute away from making it through the longest novel I had ever read. I put off my math homework until the afternoon bus ride, when I could ask my friend Ben for help with any algebra concept I might have missed while I was busy reading about feudal Japan. We were halfway through the school year when it finally sunk in that his class was using the new textbook and mine the old; he was tutoring me in algebra without access to the textbook that I was using. He has gone on to live a happy and creative life, but sometimes I wonder about the math teach he would have made. And in Geometry? I wrote poetry. Nothingtoseeherelet’smoveon.

Shogun

The texts I read in English class were, as far as I remember, the ones I was supposed to read: “Romeo and Juliet” in English 9 and “Julius Caesar,” “Our Town,” and The Great Gatsby in English 10. Why should I read a book in English class when I was already supposed to be reading a book? I probably had my pinky finger in the back of the textbook, though, to read the stories we probably wouldn’t get to that year.

Great Gatsby

Science class was another matter. I associate Life Science with Jane Eyre, which I loved and read over and over, and Biology with Wuthering Heights, which I didn’t enjoy or understand. I thought Catherine and Heathcliff were dysfunctional and insane with their continual brooding and running around on the moors. What the hell was going on there, anyway? Just last week I had a talk about this with a bona fide literature professor, who asserted that anyone who thinks Wuthering Heights is a romance novel needs some serious therapy. (That conversation was so validating.) I did do some science, though; kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, species. So there. I also dissected an earthworm in tenth grade, then petitioned — successfully — to be allowed to submit anatomical drawings of dissected creatures rather than perform the dissections myself.

Jane Eyre  Wuthering Heights

Math, English, and science? Surely I must have taken something else. Oh yes, there was this one time, in band class… where the woodwind section read horror stories. While the band director worked with the trumpet section, we slipped out from behind our sheet music the “Goosebumps” books from R. L. Stein, V.C. Andrews novels (who else was traumatized by Flowers in the Attic?), and Stephen King works that included Pet Sematary, Cujo, and Night Shift. What can I say? The director spent a lot of time with the trumpet section and we spent a lot of time with our books.

StephenKingPetSematary

I didn’t read novels in the art class I took my freshman year: I was too busy disagreeing with my art teacher over what was art and what was nonsense. She wanted me to learn about abstraction and surrealism, and I thought photorealism was the epitome of artistic skill. She tried to inspire my creativity by making me sketch goat skull after goat skull and produce something that wasn’t a goat skull; I just wanted to draw my horses. I plugged away, refusing to try much of anything new, getting mostly B’s on my report card but somehow receiving the Art award at the end of the year.

At home I was now happily surrounded by animals — Boots, the inside cat; Cocoa and Cricket, my horse and my mother’s; calico Katie and her son Perry, the outside cats (the rest of Katie’s litter having been rehomed). My parents had added on to the house and built a third bedroom, so I didn’t have to share my bedroom with my brother any more; I converted one end of my closet into an admittedly claustrophobic writing space and typed up poems and stories on my manual typewriter, including a horror story that was based on calico Katie and ended with the haunting line “poison ivy grows on the cat’s grave.” Yes, I eventually got better. No, I don’t plan to publish it online.


Knitwide, I set the blue-green rectangle aside and cast on for a simple triangle shawl with a skein of tonal grey bouclé. I have two skeins of this donated mystery yarn to work with, and I intend to use up both of them while I make this shawl. It’s simple knitting and will bring someone comfort, which is a good thing to do right now.  There are plenty of projects to start and finish after I’m done with this one. Who knows, perhaps the next project will be a circle.

Published in: on April 23, 2018 at 9:44 pm  Leave a Comment  

1974: This is not a drill

If you’re even a casual student of history, you’ll know that several society-shaking events took place in 1974. (I’m not even counting Seth Green’s birth on February 8 or the meteoric rise of Barry Manilow’s recording of “Mandy” on the Billboard charts: thank you, Wikipedia!) Patty Hearst was kidnapped. President Nixon resigned. Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s home run record. The first UPC code was scanned (in Ohio). And the Cleveland Indians held a Ten-Cent Beer Night they’re probably still trying to forget.

Another event that year shook the ground and the skies. In the first week of April 1974, lines of storm cells formed that were eventually called the “Super Outbreak,” a spawning of 148 tornadoes that ranged from Mississippi to Ontario. The deadliest of them struck Xenia, Ohio on Wednesday, April 3.

Xenia was about an hour’s drive away from where I lived on the West Side of Columbus (okay, the Hilltop). I had never been to Xenia by the tender age of seven, and now that I think about it, I’m not sure I ever have been. But on April 4 the mention of the word “Xenia” was enough to give an Ohio kid chills in a way that didn’t happen again until 1981, when a tornado wiped out downtown Cardington in Morrow County.

Our own sky was an odd color, and it was eerily quiet outside. Dad banished us to the basement to take shelter, but stayed on the front porch as long as he could to scan the skies. The next day he let me ride along as he drove around to survey the local damage from the F2 tornado and surrounding storms that had struck Franklin County the previous night. I remember a concrete structure, a beer/wine drive-through, that had been turned into a pile of cinder blocks. It was one block east of Hilltop Hardware and just a few blocks from our house. Dad didn’t say anything, but I sensed that we’d had a narrow escape.

dorothy-wizard-of-oz2

If you grow up in the Midwest, you have to come to terms with two main natural disasters: blizzards and tornadoes. There is nothing you can do to prevent either one, but you can learn to prepare for them and cope with their devastation. If you survive, you’ll have a story to tell. They share an essential unfairness of spirit, as they hit hard and seem determined to cause the maximum amount of damage. Tornadoes in particular seem driven to show you how erratic and cruel they can be: they’ll toss cars through the sky, skip over random houses, and cause power outages and floods when you have no safe place to go. An image from a film shown in elementary school sticks with me: a blade of straw driven into a telephone pole by gale force winds, sticking out boldly as a nail.

straw

The expert analysis of home movie footage from Xenia, shot by some very brave souls with Super 8s, led to the debunking of several tornado-related myths. I remember when our teachers used to tell us to open the windows to help equalize the pressure in the house and potentially reduce the damage. Nowadays the convention wisdom is that the tornado’s winds are going to blow out all the windows anyway, so you would be better off to spend your time taking shelter. But not in the southwest corner of the basement! The next advice was to get under a mattress in the bathtub. I think that these days they just want you to get to the lowest part of the house, away from windows, and if possible under something heavy that probably won’t break. And of course neighborhoods now install and test tornado sirens that will give you an extra minute or two to get to that safe place.

Weather Radio

“Weather station KIG86, broadcasting on a frequency of 162.55 megahertz from the National Weather Service office in Columbus, Ohio.”

Many years later, when I was in graduate school, I wrote an essay titled “Tornado Nights” about the time my family spent taking shelter from potentially dangerous weather. I don’t remember feeling scared; I looked back upon those nights as a time of closeness and security, even if that security was just an illusion my parents felt compelled to provide. (Perhaps I felt a bit too secure; that same year I was playing tennis with friends in some questionable weather when my college roommate uttered the immortal words, “I don’t know about y’all, but where I come from, when the sky turns green we go inside.”)

Time passed; now I was the parent and it was my turn to change scary times into fun times, defusing anxiety with stuffed animals, blankies, video games, and light chatter. And next they became old enough and big enough to bring their own supplies as well as treats to calm a nervous dog who isn’t sure why he’s suddenly being led into the cellar. Now we’re scattered in different locations more often then not, keeping an eye on the sky when the sirens sound, hoping for the winds to pass us by.

Published in: on February 26, 2018 at 11:19 pm  Leave a Comment  

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?”)

How_to_Read

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.

No_Pat_No

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.

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.

20140520_184329

I finished Citron.

20150111_100545

I finished Traveling Woman.

Travelling Woman

I finished a pair of socks.

FB_IMG_13952352636605826

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.

20150111_180344

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

home-library-shelves-11

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

no-advertising

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

???????????????????????????????????????

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

no_eating_fudge_lg

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

Rush_HYF_Crop-300x143

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?

WaitingForTheLight

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.

The_Young_Cicero_Reading

Thank you for commenting.

Comment

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

thursday

Thank you for sharing the link to my blog.

sharing-guinea-pigs

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

facebook-like-300x168

Thank you for responding to my surveys and questions.

survey

Thank you for following my news feed.

extra-extra

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

nsfnet_map

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

new-years-resolutions

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

New-blog-post-600x318

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.

gothic-sonnet_devouring-tim

Thank you for scrolling down.

scroll_down_good_stuff

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

End of Internet

Thank you for coming back.

Come-Back-Soon

Thank you for sharing your feedback.

His_Masters_Voice1

Thank you for encouraging me.

cpewencouragement002

Thank you, on Thanksgiving Day and every day.

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