Tag Archives: Books

It’s been a year + …

… since I’ve posted a blog. My silence due to a combination of overwhelm logistically, personally, professionally, with a dollop of self-doubt on all fronts.

My last post, about being kind to ourselves and giving ourselves permission to disengage from situations and individuals that damage us, received an ugly anonymous response (I don’t allow anonymous and/or hate-full comments). Since then, I’ve heard that some experience my reflections about my difficult experiences as “white woman tears” and thus not worth considering.

And I bought into that. I thought: I’m a person of privileged social, economic and educational class. I don’t really suffer. I don’t have anything to offer to the unfolding bedlam. I put my head down, finished my MFA, quit blogging here, and prioritized family and personal matters.

That withdrawal put me back in a headset that I’ll call “juvenile,” reflecting that stage of development when we have inklings of our gifts, but not much mastery over them, or power in the world.

Reading Women

As when I was an actual juvenile, chronologically, I’ve spent a lot of this withdrawal reading. Muriel Spark and Zora Neale Hurston and Mavis Gallant; Deborah Levy and Penelope Fitzgerald and Zadie Smith. All writers who happened to be women, all writing despite bedlam of various degrees, all writers who tell Truth and truth.

I’ve been reminded by their Truth and truth that it’s not what others think that’s important, it’s the showing-up-and-writing that’s important. Maybe my stories will be meaningful, maybe they won’t; maybe they’ll be beautiful, maybe they won’t. But it’s not for me to say: it’s for me to write and publish.

Why have I needed to go through this cycle of self-doubt and -awareness, again? I don’t know. I wish it didn’t suck up so much of my time. But it has, and so far as I can tell, there’s nothing to be gained by lamenting what has been.

So I’m taking my own advice and sitting down and writing. Trusting the stories will show up if I do. Remembering these words from Alexandra Stoddard (note hole at the top: I’ve pinned this card to many bulletin boards in front of many writing desks):

Slow down calm down

May it be so.

Rome is burning.

Warning: a bit of a rant follows.

Do you have a Big Kroger Store in your neighborhood yet? These massive 100K+ square foot stores boast about the hundreds of thousands of items they contain. They post their mission statements, which invariably refer to “providing a pleasant shopping experience.” They forget they are a grocery store. People come for food. If customers need an alphabetized index to find eggs and milk, the store is too big.  But wait! On aforementioned index in the last Big Kroger’s I visited (in Lexington, KY), milk and eggs aren’t listed. There’s “dairy” and that area of the store has both milk and eggs. Yet last I checked an egg is essentially an unfertilized embryo and not, uh, dairy. These stores are like a Work of Art that requires an interpretative talk. Does it touch my heart? Yes? Then it’s Art. No? Then it’s an academic pursuit. Can I find what I need for supper in 5 minutes or less? Yes? Then it’s a grocery store. No? Then it’s another reason to re-up my membership at the human-scale co-op. I don’t want to study an index when I go grocery shopping. I want to load my cart with the necessities* and get the hell out of there as fast as possible.

Not on this board: Eggs. Milk. Flour.

Not listed on this grocery-store index: Eggs. Milk.

If the store is so large as to require a PhD in index-reading, the employees need to be paid Top Dollar so they can provide topnotch directions to the confused shoppers. Do not confuse topnotch direction-giving employees with topnotch costumed employees: putting an employee in a rabbit outfit and having them drive around the store in a golf cart decorated as an Easter basket, the day before Easter, saying hullo to the confused shoppers, is not topnotch customer service.  It’s an attempt to distract shoppers from their mounting frustration at having to walk a mile for bread and milk (located at opposite ends of the store). I put this type of distraction alongside the gorgeously designed book covers that hide their texts’ sloppy writing, worse editing, and sagging plots.



However, thousands of badly-written, badly-edited gorgeous-cover books are published every year, and huge Kroger’s are popping up in cities across the mid-south region, so somebody’s buying. (“We have met the enemy, and he is us.”) Depending on my mood on a given day, I experience our apparent willingness to be distracted by rabbit-dressed employees and glossy covers as symbolic, as ironic, as disheartening, as hilarious. On my worst days, I believe we are burning like Rome burned, and fiddling around on our screens like Nero fiddled on his violin.

Silver lining: there is a novel or twenty to be had by observing the fuel of our flames.

And so my wish for you, dear writer friend, is that the sublimely ridiculous may inspire you today.

* condoms used to be a necessity for me, but (thankfully) Engineer Hubby and I have eliminated the possibility of more kids. That said, part of the reason, IMO, that we are burning is that there are, simply, too many of us. We suffer from our species’ reproductive success. And *that* said, wouldn’t it make sense for us to support, nay, encourage!, those among us who don’t want kids?

Making it difficult to not contribute to the problem of overpopulation. Again, really?

Making it difficult to avoid contributing to the problem of overpopulation. Again, really?

But at this Kroger’s the condoms are LOCKED UP like they’re ammunition or prescription drugs. Again, really? If I were running the store, I would not only leave these unlocked, I’d place them beside the door. Perhaps with a little sign: “Donations accepted but not required.” Really. Because by the time shoppers get home from hiking through this store, they’re gonna need a foot rub from their partners, and that can lead to, y’know, mashing the potatoes … ah! If only tubers were included on the index.

“I am betting on Art.”

English: Bars in Sanok

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I drank down all of Kate Atkinson‘s Life After Life Monday night, so absorbed I didn’t notice the clock had ticked well past my day’s usual closing time. I paid the next day with a condition Engineer Hubby has dubbed “book hangover.” An achy, tetchy state of being that’s unpleasant for innocent bystanders but that provides the sufferer with an itch for some hair of the dog, as it were — a reminder of the joyful abandon I experience when I sit for an entire evening at a novel’s long, elegant bar, sipping whiskey tumblers full of fine prose and excellent plotting.

I treated my hangover with shorter essay-reading, and refer you here to what cured my headache (or, at least, helped me forget about it): Paige Williams’ article in the August 12 & 19 (2013) issue of The New Yorker, about Bill Arnett, a “seventy-four year old white man” who’s a curator-collector of “the world’s most comprehensive collection of art made by untrained black Southerners.” It costs $ to read the whole thing from the New Yorker website, here, but it’s worth perusing if you have the interest and some $ to spare.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Arnett is a controversial figure and like many controversial figures, he’s writing a memoir. The last lines of the article cite his words:

It is my nervous and trembling, but history-based and always optimistic, prediction that great culture will outlast corrupt bureaucrats and their heavy-handed abuses of power, and the greed-driven, callous and destructive tactics of bloodless profiteers. So, metaphorically speaking, I am betting on Art.

Coincidence that all my (grasping?) analogies have to do with drinking and gambling? I don’t think so: you have to be slightly inebriated with a love of the world to try to sit down and share that passion with others via words. The whole undertaking is a crapshoot.

Rapid Riffle Shuffle in a Poker Game

(Photo credit: Todd Klassy)

Down your tequila, draw your cards, go all in: set your butt down at the bar, write like it’s five minutes ’til closing time and you hold all the aces.

I think I might be snob …

Description= Cover page of the Book Snob à l'e...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

… but in a good way, an inclusive way, not a “members only” way. This first occurred to me when engineer hubby and I were given a list of books our reading-above-grade-level son “should” read, and I looked at the list — great books! all of them! Charlotte’s Web (nice essay about this classic in Sunday’s NYT Book Review), the Narnia series, Roald Dahl galore — and I thought, *every* kid should read these books, or have these books read to them. EVERYONE benefits from stories.

I also believe everyone benefits from a touch of beauty every day — a single tulip in a mason jar is enough, or if tulips are scarce, snip a pretty yellow dandelion — and even before the beauty, everyone benefits from nutritious food and a safe place to sleep and enough clothing and work that satisfies them … and, and, and.

Yet we are so veryveryvery busy making sure we have all the proverbial books on our proverbial “should” list we often neglect to invest the up-front time in the habits and practices that will sustain the beauty, the neighborhoods where we’d want to sleep, the skill to darn the holes in our favorite socks, etcetera.

This is a picture of a purple iris flower in d...

Photo credit: Wikipedia

This struck me as I walked up the steps to my son’s public middle school — currently in an older building in the next town over since the high school’s gym roof collapse necessitated a shuffling of the student body. Beside the steps up to the main building, a clutch of irises are blooming their indigo heads off. Not one or two tall straggling pedigreed snooty patooty flowers but good old fashioned your-gramma-had-’em-in-her-backyard irises, enough of them that it’s obvious to even this amateur gardener that they’ve been there for years. Decades, most likely.

Carved stone letters of this school are set into the steps. Obviously cut by hand and painstakingly placed, I know not how, into the cement.

When was the last time you saw a new building go up with a handsome, solid sign? Or with timeless plantings rather than fast-growing shrubs? I don’t know that I ever have. The faux stone accent walls in one of our town’s Recent Big Developments, mostly vacant since its completion at the start of the recession, are crumbling already, bits falling off. It’s four years old.

Makeup collection.

I have no time for make up! Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I understand the desire to get it done faster and sooner.  If I didn’t spend twenty minutes looking up synonyms and origins for verbs like “sit”, I mutter while scurrying through the grocery store, I wouldn’t be late for every bleepin’ thing! I would have time to put on makeup so I could look good while I was pondering etymology -a word I still have to double check to make sure it’s not the one that means “study of bugs.”

Those are both probably true statements, but like the decades-old irises, the stories that have insisted on blooming year after year through various drafts, revisions and edits, provide sustained and sustaining beauty. It’s not so easily evident as a flower, and of course writers have to share their work for the beauty to be evident but when a colleague reveals that your story has brought tears to her eyes, or an acquaintance gifts you with a free coffee for the “interesting ideas” in your essays — those are evidence of the blossoms, sure as a literal flower.

As importantly, when the words a writer has labored over opens another person to a willingness to share their vulnerabilities, we deepen ourselves and our communities. How else do we move beyond our surfaces but through shared acknowledgement and recognition of our shared secret struggles? These openings can become the touchstones upon which our lives rest. The gifts of attention and honor we give each other by learning how to say what we mean in our hearts, and to listen to others heart-hopes — our willingness to share and receive secret struggles — these are the flowers of effort. And they can blossom for decades if we only bother to put them carefully in the earth and tend them.

me and my friend Denise ... from years ago

What else do we have, but each other?