Drowning in a Sea of Books

Dear dedicated readership of maybe 10 people:
Please know that I may be a bit scarce. This quarter at school is trying to kill me with reading. Trying.
I’m not complaining. I love being back in school, and I love to read, and I love to learn, so doing all three simultaneously is my definition of a good time. Well, one of them. All of my classes this quarter require a lot of reading, and learning to read, write, and speak another language is particularly time-consuming. I am grade-motivated and protective of my GPA, notwithstanding the fact that Sadistics…er, Statistics…tried to tank it.

Photo by austinevan on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons license.
In fact, my only real complaint is that I was unable to finish I, Claudius. I tried, but Graves’ fiction is quite academic, a bit ponderous and lacking in dialogue compared to bestseller fluff. After two weeks I hadn’t even made it to Caligula’s assassination, and the machinations of Imperial Rome were interfering with my absorption of the finer points of the Greco-Persian Wars. Perhaps I’ll give it another shot during the summer break.
Still, I may surprise you. An idea may take hold of me and not let me sleep, or I may be unable to sleep and end up scribbling something out. It’s happened before.

Back to Attic tragedy…


A Lost Art

I have recently regained something I hadn’t known I’d lost.
When I was 11 and my family moved halfway across the country, I would spend hours sprawled on my bed, writing letters to the friends I’d left behind. Throughout high school, if I was staying at my grandparents’ for the summer or if other friends were gone, I wrote letters. On one of those occasions, I asked my grandpa for an envelope and a stamp. He said, “Sure, whatcha got?” and frowned the tiniest frown when I held out the letter to my very bestest friend ever, scrawl-covered, scraggly-edged paper torn from a spiral notebook. Grandpa mailed my letter for me without further comment. But when I got back to the house the next day, arrayed on my bed were three different boxes of pretty writing paper, matching envelopes, and an elegant pen. “A lady,” Grandpa said, “writes her correspondence on proper stationery.” I never forgot that. I still have the pen.
I never forgot it, but it got left behind. I drifted away from all of those friends. My letter writing was confined to one or two hastily written pages (on proper lined writing paper, you can be sure, Grandpa) tucked inside annual Christmas cards. With the advent of the computer that annual letter became a Dear Everybody newsletter, typed in a festive font and printed off on elf-decorated copy stock.
Eventually, during one of my many moves, I got tired of lugging around the various boxes of stationery and notecards I’d collected over the years, never used now, and donated them somewhere.
If I had to hand-write a letter now, all I’d have on hand is a spiral notebook.
Even more than stationery was lost; also lost was the art of writing the letter itself. Technology is wonderful, but it buries things, too. As I was getting ready to sign and send Christmas cards recently, I realized that I had nothing to say, not really, even in a short note on the blank side of the card itself. With Facebook and texting and blogging and Tweeting and other things I’ve never heard of, all the people we are connected to know what’s going on with us already. It might be that they know too much. Would I include in a letter that I enjoyed a raspberry tart at a French bakery yesterday? Possibly; it’s a snapshot of life some recipients might enjoy. But thanks to social media, everyone already knows it, and they probably saw a picture of it too.

On the other hand, how much would most of the people I connect with through social media really want to read a lengthy letter? Our lives are not what they were, walking to the mailbox, spying familiar handwriting while sorting through the envelopes, sitting on the porch to savor the news. All of this technology was supposed to have made our lives easier. It may have, but it’s made them busier too. Between emails and texts and faxes and junk mail and tweets and telemarketers and Facebook statuses and spam and all the other noise of modern life, who has time to sit and read a letter anymore? Or to write one?

It’s a lost art.

I might never have seen this but for the gift of recently establishing a correspondence with my birthmother. It has been a joy to connect with a stranger whose heartbeat I once shared. Writing a letter is one of the things she is very good at, and I have had the additional happiness of rediscovering what smiles are borne from both writing and receiving a good old-fashioned letter. Kathleen and I are not connected online; we are not as in-your-face as the rest of life is in the cypersphere. I smile and take my time with each letter, picking and choosing what parts of myself to share this time, finding the perfect words to paint a picture of myself and my life. Her words, on the hand, strike me as effortless, but she has always been rather mythical to me. Reading her words to me brings the same beauty slowly revealed, like the unfurling petals of a spring flower. Effortless or not, it means so much. Both the sending and receiving are things to take slowly and savor.

But that’s only one of the best parts. I’d forgotten the mundane pleasure of walking to the post office and choosing a postage stamp I like. I used to be picky about my stamps; they had to have a design I thought was attractive and meaningful. It was even better if I could find one that somehow matched the stationery I’d painstakingly picked out, because I certainly couldn’t write to the same person on the same letter paper twice. It’s like wearing the same dress to two proms – it is Simply Not Done. What with being able to do everything online, from paying bills to licensing my dog, I hadn’t bought a stamp since they cost a quarter. I think. It’s been quite some time. I’d forgotten the irrevocability of dropping the letter in the post box. I’d forgotten how I like picturing my letter shuffling and sliding among hundreds and thousands of others, from mail bin to sorting machine to transport bin to loading dock to sorting machine to postal carrier to the waiting hands of the one person on the planet it’s meant for. And in the back of my mind as I make my way through my days is the promise of a reply making its magical way back to me. The anticipation!

The silly things I fill my mind with.

But I’m not alone. Perhaps it’s even genetic. Kathleen tells me that letters are her favored form of communication, and she keeps the ones she receives tied in ribbon. The thought of someone keeping the me I share, safely tied inside a silky bow, almost makes me want to swoon.
I will keep her letters to me bound in ribbon too, as soon as I go pick some out. Nobody keeps ribbon on hand anymore, either.

Photo credit, in order of appearance:
Letters in Ribbon: Karen Cox, Flickr/ Creative Commons License
Fountain pen: Power of Words by Antonio Littorio, Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike Unported License

Happy Things #3

Another post about random things that make my days good things to be in. I’m looking forward to having so many of these posts I lose track of the installment numbers.

1. Hats.

United States Public Domain.

I could totally rock this look. Perhaps not as well as Garbo, but I could rock it. I would have loved living in these times, just for the hats.

2. The Tominator.

A few weeks ago I said to him, “You know, I believe I could commit cold-blooded murder and you would be steadfastly convinced I had a damned good reason.” His reply: “Yep.” There are no words for that kind of unconditional love and backing. And, he thinks I look amazing in hats.

3. Grinching.

I bitch about various aspects of the holiday season, including the commercialism (“Christmas, it seems, doesn’t come from a store”), the supposed “War on Christmas” (honestly…why can’t everybody just let everybody celebrate how and what they want to?), and holiday homesickness, but it’s all good. I spent an hour listening to The Lost Christmas Eve by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra and wrapping presents and enjoying my pretty little improv tree. and everything was all better. Christmas is Christmas no matter where you are and what you have, as long as you keep your heart open.

4. Rhinos.

Many years ago, someone gave me a stuffed rhino as a gag gift, the story behind which is salacious and not suitable for sharing as it could be used against me. Someone else gave me another, and then I got another, and then people began thinking I collected rhinos, so that it became a self-fulfilling prophecy. It felt more like rhinos were collecting me. This is how totem animals announce themselves, and Rhino has much to teach me. At last count, I have over 125 rhinos, from stuffed to carved to ceramic to key rings to Hot Wheels rhinos to wind-up toys to…you name it. I have not purchased a single one of them; they were all gifts. They’re all my favorite but this is one of my favorite favorites, a Christmas gift past from one of the best bosses in the world.

5. Maps.

Maybe I should have been a cartographer. I can entertain myself for hours with a road atlas, a globe, or just a street map of a strange city. I roll the names of cities and avenues off my tongue. I daydream about getting there and being there. Maps are groovy.

Used under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

East Side Story

The Tominator and Dream Girl and I crossed Lake Washington to Bellevue to catch the Snowflake Lane celebration. I’ve heard people say it’s the best in the country, and I can see why.

The streets and the performers are dressed to the nines. Happy holiday music plays and live toy soldiers keep the beat.

The Wintergarden has a huge, breathtaking tree.

At 7 p.m., more soldiers block the street off to make way for the Jingle Belles dancers. It’s infectious; the crowd is dancing and laughing while snowflakes glow and the snow machine fills the air. One of the things we learned is to get there early so you can get a good spot; otherwise it’s as futile as watching a parade when you’re short. Sorry; no pictures of the dancers.

We also learned that eating is a good thing to do early. When we were there, the wait was two hours at each of the restaurants we checked. You won’t go hungry, though; there are street vendors and walking a few blocks we found Subway, pizza and noodle places, a Thai restaurant.

The show is free, and so is parking in three different garages just for the occasion. Dress warmly. Baby, it’s cold outside. Afterward we warmed up with peppermint coffee and hot chocolate and freshly baked pie.

Happy Holidays!

Photo credit:
The Tominator, Dream Girl and I are my pics.
All others appear courtesy of Kathleen Leavitt Cragun, used under Creative Commons license.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…new style.

Westlake Square

Since Thanksgiving I’ve enjoyed watching lights and decorations go up around the city. Since things have calmed down after finals week I’ve wanted to write a holiday post. I sat down with the intention of writing a happy Christmas post but honestly – I’m having a hard time doing it. I don’t want to be a Debbie Downer, but I don’t want to force feelings I don’t have, either.

Things were supposed to be a lot different after moving to Seattle. I expected the first year to be a little rough and unsettled. I expected that the first year celebrating the holidays away from home would be strange. I was right on both counts, but I’d also expected that by this time, our second Christmas in the Pacific Northwest, I’d be settled into my new job, making good money, debts paid off. I’d expected we would have moved up from a small apartment into another house, with room to spread out, and would have been able to return to Nevada to get the rest of our belongings out of storage. I’d expected that the Tominator would be feeling great, that we’d have established some new holiday traditions for ourselves, that Dream Girl would have found her niche.

Sparkly morning sidewalk.

The first year was not just rough; it was hell. The job I moved up here to take was nothing short of horror and my life has swerved into a direction I’d never seen coming. I’m still in a small apartment. Most of our possessions are still stored in Nevada, including all of the Christmas things I’ve amassed over the years – the tree ornaments with accompanying memories, the special advent calendar, the handmade stockings. We have not, in fact, been able to spend Christmas Eve in a cabin on Mt. Rainier, warming up with hot cocoa after a rousing snowball fight. I haven’t seen my mom and sibs in almost two years and it’s been almost a year since I’ve hugged Monster. I never knew how awful homesickness can be. Girl Scout camp did not prepare me for this.

It is so easy, right now, to miss my old life. My House, with all of My Stuff. The smell of my sister’s house when we arrived to exchange gifts and eat the best dinner ever – and the holiday rolls! Hugs from Mom, that aren’t like any other hugs in the world. My brother, my nieces, Ordinarily Megan, all the rest. Monster laughing at me getting tipsy on Christmas wine. The dusting of snow on the ground, maybe. If it felt like it. The party at my last job there, with people I’d come to think of as family.
But there’s always a flipside. Don’t forget the flipside. How many times have I loved the B side? How cool is Janus?
We have had to downsize our giving drastically, limiting gifts to one apiece from each of us to the others. It takes a lot more thought and effort and a lot less money that way, and the gifts are actually better. We make a trip downtown to do our minimal shopping together, enjoying the lights and the scrumptious store window displays, stopping for a hot drink and a sweet treat. I think this year we may check out Snowflake Lane in Bellevue, with its ice skaters and live toy soldiers. Even if the Tominator does win the sweepstakes, I don’t think we’ll ever get back on the silly spending merry-go-round.
Dream Girl is indeed finding a niche. She loves her school, she has made some good friends, connected with a local live theater, and been trained as a barista. I am given to understand that being trained as a barista in Seattle is like graduating from the Ivy League of coffee schools. My little bundle of eccentricity is flourishing.
The Great Recession pushed me into something I’ve been wanting to do for decades – earn my college degree. Seattle’s schools are stellar. I am learning fascinating things (even Sadistics…er, Statistics), and I’d forgotten how much I love the academic atmosphere. I will be sitting pretty for a rewarding new career when I’m done.
And there is the Tominator, my Prince Charming. In the sea-level altitude and mild coastal temperatures, he can move around largely without pain, and he can breathe. Breathing simply cannot be overrated. It’s wonderful to see him feeling better than he has in years. His happiness while stringing colored lights around our balcony is infectious.
I can look out my window and see Yule trees, all year round, alive with birds and squirrels. Holiday lights in the Big City are spectacular. I have a fireplace for hanging stockings and enjoying hot cider.

But still.

When I was a little girl we would all gather around the upright grand piano. My mom would play and my dad would sing, and he sounded exactly like Perry Como. This one was his favorite, and mine too:

I’m feeling better now, but I won’t stop missing people. Keep the memories coming. With the Solstice comes the return of the Sun and a lightness to carry us out of this winter hibernation.

Merry Yule, Blessed Bodhi Day, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Joyous Kwanzaa, — and Happy Newtonmas (or just “enjoy winter!”) for the atheists!

A thousand words are worth a picture.

I’ve been a blogger for a few months now.

I love it.

Of course, I’ve gotten sidetracked, as usual. I am the Queen of Digression. I’ve not gotten too far with one of the projects for which I originally started this blog, which was for pieces I did for Open, Sesame, a website and learning program for Goddess and Earth-based spirituality. But I’ve started on it, and I can’t do it all at once, even if I wanted to, which I don’t, so it’s all good. I’ve finished The Sun, and Quartz is about ready, so you’ll start seeing some things on the Big Rocks (our solar system) and Small Rocks (just rocks) pages pretty soon.
Decades ago when I was a senior in high school, a creative writing teacher gave me an F on a short story because she just didn’t like it. I protested to the school counselor, an awesome guy who had always had my rebellious, misfit little back, who got my back again and pleaded my case with the teacher. Just because you don’t like the story doesn’t mean it’s not well-written, he argued. The teacher grudgingly gave me the A the counselor insisted I deserved, probably to shut us both up. I accepted my A and promptly dropped the class, which gave me an extra hour or two every day to smoke dope and sleep and hang out with my equally delinquent boyfriend, so I considered it a good trade. For years after that I entertained fantasies of mailing that teacher an autographed copy of my Pulitzer Prize-winning book, but I didn’t write much. I made the mistake of letting one person’s opinion matter.
A few years after that a different writing teacher who was a pleasure to learn from told me that if you want to be a writer, just be one. Just write. That’s what writers do. Of course being a professional writer is a whole nother story; it’s tough to find people who want to give you money for what you write. But if you don’t sweat that part, if you want to be a writer, then just be one already. It only took me, oh, 25 years to take that piece of advice. I made the mistake of waiting to be perfect.
I had read interviews with successful authors who laughed about their large collections of rejection notices. I decided that no proper writer didn’t have such a collection, and proceeded to start a collection of my own. I also read that many of them drank rather a lot (you’re my hero, Papa Hemingway), and accordingly started drinking when I wrote. But wine didn’t help* and I let the rejection slips get to me. I made the mistake of believing those rejections meant I wrote badly.
Then one of my husbands (it’s not like I collect them, there have only been three, and I can’t believe I just said that) read what I had asked him not to, part of a short story collection I was working on. He saw a romantic scene I had written and jumped to the conclusion that I was having an affair. That led to a nuclear fight that very nearly ended the marriage right then. With the exception of academic or technical pieces written for school or work, for the next 25 years I refused to show a word of what I wrote to anyone. I made the mistake of letting myself be stifled.
Time goes by. You learn a thing or two about how life works, and get the first glimmering that you still know nothing. You get more comfortable with yourself, and you stop giving a rat’s fanny what other people think, and you realize that, generally speaking, you can do anything you want to if you’re willing to just do it. I also learned that can be the hard part.
Now I’m letting myself be imperfect. I don’t care about collections, I don’t care about F’s and I don’t care if you like me. I mean, I would like it if you like me, but it’s not the end of my world if you don’t. I’ve unstifled myself.
For the first time since I was a teenager, I carry a little notebook around with me again, to keep those sudden flashes from disappearing. If I’m ever hit by a bus, anyone who reads what’s scribbled in that notebook will think I escaped from the asylum.
I have discovered that it’s fun to write about whatever I want to write about and not about what I think might please other people, or at least not offend. I do want to entertain people, or make them think, but that’s not necessary. I might have a regular readership of 10 people, including my mom, and if it never grows, I’m cool with that. The important thing is that I’m writing. And as far as being nice goes, Anne LaMott put it succinctly: “If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”
I have discovered that making a conscious decision to write about life as I move through it invites me to see the world very differently from what I’m used to. It’s fun to rant about the peeves, but I’ve also been given a great many moments to pause when I see the beauty all around, for which I haven’t even found words yet. I suspect there may be no words, at least not that I’m capable of finding. I didn’t anticipate that and if that’s what writing does, I’m grateful. And while I make no claims to any skill as a photographer, I’ve discovered it’s fun to carry a camera to try to capture both the beauty and ugliness that move me as I go through my day. It’s intriguing how often I capture an image that just happens to go with something I’m writing. I love synchronicity.
I also see that I have a stride to hit that I haven’t yet. I’m pinballing around from one thing to another, looking for my voice. I’ve learned that voice is something no writer just has; it must be discovered and developed. I’m glad I’ve finally started on that.
I entered the text from this blog so far into the generator thingie at Wordle, to see what kind of picture my words make:

I like it. I’m looking forward to seeing how it evolves and expands.

Thank you for being with me so far. I hope you’ll stay. I also hope you’ll let me know what you like on this site, so I can try to produce more of it.

*Except that a glass of Chilean red is helping right now. And I still have my collection of rejection notices to fall back on.

My Deserted Island: Books

And coconuts!

This is also a Lucky Thirteen. I can’t be expected to stop at ten books. Nuh-uh.

Dream Girl says I need to worry about survival and getting the hell home. Well, sure, but I need something to do in between fighting off wild boars and building tonight’s signal fire. Here’s what would just happen to be tucked in my rucksack:

1. Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, by Anne Tyler. This isn’t the Tyler book that won the Pulitzer, but it’s my favorite. Tyler has a gift for nailing those tricky little gotchas that make love so slippery and bittersweet. Her gift for colloquialism makes her characters so real I want to track down their Facebook pages and find out how things worked out after the book ended. This is my go-to comfort book. I’ve read it so many times I almost have it memorized.
2. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams. My version is an omnibus volume that has the trilogy plus a short story about Zaphod. Since it’s one volume, it counts as one book. “I never could get the hang of Thursdays.” Hilarious, and deeper than it seems at first blush.
3. Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, by Tom Robbins. This is a cult classic and a bit weird in parts, but one of my favorite literary moments ever is the argument between the two psychiatrists, known as the Shootout at the I’m OK, You’re OK Corral.
4. A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeline L’Engle. This book was my childhood introduction to quantum physics and to magic (which are largely the same thing). I love Mrs. Who, Mrs. Which, and Mrs. Whatsit, and Charles Wallace remains the only literary wunderkind I don’t find insufferable.
5. Does a series count as a single book? Because if not, I’ve exceeded my limit with The Wheel of Time. Robert Jordan’s world is intricate and complete and very real. My words cannot do justice to these books, which are a must-read for any fan of fantasy.
6. The Book of Ash, by Mary Gentle. Again, I count these 4 volumes as one, because they do not stand alone. This series has it all: a 15th century female mercenary army commander, the Burgundian empire, modern archaeology, golems, a Visigoth Carthage, quantum mechanics, altering history, a love story. A blend of Jeanne d’Arc and Boadicea, Ash takes names and kicks ass but is still very human in her yearning for love and roots. Ash could be my best friend.
7. The Handmaid’s Tale is Margaret Atwood’s frightening contribution to the dystopian genre. This take on what an oppressive right-wing regime would do to women is particularly chilling because I can see it actually happening.
8. The Prophet, by Kahlil Gibran. Not necessarily my favorite poet, because there are too many to choose from, but Gibran fills my need for poetry and spirituality. Beautiful.
9. Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson. This whopper clocks in at almost 1,000 pages and it never lets up. It remains the best historical, cryptanalytical, technological, mathematical, strategic, nerd-heaven, looking-for-buried-treasure book ever.

10. The Glob, by John O’Reilly and Walt Kelly, creator of the comic strip Pogo. This is a battered old volume my grandmother used to read to me, an entertaining tale of mankind’s move from the primordial ooze. I can’t speak as to literary or monetary value, but the sentimental value of this book is without measure.

11. Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein. I’m not a big fan of science fiction but I’m a big fan of this book. Its principles are almost druidic.
12. Lord of the Rings. The all-time frontrunner of fantasy fiction. My terrible grades in junior high and high school math are Tolkien’s fault, since I spent most of those classes sneak-reading these books, wielding a sword like Eowyn and planning my wedding to Aragorn. (I know that’s not how it works out. I don’t care.)
13. The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley. A wonderful rendition of the King Arthur legend, told from the viewpoints of the women: Gwenhwyfar, Igraine, Morgause, the Lady of the Lake, and the infamous Morgaine le Fey. A rich, thick magical read to lose yourself in for days.
What Ajah would you pick?