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Day P: Papillon in Paris #AtoZChallenge

This afternoon I was in a panic because it’s Day Q and I didn’t know what Q stands for. I was desperate enough to google “words starting with Q.” But halfway through the list, it occurred to me that yesterday my word was obstinate, which makes today Day P. And I was so relieved, because I had a word ready.

If I hadn’t fallen asleep in the recliner, my post would have been online hours ago. But heaven forfend that I should miss out on the Great Race Against Time.

Anyway–sixteen years ago, after I learned I’m descended from Clan MacLean of Duart, I just had to see our castle, so David and I flew to London, then drove to Oban, Scotland and the Isle of Mull–and then we drove down to Lorna Doone country and and saw Robber’s Bridge, and left a bit of paint the same color as the lime green Peugeot we were driving–the bridge is narrow, not much wider than the car, and, preparing to cross, David said, “Is there enough room over there?” and wanting to be agreeable, I said, “Yes,” and I was wrong.

Robber’s Bridge By Maedin Tureaud [CC BY-SA 3.0 ], from Wikimedia Commons
On our way back to London, we spent one night at a B&B that had photographs, prints, paintings, and figurines of cats all over the place, and live cats in whatever space was left over. She said, “The kitties just keep coming, and what is one to do?”

The next night we stayed in a catless B&B thirty miles south of London. David spent the whole evening mapping out a route to Waterloo Station that ensured he wouldn’t have to make any right turns. Getting out of Waterloo Station on our arrival had been exhilarating, and we knew if we had that much excitement on the way back, we might end up in Scotland again and miss the Chunnel to Paris. Or we might get stuck in traffic around the Marble Arch, another experience we didn’t care to repeat. (I didn’t know a round-about could have so many lanes.)

But we got to the train on time and all was well until we got off the train in Paris and I saw that every sign was in French.

I posted about our first two days there–“Getting There” and “Starving and Art”–several years ago but didn’t get around to writing about the second night, which I think of as “Papillon in Paris.”

~~~

After dinner that night, we walked the short block to the hotel and then back to sit outside the cafe across from where we’d had dinner. David ordered two scoops of chocolate ice cream for me. When the waitress left, he confided that he might have ordered two soccer balls. But she brought ice cream.

Later we took a walk. We passed an empty building with a old sign out front that said “Moulin Rouge.” (It didn’t resemble the one that inspired the movie.)

We walked past a long line of knotheads waiting to get the counter at McDonald’s. (A travesty.)

We walked and walked, and when we were ready to go back to the hotel, we discovered we didn’t know how to get there. We’d paid attention, walked around a just two or three blocks. We couldn’t be lost  . . . Then an epiphany:

Paris blocks are not rectangular. 

We were lost.

So we started walking again. And walking. And walking. And, it seemed, compounding our error. Finally we stopped at a sidewalk cafe and asked a couple sitting there for directions. The woman stood and gave us detailed instructions complete with arm waving. David’s French and her English didn’t quite mesh, so he had to ask her to repeat several times. She patiently answered. What it boiled down to was that we must go to the Arc de Triomphe and at Rue Papillon, turn left.

We had seen the Arc de Triomphe that afternoon. It was miles from the hotel. David asked for clarification. She clarified–Arc de Triomphe, Rue Papillon, turn left.

The man was watching from his seat at the table. He looked like he was enjoying the drama. Suddenly he chimed in: “Right.”

Huh?

She repeated the instructions. “. . . and turn left.”

“Right.”

This was getting scary.

She said it one more time, paused, and asked, “You know papillon?”

David nodded and flapped his arms.

We thanked them and went on our way. We could hear the man laughing almost to the Arc de Triomphe, which was (thank goodness) a faux Arc not too far away. At Rue Papillon we turned left.

And soon we found Rue Cadet. We passed a store with a vase of purple irises in the window. I recognized them. They were the same irises I had admired three times that evening during our search for the hotel. The two lost lambs had passed the hotel three times.

So that is the story of Papillon in Paris. I wish my narrative could do it justice. But there’s no way I can adequately describe David’s impromptu imitation of a butterfly. Flap, flap, flap.

You just had to be there.

By the way, we finally figured out that the man wasn’t saying, “Right.” He was telling us to turn left at the light.

I guess we did.

Day O: Obstinate and Ohhhhhhhhhhhh! #AtoZChallenge

I just confessed to a friend that I’m obstinate, and I did it in an email, so I might as well make it the subject for Day O. I’m convinced all my secrets are available online anyway, so what the heck.

It happened in this wise:

I was seven, visiting my grandfather for a week in my hometown, my favorite place in the whole world because it was very small and safe and many of my father’s aunts and uncles, all of whom were over sixty, and some over eighty, lived there. I pity anyone who’s never had the privilege of sitting on a front porch on a hot summer day while old ladies play forty-two, or of sitting with old men on the bench in the shade of ligustrums outside the post office.

Eudora Welty describes what can happen there:

Eudora Welty,” by Anonymous (http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ds.07842) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
“Long before I wrote stories, I listened for stories. Listening for them is something more acute than listening to them. I suppose it’s an early form of participation in what goes on. Listening children know stories are there. When their elders sit and begin, children are just waiting and hoping for one to come out, like a mouse from its hole.”

My great-aunt’s front porch was the best place to listen, because those ladies told the most interesting stories. (This story, however, isn’t theirs; it’s mine.)

My grandfather, whom younger people, even those not related to him, called Dad or Uncle Frank, lived around the  corner from my great-aunt. His house faced the side street and his front porch wasn’t visible from hers, or even from her back windows, so I had a measure of privacy; female relatives so often think children need supervision. My grandfather assumed I could take care of myself. I appreciated that and didn’t take advantage.

One day a friend who’d been hunting, probably on my grandfather’s farm, brought Dad a rabbit he’d shot. Dad said we would have fried rabbit for supper. I was delighted. Fried rabbit was a delicacy.

That afternoon, I wandered over to my great-aunt’s front porch, where a group of ladies had congregated, and announced Dad and I were having rabbit for supper. That got their attention.

One of the aunts said, “You’re not going to eat that rabbit!”

This is where the word obstinate comes in.

I was going to eat that rabbit, and her statement–really an order–ensured I was definitely going to eat that rabbit.

And I ate it.

Twelve years later, thanks to a college anatomy and physiology course, I learned about tularemia and why I shouldn’t have eaten the rabbit, or even touched it or breathed around it.

It’s a wonder I’m still alive.

My only consolation is that if my aunt had told my grandfather not to eat the rabbit, he’d have gone ahead and eaten it, too.

Changing the subject–O is also for Ohhhhhhhhhhhhh! I remembered, for the nth time, that today is the deadline for submitting my chapter to my critique group, Austin Mystery Writers. It’s written, but I have to clean it up. Otherwise–another O word–my advisers won’t be able to see past the parts I already know are wrong.

As a pilon, I’ll add omnishambles, which means a situation, especially in politics, in which poor judgment results in disorder or chaos with potentially disastrous results.

According to Dictionary.com, and based on the Random House Dictionary (2018), the word was “first used in the BBC TV series The Thick of It, political satire,” in 2009. It’s chiefly British but, I assume, can refer to situations anywhere else in the world. Use it as you think fit.

***

In “The Making of A Writer: Listening the Dark,” excerpted from Eudora Welty’s memoir, One Writer’s Beginnings, Welty explains the connection between listening and her writing. It appears on The New York Times on the Web.

***

To read more Day O posts from Blogging A to Z, click AtoZ.

 

By Anonymous (http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ds.07842) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Day N: Now #AtoZChallenge

 

 

 

 

 

NOW

Friday Fictioneers, May 9, 2017. PHOTO PROMPT. © Roger Bultot

 

“The convention center? Well, go about six blocks, to where the old movie house used to be–the one that burned in ’87–What’d you say, Fred?”

“Now it’s condos. The Oaks.”

“Oh, that’s right. Well, just before the condos, turn left. When you get to where the Masonic lodge used to be, there’s a–What’s that, Fred?”

“It’s the Hyatt now–”

“All right, the Hyatt. Turn left again, and almost to where Milton Badey’s furniture store used to be–”

“The Omni.”

“Omni. One day they’ll knock down this diner and this’ll be where we used to be.”

***

This story was written for Friday Fictioneers. It first appeared on Telling the Truth, Mainly, on May 9, 2017.

To read more Day N posts, click AtoZ.

Day L: Literary Terms They Don’t Teach in English Class #AtoZChallenge

Have you ever made notes on a subject and later discovered you have no idea what they mean? It happens. It happened.

On Day I, I wrote about a book I’d seen at a bookstore earlier that day, Joshua Hammer’s book, The Bad-Ass Librarian of Timbuktu.

While at the store, I also made notes about a second book about libraries. Three days later, they look like runes, though not nearly so attractive or so organized.

So. I’ll wait till I’ve looked at the book again.

Fortunately, another L topic popped up this morning when I read a post recommended by Abbie Johnson Taylor, a Writing Wranglers and Warriors blogger: WORDWALK

Poet Alice Massa asks, “What Is the Name for a Group of Poets?” She answers the question in a poem–and if you read all the way to the end, you get more than just the answer.

I like the term she chose very much, but I wondered if there are alternatives.  So I went to the glossary of literary terms–several of them, in fact, since they’re all over the Internet–and came up with some possibilities:

  • a verse of poets
  • a rime of poets
  • an iamb of poets
  • a lyric of poets (although lyric is more suited to songwriters)
  • a scansion of poets
  • a prosody of poets

The search sparked a new question: What is the name for a group of mystery writers?

  • a plot of mystery writers
  • a conspiracy of mystery writers
  • a complication of mystery writers
  • a murder of mystery writers (perhaps to close to a murder of crows)
  • a grit of mystery writers
  • a cozy of mystery writers

And another question: What are the members of a critique group called?

This one is easy. Borrowing from an unkindness of ravens, I choose to call members of a critique group a kindness.

For more Day L posts, click here.

Day K: Kerfuffle #AtoZChallenge

For more Day K posts click here.

K is obviously for Kathy, a name at the heart of a lifelong kerfuffle.

The plan was to name me Katherine for my great-grandmother and to call me Kathy. But at the last minute, when the nurse came in and asked for the baby’s name so they could type up a birth certificate, my mother added Mary for my grandmother. Later she told my father what she’d done and he said that was fine with him. He liked his mother-in-law. My grandmother liked the name.

Mother later told me she’d wanted to spell Katherine with a C, but she was afraid her grandmother would say I wasn’t really named for her (the family was funny that way).

Thus was I denied the privilege of assuming the mantle of romanticism connected with hearing Heathcliff call across the moor, Catherine! Catherine! (I don’t think he did that in the book or the movie, but I have a good imagination.)

The precaution turned out to be unnecessary, because every time my great-grandmother, whom we called Grannygirl (that’s another story) wrote my name, she spelled it Catherine.

(I was glad I’d been spared her first name, Minna. She didn’t like it either and changed it to Minnie but later wished she hadn’t.)

My grandmother, Mary Veazey Barrow, front row 3rd from left (big hat); my great-grandmother, Minna Katherine Stagner Veazey, front row 5th from left.

Otherwise, my name was fine with me, too, as long as we stayed put. But when we moved and I had to enroll in a new school in the middle of second grade, the teacher said they already had a Kathy so I had to be Mary. I didn’t mind–it was just one more of the slings and arrows of being uprooted from my hometown and moving halfway across the universe*–but when I discovered the other Kathy was always called Kathleen, I thought the teacher’s reasoning was a little off.

The next September, I sat with twenty-something other third-graders and their mothers while the teacher called names from a stack of book cards. She got to Mary K. Waller; my mother marched me up and said she’s here, and she’s called Kathy; the teacher said, No this is Mary K-A-Y. I sat back down. Mary Kay didn’t appear. The teacher went through the no-shows and once again, Mary Kay didn’t appear. My mom said she thought that must be a clerical error–one person read the names, another person wrote them down?–and so I settled in as Kathy.

The next year, mothers didn’t hang around for the settling in–I suppose fourth graders were deemed able to fend for themselves–and when the teacher called Mary Waller? I let it slide. Later when my mother asked why, I said something like, “Meh.” Vicki, my best friend from third grade, called me Kathy; others who’d known me before took their pick.

Fast forward to college: Roommates said Kathy, but otherwise, I was Mary. Once I was Mark. The first time the philosophy professor called for Mark Waller, I said nothing, but when Mark didn’t answer the second time, I raised my hand and said in a small voice–one doesn’t want to accuse a prof of illiteracy on the first day of class–Mary? he rechecked the list and laughed. Since then, two more people have made the same error. Perfectly understandable: when you’re skimming, Mary K. resembles Mark.

I was a bit miffed, however, last Christmas Eve, when the young man at Best Buy told me he didn’t have my order. I said the computer said he did have it. He said he didn’t. I said would he check again. He pointed at his monitor and said there was only one Waller on the list.

I said, “Mark?”

He said, “Yes.”

I said, “Mary K.?”

He said, “Oh,” and forked over the box. I was as sweet about the situation as I could manage, considering it was Christmas Eve and I knew he’d  been extra busy; but, considering it was late afternoon on December 24th, and I’d started shopping on December 23rd, my store of sweetness was at low ebb. My words might have carried an undertone that said, Knothead.

My adult life has comprised a series of minor tangles with officialdom. Minor, because I’ve defaulted to Mary. Sometimes I forget. Last week, the nurse assigned to handle my infusion looked up from her monitor and said, “Hi. I’m Holly.”

I said, “I’m Kathy.”

Her expression changed from welcoming to stricken. I got it, admitted I was Mary, and watched her begin to breathe normally again.

My mother once said she thought I didn’t like my name. I did, and I do. It has a pleasant sound, and my written initials have a pleasing symmetry.

 

It’s sharpened my mental acuity and flexibility by requiring me to (usually) remember who I am in (almost) any setting.

But there are drawbacks. The first hearkens back to the third-grade Mary Kay thing. I do not like being confused with a cosmetics company.

 

 

 

 

 

The second concerns two questions I’m asked more and more frequently by young people who don’t understand that Mary Katherine was a perfectly acceptable, mainstream, plain, ordinary, everyday name before it gave way to Lisa and Jennifer and Ashley and Madison:

Are you Catholic?

Are you a nun?

Neither.

I’m a member of a large Protestant family that recycles names.

 

 

 

#####

* About 250 miles to the southwest, to Del Rio, on the border with Mexico. It was a nice place, and after a few months, I loved being there. Sometimes I wish we’d stayed.

** Serendipity! [An English major thing] Attempting to find a reference to Heathcliff calling Catherine, I came across this article–Heathcliff and Cathy, out on the wild, windfarmed moors–by Lucy Mangan, published in The Guardian, April 12, 2012.

I hate to admit it, but I like Ms. Mangan’s starcrossed lovers much more than I like Emily Bronte’s.

 

 

Day J: Jammies, or, Quick! Get Up and Put Some Clothes On! #AtoZChallenge

 

 

 

 

 

 

*****

With apologies to James Whitcomb Riley

 

 

 

 

 

Little Google Fiber’s come to our house today,
To scramble through the attic and drag cables on the way,
And cut some boards and drill some holes and stuff some cables that
Will link up with some other stuff beside the thermostat;
But first the upstairs closet had to be cleared out for space,
The downstairs china cabinet moved and china all displaced,
“And Kathy can’t just lie in bed,” they said, “or lounge about,
‘Cause we’ll see her in her jammies

Ef she

Don’t

Watch

Out.”

 

I heered ’em in the attic, flippin’, flappin’ like a bat,
And a-scritchin’ and a-scratchin’, like a sheetrock-eatin’ rat,
And the warnin’ that they said we’d get? Like knockin’ on the door,
And sayin’, all polite-like, “Ma’am? Here’s me and all my corp
Of drillers and of draggers, we don’t want to scare you none
By creatin’ a cacophony before your sleep is done,
So please wake up, get up out of bed. It puts us in a pout
When we see you in your jammies

‘Cause you

Don’t

Watch

Out.”

 

 

But, no, the warning never came, and I was in still in bed,
Although my husband came upstairs an hour ‘fore and said,
“Dear, don’t you think you’d better rise and put some lipstick on
And stretch your arms and stretch your legs and give a drowsy yawn,
And don some clothes and stuff those PJs in the nearest vase,
Cause those raggedy old things reflect on us a sad disgrace,
And the Google guys will run and flee. You’ll cause a general rout
If they see you in your jammies

‘Cause you

Don’t

Watch

Out.

 

 

Though I am a thoughtful wife and always try to please,
My lids were heavy, and I stayed in bed and took my ease,
And so it was that I was still in Morpheus’ embrace
When the scritchin’ and the flappin’ up above me did take place.
And I sprang up from my bed and ran, but threw up neither sash,
Nor did I fly to ingle-side to brush aside the ash.
I screeched, “That isn’t Santa, it’s the Google men, no doubt!
And they’ll see me in my jammies

Ef I

Don’t

Watch

Out!”

 

 

So I scrabbled and I flipped and flapped and sounded like that rat,
Although louder and lots faster, like unto a scalded cat.
“I’d be ready now,” I said, “if only Google had been nice,
And not made me move the china so my muscles needed ice,
And my body and my soul cried out, ‘This raveled sleave of care
Must be knit up, and sore labor’s bath I needs must have! Oh swear
That Google will not taunt me for a loathesome layabout
‘Cause they see me in my jammies

Ef I

Don’t

Watch

Out.'”

 

 

Exciting stories sometimes end in flaming denouements.
This one has a climax that is really, really blah.
I got up, brushed my hair, found clothes, as usually I do,
And dressed and, looking ‘neath the bed, dragged out my other shoe,
Went downstairs, and stared at the wall, and checked email, and when
The Google man knocked on the door, and David went, ’twas then
I said, “Ha ha ha, you cannot say, you early-rising lout,
That you saw me in my jammies,

Cause

I

Watched

Out.”

 

***

By Unknown – Van Allen, Elizabeth J. (1999). James Whitcomb Riley: a life. Indiana University Press. ISBN 0253335914., p. 197, Public Domain, 

The poem “Little Orphan Annie” was written by James Whitcomb Riley in 1885. The original title was “Little Orphant Annie,” but an error in a later printing changed the name.

English: James Whitcomb Riley, known as the Ch...
James Whitcomb Riley, known as the Children’s Poet, poses with a group of children for a photo to be included in a book published for the Indiana state’s centennial anniversary. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The poem was inspired by Mary Alice Smith, a child who came to the home of Riley’s parents as a “bound” servant to earn her board and keep. She worked alongside Mrs. Riley and the other children and helped with housework. The Rileys referred to her as a guest and treated her as one of the family. In the evenings she told ghost stories to the children, including James, the future poet.

In the 1920s, Mary Alice Smith inspired the comic strip “Little Orphan Annie” and the Raggedy Ann doll created by Johnny Gruelle.

The poem is in the public domain. It appears at https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/little-orphant-annie

Thanks to Wikipedia for the information shared here.

Thanks to James Whitcomb Riley for writing the delightful poem that popped into my head as soon as I heard the Google men scrabbling around in the attic. Read in just the right way, the last four lines can scare the stuffings out of a bunch of eight-year-old girls at a Brownie troop meeting.

***

Little Orphant Annie’s come to our house to stay,
An’ wash the cups an’ saucers up, an’ brush the crumbs away,
An’ shoo the chickens off the porch, an’ dust the hearth, an’ sweep,
An’ make the fire, an’ bake the bread, an’ earn her board-an’-keep;
An’ all us other childern, when the supper things is done,
We set around the kitchen fire an’ has the mostest fun
A-list’nin’ to the witch-tales ‘at Annie tells about,
An’ the Gobble-uns ‘at gits you
             Ef you
                Don’t
                   Watch
                      Out!
							 
Onc’t they was a little boy wouldn’t say his prayers,--
So when he went to bed at night, away up stairs,
His Mammy heerd him holler, an’ his Daddy heerd him bawl,
An’ when they turn’t the kivvers down, he wasn’t there at all!
An’ they seeked him in the rafter-room, an’ cubby-hole, an’ press,
An’ seeked him up the chimbly-flue, an’ ever’wheres, I guess;
But all they ever found was thist his pants an’ roundabout--
An’ the Gobble-uns’ll git you
             Ef you
                Don’t
                   Watch
                      Out!
							 
An’ one time a little girl ‘ud allus laugh an’ grin,
An’ make fun of ever’one, an’ all her blood an’ kin;
An’ onc’t, when they was “company," an’ ole folks was there,
She mocked ‘em an’ shocked ‘em, an’ said she didn’t care!
An’ thist as she kicked her heels, an’ turn’t to run an’ hide,
They was two great big Black Things a-standin’ by her side,
An’ they snatched her through the ceilin’ ‘fore she knowed what she’s about!
An’ the Gobble-uns’ll git you
             Ef you
                Don’t
                   Watch
                      Out!
							 
An’ little Orphant Annie says when the blaze is blue,
An’ the lamp-wick sputters, an’ the wind goes woo-oo!
An’ you hear the crickets quit, an’ the moon is gray,
An’ the lightnin’-bugs in dew is all squenched away,--
You better mind yer parents, an’ yer teachers fond an’ dear,
An’ churish them ‘at loves you, an’ dry the orphant’s tear,
An’ he’p the pore an’ needy ones ‘at clusters all about,
Er the Gobble-uns’ll git you
             Ef you
                Don’t
                   Watch
                      Out!

To read other Day J posts, click AtoZ.

This post first appeared on Telling the Truth, Mainly in July 2017.

Day I: Ideas #AtoZChallenge

I broke another rule: Never again would I drop in at my favorite independent bookstore. I would go to my Austin Mystery Writers critique group in the cafe every other Thursday. But go there without a specific reason–no.

The reason for the rule: I buy books. It started over twenty years ago, the day I walked in with a purse and walked out with four or five books and my purse much diminished. The indulgence must stop.

Today, however, on the way home from an appointment, I remembered a legitimate reason to stop there: In February, leaving the store after AMW’s book launch, I realized I’d left two plates of brownies on the refreshment table. David asked if we had enough plates at home that we wouldn’t starve. I said, Yes. I’d planned to leave some brownies for the staff anyway, and I could get the plates the next time I was there. So we went on home.

I’ve visited the store several times in the past two months. However, I’ve thought about plates only when I was elsewhere.

Today, on the way home from an appointment, I remembered. It occurred that I would be there legitimately next week. But I managed to come up with an excuse: It had been two months. How thoughtless of me. Their break room probably didn’t room for extra dishes. I doubled back.

Unfortunately, no one at the information desk (or anywhere else) knew where they were–or even remembered them–and it took several people a full half-hour to find them.

Fortunately, that gave me time to fall into my favorite trap: I saw books, wanted them, carried three to the cafe, read the cover flaps, and took notes. The good news is that I didn’t buy they them. The other good news is that they gave me an idea for a blog post. In addition, each of those books started with an idea.

That may be stretching things, but today is all about breaking rules.

###

Joshua Hammer, The Bad-Ass Librarian of Timbuktu.
Simon and Schuster, 2016.

Abdel Kader Haidara, an archivist and historian, traveled from Timbuktu across the Sahara, along the Niger River (the first person to do so), in search of ancient Islamic and secular manuscripts that were “crumbling in the trunks of desert farmers.” Then a complication arose: Al Qaeda showed up. The manuscripts were “destined for sure destruction.”

Among the manuscripts he saved:

  • a treatise on Islamic jurisprudence from the 12th century;
  • a 13th century Koran written on vellum made from antelope hide;
  • the original travel diary of Maj. Alexander Gordon Laing, the first explorer to reach Timbuktu via Tripoli and the Sahara, who in 1826 was murdered by his Arab escorts;
  • an Arabic grammar written over Maj. Laing’s the pages of Maj. Laing’s diary.

In his race to save “the world’s most precious manuscripts,” Haidera became “one of the world’s greatest and most brazen smugglers.” He and a network of librarians sneaked 350,000 volumes to safety in southern Mali. His act demonstrates that “ordinary citizens often do the most to protect the  beauty and imagination of culture.”

An article about Haidara and the manuscripts published on April 21, 2014 appears on the National Geographic website.

Author Joshua Hammer speaks about his book, the history of Timbuktu, and Haidara’s accomplishment on Youtube. Slides of manuscripts are included.

###

Instead of writing about the other two books in this post, as I planned, I’m going to save them for a later. They’ll fit Days L and T.

Or, if I’m creative, they’ll fit any letter I wish them to.

###

To read more posts dedicated to the letter I, click AtoZ

Day H: House of the Seven Gables #AtoZChallenge

In November 2016, I posted about my upcoming visit to Salem, Massachusetts for UnCon, the writers’ conference hosted biannually by Writer Unboxed.

And in my usual flippant fashion, I said, “Cold is what I wanted when I registered for the conference last summer. Sweater weather. I don’t get nearly enough.”

The truth is that I’d heard good things about the conference and wanted to go to it.

But there’s also truth in the flippancy: the Austin fall was unseasonably warm, and I wanted to wear sweaters.

So my wishes were granted. Good conference; cold weather.

The the other draw was Salem itself and specifically, the House of the Seven Gables, the house Nathaniel Hawthorne used as his setting for the novel by the same name. What English major could resist?

I attended a class in the annex, a modern building on the property, and during a break walked around outside. Across a courtyard are the Counting House and Hawthorne’s birthplace.

Photo: detail of a portrait of Hawthorne hanging at the House of the Seven Gables Museum store

Hawthorne and his wife, Sophia Peabody, moved from Concord to Salem in 1845 and the next year he was appointed “Surveyor for the District of Salem and Beverly and Inspector of the Revenue for the Port of Salem.” While in the position, he had difficulty writing, and told writer Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, whom he’d met in college, “Whenever I sit alone, or walk alone, I find myself dreaming about stories, as of old; but these forenoons in the Custom House undo all that the afternoons and evenings have done. I should be happier if I could write.”

After Whig Zachary Taylor’s election to the presidency in 1848 election Hawthorne, a Democrat, lost his job. A letter he wrote in protest was published in a Boston newspaper, and his dismissal became known and talked about throughout New England. But he returned to writing and in 1850 published The Scarlet Letter

It was one of the first mass-produced books in America, selling 2,500 volumes within ten days and earning Hawthorne $1,500 over 14 years. The book was pirated by booksellers in London and became a best-seller in the United States; it initiated his most lucrative period as a writer. (Wikipedia)

It has been called the first psychological novel, and writer D. H. Lawrence later said about the book that there “could be no more perfect work of the American imagination.

Unfortunately, Hawthorne died long before Lawrence expressed his opinion; the novel became the subject of controversy among his contemporaries.

Hawthorne’s friend Edwin Percy Whipple objected to the novel’s “morbid intensity” and its dense psychological details, writing that the book “is therefore apt to become, like Hawthorne, too painfully anatomical in his exhibition of them.” (Wikipedia)

It also added to his troubles. There was a “furious” response from newspapers, politicians, and members of the clergy. (Hawthorne also mentioned his job in the introduction and referred to certain politicians, so he shouldn’t have been surprised that those readers weren’t complimentary. Just my opinion.)

In A Chapter from Nathaniel Hawthorne: Studies In The House Of The Seven Gables, Thomas St. John quotes Hawthorne on Salem:

I detest this town so much that I hate to go into the streets, or to have the people see me. . .I feel an infinite contempt for them, and probably have expressed more of it than I intended; for my preliminary chapter has caused the greatest uproar that ever happened here since witch-times.

“He half-expected the crowds to tar and feather him,” says St. John: ‘from such judges as my fellow-citizens, I should look upon it as a higher honor than a laurel-crown.'”

The Scarlet letter was published in mid-March 1850. In late March, the Hawthorne family moved to Lenox, Massachusetts, in the Berkshires. In 1851, he published The House of the Seven Gables, which poet  James Russell Lowell said was better than The Scarlet Letter and called “‘the most valuable contribution to New England history that has been made.'”

When I began this post, I intended it to comprise mostly pictures of the House of the Seven Gables. But to ensure I got my facts straight, I googled, found the chapter by St. John, and was struck by the above quotation. I’d assumed Hawthorne had positive feelings about Salem. After all, he’d set a novel there.

Never assume. Research instead.

I also thought I would post early for a change. Vain hope. Once I began clicking, I followed one bunny trail after another–for over three hours. And I enjoyed every minute. I learned Hawthorne translated The Aeneid  for entrance to Bowdoin College when he was sixteen , and that The House of the Seven Gables is closely linked to Virgil’s epic. That in itself makes the search worthwhile.

Now, end of digression and on to the heart of the matter.

 

For more Day H posts click here.

 

 

 

 

Day G: Good News & Glitches #AtoZChallenge

 

 

 

 

 

Glitch.

The A to Z Blogging Challenge calendar looks like this:

 

But in my mind’s eye, until this evening, the calendar looked like this:

If I’d paid attention, I’d have noticed I was supposed to post yesterday, a Saturday, instead of taking the day off.

If I’d paid close attention, and counted, I’d have seen that my April calendar provides for only 22 letters, four fewer than the official calendar assigns spaces to, and also four fewer than are found in the alphabet. I was embarked on an A to V Challenge.

When I realized I’d gone wrong, I considered dropping out. After all, I’ve breached the rules, failed to post as required.

But it’s a glitch, not a transgression, and a blog challenge isn’t a life-and-death matter. So I proceed.

Good News.

Two weeks ago, my radiation oncologist used the word remission.

Nothing has changed. My most recent CT scans show the same results as those done in December 2016, three months after I completed radiation treatments. The bone scan, my first, was also clear.

The oncologist, although he’s now smiling as if he means it, continues to be conservative. Stable is the word he uses. “As long as you’re stable…”

The radiation oncologist has always been more upbeat, possibly because she isn’t in charge of my case, possibly because she has a cheerful nature. A year ago, she was calling my scans awesome. I liked that word.

Remission, though, has a certain ring to it–a medical ring.

5. Medicine/Medical.

  1. a temporary or permanent decrease or subsidence ofmanifestations of a disease.
  2. a period during which such a decrease or subsidence occurs:
    The patient’s leukemia was in remission.

For two years, I’ve been living from scan to scan, and that won’t change either. The challenge continues: to live with past, present, future all at once; to wrap my mind around the contradiction–I have cancer, I had cancer, I . . . what?

The next CT is scheduled for early June. Scan to scan.

*****

Read more posts dedicated to the letter G by clicking AtoZ.

Day F: The Faraday Cage #AtoZChallenge

The new Roku remote, purchased as an upgrade so I could listen to the television through earbuds, didn’t work as planned. Periodically, without warning, the sound left the earbuds and reverted to the TV speakers.

(That’s not  a technical explanation. It’s just the best I can do.)

After several momentarily successful fixes–push this button, push that button, push the other button–David said my laptop might be causing interference and he would build a Faraday cage.

A what?

An enclosure to block electromagnetic fields, named after the inventor, English scientist Michael Faraday.

He constructed two, neither of which resembled the one in Wikipedia:

By Antoine Taveneaux [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], from Wikimedia Commons
The beta looked like this:

Faraday cage Beta

The working model looks like this:

Faraday cage 

When the sound continued to cut out, David investigated further and discovered the batteries were at 0%. He changed the batteries.

Believing there was more to the malfunction than maxed-out-batteries–after all, sometimes they worked and sometimes they didn’t–David suggested I continue to use the Faraday cage.

Better safe than soundless.

***

We visited the Faraday Museum in London in 2002–David’s choice. It was much easier than my choice, St. Paul’s Cathedral. At the Faraday, we didn’t have to walk up a mile of stairs, and I didn’t get a bad case of acrophobia plus a mild case of the fantods in the Whispering Gallery.

***

Read more Day F posts from the #AtoZChallenge here.

Day E: Epistles #AtoZChallenge

The Way I read a Letter’s — this —
‘Tis first — I lock the Door —
And push it with my fingers — next —
For transport it be sure —

And then I go the furthest off
To counteract a knock —
Then draw my little Letter forth
And slowly pick the lock —

Then — glancing narrow, at the Wall —
And narrow at the floor
For firm Conviction of a Mouse
Not exorcised before —

I’ve been trying to remember the last time I opened a real letter. Not a bill, not an invoice, not a request for donation, but a real letter from someone who knows me well, that begins with Dear Kathy, ends with Love, and has a middle meant just for me.

Oh, all right, I admit it–I never opened my mail behind a locked door, as Emily Dickinson does hers–but still, there was something delicious about those pieces of paper now called, with condescension, snail mail.

Opening a snail mail envelope was like opening a gift.

Sometimes it held two page on onionskin from my English pen pal, telling me about a rock concert she’d attended.

Sometimes it held fifteen pages from my cousin in California, a detailed narrative of the plot of a movie she’d seen on the late show.

Once it enclosed a card from my Aunt Betty, picturing a sad little dog and the caption, “I’m feeling dejected ’cause you was neglected,” and a note saying she’d planned to call and wish me happy birthday but had fallen asleep on the couch, and when she woke it was past both our bedtimes.

Most letters weren’t memorable; they contained news of school plays and shopping and chickenpox and report cards and last night’s overdone roast and church and swimming and Christmas caroling, just everyday life.

But they were special nonetheless, and it was the snail that made them so–traveling slowly, making us wait, and then, when hope was dwindling–surprise!— an envelope addressed in a familiar hand would fall out of messy handful of bills and circulars and slide across the concrete floor of the post office foyer.

Sheer bliss.

Several years ago, I joined the Letter Writers Alliance, an organization “dedicated to preserving this art form; neither long lines, nor late deliveries, nor increasing postal rates will keep us from our mission.” I received a membership card and pledged to “carry on the glorious cultural tradition of letter writing.”

As a member, I’m supposed to take every opportunity to write letters. But I don’t. My penmanship isn’t what it used to be–too much time at the keyboard.

But I have good intentions. I buy pens and stationery to feed my habit. Who knows when I’ll loosen up and begin to correspond?

By the way, here’s what Emily does when she finally gets that envelope unlocked.

Peruse how infinite I am
To no one that You — know —
And sigh for lack of Heaven — but not
The Heaven God bestow —

It’s what we all do: We read how infinite we are to the writer–the person whose name is written beneath the word Love.

***

Emily Dickinson, “The Way I read a Letter’s — this –“

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Blogging from A to Z Master List.

For Day E posts, click Day E.