X Is for Xerxes: #atozchallenge

 

Lying in bed this morning, I came up with the perfect Y word. I began gathering information and working on an introduction.

Then something in my brain clicked and I realized today is X. I figured I might as well go back to sleep.

But then one of my characters, the sweet and very young Baptist preacher who told the teenagers he would drive them in the church van to take dancing lessons, walked into the cafe and sat down at a table with an old man who’s still cussing Roosevelt and long-haired hippies.

And then here came the old lady who’s always mad about something, and she jumped all over the preacher about the dancing thing, and she’s not even a member of his church, and then she whacked the back of his chair with her cane and scared him half to death.

She’s always on a rampage about something, and I knew they weren’t going to shut up and let me go back to sleep till I write chapter two and give them something else to do, so I gave up and got up. At 4:14 in the morning. 

Downstairs I turned on the TV to Youtube and Frederica Von Stade singing “Song to the Moon,” and then a string of other sopranos. I thought I might fall asleep listening. But so far I haven’t.

I have, however, come up with an X word: Xerxes. I heard about him when I was a toddler and my mother read nap time selections from The Bumper Book. The volume was big and pink and had tape–old yellowed tape–holding some of the pages together. The faded cloth on the hard cover had started to peel off at the corners, showing what looked like cardboard beneath. The book was obviously o-l-d, and I wondered where it came from, but I never asked, so I’ll never know.

But back to Xerxes.

He showed up in Edward Lear’s “A Nonsense Alphabet”:

X was King Xerxes,
Who, more than all Turks, is
Renowned for his fashion
Of fury and passion.

X

Angry old Xerxes!

I don’t remember hearing the poem, just X and Xerxes. To my embarrassment, I didn’t remember anything about Xerxes either, so I googled him. He was a Persian king who appears in the Book of Esther under the name Ahasuerus, and husband of Esther.

Regarding The Bumper Book, it’s available for purchase through Amazon. (Looks like the cover is yellow now.) Prices run from $41.76 for a Used copy to a Used-Like New copy for $245.00. Eighty-three per cent of reviewers give it a five-star rating. The low ratings refer to the condition of the used books. One reviewer, (four stars) said it was a replacement for the copy her dog ate and was smaller than the 1950 version. Just as I suspected.

In addition to Xerxes, it includes Lear’s “The Owl and the Pussycat,” A. A. Milne’s “Christopher Robin Is Saying His Prayers,” and Eugene Field’s “Winken, Blynken, and Nod” and “The Gingham Dog and the Calico Cat.” If I had my way, all of those would be required reading for children. I heard “The Owl and the Pussycat” so many times that I can still recite it from memory. Jan Brett’s picture book of TOATPC has the absolute best illustrations in existence.

Just sayin’.

Here’s Frederica Von Stade singing Dvorak’s “Song to the Moon.” You’re welcome.

 

 

***

Images of The Bumper Book and The Owl and the Pussycat via Amazon.com

 

W Is for the W-Words: #atozchallenge

 

 

Buyer’s remorse. And not even five hours have elapsed since the purchase. It happens every time. Why do I do this to myself? (W-Word: Why)

News of the Writers‘ League of Texas’ annual summer retreat arrived via email this afternoon, and I pounced–checked the calendar to confirm it doesn’t fall on an infusion week, asked my husband to confirm what I’d already confirmed, filled out the online form, and clicked Register.  [W-Word: Writers’]

Some people think it over before clicking Register, especially when clicking Register requires an outpouring of funds.

If I made a list, it would look like this:

Don’t Go to the WLT Summer Retreat in Kerrville – Reasons

  1. Time away from home – six days
  2. The retreat is in July and I already miss David
  3. Indulgence-induced guilt
  4. I shouldn’t have to drive 100 miles to write what I could write staying at home
  5. Can write at home without paying registration fees plus gasoline and wear-and-tear on the car
  6. More guilt
  7. I miss David

Go to the WLT Summer Retreat in Kerrville – Reasons

  1. I want to [W-Word: Want]

And then there’s the year I came home with a two-hundred-word timed writing that three years later turned into a 4,000-word short story, and a year after that appeared in a crime fiction anthology–the Murder on Wheels pictured in the sidebar to the right.

Plus the new Summer Writing Retreat–Write Away, where all you do is write

Plus the creative energy generated by people writing together

Plus memories of retreats in Alpine in 2011 and 2014.

Regarding buyer’s remorse: it doesn’t last.

 

 

V Is for Vitality, Lack of: #atozchallenge

I thought I would write all twenty-six posts without them–I refrained from using them for Day C–but today I lack the vitality necessary to think of anything new. So on Day V I fall back on Cats.

William and Ernest.

As I recently posted, Ernest and I are having a disagreement over seating positions. My body and my massage therapist tell me I have to sit up straight and hold the laptop right in front of me. Ernest says he’s supposed to be right in front and the laptop can snuggle up to someone else.

I haven’t won, but, on the positive side, I’ve had to see the massage therapist only four times, and I now stand almost upright when I walk. In addition, I no longer get into the car like Audrey Hepburn. (That’s really more of a negative.)

Ernest spends more time than he used to sitting on David’s lap, he stares at me with an expression that implies he’s planning some outrage.

This evening we compromised. He curled up with his front on my leg, his head on the arm of the chair, and a narrow gap between. Because I feel guilty, I let him put his head on the keypad and, to keep him from sending emails, played Candy Crush. Then I moved my leg–it was numb–and he slid down, stretched out, and ended up squashed between me and the arm of the chair.

I took photos. They didn’t turn out–angle and proximity made it hard to get a good shot–but you might be able to get hint of our predicament. My predicament, really. As long as I rubbed his tummy, he didn’t care where he was. I don’t think he even noticed.

William occupied himself this afternoon with walking back and forth across the keyboard and me in pursuit of a bowl of granola bar crumbs that I kept moving back and forth so he couldn’t get to it. He’s so big and heavy (and determined) that when he decides to walk on the keyboard, he walks on it.

Nineteen pounds at his last checkup, down from twenty-three. I calculated the other day–I used to bowl with a ten-pound ball, and it wasn’t easy to lift. William is worth two bowling balls.

When he was a kitten, he would race me to my chair. Seeing me approach it, he would run across the room to get there first. It was both cute and annoying. I thought he wanted the chair. After a while, he stopped.

Lately he’s been doing it again, and I’ve realized he just wants to be petted. But he doesn’t want to give up the chair. I feel guilty for not snuggling with him nine years ago, so I push and pull him to one side of the chair and squeeze into the other–it’s a big chair, and we almost fit. Sometimes he stays wedged between me and the arm. Sometimes he struggles to crawl around to my lap.

If he jumps up when the computer is already in my lap, there’s no question of working. It’s all about him.

Well, that’s the update on William and Ernest. If I weren’t so sleepy, I would write something else–something brilliant, something scholarly and profound, cogent even, displaying my remarkable erudition–but on this Day V, the tale of two tabbies is all the farther I can go.

***

I learned all the farther from a co-worker who hailed from Minnesota. I love it. It’s in my personal lexicon to use on occasions such as this.

***

WordPress suggests I use yabbies instead of tabbies. Nah. Good word, but it doesn’t fit.

T Is for Time: #atozchallenge

One play. Twenty years. 

***

When you reread a classic you do not see more in the book than you did before; you see more in you than was there before.  ~ Clifton Fadiman

 

The first few years I studied Romeo and Juliet with my high school freshmen, when I was in my early twenties, I followed the Star-Cross’d Lovers school of thought: Romeo and Juliet, two innocents, their eyes meet across a crowded room, she teaches the torches to burn bright, he’s the god of her idolatry, he wants to be a glove upon her hand, she wants to cut him out in little stars–but the cruel world conspires to bring them down.

The way Juliet’s father tells her to thank him no thankings nor proud him no prouds but get to that church on Thursday and marry Paris or he’ll drag her thither on a hurdle–what kind of father says that to a thirteen-year-old girl? Parents don’t listen.

The kids might be a little quick to act, and goodness knows Romeo should have waited to talk to Friar Laurence before buying that poison. But who can expect patience of such romantic souls? A sad story indeed.

When I hit thirty, and had several years of teaching under my belt, I shifted to the What Can You Expect When Teenagers Behave Like Brats? philosophy: Romeo and Juliet, a couple of kids in a hurry. He doesn’t even bother to drop in on his family, just runs off to crash Capulet’s party, proposes to a girl before the first date, insists on a jumped-up wedding, then gets himself kicked out of the city, and he still hasn’t been home for dinner.

She mouths off to her father, tells him what she will and will not do, and right after he’s told her what a nice husband he’s picked out for her. I mean, if you were a parent and your daughter spoke to you in that tone of voice, would you pat her hand and ask what’s wrong, or would you remind her who’s boss here? If Romeo had just gone home in the first place, like any decent boy would, instead of running off with his friends, this mess wouldn’t have occurred.

In fact, since Old Montague and Old Capulet had that very afternoon been sworn to keep the peace, they might have arranged a marriage between Romeo and Juliet–formed an alliance that way–and the whole of Verona would have lived happily ever after, and Montague would have been spared the expense of a gold Juliet statue. Paris might have been a little put out at being jilted, but he’d have gotten over it. Kids! They don’t think.

When I hit forty, however, I developed the dogma of the Meddlesome Priest. Friar Laurence has no business performing a secret marriage between two minors without parental consent. He says he wants to promote peace, but he isn’t a diplomat. His field is pharmacology.

Furthermore, when Juliet informs him she’s about to acquire an extra husband, why doesn’t he go right then to her father and tell the man she’s married? Capulet wouldn’t have been pleased, but he’d have gotten over it.

Instead, the Friar gives Juliet a sedative and stuffs her into a tomb with a passel of relatives in varying stages of disrepair. The man appears to mean well, but it’s also possible he intends to take credit for being the brains behind the peace accords.

Bunglesome or corrupt–the end is the same. With role models like this, are we surprised that children run amok?

Soon after the last epiphany, I ended my stint as a classroom teacher. I’ve wondered what would have happened if I’d continued studying Romeo and Juliet with them year after year. Would I have had new insights? Developed new interpretations? Uncovered new layers of meaning?

How much more would I have shared with my students?

Would I have continued to teach them respect and reverence? Would I have led them down the primrose path of dalliance and left them mired in levity?

How much more would I have seen in my students?

How much more would I have seen in myself?

S Is for a Sin & a Shame: #atozchallenge

 

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.

~ Eudora Welty, “Listening in the Dark

 

In the olden days, my family spent most holidays in my hometown with my father’s side of the family. Dinner rotated year to year from my house to Aunt Laura and Uncle Joe’s to Great-aunt Ethel’s. The woman hosting cooked turkey and dressing; the others brought side dishes.

Some of the same sides appeared year after year: Great-aunt Bettie’s potato salad, Great-aunt Aunt Jessie’s something-or-other salad, my mother’s pecan pie. Aunt Bettie put sugar in her potato salad–the older generation of Wallers sugared everything–and it was delicious.

Mother’s pecan pie was delicious, too; every year I ate  pumpkin pie, then regretted it. The pumpkin was good, but, as Garrison Keillor pointed out, the best pumpkin pie you ever ate isn’t that much better than the worst pumpkin pie you ever ate.

Aunt Jessie’s salad was a delicious enigma. Nobody knew what was in it then, and nobody knows what was in it now. Finely chopped pecans were recognizable. Lime Jello was highly probable. It wasn’t Jello-smooth, it didn’t taste like Jello, and it didn’t jiggle. As to the third major ingredient, I’m guessing cream cheese.

She brought it to every communal dinner, and  the other women wondered aloud what was in it. If anyone asked, she didn’t get an answer. Aunt Jessie certainly didn’t volunteer the information. She was known for not telling anything, most of all her age. After Uncle Curt died, she put up a double tombstone with her birth date engraved on it. Everybody in the family made a point of driving out to look at the miracle.

After dinner, we sat in the living room and the men–my father and his brothers–told stories, some about their childhood, others about local current events. As the only child there, I wasn’t outside playing with other children; I was sitting on the floor, listening.

Like Aunt Jessie’s salad, the same stories were served every year. Most of them were funny, and we laughed as hard each year as we had the last. Fentress was a singular place. It was like Charles Dickens created enough characters, most of them elderly, for an entire book and then set them down in a little town in Central Texas. Their quirks, their mannerisms, their speech, their opinions, their actions marked them as individuals.

Mr. John Roberts steered his old green Chevy well to the right before turning left, just as if he were still driving a horse-and buggy. Every time his brother, Mr. Perry, left the post office, he backed his old gray pickup at least a hundred yards before turning around to head for home (long-time residents knew not to not park behind him). My grandfather rolled Bull Durham cigarettes with one hand, drove on the left side of the road, and glided right past every stop sign he saw (if he saw them).

The stories were about small things, but they were our history, and worth hearing again. For example:

Mr. George Meadows used to wake my father up in the middle of the night because old Fritz was down in the river bottom baying at a treed raccoon and disturbing everyone’s sleep, and he wasn’t going to stop till my dad took his shotgun down there and took care of the coon.

When Great-uncle Carl was agitated, he fidgeted with the waist of his trousers. Once, back in the 1920s, a group of teenage boys, including my father’s oldest brother, Joe, went to Seguin, about twenty miles away, imbibed some alcohol, and landed in jail. The next morning, word got back to their families, and the fathers gathered downtown in the Waller store, to discuss what they should do. “Leave them there,” said Uncle Carl, “just leave them there and let them learn a lesson.”

Then someone mentioned that Carl Jr. was among the incarcerated. Uncle Carl started fidgeting with the waist of his trousers. Aunt Bettie said she thought he was going to pull his pants clear up under his armpits. He drove right over to Seguin and got Jr. out.

The best part of the story, in my estimation, is the crime that sent the boys to jail: They stole an anvil. I’ll bet in the history of the world, they were the only ones who ever stole an anvil.

The law imposed no consequences. I assume the anvil was returned to its owner and he boys apologized and that was that.

There. Those anecdotes aren’t interesting to the general public, including the readers of this post–they fall under the heading “You Had to Know the Participants,”–but I remember Uncle Carl’s fidgeting, and the image is as vivid now as it was sixty years ago. And that anvil . . .

The stories told on those holidays represent some of my happiest memories. They’re also material. I write fiction, and if you think I’m not weaving in bits and pieces, you can think again.

It would have been a sin and a shame if I’d missed out on those holiday gatherings.

*

I’m pleased to report that Uncle Joe went on to be a sober citizen, and a postmaster, and in that job he saw and spoke with most of the townspeople every day, and therefore had the opportunity to gather more stories to share at family gatherings.

**

Eudora Welty, “The Making of a Writer: Listening in the Dark.” New York Times on the Web.

***

Images of Raccoon and Anvil via Pixabay.com

 

R Is for Re-Vision: #atozchallenge

 

Writing is a lonely pursuit, and reading it aloud transformed it into an interactive experience It also  brought  the text to life. When Anne read her material to Meg she picked up the difficulties and polished them out so that the writing flowed more smoothly. Occasionally, there were a few ruffled feathers and a spot of wounded pride, but almost always the process was revealing and sometimes downright entertaining.

Joanne Drayton, The Search for Anne Perry

 

In seventh-grade literature, two questions were asked about every short story in our textbook:

  1. Q: Why did the author write the story?
  2. Q: Why did the author make the character do such-and-such?

I had a ready answer for each:

  1. For money.
  2. Because that’s the way it happened.

But I knew my teacher wouldn’t be happy with that, so every day, I made up an acceptable answer to each question. Looking back, I realize I was doing creative writing. My first foray into fiction, I guess.

At that time, I thought writers started at the beginning of the story and stopped at the end. I thought everything that occurred was inevitable. I knew about revision–I’d done plenty of that getting my master’s thesis in order–but my idea of revision was really editing and polishing. I didn’t know it meant restructuring, creating new characters, taking out some of the best parts if they didn’t fit with the rest, sometimes tossing the whole manuscript and starting over.

Writing is a lonely occupation. Revision, however, isn’t. Writers are people who need people.

I spent months writing the first three [what I called] chapters over and over. Somewhere in that over and over I figured out that those chapters weren’t going to turn into a book. I was lucky–the Writers’ League of Texas held a meeting designed to help writers form critique groups. I took two pages of my manuscript–in small pieces, the chapters weren’t too bad–and by the end of the evening was part of a three-person group.

In the course of ten years, membership has changed. I’m the only one of the originals still involved. We’ve worked, done some struggling, learned how to detach and see our work with new eyes. We’ve occasionally ruffled one another’s feathers, but we’ve learned how to ruffle, and be ruffled, appropriately. We’ve gone together to workshops and retreats. We’ve encouraged one another. We’ve become better writers. Because of repeated critiques, we’re all now published.

Without the aid of other writers, I might have given up a long time ago. With their aid, I don’t just rewrite–I look again. I re-vise.

I’ve also come up with better answers to those seventh-grade questions.

And I’m not lonely any more.

***

  1. Why did the author write the story?
  2. Definitely not for money.

***

Joanne Drayton. The Search for Anne Perry. New York: HarperCollins, 2012.

 

 

 

 

Q Is for Quotations & Mr. Twain: #atozchallenge

 

Today’s topic is Quotations. Today’s theme is Mark Twain.

The following quotations are taken from the “Directory of Mark Twain’s maxims, quotations, and various opinions.”

Jane Austen and cat get twice as many lines as the rest because I like Jane Austen and cats. Twain liked cats but despised Jane Austen. I think his writing and Jane Austen’s have something in common, and if here were here, I would tell him so and explain why. He might not like Austen any better, but he would acknowledge that I have a point.

A – Jane Austen

Jane Austen? Why I go so far as to say that any library is a good library that does not contain a volume by Jane Austen. Even if it contains no other book.

I haven’t any right to criticise books, and I don’t do it except when I hate them. I often want to criticise Jane Austen, but her books madden me so that I can’t conceal my frenzy from the reader; and therefore I have to stop every time I begin. Everytime I read ‘Pride and Prejudice’ I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone.

B – Bicycle

Get a bicycle. You will not regret it. If you live.

C – Cat

A home without a cat — and a well-fed, well-petted and properly revered cat — may be a perfect home, perhaps, but how can it prove title?

I simply can’t resist a cat, particularly a purring one. They are the cleanest, cunningest, and most intelligent things I know, outside of the girl you love, of course.

You may say a cat uses good grammar. Well, a cat does — but you let a cat get excited once; you let a cat get to pulling fur with another cat on a shed, nights, and you’ll hear grammar that will give you the lockjaw. Ignorant people think it’s the noise which fighting cats make that is so aggravating, but it ain’t so; it’s the sickening grammar they use.

D – Diplomacy

I asked Tom if countries always apologized when they had done wrong, and he says–“Yes; the little ones does.”

E – Economy

It isn’t the sum you get, it’s how much you can buy with it, that’s the important thing; and it’s that that tells whether your wages are high in fact or only high in name.

F – Flea

Fleas can be taught nearly anything that a congressman can.

G – Grammar

No one can write perfect English and keep it up through a stretch of ten chapters. It has never been done.

H – Heroine & Hero

Girl in a book who is saved from drowning by a hero and marries him next week, but if it was to be over again ten years later it is likely she would rather have a life-belt and he would rather have her have it.

Person in a book who does things which he can’t and girl marries him for it.

I – Imagination

Now, isn’t imagination a precious thing? It peoples the earth with all manner of wonders, strange beasts and birds, angels, cherubim and seraphim. And it has to be exercised. No child should be permitted to grow up without exercise for imagination. It enriches life for him. It makes things wonderful and beautiful.

J – Journal

If you wish to inflict a heartless and malignant punishment upon a young person, pledge him to keep a journal a year.

K – Knowledge

We have not the reverent feeling for the rainbow that the savage has, because we know how it is made. We have lost as much as we gained by prying into that matter

L – Laughter

Laughter which cannot be suppressed is catching. Sooner or later it washes away our defences, and undermines our dignity, and we join in it — ashamed of our weakness, and embittered against the cause of its exposure, but no matter, we have to join in, there is no help for it.

M – Music

We often feel sad in the presence of music without words; and often more than that in the presence of music without music.

N – Name

…when a teacher calls a boy by his entire name it means trouble.

O – Opera

Wagner’s music is better than it sounds.

P – Prose

What a lumbering poor vehicle prose is for the conveying of a great thought! …Prose wanders around with a lantern & laboriously schedules & verifies the details & particulars of a valley & its frame of crags & peaks, then Poetry comes, & lays bare the whole landscape with a single splendid flash.

Q – Quotation

It is my belief that nearly any invented quotation, played with confidence, stands a good chance to deceive.

R – Reading

It is so unsatisfactory to read a noble passage and have no one you love at hand to share the happiness with you. And it is unsatisfactory to read to one’s self anyhow — for the uttered voice so heightens the expression.

S – School

Every time you stop a school, you will have to build a jail. What you gain at one end you lose at the other. It’s like feeding a dog on his own tail. It won’t fatten the dog.

T – Teaching

To be good is noble, but to teach others how to be good is nobler–and less trouble.

U – Unhappiness

There is no unhappiness like the misery of sighting land (and work) again after a cheerful, careless voyage.

V – Vanity

Forty years ago I was not so good-looking. A looking glass then lasted me three months. Now I can wear it out in two days.

W – Watermelon

It is the chief of this world’s luxuries, king by the grace of God over all the fruits of the earth. When one has tasted it, he knows what the angels eat. It was not a Southern watermelon that Eve took; we know it because she repented.

X –

Y – Youth

The heart is the real Fountain of Youth. While that remains young the Waterbury of Time must stand still.

Z – Zug

Strictly speaking, Zug means Pull, Tug, Draught, Procession, March, Progress, Flight, Direction, Expedition, Train, Caravan, Passage, Stroke, Touch, Line, Flourish, Trait of Character, Feature, Lineament, Chess-move, Organ-stop, Team, Whiff, Bias, Drawer, Propensity, Inhalation, Disposition: but that thing which it does not mean,–when all its legitimate pendants have been hung on, has not been discovered yet.

*

Unfortunately, the record displays no X quotation from Twain. There surely is one, but whoever went looking for it is still out there.

Zug comes from A Tramp Abroad, Appendix D: The Awful German Language. It’s written from the point of view of a middle-aged man trying to master German. If you want to laugh, click the link and read.

P Is Not for Pat Boone: #atozchallenge

 

How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable
Seem to me all the uses of this world!
Fie on’t! O fie! ’tis an unweeded garden,
That grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature
Possess it merely.

~ William Shakespeare, Hamlet, I, ii

 

I woke this morning feeling perfectly fine but at the same time not quite quite, so I took a little white pill. Because the label says not to drive a car or operate heavy machinery, David drove me downtown to BookPeople for my biweekly critique group meeting. For the next two hours, I took part in a lively discussion about the craft of writing.

After the meeting, I fired up my trusty Chromebook and wrote three paragraphs of my Day P post.

Then my eyelids began to droop. I had a definite case of the drowsies.

Lest I fall asleep in CoffeePeople, I called David. He came and escorted me to the car, drove me home, steered me to the house, and poured me into my chair.

Since that time, I’ve felt, in turn, apathetic, detached, draggy, droopy, lethargic, impassive, passive, pedestrian, plodding, and what Hamlet said.

I couldn’t care less and I could care less.

I feel fine.

It’s just that, my dear, I don’t give a damn.

Anyway, I’m dismissing all thought of finishing my original Day P post (“P Is for Pat Boone”) and submitting this instead. Then I turn my face to the future.

After all, tomorrow is another day

.

O Is for Origami: #atozchallenge

 

I was reading Deborah Weber’s O post today when a word therein sparked a memory.

The word isn’t her topic–that’s oakus, an old name for something many of you possess–but origami, the art of paper folding.

In my third-grade class, we students made snowflakes. That isn’t exactly origami, because origami is sculpture, three-dimensional, and our snowflakes were flat. But it’s a distant cousin.

Our teacher, Mrs. Calk–a kind, funny, thoroughly delightful woman–demonstrated the process. Take a sheet of typing paper, fold it this way and that, cut with scissors this way and that–the cuts would make each of our flakes unique, like the real things–and then unfold it into a perfect six-pointed snowflake.

Easy.

So we folded and folded and cut and cut. And sure enough, the many-layered triangles opened into perfect six-pointed snowflakes.

Except mine. It had eight points.

“Snowflake” by Charles Schmitt, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikipedia

I was counting them for the third time when Mrs. Calk reached my aisle. She’d been walking along, supervising, congratulating every student on the beautiful creations.

I showed her my anomaly. That stopped her in her tracks. She showed me how to fold–in teacher training, I learned this is called individual instruction–and told me to try again. She walked on. I tried again.

Eight points.

More encouragement from Mrs. Calk.

Tried again.

Eight points.

Mrs. Calk finally told me she believed it was time to stop folding.

I still haven’t managed a six-pointed snowflake.

Which brings me to origami. I once watched a librarian fold and fold while she told a story. Just as she reached the end of the story, she unfolded the paper, and there in her hand sat a little bird.

The woman was magnificent–her dexterity, proficiency, artistry. It was one of the most breathtaking performances I’ve ever seen. I mean, she talked and folded at the same time, and everything came out right.

The only thing I can fold is an eight-pointed snowflake. And I don’t dare try to talk while I’m folding.

***

 

I shouldn’t have been surprised the woman could tell a story and make a paper crane at the same time. She was, after all, a librarian.

***

Images of paper cranes, public domain, via Wikipedia

N Is for No: #atozchallenge

When I was a child, my family lived across the street from a couple whose daughter, Denise, was almost three years old. Denise had blonde hair her mother put up in a curly little pony tail. She was as cute as a bug and as bright as a button, but not as sweet as pie. She wasn’t a holy terror, but her attitude often (most of the time) made her difficult to deal with. She  was just plain contrary, and she made sure everyone knew it. Her favorite word was, “NO.”

One evening she and her mother, Phyllis, was sitting with us in our front yard, as they did nearly every summer evening. Phyllis sat in a glider and Denise stood in the seat beside her.

In the course of the conversation, Phyllis said, “We’ve had quite a day.” She went on to say–in vague terms–that there had been much discussion, much disagreement about what and how things would, and would not, be done, starting at breakfast time and running nonstop for the rest of the day–but she thought an agreement had finally been reached. Then she looked at her daughter and said, very sweetly, “But we’re not going to use that word any more, are we, Neesie?”

Denise leaned over, got right in her face, and said, in a very nasty tone, “NNNNNNNNNNO.”

The audience erupted in laughter.

And Denise beamed.

*

I would like to say there’s a moral to this story, but after decades of pondering, I haven’t found one. If you can think of anything, please leave it in a comment.

 

 

 

 

***

Image via Pixabay

L Is for List, List, O List: #atozchallenge

 

 

List, list, O list!
If thou didst ever thy dear father love —

~ William Shakespeare, Hamlet, I, i

 

Yesterday I wrote about three conventions of the mystery/suspense novel screenplay that I see as less than realistic. Today I’m taking on two other conventions that give me pause. So–

List, list, O list, while I explain:

  1. A man meets a woman. He’s middle-aged, whatever that is these days. If he’s not over the hill, he’s making steady progress in that direction. He doesn’t have an uber-fat bank account, but he has an interesting job. He doesn’t teach third grade. The woman is young, a good twenty or thirty years younger than he. Her hair is long and silky, and legs are long and shapely, and the rest of her is shapely, too. And she’s smart and talented. The man is attracted to her. And guess what. She’s attracted to him, too! In fact, she falls in love with him, if not at first sight, at least at second. By third sight, they’re in bed together. Or sometimes it doesn’t take that long.
  2. See #1, except in this instance the man and the woman are closer in age. They may be young; they may be older. Otherwise the details are the same.

I thought about these literary relationships while watching a movie on Netflix. I won’t mention the title, but the leads are played by January Jones (long blonde hair and a pleasing visage, etc.) and a male actor whose name I still don’t know because I didn’t watch the credits.

They’re about the same age. They’re lawyers (a common profession); he’s just been hired as an assistant prosecutor. She introduces herself and says, “I’m your boss.” That evening, or maybe it’s the next, she invites him to her house. Etc.

Please note: I’m not talking about romances–Harlequin, Danielle Steele,* Judith Krantz,* the gothics–because in this genre, these are standard relationships. That’s what we read them for.

I don’t want writers of mystery and suspense to scuttle them altogether.

And I’m not saying May-December romances don’t occur in real life. If they didn’t, we wouldn’t have the term May-December romance.

“Judi Dench” by Thore Siebrands is licensed under CC BY-2.0

But it would be nice to read now and then about an attraction between a middle-aged male and a middle-aged female character–a female character with hair styled for convenience, shoes chosen for comfort, ten or twelve extra pounds she isn’t trying to lose, and close enough to his age to remember the same TV commercials.

Is that too much to ask? Obviously not. The British manage it all the time. Consider As Time Goes By. Lionel and Jean meet after being apart for thirty-eight years. They look like they’ve been apart thirty-eight years, too. And the series doesn’t suffer.

It’s true that initially, before he sees Jean again, Lionel has designs on Jean’s daughter, but she’s not interested–more power to her–and he doesn’t suffer either.

And I am unanimous in that.

Thank you for listing.

***

 

 

Quotation verified at No Fear Shakespeare.

Image of couple by picnic_fotographie via Pixabay.com

 

 

I Is for I Like Alien Resort: #atozchallenge

 

About a zillion words into a post about ifferisms, I discovered I was so bored I couldn’t go on, and if I couldn’t go on, neither could anyone else. So I abandoned it. That left a void in the topic area, but the only I word I could think of was I.

Well, they say write what you know: I like these books. I like these movies. I like chocolate.

Then  David gave me permission to write about Alien Resort, a cartoon peopled–or, more accurately, aliened–by visitors from outer space.

Creator, writer, and illustrator, Earthling David Davis, is aided by the four ETs pictured below: Coy, Plucky, Deadpan, and Lmao. Coy founded Alien Resort after crash landing on Earth. The others arrived later. Read their bios here.

Alien Resort. © David Davis.

The cartoon appears in newspapers from California (Alameda Sun) to Brooklyn (Canarsie Courier) to Cumbria, UK (Egremont 2day ) to Australia (Dunoon and District Gazette), plus a number of other publications along the way. They’re listed at the Hall of Fame.

Here’s a sample of what you see at Alien Resort:

*

In 2015, David’s submission won John Kelso’s Funny Christmas Card Contest (Austin American-Statesman).

His short film Invisible Men Invade Earth has been screened at a number of festivals. It was named Most Original Concept at the 2016 Houston Comedy Film Festtival and Judges’ Choice at the 2017 What the Fest in Dallas. Read more about it and watch it on vimeo.

H Is for The House of the Seven Gables: #atozchallenge

Unable to think of an H word I could get a post out of (I searched the dictionary for a likely candidate, but in vain), I fall back on a post that appeared April 9, 2018, exactly one year ago, for Day H of the A to Z Challenge. It’s a little English majory, but I restrained myself as best I could. For example, I used only five semicolons.

 

*

 

In November 2016, I posted about my upcoming visit to Salem, Massachusetts for UnCon, the writers’ conference hosted biennially 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 of 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 sit the Counting House and Hawthorne’s birthplace.

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 that there “could be no more perfect work of the American imagination.

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

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.”

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 Hawthorne’s opinion of Salem. I’d assumed he was happy there. 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 Aeneidfor 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.

*

I took the photographs in this post during the break between classes. The image of Nathaniel Hawthorne is detail from a portrait hanging in the House of the Seven Gables Museum store.

E Is for Error, Correction Pending: #atozchallenge

 

I am happy to report a pleasing development:

The ramp from TX SH 130 to TX SH 71 at Austin has a sign reading “Merge Right,” when it should say, “Merge Left.” After the second time we passed it, David emailed the government agency in charge of highway signs and told them about the error (which could have caused a problem). The third time we traversed the ramp, the wrong sign was still there.

Today he received an email from the agency that said, “You are correct in your assessment, that sign will be removed and replaced with a merge left sign.”

(Well, d’oh. Of course he was correct. He reads words of one syllable and knows his left from his right. So do I.)

We’re both gratified that performance of his civic duty will improve traffic flow and, better yet, will stop irritating the Davises every time we use the ramp. I’m considering emailing the authority to tell them their email contains a comma splice (a variety of the irritating run-on sentence) but am afraid that if I do, they will retaliate by not replacing the sign. I’m also afraid they’ll email me to point out an error in my email to them. I occasionally make one.

I couldn’t find an image of a sign exactly like the one that will replace the sign on the ramp–or of the current sign either–so I cropped the one below from some clip art. The words are correct, and that’s what counts.

After posting this for the benefit of my friends on Facebook, I realized that in the A to Z Blogging Challenge, today is E, and I could post this story about an error. I did not include the name of the government agency, of course. See “retaliation” paragraph, above.

 

 

D Is for Stinky, Ruffy, and a Dollop of Muggs*: #atozchallenge

Probably no one man should have as many dogs in his life as I have had, but there was more pleasure than distress in them for me except in the case of an Airedale named Muggs. He gave me more trouble than all the other fifty-four or -five put together, although my moment of keenest embarrassment was the time a Scotch terrier named Jeannie, who had just had six puppies in the clothes closet of a fourth floor apartment in New York, had the unexpected seventh and last at the corner of Eleventh Street and Fifth Avenue during a walk she had insisted on taking.

~ James Thurber, “The Dog That Bit People”

 

Now you would probably rather read “The Dog That Bit People” instead of the rest of this post, and so would I, but bear with me for the next few paragraphs and then you can do what you want.

The Muggs James Thurber references was a “big, burly, choleric” Airedale who acted as if Thurber wasn’t one of the family. “There was a slight advantage in being one of the family, for he didn’t bite the family as often as he bit strangers.” Over the years, he bit everyone but Thurber’s mother, “and he made a pass at her once but missed.” Mrs. Thurber felt sorry for Muggs and often said, “He’s not strong.” Thurber says, ” [B]ut that was inaccurate; he may not have been well but he was terribly strong.” He was also sorry after he bit someone, she said, but Thurber observed he didn’t act sorry either. Mrs. Thurber’s philosophy was, “If you didn’t think he would bite you, he wouldn’t,” but the ice man didn’t buy it. “Once when Muggs bit Mrs. Rufus Sturtevant and again when he bit Lieutenant-Governor Malloy” she told the cops “that it hadn’t been Muggs’ fault but the fault of the people who were bitten. ‘When he starts for them, they scream,’ she explained, ‘and that excites him.'” The time he emerged from under the couch and bit elderly Mrs. Detweiler, Mrs. Thurber said it was just a bruise and, “He just bumped you,” but “Mrs. Detweiler left the house in a nasty state of mind.”

I met Muggs and got to know him intimately (practice, practice, practice) for a high school prose reading competition, and I’ve loved him ever since.

Well, enough. If you want to read the story, here’s the link, but I hope you’ll wait till I’ve told you about my dogs.

First came Stinky, when I was about three years old. He was a rat terrier. My dad had tied a rope to the handle of my little red wagon so he wouldn’t have to bend double when he pulled me around in it. Stinky watched, and, intelligent dog that he was, often took hold of the rope and replaced my dad at the helm. He also took the helm when I wasn’t in the wagon; on hot, moonlit summer nights, through their open bedroom windows, my parents heard him pulling the wagon around the back yard. I don’t remember it, but I was told that one day I ran into the house crying as if my heart would break and said, “I hit Stinky.” I know what happened–I had invited him to jump up on me, and he did, but pretty soon I’d had enough and he hadn’t, and I hit him to get him to back off. My heart was breaking, and over sixty years later, I still get teary when I think of it. I’m always sorry after I’ve someone. Except for my friend Phyllis, but that’s a story for another time. H, perhaps, for hit.

My mother brought home Ruffy, a Border Collie-Shepherd mix, when he was only four weeks old. The giver insisted that was old enough. It wasn’t. The acquisition of a second dog surprised my father, who, I presume, thought it should be a family decision (even at that age I was surprised they didn’t discuss it, but I suppose Mother thought a 2/3 majority was enough), but he didn’t say anything, simply set his jaw in the same way he did the summer before my senior year of college when I said I was going to drop out and go to work for the IRS. I stayed in college and got my degree, but if I hadn’t, I’d have been spared a lot of school-teacher grief and would now have federal employee health insurance, which is a super deal.

(My dad played ball with all our dogs when he thought no one was looking.)

Except for a white bib and little brown “eyebrows,” Ruffy was all black, even his eyes; his hair was thick and wavy. His official name was Rough Bones, which shows why you should never ask a pre-schooler what she wants to name a pet. We gave our dogs bones from steaks and roasts, and they gnawed on and then hid them in the lush St. Augustine grass, and I stepped on them with my perpetually bare feet and cried out in pain. Two or three times a day. At four weeks, Ruffy wasn’t yet weaned, so Mother had to feed him warm milk mixed with white Karo syrup from little doll bottles I’d gotten for Christmas. At first I woke for the four a.m. feeding–yip yip yip–but soon stopped hearing his call and slept through it.

As a young adult, Ruffy, who spent most of his time confined to a big back yard plus the adjoining quarter-acre of chicken yard that lay on the other side of the driveway, chased a twelve-year-old neighbor boy who was passing the house, and ran another one up onto the porch across the street. The stiff, heavy pocket of his new jeans saved the second one from puncture wounds. After that occurrence, we confined the dog for ten days, the time prescribed for making sure he didn’t have rabies (he’d been vaccinated).

My parents took his behavior seriously but my mom noted that both boys teased him through the hog wire fence every time they walked down the street. She believed the dog considered himself provoked; she definitely considered him provoked. (She’d told the boys to stop teasing him, to no avail.)

However, when some of Mother’s out-of-town relatives couldn’t rouse anyone at the front door and offered to enter the back yard through the picket gate, Ruffy told them in no uncertain terms not to bother.  We decided he was being a conscientious, if overzealous, watch dog. We weren’t home when they came and so couldn’t call him off. Considering these particular relatives, I thought he’d been provoked.

(When it came to me, my parents always gave the dog the benefit of the doubt. “You know Sabre snaps when you pet him; leave him alone.” Sabre, my cousins’ Cocker Spaniel, didn’t often see me, and didn’t like me bothering him (probably didn’t like me at all), and he did snap, and I knew he would snap, but he was a dog and I couldn’t help myself. I saw a dog, I petted the dog. When common sense set in, about the time I was forty, I learned restraint.)

The situation with Ruffy became clear, unfortunately, the evening we had a yard full of other relatives sitting in lawn chairs and eight-year-old Sharan appeared from down the street. While she was standing in the middle of the family circle, Ruffy walked up, in my mother’s words, “smiling, with his tongue lolling out and his tail wagging,” and bit her on the thigh.

I was in the house and didn’t see him bite. When they told me they had to take Ruffy to Dr. Matthews to be watched for ten days, and then Dr. Matthews would find him another home, I cried so hard they gave me a St. Joseph’s (baby) aspirin and put me to bed. The aspirin didn’t help. Dr. Matthews told my parents Ruffy was too good a dog to put down, and he would give him to some rancher living out in the country, away from little girl visitors. I was sad but understood. Later Dr. Matthews told them that when the ranchers he offered Ruffy to learned he’d bitten someone, they declined to take him, and so . . .  It was years before I realized what had happened to him. I asked and was told the whole story.

We later learned that Smoky, a litter mate owned by another family in town, also bit. They were both sweet, beautiful dogs, good playmates for their children, and we wondered if there was something in the genes that prompted them to bite strangers. Probably not.

I have pictures of Stinky and Ruffy, but they’re not, shall we say, accessible, so I can’t post them. The dogs pictured here don’t do them justice.

So. I’ve expended all these words on two dogs. Like Thurber, I’ve probably had more dogs than one person should have, but I’ll have to write about the rest of them later, perhaps for M, as in More Dogs.

Okay. Go read “The Dog That Bit People.” You’ll be glad you did.

***

*D is also for Dogs.

***

I wish I could post pictures of Muggs, but I’m sure they’re under copyright. However, the two links in the second paragraph take you to Thurber’s sketches of him.

Image of James Thurber by Fred Palumbo, via Wikipedia. Public domain.

Image of Rat Terrier by kteri3565, via Pixabay.com

Image of Border Collie by PascalCottel, via Pixabay.com