#AtoZ Challenge 2020: A is for April (Fools’)

 

As I wrote in Monday’s not-Theme Reveal, my A to Z Writing Challenge has no theme. Officially, it’s listed as “Other and Miscellaneous.” The Archon’s Den blogger claims “chaos and confusion” as a recurring theme. I wish I’d thought of that.

Anyway, the obvious and easiest A topic is April.

On April 1, 1968, my junior English class put out a special issue of the school newspaper.

(The school was small; we twelve were the only juniors.)

One article reported the purchase of new and badly needed uniforms for the girls’ basketball team. A drawing of the outfit was included. The shorts were of your plain garden variety, but the top featured cap sleeves, a bib enhanced with vertical pin tucks and  pearl buttons, and a Peter Pan collar. There might have been a ruffle somewhere. They would spend off seasons in cold storage.

Image of Ford Mustang logo. By zopalic. Via Pixabay.com.
Ford Mustang logo.

A second article reported that the school would buy two new Ford Mustangs for use in an onsite driver’s ed. course in the fall. At the time, students had to travel ten miles to a larger district to earn the credit. Driving a Mustang, which Ford had been producing for only four years, was a Certified Big Deal.

A third item announced that the girls’ choir would sing at President Lyndon B. Johnson’s campaign rallies that summer, which, of course meant nationwide travel. Dredging up words from the junior English vocabulary list, the reporter quoted the choir director: She said we’d been spuriously honored and that the tour would go a long way toward ending the mal de mer running rampant through the student body. I think she also said the girls were proud to be invited, and that she was sure they would continue to prosit.

Copies were distributed at the beginning of first period. Paper staff, mouths shut and expressions innocent, waited. The response was more than gratifying.

Sitting in the front row of geometry class, the co-editor and I watched the teacher/girls’ coach, brow wrinkled, examining the new basketball uniform and wondering aloud who had chosen it and why she hadn’t been asked for input. She didn’t say it looked gosh-awful, which must have taken immense restraint. While she was puzzling, the team, most of whom sat behind us, showed no restraint. They said plenty.

In the hallway between classes, students raved about the Mustangs. The district was small—high school enrollment numbered no more than fifty—and had to watch its pennies, so its splurging on two sports cars was almost too good to be true. One 1950 Chevy would have made a splash.

Image of Lyndon B. Johnson, 1966. By Yoichi Okamoto.  Public domain. Via Wikipedia.
Johnson greeting a crowd, 1966.

With the exception of the co-editors, choir members hadn’t been informed that they would sing at political rallies. They appeared confused but accepted the story. It made sense; we knew a number of patriotic songs.

No one mentioned that the night before, President Johnson had announced on national television, “I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your president.” No one asked why the student body was seasick. The choir director, who doubled as our English teacher, issued a compliment. She said the quotation sounded just like her.

Finally, about noon, someone noticed the date on the first page—April 1—and we were busted.

Readers were good sports. They laughed; no one chewed us out.

Some were disappointed: The choir wouldn’t sing at rallies, and the business about the Mustangs was too good to be true.

But sighs of sorrow were as nothing compared to the sighs of relief: Peter Pan collars were out.

***

Note: The choir would been happy to sing for a different candidate, but Hubert Humphrey forgot to invite us.

***

I hoped last fall’s Great Unearthing would produce a copy of the April Fools’ issue. No such luck. I would like to read it again. I would love to see the drawing of that uniform. It would make a fine illustration when U rolls around.

***

I just checked the A to Z master list and discovered that I slipped up and registered my theme not as “Other and Miscellaneous,” but as “Author/Writer (craft of writing, stories, memoir).” That is unfortunate, because the only things I know about craft are that it would be wrong to put a colon after the are in this sentence, that the lack of a properly placed Oxford comma drives me crazy, and that the price of a dedicated, supportive critique group is above rubies.

***

Here’s are links to the A to Z Blogging Challenge master list. (https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1YphbP47JyH_FuGPIIrFuJfAQiBBzacEkM7iBnq6DGDA/edit#gid=1617533974

Themes appear there. If you visit some of the blogs, you’ll make the writers happy. If you click Like, they’ll be even happier.

***

Image of Lyndon B. Johnson, 1966. By Yoichi Okamoto.  Public domain. Via Wikipedia.

Image of Ford Mustang logo. By zopalic. Via Pixabay.com.

 

 

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

 

B Is for Behind: #atozchallenge

A story from my friend the high school business teacher:

A student in her bookkeeping class asked what arrears means.

Said the teacher, “It means you’re behind.”

And twenty-five shocked teenage faces stared in profound silence.

***

 

I’m behind. Nothing new. I don’t live a hurry-up-and-wait existence; mine is wait-and-hurry-up.

The condition won’t be cured by planners, lists, date books, Google calendars, anti-procrastination classes, or prayer and fasting. I’ve tried them all.

I’m a compulsive organizer. Back in the day, I owned a series of Franklin planners: big, little, zippered, non-zippered, black, colored (red and teal). If anything could have organized me, that teal planner would have done it.

In a sad development, the teal planner disappeared from my car in late August of 1998, the night before the first day of faculty in-service. I went out in the morning and found the driver’s side window open; the seat where I’d left two tote bags was empty.

I called 911. The local constable came out and said he knew who did it–they lived next door to the post office a few blocks away, and they were the ones who did everything around there–but the authorities wouldn’t be able to prove it. A deputy sheriff came out and dusted for fingerprints but found only the ones I’d left when I closed the door.

I was late to work, which wasn’t a problem because I missed only the meeting at which nothing happens except coffee and donuts. I learned more from the breaking-and-entering experience than I would have at the meeting.

To wit:

  1. Fingerprint powder is black and sticky. Very sticky.
  2. If you drive a dusted car without first draping seats, doors, and steering wheel, you’ll be sorry.
  3. Fingerprint dusters don’t clean up after themselves.
  4. People who steal from parked cars will take anything and everything. They got my favorite tote bag, the one displaying the Edward Gorey tuxedo cat lying across a stack of books, and the caption, “books. cats. life is sweet.” That bag meant a lot to me. So did the teal Franklin planner with zipper and page after page of contact information that I’d recently compiled and entered in my neatest handwriting. [As in, I organized it.] The can of asparagus wasn’t all that important to me, or probably to them, but they took it. What galls me–even today–is that I know the entire haul ended up in the river.
  5. If you leave a car in front of your house, as I did, instead of pulling it into the driveway, someone will break into it. If you pull the car into the driveway, the same people will break into it. Evidence: An electrician who spent that night with his mom, just around the corner, parked his van in her driveway. The next morning–a broken window and no equipment.
  6. If you’re going to park a car where it’s an easy target, make sure it’s a rental car. My car was in the shop overnight and I was driving a little Geo Metro the color of Pepto-Bismol. At the end of the day, I returned it to the agency, picked up my well-oiled car, and headed home. Somebody else dealt with the sticky black stuff.
  7. If you’ve lived all your life in a small town where people never bothered to lock their doors when they went on vacation, and you think you’re still living in that same small town, you’re wrong.

But I digress. And that’s one reason I’m behind.

Before turning in, I must post this for A to Z Blogging and then complete two more writing assignments, one for a critique group, another for an informal class in memoir. Tomorrow I have to put out my Sisters in Crime chapter’s newsletter–and put up my C post for A to Z Blogging–and then the next tomorrow there’s the D post–

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;

and when I get there, there’ll be one more thing to write.

Such pressure!

And the crazy part–my teenaged English-student-self would never have believed it–it’s all self-imposed. Nobody makes me do this. I blog for myself; I do blog challenges for myself; I take writing classes for myself; I write stories for myself; I go to critique group for myself.

Because I want to.

Crazy.

Now, before I fall further behind, I shall stop, post, and move on.

***

Find a list of all A to Z Blogging participants here.

***

 

Image of fingerprint by stux, via pixabay

 

Truth and Embroidery

As a beginning blogger, I wanted to be serious. I intended to write about the writing process, to quote famous authors, and to record my progress toward publication (or toward the satisfaction of having written). I wanted to write about Literature and Life.

Halfway through my first post, I discarded that notion. Once upon a time, I could tear apart novels and poems with the best of them, but as soon as they put that Master’s Degree in my hand, every scrap of every thought about literature leaked out of my head. And I didn’t want to work hard enough to get them back.

And my writing process is chaos, pure and simple. Chaos. Other people write books about how they write books. They say, This is the way to write a book, as if they know. But I don’t know.

So I write about life with a lower-case l. Life with a lower case l comprises cats, a mis-spent career in education, memories of my youth, my crazy family, and my general ineptitude. General ineptitude comprises such things as the time I dropped the remote control into the Jello instant pudding mix and milk that I was trying to beat into pudding.

For a while, I was reluctant to share stories of ineptitude. I envisioned applying for a job with a company whose personnel director googles me and learns more than is good for me.

But then I realized I wasn’t going to apply for anything, and if I did it wouldn’t be a job important enough to require a background check, so I said, What the heck, just tell it all.

I titled this blog Telling the Truth–Mainly because I admire Mark Twain as both a writer and a social critic, and because I thought the name appropriate.

I embroider some of the stories I tell; the embroidery relates to the Mainly.

But nearly every post begins with Truth, and most of them stick pretty close to it. The story about the remote and the pudding, for example, didn’t need any embroidery at all. I told the story exactly as it happened.

“Hell on Wheels,” the story about the librarian, which appears in the crime anthology Murder on Wheels, is not true. I didn’t find my mother pouring ground glass into lemon pie filling, and I didn’t plan to push her off a bluff. I was a librarian, but I didn’t take belly dancing lessons for years so I could fit into a bikini and spend the rest of my life on the beach in Aruba.

The completely true, entirely non-fiction story: I took three belly dancing classes because I once saw a belly dancer on the Tonight Show lie on the floor and roll a quarter over and over all the way down her torso, all that was open to public view, so the speak, and I thought it was really neat. I also liked the costumes. I had no illusions about ever replicating the act, but basic belly dancing looked like fun.

I stopped after the third lesson because I was so tired after working all day and then driving to Austin to attend class that gyrating around a room with a bunch of other middle-aged women was not doable.

I used belly dancing in the story to add verisimilitude, etc., etc., etc.

So. The librarian story was fiction, plus a few bits from lower-case l life, merely corroborative detail, intended to give artistic verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative.*

The question now arises: Is fiction ever true? Yes. But it’s complicated and I don’t want to discuss it.

I planned to end with a few comments on my writing process–not how I write, or how to write, but lessons I have learned from chaos.

But that will wait till next time.

*

*”Merely corroborative detail, intended to give artistic verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative” is a phrase written by W. S. Gilbert for the character Pooh-Bah in Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado.
(The funniest play ever written, with music or without.)

*

photographs from morguefile

Day Q: #AtoZChallenge

 

 

 

 

 

My Day Q post is recycled from last year,  a short-short story prompted by this photograph by Fatima Fakier Deria, on Friday Fictioneers. The event it’s based on occurred in 2002, but it will forever live in infamy.

 

PHOTO PROMPT © Fatima Fakier Deria – from Friday Fictioneers

 

Day 1

Beautiful . . . waves, sunset . . .

Deck chairs . . .

Can’t wait, two nights at sea,

then—Can Cun. We’ll shop till we drop.

Uh-uh. Swimming, sunbathing, siestas. Bar open yet?

#

Day 2

Soooooo relaxing. Waves rocked me to sleep.

Hurry, let’s claim our chairs.

Breakfast?

Chairs. There’s pizza near the pool.

#

I’m queasy.

Wearing your patch?

Don’t have one.

Sit here. Sea air helps. ‘Bye.

#

Find a doctor.

You’ll be fine.

Move, or I’ll ruin your sneakers.

#

I’m going home . . .

You’ve had a shot of phenergan—you’ll be fine.

. . . if I have to walk on water.

#

Day 3

Phenergan worked! Can Cun! Let’s shop till we drop.

. . . I’m queasy.

***

Author’s note: Day 3 is fiction. The speaker in green did not become queasy. Life is not fair.

***

For more Day Q blogs, click AtoZ.

#AtoZChallenge Day C: Contrariwise

I believe I’ve fallen behind.

My Day B (April 2) post went online about five minutes before Day C started in my time zone. Now, less than four hours before Day D begins, I’m just starting on Day C.

Technically, I’m okay–observing the letter of the law (take some time to chuckle over that before reading on) but giving the spirit short shrift.

I haven’t observed a few other guidelines, either. I was supposed to–or maybe just invited to–choose a theme and reveal it here last month. But I couldn’t settle on anything, so I skipped that step.

It’s a shame, because I had a pretty good idea: Contrariwise. In the first place, I love the word. It reminds me of the first time I saw it in print, Alice’s meeting with Tweedledum and Tweedledee:

They stood so still that she quite forgot they were alive, and she was just looking round to see if the word “TWEEDLE” was written at the back of each collar, when she was startled by a voice coming from the one marked `DUM.’

`If you think we’re wax-works,’ he said, `you ought to pay, you know. Wax-works weren’t made to be looked at for nothing, Nohow!’

`Contrariwise,’ added the one marked `DEE,’ `if you think we’re alive, you ought to speak.’

`I’m sure I’m very sorry,’ was all Alice could say . . .

`I know what you’re thinking about,’ said Tweedledum: `but it isn’t so, nohow.’

`Contrariwise,’ continued Tweedledee, `if it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn’t, it ain’t. That’s logic.’

I was seven years old, lying on the back seat of my Uncle Joe and Aunt Laura’s new car, on the way home to Del Rio after a week-long visit with family in Fentress, and reading Alice in Wonderland, when all of a sudden, my stomach revolted. We stopped at the next service station so they could hose me down. My grandfather, who occupied the other half of the back seat, somehow managed to stay out of the line of fire. Aunt Laura said, “I told you lying down to read would make you carsick.” But it never had, and it hasn’t since, so I think other forces must have been at work.

Anyway, I’ve loved contrariwise ever since. Go figure.

I learned the base word, contrary, long before Alice. My great-aunt Ethel used it to describe her mare, Lady. It was an apt term. That horse personified the expression, “Beauty is only skin deep.”

She never unseated anyone; she simply refused to cooperate: hard to catch (she could walk faster than I); hard to bridle (she was taller than I); hard to saddle (she found the nearest pecan tree, leaned against it, and walked ’round and ’round while I followed, holding the saddle shoulder high and trying to heave it across a moving target.

Once saddled, she gave up being a moving target and became a stationary one. If I wanted to go one way and she wanted to go another, she didn’t insist on her way. She just stopped. And stood. And stood. And stood.

When I was four or five years old, my father let me ride her around in the little fenced enclosure where we kept chickens while he worked. Every time we neared the gate, she stopped. I would holler for my dad. He would come, say, “I told you not to let her get near the gate,” and lead her past. We would make another circuit. She would stop. I would holler for my dad. He would come, say, “I told you not to let her get near the gate,” and lead her  . . . You get the idea.

So there it was. Contrary Lady. Contrary Kathy.

Oh, darn. It’s nearly midnight. Day D.

Contrariwise.

***

To read what other bloggers in the Blogging A to Z Challenge wrote on Day C, click AtoZ.

***

Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Friday Fictioneers: The Red Shoes

The Friday Fictioneer Challenge: Write a 100-word story based on the photo.

Photo Prompt © Magaly Guerrero

 

 The Red Shoes

“A photo prompt? Ooooh. High-heeled lace-ups.”

“What’s that book?”

“So retro—art reference—I want.”

“No. That one. Red cover, gold letters, dog… E-G-P-U-something-C-A-R-O—

“Zoom in. RECRUIT. Dog?”

CAROLINA.”

“Which Carolina?”

OUTHD-E-R—”

DEPOT. Red pumps.”

“ND OUTH CAROLINA…”

“MARINE CORPS RECRUIT DEPOT PARRIS ISLAND, Iwo Jima Memorial. That dress at Nordstrom’s . . . ?”

“The dog–“

Where?”

“On the ‘memorial.’ English Bull. Eyes, ears, big red tongue.”

“Going shopping. ‘Bye.”

Ohhhh. Not a tongue. The cover. There’s the Marine’s bottom… his leg… I thought it was a dog.”

“A Rorschach cover.”

“What’s a dog mean?”

“What’s a bottom mean?”

*

Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island South Carolina 1968  ~~~ Not the same, but similar

*

Afterword
Word Count: 42

Ernest and William © MK Waller

Speaker # 1 didn’t go shopping for red pumps. He stayed home, worked on his cartoons, did laundry, and massaged William the Cat. “Rorschach cover” is his.

Speaker #2 said, “Thank you,” then wrote and cut and cut and cut. And wrestled with Ernest the Cat.

*****

 For more stories by Friday Fictioneers, click the Froggy.       

Branding: It’s Not Just for Cows Any More

Before launching into the post, a definition of terms:

brand

noun

1. kind, grade, or make, as indicated by a stamp, trademark, or the like: the best brand of coffee.
2. a mark made by burning or otherwise, to indicate kind, grade, make, ownership, etc.
3. a mark formerly put upon criminals with a hot iron.
4. any mark of disgrace; stigma.
5. branding iron.
6. a kind or variety of something distinguished by some distinctive characteristic:
The movie was filled with slapstick—a brand of humor he did not find funny.

*****

In such moments of doubt, I look to history for reassurance. It’s always comforting to be reminded that literary whoring — I mean, self-marketing — has been practiced by the greats.

~ Tony Perrottet, “How Writers Build the Brand,” NYT Sunday Book Review

***

The Waller Brand. © MK Waller (Yes, that is a blanket used as a drape.)

When I think of brands, I think of Opal the White-faced Hereford.

She was big and sleek and fat, the only registered cow in the Waller herd, and the best escape artist in the history of cowdom.

No matter how strong the fence–heavy cedar posts, six strands of barbed wire, stretched tight, a barricade I couldn’t get through without a follow-up of iodine and gauze–she broke out. How the beast breached the barricade was a mystery and remained so for a long time.

Finally she slipped up, as bovines sometimes do, and busted out while my father was watching. He said she just lay down beside the wire and rolled under. A regular Hairy Houdini.

To her credit, she never fled, nor did she meander into the neighbor’s maize, but grazed beside the narrow lane between the fence and the property line.

Nevertheless, since cows are capricious, my father bought a brand. In my honor–and because technically Opal was mine–he chose a K.

“chisholm trail 2” by S. J. Driscoll is licensed under CC BY 2.0

I hasten to say the branding was nothing like you see on Rawhide. He did not restrain Opal, stick the iron into a blazing fire, and sear her hide. After repeatedly shooing her back through the gate, he probably wanted to, but he didn’t.* He merely dipped the iron into an acid designed for the purpose, walked up to her, patted her on the back, and pressed it against her hip. The acid ate the hair and killed the follicles, so she was left wearing the initial. Maybe she itched a for a few days, but that was nothing compared to what the barbs must have felt like.

The K didn’t keep her confined, of course, but it made her easier to spot if she ever decided to widen her social circle.**

Well, anyway, when I think of brands, I think of Opal, or did until the writing thing came along–and I learned I must have a brand so readers can identify me.

The prospect wasn’t pleasant. I felt like a box of Kleenex.™

But it had to be done, so finally I’m designing my brand.

Unfortunately, the K won’t do. I mean, it really won’t do. When I put MURDER ON WHEELS (see sidebar) on Goodreads, I was immediately confused with a different Kathy Waller. That required some straightening out. Googling Kathy Waller brings up a multitude of people I’m not, including the EVP and CFO of the Coca-Cola Company (NYSE: KO). (I wouldn’t mind being the EVP of Coca-Cola, but the company would.)

Officially, I’m a Mary Katherine, so I have options. Mary Katherine isn’t one of them. In the early years, I liked it just fine, but lately I’ve heard, “Are you a nun?” often enough not to want it hanging around.

“Lone Star Attitude – DFW” by kathywd is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

People who don’t know me well, and some who do, call me Mary, so when I hear that name shouted out in a doctor’s waiting room, I answer, but it’s still a little foreign. I sign Mary K., a name I’ve come to despise, in part because it’s sometimes confused with Mary Kaye and I have to get that untangled, but mainly because Mary Kay makes lipstick and I don’t.

Once again, Google proves its worth. M. K. Waller brings up only one other person with my initials. That’s good.

When I search for MK, Google thinks I mean MK Wallet and pulls up only Michael Kors, which appears to be more of a business (jet set luxury: designer handbags, watches, shoes, clothing & more. Receive free shipping and returns on your purchase). That’s even better. But I don’t like the way it looks on the page.

So I’ve settled on M. K. 

The name chosen, I changed the theme–appearance–of the blog. I wanted to change it anyway, because I was tired of the previous one, and it seemed best to make one smooth transition rather than two bumpy ones. I’m not sure about the new theme. I may change it again, but M. K. will remain.

There’s one more aspect of branding I’m still ruminating** over, so I’ll leave it for another time.

I’ll add, however, that I first ran across the word ruminate in a line from James Thomson’s “Winter”:

The Cattle, from th’untasted Fields, return,
And ask, with Meaning low, their wonted Stalls;
Or ruminate in the contiguous Shade . . . 

In the context of the poem, ruminate means “to chew again what has been chewed slightly and swallowed :  chew the cud.”

And I complete this post by circling back to the beginning, starting with cows and ending with cows, and thus preserve the unities, as every writer, duke, and scoundrel knows is proper.

*

P. S. What do you think of the new design? Both positive and negative comments are welcome. I need to know. The page I’d like feedback on is here: http://kathywaller1.com

***

* If he’d threatened to brand her the old-fashioned way, I would have cried and that would have been the end of that. (Maybe.)

“Cows at the County Fair 1” by Laura Ritchie is licensed under CC BY 2.0

**In fairness, I add that Opal wasn’t the only one who*** got over the wall. Clyde Barrow escaped a couple of times. But he was a Holstein and flew over the fence, as Holsteins are often wont to do, so there was no mystery. We would have been surprised if he hadn’t.

The animals in the photograph are cows, not steers, and they might not be Holsteins, but they’re black and white, and they’re sweet, and I have poetic license, so I ask you to suspend disbelief for the moment.

*** My animals are who, not that

Are You Happy Yet?

A fellow writer said the posts that get the most positive reactions on his blog are pictures of his dog. He thinks dog pictures make readers happy and so they like him.

I don’t have a dog, but I want to make you happy, and I want you to like me, so I’ll do the best I can with what I’ve got. This will at least fill the gap until I return to my regular schedule.

If you’ve seen pictures of William and Ernest, you’ll note nothing has changed.

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Diary of Louisa May Alcott: Virtues and Vices

IMG_0191.2
The Davis Tribe of the Tiger

Louisa wrote in her journal about a conversational lesson with Mr. Lane:

“What virtues do you wish more of?” asks Mr. Lane.

I answer:–

Patience,                Love,                Silence,

Obedience,            Generosity,     Perseverance,

Industry,                 Respect,           Self-denial.

“What vices less of?”

Idleness,                  Wilfullness,      Vanity,

Impatience,             Impudence,     Pride,

Selfishness,              Activity,            Love of cats.

   from The Girlhood Diary of Louisa May Alcott, 1843-1846:
   Writings of a Young Author

William
William of Orange
Ernest
Ernest, Earl Grey

What I Learned from Ernest Hemingway, Plus a Photo of Gregory Peck, Plus Snakes

What if soy milk is just milk introducing itself in Spanish?*

***

To Write, etc., has been dormant for a while because I’ve been (a) playing spider solitaire, and (b) working on two pieces of literature:

(1) a story entitled “When Cheese Is Love,” which needs to be 5,000 words but is currently 6,200 words, necessitating radical surgery and the murders of a few darlings; and,

(2) a post for the Austin Mystery Writers blog that would have been online last Monday had I not suffered at tiny fall (and, no, I’m not going to tell how it happened), which rendered me indisposed for just long enough to figure out the post wasn’t coming together as I wanted because I was trying to write about two different topics at once.

I can’t complain about an indisposition that allows me time to realize the first half of a post I’ve drafted says one thing and the second half contradicts it.

My next project will appear right here on To Write, etc. It is tentatively entitled “Snakes I Have Known.”

I spent this evening telling snake stories on Facebook and suddenly realized–it’s like that chapter in For Whom the Bell Tollsno, it’s in “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” actually–where Hemingway wastes a lot of material writing about what his character would never write:

Now he would never write the things that he had saved to write until he knew enough to write them well. . .

***

He remembered the good times with them all, and the quarrels. They always picked the finest places to have the quarrels. And why had they always quarrelled when he was feeling best? He had never written any of that . . .

***

No, he had never written about Paris. Not the Paris that he cared about. But what about the rest that he had never written?

What about the ranch and the silvered gray of the sage brush, the quick, clear water in the irrigation ditches, and the heavy green of the alfalfa. The trail went up into the hills and the cattle in the summer were shy as deer. . . 

About the half-wit chore boy who was left at the ranch that time and told not to let any one get any hay, and that old bastard from the Forks who had beaten the boy when he had worked for him stopping to get some feed. The boy refusing and the old man saying he would beat him again. The boy got the rifle from the kitchen and shot him when he tried to come into the barn . . . 

So there it is. Hemingway threw away all those stories by putting them inside of a dying character thinking about the stories he will never write.

And Hemingway never wrote them either. He wrote about them. What a waste.**

Heaven forfend that I should meet a similar fate. I’m not going to write about those snake stories. I’m going to write them.

So watch this space.

In case you don’t care for snakes, don’t worry–I won’t include pictures of them. And no one will be bitten. All my snake stories are true, but I kept my distance while they were happening.

***

*The question is rhetorical and appears only because I’m feeling whimsical. And because this is  my blog and nobody’s grading it and I can do whatever I please. So there.

**For most of this post, my tongue is firmly planted in my cheek, but this paragraph comes from the heart. It’s sad that Hemingway left stories untold. It’s sad that any writer does that. And I guess they all do.

September SinC-Up: Lynna Williams’ Gift of Voice

On my way home from work one night in the ’90s, I heard actress Judith Ivey on Selected Shorts, reading “Personal Testimony,” a short story by Lynna Williams.

The narrator is eleven-year-old Ellen Whitmore, a preacher’s daughter from Fort Worth, who is at Southern Baptist summer camp in Oklahoma. At evening services, when campers are expected to witness to their experiences of sin and repentance, Ellen demonstrates a talent that catches the attention of fifteen-year-old Michael. Although he’s reputed to be most spiritual boy in camp, Michael has what Ellen’s brother calls “Jesus Jaw”– he has plenty to say but can’t complete a simple sentence: “I just–I mean, it’s just so–I just . . .” He tells Ellen he wishes he could speak about his spiritual life as easily as she can speak about hers, so, following her mother’s example, she offers to help. Within days, she has a thriving business writing personal testimonies for older campers, a gratifying popularity, and a fat stack of bills stashed in her Bible at John 3:16. Her adventure in capitalism ends at the summer’s final service, when she sees her father in the congregation, realizes he knows, and makes one last and very public attempt to avoid his wrath.

I’ve heard that people don’t laugh aloud when alone. That’s not true. I sailed down I-35 guffawing and then quickly broke out in tears.

(I hate it when writers manipulate me like that. It’s just one more skill to covet.)

I’d been writing off and on for a few years but hadn’t produced anything even marginally successful. A small circle of friends and family liked the pieces I showed them, but they also liked me– most of the time–and they weren’t seasoned critics anyway. The writing was bad. I was frustrated. Not knowing what was wrong, I couldn’t make it right. Classes and workshops didn’t help.

The night I heard Judith Ivey read, all that changed. I didn’t experience an epiphany, per se, but there was a definite moment of enlightenment: My best work was bad because it had no voice. I had no voice. The nearest I could manage was a small-time literary critic in love with semicolons.

Listening to “Personal Testimony,” I heard Lynna William’ voice and knew what I should do.

My work should sound natural to my ear. Informal. Fluid. First person narration by a self-absorbed eleven-year-old girl with attitude, precocious in some areas and in others absolutely clueless. That comprised Enlightenment, Part I.

Then came Enlightenment, Part II: I’ve been hearing that voice most of my life. It’s the one I think in. I didn’t have to worry about copying Williams–it’s my voice, too. I’d just never recognized its potential.

Not long after hearing “Personal Testimony,” I allowed the eleven-year-old in my head to dictate a story while I wrote. Then she dictated another. And they worked.

My inner child is different from Ellen, as is only right. Mine is sharper, has more attitude. I have no idea why.

A year ago, my eleven-year-old suddenly morphed into a forty-year-old woman. She has so much attitude she’s scary. Now there’s a third voice, very different from the other two, stronger and scarier even than the forty-year-old. The third voice came as a relief. I’d wondered whether the pre-teen was all I had. What if everything I wrote came from the same source and sounded just like what had come before? The child is fun to listen to, for a while, but after a time, she can become wearing. I spend enough time with her as it is. Readers would soon get their fill.

There are some things that can’t be learned in a classroom. An instructor might have told me my work lacked voice, but he couldn’t have said how to find the right fit.

I’m indebted to Lynna Williams for helping me to hear a girl’s voice, and to recognize its value. She inspired hope. She showed me that if I listen, the eleven-year-old in my head will tell me what I need to know.

 ###

Lynna Williams teaches creative writing at Emory University. Read excerpts from “Personal Testimony” at Google Books. The story also appears in Texas Bound: Stories by Texas Writers, Read by Texas Readers. This book comes with an audiobook on cassette tape featuring Judith Ivey’s reading.

Several sermons that appear online refer to “Personal Testimony.” Read one of them here.

###

Do you like dark and compelling mysteries? That’s how a reader describes Elizabeth Buhmann’s first novel, Lay Death at Her Door. I’m tagging Elizabeth. Click here to visit her blog and read another post in Sisters in Crime’s September SinC-Up.

 

 

 

 

Photo Challenge: Dialogue #2: Socks

2014-09-03 010The photo display below illustrates what happens when the photographer reads the rules but immediately forgets them. Instead of photos engaged in dialogue, she shoots photos of objects engaged in dialogue.

It also shows what happens when one sock of each pair is eaten by the dryer: Those left behind have nothing to do but sit around and talk.

If there’s any justice in this world, this will be the last inane piece I’ll post, at least for a while. The previous post spotlighting the filthy mouse appeared because I was trying to attach my blog to Bloglovin‘ and wasn’t sure it would work, and I wanted to do more than post a possibly unworkable link. And after reading reams of instructions and not being convinced I understood them, I was disgusted enough to advertise the state of my refrigerator’s underside. I do move the appliance to mop, but I’m not compulsive about it. And I don’t want to offend by tossing my children’s favorite toy. Unfortunately, sponging mousie off does nothing for its appearance.

WordPress advises not to post when you have nothing to say. Once more I’ve violated the rule. Forgive me. As atonement, I offer socks and a cat.*

Also, please forgive the sock with the hole. I don’t wear it unless I want to make a statement. Then I pair it with the adjacent mismatch. I’m not comfortable that way, but people know that I’m my own person and that I have no shame.

See what other photographers have posted to this week’s photo challenge here.

 

*Sometimes, like around midnight, I post from impulse. Sometimes I’m just weak.

 

The House

Only Day 2, and I’m already tempted to drop out of Writing 101.

Yesterday I had all day. I started early, ignored the instructions and wrote what and how I wanted, and took my time doing it. Fine.

Today I had both morning and afternoon meetings, and now I’m as tired as I was when I had an eight-to-five job. In addition, I don’t like the topic. There’s no place I want to beam up to right now except bed.  I’m trying to get my sleep patterns straightened out, and I can’t do that if I stay up writing.

Furthermore–and this the heart of the matter–I don’t like doing descriptive writing. I’m not good at it. When reading, I often skim or skip. I miss a lot of great prose, I know, but I prefer to get on to what the characters are doing. A professor remarked that Hemingway‘s description of the scenery during a drive through the Pyrenees in The Sun Also Rises was some of the finest writing in the English language. We had just read the novel. I tried to look as if I agreed about the quality of the description I hadn’t noticed.

 Now that I’ve expressed my discontent with the topic, I’ll move on to a place I memorized:

My great-grandmother’s house two blocks from the house where I grew up. After you cross FM 20, the street angles off toward the left, and the one house and the foliage between hid Grandmama’s house from ours. The houses weren’t far apart, but when you crossed the two-lane road we called “the highway,” and the street made that little jog you felt like you were in a different part of town altogether.

 My great-grandmother died three years before I was born. When I was a child I called it “Aunt Ethel’s house” for the great-aunt who lived there. When my uncle inherited it, it became “Donald’s house.” My father, who, with his four brothers, had lived there as a child, after his mother died called it simply “the house.” “I’m going up to the house,” he would say. No one ever asked him to explain.

 It sat on the corner a block from Main Street, a white frame house with a big front porch. At each end a door led to a bedroom; the door to the living room was in the middle. Queen’s crown growing up the brick supports (pillars and columns sound too grand) and provided shade in summer and sometimes a measure of privacy. Inside there was no privacy at all: there were lots of windows, and most rooms had french doors. That they had sheers was little comfort. When we spent the night there once, my mother commented it was like living in a fish bowl. Surrounded by trees, it was hot in summer. On winter nights, when propane space heaters were turned off, it was absolutely freezing.

While my father called it “the house,” my mother called it “Grand Central Station.” Two of Grandmama’s sons lived across the street. Their children and grandchildren were in and out all day. Some walked in through the front door, stopped in the kitchen for a glass of water, and walked out the back without saying Hello. (I always said Hello.) When there was a funeral, four generations met there for lunch, sitting in the dining room, spilling out onto the front porch and the back yard. Those who lived there gathered there in the evenings. Mother offended my father early in their marriage by saying she’d rather stay home and listen to Jack Benny on the radio.

 By the time I was out of high school, things had changed. For the first time, I knocked on the door before walking in. The house was no longer a gathering place. Later, it passed out of the family, and none of us went there at all.

 Several years ago, I was invited back. An estate sale had been scheduled, and the auctioneer, knowing that many things there had been in my family for years, allowed me to come in for a pre-sale sale. I bought an old china cheese keeper that my mother had coveted, and some demitasse spoons from what had probably been Grandmama’s first set of flatware, and a place setting of the flatware used daily when I was a child, entirely utilitarian and, in my opinion, about the ugliest pattern imaginable.

It was strange being back after all those years. I remembered huge bedrooms, huge living room and dining room . . . Everything had shrunk. Except the porch. There was still room for several card tables of domino-playing ladies on summer afternoons.

For years, I felt as if that house belonged as much to me as to the great-aunts and the uncle who lived there. When it passed into new hands, I was sad. But it was a house. People had made it special.

The house was sold. My memories were not.

*****

Recently, the house was sold again, this time to a friend. I’m pleased to know it’s in good hands.