My Gratitude List: 12 Items, Girdles Not Included

Make no mistake:

I am grateful. For my husband, my family, parents who gave me a good start and kept on giving, my home, teachers, education, friends, time to use as I wish, the rights guaranteed to me by the Constitution, the freedom to pursue happiness, good health, and a host of other blessings.

But when I write about blessings, the resulting essay is maudlin, insipid, schmaltzy, and trite.* I just can’t do sincere.*******

So this post is about things not usually seen on Grateful-For lists.To wit:

Coffee shops with enough electrical outlets, appropriately placed, to serve nearly all the people who want to plug in. (There’s no way they could serve all of them.) And that say your car will be towed if it’s parked in their lot for more than three hours but don’t really mean it. (BookPeople. They probably do mean it, but I’ve never been towed. I think it depends on how full the parking lot is.)

Everywhere that provides free Wi-Fi.

   amw logo - roundCoffee shops that allow a critique group to sit around a table and discuss manuscripts, and moan about how hard writing is, and what their kids and their cats are up to, and what their dysfunctional families are up to, and that don’t mind when one member reads aloud a scene involving torture and murder** because both staff and other customers are entranced, listening and wondering whether they’re hearing part of a memoir. And that don’t tow their cars.*****

 Blogs. Mine allows me to write to write to an audience, real or imagined. I need that audience. So do most other writers, including students of all ages.

Books. I like them. I like to read them. I like to buy them. Unfortunately, I like buying more than reading, which is why I have so much to-be-read nonfiction on my bookshelves and elsewhere.***

Bookstore going-out-of business sales. Closing a bookstore is a terrible thing, but if they’re going to close anyway, I don’t mind helping reduce inventory. That’s how I acquired most of that unread nonfiction.

 

English: Borders in West Quay Retail Park, Sou...
English: Borders in West Quay Retail Park, Southampton (Photo credit: Wikipedia) Public domain.

Printers that work.****** Most of them work now, but years ago most didn’t. That’s why my students at the university turned in so many papers with text starting at the middle of the page and running diagonally to the bottom right corner. I told them they really couldn’t do that, and that they needed to do the work earlier and start printing days rather than minutes before leaving for class. But I knew if I used a printer, my papers would look like theirs. I was still using a typewriter. When I put the paper in straight, my pages looked okay.

Mark Twain, Emily Dickinson, William Dean Howells, Henry James, Edith Wharton, Clyde Edgerton, Kathie Pelletier, T. R. Pearson, Olive Ann Burns, Fannie Flagg, Elizabeth Berg, Josephine Tey, Ruth Rendell, P. D. James, and the list runs on. If there are any questions about why I’m grateful, pick up some of their books. For Elizabeth Berg, begin with Durable Goods (her first novel, and yes, I despise her). For Clyde Edgerton get Raney, Walking Across Egypt, Killer Diller (WAE’s sequel), or Lunch at the Picadilly; the man is a genius. For Olive Ann Burns, read Cold Sassy Tree, her first and only complete novel; I feel about her like I feel about Elizabeth Berg, see above. I’d like to feel that way about Clyde Edgerton, but I can’t, because I want to be Clyde Edgerton.

Karleen Koen,**** writer and instructor, who said, “I can’t teach you to write, but I can teach you to play.” And she can. And she did. And I had the time of my life writing and writing and writing. Anyone who wants to write and has the opportunity to take one of her classes should sign up asap. See her blog, Karleen Koen – Writing Life, and her webpage, Karleen Koen. Find information about the courses she teaches at Karleen Koen – Courses. Karleen has published four impeccably researched historical novels, set in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; the latest, Before Versailles, takes place in the court of Louis XIV, in the early years of his reign.

Karleen Koen
Karleen Koen

 

Three of Karleen Koen's novels on classroom floor at WLT retreat, Alpine, TX, 2014
Three of Karleen Koen’s novels displayed on classroom floor at WLT retreat, Alpine, TX, 2014. The little orange things in the lower right corner might be peanut butter cups.

 Dictionary.com and Thesaurus.com, which I keep running in the background when I work. Dictionary.com gives me exact definitions of words. Thesaurus.com answers the question, What’s that word that means something like XXXXXXXXXX but not exactly, and it’s standing at the beginning of my hypoglossal nerve but refuses to sprint on down to my tongue, and I cannot finish this sentence without it? These sites are a godsend for people who hyperventilate at the thought of leaving a blank space and moving on.

 Bookworm. Yes, that one. The vile, disgusting, devilish online game that is a thousand times worse than solitaire, because if the Bookworm player is good enough, the game never ends. The player can sit mindlessly clicking on letters to make words, and if the letters he clicks don’t make a word, he just tries again, and he can play while he’s watching-listening to television, or petting the cat, or carrying on a conversation, or trying to think what his Main Character should do next because he’s painted her into a corner . . . Obviously, I know whereof I write.

 I’m grateful for Bookworm, however, because sometimes I need the comfort of a mindless, repetitive task. Playing Bookworm can be a method of avoidance, but it can also be a way of putting the mind on autopilot, giving it the freedom to figure out how to get the Main Character out of the corner she’s stuck in.

 Caveat: Playing Bookworm for too long at one sitting, day after day, month after month, can result in repetitive stress injuries. For example, the mouse hand and all that’s attached to it, right on up to the shoulder, can be rendered painful and practically useless until the light dawns and the victim realizes why she can’t raise her right arm.

 Readers. I’m grateful for everyone who reads my posts, especially the posts that are two or three times as long as blog posts should be. This one is four times as long. Contrary to my expectations, everything on the list relates to writing. I had intended to include Relaxed Fit Slacks and The Demise of the Girdle. But tomorrow is another day.

 (The Demise of the Girdle. Wouldn’t that make a marvelous title for a novel? Should it be mystery, romance, or science fiction?)

 

William Davis & Bookworm
William Davis & Bookworm

* See Thesaurus.com. That’s where I found all these synonyms for bathetic.

** Do I have your attention now? The book is Dance on His Grave; the author is Sylvia Dickey Smith. Sylvia no longer lives here, so Austin Mystery Writers meetings don’t draw as much attention from surrounding tables.

*** Don’t ask where elsewhere is. It’s not relevant.

**** This is not an advertisement, paid or otherwise. Karleen is an excellent teacher–few instructors can keep twenty tired adults happy for a whole week by assigning more homework. (See Morning Pages)

***** See Coffee Shops, above.

****** And printers that don’t drink ink.

******* Last summer, when I wept bitter tears because I couldn’t write what I was trying to write (not my usual practice, but I was having a bad summer), Karleen told me what to do instead, and before anyone says Hahahahahah, I’ll add she was quite nice about it, and said I should aspire to write like David Sedaris. Have you ever known of David Sedaris to do sincere?

 

Grappling with King Charles’ Head

Portrait of King Charles I in the robes of the...
Portrait of King Charles I in the robes of the Order of the Garter. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have been–to use a term I learned from fellow blogger Kate Shrewsday–in a funk hole.

Recent events in the American political arena have had me biting my tongue and wearing mittens to keep from making an abject fool of myself on this blog.

Every time I started a post, I immediately thought of a number of men whose names I will not mention–yes, always men–and my chosen topic veered off the rails into an area I prefer not to traverse.

I felt like Mr. Dick, David Copperfield’s friend, whose attempts to complete his Memorial were repeatedly obstructed by the intrusion of King Charles’ Head.

Lacking Mr. Dick’s good sense, sweet temper, and ability to construct a kite from a laptop monitor, I went underground. Crawled under the porch. Played Bookworm for two or three weeks.

Bookworm is a good game. One evening I racked up 2,000,000 points before my library burned up. This is not a boast. It is a source of shame. But it kept me from posting.

I’ve also watched all the P. D. James mystery adaptations on Netflix, some of them twice. And all the episodes of Kingdom three or four times. I was so unhappy to learn Kingdom ran only three seasons. Here I am left hanging, wondering who Peter Kingdom really is.

But I believe my topic has once again taken off on its own.

The point is that you, Dear Reader, do not come here to read what I think of the current U. S. political scene, nor do you need to know about my obsessive-compulsive personality. Or my sharp tongue.

I prefer that you think of me as a kindly, marshmallowy creature, constitutionally incapable of an unrefined thought. Kind of like Jane Bennett.

And to that end, I found myself a funk hole and crawled in.

When I came out to test the waters, I wrote about cats, the subject least likely to attract King Charles’ Head.

Having passed that test, I now return to the fold.

Round #2 of A Round of Words in 80 Days begins this week. I flunked–if that’s possible–Round #1–but I’m willing to give it another try.

My Round #2 goal is to submit to my critique group every week. Period.

King Charles and the U. S. Congress can go fly a kite.