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.
~ Mark Twain, Pudd’nHead Wilson
I believe in eating locally grown food. I also believe in eating watermelon.
For a couple of months out of the year, I can do both.
For years, I did both, waited through long months of fall and winter and spring, until late June, when the Luling fields came in and brought the food the angels eat.
Waiting wasn’t easy, especially since I was at the same time waiting for roasting ears to get ripe. Field corn—horse corn—musty-flavored yellow dent: not the food of angels, perhaps, but only because they don’t know about it.
But this post is about watermelon. It’s high in fiber and potassium, low in calories, and available in grocery stories year-’round. A couple of months ago, I decided—I’ll wait for Stonewall peaches, but watermelon, wherever it comes from, I’m having now.
Except tonight, when David called from the kitchen, “This watermelon is bad. I just stuck the knife in, and look.”
I trotted in to see.
It was bad.
I’d never seen anything like it.
No matter. We always have a back-up.
Read about square watermelons at Wikipedia. Common in Japan, they’re “purely ornamental” and “tend to appeal to wealthy or fashionable consumers . . . in 2001 they cost anywhere from two to three times a normal watermelon (at about $83).”
Note: Eighty-three dollars is much more than two to three times what I pay for a watermelon.
Another note: The corn pictured above is getting on toward horse stage. Humans eat it as soon as it’s ripe. I haven’t seen yellow dent corn in years. They don’t sell horse corn in grocery stores.
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.
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.
That sort of interference in behalf of abused animals was a common thing with her [Twain’s mother] all her life; and her manner must have been without offense and her good intent transparent, for she always carried her point and also won the courtesy and often the friendly applause of the adversary. All the race of dumb animals had a friend in her. By some subtle sign the homeless, hunted, bedraggled and disreputable cat recognized her at a glance as the born refuge and champion of his sort–and followed her home. His instinct was right, he was as welcome as the prodigal son. We had nineteen cats at one time, in 1845. And there wasn’t one in the lot that had any character, not one that had any merit, except the cheap and tawdry merit of being unfortunate. They were a vast burden to us all–including my mother–but they were out of luck and that was enough; they had to stay. However, better these than no pets at all; children must have pets and we were not allowed to have caged ones. An imprisoned creature was out of the question–my mother would not have a rat to be restrained of its liberty.
I’ve posted some of these quotations before. For the record, I like dogs, too. But at the moment, I’m sitting under a sleeping cat–and holding the laptop at a most uncomfortable angle–so cats are on my mind. So is Mark Twain. And I might as well get them out of my system.
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?
He would call (the cats) to “come up” on the chair, and they would all jump up on the seat. He would tell them to “go to sleep,” and instantly the group were all fast asleep, remaining so until he called “Wide awake!” when in a twinkling up would go their ears and wide open their eyes.
Twain owned up to 19 cats at one time, writes Livius Drusus for Mental Floss, “all of whom he loved and respected far beyond whatever he may have felt about people. His cats all bore fantastical titles, among them: Apollinaris, Beelzebub, Blatherskite, Buffalo Bill, Satan, Sin, Sour Mash, Tammany, Zoroaster, Soapy Sal and Pestilence, writes Drusus.
Throughout his life, when Twain travelled he would rent cats to take the place of his left-behind companions. “The most famous cat-renting episode occurred in Dublin, New Hampshire, in 1906,” writes Mack Hitch for New England Today. “Twain biographer Albert Bigelow Paine was there when the author rented three kittens for the summer. One he named Sackcloth. The other two were identical and went under the joint name of Ashes.” Why rent, you ask? He couldn’t travel with the cats, so he’d rent them and then leave behind money to help cover their care during all nine of their lives.
~ “Mark Twain Liked Cats Better Than People: Who Wouldn’t?” Kat Escher,Smithsonian.com
When a man loves cats, I am his friend and comrade, without further introduction.
Her interest in people and other animals was warm, personal, and friendly. She always found something to excuse, and as a rule to love, in the toughest of them–even if she had to put it there herself. She was the natural ally and friend of the friendless. It was believed that, Presbyterian as she was, she could be beguiled into saying a soft word for the devil himself, and so the experiment was tried. The abuse of Satan began; one conspirator after another added his bitter word, his malign reproach, his pitiless censure, till at last, sure enough, the unsuspecting subject of the trick walked into the trap. She admitted that the indictment was sound, that Satan was utterly wicked and abandoned, just as these people had said; but would any claim that he had been treated fairly? A sinner was but a sinner; Satan was just that, like the rest. What saves the rest?–their own efforts alone? No–or none might ever be saved. To their feeble efforts is added the mighty help of pathetic, appealing, imploring prayers that go up daily out of all the churches in Christendom and out of myriads upon myriads of pitying hearts. But who prays for Satan? Who, in eighteen centuries, has had the common humanity to pray for the one sinner that needed it most, our one fellow and brother who most needed a friend yet had not a single one, the one sinner among us all who had the highest and clearest right to every Christian’s daily and nightly prayers, for th pelain and unassailable reason that his was the first and greatest need, he being among sinners the supremest?
This friend of Satan was a most gentle spirit and an unstudied and unconscious pathos was her native speech. When her pity or her indignation was stirred by hurt or shame inflicted upon some defenseless person or creature, she was the most eloquent person I have heard speak. It was seldom eloquence of a fiery or violent sort, but gentle, pitying, persuasive, appealing; and so genuine and so nobly and simply worded and so touchingly uttered, that many times I have seen it win the reluctant and splendid applause of tears.
The Autobiography of Mark Twain, edited by Charles Neider. New York: HarperPerennial, 2013.
The cover displayed above is from the Deluxe Modern Classic (Harper Perennial Modern Classics) Kindle edition, published in 2011.
NaNoWriMo –National Novel Writing Month–the month* in which participants vow to write a 50,000-word novel–and some of them do–began yesterday.
The goal–if you want to reach 50,000 words and win NaNoWriMo (which from this point on will be called NaNo), you need to write an average of 1667 words a day.
I’ve registered for NaNo–there’s a website–at least three times, maybe four. Unfortunately, every year, as soon as I signed on, I became claustrophobic and began to hyperventilate. Mentally, not physically, but mentally is bad enough. There was something about having to write a novel in a month that made me feel the walls were closing in, as if I had to do something I didn’t want to do, as if someone were forcing me to write that novel in a month. No one was forcing me, but seeming can feel a lot like being.
For example, consider what Hamlet** says to his mother the first time we see them together. He’s been going around wearing customary suits of inky black day after day, and suspiring all over the palace, and although his mother knows he’s grieving for his dead father, she says everybody does that at one time or another, and asks why he seems so much more miserable than others in the same situation.
In other words, this isn’t put on, he’s genuinely perturbed. Of course, there’s more to it than he lets on: After his father died, before the funeral baked meats, like the casseroles and tuna sandwiches the neighbors brought in, had been consumed, his mother went and married her husband’s brother, who doesn’t have much to recommend him. That would make any prince suspire. And Hamlet must be irritated that his mother is so clueless. She asks a silly question, and he sasses her. “Nay, it is; I know not “seems,” is, in modern terms, something like, Well, d’oh.
Anyway, back to NaNo. The mere act of registering gives me a serious case of the fantods.
Hamlet could have addressed his fantods by confronting his mother and his uncle and asking straight out what in the world they thought they were doing, but instead he takes the passive-aggressive route and pretends he’s unhinged.
I, on the other hand, have, every year, faced my dilemma head on: I’ve dropped out. No novel, no problem.
This year, however, I’m confronting it by plowing on through. I shall, and I will, write 50,000 words by November 30. I’ll go from beginning to middle to end, I’ll submit my scrambled manuscript through the NaNo website, and I’ll win.
On the basis of my experience, both past and present, I’ve come up with some helpful hints I’m happy to share:
After you register for NaNo, be proactive. Fill out your profile. You don’t have to use your real name. Title your book. It doesn’t matter what, just name it and record it on the website. Join a community. Then write a synopsis. If you don’t have a plot, wing it. Nobody’s going to read it, and it might end up working out. Complete these steps and you’ll receive badges. I got one for filling out my profile, one for joining my community (I told them where I live), and one for “creating” my novel. I take issue with that creating business, but if it makes them happy to think so…
Badges make you feel better, so award yourself some for personal achievement. I gave myself a Plantser badge, because I usually have to write for a while before my characters tell me what they want to do (flying by the seat of my pants, or pantsing), but then, once things get going, I come up with a rudimentary framework (plotting). Plotter + pantser = Plantser. I also gave myself a Rebel badge to declare myself a NaNo Rebel!, state my belief “that rules are meant to be broken,” and admit that on November 1, I’ll “start writing anything but a brand new novel.” I could not have phrased that better myself. Plantser and Rebel might seem contradictory, but who cares.
Relax. Getting all het up won’t help. By Thanksgiving you’ll be so antsy your family will make you take your plate and eat out on the porch.
Now for the Don’ts:
On November 1, don’t let a podiatrist operate on your foot. It won’t hurt, but it’ll take a chunk out of your day that you should spend working on your novel.
On November 1, don’t have two meetings, even if they promise to be interesting and you want to go. See #1 regarding chunks.
On November 1, when you want to quit, don’t. If you feel the queasies coming on, follow Eloise’s lead: Say, “Pooh pooh to you,”*** and get over it. (Eloise and Hamlet’s mother have a lot in common.)
Don’t schedule the Sisters in Crime chapter newsletter you edit (and write) to post on November 1. Before you post, you’ll have to tweak, and you’ll tweak everything, even things that don’t need tweaking, and you’ll add content, and it’s already too long, and it’ll be 9:00 p. m. before you press Publish.
Don’t download the trial version of Scrivener**** that’s available to every NaNo participant. Even if you’ve used it before, you won’t remember how it works, because it’s big and complicated, and you don’t need it right now anyway, you can get it later, and MS Word is sufficient, and if you have Scrivener, you’ll open it and work out how to color code, and then you’ll spend the rest of November color coding everything from plot points to red herrings to subplots to your cats, if you can figure out how (blue for Ernest’s gray coat, much of which currently adorns my sweats, and rust for William’s elegant cream tabbiness).
On November 2, don’t open your email. Don’t open Facebook. For goodness’ sake, don’t open your blog. Opening your blog will lead to writing a post, any post, because you’ll do everything in your power, even write, to get out of making up 1667 words, which by now have increased to 3334 words because you had surgery and two meetings and a newsletter on November 1. Email might not pose a problem– it depends on how popular you are–but Facebook will take you directly to Candy Crush and you’ll be lost. (Candy Crush Saga, Candy Crush Soda Saga, and Candy Crush Jelly Saga, all of which you sneered at during the years sanity prevailed.)
There are other d0’s and don’ts, but I’m too tired to remember what they are. Except for the one about getting enough sleep. Last night, I didn’t. A nap is inevitable, but there goes another chunk of writing time.
Anyway, that’s my take on NaNoWriMo. Contrary to the what you’ve read here, I have a positive attitude. I’m going to make it.
Because I want to call myself a winner. I want to experience the satisfaction of a job well done. I want to finish a novel so I can go back to short stories where I belong. I want to be a winner. I want a tee-shirt.
But above all, I want Scrivener. I want Scrivener when I create, plot, organize, research, file, write, revise, prepare a final document. I want to join the legions who say Scrivener is the greatest gift to writers since the eraser. I want the 50% discount on Scrivener that winning will earn me.
But above all else, I want Scrivener so I can color code.
* A man invented NaNoWriMo. We know this because it takes place in November.
** For a quotation, an example, a whatever, go to Hamlet. Hamlet and Mark Twain. Everything you need is there.
*** I think Eloise says “Pooh pooh to you.” Somebody says it.
****Scrivener is a sponsor of National Novel Writing Month.
I’ve now written about 1370 words. Only 1964 to go before midnight and I’ll be caught up. Blog posts don’t normally count, but if your main character participates in NaNoWriMo and writes a blog, they do.
My second missed-the-deadline poem written for Nicholas Kristoff’s Trump poetry contest. Sonnet #1 appeared last week. For those who have forgotten, the reference to Stephen Dowling Bots is explained below the sonnet.
How do I love Trump? Let me count the ways.
How do I love Trump? Let me count the ways. Uh… Well… Okay… I’m thinking… But I’ve got
A mental block… I’m sure I have forgot
A word, a speech, a gesture with some grace
Or beauty, decency; a turn of phrase
That doesn’t irritate or make a knot
Form in my gut; a tittle or a jot
That doesn’t jar or send my cheeks ablaze.
I’m sorry that he sets my teeth on edge.
I’m sorry that I do not love him lots.
I’m sad I wish he’d crawl into his shell,
Throw up the sash and climb out on a ledge,
Or, like the storied Stephen Dowling Bots,
Depart D. C. by falling down a well.
Thanks to Elizabeth Barrett Browning for “Sonnet #43.”
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.
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’tdo. 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.
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 . . .
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.)
**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.
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.
Coffee 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.
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.
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?)
* See Thesaurus.com. That’s where I found all these synonyms for bathetic.
*** 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?
Mark Twain is given official credit for this poem, but it was really composed by Emmeline Grangerford, whose family Huckleberry Finn met on his Adventures down the Mississippi River.
Below, Huck quotes Emmeline’s tribute to Stephen Dowling Bots, who came to a watery end. He also records what happened to Emmeline, whose compulsive rhyming finally led to her sadful demise.
This young girl kept a scrap-book when she was alive, and used to paste obituaries and accidents and cases of patient suffering in it out of the Presbyterian Observer, and write poetry after them out of her own head. It was very good poetry. This is what she wrote about a boy by the name of Stephen Dowling Bots that fell down a well and was drownded:
Ode to Stephen Dowling Bots, Dec’d. And did young Stephen sicken, And did young Stephen die? And did the sad hearts thicken, And did the mourners cry?
* No; such was not the fate of Young Stephen Dowling Bots; Though sad hearts round him thickened, ‘Twas not from sickness’ shots. * No whooping-cough did rack his frame, Nor measles drear, with spots; Not these impaired the sacred name Of Stephen Dowling Bots.
* Despised love struck not with woe That head of curly knots, Nor stomach troubles laid him low, Young Stephen Dowling Bots.
* O no. Then list with tearful eye, Whilst I his fate do tell. His soul did from this cold world fly, By falling down a well.
* They got him out and emptied him; Alas it was too late; His spirit was gone for to sport aloft In the realms of the good and great.
If Emmeline Grangerford could make poetry like that before she was fourteen, there ain’t no telling what she could a done by-and-by. Buck said she could rattle off poetry like nothing. She didn’t ever have to stop to think. He said she would slap down a line, and if she couldn’t find anything to rhyme with it she would just scratch it out and slap down another one, and go ahead. She warn’t particular, she could write about anything you choose to give her to write about, just so it was sadful. Every time a man died, or a woman died, or a child died, she would be on hand with her “tribute” before he was cold. She called them tributes. The neighbors said it was the doctor first, then Emmeline, then the undertaker- the undertaker never got in ahead of Emmeline but once, and then she hung fire on a rhyme the dead person’s name, which was Whistler. She warn’t ever the same, after that; she never complained, but she kind of pined away and did not live long.
Mark Twain cared about words: Pa’s boot with a couple of his toes leaking out of the front end; the sow lying in the middle of the street looking as happy as if she was on salary; and Miss Watson, a tolerable slim old maid, with goggles on.
In his autobiography, he tells the story of a time his mother used the right words to teach him a lesson that lasted a lifetime.
There was, however, one small incident of my boyhood days which touched this matter, and it must have meant a good deal to me or it would not have stayed in my memory, clear and sharp, vivid and shadowless, all these slow-drifting years. We had a little slave boy whom we had hired from some one, there in Hannibal. He was from the Eastern Shore of Maryland, and had been brought away from his family and his friends, half way across the American continent, and sold. He was a cheery spirit, innocent and gentle, and the noisiest creature that ever was, perhaps. All day long he was singing, whistling, yelling, whooping, laughing – it was maddening, devastating, unendurable. At last, one day, I lost all my temper, and went raging to my mother, and said Sandy had been singing for an hour without a single break, and I couldn’t stand it, and wouldn’t she please shut him up. The tears came into her eyes, and her lip trembled, and she said something like this—
“Poor thing, when he sings, it shows that he is not remembering, and that comforts me; but when he is still, I am afraid he is thinking, and I cannot bear it. He will never see his mother again; if he can sing, I must not hinder it, but be thankful for it. If you were older, you would understand me; then that friendless child’s noise would make you glad.”
It was a simple speech, and made up of small words, but it went home, and Sandy’s noise was not a trouble to me any more. She never used large words, but she had a natural gift for making small ones do effective work. She lived to reach the neighborhood of ninety years, and was capable with her tongue to the last – especially when a meanness or an injustice roused her spirit.
While I’m in the throes of doing laundry so I can be up in five hours with all the other chickens and get to the airport (and consent to another pat down because the X-ray machine says I have metal under my arm), E. B. White provides today’s post.
Mr. White responds to the ASPCA, which has accused him of “harboring” an unlicensed dog.
Thanks to Letters of Note for sending Mr. White’s missive into my e-mail in-box this morning. And thanks to the ASPCA for accusing Mr. White and thus eliciting this lovely piece of American literature.
If Mr. White’s letter pleases, proceed to Mark Twain’s letters to the Hartford Gas Company. One of the letters is quite brief and appears in an editor’s note just below Mr. Twain’s signature (S. L. Clemens).
A friend asked recently, “Why do you blog? It’s for the numbers, right?”
Numbers are nice. I won’t pretend I don’t look at them. Several times a day, in fact. Compulsively. As one who for a long time was her own audience, I’m delighted by every little hit.
Better than numbers, however, are what the numbers represent: people who take the time and make the effort to visit, read, subscribe, like, and comment. People I’ve gotten to know and like through reading their blogs. People who boost my morale and my ego.
Possibly more of the latter than is good for me, but that’s no reason to stop.
Anyway, I’ve wanted for a long time to say thanks, and now I’m saying it: Thanks.
A recent post concerned my being behind in reading, writing, and a number of other activities. It occurs to me, not for the first time, that sharing my troubles, especially those I myself generate, might not be wise.
As I said, people read these posts. They might get the wrong idea.
So, once more, I shall explain: Like Mr. Mark Twain, I tell the truth—mainly.
In other words, it’s never as quite bad as I say it is. Except when I lock the keys in the car.
I periodically vow to stop yowling about my little quirks, but doing so would raise another problem: I wouldn’t have much to write about.
Posts would go something like this:
The new refrigerator didn’t come again today, so we are still surviving on microwaved frozen entrees (the freezer works), P. Terry burgers, Wendy’s salads, and Chinese take-out.
[At one time, I could have made that into lively, amusing fiction. But I’ve lost all enthusiasm for the topic. David kindly left work and brought me a McDonald’s burger for lunch today. I think that’s about the point at which enthusiasm began to leak.]
On Saturday afternoon, our right front tire began to unravel at 60 mph in the middle lane of IH-35. It went flap-flap-flap, and we knew intuitively that the rubber had met the road and intended to take up residence there. Fortunately for all southbound traffic, it didn’t abandon us completely. We exited the freeway, crept back home, and set out again in the other car. The ailing vehicle is spending the night at the tire store, being completely reshod.
There are the facts, no yowling, no self-recriminations, just the happenings of the past week. Not the stuff of which blogs are made.
One thing did happen today that I would love to post. The bare naked facts, lacking all embellishment, would raise laughter from stones. I’ve been all giggly ever since I hung up the phone. Or perhaps since I relayed the story to David. He didn’t laugh, but I saw the corner of his mouth turn up. That was just after I said, “You were right all along, and you may now say, ‘I told you so.'”
But as much as I want to share, I can’t. Won’t. I am a good, kind, generous, compassionate person of maximum integrity, and I cannot in good conscience send that story into cyberspace. No matter how much the main character deserves it.
What I can do is to tuck it away, let it age, and bring it out again as fiction.
I’ve spent all afternoon trying to figure out how to fit it into my current novel in progress.
But if that doesn’t work, stay tuned. All this laughter is shaking my integrity to its very core. Sooner or later, it’s bound to crack.
Writing about his college years, James Thurber tells the story of Haskins, an agriculture student who takes up journalism, “possibly on the ground that when farming went to hell he could fall back on newspaper work.”
Haskins is assigned the animal husbandry beat, which comprises cows, sheep, and over two hundred horses.
Unfortunately, he is shy and doesn’t know how to use a typewriter. He writes slowly, and his stories are dull.
One day Haskins’ editor assigns him to bring in news from the horse pavilion. Haskins later comes back saying he has a story.
The editor, hoping for something more interesting than he’s been getting, says, “Well, start it off snappily.”
A couple of hours later, Haskins turns in a paper that starts with the following sentence:
“Who has noticed the sores on the tops of the horses in the animal husbandry building?”
That’s the other reason I’m not a journalist: When it comes to writing leads, I’m several steps behind Haskins.
Under most circumstances, I wouldn’t care. I don’t make my living working for a newspaper.
But a lead sentence corresponds in at least one way to the first line of a short story or novel. They both catch the reader’s attention, draw him into the text, make him want to read on.
And there’s this novel I’m working on. And this short story…
And, like Haskins, I’ve heard from some of my critique partners that my first lines leave something to be desired.
After some thought and a brief cooling-off period, I’ve forgiven them and admitted they might be right.
The sad thing is that before my abject humiliation, I never paid much attention to first lines. The sadder thing is that I can quote so many.
Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom noticed it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were.
This is the saddest story I have ever heard.
He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad.
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.
While Pearl Tull was dying, a funny thought occurred to her.
I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.
When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken near the elbow.
When the lights went off the accompanist kissed her.
All children, except one, grow up.
Well, I have broken the toilet.
You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter.
I woke this morning with a stranger in my bed.
Last night I dreamed I went to Manderley again.
They used to hang men at Four Turnings in the old days.
And so on. With all those lines suspended in my brain, you’d think I’d have caught onto why I remember them. And why they’re important.
Here’s the way it works.
A bookstore browser sees a book on the shelf. If the writer is lucky, it sits face out. He takes the volume down, looks at the front cover, the back cover, the first paragraph…and then either buys it or walks away.
And the whole process happens in under ten seconds.
The first line of a novel can make the difference between a sale and a return. Between another advance and a canceled contract.
There’s a lot riding on Scarlett O’Hara not being beautiful. And our not knowing Huck Finn. And what happened when the lights went off.
How does one get to be that good?
The same way one gets to Carnegie Hall, I guess.
And blog blog blog.
Because my concern isn’t just for novels and money and fame. I’d also like the gentle readers who land on To write… to linger longer than the first sentence.
And please discount the business about money and fame. Unless you’re Tom Clancy or Stephen King, those aren’t really part of the package. But they sound good, so I throw them in.
Sorry about that linger longer. Against some things there is no defense.