Dear March — Come in —
How glad I am —
I hoped for you before —
Put down your Hat —
You must have walked —
How out of Breath you are —
Dear March, Come right upstairs with me —
I have so much to tell —
I got your Letter, and the Birds —
The Maples never knew that you were coming — till I called
I declare — how Red their Faces grew —
But March, forgive me — and
All those Hills you left for me to Hue —
There was no Purple suitable —
You took it all with you —
Who knocks? That April.
Lock the Door —
I will not be pursued —
He stayed away a Year to call
When I am occupied —
But trifles look so trivial
As soon as you have come
That Blame is just as dear as Praise
And Praise as mere as Blame —
~ Emily Dickinson
Image of daffodil by Nanda93 (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by Miz B of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along. Just do the following:
Grab your current read.
Open to a random page.
Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page.
BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (Make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
Share the title and author too, so other TT participants can add the book to their TBR lists if they like your teasers.
“I barely had time to flinch before I saw Grace’s body tossed in the air. She flew several feet, then landed in a heap as the unicorn charged again, horn lowered, teeth bared, at the crumpled figure on the ground.”
A while back, WordPress posted a video to explain why some blogs aren’t successful. The video consisted of one word over and over: ME ME ME.
Thinking back over my posts for the past year, I thought, Uh-oh.
I’ve been working under the assumption that I should write what I know, which happens to be me.
WordPress has also been posting ideas for topics, one a day. So I checked those out.
They include the following:
Describe the worst teacher you ever had.
Are you an optimist or a pessimist?
What is your favorite sound?
How do you define a friend?
How do you stay focused?
Describe the most trouble you’ve been in.
What part of life confuses you the most?
Those are ME topics.
Although I appreciate WP’s assistance, they’re also not ones I want to tackle.
I did the friend one in eighth grade (UIL ready-writing contest at the school in Martindale).
I’m a pessimist, I don’t stay focused, and I’m confused by many things simultaneously.
I don’t have a worst teacher (except the one who was too busy leering to teach).
I don’t have a favorite sound (Scott Joplin’s “Bethena,” Chopin’s “Valse in C-sharp minor” from Les Sylphides, and Kiri Te Kanawa singing “O Mio Babbino Caro” are tied right now).
And I do not intend to tell anyone about the worst trouble I’ve been in.
But I will tell about a time I was in trouble. I was four years old, and my friend Helen Ruth and I were going somewhere with my mother. Mother was dressed up so our destination must have been of some consequence. We were probably in a hurry.
We drove downtown and stopped at the store. Mother was standing at the counter, talking to Rob and Nell (the owner-proprietors, as well as my second set of parents), when Helen Ruth and I yielded to impulse and began a wild rumpus.
(It must have been a very tiny wild rumpus or I wouldn’t have lived to the age of five.)
Anyway, we made a lap around the store and ended up in produce, right at the stalk of bananas that hung from the ceiling. Without a word, not a hint of conspiracy, each of us took hold of a low-hanging banana and pulled it from the stalk.
I still marvel at the precision of our timing.
Mother said what mothers say under such circumstances and opened her purse to pay for the bananas. Rob said, No, no, those girls can have the bananas.
We might have had time to say Thank you before Mother hustled us out.
All this happened a long time ago. Helen Ruth has probably forgotten it by now.
If I hadn’t been born feeling guilty, I’d have forgotten it by now.
There is no point to the story.
I’m watching Seinfeld as I write, and it occurs to me that if he can write about nothing, so can I.
Image of bananas by Mschel (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Experts advise against it. When you tell people you’re writing a novel, they reply.
“You still haven’t finished that thing?”
“Why is it taking so long?”
“How much longer are you going to have to work on it?”
“You need to just get busy and write it.”
The questions above fall into the category called Irritating. But the questioners don’t know any better. They’re not familiar with the writing process, they don’t know the difficulties of getting an agent, they don’t know how competitive the market is, especially as we transition into the digital age.
There’s another category of questions that, while unsettling, might be classified as Helpful.
For example, when a writer friend told an acquaintance she was working on a mystery, the acquaintance said, “Well, there’s a formula for that, isn’t there?”
Yes, there is a formula. No, you don’t just make up some new characters and fill in the blanks. No, it doesn’t make the writing any easier.
No–and here’s the answer to the real question–a formula doesn’t make the writing any less worthy of respect.
On the topic of the formula, please take note of the following:
Shakespeare wrote his tragedies according to a formula: five acts, technical climax at the midpoint of Act III, dramatic climax at end of Act V, protagonist with tragic flaw that causes his undoing, etc., etc., etc. He used similar formulas for comedies and histories. His sonnets comprised fourteen lines, iambic pentameter, rime scheme (ababcdcdefef), tied up with a couplet (gg) at the end.
Jane Austen used a formula: Darcy’s first proposal (and subsequent withdrawal of proposal) comes at the exact midpoint of Pride and Prejudice. Open the book to the proposal, and you get half the pages on the left and the other half on the right. It marks the point at which Elizabeth both realizes her folly and loses control of the action.
Edgar Allan Poe wrote according to formula and also wrote an essay explaining the formula.
Aristotle mentioned something about a formula. Writers check out his rules to make certain they have all their bases covered.
From the uninitiated, a formula may elicit sneers.
But Writers, even the Great Unpublished, are proud of the formula, and proud of the company we keep.
When Dr. Francis Carlton Luckett arrived in the tiny farming town of Fentress, Texas, with his wife and infant daughter, in 1917, he planned to stay for one year. He moved there from Valentine, Texas, to fill the practice of a doctor who was serving in World War I. He said his family had nearly starved in Valentine because no one there ever got sick.
The local doctor, however, didn’t return home, but chose to move to San Antonio instead.
So Dr. Luckett remained in Fentress until his death in 1965.
Doctor Luckett was small–not much more than five feet tall–and spoke with a quiet, slow Mississippi drawl and a bit of a lisp. He moved slowly. There was usually a cigarette hanging precariously from his lower lip. How it stayed in place, no one ever knew.
I was fascinated by the photographs of his graduating class hanging in the dark hallway that led back to his waiting room. My mother would hold me up and point out the young man with the handlebar moustache who looked nothing like the doctor we’d come to visit.
He had worked his way through medical school at Tulane by playing the organ in a theater while silent films were shown.
He shared his music with the community by giving concerts and playing for weddings. More than once, he dismantled the organ in his living room, transported it to the Methodist church (whose organ was not in the best of shape), and rebuilt it so he could play at the weddings of young women whose births he had attended. He wrote a piano rag, “Hospital Row,” but, unfortunately, never put it on paper.
Dr. Luckett drove Cadillacs. In the 1950s they were finned and nearly as long as our small-town blocks. He looked very small sitting behind the wheel of those big cars. He drove slowly, starting at his two-storey house at the end of our street, gliding by our house in the mornings and then back home for lunch, and an hour later back to the office.
His personal life held much sadness. After his wife died, he reared his three little girls, just as he had reared his younger sister after their parents died. His oldest daughter died when she was in her forties.
Doctor took trips abroad and then told about his experiences in Sunday-night talks at the Methodist church. He took a three-month trip around the world while my mother was pregnant with me (a fact my parents successfully kept secret from my grandmother). On his last trip to the Holy Land, he brought back a vial of water from the Jordan River, and two infants–one the last baby he delivered, and the other, the last baby named for him–were baptized with that water.
Dr. Luckett was traditional in his views. I was six years old when I heard him agree with my Great-aunt Ethel that Man would never go the moon because it wasn’t in the Bible. They also agreed that when the new dial telephones were installed in Fentress, there would be trouble, because people would get the O and the zero mixed up.
Although he used the relatively new antibiotics liberally, Doctor believed in the healing properties of icthyol–“black salve.” Every house in town probably had a jar. My mother slapped the nasty ointment on me every time I picked up a splinter. I inherited a round cardboard container of it, with Doctor’s name handwritten in faded ink on the lid. He had prescribed it for my great-uncle’s mother-in-law, who died in the late 1940s at the age of nearly one hundred. I’ve never opened the container, but I suspect the contents are still good.
Dr. Luckett was an excellent surgeon and obstetrician. He charged $25.00 for a “baby case,” explaining privately that he chose the figure because it was low enough that he might get paid, and if he didn’t, it wouldn’t matter too much.
There’s no telling how many babies he saw into the world. He delivered my father’s youngest brother in 1919. He delivered me in 1951. In fact, my mother credited him with my being born at all. Several year before my birth she had lost a full-term baby because her doctor had not realized she would need a C-section. Later she learned that Dr. Luckett had asked one of her friends, “Is Crystal going to have a Caesarean?” When the friend said no, he had said, “She’s going to need one.” He’d never been her doctor, but just by observing her build, he had known.
Doctor and I had an excellent working relationship. He gave me shots. I blamed my mother.
He shot me full of penicillin for chronic throat and sinus infections (he and I are no doubt to blame for several antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria, but in the ’50s it seemed the right thing to do). He hated to use needles on children, and somehow I knew that, so he and I remained friends. My mother was the enemy.
When I was six, he removed my tonsils, which were in such bad condition they fell apart in the forceps and and he had to pick them out piece by piece.
My mother was the enemy there, too. The book about tonsils said that during my convalescence, I would be fed ice cream, but when I said I was hungry, the nurse brought me red Jello. It stuck to my stitches. Thirty years later, when I complained, my mother asked why I didn’t just ask for ice cream. She hadn’t known it was an issue. I told her she was supposed to have known.
I should have mentioned it to Doctor. I’m sure he would have prescribed ice cream.
Dr. Luckett practiced until just a year or so before his death. When he died, it was because he just wore out. He had spent his life giving to the community.
In his early years in Fentress, Dr. Luckett lived next door to my father’s uncle and aunt. They thought highly of him, and their son went into medicine because of his influence.
Not long before her death, Aunt Bettie told me a story I’d never heard:
Soon after Dr. Luckett opened his practice in Fentress, he was called to deliver the baby of an Hispanic woman, the wife of a farm laborer. He entered the one-room shanty and found the pregnant woman lying on a bare dirt floor. Chickens roamed loose a few feet away.
He was horrified. He later said he had never seen such misery.
Riding back to town in his buggy, he said to himself, “This must not be.” He went to work creating a small maternity ward in his office building on the main street of town. For the rest of his years there, he required women who didn’t have a proper place to give birth, and who couldn’t afford hospital care, to come to his clinic. He was determined to give their children the best start in life that he could.
“When he provided a good place for those women,” said my aunt, “he raised the level of our community.”
And he no doubt saved dozens, perhaps hundreds, of lives of both women and children.
In the mid-1990s, thirty years after Dr. Luckett died, a clerk at a pharmacy in San Marcos, fifteen miles from Fentress, noted the address on my check and said, “Fentress. I was born in Fentress.”
My Southern upbringing coming to the fore, I asked about her family.
“Oh,” she said, “my family never lived there. I was just born there.”
She had no idea that her mother had given birth at Doctor’s clinic.
There was something else she didn’t know–that we were part of the same family.
We were both Dr. Luckett’s babies.
Image by HujiStat (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Sometime back in the 1930s, my grandmother picked up the telephone receiver just in time to hear the Methodist minister’s wife, on the party line, drawl, “I am just wo-ahn out. I’ve been waterin’ the yahd.”
The statement might not seem significant, but my family has its own criteria for significance. And so those two sentences entered the vernacular.
They were used under a variety of circumstances: after stretching barbed wire, frying chicken, mowing the lawn.
My father would fold the newspaper, set it on the table, and announce, “I am just wo-ahn out. I’ve been waterin’ the yahd.”
I am wo-ahn out, too. I’ve been taking the Jeopardy online test.
Fifty questions, fifteen seconds to type each answer. Spelling didn’t count but was appreciated. Short answers were accepted, not in the form of a question.
I didn’t do too badly, I think. Better than last year. Last year was a mess.
I won’t include specifics, but I did okay on questions related to literature, biology, and chemistry.
But I won’t be called in for an interview. My natural distaste for geography and abject ignorance of popular culture took care of that.
And there was the What’s-His-Name problem. I can see his face but–
Time is up. Proceed to the next question.
Students used to say, Why do we have to study literature? Why do we have to read Shakespeare? Beowulf? Canterbury Tales? All this stuff?
I would say, So you will know the pleasure of beautiful words and elevated thoughts. So you will understand literary allusions. So you will be culturally literate. So you will be educated.
So when you see an ad for fat-free cheese with a caption reading, A lean, not hungry, look, you will recognize the copywriter has read Julius Caesar.
Finally–finally–I came up with the right answer: You study literature so when Alex Trebec says, “The blank ‘for all his feathers, was a-cold’ you will buzz in and put the answer in the form of a question and walk away with a pile of money.
That got their attention.
I don’t know that it’s actually happened for any of them. But I fully expect to turn on the television someday and see one of my students clicking away.
It hasn’t worked for me. But that’s all right. It is the student’s job to surpass the teacher. I shall have a vicarious victory.
Now it’s almost midnight. I must post and then retire.
Because I am just wo-ahn out. I’ve been waterin’ the yahd.
0.9 inches of snow with ice beneath, no power outages, stayed warm, wore turtleneck and roomy pullover with cowl neck and loose 3/4 sleeves to shop, shucked out of pullover in the bathmat aisle, displayed no modesty whatsoever, bought cheap watch strictly on the basis of how big the numbers are, bought plush bathmat for cats to sleep on downstairs, cats said thanks but no thanks upstairs is warmer, totted up writing assignments and despaired of ever catching up, cooked dinner, wrote several e-mails, all of them vastly more interesting than this post, rued decision to post daily, posted anyway.
Freezing rain, sleet, and drizzle. Williamson County is getting snow, but we’re getting freezing rain, sleet, and drizzle.
I’m fortunate. I don’t have to travel. JFTHOI Writers meet tomorrow–or meets tomorrow–but attendance isn’t compulsory. When roads are icy, few things are compulsory. I fell off one highway once because of a patch of ice, and I don’t care to repeat the experience.
If my husband has to leave for work at the usual time, I’ll worry. But when roads are bad, his office generally delays opening.
So there it is. I have a stack of books. If the power is on, I have the laptop. If the power isn’t on, I have a bed and a heavy comforter and a couple of cats.
I don’t give much credence to P. Phil’s forecasts. When I was very young, my mother let me in on the secret that even if the groundhog didn’t see his shadow and scoot back into his burrow, we would still have to endure another six weeks of coats and scarves before spring arrived.
And thus was a seed of cynicism planted in a young girl’s heart.
That’s okay. It comes in handy.
At present, Austin’s official temperature is 25 degrees Fahrenheit. My laptop gadget reads 23 degrees.
My right hand and the little strip of skin between the bottom of my bluejeans and the top of my sock is about minus 2.
im testionmg tp see wjetje4r I cfnm tu[e wi9tju gl;ves om.
Obviously not. That looks like a visual rendition of what happened when my cousin Jimmy wore his baseball glove while practicing the piano.
According to the article cited below, when P. Phil was making his proclamation, the temperature was 35 degrees. That means Pennsylvania was 10 degrees warmer than the air on the other side of the sliding glass door beside my chair.
That is not right.
Because of the storm (here called a “norther”) Texas is experiencing a series of planned rolling blackouts. How long they’ll last can’t be predicted. I’ve turned off lights, television, oven, and coffee maker. I set the thermostat on 65 and hope that’s low enough to make a difference. I turned off the desktop computer. Then I tried to access the wireless network from the laptop.
I turned the desktop back on. With the thermostat at 65, and all the lights and appliances off, perhaps that one extra computer won’t upset the grid.
Central Texans are officially keyed up in anticipation of tomorrow’s possible snowfall, perhaps one to three inches, perhaps. Snow isn’t reliable in this part of the country. In my entire scholastic career, first grade through retirement, I got only two days off because of snow.
This time, however, it’ll probably happen. It’s becoming more common.
The colder weather makes more blackouts almost certain. For me and mine, that’s not much of a problem. I do think about the people whose houses aren’t so warm as mine, especially babies and the elderly. Fortunately, the weekend is supposed to be warmer.
But–drum roll, please–for those anxious about the future, word has already been spread abroad: This Sunday’s Super Bowl in Dallas will not be affected by blackouts.
Just at the moment of our greatest need, comes an announcement guaranteed to warm the cockles of our hearts.
“Kakaya krasivaya Amerikanskaya koshka!”
What a beautiful little American cat!
What do you do when you’re working for The New York Times, living in New York City, and you adopt a kitten your children name Henrietta, and she grows up as a member of your family, and then the Times names you chief foreign correspondent of its Moscow bureau, a job you’ve always wanted–but you have this cat…?
If you’re Christopher S. Wren, and your daughter Celia, aged six, tells your son Chris, aged three, that he’s not to worry because Henrietta is coming, too, isn’t she, Daddy?, then you do what has to be done.
You pack Henrietta up, haul her to the airport, put her on a plane–at least twice–and take her to Moscow.
And what do you do when you’re stuck in the Moscow airport, going through the long process of being formally admitted to the country, and you know that the Times is about to publish parts of a book by Soviet dissident Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, and if you’re still being processed, the Soviets will refuse to admit you, but if you’re already at your job, they’ll let you stay, and things are moving slowly, and Henrietta still has to be examined by the veterinarian, and the veterinarian doesn’t look friendly, and neither does Henrietta…?
If you’re Christopher S. Wren, you give thanks for that “beautiful little American cat.”
And later, after Henrietta has accompanied you to Egypt, China, Canada, and Johannesburg, you write a book: The Cat Who Covered the World: The Adventures of Henrietta and her Foreign Correspondent.
If you googled the four words at the top of this post, which appeared on yesterday’s blog, you may have already read the story of Henrietta’s diplomatic coup that ensured Wren could stay in Moscow. You know more as well–what a Pakistani diplomat said when Henrietta set a not-quite-dead mouse beside his shoe; how Henrietta dealt with her feline arch-rival, the neighbor’s Rasputin; why Henrietta was fed only after the housekeeper left for the day.
If you choose to go further and read the entire book, you’ll find more stories about Henrietta set against a backdrop of the Cold War.
My favorite anecdote concerns the evening nuclear physicist Andrei Sakharov and his wife, Yelena Bonner, spent with the Henrietta’s family. Wren had warned his wife to keep kids and cat out of the way, but as soon as Sakharov arrived, he followed the children to their bedroom and, sitting on the floor, demonstrated what an atom looks like by making one from Tinkertoys. After dinner, while the adults conversed in the living room, Henrietta lay in Sakharov’s lap while he petted her and called her, in Russian, “Dear little cat.”
As you see, I have nothing but good to say about this book.
It’s possible that, as a confirmed cat person, I’m biased.
But I don’t think so.
If I am, my bias is toward interesting stories, well- and intelligently written books, journalists (and others) who don’t take themselves too seriously, and…cats.
For those with similar tastes, The Cat Who Covered the World will be a pleasant read.