How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable
Seem to me all the uses of this world!
Fie on’t! O fie! ’tis an unweeded garden,
That grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature
Possess it merely.
~ William Shakespeare, Hamlet, I, ii
I woke this morning feeling perfectly fine but at the same time not quite quite, so I took a little white pill. Because the label says not to drive a car or operate heavy machinery, David drove me downtown to BookPeople for my biweekly critique group meeting. For the next two hours, I took part in a lively discussion about the craft of writing.
After the meeting, I fired up my trusty Chromebook and wrote three paragraphs of my Day P post.
Then my eyelids began to droop. I had a definite case of the drowsies.
Lest I fall asleep in CoffeePeople, I called David. He came and escorted me to the car, drove me home, steered me to the house, and poured me into my chair.
Since that time, I’ve felt, in turn, apathetic, detached, draggy, droopy, lethargic, impassive, passive, pedestrian, plodding, and what Hamlet said.
I couldn’t care less and I could care less.
I feel fine.
It’s just that, my dear, I don’t give a damn.
Anyway, I’m dismissing all thought of finishing my original Day P post (“P Is for Pat Boone”) and submitting this instead. Then I turn my face to the future.
A lone woman hears a sound in the middle of the night. She doesn’t know what it is, so she goes in search of the source: to the attic, the basement, the back yard, the barn, the woods, the creek. She might take a flashlight and/or a bat. She wears her pajamas and bedroom slippers.
Chief Detective Smith, sitting at her desk in the incident room, after weeks of an investigation with too many clues and no idea how they fit together, suddenly jumps up, says to Detective Sergeant Jones, “Call the traffic division and find out the name of the Dalmatian that rides with Firetruck #12,” picks up her gun, and heads for the door. “Where are you going?” says Detective Sergeant Jones. Chief Detective Smith runs out to nobody knows where. [Alternate: The ransom note says, “Come alone to a dark corner of the park.” And the detective does.]
A man or a woman, take your pick, kneels in the garden cutting roses/stands over the stove stirring soup/hears a knock and answers the door, take your pick, and looks up and says, “Oh, it’s you. What are you doing here?” And then doesn’t say anything else at all.
I see them all the time in mystery/suspense/thrillers on television, but I don’t believe them because
If I hear a sound at night, I don’t go looking for it. I crawl under the covers or, depending on the nature of the noise, under the bed. Even when I know it’s just an armadillo banging on the water pipes under the house.
Any detective who does what Chief Detective Sergeant Smith does–and she does it nearly every week, same time, same station–would end up getting either fired by her boss or coshed by the suspect she’s chasing, or by her partner, who’s had enough.
The “You?” is old and tired.*
Why do writers use them?
Because the character needs to know. The lone woman needs to know what the sound is. The detective needs to know if she’s right about whodunit. The victim needs to know the murderer.
And the writer needs to conceal. A lone woman sneaking around in a dark attic builds suspense. A detective flying to a showdown builds suspense. A victim recognizing his murderer builds suspense.
And because they work. Viewers, and readers, are willing to temporarily suspend disbelief. I am willing to suspend disbelief for the sake of the story playing out on the screen–even when one side of my brain is saying to the other, “That is totally unrealistic.”
Now to my real concern: Will I ever stoop to using one of these conventions? Send a woman into the dark where a hobgoblin awaits? Send a detective off to meet a bad guy without telling anyone where she’s going? Let a little old lady in gardening gloves be axed by her best friend without giving her the chance to get out of the way?
I don’t know.
*Actually, come to think of it, #3 might be totally realistic.
I assume the error arises from its similarity to words like gauge, gaunt, and gauze. In other words, the writer was thinking in English, not in Spanish: Guadalajara, Guadalupe Hidalgo, guacamole.
The excuse may be wishful thinking on my part, but since I retired, I’ve been kinder and gentler with misspellers in the hope they’ll be kinder and gentler with me. It’s a sad day when an English major has to admit this, but nearly every time I write gauge, I have to look it up to be sure.
Anyway, you know how it is with dictionaries: open one to find a word and ten minutes later you’re browsing, engrossed in a book that doesn’t have characters, much less a plot. That’s how I came across gnomist, defined as a writer of aphorisms.
Unable to imagine little red-capped garden dwellers channeling Benjamin Franklin, I checked Dictionary.com for gnome, and about half-way down the page found it: a gnome is a short, pithy saying of a general truth.
Which led me to my G topic: gnomes. (Franklin would say some of them aren’t gnomes, but they’re close.)
If you have a skeleton in the closet, take it out and dance with it. ~ Carolyn MacKenzie
A hunch is creativity trying to tell you something. – Frank Capra
Imagination is a good horse to carry you over the ground–not a flying carpet to set you free from probability. ~ Robertson Davies
The opposite of a shallow truth is false. But the opposite of a deep truth is also true. ~ Niels Bohr
A writer should value his blockages. That means he’s starting to scale down, to get close. ~ Robert Pirsig
Each book is, in a sense, an argument with myself, and I would write it, whether it is ever published or not. ~ Patricia Highsmith.
Even if my marriage is falling apart and my children is unhappy, there is still a part of me that says, “God, this is fascinating!” ~ Jane Smiley
A computer allows you to make more mistakes faster than any other invention in human history, with the possible exceptions of handguns and tequila. ~ Mitch Ratcliffe
The form chooses you, not the other way around. An idea comes and is already embodied in a form. ~ Michael Frayne
You’ve got to be smart enough to write, and stupid enough not to think about all the things that might go wrong.~ Sarah Gilbert
People become writers because they can’t do things that bosses tell them to do. ~ Les Whitten
Keep away from people who belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you believe that you, too, can become great. ~ Mark Twain
People’s minds are changed through observation and not through argument. ~ Will Rogers
Whether you believe you can do a thing or not, you are right. ~ Henry Rod
If you would lift me, you must be on higher ground. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
It is certain that no culture can flourish without narratives of transcendent origins and power. ~ Neil Postman
My mother wanted us to understand that the tragedies of your life one day have the potential to be comic stories the next. ~ Nora Ephron
No passion in the world is equal to the passion to alter someone else’s draft. ~ H. G. Wells
In the sense that there was nothing before it, all writing is writing against the void. ~ Mark Strand
How do I work? I grope. ~ Albert Einstein
Sometimes it is more important to discover what one cannot do, than what one can do. ~ Lin Yutang
Walt Whitman didn’t sing as a white man or a gay man. He didn’t even sing as a living man, as opposed to a dead man. He made the human race look like a better idea. ~ Sharon Olds
One of the most wicked destructive forces, psychologically speaking, is unused creative power. . . . If someone has a creative gift and out of laziness, or for some other reason, doesn’t use it, the psychic energy turns to sheer poison. That’s why we often diagnose neuroses and psychotic diseases as not-lived higher possibilities. ~ Marie Louise Von Frantz
As much as I like the actual process of writing, there’s always a point, after a half hour, that I really love it. There’s a real lightness of imagination that you let happen when you’re writing. ~ Ethan Canin
I know life. I have had a full measure of experience. Shouldn’t I take advantage of it? These days my acts are the essence of what I have accomplished. The fruit is on the tree. Should I let it rot? ~ Victor Borge
The only way to write is to write today. ~ Susan Shaughnessy
Regarding the Gaudalupe County sign, it’s been there for years. At first it irritated me (twice a day), but as time went on, it became a source of amusement, something I needed both going to and coming from work. Still, as an official publication of the State of Texas, not to mention a source of information, it should be accurate. A friend called the agency a good while back and reported it, but it’s still there. Since my husband’s email brought about a positive result, I might ask him to take up the cause.
I like this book so much I bought it twice. I bought it once, donated it to my library, and missed it so much I bought this used copy. Each meditation is headed by a quotation. Meditations are excellent, worth revisiting often, but the quotations are what I missed.
For information about the A to Z Blogging Challenge, click here.
For a list of all blogs in the challenge, click here.
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.
Fingerprint powder is black and sticky. Very sticky.
If you drive a dusted car without first draping seats, doors, and steering wheel, you’ll be sorry.
Fingerprint dusters don’t clean up after themselves.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Now, before I fall further behind, I shall stop, post, and move on.
Find a list of all A to Z Blogging participants here.
Some consequences you can predict. Some you can’t predict. Some you should predict but don’t.
It’s the last of the three that’ll get you.
I had just read a brief bio in my memoir class and turned to leave the lectern, when something in my left hip went pop. Not an audible pop, but a pop nonetheless. I limped back to my chair.
With David (poor thing) half carrying me, I staggered across the parking lot, groaning every time my left foot touched the ground. At home, neighbors had the pleasure of hearing me ascend the steps and walk to the door. Yelp, yelp, yelp.
Getting into and out of the car was worse. I couldn’t climb in as usual.
Get into a car like Audrey Hepburn does, my mother said. Sit sideways, then swing both legs in. The Emily post method.
Phooey on Audrey and Emily.
Until hip day. That’s when I learned Audrey had an advantage. She had leather seats she could slide on. I have fabric that grabs your breeches and holds on. Entering and exiting, I didn’t yelp. I shrieked.
The pain wasn’t exactly excruciating, I guess, but it was close.
At home I fell into a chair, texted my massage therapist, whom I hadn’t seen in over a year, and begged for an appointment. That’s how panicky I was. I hate texting.
Anyway, the next day, David hauled me (shriek) to her office. She mashed my spine back into place, then laid her hands lightly around me just below the waist, and said, “How do you sit when you use your laptop? Is it right in front of you?”
And I said, “Noooooooooooooo.” And thought, Well, d’oh.
This is the way I sit when I use my laptop:
Ernest correctly positioned
Ernest incorrectly positioned
Controlling enter key
“Uh-huh,” she said, “I can tell you’ve been sitting crooked.”
So what’s girl to do?
A girl’s going to do whatever it takes to stop the pain.
But the guilt was excruciating. Ernest has only recently learned to liiiiiiiieeeeeeeeeee downnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn, sometimes without being begged, or even ordered, as if it’s his own idea.
He’s the only cat I’ve ever had who followed instructions. Or, more likely, said to himself, She’s been a good and faithful servant. If this is so important to her, I’ll cooperate. I taught him to sit that way. It prevented him from laying his head on the keyboard and typing. (Once he sent an email.) I didn’t realize my hip would suffer.
And he’s a Velcro cat. He can’t help that I have to move the laptop waaaaay over to the left and stretch sideways to reach the keyboard. He needs almost constant physical contact. Denying him my lap could crush his spirit. He’s sensitive.
But for the most part, he’s done well. I gave the I-wuv-oo-oodles-but-we-can’t-go-on-sitting-like-this speech, and he gave up and moved down to lean on my leg.
Mostly. We’ve had wrestling matches. Occasionally I catch him sitting in a straight-backed chair across the room, his lips set in a grim line, staring at me. But over all, we sit in peaceful companionship.
I saw the massage therapist a second time.
My hip has improved.
And the best news is that, with practice, I’ve learned to get into a car like Audrey Hepburn.
Audrey’s legs aren’t visible in this clip, but you can get the drift. She does the swing-around about 1:35. That might not be leather upholstery, but she’s had more practice than I have.
“The writer of an article about Dr. Seuss reported that at the end of an interview Theodore Geisel congratulated him for not asking the one question that people invariably ask. When the writer asked him what that one question might be, Dr. Seuss replied, “Where do you get your ideas?” “Well, all right,” said the reporter. “Where do you get your ideas?” “I’m glad you asked that,” Dr. Seuss said, and pulled out a printed card. On the card was spelled out the secret that the world pants for. It seems that on the stroke of midnight at the full moon of the summer solstice, Dr. Seuss makes an annual pilgrimage into the desert, where an ancient Native American hermit and wise man has his abode. That old Indian, Dr. Seuss declared, is the source of all of his ideas. But where the old Indian gets his ideas, he has no notion.
“Where do you get your ideas? I suppose the people who ask this question are expecting a rational, one-sentence reply. What they get from me is a rather stupid stare.”
“This past fall I spent an afternoon talking with a group of persons who work with children at risk. The question I had asked them to help me answer was this: Why do our children turn to violence? It was a question many of us have struggled with this past year.
“These professionals were very concerned about the Internet. Today, they said, when a child behaves aggressively at school, the routine solution is expulsion. At the very time when a child is most vulnerable, most reachable, he is further isolated. Often he goes home to an empty house and spends time with violent video games or on the Internet, desperately seeking out connections, and whom does he make connections with? All too often with other desperate, isolated, self-hating individuals who confirm his belief that all his hatreds are justified and that violence is the only way to relieve his mortal pain.
“Access to the Internet is not the answer for these attic children. They need much more than that. They need much more even than access to good books. Fortunately, what they need is precisely what you can give them–and that is yourself. ‘Every child,’ said the director of the program, ‘needs a connection with a caring adult.'”
“Last month I was asked to speak to a group of teachers who would be taking their classes to see a production of the play version of Bridge to Terabithia. I spent more than an hour telling them about how the book came to be written and rewritten and then how Stephanie Tolan and I adapted it into the play their classes would see. There was the usual time of questions, at the end of which a young male teacher thanked me for my time and what I had told them that morning. ‘But I want to take something special back to my class. Can you give me some word to take back to them?’
“I was momentarily silenced. After all, I had been talking continuously for over an hour; surely he could pick out from that outpouring a word or two to take back to his students. Fortunately, I kept my mouth shut long enough to realize what I ought to say–it is what I want to say to all of you.
“‘I’m very biblically oriented,’ I said, ‘and so for me the most important thing is for the word to become flesh. I can write stories for children, and in that sense I can offer them words, but you are the word become flesh in your classroom. Society has taught our children that they are nobodies unless their faces appear on television. But by your caring, by your showing them how important each one of them is, you become the word that I would like to share with each of them. You are that word become flesh.'”
“What I want to say to that isolated, angry, fearful child in he attic is this: You are not alone, you are not despised, you are unique and of infinite value in the human family. I can try to say this through the words of a story, but it is up to each of you to embody that hope–you are those words become flesh.”
~ Katherine Paterson, “The Child in the Attic,”
Ohio State University Children’s Literature Festival, February 2000
I’ll start by saying I have recovered from my major irritation with WordPress. It was malfunctioning to the max the night I wrote the humorous post that took a downhill turn (as WP) slid further down the hill–but everyone is allowed one major malfunction. I’ve had several myself whose results were worse than a paragraph-challenged blog. WP works now, I work now, we all work now. Amen.
Now to the heart of the matter:
Last Saturday, with my Sisters in Crime, I sold and signed books at the Heart of Texas chapter booth at the Boerne Book Fest.
Next Saturday, October 20, I’ll sign and sell at the Fort Worth Bookfest. Organized in 2018, the festival’s goal is “to raise awareness of the transformative power of literacy through the BookFest platform to showcase the wealth of talent among all cultures that call Fort Worth and the southwest region home.”
In addition to selling and signing, I’ll participate in an Author Spotlight, where I’ll have the opportunity, in “TED-talk style,” to introduce myself, share some interesting facts, and read from one of my stories. On the same venue will beTabi Slick, author of Tompkins School Trilogy,set in Oklahoma, and Kimberly Packard-Walton, author of Prospera Pass, set in Texas.
First on the agenda, though, is Friday evening’s Books ‘n Boots Soiree at Lou’s Place on the Texas Wesleyan University Campus. Sounds like fun.
David has been, as the Five Little Pepperswould say, a brick during preparations for BookFest. He had a banner for my table made and then spearheaded the drive for business cards. He found book easels around the corner at Wal-Mart so I don’t have to drive all the way across town to Michaels. He’s charged my phone, my camera, and the hotspot. I predict that before we leave town, he’ll do a dozen or two other tasks I haven’t even thought of.
I’m still making a to-do list.
This procrastinator is so lucky to have attracted her opposite–a man who does things now. And who knows how to hurry things along in the nicest way possible.
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 theremote 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.)
I like the term she chose very much, but I wondered if there are alternatives. So I went to the glossary of literary terms–several of them, in fact, since they’re all over the Internet–and came up with some possibilities:
a verse of poets
a rime of poets
an iamb of poets
a lyric of poets (although lyric is more suited to songwriters)
a scansion of poets
a prosody of poets
The search sparked a new question: What is the name for a group of mystery writers?
a plot of mystery writers
a conspiracy of mystery writers
a complication of mystery writers
a murder of mystery writers (perhaps to close to a murder of crows)
a grit of mystery writers
a cozy of mystery writers
And another question: What are the members of a critique group called?
This one is easy. Borrowing from an unkindness of ravens, I choose to call members of a critique group a kindness.
K is obviously for Kathy, a name at the heart of a lifelong kerfuffle.
The plan was to name me Katherine for my great-grandmother and to call me Kathy. But at the last minute, when the nurse came in and asked for the baby’s name so they could type up a birth certificate, my mother added Mary for my grandmother. Later she told my father what she’d done and he said that was fine with him. He liked his mother-in-law. My grandmother liked the name.
Mother later told me she’d wanted to spell Katherine with a C, but she was afraid her grandmother would say I wasn’t really named for her (the family was funny that way).
Thus was I denied the privilege of assuming the mantle of romanticism connected with hearing Heathcliff call across the moor, Catherine! Catherine! (I don’t think he did that in the book or the movie, but I have a good imagination.)
The precaution turned out to be unnecessary,because every time my great-grandmother, whom we called Grannygirl (that’s another story) wrote my name, she spelled it Catherine.
(I was glad I’d been spared her first name, Minna. She didn’t like it either and changed it to Minnie but later wished she hadn’t.)
Otherwise, my name was fine with me, too, as long as we stayed put. But when we moved and I had to enroll in a new school in the middle of second grade, the teacher said they already had a Kathy so I had to be Mary. I didn’t mind–it was just one more of the slings and arrows of being uprooted from my hometown and moving halfway across the universe*–but when I discovered the other Kathy was always called Kathleen, I thought the teacher’s reasoning was a little off.
The next September, I sat with twenty-something other third-graders and their mothers while the teacher called names from a stack of book cards. She got to Mary K. Waller; my mother marched me up and said she’s here, and she’s called Kathy; the teacher said, No this is Mary K-A-Y. I sat back down. Mary Kay didn’t appear. The teacher went through the no-shows and once again, Mary Kay didn’t appear. My mom said she thought that must be a clerical error–one person read the names, another person wrote them down?–and so I settled in as Kathy.
The next year, mothers didn’t hang around for the settling in–I suppose fourth graders were deemed able to fend for themselves–and when the teacher called Mary Waller? I let it slide. Later when my mother asked why, I said something like, “Meh.” Vicki, my best friend from third grade, called me Kathy; others who’d known me before took their pick.
Fast forward to college: Roommates said Kathy, but otherwise, I was Mary. Once I was Mark. The first time the philosophy professor called for Mark Waller, I said nothing, but when Mark didn’t answer the second time, I raised my hand and said in a small voice–one doesn’t want to accuse a prof of illiteracy on the first day of class–Mary? he rechecked the list and laughed. Since then, two more people have made the same error. Perfectly understandable: when you’re skimming, Mary K. resembles Mark.
I was a bit miffed, however, last Christmas Eve, when the young man at Best Buy told me he didn’t have my order. I said the computer said he did have it. He said he didn’t. I said would he check again. He pointed at his monitor and said there was only one Waller on the list.
I said, “Mark?”
He said, “Yes.”
I said, “Mary K.?”
He said, “Oh,” and forked over the box. I was as sweet about the situation as I could manage, considering it was Christmas Eve and I knew he’d been extra busy; but, considering it was late afternoon on December 24th, and I’d started shopping on December 23rd, my store of sweetness was at low ebb. My words might have carried an undertone that said, Knothead.
My adult life has comprised a series of minor tangles with officialdom. Minor, because I’ve defaulted to Mary. Sometimes I forget. Last week, the nurse assigned to handle my infusion looked up from her monitor and said, “Hi. I’m Holly.”
I said, “I’m Kathy.”
Her expression changed from welcoming to stricken. I got it, admitted I was Mary, and watched her begin to breathe normally again.
My mother once said she thought I didn’t like my name. I did, and I do. It has a pleasant sound, and my written initials have a pleasing symmetry.
It’s sharpened my mental acuity and flexibility by requiring me to (usually) remember who I am in (almost) any setting.
But there are drawbacks. The first hearkens back to the third-grade Mary Kay thing. I do not like being confused with a cosmetics company.
The second concerns two questions I’m asked more and more frequently by young people who don’t understand that Mary Katherine was a perfectly acceptable, mainstream, plain, ordinary, everyday name before it gave way to Lisa and Jennifer and Ashley and Madison:
Are you Catholic?
Are you a nun?
I’m a member of a large Protestant family that recycles names.
* About 250 miles to the southwest, to Del Rio, on the border with Mexico. It was a nice place, and after a few months, I loved being there. Sometimes I wish we’d stayed.
Ben has the good sense to never say, “I told you so,” no matter how many times we go through this. And we’ve gone through it a lot, because I am a serial quitter. Like an alcoholic, I need to put this statement in the present tense. I don’t think I’m cured. I could quit again when the going gets tough. I know I’ll feel the urge.
But quitting exacts a price, not just on my writing but also on my soul. When I can’t give my soul what it needs through writing, I go off in search of some other bright ball of yarn. And what I need to learn is that I don’t have to be so extreme. When my soul yearns for the tactile, it’s okay to weave. In fact it’s a good thing for a writer to be nonverbal for a while. It’s a big lesson for me to learn that being a writer shouldn’t mean that I’m chained to my desk twenty-four-seven.
Another big lesson is to finally understand that once I am a published writer I will always be a published writer, but that I will also always be an unpublished writer. I will get rejection slips, no matter what the New York Times said about my first novel. And hopefully I will always have material in need of some work, because if I don’t have the pages I hate I will never have the pages I love.
Nancy Peacock, A Broom of One’s Own: Words on Writing, Housecleaning and Life
Harper Perennial (2008)
“Paula is a soul-baring memoir that, like a novel of suspense, one reads without drawing a breath. The point of departure for these moving pages is tragic personal experience. In December 1991, Isabel Allende’s daughter Paula became gravely ill and shortly thereafter fell into a coma. During months in the hospital, the author began to write the story of her family for her unconscious daughter. In the telling, bizarre ancestors appear before our eyes; we hear both delightful and bitter childhood memories, amazing anecdotes of youthful years, the most intimate secrets passed along in whispers. Chile, Allende’s native land, comes alive as well, with the turbulent history of the military coup of 1973, the ensuing dictatorship, and her family’s years of exile.”
“Note from Isabel:I have received more letters from readers in response to Paula than for any other book.”
Allende quotation from Why We Write. Meredith Maran, ed.