Post-Christmas Blues

It's too bad that N does not have school tomorrow (Monday). She's got the post-Christmas blues, when none of the presents she got for Christmas is quite the thing she wants to play with, and she doesn't really want to play outside, but she doesn't really want to play inside either, and nothing anyone suggests sounds like any fun.

R's got a similar problem, which is that he's spent the past five weeks agonizing about it being the holiday season (a time of great angst and depression for him), and now that it's over he's left with nothing to agonize about so he doesn't know what to do with himself. But he's going back to work tomorrow for one day, which will be just about right for him, I think. Enough to get his jitters out and then come home again for some more vacation. ;-)

As for me - well, we had two days' worth of very pleasant visits from friends & relations, and now today I am enjoying just not doing much of anything. Which Z & C enjoy as well. But "not doing much of anything" is absolute torture for R & N. Which is why they're feeling antsy.

I am currently sitting in my favorite chair, wearing my new slippers, listening to my new iPod nano, and inhaling the fumes from my new Himalayan salt candle-holder. All of which would be just a little more peaceful if R were not irritated with me for not wanting to go walking in the rain with him, and if N were not ringing the doorbell (the door is unlocked, so this is entirely unnecessary) to complain to me that it is raining.

I am ignoring them both.

The question of when to take down the Christmas tree is what I am currently pondering. I think I'd like to take it down some time in the next couple of days - before C & Z go back to school. If I wait till they leave, it will be sad when I do it, plus I won't have their help.

So it would seem to be a no-brainer, wouldn't it?



Chappy Chanukkah!

So it's the first night of Hanukkah, also Yule and Solstice and, coincidentally, four days till Christmas. And around my house we're pretty laid-back about it all. Which is nice.

I spent a good chunk of today getting the holiday cards written and addressed, except for a few for which I still need addresses. I scrounged up enough stamps and return-address labels so that they can even be mailed tomorrow - I think this is the first time in many years that they've gone out this early (i.e. before the end of the year). Z made a few cards for special friends, from scratch, and they are lovely. C loaded a mess o' CDs onto my computer for me so that I am now listening to Kitaro as I type, yay! N played outside with friends all day, and is now sleeping the sleep of the just. And R worked on various tasks that had been calling his name. The four of us (minus N, except when she and her friends came in for refueling every so often) kept each other company cozily most of the day, and it was truly gezellig.

I've been doing a lot of soul-searching the last few days, and have discovered that there are two things greatly lacking in my life. One is people: I never - really, never! - see my friends any more. It's been six months since I last saw my two close friends here, because of busy schedules and difficult lives. And the other people I know around here are more acquaintances and colleagues than friends. I need to change that. Not sure how to go about it, yet, but this absolutely needs to change. I have good, special, dear friends in far-flung places, but I need more people about me here, where I can see and touch them. I've always been a very people-oriented person, and yet somehow I have ended up a virtual recluse.

The other thing lacking is a soundtrack. I used to play music all the time, but our stereo system is old and fading, and I need something I can take with me on the run. This is why I've asked for an iPod for Christmas/Hanukkah. It's not just a fun little techno-toy - it's something I can carry about from room to room, can go to sleep to, can listen to when out walking. (I won't wear it while driving, though, I promise.) All three of our kids have mp3 players and love them, and they were enthusiastic about my suggestion that it would enhance my life. And the kids are going in on an iPod for R for Christmas, too, and loading it with a sleeptime playlist and a brisk-walk playlist for him. They're very excited about it.

So: people and music. That's what I need more of, and that's what I hope to add more of to my life in the coming year. I know, it's too early to blog about the new year. As far as Christmas is concerned, we've already done one of the traditional holiday rituals. Yesterday we watched both of the "Batman Animated" and the "Justice League Unlimited" Christmas episodes to get us in the mood. The scene in which Superman tries to use his x-ray vision to peek at his presents, only to find that his parents have wrapped them in lead-lined paper, inspired N and C to go to our tree and start shaking the presents underneath to guess what might be in them.

"Jingle Bells, Batman smells, Robin laid an egg . . . ."




I seem to have put off my Christmas sewing projects till the very, very, very squeaky-last minute. Worse than usual, but I needed to get all the grades in for my courses first (at least, this is what I told myself).

I've now finished 8/11 of the top of a quilt for my niece, and expect to complete the top in another couple of hours. Then I'll head out to Joann Fabrics to get the batting, more black thread and some black yarn for the ties (she's heavily into the Goth scene, so there is a lot of black in this quilt). Home to do the quilting.

Once hers is done, I will get back to the first quilt I started, which was for a wedding present in September (oops). It, too, has a lot of black in it, so I'll be buying PLENTY of black thread when I go out. ;-) I don't need to finish it by Christmas, but I do want to finish it during this vacation break.

And then there's a pillow I want to put together for Z, using two of her old favorite t-shirts that are too raggedy for her to wear any more. She adores them and noticed they were missing (I took them for this project before they could disintegrate any further), and will enjoy having the pillow as a "comfort object" at school.

N was happy this morning: the school district called a two-hour delay, due to icy roads. She enjoyed the extra time with Z, who hadn't really planned on getting up quite that early but was willing to play with her new XBox 360 anyway. She bought it for herself two days ago - the first thing she's ever bought herself that cost more than $20. She is enormously proud of it.



Are You Ready For The Holidays?

I threatened on Facebook today that I would slap the next person to ask me that question, and I meant it. It implies that there's some kind of competition to get everything bought and wrapped and mailed and decorated - to get all that nonsense out of the way as quickly as possible because it's such a pain in the neck.

Personally, I love the baking, the choosing of presents, the wrapping and, to a far lesser extent, the decorating. (Okay, I detest the mailing and am always happy when that's out of the way.) I find the process, not the end product, to be the Whole Point. For me, "getting ready" means cleaning the house enough to make space to set up the sewing machine, and scrubbing the kitchen in preparation for baking enough poppyseed cake to take to all the neighbors.

Now I've turned in my grades and started the cleaning. Tomorrow I take out the sewing machine.

I am psyched.



C Day!

My boy is coming home today! Peenoomonia and all. I hope he's not too miserable, but if he still is, best to be miserable at home where I can make him chicken soup and feed him his favorite types of ice cream.

[insert funny N story here]

So R took N to the grocery over the weekend, and one of the items on the list was ice cream, in anticipation of C's return. R asked N what flavor of ice cream C likes best, and N's reply was "ranch."

R, somewhat taken aback, described the basic ingredients of ranch to N, who recanted and described to R the basic ingredients she had had in mind. Which turned out to be rocky road.

Good thing we got that straightened out in time.

[back to original topic now]

C is due in at 4:40. So I am cleaning as best I can, seeing as the house is a total wreck and the vacuum cleaner begins to smell awful after five minutes' of sucking. I'm still working on the upper floor, but hope to get something done downstairs before N comes home (early dismissal today). Then N & I have some erranding to do on the way to the airport.

In amongst the cleaning, I am checking email fairly frequently, as a schism has developed in one of the ten project groups in my learning community, and I am trying to be available to monitor it in case it becomes really dire. The projects are due in by midnight tonight (on the internet). Most of the groups have worked out very well, so I suppose 10% failure rate for the first time we've tried this project isn't too bad.

I am finding that I really miss NaNo - I need to get started on another writing project soon. The updates from NaNo.org keep coming to my email box and I feel really left out and sad that I finished so soon, even though I really needed to. :-(

Then again, there are always the day to day challenges, such as this morning's when I had to figure out what that horrible, disgusting smell was that seemed to emanate from somewhere about N's person. She insisted it wasn't her, it was her backpack, and when I opened it and took a whiff - sure enough, it was! I went rooting around inside and came up with a baggie with part of an egg yolk, from Monday's snack. BLECH.



NaNoWriMo Day 18: 50,292

OMG. It's done. And I feel like I cheated, because I just left Jimmy as a two year old. But I didn't know what else to do, when I discovered that there were three Jimmies (Jimmys? Jimmae?), not one, and I'd had them all mixed up all this time! And The Jimmy, the one I was writing about, was the only one I didn't know anything concrete about! So it ended up really being about Selah, George and Marshall, and family, and all sentimental mush that sounded ghastly.

And then I was still about a hundred words short, so I typed THE END and added a little postscript about how I came by the letters and journals, and what I did with them, and then thanked all the little people who got me to where I am now etc. etc. ad nauseum, as Bloody E had suggested yesterday. But that tipped me over the top and got it done.

When I tried to follow the directions for scrambling it to upload it to the NaNoWriMo verifier, it just turned everything into "aa aaaaaa a'aa" and so on, and that didn't look right. So I uploaded it normally, figuring nobody would want to steal such a piece of junky writing - same principle as not bothering to lock a rusty old jeep when you park it on the street, I guess. And I assume it verified my word count, but it doesn't say anywhere on the site that I am done, a winner, or anything like that. So I don't know if there is something more I need to do by the 30th of November or not. I've written to Aldy to ask her, and I'm sure she will know.

I have been extremely, deeply unhappy ever since my 50th birthday last April. Being in my 40s was fine, but turning 50 was just not okay. I knew before it happened that it wouldn't be okay, but I tried to prepare myself for it. Didn't help. I didn't want, and I don't want, to be that old. I didn't know why, though till last night: I had promised myself when I was in my 30s that by the time I was 40 I would 1) publish a book and 2) buy myself a banjo and learn to play it.

I didn't do either one. Of course, I did a lot of other things, and I don't regret them. But almost all of them were for other people, and I feel like a failure for not doing either of the two things I wanted to do for myself. I missed the boat and there is no way to go back and do them by that self-imposed deadline.

Don't get me wrong: I am depressed about being 50 and not having learned to play the banjo. But I WAS depressed about being 50 and having wasted a lot of time that I couldn't get back. And when Sept. came and my two big kids both left for college, and suddenly our family of five turned into a family of three, I was very, very depressed. I spent a lot of time sleeping, and just sitting quietly being sad.

So when NaNo came along, and I got really excited, it pulled me out of my depression. Instead of having three-day migraines every one or two weeks, I've had ONE one-day migraine in the past month. I've been wide awake and even had insomnia because I couldn't turn my brain off. I needed a challenge - not a frustration, but a challenge.

And now I've written a novel. And I plan to edit it. And then write another one (I already know what it will be about).

I still hate that I'm 50, and I still am sorry I haven't published anything. And I expect I'll still have days when I battle depression about that, or about my big kids being gone. But this is why NaNo was so important to me and why I felt driven to finish that damn book. And to do at least a halfway decent job on it.

Thanks for being along on the ride.



NaNoWriMo Day 17: 47,007

I need about another thousand or so on Marshall and then I will start on Jimmie. I hope to finish by Wednesday - Thursday at the latest. Woot!

I met again today with two of my writing buddies, Bloody E Read and LadySoul, two LCCC students who've done NaNo before. I wish there were a way to get someone to interview them about doing NaNo - I'm so impressed with them for doing this twice in a row (I think maybe LadySoul's done it more than twice), and they are such neat people! The school ought to publicize this, because it's a big achievement and something really to be proud of. LadySoul has already gotten to 53,000+ but has set her goal at 75,000 this year! Bloody E is only at 15,000 but she did the same thing last year and wrote 25,000 in the last week, so she isn't worried about it.

It really is fun writing with other people, and it's amazing how quickly you get to feeling a bond with them for doing something crazy like this. Of course, I feel that way about everyone/anyone who is doing NaNo - there are so many of us around the world, too! - but even more so about my mother and nephew, and about the two Heathers (LadySoul and Bloody E) because of writing with them.

I also have a mentor through NaNo, Aldy, who has been very encouraging. It helps to have someone who really knows NaNo from having done it and finished. She offered to mentor total strangers, and replied when I emailed her asking for mentoring. Which is amazing and wonderful - see what NaNo brings about!

No more time for writing today, as N will be home soon and I have to teach tonight. But tomorrow will be a big day. I have no commitments tomorrow except to write, write, write!

~Seeing the light at the end of the tunnel . . .


NaNoWriMo Day 16: 44,512

Marshall is on Corregidor, and he ain't happy about it. He wanted to go to the Front, but George (at Lavilla's begging) asked Wm. Jennings Bryan to pull some strings and have him sent somewhere where he would not see any action - and boy oh boy, there was NO action on Corregidor in WWI! Hardly any soldiers, either.

Now I have to get him addicted again; meanwhile I need to get George elected to the state house of representatives. Then get the war ended, Marshall home (an addict) and send the three Waites (with an "e") off to California. I think I will end that chapter there, but I'm not sure - I need to get up to at least 48K with Marshall, as I don't think I have more than a couple of K worth for Jimmie.

So, I'm seeing the end in sight, and this makes me want to just write, write, write. Which is annoying the living daylights out of the other members of the household. They are grumpy with me today OH YES on account of NaNoWriMo. I think they feel I should just do my 2.5 K per day and leave it at that.

And the grumpier they get, the more pressure I feel to finish it in fewer days and be done, rather than to do just a couple K of words a day and take longer.

Doesn't make sense, does it. Psi. I foresee a long night tonight as I expect more insomnia. But then I will get more writing done, and that would be a good thing.

~Not the end . . . .


NaNoWriMo Day 15: 37,619

I feel better now that Marshall has 1) graduated from high school with a cocaine habit and 2) gotten his job in Haskell's Barber Shop. He really DID get hooked while still in high school, I found out, and he also had a stint learning to be a barber, so I worked these in.

Today I tried two different things. One, I worked at home while R and N were in the same room with me. I had made them promise that they would not distract me, and they were pretty good about it. I also made them promise to tell me to keep writing, which N delighted in doing. ;-)

Two, I used Write Or Die. I put in "500 words" and "30 minutes" each time, wrote till I had 500 words (took about 15 mins. each time) and then stopped, copied my writing to the main text, and took a break. Did it till I had 2500 words, and then stopped. The great thing about it was I first showed it to R & N, and then when I was interrupted (exactly once each session by one or tother of them, the music went off and reminded them of what they'd done, so then they didn't interrupt again.

And I was even able to continue writing through them talking to me, which amazes me. So I truly have learned to compartmentalize. What I did was plan out each 500-word segment ahead of time - not the exact words, but the topic I was going to address (Marshall's graduating with a drug habit and how that came about, for example). If I didn't finish it, which I often didn't, then I'd continue it on in the next segment. But having the plan in mind meant I could keep working on it and just let the words come out even with someone talking to me, and even follow what was being said to me, which I never realized I was capable of. Split personality, much?

I think I may continue this after a break, since N is sitting here watching Cirque du Soleil DVDs and R is doing origami, both keeping me company. If they're not minding my writing up a storm, and the writing is flowing, then I might as well keep it up. It would be fabulous if I could get done before C got home on the 21st, so I could devote more time to him. (Also, I'm getting a bunch of papers to grade on Monday, which I should get graded by next Monday . . . I swore I would not let this interfere with work.)

Interestingly, No Plot? No Problem is right on target with its (Chris Baty's) advice about weeks. This is the beginning of Week Three, so I read the Week Three advice last night, and one of the things it suggested was to do precisely what I did today: write in 500-word spurts. I hadn't planned to do that until I saw it was raining buckets today and N and R were both feeling kind of down, and I thought gee, I really don't want to go off for two hours and leave them alone here, so maybe this is a way to stay home with them and keep them from feeling so sad. It worked on a number of different levels.

Good book. Good advice. And I am loving NaNo and I plan to do it again next year for sure!



NaNoWriMo Day 14

I can't stand it any longer: I am spending today cleaning up and doing household things that have got to be done in order to keep from having total chaos in our lives. I think the mess is starting to adversely affect N too much.

I hope to have a little time left over to do some prep. for Marshall, but if I don't, it's okay. I think I need a day off now and then.



Still Day 13, but now up to 35,066

and I have GOT to quit. I think I am pretty well done with George. The ending is a little rough, but I lost heart when Geo. Milligan and then Emma died.

I'm taking a poll here, folks: Please weigh in on the question, "what do you think Willliam Jennings Bryan's close friends called him?" I have him down as "good ol' Bill" in the novel, but somehow that just doesn't cut it for me. Looking at photos of him when he was younger, including one of him standing in front of the offices of The Commoner (where George worked for four years), he looks as if he had a grand sense of humor, but he just doesn't look like a Bill.

He doesn't look like a Jen, though, either. What do YOU think?

So now it's on to Marshall. Which means another trip down to my filing cabinet o' wonders to look for the few documents I have about Marshall. I'll spend some time tomorrow piecing them together and then it will be time to put myself into the right frame of mind. I may have some trouble making the transition, but I feel ahead enough now that I'm not as worried about getting there eventually.

Thanks for reading. As George would say,

~Saw my leg off

NaNoWriMo Day 13: 33,547

Decisions, decisions. I've got a respectable word count now, but I don't have enough on George yet. And I'm at a good stopping place for George, but not ready to move on to Marshall. So here I am, thinking out loud about what to do next. I'd planned to work a long time today on Nano since I need to take some time off this weekend with my fambly.

So, nu?

He's just had to go home because of Selah's death (told you I'd been skipping around). I guess I should write about his time at the ISD, to bring that back in again as a theme. That's where he met Lavilla. Then they went back out to Lincoln, and he went into law. So perhaps I should leave him once he's in the legislature, since that was 1) a pretty big accomplishment for him and 2) a far cry from what he REALLY wanted to do, which was be a farmer.

I've started reading Only Generals Die in Bed to prepare myself mentally for writing about Marshall. It's pretty strong stuff.

And last night as I was having a mild bout of insomnia (thanks for staying up with me, Mom, and emailing back & forth!), I had a flash about what I want to write for next year's Nano! But first I'll have to finish and then edit this one. So yeah, I am definitely enjoying this.



NaNoWriMo Day 12: 29,692

Why NaNoWriMo is Environmentally Unfriendly

1) I am running a dishwasher full of pots and pans instead of washing them by hand, as I usually do (because I am too busy writing this novel - or whatever it is - to wash them myself)

2) I only take showers when I absolutely have to, so I may smell bad - but I don't have time to check (I don't really remember to check - N told me last night I needed one, so I took one): Eeeyew!

3) I keep turning my computer on after I have JUST turned it off, because I keep remembering "just ONE more thing" I wanted to add . . .

4) We are now storing all of our clean clothes in the laundry room in baskets, because although we (barely) have time to do the laundry, I do not have the time (read: want to take the time away from writing this novel - or whatever it is) to actually put any of them away in drawers and closets so everything is wrinkled and hard to find

5) You should see the house (or probably, you shouldn't) - talk about an unfriendly environment!

On the other hand, I'm having a helluva good time! And it's only for another 2 weeks . . .

~Globally warmly yours


NaNoWriMo Day 11: 27,518

I feel almost as if I cheated today, since I took so much material directly from George's and Selah's journals and letters. I rewrote a lot of it, but some of it I just kept in their words because they wrote so beautifully.

Which has led me to wonder, how much should I keep historically correct? I've ended up changing some things for the sake of clarity, and others I've guessed at or added because we Just Don't Know. And then I go and do something so blatant as to use their own words! So is this still my original novel, or blatant plagiarism? Family history, or historical fiction? Do I want to try to whip it into shape eventually to make into something publishable, or just keep it for the family? If truly the former, then should I put quotation marks around all their words (which will read poorly)? Would it be sufficient just to acknowledge in the foreword how much of it came directly from them?

(Because some of the letters in the mss. I wrote myself! So I can't just say that all of the letters were theirs.)

Then again, if I want it just as a family history, am I skewing the facts too much and tainting family history forever by playing fast & loose with the story?

See, right now I have to not let myself think too much about stuff like this, or I will paralyze myself and not be able to keep on writing. And I NEED to Keep On Writing. So, I am spewing forth about it here in order to get it out of my system.

But helpful comments are always welcome!

By the way, speaking of writing, I came across Dr. Wicked's "Write or Die: Putting the Prod Back in Produce" and boy am I itching to try it out! So I think that tomorrow, when I am on campus waiting for my class to start, I will test it and see what I come up with. Check it out - it's quite a clever little gadget!

~Cheering lustily onwards


NaNoWriMo Day 10: 25272

Writing with a Group

I spent a couple of hours today writing with two LCCC students who are doing NaNoWriMo, and that was fun. Both have completed NaNo before, so I felt real awe and inspiration working with them. We traded tips for working, and one of them showed me some free software she uses for writing (I will have to get the name of it from her again, as I've already forgotten it - I need to write things down!!!!!). When I got home, I wrote some more, and now I feel I'm over the worst of the hump and have a better handle on George.

It really helped a lot to meet with other NaNos, at the beginning of this week in particular, and get back some of the excitement and inspiration I had in the beginning of the project. We're meeting again next Monday and I'm already looking forward to it!

So: definitely, group writing is a good idea!

And now I'm at the halfway mark, though now my next goal is to be at the 2/3rds mark because then I will be ready for the next hurdle: Marshall. I'm glad I decided to do this novel this way, because each of the sections is so different in so many ways.

One of the students said there's a fourth LCCC person doing NaNo who couldn't make it to today's writing session, and she is doing her novel as a series of rants. She said it's pretty funny to read. I'll bet!

~Cheerful again!


NaNoWriMo Day 9: 22648

The NaNoWriMo team were right: Week 2 sucks. I'd thought optimistically that it would be easier for me, since I would be switching to a different chapter and a different person (George). I had it all planned out - one chapter for Selah, one for George, one for Marshall, and end with a little coda for Jimmie.

But it's not working out that way. Selah won't leave me alone, and I can't switch over to George properly. I had expected Selah to play a small role in George's, but he's still the lead character! And I have too much material on George and his siblings for me to decide what to use! It's overwhelming me. I am feeling very frustrated and unhappy about it all. Sure, my word count looks impressive, but it feels as if I'm going nowhere fast.

I hate week 2, and it's only just begun. Plus I have a whole lot of things going on this week, unlike last week when I had a day off from school, and nothing planned on a couple of other days. Now I have a busy week ahead and very little direction in my writing.


Plus the house is a WRECK!!!


NaNoWriMo Day 8: migraine

Bleh. Took the day off to be miserable and have a day off from writing.


NaNoWriMo Day 7: 20,145

On Leaving Things Out

Yep, I've gotten this far by leaving a lot of things out. I found that there was a lot more to tell about Selah than I'd thought! The first thing I left out was the method by which he was taught to read lips & speak a bit (articulation/oralism), and I left that out because I have to do more research to learn about it.

Then I got to the part where he was taken around the state of NY by Mr. Peet, and I just didn't feel like writing it all up, and didn't need the word count. So I put in a paragraph about it & didn't write it up.

Then I got to a couple of other places like that where I wasn't sure what to do with them - I thought they ought to be there but I didn't know how to handle them, so I just plain left them out altogether. I mean, it's obvious where they'd go, but I left out two entire years in different spots because I'm not sure they're even necessary.

And if I had tried to put all that in, I think I'd have quit before getting this far.

Now it's time to put away all the Selah stuff and get out all the George stuff and see what there is (TONS of things) and what I want to use and how I want to organize it.



NaNoWriMo Day 6: 16468 words . . .

I don't think I am done for today, either. I really want to get Selah back from his trip around New York and Connecticut with Mr. Peet (which he really did take), because tomorrow I think I'd better finish his part of the book. It's going to take me a few hours to go through all my stuff on George and map out that part of the book, and I have a lot more things happening next week than I did this week, so it will be more challenging.

Also, the last week, Marshall's week, I will have almost nothing to go on compared to what I had for Selah and George. No letters, no journals, and the research I did years ago turned up very little. So I will have to invent an awful lot of stuff! I look at everything I have for Selah so far and think, wow, so much of that originated in things I got from Selah and his family, even if I changed things around to fill in gaps. I have only family stories and guess-work to go on for Marshall. So that third week will really be hard.

I think it's not so much that the second week is the hardest, as the NaNo site says. It's that when you get to about 12,000 words you bog down. At least, that's what's happened to me. So I need to finish up Selah and then move along to George.

Hm. Maybe I will just put in a place-holder saying "Here's where I will eventually write about Selah's travels around the state" and go on to the last part of that chapter, the way I had to when I got to the part about him learning articulation, since I have not yet been able to find out how it is/was taught, and don't want to spend the time digging right now.

See? This blog is useful just for thinking out loud! Thanks for being there.

My nephew C called last night - he is doing NaNo, too, and writing historical fiction about one of his ancestors about whom he's done a lot of research - someone who fought in the Battle of Hastings! He was feeling discouraged, I think, because of my word count vs. his. But I have the unfair advantage of having so many historical resources to draw upon (letters and journals). Even though I haven't been transcribing much of what I have, just having them for information is awfully helpful background. He's had to make up a lot more than I have. I told him to wait till I get to Marshall and Jimmy!

Then you'll hear me moan.



NaNoWriMo Day 5: 13,327 words and counting

I feel giddy today because of the outcome of the election, and I HAVE to mention that because I can't stop thinking how wonderful the world is. But enough about that: on to ME.

I am ahead today, thanks to spending more time today on Selah than on anyone else. I did have a workshop on campus, and I took a nap this morning because for some reason I was really sleepy (I think it was because I was afraid to work on NaNo, actually), but then I made up for it by getting to another good stopping point.

Now I'm concerned because I still have SO MUCH Selah material that I don't know how to proceed with it. Do I include lots more of it, or do I stop around 18,000 words and go on to work on George as originally planned? I'll have to think about that, since I only have about 5,000 more words in which to get Selah from 1843 to 1849, and it took me till now to get from 1840 to 1843. Hm. Decisions, decisions.

But what I REALLY wanted to talk about today was: being in the moment. One of the things I've noticed that happens when I force myself to write for speed and quantity and not worry about quality is that I do everything, all day "in the moment" much more successfully than I ever have before.

When I am working on the novel, of course, it's easy to be in the moment (that is, only thinking about the novel) because I pretty much have to be in order to write that fast - otherwise, forget it. So I don't let anything else intrude.

And coffee helps with this. (Guilty little secret.)

But when I'm doing other things, especially when I have already done my writing for the day and met my quota, I find it easier to concentrate on what I am doing and not let other things intrude then, either, because I've had the supreme satisfaction of having completed a chunk of something, so I can now move on to something else with a clear conscience. Or, if I haven't done my writing yet, I have promised myself that chunk of time, and I know it will happen NO MATTER WHAT because I'm not going to let anything short of fire or (copious amount of a family member's) blood interfere, so I can relax and do whatever it is that needs doing and enjoy it with a clear conscience.

You noticed that bit about the conscience, didn't you. Ah, I thought you might.

'nuff said. We all know what that's about. If abusing myself by writing 2500+ words of blather per day will banish the Guilt Goblins, then that in itself makes the whole endeavor worthwhile, doesn't it? ;-)



NaNoWriMo Day 4: 10,132 words!!!

Which means I am officially 1/5 of the way through. That's the good news.

The bad news is that I feel like my book's not really going anywhere, it's just sort of narrating. Blah. It's blah. It started off well enough, but now it's blah and boring.

Well, I will keep on going and hope that once I finish with Selah and start in on George it will get exciting again. Actually, I'm about to throw Selah a curve ball tomorrow, so maybe that will get things moving again.

I still believe in it - maybe my problem is that the election is today and that is such a high-anxiety thing that everything else pales by comparison?

What I really wanted to write about today, though, was my writing cape. Last week I was at Penney's picking up my new prescription sunglasses, and I had a coupon, and saw this lovely, fuzzy beige cape. On sale. Even cheaper with a coupon! I got it, and it has become my "writing cape." I wear it when I'm in my writing persona, and it really does help me get into that mode. I'll have to get a picture of myself in it and you can tell me if I look "writerly." ;-)

Tomorrow I shall blog about being in the moment.

For now: I gotta go vote.



NaNoWriMo Day 3

And I'm up to 7349 words! My goal is to write around 2500 words a day, so I feel I'm pretty much on track. Hoping to hit 10K tomorrow, but it may be tight given that I'm going to work the phones for the Obama campaign from 9-12 and then stand in line to vote for however long it takes. And I have to write before N gets home!

Today I didn't write till after class ended at 12:30. I told the whole class about Nanowrimo, and that they were to bug me if I didn't keep up. I am telling as many people as possible so there is no backing out of the project. I should try that with losing weight some time - IF the novel works out.

Nah, losing weight's already too damn embarrassing.

Anyway, I took my laptop with me to school and before class I read through the history papers I have on the NY school for the deaf and decided on some things I wanted to put in the next part of the book. Then after class I went straight over to the library's faculty IT center. No one was there for the first hour, so I wrote like a fiend. I stopped when I'd written 1000 words and went upstairs to stretch and to get some coffee (this book seems to require regular infusions of coffee, though I'm not drinking more than a couple of cups per session - that's still a lot more than I usually drink, and probably bad for me, but it is good for the writing!). When I came back down, there were two people in the IT center, one of whom is a buddy who proceeded to chat with me for 25 mins., even after I told him what I was doing.

So I don't think that will be a regular writing venue from now on.

Still, if you don't count the chat time, I managed to write at about 1000 words per hour, and got home about 3:20. This despite a few more people coming in and talking, sometimes to him & sometimes to me, and someone switching on the big tv. So I've learned that when I'm in the right frame of mind, having other things going on around me (including conversations in Panera) does not impede my writing. That's a big revelation - I always thought I needed peace and quiet in order to write. Turns out that Chris Baty is right when he says in his book that what is really important is a deadline!

[AND not being home. At least, not when there's an imminent election. The phone has been ringing steadily while I've been gone, according to the answering machine: 10 calls, all from people wanting me to vote for them, and has already rung twice in the 15 mins. since I got home! I guess I should go to Panera tomorrow to write. Once the election's over it should be safe to write at home, if no one else is here.]



NaNoWriMo Day 2

Day two was a little slower, but not too much. I started off thinking I'd be a cheater (according to the rules, it wasn't cheating - it was a suggestion in Baty's book, as a matter of fact, but to me it seemed like cheating) and rewrite a section I'd rethunk, but keep the old section in still. But when I rewrote, I ended up finding a way to keep the old section in legitimately, HAH! So there. No cheating, plus I increased the word count easily.

I kept wanting yesterday to come back to the book and add more, but didn't let myself. That way 1) lies madness, adding little dribs & drabs all day 2) makes my fambly annoyed, never being completely THERE for them (though I thought about the book all day & evening anyway, by not acting on it they couldn't tell - maybe) 3) keeps me from losing momentum, because when I sat down to write this morning it BURST out of me, being all pent-up and such.

Selah is now to the point of having figured out finger spelling, and let me tell you, it warn't easy to get him there. It's tough conceptually, and since I don't know how it's taught, I had to figure out how *I* would teach it if I had to. I worried a bit about being pilloried by deaf persons and teachers of the deaf, but since I'm writing it for myself and for my family (and for George), I made myself not worry about it.

And I can always change it later if I ever find out.

So now I have 5049 words, only the NaNo site is still down, so I can't record it. If it isn't up by the 25th I will be really annoyed. I plan to win this by finishing, and I want it verified and documented!!!

Anyway, I am 1/10 of the way through, by word count at least.



NaNoWriMo Day 1

I am doing NaNoWriMo - in case there's anyone in the known universe I haven't yet told - and I am going to try to blog every so often about it.

Today was day 1, and I've been looking forward to it SO MUCH! Also been scared about it, but I started off well. It helped a lot that it was Saturday. I went to Panera (favorite shop in the world) and got some coffee (half-caf with half-and-half) and started writing. And the story took over. I'm writing historical fiction, and already the fiction has taken over the history, not only in the story but in my mind! I hope no one in the extended family gets mad about the things I'm inventing about Selah, but hey, it's FICTION, right? ;-)

I could not believe how fast it went, despite all my fears, especially once I stopped worrying about word choices and just plowed ahead. 2351 words in under 2 hours, I can't get over it! I thought it would take more like 3 hours. And I'd only planned a little bit of it ahead of time. And I had a couple of other ideas along the way, too, though I've already forgotten them, so I need to start writing things down, darn it.

Anyway, I hope it continues to go this well at least for a few days. If I can get 10K words I will feel I am on my way and too far along to stop.

Good luck to everyone else doing this!!!



Books, Books, Books

Zora Neale Hurston's Tell My Horse: Voodoo and Life in Haiti and Jamaica is an amazing book. I read it on my 2500-mile journey at the end of the summer, and while it gave me one bad moment (I was up reading about zombies in the wee hours, in Savannah, and S came creeping into the room to see if I'd fallen asleep with the light on - scared me silly!), the book had me enthralled from the first page to the last. Despite having been published in 1934, the book is still remarkably up to date, according to a Haitian student of mine whose grandmother practices Vodou.

Vodou aside, Tell My Horse is a fascinating glimpse into the lives of people in 1930s Jamaica and Haiti. Hurston was many things, but most of all she was a phenomenal storyteller with a terrific sense of humor. In a sense, Jamaica, Haiti and Vodou are only ancillary to the book - the real interest lies in the individual people and the way their lives were shaped by their beliefs. I learned a great deal from Hurston's book, and I enjoyed it tremendously.

The next book I read was Ann Patchett's The Magician's Assistant. This is my first Patchett - I ordered several of her novels from paperbackswap after hearing her interviewed about her most recent novel, Run, on NPR. (I am rich with pbs credits right now, having not ordered much in a while.) The Magician's Assistant opens with the death of the magician, and it unfolds like one of those magic boxes that turns out to have more hidden chambers than seem physically possible. I did anticipate the very end, but was surprised by every single plot twist before it; by the time I finished the book, I was emotionally exhausted and felt I'd been on a long journey with the protagonist. It is, as the title suggests, a magical book, and particularly well suited for anyone who likes stage magic or magicians.

There have been several books in between that weren't all that notable, but I have to talk about The Graveyard Book, the latest from my favorite living author, Neil Gaiman. For a couple of years now, Gaiman has been blogging about writing it, and those of us who have followed his blog have been waiting anxiously to hold the finished product in our hands. (I am asking for the audio version for the holidays, as there is nothing to compare with Gaiman reading his own work.) I started out reading it together with R and N, but then I sneaked ahead and read the rest on my own - though I am still reading it aloud with them - and the best word I can think of to describe it is: "beautiful."

The Graveyard Book is about Bod, a living boy raised by the inhabitants of a graveyard - I won't ruin it by telling you how this comes about, as that is part of the story. The border between living and dead; those who are not quite either; the question of just what earns the label "monster" - these are themes Gaiman has dealt with before, and masterfully. What makes this book different, more wonderful than his other wonderful books, is that it really is for almost all ages. I don't think it would hold the attention of most 3-year-olds; but my 8-year-old loves it, and finds it creepy and scary and yet just right for her age; I've sent it to my 14-year-old niece, who I am sure will find it perfectly suited to her age; I know my 18-year-old daughter will want to read it when she gets home from college in December; and I think my mother will enjoy it thoroughly as well.

Not too many books you can say that about - not truthfully.



Beginning of Fall

I've changed my profile back to myself - N is back in school and too busy to blog, and after 2500 miles of driving in three weeks, I am finally into a routine that allows me to blog again. First, the only mandala I managed all summer:
It is canvas, 24x24. It gave me great pleasure in the creation, and now both this and my original painted mandala are hanging in the front hall. I'd hoped for many more this summer, obviously, but only made this one, plus a couple of small paper ones that I did manage to mail out to people I hadn't contacted in a couple of years. I broke a lot of conventions I had felt constrained by when I made this particular mandala, so I was rather pleased with myself - it is freer and more open than most of my mandalas have been in the past. Happy days!

I also have some of C's lovely artwork to show this morning, from his theater classes. Here are some character sketches he did in marker. I'm sorry most of them are sideways, but I can't find a way to turn them. The first is, of course, loosely N, while the rest are fictional characters:

And then we have another of N's wonderful square mandalas:
And a beautiful mandala done first in pencil on paper by my niece S, and then stunningly in paint on an 18" round canvas:

Nice, eh? I know they LOOK like they're the same size, but the canvas is much larger than the paper. Know that she is a 13-yr-old Goth, and that the outer portion is waves of blood, and you will have a clearer idea of the design elements.

It was a tough summer, and not nearly long enough. I spent the first six weeks or so of it sick, and the rest of it trying to catch up on everything I'd fallen behind on. We had some good visits with and from friends/family, but there was always something else going on at the same time, and let me tell you, I am tired of multiplexing.

At the end of the summer was a positive storm of activity: driving Z to Chatham in Pittsburgh (very emotional), then returning for N's synchronized swimming show, which was wonderful. Driving down to Newport News, VA with N & C for W's wedding (great fun and also very emotional), then returning for two and a half days of teaching and frantic packing. And finally, driving to Savannah, GA to take C to SCAD (again with the emotion!)

I felt all wrung out last week, but am finally settling down to peace and quiet now and an easy-going routine of having just three schedules in the house. N is thriving in her only-child status, and while I miss C & Z tremendously and cannot wait for Thanksgiving when I will see them again, I am enjoying the one-on-one time with N. She loves to sing, and has a lovely voice. She's already able to sing rounds and is learning to sing harmonies, which is highly gratifying! Her favorite songs are "American songs" (i.e. rousing patriotic anthems she can sing at the top of her lungs or slowly and lugubriously) and "Jewish songs" (i.e. sung in Yiddish or Hebrew so she can roll her r's lavishly). She learns them so fast that the other day she said, "Even though I wasn't born Jewish, I think I was meant to be, because I learn these so fast," and her comment gave me goosebumps because it was what I had just that moment been thinking: these songs come so naturally to her . . . .

R's back is in terrible shape from one end to the other. He goes for another MRI, this time of the top of the spine, later this week. He had another three injections of cortisone last week and while they helped almost immediately, they've already worn off. Not A Good Sign. We're not mentioning the S(urgery) word yet, but I do suspect it will come to that eventually. Later rather than sooner, I hope.

And that's the news for now. More artwork soon, I hope!



Movies and Mandalas

Yes, we have Gotham fever here. C has seen "The Dark Knight" four times in the past three days, and the rest of us (N excepted) have each seen it once. I thought it was tremendous, as did Z; R was underwhelmed, but I think he missed the point. He isn't a Batman fan, which is part of the problem. His back hurts, too, so sitting in a movie theatre is painful - another part of the problem.

Heath Ledger was amazing. I thought I would find it painful to watch his last performance, but I was so mesmerized by his acting that I completely forgot about the role having put him over the edge.

C&I also saw "Hellboy II," which I enjoyed, though it wasn't nearly the movie "Dark Knight" was. The creatures of Faerie were pretty darned cool - it was a beautiful, eerie film.

In other news, Z is now officially graduated, and has her diploma (misspelled) in hand. Her party was fun, and the house is, temporarily, cleaner and neater than usual. I spent yesterday and today patching her two quilts - this took hours, literally, but they are now ready to accompany her to college in a month (boo hoo!).

And today I finally began painting again. The mandala started out as planned, but rapidly took on a life of its own. The background became all Monet-y, and then the flower petals, which I had thought would be stark white, turned into waterlily-colored ones, though they're not shaped like waterlilies. So the whole thing is evolving into something altogether different from what I'd originally envisioned, which is fine, just surprising. I'm enjoying it tremendously, but I really need to call the rheumatologist tomorrow, because after painting for a while I could hardly straighten up, and am now typing this while flat on my back on the heating pad. Not good.

Hope I can work on it again tomorrow. I'll try to upload a picture soon.



Slightly Hampered

I cannot find the cable that connects my camera to my pc. This would be more of a concern if my house weren't such a wreck; however, I feel there is still hope, so long as I get some serious cleaning done. Which NEEDS to be done soon anyway, given the imminence of Z's graduation party and several sets of houseguests.

In the meantime, I can run to CVS when my camera card fills up and have the machine make me a cd for $3, which I can then upload to the pc. Not too annoying, and a lot faster than cleaning up. ;-)

Here's N's mandala:
And the one I referred to much earlier, of mine:
At the Jepson Museum of Art in Savannah, there were some really cool photographic displays we played with. Here are Z & N in two of them:

Cool, eh?

And here is ONE of C's artworks from this past year, his pointillism project, which is just amazing, as far as I am concerned:
That's it for now - we're off to see "Wanted" (C & me) and "Wall-E" (Z&N). Happy 4th! Poor R is working. :-(



Suplise! and a wee bit o' panic

This evening I went ahead and ordered about $150 worth of painting supplies - brushes and paints from Jerry's Artarama (see link above) and canvases from Cheap Joe's. The nice thing about Cheap Joe's is that you don't have to order 36 canvases at a time; Jerry's has a HUGE minimum order, and I was not prepared to store that many, let alone to spend that much on canvases alone. But Jerry's had a fabulous sale on some of their brushes (BOGO), so I got a set of 12 "mini micro" brushes for doing some small mandalas, and two huge fan brushes (one each for Z & me) as well as two huge flat-end brushes (one each for Z & me) for scumbling- we've always used cheapo brushes for that, but that is a pain, because the hairs always come off, which means we have to pick the hairs out of the paint surface, and it's very annoying & messy, as well as inefficient.

And then Jerry's also had their liquitex acrylic paint on sale, too, so we got ten colors we were out of or almost out of. As soon as all this stuff comes, we'll be in business!

In the meantime, I have SIX (6) mandalas planned out in my head. Well, the miniature one (which I will do on an 8" round canvas) is already done in colored pencil on vellum, and I mentioned it in my first post of the summer, but have not yet posted it. I think it will be nice as a small, finely-detailed painting. I have a square canvas that has been sitting waiting patiently for a concept since last summer, and now I have it designed to the last detail in my imagination - I also have all the necessary paints and brushes. What I need now is the time to create it in miniature with pencils and markers, so I can work out all the rough spots, and then I can start painting.

Then I have four other ideas: one is already started on my biiiig sketch pad, and just needs to have the sketch finished before I paint. The other three need some geometry help from R - how to measure to get seven equal points around a circle, that sort of thing. All four of these will be painted on 20" diameter circular canvases. One will be called "Maha Chakra," or "Great Chakra," combining all seven chakras. The other two will be sort of mirror images of each other, and I need to work on the center they will share, which is a stylized version of - I won't say, but will hope you can tell once I've drawn it. I'll have to draw all three of these as smallish mandalas before I paint them.

So, at least six paintings before the end of the summer, as well as a ton of small mandalas to make 50 in all.

And yes, Ker and Mom, you will each get a letter & mandala from me, I promise.

Meanwhile, I am pulling together N's birthday party. She is having ONE close friend from school for a day of festivities: meeting at Bounce U to frolic from 1:30-3, then coming home for cake, then painting t-shirts to commemorate the day, then (weather permitting) swimming for an hour or so, then coming home for supper, then playing till dark, then setting off (legal) fireworks, then we'll take Jenna home and all come back to fall into bed with utter exhaustion. But I think this will be nicer than the usual bunch of kids for 2 hrs. of pandemonium, and N & Jenna are very excited about it. Btw, those fireworks were purchased at a stand which was located at a gas station - can you think of a worse venue?

I have GOT to go bed. I've been suffering from terrible insomnia ever since I started taking a sleeping pill (trazodone). I am not impressed with it. It takes forever to get to sleep, and then I sleep so soundly that I sleep till 10 am or later & am groggy all day. Bah.

Tomorrow is yet another big day. The Sears repairperson is coming to fix our washing machine, which no longer spins at the end of the cycle, so all the clothes are sopping wet and take forever to dry unless we wring them out. Z has a library reading to do at N's school in the morning, so C is taking them in order for me to be home in case Sears comes. But I have a meeting to complain about Angel's poor performance in my 6-week class (which is now over, huzzah!) at 2 pm, so the kids have to stay home in case Sears hasn't yet come by then. We've been told they're coming "between 8 & 5" - very specific, ain't it?



Student Mandalas

No, these aren't the promised art works by C. I haven't photographed those yet! I had a wonderful weekend getaway with my family at Oglebay Park in West Virginia (you know, where you leave your teeth and shoes at the border). Then came home and had a three-day migraine.

So I'm a bit behind in things, including mandala-creating. I have written my first letter, at least!

Anyway, here are the best mandalas from my first summer class, the 6-week one. I've really enjoyed this group of students; usually I lose about half of the class, but in this case I've only lost 2 or 3 out of 30, and the rest have done quite well. This despite two ending up in the hospital, too!

On to the mandalas.
I think this is my favorite one - at least, I wish I had painted it!:
This one was done in chalk on the driveway, and then erased. Very clever.

I like that this one is off-center a bit:
This was done in the sand on the beach, then allowed to be washed away by the tide:
My other favorite one from this class - try zooming in to see how great the detail is! I think of it as a Montana mandala.



Today I want to post some of Z's work from this past semester. She took ceramics, and every week when she came home she was simply covered in clay. And very discouraged. My romantic illusion of the smoothly humming pottery wheel was shattered by her tales of woe - she'd start to get her blob of clay to look like something, and then it would suddenly all go to smush inexplicably. She found the pottery wheel extremely frustrating.

Nevertheless, she managed to turn out two cute little mugs by the end of the semester.
Aren't they nice? She's pretty happy with them, particularly since her professor was a very hands-off teacher and she received little in the way of guidance throughout the semester. So she was basically self-taught.

Her favorite piece, however, was a "built" project (i.e. not thrown on the wheel), a replica of an ancient statue of a hawk.
She was happy with every phase, from the building to the glazing, and I think it's quite handsome, too.

My favorite of her works is a pair of vases with tiny ocean creatures. Z isn't pleased with the way the glazes came out; many of the glazing powders were mislabeled in the studio, so she didn't get what she'd expected. But I love them, and she gave them to me for Mothers' Day.
I particularly like the little sea creatures. Aren't they dear?

Two other pieces she did are also quite nice. The glaze on this one is pretty cool, and I love the multiple holes in the top:
Another view of it, from the side:
And this one she plans to take with her to college in the fall to hold her paintbrushes (she's also taking the little mugs):
Finally, here is the chocolate mandala she and her cousins made for our Passover Seder this past April. At the end of the Seder we dismantled it and every guest took some of the chocolates home with them - similar to the sweeping away of a Tibetan sand mandala and dispersing of the sands in the waters of a river. Yum!
Tomorrow, another showcase.



First Summer Post

I've finally decompressed from one of the roughest semesters yet, and I'm 2/3 of the way through my six-week summer online course. I'm also teaching a 12-week course, but it's a breeze compared to the six-week course; there are 10 students in the 12-week course and 30 in the 6-week course, and the 6-week course is also in the new LMS (platform, or format, or whatever you want to call it), so there've been a lot of bugs to work out. But I have a really good bunch of students, so it's been a pleasure, despite the workload.

We had a family art night this evening, and I made the first mandala in months, not counting our Seder mandala - what a pleasure! I'll try to post it soon, along with last term's student mandalas and some artwork that C, Z & N did last term. There just hasn't been time to post till now.

And I know what this summer's mandala project will be. 50 mandalas, to commemorate my 50th birthday (I am still shaken by that), by the end of the summer, at least half of which I plan to send with letters (SNAIL MAIL) to people I haven't written to in a long time. I'm sure I can come up with at least 25 people who qualify, and it will be nice to make connections with people again. I miss snail mail; I used to write at least ten substantive letters a month, and now I hardly ever write letters to anyone. It's all email . . . .



Book Talk

Darn font size issues, anyway!

The first books I have to talk about are Philip Ardagh's Eddie Dickens series, which N & I have been enjoying right out the wazoo. I have to say that my favorite is the second in the trilogy, Dreadful Acts, which starts out with the explanation in the Foreword

"[This book is] set in England sometime during the reign of Queen Victoria (who sat on the throne for more than sixty-three years, so let's hope she had a cushion) . . . "

Here's another good excerpt, one that made both N & me laugh, N at the beginning, me at the end:

"What you need is a nice hot cup of tea," said the policeman.
"Thank you," said Eddie, accepting the drink.
"What you get is a lukewarm mug of water. What do you think this is, the Fitz?" The Fitz was a newly opened restaurant in London that was so posh, even the doorman was the Earl of Uffington and the washer-upper was a much-decorated soldier - he had three layers of wallpaper under his uniform.
"How much longer are you going to keep me here?" asked Eddie.
"Have you heard of habeas corpus?" asked the peeler.
Eddie shook his head. (His own head, that is. He knew that shaking the policeman's head might annoy him.)
"Then we can keep you here as long as we like," said the peeler.

You get the picture. Sort of Douglas Adams for kids. Lots of fun, and highly gratifying to see one's child developing a good sense of humor.

Now for a highly disappointing book - no, I won't bother. I'm just going to list Neal Karlen's Shanda: The Making and Breaking of a Self-Loathing Jew on paperbackswap and get rid of it. I could not get through it: the fellow wasn't happy being Jewish, wished he could be happy being Jewish, and apparently (though I never got that far) ended up becoming a born-again Jew, but he was such an obnoxious boor through the whole process that I just quit reading. I don't enjoy reading about people who are obnoxious, period.

Well, okay, let me backtrack just a bit on that. Philip Lee Williams' Perfect Timing is about a fellow I consider rather obnoxious, in that he can't get over his obsession with himself. But the other characters in the book are so funny & endearing that I couldn't stop reading it - I had to find out what happened to them! Clarence Clayton, his cousin, is my favorite. He got religion in jail; while he's a little iffy on the details of the bible, he's quite comfortable making up anything he might not know definitively:

"The heavenly band of angels, lo, they playeth on harps. And harmonicas."
We all stared at him. I was startled by his apparent lunacy, but Mom was becoming more wrung out with each of his words. I was going to let it drop. Mom couldn't. It wasn't in her nature.
"What?" she said. "Did you say angels play on harmonicas?" Her voice rose a bit near the end of the sentence."
"The children of Israel took out they timbrels and danced. I read it. I couldn't figure what a timbrel might be, but it's got to be a harmonica because it's small enough to take out from somewhere."
"And what did they play on the harmonica?" asked Mom. Her voice was too loud.
"Country music," said Clarence.
"Country music!" yelled Mom.
"Yeah," he went on. "See, most of theseth Israelinos wasn't from the city, they was from the country, so I figure when they made music, it was country music."

Clarence isn't the only marvelous character in the book. Worth reading, for sure.

Finally, we have (in our completely mixed bag today), Haruki Murakami's After Dark. A rather unsatisfying novel, I felt, with a cover that I keep staring at (usually I don't pay this much attention to covers, but I tell you, it's got a GREAT cover!!!). Mari Asai's sister, Eri, has decided to go to sleep and not wake up. She hasn't committed suicide - she's just sleeping. She apparently wakes every so often to go to the bathroom, bathe and eat, but not when anyone sees her do it. Mari is the only one in the family who is distressed by it. The novel consists of one night in Mari's life, during which she has long conversations with a boy who knows both her and her sister (though neither of them well), and some other encounters with night people.

It's a strange and compelling novel, and I did want to read it all the way through. And I realize there was plenty going on under the surface. But at the end I felt as if I'd eaten a marshmallow - lots of air and no real substance. Lots & lots of symbolism without much heft.

I've read a lot of other things I didn't post about, but I don't remember any more, it's been such a long time!


The Calvinist Taoist OR Chicken Little and the Doctrine of Emptiness

My student Joe recently loaned me A.C. Graham's translation of the Liehtzu, a Taoist work I had not previously read. Much of it has to do either with emptiness or, interestingly enough, with the interplay between something Graham translates as "endeavor" (I wish I had the Chinese original) and "destiny" (which I assume is ming).

When speaking of emptiness, he reminds me of a discussion I had last semester with a student about when Buddhism came to China; Scott (a Buddhist) suggested that Buddhism must have arrived before Taoist thought arose, influencing it heavily. At the time, I pooh-poohed his suggestion. After reading the Liehtzu, I am not so sure. The passages concerning emptiness read like something out of a Zen classic (if such could be said to exist). Here's my favorite one - sorry it's so long, but it's really good:

There was a man of Ch'i county who was so worried that heaven and earth might fall down, and his body would have nowhere to lodge, that he forgot to eat and sleep. There was another man who was worried that he should be so worried about it, and therefore went to enlighten him.
'Heaven is nothing but the accumulated air; there is no place where there is not air. You walk and stand all day inside heaven, stretching and bending, breathing in and breathing out; why should you worry about falling down?'
'If heaven really is accumulated air, shouldn't the sun and moon and stars fall down?'
'The sun and moon and stars are air which shines inside the accumulated air. Even if they did fall down, they couldn't hit or harm anyone.'
'What about the earth giving way?'
'The earth is nothing but accumulated soil, filling the void in all four directions; there is no place where there is not soil. You walk and stand all day on the earth, stamping about with abrupt spurts and halts; whyshould you worry about it giving way?'
The man was satisfied and greatly cheered; and so was the man who enlightened him.

As I said, Chicken Little . . . .

Here is one of the many things the Liehtzu has to say about Destiny:

. . . The wisdom of sages cannot defy this,
Demons and goblins cannot cheat this.
Being of themselves as they are
Silently brings them about,
Gives them serenity, gives them peace,
Escorts them as they go and welcomes them as they come.

Finally, a story that made me smile, and that reminds me of the joke about the old Jewish man who prays every day to win the lottery:

There was a man of Sung who was strolling in the street and picked up a half tally someone had lost. He took it home and stored it away, and secretly counted the indentations of the broken edge. He told a neighbor, 'I shall be rich any day now.'

Good read, Joe. Thanks!



Pogo and Plastic Bags

I was listening to "Here & Now" on WHYY the other day and heard an interview with Bob Lilienfeld on the issue of "paper vs. plastic." It's one of those issues that makes my head hurt because of the complexity.

First we welcomed plastic bags because we could stop using paper bags and "save the trees." Now plastic has taken over the landfills, bags are hanging shredded from trees along the highways, and they're spilling from our closets as we collect them to take to the grocery to recycle them - assuming our stores actually do recycle them, and not just pitch them (as some do).

Did you know, for example, that 50% of all the plastic bags collected for recycling by grocery stores such as ours (Giant) are not made into more grocery bags, but instead into faux wood decking? Which is good, in that they don't wind up caught in trees along the highways or in landfills, but bad in that eventually they do end up in landfills when the decks are no longer wanted, and then they will take even longer to break down. It also means that more plastic bags are manufactured from scratch to take the place of the ones that are made into faux wood decking instead of into recycled plastic bags.

Is the faux wood decking worse than using real wood? Hm, says Lilienfeld, maybe not, because we have to factor in the chemicals used to pressure treat real wood if it's going to be made into decks (so that it won't rot - i.e. biodegrade), and if you paint it, those chemicals as well. What goes into making the paint & the chemicals? And of course, how long does it take the paint & chemicals to break down (and what do they do to the environment when they enter the soil)? Not so easy to determine which is greener.

Say, how about those new biodegradable plastic bags? They sound better than they are, according to Lilienfeld. The problem is that the one grocery stores are beginning to use cannot biodegrade in ordinary landfills, but must be buried in special landfills, meaning that municipalities must set up their own plants that can process
polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) (yes, I had to look that word up - my memory for chemical compounds isn't that good!). Here's the only article I could find on it quickly.

What about everything we've heard about those great "compostable" plastic bags? Well, I haven't spoken with anyone who has used them, so I don't know. This site and this one
both promise "no actual polyethylene," but why add the word "actual"? Do they contain "virtual" polyethylene? I just wonder about that wording. Lilienfeld warns that these so-called "biodegradable plastic bags" are NOT compostable and should NOT be put in compost that is used on vegetables.

A caller to the show pointed out that another problem with using cornhusks, the most common ingredient in these alternative plastic bags, is that it means fewer cornhusks are plowed under. The benefit of plowing cornhusks into the soil is that they prevent soil erosion. Make enough of these cornhusks into plastic bags, and more erosion results. Sheesh, I would never have thought of that, but it makes sense!

As Pogo said, "it's all connected."

So what's the solution? Reusable bags, for one. We have a bunch of cloth bags, and we have a few that fold up pretty small to be stuffed in pockets, and we can carry them around just in case. If stores stopped giving away bags, people would start carrying their own (after they spent a mighty long time bitching about poor service).

Ah, it doesn't really solve the problem, does it?