Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

478 Words About Why I Can’t Write

October 11, 2012

Several weeks ago, I read Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake, a memoir by Anna Quindlen, a well-known journalist, columnist, and novelist.  As I always do with a library book (since I don’t have to decide whether or not to buy it), I waited until I’d finished it to read the reviews on Amazon.  I like reading reviews after I’ve read a book.  Sometimes, it’s a little like being a fly on the wall at a book club, and reading other’s thoughts on a book often gives me insight or clarity that I’d earlier lacked.  Besides, if I read them before, it can color my own opinion.

I liked the book quite a lot and was amazed—since our lives are so radically different—at how many of her reflections and observations I could relate to.  She’s famous.  She’s wealthy (with a “summer” house).  She’s well-educated.  She’s had a pretty easy life.  I’m not.  I’m not.  I’m not.  And I haven’t.   Nevertheless, I found myself smiling and nodding in recognition a lot as I read.

So, I was very surprised to read so many negative reviews (although there were lots of folks that felt as I did).  I was struck by how many people seemed to feel that her life of privilege rendered her incapable of relating to ordinary people and that ordinary people would be incapable to relating to her life.  I can say that as a very ordinary person myself, I didn’t feel that way at all.  And since she lives a life of fame and privilege, I don’t find it particularly surprising that she writes from that perspective.

But the thing that struck me most was how many people said that the writing was “egocentric” and “self-centered.”  One person said that it was all about “me, me, me.”

People.  Hello??  It is a MEMOIR.  It’s supposed to be about me, me, me!  (Or in this case, her, her, her.)

Anyway, for some reason reading all those negative reviews made me think about my recent Thirty Days of Grateful Praise.   I started wondering just how many people might have thought that about my writing.  That is, that there is too much “Me, me, me” on my blog.

This notion, of course (since I am a ridiculously neurotic person and have felt particularly neurotic lately), sent me into a state of being unable to write anything on my blog.  Hence, the lengthy blog silence. I do apologize.

So…haha…I have just written over 400 words to tell you that I can’t write.  Only to discover, to my surprise, that perhaps I can.

Nevertheless.   I WAS going to simply post photos of the last month here at the Doublewide Ranch, so even though I’ve now written more than 450 words, I’ll post the photos anyway.  Then, there will be 6,478  words.

Yes, I know.  As we say here in the South, I’m a mess.  :-)

The Many Versions of Truth

December 6, 2010

 

So…I know that it’s a little late to post autumn leaf pictures (it’s snowing here, for crying out loud!), but that’s me—a day late and a dollar short. But better late than never, right?

Lately, I’ve been trying to get serious about my writing (the two blatant clichés in the previous paragraph notwithstanding). As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t have any actual formal education in writing, but I do read. A lot. Which, for me, has probably been the single most helpful thing in learning to write. And, lately, I’ve been branching out a bit by reading stuff that I might not ordinarily read. Writing doesn’t have to be literary to be good. Sometimes, I think it’s enough just to tell a good story. And, sometimes, lots of ostentatious literary allusions and fancy metaphors get in the way of a good story. Sometimes, they just seem like showing off. Like, Hey! Look at me! Look how smart I am!  But, who knows?  Maybe I’m just not smart enough to appreciate them. (Possibly indicated by the fact that I originally typed “literary illusions” in the previous sentence. Haha. Maybe that’s what I have—literary illusions).

Anyway, I was thinking, as I looked through my photos, about how they are sort of like the stuff I’ve been reading. Some straightforward, some symbolic, some poetic, some metaphorical. Just different ways of presenting truth. Though some would say, I suppose, that that means there is no truth—only your perception of it.

I’ll leave that to the philosophers. Meanwhile, here are my many versions of the truth.

(And, by the way, don’t forget that you can click on the photos to enlarge them.)

(I love these water constellations.  They remind me of the Bruce Cockburn song with the line “All the diamonds in the world/That mean anything to me/Are conjured up by wind and sun/Lie sparkling on the sea.”   I LOVE that line. Of course, this isn’t the sea.  It’s Lake Junaluska.)

(After the storm—that lovely, golden, late-day slant of light)

Embracing My Inner Curmudgeon (and Some Well-Deserved Applause)

October 19, 2009

curmudgeon

(I apologize that I could not find the proper attribution for this great drawing, but am amazed at the striking resemblance to this writer.  Uncanny, really.)

One of the things that I looked forward to most about getting old was that it would at last be acceptable to give my inner curmudgeon free reign. Yep, I thought maybe I could give real credence to the stereotype of the grumpy old lady.

Well, the truth is, while I might have an inner curmudgeon, I’m actually pretty even-tempered, so I’m not yet shaking my bony fist at cocky young whippersnappers on a regular basis. But I will say that the past few weeks have sorely tested the limits of my patience and brought out my inner grouch.

First of all, our television went out, and it took the built-in VCR with it. Sure, it was 12 years old and maybe 12 years is all you can expect for electronic lifetimes these days, but it really hurt to lose our VCR, too. Then, the next day, the blade flew off our riding mower and took two fan belts with it. We have a big, big yard, so we really need that riding mower.

But it wasn’t just that. It was the little things, too, one darn thing after another—from problems with an item we just paid good money for to groceries scanning higher than the listed price to newly purchased carrots being slimy. I hate it when my carrots are slimy.

No need to rehash all our troubles, but allow me to indulge my inner curmudgeon long enough to say this:  The Eyeglasses industry, on the whole, is an out and out rip-off. A greed fest. A shameless screw-job. I have no idea what the mark-up by optical companies is on eyeglasses, but I know it is huge beyond all justification. And I’d like to say to the optometrist that I recently had the displeasure of seeing: You should be ashamed—charging those exorbitant prices, knowing full well that many of the people that come to you (including me) can ill afford to buy even the cheapest frames you provide. And, boyhowdy, that sure is one slick operation you’ve got there—the way you funneled me right out from my exam into your eyeglasses “showroom.” And what a friendly salesman you have in there! Or at least he was until I expressed my utter incredulity at the prices and I was ushered out quicker than you can say “flimflam man.” Of course, what I really wanted to do was to tell him just exactly where he could shove all those hip, trendy pieces of plastic “designer” junk.

Oh. Sorry. I lost it for a minute there. I told you I had an inner curmudgeon.

Anyway. What I really wanted to do here is to recognize my one interaction with a commercial interest in the past few weeks that was positive beyond all expectation. Where I was treated with respect and consideration. Where the response to my concern was cheerful and prompt. Who was this rarity, this paragon, this fine model of good customer service? Why, I’m glad you asked.

It was Oxford American, my favorite magazine ever. Perhaps you’ve never heard of it, but if you’d like to read the finest in writing from the South (not to mention their annual music issue that includes a really swell CD), you should definitely check them out. In fact, one of my dreams as an aspiring writer is to be published someday in Oxford American.

I recently decided to treat myself to a subscription and was mighty excited about the thought of finding it in my mailbox again, but experienced some difficulty in receiving a particular issue. It was their Southern Literature Issue with lots of writing about writing, so I wanted it real bad. But when I filled out their Customer Service form, I’ll have to admit that I expected just the typical form email back. You know, the generic, non-personal kind that leave you feeling angrier than ever?

So imagine my surprise when I was personally emailed back within an hour by Tammy Gillis, their office manager, who told me she was immediately forwarding my email to Matt Baker, Associate Publisher. Within a very short time, I received a very nice email from Matt Baker expressing his sincerest apologies and indicating that he had personally mailed me out a copy that very day!

Okay, here’s where I’ll confess that, at the time, I thought, “Right. Sure you did. I’ll believe that when I see it.” Sorry to say, but some of my recent misadventures in customer service have made me just a mite cynical.

So imagine my surprise (and delight) when I found Issue #66, the Southern Literature issue of the Oxford American in my mailbox within a week, mailed personally by their Associate Publisher. I was thrilled.

So, thanks, Oxford American and Tammy Gillis and Matt Baker. I know you’ll probably never read this, but I wanted to say it anyway. I wanted to sing the praises of a company that is motivated by something besides greed, not to mention the fact that they put out a very fine product that even folks like me can afford. You’ve made me a happy woman and a slightly less cynical one.

It sure is nice to have something good to read. Maybe it will help to take my mind off the smirk on smug Mr. Eyewear Consultant’s face when he told me, “You really should try something stylish and fashionable for a change—it would make you look so much…younger.”

Why, it’s enough to make me shake my bony fist just thinking about it. *Shakes bony fist and mutters*   That impudent young upstart. Cheeky, brazen whippersnapper.

Hank and Homer-Part 2: Hank and Homer’s Odyssey

April 2, 2009

readingmobydickblog

When I wrote about Hank and Homer (who at one time were  gloves and socks) and how they came into being here, you probably thought you’d seen the last of them.  Well, I  can’t help it—–I just love the little fellas.  And not just because I made them.  They make me smile every time I look at them, so if you’re reading this and thinking, “Good Lord, I can’t believe a 51-year-old-woman would be playing with a couple of stuffed animals!” well, I’m afraid you’re on the wrong blog and you should probably go read Nietzsche or something.  Wait a minute, even Nietzsche said, “In every real man a child is hidden that wants to play.”  Well, there you go.  And, thank God,  my inner child is always ready to play.

Anyway, Hank and Homer are finally starting to feel comfortable around the other invertebrates.  Homer was a little sensitive about his resemblance to Homer Simpson, so I made him a hat (out of a sock!) that I think somewhat mitigates the unfortunate resemblance.  He’s very fond of his new hat, but Hank’s a little jealous.   He wants a hat, too.  They’ve been working a lot on self-improvement (people are always telling them their heads are full of fluff!).  So they’ve been reading the classics.  As you can see, they started on Moby Dick, but then they heard the birds singing outside and saw the flowers waving in the breeze and knew it was time for an adventure! 

First up:  a ride in Mr. Gnome’s wheelbarrow!  For Hank, at least.  Homer just wanted to lie in the creeping phlox and bask in the warm spring sun.

hank-takes-a-ride-blog

giddyupblog

Giddyup, Pinky!  Hank takes a ride on old Pinky, while Homer…

giddyuphomerblog

Rides old Blue.

Time for a little tree climbing—- into the flowering pear tree.  There were about ten thousand bees buzzing around the pear tree flowers.  Hank and Homer loved being in the bee-loud tree.  They even found a bird’s nest there!

handandhomerclimbatreeblog

bird-nest-in-pear-tree-blog

Look!  The dandelions are back!  Time to make a wish.  Hank wished for a hat just like Homer’s.

hankandhomermakeawishblog

But all that activity and fresh air makes little invertebrates kind of tired.  So back inside they went to watch the NCAA tournament on TV.  Sure, Hank and Homer’s TV is a little small and old, but watching the Tar Heels play basketball is exciting no matter how you’re watching it!  Go Heels!

hankandhomerwatchbasketballblog

Not that they watch much TV.  They’d rather read.  After they finish Moby Dick, Homer is thinking about reading another book he heard was really good, if a mite long.  He really likes the name of the author—- Homer.  And he finds the title very exciting—-The Odyssey  (he does like a good adventure tale!)   Hank’s not so sure that these classics are all they’re cracked up to be.  But he’ll read The Odyssey if that’s what Homer wants because he likes to make him happy.   Because they’re best buddies.  And they always will be.

“A Whale of a Tale to Tell You–A Tale of a Tail or Two”

March 25, 2009

moby-dick

(Uh-oh!)

It’s an exciting life we lead here at the Doublewide Ranch. Always something new to share, like the pink blossoming of the peach tree or the thrill of new bluebirds nesting. Or getting to visit with our children over Spring Break. Or the fact that Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man just finished reading Moby Dick.

Moby Dick? Maybe you’re wondering, as I did, why Moby Dick? Well, partly for the intellectual challenge, according to Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man. But also…Providence. He felt like he was destined to read it when he got it for free in a book discard pile where he works. But after hearing his description, you couldn’t get me to read the book if the Lord Himself appeared to me in a radiant, holy vision, a chorus of angels singing in the background, with an illuminated copy of Moby Dick in His hands. (Unless, of course, the Lord told me to read it.)

Oh, it starts out promisingly enough. Right off the bat, in the first sentence, the narrator introduces himself (“Call me Ishmael.”) and explains in the first paragraph why he was heading out to sea.

 “…whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself …pausing before coffin warehouses and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet” and when “it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street and methodically knocking peoples’ hats off, then I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.”

Oh yeah, I get that. I felt like that when I first went into menopause. Wanting to knock peoples’ hats off, that is. Not so much the “pausing before coffin warehouses” part though.

Anyway, things get even more interesting when Ishmael ends up (after looking for a place to stay) having to share a bed with a cannibal named Queepueg. Now, in case you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to sleep with a strange cannibal, well, Ishmael tells you, in considerable and often humorous detail. And in case you’re thinking, Hey, no way I’d sleep with a cannibal!“, well, I like what Ishmael says about that:

“…the man’s a human being, just as I am; he has just as much reason to fear me as I have to be afraid of him. Better to sleep with a sober cannibal than a drunken Christian.”

Ha, ha…yeah…that’s what I always say.

My interest in the book was piqued even more when I heard about Ahab, the captain of the ship Ishmael was sailing on, who had only one leg because the other was bitten off. What’s that you say? Oh my goodness, no,…ha, ha…not by the cannibal! It was Moby Dick, the white whale, who did the deed. And, boy howdy, is Captain Ahab ticked off! So ticked off, in fact, that he’s setting sail just to find Moby Dick and avenge his bit-off leg. It’s understandable and all…I mean, how would you feel if a whale bit your leg off?

Anyway, they head out into the stormy deep and it’s all downhill from there. This is the place in the book where Herman Melville can’t decide if he’s writing a novel or a treatise on whaling. He goes off on tangents where he holds forth for several pages about subjects ranging from why the Pacific is his favorite ocean to a graphic description of the skin and blubber of the whale. You would think that Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man, being a carpenter, would have been interested in Melville’s long exposition about the ship’s carpenter, but how could he be when the description contained sentences like this?

“And this it was, this same unaccountable cunning life-principle in him; this it was, that kept him a great part of the time soliloquizing; but only like an unreasoning wheel, which also hummingly soliloquizes ; or rather, his body was a sentry-box and this soliloquizer on guard there and talking all the while to keep himself awake.”

Hey, maybe that’s why Melville soliloquized so much in the book—to keep himself awake! Unfortunately, those of us slogging through his long, excruciating soliloquies on “the honor and glory of whaling” are not so lucky. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

The action does pick up near the end when they finally encounter Moby Dick (“There she blows!”) In case you actually want to read the book, I won’t tell you what happens, but we did learn some valuable lessons. Like, sometimes it’s best to let bygones be bygones. And if the whale is bigger than your ship, maybe you should leave him be. And, well, you should probably stay off the ship in the first place if the captain’s a crazy man. Also… coffins can float! Who knew?

Anyway, I’m proud of Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man. He persevered and finished that thing. I’m thinking about getting him a shirt that says, “I Survived Moby Dick.”

Which brings me to my question. A serious question, believe it or not. As you know, neither Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man nor I went to college and though we are fairly well-read, we’ve wondered if we should read more of the classics. To be honest, I feel a bit like Mark Twain when he said, “A classic is something that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read.” But as an aspiring writer, I feel that there might be “classics” that I could learn from. (And I should say here that there are many learned people who consider Moby Dick a masterpiece, so maybe we just didn’t get it.)

So, I ask you, my discerning and erudite readers: What classics should we read? And, if not the classics, what books do you think would make us better writers and help make up the education we never had?

Bonus questions: Would you sleep with a cannibal? And…what would you do if a whale bit off your leg?

And finally…which would you rather do? Sleep with a cannibal, have your leg bitten off, or read Moby Dick?

Secrets

February 2, 2009

dictionary-blog

We all have family secrets.  The kind that only our very closest friends and family know.  Oh, I don’t mean the skeleton-in-the closet kind that, often, are best kept hidden.  I mean the kind we have that, when discovered, cause us to grin a sheepish grin or maybe squirm and giggle nervously.  You know, like the fact that you sometimes drink out of the milk carton or maybe occasionally don’t change your sheets for a couple of months or that you keep a secret stash of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups in the sock drawer, while telling everyone you’re on a diet.  Harmless stuff, pretty much, though I really don’t think you should drink out of that milk carton.

Okay, I know you’re probably reading eagerly now, thinking I’m going to tell you one of our secrets.  And you’re right, though the photograph above probably already gave me away.  But, in case it didn’t, here goes:  We have upwards of eighteen books hidden amidst the dustballs under our couch.  

Yes, I know, horrible…but true.  It all started years ago in the first of our many tiny homes.  Now there’s nothing wrong with tiny homes, but they can be a problem when you have approximately seven million books.  Okay, not really.  It just seems that way when we move.  And it’s the reason our friends and family make themselves scarce  every time we announce that we’re moving.  They remember past moves when, in their naivete, they volunteered to help.  Along about the five-hundredth one-hundred pound box of books, they all said the same thing:  “Y’all have too many books!”

Now, we all know that it’s just not possible to have “too many books.”  I mean, to me, that’s like saying, “You have too much money” (not that anyone’s ever said THAT to us) or “You have too many sunny days” or “You have too much chocolate.”  Really, it’s more the fact that we have too little house and too few shelves. 

But I digress.  What actually happened is that years ago when I’d be curled up on the couch reading and would run across a word that I didn’t know, I’d want to look it up in the dictionary.  But the dictionary would be in another room because we didn’t have a lot of space to spare in the living room.  So, lazy person that I am, I was loath to interrupt my book to get up and get the dictionary.  After all, I could usually figure out the word from its context.  But the trouble is, I’d then have to guess at how to pronounce it.  And I’d often guess wrong.  Like the word “despot.”  I knew what it meant, but I never looked it up.  So, over the years, I can’t tell you how many times I said it “des-SPOT”, with the emphasis on the second syllable.  And until a couple of years ago, no one corrected me.  So I cringe to think of all the people who probably snickered into their sleeves and thought me ignorant.  Which, of course, I was.  But I didn’t want them thinking that.

Anyway, that’s when I realized that our couch had both plenty of room underneath AND a charming little skirt that could hide not only dustballs the size of Chihuahuas, but a lot of books, including our large collection of dictionaries and thesauri.  So we’ve never had to get up to get the dictionary again. 

Just remember, if you come to my house and want to look something up, do be careful when you stick your hand under there.  Those dustballs can be a little scary.  Not to mention the monstrous spiders.  Or the lizards that we’ve found living in our couch through the years.   But whatever you do, don’t go in our closets

After all, there might be skeletons there.

An Unrestrained Exuberance

September 28, 2007

 audubon-guides-blog.jpg

We really like the National Audubon Society Field Guide series.  These little books are compact, portable, and it’s easy to find what you’re looking for.  Of course, their compact nature means that they are not particularly comprehensive, but we’ve been able to find in there most of the plants, animals, and minerals we’ve encountered in the natural world.

Above you can see the well-loved and well-used volumes we own.  The wonderful thing about the Audubon books is that, despite their small size, they are so much more than a dry listing of families, genera, species, and unpronounceable Latin names.  Their vivid, colorful descriptions really bring whatever you’re reading about alive.  (That is, unless you’re reading about rocks.  Then I guess you’d say the description really…um…solidifies your knowledge.  Or maybe you’d say “this book rocks!”  Or it is a…gem).
 
Anyway, the other day, I wanted to figure out the difference between a Monarch butterfly and a Viceroy.  They look an awful lot alike, at least to my untrained eye.  So I looked up Viceroys and found this very, very cool fact about their caterpillars.  I’ll quote it straight from the book, because I loved the wry humor inherent in this scientific fact:  “The irregular shape and color of the caterpillar produce a striking resemblance to bird droppings,  giving the insect considerable protection from predators.”

Ha, ha, ha, ha…I love that!  I also found, when I looked up Monarchs, that “The Canadians call this butterfly “King Billy” because its orange and black colors are those of King William of Orange.”  And, of course, that’s how the Monarch got its name.

monarchsnakerootblog.jpg

So here’s where I deviate from talking about Nature to talk about a different kind of nature—human nature.  My nature, to be specific. I just really need to know.  When you out there in Blogland hear some fascinating, wondrous fact like the above, do any of you get excited?  I mean, like, really, really excited?  Like I-Just-Won-A-Hundred-Bucks-in-the-Lottery excited? 

I do.   When I read or hear something like this, my pulse quickens, my face flushes, and I can’t wait to tell someone else.  In fact, I cringe to say this, but when I read the fact about Viceroy caterpillars resembling bird droppings, I laughed out loud and…clapped my hands in delight.  Yes, you read that right.  I clapped my hands in glee over hearing that a caterpillar resembles bird poop.
 
I am particularly prone to this when it comes to word derivations.  For example, I just found out that the word “nice” comes from a Middle English word meaning “foolish,” which comes from a Latin word meaning “to be ignorant.”  Wow.  Incredible.  Now I know why so many people say I’m “nice.”

So, what I want to know is this:  Do any of you out there get excited like this?  Okay, maybe not “clap-your-hands” excited.  I know that’s probably over the edge.  *Cringe*  But maybe you just feel really happy about some quirky little fact?   And please don’t think this is a shameless attempt to bump up my comment count.  I really am curious.  Am I really that strange or am I just really easy to please?  Or maybe both?

And no, you don’t have to comment.   But it sure would be…nice.


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