A Question

What do you do with a journal once you’ve filled all the pages? People have different ideas about this. Some say that you curate it. Others say that you shred the whole thing. Some people keep their journals forever. If you’re David Sedaris, who has been keeping a diary for more than 40 years, this is what you do with them:

When I first started, you know, I was writing on placemats. And then I moved on to sketch books and then I started typing them out on 8 x 9 1/2 sheets of paper. I would do one every season, and at the end of every season, I would make a cover for it. And I would have it bound. So, I’m very particular about what they look like. Which is sort of crazy, because no one’s every really seen them. I mean I’ve never handed a diary over to anybody to really read it, or rifle through it or anything. So every one of them is the same size, but they’re all different.

But I just sold them all to Yale University. And that just sort of hit me. I’ll still have a copy, they’ll make me a digital copy of everything. Maybe I just thought, “Well, I got into Yale!” (from an interview with David Sedaris at wpr.org)

I could never do that. I’ve kept most of my diaries (or journals—I use the words “journal” and “diary” interchangeably, which I’m pointing out here because some people may choose to make a distinction between the two). They’re a more ragged and motley crew than Sedaris’s. I also haven’t been writing for as long or as consistently as he. Even so, my collection of old writing has grown. The bigger it has gotten, the more I have questioned its value. Most of my diaries are litanies of worries and complaints. They’re not fun to read. I would never share them with anyone else.

So, when I finished my latest journal, I hesitated over what to do with it. The blog has taught me to be more purposeful in my writing, and it showed in this journal. But the ink had already started to fade, and my handwriting, always hard to decipher, had become nearly illegible. There were many to-do lists, and no one needs old to-do lists. (If you did the stuff on the list, it has nothing left to offer you. If you didn’t do the stuff on the list, then it’s just sad.) And there were so many angry pages, because last year sucked, and who wants to read all that anger? So I ripped out all of the pages and put them through the shredder. Grrrrrrrind!

But not before copying any text that I thought was worth saving. You might already have seen some of it (that’s where Ten Things I Hate About Writing came from). Other parts might show up in future posts.

It has been a few weeks, and I still feel good about the decision to curate and shred. I will probably do the same with my older journals and writing projects. I think it’s time for me to face the reality of growing older. Someday all of my junk will belong to someone else, and that someone won’t be Yale. Any words that I don’t want to leave to my family should be destroyed. Any words that I do think are worth saving should be put into a more readable format.

So my answer to the question of what to do with an old journal is that you curate it, then shred the old pages, and it feels good!

Posted in Crazy Me, Writing | Leave a comment

Three and Three

1

This tick has broken a lot of rules. Ticks aren’t supposed to like concrete and metal. They most certainly aren’t supposed to waltz onto your patio and climb up your tray of violet vases. They are supposed to stay in the grass! If I tick can do this, then it is capable of walking up to my house and under the door, and that is scary.

2

I took the day off from work. Around mid-morning I went to the library with the intention of having a leisurely look through the new books. I planned to follow that up with a walk in the woods.

The library part went well. I found some interesting books and a CD. I even had a nice chat with a librarian. But my growling stomach reminded me that I hadn’t eaten breakfast. I decided I’d better get some food before taking a walk. As I was leaving the parking area, I saw something very sad.

This looks like a nice area to have lunch. There’s a table and pretty bluets on the ground, but look at that poor dead tree in the background.

It was not the only one. Dead trees had been marked with pink X’s. There were so many X’s!

3

My car made a weird noise when I stepped on the brake to shift into drive. There happened to be a landscaper using a weed whacker near my car. I told myself that the sound had come from the weed whacker, not my car, and that everything was fine.

Only it wasn’t. It didn’t take long to realize that there was something wrong with the brakes. When I stopped at the parking lot exit, the brake pedal didn’t feel right. I tested it again as I was driving down the road. Every time I stepped on it, there was a slight vibration, and I had push the pedal much harder than usual. The grocery store was so close that it made as much sense to pull into the parking lot as it did to stop on the side of the road. But I wasn’t driving that car any farther than that. Uh-uh. So I had to call a tow truck. This is how I feel about that:

🙁

But it’s not all bad.

1

I saw the tick on the tray, so it wasn’t able to get on me. The tick is dead now and won’t be biting anyone ever again.

2

Many of the trees are still alive. The winter moth numbers still seem to be down. The gypsy moth caterpillars are around, but I haven’t seen large numbers of them.

3

I’m grateful that the brakes didn’t stop working while I was driving to or from CT on Wednesday. I’m particularly thankful that I was able to stop the car without hurting anyone or anything. I had my phone on me, and though the battery was low, it had enough power to make the necessary phone calls. The tow truck arrived quickly, and my husband picked me up almost immediately after. I am now home safe and sound, and I finally got to eat my lunch (vegetarian sushi with a side of fresh pineapple).

Things could be worse.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

An Epic Fail

The December 2017 issue of Smithsonian contained an article called “The Strange Beauty of the Epic Fail” by Franz Lidz. The part that was most interesting to me was that one of the “epic failures” is a product that I own and use nearly ever day: the Bic for Her pen.

Here are two of my “lady pens” on the magazine page that mentions them.

These pens really are comfortable to write with. But, to be honest, the thing I like most about them is the colors and embossed designs. Everyone in my house can instantly recognize to whom the pens belong, because I’m the one who likes those kinds of designs. They don’t appeal to my husband. Not that he won’t use the pens, but he’s not inclined to keep them. In short, the pens don’t tend to “walk away,” so I can usually find one when I need one.

I liked the pens enough to keep buying them in spite of the name. When Target stopped carrying them, I was able to find them at Amazon. That’s when I discovered the reviews. Wow. Some of them were hysterical! I was also annoyed, though, because reactions like that are what killed the product.

But the blame must ultimately fall on Bic. They should have known better. I cannot begin to fathom why they would go with a gender-specific name like “For Her” when there were words like “floral,” “embossed,” and “pearlescent” to draw on. Not that women shouldn’t like pinks and purples and embossed floral designs, but the idea that they must (or that men cannot) just isn’t right. The pen is great. The name is the epic fail.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

She Took Time and Effort

People say that if you write a little bit here and a little bit there, eventually it will add up. I guess “People” were right. Though I feel like I haven’t been working on my novel much, Scrivener begs to differ. It says I’ve written 40,000 words. What’s more surprising than the number itself, though, is that I feel like I haven’t actually started writing. I might have 40K words, but I suspect that only a fraction of them will end up in the finished work.

That’s because I’ve been writing blind. I started with a good premise, but a premise is not a story. It took 40,000 words of exploratory writing just to begin to understand who my characters are, what they’re doing, and why. I have a broad outline now, and every day I work on the details. Once I know exactly what has to happen, then I can start to build the scenes using some of the blocks of text that I’ve already written as the foundation. Then I’ll really be writing.

This lengthy process makes me feel both slow and inefficient. I think that NaNoWriMo skewed my ideas about how much time and text it would take to make a novel. I’ve got 4/5 of the text required to win it, but probably only 1/10 of a novel. I’ve been working on it for 7 months (seven times as long as NaNoWriMo!), but I’m nowhere near being done. How lame am I?

But, according to author Philip Roth, I’m probably right on schedule. I was listening to the radio on the long drive back from CT last night, and I caught part of an old interview with Roth (who died this week, sadly). In the interview, Roth said that his novels took two to three years each.

He also said, “The book begins to make its demands. The demands are intellectual, they’re imaginative, they’re aesthetic.” I’ve never read any of his books, but I think I know what he meant. My novel is demanding. It presents themes and asks me to expand on them. It begs for allusions and homages. It insists that I do enough research to give it at least the veneer of scientific plausibility.

I do the best I can to make it happy, but this appeasement takes time and a lot of thought, often much more thought than writing. That’s probably just as it ought to be, too. Should I ever finish this novel, regardless of how it turns out, I hope that a reader would be willing to say, “It’s clear that she didn’t just dash this one off. She took time and effort and tried to do the idea justice.”

Posted in Crazy Me, Writing | 1 Comment

Creativity Club

Dear Kids,

One night last year, Livia was working on a story. She asked if she could write downstairs. “Of course!” I replied (because if somebody want to write, then they should be able to write anywhere they want to!). And, because I had been thinking of doing some writing myself, I asked if she wanted to join my Writing Club. She did, and then Marshall asked to join, too.

So the three of us gathered at the dining room table to write. But while Marshall likes joining clubs, he doesn’t like writing that much, so we decided to give ourselves a different name: Creativity Club. In Creativity Club, you can do anything that’s creative, including writing, drawing, coloring, and Legos.

Livia and I worked on our writing while Marshall made some art. Livia is the kind of writer who loves to share her work, not just when it’s done but every step of the way. And Marshall likes to tell stories about his art while he’s working on it. So there was a lot of sharing going on. Then Livia looked at me and said, “What did you write?” “Oh, nothing.” I replied. She didn’t believe me. “Read us some of what you wrote, Mommy!”

So, Livia had shared her work, and Marshall had shared his. If Mommy didn’t share, then Mommy would be a poor sport, and she would risk teaching you to hide your creative work and be shy. And the truth is, I’ve always been terrified of damaging your creativity. I want so badly for you to be creative people, and I’ve been carefully and deliberately encouraging you to lead creative lives. I’ve tried to show you how easy it is. I’ve made a total ass out of myself repeatedly. I’ve danced silly dances, and I’ve sung impromptu songs, and I’ve made countless types of art with you. But still, what if I make a mistake? Sometimes it only takes one,  just one stupid word or action, and a kid stops wanting to be creative forever.

So there I was, on the hot seat, having been asked to share my writing. I had only been doing writing exercises, and most of it didn’t even make sense. What to do? Well, I picked the parts that were at least real sentences, and I read them aloud as if they meant something. You told me they were good. That’s how very sweet you are. Whew! Creativity saved.

We have had many meetings of Creativity Club since. We all enjoy the time together, and often we listen to music as we work. I set my computer up for streaming, and you pick your favorite music. Among other things, you like Imagine Dragons, Maroon 5, Taylor Swift, Rachel Platten, and Marshall’s favorite: the soundtrack for Shin Godzilla.

It’s not quite all sunshine and roses. We do have the occasional clash in Creativity Club. For example, one time Marshall claimed that he was the president of our club. I told him that he couldn’t be president but that he could be VP in Charge of Mascots. Everyone was happy . . . for about a minute. The next thing I knew, Livia was crying because our new VP in Charge of Mascots had declared that Ellie the Elephant could not be a Creativity Club mascot! How fortunate that our club does have a president—me. I declared Ellie an official mascot. Peace was restored and creativity saved yet again.

With love and encouragement in all things creative,

Mom

Posted in Dear Livia, Dear Marshall | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Too Much Coffee

I think I have fully proven that coffee makes me anxious.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Mamma Mia!

I woke up extra early today. This happens from time to time, but usually I just lie in bed until I finally fall back asleep. Not this morning. Thanks to having watched Mamma Mia! for the first (and last) time last night, the music of ABBA was playing in my head, chasing the sleep away. Watching that movie turns out to have been a mistake on more than one level.

But there was one benefit to my early waking. I went into the mudroom to put something in the mini-fridge and unexpectedly stepped into a puddle of water. Mamma mia! We had sprung a leak. A leaky pipe is no fun first thing in the morning, but it’s better to find it sooner rather than later.

My husband didn’t enjoy being woken up to deal with it. At least he can go back to sleep, though. He doesn’t have Dancing Queen playing in his head over and over.

There ought to be a limit to how many times one’s mind can think the word “tambourine” per day, don’t you think?

Posted in Crazy Me | Leave a comment

Love Is Blue

Blue, blue my world is blue.

Blue is my world now I’m without you.

These are the opening lines of a song called Love Is Blue (L’amour Est Bleu), which was an easy listening hit of 1968. I loved that song when I was a child. I had it on record, and I used to play it on my little record player. It seems almost preposterous to me that I’m old enough to have used that technology. But yes, record players were still a thing when I was young, and not just for sound aficionados as they are today. Everybody had one, even kids.

Nowadays we stream music. Its cheap and convenient. I can listen to multiple renditions of Love Is Blue right now, virtually for free. Life was different in the ’70s, though. Back then, music was expensive and sometimes difficult to acquire. Once lost, it usually couldn’t be had again. So we treasured our records. Part of the reason I loved that particular record so much was that I didn’t own very many. But I guess I didn’t love it quite enough to take care of it. I left it on the floor.

Do you know what else I had back then? A rocking chair. I’m sure you can guess what happened next. I sat down on my rocking chair. Crack! Good-bye record. I’m not sure which I miss more now: the chair or the record. I eventually broke the chair, too. I wish I could have them both back. Blue, blue, my world is blue. Blue is my world now I’m without you.

The moral of the story is that you shouldn’t leave the things you love lying on the floor. If only I could impart this wisdom upon my children. Everything they own is on the floor! I keep trying to explain to them what will happen if they don’t start taking care of their things. I’d like to spare them some regret, but perhaps this is a lesson that we each have to learn for ourselves. Maybe it only becomes clear when we’ve lost a cherished thing through our own carelessness, and it has made us feel blue.

Posted in Crazy Me | Leave a comment

Day to Declutter

My goals for the weekend are the same every time. I always plan to do cleaning and laundry, to go shopping, and to make sure the children get fed. That’s all.

Ideally I’d also plan some fun activities, but it never seems to happen. I think part of the problem is that we’re always fighting against our clutter. It’s not just the stuff that we have in piles around the house. Mental clutter is also getting in the way.

So, my extra task for today is to finish gathering all the remaining blog and story ideas strewn about my office, organize the good ones, and throw away the rest. This will require going through some piles of papers, which means I’ll be working toward one of my larger 2018 goals. Today is a day to declutter!

Posted in Crazy Me | 2 Comments

Tick Resolutions Don’t Stick

I commented on Facebook just a few weeks ago that I wasn’t going to read any articles about ticks this year. “Ticks are scary enough all by themselves,” I said. ” I don’t need to read, or think, or worry about them more.”

So true. I wish I had stuck to the spirit of that statement and stayed away from all news about ticks. But, last night, when my husband told me there was going to be a scary tick report on TV, I couldn’t help myself. I stayed, and I watched. What the newscasters told us was awful: one guy, one short walk, 26 ticks. Ugh.

But let’s think for a moment. Is this really any different from what I saw here last year? There is a wooded area that I must walk through to get from my yard to the park trail. The path is narrow, and it’s usually impossible to get through the area without touching any plants. I always assume, even when it’s below freezing, that I’ll get ticks on me. I check myself carefully once I’m through, and I often find a tick. But there was at least one occasion last year when I found three, all from just that little patch of woods. So, for a longer walk in a similar area, would 26 be a startling number?

No, not at all. Assuming the same tick density, his walk would only have to be nine times longer than mine. That’s a brief walk, well under ten minutes. Ticks love the woodsy areas that we (suburbanites) have created for them, and I suspect that climate change is also benefiting them. It’s too bad, but it’s the reality that we have to live with now. I know it, and I should just accept that I know it and stick to my resolution to stay away from news about ticks!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment