How Do You Rate a Day?

How should I rate this day? Good because a hummingbird came to feast on our hostas, or bad because the last piece of deodorant jumped out of its container and broke all over the floor? Good because I had a nice trip to the grocery store, or bad because I accidentally spilled detergent all over the laundry room? Good because I wrote my morning pages, or bad because Donald Trump is still president?

I’m pretty sure “Donald Trump is still president” could spoil every day and is therefore best not thought about.

At least I was able to clean up the rest of the mess.

So I guess it was an OK day.

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Timely Tale

Black Rainbow by Barbara Michaels

Grade: B

In Black Rainbow a young governess is hired by a wealthy family. In this family are a young woman who runs the family’s mill while her brother is away, a man (the brother) who has higher aspirations than merely making a living from trade, and their small ward (the one who needs a governess). The governess becomes obsessed with the man. The man becomes obsessed with status. Their single-mindedness could cause trouble for the whole neighborhood.

Black Rainbow seems like it ought to be a romance novel, but really it’s about what happens when a man takes all the money and power for himself and leaves everyone else around him in untenable positions. Published in the early 1980s and set in the post-Industrial Revolution 1800s, it is nonetheless a timely story. We are still living in a mostly male-dominated age in which a tiny minority controls the majority of our country’s wealth and power. Such inequity is always recipe for disaster.

But, however much truth and justice may be in Black Rainbow, it’s not a great book. It starts slowly and drags on for quite a while. It switches viewpoints twice, leaving you uncertain as to whom the main character is. It has frustrating suggestions of the supernatural that don’t lead anywhere.

It’s worst fault, though, is that it isn’t what you want from a Barbara Michaels novel. In the end, the reader’s reaction is likely to be similar to the restaurant patron who asks for a well-done hamburger and is served sushi instead: “Um. That’s not what I ordered.”

P.S. I keep reading Barbara Michaels’s books because I hope to find another that will be as dear to me as the two I discovered when I was a teen. I realize that this is a long-shot, because my reading tastes have changed, and because I am a less forgiving reader. Still, many of her books have come close, so I have not given up hope yet.

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Part of the reason I went to the office this week was to attend an editorial meeting. Accuracy is one of the things that we discussed in the meeting. Of course we know that we’re supposed to get our facts straight and use the language correctly. But our boss wants us also to be mindful of the stupid technicalities (e.g., a tomato is a fruit), if only to avoid getting mail from smart alecks.

One editor said, “Hey, if someone wants to write in to point out an errata, I don’t begrudge him that.” I almost laughed. I was so tempted to point out that “errata” is plural, not singular. It was just the kind of thing that a smart aleck would write to us about. So this editor wouldn’t have begrudged me my little correction, right?

Ha-ha. We will never know, because I didn’t say a thing. Everyone likes to boast about their keen sense of humor and willingness to laugh at themselves, but in my experience people don’t like to be corrected. Ever. Experience also tells me that pointing out someone else’s mistake publicly is an invitation to the Universe to send mistakes directly into your life that will humble you in turn.

So if I made any mistakes while writing about a mistake that someone else made while talking about a mistake, don’t tell me. I don’t want to be corrected. Ever. And if the Universe should come calling, don’t let on that I wrote this post. Let it be our little secret 😉

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You Should Be Writing!

David Sedaris, on writing:

I had to have a root canal recently. And it took place over three continents. I was on a plane going from one continent to another, going from Australia to Japan and then going to the United States, and coming to England, with a big ice pack on my jaw. I thought “Well, I’ll write about it.” I don’t know what other people do. I don’t know how they handle things.

This quote really struck a chord with me today, because I need to deal with what happened yesterday. Though much of the day was brightened by conversations with coworkers whom I like and don’t see nearly often enough, it was overshadowed by a heated discussion with a superior that nearly turned into a full-blown argument. I am still irritated, and the only way I’m going to be able to deal with it is by writing about it. Some of what I write may ultimately go into an e-mail to that person, but not until the process of writing has calmed me down!

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The Essential Scrunchie

How old was I when I learned to put my own hair in a ponytail? It’s something I do often now, so it’s hard to imagine a time when I didn’t know how. I don’t think anyone ever taught me. I probably learned from watching others, and it might not have been until my teens or early twenties, after scrunchies had became popular and readily available. Scrunchies were a game changer. (I love scrunchies!)

In any event, being able to put one’s hair in a ponytail is an essential skill for anyone with long hair. That much I know for sure. So yesterday I taught Livia how to do it. She was aggravated at me for insisting on the lesson, and frustrated that she couldn’t get it right. But later, on her own, she practiced until she figured it out. Then she happily showed off her new skill as if it had been her intention all along to become an expert.

I’m always telling her, “You ought to wear your hair back. You’ll be more comfortable.” Especially at this time of year, who needs all that hair clinging to their neck and hanging in their face? She usually doesn’t want me to put her hair back, though, probably because I suck at it. But this morning, without any suggestion from me, she put her own hair in a ponytail before leaving for day camp.

Woohoo! I’m thrilled. It’s a small thing, but it’s a step toward independence.

I’d better keep an eye on my scrunchies, though. She’s already appropriated one of my favorites!

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This One’s a Keeper

Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris

Grade: A

Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim is not my first collection of essays by David Sedaris. I’ve read four others.

I could have given up on Sedaris after Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk and Barrel Fever, because I disliked both of them. But I had really enjoyed the other two, so I decided to forgive him for the clunkers. Nobody’s perfect, right?

I’m glad that I gave him another chance, because Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim is a good collection. Among the essays included are “Six to Eight Black Men,” an interesting take on cultural differences, and “Chicken in the Henhouse,” a thought-provoking look at what life can be like for a gay man in our country. “The Girl Next Door” tells a sad, sort of creepy story of a psychopath in the making. In “Nuit of the Living Dead,” Sedaris humorously relates the struggles he had with a mouse caught in a mousetrap in the wee hours while his husband was away.

Not everyone will get his stories or his sense of humor, but I do. For all that he and I don’t seem to have much in common on the surface, our life experiences haven’t always been so different. I’ve had a couple of upsetting mousetrap experiences myself. Misery loves (and laughs at) company. Humorists remind us that we are not alone. They tell us that everyone is unlucky and/or inept sometimes, and that it’s okay. We all need this kind of reminder from time to time. Thanks, David, for the reminders!

P.S. I call this book “a keeper,” but it is interesting to me that it’s previous owner didn’t keep it, even though it had this great inscription:

Sal, Some people are calling this guy the Next Mark Twain. In any event . . . no one should start off the “Second Half” without a few belly laughs. Happy 50th. Love, Bert

I wish every used book came with an inscription, even if they do sometimes have a bittersweet quality.

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Slice of Heaven

It doesn’t take much to make me happy. Here is my own little slice of heaven: a book, a chair, a little shade, a little sun, and a little pool in which to cool my feet.


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I Remember Her

Sheri S. Tepper was a science fiction author who gained some popularity during the ’80s, enough for me to notice and start reading her work. I’ve read many of her books over the years, including two since starting the blog: Beauty (Grade: C+) and The Gate to Women’s Country (Grade: B), both read in 2008. This is what I wrote about her back then.

Sheri S. Tepper writes powerful books. I don’t always like them, but they almost always affect me strongly. That’s why, even though she has written some truly horrendous things, I continue to read her work.

I recently decided to reread After Long Silence, which is one of my favorite Tepper novels. The story takes place on a fictional planet named Jubal, where there are giant crystal masses that react with deadly violence to any sound or disturbance. You can’t even walk past one of these things without getting killed (crushed under a cascade of crystal shards—ouch!). Quiet is imperative, so motorized vehicles are not allowed on the planet. The colonists have discovered that if you sing the right tune to a crystal presence, that will calm it. There is a guild of “tripsingers” who are devoted to learning the songs. Their job is to soothe the crystal presences with song long enough for travelers to pass by. The story follows a tripsinger and his apprentices as they discover more about the planet, its native species, and the people who would destroy it all.

I’m a less forgiving reader now than I was in my teens, which is when I first read this book. I think that it has too many characters and far too much depraved human behavior. But it also has all the goods things that I expect from a Tepper novel, and parts of it are brilliant, even beautiful, particularly the ending. The crystal presences are so cool, and I adore the viggies (one of the planet’s native species), so I will probably keep this book forever.

I looked up Sheri S. Tepper online. Sadly, she passed away a couple of years ago. There were two things I found interesting about her biography. One is that she didn’t start writing professionally until her 50s. I always find stories of late starters to be encouraging. I like the idea that we can start something new at any time.

The other interesting fact about her is that she spent the earlier part of her adulthood working for Planned Parenthood. Wow. That explains a lot. No wonder so many of her female characters were raped, or were treated as property, or were forced to carry alien beings in their wombs. And no wonder she got so preachy so often.

And that’s the thing you have to understand about Tepper: if you want to read her work, you have to take the bad with the good. That’s the case with every author, really; it’s just a matter of degree. In Tepper’s case, I think the good is good enough to make up for the bad, though admittedly I would never read Beauty again. This piece does a great job of explaining the upsides and downsides of Tepper’s work.

I don’t know how popular Tepper’s work ever got, or how it fares today, because I don’t follow science fiction trends. There’s always so much new fiction coming out, and a lot of older work gets lost in the shuffle, so I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s on her way to being mostly forgotten. That’s why I wrote a little more than I usually do for a book review. I wanted to say that I remember her and that I always will. I still think that her novels are thought-provoking, unusual, and interesting. That’s is a lot more than I would say for your average author.

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My stress level is very high today. I looked through my recent photographs to see if any of them made me feel better. Here’s one that did.


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SITY: Not a Stick

I spent a lot of time in the yard on Sunday, just walking the perimeter and looking around. Though I’ve done this hundreds of times, I still always find things of interest. Here’s one of them.

This is a caterpillar, not a stick!

When I first saw this caterpillar, it was as straight and rigid as a stick. If it hadn’t moved when I brushed the host plant, I would never have known that it wasn’t part of the plant. Even after seeing it move, I had a hard time believing that it was a caterpillar. That’s why I chose this particular picture to show you. The markings on the body are convincingly plantlike, but it’s curved in a less sticklike way, and you can see where it’s grabbing the real branch.

When I searched for this caterpillar online, I found similar images labeled as “stick caterpillar spanworm.” It will develop into some kind of geometrid moth. Unfortunately, as is the case for most new caterpillars that I find around the yard, this thing is bad news. It’s a defoliator. As if we don’t have enough of those already!

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