What Else Do We Have?

I pick up a book I've never read before, one that's been sitting on the shelf for so long it crackles from the damage made by the water that used to flood from the potted plant on top of the bookcase but no longer does since I re-potted it in a decorative pot that looks nice but it not suited to the plant that is now wilted and pale.

I've never read anything by this very famous author, but what I read this morning reminds me of what I write, or rather what I write reminds me of a shallow attempt to do what she does exceedingly well, telling these vivid little stories.  Where is she right now, this author, arched over a notebook?  Is it snowing there, where ever there is, probably some quaint eastern town with street names like Thoreau and Hawthorne.  How is it that she has so many different stories to tell that she has published dozens and dozens of books?  And how is it, why is it, that I have never read any of them?  Did someone I admire once make a flip comment about thinking her books mediocre?  And did he make that comment because someone he admired said a similar thing?   Did that someone read one of her books and find something lacking, or did he read something about this writer's personal life that was off-putting, or was he just having a bad day, a bad week, a bad year, discoloring everything he read?  And if even a fraction of this were true, why did I listen and not find out for myself what I thought about this famous writer's work?  Or have I read her work and just forgotten?

What am I more interested in:  The story or the writing of the story?

It is snowing here.  I have sat on the couch much of the morning trying to force myself to write a story, trying to write about the snow.  I vow not to be distracted, not to answer the phone, but it rings, and I answer it, and it is my husband wanting to know if I want to go out for lunch.  I say yes because it seems like the right thing to do even though I should say no because how am I ever going to write any story if I allow myself to be so easily distracted.  My husband says great, pick up the car at the shop and come meet him at the salon where he's getting his hair cut.  But the auto shop is more than a mile off.  So I put on my ski goggles, my snow pants, my boots, my coat, my hat and scarf and gloves, and I walk, thinking the whole time that I should be home trying to write a story, though what story I don't even know, but some story, because when I write a story, it makes me feel good in a way that nothing else does, and I haven't felt that way in a while.

The walking is not easy because the wind is in my face and the sidewalks are not yet shoveled, and I keep thinking about how I shouldn't have let myself get distracted.  But then I recall what the storyteller I listened to last night advised to a group of students: That the best way to tell a story is to go out and live one.  So I convince myself that somewhere in this trek through the snow to get the car to meet my husband for lunch, there is a story.

The shop is small and the windows are fogged and the place smells like oil and dog, and the old man's hands are stained with grease and his smile is kind.  He didn't replace the tires he tells me, even though they're worn, because they still have a little life left in them.  He gives me the bill and as I'm paying, he gets a call and says, "Hi Ma," and he listens for a while and then talks about a radiator pump. He's still on the phone when our transaction is done, so he waves, and as I'm walking out the door I hear him say, "Sure Mom, sounds good," and I think here is a very nice man.

By the time I get downtown, cars are sliding, driving slow and single file with their lights on.  The plows have come through, and there's no good place to park.  But I have no choice, so I roll over the snow bank the plow made and hope I don't get stuck.  I walk into the salon and the receptionist frowns at me, maybe because I'm wearing snow pants and ski goggles. I tell her I'm looking for my husband. She says he just left. I go to the coffee shop next door and the grocery across the street, and back to the coffee shop where I linger over the day's headlines.

I return to the car and spin the wheels forcing my way back into the street.  I drive home where I eat some eggs and toast and sit back down on the couch and return to watching the snow fall and reading the little stories of a famous author who I've never read before wondering: Am I more interested in the story or the process of writing it?


A Terminal Case of Puglet

We have some friends in town who didn't have a dog when we first met them just over two years ago. The wife had always wanted a dog, but the husband always said no.

So, one day, when the husband was out of town, the wife came home with a dog, a tiny lapdog mutt with floppy ears, one she just couldn't resist when she saw the dog advertised on one of the internet sites she regularly visited when fantasizing about getting a dog her husband wouldn't let her have. 

The husband, to our surprise, was okay with it.  He understood that there are some sacrifices that must be made in a marriage.  And besides, he kind of liked the dog.  

The very next week, the wife brought home another dog, this time a baby black pug.  The husband asked if there was something in his wife's life that she felt was missing, something perhaps that he wasn't providing, that she felt obliged to fulfill with dogs.  She said no, that she just couldn't help herself.  That the pug was too damn cute to pass up.

If you don't know about pugs, then you won't understand exactly how it happened.  But I've learned that pugs have this strange power over people.  Suddenly the husband who didn't want a dog wouldn't go anywhere without the pug.  He dresses the pug up in cute little sweaters and brings the pug to the bar, smuggled in his jacket.  He baby talks to the pug.  The pug kisses him.  And he kisses back.  He wears shirts with pugs on them and sends links to sites that feature pugs and insists that his friends should all get pugs.

The husband often declares how he loves the pug more than anything else in the world.  Besides his wife, he adds.  And the kids, he says.  But only after some hesitation. 


Found: Collages Made From 1995 Newsweeks, a Publication Distributed Free to All Peace Corps Volunteers

During the first days I lived in Carnot, Central African Republic, a stranger drove up to my house on a motorcycle, handed me a woven plastic bag, and sped off down the footpath.  Inside, curled at the bottom, with round scared eyes, was a little black and white kitten.  

He ran and hid under my bed and didn't come out for a couple of days.  I had never owned a pet before and didn't really know what to do.  I didn't have any milk.  He didn't seem interested in eating the food my neighbor cooked.  I named him Flip-Flop.  

Sometimes Flip-Flop would be gone for days and come back with his face full of scabs.  Mostly, I was intimidated by his unpredictable nature and the strange growths that would periodically erupt under his fur.  Once, when I came home during a rainstorm, Flip-Flop accosted me at the door, baring his teeth and hissing, threatening to attack. But sometimes we were friends, and I would pet him, and he would purr.


Bigsley and Bernadette: Wisconsin Highs In The Single Digits

What did I tell you? Best decision I ever made. And to think you almost convinced me not to migrate. Trust, Baby. That's what it's all about. Trusting your instincts and doing what you know is right, no matter what anyone else says.


Walking Path Algorithm

When greeting a passing stranger on a walking path in small town Wisconsin, it is important to be friendly without being overly aggressive. Eye contact must be made, but only briefly. Premature eye contact leads to discomfort for both parties since prolonged eye contact with a passing stranger on a walking path is not acceptable. Nor is passing without offering a greeting after eye contact has already been made. Premature greetings (before or after eye contact) creates an extended interval of extreme awkwardness. On days of unusually nice or poor weather, there is always the possibility of using a comment about the weather as filler, though if one prefers to go this route, it is best to not offer a greeting first, but rather to use the observation of the weather in place of the greeting.  Example: "Nice day, huh?" is perfectly acceptable and friendly if the proper amount of time is given for the stranger to respond to the comment.  If one decides to reply to the stranger's reply, the reply should be a statement that the stranger will feel no obligation to answer.  Example: "Have a good one."

In order to avoid premature eye contact when approaching an oncoming stranger, find some natural object far off to one's right to feign interest in.  Following a sloping trajectory, from high right, to middle left, return eyes to the path when the oncoming stranger is about 5 to 7 paces away. Depending on the stranger's demeanor, choose one of the following options:

- A stranger who appears to be friendly:  Smile as eye contact is made and say "Hi" in a medium toned voice.  Never wave.

- A friendly looking stranger who appears to be absorbed:  Be prepared to deliver a closed lipped smile with a singular nod if incidental eye contact is made.

- A stranger who is familiar, a walking path regular: A wave with a nod is acceptable.

- A stranger with a dog is best greeted via the dog with a high pitched, "Hey poochie poochie." If the stranger stops for you to admire the dog and the dog seems friendly, stopping, putting out a hand and complimenting the dog is an advisable option and replaces a more generic greeting.  A conversation focused on the breed of the dog may evolve, but any body movement by the owner in the direction of her original trajectory is a sign to move on.

- A stranger who appears to be unfriendly (frowning, bloodied, armed) is best passed with neither eye contact nor greeting.

Note:  This formula is generic in nature and must be altered in aberrant circumstances such as when passing very old strangers, when the passing strangers are a middle aged man and a teen aged girl, when very small children are present.  If passing a minority stranger, make sure to adhere strictly to the generic code, being sure not to be overly friendly, nor detectably aloof.

Further note:  Not offering a greeting may be better than offering a late one which puts the passing stranger in the awkward situation of having to decide whether to answer the greeting after passing or to ignore it.  There is some debate over which is the proper response to a late greeting.  If put in this situation, mumbling a response is a safe middle ground that can be interpreted as either a response or simply as ambient noise depending on which interpretation is less disconcerting.

Most importantly, the entire interaction must come off looking causal and not at all calculated.



On the radio I heard about a man who recently died.  He had spent his last 25 years traveling around California, filming everything he saw.  From mountains to soda machines, he declared everything to be "Amazing!" One famous viewer reported that upon first glance he thought this man to be idiot for thinking everything was amazing, until he realized he was a genius.

Huell Burnley Howser - October 18, 1945 - January 7, 2012



That say that each snowflake is unique, that space is infinite.
They say that what appears to be solid is mostly hollow.
They say that our attention is becoming too fractured,
And our ability to concentrate is being undermined by the internet.
They say that eating dark chocolate is good for you.
They say that novel length dreams can occur during just a few seconds of sleep.  
They say cut all the unnecessary words from your writing.
They say that glass is made out of sand. 

They say that stories must have a beginning, a middle, an end.
They say there's no such thing as the boogie man.
They say never give up, no matter how many times you fail.
They say the safest drivers are 40 year old mothers in minivans.
They say that non-fiction means it's true.
They say that smoking is bad for you.
They say that reading makes you smarter.
They say that traveling makes you open-minded.

They say that you can learn to be happier.
And that meditation can cure all sorts of maladies.
They say that middle children are rebellious.
They say follow your dreams, find work you are passionate about.
They say love is the answer.
They say that during war, grown men call out for their mamas.
They say there is someone for everyone.
They say we each have something to offer.


How Do You Do Van Morrison?

In astral weeks
Don't think a thing
Larger than this who
And then, resist,
Rising toward
The ringing ways
Of now.

In astral days 
Shine the sweet
Volcanic noise of
Nebulous springs
Playing the strikingly
Stormy collidings
Of morning.

In astral hours 
How can I arrive 
At the powerful strides
Of tunes lovingly
Daring and raw
Riding an abundance
Of sky.

In astral nights
Who can bare words
Done here no harm
Amid quiet disturbances
Of percolating highs 
Merging with the flurries
Of fear.


Quandary # ?

Whenever I read a great story someone else has written,
no matter how absurd or mundane, the story seems so obvious, there on the page, that I think I could have written it.

But then when I sit down at my desk, suddenly nothing is obvious, and the only absurd thing is that I can't think of one mundane thing to write.


The Rotten Deal

A writer writes something one day and thinks it's pretty darn grand, this thing she has written.  She wrote it, most likely, in an ecstatic state, inspired by some little thing that passed her way.  This little thing ignited a little fire that burned very brightly and voila! She turned this little thing into a rather grand work of art. She believes, unconsciously, that this little thing she has written is an extension of her own self, like slicing a piece of her soul and putting it on a plate for others to taste.*

Perhaps this thing she wrote is an assignment, and she is very excited to hear what the teacher thinks of her work because, of course, she is expecting the teacher to adore it as much as she does, though she tells herself that this is not the case, that she wants the teacher to be honest, not because she wants the teacher to say it's mediocre, but because she wants the teacher's praise to be honest.

She goes about the day feeling very good about herself, smiling and being kind and generous to all, knowing that she wrote this marvelous little piece of insight that is right now penetrating the mind of another person, not just any person, but a person who will be awed by her eloquence and intelligence and talk about her to other people, perhaps people who are influential, people who will soon be contacting her and begging her for more.

Finally the day comes for the teacher to hand back the assignments. The teacher expresses some dismay over the low quality of the assignments, but the writer of the grand little piece knows the teacher is not talking about her, but her fellow classmates, some of whom, she knows, are incapable of writing a wonderful anything. Still, her heart is beating so frantically that her hands are shaking when the teacher returns her assignment. She flips through the pages searching for the praise she knows she deserves, but finds only marks noting wrong word choices, awkward sentence constructions, and confusing plot twists. She is unimpressed by the few notes of nice, good, and interesting, because they are so small and understated as to be rude. She feels as if she has been stabbed. A great tide of anger swells up, making her realize that her teacher is foolish, mean, and arrogant. How dare she suggest ways that the grand little piece can be improved. Obviously, the teacher doesn't get her style of writing. She leaves the class on the verge of tears and immediately searches out friends to show the foolish remarks her teacher made about her grand little piece. Though her friends agree with her, that her writing is marvelous, they don't show enough disdain for the teacher to make her feel much better.

Later, the anger turns into a heavy and immense sadness.

*She has read that in certain cultures, artists are looked upon as simply vehicles for the magical work of mysterious muses so that an artist, who happens to make a wonderful piece of art, is simply a lucky recipient of the muses' inspiration. This way of looking at things takes a lot of pressure off an artist when his work happens to be not so great, the muses having skipped him that day or week or month, using another artist instead.  But her culture sees this as complete nonsense.