Monthly Archives: January 2012

Versatile Is a Funny Word

Dear Reader:

What do you do when you are nominated for something like the Versatile Blogger Award?

You thank the person who nominated you, of course. So, I would like to thank The Beach Writer at http://thebeachwriter.com/ for nominating me for the
Versatile Blogger Award. What a surprise!

I enjoy Beach Writer’s posts about the writing life. If you are a writer (or a reader interested in peeking behind the scenes in order to see how books, essays, stories, and poems are created in the first place) check out this blog!

I’ve seen the green Versatile Blogger badge on various (versatile?) blogs here and there, but I had no idea what it was all about. Getting a notification that I’d been nominated was a bit of a surprise wrapped up in a mystery, so I searched for answers. Here’s the scoop:

The Versatile Blogger Award is given out by fellow bloggers and seems to be a way to spread the blogging love around a bit. The idea is to nominate fifteen inspiring, entertaining, informative bloggers who will in turn link back to your blog and will also nominate fifteen other bloggers. Like a chain letter.

Here’s the thing: I hate chain letters. They come to you uninvited, for one. For two, you are then obligated to DO something with them . . . either send out fifteen more letters to unsuspecting friends or else jot a hat-in-hands apology note to the person and tell them “sorry, not my thing; but thanks for thinking of me.”

People who know me have learned that I will not participate in sock clubs, recipe exchanges, panty pass-alongs, or any of the other virus-like entertainments that promise “thirty pairs of underpants if you send out ten.” Really? Thirty pairs of unmentionables from complete strangers. Ick!

So what’s a girl to do about this award? I mean, I feel honored to have been nominated. I think it is a good way to branch out into the blogmosphere. I’ve thanked my nominating blogger and will probably check out her other nominees because I like how she writes and what she has to say. However . . .

I won’t be nominating fifteen others. I DID begin that process. Before coming to my senses, I spent fifteen minutes writing up three nominations and adding links to this post.

But then I thought: what if they hate chain letters, even if it is an “award?” What if they don’t want to waste two and a half hours posting and linking to fifteen other bloggers? Who started this thing, anyway? Who starts all those sock clubs and other chain letters, in the first place? Where does it all begin?

A better question might be where does it all end? When everyone has a big green “Versatile Blogger Award” button on their site?

I have to admit that I depend mostly on Freshly Pressed here on WordPress.com to find new blogs I’d like to read and follow. Sometimes other bloggers find me, I check out their work, and then I subscribe to their blog because I see something in their writing that appeals. Once in awhile, I follow a link from an author bio or a Facebook post or some other marketing platform. When I really want quick and easy access to a favorite blog, I add a link to my bloglist over there in the right-hand column. Every once in awhile, I weed the list, pulling out scraggly ones or those that are no longer “in season.” Like a garden plot, new websites are planted, new varieties tried as my needs and tastes change.

So, if you want to know which blogs and websites I recommend, start there. And don’t send me any chain letters. Like my college poetry professor once said, “If you do, I’ll cloud up and rain on you.”

Your Soul On Paper

In her classic book about the scribbler’s craft, WRITING DOWN THE BONES, Natalie Goldberg shares her philosophy of writing and the practical applications she’s developed over the years for getting words on the page, ideas into sentences, life into print. “This book is about writing. It is also about using writing as your practice, as a way to help you penetrate your life and become sane” (3).

Sane? Is she serious? Some days I think true sanity would be giving up writing altogether. I know from past experience, however, that no sooner do I officially “quit” writing than I am hit with the irresistible urge to begin again.

A word to the wise. If you ever think, “I could write a book. I have this great story idea . . .” then squash that thought immediately or you, too, may find yourself hopelessly addicted to this drug we call writing. Obviously, it is too late for me. I’m already hooked. While I can’t cure myself of my addiction, I can attempt to manage it. Enter, Natalie Goldberg and timed writing exercises.

Since this is January, the month we’ve designated as National Unreachable Goal-Setting Month, I went ahead and resolved to commit to daily timed writing practice, i.e. setting the timer on the stove and writing crap, er, thoughts in a journal for ten minutes every day.

Excuse me for being initially skeptical about the efficacy of this exercise. I’ve been a diarist since sixth grade, the year I filled a red, hard-bound book with adolescent gushings about one Patrick Tardy (not his real name). That particular journal went up in flames, literally, on New Year’s Day 1981 when I symbolically annihilated my love for dear Patrick by throwing the book into Dad’s Ashley wood stove down in the cellar and waiting for the pages to turn to ash. Unfortunately, I hadn’t learned my lesson and was already showing classic signs of writing-addiction (not to mention romance-addiction). That same day, I began writing in another diary, this one blue with a gold clasp and a key. This artifact from days-gone-by now sits on the top shelf here in my office along with its myriad companions–assorted spiral-bound notebooks, black and white marbled essay books, pretty padded cloth-covered journals, and even one hunk of white, lined loose pages stuck into a manila envelope from the year I decided I couldn’t be hemmed in by bindings of any sort.

As if that made any difference.

Thirty years of daily writing practice, and all I have to show for it is a collection of truly horrible entries. No, really. Some writers may sit down with their beautiful Cross pens and their leather-bound journals and compose the most wondrous prose. Not me. My journaling is the equivalent of psychological diarrhea. All my angst. All my anger. All my frustrations and illogical worry and obsessions. Endless probing of emotional baggage. Repetitive questioning of motives. Tiresome analysis of relationships past and present, punctuated occasionally with some recording of actual events like what I ate that morning, how much I weighed the night before, and what I plan on cooking for dinner later on. My journals make BRIDGET JONES’ DIARY look like a deep and insightful literary masterpiece rather than the delightful, campy chick-lit novel that it is.

(Need I mention my increasing paranoia that I will unexpectedly die and someone–my husband, a parent, my daughter–might actually decide to read my journals? Shudder. I may have to look into buying a safe and instructing my lawyer that the contents are to be destroyed immediately in the event of my departure from this earthly plane.)

I have to ask myself: If journaling hasn’t helped me become a better writer yet, why do I think it will help me become a better writer in the future?

Journaling can be used as a warm-up exercise, a way to get those words and sentences flowing. Daily journaling means showing up with your writer’s mind on a regular basis, not just when you feeling “inspired.” Journaling is a mining exercise, spelunking both near the surface and down in the depths of the writer’s psyche. It provides raw material for future projects. It is also a record of the writer’s journey, regardless of where the writer ends up. It is a place to try on various voices without someone overhearing. It is a place to explore ideas, paste observations, create a mood, or paint a scene to use in a later piece of writing. In most cases, a journal of this type isn’t for public viewing. A journal is private. A journal is your mind, your heart, your soul . . . on paper.

The journal is what we make of it. At least, that’s what I’m gonna tell my students when I start up a teen writing workshop next month. First assignment? Find a journal and a pen you like. Set the timer for ten minutes. Write until the buzzer goes off.

If writing is an addiction, does this mean I’m a drug pusher?

Stay tuned for next time when Yours Truly goes spelunking in her new journal for writing material . . . Outside the Box.

Dissappointment In A Bottle

Gotcha!

Dear Reader:

I have caught a cold. A doozy of a cold. My nose is dripping. My throat feels scorched and swollen. My head is heavy, like you could throw it down a bowling lane and knock down ten pins without even trying.

I suppose I should be grateful I made it all the way through the holiday season without getting sick. Instead, I am able to send the Teen off to school for the day while I spend seven quiet, solitary hours tucked into bed–sleeping, watching Sex and the City DVDs, sleeping, drinking mugs of herbal tea, reading, and, did I mention, sleeping? The sleeping part would have been easier ten years ago, back in the good old days when we still had what I call the Magic Nite-Time Cold Potion.

Like all magic potions, the Magic Nite-Time Cold Potion was foul on the tongue. Syrupy and black with a super-concentrated flavor of licorice, this stuff tasted like the Witches of Eastwick brewed it up in their Crock-Pot slow cookers and passed it through rotting compost before bottling; however, to the sufferer of the common cold or not-so-common flu, this stuff was liquid salvation. Two tablespoons of the potion and boom! You were out cold for the night.

A few years ago, the Magic Potion lost its magic. The mighty hand of government had reached down and snatched it away, i.e. passed the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2005. Seems that the Magic Potion contained a vital ingredient used to make a nasty illicit drug. Skanky drug producers were setting up labs in their kitchens and using these over-the-counter medications as primary ingredients for production of crystal meth. In order to curtail production, the government decided to cut off the supply of pseudoephedrine that the users (losers) had been purchasing over-the-counter down at the local drug store. Good-bye nasal decongestant.

Hello sleepless nights for the rest of us.

When my cold hit two days ago, I stumbled to the bathroom linen closet and found the new formula on my top shelf. The pain reliever worked, but my nose remained clogged and runny. I got maybe two hours of solid sleep. Alas, the Magic potion was no longer magic. It was simply Disappointment In A Bottle.

So, thank you all you meth addicts and producers out there with your miserable, stinky “labs” and teeth falling out and shakes and shivers and dirty needles. Do not expect pity from me when I am miserable with a nasty cold. And thank you, Big Government, for making each and every cold since 2005 one-hundred percent more miserable than it needed to be. Thank you very, very much.

As for natural, local remedies, I have been drinking a tea called Respiratory Tonic from a local herbalist– Greenwood Herbals in Parsonsfield. It doesn’t knock me out, of course, but sipping the tonic seems to relieve chest congestion and it opens the nasal passages a bit. The flavor is sweet, not nasty like the Magic Potion, and I can sleep a little easier knowing the ingredients are organically and locally grown.

Drinking hot liquids makes sense when you have a winter cold. Homemade chicken soup with lots of garlic thrown can’t hurt, either. Here is the soup I threw together last night:

Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme Chicken Soup

1 chicken carcass with most meat pulled from it and meat set aside
3 carrots
2 celery stalks
Two onions
Garlic cloves, to taste
chicken bouillon cubes to taste
pepper (about 1/8 tsp)
(sea vegetable flakes optional)
dried parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme (1 tsp each or so
1 cup or so of dried pasta

Put chicken carcass in big pot and cover with water. Add 1 cut up carrot, 1 quartered onion, and 1 cut up celery stalk into pot. Bring to boil. Boil for one hour. Strain out broth.

Add chicken meat, bouillon cubes, sliced carrots, sliced celery, chopped onion and remaining ingredients except pasta. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until veggies are soft, about 20 minutes. Add pasta. Boil until al dente, about 12 minutes. Eat steaming hot.

Be well . . . Outside the Box.

PS: In researching this post, I came across the surprising and welcome information that my Magic Nite-Time Cold Potion is now available BEHIND the pharmaceutical counter. Next time Mr. Upper Respiratory Infection comes to call, I will make a trip to see the man behind the curtain, uh, RX counter. Coin will pass palm. The Magic will be back!

A Girl Who Wears Glasses

Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses.
–Dorothy Parker

glasses/pen/journal/book

In fifth grade I thought glasses were cool.

I told my mom I was having trouble reading the green and white exit signs on I-95 as we drove each day to Bangor for school. I may or may not have been exaggerating, but when she took me to the eye doctor, I did, indeed need corrective lenses for my near-sightedness. I loved my glasses.

For about a day and a half.

This was the eighties. My glasses had over-sized, pinkish-brown rims. They would quickly become smeared with fingerprints as I couldn’t stop touching them, pushing them up the bridge of my nose, just making sure they were still there. I don’t remember testing my newly clear vision on the exit signs. My glasses became a part of me, another thing to keep track of along with my school books, homework papers, and various Bonney Bell Lipsmackers.

By the time I entered seventh-grade, I hated the way I looked. Skinny, no curves. Crooked teeth, no braces. I’d had my long, dark hair chopped off for some reason, and the cowlick which had stopped sticking up when I grew my hair long and heavy now created a natural part which left a big, open expanse of oily, pimply adolescent forehead shining beneath a boyish cap of feathered, eighties hair. Pretty picture, huh?

Junior high was an awkward and ugly time for me. As Dorothy Parker wrote, girls with glasses don’t get much male attention. So I stared at boys across the classroom, daydreamed while gazing out the window of the car on our daily commute to town, and began to keep a journal, write stories, and wait for the day when I’d grow out of my awkward stage. It took a long time. Years, really, but I learned to make the best of things and kept on writing in those journals and writing those stories and daydreaming. My skin cleared up a bit. I got some curves. A boyfriend, even. I took my glasses off for pictures and for playing sports (looking back, I wonder if I might not have made a few more baskets if I’d worn those specs. Sorry, Coach Frost!)

By the time my senior year in high school rolled around, I acquired contact lenses, soft ones that were supposed to work for a week without cleaning. Soon my eyes were gunky, runny, sore, and red. I was allergic to my own eye secretions. Lovely, right? So began a span of years when part of my daily routine included putting in my contacts in the morning and taking them out for a good cleaning with Bausch & Lomb solution every night. I grew my hair out. My braces came off. I gained confidence, and a little bit of style. Off to college I went, hiding my “girl with glasses” persona.

Well, sorta. By then, I knew something about myself. I knew I liked to read, to write, to learn. I knew I didn’t want to be much of a party girl. I made friends with people who were interested in theater and writing and education and movies (and watching reruns of MACGYVER whenever possible). I wanted to find true love, and I did. I gave up sports and embraced poetry and prose. I traveled. I ate an incredible number of times at the Farmington Diner, usually accompanied by my future Hubby. Glasses made appearances. They never held me back.

When I sat down for my yearbook photo my senior year of college, you know what I did? I ditched the contacts and wore my glasses . . . really over-sized, dark-rimmed glasses.

I continued to put up with contacts for years, spending a fortune on yearly exams, prescriptions, gallons of saline solution, and tiny, over-priced bottles of lubricating drops. One year quite a long while ago, I decided I’d had enough. I would go back to glasses full-time.

And I’ve never looked back.

Do I like the way I look in my specs? Not really. I keep hoping one day I’ll find the perfect pair that makes me look like a sexy librarian. I’m also having trouble seeing up close with my glasses on, so they spend a fair amount of time perched on top of my head. Soon, I suppose, I’ll succumb to bi-focals, and won’t that be a trip?

And what of that Dorothy Parker line about men seldom making passes? Doesn’t bother me in the least. Hubby seems to like me just the way I am, bespectacled and all. Plus, this year he acquired his own pair of reading glasses. We match. He still makes passes now and again. Take that, Dorothy Parker!