Thursday, January 31, 2008

Three New Bed Jackets

After my story the other day about my sister Lisa and the three quilts it seems sort of ironic to be making this post but suffice it to say I have been working on these three jackets for a lo-o-o-o-ong time and finished them all recently. All three are basically the same design --- one I have used over and over and over. But I use different yarns and diffeent lace patterns for the stitches so they are each a bit different.

The first one is made of recycled silk and rayon from Haiti that I bought on eBay:
It is a lovely weight and will probably be wearable in summer with a camisole top. The lace pattern is a simpleeyelet lace for most of it with a feather design around the bottom. I crocheted the edges around the cuffs and the front and neck with a little picot edging.

The second one is also made of rayon only in a heavier weight and a thick'n'thin texture. It is a beautiful shade of lipstickred with black and has a gorgeous sheen to it. It reminds me of banana silk.
Again I used the eyelet stripe for the top and a different feather lace fort the bottom with the same crocheted picot edging. This one is somewhat warmer than the previous one and I wear it around the house with a long-sleeved teeshirt on these cold winter days. It has a gorgeous drape to it.

And finally there is my favorite. It is made of KnitPick's Crayon in Periwinkle.
Crayon is a lovely, soft pima cotton that is softer than cashmere or silk with a lovely luster. it is light in weight and will probably be wearable in summer, too, with a camisole. I don't know the name of the top lace. It is from Beautiful Lace Patterns. The bottom is just classic Old Shale which is very lacy however I discovered after it was finished that if didn't have enough weight at the bottom to drape well so I crocheted a few rows of double crochet around the bottom. I also added the picot edging.

So those are my latest creations. I love them. They certainly dress up a pair of jeans and a teeshirt.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Multi-Tasking

Mo, one of the Folly Cove Fiber Freaks, called me Sunday morning and asked if I had to do laundry. Well, I told her, as a matter of fact I do. Why? She had to do laundry too and was having a hard time getting motivated to do it so thought if she called me up and we met to do laundry together it might help. Sounded like a good idea to me. We both showed up at the laundromat with our laundry and, of course, our knitting. While the laundry churned and we gabbed our knitting needles flew.

She commented that she had read my blog about the woman cleaning the bathroom sink while --- well, ahem --- you know. I told her what my sister said about it, "It's called multi-tasking! Busy women understand!" Unfortunately husbands sometimes don't. While we were chatting I told her that Lisa had told me she wore the sweater I made her to school last week and everyone was very complimentary of it. While she was telling me the story I was trying to remember --- what sweater did I make her??? Now that is embarrassing. How do you tell someone who is thanking you for a gift that you don't remember making it and giving it to them?

I remembered making her a beautiful periwinkle blue sweater out of Lamb's Pride but that was years ago and it didn't really fit her right and our sister Anne grabbed it and has been wearing it ever since. So finally I asked. "The one made of blue wool with a thread of pastel ribbon running through it." Oh yeah. I forgot about that one. I'm really happy that everyone liked it!

The thing is when you are a highly productive person and that is combined with a post-menopausal brain --- well, stuff gets lost in the vast caverns of memory. Lisa is herself a highly productive quilter. I cannot believe the things she makes and it seems like there is always something new flying out of that sewing machine of hers. She told me that one day she and a few friends were chatting and someone was talking about the drug Ambien. Apparently people taking the drug have been known to get up in the middle of the night and make a snack or do some other little task and never be aware of it until they see the remains of it the next morning. One of Lisa's friends laughed and said, "Yeah, Lisa took Ambien once and when she woke up the next morning she had made three quilts." When she told me that I laughed out loud --- it sounds like her.

Well, that's the thing. When you have something that you genuinely love to do, you find a way to do it. One of the wonderful things about the current knitting mania that has hit young women is how many women I see now knitting in public --- on the train, waiting for a bus, standing in line at the bank. Knitters are possessed and it has not only created a wonderful and satisfying hobby for many but has created an entire industry for spinners in impoverished areas of third world countries. In my current stash I have yarn from knitting collectives in Peru, Uruguay, Nepal, and Haiti --- probably more. Our obsession with knitting socks lets them feed and clothe their families. everything is connected.

So Mo and I got our laundry done and also a good deal of knitting and yakking. A few people stopped to look at our projects and talk about knitting --- how they loved it, or wanted to get started, or wished they could. Of course you can. I could probably support half a dozen knitters out of my current stash. Years ago I got into the quilting mania but after a dozen or so quilts I lost interest. problem was I had a ton of gorgeous fabric waiting to be used. So one day I packed it up and drove over to Ipswich where there is a retirement home for nuns. I asked if anybody there wanted quilting fabric. Boy, what a dumb question. I'm going to heaven for sure 'cause those nuns are going to pray me in. Meanwhile, I knit.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

NPR's Cyber-Crime Series

I got a phone call from a friend this morning who said, "Turn on NPR, they're doing a program on cyber-stalking." I did. I admit I have not been listening to the radio on Sunday mornings in recent weeks because I have been meeting a friend for Sunday morning breakfasts. It snowed this morning and we whimped out which was good for me.

NPR has done a four part series in January on cyber-crime. Interestingly enough the number of hits on this blog that come from Google searches on cyber-stalking has gone up dramatically lately. I had a feeling something was up. Beginning in December 2005 I posted a series of informational blogs about the cyber-harassment I was going through most of which happened on a couple of internet message boards. There were also many posts made to this blog of a nasty and defamatory nature and I received a number of emails from various addresses accusing me of all sorts of things. Since both my business (Valentine-Design) and my avocation (Parlez-Moi Press and Parlez-Moi Blog) require me to have a substantial online presence it was not possible for me to "lay low" and hope that at it blew over. Thus I began making inquiries from various legal professionals on what steps I could take to protect myself and I posted a series of articles and resources for others experiencing the same harassment and stalking.

At the time it was not easy to find information on cyber-crime. It was a new field and the legal professionals I spoke with helped as much as they could but they themselves did not have a lot to work with. However, as time went by and the harassment continued for me new resources became available. Many, many others were going through what I was and worse. My articles received many visitors, I got a lot of emails from people asking for advice and I even spoke at a few women's group meetings. Eventually, my harassers calmed down. There are still flare-ups from time to time on message boards but I really don't worry about those. The two web sites (one message board and one blog) that contained the most virulent and nasty diatribes about me are no longer in existence and this blog has been free of the flames because Blogger now allows me to require posters to this blog to have a Google identity.

So when I heard this segment on NPR I was gratified to hear that the whole issue of cyber-stalking, cyber-harassment and other cyber-crimes is being given a great deal more attention now than it was even a couple of years ago and that resources for monitoring the stalkers and harassers has increased substantially. Why do people feel the need to behave abusively toward others --- people they may not even know --- on the internet? It is a good question and can best be answered by the simple observation that there are a lot of miserable people in the world and the only way they can feel okay about themselves is by denigrating others. They are sick but they are also ubiquitous. One of the things mentioned in the NPR story was that the internet has provided an opportunity for disturbed people to perpetrate their nastiness that they might be too cowardly to pursue in real life. In the real world they would have to be a little more aggressive about perpetrating their harassment and stalking and would run a far greater risk of being caught but in the cyber world they can sit at home, hidden behind a screen name and do their dirty work. They are pathetic people but they are also relentless people.

So I am providing a link here to the NPR series and also to an online resource I created a couple of years ago as well as to the articles in my series on this blog. If you are being harassed or stalked online you now have options and the people who are doing what they may think of as harmless entertainment are committing crimes. Be prepared.

NPR's Cyber Crime Series (audio and transcripts available soon)
Cape Ann Salon Cyber Crime Resource
Parlez-Moi Blog: Evil Happens
Parlez-Moi Blog: Malicious Intent - Evil Happens II
Parlez-Moi Blog: Hate Fans

Thanks for reading.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Oh Look! A Blibbering Humdinger!

It seems like a lot of people I know are going through periods of somewhat self-indulgent sulking these days. I'm doing it myself. And there's nothing wrong with that if we actually get something out of it. There's a lot going on right now --- it's cold, presidential elections are coming up and we've got one sorry lot to pick from, this horrible war has dragged on far too long, and the economy --- good grief, let's not even talk about the economy! It's hard not to wallow in the awfulness-of-it-all.

Of course, the other side of all of that is that there is very little we can do about most of it on an immediate day-to-day level. Try to conserve, dress warm, recycle, be nice to one another --- but above all now is the time to indulge in quiet pleasures, reading books, visiting friends, writing letters (or emails), learning to play the piano or to knit or to tango. A friend of mine once said that if a person lives in a place that they like, has enough income to pay the bills, has a library card and membership at the Y they can have a very happy life. There is much to be said for that.

But we are human and we will always find ways to divert ourselves from simple enjoyment. In the last few pages of Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows, after Harry had dispatched the Dark Lord and been through more trials and tribulations than one can imagine he is utterly exhausted and just wants to go to bed but there is a party in his honor and he can't get away. Luna Lovegood (my personal favorite character in those books) recognizes Harry's exhaustion and distracts the crowd so Harry can toss on his Invisibility Cloak and sneak off. She points out the window and yells, "Oh, look! A blibbering humdinger!" Everybody looks and Harry gets away.

What made me think of this story was something that happened last night. I've had a busy week and an upset stomach, too. I finished up work, went to the store and bought some groceries and box of mint tea, came home and made some soup, cleaned up in the kitchen, brewed a pot of the lovely mint tea and was about to settle down with some knitting when I noticed a cobweb on the lamp. Of course I had to take care of that and then I saw a few more and the next thing I knew my tea was cold, my stomach was even more upset, and my quiet evening was shot. That cobweb was a classic blibbering humdinger that distracted me from something that should have been quite pleasant.

It's not that cobwebs don't need to be swept away or that any of the things we distract ourselves with don't need to be attended to. It's just that these days too many of us give them too much importance. Sometimes things like cobwebs and dirty dishes and unbalanced checkbooks and making lists of all our failures as a person serve a purpose but sometimes they are just ways of keeping our lives in a state of chaos that precludes actually living our lives. We spend so much time in little tasks --- or in procrastinating about not doing those little tasks --- that time goes by and we have forgotten about living our lives.

Yesterday a friend told me a story. She and her husband were getting ready for work one morning, the kids had already left for school and they were in the bathroom bumping into each other and, well, one thing lead to another and... So there she is bent over the sink during a tender moment and she notices that nasty black crud that accumulates around the faucet. She automatically picked up a sponge and started scrubbing it away. Her husband freaked out. "You are blanking cleaning the blanking sink while I'm blanking YOU!" He was hurt and she was embarrassed. "I swear," she said, "it was totally reflexive. I didn't think what I was doing!" I believe her. It reminded me of the time when I didn't like having sex in the morning because it always reminded me of how badly the bedroom ceiling needed painting.

Sigh. We've got to lighten up on ourselves, folks. There's bad stuff out there --- terrorists, and. internet viruses, and radical rightwing politicians. There is a time and a place for cleaning the sink but we don't need any more blibbering humdingers in our lives. Be nice to yourself this weekend.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Now We Wait...

For the last few weeks I have been about useless for this blog and nearly everything else because I was working on the latest draft of Each Angel Burns. Writing for me tends to be all-consuming and I had promised myself I would get this latest set of revisions done by the end of January. Well, I made it.

So last night I printed it out, put it in a binder and delivered it to the next of my volunteer readers. And the wait begins. It is nerve-wracking in some senses but it is also good because I know i don't have to do anything else for the moment. After the first two readers read it last fall and gave me feedback i was somewhat discouraged. They didn't get certain parts of it but, reading back over the manuscript, i eventually understood what they were talking about. Hopefully, I have corrected those flaws and this set of readers will have an easier time. Awk!!!

So, in the mean time, what to do? Well, I have work to catch up on and a couple of short stories to get to. it is getting close to the time when I have to submit something to the Level Best Books annual anthology and that is important. I missed it last year because my Dad died just as I was getting the story shaped up and now I can't remember where I was going with it. I was thinking about Stephen King's comment that the most terrifying things can be the most common things --- the family car, a pet dog. Or in my case a plate of sausages and a piece of pie. So I need to work on that.

January has been good so far. Quiet but that is not bad. Yesterday I went out to lunch with a new client who has a wonderful project. We were sitting in my favorite little seafood restaurant across the street from the marina and, as she was talking about her forthcoming trip to Brazil to buy lace, I was looking at all the big boats hauled out for the winter and thinking about how much of our lives are spent in waiting. Waiting to go to Brazil, waiting for summer so you can take the boat out, waiting for the readers to finish the book and give feedback. Waiting.

It is bright and cold today. The cemetery behind my house is quiet and I have a lot of work ahead of me. Later on I'm going to make a big pot of vegetable soup. I have been thinking about deer. A friend sent me a photograph from back home of deer. The picture was taken by someone who lives in Mt. Jewett, PA which isn't very far from where I grew up. There was this magnificent railroad trestle there that blew down in a storm a few years back. it is very sad because many of my youthful memories are attached to that bridge. Memories and waiting.

So, I'll make another pot of coffee and get to work. I won't think about the book. I'll think about the lacemakers in Brazil and about the light on the tombstones out back and about the deer in Mt. Jewett and, eventually, I'll know what to write next.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Gone Hollywood Ga-Ga

I don't know how many authors/publishers who work with small, independent presses have this experience but it seems like lately I have received a surprising number of "Hollywood calling" letters and phone calls. The letters come on very professional looking stationary from companies that say they are Public Relations firms, or author's agents. The phone calls start out with "Hello, let me introduce myself, I'm the guy who's going to get your novel (fill in blank) in front of (fill in director or star) .. blah-blah-blah."

Now fortunately I'm a cranky skeptic about these things and I pretty much tell them all the same thing, "Sure, bring me an offer." I rarely hear from them after that. See I've noticed this little caveat in the letters about me agreeing to compensate them for their costs while representing me to Clint Eastwood or Nicole Kidman or whatever name they think I will be impressed by. Well, I AM impressed and I'll be even more impressed when they bring me conclusive proof that they have ever even been in the same Zip Code with the people they claim to have access to. Maybe I'm being a crank but till their check to ME clears the bank I ain't signin' nothin'.

Every new business endeavor automatically spawns half a dozen associated rackets. I'm not saying that these Hollywood whiz kids are scam artists --- they have their dreams, too --- but they are running a bit of a racket, in my opinion. I wish them luck and when they call me with something that doesn't make my Bullshit Detector start flashing, I'll happily pay attention. Still, it is a lovely dream.

Since The Old Mermaid's Tale has been out a number of readers have emailed to say they think it would make a good movie and they have quite a few opinions on who should play the lead parts. I actually find this very interesting because I can't "cast" the roles. To me my characters are very real and very specific and trying to imagine a particular actor in the parts is difficult. Of course, I'm thinking about things like "oh, he's not tall enough or he's too young" when I know full well that Hollywood does not consider those issues germane to such things. Hollywood magic can change the colors of eyes and the appearance of age and size --- my mind can't.

Actually, the role most readers seem most intent on casting is Baptiste. Well, of course... since most of the readers are women and Baptiste is most women's idea of that delicious bad boy, the sexy beast who would be nothing but trouble but, oh, so worth it! I've actually gone out and rented DVDs to see the actors that have been suggested to me. The number one actor choice so far seems to be
Goran Visnjic (above left) a.k.a. Dr. Luka Kovac on E/R, a program I have never seen. I rented his version of Spartacus and I will grant you he is gorgeous. If he wants to be Baptiste he has my permission.

Votes have also gone to two French actors I like, Vincent Cassel (right) and Vincent Perez. Both are tall, ultra-cool, very sexy-looking men who have played roles in movies that I liked a lot. Vincent Cassel was in The Crimson River movies with Jean Reno and it's hard for me to imagine a woman alive not responding to those two on the same screen. Then there is Anthony Delon (left), the super-delicious actor from Masterpiece Theater's production of Frenchman's Creek. Actually, with that one I can definitely see it. The hair, the accent, the body, the smile --- in fact I can pretty much forget the first three for that smile.

It is nice to daydream about such things, I'll admit. And I just love it when I get one of those emails saying, "I read your book and you just have to get it to (fill in name of sexy actor), he'd make a perfect Baptiste!" Maybe the next time I get one of those "we can get your novel to Hollywood" calls, I'll refer the caller to my readers. They know better than I do what would be best for the movie.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, January 18, 2008

So Long, Bobby Fischer, Thanks for the Opening Line...

NEWS FLASH: This blog entry has been picked up by The Lede: The New York Times Blog.
I am speechless!

In 1960 my hero was a sixteen-year old chess player named Bobby Fischer, not a sports figure of high regard in the coffee shops and bar rooms of Plainview, Ohio.

Thus begins my novel The Old Mermaid's Tale. I mention this because Bobby Fischer died yesterday at the age of 64. He was in Iceland having left the United States in 2005, disillusioned by what he referred to as the "allies of evil" (in response to Bush's "axis of evil" remark) claiming that the United States was among the countries that supported evil regimes. He was an outspoken and often virulent critic of politics but we won't hold that against him. Actually, there is very little we will hold against him. He was a genius and we cut slack for genius.

When I was a kid and Fischer was not much older he became the Untied States Chess Champion and the following year the Grand Master. A few years later he took on Boris Spassky in a chess match that had me fascinated. Fischer was the most interesting person I had ever heard of. While my friends were dazzled by those cute musicians from Liverpool, I was dazzled by a bad-tempered, peculiar, geeky-looking American kid who would, in a few years, and at the height of the Cold War, beat a Russian chess master --- a RUSSIAN! Back then the Russians were the bad guys and the fact that an American, little more than a kid, could beat their chess master at a game that had long been owned by the Russians was wonderful in my mind.

Fischer went to Yugoslavia 20 years later to play him again which got him in a ton of trouble. By 1992 the United States had sanctions against Yugoslavia's President Milosovic but Fischer didn't care about political sanctions, he cared about chess. He beat Spassky 10 to 5 and walked away with over 3 million dollars. Fischer had gained a reputation as being outspoken about a lot of things including alleged anti-Semitic remarks despite the fact that his mother was Jewish.

Well, Fischer died yesterday in Iceland and I don't quite know how I feel about that --- the world has lost a brilliant man but also a troubled one. I have a feeling that, like many brilliant people, Fischer wasn't very happy. Except when he was playing chess, perhaps. But he was a hero of mine and I will mourn his passing for that reason. When I started writing The Old Mermaid's Tale I opened with the line about him because, though Clair and I are very different, she would have loved him as much as I did back then. Like me, she has a penchant for brilliant but somewhat self-destructive misanthropes --- as anyone who has read the book can tell you.

I'm not brilliant enough to know what goes on in the minds of geniuses but I have a feeling they are not friendly places to be much of the time. In Anna Karenina Tolstoy comments that all happy families are pretty much alike but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own unique way (or words to that effect). I've always loved that analogy because it seems comparable to many situations and I suspect that all contented people are more or less contented in the same way but the discontented are discontented in their own unique fashion. Maybe this is because there is so much more in the world to be discontented about. And maybe it is because if you are the sort of person who is able to keep your focus on your own world and not probe too deeply you stand a better chance at being content than if you have the kind of mind that probes and questions and wants to know why?

Good-bye, Bobby Fischer, and thanks for being the colorful and fascinating person you were. I suspect your life was a daily challenge but you gave me inspiration and a conviction that has served me well throughout life --- that it's okay to be opinionated and peculiar. If you run into Jose Capablanca wherever you end up I hope you beat the pants off of him.

Thanks for reading
.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Knitting in the Aftermath

It snowed yesterday and today the trees around my house are loaded down with snow. The sun is out now and temps are supposed to rise so I'm sure it won't last long but, while it does, it is beautiful out there. This is the Japanese Dogwood in the sideyard.

Once all the holiday knitting furor is over it is such fun to sort through all my projects and discover what is left over. Of course there is yarn from projects and then there are all the projects I had started before the holidays that I can now get back to. On cold January evenings when the snow is piling up on the trees in the old cemetery out back it is a good time to brew cups of tea and make plans for all this yarn.

One of the things I have done for years is sort remainders of yarn into large zipping plastic blag by color or type until I have enough to plan a project. As I was going through my stash I discovered quite a few spare balls of yarns in pinks and purples (what a surprise) so I started a scarf using them in alternating bands paying more attention to texture than to color. I cast on 52 stitches on size 10 needles and decided to work it in Old Shale with 3 puled stitches on either side. I like to do that because the purled stitches roll backward and give a nice little edge that keeps the rest of the scarf from rolling. I'm going to just keep going until I start running out of yarn but I have a feeling that is a long way off.

And I finished the right hand glove (right) for my gloves knit from Knit Pick's new yarn Gloss which is a blend of merino wool and silk --- just lovely to work with. I have learned you should always start with the left hand because it is impossible to photograph your right hand --- at least for me. Knitting gloves is quite an adventure. Very labor intensive for something so small but also so very beautiful. I am knitting them on size 1 dblpt needles and I just love it. I can't wait to finish the second one so I can start wearing them. My sister loved the violet ones I knit for her. Actually, I can see where knitting gloves could get to be a bit of an obsession. Because they are small you can use very luxurious yarns and because they don't have to be as sturdy as socks you can make them quite fanicful. I'm already thinking about a pair in ColourMart's sumptuous cashmere next.

And I have two new cocoons that are almost ready to be photographed and my periwinkle bedjacket is nearly finished. I absolutely love it --- I think it is the prettiest thing I have ever made.

So now I have to get back to work on the latest iteration of the Mermaid Shawl and the instructions I am writing for that. I'll get it finished soon - I promise!

Stay warm, knit happily and thanks for reading.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Those Old Heroes

Last night the phone rang and it was my young nephew CJ in the far-off wilderness of Pittsburgh. He was writing a report for school about a hero and he wanted to write about his grandfather --- my father. He asked me some questions, "What did Grandpa do in World War II?" So I told him what little I knew --- most of those guys didn't like to talk about the war. I emailed him some pictures, Dad looking so handsome with his pale blue eyes in his uniform and some pictures he took of the native people in New Guinea. CJ seemed content with that. We said our goodbyes and hung up.

Then I started thinking and I called CJ back. "This isn't about World War II," I told him, "but it is something your grandpa did that I think was heroic." And I told him the story.

We lived in a town with lots of factories, a mill town to all intents and purposes, and most of the fathers who lived in our neighborhood worked in those factories. Dad, whom everyone called "Tino" because he had been handsome in the era of Rudolph Valentino and had a similar last name, was a carpenter with a small construction business of his own. He built houses and he did good work. People waited years for Dad to be available to build for them. He told me once that when he first got out of the Army he worked for half a day in one of the factories and walked out at lunch time. He said he'd never go back to one of those places again.

As will happen in factories there were unions. And as will happen with unions there were strikes. And as will happen with strikes people became desperate and worried about feeding their families. Among those who worried were Tino's neighbors, guys he had gone to high school with, played football with, served in the Army with, and who were also fathers with mortgages and mouths to feed. And so Tino made work for them --- sometimes at his own expense. He'd take on one or two as helpers, hammering and sawing and carrying loads of singles up ladders on their backs as men did back then. It wasn't a prosperous way to run a business but it helped the men through the strikes and, eventually, the big shots settled and the regular guys went back to work.

Years later one of the women in our neighborhood told me, "if it hadn't been for your father we would have lost our house that summer". And another man told me, "your father was the best man I ever knew, if it hadn't been for him my family would have starved." Those are good things for a daughter to hear about a man who usually seemed a lot less than perfect at home.

So I told all this to CJ and said, "That's pretty heroic, isn't it?"

"That's VERY heroic," he said, "I've got to go write that all down. Thanks."

No, CJ, thank YOU for letting me remember that and pass the story on.

Here in Gloucester they talk of the days of wooden ships and iron men and how those days are gone forever. But there were iron men in other parts of the country, too. My father wasn't always a very good father and, to hear my mother tell it, not a very good person but the wonderful thing abut memory is that you can remember things like how he helped our neighbors keep their house and put food on the table and remember what a good thing that was to do.

My father bought me art books and taught me to build a fire and stuff sausages and make sauerkraut from scratch. He taught me to draw and to read maps and to shoot a gun. He taught me to think for myself. One time, when I was grown and on my own I was worrying about something that had to do with business and he asked me what the problem was. I told him what I was working on and said, "everyone tells me it is fine but I'm not really sure they know enough to know if it really is fine or not." Dad smiled and said, "You've grown up well."

So, CJ, I hope you get a good grade on your paper. I'm so happy you called me because you gave me good things to think about. And, Dad........... thanks.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Back When There Was Magic...

When I was a kid there was a lot of magic in the world. Much of it was in the backyards of my two grandmother's houses. Both of them lived in big houses with very big yards and lots of gardens and fruit trees and wonderful and amazing places to hide. Gram Werner's house had a grape arbor and two apple trees, a pear tree that was great for climbing, a little nook formed by old lilac bushes, and a huge hemlock tree that you could crawl under and no one would know you were there.

Grandma Valentine's house also had some good climbing trees --- I have pictures of myself in her crab apple tree when I was 5 or 6. There were lots of currant bushes along the back alley which was a wonder all by itself, and whole stand of apple trees in which a lot of birds lived and peony bushes lining the driveway which was made of brick. Both had big porches with swings.

The reason it was good to have grandmothers who had great places to hide was because that was where the best reading got done. I was a reader right from the start. I remember my Uncle Tommy giving me a dollar and me pestering my mother all day until she finished up her chores and would walk with me to Al Marsh's store back on Erie Avenue where they sold Nancy Drew books. Al Marsh's was supposed to be a stationary store but he had all kinds of stuff in there and even more in the basement. Al Marsh himself always wore dark suits and worked behind the counter. He was big and bald and kind of reminded me of Alfred Hitchcock. I'm not sure why. If you asked him for something you didn't see in the store he'd say, "wait a minute" and he'd go down in his basement. Before long he would come up holding whatever it was you wanted. I used to try to imagine what his basement looked like.

So anyway, we'd go to Al Marsh's and buy a Nancy Drew book and then walk to my grandmother's house and while the grownups visited it was magic time under the pine tree or on the porch spring hoping that my mother wouldn't make me leave during a "good part".

Later my brother Jack and I discovered my Grandfather Werner's bookcase. Grandpa died many years before we were born but Gram had kept his books in a bookcase in her "middle" bedroom. He had leather-bound sets of books by Edgar Allen Poe, Mark Twain, James Fenimore Cooper, James Oliver Curwood, and two amazing collections American Classics and World Classics. It took me awhile to figure out that "World" meant England and France back then --- and Spain for Don Quixote, but that was all.

I was a quiet reader. I loved getting lost in books and dreaming about them. Jack was the kind of reader who had to talk about everything he read --- not discuss it really, just tell you the story as he read it. He'd finish a chapter and then he'd make me put my book down and he'd tell me what he just read, "So there's this guy named Hawkeye, see..." When Jack discovered the Kazan books about wolves I got so sick of hearing about wolves I finally told him to shut up.

But oh those books were full of wonder. I also discovered my mother's collection of books by Daphne DuMaurier and the Brontes. It was all so astonishing and delicious. There were characters you identified with (Jane Eyre) and places you longed to visit (Wuthering Heights and and Green Dolphin Street and, of course, Manderly). And there were the men you fell in love with just because they had such cool names (Uther Pendragon and D'Artagnan). What magic --- what amazing magic.

I've been thinking about this because I've been browsing the books that have been formatted for Amazon's Kindle and wondering if the magical experience of discovering your grandfather's copy of Huckleberry Finn, with parts of it underlined in fading pencil and imagining your teenaged grandfather reading that part over and over, is now a lost joy. But I suppose crawling up in Gram's pear tree with a new Nancy Drew seems archaic and strange these days. Oh well, as long as there are readers in this world there will still be magic.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Longing...

Einstein once said that longing was the motivating force behind all human endeavor and all human creation. Yesterday I spent the entire day working on two of my books --- putting The Old Mermaid's Tale into ebook format and beginning another revision of Each Angel Burns. I made endless pots of coffee and tea, I played CDs I have not played in awhile but which I find evocative and inspiring, and I cried a lot.

The crying part came mostly while I was working on The Old Mermaid's Tale. I had forgotten how much I cried while I was working on it --- all kinds of tears really, sad and joyous. But one thing I realized as i worked on it yesterday was that, once you create characters they are a part of you and you love them and become attached to them and they represent an aspect of your soul that might otherwise not exist in the world. But they also have a limited existence. The are born when you write the book and they live as long as people read the book and talk about it. But as beings with actual existence they sort of die when the story is finished being written and, like with anyone you love, you have the memory of your time together but once the story is told their lives are really over for you.

A number of readers have told me that they thought the characters in The Old Mermaid's Tale felt more real than most characters in books. And that there was such longing in them. The longing for love --- to love and be loved. A few male readers surprised me by saying they loved the book (I've always sort of thought of it as being a book women would love) because they longed to experience the kind of love that Baptiste and Clair share in it --- both to give that love and to receive that love. I am so flattered by those kinds of comments.

So after I finished that and got it uploaded I decided to get back at Each Angel Burns and there was a chapter I have been avoiding so, because I was feeling particularly emotional and vulnerable, I decided it was a good time to work on that. I can't really talk much about the story but in the chapter one of the characters uses the story of Heloise and Abelard to explain a decision she made. When I first wrote it I assumed that most people would know that story but in the last round of test readers neither of the people who read the manuscript knew much about them. So I had to rework that chapter to make the analogy more understandable. While I was working on it I got my copy of the letters of Heloise and Abelard and, as I skimmed through them, I felt that same poignant, palpable longing still vibrant after all these centuries. I hope some of it comes through on my pages.

Gandhi said that prayer is the longing of the soul, that it is the admission of our weaknesses and our vulnerability. I guess writing is that too. Longing is at the core of most belief and all desire. we long to be joined with, we long to be connected to, we long to be a part of... Our lives are glorious things but, ultimately we realize that no matter what we accomplish or attain in life we can always imagine more --- and the gap between the accomplishment and the imagination is the realm of longing. When we are young we long for what we are sure will someday be and when we are old we long for those youthful imaginings and the belief that they are still attainable even though our experience has given us some doubts about that.

Longing is a beautiful thing even if it is frustrating at times. we long for perfection, beauty, understanding, compassion, love... How many times have we seen or experienced the same thing? We long for that beautiful "other" and then that other comes to us and everything is gorgeous for awhile but then we realize that this other isn't the magic being we thought they were. Maybe the relationship goes on, maybe it ends but, finally, we are once again alone with out longing. So we deal with it as best we can. Some of us write books...

In a few days The Old Mermaid's Tale will be available on Amazon as an ebook. Eventually Each Angel Burns will be available too. And then ... and then the longing will tell me what comes next.....

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

First I Blogged, Then I Kindled...

When I first decided to start blogging I had no idea where I would go with it. I have been blogging now for over 2 and a half years. I've written over 500 blogs and over 100,000 visitors have come to this blog -- many of them just looking for information on one thing or another but that's fine with me. My blog has served my purposes --- it disciplines me to write on a regular basis, it makes me more mindful in my days as I think about what I can blog about next, it has connected me with many, many people I might never meet otherwise, it sells a few books, and it helps me to promote people and things that I believe in. That's enough to make me happy.

Now my new cyber adventure is straying into the world of Kindle. For anyone who doesn't know Kindle is a new gizmo developed by those clever people at Amazon. It is a book-sized, lightweight wireless, digital device that allows owners to connect to a vast library of thousands of books, newspapers, magazines, and other information sources, download them to their Kindle and take them with them wherever they go. The Kindle can store the equivalent of 200 books plus gives you lots of interactivity features. The list price is $399 which is high but that didn't stop the first supply of the gizmo from selling out completely. What will its future be? Who knows but it is worth considering. My bet is Amazon will massage its flaws until no one can live without one.

Now I grew up in a house full of books and cannot imagine life without books. I love them. I love their covers and the typography on the page and the texture of the paper. I am the sort of reader who underlines and makes notes in the margin and turns down pages and abuses the heck out of a book but that just makes them all the more beloved to me. I have on a few rare occasions had to purchase a new copy of a book because the original one was so marked up it was unreadable anymore. So the idea of an electronic gizmo replacing a beloved book is hard to imagine. And yet.... I can certainly understand the appeal of a gadget that would contain a lot of books because I've been known to take 5 books to the beach!

I don't stray very far. I work at home and I love moleing up for days at a time to work on books and knit and design and read and listen to audiobooks while I do those things. But for people who commute, particularly by public transportation, and lead busy lives I can imagine their Kindle could be their new best friend. Plus young people today are used to having a digital gizmo in their hands so a Kindle will be perfect for them. They can listen to music on their MP3 player while yakking on their cell phones, text-messaging on their PDAs and catching up on their reading. I just hope they don't do all that while driving.

So, anyway, I decided, as a writer, to join the Kindle revolution and offer my books in Kindle format. Yesterday I formatted My Last Romance and other passions and uploaded it to the Kindle store and this week I will add The Old Mermaid's Tale. It is a very slick little plan. I provide my books in HTML format ( a language in which I am fluent) and set the price - I decided on half of the hardcopy price. After that Amazon does the rest. We shall see if anyone is interested enough to buy them.

But I love this idea. First of all I love the word "kindle" --- to kindle means to start a fire and if there is anything in this world I would be pleased to be a part of it would be to help start a fire for reading in people! Reading is to me the single greatest power for transformation in this world. If you read and develop a love for books you will have a better life than if you don't. It's that simple.So if Kindle can kindle the flame of reading --- and hopefully a love for literature --- in people then it is a good and wonderful thing and I hope it thrives. Reading is good and, in this busy crazy world, necessary. I hope Kindle ignites the fire of loving literature and that it burns brightly and develops into a roaring conflagration.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Cold Weather/Soup Weather

Brrrrrrrr... it is 3° outside. I can remember my father looking at the outdoor thermometer on such days and saying, "There's NO temperature out today, kids, the thermometer says zero!" Brrrrr! I had a hard time getting out of bed this morning. I love my bed in the winter time. I have a down featherbed and a down comforter --- I sleep inside a duck --- and I sleep great too. I may have a lot of issues but sleeping isn't one of them --- I sleep like the proverbial log.

But the wonderful thing about this weather is it is superb soup weather. While I was malingering in bed this morning I paged through my copy of Brother Rick Curry, S.J.'s wonderful book The Secrets of Jesuit Soup-making. If you do not know Brother Rick and his work I recommend the soup book and also his The Secret of Jesuit Bread-making even though I don't eat bread these days.

Brother Rick was born with only one arm. His right arm ends above the elbow and he has not let it slow him down in life one bit. I am constantly amazed by people like Brother Rick who, despite a handicap that would flummox most people, become utterly remarkable. He is a Jesuit brother, has a PhD in theater arts and is the founder of the National Theater for the Handicapped and the author of those two excellent cookbooks. His cookbooks are more than just a collection of recipes though, they are filled with delightful stories about growing up in an active family, his beginnings as a brother, life in the monastery, working with the handicapped, and always and everywhere his thoughts on mindful living. He is a worthy representative of Ignatian spirituality and believes in finding God in every moment and in service to others.

So I was perusing his soup recipes trying to decide which one I want to try next. Actually, saying that is a bit of a cheat because I rarely follow recipes as they are written --- just like I never follow knitting instructions and sewing patterns. But I get good ideas from his ideas. However my lastest "creation" was so good I may try to duplicate it. It helps if you have a good Italian deli nearby so you can get some excellent Italian sausage and a good sized chunk of hard Romano cheese. This is my recipe:

Italian Sausage Soup
Saute in some olive oil: 4 red peppers cleaned and cut in bite-sized pieces, 2 sweet onions, cleaned and cut in wedges, 2 cloves of elephant garlic sliced paper-thin. Add 12oz. sliced Baby Bella mushrooms. When just tender set aside. Cut into bite sized pieces 2 lbs. of good Italian sausage (I love Bianchi Brothers sausage made in Revere, MA and sold at Farmer John's on Railroad Ave. here in Gloucester.) Saute and drain. Add the vegetables and a large can of crushed tomatoes in puree. Add half a can of water, a handful of chopped basil, a tablespoon of oregano. Cover and let simmer for half an hour. Add 3-4 ounces of the Romano cheese coarsely grated and a tablespoon of garlic cut in chunks. Simmer another 15 minutes.

This is an excellent soup made with sausage but it can also be made with browned ground turkey and recently I made it using clams instead of the sausage. I love the taste of red peppers and tomatoes cooked together.

So that is on my menu for today. I hope you are warm wherever you are and have something good to eat and that your day is filled with quiet, pleasant work, and tenderness.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Wishing you a "should-less" 2008!

Today you should really get those packages wrapped up and taken to the post office but first you should vacuum and then you should do the dishes. It's cold out so you should wear your warm coat but first you should make sure that button you sewed back on is okay --- and you should use more moisturizer before you go out... blah-blah-blah.

The above is a typical nano-second of life in my brain. I "should" myself all day long. For a long time now I have been cranky about people who "should" me --- "you should write another book", "you should put pictures on that new shawl on your blog", "you should write down the instructions" --- and I am also aware that I tend to "should" other people, too. So this is my New Year's Resolution --- I'm going to try to stop "should"-ing everybody, including myself, and I'm going to try to stop letting people "should" me.

Now there is a case to be made that sometimes we really should do certain things. I should write another book --- well, I am. But I think it is in the nature of the word "should" that so much of the problem arises. Why can't we stop "should"-ing and change to offering an option? "You know, those mittens are so cute you could probably sell them if you felt like making more." That's a nice little compliment that offers an option that can be accepted or discarded.

Most people I know are most brutal with themselves when it comes to should-ing. I should do this, I should do that --- look, is that a helpful way to approach life? Maybe what we need to consider is offering ourselves the same options. Today might be a good day to clean out the garage. Wouldn't it be nice to invite Grandpa for dinner? It's pleasant and you can take the suggestion or not.

When I was growing up my mother was the world's greatest "should"-er. It was a curious and depressing habit of hers because the compliment always carried the kernel of rebuke. Oh, you are so talented at drawing, you should do something with it. I can remember one particularly depressing incident when I showed her a lovely quilted jacket I had spent months making. "It's just gorgeous," she said, "You do such beautiful work. Isn't it a tragedy that you don't do something more with it all that talent?" Wham-blam-thunk.

And the worst part was that, like me, she was harshest when should-ing herself. "I know I should go out in the kitchen and start supper and I should mix up a batch of bread and I should send a loaf over to Mrs. So-and-so but I'm just so lazy..." It was sad and it was doubly sad that I inherited that. A lot of us have.

So for 2008 I am going to try to eliminate those nagging, non-productive, unhelpful shoulds from my speech and from my thoughts. If there is something that needs to be done, either do it or don't do it but don't nag myself about it. And if I feel the need to tell someone in my life that there is something that they ought to be or could be or might be doing, to do it in a useful way that lets them know I have an idea for them but it is purely optional, I'm not going to guilt them into doing what I think they "should" do.

I've been thinking a lot about the nature of passive-aggression anyway. I don't think that's my problem --- I'm just plain aggressive. Nothing passive about it. But passive-aggression is a nasty little trait that allows us to "should" people in sneaky, under-handed ways while maintaining our self-perception of concern and helpfulness. I want to keep an eye on that in myself and in those I deal with and --- should I slip up, someone should point it out.

I wish you a calm, quiet, loving, and creative 2008. Be generous with compliments, stingy with complaints, take time to be quiet, give thanks everyday, find a pursuit that you can do alone and that fulfills you, and don't forget to read a book.

Thanks for reading --- and to my family, wherever you may be, the sauerkraut is cooking and will be ready in a couple hours. Hope yours is too! Love you!


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