06 December 2011

Feeling challenged

Lots of things, people, ideas challenge me.  When I'm not cowering in fear, I spend deliberate time trying to understand why I react the way I do.  Sometimes end up feeling grateful for the uncertainty.

After NaNoWriMo ended, one of the staff members wrote a blog about having not made the word count this year.  She described what she had managed to write, describing the difficulties that had come her way during November.

She also included this long quote from another NaNoWriMo writer whose screen name is Saker Pup:
Every time you try something new, you risk failure. That’s why most people who aren’t small children don’t try new things.  They spend their lives creating a routine that will insulate them from doing anything unfamiliar because most people can’t do unfamiliar things perfectly. And if you don’t know exactly what you’re doing all the time, you might accidentally screw something up and fail. I’ll tell you a secret: I fail at most things, at least at first, and it hasn’t killed me yet. Failure isn’t something to be afraid of. Failure means I tried. Failure is the process I must endure before I can achieve success. Failure is beautiful.
To be honest, I wouldn't go so far as to agree with that last line.  Way too challenging.  But, the rest of it?  Do I ever need to take it to heart. 

Messing up.  Looking foolish.  Not being right.  A small price to pay for learning something, for growing up, for becoming.

05 December 2011


What follows is an email sent this morning from Whitby to his groomer, Denise.  She's also the founder and director of All God's Creatures, an animal rescue sanctuary here in Edgefield County.  Whitby and Belle generally board there when Tal and I have to be away.

Hi Miss Denise. This is Whitby.

I look like a "splosion" happened to me.   All I did was go down to the pond after breakfast. Somebody -- like that cat from across the pond or a raccoon or an opossum -- had been down there and I had to get my schnauzer nose close to it.   You understand, don't you? Well, the water's really low and the edge is really soft.   When I got back to the house and that Tal opened the door to let me in I had mud all the way up to all four elbows. My belly was a little messy, too.

Janet gave me a bath.   That's where the "splosion" part comes in.   I just knew it was going to be bad when my bud Tal plugged in Miss Janet's hairdryer.   She said it was because she didn't want me to stay wet and get cold.   I'm thinking punishment.   What about you?   Anyway, when that hair dryer and my ungroomed self got together ...   Well, I guess your imagination is telling you everything you really need to know.

I think I'd like to come and see you.   Could you look at your grooming calendar and let me know when I might be able to get cleaned up?   Janet's going to be gone all this week, but how about the 14th, 15th or 16th of next week?   Do you have time? Oh, and my pesky sister could do with a little work herself.   (Don't know what those two see in her, but anyway ...)

Thank you. Love, Whitby

Whitby has heard back from Denise.  The "beautimization" for both our four-legged family members will take place on the 15th.  Photos to follow.   

04 December 2011

I don't think so

One of the things I get around to doing sometime every Sunday is sifting through the fliers in the newspaper.  Some of them I do want to see, like the "SmartSource magazine" and "redplum" for the coupons and promotion codes they offer.  Others entertain and/or irritate depending almost entirely on my mood. 

I probably need not observe that this time of year the thickness of the pile of inserts towers over what's left after the separating's been done.  The news is overpowered by the stuff people want us to want.  They want us to want it enough to part with our money to get it.  Today the difference between the two piles was truly impressive.  The wanting us to want is reaching desperation stage, I guess. 

More impressive than the pile of inserts, however, was one claim that made me stop my sheep and goats routine.  At the bottom left on the front of the Sears ad these words appeared in a broad red strip:  Real Gifts Real Joy.  Both "reals" were green and the words "gifts" and "joy" were white.  All four words are uppercase and run together.  Definitely eye-catching.  But, oh so not true.  Not at Sears.  Not at any store.

I experienced real gifts and real joy just yesterday in our double destination trip to Columbia.  In the late morning (after successfully extricating ourselves from the Christmas parade traffic) we had a visit with my brother and his daughter at the USC School of Music -- and an undistinguished lunch at Wendy's.  Then, Tal and I attended a funeral for a member of Tal's family in the early afternoon.  Meeting traffic and the lackluster food with good humor, being witness to the beginning of a college career and to the end of a long life, standing with blood and by marriage family, loving and being loved ... those are the real gifts and the real joys. 

My admonition to myself and to anyone else who cares to listen?  Real gifts and real joy cannot be purchased.  Real gifts and real joy spring out of relationship.  Don't accept any substitute no matter how clever the marketing or bold the promise.

03 December 2011

Small contributions

This Saturday morning Tal and I left home bound for Columbia under bluebird skies.  As the driver, my mind was on the string of turns and towns I needed to negotiate to get us the 30 rural miles from home to the interstate.

Nevertheless, I couldn't miss the fact that it was a gorgeous day.  The deciduous trees are for most part devoid of leaves now, revealing the folding, curving contours of the land.  I love the fact that ponds, normally tucked away and out of sight, glint in the sun, declaring themselves through the winter-thinned woods.

Along that route through the countryside we encountered a sight that sparked a shift in our conversation.  Between Johnston and Ward we passed by what we assumed to be an abandoned car on the side of the road.  That assumption, however, was re-calculated when we began noticing fat orange plastic bags in the grass.  Nearly a mile later we came upon four people wearing orange vests working their way to closer to Ward and filling orange bags .

A very short distance later?  You guessed it, maybe?  Several people on the other side of the road headed in the direction of Johnston leaving a trail of stuffed orange bags.  And, finally, a second "abandoned car," also on the opposite side of the road.  The way we figure it, those eight people had taken on about two miles, perhaps more.  It was clearly a coordinated effort -- each group probably arriving in one car and departing in another.

It's too bad the roadsides need such attention.  I don't want to get caught up in that line of thought.  I'm sufficiently practiced at complaining; no need to invest additional time developing that skill. 

More interesting and important,  not to mention impressive, are those folks we saw on this Saturday morning.  They were making a small, positive contribution to Highway 23 and to the common good.  Yes, the roadside will become littered again.  But, what they were doing, indeed, what they were offering, matters. 

Small, positive contributions.  What's mine going to be?  And, yours ... ?

02 December 2011

Greet one another

Tal and I received our first Christmas card in yesterday's mail.  Since our decorations are still packed away, I don't yet have access to the basket we traditionally deposit the cards in as they arrive.

Our lone Christmas card is, for the moment, standing on my desk.  My eyes have been drawn to it repeatedly over the course of the day.  Featuring on its front an illustration of a donkey and a poem about the donkey's role in the nativity story, it makes me smile.

What doesn't make me smile is the in-full-swing annual greeting war.  And, it's only December 2nd.  We do find the oddest things to fulminate over all the while letting some real monsters slide by.  But, that's another topic for another day.

It seems to me that when we greet one another at this time of year it's generally well-intentioned, no matter what actual words are uttered.  So why are we putting to the test what people say -- or write -- to us?  After all the now-questioned "greetings of the season" was found on pre-1900 Victorian-era cards and "happy holidays" was added to Christmas parlance by none other than Irvin Berlin in 1942 with his song of the same name.

Since then holiday creep has had its way with us.  Christmas, in reality a day and a half event at most and a 12-day season running from Christmas Eve to the Feast of the Epiphany (January 6th) for some few Christian denominations, is now an end of the year celebration stretching from Thanksgiving through New Years.  And, Christians are not the only ones doing the celebrating.

So, say what you feel called to say between now and early January.  But, please go easy on the folks who greet you.  They are trying to be pleasant.  Receive the hope their greetings are intended to convey.  Judging them -- the greeters and the greetings --  sort of means you're missing the point, the point not only of the words offered to you but of the season you might be trying to uphold as well.

01 December 2011

NaNoWriMo 2011 and beyond

During the month of November I participated in National Novel Writers Month.  I have to admit to several serious inner conversations during the 30 days which centered on two primary questions:  "What do you think you are doing?" and "Just who to you think you are?" 

First of all, to "win" NaNoWriMo one has to come up with 50,000 words.  Some really famous novels are not much longer than that, "As I Lay Dying" (William Faulkner), for example.  When I passed that word count goal this past Monday night (very nearly Tuesday morning), I'd also produced 200 double spaced pages of text. 

Second, until a friend in late September invited me to explore the possibility of participating this year, I had never, ever considered writing a novel.  For the entire month of October I wondered if I had a story in me and if, through 50,000 words and 200+ pages I could possibly keep my story straight.  The answer to that last question is a very clearly articulated "absolutely not."
So, here I am the day after the deadline.  With the imminent addition of maybe a half dozen chapters the story will be pretty much told.  Then, I will have to decide what to do next.  Even a pretty good first draft is just that and, believe me, I'm not claiming "pretty good" by any means.  What I have in 200 pages is full of inconsistencies, forgotten details, missing characters, lost opportunities.  The rewrite, I suspect -- should I persevere, will be harder than November's "thirty days and nights of literary abandon" (a quote from the NaNoWriMo website).  But, I'm thinking I have to press on.

There's a reason for that hunch.  I am 58 years old.  Through the arc of the past month I have been as focused as I think I've ever been.  One of the longings I have had during my life has been to find myself truly involved in something.  I'm not looking for the same sort of pressure as one might see in a movie where the main characters have 24 hours to save the world or anything.  Too intense.  I'm more interested in being deeply involved, engrossed, wholly caught up in a project that has captured me. 

During my working career, yes, I was involved, but most of what I was doing was what others wanted me to do.  I was conscientious and dedicated and thorough.  Sadly, for most part, I was running scared, ever fearful of not getting it all done and of being judged negatively.  But for the past 30 days I've thought about my characters, deliberated over making up a location for the action or setting the story in a known place, wondered what could happen next and how the main character might react, worried about characters that hadn't been heard from in dozens of pages, been honestly surprised at what appeared on the screen in front of me. 

I have been with the story and those characters for 30 days and I've loved every minute of it -- even when I was too tired to type another word, when the story was going nowhere, when my inner editor was telling me terrible things, not only about the story, but about me, when it felt as though the 50,000 total was eluding me rather than moving closer. 

Here's the thing: I was loving it even when I was hating it.  That's what I'm talking about ...