curating myself

Yesterday was the 14th anniversary of my blog(s.) There are 1460 posts here, but about 300 are archived, no longer live, and there are a couple hundred or so more at the other page, linked at the top here. I’ve been going through them and creating an Archive of Me, and while you will Not find all of it interesting, you Will find some of it interesting. The rest is just for me to easily access.

Over on the right, unless you’re on a mobile device in which case I think at the bottom? I’ll have a look later and be more precise, are the latest in that series of posts from over the years, minus a 6 month period which got corrupted a few years ago. And a couple of the links go to an entire month of posts, because I did that when I was adding 2005 here.

I’ve changed a lot over the past 14 years. I had a 4 year-old when I started this blog. And other fairly young offspring, of course. Now they’re all grown up. We moved 4 times since then, and there are 4 in the house instead of 8. I will be a grandmother soon. So I look back over all this and laugh or wonder at myself, but on the whole, I do see myself in all of it. Life is an ongoing process of growth and decay. :-)

Anyway. The complete-ish 161 post reminiscence set is here, starting in March, 2003. Only I guess you'd have to read it all in reverse to see it chronologically. Well, whatever.  Some of it is embarrassing, I don’t care; we all keep maturing, hopefully. I just wanted a condensed view I could look back at now and then, and maybe add to in the future. The only problem with having combined them all into this one blog is that the likes and plusses are gone from the old ones, and it was helpful to know which were actually popular, though it wasn’t a staggering number.

analogy wrapped in analogy, the I in me, maybe in you, too

I started writing this for a Google Plus collection and it grew too long and too personal, and I dunno. I excised some of the personal bits and left others and decided to add it here. I'm agitated this season, and also reminiscent. I'd rather get back to the superficial and trivial, and probably will soon. Snake

People thought I was an arrogant kid at times, and maybe I was. It wasn't intentional. People sometimes think that now, but they're just mistaking confidence and self-possession for something outer-directed. I am meek at times, but I can't fake it when I don't feel it. And how I feel about me says nothing about what I think about you.

When I was a little girl, I used to confuse the names of two songs, and found it confusing to hear one when I thought I would be hearing the other. They are “Louie, Louie,” by The Kingsmen, and “Brother Louie” by Stories. It’s possible you know of it primarily as a Hot Chocolate song, but I knew only the US version, which, honestly, has way better vocals. (but the lyrics are slightly changed in this performance, so here they are for the recording.)

My biggest brother had the “Brother Louie” record, with Adam and Eve at the top of the label, and I remember him explaining it to me. This was at the beginning of my interest in what was going on in the world, what with Watergate and all. But I’d already spent my earliest years being conditioned by songs that taught me we’re all the same and should learn to live together and love together, so I was suitably horrified at parents who would reject their children if they loved someone of another color, or as I learned a little later, if they had matching parts. I lived in such a bubble.  Reed
Outside my bubble people were unnecessarily competitive and tediously combative, and they agitated me. But I suppose I also never wanted to believe people were as terrible as they sometimes seemed. Why should they be? It just causes problems.

I used to cry, as they say, at the drop of a hat. This annoyed people. But if they’d looked into things carefully, and they didn’t, bless all their sharp minds, the parents and brothers at my house would have realized that as I was rarely particularly greedy or attention-seeking, I was mainly just upset when things seemed to make no goddam sense, and no one was straightening them out. I have never been able to tolerate, by way of analogy, TV show episodes in which people spoke at cross-purposes and seemed to willfully misunderstand each other, leading to horribly stressful “hijinks” and possibly wrongful accusations. The characters would laugh over the confusion in the end, and I’d feel like punching the wall, and everyone else acted like it was just a piece of silly fiction, which it was, but it also happened in real life, and I knew that. And in real life, the problems didn’t go away after 25-26 minutes. (Currently, TV misunderstandings are resolved in 20-21 minutes.)

I hurt for everyone I knew of, real and occasional fictional, who seemed victimized by the illogical and sometimes ignorant notions of others, to a disproportionate degree if you asked the people around me. I still have those sensibilities, though I don’t cry over it very often anymore. I do what I can for the world, but am better at driving off house sparrows than curing bigotry.

I think it’s okay to be both driven by logic and tender in spirit. Sometimes it’s a little rough on your offspring, but hopefully they look back and understand. Screen Shot 2017-01-18 at 10.45.41 AM
Because I tend to seek logic in everything, I appear even now fairly naive and insular to more "worldly" types. I am mostly confused by people who’d rather hate than love, which honestly, sucks up so much energy, doesn’t it? I’m confused by people who think how things are in one place at one time should dictate how things ought to be in another place and another time, with a whole different set of other conditions, as well. I’m confused a whole lot lately in particular by people who assign concrete characteristics to huge groups of people based on a few of the more irritating or senseless types who get attention because they’re loud and obnoxious. Like all the kids who annoyed everyone in their individual 5th grade classes grew up and got louder and suddenly we’re accused of being a party to their incivilities, because we still can’t shut them up. But maybe I’m digressing too far. I've lost sight of my thesis.

The better angel of my nature reminds me that people are all worth more than the sum of their individual parts, and this includes people who don’t think so of others. Ray Stevens says it here, also as part of my inimitably sappy 70s childhood.


Five minutes of your time, plus 5:42 more

I want about six minutes of your time to listen to a song, really listen, but first I’m going to witter on about this and that for five minutes because it’s what I do. Pretend I'm telling you all about our vet visit before finally posting the cake recipe you Googled.

I’ve been unwell again this week. The flu we all caught at Christmas passed along, but left me susceptible to every other living thing managing to hang on through the insane temperature shifts, and I haven’t been able to shake them all off very well.

So I’ve spent more than a tasteful amount of time lolling around reading books and watching movies on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries wondering if Kavan Smith, a chief resident of the Hallmark stud barn, can even tell any of his leading ladies apart anymore, or if they’re all just a vague blur of pert light brown-haired self-sufficiency with a sensitive backstory.  As well, I developed an odd pash for The Joey Bishop Show, which is on Antenna TV every weekday at 1 pm just now. More on that, or not, some other time.

This past weekend I was feeling pretty well, so I took a break from all that, and on Saturday, the man and I planned duel enjoyment of the Cincinnati Art Museum and the Cincinnati Symphony, to which I have subscribed for four years.

The museum was packed, because it was the final weekend of their special Van Gogh exhibit, so we inched along the drive toward the parking lot for quite awhile, taking our ease, when off to my right striding swiftly along the sidewalk, I saw a pair of really stellar ochre corduroy trousers. I mean, they were being worn by an entire person doing the striding, but that was secondary at first, until the man, who was driving, said, “Isn’t that Louis Langrée?”

And indeed it was. We thought that was a neat bit of serendipity, since we’d see him later that night conducting the symphony. And I enjoyed his pants very much. But then, you see, I always do. I enjoy tilting my head at his charming aspect as he enthusiastically conducts the music, though I don’t have quite the same level of passion for him as my neighbor across the road, who is about 15 years older than me, definitely the nicest person I know here, and definitely very into Louis. She will gush, if asked. C’est compréhensible. He has true presence, that one, n’est çe pas? Et il porte bien son pantalon.

He left, we parked and went in to enjoy the museum for a couple hours; Novemberlight
they have a really neat exhibit right now featuring art works by employees, so if you live around here, go check it out. Employed
And then we went to Anchor-OTR for soup and little things, though to be completely honest I would rather have been at Zula across the street, but reasons and such intervened, and the Anchor is nice anyway, and then to the symphony, which is at Taft Theatre this year, and I regret each time we go having chosen floor seats instead of the balcony. We are seated near the back under the overhang of the balcony, so the sound isn’t as nice as it might be, and we have aisle seats, which are very tightly squeezed together. We always have to rise and move into the aisle for latecomers to take their seats farther in. The tech guy near us crackles wrappers the entire time, and on Saturday, a patron nearby enjoyed a bag of mini pretzels and a bottle of Coke. These noises are not absorbed well, and they irritate even when a pre-concert martini has been thoroughly applied. Though that helps. Next year at the newly remodeled Music Hall should be much nicer. I will have a commanding view, better sound, and will not covet so much one of the private boxes along the side of the theatre.

That night, a small ensemble of the orchestra and members of the May Festival chorus performed the Bach Cantata No. 150, and Langrée, now in his customary black tunic and trousers, called joyfully for an encore of the final segment of it. He spoke with enthusiasm about the Van Gogh exhibit. Then we heard Anton Webern's Passacaglia and after the intermission, Brahms’ Symphony No. 4, which is such a lovely piece of math. He conducted it at a clip, and we discussed afterwards the French tendency toward this, but I liked it fine. We ended the evening with a glass of wine at 1215 Wine Bar, and it all made for a lovely reprieve from the Endless Eight of sickness, and uncertainty about the financial outlook of 2017. Screen Shot 2017-01-11 at 8.05.36 PM
gloria knee socks bass a lot of bass, tongue tied young holt flicker mix midi keyboards mantra boy

Okay, that line is my notes for the second half, but I’m not in the mood to type all that so here. Imagine it’s raining hard, but the rain feels distant inside your comfortable space with the practically new chair from Salvation Army sitting under a window with an overgrown plant next to it. You don’t have to be in a dark room to enjoy the Cure, but it helps to set a physical mood sometimes. It should be silent, the kind of silence you command with thoughts that reside just beneath the surface of your skin. Be still. Curl up and listen to this song as it tiptoes in and builds and gathers and swells and then fades away. Go on. Play it, and if you’ve heard this song before, but not the Mixed Up version, I think you’ll appreciate what they did with it.

These days we crowd our heads with music and it’s in all our backgrounds so much of the time, and we take it for granted. Sometimes it’s good to stop and let it be special for a few minutes, instead. I hate the idea that we need to occasionally reteach ourselves how to just listen, but what I witness every three-four weeks at the symphony tells me it is so. When I think of the time and effort and sweat and earnest hopes and desires that go into the composition, production, and performance of a piece of music and then I hear it over the phone, scratchily keeping me on hold while I wait around for someone to tell me to “turn it off and then back on again,” I figure the least I can do is pay some respect to all that artistic drive and effort by sharing a good piece of music now and then, channeling my dad briefly; “Shhh, listen, here’s the solo.”

You can do this with the Cure or with Brubeck or Brahms. Or somebody newer than all that, as you like.


Portable Magic

That's what Stephen King called books.

I enjoyed my Christmas movie spreadsheets so much (which is a thing I meant to share about here, but didn’t, so now you know,) I started making book ones. I made two separate lists, but I think since I have a couple others in mind, they’ll all just end up as individual sheets under a Book List heading.

The first is ongoing mystery series I follow. Two are probably concluded, but I added them anyway, in hopes of more and to be tidy. I’m also probably going to start two more this year: Inspector Rutledge and Commissario Brunetti. I took a screenshot of the authors, Screen Shot 2017-01-06 at 10.43.59 AM
and also of how the whole thing looks. Screen Shot 2017-01-06 at 10.46.18 AMThis list is alphabetical by author’s first name, since it’s largely online reading, but also from used book stores.

The second is books I am reading/wish to read this year. That’s ordered traditionally since they’re more likely to come from the library. I might make other sheets for my reference books and textbooks, and cooking and gardening books, or etc.
Screen Shot 2017-01-06 at 10.49.29 AM copy
I love buying books, but I have more books than shelves, currently, even though I gave away a couple hundred before our last move. It is not ever good to have more thing than places for thing. There are nine plastic bins in the basement full of books I couldn’t give up, and a couple of my bookcases are a little overcrowded.

Also, and this isn’t wholly unfortunate, I have much more reading eagerness than money, currently. So if I do buy some, they are from the used bookstore, where I trade others in for credit at the same time, only keeping books I’ll read again or that one of my daughters will want someday. This way, I spend very little, and don’t materially add to the collection.

As much as I like holding a book in my hands, and arranging them on shelves, collecting each series would take up far too much space. So I buy at full price books by nine or ten of the authors on this list for my Fire tablet, or at a discount through my Audible subscription. They take up no space, but I can enjoy them again if I like. The costs of those books range from 3.99 to 14.99, and books from the other series come from Kindle Unlimited or the library, or at a bargain price below 3.99. It’s not easy to average, but altogether with subscriptions and purchases, I spend about $30 a month currently to read whatever I like. If I need to reduce that further this year, well, we have two terrific library systems here. But reading is my favorite leisure pastime, so other cuts continue to come first.

This year, I set a goal to read at least two non-series books each week from contemporary authors, and those I’m finding strictly at the library. I’m seeking books that are not written in first person, super tired of that, and to ensure minimally good prose, I look to make sure the pages are not populated with the word “had.” I’m going to write a short review for each of them, and post them at Goodreads. They’ll encompass a broader variety of fiction, and likely include a few biographies and/or historical topics.

Uncle Daddy Vester

An excerpt from 2015 NaNoWriMo, posted for someone I thought might like to read it. 1286 words. Paris is six, Charlotte is ten, Ava is eight and a half. Ricky is the dog. Shannon is their mother. Sylvester is their uncle. Their father, his triplet twin, died a few months ago, and he's moved back home to Central Kentucky to help out for awhile.


After supper was cleared, Ava and Charlotte dumped the bags of craft supplies onto the dining table. Shannon started to protest the chaos, but they began swiftly organizing the various items she bought, lining it all up neatly and ready to use. “This is how we will begin,” explained Charlotte.

Sylvester said, “Well…I thought of an idea, if you don’t mind my interfering. But it’d require giving up your kitchen table for awhile.”

“Ooh, what is it, Uncle Vester? Are we going to make the table a craft, too?” Paris asked eagerly.

“Oh, not exactly. Only I was thinking about what you said about wishing for snow for Christmas. How about we move the table into the living room, maybe against a wall, and turn it into a winter wonderland? Besides making ornaments for the tree, I mean, of course. It would be blanketed with fluffy snow, and could have little trees and a whole scene spread out over it.”

“Yay! Snow inside! Oh, can we, Mommy? I really want to! I can help move the table and make snow.” Paris started bouncing around, chanting, “snow inside, snow inside, snow on a table snow inside.”

Shannon grinned and nodded, and Sylvester said, “How about you and I work on the snow table, while your mom and sisters make the tree ornaments?”

Ava said, “Good, because hers will be all crooked anyway, and have weird colors on them.”


“Yes, Mama. I mean, sorry. But I think it’s a good idea, and this way, everyone can be happy doing the parts they want to do.”

The table had leaves that folded down on each side. Sylvester and Shannon lowered one leaf to move it from the kitchen to the living room, while Paris held onto the opened side. They moved the couch in at angle, and set the table behind it. Then Paris carefully draped a dark green tablecloth over it, a rarely used wedding gift from one of Shannon’s aunts. She and Sylvester pulled fiberfill apart and piled it onto the table for snow. Then they set to work making trees. These were pieces of artificial pine branch garland pushed into wine corks Shannon had saved over the past couple of years. Sylvester showed Paris how to shake a little glitter over them without getting too much on herself, or the floor, or Ricky, who was watching as he rested near the fireplace hearth. They did this by dipping a small paintbrush into the glitter container, then carefully tapping the end of the brush to allow some of the glitter to fall just where they wanted it to be. Ricky was not wearing all that much glitter when they finished. And the glitter on the fiberfill made it look as though moonlight was reflected on the surface.

Sylvester said, “When there’s a fire burning, it will look even more pretty.”

“Let’s light one now!” Paris said excitedly.

“Well, you know, we’ve had a very warm day. I think we’d get hot in here if we lit a fire now. So would Ricky.”

Paris looked at Ricky and considered things. “Yes, you’re right. Ricky would not like the fire tonight. We can wait. Let’s do the animals next!”

Sylvester said, “Animals?”

“Sure, it can’t be a snowy forest without animals in it. I’ll go get some!” She hopped up and then looked back and said, “I’ll be right back.”

She returned lugging a large plastic bin. “They’re all in here. I thought you could pick some out that you like.”

“Wow! Some of these are ours; mine and Nicky and Jasper’s!” Sylvester couldn’t believe what he was looking at.

“Yes,” Paris said. “Grandma gave them to me last year for Christmas. And we put other things in, too.”

Inside the bin were little plastic farm animals and wild animals, but also Stormtroopers, tiny girl dolls which looked like puppets (those are Mama’s, Paris told him. They are all called Polly,) cats and dogs with oddly human faces, and a collection of fruits and vegetables with faces on them.

“Lots of these things would be silly in our forest. But we can put in some of them, right?” Paris looked a little worried.

Sylvester said easily, “It’s our forest, so we can put in whatever we like. It can be an animal refuge forest.” So they added chickens, cows, goats, a camel, rabbits, a bear, and a fox. The elephant seemed too big, so it stayed in the bin with the other wild animals.

“They won’t eat each other, because it’s magical, and they all get along. Here is Princess Tianna, who will watch over them and make sure they’re okay. And then Santa Claus can come.

“Do you think,” she added, “Tiny Santa Claus would like if we decorated one of these trees? We can put little presents under it, and a star on top.”

(She tells Sylvester she’s glad it’s just the two of them. She always feels like her sisters watch everything she does, which sometimes makes it harder to do. Then talks with him about Daddy and whether he has a Christmas wherever he is.)

“I don’t know, sweetheart. None of us gets to know such things. People say that the best way to keep someone alive when you love them is not to worry about where they are, but keep the best memories of them with you. You can look at pictures and remember him and the things you did together. They’re all still real, and we’re all here to help you share them.”

Paris snuggled into Sylvester’s lap and said, “Sometimes I get confused. Because you’re my uncle and you look like my daddy. Only you grew this beard. Daddy never had a beard.” She stroked his face and tipped her head in thought. “If you were my daddy, would you still be my uncle, too?”

Sylvester did not know how to answer such an odd question. After a moment’s hesitation he asked, “Do you miss having a daddy? Does it still hurt?”

Paris nodded. “You look like Daddy, but you act like Uncle Vester. Maybe if you were my daddy, you’d be just like him, and it would be like having him back.”

They sat together for a few minutes. Then Sylvester said, “I never was much like Daddy, you know. I was always quiet and he was always laughing. Sometimes yelling.”

“Daddy yelled at you? I don’t think that’s nice. He never yelled at me or Ava or Charlotte. I don’t think he yelled at Mommy.”

“Brothers are different with each other, you know. So are sisters, sometimes. But we were good friends. Anyway, the thing is, if I was a daddy and not an uncle, I’d still just be me, like I am right now. Do you understand?”

Paris said, “I guess I do. But…” her voice dropped to a near-whisper, “do you think maybe you could be my uncle daddy? Like how you’re my uncle, but I could be sort of like your little girl, too?”

“Oh, Paris, I would be honored.” Sylvester whispered, too. “Is it a secret?”

“No, I just don’t want Ava to laugh at me.”

Sylvester said, “Maybe someday she’ll want to be my little girl, too. Do you figure that would be all right?”

Paris pondered this for a moment. “I guess so. We all still wish we had our regular daddy.”

“Okay. Let’s go see how they’re doing with their ornaments.”

The Year I Voted for an R for President

I lived in Johnson County, Kansas, and not only that, for those of you playing the home game, it was Leawood, to boot. Most people in line were voting for the same candidate as me, rightly or wrongly as history may judge and then judge again, and most people there were firmly “fiscal conservative/social liberal.”

Fiscal conservative meant something different just then; it has in every era. Does it even exist currently? I dunno. It wasn’t a “trickle-down” crowd, and it didn’t mean “don’t help anybody at all,” it meant, in part, “stop spending a zillion dollars on a freaking hammer when old people are eating cat food so they can pay for their medicine.” We agreed that a smart government could do more with less. After all, why should people pay more in taxes if the money is going to be mismanaged and spent in ways that seem to benefit no one? I still think that, I just think they won’t do more, with more or less, unless they’re forced to somehow, I don’t know how. But I digress.

I know these things about the people in line with me because we spent more than a couple hours together. The machines broke down. It was getting late, and the line extended to the door. We collected money, ordered pizzas, and had them delivered. Sat down along the wall in line and ate together. And then the lines started moving again, we voted and said goodbye.

Did those people watch in horror as I did two years later when the “Republican Revolution” sent a lot of young evangelicals to Congress to fix America?

What we’re seeing this year is the direct result of that mid-term election 22 years ago. I tried to remain aligned in spirit with some people who thought their religious path could dictate everyone else’s political one, but I didn’t make it to the end of the century, and I think they are a big part of the reason I gave up church altogether, not seeing the Jesus they purported to know in their views on how the country should be run. Nothing stirs my ire like a combination of bad logic and hypocrisy.

But I remember the 1992 election fondly, though our candidate lost. Plenty of people would say it’s a good thing he did, but it’s kind of a mixed bag, really. Hindsight overuses the blur tool, and chain reactions always grow beyond our ability to measure them. We view the cropped image and need to be careful to understand our screen is just too small to view anything in totality, in multiple dimensions, in accurate context. Context is key, but it's also a non-linear concept. I think maybe that frightens people.  

PizzaYou might guess this little resembles the pizza I ate that day in that new sterile carpeted Midwestern building. It's an Italian pizza, that's why. It's how I like to make it at home, too. It's a metaphor, I guess.

Overlapping Seasons

It is November 1. Leaves have finally begun to change color on the trees, and to settle on the still-bright green lawn. And that still-green lawn now has wild strawberries growing in it. 20161101_170551
The tomato plants have sprung back to life, the nasturtiums continue to bloom, the cosmos to replicate themselves.
Cold will come in time, and with it, a personal mourning for light and life and bright healing air.

Out of time, as it seems we are, the seasons are overlapping, and creating a certain degree of poetic confusion. 20161101_170623

Writing what you actually see when you look through to the bottom of a lake, that requires the sun high overhead, Jupiter and Mars in the nighttime sky, toes in warm mud after a heavy afternoon rain shower, the scent of meat searing over a charcoal fire. In summer, I paint on a living canvas instead of fabric and wood fashioned to my easel.

Writing it all down at the end of the growing year, when darkness rises in late afternoon and the sky feels a little too close for comfort, the project turns artificial, grasping for a reality which can’t exist in the greys and browns of November. The conceit of spending that month creating something new could only have been thought of by a someone in Southern California, where they do not witness first hand the vacuum in nature between the bright harvest colors of October and the sparkling decor of December; it’s something they see conjured on a movie or TV set. But they who say tell us that Nature abhors a vacuum, and making up a wild and fantastic story might be one way to fill it in for anyone who feels the misery of Winter’s emergence.

Summer beautifies reality. Winter fosters fantasy. Understanding this, I adjust my focus for each season in turn, and make what I can of it.

How to adjust focus when the seasons are blurred together like this? That's something for greater philosophers than I.

A NaNo urge with no WriMo plan

I decided to do NaNoWriMo this year, my 12th year? To give myself some more daily focus, which is a thing I've been working really hard at, with the extra vitamins doing their assigned jobs and giving me more energy.

I wrote half a story last year that I really like, and I might write the other half sometime, but for now I'm going back to Jack's donut shop. This is because a) I never finished the story I worked on 2014, and b) I spent October not planning to do anything else. I seem to write half stories each year, which tells me my stories like to be told in 100k words, and that's something I wouldn't do in a 30 day period, unless under duress. So why not write a back half this year instead of a front half?

I've been writing about Lily, Violet and Jack for most years since 2005. Eight years, with an occasional other story mixed in. I now have three groups of people I write about; Lena and her friends in Michigan, and Sylvester, Jasper and their family in Kentucky, as well as the Sea View, NJ crowd.

Screen Shot 2016-11-01 at 1.53.55 PM

And here is the last thing I wrote about Jack, a little less than two years ago. So from here is where I begin a back half; both a new story and the continuation of an old one. It's, yes, Daughter, out of context for you, but pretty much obvious on the surface. I seriously hate the last line, 😝 but I'm leaving it alone and moving on.

#more time at Donuts and Coffee

Jack walked into the donut shop on Sunday afternoon whistling “I’m Not The Marrying Kind.”

There were no customers at present. Melissa was behind the counter on the phone. “No, we’ve never sold square donuts. I don’t know why, we just never have. Yes, I understand those are very popular in New York, but we have no plans to change our current donut shape. Yes, I will pass along the message when I see our owner. Yes, of course. Good day.”

She nodded to Jack as he sat down on a stool, still whistling. Then he said, “How about a cup of good, hot black coffee?”

Melissa reached for a cup to pour him some, but replied, “It sounds to me like you’ve already had plenty today. What’s up? I didn’t even expect you in this afternoon.”

Jack said, “Oh, I’m not here to get any work done. I’ll be in all day tomorrow. I’m just waiting for Violet, we’re heading to the theater to work on some stuff. Who was on the phone?”

“Some nutty customer wanting us to sell square donuts like that shop in Manhattan. I said I’d pass along the message, and now I have. Why aren’t you just meeting Violet at the theatre?”

“Nosy. I don’t know, she’s at her sister’s house, close to here, and we figured we’d drive over there together.”

“I see,” said Melissa, who was pretty sure she did see, but she said nothing more.

Jack saw Violet with a sense of wonder as she came through the door a few minutes later. He felt nervous, and felt silly about being nervous; they’d just spent 18 hours together and were parted for only an hour or so, but he wasn’t sure if it had been forever or no time at all. Both, somehow, he decided, as most of his feelings tended to run in two divergent directions. The urge came over him to ask her to run away with him to that no wifi desert island he was always joking about, just him, Violet, and an always-charged mp3 player for company.

But while he mused over these idiotic thoughts, she came up to the counter, as cool and collected as ever, slipped her arm through his, and asked, “Ready to go?” And that made everything fine again. He leaned over to kiss her cheek and said, “I’m ready.” Melissa smiled as she watched them go, then reached for her phone to make a call.

Jack turned on the heat in the theatre, then he and Violet went through the Narnia door to his studio. He said, “If I’m opening this space to the public, or at least more friends, I’ll have to do something about the fire escape entrance. Vinny told me last week he thought it was a bit rickety for his aging knees to handle.”

“You’re supposed to have two means of exit in every room like this, in case of fire,” Violet answered idly.

Jack realized this conversation was pointless and dull, so he asked, “Would you like a drink? I mean, some tea or water or something, or I have juice…” He trailed off as Violet shook her head at him.

“We’re alone together in the coolest room in town, and talking about doors, Jack.”

He said, “I enjoyed waking up in your bed and making breakfast for you. But after I left, I wondered, somehow, what it all really meant. We had a lot of wine last night.”

Violet frowned, and beckoned to the big leather couch. They sat facing each other, but not touching. “I don’t understand, are you having reservations now? I think we’re good for each other, Jack. And I felt—“ She stopped, uncertain whether to continue.

He said, “No, I don’t have any reservations.” Taking her hands, he said, “Making love with you was a dream come true for me. I’d relive every moment of it again and again even if it never happened again. But I don’t want to burden you with my emotions.”

Sighing, Violet answered, “I see. My reputation suggests I’d push you away if you got too serious about it all.”

Jack looked at her hopefully, waiting for her to continue. When she didn’t speak, he said, “I was instructed to not drive you off by being too serious. But when I woke this morning, all I could think was that I don’t ever want to be apart from you. I can’t do this lightly.”

“So you cooked breakfast for me in my kitchen.” Violet smiled. She squeezed his hands, then let go with one to trail her fingertip along the length of his jaw. Then, cupping the side of his face, she leaned in to kiss him. He was tense at first, but began to relax as they continued. Suddenly he couldn’t bear not having his arms around her, pulling her into his lap, and she willed herself to melt into him, so that he’d know, without asking any more questions, that they were part of each other now, and she wasn’t going to let go or push him away.

He realized she wasn’t going to speak her feelings easily, unlike most women he’d known who seemed to spend a great amount of time examining them all in detail. He’d once read about how people give and receive love in different ways; some with words, some with gifts or actions or touch. Jack was handy with words, but he liked doing things for people to express his affection. And it occurred to him that Violet was always patting someone’s shoulder or hand, or leaning in to kiss a cheek. He’d seen her playing with her sister’s hair while they talked and laughed together.

He sat up and looked at her. Surprised, Violet leaned back and raised her eyes with a question.

Jack laughed and said, “It’s okay now. I just figured it all out. Life and love and everything.”  He bent over her and she reveled in the weight of his embrace.

Quiet Girls Will Bloom

For my first “books from childhood” reminiscent post, I read Bright Island on Tuesday, and Going on Sixteen the day before. These two books feel so essential to my past, though I couldn’t have said why before, other than a vague “I related to the characters and found romance in their situations.”

This is 1513 words and an 8 minute read, according to I read recently that the best length for a blog post is 1500 words, but I figure I'll hold future ones on this topic to 1200 or less, and they won't be as serious and "instructional," for sure.

These two books greatly differ from each other, though both are about teen girls in a past time I know mainly from watching classic films. In fact, realizing that for the first time as I read them again this week gave me pause. Bright Island is set in Maine in the late 1930s and Going On Sixteen, set in Pennsylvania, was written just after World War Two. No hint of world concerns flavor either story, but it’s impossible to read Bright Island now without wondering about it all.

In Going On Sixteen, Julie is a quiet, but well-adjusted high school freshman who lives alone with her widower father on a farm in rural Pennsylvania. She has a few friends and a fairly content life, but as she enters high school, she realizes the other girls are ready to grow up, and seem to have gained miles on her in confidence, interest in dress, and the desire to think of boys as something other than “part of the gang.” Julie’s friend Dick, who helped her father on the farm, is suddenly seen as a desirable date by her friends, and Julie feels confused and left out of their new social whirl.

In the meantime, she and her father are raising pedigreed pups destined to become show dogs, and Julie soothes her days by drawing them at play. She’s inherited her mother’s artistic talent, but it goes unnoticed by her busy hard-working father, and holds no interest for the girls at school, who’ve begun to leave her out of their chatty world, which causes her to become even more withdrawn. You know, that whole story.

We follow Julie through three years of high school and watch her develop into someone who can stand up for herself, take more ease in social situations, and share her talents with others who’ve learned to appreciate them, including her father. There’s a secret trip to the City, which in this case is Philadelphia, a school musical, dances, and several interesting events at home on the farm along the way.  In the end, Julie knows who she is and how she wants to make a start in life, and has learned more about what motivates her friends as they are also maturing to varying degrees. It’s fun to watch them all emerge as people, and it’s fun for me now to imagine how the author envisioned them taking their place in the broader world. I love the casually good-mannered world they inhabit, and details such as the kind of wall paint they’d use and how they behave at the school dance.

Bright Island is another take on the high school story altogether. First, the protagonist Thankful has grown up on an island with her parents, grandfather, and four brothers. She’s never been to school and hasn’t spent much time on the mainland. She also has a longtime male friend, Dave, who helps out on the family farm, but knows almost nothing of the world outside her home except through her mother’s excellent home school instruction. Screen Shot 2016-10-20 at 10.43.30 AMThankful learns she is to attend school on the mainland and rebels against it, as it will mean being under the thumb of her supercilious sisters-in-law. And she just doesn’t want to leave the island. She has a sailboat her grandfather made for her, she works hard to prove her value to the family in the hard work she does, and she wants nothing more from her life. But to school she must go; and through a surprising circumstance, it is a school for highly privileged students.

She’s so awkward, at first no one is certain she’s up to the work, but her mother’s teaching proves itself and she earns a place in the upper class with relative ease compared to earning a comfortable place with her peers. She seeks out the sea and finds a companion there. And, inadvertently almost, she begins to make friends. The story takes place over only about ten months of Thankful’s life, but there’s a lot packed into it.

The biggest difference between this book and Going On Sixteen is the prose. Bright Island is filled with rich literary descriptions, while the other relies more on the everyday thoughts of a shy but otherwise fairly typical teenage girl. That’s not to say it’s a lesser effort. It’s a different effort. You leave Going On Sixteen feeling you’ve just walked away for a little while, and the characters’ll still be there when you get back. Bright Island has a vigor and an atmosphere to it which is harder to place in our own context, but as I said, realizing the great changes in store for the world as it stood in 1937 makes for a lot of reflection.

Both books are about isolated girls who learn to find a place for themselves in broader society. Happily, neither is forced to become something unnatural to herself, instead, she’s given the opportunity to learn how to grow in a community, fitting in and reaping the benefits of it without losing her individuality.

In this respect they are very, very of and for their time. The unique 1950s culture we’ve grown up looking back on in TV, music and films has lead many people to believe in an ideal that did not exist before the war. Pre-war culture was progressive and aggressive in attempts to shape society by smoothing the edges of the rugged individual, and giving him or her a place in a forward-thinking culture that would depend on each member doing their bit for the whole. The essential component was community. After the war, though, easy prosperity lead to a different kind of thinking; each man was the product of his own success, standing alone with his loving family crowded around with smiles and gratitude for his efforts. It would be useless to tell him he was not in fact an 1880s cowboy settling the west purely by his own grit and wit, but the product of an economy shaped by wartime innovation and military and defense contracts.

So I think about that now while reading books like Bright Island, wondering how the characters’ lives would have continued if war and sacrifice and so much abrupt change did not intervene. I wonder that too, because these authors were part of what I’m learning was a marvelous new cultural wave; women with educations and the means to do something with them. Women in this culture who wrote books for girls wanted to show their readers the choices open to them. Yes, marriage and family and a steady home when desired, but with eyes open, with an understanding of what else could be gained through education and finding your place in the community at-large. You can be yourself, but your self is so much more than you realize.

Of course, I thought about almost none of this when I was reading these books as a girl. I just loved reading about Girls of Other Eras, what they did and wore and ate and said, and I was also generally envious of their simpler quieter cultures. I still am.

This took a far different direction than I’d originally intended, so here are some notes I took while reading Going On Sixteen, which probably make no sense now. I didn’t save any from Bright Island, because I got to just reading. 20161020_100435
And I realize I wrote the descriptions somewhat obliquely, as though you intend to rush right out to find copies of your own. Well, you might do worse than trying to. Bright Island is a book I’d recommend to anyone who enjoys slice of life fiction set in the not-too-distant past. Going On Sixteen is more of a “girl book,” but it’s not remotely girly, and might be entertaining for someone interested in looking back at high school days. For the kids, ten and up.

PS: here's something I read while looking into the teen books written in this time period. It's another angle on the whole thing. But while I remember reading Seventeenth Summer, I don't remember it making the impression on me that others did. For what it's worth. I do remember reading and enjoying another Betty Cavanna book with more "teen romance," called The Boy Next Door. If I run across it, I'll read it again.
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“In reading we must become creators.”

Madeleine L'Engle said that.

And I'm off on a new project.

The first thing to understand is that my mother bought nothing new. Nearly nothing. At some point in my school career, new books were necessary to my existence, and I was allowed to own many of them, but always there were very old ones as well, from garage sales and what used to be called junk shops.

Mom went “junking,” in the early 70s, and we had a lot of interesting things around our house. 18th century farm implements, old school desks, old baskets, Depression glass, a few very old pieces of furniture, etc. A few years later, junking became known as “antiquing,” and all the prices were raised, plus, people began trying to pass off junk as antique; an absurd irony. It changed the landscape and cut out a lot of the long time participants, including my mom.

But throughout my childhood she brought me lovely little pieces of china from several areas of the world, which I collected in an antique metal trunk. I used an antique metal lunchbox in 6th grade, til other kids made fun of it. I had old dolls and other toys. And I had all those books. Besides a fairly complete collection of the 60s/70s versions of the Bobbsey Twins, I had all the Trixie Beldens, most of the Nancy Drews, Encyclopedia Brown, and lots of books from the 40s onward from the Scholastic Book Service and other low cost paperback lines from the big publishers. These books were about girls learning to navigate school and friendships, and finding out who they were. Most of them were what you’d now call “progressive,” because they showed girls figuring out how to think for themselves while still fitting into the big picture around them.

That was important for me, because I didn’t fit in anywhere. I still don’t, but I’m generally okay with that now. It’s confusing when you’re a kid, though. But these were not exactly girls like me; they were just in circumstances they had to negotiate in order to move along in their lives. And I admired them for how they did it.

The second thing to know is that while I was a highly precocious reader, alternating between Agatha Christie and Caroline Keene, and following Watergate intently all while I was in third grade, I never stopped reading kids’ books at all, just picked up more adult ones. So I can’t say if I was 7 or 11 or 14 or 38 when I read many of my favorites, though for a few, there are concrete memories to go along with them, which indicate the likely year. Also, and this sounds like a humble brag, but it isn’t, I got to reading well over 100 pages in an hour, I don’t know how much more, and so I’d just consume books like potato chips and thus have read far too many to have any idea of the scope of it all. These days, I do not let myself read so fast, though it’s still easy to get going at a ridiculous clip. Savoring is so much better than just consuming.

Today I’ve chosen five of my favorites in this narrow category to reread and share thoughts on here. I still own two of them, in ragged condition having been bought used and read many times over the years, and have ordered two of the others. I’m hoping to find the fifth one at the library, but I might order it, as well.

A Girl Called Chris by Marg Nelson, 1962
Bright Island by Mabel L Robinson, 1937 (Mabel Robinson sounds like some kind of literary hero)
Mary Jane by Dorothy Sterling, 1959 (Here is an obituary for Ms Sterling; she sounds entirely awesome.)
Going on Sixteen by Betty Cavanna, 1946 (Such interesting women these are!)
Just the Beginning by Betty Miles, 1976
Oh, but there are just so many more! So many favorites. Thus, I’m also going to start talking about other books I read as a child and teenager, and I think it will be a good way to talk about me as a young person, which I believe will be enjoyable or interesting to most of the people who know me online.