Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Escape! Escape!

This morning I forgot to count puppies, and when I turned around I almost stepped on Sweet Pea. What was she doing outside the maternal wading pool?

This evening when I came in, there were three on the floor. Miss Nell was frantic. “I’m not a herding dog,” she whined. “What am I going to do about these children?”

We put our heads together and tried to figure out how they made it over the wall. Climbing is clearly an option. I understand that if you stand on your brother and your brother and your sister, you get a lot taller. Puppies like to pile on, and it is the more aggressive ones like Sweet Pea who usually end up on top, while Mr. Greenjeans always seems to be—quite literally—at the bottom of the heap.

Alternatively, it may have been a trapeze escape. Just hang on and swing your fat little puppy body over the edge of the pool. Hang on to what? Think about it. Does this start to explain Nell’s distress?

We really must get these puppies weaned. They are making progress with the slurry recommended by Tam’s breeder, an unappetizing blend of dry milk, yogurt, baby chicken or veal, rice cereal, and soaked puppy food. Snowflake and Cherry are usually in first, followed by Baby Blue, Pig, Violet, little Jack and the perpetually squealing Daisy. They lap up a bit of it, then somehow manage to smear it all over ears and tails, shoulders and paws. Then they lick it off each other. Finally, Miss Nell cleans up. And everybody gets a new clean quilt. Aaaah.

And I have been out in the utility room constructing the plywood pen that I meant to build last week. It’s not complicated. It’s just that I have more fun with the planning and design than the execution. But in the face of nine renegade puppies, motivation kicks in….and I’m mopping floors and pounding nails.

Two hours later….the puppies are relocated. All I had to do was proceed in the logical order: food in first, followed by Nell, then puppies, little Daisy screaming as always. And I can sit back and contemplate my work. I wonder what it’s going to cost me to run that little electric heater for a month. I wonder how I managed to build this nice little enclosure without a gate for Nell. I wonder how she will deal with jumping over a two foot wall. In the short lives of puppies—they are three weeks old now, and I only have them for eight—we go through many adjustments very, very quickly. I wonder what the big dogs will think of it all.


Congratulations to all the NaNoWriMo writers who are finished or finishing up today. I laughed and laughed at Loriane’s 50,000 word giggles (see http://www.hoardedordinaries.com/ ) then laughed even harder at Gary’s editorial report from the NaNo front lines( http://inkmuse.com/imblog/ ). The reports of struggles around the world, wholly interior and fantastic, are—I am certain—not exaggerated. Can’t you just see shadowy figures fighting for domination of the hearts and minds of hapless authors?

The sensation of arguing with characters that have no physical existence outside one’s own brain is bizarre, to say the least. I would not have believed it if I hadn’t tried NaNo. I believed that the writer was always in control of the creation. How wrong I was! The ability, always tucked away in a comforting corner, to bring in packs of wolves or pirates to solve knotty plot problems is tempting even when not exactly artistically consistent. Just to restore order, you know.

I officially gave up some time age, having realized I didn’t have even one complete bad novel in me, at least not on a timetable. I may go back to it once I get more perspective on my main character’s issues, which curiously track my own. She has a better love life, though, and a worse work life. What I really look forward to is coming up with a more robust plot for next year, enough plot to carry 50,000 words. Girl moves to Vermont, lives happily ever after—just not enough plot.

Monday, November 29, 2004

The poetry of life

The poetry of life surely seeps into your head today.

This was my horoscope for today, and although it certainly speaks to me, I was unable to write about it when I sat down under my extra bright therapy lamp.

Then over at Ever so Humble http://everyday.blogs.com/humble/2004/11/avast.html I started writing a comment about something that ESH wrote, as she imagined living somewhere else, and suddenly there it was, the poetry of life.

There is indeed something cleansing about moving. I have moved many times in my life, though never (well maybe once) to escape a place. The world is just so interesting, and there is so much to see. But I have the advantage of being a relatively introverted loner...and even so, it takes some three years before a new place feels like home. The real friends stay with you, even through multiple moves, but there is no question that bonds are tested. It's all a question of uninformed choices, solitary leaps into the universe.

Have I given up aspects of life that are good by moving so often? I am certain that I have. But it has never been my choice to give up people in my life (well, maybe once). I have been fortunate to be able to take chances and take up options not available to everyone. On every occasion, I have moved toward new vistas.

Yesterday I was delighted to learn that I had one reader who is not among my circle of family, friends and fellow bloggers. Nathaniel responded to my question challenge (which was shamelessly stolen from Robert) with good, thoughtful questions, including “What makes you feel most grateful when you wake up on an out-of-sorts day?” There are so many blessings in my life that it was hard to be specific, but when moved on to the next question and tried to think of what place in what time I would like to spend a week, I was unable to think of anyplace I want to be other than in this cozy room at the top of Trombley Hill, where the poetry of life comes to visit.

I’ll have to work on that question. It’s only a week, after all!

Saturday, November 27, 2004


Snowflake has teeth. He is the biggest, fattest puppy, not counting the coat of fluff that he has sprouted in the last few days.

I wondered why sweet Miss Nell kept barking in the night. Try this. Think about your most delicate body part. Now imagine sharp, jagged, tiny baby teeth dragged across it with all the vigor of a hungry puppy. Yowwww!

Nell is still protective, but prefers to contemplate the little monsters from the next room. Time to work on weaning formula.

The puppies will be three weeks old on Tuesday. They will be moving out to the utility room—assuming that I can figure out adequate supplementary heat. They are getting more interesting to watch, and I am curious to see what kinds of trouble they will be able to create in the minimal environment of plywood pen with vinyl floor.

My big dogs, Max and Toby, continue to be terrified, whether of the brats or their mother is not entirely clear. So far, they are pretty sure they don’t want anyone to stay, not for a day, not for a month, and most certainly not forever. The big dogs require almost as much extra attention as Nell and the babies.

Friday, November 26, 2004

I’m Learning

The whole world of blogging is still very new to me, but among my favorites are Beginner’s Mind http://beginnermind.blogspot.com/ , Hoarded Ordinaries http://www.hoardedordinaries.com/ , Ever So Humble http://everyday.blogs.com/humble/ and Fragments from Floyd http://www.fragmentsfromfloyd.com/ . I adore the Hungry Tiger http://www.stuttercut.org/hungry/ , Cooking for Engineers http://www.cookingforengineers.com/ and even Dirty Olive http://www.dirtyolive.net/ , which is about small, snotty children.

So my friend Robert at Beginner’s Mind proposes the following….

Happy Thanksgiving! Would you believe I just heard thunder? How odd!Anyway, this was taken from Zenchick, who took it from Kat:(A) First, recommend to me:
1. a movie
2. a book
3. a musical artist, song, or album(B) I want everyone who reads this to ask me three questions, no more, no less. Ask me anything you want.(C) Then I want you to go to your blog/journal, copy and paste this allowing your friends to ask you anything & say that you stole it from me.

Robert has, aside from really bad headaches, really good ideas. So please, would you kindly...

1. Recommend either a movie, a book or a musical artist/song/album? Alternatively, you may recommend a recipe. My recommendation in return will be the divine lime pickles with a quarter cup of cayenne.

2. Three questions. Ask me whatever you like.

Chain letter feel aside….wouldn’t you like to ask your friends some variant of these questions?
Not a blogger? Stick your toe in the water. It’s truly fine. Meet Robert, meet Loriane, meet Floyd, meet Michael. Kinda cool, huh?

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Thanksgiving is a State of Mind

One of my favorite holidays, ranked only behind Christmas, Thanksgiving Day is here. Past variants include the requisite turkey aromas, family and friends, falling asleep after dinner, traveling, not traveling, laughter, laughter, laughter.

Favorite memories I: Karl cooking his first Thanksgiving dinner in Philadelphia. Everyone fell asleep on the floor after dinner. Is there a gas leak in here?

Favorite memories II: Do we have enough whipped cream? We have four half-pints of heavy cream. Karen: “There is never enough whipped cream.” Karl: “Why not just put it in the bathtub and use a weed-whacker on it.?” Reported from last year: Grant (Karl’s son) eating whipped cream off a spoon.

There are, of course, lots more. The great thing about Thanksgiving is that it is always the same. So maybe Karl brines the turkey now, but Mom still makes enough pies that there is one per person. Make mine pecan, okay?

One of the best things about Thanksgiving is that it is immunized against growing to gargantuan proportions. It is a single day. People come over. We cook. We eat. It is all about positive feelings. There are no meaningful presents. Then, on Friday, we get on with it. Maybe we continue a vacation, but we don’t assume everyone does. Maybe we shop. Maybe we go back to work—a time to get files cleared, memos written, warm connections with the others who may be in the office, but hardly ever for a full day.

The very best thing about Thanksgiving is that we take a collective, contemplative moment to focus on all our blessings. That exercise in itself makes us all nicer, even if just for a day.

With warmest wishes for this day of gratitude…and with thanks for all of you….Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 23, 2004


Here we are, a week left in the month, and I have written just under 20,000 words. It’s not looking good for my first novel getting finished within the allotted thirty days. But I have learned some interesting things:

Writing 1500 words a day on different subjects is very different from attempting to cobble together one continuous story. I like short essays as a format, maybe because my attention span is …what did you say?

It is very, very hard to write without editing. As in so many other areas in life, I have strong opinions about fiction, particularly that it needs to have shape and composition, and I have trouble looking at a draft without wanting to spiff it up. A little control happy, did you say?

Next time I undertake a piece of fiction, I will not give my heroine so much of my life. I stalled a couple of weeks ago when she had to relive some not so comfortable aspects of my life. The experience was not so much therapeutic as painful, not so much artistic as simply distracting.

Fiction is different from essay. I didn’t expect to like it, but I do. Essay is like conversation. Fiction is like playtime. Let’s build a fort. Let’s make poison out of dead leaves and give it to little brother. Let’s make up stories about the old lady next door, then kill her off. And like playtime, the more active the game, the more fun.

I have printed everything out. Chapters 1 through 15 plus 11a and 11b. Chapters A through G. Now I will spread it all out and figure out if I have anything. I really have nothing to lose.

There might be the kernel of a reasonable novella even if I don’t reach the magic 50,000 words. It might be a novel even if it doesn’t get finished by November 30. And even if there’s nothing there, this has already been a kick. Next year, maybe a murder mystery….

Monday, November 22, 2004

Puppy Chirps

You can have your puppy breath; I love the sounds they make. There is a striving uh-uh-uh-uh as they nurse or work to make baby legs all go in the same direction. If they have slid off or under the quilts, the tiny toenails scritch-scritch-scritch on the bottom of the blue wading pool in which they live, complete with the food source that is Miss Nell. There are even diminutive woofs as they chase something in their dreams, these baby puppies, just two weeks old, who have never seen a squirrel. And there are shrieks of distress if you pick them up, subsiding quickly into a thoughtful version of the uh-uh-uh-uh.

But my very favorite is the dove-like sigh, which most often is followed by a peaceful puppy snore, as the puppy falls asleep halfway across the wading pool, limbs draped over sibling limbs.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

More French and English

A few days ago, I wrote, "Perhaps here is a good point to remind everyone that all the animal words in the English language that related to food (beef, pork, mutton, etc.) have French roots. "

Cathy, a fellow linguistics enthusiast, replies as follows (quoted by permission):

Know why? After the Norman invasion of England, the lords spoke French but the peasants spoke English. The lords only saw what ended up on their plates -- they certainly didn't shovel out the barnyards themselves! So the word for the animal itself is English ("ox"), but a new word for what ends up on the plate entered the language from French (the French "boeuf" became the English "beef"). French itself has only one word for both the animal and its meat ("boeuf" means both "ox" and "beef").

Some other words that came into English at time also show vestiges of the peasant/lord relationship. "Marcher" in French means simply "to walk," but "to march" in English means to walk as soldiers do (think of the occupying French army). "Demander" in French only means "to ask," but the English "to demand" implies forcefulness or authority on the part of the speaker.

You didn't really care, did you? But you know I couldn't resist..

Not Quite so Open-Minded

The toughest emotional challenges I have faced over the last few years have had to do with angry people, people who feel they have a right to push their points of view on me, most specifically, their points of view as to how I should behave. I will spare you specific examples as being more that you want to know, not to mention being more than I care to disclose. It is the common ground among the specific challenges that is of interest to me.

Often their distress is triggered by something that they reckon I have done to them. In their views, I have disobeyed the rules and done something that triggers their righteous anger. They have a right to their viewpoint, of course, but my issue is this: how do I deal with their outrage? Everybody has had these situations come up, so I ask other people for guidance as to how they handle them.

Surprisingly, I get diametrically opposed ideas. One set of people says that you say as little as possible, behave politely, and refuse to engage with the angry person. Another, apparently equally socially adept, says you gotta let ‘em vent. Finally, I have heard a viewpoint that brings these two responses together. My friend M—well, okay, she’s my therapist, my rent-a-friend—says that it depends on the person. If the person is a bully, you don’t allow venting, because that fuels their incoherent rage. It makes everything worse.

Now this distinction makes sense to me. So for the people who can’t let something go, the people who are still angry over a perceived slight weeks after you complain, the people who want a public hearing so that they make trouble in your other relationships, you just say no, politely. But how do you pick the bully out of the lineup?

I have spent many years working hard to treat others with fairness and kindness, entering into each interaction in the most loving and direct way I can manage. I fall short of my own standards every day, but I keep trying. Now I am confronted by the idea that the most loving, kind and fair treatment of some people in my life may be different from the most loving, kind and fair treatment of others. And, of course, there is the further challenge that the most loving, kind and fair treatment of bullies may be not to engage them at all. Why does that seem like a cop-out?

In the Western, type-A world we live in, we are comfortable with the concept of always striving, always trying harder. We are less comfortable, many of us, with the concept that less is more, that we can win just by sitting down. But, truly, there is no authority, no set of rules by which we are required to engage with pistols at dawn with a bully. There is no rule that says I have to allow someone, anyone to scream at me. And there is the crux of the matter.

I am afraid of bullies, because I am physically afraid they will hurt me or kill me. With that fear chasing through my veins, it is very, very hard to sit down. All the reassurance in the world does not help me, because the reassurance is at an emotional and social level, while the fear is physical.

So what’s the usual prescription for fear of bullies? I remember all those stories of teaching the puny kid karate, sending him in to beat up the big galoot on the playground. Aren’t there even a few where the kid gets beaten up, but of course with no meaningful or lasting damage? Is this the real world? The usual prescription is to engage, but isn't that kinda stupid?

For people who have been lucky enough not to have violence in their lives, this will sound overly dramatic. But several professionals I consulted when I was unlucky enough to be on the fringes of a domestic violence situation several months ago were unanimous in their advice. Get out. Get away from it. And whatever you do, do not engage the abuser, the bully. I’ve now had that same feeling in a few professional settings. Spooky.

Maybe it is time to delve below the idea of treating everyone with fairness to a different standard of treating everybody with a loving approach that nevertheless takes note when the hair on the back of my neck stands on end. Maybe I keep getting blind-sided by these people specifically because I have tried to be open-minded. Maybe it is time to be a little more discriminating and practice a little more loving self-care. I'm working on it.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Waking life and a dream

The blog phenomenon is still new to me. All sorts of interesting perspectives now enrich my quiet life in Vermont. In many ways I have deeper and more purposeful interactions than I had living in New York City, some of them with the same people I knew in the city. As technologically sophisticated as I consider myself, I still find it kind of spooky to have friends I have never met. I am still trying to wrap my brain around connections that transcend the physical ones and zeros zipping along copper and glass cables. It’s as tough a problem as understanding how electrical impulses in the brain get translated into word and concept.

One of my very favorite blogs is by a dead guy. Over at http://blogthoreau.blogspot.com/ Greg posts a daily excerpt from the Journals of Henry David Thoreau. I try to read it every day, because there is usually something worth thinking about, maybe writing about. There are lots and lots of blogs, many of them very good, that focus on nature and daily life. I don’t dare aspire to the quality of Thoreau’s writing, but it is an inspiration to me.

So many lines here that could be titles or themes for essays entire. Are we not always living the life that we imagine we are? Maybe that line will reinvigorate my languishing NaNoNovel. It is pretty much the theme of Story Wars, that we make use of the stories we tell ourselves to shape our own lives.

I can define myself as a person who could not take New York, who retreated to the countryside. Or I can tell what I consider the true story, that I had enough of the rough and tumble of big corporations, that while I still respect that world, I have been lucky enough to be able to find the quiet refuge that my spirit required. The tricky part is that stories have a way of turning on you if they are not completely grounded in reality, but after two years in Vermont, the life I imagined has become an even better reality. The other tricky part is that it is hard to know other people’s stories, and every person has a right to their own.

Thoreau's Journal: 15-Nov-1853
After having some business dealings with men, I am occasionally chagrined, and feel as if I had done some wrong, and it is hard to forget the ugly circumstance. I see that such intercourse long continued would make one thoroughly prosaic, hard, and coarse. But the longest intercourse with Nature, though in her rudest moods, does not thus harden and make coarse. A hard, sensible man whom we liken to a rock is indeed much harder than a rock. From hard, coarse, insensible men with whom I have no sympathy, I go to commune with the rocks, whose hearts are comparatively soft.

Thoreau's Journal: 14-Nov-1852
Still yarrow, tall buttercup, and tansy.

Thoreau's Journal: 13-Nov-1851
A cold and dark afternoon, the sun being behind clouds in the west. The landscape is barren of objects, the trees being leafless, and so little light in the sky for variety. Such a day as will almost oblige a man to eat his own heart. A day in which you must hold on to life by your teeth. You can hardly ruck up any skin on Nature’s bones. The sap is down; she won’t peel. Now is the time to cut timber for yokes and ox-bows, leaving the tough bark on,—yokes for your own neck. Finding yourself yoked to Matter and to Time. Not a mosquito left. Not an insect to hum. Crickets gone into winter quarters. Friends long since gone there, and you left to walk on frozen ground, with your hands in your pockets. Ah, but is not this a time for deep inward fires?

Thoreau's Journal: 12-Nov-1859
I do not know how to distinguish between our waking life and a dream. Are we not always living the life that we imagine we are?

Thoreau's Journal: 11-Nov-1851
“Says I to myself” should be the motto of my journal.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

I give up...for now

I admit it. My novel is stalled. I am only a third through the required 50,000 words, and I have nothing more to say about my main character, nothing more for her to do. I’ve taken a day off, then another, then scanned my old emails and journals for inspiration. It’s looking grim on the NaNoWriMo front.

I confess. Work is getting to me. I know it will pass, but right now it is annoying. There’s not enough light in my day. And I am in thrall to the twelve dogs (omigod, twelve dogs!) that live under my roof. There is laundry to do, floors to wash, food to cook, and lots and lots of ruffled feelings to soothe. German Shepherds do not accept puppies gracefully.

I hate to accept the truth, but I must. The puppies are cute. All nine squirming bundles. Miss Nell is mighty tired of them hanging off her, and she can’t eat nearly enough to keep up with their greedy mouths. Each weighed in at about a pound when they were born last Tuesday. Today they have each increased their weight by a solid 50%. Wow, what conversion. Nine cups of dogfood a day becomes 4.5 pounds of puppy, for a conversion ratio of 14 to one. For those of you who remember….how many pounds of feed does it take to make a pound of chicken? 1.5 How many pounds of feed does it take to make a pound of pork? Four. A pound of beef? Ten. Clearly, puppies would be a real delicacy if they were, as Peter originally suggested, raised for meat.

Perhaps here is a good point to remind everyone that all the animal words in the English language that related to food (beef, pork, mutton, etc.) have French roots.

The truth is that Miss Nell is not eating nine cups a day of puppy food, because as she has eloquently communicated, she does not care for puppy food. Yes, I am cooking for her. So far it has been pretty easy, since I have taken it as an opportunity to clear out of the freezer all those single cooked chicken breasts or meatballs left over from last Christmas. But today at the market, I bought chicken thighs for her, and extra eggs. I figure I will get the broth for the freezer, and she can have the cooked chicken.

Finally, I have found a good web-based Indian grocery so I am expecting reinforcements for my supplies of “funny food.” Garbanzo flour and pappadam, all sorts of interesting beans, tamarind pulp and cumin seed in quantity—it was the best forty dollars I have spent in a long time. This business of limited budgets does not so much limit one’s pleasures as concentrate them. I have derived more joy from recent purchases of frilly underwear than from buying furniture in days more flush. As someone said to me today in another context, “Life is so exciting. So interesting.”

And I did need reminding.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Writing is Hard Work

Today, I spent time restructuring my NaNoWriMo novel. Up till a couple of days ago, I just wrote straight through my plot, beginning almost to the end, or at least the end I expect. But I have used up most of my outline, and I had written only 20% of the required words. Ouch.

Truth is, that my style can be spare, particularly when I am trying to get a story line laid out, so I’m not really worried. It is a comfort to have spent most of today restructuring what is already written, cataloging what other segments I want to write and even identifying points where my exposition may have gone beyond spare to overly bare. I am still behind the pace, but it was a good day’s work. And I have several chapters laid out that will be pretty easy to hammer out. I think. I hope.

The puppies seem to have grown visibly since yesterday. I weighed them all on the office’s postage scale today, and they are about a pound each. Miss Nell is finally eating well, and she is pleased and proud of her small but numerous family.

12,514 25%

“The eccentricity doesn’t always end in divorce or in jail; often it is highly creative thinking outside any imaginable box. This is story telling at its finest, and when Al runs into these stories, she is thrilled to think that these wonderful people are related to her.”

Tuesday, November 09, 2004


Miss Nell, the dog I am fostering for North Country Animal League, had her puppies today. Thoughtful girl, she did not have them in the wee hours of the morning. I came home at lunchtime to check on her, and she had five nice clean puppies. She went on to have four more. Five boys and four girls, five fawn or brindle, four mostly black like Mama. She did a very, very nice job with them, and everybody is squirming and eating and snoozing in the borrowed wading pool.

They say—those experts in everything—that you shouldn’t name puppies you don’t intend to keep. But they also say that you should identify the puppies some way so that you can track their progress. Many people use rick-rack in loose collars, so the following are names based on rick-rack color:
Cherry, fawn female
Baby Blue, brindle male
Mr Greenjeans, black male with white blaze on chest
Violet, brindle female
Daisy, brindle female with white spot on tope of her head
Snowflake, brindle male
Ringo, black with white ring around his neck
Blackie, black male with white paws only
Sweet Pea, black female

And every single one of them looks like Winston Churchill. Actually, several of them look very, very much like Sharpeis. Do all puppies look like that?

It’s true, I ran out of rick rack colors. But now that we can tell the babies apart, they don’t need the collars, and that’s just as well. We can avoid one danger in their tiny lives.

I expect to be doing laundry roughly forever. And I am a little shocked to realize that I have a dozen dogs in my house, if only for another eight weeks.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Back Under My Rock

Several years ago, I belonged to a book club. Several friends and their friends gathered together to have dinner—each cooked by the rotating host—and to discuss a book. Selection of the books would also rotate. It appeared to be a congenial group, including a few of my dearest friends at the time. It was a disaster of Titanic proportions.

Maybe it was me. Maybe my Southern upbringing had not prepared me for the bluntness of one New York yuppie who regarded Jane Austen as “girlie fiction suitable only for 14-year-olds.” Maybe it was a mistake to open up to the group’s cruelty books that had been central to my intellectual and spiritual development. Maybe it was na├»ve of me to think that a group that was as brutal on other novels would tolerate my disdain of Thomas Wolfe’s turgid and excessive prose. Barbs were thrown willy-nilly, and friendships were lost. I no longer discuss books with people unless I know them well and trust them.

Discussions of the election are giving me flashbacks to that book club. Call me whatever names you like, but I have never cared much for politics. I remember looking at my tenth grade social studies teacher and admitting that while I understood intellectually why I ought to care, I just didn’t. For most of my adult life, I have been registered as an Independent—not an Independent party, no party. The only exception was when I lived in Philadelphia and registered as a Democrat because I desperately wanted to vote against Frank Rizzo’s return to power. For most presidential elections, I have been deeply unimpressed by both major party candidates, and more often than not, I would go to the polls and leave the presidential vote blank as a statement of my views.

I have come to view that solution as inadequate, so this year I did vote, and two days before the election I made the decision to vote for Kerry although I had deep reservations about whether he would make a good president. It is obvious to me that Bush does not make a good president. But make no mistake, I am just as capable of voting for a Republican next time.

Still I was not at all surprised to see Bush win. As little as I follow politics, I am an avid follower of human nature. The Bush followers understood that the Kerry people were out there—how can the Democrats not have known that people liked Bush? The message of the Bush Republican Party—aside from the actual platform which receded into the background—is that we want to draw the circle tight, get rid of people who are different from us or think different from us, define ourselves as morally superior and those outside the circle as evil. Politics aside, people do this again and again and again. We do it on playgrounds, in book clubs, in workplaces.

Personally, I don’t find much moral superiority in any stance that others’ points of view are indefensible. Others’ points of view are, quite simply, their points of view, shaped by their experiences, their families and friends, their hopes and fears. Some, like racism, are clearly wrong; other stances are still in the process of being negotiated. As much as I believe in a woman’s right to choose what happens to her body, to name one example, or a company’s right to outsource work in certain circumstances, I know that many people disagree with my views. People I admire and trust. With them, I can have a conversation that explores the real complexity of the issues.

I’m going back to dealing with issues one by one and people one by one. That’s where I can have an impact. The heady world of politics wrote big is not for me.

Meanwhile I am behind on the novel-writing pace at 9,245 words and 18%

But Roland wasn’t pushing his luck. He wanted to think about this new hire overnight, to get her into a normal orientation, which he was obliged to admit he was required to do all too often. It really was impossible to get good help. “Tomorrow will be fine. Be here at 5:30.”

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Not My Best Writing Day

6,243 words, 12%

"Rusty’s favorite was the Quiet Path. Al’s was sitting by the brook, with laughter at goofy dogs soothing her overtaxed spirit. I could live here, she thought. Then again, shifting the emphasis: I could live here. "

A Social/Political Challenge

Cathy (Sparky’s mom and translator) and her cousin want to understand America. Remember Sparky? (http://sparkovich.home.att.net). If you are not tired of voting, you can check out Sparky’s polling booth. Cathy writes:

My cousin in Geneva would like to know why Southerners like George W. Bush. I figured you were better qualified to answer the question than me. Plus you enjoy writing! So, Prof. Lynch, on behalf of my cousin, why do Southerners like Bush?

Uh. I don’t think I can do this alone. I’ll start and maybe you guys can weigh in.

Daddy figure. When 9/11 occurred, as soon as he actually got out of that elementary school, he said, “There, there. I will send troops. I will fix it. It will be okay.” People actually buy that stuff.

The faith thing. In America 70% of people go to church, even if only rarely. They like to think that their leaders go to church. You would think Kerry would get this one, too. Big difference from Europe.

Family values: the dark side. Gay marriage and abortion. Against Kerry, not really pro-Bush. Not views I agree with, but fear-based ideas that are broadly held.

The cowboy thing. “I’ll take on….whatever.” Americans like rugged individualists. Known in some circles as "leadership."

The talk versus the walk. I think tax cuts are a good thing, I like limited government. I hate Bush’s actual, real, verifiable record.

Pretty weak. I never claimed to be a political thinker. Who can help?

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Fortunately Fiction

I once said that “I had Cheerios for breakfast” is my idea of a really boring blog. Who really cares? It is already a bad sign that I am quoting myself, but….if writing a boring novel is bad, then writing about writing a boring novel must be intolerable. I will spare you anything beyond the daily word count and final couple of sentences.

I am deeply surprised by how much I am enjoying this writing. While I am still not convinced that I have any talent for fiction, it makes for a nice change from my usual essay style. It’s kind of a kick to name people or place right there in mid-sentence. My chapters are on the short side, and I catch myself in continuity errors. I still have a second plot that I want to overlay on this one. But all of that can be fixed. For now, it just flows from my fingers. It actually is fun. Ask me again when I hit my first roadblock.

Today I went to vote for the first time in Hyde Park. The ballots are paper, and the candidates themselves were lined up in the rain. Vermont is the most doggedly democratic place I know. Politics offer an amusing respite from the winter’s cold.

What does a justice of the peace do, anyway? The ballot said to vote for ten people, but I voted for everyone I knew and that was only six.

As I sit here typing this, Vermont is the first state to go for Kerry. Is anyone surprised?

5,461 words. Last paragraph:

“Once at camp, Al also realized that she had no idea what she expected Rusty to do. They had a good refresher in basic obedience and spiffed up Rusty’s recall skills, never one of his strengths. Agility was a lot to expect of a dog moving into his arthritic years, and Rusty found the doggie games merely undignified. Their best times, it seemed to Al were chasing tennis balls in the brook, or better yet, chasing other dogs. Al laughed until her ribs were sore one day watching Rusty—the ultimate herding dog—attempt to herd border collies, who thought they were herding Rusty. This, she thought, wiping her eyes dry, this is what I need.”

Taken by Aliens

NaNoWriMo…NaNoWriMo…I can’t stop saying it. And I really can’t stop doing it. If you want to know what all the fuss is go to www.nanowrimo.org to read about some 35,000 people around the world signed up online, each with the intention of writing a novel in a month. Surely it is just the burst of early enthusiasm that has me at the computer morning and evening, entranced by my character Althea Mae (Al for short) and wondering how her story will turn out.

In general terms, I know how it all ends. I even know the last line, or at least I think I do. I have fallen victim to the fate of novelists everywhere—I have been highjacked by my character. It’s the strangest sensation, the funniest feeling. I understand the stresses in her psyche, not-so-surprisingly like my own. But I am not at all sure what she will do next. I think she’s on her way to dog camp, but who knows? I’m only at 3,352 words with over 46,648 to go. Or to be more upbeat, I am 7% done.

One of the other authors has a delightful blog at www.hoardedordinaries.com and she has the flexibility to put a sentence a day in the right sidebar. I won’t promise to give you a sentence every day, and I certainly have no intention of letting anyone read the finished novel, but I will leave you with one more sentence today.

“Al grabbed Rusty’s leash and headed for the door. Time for a little networking in the park, time for some non-Wall Street perspectives, time to avoid writing the resume, and most especially, time to avoid that imaginary psychotherapist who did not know what she was talking about.”

Monday, November 01, 2004

She Sings!

Not me. I sing only in church—where people are honor bound to forgive me. Nell sings. Loud, long, drawn out “woooo-woooo” wails. Too funny! I am told it’s a retriever thing.

I have photos of Miss Nell for you, but I am still trying to understand the intricacies of Hello and BloggerBot. No puppies yet, and she is annoying Toby mightily.

Meanwhile, NaNoWriMo is well underway. I wrote about 1100 words this morning, and about as many this evening. While some aspiring novelists want to display their works in progress, others—like me and like one of my correspondents who notes, nobody ever said these words have to be good—are more inclined to limit our postings to, say, the last paragraph written for the day. Or maybe a different excerpt. So here you are.

“Oh, gee,” Max repeated, looking as if he wanted to be somewhere else, anywhere else.

Al took pity on him, reflecting that it was remarkable how often she had felt responsible for other people’s feelings in the last day, given that this was her crisis. Looking across the lawn, she picked the first person she saw and made a quick bid for escape: “Oh, look, there’s Rosie, now. Maybe I will check out her news. Catch ya later, Max. Be good, Joshua.” And she strode off in Rosie’s direction.