WritingNotWriting #Mondayblogs #amwriting #amknitting

The title of my post is a riff on the fleetingly popular #SorryNotSorry. I’m writing but not really writing. I mean, I haven’t been writing but I’ve been thinking about it a lot. As usual.

What I have been doing is … knitting.

This purple and gray wrap will soon be wrapped up and sent to a friend who has cooler temperatures this time of year than I do.

This purple and gray wrap will soon be wrapped up and sent to a friend who has cooler temperatures this time of year than I do.

 

Just finished this cowl in time for a friend's birthday.

Just finished this cowl in time for a friend’s birthday.

 

The beginnings of a shawl for a relative who lives in a cooler clime than I do.

The beginnings of a shawl for a relative who lives in a cooler clime than I do. And off to the lower left … my foot.

When in doubt, I knit. Not only is knitting a meditative practice, it is also quantifiable. It moves linearly (for the most part anyway). There’s a definite beginning, middle, and end to my knitting. I don’t (often) feel that way about writing.

I have also been studying Spanish, for the nth time since I was in high school. I’ve become a bit obsessive, loading countless learning apps onto my iPhone, logging hours on Duolingo and Rosetta Stone, and downloading videos on learning Spanish from The Great Courses.

And, yet, my fluency leaves something to be desired. Yo tengo tres gatos y un marido.

And, yet … with both knitting and studying Spanish I persevere. I make a knitting error? I just rip it out and start over. I stumble over my grammar in Spanish? I can retake the lessons as often as needed. But writing is different. When I hit a wall in my writing, everything stops and it feels near impossible to get going again.

Quality of writing seems so subjective. I can quantify the number of words I write, but I can’t speak to their quality. With knitting and Spanish, I can see a steady progression of quality as a beautiful pattern takes shape or my review lessons become easier.

The subjective appreciation of writing trips me up every time. And I’ve been working at it as long as I’ve knitting and studying Spanish.

Now, this post will continue on to a rant I wrote almost a year ago. I’m sharing it now because it speaks to my frustration with literary and popular criticism. I had just finished listening to The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt and needed to get a few things about the novel off my chest. If you haven’t read The Goldfinch and plan to, you might want to stop here since my rant includes some spoilers. If you have read The Goldfinch and loved it, you might want to stop here because I didn’t. The rest of you may proceed as you wish.

***

I’m a pretty sensitive individual.  I internalize everything.  Let’s say I wrote a novel titled The Goldfinch and not only was it published, but it was awarded a Pulitzer Prize.  Sure, I’d be happy for the publicity and the money and probably both would be enough to keep me in a bubble, safe from the knowledge that most buyers of my novel couldn’t finish it, the awareness that some of those who could were not just disappointed but dismayed by it. All the hype, the publicity, the Pulitzer for a novel that is too long and too uneven and too clever.  Near the end of the novel, one character complains about “relentless tedium.” That pretty much describes the pace of The Goldfinch for me. At another point Theo, the narrator, says to a character, “It’s a long story. I’ll try to keep it short.” I laughed out loud at that line. Was Tartt poking fun at her own book? The novel is full of “relentless” litanies and extended dialogues that sound like something out of soap operas. You know the kind. Where the characters keep talking around each other and asking but not answering the same questions over and over until you want to scream, “Oh, just answer the bloody question!”

Only at the end does the reader learn that Theo has been keeping a journal all this time, since his “childhood”; yet, there’s never a mention of him doing so in the earlier parts. I found that so odd given how much this young man moved from one place to another, never once losing a journal apparently but also never mentioning his journals and what might happen if they fell into the wrong hands.

And The Goldfinch itself? I never really felt Theo’s connection with the painting that he claimed to have. Too often it seemed as if he had actually forgotten about it.  He’d have all kinds of adventures with his Ukrainian friend Boris, never once mentioning the painting. Then, suddenly, briefly, he’d describe how he thought about it all the time. And oddly, those descriptions always seemed to occur about the same time I had almost forgotten about the painting myself. Did Tartt have to remind herself that the painting was supposed to be pivotal to the story?

At one point, the reader gets the idea that Theo and Boris might be in love with each other, not an unimportant realization for two teen-aged boys. Yet, the idea goes nowhere. Theo has no problem taking up with women when he returns to NYC and eventually he forgets Boris until they have their odd reunion.

The pace picks up when Boris admits that he stole the painting which has now been stolen from him and he needs Theo to help get it back. But the plot is convoluted and the miracle of it progressing at all is simply because Theo has access to money. I know it’s a given in some genres, like romance novels, where the reader wants to escape into a world where money is not a problem, only love and lust. But this is literary fiction (I think).  Maybe I’m being a “reversed snob” but it’s a pet peeve of mine when a character who heretofore has been nearly destitute comes into a large inheritance and suddenly, money is no longer a problem. He can hop a jet to anywhere, stay in a luxury hotel for days on end, and never worry about the bill.  Boring.

And that’s another thing: Theo seems to suffer illnesses that go on for days, yet he doesn’t die. Somehow he always comes through, but these “relentless” illnesses were part of what pushed me to lose patience with the character. He is unsympathetic, perhaps even a sociopath, incapable of understanding anyone’s feelings but his own.  Often, there didn’t seem to be any there there with Theo.

Now, I actually listened to an audio version of The Goldfinch and I think that’s one reason why I stuck with it. The narrator was quite good and his rendition of Boris was wonderful. And I was listening as a writer, trying to hear how the story ebbed and flowed. I did enjoy many of the other characters, but overall the novel sounded to me as one in a series of drafts, not the first, crude draft but not the final, polished draft either. There was so much that could have been edited out of the novel without doing a whit of harm and, more importantly, doing it much good. Theo’s journal writing would have been a nice thread to have had throughout the novel.

There was a surreal aspect to the novel, which made me cast about for comparisons. Dickens did not come to mind as anything more than Tartt “borrowing” some of Dickens’s characterizations. What I kept thinking about was Dreiser’s An American Tragedy. In both novels, two naïve young men go astray, one is spurred by his desire to be among the better classes, the other by survivor’s guilt and his desire to numb it. Both commit crimes without seeming to have the full sense of their consequences, and both seem naïve to the point of being led about by the “wrong” people. But whereas I was struck by the timeless quality of An American Tragedy, with The Goldfinch I was only struck by how long it took me to suffer through it.  Oh, and that it got an effing Pulitzer.

You Can’t Get Rid of Me … At least not easily #MondayBlogs #knitting #GrandFunkRailroad

Hello, dear friends!  What an interesting week it’s been.  And exhausting given that I had the luxury of roughly two weeks of staycation.  Returning to work after any length of hiatus is never easy.  But, still, my year started off great and I hope yours did too.  To start off, when we went to have New Year’s Day lunch with friends, I got this surprise:

 

IMG_0038

 

Yup, this is the little man (the one being held, not the one with the beard) for whom I knitted a little hat and cardigan.  (Sorry it’s not a better picture but the lighting was low.)  There was much oohing and ahhing around as well as gratitude that the day was cold enough for him to be all bundled up.  Although I’ve knitted a fair number of garments for babies and children, I’ve rarely seen them worn in the flesh.  Usually I get photos or perhaps a thank-you note since most of my handmade gifts travel thousands of miles to their recipients.  I can’t imagine a better start to the New Year than this!

Now, I said going back to work is never easy.  You may recall my complaining mentioning that my office mates and I were being moved back to the building from which we came two years before.   I wasn’t particularly happy about this move, especially since it was done over the holidays.  Also, I had a lot of wall decals to remove since I didn’t want to get accused of “interfering with state property.”  So, with this move, I had resolved to spend less time “nesting” in my new digs.  I consider myself a short-timer now so there’s  no need to get too cozy.  Yet, I have my priorities:

Cats on my computer screens (Maxine on the left, Wendy on the right)

Cats on my computer screens (Maxine on the left, Wendy on the right)

 

Marking my territory.

Marking my territory.

Sitting off to my right, this kitty is ready to pounce on an unwary bird!

Sitting off to my right, this kitty is ready to pounce on an unwary bird!

 

I had managed to salvage these wall decals and although I’m trying to eschew nesting, I’ll take whatever lifts to my mood I can get.  It makes me smile to see the kitties on my door or the silhouette on my window (and I can even see her from the outside at the street level).

I’m happy to say that by the end of this week I feel reconciled to my new office if for no other reason than … well … I’m here 😉

And I’m a roll with the book reviews!  A few days ago I finished Such is Life by Jeri Walker.  Some of you may already know Jeri from her website, Word Bank Writing & Editing.  I actually “met” Jeri through Triberr, yet another social media site that I spent too little time on.  Jeri is a freelance writer and author, with a novel in progress and a few small pieces (short stories and essays) available through Amazon.

I loved the stories in Such is Life and, while reading, frequently compared Jeri’s writing (both form and content) to that of Joyce Carol Oates (totally innocent of the fact that other readers had made the same comparison).  These are dark slices of life told with a sympathy that keeps you reading even when you know the ending won’t be happy.  Go on over to Amazon, read my review, and then pick up a copy of Such is Life.

Finally, I want to direct you to the blog of a friend, a young man I’ve been following for some time and whose weekly updates were often sources of inspiration and validation, as well as some good eye candy.  Phillip McCollum is a wonderful writer but also a dad and husband and full-time employee at a very demanding job.  So, he’s making choices, thinking hard about what direction his life might/should go in.  His musings echo my own.  Writing is something I still care about and want to do, but these days it just feels like it has to take a back seat.  Life is short.  I may be able to carve out a month of crazy writing once a year, but I don’t (yet) have the discipline and focus to put my writing first every day of the year.  And that’s okay.

I have plenty of books and blogs to read, yarn to knit up, places to visit, friends to write letters to.  Writing is always there in some form or other.

Until next time, I’ll be dancing in my chair …

 

 

I Got Almost … #MondayBlogs #Procrastination

Nothing.  Yes, dear Reader, I got almost nothing for this post today.  I have been fairly productive of late, but not with writing or blogging.  Again, it’s the knitting.

A friend noted that the buttons on the baby sweater I knitted for a baby-to-be might not be appropriate for a baby.


Yes, they are cute cat heads but the ears are rather pointy, not too sharp against my rough old skin, but I don’t want to the buttons to be the cause of baby’s first injury.  So I swap them out for these.


And, to be honest, I think these buttons are better suited.  They are pretty without drawing the eye entirely away from the sweater pattern.

I hope to present the parents-to-be with the sweater and hat tonight.  I’m sure they will be pleased that at least the outfit can be machine washed and dried, and yet it is wool. Merino wool, in fact, which is very soft.

Well, that’s it for now.  I’m thinking (again) of changing my blogging schedule.  If I aim for Fridays, then I can have all week to write and revise my posts instead of doing them half-off as I am now.  We’ll see.

Oh, and what about the classes I’m taking?  Well, the Modern Poetry class is a no-go for me.  It’s too fragmented: too many links to follow, an audio here, a video there.  Each week brings an email (or two) with several embedded links.  In contrast, a class I started a long while ago (on a lark), through the same platform (Coursera) has a very simple syllabus, with all content accessible through my iPad app.  The course is historical fiction and very interesting so far.  I can (and have) happily watched a video lecture while knitting.  I’ll say more about that class in a later post.  I’m still looking forward (with eagerness and dread) to the Fiction Workshop that will be offered free through the International Writing Program.  That will start on Thursday, September 24.  And, no doubt, you’ll hear all about that as well.

Until then a little eye candy for all you cat lovers: my green-eyed boy Junior.  Why buy a fancy cat bed when an old basket and a couple of magazines make him happy?

Taking It to the Limit #MondayBlogs #LaborOfLove

Hello, dearest Reader.  I feel like I’ve fallen far off the grid, and yet it’s only been a week and several hours since my last post.  The real difference is I haven’t visited any of my friends’ blogs.  I’ve been busy, which is quite fitting since today is Labor Day in the US.

IMG_0006

Guernsey style infant sweater and hat. Yes, the buttons are cat faces 🙂

I still have the baby blanket to knit, but at least I’ve completed the sweater and cap.  I have my doubts about this pattern, though, and it’s the second time I’ve knitted it.  I used to knit sweaters a lot, adult sweaters for friends, me, and my husband.  The baby things have only come about in the last 14 years, since my nephews started having children.  Then a good friend gained a granddaughter and coworkers started having babies.  For a long while I was knitting baby blankets, occasionally throwing in a sweater or socks or a dress.  The thing is … I hate sewing the pieces together, especially when the stitch pattern is anything other than stockinette stitch.  I recall only one time in my knitting life when I sewed up the seams of a cardigan so well they were almost invisible.  (And when I say “sew,” I mean taking several inches of the yarn and a large blunt needle and weaving the seams closed.)

Knitting is much like writing for me.  I love the process.  I love seeing the pattern unfold through my fingers as much as I enjoy seeing a story take shape on a page.  I love the feel of soft wool against my skin as much as I love the intimacy I develop with my characters.  But I don’t love having to put the pieces together as much as I don’t love having to revise and rewrite.  The problem is self-doubt.

Whenever I knit for someone else, I’m more critical of my work than when knitting for myself.  I will rip out a finished sleeve and start over if I find a mistake.  Even when I’m convinced I’ve done the best I could, I still find “defects” in my knitting:  a slight gap where I twisted a stitch one way instead of the other; a telltale seam along the back of the hat.  It’s the same when I think of other people reading my writing:  Melissa’s breakdown is too melodramatic; the setting too vague, too Anywhere, USA.  Typos and grammar can be fixed by an editor.  Poor revision cannot (well, not unless I’m willing to spend $$$$$$$$$$).

So it goes.

Shortly, things will be even busier.  I’ve managed to register for two free online courses:  (1) Modern & Contemporary American Poetry offered by the University of Pennsylvania; and (2) How Writers Write Fiction with the University of Iowa, the same folks who offered the poetry course I took a few months ago.  The poetry course will start on Sept 12 and the fiction course on Sept 24.  And I still have my day job.

Am I insane?  Is there a padded cell in my near future?  I keep taking things to the limit.  Cue The Eagles.

 

 

A Few Things You Need to Know About Me #MondayBlogs

Hello, dear Reader, and Happy Monday (or whatever day upon which you are reading this).  I thought it would be good to share a few things you should know about me.  Now, if you’ve been following my blog for a long time, maybe these items won’t surprise you.  If you’re new to my blog, these items might make or break whether you ever come back.  Such is life.  I do try.

What you should know:

  1.  I’m in the process of knitting a baby set (sweater, hat, and blanket) for a dear friend’s daughter-in-law.  The baby shower is in a couple of weeks.  I started knitting today so my fingers need to fly on the needles, not the keyboard.
  2. As I’ve closed some social media accounts (Tumblr, LinkedIn, Instagram), my presence on others is rather spotty. You might say random.  I don’t know when I’m going to show up on Facebook or Twitter or even WordPress. So if you see me and think to message me, don’t be surprised if your message seems to fall into a black hole.  I’ll try to get back to you, but lately when I do jump off social media, I don’t return for many hours, sometimes even a whole day … or two.
  3. I’ve been reading more.  I finally finished Kingsolver’s Lacuna and started reading Gulp by Mary Roach.  I’ve been having some intestinal troubles lately and think her book might be as informative (or more) as a visit to my doctor.  I’ve also been reading essays in Harper’s and Poets and Writers and Creative Nonfiction.  When I’m reading this much, I’m writing very little.  And yet I feel like I’m writing because these are essays that make me think about writing.
  4. I’m learning a new web-based reporting system at work which is interesting and actually stimulates my little gray cells enough that I sometimes forget about blogging, checking email and other things.
  5. I will be continuing this blog for the foreseeable future. I have plenty of posts in my head; it’s just finding the time to sit down and write them.  For those who know me very well, I don’t like writing off the cuff, as I’m doing with this post.  So Time is important. I try.

I just need to try a little bit harder.

Short Short Story: Unraveling #Mondayblogs

Following is a bit of short of fiction that was published last year in The Paperbook Collective (Issue 7).  The issue itself is available here.  It contains plenty of good fiction, poetry, and photography for your reading pleasure.
***

Maggie tossed the gray mess to the empty spot beside her. She rubbed at her eyes, crushing the tiny bits of “sleep” that had crusted in the corners. Her OttLite floor lamp, tall, skinny and utilitarian, hung over her, shining a pool of white light on her hair which made the auburn and gray strands pop. She sat up straight and pulled her thick unruly hair away from her face, winding it into a knot at the base of her neck. Times like these, she thought, she was grateful that her hair was wiry enough to hold together without pins. That knot, as variegated as her favorite skein of yarn, would stay at the base of her neck throughout the night and perhaps even into the next day.  She reached for the clump of lacy gray alpaca yarn that she had just tossed aside. The wooden needles clicked together, still sheathed in the stitches of the “shrug” she had been knitting. Maggie wanted to shrug at the idea of knitting a shrug. It had seemed like a good idea at the time. She had drooled over the picture of the sweater in the catalogue, a bolero style with a paneled back that curved at the sides. It looked simple yet elegant. Much the way Maggie wished her life was.

Maggie had the simple part down pat. She lived with her cousin, who was more introverted than she and thus the perfect roommate. She had inherited her house and only had to pay taxes, no mortgage. She managed a yarn store that had already been in business for twenty years and had devoted customers when she took it over. There was very little effort she needed to make to get through her days. Her life was very simple. But there was no elegance.

Maggie knew that the lacy lightweight shrug would turn into a frumpy cocoon the minute she put it on. Everything did. She had a thick mane of hair she couldn’t control, a pear-shaped body that no clothing designer cared to design clothes for, feet that had gotten wider over the years, and she was a klutz. She could not chew gum and walk at the same time. She had to use the wall whenever she attempted Tree pose in her yoga classes. And she was lonely. Loneliness felt very inelegant to Maggie. Loneliness was simple but there was no style to it, no way to make it appear refined.

When Bobby, her husband, was still alive, she had knitted scores of hats, scarves, socks, and sweaters for him. Although she was already a fast knitter, she had wanted to be even faster to ensure that he always had an ample supply of woolen garments to see him through their long, cold winters. So she learned to knit the Continental style, with the casting yarn on her left hand and picked up with the right-hand needle. The Continental style also looked more elegant.

The problem, she thought, as she looked critically at the knitted fabric that hung lifelessly from her needles, the problem was the purling. She hadn’t gotten the hang of purling in the Continental way. For twenty-five years, she had knitted American style, using her right hand to throw, or loop, the yarn over the right-hand needle. With the Continental style, she ran a greater risk of dropping stitches since she was now “picking” them instead of throwing them. And once Bobby was gone, she hadn’t needed to knit fast anymore. Her knitting slowed as her world contracted to this small spot on her couch, where she tried to knit for herself.

The longer she sat there and fussed over the shrug that was actually almost complete, the more she worried. Could she unlearn the Continental? She wanted to ask Bobby, but he wasn’t there. He wasn’t even a ghost in her house, since they had been living in a small apartment the day he died. Maggie turned to the empty spot at the other end of the couch. She imagined that it would have been his spot. She could almost see his thin frame propped up with throw pillows, his long legs stretched out on the ottoman. He would be sipping hot tea, and he would offer to read to her while she knitted. She stared, forcing his image to come into focus. Was he actually looking at her now?

Maggie’s hands moved slowly, sliding the stitches off the thin needles. She wrapped the loose yarn around her fingers. She kept staring at that dark empty spot as she started to unravel.

***

Perfect pick me up

Just sharing a friend’s pick-me-up that was also a pick-me-up for me 🙂 The scarf in the photo was one that I had sent to Belinda a couple of weeks ago and yesterday I was on pins and needles (pun intended) as to whether it had arrived (taking a slow plane from Florida to Canada, of course). Soon after I asked her about the scarf, it arrived (such are my mental powers). But not only the scarf which I knitted for her, hoping it would bring a bit of Spring to her long Winter. Belinda also received a bundle of other gifts and she put together this wonderful photo, using her scarf as a frame. Belinda gave me a perfect and happy end to a long, frustrating day. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Belinda!

I’m Busy

I’ve been a little busy lately.  First, responsibilities and obligations at my day job have increased since my bureau chief retired, and another coworker has been working less than half-time due to medical problems, and we still have a vacant position.  As my supervisor noted, she and I are “doing the work of five people.”  It’s temporary; we hope to fill the vacant position soon, but for now … I’m busy.

This is a cleaned-up version of my work space, the long month of January finally over.

This is a cleaned-up version of my work space, the long month of January finally over.

But it hasn’t been all work and no play.  It’s just that the playing of late hasn’t included writing (at least, not much).  What do I do when I’m not working, writing, or practicing yoga?  Yup, I’m knitting.  And since there are babies waiting to be born, I’m knitting small.

Baby sweater for coworker.

Baby sweater for coworker.

You may say that this sweater is cute, even lovely.  It was definitely fun to knit.  I love knitting cables.

Detail of sweater showing cable and raglan sleeve,

Detail of sweater showing cable and raglan sleeve,

But my coworker might hate me because the yarn is a blend of mink and wool and, thus, must be handwashed 🙂  But it is small and it’s an outer sweater and it’s a camel color so if the baby spits up now and then, the spit might just blend in 🙂  But what do I know?  I’ve never had kids and aside from having to babysit my nephews many, many years ago, I’ve managed to avoid baby spit, baby puke, and dirty diapers.

And so I’m busy, but I write in my head as much as I can.  Sometimes I get inspired and push out a bit of a story, surprising myself, but also reminding myself that the words are there.  It’s just that I’m busy right now.

Enhanced by Zemanta

The Knitter and Mashed Potatoes

This short story was inspired by a post on Jill Weatherholt‘s blog:  http://jillweatherholt.wordpress.com/2014/01/24/is-that-really-true/.  If you haven’t visited Jill’s blog yet, you should do so.  Like me, Jill is a writer who has to juggle a full-time job with her passion for writing.  Her posts are always entertaining, thoughtful, and generate a lot of comments.  And, apparently, they can also be the inspiration for a short story.

***

English: A small plate with a serving of mashe...

English: A small plate with a serving of mashed potatoes. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Another off-white, brown speckled clump fell beside Emily.  She had been dozing.  Well, really she had been sleeping.  Sleeping for six days as she did every week.  The soft thud of the odd clump was enough to rouse her, and she stirred in her rocking chair, her hands folded in her lap.  She stretched, raising her arms straight up and then out like wings.  Her back crackled as each vertebrate popped into life.  She gazed down at the unsightly lump beside her chair and smiled.  It was Sunday.  Sunday dinner to be exact, and she could knit. (more…)

Unlucky Day: Friday the 13th

Usually, Friday the 13th is a lucky day for me.  At least, it’s a day I don’t dread.  I love black cats and I make it a point to walk under ladders, so celebrating Friday the 13th is just another way to thumb my nose at superstition.  Except for this Friday the 13th.  Today is my bureau chief’s last work day before retirement, and now Friday the 13th indeed feels unlucky.  I love this woman.  She is the nicest person I’ve ever met:  she smiles easily, has a warm and welcoming demeanor, and rarely speaks ill of anyone.  She is very organized and dedicated to her work.  She has been my buffer between the work I need to do and the bureaucracy that often tries to trip me up.  She knits.

I have many gifts to remember her by.  Here are a few that I can share. (more…)

Part-Time Monster

I eat books for breakfast.

KRISTINA STANLEY

Best-selling Author of the Stone Mountain Mystery Series

Lady Of The Cakes

Vignettes from a multi-lingual, multi-cake-eating freelance existence

eyeonberlin

from the pretty to the gritty

Indie-Scribable

Affordable editorial services for indie writers

William Pearse | pinklightsabre

Writing is learning to see in the dark

writingcustoms.com

Writing Perspectives, Practices, and Proclivities

Books: Publishing, Reading, Writing

And, for good measure, a bit of Cooking and Eating

S.K. Nicholls

mybrandofgenius

Jackie Mallon

Author/Fashion Designer

El Space--The Blog of L. Marie

Thoughts about writing and life

JeriWB Word Bank

Writing & Editing Services. Make every word count.

Britt Skrabanek

content optimist & life enthusiast

Hollis Hildebrand-Mills

Divine Imagery Is Everywhere™

Kate Shrewsday

A thousand thousand stories

The Writer Within

Inside the world of author AnnMarie Wyncoll

witlessdatingafterfifty

Relationships reveal our hearts.

Kristina Rienzi

Suspense Author

A View From My Summerhouse

Share the view with me, rain or shine...

Busy Mind Thinking

Wait! What?!

%d bloggers like this: