Tag Archives: books

What I Do

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Day two of my thirty day writing challenge.

I’m in that obsessive state of mind.

I couldn’t fall asleep last night for the excitement! I retrieved my journal from its low shelf to check the blog ideas I had listed there. I found my good, smooth-writing ink pen to make lists of new ideas. I pulled out one book after another.

I read about twenty pages into The Writer’s Devotional by Amy Peters, which is designed for reading one inspirational page per day.  “Each day of the week highlights a different aspect of a writer’s life…” Mondays are ‘Writers on Writing,” and that is the inspiration for this post today.

I finished another chapter of Mary Karr’s new book, The Art of Memoir. Her The Liar’s Club was one of my favorites, and started me on a whole tangent of memoir reading. It promises to be a wonderful, insightful book, but I didn’t feel like I could learn all she has to offer before today’s post.

Next, Theodore Roethke, On Poetry and Craft. He’s a favorite of mine, and the book is heavily marked with my underlines and exclamation points…but I deemed it too much to absorb in one night, and returned it to the shelf.

Finally, Do the Work by Steven Pressfield. A thin volume that I picked up in a bookstore several months ago, I hadn’t done more than glance at it until last night. Well, it’s simply brilliant!

“When you and I set out to create anything – art, commerce, science, love – or to advance in the direction of a higher, nobler version of ourselves, we uncork from the universe, ineluctably, an equal and opposite reaction.

That reaction is Resistance. Resistance is an active, intelligent, protean, malign force – tireless, relentless, and inextinguishable – whose sole object is to stop us from becoming our best selves and from achieving our higher goals.”

The book is made up of short chapters composed of paragraphs with startling titles like “The Crazier the Better,” “Suspend All Self-Judgment”  and “Welcome to Hell.” He spends an awful lot of time talking about resistance, and how it attacks. The first way? Making it seem necessary to research rather than just get to work.

Exactly what I was doing!

In fact, one of the things I always do.

None of these patterns are new to me.

First, I obsess.

It doesn’t matter if it’s a new art project, a diet, an exercise program, or this blogging commitment…obsession is first.

You’ll here me say things like:

“Oh, yeah, I started a new series of paintings…no big deal.”

“…just thought I’d try to lose a few pounds is all.”

“Just trying to move a little more.”

“Yes, I’m writing every day in November. A lot of people do it.”

But what’s going on in my mind is more like:

“OH MY GOD THIS IS GOING TO CHANGE MY ENTIRE LIFE AND I’LL FINALLY BE FAMOUS {SUCCESSFUL/LOVED/RESPECTED/YOU NAME IT}…IF ONLY I CAN PULL THIS OFF!!!”

And that’s when resistance sets in.

That’s when research begins. When hours investigating how it’s been done before, by others, or how others think it should be done, take the place of doing. When long lists of possibilities, “pros and cons” and things I’ll do when I am successful at whatever the undertaking is…actually undermine the possibility of success.

That’s how I roll.

Don’t worry, I’ll get over it.

In my sixty-three years, I’ve learned to ride this wild horse of my life. I recognize the highs and lows, the craziness and the obsessions. I push through it.

I just keep going.

The Book List

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Today is my day off…kind of.

I have to clean, blanch, package and freeze a dozen quarts of green beans.

I have to bake a few dozen cookies.

There are phone calls and Emails to respond to.

This afternoon I will go make beds and clean floors at the farmhouse.

This evening I have a dinner engagement with family and friends.

May as well start the day quiet and slow, I think.

Over morning coffee and trips to the door to let the dogs out and in, I typed up my list of 62 Life-Altering Books. If you’re interested, you can find it under the “Books” tab.

“Life-altering” seems like a pretty strong term for some of the titles, but it is true in every case.  Often it was a matter of a particular book falling into my hands at just the right time. Perhaps  my my eyes were opened, my thoughts were altered or my ideas clarified. Maybe I learned something entirely new.  Sometimes it was the beginning of a long, on-going relationship with books in general, or with a particular author or field of study. The cookbooks I mention here are only a sampling of the ones I own and enjoy. The same for gardening and lifestyle books. I have gone on to read every single book by Mark Twain, Alice Walker, Louise Erdrich, Maxine Hong Kingston and Barbara Kingsolver, so the entries that made the list are only my favorite or most memorable.

I can already think of several books that should have made the list but didn’t.

Ah, well.

Putting it together brought back lots of memories.

Memories often lead to stories, don’t they? Here is one:

When I was a young mother living out in the country in a tiny cottage near a lake, my husband brought home The Exorcist. It was a brand new title, on several best-seller lists and getting a lot of press coverage. “Don’t read it…” I warned him, “too scary!” He laughed. Not having been raised in the Catholic faith, as I had been, it didn’t seem as real, as possible or as terrifying to him. He read it. “I will never read it,” I assured him.

When I married my husband Terry, he was in a band. It was pretty common back in the seventies for a few guys to get together and form a group, especially if one or more members could play an instrument. Terry and his cousin, Steve, both played guitar and sang. That was plenty reason enough to start up a band. It consisted of Terry, Steve and whoever else was around and interested. They got together once or twice a week to practice and to drink.

They never got any actual “gigs” so the “band” element kind of faded to the background. By the time my first daughter was born and we’d moved to the lake cottage, it was basically just a routine of Terry taking his guitar and going out drinking with the guys. Terry would leave right after supper – or sometimes even directly from work – and not get home until the bars closed. Shit-faced drunk.

Leaving me at home alone with an infant, no telephone, no car and no adult companionship. At least once a week.

It always resulted in a big argument which usually lasted over several days. It always ended with him swearing that he was finished with the band, done with going out with the guys, and that he’d quit drinking.

That lasted until the weekend.

The next argument was accelerated by the fact that he’d not only gone out drinking, but had broken his promise to me.

It amazes me to look back and know that this pattern of behaviors – on both of our parts – went on for years.

Anyway, one night after dinner, when we were young parents living in the country, Terry started telling me that Steve had a friend who played drums, and they wanted to just get together and see what they could do, music-wise, and he wouldn’t be late and he didn’t even think there would be beer there…and I said, “Sure, right, I’ve heard it all before,” and then the threat, “I swear, if you go, I’m going to read The Exorcist!”

“Don’t you dare…you can’t handle it!”

“Try me!”

He left.

I put the baby to bed, and read The Exorcist, cover to cover.

When Terry came home, sometime after 2AM, I was laying under the covers with my eyes wide open, with every single light in the house on, absolutely terrified.

Which he thought was completely hilarious, and which took the starch out of our usual battle.

He didn’t let it go, though. He continued teasing me, knowing how the story haunted me.

I plotted my revenge.

One particularly scary part had been the appearance of stigmata, as a sign from the devil.

One day, when Terry was relaxing after his shower in a pair of bib overhauls (it was the seventies, after all), I looked, alarmed, at his chest where there were a series of grommets and buttonholes on the front placket.

“What??”

“That wasn’t there before,” I said, pointing to one of the buttonholes.

“Oh, it was, too.” he said, “how else would it get there?”

“I don’t know…but remember that story…?”

He got a nervous look, but we let it go.

The next week, after laundry day, there was a new eyelet on the front placket.

I stared at it until he noticed, then just shook my head and walked away.

Two weeks later, there was a new buttonhole (that I stitched by hand, one night when he was out “with the band”)on the front.

When he put the bibs on, my eyes got wide. “Terry, that is new, I know it! What the hell?!”

When he looked, his eyes took on a look of terror. What followed is what his daughters and I have come to call a “Terry fit” with cursing and pounding walls and raging. He tore off the bib overhauls. I think he was prepared to burn them, until he caught the look on my face.

“Gotcha!”

He never teased me about The Exorcist again!

On My Birthday…

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This year, on my birthday, a cool breeze freshened the air.

Birthday greetings were waiting for me when I turned on the computer.

I wonder about social media, announcing birthdays to all who look, so you have no idea if anyone actually remembered, or just checked their Facebook notices. I puzzle over it whenever I check those notices and am spurred to send someone a birthday greeting.

I didn’t wonder about it one bit today, though. I enjoyed every single good wish!

I worked at the hardware store today. Busy enough, but not crazy, and everyone was good-natured and friendly.

After work, I stopped at the farmhouse to see the “Aunts”. Aunt Katie, who lives there, has not been feeling her best lately. Her sister, my Aunt Margaret, is here for a weekend visit along with her daughter, son-in-law and great-granddaughter. I knew the young people had gone to the beach, so I brought ice cream cones for just myself and the Aunts. Aunt Margaret was dozing, so we saved hers in the freezer. Aunt Katie and I enjoyed ours on the spot, while watching the baseball game.

“This is brunch, for me,” I told her, which made her laugh.

A message from my daughter on the telephone answering machine when I got home was another happy note.

A long walk with the dogs made us all feel good.

Two years ago, when I turned sixty, I made a list of the sixty most influential women in my life.

Last year, I counted sixty-one blessings.

What to do this year, to mark my age, and the day?

I compiled a list, last night, of the sixty-two books that made the biggest impression on me so far in my life.

It’s a long and varied list. Many books – that revolutionized my thinking when I read them – would not impress me today. So much depends on the surrounding circumstances, when you pick up a book. There are a few that make me blush for the dated message or obvious risque’ material, but most stand up to the test of time. I’m not going to type them up today (it is my birthday, after all), but will in the next couple days, for anyone that is interested.

I’m thinking, too, of a list of aspirations.

Not a “Bucket List,” for I think – like my mother – I will be satisfied with the life I have lived, at whatever point death takes me.

Aspirations, because I think, whatever the age, we should always have goals, dreams and things to aspire to.

I may share that later, too, but not today.

I’m going out to dinner with friends this evening. I think before that I’m going to take a good book and soak in a hot, perfumed bath, ignoring all “should”s, “could”s and “ought-to”s.

It is my birthday, after all.

The Continuing Kitchen Shelf Saga

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I was going to title this “The Never Ending Kitchen Shelf Saga,” but I’m feeling optimistic today.

I have to say, I like the way the shelves look.

It’s nice to have all of my cookbooks and garden books together, easily accessible and sorted by category. I’ve gotten my jars of beans and grains off the counter and onto the shelves, too. Some baskets hold small books and pamphlets; others keep medicines, vitamins, sunscreen and insect repellants close at hand. A few plants and a couple candles soften the edges.

If I have a superpower, it is the knack for arranging shelves.

If I have a “green Kryptonite”-like weakness, it is the absolute inability to sort. Every aspect of it stymies me…from deciding on categories for dozens of disparate objects to not being able to discount anything as “useless”…which is one reason this project, at times, seems like it will never end.

Fifty years ago, when my sister Brenda and I were – every couple weeks or so – forced to clean our room, this short-coming became evident.

Brenda’s tactic was to sweep everything into one (huge) mound in the middle of the floor. The next step was to yank all of the dirty clothes out of that pile and put them in the baskets downstairs. Next, pick out all the Barbie dolls, their clothing and accessories…put them away. Next, game pieces, puzzle pieces and cards. Continue, until all that was left got swept into the dustpan  and thrown away. She had a plan, and it worked!

I don’t know why it was so disagreeable to me…or why I was so disagreeable about the method.

I remember feeling absolutely appalled at the idea of sweeping everything together, where all of our belongings would mix and mingle. It seemed like we were making an even greater mess. I couldn’t stand it…no matter how many times she proved to me that it worked.

My method, contrarily, was to pick up one random object, look at it, think about it, adjust it if necessary (perhaps the doll should be wearing the blue dress instead of the green?) and finally put it in its place. Which, if the “place”  was not in order, would then lead to another distraction, and another…forever.

I still use the same tactics!

I have four kitchen drawers to clean out and put into use. They have spent the last two or three years lazily picking up bits of flotsam and jetsam that didn’t have a specific place. Now, since I have taken the large 32-drawer cabinet out of the kitchen, I really need that drawer space. Those four drawers have to go back to work!

So, I’ve been emptying and sorting.

I have a pile of dog collars: two that no longer fit Rosa Parks, one that fits her but that she only wears when I walk her on a leash and one that belonged to my old dog, Maggie, who left this world more than three years ago.

I have two mounds of art-related objects. One contains a roll of mounting tape, a package of glazier’s points, a couple screw eyes, a few oil pastels, a handful of paintbrushes and other miscellaneous objects that actually have places in the studio. The other contains bits of foil and papers that I found or saved, to use in collage someday.

Christmas related items: one hand-made ornament that needs to be glued back together, ornament hooks, ribbon and four little packages of tiny replacement bulbs for Christmas lights (though I haven’t decorated for Christmas in years!).

I have quite an accumulation of hooks, from large decorative ones – for coats or robes – to the tiniest cup hooks.

I have an extensive collection of batteries, it seems, plus two flashlights, an alarm clock and a disposable camera.

I have an inordinate amount of pest-related products: simple mouse traps and plug in devises to discourage rodents, several battery-powered devises to keep mosquitoes away and three small bottles of ant killer.

Now, I have four empty drawers, cleaned and paper-lined, ready to be put back into use.

I have all of my collections laid out on the counter, waiting for decisions to be made. What gets moved to a new location? What can be given away? What gets tossed?

I just needed a break, before I got into all of that!

Getting There

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I have one million things yet to do before I’m finished with this project…but I’m happy with my new shelves.

My stereo is in the living space along with a collection of old albums (the Beatles! Vanilla Fudge! Hendrix! The Soft Machine!) quite a few cassette tapes (Harry Chapin, the Eagles, Paul Simon) and a couple dozen compact discs (jazz, blues and folk, mostly). As the technology changed, so did my taste in music.

The little television set – that doesn’t actually “receive” television – is in the living room, too. It has a built-in DVD player, so is good for watching a movie with company, if I choose. I am also taking a couple courses on DVD: The Art of Teaching and Analysis and Critique. Finally, I have a couple exercise videos that I use, and the living room is the only room large and open enough to actually do the exercises in.

My favorite books are here. Not the ones that have the best bindings, or that I’m proudest to have read because they show me to be a thoughtful and intelligent person. No. These are the ones that I pick up to read again and again, that I can flip open to precious passages or reflect on when it is meaningful. Emily Dickinson is here, along with E.B. White and Maxine Hong Kingston…but so are David Sedaris, Christopher Moore…and Jim Fitzgerald, who got his start writing for the Lapeer County Press, my home town newspaper.

A few plants are tucked in, to soften the lines.

I’m pleased with this space.

Happily Behind

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I have three Alpine Currants hanging out in pots by my back door, waiting for me to plant them.

The garden could use quite a bit more attention than it has been getting.

Inside, the same story.

There is a stack of papers on my desk, needing to be sorted and filed. There are letters to be written, and business to be taken care of.

I have artwork to finish, and pieces to frame.

I didn’t post any drawings last week.

I didn’t do any drawing last week.

I had four dead mosquitoes sitting on a little tray on my desk next to my sketch book, a magnifying glass ready to help with the details.

“Disgusting!”, my granddaughter, Madeline, pronounced. She was right!

Yesterday, Madeline and I planted a plum tree. We walked with the dogs. We went for ice cream. We spent four hours on the beach. We spent the evening with a group of lovely ladies. We came home and snuggled in with books and dogs.

I’m behind in everything…happily catching up on what’s important.

What?!

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My friend, Kate, has been making me laugh.

I’ve known Kate since grade school…though she was Kathleen then.

We all went by our full names at Bishop Kelley School. I’m not sure, but I think we may have gotten extra credit if the given name was an actual saint’s name. In any case, no shortened versions. Twice, in the eight years I attended, I had to bring a note from home, verifying that – in fact – Cindy was not short for Cynthia or Lucinda, but my given name just like that (I was actually named after Cinderella, but my mother had the good sense to keep that off the birth record!). I’m fairly sure my younger brother – we called him Teddy back then – would not have had to repeat the first grade if he hadn’t had to spend so much time trying to write Theodore Ricksgers on every paper!

When we transferred, after grade eight, from our small Catholic school (90 students divided among eight classrooms)to the large, city-wide high school (1200 students in four grades with dozens of different classes), it was easy to lose track of people. Depending on scheduling and class plans, it was possible to have six classes with not one single familiar face. There were many more options for activities and interests; without the ever-vigilant nuns overseeing our choices, a whole new world of clothing and hairstyle options opened up to us. Names were shortened. It took me two years of high school to realize that Bill, the funny, loud boy with longish hair and cool attitude, was the same shirt-and-tie and crew-cut wearing William that I’d sat in the same classroom with from first through eighth grade!

So, in the larger world of high school, Kate and I lost touch. When we re-connected last year through the internet (and its magical ability to make the world a smaller place), we had hardly spoken to each other since the eighth grade! Still, there are strong connections between people that were children together. The years tend to downplay differences and accentuate similarities. Through her wonderful blog, I’ve learned about her family, her interests and her life. Through messages she has sent, I have benefited from her understanding and sympathy. I have been surprised and pleased by her wonderful sense of humor.

Most updates on social media are pretty dry, aimed at a specific audience, and remind me just a bit of notes passed in high school: “sick today…UGH!”, or “headed for the mall – new dress!”.

Not Kate’s! Every single post is a gem. She is brilliantly funny, a master of understated hilarity, simply profound:

“Procrastinate zealously…Put it off until there are penalties.”

“I like the way “Peace be with you” gives everybody smiley faces.”

“It kind of hurts my feelings to hear other people talking about how smart their phones are. My phone is smart, too…It just never applies itself.”

I read any one of her offerings, and I grin about it for hours…or sometimes days. Most recently, I’ve been chuckling over this entry:

“So, I said to myself, “Kate, you have too many pairs of flip flops!” Then I said, a little bit louder, “What?! You can never have too many pairs of flip flops!” ”

Silly, yes, but so very applicable to my life!

This week, crawling around on hands and knees to clear weeds and debris from my garden, I thought, “Too many flower beds!”, then thought of Kate, smiled, and thought, “You can never have too many flower beds!”

Picking up yet another package at the Post Office, I chastise myself, thinking, “You really have too many books already…” then I imagine the twinkle in Kate’s eye as I say, “What?! You can never have too many books!”

This morning, I put the long bench out in front of the forsythia bush. I dragged the old metal chair to its spot under the big maple tree. I pulled the benches out of the shed and sat them on either side of the outdoor table. I moved the red folding chair to the back yard, and the sling chair to it’s spot near the vegetable garden. I thought, “Really, Cindy, for one person, you have way too many things to sit down on!”

And the distance from Greensboro, North Carolina to Beaver Island, Michigan disappeared, and more than forty-five years fell away, and Kate and I could have been two children giggling together as I said “What?!”