Domesticity Fail

Carl has gone out to the dentist, and I thought it would be a fantastic opportunity to get all head-starty on the abode upkeep: Toffee in the oven for the banoffee pie, kitchen tidied, laundry rolling, and—since we finally put the Christmas tree away last night—maybe a little vacuuming.

Now I don’t usually have a lot of domestic advice to give (mostly because I don’t have a lot of domestic advice to give), but I would just venture to observe that if you have long hair and if you have a vacuum cleaner, you should probably NEVER flip it over and look at the old undercarriage.

I did.

And the picture below doesn’t do justice to the healthy weave my vacuum’s been sporting. Adding to the fashion wig feel was a blonde streak at the far left (sadly removed before I thought to document). I had to use scissors to hack through each section of the roller and snapped this pic at the half way point…


Super disgusting.

In a related story, I finally changed the vacuum bag. Weirdly enough, we no longer have the Worst Vacuum Ever.

It even kinda works.

I know. Crazy, right?

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Happy Birthday, Contemplative Friend

Oh, as they say, snap.

I just went zipping through google to snag a pic for this post and realized my old friend Thomas Merton looks a whole lot like this truly TERRIBLE pop-Christian marriage speaker.

My faith has been tested.

Love for Merton prevails. But if Merton were still alive I would probably write him a fan letter and recommend a wig or false nose or something because this is really bothering me.

Merton was an American Trappist monk (1915-1968) who wrote a lot of great books, and you can totally check him out if you’re interested, but in the spirit of Merton and contemplation, I’d like to just share you some of my favorite highlights from my most recent jaunt in Mertonia, New Seeds of Contemplation.

Be blessed, friends. Be blessed and be at peace.

*

“We are not very good at recognizing illusions, least of all the ones we cherish about ourselves—the ones we are born with and which feed the roots of sin. For most of the people in the world, there is no greater subjective reality than this false self of theirs, which cannot exist. A life devoted to the cult of this shadow is what is called a life of sin.”

*

“Therefore there is only one problem on which all my existence, my peace and my happiness depend: to discover myself in discovering God. If I find Him I will find myself and if I find my true self I will find Him.”

*

“This then is what it means to seek God perfectly… to find peace in withdrawal from conflict and competition with other men; to turn aside from controversy and put away heavy loads of judgment and censorship and criticism and the whole burden of opinions that I have no obligation to carry…”

*

Sigh. The contemplative writers are my spiritual antibiotic of choice. Nothing like them for healing the infections of bad theology and toxic Christians. So happy birthday, Fr. Merton. Let’s do lunch someday when I’m up there.

The Anglo Files

Last summer, my fam assembles for the usual 4th of July weekend. We swam, barbecued, lounged around. Someone made the inevitable comment about how my family is shamefully unpatriotic. This year I think it was Brianna, who hesitantly (and politely) observed that she grew up going to 4th of July parades and really celebrating our freedoms and national character.

That it seemed odd bordering on annoying that her husband was unable to quote the pledge of allegiance. (I think it was the pledge, my apologies in advance. It might have been the national anthem, which—thanks to watching hockey games, I can now sing with fair accuracy).

Carlie, my oldest brother’s wife, instantly perked and concurred. She started her marriage feeling that somehow our family was “normal,” and she was just exuberantly patriotic.

Nope.

Somewhere along the line, my family just decided they would rather be English. I realize we’re not, and I realize how incredibly grating it is to real Europeans when Americans claim their heritage all willy-nilly. I get that.

We’re not really English.

We’re just sort of philosophically displaced, highly skeptical, culturally withdrawn Americans. Or something like that. I don’t really know.

I do know that my bookshelves look like this:

That our bathroom has lush shots of Oxford and Stratford. That we have an inordinate number of tea pots for a twenty-something couple. That I’m addicted to the British classics. That “The King’s Speech” was my favorite film of 2010.

That 4 of my 5 books have been set in England.

I’m not sure why that is, but I’ve started to wonder more recently. Obviously there’s nothing wrong with liking historical fiction. It’s escapist for sure, but escapist is a slippery term. All books—fiction or non—are escapist in the sense that they take you out of or beyond what you know from personal experience. That doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

So I don’t have a problem with writing historical fiction. I’m just curious why the unerring pull. And why, oddly enough, I switched periods this last book from Victorian to 1920s… and don’t have any interest in going back to the Vics. Am I working my way toward modern day? I think I might be.

The more I think about this, the more I suspect there’s really only one big reason why historical fiction and Englishness have always appealed to me (besides the bells and whistles and costumes, I mean. Those are always fun). Englishness is just an exaggeration (and mild displacement) of all the things I—and we—really do worry about. Americans don’t really like to believe that we have very many shades of “class,” for example. We all know there are millionaire celebrities and folks on welfare, but the middles are all pretty much equal, right?

Wrong.

So it’s fun and innocuous to write about the English and their ridiculously rigid class systems, social anxieties, arguments, and sticklers. But it’s also pretty much the way we are in the States. Only we don’t have the buffer of Amusing National Character. Here, it’s just ugly. And if you want to write about it, you have to write serious books that make people angry.

I’m not sure I want to write serious books that make people angry.

More so than any other type of novelist, historical fiction writers get to play the Man Behind the Green Curtain. We get to say whatever we think and point out the utter foolishness of those we deplore without taking any heat. After all, people are the same today as they were in the 1920s or the Victorian Era or ancient Rome, with basically the same factions and problems and quarrels.

The historical fiction writer just has more toys to play with.

At least, that’s what I tell myself these days when I start to feel a smidge guilty for avoiding all the “issues” of contemporary life and fiction. I don’t know. I don’t think I have a Great American Novel in me. I can’t imagine sorting through all the debris of modern life to find the right shiny bits to paste together. It looks like way too much work.

And I don’t know if I like the idea of writing a downer. Great Am Novs seem to all be downers. Something about the American belief that sadness is the only impressive emotion.

Eh. Too complicated for me. Shall go back to writing my vapid, self-indulgent, Brit-froth mystery now. This is a problem for the proverbial tomorrow…

Happy Birthday, Relatively-Unknown Friend!

It’s John Baskerville’s birthday, but that wouldn’t have meant anything to me if I hadn’t married Carl, so I guess this post is as much about my husband as some random dead British person from the 18th Century.

Incidentally, Baskerville was not related to the slightly more famous, albeit fictional, family of the Sherlock Holmes novel. In case you were wondering.

He was actually a printer, and he developed a typeface. You probably have it, and you’ve almost certainly seen it.

Nice, isn’t it? Clean, classic, a little bit understated while still being reassuringly stylish… Carl loves fonts and collects them whenever possible. He has hundreds of them already, maybe thousands. It’s slightly obsessive, yes, but so much more benign than spoons or shot glasses or pets.

To be fair, he uses them for work all the time, and will spend literally hours trying to find exactly the right font for whatever project he’s working on. Because every font says something about the project or product, either clarifies or clashes with the image. A font can make all the difference between cheesy and sophisticated, serious and ironic.

(I know this because Carl tells me. Also because he occasionally asks me with pent-up triumph which of two prints looks better. My accuracy is improving).

Back to J. Baskerville. I checked his Wikipedia page and found some biographical information that I thought was especially interesting.

In 1757, Baskerville published his first work, a collection of Virgil, which was followed by some fifty other classics. In 1758, he was appointed printer to the Cambridge University Press. It was there in 1763 that he published his master work, a folio Bible, which was printed using his own typeface, ink, and paper.

The perfection of his work seems to have unsettled his contemporaries, and some claimed the stark contrasts in his printing damaged the eyes. Abroad, however, he was much admired, notably by Fournier, Bodoni, and Benjamin Franklin.

“The perfection of his work seems to have unsettled his contemporaries”… I don’t know about you, but this makes me laugh. I like imagining 18th century folks in a huff over the perfection of someone’s work. And the mildly dismissive tone of the whole thing.

And there you have it. I was going to wish you a font-filled day, but that’s sort of a given—especially considering you’re already on the Internet. That being said, may you enjoy the fonts you encounter, may their perfection never unsettle you, and may you ALWAYS find the one you’re looking for.

Hiberna Pacis

Nope. Contrary to your common sense radar, “hiberna” doesn’t mean hibernate. It means winter. At least, that’s what my Latin dictionary says. Whether winter should be handled by means of hibernation is less clear.

Personally, I’m in favor. I think it’d be fantastic to pack on an extra thirty pounds once the leaves start turning (Halloween? Thanksgiving? Christmas? Can’t think of a better reason for all the excellent baking), have a blow out Christmas season, and then sleep from January straight through to March.

I hate a lot of things about winter, most notably being sabotaged by the cold every time I step outside and the fact that as soon as the air dries out my skin basically turns into dust. Blow on me and I create my very own, me-sized blizzard of skin flakes.

Not cool.

So this is me, trying to make peace with winter. I live in Michigan. It would be nice to be able to appreciate the longest season of the year…

In that spirit, let’s see if I can come up with 10 things to love about winter in my neighborhood:

  1. The excuse to try every moisturizer on the market. I’m a bath & beauty junkie, so this maybe more exciting than it sounds.
  2. Those days of big, fluffy, gorgeous snowfall. I like a good postcard sort of day.
  3. Hot drinks! Coffee, tea, hot cider, cocoa, chai—everything has a new appeal when the weather gets nippy.
  4. Awards season. I love a good Oscars party, but I’m also perfectly happy to cuddle down on the couch alone in PJs too. Okay, with maybe a wedge of fantastic cheese and some baguette rounds. Plus, all my favorite sartorial and snarky blogs cover the red carpet the whole next week, so really what’s NOT to love?
  5. Winter sports. I’m mostly just saying it because it sounds like something I should mention, but we do go skating a couple of times every year, which is always fun, and I’d actually like to go skiing again. Who knows. Maybe this will be the year we do.
  6. The Plymouth Ice Festival was bigger and better than expected. Wikipedia tells me it’s the oldest and biggest ice carving fest in North America, but the actual website makes no such claims so I AM TORN. Regardless, it was a good time.
  7. Focus. Nothing like not leaving your home for 3 and 4 day stretches for really cranking through the work load.
  8. February celebrations. The second week in February is basically a week long party for us. Our anniversary opens the week, Carl’s birthday highlights it, and Valentine’s is the grand finale. Which reminds me: I need to get busy with the birthday shopping.
  9. Comfort food. I love all the hearty, steamy stuff like meatloaf and roasts, soups and hot sandwiches. Winter is a great time for dinner.
  10. Vacations! Winter is also a fantastic time to go south. This is the third winter of our marriage and the third winter we’re going someplace warm for a week. The sunshine is necessary—so is the swimming, the relaxing, and the chance to get non-gym-related exercise.

Well, I do feel marginally better about winter, but as I read over the list I’m forced to admit that only about 3 of them have anything to do with actually interacting with nature/the season. Most of them are coping mechanisms.

Baby steps, people.

I’m happy to glean from you all, though. What are some of your favorite things about winter?

Tuesday Rambles

Carl has zipped off to a shoot, and I’ve only gotten so far as to make a cup of coffee and give the week ahead a bleary squint. Apart from the continued, slightly egomaniacal crankiness that leads one to watch the world’s best tennis players and wonder mournfully why success is so easy for everyone else, I appear to be doing just fine.

I’m even capable of giving a few cheers for my younger brother, who just got accepted into his first choice graduate school (cheers to Fig).

Even a (muted) cheer  for the astonishingly imploded housing market of south-east Michigan. Took an Internet jaunt this weekend to check out real estate in our neighborhood. I didn’t know we’d sunk to the $50-70,000 = fairly nice family home point yet, but it does sort of making buying a more interesting option.

Also an interesting option: Food.

Much better.

My goals for the week are pretty modest. I started my January push hoping for 8,000 words a week (four 2,000 word days; my Saturdays are hopeless, and Carl’s weekend is Sunday/Monday), but I’ve noticed that I can only reliably clock about 1,500 a day. Meaning I can either end each day feeling like a failure and still take an extra month to produce the first draft, or I can end each day feeling like a success and also take an extra month to produce the first draft.

I’ve decided to go with option A.

That makes 6,000 words to stare down this week, which translates to about 20-25 pages. Although the word count is climbing steadily, the plot is off to a slowish start, and I already know I’m going to do a lot of cutting in the second draft, trying to get to the action a bit sooner. That’s pretty normal, as far as I can tell. I’m an over-writer. I’ll jot down two or three options for each adjective, reiterate every point a couple of times, let characters ramble.

That’s what second and third drafts are for, right?

Right.

I think I’m ready for the week now. Or at least my second cup of coffee and a quick glance at my crossword puzzle.

Anatomy of a Rejection

Well, friends, the weekend was good (family here, unbelievably cold Ice Festival, lots and lots of Australian Open matches, crosswords & coffee) but a bit overshadowed by yet another rejection letter on Friday.

Got to admit: this one was more disappointing than usual.

Probably because it’s the first time I thought I had a pretty decent chance of getting picked up. The book is my best work by far. The agent initially sounded warm.

But no.

There’s a certain sense of whiplash about this one too. The last book had structural flaws, but every agent complimented me on some aspect of the writing. This time around, my plot is apparently just peachy. This time it’s the characters who are unacceptably “flat.”

After enough rejection, you can’t help but notice the pattern that emerges. First the disappointment, maybe a little annoyance—how can it possibly take an agent nine weeks to flip through a book and write a 3 sentence rejection letter? This is, of course, just an emotional buffer so you don’t have to think about what the rejection means. At least for a few hours.

Eventually, though, you have to go through the second part: the enormous, nagging sense that this one agent and this one letter represents some sort of Great and Unalterable Truth about your value as a human being and your potential for success over the course of the next 30-50 years.

But, yes, it will feel legitimately scary.

I usually start thinking about finding a job that pays slightly better than zero an hour. Sometimes I even look for one. This part used to last for days—after going through this a bunch of times, I’m pretty sure how long this period lasts is just a gauge to let me know how insecure I’m feeling about myself. The more I care what other people think about me, the more I feel my value depends on my success, the worse this part feels.

In the end, who am I kidding?

Whatever happens I’m going to keep writing. Carl says the only way he would feel happy about me quitting is when I’ve written a book I feel is perfect. If I write a book I’m 100% happy about and it doesn’t sell no matter what I do, then I can quit without regrets. The whole “other job” thing is an emotional clutch. I understand that, but I also always feel it—for anywhere between a few hours or a few days.

After that comes the slow thawing out. The brain starts turning. You start trying to figure out how a dried out little sentence like “the characters are a bit too flat” can be juiced into providing a roadmap for the next draft. What does that mean? Which characters? Does it mean they aren’t complex enough, aren’t motivated enough, or aren’t flamboyant enough? Because those are all pretty different things.

That’s when you go back and start playing the mental tapes of what your other, more verbally voluminous, readers have said, trying to match up both perspectives and get a little depth in the picture.

And finally, you pull out your rough draft calendar of the year and try to figure out where to pencil in the 4-6 week revision period you now need. It’s looking like late April in my case. Am 60 pages into the new book, and I don’t want to lose the momentum I’ve got going there. I should have a rough draft finished by mid-April. Execution‘s 2D population will have to chill for a couple months.

So, no, this never feels good. But it is what it is, and I do what I do, and I guess the only thing you can really do is shrug and move on.

Maybe watch some tennis. Maybe make a chocolate cream pie. Maybe jot down some notes on that crazy fantasy storyline I’ve dreamed two nights running.

It’s all good.

I guess.