“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.
Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something.
So that’s my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life.
Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, Do it.
Make your mistakes, next year and forever.” – Neil Gaiman
Happy 2021 everybody! Here’s to some fantastic mistakes!
Because I’m retired and living in fortunate circumstances, I haven’t been directly affected by the pandemic. The worst effect has been the weekly grocery shop and having to cancel a week long holiday planned for the end of March. Boo-hoo.
But reading and hearing about what’s happening in the rest of the country and around the world has made me think about things. For what it’s worth, here are some of those thoughts…
The speed and magnitude of the lockdowns, quarantines, closures, and other measures was amazing. Maybe this will show us how to change in order to slow climate change, which is potentially a bigger threat than Covid-19.
The pandemic has held up a mirror to our values. In Canada, and maybe other countries, the most severe outbreaks have been in long term care homes, prisons, and meat plants. Quite different situations, but with some things in common — people in close quarters and/or workers who are poorly paid. Care home workers are kept to part time by their for-profit employers and therefore must work in more than one facility to make a decent living. Meat plant workers live in crowded conditions because they can’t afford better accommodation. Guess what happens.
Grocery shopping has become an improvisational absurdist play. People wearing masks dart around following arrows on the floor. If they meet someone else in an aisle, they recoil in horror, but can’t turn around without going in the wrong direction.
Every evening at 7 p.m., I grab whatever pot is in the dish drainer and a wooden spoon. I go out on my back porch and bang the spoon against the pot for several seconds. Then I do the same thing on the front porch. A cacophony of jingling, rapping, and banging resounds through the neighbourhood. No howling, although sometimes I hear a dog barking along. It feels like the right thing to do, but from another angle, it’s absurd.
Before the pandemic, most people were using reusable shopping bags. Now those bags are forbidden. Most stores here supply paper or single-use plastic bags. Paper bags are way less functional because they lack handles and get soggy if wet. But at least they really are biodegradable.
Vast amounts of PPE (personal protective equipment) are being used and discarded worldwide. Much of that stuff contains plastic. I don’t know how it’s disposed of, but I think incineration would be the best way, especially if it could generate energy. But I suspect the stuff gets landfilled, along with all the single-use plastic bags everyone’s using again. Masks have been washing up on beaches. Not good. On the other hand, fossil fuel consumption is way down.
When I read or write fiction now, I have to keep reminding myself it’s okay for those fictitious characters to go out and get close to one another.
I keep hearing that people are dreaming more. Some think this is Mother Nature sending us messages. I think it’s because people who are working from home or no longer working don’t have to hit the ground running any more. They can wake up slowly, which means they remember their dreams. Dreams are slippery things, quickly lost in the transition from sleep to waking.
Opening things up will be more complicated than shutting down was. By now, the people in charge may be getting decision fatigue. Let’s hope they don’t mess up.
The role of the car is being questioned. Does commuting make sense any more? Will people keep working from home, at least part of the time?
Even after restaurants, gyms, and spas reopen, are people really going to rush out and patronize them? Some may prefer to wait for the vaccine. Many of these businesses may disappear forever.
What if there is no vaccine, though? We may return to the situation that prevailed when “the plague” was an ever-present threat, like war and famine. (Or flood and fire.) In any case, there will be other viruses and therefore other pandemics.
Wearing masks when you have any kind of respiratory illness will become a normal practice. Designer fashion masks are probably available already.
On September 11th, 2001, when I arrived at work and heard that both the World Trade Center towers had collapsed, the first thing I thought was This will change the world. What’s happening now will change it even more.
People in the future will probably look at the late 20th century and the first couple of decades of the 21st as a lost golden age.
What about you, fellow bloggers? How are you weathering the pandemic? Are you looking forward to things going back to normal, or wondering if they ever will?
The internet is full of reassurances that it’s okay to be an introvert — but here are ten ways to make yourself look like an extrovert. Because that’s what you must do if you want to succeed in life. And anyway, it’s good for you to get out of your comfort zone.
That was then. Things are different now.
Now that so many are having to self-isolate and work from home, introverts have the edge. It’s the extroverts who are feeling uneasy and having to resort to special techniques to ease their anxiety.
I almost wrote a mocking list of tips to help extroverts to get over their feelings of deprivation for the company of others, but then I remembered that many have no choice about being cut off right now. In “normal” times, we introverts have to do some faking performing in certain areas of our lives, but at the end of the day we can return to our preferred environments. Self-isolated or quarantined extroverts right now don’t have a choice. I acknowledge all that, but here’s my list of…
Un-serious Tips for Isolated Extroverts
Simulate your preferred environment. Gather all pets, stuffies, and dolls into a small room. Crank up the music. Add crowd noise using another device. Dance up a storm.
Find non-human crowds. Seek out places frequented by flocks of noisy crows, gulls, or starlings. Parking lot? Garbage dump? Bring bird seed or french fries. Pretend the birds are humans. Mingle.
Hug a tree. (This is a real thing. Read more here.)
Do some role-playing. (A workshop facilitator’s favourite.) Play all the roles. In costume. Make a video you can watch later. Or replay that argument you lost, this time remembering the killer line.
If all else fails, fake it ’til you make it. Gradually extend the times you’re alone in a quiet room. Eventually you may get used to it and stop wanting to scream. And hey — getting outside your comfort zone is good for you!
A Few Serious Thoughts
Until I learned that extroverts draw energy from being with other people, while introverts experience an energy drain in those situations, I thought there was something fundamentally wrong with me. I wasn’t trying hard enough. I had a bad attitude. If I didn’t fix myself, I’d be a failure in life.
In recent years, books by authors such as Susan Cain, Laurie Helgoe, and Marti Olsen Laney have changed introversion from a pathology to an almost okay personality trait. Almost okay, still. In North America, at least, extrovert qualities are expected of those who want success in life, especially working life.
Is it possible to be successful — however one measures success — as an introvert, rather than a pseudo-extrovert? It depends. If you make the right choices and acquire skills that permit you to work mostly alone and earn enough to live decently, the answer is “Yes.” But not everyone can do that.
Some people, myself included, make the choice to apply for jobs in supervisory or managerial positions because those jobs pay better. Team players are valued more than lone wolves. Even we introverts can fake our way through a job interview. Unfortunately, by taking jobs that don’t suit our personalities, we may be setting ourselves up for a harder time at work than if we were extroverts. And if we don’t fit our jobs comfortably, we’re shortchanging the people we work for and with. It’s a lose-lose-lose situation.
I’m sure I’m not the only person who found her true calling after retirement from a “real” job. I’ve also discovered that if there’s something I really want to achieve, and the only way I can do it is by looking like an extrovert, I’ll gladly fake and perform. For a while, anyway.
At least I’m no longer a closet introvert. And right now, we intros are having our moment.
Are any of you introverts? How has that influenced your life? And how are you dealing with our Covid19-constricted world?
This month’s full moon is a special one, known as a “super moon.” As it rises, it will be the closest to Earth at any time this year and 20% brighter than a normal full moon. It’s worth paying attention to it just for that reason.
But of course things on Earth are unusual in other ways now. Many people feel confused and constricted. All the more reason to step out the door or stick your head out the window and look at the moon.
I’ve heard there’s less human-produced light in urban areas, as many businesses and venues are closed. That means stars are easier to see. Even the International Space Station can be seen easily if you know when and where to look.
But the main reason to look at the moon right now is because it’s the same moon in the same sky for all of us, no matter where we are or in what situation. Something worth thinking about.
Specifically, The Gardener’s Bed-Book and The Gardener’s Day Book, both by Richardson Wright (1887-1961), originally published in 1929 and 1938 respectively, the decade between the stock market crash and the start of World War II. Like many books about gardening, they are based on the calendar, with a short essay for every day of the year and a longer one at the end of each month. They reminded me of blog posts. I found myself wanting to press a “Like” button and write comments!
Most of the essays, as expected, are about gardening. Each one is followed by a timely tip, such as when to order seeds, plants, or bulbs, and dates by which various tasks should be done. The basics of gardening haven’t changed that much in centuries, so I could relate to Wright’s thoughts about different plants and musings on gardening as pastime and passion. Despite being written almost a century ago, many of the daily tips are surprisingly apt. I’ll have to pay more attention to some of them.
It’s a different story when it comes to pest control. The differences between then and now are substantial. Toxic chemicals were all the rage then, such as Bordeaux mixture (copper sulphate and slaked lime), Semesan (organomercury compounds), and Black Leaf 40 (nicotine sulphate). Next to advice to apply arsenate of lead to cabbages was a pencilled note — “Good Lord!” — I must have made the first time I read the book.
Wright’s attitudes and phraseology are of their time, and a few of his remarks are offensive by today’s standards, but there aren’t enough of those to make the book a complete turn-off. Some of his observations on “modern society,” like outrageously fast speeds on highways, seem a bit quaint. One essay includes an observation that Americans drink standing up rather than sitting down, gulping rather than sipping. He associates this habit with early death and suggests sitting down and savouring wine or beer. This sounds a lot like the recent “slow food” trend. The pleasures of food and wine are mentioned regularly, and there are even a few recipes.
I was amused by instructions such as “Check up on the the gardener to see if he has sharpened all edge tools,” and references to a “lawn boy.” Clearly, Wright was among the privileged folks who lived well during the Depression, although he could not afford to install a swimming pool due to “the wind that blew down Wall Street.” Frequent references to hot beds and cold frames made me wonder if these have been replaced by greenhouses, polytunnels, and similar structures.
I haven’t been able to find out much more about Richardson Wright besides his role as editor of House and Garden magazine. He appears to have been a respected figure, both as a promoter of gardening and as a writer, but as yet lacks a Wikipedia entry. In the preface to the Bed-Book, Allen Lacy describes him as “…a congenial soul with a good sense of humor and a well-furnished mind and the manners of a gentleman…” Wright’s garden was in the Silvermine area of Connecticut, a place he called “Sun House.” It must have been quite large, with space for luxuries such as nursery beds and those desirable features of great gardens, stone walls.
Dipping into these books is rather like a visit to a past time. Not that far back, though. I was surprised to read that cars had radios in the 1930s, and it appears that a certain type of book was called a “murder mystery” even in that pre-World War II era. Altogether, Mr. Wright’s books provided a pleasant and interesting diversion, just as they were intended to do almost a century ago.
I can’t remember when or where I bought these books. They’re reprints, not originals, published in 1989. A price of $23.95 appears on the jackets, but I don’t think I would have paid that much, so they probably came from a used bookstore. I recently rediscovered them with considerable delight. They’re chunky little books, about seven inches tall by five wide and more than an inch thick, a comfortable size for the bedside table.
A Light-Bulb Moment
In the Day Book, Mr. Wright’s advice for March 30th is “Roll and rake the lawn.” This got me wondering why anyone would do that (aside from preparing an area for seeding a new lawn). Surely it’s the opposite of aerating, which one is now advised to do, with machines that remove small cores of soil and presumably let in air. Might frost-heaved areas need rolling? Or maybe mole runs? Indeed, on April 13th, one is advised to oil the mole traps. I’ve never lived in a place with moles, so have no experience of their activities.
Then I remembered something from Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows, a favourite book of mine in past years. In the chapter titled “Dulce Domum,” Mole remembers the old home from which he departed in the middle of spring cleaning to seek wider horizons. When he and Rat revisit the place months later, Rat has a job of it to convince Mole that it’s really a nice little house and not a shabby, decrepit dump. Anyway, it seems Mole owns a lawn roller, because he doesn’t care for “animals” kicking up his lawn into little mounds. It’s taken me almost 60 years to discover and appreciate that little joke on Mr. Grahame’s part.
Writing and editing have been compared to cooking. Here’s another analogy (from my contrarian side).
Two approaches to diet: forbid yourself all foods high in calories, carbohydrates, and/or fat, OR eat a variety of foods (including ones you like), limiting those highest in fats and carbs.
Which one are you most likely to adopt as a way of life?
Two approaches to writing: follow all the rules and make sure you don’t use forbidden words, OR use whatever goddamn words you like, as long as they bring your story to life in the reader’s mind.
Which one will you regard with zest and enthusiasm?
Eating a variety of healthy, palate-pleasing foods from the entire range of available edibles is a better approach than restrictive regimes that label certain foods as forbidden. Of course, it helps to learn something about nutrition, and what “moderate” really means.
We writers have the entire panoply of words available to us. Words are the writer’s tools. Learning to write is learning how to use them well, all of them. Some words — cliches, maybe? — are analogous to processed foods. Flat, boring prose may be likened to vegetables boiled into a khaki-coloured mush. Well-chosen words skillfully assembled are like magical combinations of juice and crunch and richly blended flavours. A dialogue tag other than “said,” or the occasional adverb, are like touches of spice or a few hot peppers.
I’m not a fan of advice that labels certain words as weak words, crutch words, or filter words. The implication is that if you avoid those words or replace them with other, better, words, your writing will be good. But it’s not really about using some words and avoiding others. Writers must develop the ability to embody their imaginings in words that engage, delight, intrigue, or appall readers and keep them reading to the end.
If it was simply a matter of avoiding adjectives and not using “was,” writing would be a snap. It isn’t.
In writing, as in diet, it’s all about good choices and optimal combinations. Experimentation, mistakes and failures, adjustments, and fresh attempts are part of the process. Too much focus on rules can result in paralysis. Ignorance and total disregard of good writing practices can result in bloated or crippled prose.
When the writer embarks on a journey of creation, the rules should be in the luggage and the editor in the back seat. When the writer’s inspiration and intention have been given shape in the form of words, they may be unpacked and summoned to do their parts.
In my recent post about some small irritants of life, I stayed away from human behaviour, because that’s more than a small irritant. It warrants a post of its own, which has been brewing for some time. Here it is. Rant warning issued!
I have come to think our species should be called Homo destructor rather than Homo sapiens. Wisdom takes a long, wide view. Wisdom values thought before action. That does not describe us.
We destroy wilderness to satisfy our endless needs. We glorify explorers, adventurers, disrupters, and exploiters. We’ve left footprints and junk on the Moon, and are keen to set foot on Mars, having already sent machines there. We’re looking feverishly for Earth-like planets — more worlds to conquer mess up. We tell ourselves this is as it should be, because we are by nature clever, curious, and inventive. Why shouldn’t we strive to know and control?
But why can’t we learn to value observing and contemplating more than utilizing and exploiting?
We pride ourselves on our inventiveness, always finding a way to adapt our environments to ourselves rather than accepting that evolution adapts us. Because the pace of evolution is too slow for us. We spent too many millennia in the stone age, and aren’t planning to go back there.
We want everything to be bigger, faster, cheaper. Short-sighted, greedy, and destructive — that’s us, as a species. We congratulate ourselves on our achievements in discovery, invention, and artistic creation. But consider this: almost none of that benefits any other life form. The Earth doesn’t care about books, the stock market, religions, or even the music of Beethoven.
And yet, we see ourselves as the pinnacle species. After 4.6 billion years, a life form on Earth turned and saw itself in the mirror of its intelligence and imagination. It split the atom and decoded life and gave itself license to manage the planet.
We pride ourselves on Knowing, on our self awareness, our god-like capability to stand outside ourselves and observe. If we used that capability with a broader purpose, it might benefit both the Earth and ourselves.
I’ve tried to convince myself that we are just another force of nature, like the asteroid that created the Chicxulub Crater, ending the age of the dinosaurs. We should be what we are, with no more regret for our effect on the Earth than that giant chunk of rock.
Science tells us the only life forms on Earth for its first couple of billion years were microbes. Compared to that, the present human-caused extinctions seem trivial. The planet will survive our depredations (even if we don’t) and life in some form will return. What’s wrong with that?
I’ve tried to convince myself of that, but I can’t. We are living creatures, made of the stuff of Earth and utterly dependent upon its life-supporting qualities. So why do we continue to do things that threaten those supports?
We humans need to develop and express a reverence for the Earth.
OK, enough ranting. I could go on, but I think I’ve made a few points, or at least fired off some wildly random shots. For a more positive and hopeful view, read this post from Anima Monday: https://animamonday.wordpress.com/2019/10/21/you-are-not-powerless/ (BTW, I heartily recommend the Anima Monday blog for its unique perspectives on humanity’s relations with the natural world.)
So, fellow Pressers of the Word — are you hopeful or despairing about the immediate prospects of life on Planet Earth?
A while ago, I wrote a post complaining about parking lot design. It was going to be the first of a series of grumbles. Since then I’ve realized that writing a string of posts whining about “first world problems” isn’t the best use of my blogging time. So I’ve bundled all the small things that bug me into one post.
These are low-level annoyances that regularly make me say “Why…?” They’re things — poorly-designed physical objects, not human behaviour. Many aspects of human behaviour (individual and collective) bug me, and many more sadden and enrage. Maybe I’ll get into some of them in future posts. For now, I’m sweating the small stuff.
Noisy yard machines. Sometimes my corner of suburbia sounds like a war zone with competing roars from lawn mowers, string trimmers, and leaf blowers.
Scented dryer sheets and laundry soaps. Nose-twisting synthetic “perfumes” with names like “April Fresh” and “Mountain Breeze” wafting from dryer vents in the neighbourhood. And I’m not even allergic!
Pants (trousers) without pockets. Women’s pants, specifically. Oh, right — women don’t need pockets because they always carry purses for their keys and kleenex. Even while vacuuming, gardening, and cooking.
Containers sealed for my protection that need a knife to remove the seal.
Fitted sheets that don’t quite fit and need brute force to muscle them onto a mattress.
Right turns on red. Whether I’m driving or walking, they make me nervous.
Glue that fails even when instructions for use are adhered to.
Lack of hand grips on big furniture and appliances. Just try moving a washing machine or sofa. Weight isn’t the real issue, but nowhere to get an effective grip. Surely designers could build in something graspable by the human paw.
Overly bright LED street lights. I look out the window to see the full moon and get blinded by the light on the pole.
Gifs and other online visuals (often in ads) that jump, flash, wiggle, and jiggle. Again. And again, and again, and again… Screeeeeeee… (That’s me running away.)
That’s it! I’m done griping. What about you, WP bloggers? What irks you? Here’s your chance to complain. Or not. (And I still have no idea why parking lots are designed to annoy. If anyone knows, please add a comment!)
After nearly 10 years of writing blog posts, reading blog posts, and commenting on blog posts, I have a pretty good idea of what I like in a blog post: an interesting (to me) topic, well-written, and relatively short. Good comments by other bloggers are a definite bonus. They can elevate a post from statement to conversation.
What are good comments? Ones that add something to what the blogger said, even by arguing disagreeing a bit. Remember what we’re always being told about our fiction writing — conflict adds interest. No one likes vitriolic troll-spew, but when every single comment is blandly positive (Great post! Thanks for this! Got to bookmark!), or there are no comments at all, the reading experience falls flat.
For example, a while ago, I read a reblogged post advising writers to use “sensitivity readers.” I knew from elsewhere that this topic is controversial; some writers see it as bordering on self-censorship. Several bloggers “liked” the post, but no one had anything to say about it. I’ve seen this happen often enough to wonder. Did all these readers just think, “Oh, okay,” and move on to the next thing? (And did I put in my 2 cents’ worth? No, actually. Being in the Far West of the world, I’m often among the last bloggers to read a post, and there’s not much point in formulating a comment only the original poster will see.)
Some posts lend themselves better than others to discussion-type comments. If someone is announcing a new book or sharing a milestone of some sort, no discussion is needed. On the other hand, posts offering advice to writers, or strongly worded screeds taking a particular position on an issue, are vastly improved by comments.
I’m not advocating flat condemnations or being argumentative for the sake of it, but sometimes I wish people wouldn’t appear to swallow all advice with a bland affirmation. If you have reservations or questions about advice given or opinions expressed in a post, articulate them! If you’re a published writer with any measure of success, you have a ground from which to comment and question.
Perhaps bloggers are reluctant to differ with or question opinions in a post because they fear being labelled as negative. In the culture of “positivity,” an apparently negative attitude is perceived as a major flaw. I agree that whiny, bitter screeds full of self-pity, or personal attacks are never acceptable, but a bit of civilized discussion can add dimension and interest to a post.
We’ve all heard this piece of advice: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything.” I suggest modifying it to: “If you don’t agree with something, turn your disagreement into an opportunity to discuss.”
So, fellow bloggers, what do you think? How do you feel about a bit of civilized quibbling? Feel free to disagree!
” Collect Rocks Day is a day to enjoy and add to your rock collection “
I can relate to this pseudo-holiday, because I’ve been collecting rocks all my life. My house is full of them. I’m the only person I know with an actual pile of rocks on the dresser in their bedroom. There are rocks on my kitchen windowsills and rocks in special spots in the living room. There are even “book rocks” on the table where we eat our meals.
I suspect the point of this day is to encourage kids to start proper rock collections of identified specimens. I tried that when I was a kid. I put my rocks into chocolate boxes, which were neatly divided into squares just right for labelled specimens.
The trouble was, the rocks I picked up were really hard to identify. They didn’t look like any of the pictures in Herbert S. Zim’s guide to rocks and minerals. Despite my efforts at determining hardness, doing tests with vinegar, and peering at my specimens with a magnifying glass, most of them remained unidentified. The closest I got was declaring them to be sedimentary, igneous, or metamorphic. I had a feeling many of my rocks were metamorphic. Their constituent minerals had been tortured into unidentifiable (at least by me) substances by heat and pressure. But they were pretty.
I gave up on scientific rock collecting, but I never gave up picking up rocks. Almost every visit to a beach or creek resulted in a pocket full of pebbles and sometimes a cobble or two carried in my hands. Nowadays I do a rock review before leaving the site and discard all but the best specimens, usually keeping only one or two.
So what makes a rock keep-worthy? For me, it comes down to colour, contrasts, smoothness, and peculiarities of shape. Or general weirdness. The eight rocks in the featured image at the top of the post display all of them to some extent. There’s a smooth, uniformly green rock and a smaller one that’s light green with dark green stripes. There are a couple that feature different rock types welded together. One is composed of thin layers of light and dark pinkish material. The little white one is a piece of what looks like marble, polished to exquisite smoothness by who knows how many years of wave action.
One piece of advice: rocks always look great wet. Beach pebbles are often wet when picked up. Let them dry before you decide if they’re worth keeping.
Colour and smoothness
Contrast and weirdness
These Ballenas pebbles found their way into one of my novels. In Islands of the Gulf Volume 1, The Journey, Francis Dexter collects a few pebbles from a place rather like Ballenas Island. Later, he looks at them while brooding about how his life has turned out.
I have before me a handful of pebbles under the light as I write this. Some are the colour of bruised flesh, others dark green or black, or mixtures of colours impossible to describe, veined like the finest capillaries. Each was torn from its matrix, millennia ago, and polished to a degree I find astonishing. When I first studied them, here in the lamplight, I thought: here is perfection without design, proof that the world works upon things and incidentally brings them to goodness without an artificer’s hand. … The black pebbles with the white stars are the most beautiful. They are made of the hardest substance and are the brightest, but must be subjected to the longest ordeal to achieve their perfection. How much of themselves must they lose to the lathe of the world?