I am starting on my blog again, posting monthly, and I’m going to do it without reconnecting with Facebook or Twitter. I’ll post them on both my WordPress blog site and my website and the inestimable Richie will put them on his vast social media empire, too. But please, if you like reading my posts, go ahead and press that little “follow” button in order to be notified of my new posts. I really appreciate it and as I do your interest and your support.
So this month’s post falls under the heading of buy my beautiful notecards why don’t you? It is, after all, the season for sending out little cards. Sure, I don’t have theme- specific ones, but you can use your imaginations. I’ve got pears and aren’t there partridges in pear trees for one holiday? I’ve sheep, lots of sheep, and that says to me Thanksgiving, hands-down.
The little landscapy ones can be used for all sorts of themes. I just can’t think of which, exactly, at this moment, but I’m sure you can.
And of course there’s the pigs and the horses. Now that I think of it, the pigs, although I think they are lovely, might be a tad insensitive for, say, Thanksgiving or Christmas or Hannukah. Okay, ixnay on the pigs for the holidays. But the horses would work. You know, “over the river and through the woods to grandmothers house we go, the horse knows the way…” etc. And that Robert Frost poem about stopping in the snowy woods and the pony does that little shake of the harness thing.
So go here and check them out. And thanks.
Last night I read through that little gem, The Elements of Style. Updated, its core nonetheless remains as sound as a ninety-year-old yogi.
In today’s children and young adult books, there is a fixation on “voice.” “Voice” is what is most often referenced when agents are asked what they look for when reading a manuscript. “A fresh voice” they say, whatever that means. Based on the books I review, “a fresh voice” is often on par with the flat, loud volume of commercials or the exaggerated drama of reality shows. It exhausts the reader with its neediness.
Here, by calming contrast, is Strunk and White’s advice in the chapter titled “An Approach to Style.”
Place yourself in the background. Write in a way that draws the reader’s attention to the sense and substance of the writing, rather than to the mood and temper of the author.
If the writing is solid and good, the mood and temper of the writer will eventually be revealed and not at the expense of the work. Therefore, the first piece of advice is this: to achieve style, begin by affecting none—that is, place yourself in the background.
A careful and honest writer does not need to worry about style. As you become proficient in the use of language, your style will emerge, because you yourself will emerge, and when this happens you will find it increasingly easy to break through the barriers that separate you from other minds, other hearts—which is, of course, the purpose of writing, as well as its principal reward.
Fortunately, the act of composition, or creation, disciplines the mind; writing is one way to go about thinking, and the practice and habit of writing not only drain the mind but supply it, too.
There is a pervasive myopia, and it is, that talent and success come to fruition solely by the genius of the person in question.
No one has ever done anything that is worthwhile alone.
There is always someone or someones who maintain the foundation of—lets call it that incubative stuff they put in petri dishes—that matrix, so that the cells can grow, unimpeded. There is always someone who provides one or more of the following: financial support, child care, housework, emotional support, intellectual support, physical support.
Leaving out this other half —and it is at least half—of the story in a profile of a successful person perpetuates the tired, and let’s face it, untrue trope of the solitary genius.
Walt Whitman had, not only his sister, but a wife to wait on him and take care of his every emotional and physical need so that he could create in petri dish splendor. Edward Weston had Tina Modotti. And so on.
I am looking forward to the day when a profile of a successful person—of any gender—includes the other half of the story, which is, of course, the whole story.
How many times have you heard someone say “absolutely” when what they really mean is “yes” or “maybe” or even “no.” Absolutely has become the “I only have the tiniest clue, but prevarication or anything less than complete confidence is regarded as weakness so I am using this word.” In our one-upmanship culture, hesitation or thoughtfulness is considered a sign of weakness, apparently.
A picture of your lunch on Facebook is not awesome. Awesome really means something extremely impressive, whether of the apprehensive or inspiring variety. Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is awesome, actually.
Means to be filled with astonishment. I’m not astonished that easily, so my days are not filled with amazing events. Maybe yours are. Or maybe you’d be more accurate to use, in its place, the British “quite”—that polite neutral dismissal, alas.
I think it’s time to be amazed and awed by the layers of nuance in language and the close attention demanded to select just the right word. And to that end, I think this photo is Adorable.
Yesterday I decided to make my version of Thai noodles and so I brought out the old Cuisinart food processor, remembering as I did so, the woman who gave it to me. Lisa and Nick are my husband’s oldest friends—really his mentors and surrogate parents. They decided to move north after retirement and she, an enthusiastic cook, wanted to start fresh with pots and pans and such in her new kitchen. So she gave me some of her old stuff.
At that time I had a view of meal creation that was less about creation and more about check-off-the-box. I had lived on a farm where I grew most of my food, meat included, and the growing and processing of it took up most of my time outside of my going-to-work job.
My favorite cookbook then was a Mennonite cookbook and it was all about large quantities and efficiency. I would prep ingredients for the week on Sunday and stick them in the freezer. When I got home from work (a fifty mile each way commute) I would look at the schedule (yes, a schedule!) on the refrigerator, (“Monday, chicken casserole, Tuesday: veggie medley, etc.) pull out the appropriate packages from the freezer and assemble it.
But life goes on and the farm and my life on it became history, and now here was Lisa, giving me some really nice kitchen things. There was the Cuisinart, copper saucepans, and Le Creuset skillets. I didn’t know how wonderful these things were at the time, being more familiar with meat grinders and such. But over the years, as I continue to use these substantial, solid kitchen tools—the very antithesis of planned obsolescence—I marvel both at Lisa’s generosity and at her intuition in knowing that someday I would expand my creativity into cooking.
There are gifts that are brief moments of thought, and gifts that are a fulfillment of an obligation, and then there are the gifts that abide through time and thick-and-thin, and enduring friendship is the best of those.
Recently on the radio, I listened to a program on the resurgence of the cocktail in American society. Perfect timing. Weary of the wrestling spectacle of politics and anticipating the green of spring, it brought to mind my own favorite cocktail to offset dreary—the Buddha’s Hand.
To make a Buddha’s hand you need to start with the citron called…the Buddha’s Hand (citrus medica var. sarcodactyllis). Related to the lemon, but much older, a Buddha’s Hand fruit contains no juice, only pulp. When its “fingers” are closed, it resembles the hand of Buddha in prayer. In China, its characters mean long life and happiness. But what you’re going to do with it is infuse it in good vodka for a month. So slice in up and stick it into the vodka. After a month, it’s ready. Smell it, and revel in the complex and generally uplifting aroma. Next get yourself a bottle of Green Chartreuse liqueur. Chartreuse is no ordinary liqueur. It is made by the monks of the Chartreuse Order in France–contemplative monks who spend their lives in silence (a documentary, “Into Great Silence” filmed in the monastery brings this home viscerally—there’s no speaking at all in the entire movie.) The green color of the liqueur comes exclusively from the one hundred and thirty plants and flowers that are infused to make the liqueur. Which one hundred and thirty, and in what proportion, is a nearly three hundred year old secret held and passed down to only two monks each generation.
To make this auspicious cocktail, take two ounces of your lovely Buddha’s Hand vodka and one-half ounce of Green Chartreuse. Add one-half ounce of freshly squeezed lemon juice and shake with ice. Strain into your very favorite glass. Garnish, if you wish, with a thin lemon slice.
Now, admire the green-lemon color and know that no dyes were used to achieve it. Take a sip and savor the complex herb and citron infusions, redolent of the the natural world, of silence, and of meditation.
And if this doesn’t help you through the testing times, nothing will.
What with the world going to hell in a hand basket, I thought maybe you’d like to read about something uplifting this week.
Two years ago, I took all my individual amaryllis bulbs (always save your amaryllis bulbs; they are very easy to grow to re-bloom) and planted them, with lots of space between them, in a big blue ceramic pot.
I let the bulbs grow their foliage in the pot all summer, in full sun and I watered and fed them occasionally. When the frost nipped, I cut all the foliage back to the bulbs. Said bulbs, I noticed, were making new little bulbs and now generally being obstreperous and crowding with each other. I hauled the pot into the cold area of the dining room where it sat in the dark, with no watering, for about six weeks. When I saw the bulbs beginning to grow on their own, I hauled the pot (I keep saying ‘hauled” because it is a heavy, large ceramic pot and I want you to appreciate my strength and effort) to the sunny windows of the living room and began to water. And now look. Each bulb has sent up one to two stalks and each stalk has six flowers. That’s a lot of blossoms, each six inches across, and more coming. It’s been blooming for three weeks now.
So. Save your holiday-impulse-buy amaryllis bulbs after they’ve had their flowering. Plant them all together in a big pot. In the summer, let the foliage grow like crazy. Keep the pot watered and feed it once a week with a balanced fertilizer. (I use, I’m afraid, the blue stuff. It just works better for flowering houseplants.) When the nights get nippy in the middle to end of October, cut all the foliage back (ALL of it) to the bulb. Don’t cut the bulb. Put the pot in dark-ish, cool-ish spot. Don’t water. After six weeks or so of this rest, the bulb will start sending up a green leaf or flower stalk. As soon as you see this, bring it out to the light and begin to water. Don’t feed, since the bulb supplies all the nutrients now for the flowers. And sit back and enjoy your own Amaryllis! Amaryllis! (While the rest of the world largely ignores the beauty that is theirs to create.)
Exciting news for me! My website, debpaulson.com is up and running. Although a website launch is about as noteworthy these days as a new memoir, when it’s your own, it’s special.
My web designer Adam Stemple, took my vision of a clean, spare, but not “which way to radiology” look and turned it into an awfully pretty, uncluttered website. In it, you will find a great many of my watercolors, searchable and organized in a drop-down menu, a little bio, and my “other” writing—articles, thoughts, and literary criticism pieces that appeal to a specific audience, rather than general (but I encourage you to read them anyway, even if you don’t think you want to know why the children’s book, The Borrowers, may be an affirmation of British colonialist mentality, or how photography was invented. You never know.) “Writing” will update monthly, so check back regularly. In the queue: liminal and mythic time in Carson McCullers’ The Member of the Wedding (Admit it. You can’t wait.) And of course, I will add new paintings as I complete them. (I’ll be doing the illustrations for my picture book, The Prunes, over the winter and will show them first on the website.)
My blog also lives in the website, although I will also continue to publish it under my word press site, so my followers don’t have to migrate over.
So take a look. Share. Stop back often. And thank you for reading.
In which we learn how Richie and Deb spend their non-race weekends
Sunday, 7:05 AM
Deb is concerned. She has been concerned for weeks now. The woodstove’s ceramic baffle has a hole in it. The only directions she could find for replacing it were the stern warning to “have it replaced by a qualified Hearthstone dealer.” As if. The conundrum: risk replacing the part themselves or live with the defect and pray that nothing goes horribly wrong in the depths of January? It is on this fateful Sunday morning that she decides. They will replace the part. She informs Richie. He, recognizing her uncompromising tone, sighs, swallows the last of his bagel and puts his computer aside. Deb frowns as she reads the instructions that came with the replacement part. Why do the “tools needed” include a hammer and chisel? She hands the instructions to Richie, sure he will only read the first line and then go at it his own way. Mentally, she says goodbye to the woodstove.
They are still on step one: Remove the cotter pin. Richie has bent it, pinched it with needle-nose pliers, and sawed it with a hacksaw blade. It seems to be a permanent fixture. Deb decides to re-read all the instructions for the tenth time, as if that will make the cotter pin come loose, and to feel that she is doing something productive. She also re-reads the pre-instruction and this time she grits her teeth. Doing the pre-instruction means they are all in. No returning part, no backing out. “Using a utility knife, cut the part in half at a 45 degree angle.” Uncharitably, Deb wonders why they don’t cut the part in half themselves at the factory. As she holds the utility knife poised over the baffle like a surgeon, she hears Richie, in the other room, still struggling with the cotter pin. She takes a deep breath and makes the first cut. The second cut. The third cut. Finally, on the fourth cut, the part separates. She goes to tell Richie, who has his head in the wood stove. There is soot everywhere. Deb decides to go upstairs for a bit.
Richie gives a grunt of satisfaction. Cotter pin is out! Richie tells Deb he needs a restorative look at his computer. Deb goes on to step two: “Slide heating tubes to left.” She does and they fall out, along with a few other pieces of metal. She is not too worried, since they have marked the pieces with a Sharpie. She will regret this insouciance later. She lays the two halves of the baffle in the stove. All well and good! She begins to replace the heating tubes. As she struggles with pins and holes and slots, dark childhood memories of Fisher-Price square blocks and round holes come unbidden. She mutters.
Richie puts computer down and says he will try. Deb can’t watch his defeat, so she leaves the room. But in a very short time, he informs her he has succeeded! She is elated but suspicious. Surreptitiously, she examines it. He has done it! Perhaps, Deb thinks, decades of honing motor skills building renowned bicycle frames has prepared him for just this challenge on the Hero’s Journey of Life! A feeling of pride for him wells up in her. They are over the hump and on their way to victory!
Richie has another restorative look at his computer, while Deb (a.k.a. “The Closer”) struggles to fit the final part in in without breaking the baffle. Eventually, she reluctantly concludes that this final part must be put into place before the tubes go in. She mutters not-nice words to the writer of the instructions who, it is now obvious, has never replaced a baffle before.
Richie is still having his convivial computer moment when Deb informs him that the heating tubes/ Fisher-Price-from-hell-game must be taken out. She thinks he looks resigned, but patient. If he did it once, he can do it again, his expression seems to say. He takes them out. Deb puts in the metal part. Or tries to. She realizes this is the one piece they forgot to mark and she doesn’t know which way is right side up. She asks Richie. He doesn’t remember either.
On the Internet, they find an exploded diagram of the wood stove. The part appears to go that way.
They look at each other, eyes wide with uncertainty. They shrug. It is what it is. Deb puts the part in. Richie replaces the tubes a second time.
Sunday morning 10:06 AM
They have done it! And the staid pace of country living is gratefully resumed.
Recently, Richie has been posting, on Facebook and his website, pieces of ephemera from his bicycle history with his reflections and backstory. Since his involvement with bicycles, bicycle racing, and frame building dates back to the early 1970’s this project, taken as a whole, has become a testament of sorts to his life—his choices, his experiences, his observations.
Tonight, we go to my parent’s sixtieth wedding anniversary dinner party. To give them something, my four siblings and I have been combing through photographs. There are lots of photos of sailing—comfy coastal sailing and gritty ocean sailing. There is one of my Dad hang gliding, another of my Mom horseback riding in the Grand Canyon (looking none too thrilled), a lovely one of her resting on a Swiss mountaintop à la Sound of Music, and one of them in Russia with a young Russian couple they met when they were stuck there for a bit.
Reading the ephemera and perusing the photographs makes me think, what makes a life? Is it adventure and experiences—new places, travel? Is it people—those you’ve met and interacted with within your passion? Or is it something more fundamental?
The common denominator in Richie’s ephemera and my parents’ travels is connection. Each of them has lived—is living—a life filled with connection. Connections to people, places, adventures, experiences, words, ideas, nature.
So what makes a life?
The courage to connect is what makes a life.