boxes

Years ago I used to say that my happiness would be complete if I could find a Carnation milk box in good condition.  That size of box was perfect to hold file folders, of which I was gradually developing a collection.  I did find the box of my dreams and for a time I was content, with sufficient space to corral my files. Lo, how simple life was then!  Of course, I graduated to filing cabinets, lots of them, and to auxiliary boxes, the kinds sold often to house magazine collections, and Banker's Boxes that I filled to send my history away. If it hadn't been for the University of Manitoba Archives that took, has taken, keeps on taking, my files, I would have run out of Carnation milk cartons as well as Banker's Boxes a long time ago.

Then there are shoe boxes.  I'm always thrilled when I buy a new pair of shoes because i get a new shoe box, also good for filing stuff.  Before I began to do quarterly reports for my GST/HST, I used shoe boxes to hold all my receipts and necessary papers.  I think a lot of people tend to use shoe boxes for this purpose.  I actually wrote a pamphlet for the CLHIA (Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association), the umbrella organization that supplies all the insurance companies with guidelines and information.  I called it The Shoebox Guide and it was a mail-away give-away for years, until computers took over and supplied such material online.  Then the Association bought my title. I don't know if it still exists. I'll have to look it up some time.

P.S. I looked it up and it's still there. When they first asked if they could buy it from me, I said "Oh, you're going to offer a virtual shoe box guide," and that's what they called it, a virtual sbg.  How about that?

My son-in-law collects boxes and he has some gorgeous ones, hand-crafted of beautiful wood, and some of them are very large. I found him a small, pretty one made from a redwood tree, fitted together so closely you can't see the lid from the bottom. You've probably seen lots of little puzzle boxes with secret panels and hidden closures.

Boxes were invented before trunks, I think, to store and carry  one's possessions.  My husband's grandfather was a cabinet-maker. First-born son of a family firm that made beer, he found religion and renounced his fortune.  When he emigrated from Scotland to Canada with his family, he made all his travelling crates out of mahogany, painted black. Once established in the New World, he turned the boxes into fine furniture for his home.  

I don't know when the popular, over-used expression, "think outside the box" came into play but I hope it outlives its so-called usefulness soon.  There's plenty to think about inside a box. (I want to say until I'm carried out in one, but that would be pushing it.)

 

I've said this before

It's a line from Oscar Hammerstein's The King and I: "if you become a teacher/By your pupils you'll be taught." Don't forget that. 

I'll be meeting, that is, taking (by phone) with my mentee today and I've had a few days to try to absorb what she has written lately and think  how best to respond.  The process makes me go through my own approach again. In trying to resolve her problems, or at least to suggest possible approaches to take, I will apply what I am re-learning to my own dilemmas.  Every situation presents its own difficulty and its own various solutions.  So I go on learning.  But what am I going to tell my mentee? 

Exposition is difficult, even in a novel.  It sticks out like a neon sign in a play, when two people are telling each other what at least one of them already knows, in order to bring the audience up to speed.   A novelist thinks he/she can get away with this, just filling in the blanks in necessary information.  Not possible.  Information is boring in large doses.  You have to parcel it out, disguised as conflict, or as an insight into the character doling out all those details.  Every scene, no matter how heavily loaded with backfill, must have a beginning, middle and end.  We must have learned more than the dimensions or decor of a room or the contents of an office, including the location of the safe or computer - popular targets. We have to know what the characters think of what they have learned and maybe even what they plan to do about it.  

Okay, Okay, I'm not telling you or me anything we don't know, but it bears repeating.  While you're at it, tell me something I don't know. 

Now I'm ready to talk to my mentee.

if not now when?

What a day!  I want to say: hard and horrible but I have no right to call it that. I'm okay , just tired.  My brain is a little worn.  But I haven't written my blog for the day.  I have a file folder now full of bits and pieces, clippings and scribblings, ideas that I think, or at one time must have thought, were worthy of a blog's worth of writing. But my brain is tired and not co-operating and I can't choose. So how about I give you a list of possible blogs?  Then you can choose one for me, or - here's an idea - you can write one for yourself. Here goes:

-What if Ophelia kept a diary?

-The Queen's handbag. (contents) I've actually written bit about this - on a piece of paper somewhere.

-Comment on a statement I read by an Arthur Krystal ( author of 2 essay collections): "..some scientists claim different parts of the brain are switched on by our using a pen instead of a computer."  I've been using a pen and recipe file cards all day, trying to create a new outline. Maybe that's why my brain is wrung out.

What happens to a creative urge when you scribble a note and file it away? Well, this, for one thing. A mini-blog, a half-assed essay, an incomplete thought.

Far too self-indulgent.

 

 

the second mouse gets the cheese

You've heard that one, I'm sure, the smart argument parrying the statement about the early bird. You already know what I think about procrastination, how useful it is in separating the A-list from the C-list.  If you wait long enough, the Cs either drop off or become As and then you can see your course of action.  An article in The New York Times reports on the increasing amount (not number) of pre-crastination (sic) going on: people knocking off tasks with surprisingly distant deadlines. Apparently, doing this gets rid of the pressure of the deadline hanging over one.  Deadlines don't hang.  Sometimes they lurk, but mostly they are out there, up ahead, lying in wait.

Of course, one has tasks, jobs, things to do that have no deadline as such, but that drift on, butting into one's conscience now and then, requesting and then demanding attention.  For me, these usually rise up as I am trying to get back to sleep after a pee break.  (That's why I have a night light in the bathroom, a very dim light, very dim, so as not to wake up my brain. I don't appreciate a wakeful brain at 3 in the morning.) I don't want to think about them now, either.  I wish you hadn't brought them up.

I'll think about them tomorrow.

I'll never finish

Have you noticed that when you've been spending a long time at the computer, whether working or playing (I outlawed solitaire games several years ago but you go ahead), or doing research or browsing or writing letters, that you are reluctant to leave?  It's so easy, so beguiling, just to sit there and dabble.  Advertisers count on this.

Have you noticed that they (you know who I mean) have devised sneaky ways of finding you?  No matter what obscure thing, item or person you are looking up, a sidebar will blind-side you with a notice about whatever  you've been buying lately, about a new product or a special offer or just a reminder. Oh, they are so devious.

I saved my blog to the end of my working day, to ease me out of my departure from the magic keyboard.  Yesterday I re-read my first draft of my age book and aside from the fact that I should tear it up and start again, I've done a lot of work on it today, work that involved looking up dates and quotations and confirmations and - you know, all that tedious stuff that goes with writing a book without a secretary or a clone. Now I'm going to start playing cards.

The story goes that George Kaufman, the playwright, who was  a zealous card player, used to write  the scenes for a new play in progress onto scene cards.  When he saw the narrative wasn't working, he shuffled the cards. Expertly, of course.

That's what I'm going to do.  Although I know the method works with novels, I have't tried it on non-fiction before.  However, I have written a new outline and the chapters of the old draft don't quite fit.  So I'll put them onto cards (recipe file cards work perfectly) and shuffle them, see where they go, and then fill in the blanks. Does that sound simple? It's not.  

Bye for now. 

whatever normal is

A few more items of language have arisen again and I must deal with them.  My friend at the lake, though in total angst about his wife, still took advantage of having a writer in residence, and asked me was he correct in choosing amount to indicate quantity, a sum total, as opposed to number, also a quantity or amount, but countable, numerical. So you have a large amount of food, even money, but a number of people, or dollars. I agreed with him and added a corollary: few as opposed to less.  One can have a few dollars, but less money. 

I know: I'm unbearable.  I dated for a short time a divorcé, who prided himself on his linguistic skills.  Once, for a long date (a drive to Stratford to see a play and back the same day - I said dated), as I say a long time, he brought along a short edition of the OED (Oxford English Dictionary), a short version of Fowler's Modern English Usage, and a lexicon. He needed them  for our arguments.  He was one of the few people I felt free to correct or question, in the full understanding that he would fight back.

So I'm back to normal, I guess.

Note to Pat, to whom I cannot reply: thank you for your touching and welcome comments.

home again

The predictive corrector has prevented me from saying what I wanted to say in my title.  I wanted to say home again home again jiggly jig  - you see? -  it corrected j-i-g-g-e-t-y to jiggly.  How can one indulge in word play if this stuffy, literal monitor is going to correct my puns and portmanteaux?  Most annoying.

That's not what I wanted to say.  I wanted to talk about re-entry, however soon it comes after exit.  I was away for two (horrendous) days and I'm having trouble picking up the reins, or pieces, or strings or whatever I've been using to conduct my life. (I don't think I conduct it; I think I sort of drag it along behind me, or else it  drags me.)  In the process I have disrupted other people.  I didn't swim until 8:15 and two staff members waited for me to finish my half hour swim and exercises before they could clean the pool.  I needed that swim.

 And I washed my hair. 

I couldn't even start menu planning, couldn't remember what was in the fridge or freezer or what I'm doing the rest of the week.  Everything is pressing down on me again, some things more urgent than others, but I don't feel galvanized by the incentive, just kind of lethargic.  I remember a lovely line by the actress Edith Evans (1888-1976) in the movie Tom Jones:

"Rouse yourself from this pastoral torpor."

(She also played Lady Bracknell in a  production/movie of The Importance of Being Earnest before male actors usurped the role, unfairly.)

 I have to do something about my torpor, but  my torpor isn't pastoral, it's organic, and terrifying. Check in tomorrow and see if  I'm still here. 

tricky assignment

Now here's a tough one.

My friends keep a guest log, a handsome journal with a special pen beside it for visitors to write their impressions and thanks.  What can I say? This has been a difficult time, waiting and worrying.  If you've read the last two days, you'll know why.  And my absent hostess still hasn't had her surgery. It's been a limbo time, a twilight zone,  and the weather hasn't helped: on and off rain, more on than off, inadequate sunshine and warmth, dreary, in fact, though one cannot overlook the beauty of the surroundings - lake and sky and trees.  Mostly, I've admired it from indoors.  

And today I must leave, still not knowing what happens next. Well, of course, we never know what's going to happen next but we make educated guesses and take calculated risks. Today, this week, it's very clear that we don't know nothin'.   

I swam only twice and I was cold.  I cooked for my host, who can't cook, is a picky eater at best and not too keen on food at all right now because he is so worried.  He's not really here; he has spent his days on the phone, checking with the hospital and doctor, or phoning and e-mailing friends to report.  I brought work with me, and finished it, not much  because I was planning on vegging out in the sun.  So I cooked, using mainly leftovers. I could take a little longer and clear out the fridge, but I have other commitments.  You do know I'm the Leftover Queen.  My first cookbook was about leftovers.  I used to make house calls.  Well, I guess that's what this visit was: a house call. I hope I helped. 

I hope all goes well.

another day another blog

"Life is what happens when you were making other plans."

  A  lot of people have said that, I think John Lennon was one of them.  Oh, dear, I suppose I'll have to look it up.

I did and it was:  "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans."  It's a line from the song he wrote for his son Sean, the child he had with Yoko Ono. So I guess other people who have said it were quoting him.  It's a good one.

Anyway, yesterday was like that, and it wasn't my plan that went badly off course, it was my friends'.  

I was invited to spend a couple of days at a lake, breathing clean air instead of concrete dust (from the ongoing balcony renovation), swimming (I know, I do that every day but not in the velvety soft water of a lake), drinking wine and talking to dear friends.

But one of the dear friends fell and broke her hip the day before, so it was her life that changed direction.  Her husband phoned before I left and urged me to come in spite of that.  His urging outweighed my reluctance so I went, driving my rental car, getting into his car when I arrived and spending the rest of the day in the hospital (another hour distant).  Poor lambs. They had to make new plans that include, of course, surgery - in yet another place, about two hours away by ambulance.  

We left the wounded one and drove back, with errands on the way, and I finally swam in that blessed lake at six o'clock with the sun hiding behind the tall pine trees.  Then my friend made necessary phone calls while I cooked dinner for us (cheese and mushroom omelet).  By the time I cleaned up it was late and so I came to bed....

...and could not keep my eyes open. 

Who knows what will happen today?  I'm not making any plans.  I pray all will go well. 

essays and coffee houses

I've been thinking for a long time now about Joseph Addison (1672-1719) and Richard Steele ((1672-1729) who cofounded The Spectator, a daily paper that ran from March, 1711 for a relatively short time until 1712.  They wrote essays and I had to read a selection of them in first or second year university, I forget which.  Addison wrote fewer essays than Steele but Steele seemed to think he couldn't do it without his childhood friend.  They wrote in the heyday of English coffee houses and I have been thinking of Starbucks and then of inter-net cafes and of course, blogs, which got hot only in the last seven years. 

So what better reason to write a daily blog? I'm part of a long tradition. My blogs, of course, are shorter than essays used to be.  Everything is, shorter, that is.  But it's longer than a twitter, and I use bigger words.  Have a cup of coffee with me.

how do you feel?

endorphin: any of a group of hormones secreted within the brain and nervous system and having a number of physiological functions. They are peptides that activate the body's opiate receptors, causing an analgesic effect.ORIGIN 1970s: blend of endogenous and morphine. (online dictionary)

Now that's something i didn't know, that endorphin is a portmanteau word (Lewis Carroll's term for blended, made-up words).  I thought of it this morning as I was swimming - outdoors, at last - and felt the endorphins swim into me, like dolphins, no relation .  I knew the word, knew that an endorphin (only one?)  is supposed to make you feel euphoric - well - more cheerful, anyway.  Exercise is good for you, that's the message.  I wonder: can you have too many endorphins?  Sure, they're the antidote to stress.  Feeling good kind of reduces the stress level, but too much?  What if you relax so much and your stress level drops so low that you stop making the effort?

Most of what we do, so I am told, is motivated by fear.  We are afraid of what will happen if we don't meet the deadline, fulfill our obligations to others, or observe the rules, whatever they are. When someone is really stressed out about a possible consequence, the reassuring (?) question is "What's the worst could happen?"  That's supposed to make you feel better?  Just losing your job or your partner or your life savings or an arm or a leg , but not your life?  I guess such considerations help you to put your qualms in perspective so you don't stress out.  And endorphins calm you down. 

So there I was, swimming outdoors on a summer morning and feeling better in spite of concrete dust in my lungs (from the balcony renovation) and a writer's block about a new outline for the book I then must re-write after I figure it out, and I felt good.  Almost good enough to play hooky.  But not today.  

Later: I did, though.  I did play hookey -alternate spelling.

 

travel blog

"Perhaps the future of the travel book is the travel blog."  

Paul Theroux said that, and he should know; he's one of the top travel writers in the world. I thought at first he was kind of crotchety, not such fun or as kind or funny as Bill Bryson, who looks for a laugh and also for the best in people. But that was before I read The Great Railway Bazaar, Theroux's first and greatest travel book.  Anyone who can put up with the discomforts (to say the least ) of travel the way he did/does is allowed to be crotchety. 

There have been vicarious travellers in the past. They're the people who read Lonely Planet and who pay close attention to travel guides and memoirs, but who are not wild about travelling themselves.  I remember a postcard  my mother wrote me from a southern cruise she was taking.  She wrote: "We're crossing The Great Barrier Reef.  I must look it up in the Encyclopaedia Britannica when I get  home.  Did I dell you that rye is 75 cents a drink on board?"  She really did not enjoy travelling, and there are others like her: people who like to say they've been there (wherever) but who don't enjoy it at the time.  Better in the telling. 

These are the people who would enjoy reading a travel blog, as Theroux surmised.    No effort, no waiting, no bugs or heat, no risks - just the vicarious pleasure of someone else's experiences. Magic Carpet, at someone else's expense. 

I'm counting on it.

are you ready for another one?

This is one of my favourites, and it's a Weight Watchers Special, almost zero points, if you know what I'm saying.  I'm making it right now, for my supper.

Grilled Veggie Sandwich: Toast one slice of Focaccia bread, split horizontally. It doesn't matter when you prepare the toppers, ahead of time or as you pile them on, but you want to build on the foundation with slices of the following on each side, preferably in this order going up: grilled red onion (splash of balsamic vinegar), eggplant (peeled and grilled),  red pepper (grilled and peeled), broiled portobella mushroom (broiled, stem and gills removed (freeze them for  soup stock),  topped with grated mozzarella chess, or whatever you have or like, then broiled until the cheese melts. You don't really need any other seasoning with this; it's all good.

I find one half is usually enough, but of course you can eat the whole thing.  I just wrapped my other half in foil and I'll have it for lunch tomorrow.

open secret

The hardest thing about writing a cookbook is writing down the recipes  by the time I'm a shake, rattle and stir cook. I seldom measure.  My eye knows a quarter cup, liquid or solid, when I see it. (I can't do metric though.)  So the only reason I could give you a recipe yesterday was that I had just made my wraps for the picnic. even so I guessed at the amounts I was using, except for the imitation crabmeat that comes in a package and I can read the amount, and the eggs that I can count. They were large, free-run.  So now you know my secret.

I have published three cookbooks and I did all my own cooking and testing.  Well, I got friends and family to help with the testing, that is, eating. They didn't mind.  I dedicated my first cookbook to my children who ate my failures. But I got so I would compose a dish at the typewriter (in those days it was a typewriter), and then go to the kitchen and try it out.  

Nowadays professional cooks have test kitchens and helpers. It's expensive, all that food. For my second cookbook (about cheese), it was costing me so much I asked my publisher (I was under contract) for some financial help.  They gave me $2000 for food expenses but my agent insisted on her 10%. I protested that it wasn't an advance or pay, it was just to help me pay for the food, but she insisted.  I never forgave her for that. 

Well, life isn't always fair.  The good thing is, I still use my own cookbooks.

another recipe

CRAB WRAPS

4 or 5  8-inch tortillas, preferably whole-wheat

1 package pollock disguised as crab meat

2-3 hard-boiled eggs

3 -4 stalks of celery, tender, inner ones, diced 

maybe a little diced green pepper, if you have it, but not necessary

2 tbsp. red onion, diced

1 tsp. curry powder, or to taste

smidge of salt

couple of dollops of lo-fat mayo

Put the diced veggies in a big bowl and sprinkle them with the curry seasoning and a bit of salt if you think you want it.  Add the cut up crab meat and the cut up eggs, then the mayo.  Stir gently but thoroughly to mix it all nicely.  Go ahead and taste it.  

Put a tortilla wrap on your bread or cutting board and spoon a generous amount of the filling across it, closer to the lower edge (facing you) then to the middle.  Roll and wrap it up tucking in  the ends. Place the roll in a flat container, like a brownie or cake pan, and repeat with the rest of the tortillas until you run out of something - filling or tortillas. Store in the fridge until you're ready for them.  Leftover tortillas can go in the freezer until you need them again. Leftover filling can go on a romaine boat for lunch. 

Nice to keep in the fridge overnight for the flavour (curry ) to ripen, but not necessary.  Great for picnic lunches. I'm going to Stratford tomorrow.

patience

Today i am going to catch up with some of my noodges.  The best thing about putting them off is that as long as they stay in the things-to-be-done pile, they remain possibilities. Once  I have written the note, made the query, left a message and nothing happens, there goes the possibility of a response and a return; there goes hope.  Why won't people answer their mail?

In any form.  With email now it's easy to push return. Just say no or stuff it or go do something anatomically impossible to yourself but push the button.  Let me know.  These days I guess silence means no.  Perhaps I can understand the silence in the case of an unsolicited request or query. But I'm not the only one who is not receiving the courtesy of an answer.  I'm not the only one standing out here with egg on my face.  Others tell me that silence reigns over legitimate, documented concerns that absolutely require a response and action, and within a reasonable time frame. 

Anyway, knowing this, bearing it in mind, nevertheless today I am going to write some queries and some pitches. After they've been sent out, and nothing happens, then I'll have to think of something else to pin my hopes on.

Why doesn't anybody write?

newsprint on my fingers

One of the best things about Sunday and the New York Times is that I can give my undivided attention to one thing, without feeling at my back all the myriad tasks I have to fuss about during the week.  Focus, that's what it is, and what a valuable blessing it is,  and nice to know that I am still (sort of) capable of it. So why am I writing my blog? Because it's a given by now and I feel driven and hounded on the days I don't do it, like last week. Guilt. Ever thus.

Last night I was focussed, so much so that I forgot an evening engagement I had agreed upon with a neighbour - fortunately a close neighbour, because when she called half an hour after my appointed time of arrival, she was close enough I could run downstairs (on the elevator) and show up only 35 minutes late.  What was I focussed on?  Well, forgive me, but  I'm happy to say that I was working on my current book and forgot that I had an appointment to do something else.  That doesn't happen often because I am very careful about my commitments.  I can still remember the first time I ever mislaid a promise - years ago now, when my chidden were still in school and I was supposed to pick them up to take them to the dentist. I was working on a book, my first novel, never published, and lost track of the time. Suddenly, just minutes after they left me after lunch, there they were, three hours later, coming in the door and asking where I was. Upstairs, writing.  

The next time, years later, we were all in Stratford by then and I was working on a play (later produced), and I missed a party at my very next-door neighbour's.  How could I not have noticed the cars and the traffic and the voices?  I apologized that evening when I realized too late what I had missed, but she never spoke to me again. How fragile and tenuous a blossoming friendship can  be.

That was then, this is now.  Now I do not (consciously) offend anyone with my hermit-like behaviour. And today is Sunday, welcome Sunday, and I have the New York Times.

Anon, anon.

something is rotten in the state of Denmark?

The Anatomy of Disgust by William Ian Miller.  Harvard University Press, 1998 - Literary Criticism - 320 pages

I came across the title of this book somewhere in that stash of clippings I recently uncovered, and how did I miss this one? William Miller thinks that disgust helps to bring order and meaning  to us even as it horrifies and revolts us. I have not read the book, nor do I think i want to, but he apparently goes into details about our basic human, physical activities: "eating, excreting, fornicating, decaying and dying."  Whether the list is the reviewer's or Miller's, you'll notice some of the verbs have Latin roots and some Anglo-Saxon.  No F-word.  "The pleasure of sex comes from the titillating violation of disgust prohibitions."  

That makes me think of that joke about the fastidious Jewish American princess saying to her new husband, "You want to put your what into my what????"

What's love got to do with it?

 "Imagine aesthetics without disgust for tastelessness and vulgarity; imagine morality without disgust for evil, hypocrisy, stupidity, and cruelty."

Is it simply an Either-Or world, after all? I checked out Kierkegaard. Yeah, maybe. It's a puzzlement. 

Upper and lower class divisions are based on such distinctions. "The high's belief that the low actually smell bad, or are sources of pollution, seriously threatens democracy."

Oh, dear: snap decisions made on the very personal reactions of the olfactory nerve are very scary. But Miller thinks that our failure  (more like prejudice) is not really an occasion for despair, for disgust also "helps to animate the world, and to make it a dangerous, magical, and exciting place."   

And the you-know-what hits the fan.

travel tips

I found some travel tips among my catch-all notes that might be useful to pass on in this season of holiday travel.  

First, tips from  a book by Mark Lawson, The Battle for Room Service: Journeys to All the Safe Places (1993), with advice that might make you think of Anne Tyler's novel, The Accidental Tourist  (1985).  The protagonist, you may remember (Macon O'Leary, I think - I'll have to check: I did. The name is Leary, not O'Leary.  Not bad for a book I read almost 3 decades ago.)  Anyway, he made his living as a travel guide, advising people of places to go that are Just Like  Home (J LH).  Some people really don't went travel to be broadening; it's too threatening.

Lawson advises you to decide how much physical activity you want.  I notice that the ElderTreks travel brochure breaks activity down into several categories from easy to moderate to strenuous, or the equivalent thereof.  It never uses the term "Couch Potato" but CPs get the message.             

Walk around the plane.  Here's a statistic I never read before: The full distance from nose to tail and back on a 747 is about 400 feet.  Thirteen times - your fellow passengers will love you - and you've covered a mile. Now have a Bloody Mary (my advice, not his).  

This is not on Lawson's list, that I know of, but I remember reading that the Duke of Edinburgh advised travellers to "tinkle when you get the chance." (It could only have been the Duke of Edinburgh.)  Because you never know. The same is true of napping.  Lie down when you can. This is the best treatment for jet lag that I know.  

Here's one I never thought of: send a postcard home to yourself. I'm not sure why.  Maybe just to see how long it takes. Well, you already know how I feel about postcards. 

This is the best one: take a magnifying glass with you, not just your magnifying spectacles and not just for reading the small print.  You can really look at things, like lichens and mosses, for example.  SOW, did you know there are 100 different kinds of lichens in that neat little ravine in northern Ontario?  I forget the name (not Leary), and I'll have to look it up. I've long since despaired of any of you out there helping me. That's okay.

 Perhaps we should talk about picnics next.