Na’ No’ Yo’ Normal Novel Writing

For some reason I really wanted to do NaNoWriMo this year – that crazy, month long sprint to 50,000 words. And every time I brought it up amongst my literary friends – and got the appropriately literary version of “meh” as a response – my intention doubled. Forget that I didn’t know which novel to work on, forget that I have three or four other projects going this month, forget that I’m up to my eyeballs busy. The only voice that really got through to me was the quiet one in the corner who, really, just wanted to cast on and start knitting. This gave me pause. Long pause. And though I kept up the gun-ho optimism, and signed in with a placeholder novel, my plans for November started to seem a bit desperate. I cast on for a cowl on Saturday (and have done nothing with it since, naturally) and today I realized what I was going to do about Nano.

  1. I will not be participating in Nano
  2. I will be writing

I’ve been reading teacher blogs at work lately ( . . . . I have no excuse for this ), and one I’ve come to adore is Michael Pershan’s Teaching With Problems, he talks in one post about writing slowly and well and deeply, and that makes me think about what kinds of writing I take enjoyment in. Not what I enjoy reading, although it’s interesting to think about how the activities are connected, but what I actively enjoy the process of crafting. I like research writing. I like writing about nothing while talking about things. I like snappy, funny, clever writing – but I tend to like it in flashes: warm, merry darts of sunshine amidst a subaqueous canopy of words. I liked my review for Princess Passes, and normally I hate reviewing, and I love my response post to the first chapter of tea table talks. I like thinking out loud on paper screen, and being prosy and vague in ways that you simply aren’t supposed to be in fiction or emails or text messages. So for Nano I will be writing. No, I will not subject you to a post a day, but I think one a week is a challenging-but-still-doable-well goal. I will aim for quantity (becasue that’s easy to measure) but focus on content (becasue that’s what we’re all here for, right?).

So here’s to the words to come, and the thoughts they might inspire.

Whatever May

. . . . There is something about the month of May that begs for puns. No other month is so open to them. Sure, you can March over to April, but once you have done so you’re out of it. May has a bit more range.

But I’m not really writing about May. Nor am I writing about writing, if you can believe it, nor Spring, nor plans future, nor any such wishy-washy excuse to ramble. No. I am writing about a belt.

 

I can not fully remember life before the belt. I thought of it barely two months into my new job, as my boss casually pulled pliers, screw drivers, and wire strippers out of the pouch that clipped to his own belt loops. His phone handily mounted beside it. His multitude of keys dangling from a carabiner on the other hip. I myself ran back and forth from whatever tool room was closest, and struggled not to walk so far from my phone that I couldn’t hear it vibrate. I have no pockets worth mentioning, and exactly zero functioning belt loops. To acquire either would mean radically renovating my wardrobe and, even more, abandoning the haphazardous collection of silhouettes that constitutes what might be termed my style. Doggedly I struggled on, all the while dreaming of the perfect belt. A work belt. A belt of pockets and loops. And then, finally, after a year of minor frustrations and inefficiency, I buckled down and made it.

Oh.

That was in September. By November I had stopped pretending any kind of civilized fashion sense and had started wearing it out all places, even to church. I wore it to a wedding too, over my Little Black Dress (my excuse was that I was also playing the bartender and so, technically, since I wasn’t a guest, I didn’t have to be in full formal attire). It’s quite amusing to remember that the number two reason I hesitated to make it in the first place was feared self conciseness about how it would look. Pooh. Practicality once again has ground my vanity into the dust with a contemptuous laugh. Besides, I’ve gotten compliments on it. Not just “how cute” either, though those are nice, but the slightly more grown up “how clever.” The only draw back to the later is I can’t really remember how I made it, and so can’t be sure if it was really clever or some combination  of luck and an uncured predilection for hoarding.

 

The belt has saved me a lot more than missed work emails and a few thousand extra steps to track down tools. I made a vow to myself last year that if I didn’t show some initiative and make something useful, sewing wise, by the end of January, 2017, I would pack my sewing kit up and give it all away. The belt was a such a success that even if it hadn’t been followed by two much smaller creations the room would have been spared. In a lot of ways it seems like such a minor victory, when my goal is always public-acceptable clothes, but if I stop and think about it, even a well made shirt would only be worn once a week. The belt gets worn six or seven times that.

 

Okay, for those who care about such things, here’s a very non-technical write up of my process for making it, as far as I can remember. The material I used was the waistband and part of the pant leg of a pair of second-hand capris I purchased four or five years ago. The original intention was to make a skirt, but honestly I bought them becasue the buttons were so cute and I loved all the little details. I had some extremely complicated ambitions for the belt originally, but by the time I’d completed them the plan had been reduced to two rectangles. The top rectangle was both longer and taller than the back piece. Since there was a flat felled seam running about two inches from the bottom of my fabric, I decided to make that the bottom edge for added strength and structure – this also brought the tops up to a similar height. Serendipity. I’m not sure if I actually realized I would need a 3D structure in order to really fit things in these pockets, perhaps I hit upon the idea of tucks simply becasue the  top piece was so much longer than the back and I was too lazy to cut it, or maybe it was because folding the felled seam down to the bottom edge created an excess of fabric that had to go somewhere. Either way, once I had the pleats down everything else was history. The inclusion of the pants’ coin pocket was another conceit of accidental brilliance. I included it becasue it was too cute to toss aside, but it has turned out to be indispensable for holding mini USBs, quarters, screw heads, and VGA adapters.

 

The hard parts were all in attaching the binding and cleaning up the edges of the waistband – I had hacked it off without really thinking a whole lot about how I wanted it finished and didn’t really leave myself much space for seam allowances. I ended up binding it with fabric from the leg. It works, becasue of the nature of the item, but is neither professional nor elegant. The pocket strip, too, was a little tricky to attach to the belt, and the depth of the pockets meant there was more weight in them than my original seaming could hold. I ended up supplementing it with safety pins until around December, when I went over it with enough stitches to keep King Kong tied down. I have a multitude of plans for remaking these, and most of them involve a strip of only three pockets – more space really is less, I’ve found. For a more sophisticated interpretation I would love to make a zippered pouch on the underside, perhaps in the band itself, for passport like things which shouldn’t be openly advertised.

 

Already this belt is showing signs of, shall we say, excessive love. My flawed but pretty bound edge has been worn open in a half dozen places, and in one of the places I reinforced with extra stitches the fabric itself has given out and formed a hole. Strangely, I’m not really saddened or alarmed by these ominous signs. The knowledge that this garment can be, if not recreated, at least replaced is rather delicious, and though I might put it off longer than is really wise, I’m still looking forward to the challenge.

The New Old Thing

After I finished reading about apocalypse-by-bee, I picked up Level 7, by Mordecai Roshwald. I can not seem to help reading in themes – Herzog’s book wasn’t even the start. When I read these books I was knee deep in a study of Revelations.

 

Level 7 is a thin, black, hard back published in 1959. My great-grandmother, from whom my grandfather received a large number of his collection, has written a lengthy epistle all over the fronts piece and title page. Her letter made a touching preface, helping me sink back in time to a place where the threat of utter annihilation by bomb was very, very real.

Even with that as a warning, I was still unsure of what the book was for the first few pages. Was this a real life account? Did this actually happen? Only when the main character was sealed up in a sterilized town thousands of miles below the surface of the Earth did I finally feel confident in proclaiming it pure, if informed, fiction.

The sum of the story is simple enough. The main character is a button pusher for the military, trained to launch missiles at The Enemy if the worst should come and they found themselves under attack. He and about 200 other people are more or less tricked into populating an underground safe house where they are told they must pass out their days. The first half of the book is a methodical journal of the daily life of these people. It’s fascinating, but in a morbid kind of way. The 50s were not kind to interpersonal relations, and none of the 200 people feel real. The women are as bad as the men, except they talk more and so expose themselves more openly. No, I take that back. The main character talks the most, and I found myself torn between sympathy, frustration, and amusement over his plight, naivety, and assumptions.

 

The second half of the book is an equally methodical detailing of the world going to pieces at rocket speed. In case you haven’t already gathered, this is not a cheery, feel good book. Everyone dies: some just die slower than others. And of course the real tragedy is that it’s all for nothing. Well, naturally: if everyone dies this must be so. But even beyond that, the first missile was launched accidentally by a computer – a simple coding error that started a chain reaction of automated destruction. With the amount of thought that went into building these machines, it is not surprising that there was so little left over to design defenses. We take it as a matter of course that none of the precautions put in place to protect civilians from the fall-out worked – the radiation penetrated the shallower shelters and poisoned the water of the deeper stations. But the dernier cri, the ultimate expression of irony, was that our little subterranean town was completely safe from the atomic fallout caused by their actions. They only died of radiation poisoning becasue their nuclear generator developed a leak.

The last pages of the story are written by our doubtful hero as he lies in bed, dying. . . .

 

It was rather subduing. I’ve always said I was a passivist, not a pacifistic. The idea that selfish people can share a planet without dissolving occasionally into fist fights seems dangerously naive to me. But as I read books like this, and ones like Connie Willis’ Lincoln’s Dreams and Wouk’s The Hope, I find war stripped of any younger associations with glory and valor. It can be honorable to fight, I still believe there is a time when we must answer war with war, but even more obvious is the importance of cultivating meekness in our interactions with others. True honor, whether in a conqueror or a servant, comes from humility not pride. From defending another’s rights, not extending the limits of your own. Nobody wins in war. Only when peace means turning a blind eye to human suffering should such a sorry stalemate be sought after.

 

This was book 2 out of 12 for TBR 2016. Read in March, I’m still currently reading my third book for the challenge – a modern, non-fiction book which is both exotic and exasperatingly familiar. Will I be able to make up my two month deficit? Stay tuned to find out . . . .

Just a little

I scattered seeds two weeks ago – has it really been two weeks? Nothing major, just some cress and chard and mustard and basil, the latter being an obvious no. Last year I sowed them in February and was rewarded with sprouts in March. Well, I glanced at my bin on the 14th and discovered a generous sprinkling of these:  

 They could be any type of green – possibly self sowed arugula from last year, even. It is nice to be reminded that there is really no notion of behind in the lexicon of an arm chair gardener. Even without these sprouts, I was in the green with my scraggly swiss chard nubs, not to mention herbs:

 
Represented here by the parsley that over wintered. These plants stayed green until about January, when it finally got cold, but they popped back up as soon as the last of the February snows had melted. I tore away all the dead, yellow bits and now they look young and full of promise. I didn’t realize parsley was a perennial, but I’m beginning to see that most plants would be, if given the right conditions. Mixed with the uncontainable ardor of mint, the perking up of the lavender, and the thin blades of dill, they promise a lush and bountiful Spring.

My plates are standing at the ready.

Through Beet-Colored Glasses

The best part was the freckles,

the dash of magenta splotches across my right forearm. They were quite fetching, to my mind. But what made me laugh was taking off my glasses later that night and finding the dots well represented there as well, right in front of my eyes and yet invisible.

I made a salad of beets on Friday night, peeling them into strips and then modifying them into something thinner and easier to manage with a fork. I’m fairly incapable of being consistent in my sizing, but I think this was a nice compromise between “rustic” and meticulous. The salad was a hair brained thing, beets and carrots and apple, with a little coconut on top, drowned in ginger and lime. I saw half the idea in one place,  muddled it together in my mind, and googled it to make sure I wasn’t completely off my rocker. Sure enough, it had been done before – minus the coconut.

  

It was fun to put together, though it left my hands looking angry and swollen and decorated my walls with bright flecks of beet juice.  It was also surprisingly well received at the brunch I went to, a relief for my fragile pride. I honestly prefer baking when in the kitchen, with stews and soups as a close second, and visions of biscotti taunted me all while planning, shopping, and creating this dish. But really, everyone brings a baked thing. A baked thing, an egg thing, a bit of fruit and a bit of cheese: these are the well-loved guests of the pot-luck breakfast. And they are lovely – I would truly miss them if they failed to appear. But they do appear, without fail, and there’s little incentive to bring yet another of their number. Somehow it’s much harder to bring something truly different, something fresh and perky, especially in winter.

In the process of defying this fact I’ve come to realize that, though I love vegetables in general, I don’t really know what to do with them. Therefore one of my personal challenges this year is to stop bringing desserts to gatherings and start bringing salads. Interesting, quirky, mad-capped salads that might not waken the appetite but at least excite the imagination. This is naturally selfish, becasue I’m more likely to make a Thing for an Event than just for my self at home and I have no intention of trialing these dishes beforehand. The unsuspecting guinea pigs will be observed with discreet care and their responses tallied in secret until I have a nice little repertoire of non-baked, non-egg, non-fruit-and-cheese recipes that aren’t too strange to be inviting.

 

For now I am eating the lime-scented leftovers of my first sally and imagining myself on a tropical island. Vive La Bagatelle.