Wednesday, December 21, 2016

What Goes Around...

Yesterday was marked by a surprising little blast from the past.

Late in the afternoon, I was in my kitchen, singing along with the iPod and making homemade condensed cream of chicken soup. (It's quite delightful.)

So first off, here's the recipe for the soup, and here's the song. (Let it never be said I don't have my priorities straight when it comes to providing relevant details about my day.)

I turned around as I was singing for my supper, and behold, what did I see? The woman from about five years ago--the one who hassled me on my blog for... a year, I think it was?... because she thought I was trying to steal her boyfriend. 

She was parked in her car by my mailbox. Lights on, motor running, just sitting there.

Hunh.   (That's exactly what I said at that precise moment: "Hunh.")

I waited to see what she'd do. Eventually, she drove to the end of my street, paused for a minute or two, then turned the car around and quickly left. (I live on a dead-end street. She drives a big white Jeep. Navigating the turn-around takes a minute.)

As I was busily thinking "hunh," I decided to ask my neighbor if maybe a friend of her daughter's had been visiting or something, even though I had a pretty strong suspicion that I knew exactly what I had just seen, although I really didn't know why I would have seen it.

So I sent my neighbor a message asking her precisely that, and mentioned the big white Jeep. And then I opened my Facebook feed and saw that as I'd been writing my message, my neighbor had posted a picture of the note she'd just received in her mailbox.

From that woman.

See, the thing is, nearly two months ago now, the woman was campaigning for public office--again--and she stopped by my neighbors' house, looking for their vote.

Apparently, that didn't go well. The woman tried to hide the fact that she was not only a Trump supporter, but a delegate for Trump at the RNC last summer. She did this, I can only suppose, because she wanted to get a foot in the door when it came to getting my neighbors' votes.

My neighbors do NOT like Trump. (Nor do I, actually.) (Obviously.)

So yeah, the integrity thing with this woman? Not so much.

Long story short, when this incident occurred a couple of months ago now, my neighbors told her to leave, she argued with them, they told her to LEAVE, she argued with them. So they forcefully told her to get off their property, and then she (finally) left.

The point of her anonymous note yesterday? Well, it seems she had dropped by to gloat over the fact that Trump had won.

So yeah, the maturity thing with this woman? Not so much.

Because of the sheer coincidence of the whole thing, I knew she was the one who'd left the note, because I'd seen her. And I'd noticed her, because of all of those delightful, pithy pissy comments and random insights about the nature of love, life, and human relationships that she'd offered up on my blog back in the day.

So I told my neighbors what I knew and what I'd seen.

And they contacted the police.

Which means that, at this point, if she shows up at my neighbors' again, she can be arrested. The police advised me, via my neighbors, to please call them if I see her sitting in her car outside my house again, so we can all arrange it so that she can't hang out on our street anymore.

The moral of the story, boys and girls? Well, honestly, I think there are two morals here.

First, "once an asshole, always an asshole."

I mean, seriously. Do you really have no life and no hobbies and nothing better to do than sit in a parked car at sundown the week before Christmas, penning anonymous notes to people who are more or less total strangers to you, just to gloat about a Trump victory?

And using an exclamation-point smiley-face in said note, no less. (I didn't know anyone over the age of 13 still used those after 1985. Color me duly informed.)

The other moral of the story? "You reap what you sow." Big league (and/or bigly, depending on your hearing).

Because back in the day, this woman put her hot little fingers to the computer keyboard every chance she could, deliberately trying to sow a whole lot of anger and animosity and chaos in other people's lives.

She went out of her way to try to destroy a friendship of mine. And then she went out of her way to try to make me feel even more unhappy than I already was at the time, because of my godson's death.

But here we all are, five years later. My friend is my friend again, and has been for a couple of years now. He was actually over for dinner the other night, and it's probably a good thing she didn't happen to bump into him when he was, because I think he may have had a few choice words for her at this point.

But as I told him last night, it's just not worth the effort. 

She's simply reaping what she tried to sow in other people's lives, in her own life. Because what goes around, comes around.

And these days, a whole lot of anger and animosity and chaos seem to be coming her way on a regular basis. To such an extent that I actually find myself feeling sorta sorry for her (most of the time) now. And I've even begun laughing about her antics a lot more--and a lot more heartily and happily--than I did five years ago.

And that's a good feeling: to be able to look back at a shit-storm someone tried to spin your way, and just shake your head and... laugh.

I suspect she'd insist that we're all delusional and she's better and smarter and happier than the average bear, but "the lady doth protest too much, methinks."

Because the fact of the matter is, if you feel the need to drive to someone's house, sit in your car, and take the time to write a gloat-note, it means you're really terribly insecure.

And that you never actually feel like a winner, even when it looks like maybe you've won, somehow.

And really, that's just sad.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Snarl

Every now and then, I like to check out books about writing.

Whether it's a book about the writing process or about how to be a more productive writer or about how a well-known writer thinks about writing (to wit, my October blog post about Stephen King's On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft), I like to have the chance to think about this activity that shapes such a big part of my life.

This weekend, I stumbled upon Hillary Rettig's The Seven Secrets of the Prolific: The Definitive Guide to Overcoming Procrastination, Perfectionism, and Writer's Block (2011). While I'm not sure I'd whole-heartedly recommend it to seasoned writers--there was a lot in it that wasn't really applicable to me--I did like the way that she approached one of the most fundamental impediments to writing:

Procrastination.

Rettig argues that procrastination is a state of "disempowerment" that stems, not from any "intrinsic deficiency or deficit on your part" (1), but from outside forces that operate as "obstacles" ("an activity or circumstance that competes with your writing for time and other resources") or "triggers" ("feelings that interfere with your ability to write") (2).

If we're under-productive writers, Rettig argues, it's not because we're lazy or lack willpower. These are merely "symptoms" of a state of under-productivity, but the judgmental and moralistic labels we assign to these symptoms are crippling.

For Rettig, this is what separates the prolific from the under-productive. Prolific writers are kinder to themselves. They attribute a lack of productivity to the obstacles or triggers that disempower them and set about finding ways of solving these problems.

More importantly, prolific writers (according to Rettig) do their best to prevent the kind of obstacles or triggers that inhibit their productivity. In particular, they don't succumb to perfectionism because, "it's mainly perfectionism-fueled fear (or terror, really) that fuels procrastination" (6).

I think Rettig has an excellent point. In my own experience, writers who want to write, but can't, often have an inability to move past a few basic roadblocks. In many cases, they think they have a project, but they're not sure if it's "good enough," so they wait for conclusive proof that it is (or will be) before they start writing.

The problem is, there's no such proof available. At least, not until you actually begin writing and the project begins to take shape. But even then.

Because ye gods, early drafts can be terrible things. Just appalling. I mean... you don't want to see what kinds of things can end up on a first draft.

And that can be extremely discouraging. I know this because I too have produced what Anne Lamott refers to as "shitty first drafts." Oh, so many, and oh, so much... shit.

Because that's the way of it. Every now and then, you'll have what seems like an epiphany and a really great sentence or paragraph will descend from your brain to the page via your fingertips, but even then, you may eventually have to face the fact that, although it has its own measure of greatness, it actually doesn't really belong in the thing that you're writing at the time.

Sigh.

When you can't write--or can't get started writing--you typically think of this as a "block" (i.e., the famous "writer's block" that every writer has felt and feared).

Rettig offers a useful way of rethinking this obstacle and the feelings that accompany it: it isn't really a "block," it's a "snarl"--"it's a giant spaghetti snarl with at least a dozen (or, more likely, two or three dozen) 'strands,' each representing a particular obstacle or trigger" (8).

Needless to say, as a knitter, I liked the idea of the "snarl" as opposed to the "block." Because snarls can be exasperating and look like the end of the world in the world of wool and other fibers, but snarls can, in fact, be undone. As Rettig points out, "[t]he fact that your block is really a snarl is great news because a snarl can be untangled far more easily than a monolith scaled or chiseled" (8).

And this rethinking and reimagining the nature of what it is that is impeding your progress is a great way of managing--if not overcoming--it. As Rettig argues, "the shortest route ... to maximum productivity is to work patiently within your human limitations so that you have a chance to regain your confidence and focus" (50).

So, instead of beating yourself up for all of the writing you haven't done, or lamenting the fact that you awoke with a scorcher of a headache and therefore didn't get any writing done yet again, the idea is to acknowledge the limits and "work patiently" within them.

This was a wonderful reminder for me, because as I've acknowledged repeatedly this year, I've not been particularly happy with my own level of writing productivity, particularly here on my blog. I've gotten other things written, but they've gone much, much more slowly than I would like.

And I've kicked myself for that, both publicly and privately. So Rettig's book was a reminder that I need to stop doing that--as she points out, "[f]ormulations such as 'The project was a total disaster,' 'I'm a total loser,' and 'It's going to take a million hours to edit this thing' are not helpful" (29).

I've said many of those things over the past year, many times. But since reading Rettig's book, I've been trying to catch myself when I do this and remind myself to "problem-solve" instead: what's the problem I'm facing and what can I do to unravel the snarl a little?

And I try to take a moment to remember the things I have accomplished. Because this too is a dilemma: even when you're productive, if you're perfectionist, the things you accomplish don't seem like enough at the moment when they're achieved.

You've been trained not to rest on your laurels, so you don't. Which isn't "bad," per se--one could argue that it's a way to foster humility. But it also isn't "good," really, because you spend so much time lamenting the things you haven't done and so little time acknowledging the things that you have completed, that you end up misperceiving your own efforts and achievements.

You snarl at yourself, because all you remember are the snarls.

But there's more to the fabric of writing, and if you can--as Rettig argues--"lose [yourself] nonjudgmentally" in your work, you will join the ranks of the prolific and the productive writers of the world.

For my part, that is precisely where I hope to be next year at this time.

Monday, December 12, 2016

The Season

Well, the end of the semester is upon us, which means that I'll be doing a whole lot of writing and a fair amount of grading in the next few weeks, now that classes are essentially done.

But this time of year also means that I can get my craft thing on like there's no tomorrow. So that's what I've been doing.

A LOT of cookies have been made. I'm not sure who's going to eat all of them, because my cats don't seem all that interested in them. So I guess it's up to me...

I've also been knitting and knitting and knitting. Because if it's going to be cold and dreary and a little snowy, and then get even colder and drearier (and perhaps snowier?), then that's just what has to happen.

I finished one little gift, and since I'm quite certain the person who will be receiving it doesn't read my blog, I'll post a couple of pictures.

It's a scarf: an easy knit that opens out into a lacework pattern when you wet-block it, like so:


I confess, it looks kinda cool on the blocking squares, doesn't it? But no, it can't simply remain there. It must go out into the world, sorta like so:

I know the picture leaves a lot to be desired, but trust me, single-handedly figuring out how to photograph a 5-foot long scarf on a cloudy winter's morning (read: no natural light anywhere, really) is just not part of my skill set.

And I didn't feel like trying, let's be honest. I made the scarf, that counts for a lot.

Because while working on the scarf, I also decided to experiment and try making a few Christmas ornaments for my tree. Specifically, I decided I wanted to try to knit a couple of snowflake patterns, and see how they turn out.

Well, they turned out just fine (look to your right), but knitting them takes a while and involves a lot of stitch markers and near-insanity, so that's why, of the two you see pictured to your right, only one is actually knitted (the one on the left).

The other one is crocheted. That went about a bazillion times faster, so that's what I opted to do when the madness came upon me and I decided to make a few more.  Like so:

In the picture on the left, they're drying after being soaked in cornstarch.

It's a way to stiffen them, so that they hang like ornaments, rather than folding or flopping like doilies.

There are several ways to stiffen a snowflake (okay, that sounds odd, but bear with me): you can use glue... yes, I was a bit skeptical about that as well, but yes, you can.

Or, you can use cornstarch, which is what I did. The advantage to glue is, it's permanent. The disadvantage to glue is, it's permanent.

With cornstarch, if something happens to the ornament--I'm envisioning something analogous to what happens when you neatly pack away Christmas lights and the cords spend the summer having group sex (or something), so that they're hopelessly entangled when the Yuletide season rolls around the following year.

With corn-starched ornaments, if there's a problem--if they get bent while being packed away, or a little grubby or whatever--you just wash 'em out and re-starch 'em.

The starching is a sticky mess: I just went old school and added a tablespoon of it to a half-cup of water, boiled and stirred, let it cool a bit and then plunked those bad-boys in. You have to be careful, because you don't want to mess with boiling hot cornstarch: it will both stick to your skin and burn you.

In short, if you're not careful, it will burn you and then keep on burning you. Just like some people... but I digress.

To keep my strength up while being crafty, I came upon a wonderful recipe for garlic rosemary chicken with cranberries--because I need to supplement the cookies with a bit more nutrition, I think. So this was that, going into the oven:

Again, my apologies to the vegetarians and vegans out there, but I do have to say, this recipe was quite good.

And I hate to say it, but I'm looking for a reason to make it again soon, and I haven't even finished all the leftovers from the first time around.

But before I do that, I need to actually do a bit of work.

Because although the semester is rapidly winding to a close and classes are basically over, it ain't over until it's over. And it ain't over just yet.