Bag it, Baby

bagsHere’s a funny email that just zipped quicker than the Road Runner into my inbox

“Dear friend” it reads.

(I have a friend, that’s so great! I love having friends!)

“Glad to hear you’re in the market for column bags.”  

Wait I’m in the market for column bags? I am?

Well it’s true always in the market for something. Yesterday I went online to buy two nice fat wooden knobs for the ends of a pair of curtain rods I don’t even own.

And I guess maybe I can see why I’d get this email, since columns have been part of my daily life for some damn long time now – meaning I do actually write columns, every single week and have been doing that since the year Jimmy Carter found himself freshly ushered off the stage. These columns appear in papers all over the country . But gosh I didn’t know you could store them in BAGS.

Yet here’s this company saying specifically “we specialize in column bags with good quality and competitive price” – AND they’re “willing to establish business relationship with” me! Not ‘a’ ie, a single business relationship, mind, you, but ‘business relationship’. It sounds so sort of …eternal. Anyone with abandonment issues like I have has gotta love that! 

Plus I’m excited because all this time I’ve been trying to store all 10,000 of these columns in dreary old file cabinets and I get all these paper cuts and there’s all this bending over to get at them.

Bags though? You can hang a bag. Bags are always better, especially when they’re nice and new like mine would be. James Brown knew all about this didn’t he though? I do love me some James Brown. Saw him perform once in a little club in Revere Beach. 😉

Milestone Post

This is my 1600th post and well… I just did the math: At the rate I have slowed down to, it will take me ten whole years to get to 2,000. Would it be worth it to reach for that goal? I still can’t tell. All my life I have suffered from an odd affliction in that once I even start thinking about achieving some crazy goal or doing some wildly ambitious project, I almost literally can’t NOT begin upon it. Yet milestones like this one do get a body thinking.

This coming October I will have completed 35 years of weekly column-writing. Shouldn’t I stop , and have pity on those poor readers who might appreciate a fresher voice? I started in 1980 for God’s sake when we didn’t even have faxing!

Back then I looked like this. (I’m the already-haggard looking brunette making the sad-cow face on the right, not my sister-in-law, the blonde beauty facing the camera.)

carr wellesely grad'n051

The blog of course is more recent. The blog I started in the fall of 2007 but by mid-2008 I had decided I had to write every day. Every day! What tripe appeared under my name! I wrote from the heart a lot but in many posts I was also just appealing to popular culture, which anyone can do God knows, God knows. Search on my site for the word ‘underpants’ and you’ll see.)

Now after all this time I look like this, dye-job and all. ( I know I know. I’ve discovered minimizer foundationwear since this picture from last September.)


 Sigh. At least I’m smiling this time.

Smilin’ on the outside anyway.

And it’s not that I’m cryin’ on the inside but I’ll confess that I have lost the old merry trait  that made me think absolutely everything was funny, a trait that got me in a world of trouble with my teachers all along the way.

So it’s my 1600th post and my 1800th column that I’ve been working on this morning. I love to write still but I love a lot of other things now too, so how it will all play out I don’t yet know. A woman from a church group just wrote me to see if I still do public talks. I  haven’t written her back yet but I do think I’m done with public talks. 

Anyway, stay tuned if you care to.  Now let’s all go out and sniff some of that downy spring air !

A Great Thing It Is

gloria steinem at the keyboard

one of my writing heroes, Gloria

A great thing it is to be a writer. An even greater thing to be a writer who never made it to the big Leagues, and so has an undefinable ‘audience’ if she has an audience at all. (Is it the mom of this brace of babies in the twin stroller here? That late-night web surfer looking for news about Jeremy Bentham? The people who clicks through from my column in any given paper to see the blog post I wrote that day because that paper is nice enough to provide the link to it?)

Last week on this blog I had a piece about April Fools Day bookending things on the Monday and a picture of my mother in her casket bookending things on the Friday. Yesterday I posted Ten Tips for Using a Public Restroom and later this week I will post a piece, tearfully composed on the anniversary of his death, about my husband’s elderly uncle who became my own best friend. What I’m saying is I realize the tone changes a good bit from day to day and I hope that’s OK with people.

On the Writer’s Almanac last week I heard Garrison Keillor quote something Gloria Steinem said that I identify with entirely. She said, “Writing is the only thing that, when I do it, I don’t feel I should be doing something else.”

I feel just that way about writing and also, I’ll admit, about any time at all that I have with young children and any time I spend reading things either by or about 19th century American writers. (Does anyone KNOW anymore how amazing Walt Whitman was? Walt Whitman who said “Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches; give alms to everyone that asks; stand up for the stupid and the crazy, argue not concerning God; have patience and indulgence toward the people; go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and the mothers of families….”)

I just tell what I saw, heard, felt. I may sometimes amuse people and sometime anger people. Sometimes I may make them feel more than they wanted to feel and maybe sometimes I just make them yawn.

But every time I write I too feel, like Gloria, and probably like the great Walt Whitman, that there is nothing in this world else I would rather be doing.

This is What You Should Do Whitman

When in Doubt Cut it Out

The day my piece about how to write the college essay appeared I heard from a young woman in Canada who was wondering if I could take a look at what she had written for her first-person essay. Hers was 80 words longer than the 500-word limit she said. Could I see what I thought of it and maybe help her figure out what to cut?

“Sure!” I said. I’m 30 years a columnist! I probably can’t write more than five or six hundred words together anymore. I told her I’d love to read her essay, which turned out to be so charming, I almost couldn’t see what to cut.

So instead I gave her a piece of advice I’ve never given myself, which was to go through the piece and take out just about every adverb she came across. In fact I went through it and did that, then emailed it back so she could see what she thought.

I’m not sure she liked the new version but I sure did. To me it seemed so much stronger and more, I don’t know.. authoritative without the adverbs. It’s a paradox: I mean you think these modifiers are really going to light up your writing but instead they make you sound like you’re trying to coerce a certain response from your readers, or put something over on them, or God forbid sell them something.

Today I’ve been mentally composing something about this past weekend when our littlest grandchild, under our care for a day and a night, slowly sickened. I could write “He was very cold, he said,” or I could simply write  “He was cold, he said.” Just setting this down helps me see that the second sentence is probbaly the more effective one – and not just because it’s shorter. Sooooo what if I apply this rule to my own writing? Flipping through the first book I ever did, I came upon this description of the day my appliances died. Here’s how it looks as published:

Last week the dishwasher, bloated up with its weird fluids, suddenly chuffed dangerously and began bleeding water from every seam; water which flooded, Nile-like, under the island, under the rug, and on 20 feet or more into the living room. Two hours later, the air conditioner groaned by way of a suicide note, leaned back sharply and tried to jump out the second-story window. Strong hands and split-second timing were all that stood between it and shattering death on the sidewalk.

And here it is without most of the modifiers:

Last week, bloated with the usual fluids, our dishwasher suddenly chuffed and began bleeding a stream of water that flooded both floor and rug and snaked all the way to the living room. Two hours later, the air conditioner groaned by way of a suicide note, leaned back and tried jumping out the second-story window. Strong hands and split-second timing were all that stood between it and death on the sidewalk.

The second one really is better! Anyway it’s far less wordy.

Which means that Strunk & White were right in saying “When In Doubt Cut it Out” and that old Shot Myself-in-the-Face Hemingway knew what he was doing when he took that boning knife out and pared, pared, pared away at his sentences.

I read back over this and see that I too have gone over 500 words,  which I hate to do to you guys, suffering already with eyestrain. So hey thanks for wading through this. And thank YOU Emily from Canada for helping me re-learn a valuable lesson. 🙂

(A page from the chapter of my first book here. God it was fun to publish these collections! )

Make a List

“She got a lot done.” That’s what it will say on my headstone when I die and the reason I got a lot done is that I made To Do lists all my life.

This is today’s list on the left. I made it at 2am perched on the bathtub’s edge when sleep once again eluded me.

A person’s list can be puzzling to others: My list sometimes says “Remove nails” which sounds like a terrible sort of torture, pulling someones toenails out of their nailbeds I know but actually refers to taking off the polish.

The personal care items appear at the top of most day’s lists but soon give way to the larger projects, like this lofty goal penciled in on list for the weekend. “Edit book,” it could have said because I’ve decided to take one of my audio books and release it as a black-and-white-hold-it-right-there-in-your-hands document that people can read and look back . I’ve already picked out my assistant editor who will watch the most glaring errors from the script that I used in recording the thing. Though just 17, this person is only one I know under 75 who uses the words “shall” and “will” correctly. Plus the young have good eyes, and their bottoms don’t get as tired from sitting as the bottoms of us old folks. Never mind that a young person practically has a laptop sewn to his thighs most of the time. Easy money!

Here’s what Annie Dillard wrote on the subject of lists and they schedules they give rise to:

“A schedule is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time. A schedule is a mock-up of reason and order…. a haven set into the wreck of time. It is a lifeboat on which you find yourself, decades later, still living…”

I love that idea, that a schedule makes the scaffolding that holds us aloft even when we think we might tumble from the great heights at which we balance in this precarious life.

Remember that so when trouble does come you will have your list: “Bathe, 7am” it will say. “Fold wash 8:00” and on as you make your way through even the hardest days, when you file for unemployment, say, or wake to remember your diagnosis. My young grandfather wrote this in his journal just hours after his wife and unborn daughter died of a raging infection:

This morning I will go to Undertaker Feeney’s and choose my darling’s narrow room. Now I will lie down on the couch now and watch the blackest day of my life dawn, though the sun comes up brightly and the birds sing in the window. How will I keep sane?

He kept sane the way we all do: by drawing up a little plan and putting one foot in front of the other. And savoring the sweet moments, and laughing as much as you can.

Enough with the ‘Old’ Talk

myself am not old; just my insides are ha ha. The day my mother died, I was walking her to the car to bring her to the big birthday party arranged in her honor, when she turned to me and said, “I feel like a bride!”

Go figure huh? You just never know. I could die today or I could live another 40 years. People born in 2012 could reach the age of 150 I read last week – by which time they WILL have pantyhose for the upper arms! 

I’ve done a kind of Theme-of-theiWeek thing  from time to time here on this blog, like when I had that Name That Celebrity contest back in March, or with last week’s talk of Fashion, or now with the subject of Aging two days in a row.

It happens this way: You get rolling and the ideas pop and the yarn spools out and you get thinking ‘Snip it off now and you’ll have yarn for tomorrow!’ Or, to use another domestic art, “Keep back a bit of yeast today and you’ll have bread for another day!’ It’s comforting  to have someplace to start the next day. It is for me especially, because I’m determined to make good on my promise to write here every day no matter what. It’s my gift, this ability to write with  honesty. I just want to give it and not worry about who might be there to receive it.

I can tell you there’s peace in that outlook. It’s very calming to just be able to love the world without worrying whether the world will love you back. I probably learned this when I realized what a big chunk of the audience at any author talk I gave was just there trying to get in out of the cold; just trying to get off their feet awhile. It was OK by me. They made great audience members.

So really I don’t worry much about what I will write here next. Annie Dillard said it about doing any first draft: the problem is how to set yourself spinning. But once you do, you can keep on spinning for a good long time I have come to see, since really, spinning is just talking, freely and unselfconsciously. Ask a question of the guy next to you in line at the Post Office and you’ll see: He’ll spin like a top. We all will, given the chance.