Wednesday, August 20, 2014

How To?

I'm reasonably intelligent and unlike most of the males in our species, I'm not averse to reading directions, maps, recipes, patterns or diagrams. If I want to learn something, I search for the appropriate information and I go for it. The first attempt might not be a success, but I'll stick with it until I've mastered it.

As long as the directions are complete!

After struggling with recipes, patterns, and directions in the past two or three weeks, I've reached the inescapable conclusion there should be a college course on process writing. You know...step one, step two, etc.

Writing directions requires an elementary talent--breaking down the process to the most basic steps. Most of the directions I've encountered in the last year or so skip some of the most important steps and then render the remaining steps in pure gobbledygook.

It's worse when the pattern/directions have strange exotic terms or acronyms that only apply to the job at hand. Such terms should be explained the first time you encounter them. I don't care if the term was explained back on page 16. Why must I go looking for it? For instance, WYB. Why not simply say WYB (With Yarn in Back) and go on about the business?

Now, I confess my brain does not process strings of random letters very well. A minor stroke will do that to you. But once I firmly attach a meaning to the random string, I do just fine. I recognize it for what it is and go on.

However, when steps are left entirely out, that's a different story. What am I supposed to do with part A? Where exactly is tab H supposed to be inserted?

The trouble is this--experts who write directions forget what it was like when they weren't experts. Teaching is much the same. A brilliant mathematician might have trouble teaching beginners because he doesn't mentally walk through the steps anymore. He doesn't need to. But his students end up lost because they aren't ready to make intuitive leaps.

At my last three jobs, I wrote process books for all the numerous tasks I was responsible for. After all, even I liked to take the occasional vacation or sick day. The process books were so complete, even a new employee could carry out the tasks--if they followed the steps as outlined.

We're not all ready to make intuitive leaps, hoping for the best, when we begin a new project. There's no such thing as too much information when you're reading directions. Explain everything. Really.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Dancing in the Streets

Riots come...and riots go. Generally, whatever the flashpoint, the real reason for the riots is not even remotely connected to the street wars. I lived through the sixties in Chicago. Rioters burned down much of the city. Looters stole and robbed. I remember being evacuated from my workplace in armored buses. And the violence continued.

Rioting isn't about some single injustice perpetrated by the overlords. Rioting is about anger--long term, systemic anger and resentment. Whatever the primary root cause, the result is a slowly smoldering anger that only requires an opportunistic flashpoint to flare into a roaring bonfire.

The sad thing is nothing is accomplished by rioting except loss of life and destruction. Nothing positive comes from fighting in the streets. It's exactly like a child misbehaving to get attention. The result is never what he's looking for. And the cycle continues.

As I look back at all the riots I've witnessed over the years, I see no positive outcomes. None. Dialogue is not possible when opposite sides are dodging bullets and missiles. Flames just feed on the anger. And innocent bystanders frequently find their lives in ruins through the destruction of their property. Don't tell me looting and rioting is because some young man was shot.

Looting and rioting is carried out by angry people. Anger and despair are the reasons those folks are out there throwing Molotov cocktails. The law-abiding folks are at home. Or praying in church. Or grieving their dead.


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Promises

 Fifty-three years ago today, my dad and stepmother married. As you can see from the picture above, she was taking on quite a job. My brothers and I were a handful in the best of circumstances...on the good days. On the bad days? Yeah, any parent has been there for the bad days. She must have wondered what she'd gotten herself into.

They're both in their eighties now. All those hopeful kids in the photo are senior citizens with families of their own. And all of us learned something about promises and sticking it out, through thick and thin, from that young hopeful bride and groom.

When I married, the idea of divorce never crossed my mind. It wasn't an option. Oh, I know there are valid reasons for divorce. I believe there are times when there's no other choice. But back then--back when I stood next to my new stepmother in a grape-colored dress (boy, I LOVED that dress!), divorce wasn't in my universe.

Marriage was about promises. And promises only count if they're kept.

It's sad that promises don't seem to be as important today. Long-married couples are more of a rarity. Couples think they've been married forever when they reach the five year mark. Heh. Some days five minutes can seem like forever.

But fifty-three years is quite an accomplishment. They weren't young kids just out of high school when they married. I look at them now and they look soooo young and yet, I know they both had already faced grief and pain. In spite of that, they retained enough hope to face the future. Maybe that's the vital ingredient. Hope.

In any case, I wish them blessings and happiness for all their remaining years. Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad!

Saturday, August 9, 2014

What Can I Do?

I have several friends and family members who are dealing with chronic illness, emotional distress, family issues, cancer or other serious illnesses. I speak to them on the telephone, in person (not very often because they live far away) or via various electronic means. The problems they are coping with grieve me on multiple levels, but one particular one is this: How can I help from a long distance?

It's difficult to know what I can do, other than provide a listening ear. Flowers aren't always appropriate. It seems that a card isn't enough. Telephone calls are not always convenient when the individual is trying to rest. I live too far away to cook meals or clean their homes or drive them to the doctor.

So...this is what I want to know. What can a concerned friend or relative do from long distance? How can we help bolster and support our loved ones who are struggling with terrible illnesses or stumbling through heartbreaking family problems?

I found one article--just today--about things NOT to say to folks dealing with cancer. I found it helpful on some general levels, but most of the suggestions were for friends and family that live near by. Cancer

Just tell me--what can I do? Tell me and I'll do it.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Skills

We have company at our house this week--our son and our granddaughters. While we have the chaos and jumbled schedule always attendant when there's company in the house, the hunk decided he would learn how to knit socks. Yes, there wasn't enough going on so he cast on his forty stitches and was off and running. With numerous false starts, he finished his first sock last night.

The son and grandkids were observing the process with keen interest and humor. Especially when the hunk was less than patient with the mistakes and inevitable errors. Last night as he reached the final stages (the toe), our son just shook his head and asked, "Why? Why not just go to Walmart and buy a whole package of socks for the cost of that one pair?"

The answer is...complicated.

On one level, there's the accomplishment of learning a new skill. And the pride in completing a project, start to finish. Even the joy of knowing someone will wear what you've created.

But there's something else to consider. Old, basic skills are dying out. In the past, every single individual could claim a host of basic skills--carpentry, embroidery, cooking, baking, knitting, sewing, plumbing, hunting, animal husbandry, woodworking. Now, anyone who can do ANYTHING is considered an artisan. Fewer and fewer skills are passed down. Folks take less and less time to learn them.

In our own fumbling way, we're passing on (if not the actual skills) at least the IDEA that learning never stops. You're never to old to learn a new skill. You're never to old to enjoy jogging off in a new direction.

Oh, yeah. The hunk started his second sock first thing this morning...

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Opinions


Read an article about a woman who posted a pic of one of her kids in a playpen. Apparently, she was inundated by nasty comments from folks who objected to playpens. This is just the last in a long, long list of such incidents. This is what I think:

We should all turn off the 'comments' section of our blogs, etc. It's true that everyone is entitled to an opinion. And quite a few folks have opinions about stuff. It doesn't necessarily follow that they should share their opinions with other folks.

When did that start, anyway?

What if the only way an individual could share his opinion was to write a separate status/blog/article? Think about how many negative feedbacks would never be posted. Most folks are too busy or too lazy to actually write a detailed rebuttal. Imagine all the negativity that would be eliminated.

When it gets down to it, most people really aren't looking for a dialogue. They just want to state their opinion, maybe share information, or provoke the thought process. And most comments (If there are any) don't add much to the initial post. All too often, they say things like LOL or I agree or Me, too! In fact, we would probably be better served with a Like or Dislike button and move on with life. For those who really can't make up their minds, we could add an Ambivalent button. That would cover all the bases and maintain civility at the same time.

Imagine how difficult it would be to generate a mass reaction to political or social issues if every single person of like mind had to write their own rebuttal post. No more riding on the coattails of the original poster. What if they had to compose a coherent reply with supporting facts or evidence?

I blame Twitter with it's 140 character limit. And texting. We've gone from a society that was relatively educated to a culture of acronyms and incomprehensive text speak. We have uncivil opinions that are written in incoherent, badly spelled, ungrammatical prose. Insult on top of insult.

I believe there would be far fewer opinions shared if all of them had to be done via e-mail and personal messaging. And a lot less negativity would taint our lives... 

Monday, July 28, 2014

Mondays, Company and Downsizing

First off the bat...the Send in the Clowns socks, redone and finished. Overall, despite having to unravel and reknit a big section on the second one, they came out great! Onward...to another pair for the hunk. He'll have to pick his colors, but he seems to really like his first pair. He's a difficult person to find something to make with knitting or crocheting so I'm pleased he likes the socks.

Mondays. I'm not usually that excited about new weeks. They tend to blur from one week to the next when you're retired. However, this week we're getting ready for our granddaughters and my son to come for a visit, so that will perk things up some. Also I have an exciting visit to see my specialist to find out if I have to have an endoscopy. What more could I want to look forward to?

Company is a rare event at our house. We live a long ways from all our family so we tend to arrange things for our comfort instead of guests. Fortunately, we have plenty of warning this time so everything will be ready when they arrive--unlike when my parents used to call an hour before arrival and tell me to open an extra can of veggies for supper. And yes, they did that fairly often. We used to have a joke in the family: If you couldn't locate my parents, prepare for their imminent arrival. They've reached the age that prevents them from long range travel now...I think.

We're still downsizing. I'm thinking this visit will be a golden opportunity to give a few more things away. Without excessive postage or shipping. I've already started filling a box. *Rubs hands with glee...* What more can I pass along?

So, I'm off and running. It's going to be a busy week!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Multitasking


See that 'sock' at the top? And that funny line of stitches on the left that seem to be zipping off on their own? Well, it's supposed to look like the other side (bottom photo) where the triangly bit is next to the solid red stitches. Which means...??? you ask. All the multicolored stitches have to come out and I'll redo it.

This just goes to show you can't always watch Midsomer Murder and knit at the same time...


Friday, July 25, 2014

Old Friends


While working on book three of my Tuatha series, I discovered a couple details from a previous book were never written down in my series bible. Strange...I could have sworn I did so, but there you are. So I hauled out my lone print copy of the book, Shadows on Stone and started reading.

Twelve chapters later, I realized I had long ago discovered the details I needed. Yes, I found them back on page 52, but I was so caught up in the story I just continued to read. And this was a good thing. Too often, authors get in a slump. They go through a stage where they are convinced they are crappy, no talent hacks with no creativity or imagination. It's difficult to write when you don't believe in yourself.

This is when I find the best thing for me to do is return to my 'old' friends...those first stories I wrote in the fresh flush of enthusiasm and spirit. Those were the ones I truly loved and dreamed and carried around in my heart and soul. I'm often amazed when I return to my previous books. Did I really write that scene? Where did that snappy dialogue come from? How did that particular idea come to me?

Some writers declare they don't read their early work because it makes them cringe when they notice the errors they made. Why? Do we cringe when we remember that first batch of cookies we made or that first fledgling attempt at dancing? All skills in life require a learning curve. I look back on my early books as a fairly successful learning curve. After all, my first book--my FIRST book was offered a contract.

The thing about stories is they aren't going to appeal to everyone. That's life. We writers sometimes forget that crucial truth. When we read a bad review or go through a sales slump, we automatically assume it's because we're a failure. Nah. Some truly horrible books are selling like hotcakes. Some lyrical authors never find their audience. In the end, the only reader that counts is the author that wrote the book.

If we don't find our own books fascinating and thrilling, if the love scenes in our books don't excite us, if we don't care about our heroes and heroines, why should we expect anyone else to do so? In my early career, I did quite a few online interviews and one question I was asked over and over was 'Who is your favorite character from your books?' How in the world could I answer that? If I'm true to myself, then all of my characters are my favorites.

Occasionally, a new reader will ask me what book I recommend. I rarely recommend a specific book. How would I do that without knowing that reader's taste? I can offer to send them an excerpt so they can have a sample of my writing, but really, the only way they can choose is either by series order or by reading the blurb.

What one reader might love, another might just find to be blah. The only reader who should truly, absolutely, positively love my book is me. If I don't love it, all the others don't matter.   

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Breaking News!


Recently, I scrolled through the 'news' on several different sites. Clearly, I have a very different idea of what constitutes news. News used to refer to important events that touched the lives of the general public in some significant way. There were specific categories for news stories.

1. Someone died. Usually, this was someone famous, an individual who had contributed significantly to the public. Presidents, Nobel Prize winners, and a sprinkling of politicians, activists, doctors, authors, and very important celebrities were in this category.

2. A LOT of people died/were injured. Plane, train, and multiple car crashes plus the odd sinking ship were in this category. Also civilian explosions such as grain silos or warehouses.

3. A LOT of people died/were injured. War coverage. There isn't a lot you can say to expand on this category. War is war is war, regardless of where it takes place or who is fighting. There is no such thing as a safe, bloodless war. This also includes terrorist attacks.

4. A loss of property. Fires, both domestic and forest. Hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, tsunamis, and earthquakes. And of course, all too frequently, people died. Sometimes, a lot of people died.

5. Significant political scandals. A lot of people forget that political scandals are not a modern invention. They've been around as long as there have been politicians. And that's a really long, long time. Power and the subsequent abuse of that power go hand in hand.

6. Murder. When I was younger, only the most heinous crimes made the news. Serial killers were rare. Multiple murders were rare. At least, we thought they were. The first multiple murders I remember reading about were the Richard Speck murders. They were incredibly shocking. I'm not sure folks would be nearly as stunned today.

7. Important medical news. Polio, HIV, Aids, cancer. The public need to know was the driving force behind such coverage. The information didn't have to be accurate, you understand. Just sensational. When we moved into the era of HIV, abortion, and birth control, this category was more often politicized than informational.

8. Stories of NATIONAL IMPORTANCE. Landing on the moon. The space walk. Presidential Inaugurations. Election coverage.  

What's missing? Celebrity stuff. That wasn't news. It was reported in rags like the National Enquirer. Inquiring minds want to know. Unless it was an incredibly messy scandal, it wasn't part of the news. The news guys were serious. The general public trusted them (whether they should have or not) and frivolous stories were quite rare.

TV information was printed in TV Guide. Movie information was in the newspapers and movie mags. Book news was in special columns in the newspapers.  And commercial 'news' was confined to commercials, not fake news articles, thinly disguised as news.

Most importantly, to my mind, private information was private. Folks didn't share personal information with their neighbors, let alone the international community. I appreciate the availability of information we have now with the Internet. But I wish, really wish, the news media would stick to actual news. I wish the weather folks would stick to the weather. If I want a general interest story...I'm perfectly capable of finding one. 

*For the curious...the photo is my mother and my grandparents, circa 1932.


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Purling Through Life


When learning to knit, the first stitch you learn is the...knit stitch. Naturally. Because no one would be perverse enough to teach you to purl first. That's not the right way to knit. So you knit, knit, knit until you decide it's a boring stitch and notice there are other more interesting things to do with knitting needles and you learn to purl.

Combining the knit stitch and the purl stitch allows the knitter to produce a wide variety of interesting pieces such as socks, mittens, hats, scarves--because you can fashion a stretchy cuff or edge. The thing nobody mentions is this: If you turn your purled fabric to the wrong side, it looks exactly like knitting. Why, then, does no one call it purling?

Because we've always done it that way. Knitting, knitting, knitting. Purling would be subversive.

For most of my early life, I did everything the knit way. I went to school everyday, never missed a single day during four years of high school, earned good grades, graduated, got engaged and married, produced a little more than my share of 2.5 children and did all the other things that were expected of me. I even supported the hunk's career by enthusiastically agreeing to move two thousand miles away to a totally different climate where I had no friends or family.

Within six months I had a breakdown.

In the recovery process, I learned something. Knitting is not the only way to get through life. Purling is not only an option--it's a necessity for survival. At least for me, it is. I know there are a lot of individuals out there who adhere to a rigid lifestyle, never wearing white after Labor Day, never eating fried chicken with their fingers, never using a paper towel instead of a napkin. That's okay for them.

I can't deal with life that way. I need a lot of creative stimulation, preferably something off the beaten path the rest of the world is marching along. During my early marriage, I tried out the usual religions--Tupperware, Amway, potholder weaving from those little cotton loops, candlemaking, cake decorating, and in a fit of desperation, paint-by-number. Nothing satisfied my need for challenge and creativity.

So I went to college. I was twenty-eight with three small children and working at MacDonald's six nights a week, closing every night. What could be better?

In quick succession, one night while I was working, we were robbed, the hunk had a car accident that left us with one vehicle, and I got pregnant. I finished my second semester of college in spectacular fashion by getting stuck in my student desk so maintenance had to be summoned to free me. That's when I realized I was not a knitter. I would never be a knitter. If I was ever to survive, I would need to be a purler.

While everyone else marches in formation with the band, I'm out there zigzagging across the field, creating my own patterns as I play my psaltery. As I cleaned my office this last two weeks, it occurred to me my life is littered with the remnants of my purling. Handmade candles sit on my shelf. An Irish calligraphy blessing hangs on the wall. Crocheted afghans cover the couches and chairs. Framed book covers above my desk remind me I need to write. A weaving project waits for my attention on the loom in the corner. Ink and pens and paintbrushes lure me in the afternoons. And always over and above the clamor, the thousands of books on my shelves call to me.

Purling saved my life. Oh, knitting is okay. We all need the safety of a knitted background. But for some of us, our lives would be lost without the joy of purling.  

Monday, July 14, 2014

Socks, a Box, and a Black Notebook

When you begin a deep cleaning (closets, drawers, boxes) in your home, whether it's a house, RV or apartment, you never start thinking about all the stuff you will discover. It's never the plan. Never. And why is this? Because we delude ourselves, we convince ourselves that we're organized, especially if everything is hidden behind closed doors, closed drawers or sealed boxes.

And then...

Well, then, once we open the doors, drawers and boxes, we face the truth. We're not organized at all. If I were to list all the things I 'found' when I started cleaning, you would be appalled. Appalled, I say, and more than likely a little uneasy about my sanity. Who actually needs thirty-seven sticky pads. That's enough notes to plan the D-Day invasion. In color.

Safety pins. I have enough safety pins to hold up every bra strap in America. Are you old enough to remember when a pinned bra strap was the height of slovenliness? Only a total failure in the halls of womanhood would ever need a safety pin. And yet. Here I confess to having boxes, Ziploc bags, actual sealed, never-even-been-opened packages of safety pins. Not just tiny ones, but even big enough pins to substitute as diaper pins. And most folks don't even use cloth diapers anymore so that tells you something about my past. Because my children came along before disposable diapers. I wonder if the young know what a diaper pin is?

Then there are the pens. In this day and age where no one writes--at least not with a pen--I have four, no five mugs on my desk jammed with pens. Those are just the ones I've found in random drawers, boxes, bags... I'm not even sure how many of them still work. That will be a project for another day.

But along the way, I found a prize or two. One was a wooden box. It's a small box my son made for me many years ago when he was in high school. I'm one of those parents who hangs on to everything my children ever produced, starting with their kindergarten years. This box is the perfect size to hold pens. Unfortunately, I'm one of those individuals that totally forget about something if I can't see it, so stashing pens in the box isn't a good idea. However! It's the perfect size for all those tiny little Post-it! notes (you know--the ones that you use to jot down a phone number and name). So that's where I've stashed those. I charge you all with remembering, just in case I can't lay my hands on them the next time someone gives me a phone number.


The other thing I found was a black notebook. I'm not describing the cover, but the paper inside. They were all the rage quite a while ago...maybe twenty years ago? You were supposed to use special gel pens in light colors to write on the black paper. I no longer have any gel pens (and clearly should have an intervention--according to my friend, Amarinda--if I think about buying any more pens). From this distant perspective, I can't remember the attraction, but I still can't bring myself to throw it out. Once I queried my friends on the Internet, they eagerly came up with lots of solutions for my lack of gel pens. So, I'm happy to announce my gel pen problem is solved if I should ever have any reason to use the black notebook.

Now! On to the socks. My hundred pairs of socks are not enough. Really. I did give some to my granddaughters. But I crave socks. It's an addiction. Lest Amarinda attempts a sock intervention, I've devised a solution. I will knit my socks. That will slow down the rate of acquiry. I have baskets and baskets of yarn. I could even knit socks for other people. Yes...this is an excellent solution. Who would dare refuse a pair of hand-knit socks? Below is the first sock. Two days to knit (while watching Midsomer Murders in the evening). Behold the sock!