Tag Archives: doing it oneself

The REAL Author at Work, and Her Poem

Dear WordPress and Twitter followers, Sometimes an author or poet has to allow someone else to take credit for her work, due to prejudice and an inability to use the keys of the keyboard. This was so in my case, so I had to allow my human companion and servant to type this poem for me, and unfortunately also to take credit for it. Please excuse any irregularities; I found myself so excited to be given my due attention at last that I couldn’t prevent myself from walking on the keys, which may have occasioned a blank page at the very beginning. Please, advance past it and go on to my poem. Most sincerely, Dr. Lucie-Minou “Kitty” Bennett, C.A.T., P.U.R.R., F.U.R. (My picture below, wrapped in contemplation…)

As I do not smoke, or drink anything but water, you see me here

with only my superior sensibilities in evidence (no pipe, no whiskey).

An Eccleisiastical Furball
(To Christopher Smart and the author of Pangur Ba'n)
copyright Victoria Leigh Bennett, 2021 Olympia Publishers
Why does the kittty cat purr so?
Why does the kitty cat purr?
Because she's feeling so fine, bro,
Because she's licking her fur.

Why does the kitty cat hiss thus,
Why does the kitty cat hiss?
Because she's getting her teeth brushed,
Because she doesn't like this.

Why does the kitty cat stare so,
Why does the kitty cat stare?
Because the birds are outside, love,
Because the birds are out there.

Why does the kitty cat meow thus?
Why does the kitty cat meow?
Because she's been taught not to cuss, friend,
And she's in such a tight spot, and how!

Why does the kitty cat roll there,
With her belly up in the sun?
Because she's joyous and fine, lad,
And her troubles have all been outdone.

Why does the kitty cat sit there
So high up where she can't get down?
Because she was off on a lark, boy,
And wanted to see the town.

Why does the kitty cat fold her paws
Under in front when she sits?
Because she's refraining from slapping you
For asking so much just like this!

Why does the kitty cat look so profound
When it is time to pray?
Because she already knows her god
And has been in prayer all the day.

For her stare and her meow and her purr
And her rolls and her perch and her stance
And her hiss,
Are all celebrations of god's holy name,
So she needn't ask questions like this.

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An Adventure in the Innards of Amazon.com, and What Came of It

Well, last night–I should never start anything at night, I know, because lately, my desire to have my poetry read has helped cultivate in me a blatant disregard for time, in other words, I stayed up all night wrestling with perhaps an Amazon, but certainly not an angel–last night, as I was saying before mad parenthetical remarks took over, I tried to find my poetry book on the Amazon site.

Though you might think this was ego, it was only partly so. Oh, well, some. Mainly, I was concerned to judge what difficulty readers were going to have finding my book on that site, since buying things like yarn and wrinkle cream and air fryers is a lot easier on Amazon, usually, than locating a book you’d like to read, unless it’s the latest bestseller. And I felt that I could pretty much anticipate that I didn’t have a great chance of being well-represented yet on Amazon, because 1) it’s only been 4-5 days since my publication date 2) poetry overall, unless it’s one of the “greatest hits” or a recent crowd favorite or critical success, doesn’t sell as well as prose, and 3) I can’t seem to get a consistent price from the different places selling it to report to you for you edification and (I hope) for encouragement to get it for yourself.

I mean, the publisher kindly sent me some bookmarks and flyers the other day to be handed out to people I distribute free copies to and others who might be interested, and the publisher’s price was listed on it as 8.99 pounds (in U.S. dollars, $11.99, though I don’t think that includes shipping costs yet). And on Book Depository, the last price I saw a few days ago was a little above $12, with free worldwide shipping. And now, on Amazon, the price was upward of $14, plus shipping, unless you will buy one of the reduced new or used copies from other sellers listed on Amazon. Obviously, I like money as much as the next person, but someone on Twitter mentioned the other day that brick-and-mortar stores actually return more money to the publisher and to the author than online sellers do, so I’ve no clue what exactly to tell you, except my goal is overall to get as many people reading my book as possible, and if you can afford to get it by ordering it from a brick-and-mortar store or purchasing it outright from one who is already carrying it, then that’s great, and supports local business, which it seems is what everyone is trying to do nowadays. But if on the other hand, you live in an area with an uncooperative book merchant who doesn’t do quality fiction or poetry (which I happen to think mine is), and if Amazon is your only ordering option, then like the man said, “Order and be damned!” Actually, what the man said was “Publish and be damned!” but you get the point. My main interest is in having you embark on the reading adventure through my book and having you trace the footsteps that I took in writing it (so yes, I guess there’s some ego involved, but also a desire for book-companionship).

But what did I find in Amazon, you ask? Well, I had a hard time finding any poetry books, at first, that weren’t among a handful of audiobooks, many of which seemed quite honestly to be more self-help books in verse than anything else. Then, when I got smart (and it takes a while to suss out Amazon’s search terms, they aren’t simply correct author and title, the way they should be and the way you wish they were), I typed in trickier terms. Finally, I was both relieved and dismayed to find my book: relieved because I found it at all, but dismayed because of where it was in the poetry section, on page 69 or so out of 75, after more than about six pages of other sorts of books (notably funeral books for writing in memorials!) had passed several times. And other poetry books were in the same location which looked like pretty good books to me. I like Amazon less than I used to for this experience, I have to say. For your handy information, in case you want to order my book from Amazon, here’s what will turn it up right away, quick and easy, if you type it in exactly this way, caps and all where needed:

paperback poetry books Bennett Poems from the Northeast

That’s all. Uncapped where necessary, no quotation marks or other punctuation. Easy as pie to do, but hard as all get out (at least for me) to have deciphered and figured out on my own.

At any rate, all grousing aside, I’m delighted to be finally in print and able to share these writing experiences with you, and I hope this helps you to get a copy of the book, and to enjoy it. My bewilderment aside, there are probably plenty of you out there who know how to do these things easily. All the best in reading and writing, Shadowoperator (Victoria Leigh Bennett)

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Filed under A prose flourish, Full of literary ambitions!, ways to buy my book

Today’s the Day! “Now is the hour/Of our great content/Made uproarious self-advertisement/By this client of WordPress.”

“Wha?” say you, the innocent reader, stepping into the maelstrom of glee and self-congratulation.

Well, the misquote from Shakespeare’s Richard III above is only to confirm and announce that my 334 p. book of poems, “Poems from the Northeast,” about which I’ve been babbling for a few weeks now at least, was in fact released today, amid much hoopla by me and celebrations in a minor way.

The cat (Lucie-Minou, my heart’s darling) started it off today at 2:30 a.m., by agreeing to partake of a Fancy Feast broth to join in the day. Then, at 7:30 a.m., she had her breakfast of Fancy Feast chicken and tuna feast with all sorts of special (read: expensive) stuff in it.

Then, my mom and I ate some ice cream. And I guess, really, that wraps it up for the actual celebrating, but the mood was festive, anyway. So, just posting to let all my readers know that the book has now been released. If you’re wondering where to find it, it may be available in a lot of different places soon, but if you’re looking for a quick copy, try your local Amazon platform, the publisher’s (olympiapublishers.com), or Book Depository.

And share it with someone. Poetry is always better when shared.

All the best, and thanks for your support. Let me know your comments here, if you have any you would like to make to me directly, or if you would like to ask any questions about any of the poems you find in the book.

Namaste, Shadowoperator (Victoria Leigh Bennett)

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Filed under Full of literary ambitions!, how to order/pre-order my poetry book, Poetry and its forms and meanings, What is literature for?

The First Copies of My New Book Can Be Preordered Now–Here’s How

Though there will be other places to buy my book very soon, such as some online outlets and some brick-and-mortar stores (and of course with the information I’m supplying you here, you can always ask your local store of preference to order and stock my book from the publisher if you like supporting local business), here is the address of the publisher for pre-ordering right now. The information supplied is that which you will see on the publisher’s website, along with a photo of my book cover, and it is also the information you should supply to anyone whom you want to order and stock the book for you.

As soon as I have a list of the other places where you can expect to find my book, I will write a post here, as well.

For now, here’s the relevant information: Poems from the Northeast. olympiapublishers.com/books/poems-from-the-northeast . Available for preordering. Paperback. ISBN: 978-1-80074-064-8. Published 26/8/2021 (August 26, 2021, in U.K., for worldwide distribution). 334 pages. Size: 205×40. Imprint: Olympia Publishers. 8.99 pounds + shipping.

If, however, you are in the U.S. and want a little cheaper shipping fee than from the U.K. (and even though I do occasionally order from the U.K., shipping has gone up internationally), you can Google another pre-ordering site: it’s Book Depository, which is currently owned by Amazon. There, the book is $13.03, free shipping worldwide, and here’s the address you fill in to get the site: https://www.bookdepository.com>poems-from-the-northeast . That much should get you there (in order to try it, I ordered a book for a neighbor tonight who would otherwise have gotten one of my free copies from the publisher, because I wanted to be able to tell you how it works). At first appearance, it would look as if you have to sign in and use a password, but I was allowed to order her copy without doing so. I don’t have a lot of disposable income for books even at low prices, or else I would have probably signed in; they have a lot of very good books there.

Book Depository has other sites in other countries, too, I believe. And Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, and other Amazon platforms in Canada, India, and Australia are also going to feature the book, though until it sells a few copies, you may have to dig around looking for it a little. And when you finish, why not publish a review on Goodreads.com or your own Amazon site, letting other people know how you felt about the book? Or if you are a reviewer for another magazine, please let me know, here on this site or on your own, how you felt about the book, always remembering to tell me for whom you are writing.

And that’s about it. I hope that wherever you get the book, you enjoy the poems, and find something for you in the words on the page and the ideas I hope they incite, clarify, and embellish. Thanks for reading. Shadowoperator (Victoria Leigh Bennett)

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Matthew 25:29–A Sunday “sermon” from an agnostic, on the topic of “Them as has, gets.”

I’m taking as my departure point for an essay on creative writing today a Biblical verse which has perplexed a good many people, and caused others to wonder if God was on their side after all. I mean no disrespect to those who are believers, it’s just that the Bible, like the Koran, the Bhagavad Gita, and other religious scriptures the world over, is part of the substructure of the culture, whether we like it or not, and as with all these texts, it has a great many conundrums, puzzles, riddles, and posers in it for even the diligent, reverent, and hardy.

The verse in full runs: “For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.” For those who are more interested in Biblical lore and interpretation than in creative writing, my actual topic, there is a site which I personally know nothing about and cannot vouch for online, but they advertise a whole study guide online on the Biblical topic. They are called ConnectUs Commentaries. At this point, you might want to stop reading me, and start reading them.

Now, for my commentary. The verse is certainly a head-scratcher, insomuch as it doesn’t at first seem suggestive of New Testament standards of justice and fair play. I can remember my grandfather, who was a poor man, a coal miner, but who was deeply religious, and non-resentful of those who had more, still wryly smiling and saying, “Them as has, gets.” And he seemed to see it as an interpretation of the way things went in earthly life, where things are unfair sometimes, perhaps more often than not, and rich people and advantaged people got more of whatever good life they already had, while others not so lucky got nothing, or lost what little they had. His own fortunes improved, I am happy to report, but “them as has, gets” still seems indicative of a lot of things going on in the world today, for a lot of the world’s people. Of course, if it was speaking of spiritual qualities, it’s perhaps my own prejudice, but I think my grandfather had those in spades, and maybe that’s why he was able to remain a secure believer in his religion all his life.

So, what does this has to do with creative writing? Well, we all know what it’s like to suffer from so-called “writer’s block.” It can exist in having a case of “diarrhea of the mouth and constipation of the brain,” or spewing out lots of meaningless garbage that’s clearly useless for any other purpose than being tossed out. Or, it can exist in simply trying to function in a mental vacuum which is not cooperating with you. It’s blank, bare, void: it hates you, it resists your every effort to populate it with images or rhetorical structures, if you’re a poet, with characters and scenes, if you’re a fiction writer, with arguments and provocative thoughts, if you’re an essayist, or if your work is a cross-over which uses the techniques of more than one of these forms, it refuses absolutely to talk to you and let you do anything at all. So, what do you do? If you want to “have” something that will miraculously produce that, “to you much will be given,” what can you do?

First of all, don’t give up. Don’t ever give up. I mean, if after a long, hard haul, you then decide you want to run a florist shop instead of write, that is your choice, and you may be someone for whom it’s a good and mature choice, but you’re the only one who can really make that decision. I mean, you may always find that once in the florist biz, you are an excellent writer of your own marketing material. And that may be what you really want to do with whatever writing talent you have. And everybody can develop at least some; c’mon, now! But it’s also true, to honor the opposite position of truth, as I used to tell my younger brother when he said he wanted to be an astronaut, or a concert pianist (he never said those things, I can’t honestly remember exactly what I was bugging him about): “If you want to be the world’s best concert pianist, as long as you’re sitting in the floor by yourself in a cardboard box, you’re it. But the minute you get out, it always depends on the opinions of other people.” I could be a real wiseacre when I was an adolescent, and a real pain in the ass, but I occasionally said something that was pretty much okay.

So, if you 1) don’t give up and 2) rely on someone else, not necessarily on anyone and everyone whom you can foist your problematic manuscript upon, you’re at least part of the way there. And now, I am going to say something more original, I hope, which maybe you haven’t heard so frequently. The other first two observations are standard fare when it comes to advice, but I didn’t want you to think I hadn’t heard them before, or was unaware of them. 3) Keep the manuscript, even just the blank paper with a title or four words on it, if that’s all you have. Keep revisiting it every day or two. Keep looking at it. Try first one sentence then another after the first four words. Use the four words as a suggestive sentence fragment, then write a couple of complete sentences to follow, or a couple of other poetic lines. If you’re trying to write an essay upon a certain topic, and your topic is one you have pre-selected, this may be a little harder to do, but you can always try a different slant on whatever you’re writing about. Always, always, always, always, when writing a poem or story or novel, be willing to follow wherever the thought leads, just to see where it’s going before you decide it’s not what you want. Always let it talk to you for a while, let it run away with you. You’ll know soon enough if it’s sheer crap. And if you doubt yourself, that’s the time to put it in front of your friendly audience, in all its minor and unachieved glory. That person or those persons may be wrong in what they say to you about it, particularly if they tell you to ditch it totally (most thoughts end up leading somewhere that you may even be able to pick up years later and develop), but you can take an angle, perhaps an entirely new angle from what they say to a new stance on the topic for yourself. It’s a debate, after all, a discussion, not a dictation from them to you. By the same token, you can’t make them feel what you feel about it, so if your feeling is strong enough, take their advice with a large grain of salt, thank them for their effort graciously, and go on about the business of grooving along with the poem/story/novel/essay/etc. which you feel strengthened in your pursuit of. And again, remember, however small the portion you start out with, your goal is always to develop it beautifully, meaningfullly, into more: “Them as has, gets.”

Shadowoperator

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Filed under A prose flourish, advice on creative writing from a practitioner, Articles/reviews, Literary puzzles and arguments, What is literature for?

Have you seen it? The mystery of the vanishing WordPress.com post

My last post but one took place on March 17th, 2021. At some time after that, I published the last post I have done since then. I cannot now recall the title, but it was a post on the subject of Geraldine Brooks’s novel “The Secret Chord,” a book about the life and reign of King David. I felt about the book that it was a very fine book indeed, and so I had done a careful and what I thought was a basically good and responsible post about it. The post was up for a while, though I can’t recall if I got any comments on it or not. Repeatedly these days, I am informed that so-and-so new person is following my blog, but most of my followers seem to be shy of comments, so that it’s hard for me to verify how many people may have seen my post, though I usually get somewhere between 10-75 reads a day by a good number of viewers.

So, imagine my surprise when I went to look back at the post to see if I had remembered to mention something particular in the book, only to find that the post was no longer on my website, in any order at all! Please write in and let me know if you have any answers for me to this conundrum, as I am in the near future going to be publishing a very important (to me) post indeed, all about my book of poems which will soon be published, and I don’t want to take the risk that it too is going to vanish.

All the best, I hope someone among my readers can help. Shadowoperator

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Filed under Articles/reviews, Full of literary ambitions!

In Favor of Wool-gathering: A Crocheter’s Meditations Upon Both the Craft and Life

Though I begin by entitling this post “In favor of,” in actual fact it might more accurately be termed “for and against,” or “pro and con” due to the fact that nothing in life is perfect and all things have their down sides.  But beginning that way would lack the literary resonance of “in favor of,” which precedes other essays on life of more worth and importance than my modest effort, so I lay what claims for it I can, to belong to that fellowship.  Also, I am taking poetic license by calling it “wool-gathering,” because while this is a noteworthy pun in the case, in actual fact for a lot of people including me, it’s more like “acrylic-gathering,” since I often work in the less soft and more resilient acrylic yarns which are cheaper and bulkier both.  These caveats aside, I can justifiably refer to myself by the crafter’s jolly appellation “a happy hooker” (a bit of a hokey punning cognomen in use since the madam Xaviera Hollander’s bestseller came out in the 1970’s, a name supposedly adding more dash to crochet’s use of a single hook as opposed to the milder knitter’s pun of “knit-wit” for the use of two needles).

And now to begin, actually.  Crochet, like knitting, is a craft which abounds in opportunities for error, because in order to render even the simplest pattern, one must count stitches, so that I can see it being excellent homeopathic therapy for people with obsessive-compulsive disorder.  Or maybe it would be more accurate to say it is probably a good way to acquire a roaring case of said disorder.  One thing’s for sure, unless one has crocheted a good long while and is only doing a simple single crochet or double crochet pattern (two of the basic stitches), it is nearly impossible to carry on an intelligent conversation or watch an exciting television program at the same time.  Such frivolity of approach brings on dropped stitches (missed stitches) and other unintentional and erroneous embellishments of one’s work.  The down side is that one is often working merrily along on a complicated and repetitive pattern, sure that because the repetition has become second nature that one is “sitting pretty” in one’s rocker or easy chair, so to speak, when suddenly two rows from where one made the original error, one discovers a flaw that necessitates the intervening work being pulled out and reworked, with more humility this time.  Probably the best secondary activity is to listen to music of a non-controversial or balmy nature, which is better than Muzak but doesn’t require singing along while muttering to oneself over and over again “one, two, three, four, five, three stitches in that one, one, two, three, four, five, skip two, one, two, three, four, five, three stitches,” etc.  Even classical music could become too disruptive, especially if it is a stirring piece that one feels compelled to hum or utter “ta-da-da” along with.  Many things in life, occupation-wise, call for tedious and unwavering attention to a specific thing, but crocheters (and knitters too) are among the crafters who most needlessly and relentlessly punish themselves with this form of self-abuse as a hobby.

One is also given a lesson about memory.  For example, try to repeat an afghan or piece of clothing that you have done before, and without a written set of instructions with exact stitches recorded (and books of patterns are surprisingly expensive for what they are), you are doomed to hours of frustration.  I have recently learned even more about the faults of memory, the necessity for patience, and the occasional failings of expert advice.  Taking down an afghan that I wanted to repeat but no longer have a pattern for, I looked at the pattern intently and tried to remember just what I’d done.  But memory could only take me so far:  I kept making things that just didn’t resemble what I was looking at.  So, I had to keep trying (patience, jackass, patience).  Then, to my great joy and regret (joy because I found a store pattern which was like part of what I was trying to accomplish, regret that I had to pay so much for it), I noticed after putting in the first row that the pattern writers weren’t perfect either (the limits of experts).  True, they were only a stitch off, but it left me trying to think up clever ways of coming up with the extra needed stitch at the end of the row.  I fudged it, and am proud to say that the gods sometimes aid the diligent and well-intentioned (and sheerly stubborn, or as a British friend of mine used to say, “bloody-minded”–so much more poetic!)

And now, I’m well on my way to accomplishing my goal of figuring out the (as it turns out) quite complicated pattern I once did blithely  in my foolish youth, when success was only a few stitches away, and I had plenty of time and patience, excellent memory and ingenuity.  Creativity, it turns out, can take many forms, and is often made up of these things almost exclusively.  What one realizes with this craft at least is that time is finite, patience and memory often decrease with age, and ingenuity is called upon more frequently to make up for the shortages of the other three.  As one of my favorite refrigerator magnets has it, “Age and guile always overcome youth and skill.”  So now you have it, my completed post.  Last but not least:  this post was inspired by the reflection which visited me this morning that I have obligations willingly incurred to my readers and blogging buddies as well, and it was high time I produced another post.  As to those of you who are waiting for me to respond to their posts, take it as read that i will do so very soon.  Right now, I’m still wool-gathering, and have to finish a bit more in order to be satisfied!

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Filed under A prose flourish, Other than literary days....

The Tale of a Journey, and Its Ending (Back at Home)

Well, folks, I’ve recently returned from a trip with my immediate family to my and my brother’s undergraduate institution for fun, merriment, and one of those notable trips down Memory Lane, and though we had a great time going there, I have to report that Cornell University and the environs have changed considerably.  A lot of businesses which one thought would be there forever are no longer, and ones which remain have changed almost out of recognition, though sometimes for the better.  We eschewed the formal reunions and the organized trips and went where we remembered things being the best, the most interesting, or sometimes the most grueling (because of course since we had my young nephew with us, we had to impress him with tales of just how horrific things could be, as well as reassuring him that should he go there later, he would be able to surmount difficulties as well).  We started out the trip with breakfast near the beginning of our trip, and then met a good friend in another town later for lunch at a Belgian restaurant, which was a new cuisine for us.  Suffice it to say, it was excellent.  Then, we headed straight for Ithaca.  We got to our motel, and then went to an exceptional Thai restaurant down on The Commons (what the level ground is called downtown, which is not on one of the two mountainsides where Cornell University and Ithaca College are respectively located).  It was called Thai Basil, and was one of the best restaurants around of any kind.  Not only did they make special room for us on a very crowded night when we somewhat inconsiderately came by without a reservation, but the food and the ambience were outstanding.  The waitstaff was accomodating and very polite, coming by the table quite frequently to see what else we needed even though they were filled to capacity and clearly expecting many more.  It was a happy, happy time to end the first leg of our trip.

The next morning and day were the heart of our trip, as we toured around the campus and saw what had changed.  After taking the car around to show my nephew all the places my brother and I had lived (he came through 6 years after me), we parked it (though so booming and hearty, Ithaca is still a city where even up around the university it’s possible to find parking fairly quickly).  Then, I went (like a city dweller) to sit on the corner of College Ave. at Collegetown Bagels.  This is a place with a rich history, and one of the places that has changed much since our first exposure to it.  In the old days, there was no seating; you went into a large room and up to a counter where there were bins of numerous different kinds of bagels, and the man or woman behind the counter took your order and slathered whatever you’d chosen onto your bagel.  Someone rang you up at the register and you left.  Because I didn’t come from a bagel-conscious area, and I got to Ithaca back in the 1970’s, before bagels were popular all over the U.S., I’d never tasted one before; it was a real novelty, one which I hastened to introduce my family to when they came up to visit.  When my mother first tasted them years ago, she wasn’t impressed, being used to the softer bread products of our own hometown.  But in about six months or so, she was strangely longing to have one again.  And thus another cuisine touched our family.  Still, Collegetown Bagels has vastly expanded its operations in the time since even my brother was there after me.  The whole corner of College Ave. is now Collegetown Bagels, and they have tons of outdoor seating.  As well, the counter space is totally new (at least to me) with a complicated “filing-past” procedure of ordering, and beer choices, and a very innovative and ornate menu of items, as well as additional food and juice items of every sort that you could want.  So, I chose to sit and take in the pedestrian traffic and watch the crowds (and incidentally, save a table) for my mother, brother, and nephew, who were planning to hike down one of the several gorges–the motto?  “Ithaca is Gorges”–before having a late breakfast.  I had chosen a plain whole wheat bagel with butter, a bit of yoghurt, and a juice to wait for them with, and soon got into conversation with someone who’d been there when I was and had been in the town since.  He was able to tell me that sadly, some campus traditions no longer prevailed.  For example, dogs are no longer allowed to roam free on the Cornell campus (into the classrooms and etc., where before they were always good for a diversion from our studies); students no longer “borrow” lunch trays from the main dining halls to slide down the steep slope behind Uris Library in the snow anymore; and other such sad passings.  But when I queried as to why there were now such big nets underneath the bridges, he was able to reassure me that at least one unenviable tradition had changed for the better:  despairing students have been prevented from “gorging out” (jumping into the gorges in mostly successful and regrettable suicide attempts).  As well, when my family rejoined me for a late breakfast (and like a hobbit, I had a little something else to help fill up the spaces), they had to report that the gorge they had hiked up was perhaps a bit less scenic than before, because it had had to be paved along the side and reinforced due to a recent flood, which had washed some trees away.  We ate then moved on to tour the campus.

There were people waving to us from the bell tower of the library as the carillon concert began.  As if just to please my nephew (who had at his first sight of the campus up on the hill from a distance said that it reminded him of Harry Potter’s school Hogwarts), students were playing a non-levitational form of quidditch when we got to the Arts Quad.  We watched for a while, and then went round looking at the old buildings, noticing as well places where new constructions had been added (nothing’s ever totally the same way you left it, and I suppose that’s as it should be).  Nevertheless, I was dismayed to learn that the coffeehouse “The Temple of Zeus” in the English building of Goldwin Smith Hall is no longer there or perhaps not what it was, and I saw no happy outpouring of students from “The Green Dragon” in the Architecture and Fine Arts building of Sibley Hall, though that’s not to say they weren’t there at least lurking in spirit somewhere.  I was nostalgic for this area because it’s where I spent most of my time, as an English major in Goldwin Smith and as a dual Theatre major in Lincoln Hall.  But I have to be happy for the English majors that they are getting a new Humanities Building right next door, and the Theatre students now have a grand new performing arts center in Schwarz, which I saw when I was sitting having breakfast in the morning, as it was centrally located.

Next, we went to show my nephew where my brother and I had lived in our respective dorms on North Campus, and the North Campus Union, and other sights.  I, of course, was mournful to observe that the Pancake House–scene of many an early and riotous breakfast after a night of heavy carousing for me and my undergraduate friends–was no longer above the power house along another waterway, but we were rewarded with the sight of a baby blue egret perched on the dam fishing, so it wasn’t all bad.  Finally, we went back to the car and once again my nephew was rewarded in his hopes and ambitions:  earlier, when we had been driving past a sign on the road that said “Deer Crossing,” he had hoped to be able to see a deer.  Now, however, as we were parked just by someone’s backyard in hillside Ithaca, we saw a deer, an older female, standing quietly feeding on someone’s flower bed.  My brother pointed out the tumor which had unfortunately formed on her back knee joint.  She was not really afraid of us, but just kept a watchful eye out as we quietly started the car and pulled out.  We had our last group touring session of the day by going down to Lake Cayuga and sitting there in Stewart Park, under the willows.  It was very warm and yet breezy in a pleasant way; we in fact had good weather the entire weekend.  Next, my brother wanted to take my mother to see the falls at Taughhannock Park, so we went there.  I, however, had worn my weary legs out, so while the three of them hiked five miles in and five miles back out, I sat in the car park under a shade tree and watched all the young families and their kids and dogs coming to enjoy the lawns and water.  Finally, it was time to go out to dinner again, and man! were we ready for it this day!

My brother found us a wonderful Indian restaurant up on the hill on Eddy St., where though I was very sad to see that the magnificent Cabbagetown Café of vegetarian fame and excellence was no longer on a corner, I was amply requited with a fine Indian dinner.  I wish I could remember the exact name of the restaurant, but there were two Indian restaurants side by side, and my brother left us to choose one, and as they both looked very inviting and hospitable, I cannot recall which one we visited.  But both had a five-star rating, so if you happen to be visiting, we went to the one a little further down the hill of Eddy Street toward Martin Luther King St., and if you can’t find room there, maybe the one a little further just up the hill will have room for you.  Again, we were welcomed without a reservation, which was excellent, and the dinner moreover was absolutely first-rate.  We ended the evening by driving downtown to Purity Ice Cream, a favorite haunt of my brother’s in the old days, and my nephew was rendered replete with good fare and happy memories.

The next morning, we had to go, but we started out in a leisurely fashion and went to see some more falls at the bottom of another gorge (my brother is clearly training my nephew to be a vigorous fellow).  Then, we went to another fine restaurant (I know, it sounds like all we did was walk and eat!).  We had our breakfast at the Sunset Grill, which was up on one of the high hills of Ithaca, and from which we could see Cornell University sitting on another mountaintop at a distance.  It was several notches up from the average diner food, everything was pristine and clean and bright and cheery, they had an “endless cup of coffee,” and we got to eat out on their porch area, in the gorgeous morning air.  Now, it really was time to go.  We gassed up the car and headed back, stopping in the evening to have dinner at a restaurant just an hour from my brother’s house, where we were not let down either from all the fine fare we had already been served.  It was a “country style” restaurant, but though I’d had premonitions of everything being covered in cheap gravy and being served overboiled vegetables, that’s not what it was about at all.  It was instead just as fine a dining experience as all the rest, and concluded our trip in a perfect manner.

We drove to my brother’s house full of our experiences and adventures, and busy discussing the traditions which still seemed to be observed, and the things that had changed for the better or worse.  One thing is certain:  as one might expect (though older people like us never quite seem to get the gist of this the first time they encounter it, and need repeated exposures to this awareness to “get the picture”), the torch has been passed to a new generation, and they are happy with what they have in the main, just as we were happy with what we had, mostly.  And that’s all as it should be!  Heaven only knows what my nephew will see if and when he goes to Ithaca.  Or maybe he will break tradition and go somewhere else, where he will likely discover his own favorite things to expose his family to.  Only time will tell!  In the meantime, we had a great family outing, and yet another good experience of family bonding.  And after all, that’s what it was all about!

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Halloween, wolves, lights out!–and whimsy

Today, I am going to tell you the very brief, horrific (and admittedly whimsical) tale of a naughty little girl of my acquaintance and how she (for some time at least) lost the friendship of a near relative through a lie about wolves, radiators, and lights out! time.  If you suspect that I know that little girl a bit better than I am letting on, so be it (heaven forbid you should think it is actually myself I am talking about, though they do say that confession is good for the soul).

Cast your mind back to the early 1960’s, when little girls still wore puffy petticoats with short skirts over them, and either had to have pigtails and ponytails or Shirley Temple curls (made arduously, if not “natural,” by painstaking mothers using bobby pins, at least on school nights, when everyone the next day had to believe the curls were genuine).  Picture to yourself a weedy young imp who preferred to lie curled up with a good book all day, and hated being told to go outside and play (hey! that rhymes!).  This young person of the female persuasion only liked going out to play or even playing inside with dolls, for that matter, when one or the other of her female cousins were around to make the game interesting.

Of course, Halloween comes in the fall of the year, and at that time, vampires, spooks, and werewolves are in the juvenile mind in abundance, not only for trick-or-treat, but even after, to spice up daily conversation and slumber parties.  And, of course, to supply material for ghastly nightmares, which, once they’re over continue to supply a pleasurable frisson of fright, a harking back to horror.

Well, it so happened that this little girl had never acquired a fear of the dark.  She was afraid of many things, but unlike her female cousins, had never become afraid of the dark, or required a night-light to sleep.  But she was afraid of wolves.  Not just werewolves, but the real animal, which she’d never seen except in books, nor was likely to.  But her cousins slept with a night-light, because it was decreed that parents had different verdicts about what was the best way to deal with nightmares, and theirs had been known to give way more easily to the specific of waking only to find the light shining, and nothing wrong.

Now, our little girl, we’ll call her Beth (for nothing would induce me to reveal her true identity), abhorred a night-light.  She was proud of not needing one, and when she had an occasional fright in the night, she simply stumbled out of bed and went to her parents’ room for comfort and reassurance, or better yet, and more often, called out for the long-suffering (and perhaps overindulgent) parent(s) to come to her.  But one other thing that she was perhaps less rational about than even wolves was floor registers to radiator systems, the kind that have a few little slots in the floor that can be made to shut firmly by pushing the knob.  Doing so of course shut off the warm air flow to the room, but it at least produced a firm surface which didn’t show a long, mysterious floor passageway below it, leading off into who knew where.  Nevertheless, Beth had been warned to leave the floor vents open, and by and large she was a good child and not too terribly mischievous.  She did tell the occasional untruth when it was advisable in her view, but as she usually got found out and punished, it didn’t often strike her as a viable option.

There was one notable occasion, however, when Beth found it to be the sine qua non, the absolutely necessary element, to add comfort to her existence.  And this was when her cousin Bella came to stay the night.  Now Bella was about a year or two younger, and wasn’t used to being lied to by Beth, so she was unprepared for what happened when the two girls were left alone for the night.  Just as Bella had requested, there was a night-light burning to one side of the bedroom, and while Bella found this a fine method of reassurance in a strange place, Beth found it irksome and just knew she wouldn’t be able to sleep a wink with it on.  She had been warned by her mother to leave the light burning if Bella wanted it on, as a mark of courtesy to her guest, yet since it was her bedroom they were sleeping in, in her nice warm bed, and everything was beckoning for an evening of confidences and strange stories in the dark, she just knew there must be some other way to arrange things to her satisfaction.

Suddenly, it came to her in a flash of inspiration!  She’d share with Bella one of her own nightmares that had happened once or twice to trouble her own sleep; only, she’d pretend that it had really happened, and surely Bella couldn’t refuse to allow her to turn off the light then!  So, slowly and carefully, trying to suit her story to what Bella was likely to believe, Beth explained, with many a gesture and fearsome expression:

“Well, see, Bella, it’s not that I don’t want the light on; but at night, there’s a big, fat, mean ol’ wolf that comes up in the floor register, and if he can see us, he might eat us.  Or tear us up to pieces, and then eat us.  But if we have the lights all out, then he can’t even see where we are, and all we have to do is go to sleep, and he’ll leave us alone and go away.”

Bella’s eyes grew large.  “But won’t he hear us talking?” she asked, her voice shaking with the faithful tremors of the new convert, gullible but still with questions.  “Naw,” said Beth airily, “He never hears me when I sing to myself in the dark.”  “Well, then, won’t he smell us?” Bella persisted, not liking this strange mutated creature of frightful fairy tales at all.  “NO!  He doesn’t smell; something is wrong with his nose.”  “Well, can’t we just close the register and keep him out?”  This example of independent thinking, which moreover had all the marks of her own previous thoughts on the subject, riled Beth.  “NO!  Not unless you want to be a baby and freeze all night, without any heat.  I’m telling you, the only thing to do is to turn out the light.  And we’d better hurry, because I think I hear him coming now!”

Had Beth had time to think the matter through at leisure, before her parents had sprung the surprise on her that she was expected to endure a night-light all night, she might probably have thought of a better solution.  Because this one clearly had serious drawbacks, one of which was that Bella now wailed in a loud voice, “I want my mama!  I want my mama, and I want to go home!”  Why this lie?  Especially since no wolf or even any self-respecting werewolf was likely to come up through a floor register in a modern house at night?  Suffice it to say that this took place back in the 1960’s, when naughty children were still likely to be punished with at least a mild spanking, as well as having privileges taken away, and such methods were enough to reassure the erring Beth that whatever wolves lurked below the floorboards were best left unmentioned when company came.  Bella went home still frightened, though in a huff as well for a few weeks when she was assured that Beth had only been “telling a story,” as such matters were euphemistically called by the children’s doting grandmother.

And there ends this whimsical (and true) tale of the fall season, my second early contribution to the Halloween holiday which will come next month.  But you should know that if it’s ever a choice between being in the dark all night and managing to sleep, or sleeping with a light on in a room with a floor register, old memories have convinced me that the dark room is the best (and for good measure, I might even pile up extra blankets on the bed and shut the floor register as Bella suggested–after all, even a cousin who’s a ‘fraidy-cat can’t be all wrong!).

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Where have I been? Here. What have I been doing? Creating!

Well, the time has come around (actually, come and gone) when a new post is due, and I have been busy doing other things and not getting anything much read to post on.  Oh, I read three tankas (an Eastern poetic form), but I don’t think it’s a case of “there’s glory for you,” as another character said to Alice about the matter of interpretation, and so I desisted from interpreting a foreign poetical form due to my lack of experience with it.  That needs some explaining, I see.  In Through the Looking Glass, Alice is conversing with Humpty Dumpty, and in re of their discussion, he says, “There’s glory for you.”  “‘But “glory” doesn’t mean “a nice knockdown argument,”‘ Alice objected.  ‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean–neither more nor less.’  ‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’  ‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master–that’s all.'”  Now, since it would be quite immodest of me to pretend to be master of a very ancient poetical form and sets of symbols in a tradition quite different from my own (not that I won’t ever take a stab at things that way, but the tanka form is not like the haiku, which I might be able to be a pretender about), I decided this week to use my time doing some other kind of creating than the critical.  Since I’m on a new diet which is quite successful because it is not a diet but a lifestyle change, a permanent thing, very delicious and fulfilling, I’ve been cooking and storing food and cooking again, and sharing my treats with my family members.  But I’ve also lost 9 pounds in 2 weeks’ time, and though most diet plans suggest that slow and steady wins the race, this diet plan is known to be safe for faster weight loss because it’s just plain good sense and safe all around.

I don’t know if those of you who watch PBS have ever caught Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s programs on the tube, but that is where I first encountered this diet, during one of their periodic and typical fundraisers, where special programs are aired that break occasionally for a fundraiser message.  This is the very type of program which generally speaking most annoys me, and I hate self-improvement speakers and diet plan managers.  But there was something compelling about this guy.  He seems like just an ordinary guy, whom I was ready to dismiss as a bit of a health-food nut until I just somehow got hooked, I can’t explain how.  Of course, I like veggies and most of the foods he was pushing, beans, whole grains, but I like a lot of stuff that’s not that good for me too, so I was at first inclined to be skeptical when he said I wouldn’t miss those foods after a week or so.  For me, it was even faster than that, despite the fact that I’d had potato chips in my mouth the night before:  I had no detox period from “toxic” foods, and took to the diet right away.  And the rest is history.

Of course, everybody has something that’s particularly hard for them to give up, and following a largely vegan diet with occasional “meat as a condiment only” supplements and my daily yoghurt-and-fruit smoothie (and he recommends giving up as much dairy as possible too) sounds grim.  But I actually enjoy it.  And there’s no denying that it works.  I decided at the beginning rather than buying the very expensive fundraiser kit of several CD’s or DVD’s and a couple of cooking guides and books to just pick the two books I wanted most from the admittedly copious list of his publications, and order them cheaper from Amazon.com.  So, after some studying, I chose “The End of Dieting,” his basic guide to the plan complete with a daily schedule and some recipes, and “The Eat to Live Cookbook,” and had them in the mail the next week.

I know this all sounds crazy, but it’s been a real pleasure to eat food again, because not only is it a general health plan for life (i.e., there are many menus not just for people dieting), but I can eat it without feeling guilty, as much as I want until I’m full.  I’ve cooked this two weeks from it and put some food in the freezer, such as a veggie-bean-and-mushroom stew, a baba ghanouj-cum-hummus (eggplant hummus, basically), a mushroom-walnut-Swiss-chard-onion-etc. burger, a bean-turkey-spinach burger, a creamy almond vinaigrette dressing; I’ve also indulged almost every evening in one of two fairly lo-penalty desserts, a fudgy black-bean-and-date brownie (the icing is made partially with avocado–I know, sounds gross, but tastes delicious) or a banana walnut soft ice cream dessert you can make in the blender.

Of course, I’m getting 80 minutes a day of exercise most days too, but I haven’t started strength training yet, and that 80 minutes consists mainly of stretching and walking at a moderate pace inside a carpeted hallway (many people in our condo walk inside to avoid the weather and bad sidewalk conditions outside, or for other reasons of their own).  Life is good.  I’ve even been able to supplement my food plan (it’s hardly fair to call it “diet plan”) with recipes from some of my older vegetarian cookbooks, making sensible substitutions where necessary.  So far, I’ve got a recipe for a chunky dill borscht (we had it last night and it was quite delicious), an eggplant-and-onion-and-red pepper-and tomato sauce dish with whole wheat pasta or brown rice, a whole wheat pita bread, and a braised celery with walnut dish (this last is actually from FreeAmericanRecipes.com).  [The borscht and the pita recipes come from Julie Jordan’s “Wings of Life,” a cookbook from Cabbagetown Café in Ithaca, NY].

One thing that of course has to be considered is the cost of eating this way, but it’s not as bad as you might think, though things may get a little tighter as the cold weather sets in.  We haven’t regularly bought processed foods much for quite some time already, and were already eating mostly poultry and fish and eschewing much red meats or salted ones.  The grocery costs have skyrocketed almost everywhere in the U. S. and probably elsewhere too in the last year, with several rises having happened almost in a row, but many grocery chains are now trying to follow Market Basket’s exemplary lead and pay more attention to the customer’s needs and costs, so we’ll see what happens.  It’s always possible, once you get the hang of things, to figure out which ingredients you can’t do without and which recipes you need to substitute on because of cost of ingredients; this allows you to take advantage of store sales that you may not know about when you leave home.  You can be inventive, and make up your own recipes, too, once you know the very-easy-to-follow rules.

Dr. Fuhrman and his colleagues of course discourage cheating, but they allow a lot of leeway for experimentation, and allow for occasional backsliding, simply warning that you can’t let it become a habit once it has happened, but need instead to start back in your fairly easily acquired good habits.  I’m so happy on this plan, and it’s quite true as far as the claims that are made for it (clearer thinking, better sleeping, lighter feeling, better body, etc.).  At other times, even on a Weight Watcher’s diet for a while, I had convinced myself–even though I’ve always liked vegetables–that people who claimed they could entirely or mostly go without meat had probably starved themselves so silly that they were digesting their brain tissue in desperation.  But now I find that an ice cream scoop size serving of salmon salad (made with only 1 tablespoon light mayonnaise for the whole batch, technically a “cheat,” since regular vegetable and olive oils are supposed to be used only rarely) is enough to keep me happy, and I’ve not eaten chicken for quite some time.  I usually have the salmon on my daily vegetable salad at lunch, and whatever fresh vegetables and even some fruits (like apples) I have which can be eaten raw go in this as well, along with some cooked beans.

So, when I say that I’ve been creating this week since I last posted, I have:  it’s just been creating in the kitchen instead of on the page.  And now that I’ve thoroughly bored and exasperated you with my fervor and enthusiasm for something you yourself might not especially like (though in my zealot’s glee I can’t imagine that possibility particularly well), I’ve told all.  For now, anyway–see you in a few days, I hope with another literary post.

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