Rain will turn to snow

And that’s how it’s been going.

Two weeks ago, I upgraded my phone. It had been years. It wasn’t holding a charge anymore and I got sick of walking around in the red zone all the time. Wasn’t gonna spring for another battery.

Meanwhile, the computer that has recorded our tv programs for two decades crapped out. Gonzo. It’s the only way I can see cable, whether recording it or not. Therefore, there was no Maddow or Nicolle Wallace on this historic day.

I watched a four minute clip of Nadler announcing the two articles of impeachment while sitting in the car, in the rain, before going into the office building perched on the Wellesley side of the Charles River where I get my eyes checked. New glasses are in order.

After dinner, K announced that the Christmas tree light cord overheated and needs replacing.

I’m sensing a theme here.

At least the mice are getting dressed for the holidays! Two are chatting away in the dark of a postal box right now, making their way down the coast of the Atlantic.

Fragile

Can I just say, yesterday I got spooked. It wasn’t just the fear of falling on black ice, it was also the hearings with all that gaslighting, inverting of sense and fact. How the lying seems to work. By now, too, I know that I always feel terrible after trump has been abroad. The embarrassment and the visible costs of his corrupt incompetence are harsh to note.

How fragile it all seems! I know people say it all the time, but yesterday I felt it in my body. How we might not make it. As a republic or a planet.

Prompt after writing prompt produces articulations of rage and despair about climate deniers and about the damage itself. After teaching Tuesday’s class (on Zoom because of the snow emergency), I thought, why does this keep coming up? Then yesterday: why doesn’t it come up more?

In fact, how can we talk about anything else?

Tomorrow there’s a climate strike in Copley Square. I’m not planning to go. It’s been a long week with K in China and back to back snowstorms. But I laud the young people skipping school to protest — getting their priorities right.

The first thing I listened to this morning was the inspiring, intelligent, beautiful Naomi Klein. She and Rebecca Solnit keep trying to remind us that climate denial is violence. Abuse. Part of a pattern of corporate greed.

It’s worth the six minute listen.

PS A few weeks ago, I read Maddow’s book about ‘the world’s most destructive industry on earth’ — the fossil fuel industry. Amazing how much is about Russia.

Snow rain snow

New idea: The over-reaction to storms these days is not a function of misguided media but rather indicative of how badly we need snow days. Checked out and snuggled in!

Good news? One neighbor plowed out the end of my driveway and I conducted my class on Zoom today (and it worked!)

Rejected scenes from a novel

 

img_7066Sometimes constructing a story is like collage, where you add layer after layer, hoping that the whole picture somehow works.

img_1798Sometimes constructing a story is akin to piecing fabric — moving around existing components until a pleasing design emerges, then adhering them.

Right now, editing resembles lipo-suction. Sucking out the fat in service of a tighter sequencing of events is harder than I thought it would be.

In part, this is because I have ADD. Having my kind of focus means I can endlessly and with rapt attention go line by line and make significant improving edits. But to take in the whole? To understand how big chunks work or don’t work? This is challenging. It took me two weeks of hand-wringing to convince myself I could even do it!

Here’s the upshot: my manuscript is way too long. Industry standard for unpublished authors is 90,000 words (in the neighborhood of 200 pages). Mine clocks in at 310,000 and worse, sags throughout the entire middle. I wish it were as simple as excising the middle, but that won’t get me to my goal of a readable, compelling 200 page novel.

Things to consider:

  • they say to write the book you want to read. I like page turners (i.e. plot driven novels). Mine is character driven. Plot decidedly secondary (or absent?)
  • I have let the actual events of Eliza Lucas Pinckney’s life inform her narrative and it’s been suggested that to do so is to handicap myself (a small example: her two closest friends were named Mary. I let that stand, even though as a reader it would drive me nuts).
  • each scene demands that I ask, does this drive the story forward? Does this?

But! What if our standard idea of narrative progressing in an arc is not only limited, but based on an a masculine sensibility (and specifically, male sexuality) in ways that are limiting?

From Paris Review article discovered last night — Here’s critic Robert Scholes: “The archetype of all fiction is the sexual act … the fundamental orgastic rhythm of tumescence and detumescence, of tension and resolution, of intensification to the point of climax and consummation.”think ‘arousal phase’ ”climax’.

Says author of Paris Review article, Jane Alison: “Well. This is not how I experience sex. Critic Susan Winnett says, “Meanings generated through dynamic relations of beginnings, middles, and ends in traditional narrative and traditional narratology never seem to accrue directly to the account of the woman.” And anyway, why should sex—this kind of sex!—be the archetype of fiction? Why should an art form as innovative as fiction have a single archetype at all?”

Food for thought. Having said that, without any explanation of setting or character, here are two deleted scenes. Make of them what you will. Both fall in the category of ‘too much back story for secondary characters.’

 

JAMES WHITTAKER

And so, it was on a windy morning in early December 1737, that a Barbadian Christian with something to hide parted with a half-Yoruban, half-Dutch temptress and pocketed the proceeds. As the buyer led his newly-acquired slave and her child down the tamarind-lined path, neither he nor the seller knew that Sally was with child — the cane grower’s child. But Sally knew, as women sometimes do.

Before the Barbadian cane grower even crossed the threshold back into his gracious abode, he was halfway to forgetting the whole unpleasant business. What relief! What shrewd calculation! Without even having made the decision to do so, his mind began to blur the outlines of his ugly (though thoroughly socially acceptable) transgression and its brief, tortured aftermath. Smudge. Smudge. How swift the gracious erasures performed by amnesia — how convenient the mechanism of blame!

He returned to the so-called seat of his empire and exhaled in relief. He patted the arms of his chair as if to say he was back, a man of society wholly in charge of his destiny, and perhaps also a man made generous by recent events.  Even though the well-timed disposal of Sally might’ve allowed him to forgo the lavish fete, he would not renege. Wasn’t he a man of his word? He was planning a menu when his wife entered the room.

“Is that vile thing gone at last?” But her husband had moved on.

“I’ll say 200’s the upper limit,” he answered, forgetting that he had yet to mention the gala out loud. “And let’s make it memorable, my pumpkin. How about a masked ball?”

The cane grower’s wife sat down, befuddled for a moment but not a jot longer. She was onto it! They would roast four pigs! There would be dancing! She leaned toward his desk and said in conspiratorial joy, “The date must correspond to a full moon — think of the light on the terrace! Oh and Mrs. Thorp just this week made mention of an orchestra worth the hire!”

He concurred. She glowed. When had they last been this united in thought? He said, “A full moon – indeed! Always the one with the grand idea, you! Imagine it shining on the bay… won’t our guests swoon with envy, my dear, and high time?”

The cane grower dunked his quill into the bottle of ink rather too hard. Dunk after hard dunk. No wonder the point had been dull on that awful morning – but no — he would not think on it. He would take down his wife’s every idea. Nothing like a little scare to humble a person into conciliatory attentiveness!

Surely Mrs. Whittaker wondered at his softened tone, his posture of consideration?  She said nothing more about Sally, which could have meant any number of things. Maybe the distraction worked. Four pigs!  Mrs. Thorp’s orchestra!  Then again, she might have thoroughly skunked him out, but in the interests of marital peace generally and a magnificent ball specifically, let the matter rest. If so, she was not quite as dim as her husband believed. Furthermore, she might be possessed of a larger spirit than he knew as well. Think on it: if his wife so freely abandoned what turned out to be a well-grounded suspicion in order to graciously leap into their shared future, without for a second demanding the consolation prize of being right, maybe she deserved his ministrations of care, not as decoy against his sin but as her rightful due. Had she always been more worthy of his esteem than he’d allowed? He committed to granting her a bit more warmth, a more frequent nodding alliance of opinion. Maybe a dance or two on the moonlit terrace come time?  For once, she impressed him.

You could say, therefore, that in addition to preparing and serving meals, bundling alfafa, sweeping the veranda and house entire, watering bromeliads, and increasing the inventory with a son, Sally granted the couple the gift of a much-needed renewal. The fact that it was one the couple could not have engineered on their own made it all the more remarkable. It was the mulatto’s disruptive guile (for he at last concluded it was not diminished capacity but guile, guile, guile) that had generated a significant new conjugal arrangement. One spouse rose up, the other slipped down, causing the two to arrive somewhere in the middle where approach one to the other was possible. Like everything else Sally gave, it was bestowed (taken) without their having to fork out a single letter of credit or clattering coin.

In two months time, when the orchestra tuned up on the terrace and the bay shimmered with moonlight, our sugar exporter on Barbados would hardly be able to recall the mulatto’s voice. In fact, he wouldn’t even really remember that the wench’s voice had been singularly arresting. And, because amnesia does not carefully discriminate in its sweep of erasure, he would also forget that he had given the slave his small Bible. He’d forget how, when he held out his precious Bible – the one given to him by his sister all those years ago — the impudent slattern had had the gall to refuse it. You’d think such an exchange would stick in a man’s mind, but it did not. Smudge. Smudge. The cane grower’s amnesia so thoroughly swiped at that morning in the pantry, in fact, that he would later wonder where the Bible had gotten off to, even going so far as to question another house slave about its disappearance.

GEORGE LUCAS

In conversation it never came out that Whittaker had placed an advert for the mulatto one week prior. And, just as the cane grower hoped, the Captain purchased the mulatto’s two year old son too, with nary a moment’s hesitation. All traces of the wench would be gone!

Perhaps the purchase of the boy could be supported by South Carolina’s ‘head system’– whereby land apportionments were meted out based on the number of persons in a household, even colored ones, and even two year olds, albeit at reduced count. Surely, the low cost of a toddling boy as compared with the land his head would facilitate surveying made it a shrewd transaction?

A shadowy notion of quid pro quo inserted itself just below the level of the Captain’s attention — not quite conscious enough to make him calculating, but present enough to render him a fool. By purchasing the Negress’s boy, he hoped to purchase the slave’s goodwill, for what exactly remained notional and to the extent any thought arose at all, it surely wasn’t about sexual congress. It did, however, occur to the Captain what a nice presentation the mulatto would make in one of Millie’s well-made frocks and wouldn’t it be pleasant to have the girl sing in the parlor after tea?  A refined use. An acceptable intercourse.

And so, on a gray morning in December of 1737, with the purchase of Sally and her two year old son, Noah, Captain George Lucas became for the first time in all his years a man governed by more than mere duty. He renamed his acquisition ‘Melody’ and anticipated with a certain glow the pleasure of hearing her voice again. He was doubly satisfied, for he’d come into possession of valuable military information at the inn the evening prior. Spain was preparing to invade Georgia. Antigua’s Governor would be grateful for the news.

Had the Captain stepped outside of himself for a moment, he would have traveled back to Antigua empty-handed and discussed moving to South Carolina with his wife. A pro forma exchange, but not without value. He might have recognized that it was foolish to risk conjugal peace based on a ditty about peas and rice.

Furthermore, he might’ve recognized the folly of trying to recapture a momentary rapture with a purchase. His nebulous desires were unworthy of his character for a host of reasons, but there was one more flaw in all of this, one which stained his person with the darkest blotch of all and it was this:  How on God’s green earth could a man expect rapture to flow from transactions in human flesh?

 

Cold, blowers, and gifts

Snow is on the way. A chip of a moon graces the sky. When I was out with Finn earlier, I saw a red tailed hawk floating on the thermal currents like royalty of the sky.

Leaf blowers abound to an obnoxious degree lately, but I am keeping headphones handy, my mouth (mostly) shut.

It was curious to round the corner on walk number two and see a cop with my neighbor and her crew. Did someone report them for having non-compliant blowers? I’ve called on third time offenders a time or two and no police ever showed up.

My neighbor’s yard company is black-owned and operated.

A morning of editing. Tomorrow will be the same — after the crossword puzzles.

Before I go, I have to tell you about a package that came yesterday. Out of the blue. Filled with goodies! Warm socks, “for walks with Finn,” a folded up selection of beautiful fabrics and teeny tiny purses “for the mice!”

Thank you Tina Zaffiro! Thank you thank you.

You can be sure that I will by plying my teeny crochet hook to try and replicate these darling little purses. Can you stand them?

Mice-making tutorial

img_8739

‘Tis the season for merry mice! Here’s how to make a four to five inch high mouse that will add a festive note to any tabletop or tree.

Supplies:

  • Felt or other cloth
  • Pipe cleaners for arms
  • Waxed linen for whiskers
  • Buttons or beads for eyes
  • Stuffing and small gravel
  • Scraps of cloth for clothing
  • Glue

Notes on materials:

You could make these critters out of any fabric at all — calico, for instance, or old socks. I use acrylic felt because I have a ton on hand from my days of craft fair booth-making. If you can afford it use wool felt, but fair warning, it’s pricey.

Also, I use pipe cleaners for arms because I like them to be bendable, but you could stuff the jacket arms instead.

Tools:

  • Turning tool (chopstick or knitting needle);
  • Doll making needle (not necessary but nice);
  • Wire cutters (if using pipe cleaners)
  • Seam ripper or awl for poking holes (not shown).

I’ll often start by making batches of components.

For the ears, cut outer layer out of black felt and inner out of pink (slightly smaller than the black). Sometimes I glue the pink on black. Other times, I skip the glue and rely on stitching.

Curved ears for mice. Pointy ears for cats. Drapey ovals for dogs.

If you don’t know this trick, you will be eternally grateful to me once learning it: for tough-to-open screw tops, wind a rubber band around the top and try again. Voila!


Once glue has dried, fold and stitch base tightly closed. This needs to be stiff enough to insert into the small holes that you’ll be poking in the head.

Make some heads. I don’t use a pattern but the shape is easy enough. Just be sure to create a long neck because it will need to be inserted into the body (longer than my diagram). Back stitch at tip of nose for strength. Clip seam at tip before turning.

Cut oval bases to size. They don’t have to match.

To make the body, sew up sides and then secure an oval base. It could not be easier. Only two tricks and one suggestion here:

  • Keep NECK OPENING WIDE for ease of reversing to right sides after base attached. You can always take a tuck or two later but (especially if using thick wool), too small an opening makes reversing to right sides impossible.
  • When sewing the base on, be sure to place the TAIL ON THE INSIDE and snake it up the inside. This way, when you turn it right-side-out, the tail comes out of where you want it. I usually center the tail between the base’s two side seams.
  • Lastly, make oval much larger than necessary so that precision is not required when attaching to the body.

Next, add features to the head.

Using an awl or another sharp implement, poke ear holes in the head and insert ears. Stitch, going back and forth between ears or down through the neck rather than sewing one ear first, then the other. It’s much easier. Don’t worry if your holes are too big. Felt is very forgiving.

I haven’t decided whether it’s more efficient to stuff the head first or not. Probably easier to stuff, then insert ears. Certainly by the time you’re attaching eyes, you want the head stuffed.

Attach teeny buttons or seed beads for eyes, again stitching side to side. You can also stitch the eyes.

This head exemplifies not just stitched eyes, but a short cut for when you’ve run out of ears: put a kerchief on. Or a Santa hat!

Cut small lengths of waxed linen, fold, and stitch in place for whiskers. Again, sew side to side. In a pinch, you can use embroidery floss. I usually have to trim the whiskers down after sewing them onto the nose.

Next, embroider nose and mouth, using a contrasting warm-colored floss. You can do this after the head is attached as long as you’re clever about hiding your knot.

Next, stuff the bodies. I buy pea-sized gravel and rinse it for the bottom of the body to give it ballast. If yours are meant to hang, you can use poly-stuffing only.

To make arms, take a pipe cleaner and make a loop at center, twist once around the loop for strength, then stretch arms out and stitch to the body at the loop. Cut arms to size.

This is my way of making arms and a hanging loop simultaneously, but you could use a straight piece of pipe cleaner and attach a thread as hanging loop instead. Also, you could make your arms integral to the jacket and skip the pipe cleaner altogether.

Making clothing and accessories is the fun part. This year, I’m crocheting wreaths and making teeny quilts. Doll making aisles at craft stores are a gold mine of miniature items — wreaths, garden tools, rolling pins — you name it. Good for customizing your mouse as a gift when time is short.

 

Polar fleece is great because it doesn’t fray and more, because I have a bin left over from when I taught third graders mitten and hat-making. (Note: the above mouse’s jacket is secured by straight pins. When I get a second, I’ll replace them with buttons, but I don’t have to, really. Be mindful of recipient. A child might be better with buttons).

Making felt critter clothing offers so many opportunities to reclaim cuffs, sleeves and portions of sweaters gone by! A whole post dedicated to the garbing of mice will follow.

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By the way, to say the obvious, these are SEWN FELT mice, not NEEDLE FELTED MICE.

For darling examples of felted mice, see pix from Instagram, here: MollyDollyNatural.

I plan to learn needle felting someday. It looks like so much fun, doesn’t it?