Monthly Archives: October 2011

Fictionally immovable

One of several reasons I’ve been struggling with the fantasy-in-progress is that I had created a nearly impossible problem for my characters, a corner they couldn’t get out of, a dead end that blocked their forward movement. It was going to take extreme ingenuity to give them an escape hatch so they could get to the remaining three-quarters of the story. Lots and lots of ingenuity.

You know what? In fiction, the easiest way past an immovable object is to declare “What obstacle? I don’t see no obstacle here! What wall? There never was any such wall…the real problem is over there, and if you just use your head or your muscles or your friends or all three, you’ll solve it in no time. And land in worse problems, but that’s not my fault. Well, really it is my fault – I built the trap you’re heading toward. But you’re supposed to cope with all sorts of problems. That’s what you’re for.”

(No, I’m not announcing that the characters solved their problem effortlessly because they’re Just That Awesome. I need to toss parts of the story as written so far, remove the insoluble problem, and set up a different problem. The nearly insoluble problem for me – as opposed to my characters – was realizing that I needed to take a different path instead of continuing to bang my head against the rocks.)

If I finish the fantasy-in-progress, if I publish the f-i-p, if you read the f-i-p, you’ll never even know when or where or what the impossible problem was. I unwrote it. My kind of deconstructionism.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Possibility

Some doors don't seem to lead anywhere

Sometimes, it’s not clear that there are any good possibilities. There are directions you can move…but none of them take you any place you would choose to go to.

If you have parents who have become older than anyone, including them, ever expected – not in years, but in abilities – you know just what I’m talking about. Things can’t go on in the comfortable way everybody is used to, and all the new options are unpleasant and unsatisfactory. But you have to choose something. Things can’t go on in the way everybody is used to.

Doors are closing. Paths are blocked. Walls are crumbling. You’re frightened and frustrated, and your parents are frightened and frustrated too, only worse. All anybody has left to lean on is love, and you wonder if even love is strong enough to see all of you through this dark, barren valley.

No way through

(I took these photos in 2005 in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico. Back in the days when my mother was coping just fine on her own.)

Another hiatus

My mother’s back in the hospital, after only two weeks at home. I’ll be at her home for an indefinite period, with no internet access. No blog.

Fridge Friday

So here’s the fridge.

I didn’t realize we had so many different jars of jelly. Better use some of them.

The strange brownish blob next to the red peppers is a bag of bread dough. If the picture were bigger, you could see that it’s kind of foamy. Yeast’s gotta do what yeast’s gotta do.

Cheese lives on the door shelves – that’s a ball of smoked mozzarella across from the milk.

TMI?

What’s more important?

So today’s suggested topic is “What’s more important, electricity or the internet?”

Ay yi yi.

The only hard part about answering this question is thinking up good analogies. For example, “What’s more important, the wheel or the car?” or “What’s more important, learning to read or getting an A in freshman English class?”

If you can’t have thing #2 unless you already have thing #1, Then Thing Number One Is More Important.

Yes, the Internet is new enough that most adults remember when we didn’t have it, so we know how much things have changed. (In 1995, newspapers were secure and popular. In 1995, if you wanted to look up information about something, you went to the library and used an encyclopedia. In 1995, if none of the stores in your area sold a particular item, you did without…and you probably didn’t know there was any such thing, anyway.)

But try just a tiny thought experiment. Have you ever gone tent camping? Carrying ice with you to keep food from spoiling, cooking over a campfire, relying on a propane lamp for light after dark? Okay. This is how everybody lived for thousands and thousands of years, except that the propane lamp is high-tech modern – you wouldn’t have had an equivalent in your house until the middle of the 1800’s. Or what about air conditioning – you know, that stuff that makes your electric bill so much bigger in the summer? Without electricity, you sweat. Without electricity – well, it’s easy to explain how basic and important electricity is to life as we know it.

Without electricity, no Internet.

Grief vs. Guilt

I am grieving for my mother.

No, she hasn’t died. But she’s dealing with a significant constriction in the things she’s able to do without help, and it upsets her terribly. And understandably. (I suppose you could say she’s grieving for herself.) Unfortunately, one way she deals with the pain is by scolding herself and feeling ashamed of her loss.

I spend a good bit of time trying to soothe her, or at least distract her from being angry at herself. Anything to help her suffer less. And afterwards I feel consumed by guilt, scolding myself for not making her life All Better and feeling ashamed of myself as an inadequate daughter.

Have I learned my lessons on how to deal with problems or what?

Project for the rest of 2011: train myself to do what I can to fix things, and when I’ve done everything in my power, find some excuse to be happy. I don’t, I really don’t, want to be in my eighties and spend my time making myself and everyone within reach miserable. And, God help me, who knows if I’ll be able to avoid doing just that once I’m old and sick.

I am grieving.

Let justice flow down like waters?

You might think the quote above sums up one of the main political positions that the Bible endorses – a good society, a nation that God loves, will see to it that justice is freely available to everyone, not just the rich and powerful. And then there’s the other great political theme of the Bible – “inasmuch as you have done it to the least of My brethren” (fed the hungry, clothed the naked, visited the sick and prisoners) “you have done it to Me.” God makes no secret of His special concern for the poor and desire that the rest of us help those with few resources.

This past Sunday, a group called the “Alliance Defense Fund” urged pastors to give sermons on political issues, telling their congregations to vote against any candidate who takes unbiblical positions. Does that mean they will endorse politicians who call for helping the poor?

Um, no. Not as far as I can tell from their web site. Their big concern seems to be with sex. Now God knows (and so do we) that sex can involve unloving, harmful behavior, and so we need to be careful with it. But humans can lust after money and power as well as sexual pleasure, and the Bible seems to suggest that money and power are more likely to cause harm. At the least, it spends a lot more space warning people not to misuse them.

It’s a shame that the Alliance Defense Fund’s Bible has apparently removed all the passages about caring for those who need help.

Passionately moderate

Soooooo – should everything be done in moderation?

Oh hell no.

First, there’s the idea of “doing everything”, moderately or otherwise. I really don’t plan to spend a moderate amount of time and energy cutting coupons or watching American Idol. I don’t plan to spend any time or energy on them. Nor do I plan to drive myself into a frenzy by carefully considering each of the 245,629 products offered by my supermarket…only the 1,792 products I might realistically consider buying.

And then there’s “moderation”. Live your life with the brakes on, says moderation. Always hold something back. Don’t get too involved. Stay ironic.

Bah. If you’re going to do something, throw yourself into it. While you’re working on your job, or on building the Eiffel Tower out of toothpicks, or praying, or cooking, or partying, do it with all the focus and intensity and enthusiasm you have. Then, when it’s time to put the toothpicks down and go to work, do that with enthusiastic intensity too. “Keep one point”, as we say in aikido. Even if it’s something you don’t want to do at all, you may as well concentrate on cleaning that oven and get it over with as efficiently as possible. Yes, you’ll make mistakes. Yes, you’ll have to juggle conflicting interests. But at least you won’t be moderate.

What I was planning to talk about today

Money.

Nearly everyone has been binging on money. I was lucky enough, or cautious enough, not to go head over heels in debt during my binge. But it’s still time to cut back.

So, since I like experimenting with food, I’m going to experiment with whether I can trim back to eat well on the USDA “thrifty” food budget. The USDA comes out monthly with an estimate of how much it costs for households of various sizes and ages to eat at a “liberal”, “moderate”, “low-cost”, or “thrifty” level – unfortunately, it seems to take them a couple of months to work out the numbers. Now that it’s October, they’ve released the figures for August.

Well, you work with what you have. And two month old numbers are only the first problem. I could use their costs for a two-person household, ages 51-70; except that my husband is almost never home to eat lunch, and works late two nights a week, and a couple of times a week our son comes over for dinner. And I’m trying to lose weight, like pretty much every adult woman in the country.

Anyhow, the official “thrifty” July estimate for us was $350. (August wasn’t out yet last week when I started thinking about this project.) I massaged the numbers and decided that my goal is to spend not more than $300 on food this month. That doesn’t come near some of the more heroic mommy bloggers or extreme couponers; but we’re in our sixties, and my husband has had one heart attack, which was plenty. Thrift has to make room for nutrition.

Dinner tonight (for three) was chicken enchiladas, approximately. A closer description would be chicken burritos (homemade flour tortillas instead of corn tortillas) enjitomatas (the sauce was heavy on tomato and contained no chiles; I put a roasted slivered poblano in the filling instead). We’ll see how things go over the next month.

Better schools?

Oh dear. So, I got my first Officially Suggested Topic for PostADay, and it’s not clear I have anything to contribute. “If you could change how schools work, what would you change?” Heck, I haven’t had any school-age children for years. All I know about today’s public schools is what I hear from friends who are teachers, or friends who have kids still in school.

So, given that I have nothing to say, let’s see what I can come up with. There’s the obvious: Some school districts don’t have enough money to offer anybody a good education. (I live next door to Camden, NJ, famous for being the Poorest City in the US. I don’t care how dedicated they are, the Camden schools just can’t afford to provide a great result.) Some parents don’t care enough, or aren’t well enough educated themselves, or don’t have enough time and energy, to make sure their children benefit from what resources are available. But everybody knows these things.

Really, if I could change one thing about education in the United States, I would wave my wand and snap my fingers and transform this into a country that admires learning, a country where everybody knows that it’s fun to be curious about everything. Until we all realize that people who love mastering new information are sexy and that the mind is the best toy we all have, no amount of money or effort will turn this country into a place where education works.