Author Archives: Eleanor Ingbretson
PLAYING IN MUD
We’re in the dog days of summer, when that mysterious star, Sirius, rises somewhere on the horizon.
Take a hike, Sirius.
Most everyone feels sluggish and irritable during these sticky mid-summer days. There are some, I hear, who come alive while sweating but as for me, I’m looking forward to the crisp days of autumn, even though those crisp days herald the cold of winter.
So, I was tending toward feeling heavy, hot and brain dead one late afternoon when I came home from a challenging couple of hours playing Mah Jongg. I found my son making a giant mud puddle in the backyard. My backyard is big enough that a swamp of mud the proportions of a grave site would not be readily seen, but I wasn’t ticked but rather intrigued; what the heck? I said to myself.
“What the heck, Whitt? You’ll have all the warthogs and hippos here by morning, wallowing, trying to get cool.”
He had a lot of sound equipment hovering near the muck which I hadn’t noticed at first. My son is not five years old, the typical period of a muddler, he’s going on thirty-five, a reasonable age for a film-maker. He’s a man of few words. “Did you win?” he asked.
“I did pretty well, considering the heat. What’s up?”
He showed me a list of sounds he needed for his film: a cartwheel rolling through muck, boots walking through sucky mud. Sounds of water; water being drunk, being splashed, drifting through my fingers, splashing from a basin, and being poured from a pitcher into various metal containers, and etc.
I became a trekker through mud. I became the gofer, looking through my kitchen for all the different vessels that made water not taste better but sound better. I became a Gunga Din and manned the hose when the mud was not viscose enough, stopped the flow when the mud overflowed its banks. I gulped water and sipped water, sloshed it and stirred it. I pushed start and stop buttons when Whitt became too mud encrusted to touch his equipment, and I listened through headphones to mucky, yucky sucky sounds inaudible to the naked ear.
It was fun. I forgot the heat.
Then, while he made a fire in the pit to record the crackling sounds, I made us some dinner.
Being a filmmaker is a lot like being a five year old. It’s infectious, too.
This was in my inbox this morning, from one cousin, by way of another. High excitement indeed!
“In case you are not current in world news, here is the unbelievable scoop. The Tour de France is going to go through Roudouallec on Wednesday. No, they are not lost. They will be on the route Lorient/Quimper for stage 5. From what has been described to me they will come from the south (Guiscriff) on the road past Kerzellec. Then enter the Bourg of Roudouallec, make a left and then make the turn on the route to St Goazec still going north. After a short while, they will turn south towards Coray and then onto Quimper.
I imagine that crowds will be coming into Roudouallec from the surrounding towns and create the biggest excitement since the US Army rolled through in 1944.”
Roudouallec? Where’s that?
Roudouallec is in Brittany, France. It’s on the Armorican peninsula immediately before Finisterre, or Land’s End, the furthest west that you can be in France
So, what’s the big deal?
The big deal is that Roudouallec is my family homestead. My father was born there in 1909, the youngest of ten children. Half of his siblings eventually came to the United States because of the deprivations of WW1 on the little farming community. Two of my father’s brothers had been gassed in that war. Nothing was the same again for those who lived there, farmers for the most part.
My father was born in a stone, mud-floored house. To lay a mud floor was considered an art back then, only done by specialized craftsmen. He came to this country when he was 17, following in the footsteps of older siblings. Throngs of Bretons came to NYC to work in the hotel industry and for Michelin Tire in New Jersey. Roudouallec and many other small towns lost large percentages of their populations. The old folks held their neighborhoods together by sheer willpower.
My father died in 2002 at the age of 93. Two years later my daughter and I took his ashes back to Roudouallec to be buried in the family vault. It was my first trip to the old country, as he had liked to call it. It was the first time in my life that I didn’t need to spell my maiden name, LeGuillou, for strangers. That was surreal enough, but even stranger was the feeling that I belonged in this one street village overshadowed by the ancient church, only a few years away from the twice-daily cow parade through the center of town. I’m sorry I missed that but, hey, can’t stop progress.
Tomorrow, instead of taking refuge from cows in the shallow doorways and side streets of Roudouallec, tourists will be watching from windows and roofs as bicyclists streak down the narrow mile-long main drag that extends from a most excellent creperie at one end to my cousin Mimi’s house at the other. This will undoubtedly be the biggest excitement since 1944.
I know that my cousins will be watching from the front yard of Mimi’s home, the first house in Roudouallec after you leave Finisterre.
I’d like to be there too.
I will be watching coverage online.
Or, as they say, not, in France, Gharrbahggge. They don’t call it that, but they do put it into a poubelle, which sounds so much more beautiful than a garbage can, or trash can, or even circular file.
While I was working my way through Sleep School, aka, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for my insomnia, I whiled away many evenings reading mysteries, watching movies, TV mystery series, doing Sudoku puzzles, playing scrabble, indulging in long phone calls with people on the west coast, all in a seemingly never-ending struggle to stay awake until my appointed bedtime. Bedtime was at midnight but has moved slowly and incrementally up to a more reasonable 11PM. Now I’m aiming at 10:45. Not bad. I’ll still have time to read.
In the mysteries I entertained myself with, past and present, written or filmed, it dawned on me that the detective (professional, or the more entertaining amateur) might have to search through dumpsters, landfills, dumps, and sweet sounding poubelles to find clues. On the way to finding clues, there was a lot of yuck. Sometimes the yuck was a clue. Yuck.
Amateurs braved the garbage themselves unless they were independently wealthy and had an assistant to do it for them. They probably won’t have that assistant for long. Professionals had a string of underlings who aspired to reach the top rung in the ladder of detection and therefore dared not give up. They were given Hazmat suits. Lucky them.
I considered my own personal poubelle at the side of my desk this morning and wondered what clues it would yield to the inquiring mind. At the moment I’d wondered I had just tossed in a chocolate wrapper. It was exceedingly good chocolate, and I would recommend it to anyone who asks. In the same receptacle is a potato chip bag. Also a good quality chip.
What would those items tell a snoop?
However, the bulk of the trash is folded, smashed, wrinkled and torn up paper; my attempts at writing. They are the critiqued pages of my stories, handed back to me in good faith by my faithful companions. The notations had been gone over, the comments were read and may be applied.
There is nothing physically yucky in there, no need to suit up. I try to keep it all burnable.
But what would it tell someone who thought I had committed some heinous crime?
The crime indeed would not lie in my choice of snack. My taste in chocolate is impeccable. Quality over quantity every time.
But what about the paper? Quantity over quality?
Ah, there might lie the crime.
I Told Myself That I wouldn’t Write About This. . . but, here I am, about to bore my gentle readers to tears over my tale of woe, and seeming success.
Anyone out there with insomnia? You might be the only ones who won’t be put to sleep by this post.
Almost one month ago, after decades of dealing with insomnia, I went for a sleep consultation at a nearby hospital. The doctor called my condition ‘Pure Insomnia,’ though I’m not at all sure about its purity. She said I was a poor candidate for spending the night hooked up to various things because I’d never fall asleep. I didn’t have sleep apnea because I didn’t sleep. She suggested Cognitive Behavior Therapy.
CBT. Of course, I was familiar with the term, but not the actual practice. It was torture for the first few days. Waterboarding looked like a fun way to pass the time.
How hard could it be to change a life-long habit? Hard. Maybe the first few days for a heroin addict, or an alcoholic, to go without their substance of choice might be more painful, but my experience was undoubtedly similar to physical and mental withdrawal. My end-of-the-day reward, my life-long habit of reading in bed, was about to be ripped from my life. I would not be permitted to snuggle up to a book in the comfort of my memory foam mattress and the nurturing love of my pillow. For three hours, 9 PM to midnight, I paced the floor outside the door of my bedroom, not allowed to enter lest I fall into temptation, and bed. I struggled mightily, not knowing what to do.
I carried on like this for a few nights until my husband suggested a movie. That passed some time. Knitting helped. But for some reason reading outside of my bed at night never felt right.
As I said, that was one month ago. I’m doing better now.
I don’t think that reading in bed caused my condition. After all, I’ve read in bed since I could, and that was early. I was the flashlight-under-the-blanket type of kid, unable to get up in the mornings because of the adventurous life I led before dawn. But, when insomnia began because of some cruel twist of fate, the reading habit exacerbated it. I’d lie in bed for hours after lights out waiting for sleep that never showed up. I’d lie in bed in the mornings hoping to catch some z’s and couldn’t. I’d lie in bed for ten hours to get 3 hours of sleep.
What the CBT did, through forced sleep deprivation (amusingly called Sleep Restriction Therapy), was to limit the time I could be in bed. An amount of sleep time was determined using hard, cold calculations, and a predetermined rising time set. For me, it was midnight to bed, and 6 AM to rise. Yes, 6 AM even if I didn’t sleep! Well, if I could sleep for the whole 6 hours, I would have twice as much sleep as I was getting, so I leapt at the proposal.
The first few nights, even after strenuous pacing, and pulling out my hair, I slept as usual. Lousy. Then the forced sleep deprivation took hold, and I slept almost the whole 6 hours.
No napping was allowed.
No lying in bed if I wasn’t sleeping.
No breaks, like sleeping in on the weekends. I was in the army now, my hand behind the plow.
CBT is not for the weak. But it is for the determined.
If, after every seven days, my actual sleeping time increased I’d be permitted to add 15 minutes to my allotted time. You have no idea how I look forward to that little reward. Like a prisoner in solitary who watches for the hand with the tin plate at the door slot, I looked forward to the hands of the clock moving toward my new bedtime. At the end of this week, I can hit the sack at 11 PM.
Still no books in bed, but I’m getting used to reading sprawled out on the sofa, fighting off sleep till I’m allowed to close my eyes in the sanctity of the bedroom.
Now, I don’t want to wake you if you’ve fallen asleep reading this, but I’m done.
It might be spring if you just planted a couple of pansy six-packs in outdoor planters and then had to bring them in the house because the temperature would be dropping below freezing.
It might be spring if you had the back door open for the noonday sun to warm the house but you still wanted something hot for lunch.
And it might be spring if, while you were heating up said lunch, the cat who had been soaking up rays on the back deck came streaking through the house warning you that there was something outside and that something was a cute, rumply, cuddly, year-old black bear with his nose twitching away at the door in eager anticipation of a home cooked meal such as Mom might have taught him to enjoy.
I shut the door on his cute little nose, and he never batted an eye.
He was awfully cute with his mussy fur coat decorated with twigs and bits of leaves. I watched from the windows as he walked around the house investigating empty planters, glass globes hanging from the naked branches of hydrangeas and lilacs, and turning over with his thumbless hands and huge claws items of suspected gustatory interest.
That was two days ago. The cat hasn’t come out of hiding except to snatch a bite to eat now and then. The sight of bears does that to him. And as adorable as that little tyke of a bear was I also hope he doesn’t come back.
It’s spring when the days are warm and dry, and you want to be out in the yard doing things rather than hunkering down by the wood stove. But hunkering, I think, is more conducive to thinking great thoughts than is basking in the sun. Should I be glad that I live in the north country where summer is literally only 12 weeks long? Would the other 40 weeks give me enough time to write great American flash fiction? Forget the novel. Can anyone in more torrid zones (south of New Hampshire) think clearly enough to imagine great things when they had all those temperate months to bask? I suppose if anyone south of New Hampshire read this post they could accuse me of being a latitudinalist, and they might be correct.
Being anything ‘ist, or phobic these days is bound to get you in trouble. Am I an ursidist, or maybe even ursaphobic if I prefer that cute little feral creatures not wander through my yard when big mama might be close behind? My cat is. And my pansies are exothermistophobes, but then they are pansies; they don’t want to be left out in the cold. Who can blame them?
I’m not sure where this post is going, but I’m going to sit in the sun before it freezes, which it will again tonight. It might be spring in the day, but at night it’s another story.
PULL UP OUR SOCKS?
That’s what Heidi urged us to do when our blogging was going down the tubes. I looked up the expression and found this:
Socks didn’t always have an elastic band around the top. Our great-grandparents used to wear garters to keep them up. In days gone by, schoolboys in shorts could regularly be seen with socks drooping around their ankles and were told to smarten themselves by pulling their socks up.
Poor kids. Try rolling a hoop down the street with lengths of knitted tubing fluttering around your feet. A definite dog attractor. There are other sock expressions found and explained on the internet, but I won’t go into them here. Some are fun and suitable for a writer to utilize.
So, here we are, pulling up our socks.
Heidi went at it with a vengeance (see two posts ago), with her medieval manuscripts post, and Karen followed with her short story woes. I feel for her; I’m in the same boat, struggling with word counts that don’t allow for character expansion or descriptions out the wazoo. Wazoo is a fascinating word. Thank goodness that it has gone beyond its original meaning and is now acceptable in family settings and good clean writing. At least I think it has. If I use it, if I’ve even heard its new meaning, it generally indicates it’s been in usage for ages. Like, pull up your socks.
My short story woes are slightly different than Karen’s. I enjoy ripping the clothes off my overdressed stories till they are clad only in the basics. Just a tad more than a birthday suit, the suit in which your story was dressed when it first occurred to you. No one wants to see that. Still, I need to have a complete story within the confines of competition requirements, one that sounds right for the word count, neither sparse or wordy, There’s a great word in Yiddish; ungapatchka. It means too much. I love it. Don’t bother looking it up; it’s not there. It’s a word that just is. I don’t think there’s an opposite, an antonym, or maybe I haven’t heard it yet.
I added a program to my computer (drum roll here), that’s been helping me with my writing. It’s called Grammarly. There is no part of my brain that can deal with grammar and punctuation. This program spots all my errors and, with my permission, will correct them for me. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to memorize Strunk and White’s Elements of Style to no avail. This program is the cat’s pajamas. Probably Dr. Denton’s with the socks attached.
So now I’m whizzing through my short stories like mad, not because I have this program but because all the competitions I want to enter are due at the end of this month. Grammarly is a real blessing to those who have a phobia to usage.
I’ve gotten four stories out already (these were pre-written stories; nobody is that good), whereas I (my critique mates, actually) would still be struggling with the grammar in the first one or two. I’ve spared them unnecessary anguish when their own troubles already besiege them.
You see how well I’ve pulled my socks up, Heidi?
CLUCKS, MEOWS, ARFS, TRUMPETINGS AND SOME CHITTERING
This afternoon I framed the invitation to my daughter’s wedding in one of those two sided plastic frames that stand on their own, the two sides opposite each other. On the facing side I placed a picture of her when she was about 8 or 9. In the picture she’s sitting on the kitchen floor, her three chickens vying for her attention and all three sitting in her lap, an overturned bowl of chicken food nearby. She was a chicken lover, and the funny thing is that given three chickens now she’d do the same thing. She had names for her chickens which I can’t remember, but she would. She’ll never forget them.
She’d like time to write someday and I bet that her stories will include chickens.
My novel. I like the sound of that. I even like the story though no one else seems to. Outside of my group anyway. My novel has a cat. We weren’t around chickens a lot, growing up in Queens, but we always had cats and I remember each and every one. Cats in stories always add coziness to a cozy, make a thriller more thrilling and a fantasy more bizarre. I don’t know why but a cat has all the potential of an extra character with paranormal abilities even if they are just being themselves.
My fictional cat, Woodrow, does nothing but eat and sleep. He does sniff out the antagonist in one scene but the humans are not perceptive enough to recognize his odd behavior as significant. They give him food which shuts him up. He’s ordinary. But, as a cat he has the potential to deliver ALL that cats are known for: sneakiness, faithfulness, ruthlessness, bravery, devotion and otherworldliness. Woodrow just doesn’t deliver any of that. Maybe (sardonic laughter) in the sequel.
Could a chicken add as much to a story? Can anyone remember a story they’ve read where the protagonist is bound up in a relationship with their chicken?
Dogs figure largely in novels and no denying they are fun, but they don’t have the cache of a cat. Try thinking of what dogs symbolize and they’ll fall flat and short of a cat. In fact they are usually the fall guy in a book with a cat AND a dog. They bite and growl. If your story needs that, throw in a dog or two.
Elephants. They’re like large cats. Mysterious. You never know what they’re thinking. I loved the ending of Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. A cat would do that. Or get the elephant to do it for him. They have the same mindset. The trouble with elephants is their size; far too big for anything but a circus or the African veldt.
Parrots. They think like cats and elephants. And they add color. Suspense, too, if you’ve ever been around one. They’ll rip into you if you’re not careful. And they’ll talk and spill the beans if someone is killed in their presence. But only if they liked the victim. They can come in handy for that special story.
Monkeys are underused. They could deliver some intrigue as in, I wonder what the monkey over the mantelpiece is going to do, and when. Like the proverbial gun they’re way too obvious, however. They stand out like a sore thumb in a typical setting. Cats patrol the floors, just under the radar, always on the alert, as invisible as the old family retainer who waits. Monkeys are not subtle.
I’m waiting for the chicken story. And I’m looking forward to the big day.
Woke up this morning to temperatures that would not rise to see minus 1, Fahrenheit.
The bed was warm but I couldn’t stay in bed forever. My husband, after scanning the weather reports, informed me that it is warmer in Greenland, Iceland, Siberia and Antarctica. Granted, it is summer in Antarctica, but, really . . .
The furniture is cold till I sit for awhile and release some body heat into the cushions. Throws cover me from top to bottom. I need gloves to read.
Only the cat is warm. He sleeps on the heat register and blocks the heat from the wood stove in the basement from rising any farther than his fur. It’s his job and he takes it seriously.
It will be like this for at least a week.
Readers are prepared for this eventuality. It is the same eventuality as being laid up with a cold, as I am right now. And, following so closely on the heels of Christmas, we must certainly have gotten new stockpiles of books to keep us going. I received two gift certificates for my e-reader, a book of cat cartoons and cat short stories from the New Yorker, a Dorothy Sayers Lord Peter mystery in French, and, from the library, A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. That should be enough for now, but if the weather cold and the viral cold continue then, by gum, I’ll have to dip into an older pile of books.
Perish the thought that I should write something while waiting for my brain to warm up. My blood has become sluggish, the synapses in my brain have gone on holiday. I’ve become like molasses in January before January. Dulled and stupefied by internal and external attacks on my well-being I have hunkered down to await warmer muses.
It is possible that a thought worthy of being written down will actually worm its way into my mind during this period of hunkering. I wouldn’t say nay if I had one, I wouldn’t resist it, but I haven’t much hope. Those mercurial Muses enjoy more temperate environments, not fevered minds in frozen bodies.
It is the practice in Iceland to give books on Christmas Eve and then spend Christmas day reading. It’s not a bad idea.
But then it is warmer in Iceland than it is here.
Warm wishes for a Happy New Year to all.
Happy reading and productive writing.
TERMINAL MEDIOCRITY OR CONSCIOUS COMPETENCE. What’s it to be?
There’s quite a distance between terminal mediocrity and conscious competence but there are also steps, conscious, and unconscious steps, to take from one end of this spectrum to the other. Or, you could continue to fly in a holding pattern over the spot you’ve called your comfort zone.
- Unconscious incompetence (also known as terminal mediocrity) lies at the beginning of everything. It’s a baby crying in the cradle. He can’t do a thing for himself and doesn’t know he can’t. Because he is unconscious of his state he could be doomed to terminal mediocrity as a human being. Because he is a human, however, his mind develops and he strives to grow, to achieve to whatever he is capable. Random crying becomes selective crying for example. The baby has moved on to:
- Conscious incompetence. Usually at this point he is not called a baby but a child, but that’s semantics at work. This stage could last forever. The child is still incompetent and he knows it. He can use his wiles but cannot control his functions. He becomes frustrated and carries on like a two year old, because that is what he is. Perish the thought he should remain in this state or his frustrations will consume him. Young men and women in their twenties are usually finished with this stage. Mid-twenties denotes the completion of the judgement functions of the brain.
- . . .
Okay, you say, we’ve been reading this drivel for some time now. What gives?
What gives is my fevered brain at work trying to generate a idea of when I will finally achieve my writing goals. At this point I seem to be hovering over the following step. So, if you will allow me to continue?
3. Unconscious competence. I’ve been in this holding pattern for some time; maybe eight years. Which is bad because I’ve been writing for eight years. I’m holding unto some of step two, the frustration. That combined with the knowledge that I can write (see step four) leaves me in some sort of a no-where land, like a teenager but worse since somehow I’ve gotten to elder-hood without watching where I was going. I know I want to write, and I write, but I’m not certain of the correctness of everything that appears on the page. Think teenage boy driving before his brain has fully developed. No, don’t think of that. Think practice can make perfect.
4. . . .
Yes, there’s one more. But I’ll leave out the follow-up commentary. How’s that?
4. Conscious Competence. This is the ultimate goal. The pinnacle, the apex. To know what you want to do, and how to do it. No faltering. A confidence backed up by knowledge. Getting out of the comfort zones of all the preceding stages and moving ahead. That’s where I want to be. Confident.
by Dave Pasquantonio
Congratulations—you finished your novel! You crafted nail-biting tension and perfect character arcs. You killed darlings and kept reader promises. And that ending? It sings. You’re done!
But wait—93,827 words? Uh-oh. You really wanted to come in under 90K. And that last editing pass was thorough. You killed off three secondary characters, consolidated scenes, and took out those boring pages where Wilhelm and Gene talked about that time they saw the moose. There’s nothing left to cut!
Or is there?
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