Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Wishing for good stories

I'm in the mood for a story.  I wish I had a happy story to tell.

Today I ate an apple on the sunporch.  Outside the windows, maple blossoms glistened brilliant red against the blue sky under the afternoon sun.  Today a stiff wind roared, chilling the neighborhood, but in the sunporch all was quiet, and almost warm.  Schubert saw me and joined me, hopping up on the other old-fashioned, flea-market chair, a bit surprised at this bastion of sunshine opening to him after it had been closed off all winter.  The apple was mediocre, but it was an apple, prettier than tasty, and then gone.

Some purple crocuses are on the cusp of blooming.  Tomorrow, if it doesn't snow, I think they'll open up their simple faces.

Last night I heard owls outside my bedroom wall.  They hover in the edges of our neighborhood fairly often, and I hope they are keeping the mouse population down.  The low vibrating thrum of their hooting thrills me, such a gentle, sleepy, exotic sound.

Owls, crocuses, apples on sunporches, these are the pieces of my life, sounds and pictures and flavors, all underlined by the yeasty smell of Schubert who is overtaken by fungal infestations and supposed to be bathed twice a week, but usually only gets bathed every 8-10 days.  Currently he is sleeping, curled smack atop a pillow on the futon, and Shawn would have my head for this, because that yeasty smell will be imbedded in the pillow if a guest needs to use it, regardless of how fresh and clean the pillow linens might be.

Normally I keep these pillows up on top of the back of the futon, and there are a couple of "dog" pillows for Schubert, laid out along the seat, dark purple like my impending crocuses.  However, the other night a violent thunderstorm awakened us, and Schubert was traumatized, so I brought him here, into my little study, and pulled the futon down into a bed.  We huddled together while the lightening flashed and the thunder rumbled and the wind crashed in the trees outside.  I did this more for my sake than for his, and in the end we both survived without even descending to the basement.

I don't have a happy story, but I have a sad one.  This morning, after feeding, medicating and walking Schubert, I brought my coffee upstairs to sip in bed.  I set it on a stack of books on my nightstand.  I have two stacks of books on my nightstand, and additional books, notebooks and pens piled on the stair step that came with our elevated bed.  This stair step is not safe to step on, because of all the stuff on it, which has a tendency to slip around.  Thus, I must vault myself over this step and onto the bed, rather than climbing up as would be intended.  Today as I vaulted, the back of my foot caught my full coffee mug as it tottered atop the lower stack of books on my nightstand.  The result was a very sad splash of coffee across many books, including vintage copies of The Horse and His Boy and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader from my childhood.  It also soaked The Problem of Pain, also by C.S. Lewis.

I sopped it all up with hand towels from my bathroom, carefully wiping off all the books and fanning their pages out to dry.  Then I started a load of towels in the washer; this was on my list of chores for the day anyway.  Eventually I got back to bed with my coffee, which is admittedly quite the oxymoron.

This afternoon, while there was still sunlight, I spent some time reading The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.  I wanted to hold it and love it a little, and assure myself that it was dry enough to stack back into a pile.  The volume is crumbling at the seams, the back binding almost non-existent, the pages falling out.  But, oh my, what a writer.  I am more in awe every time I go back to read C.S. Lewis.  His details, his craftsmanship, his technique, his finesse with characterization and voicing, the way he shows you what is happening instead of telling you, the way he designs a plot that works out from so many angles, the way he ends every chapter with a cliffhanger.  I am a simple woman and I love children's literature.  C.S. Lewis and my gluten-free chocolate cake recipe: there's enough pleasure and delight for a lifetime.

When I was a child, these books delighted me, but now that I am an old woman, they astound me.  The symbolism moves me to tears, but so does the familiarity: old friends acting and re-enacting my favorite stories.  To read a chronicle of Narnia is to long to write a book of my own, but also to quail in the consciousness of how good these books are, and how mine could never attain the same excellence or eloquence.   At least I can soak in his artistry.

Do you know?  When I was a young girl, at the Anoka Public Library, picking out a book to read, I automatically looked for books written by men, because they were better than books written by women.  Also, books written by the British are better than books written by Americans.  (These are obviously generalizations, but as generalizations they are quite sound.)  Books by British men are the best.  I am not sure whether I prefer American male writers or British female ones (John Grisham is better than any of the Bronte sisters, while Frances Hodgson Burnett surpasses Nathaniel Hawthorne).  At any rate, books by American women are dead last.  What am I?  An American woman.  Here again is perhaps a clue to why I do not get that novel out.  I'm already pretty sure I wouldn't want to read my own work, given my demographic.


Priscilla said...

Well, I must agree with you about C. S. Lewis. I think we discussed this a bit when I posted On Being Wounded.

Vintage copies? Tragic!

However, I can't agree with your generalizations about authors. Particularly that American female authors come in "dead last." Have you read any of Margaret Peterson Haddix? Or Jennifer Donnelly? And then of course there is good old Harper Lee. As a child I adored Laura Ingalls Wilder well as Beverly Cleary ones. Have you read Number the Stars by Lois Lowry? What about Jean Craighead George? Patricia MacLachlan? Cynthia Rylant? Mildred Taylor? Barbara Cooney? Natalie Babbitt? Kate DiCamillo? Patricia Polacco?...are you kidding me?

Ruthie, I like you. I think you and I could sit down for tea and be fast friends, but do you seriously believe what you wrote? It sounds a bit like stereotyping to me and that always rubs me wrong.

I love a good story myself...and there are some very poor authors who get published. Eek! But there are plenty of good ones in every country and ethnic group on earth.

I was actually just thinking lately that I need to tell another good God story on my blog....but I just can't think of one.

Have you gotten hit with snow again? We have and schools are closed....which is why I am catching up on blog reading. (But somehow cannot be inspired to write on my own blog) I'm still here though.

Ruthie said...

Dear Priscilla,

Thank you for your thoughtful comment about my thoughtless comment.

I was slightly tongue-in-cheek when I said that American woman writers are dead last. I realize that often my tongue-in-cheek statements do not come across as such, perhaps because the tongue is not as far in the cheek as it ought to be (I also have tremendous problems with hyperbole, which I think came into some play here as well--I have never used hyperbole and been understood, so I should probably just stop). I certainly realize that I made a gross generalization, and that there are always exceptions. It is true that when I was very young, and not particularly self-aware, I would pull books off the shelf at the library, look at who the author was, and then usually replace them if the author was a woman. The day I realized what I was doing, it made an impression on me. I realized that I'd developed the habit based on my past experience.

I do think Beverly Cleary was an excellent writer, and I also enjoyed Carolyn Haywood's gentle style, as well as Maud Hart Lovelace, who wrote stories set in Minnesota, where I grew up. I also adore Lucy Maud Montgomery (although she was Canadian -- so is Joyce Carol Oates, who is also a good writer, although a bit harsh for me much of the time). I once enjoyed Madeleine L'Engle, but when I recently revisited her books, they had lost their appeal. I was surprisingly okay with Suzanne Collins, despite her mass appeal to popular culture. I felt that she lost some beautiful opportunities to flesh out themes and images that she started in the beginning, and that as her trilogy progressed, she began to write screenplay more than novels. I think she could be an excellent novelist if she felt free to write for the beauty of art rather than for income.

Harper Lee is--flat out--a major exception to my "rule." She's excellent. Laura Ingalls Wilder is okay, definitely worth reading for the historical value, but I wouldn't call her a genius. Patricia Polacco, I'm not sure exactly how I feel about her. She generates some nice quotes.

Recently we watched the movie The Giver (it's currently on Netflix), which made me think back to Lois Lowry, whom I've read but don't remember well. I think I did enjoy her quite a lot, and for awhile I had her confused in my mind with Margaret Atwood, which was probably a disservice to both of them. I was impressed by how the movie indirectly implicitly addresses the question, "Why would a good God create and allow a world where there exists suffering?" Thank you for mentioning Number the Stars (how do you get these comments to show up with italics?). That's one I've been meaning to read, but forget about every time I go to look for a book.

I'll have to look into some of the other authors you listed, whom I have not read. Thank you for the recommendations. Maybe it will be encouraging to me to discover some excellent writers who are American women. I've also been meaning to explore more Flannery O'Connor, whose short stories I like.

I truly am sorry to have offended you by my gross generalization, which is pretty indistinguishable from stereotyping. It was one of those things where my kids would tell me, "Mom, think INSIDE your head." However, it was inside my head, whether it ought to have been or not, and for now I'm going to leave it as it is, as a testimony to where I have been in my journey, but not to say that my mind could not be changed.

We got a couple of inches of snow. Not too disruptive, but sad, when we'd been making such headway into spring, and the daffodils were blooming.

Priscilla said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Priscilla said...

You didn't offend me. I actually felt a little amused as I wrote my response.

I tried to explain how to make italics...but it didn't work, because my directions ended up being italicized. You use the HTML tags that are listed below the comment box. You can google basic directions for HTML tags...that was how I learned.