{we laughed with nervous laughter at the crazies in the street}

A group of artistic types – Amanda Palmer, her husband, Neil Gaiman, Ben Fold, and OK Go’s Damian Kulash got together at the end of April to write eight songs in eight hours – just to see if they could. (You can listen to the whole record streaming on Amanda’s webpage.) As often happens with random Creative Commons released projects, other artists have put their own creative spin on 8in8, as it’s called. From Neil’s quirky Englishness shining through in The Trouble With Saints to the horribly funny and heartbreaking Because the Origami, this project has just blown me away. This pictorial rendering of 8in8’s song, I’ll Be My Mirror is my favorite by far — it’s a brief musical poem, but the words are too, too true.

“…there’s a fraction of a brain cell that makes us what we are
one false move, you’re in the mirror,
someone’s laughing
from the car.

Mom used to say this little phrase, “There, but for the grace of God go I.” It’s true, isn’t it? For all of us who fear shouting in mirrors, to all of us, afraid in the car, we are all people, and all fearful. That is what we hold in common. That is what I will remember, when next I see a random, wandering homeless person, talking to themselves: there but for the grace of God…

{“thanks for noticing me.”}

“Good morning, Pooh Bear,” said Eeyore gloomily. “If it is a good morning,” he said. “Which I doubt,” said he.
“Why, what’s the matter?”
“Nothing, Pooh Bear, nothing. We can’t all, and some of us don’t. That’s all there is to it.”
“Can’t all what?” said Pooh, rubbing his nose.
“Gaiety. Song-and-dance. Here we go round the mulberry bush.”
“Oh!” said Pooh. He thought for a long time, and then asked, “What mulberry bush is that?”

– Winnie the Pooh, by A. A. Milne

Poor Eeyore. His conversation with Pooh just illustrates the weird conversations a depressed person can have with those who don’t get us. (Of course, Eeyore is being somewhat cryptic, but still.) Tons of people love Eeyore, though, despite his habit of seeing the absolute worst in everything, from thistles to aggressively sanguine tigers. He’s moody, grumpy, and generally a melancholy downer — yet the pink ribbon on his tail reminds us that he doesn’t see himself as depressed. Sometimes there are within him flashes of joy.

Today, the character of Eeyore is 140 years old – probably feeling creaky-old and somewhat down, but he’s still my favorite character in the Hundred Acre Wood, after the timid and tongued-tied Roo. But the question of why we actually like what is essentially a depressive donkey is explored today on the Guardian Books Blog. Says the author, “But the key thing that makes Eeyore a great character is that essential literary ingredient: conflict. Eeyore is profoundly conflicted. He craves love – indeed, he’s always lamenting his outsider status – but he struggles to give and receive it. When it’s offered to him, he puts out his hoof and waves it away.” Eeyore is all of us — every one of us, trying to keep our balance and our tails, in a wood populated by hyperactive tigers, bears of very little brain, annoyingly smart owls, and hideously callous and impatient rabbits.

My friend Shawn and I used to have amusing conversations about depression. I think it’s almost harder for guys to be depressed – girls are kind of expected to have at least monthly visits into bad moods, but when a guy is suffering from depression, it seems harder for people to understand. But, what is there to understand? A chemical imbalance in the brain throws a switch and says, “There. You’re sad now.” And that’s that. Some types of depression don’t have to be about anything. And those are the most frustrating kinds, when everything that’s actually wrong is magnified by five thousand percent. And at those times, the Eeyore among us really need our compassion and patience – and sometimes just our presence.

Today, in honor of Eeyore’s birthday, eat your thistles, hang onto your tails, and remember there’s room for all of us in the Hundred Acre Woods, even the loners who are depressive and grumpy. Love us anyway.

{things which support mental health}

* Good food*

Chocolate Bird Nests 1

*Good gifts, from good friends.*

Author and Baker 08

*Good eyesight*

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May you always eat your bran flakes with enjoyment — or chocolate, whichever is most easily available to you.

May you have friends which surprise you with a different way of looking at yourself — in this case, in felt and in stitches — thank you, Farida!

And may you walk with your head up, except in cases where looking down would net you a view of the beauty even beneath your feet. You might just be walking on sunshine. Or the floral result of sunshine, at least.

Take the time to think one positive thought today. More, if you can manage it. And pass on the gift.

Happy Wednesday.

{sweets for sweet}

Thank you, Ms. Shari Fesko and the Southfield Michigan teens at the library, for the love! In honor of you sharing the A LA CARTE foodie vibe, here’s our Café Lainey blue plate special of Bananas Foster and a fudge brownie for you!

Bananas Foster with Pecan Fudge Brownie 2

If Lainey got her hands on this recipe, she’d redo the brownie to be one of those flourless chocolate cakes and probably only take a little ice cream… but… the Bananas Foster we can pretend is healthy. It’s fruit, right? So, that’s fair… 😉

Thanks again for the note and the encouragement. Notes like yours make my day.

{For Kenneth. And Mike. And Scooter. And Margaret.}

…and Rick. And Phil. And Kathy. And Steve. And Chris. And Jason. And Reena. And Will. And Stephanie.

— And all of my classmates who chose the military over college – and who stuck with it when it was something most of the rest of us didn’t understand, or particularly respect.

— And all of those who are stuck with it now, who really want to come home, yet understand things about loyalty and duty that I never will.

— And all the families who lost someone in the past, who are missing someone still; for those who lost spirits instead of merely bodies, for all the sacrifices and the reasons that may not never make sense:

… thank you.

{just call me “Angel of the Morning (Pages).” Or, not.

Sorry for the muzak reference. Bad Seventies Things have taken over my head today. (I guess I should a.) look up what the real song is, b.) who sings it, c.) and thus get it stuck in my head for life? No. Just remembering my mother’s flirtation with Easy Listening when I was a kid is bad enough, thanks.)

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I recently passed along a piece from the blog Write For Your Life to my writing group. The piece on “morning pages” was based on the book The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, and according to this piece, morning pages are “three pages of stream of consciousness writing that you do every morning. The intention is to clear your mind of all the annoying claptrap that buzzes around, getting in the way of your creativity.”

Right.

So, I asked my writing group — three of whom are published writers, one a journalist, one an award-winning short story writer — what they thought of that. I asked if they used morning pages, or something like that, to clear away their cobwebs before they set in to writing.

The response? A wincing, “every single day?!”, a disbelieving, “why would I do that?!,” a rather polite “sounds like an interesting idea,” and my favorite response, hysterical laughter.

Um, yeah.

I have to say I love it when my writing group is in sync with me.

We bounced the idea around of freewriting and what it does for us, but none of us could face the idea of doing three pages of writing like that, every single regimented day. The idea – even for the promised goal of improving ourselves – felt confining and a lot like the crappy busywork we got assigned in the fourth grade when our teacher had a headache.

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I have a hard time with regimentation of any kind. I force myself to the gym a minimum of three days a week. I have to remind myself to brush my teeth. I sometimes remind myself that at least things like deodorant and putting on something beneath a t-shirt ::cough:: are automatic now, but boy — I really remember fifth grade when my mother despaired of me. I just can’t seem to get into a groove very easily. At least, not doing things that are supposed to be routine; I often can’t even be bothered to eat lunch until 3:30 or so.

Sadly, I tend to run up against this same feeling of put-upon confinement when I encounter …well, any writing advice. When I graduated from college, my favorite professor gave me a copy of a book called, If You Want to Write, by Brenda Ueland. In it, I read that she subscribes to the theory of moodling along, coddling creativity by happily doing nothing in particular. Okay, I can agree with that. Unfortunately, she advocated doing that “moodling” by taking several long walks a day.

Hm.

I like walking all right, but I don’t think it makes me more creative. Walking usually makes me hot, unless it’s nice and windy out, and then I enjoy the sensation of being all sweaty with a cold face. (It’s actually quite nice, and we get 70 mph gales here – that’s actually a lot of fun to walk in, and yes I know I’m weird. Hush up.) If I took several long walks a day, I fear I would never finish anything much – including simple things like laundry and making meals. While I’m find living on toast and wearing wrinkled sweats, I’m not sure how successful a writer that would make me, not really.

The proof should be in the doing, yes? I mean, I manage to write because I enjoy sitting down and writing. And when I don’t enjoy it, I frown a lot and mutter, and do it anyway — because I know I’m just at a spot where things aren’t working, and if I backtrack a half a chapter or so and change a few things, usually things turn out all right.

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Would that kind of insight be easier with a walk? Or morning pages?

I don’t know. The reason I bring this up is that I’m planning on re-reading all the writing books I have. If they don’t actually contain any helpful information — avast — to the library they shall go. Maybe someone else will be able to get something out of them.

(Why is it that people give writers books on writing advice? Besides the Ueland, I have Bird by Bird, a few more text-book-y types, and a bunch of Annie Dillard, too.) It’s time to make some space on my shelves – past time, with another Cybils coming up – and so I am doing An Almighty Weeding.

But, tell me about you: what do you do with your early morning hours? What writing books have you found useful? What daily practices – if any – make sense to you and inform your writing? Where did you donate all of your unwanted writing books??

{getting the story}

For these guys, it started with Weeatabix.

Well, not really. Weeatabix is some kind of British cereal [and why is it that so many of the cereals from the olden days sound like some kind of mechanical invention or cleaning product? I mean, Weeatabix? Shreddies? Ruskets? I somehow imagine robots. But I digress. Badly.] that looks like hay bales, and as every company in the world seems to do, they had a contest — in this case, it was a straw (hay) bale contest, in support of British farming. £5000 went to the winning farm, and basically all they had to do was create art.

These mammoths are the winning design by farm folk Nikki and Paul Grant and David Sharpe, and were a big hit for obvious reasons. They won the money, and celebrated, I’m sure, and that will probably be a great story they can dine out on for years.

People frequently ask me how I come up with ideas for stories. Truthfully, it’s a question that gets posed to every author, and I will join the chorus in saying that I don’t really know. A lot of stuff churns through the subconscious and leaks out in dreams, but few of those ideas ever hold up to the rigorous light of day and the process of writing and revising (okay, that worked for Stephanie Meyers, but I’d have to ask what she’d been eating before going to bed). I have a suspicion that everyday life is what gives writers most of their fodder. Like Nikki Grant’s mother, who found the whole Weetabix art contest inspiring. She’s now written a children’s book about Mambo the Mammoth. (For obvious reasons he can’t be Manny, though he looks a lot like the Ice Age cartoon character.)

Mambo has a Facebook page, even.

Sometimes just being on the sidelines while something happens is enough to fan a creative spark. Wonder what that spark will be for you?


Some of the titles of the books just now on my coffee table/trunk: The Rebellious Century, 1830-1930, by Charles Tilly, The Arsenic Century: How Victorian Britain was poisoned at home, work, and play, by James C. Whorton, Healers and Healing in Early Modern Italy, by David Gentilcore, and on reserve Poison, detection, and the Victorian imagination, by Ian Blumney,

Oh, but this is way too much fun. If you can get your hands on a copy of The Arsenic Century, do. It’s one of the most engaging nonfiction reads I’ve dug into in awhile. Fun, fun, fun, and all in the name of work! Woot!

I love my job.

{Further in the Realm of Random}

Happy August! I’m looking up from the world of juggling writing projects and trying to convince myself that researching in dull academic volumes for historical fiction definitely means myriad cups of tea under fleece blankets — but not necessarily myriad cookies. I see I need to pack up a box and visit the neighbors, quickly.

Other than the recipe for these pretty little faux Oreos (yummy, but Oreos aren’t quite this sweet. Shall cut the sugar down again for the next batch), you know what makes me happy about the picture below? The fact that the plate and the cup almost match. One is melamine, and was cheaply and recently purchased, the other was (also cheaply — c’mon, people, you know me) purchased when we first moved here, and is by a well-known designer… and yet, they go together. Serendipity!

Vegan Oreos 22

For everyone who says that YA bloggers are categorically unable to write incisive, intelligent, negative reviews, please think again, and check out The Book Smugglers. Intelligent bloggers – with strong opinions they’re not afraid to share, eliciting lively conversation. And their blog header is just adorable. Go, Smugglers.

When I was a kid, we had chickens. I had no idea they could swim, but it’s so hot in parts of China this week that some of them have decided that’s a great idea. And should it surprise me that in the UK — home of Very Bizarre Festivals and things like cheese rolling — that there are hen races? No, it should not. And yet: I remain somewhat baffled and amused.

All righty, then. Back to my tea and cookies. Oh, and my “research.”

{…things which, this minute, make me happy…}

Revision. Because it means I’ve sold another book, and I’m working, being a writer. Which is just exceptionally cool.

The countdown of “almost done” for Kelly’s Jane poems, and knowing that yet another of my dearest friends will soon be in print.

New story ideas and fun historical research. And poison.

The light at the end of the tunnel for Tech Boy’s PhD.

Actually, the endless rain. Because I’d rather be dreary than too hot, at this point. (This may change.)

Other happiness will surface, but those are the thoughts as of this moment. Also: that Tales of Mere Existence is somewhat addictive, and very depressingly funny.