How to sound like you don’t know what you’re talking about

So I was reading this bit of historical fiction. The author had obviously done a lot of research into the time period she was writing about. She included all the details. But I still found it almost impossible to suspend my disbelief. I had this nearly overwhelming feeling that the author didn’t know what she was talking about.

Then today I was reading this fun chatty blog post written by my cousin-in-law’s sister-in-law, who wrote about her recent wedding, saying, “Not that the months leading up to our wedding didn’t come with their fair share of trials and difficulties.. they surely did with a few things out of left field that left us baffled and bewildered.”

Neither I nor any of my siblings has ever gotten married, and it occurred to me that if I were to write a story about a wedding, everyone reading it would be able to tell that I have never experienced one, because I have no clue what sorts of things come out of left field that leave people baffled and bewildered.

I could find a copy of The Ultimate Wedding Planner and Organizer, and carefully study it. I could make my character pick out flowers, and a wedding dress, and a cake. But no matter how many details I threw in, if something didn’t go wrong, it would show my readers quite clearly that I didn’t know what I was talking about.

That got my mind churning. I have, a couple times, asked people about their jobs because I wanted to know some details for a story I was writing. From now on, I think I’ll start off with the question, “where you work, what kinds of things are likely to go wrong?”

Actually that might just be an interesting question to ask in general.

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The Great Thrift Store Haul

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I miss making videos, so I decided to make one. This is Jenny and I chatting about our recent thrift store hauls.

Limping Through December

This year I learned one of the uncomfortable truths about post-college life: Most people don’t get a month-long vacation over the holidays.

I’m used to the terribleness that is the two weeks after Thanksgiving: Illness, dead week, finals week, giant projects you should have started on three weeks ago. But then, I’m also used to it all being over after the first week of December, giving me recuperation time amid holiday parties and shopping sprees.

Granted, in my current job as school secretary, I get a nice two-week vacation, which is more than many people can boast. But goodness me, this year it was not enough.

I got absolutely hammered with illness this year. The whole month of December I’ve been either in bed sick or just barely recovered and ready to be hit with the next onslaught of sore throat or fever or what have you. The worst of it happened in the two weeks leading up to the Christmas play at school. I’d drag myself to school, direct the play for an hour, and then go home and crawl back into bed, my quota of energy used up for the day.

And then, oh my! The play was happening in three days, and the sheep did not have sheep costumes, and the cows did not have cow costumes, and the angels did not have wings. Mom, Amy, and Jenny leaped into action. We congregated in the sewing room. I cut up old blankets that looked like animal fur. Mom sewed them together. Amy sat on the floor and cut angel wings out of foam board with a utility knife. Jenny bought a quarter yard of faux fur, came home, and fashioned it into a beard.

The play went well, all things considered. I can’t complain on that front. But the Christmas season was in full swing, and there were family gatherings and Christmas concerts and I still had to go to work until December 19, and then a friend came from out of town and then my Mom and sisters and I drove up to Seattle to watch Howl’s Moving Castle: The Musical.

Christmas Eve I had horrible insomnia. After three hours of sleep-ish, waking up every 20 minutes or so to cough, I got such horrible stomach cramping that I woke up for good. After a couple hours of pretty intense pain I threw up and felt a little better.

I went back to bed. I could hear my siblings start to get up, and I didn’t know if I should get up to or try to catch a few winks before breakfast. I went with the latter, which meant that I was woken up for breakfast during my first REM cycle of the night, which meant that I was so disoriented and miserable that I started crying for no good reason.

“No one cares if you go back to bed,” said Matt.

So I did. Not the greatest start to my Christmas. Thankfully it only took about 20 minutes of rest before my system re-set itself enough that I was okay again.

Despite being one of the most exhausting miserable Decembers to date, it has also been astoundingly magical. How often does one get the chance to write and direct a play? To see one of their favorite books get turned into a musical? To have their whole family home for Christmas? To take a trip to Seattle with their Mom and sisters, and only a few days later, to spend four days in the stunning beauty that is the southern Oregon coast?

I wanted to blog about all the magic, I really did. But all my energy went to other things. Like surviving.

Oh well.

After all, tomorrow is another year.

 

Cozy Books

“Is The Kite Runner good?” I asked Amy while perusing her bookshelf for something to read.

“Oh, you haven’t read it yet? You should read it!”

So I read it, and it fell vaguely short of my expectations. Which was somewhat of a feat, as I had very few expectations going into it. I guess I just expected to enjoy reading it more than I did.

Then I picked up A Tangled Web, by L.M. Montgomery, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Something in my soul filled up, making me feel beautiful and happy and content and thoughtful.

So then, of course, having read two books in a relatively short span of time, I had to compare them. I had to know why I preferred one over the other so strongly.

Some of the difference was actual quantifiable things that made one book better that the other. Hosseini wrote pages and pages about flat characters who only had one trait. “The sweet supportive wife.” “The kind, selfless friend.” “The evil sadistic villain.”

Montgomery, on the other hand, wrote characters that were only mentioned once in the entire book, but had distinctive and unique personalities. And she laughed when cousin Hannah from Summerside asked her if it could be true that she was going to marry “a certain young man.” Cousin Hannah would not say “a Gibson.” Her manner gave the impression that Gibsons did not really exist. They might imagine they did but they were mere emanations of the Evil One, to be resolutely disbelieved in by anyone of good principles and proper breeding. One did not speak openly of the devil. Neither did one speak of the Gibsons. 

But all technicalities of good writing aside, I discovered that an essential characteristic of the books I love, deep in my soul is coziness, abundantly present in all of Montgomery’s books, but not so much in Hosseini’s. This is also a difference I’ve noticed between British and American fantasy. Almost all my favorite fantasy writers were British, and they tended to infuse their books with coziness. Even a fantasy epic like The Lord of the Rings had these incredibly cozy descriptions of eating second breakfast in Bag End.

My three favorite cozy books are Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith, and The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery.

Castle Books

Pictured is a foreign language (Portuguese?) edition of Howl’s Moving Castle, because I liked the cover art better than the English version. 

I think of them as my castle trilogy, as they all three have the word “castle” in the title. At first this seemed a grand coincidence. But later I reflected that books with “castle” in the title usually have a strong sense of place, as the castle is so present in the books that it is almost a character itself. And there is something very very cozy about books with a strong sense of place.

My friend Esta later mused that maybe it’s an introvert thing to be so drawn to cozy books, because we want this strong familiar sense of place to retreat to.

That was kind-of a round-about ramble, but all that to say I’ve been craving cozy books lately, and if you have recommendations for cozy books with a strong sense of place I would love to hear about them!

The coziest book I’ve read recently that wasn’t a re-read was Parnassus on Wheels by Christopher Morley.

A Christmas Miracle

On Black Friday, the first day of the “official” Christmas season, a Christmas Miracle happened to me.

It began when I decided I wanted to go Black Friday shopping.

If you know me, you are probably wondering why on earth I wanted to go Black Friday shopping. I just do not enjoy shopping, or crowds, or stores that are not thrift stores. Spending money gives me anxiety. I like to go on anti-consumerism rants. In fact, I probably haven’t gone Black Friday shopping in over ten years.

But for some reason I felt nostalgic for being 16 and thinking shopping at malls was fun and exciting. I wanted to be surrounded by the gentle hug of Christmas decor and music and frantic shoppers. Both of my sisters refused to come, but my friend Shanea agreed to indulge me.

 

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Shanea and I in line at Bath and Body Works

I didn’t even know where to go, except I thought it might be fun to go to Bath and Body Works and buy a candle. In the end, I didn’t buy a candle, but I did sniff lots of candles and have fun.

As Shanea and I were leaving the store, I heard someone say “Emily!”

I looked up, and there was my friend Yasmeen.

Yasmeen! I couldn’t believe my eyes. I thought she was out of the country. I thought I might never see her again.

“I messaged you and messaged you!” I said, wrapping her in the hugest of hugs.

“My Facebook Messenger wasn’t working,” she said. “I didn’t know what to do. I don’t have your phone number or your email address.”

You guys have no idea how much I’d prayed about this. Yasmeen and I were such close friends this last year of college, and then we’d both graduated on June 17. No worries. She was going to be in Corvallis for a couple months yet, and I was already talking about visiting her in whatever country grad school or internships took her. We’d hang out.

Only, we didn’t. Suddenly my Facebook messages were met with cold silence. Was she okay? What was going on? I had no idea.

I prayed. My mom prayed. I asked my Sunday School class to pray. I didn’t have her phone number, her email address, anything. Just Facebook. I was so scared that this was the end of our friendship.

And then, over five months later…

When I was sure she’d already left the country…

I got the strangest urge to go Black Friday shopping.

And there she was.

Thanksgiving

My friend Simone and I sat outside on the porch swing, with only a light blanket over our laps for warmth. The winds blew, sending wet leaves to the sidewalk with a splat. We watched the kittens peeking timidly at us as we sipped our tea and ate pumpkin cheesecake.

“It feels strange being out here in this weather,” Simone said as the rain began to fall. “Like walking on a dry riverbed. That feeling like you shouldn’t be able to be here, but you’re here.”

I first noticed this strange warmth on Tuesday. The sky was as cloudy and cold-looking as usual, and I did my indoor work without once wondering what the temperature outside was. But just before I was about to leave for the day, I saw that there was a row of garbage bags on the sidewalk. I’d asked parents and church members to drop off their empty pop cans, so we could recycle them as a fundraiser. And here they were, bags and bags of them.

I went outside to move them to the play structure, bracing for the usual blast of cold air, and what I got instead was a balmy 64°. Delightful. Of all the random things I do as secretary, moving bags of empty pop cans was the highlight of my week.

Unfortunately, by the time I got home that afternoon it was past 4:30, and the sun was setting.

Wednesday was lovely too, but again, I was working, and the sun sets so early these days. I prayed that this strange weather quirk would last just one more day, and then went out to read in the hammock by flashlight.

Thanksgiving morning I was in the kitchen, scrubbing floors and baking pies, when the sun momentarily broke through the clouds and flooded the world with light. I dashed outdoors. It was warm! So warm! Why the bunnyslipper was I still indoors? I grabbed tea and a book and took a break from the Thanksgiving morning hullabaloo.

When I finally came back inside, I mentioned the strange weather to my Dad. “It was 60° when I got up this morning,” he said. “That’s probably only happened ten times this whole year. Even in the summer it’s cold in the morning.”

I got dressed, and then decided to leave the cooking to those more skilled than I, and focus on making bouquets. That way I could be outside. I took a pair of sheers and cut flowering weeds from the garden, apple tree branches with their yellowing leaves, hydrangeas that were turning a rust red color, handfuls of calendulas, and the last of the roses. Then the sun broke through the clouds again, and it was just unfair to keep this beauty to myself. “Amy! Jenny! Do you want to come make bouquets with me?”

Apple tree branches

 

Featuring Mom’s writing cabin in the background


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Our Thanksgiving dinner was, as usual, a motley crew of distant relatives and people who have nowhere else to go. We ate dinner, had good conversation, and then Simone and I ate desert outside so that we could soak up the relative warmth while it lasted.

People hung around all afternoon, playing games and making jokes, but I was exhausted. I went upstairs and took a nap, and when I woke up, it was dark again.

I looked it up online. After December 9, sunsets will begin happening later and later instead of earlier and earlier. I can’t wait.

Note: After I published this, I remembered another story from yesterday I wanted to add.

Amy had printed questions on all of the place cards, and we went around the table and answered them. My great-aunt Allene had the question, “what moment from your past had the greatest impact on you?” (or something of that stripe) and began talking about working at a Children’s home in Kansas City.

“How old were you at the time?” Darrell asked.

“18 or 19.”

“Wow, you were young.”

“Well,” said Allene, “we could do whatever we wanted once we turned 18. The girls could at least. The boys had to stay at home until they were 21.”

We all thought this was really funny. “That’s not what they taught me in my family studies class!” said Amy.

It was a good Thanksgiving.

The Homeward Journey

Sunday, the day after the wedding, folks began to drift homeward. My brother Matt and my Uncle Philip left early in the morning before I even woke up. Then, at a more-reasonable-but-still-morning-hour, the rest of my siblings piled into Ben’s rig and left.

Saturday, with its crisp air and clear blue skies, had warmed to a balmy 70°. Sunday, however, was cloudy and cold, and for a few minutes we even got snow. So we stayed snug in our rental all morning and afternoon, drinking hot beverages and catching up with the relatives.

All while this old friend watched us from above.

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I took a walk with my uncle. Played monopoly with my cousins. Maybe not the most exciting day, but I was reminded of just how important it is to me to spend time with my relatives. They understand my jokes, tell the stories that I find interesting, and when I’m with them I will always belong.

Then, Monday morning, Mom, Dad and I got in the minivan and drove home. We drove through central Oregon instead of through the gorge, because it was daylight so we didn’t have to worry about running out of gas and all the little rural gas stations being closed. So I still didn’t get to see what effects the fire had on the gorge. Oh well.

The trip was relatively uneventful, until about 20 miles outside of Burns, when we heard a terrible “whap whap whap whap whap” noise. “Stop! Stop!” Mom yelled, and we pulled over.

A flap of rubber had pulled loose from one of the tires and was repeatedly hitting the wheel well as it spun around.

Mom thought we should put the spare on. Dad thought that, as the tire was not flat yet, it was in just as good of a condition as the spare would be. “Maybe we could cut the flap off, so it wouldn’t make that noise,” he said.

“I was thinking about bringing a scissors with me on this trip, but I didn’t,” I said.

“Oh! I have a scissors in my computer bag,” said Dad.

I never found out just why Dad had a pair of scissors in his computer bag, but it certainly came in handy. Dad cut the strip of tire off, and we turned around and headed back to Burns.

We bought some new tires at Les Schwab, ate some free popcorn, and were on the road again.

And, wouldn’t you know it.

The van no longer vibrated.

Amy, after we told her this, felt very vindicated.

We watched the sun set behind the three sisters, and drove over the mountains, and were home again at last.