Monday, April 8, 2013

17 Twenty-Nineth Betinning (Nanowrimo 2007) Organizing Aunt Sheila

[Welcome to the middle of a long conversation between and Aunt and the Niece she has never met and who has been sent by the family to "help orgainize." Do not read any part of this as if it were a completed story or you will be disappointed. In 2007, my strategy for Nanowrimo was to call my efforts 'literary' use that as an excuse to dump ideas and references that had been collecting in my mind and desk and files for years. I skipped linear progression.]

[I also skipped quotation marks and dialog tags. They may or may not go back. I kind of like the ambiguity.]

[Barbara has collected stacks of notes and is reading from them as she and her Aunt Sheila sit on a log in a meadow an undetermined distance away from nearby houses. The point of their exercise is to enter things into a database and throw the pieces of paper away.]

Here’s one for you.  You especially. 

I believe these people are known as hoarders. The mother of one of my friends in high school was like this. She was also obsessed with TV and taping shows. She had 8 TVs and 8 VCRs in the living room and would tape everything she could on TV. They had three bedrooms filled with VCR tapes.

This was in the early 90s, so no TiVo. She would write down everything she taped in a notebook.


In honor of your diligent efforts to get me organized, I will allow you to delete that and throw away the paper.

Barbara clasped her hands to her breast.  Really, you’d do that for me.  She said as she dived for the laptop trying to slide off her lap.

I would.  Next.

One other thing I remembered, she wouldn't let anyone open a can of Coke. I popped the top one time and she started screaming at the top of her lungs, she thought someone was shooting a gun.

Misc.  That has to go into a story somewhere, though.  People are so. . . interesting.  Especially at a distance.

So I'm at lunch, reading my newspaper and chewing on a burger-n-fries, when in walks a teenage boy and his female consort. He's talking loudly on a cell phone. They get their order and settle into a booth directly behind me. It becomes apparent that he is skipping school and momma found out. She's on the other end of the phone conversation. As he argues more and more loudly, I find his story to be more interesting than the newspaper, so I eavesdrop - or more accurately I quit trying to actively block out his voice. Here's a transcript of a bit of the conversation:

Him: Mom, I've only missed two days this whole year!  {pause for Mom's reply}

Him: Two days, Mom. We've been in school for, like, six weeks. Five days a week. That's six times five. {turns to girlfriend} What's six times five?

GF: 35

Him: {back to Mom} Yeah! 35 days and I've only missed 2! What's the big deal? Huh? Oh, 30 days. That's still just 2 days out of 30.... Three weeks? We've only been back in school 3 weeks? Well, it seems like longer....

At that point I lost it. I still don't think he knows what I found so funny

It’s a quote from an internet forum.  Keep it.

Wall Humping The act of rubbing one's thigh against a proximity card reader to unlock a secure door without removing the card from your pocket. (If you've never seen this one, you're in for a treat. It is so funny to watch.)

Keep it.  I actually did that once.  Modern story fodder.


How a consumer is not a citizen


Deccan Traps and the Laramide Revolution

I think those are Character names


My Father Was . . . List


That will be a big painful one.  Opening a vein indeed.

Vechel is a good name – character, right?


This looks like it’s finished.

The Path of Perseverance –
Imagine that I’m holding up a sign.  The sign reads:  “A thing worth doing is worth doing badly. “

Not the standard form of the adage, but one that’s been around for awhile.  G. K. Chesterton wrote it in 1910.  He meant to encourage people not to avoid doing things just because they wouldn’t be able to do them perfectly.  He was supporting the rightness of amateur writers and hobbyist painters and people who raise their own children rather than hiring professionals. 

I think of “A thing worth doing is worth doing badly“ in a slightly different way.  To my mind, when you do a thing badly often enough, you get better at it.  If you’re interested in something, don’t just do it badly – do it badly and often.

For instance, I’m always encouraged by going through the archives of comic strips and webcomics.  If an artist has a really inclusive archive, the difference between his or her early work and their current work is usually inspirational.  (And inspiration is the only reason I spent time reading comics on the internet.)

Doonesbury is a good example.  Garry Trudeau’s drawing while he was in college was horrible compared to his current work.  In fact, if he hadn’t been published in his college newspaper, his early work probably wouldn’t have been published at all.

But he persevered.  He did what he wanted to do badly and often and his drawing improved. 

Now imagine I’m holding up another sign.  This one says:  “Be sure to swing at the balls that are out of reach.”  I got this one from a racquetball coach. 

He wasn’t talking about balls that were just barely out of reach.  It’s easy to swing for a ball that’s a little bit beyond what you know is your reach.  You probably won’t hit it, but you might, if you get lucky.  So you take the chance and swing. 

He was talking about the balls that you know you can’t reach.  The ones that are definite swishers.  The ones that were a waste of energy.  In the interests of the match you’re playing, it would be more efficient to save the energy for a better shot later.  But in the interests of your play, of developing your game, your capability -  swinging at the balls that are clearly out of your reach is a way to train your body to reach further.

He said that you may have to swing and miss fifty times to hit on the fifty-first.  And you may miss on the fifty-second try as well.  That’s ok.  Just keep swinging.  Don’t let any ball just go by, no matter how out of reach it is.  Trust that your reach will extend.

It is at this point in the speech that I will not be talking about my extended college career or my grades as a re-entry student.  Although getting my degree was an exercise in perseverance, it’s not suitable here partly because it’s a more than five minute topic, but mostly because it really doesn’t have a punch line.  So I’m going to talk about elephant grass instead.

For that, you have to imagine that I’m holding up a sign that says:  “You can accomplish anything if you work at it for 20 minutes a day.”  I made this one up.  I know it’s a little bit of an exaggeration, but I made it up in the dark days of my college career when . . . but I said I wasn’t going to talk about that.  Let’s just say that it was a time in my life when nothing ever seemed to get done.  I was doing a lot, but nothing ever seemed to get done as in, done and over with.

So I made up this adage and I decided to apply it to the elephant grass along the side of the driveway.  Now to understand the significance of this, you have to know that I was renting a house from my parents and that my family has always had this understanding about elephant grass.  It’s sort of a family mythology.

Don’t Ever Plant Elephant Grass You Can Never Get Rid of It.  You can’t kill it and you can’t control it and it spreads.  Well, this elephant grass had been there when they bought the property and it had definitely spread.  It had started out as a long line of bushes along the driveway and it had widened over many years.  It was getting to the point that you had to be careful not to cut yourself on the leaves when you got out of that side of the car. 

So I decided that I’d test my new adage by hacking at the elephant grass for twenty minutes a day.  Well, maybe twenty minutes three times a week.  Definitely twenty minutes once a week.  Hey, it was a busy time.

I asked my parents if it would be all right.  They were very supportive.  They thought it was a great idea.  I also checked with the neighbors, just to be sure they hadn’t gotten attached to their side it.  They said no problem.

So I started hacking along the car side of the bushes.  I geared up and cut off the long, razor leaves with pruning shears.  I had hedge clippers, but they wouldn’t cut the stuff.  To begin with I ended up with piles of long, sharp leaves and not much difference in the bushes.  I decided to consider a pile of snaky, sharp leaves sitting at the curb as an accomplishment. 

The kids knew what I was doing and would come watch.  It’s not every day that a child gets to see adage testing being performed in their own driveway.  They were curious.  Occasionally they helped tote the leaves to the curb.  My parents continued to be supportive. 

After a couple of months, I got deep enough to uncover roots and runners nearly two inches across.  I had to go after those with a saw.  The kids liked that.  Sometimes the pile at the curb was just two or three sawn runners and a token handful of leaves.

Soon there was space at the side of the car.  Even if I never got rid of the elephant grass, I had an obvious, definite, physical improvement on my hands.  I was pleased.

As I reached the center of the clumps, I started finding stuff.  There were bottles and cans.  There were old balls and a bat.  There was an old tire.  And the center of the bushes were filled with old dead leaves.  Now I was hauling and piling more than I was cutting.

I told my parents.  They thought it was great.  More space.  Good job. 

Now the grass was re-sprouting, so I bought a bottle of roundup.  If I clipped live leaves, I gave the stubs a squirt.  But usually I was using a shovel to dig roots or pulling out piles of old stuff or sawing through more runners.  The bushes were growing noticeably smaller and I was feeling pretty good about my little adage. 

When the middle was clear, I decided to work from one end.  The roundup was helping, so I kept using that.  I kept pruning leaves and squirting the ends.  I kept sawing runners and digging out roots.  I kept reporting my progress to my parents, who continued to be supportive.  I never worked for more than twenty minutes, sometimes as little as ten, and I averaged only two or three times a week. 

Nearly half a year later the elephant grass was gone.  Completely gone.  Utterly, totally gone.  It was wonderful.  I told my parents, who said:  “Oh, no.  Now that there’s nothing blocking the driveway from the neighbors driveway, those kids are going to start parking on our property!”

So remember:  To walk the Path of Perseverance: 

“A thing worth doing is worth doing badly. “

and  “Be sure to swing at the balls that are out of reach.”

because “You can accomplish anything if you work at it for 20 minutes a day.”

And while you’re persevering, be ready to celebrate your own accomplishments just in case other people forget to celebrate them for you. 

That’s a speech I have at Toastmasters once. 

You gave a speech?

Hey audiences are easier than strangers.

I still don’t believe that.

Maybe we can get you into Toastmasters




Anyway I lived next door to that woman.  Her kids were a hoot.
[No, the conversation is not over.  Yes, I gave that speech.]

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