Monday, December 10, 2018

A Few Thoughts on Not Reading Novels

When I was a little kid, out in the car with my father, I used to marvel that my father could predict when a red stoplight was going to turn green.
When it dawned on me he was watching the other set of signals change from green to yellow, it was like finding a key to solving the world:
Look for the patterns.

I've been thinking about why I stopped reading novels in my forties, some dozen years ago. 
I still read some, but I used to read nothing but. 

I bet someone has written an incredibly insightful, spot-on essay about this––publishers know it's a predictable shift in reading patterns––but I want to try to figure it out for myself. 
So, I'm going to launch into it here.
(I've been musing on it for a while, so these aren't entirely new thoughts, but I haven't written them out fully before, so this is somewhat preliminary.)

I'm pretty sure it mostly has to do with me being old(er).
I have seen the patterns laid out in novels many times before. Often, I am either too bored, too critical, or too emotionally frazzled by real life to enjoy reading them again.

I used to read novels for entertainment. 

Much entertaining fiction stopped working for me. When I was a teenager, I read Gothic romances, for instance. I loved Mary Stewart! 

That was the first fiction I remember failing due to plot fatigue.

It seems predictable that people would tire of these formulas, but there's a pleasure in them too: romance and crime/mysteries are the top selling fiction genres. But I can't get into them.

Then, authors sometimes (often enough) get behavior and motivation wrong--just a little, which is all it takes to ruin a story. 
I recognize this more easily, being older: "That character is false."

I can't stand to read Charles Dickens anymore, for instance. Some of his characters--especially his women--are so ill formed, I just can't overlook it.

I suppose I'm becoming Charlotte Bartlett! 
In Room with a View, Charlotte Bartlett, the annoying older chaperone, says dismissively of a young man, "I have met the type before."

When I was young, I thought she was a killjoy. 
And she is, but, she's also right--because she's old and HAS met the type before.
How long are Lucy and the young man in question, George, going to be happy, after their marriage? (NOT that Lucy'd have been happier with her first choice, Cecil.)
But then, E. M. Forster has written a comic novel, not a tragedy.

I used to read novels for education. Why do humans do the things we do?
Not such a mystery at almost-sixty.
Human behavior is complex, and I'm still interested, but for years I've turned more to neurology and social studies (including economics) than tales of personal experience.

I used to be very interested, when I met people, in their personal stories, and I notice I'm not so much anymore.
Partly this is because I learned that people are not their own best interpreters. 

I wanted people to explain their political beliefs to me, for instance. Not what their political beliefs were, but WHY they believed them.
It's a rare person who can do that. Novelists are people too.

I used to read novels for escape. Take me away!
I don't feel that need so much anymore. 

I sleep a lot--that shuts down the circuits better and gives me time to process the stimulus of the day.

I used to read novels for emotional experiences.

Now, I don't want to put myself through that wringer. I've had plenty of it in my own life--I wouldn't choose it for entertainment's sake.

I started to read Madame Bovary last year. Right away, it was great! When Charles Bovary meets young Emma, she's darning a sock (darning!), and he sees drops of sweat on her bare shoulders.

"She worked with her head bent down; she did not speak, nor did Charles. The air coming in under the door blew a little dust over the flags; he watched it drift along, and heard nothing but the throbbing in his head and the faint clucking of a hen that had laid an egg in the yard. Emma from time to time cooled her cheeks with the palms of her hands, and cooled these again on the knobs of the huge fire-dogs.
"Some flies on the table were crawling up the glasses that had been used, and buzzing as they drowned themselves in the dregs of the cider.  "
Oh my God. Those details--the way she cools her palms on the metal... TOO REAL! I can't stand to go on: I know how it goes, in the novel, and in real life.
I don't want to watch Emma drown in the dregs of cider.

I can't stand to watch Humbert Humbert destroy Lolita again, either, even though the writing is sublime.

And so on.

So--ha! Am I saying either the writing is too poor--I can't suspend my disbelief, or I lose interest--or it's too good, and I can't bear it?
Maybe so.

A Few Novels I Love

Some fiction I've enjoyed recently, I've enjoyed for the nonfiction in it.
A River Runs Through It, for instance. 

The self-destructive brother? Yeah, yeah, I have met the type before.
But I knew nothing about fly fishing. I would not have read a how-to nonfiction account of it, but
I loved reading about that in a fictional setting!

Then there are novels that tell a story told in an unusually honest way that cuts through a common myth--and tell it well.

Comedy in a Minor Key by Hans Keilson (first published in Holland, 1947), about a Christian couple hiding a Jewish man, who dies of natural causes, and the couple has to dispose of his body--really about the daily annoyances of doing the right thing. 

Similarly, I  have never read anything like the amazing novel Life with a Star, by Jiri Weil (Czech, first published between 1945-1948).

Based on the author's real experience, this novel is about the daily annoyances of hiding from the Nazis. The protagonist, a Jewish man hiding in Prague, almost gives himself up to a round-up for transportation to a concentration camp ... for the relief of getting it over with! to set down the heavy burden of freedom, and to join everyone else. 
So human!
There's a rare person, who knows that and can convey it:
I don't want to be free: IT'S TOO MUCH WORK!
But... he does choose it.

The author did not go on to have a happy life, but he did survive to write this book, and others.

Jane Eyre.
I reread this a few years ago, and it was an entirely different book than the book I'd read when I was twelve. Then it was about an unloved, almost unlovable girl who finds love–a Gothic romance, in fact.
Now it was.... mmmm... almost, like, A Guide to How to Become an Artist When Everything, Really Every Thing, Is Against It.

I suppose it's like Life with a Star,  come to think of it: a novel based on the author's lived experience of how much bloody work it is to choose freedom.

When I was young, I thought Jane should have stayed with Rochester, despite his secret wife. It took me several readings over many years before I saw what her choice meant.

I think it's hard for modern readers to see, because social standards have changed so much, and Jane is being true to a standard that is  outdated.
But it's not the standard she is being true to, it is herself.

The happy ending is, sadly, a bit of untruth. There was no conventional happy ending for Charlotte Bronte, anymore than there was for Jiri Weil. 

Maybe they had some happiness in having written a true novel?

Isn't it pretty to think so?

Heh--and there's a reason to read novels--for the sentences!

Sunday, December 9, 2018

The Tower of What I'm Reading

This has been missing from my life for a while now: 
a big pile of books to read or browse for fun––and, key, ones that I don't have to return to the library
(I spilled coffee on a couple of them and didn't have to worry about fines.)
And I don't have to read any of them at all, unlike the wonderful but required-reading books I used to pile up, for books I was editing or writing.

You can see I have no Central Reading Plan--I randomly chose these books, half from work,  where I will eventually return them (though the coffee-splashed ones will have to go on the 33¢ shelf).

I have, however, recently adopted a plan to pick up Newberry Medal books, awarded "for excellence in American children's literature", when I come across them at work.
When You Reach Me (2009), by Rebecca Stead, on top, is one. It was disappointing, like a good cake with a wet, fallen center: the central plot point (a mysterious writer needs a girl's help) is weak and wobbly. It seems to me he could have done what he needed to do without her.

I also read Newberry winners Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book (2008), which is lightweight but which I enjoyed––it doesn't pretend to be more than it is, a graveyard frolic, with a message that growing up means leaving things behind––and Miss Hickory, (1946, by Carolyn Sherwin Bailey), whose message bothered me:
Miss Hickory's nut head is eaten, and she's supposedly better off NOT THINKING SO MUCH. 

Oh, also Walk Two Moons,(1994, Sharon Creech), which also was disappointing. Among other things, the girl has a great-great grandmother who was Seneca Indian, but the girl is so entirely separate from any Native culture, it's just an embarrassingly meaningless feature.

Come to think of it, my guiding principle is The Pleasure of Finding Things Out--not necessarily facts, you know, but ... um, finding out what's inside someone's head, or what it ... smells like.

The book that stands out in this regard, by far, is the novel Troll: A Love Story, by Johanna Sinisalo (2000, translated from the Finnish).

I don't have much patience with fiction anymore––after reading nothing but for thirty years, the stories became over-familiar, the errors glare, and I tend to wander off, halfway through.

And then I read something unexpected like this. It reminds me of eating cilantro for the first time--I thought it tasted like underarm odor, in a good way. How can that be?

The story is, on the surface, about a man who adopts and becomes enraptured by a young, wild troll. But it's weirder than that--it's about the power of scent and wildness... 
Like, do we love the scent of books because they were once living pine trees, which we have cut down and pulped?

Publisher's Weekly good review says, "Sinisalo's elastic prose is at once lyrical and matter-of-fact, but this is not a comfortable novel."

Pair with the also-not-comfortable story of feeling more akin to moss and mushrooms than to trains, planes and automobiles, the 2018 Swedish film Border, (Swedish title, Gräns), from a short story, newly released on its own--cover below.

P.S. I was excited to borrow the graphic novel Berlin from bink (on the rec of Orange Crate Art), but the 3-in-1 volume is too heavy to hold and read on the couch, so I haven't started it yet.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

A Christmas Window

Like most everything at the thrift store, the windows get short shrift--mostly, someone just tosses furniture into them, or, this month, a bunch of random Christmas stuff, and that's the display. 

Yesterday, however, when I asked Big Boss what to do with a creche set and he said, "You could put it in the window," I took that as permission to borrow one of the furniture guys and spend the afternoon decorating.

We took time to establish a color theme (reds & golds), and even a little narrative:
the wise men are walking across dry lands (orange!) to Bethlehem (higher up), 

and the big angel in red is blessing the Holy Family...

Here it is in process---as yesterday's afternoon sun hit the window: 

I could tell my coworker loved doing something creative for a change--we had a lot of fun:

Window displays take a ton of work, of course, and we don't have the staff. 
At Steeple People thrift store, where I volunteered a few years ago, a crew of volunteers put together fantastic displays every single Tuesday. The lead volunteer had worked in retail, she chose a theme of the week well in advance, so fitting stuff could be set aside for her, and the crew spent a whole day at it.

I am not decorating my books area for Christmas--partly because I don't want to be religiously specific. 

The store doesn't evangelize, but it is "faith-based", and the faith is Christianity.  
St. Vincent is a Catholic saint, and the Society of SVDP is, of course, a Catholic society, but the staff at my store is maybe a little more nondenominational or evangelical Christian than Catholic.

Remember one of the volunteers took me to task for putting Bibles on a bottom shelf, near the floor?
"We were talking about it," she told me, "and it doesn't seem respectful."

(I moved the Bibles to a higher shelf.)

In this milieu, I call myself a "sort-of Catholic", because it fits me best philosophically ("God is love; love one another; feed the hungry..."), even though I'm technically NOT a believer.
Still, "Catholic Humanist" fits me pretty well, culturally.

A lot of our customers, however, are Muslims, often from East Africa (lots of Somalians in town), or, I sense, people (often younger) with no religion. I see the media uses the term "Nones" to describe people who tick the box "none" for religious preference, but would anyone actually call themselves a "none"?

Friday, December 7, 2018

Taking Care

Heading out to work soon, in the coldest morning I've yet biked in this winter: 
 15ºF/ -9 C

I. Face Mask

I feel more prepared than in other winters, though, because for the first time, I have a wrap-around face mask--a wind stopper, designed for winter sports.

It closes with velcro, so you can open it if you get too hot:
A great thing about working at a thrift store is you've got a good chance of finding anything you need--eventually--and for cheap. (We're not supposed to, but coworkers--even my Big Boss--set prices low for one another.) 
This brand is $50+ at outdoor-sports store REI--my coworker priced it 99¢ for me.

I got a new set of windbreaker sports pants too (what do you call those?)

OK, then! Google tells me they're called "windbreaker pants."

II. Living Wages

If I could change one thing about the thrift store, it'd be to pay the workers a living wage--closer to $15/hour than the $10.25/hour we make. 
I'm supplementing my salary with money from my father who died last year. A lot of my coworkers supplement it with Social Security, and food stamps and other aid programs--or just do without. (Lot of them are missing teeth, for instance.) 

I talked to Big Boss about this, quite a while ago. He said the store can't afford to raise wages. 
I've seen the annual report and know that's true--the society is in the red, since they started a big food bank in 2015. It's great--it's a central supplier of individual food shelves, but it is underfunded, to put it mildly.  (Fundraising is in the works, supposedly.)

I said we could at least have a living wage in our sights, as a goal.
It seems he had never thought of it.

Like many of my coworkers, Big Boss came up in extreme poverty and... well, his political philosophy is a bit murky to me:
it's a blend of faith in God's agency + awareness of racist factors... but also a sense of ...mmm... I don't know... the inevitability? of poverty.

You know, your own experience sets your baseline for Normal.

(Btw, Big Boss reminds me slightly of the original Star Wars' Landro Cairissian (Billy Dee Williams):

 III. Me, Getting It Wrong
It's interesting at work, because I am really the cultural outsider. 
My coworkers are mostly working-class, white lady volunteers, aged 70 to 92 [housewares]; 
Hispanic women from or with relatives in Mexico [clothing]; 
and a lot of older, poor black guys [furniture and everything else].

My class background is mostly the Academic class. 
Though my parents came from different backgrounds, (I always say it's like the Godfather married Scarlett O'Hara), I grew up being a Professor's Daughter.

I feel wary saying much analytical about my workplace culture because I am missing so much!

Here's a good example, from yesterday, of how I get it wrong:

Big Boss had recently recommended a movie he'd rented from Red Box for his kids, thinking it was a regular Winnie the Pooh movie: Christopher Robin

Turns out it's a live action film about what happens to Christopher Robin as a grown man, including going to war...

I asked him who's in it, and he said didn't know any of the actors."Maybe you'd recognize them," he said.

I looked up the movie. Ewan McGregor plays Christoper Robin.

Yesterday Boss was in my area, working and chatting with coworker Mr. Rogers about, among other things, relatives of theirs who are in prison--I'm seeing how that really is a normal (and much mourned) feature of poor, black American lives.

I mentioned to Boss that Christopher Robin was played by the guy who played Obi Wan Kenobi in the Star Wars prequels. 

I chose that over Trainspotting, thinking Star Wars would be a shared cultural reference, but neither he nor Mr. Rogers knew who Obi Wan Kenobi was.

"You're talking to the wrong people!" Mr. Rogers said.

We all laughed.

I'm speaking lines from the wrong movie!
IV. Getting Some Things Right

Later in the afternoon, there was a special delivery from our central warehouse (where the food bank is too).
The managers set it up on tables:

it was all-new sets of stuff designed for gift giving, like big-faced watches and sparkly jewelry, donated by–– I don't know, maybe a place like K-Mart or Costco?––and the store was offering it to staff first, on sale for very cheap.

Boss said to me, "You said we should take better care of the staff, so I asked if we could have this for everyone to buy to give to loved ones."

I was amazed--I hadn't realized he'd even agreed with me that was a good idea, to tell the truth. I just don't GET some of the social cues of my coworkers.

He invited me to shop, and to be polite I looked it over.
I told him that my loved ones like the stuff we throw away at the thrift store––for instance, I'd saved two moth-eaten sweaters from the cloth-recycling bin for a mending friend (Julia)
"She likes to darn the mends in different colored yarns, so they show."

He laughed.

I don't always agree with much less understand Big Boss, but the thing I like best about him is that he never takes umbrage. 
I've never seen him puff up and sputter in self-defense (like I'm always doing). 

Mostly he approaches people with curiosity and humor, or just patience. When he's dealing with a difficult customer or staff member (me, sometimes!), he says things like they teach telemarketers:
"Thank you for pointing out how we could do better."


And now, I'm off into the cold.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Looking Up

I'm not really going slowly here, of course––a coworker took my photo goofing around in the furniture room, trying out this newly donated leather couch I like ($125)--not that I have room for another couch besides my orange one, and I wouldn't give up the color.

(I'm mentioning this because I'm tempted. But I already have two brown walls--how much brown do I need, and in the Minnesotan winter, how much would be wise?)
I'm heading, in the photo, back to my workspace, after shelving the book cart––its "Balloon Chase Vehicle" bumper sticker came from the donated estate of famous hot-air balloonist Don Piccard. 
My cart also says, "not for sale" and "c'est la vie".  

My books area is to my right--both sides of the aisle between that fake tree and the door to the main room, where clothes and housewares are.

Aaaand... here's my workspace––that's my desk, buried bottom, right. 
Mr. Furniture (the lead worker in the furniture room) complained to me recently about what a mess my area was. I clean it up occasionally––but it soon reverts to this:
However, I do make an effort to cheer it up:
I hung that string of lights on the fluorescent light fixture, and dangled yellow Woodstock in a Christmas hat flying overhead.

The former book lady had always left her desk clear at the end of the day--Mr. Furniture mentioned that to me.

I know, I said, and she did it by throwing cool old books in the recycling. 
After she left, I discovered a first edition (1896) of Vol. 2 of Ulysses S. Grant's memoirs in the recycling.
Its front cover was off, exposing the beautiful marbled end papers.

I put it out for $20, and it sold.
(Our usual book prices are 33¢ to $1.99.)

After six months on the job, however, I have more sympathy for my predecessor, who'd been there fifteen years. The onslaught of donations, many of which are along the lines of water damaged, former bestselling paperbacks from the 1980s, does get overwhelming.

However, there've been lots of great donations lately––
I even wonder if people are more likely to donate if they see the cool stuff going out on the shelves?

I think so:
People want their things they cared for to continue to be cared for, and to find new homes.
bink just donated some cool old books because, she said, she knew I would sell them, not throw them out.

I put this series (ex-library books) from bink face forward, showing their cool covers:

What we see, what we look at, matters, eh?
Usually I bike to work, but yesterday I walked.
This is a beautiful, one-block path alongside a parking lot, where I can pretend I'm in birch woods...

...if I ignore the street:

I recently listened to an episode on my favorite podcast, Hidden Brain, that talked about the value of seeing even a little bit of nature during your day.
I think it was this episode?

The researcher said that since she discovered that, now when she walks her 10 minutes to work, she looks up at the trees the whole way.

At this time of year, here, looking up means looking at patterns of black branches against a gray sky––
a nice reminder of our brains at work! since they look like branching neurons.

I like winter, at this stage:
the new snow is still pretty and bright; the temperatures are above 10ºF /-12ºC, which is comfortable if you're in motion

people are mostly in a decent mood as we head toward holidays...
By mid-January, none of this will be the case.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Back to Work, Slowly

I haven't taken advantage of the fact that not only do I not have set days at work, I don't have set hours either, so long as I get my five hours in, four days a week.

In other words, I don't have to run off to work every morning. I can't arrive earlier than ten o'clock anyway, because that's when the doors open.

But I usually aim to get there at ten––which means I often don't leave time to blog in the mornings,which is when I like to best.

So, here it is, ten a.m., and I'm going to take a few minutes to write a little bit, even though I feel like the White Rabbit--late, late.
I'm inspired by the blog I'm newly following--Shadows & Light--because I love how the blogger, Steve, jots down daily stuff--yesterday, that his dog threw up on their new carpet.
I laughed.

Daily doings don't take as much time to write about as some of the stuff I'd like to write about but don't because it takes too much time.

This morning, a show-and-tell.
It's the time of year for oranges, and everything with oranges is beautiful.

This is the table in front of the couch where I'm sitting:

Books make things beautiful too, eh?

Julia dropped by last night, with five minutes notice––not enough time to clean up. 

I knew she wouldn't mind the apartment was a mess (though I'm glad I'd done the dishes–– three days' worth). In fact, when I looked at it this morning I thought, I'd be happy to be the sort of person who makes a mess like this.
And I am!

There! This post took... 15 minutes? I'll get to work at 11ish.
My main intention there is to SLOW DOWN.
Lift one or two books at a time.
There is absolutely no need for rush, and every good reason to pace myself for the long haul.

Oh--one more thing. The Orphan Reds have been calling the new girl Noodle--(I think it's from "new-doll".)
She is a pip! She has them all playing guessing games this morning.
I don't like such games myself, but they are having a ball.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

I wrote a letter...

I slept fourteen hours last night and woke up feeling almost over my cold of yesterday––and grateful it didn't bloom into a real head-clogger.

It was the sort of mild cold I could have soldiered through, but in my experience, STOPPING when illness is coming on is a better bet, if you can swing it.

I only work 20 hours a week (feels like more!), so it's not a big deal to take a couple days off––I'll work Weds. through Saturday and get all my hours in. 
And I love that it doesn't burden anyone else if I move my days around, unlike when I worked in health care. If I couldn't make a shift then, coworkers had to carry a heavier load and patients went without some care.

Not sick enough to be miserable, yesterday I lay around on the couch all day, drank a gallon of lemon-ginger water (boiled lemon & grated fresh ginger, watered way down), ate clementines, and looked at Bill Cunningham street-fashion photos. 

Feeling mostly well, this morning I took myself to coffee in the atrium of the nearby art museum. It's all of six blocks away, but I rarely go. Going to museums is like going to church--cultural rituals of my tribe that gave me a lot at one time, but that now feel hollow, or even annoying. 

This morning, however, I felt like being somewhere spacious and clean––and  having a good croissant. Almost $7 for a croissant and coffee--that's the sort of thing that annoys me. But . . . it's artisanal!
I got my money's worth in table rent:
I sat for three hours and wrote a letter.

On paper. 
With a pen.

Except for writing to a couple pals in prison in recent years, I almost never write real [paper] letters anymore, not since my last remaining correspondent who is not in prison, my ninety-three-year-old auntie, got an iPhone when she turned ninety. 

This morning I was responding to a letter from a friend who lives in town. She teaches English classes online, which she loves, but I think it makes her miss paper. 

At any rate, a couple weeks ago she wrote me about a book I'd lent her: the novel Nothing Happened (1948), by Norwegian writer Ebba Haslund––one of my favorite books. My friend made all sorts of interesting points, and I was looking forward to reading them again, but when I took out my spiral notebook, her letter, which I'd thought I'd tucked in it, wasn't there.

Ergh. Physical things.
They move around!
Not like e-correspondence, which stays right where I put it (unless I accidentally delete it).

Also, without an electronic device, I had no dictionary with me––and I could not remember how to spell precocious without making several false starts.

So, it was a real letter:
with messy X-ed out mistakes!
I put it in the mailbox on my way home. 

Monday, December 3, 2018

New Doll is here!

New Doll arrived this afternoon!
The Three Magi made signs.

I have a cold and am not feeling energetic, but I washed New Doll right away---her clothes smelled like basement, and her hair had some stiff stuff stuck in it. Maybe old hair spray?

Luckily, she thought it was a lark.

And then New Girl got bundled up in the quilted bear (unstuffed), to stay warm and dry. Red Hair Girl sat with her alone first, so she wouldn't be overwhelmed. 

But New Girl is not shy or afraid––these dolls usually aren't, except for SweePo who has PTSD (I don't know why)––and soon all four got together. They're sitting on the end of the couch chatting right now.

I don't know how this will change the ecosystem here. Perhaps it won't.

Marz, Smiling, with Patterns

Marz has been practicing smiling. (Long story, and not mine.)
Here she is at my place for Costume Day yesterday. I think it's working.

This kid,* she effortlessly throws clothes together, and they look great.  The sweater is from Iceland (thrift store find). Julia knit the hat, freestyle--she based it on the lines down the center of the road.

*She's not a kid--she'll be twenty-eight in the spring. I met her (online) when she was eighteen––though not in person until she was twenty, when she walked Camino with me & bink.
Lucky, lucky, lucky!

The Three Magi, by the Orphan Reds

Yesterday was the first Sunday in Advent: Costume Day!

Here are the Orphan Reds to start, with "boomerang bags" (reusable cloth bags, substitutes for plastic bags). My sister made for them. She makes these, full size, with a group that gives them away.

I didn't get photos of the work in process.

L to R: SweePo, costume by bink; Penny Cooper by sister; and Red Hair Girl by me.
 Marz was standing back, left, in a  Kirk T-shirt. He is "Yonder Star." Pedestrian sign from Art Spaker, creche camel from work.

And here is Red Hair Girl in mid-century Mahattan, waiting for Bill Cunningham to take her photo for his "On the Street" column. 
[NYT article "Bill Cunningham on Bill Cunningham"]

Her hat is a sewing notion--a mini–retractable measuring tape. The body of her green costume was a lady's glove I got at work--I sewed the trims on.

I rewatched the documentary Bill Cunningham NEW YORK today.
What a great testament to loving what you do, and keeping your independence so you can do what you love. "Money's the cheapest thing," Cunningham said.
"Liberty and freedom is the most expensive."
 He rode his bike up and down Manhattan--the photo on the right is from the movie, when he was eighty.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Bringing Home the Tree

These little army guys! Once they are free of their weapons, they can do so much.

I was going to futz with the set-up some more, but my hands were freezing. Snow is cold! (Obviously, but I don't usually handle it.)
And I should be getting things ready for this morning's Costume Day--it's the first Sunday in Advent, and the Orphan Reds are becoming the three magi.

Friday, November 30, 2018

From the Stew of Goo

I've been thinking a lot in recent months how weird it is that I (we) exist at all.

I picture individual existence arising from a stew of goo (in my handwriting in the picture below, it looks like "STEW OF GOD", which is pretty good too). 

In my picture, which is not scientifically approved, the goo is undifferentiated stuff, like the potato mush that fruit flies live on in a scientific laboratory (or behind the fridge...).

A blip arises out of this stew, and––boop! ––it separates.
Who knows?! 

There are lots of stories about this. 
Maybe just... because it does.

Somehow the blip becomes conscious of itself.
How weird is that?!?!

This morning I drew a picture.

The conscious stage doesn't last long.
didn't draw the final step---the blip soon returns to the stew.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

UPDATE: Donut Frosting, and Other Daffy Thrift Store Donations

I've been keeping track of some of the odd/interesting things that get donated to the thrift store. We take it all. In with the literal garbage there is (sometimes) treasure.

UPDATES, Nov. 29, 2018:

Below: "SARA wants this book"
...but not that much?

It's not uncommon that an item will come in with a tag noting that the item was supposed to go to someone––presumably on the death of the owner.
Who knows what the story behind each one is, but these notes make me a little sad.

Below: Like the donut frosting, this was another (I hope) accidental food donation: 
a used, blue paper plate & plastic spoon with cake crumbs, in with a box of quality woodworking magazines:

Below: No accident here! Nicely noted, "IT WORKS FINE".
(If it doesn't catch on fire...)

Below: Notes in books are not always this great. 
Stay high, Bean!

Below: What to do with old-timey racist/culturally imperialist stuff (e.g. Mammy salt & pepper shakers)?*
I don't usually put
out for sale stuff like this comic book about an English cricketer who became a missionary, but it feels too culturally significant to just throw out...

* UPDATE: The Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia at Ferris University, Michigan accepts donations of racist objects.

Original post, 10/6/18:

Some icky donations are obviously accidents---like the bakery bag that held only the frosting of a donut --I imagine someone cleaning up after a garage sale or move, and their bag accidentally getting in with the donations.
Other things are intentional--this headless sacred heart of Mary was mailed to the store. We have a religious articles ministry that accepts such objects, and we even say we'll repair them. 
But that means gluing heads on---but not manifesting the missing parts themselves.

And these boxes of instant pudding that expired three years ago, in 2015? They came in a carefully packed box of nice kitchenware, so they didn't seem to be accidental.
Who knows?

It is very sweet when people write little notes---here the person even sketched the outline of the missing puzzle piece! 
But the store gets waaay more than enough puzzles, and this one was nothing special, so into the trash it went.

It's common that people don't clean their shoes before donating them. Luckily the material in the treads of these hiking boots was just grass and mud.

BELOW: This memorable entry from February 5, 1964, is the last entry in this donated daily journal.
After this, the journal is blank.

A shoe box of John D. MacDonald paperback thrillers from the 1970s was another donation that came with handwritten notes. In this case, the notes seem to be reminders to the owner him/herself, not to the future buyer. But who knows for sure?

These old pulp paperbacks were well worn and the high-acid paper yellowed. I saved a few with the best covers and put the rest on the 33¢ shelf.

This is the creepiest donation I've yet seen––
some kind of dead worm, a true computer bug, stuck under the screen of an MP3 player:

Doctor's Report: "Nothing but the best for you!"

I went for a doctor's check-up this morning, and all appears well. My blood sugar was even in the normal range, which amazes me, given the amount of sweets I eat.

I used to take the all-clear for granted, but I'm now the age at which a couple friends died. Nearing sixty... it's a different ballpark, eh? 

Working at the thrift store, I've had a couple old work injuries act up.
Some of the on-the-job physical stressors are avoidable: using one hand, for instance, to lift and carry a dozen National Geographic magazines (dense!). 
Some are not: the concrete floor is a concrete floor.
The doctor gave me referrals to O.T. (hands) and P.T. (Achilles tendon).
The MAIN thing I need & want to change is what I eat at work. The food there is terrible, plentiful, and free. 

A bad combo for me.
I'm like my father, a Depression kid who always loved a cheap deal. He never seemed happier to me than when he was making pronouncements such as, "I got ten dented packages of Nutter Butter cookies on sale at K-Mart!" 

His sister, my Auntie Vi, also a Depression kid, went the other way:
"Nothing but the best for me!"

She's 93 now. She lives in Wisconsin and texted me this morning that she'd shoveled light snow off her walk, like Red Hair Girl.

I'd like to adopt my auntie's attitude.
I'm try, try, trying again to buy good stuff to pack for lunch, so I don't end up eating pouches of Little Bites Blueberry Muffins.

I'm not picky about bakery goods, but Little Bites are actually horrible. They're both gluey and fluffy at the same time, even though they're past their due date (which is why they're given to the thrift store, to put out for free). 
The due date is a fiction anyway:
these things are going to outlast the human race!


Fluffy fresh snow this morning.

Atomic starburst ^ on a 1960s Lucite wastebasket I pulled from the Dumpster at work. It had a crack along the bottom, but held water. It sold pretty quickly for $6.

Below: Red Hair Girl volunteered to shovel the back steps––or some of them, anyway...
(The Reds don't need shoes--they are like hobbits that way.)

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

#2019 #moretocome

After all my resistance, I ended up being unexpectedly cheered by my fledgling efforts at fundraising yesterday.


People (mostly friends) donated $110, with FB doubling some (once they give $7 million, they stop doubling). That's about $200 we didn't have before, and need, and wouldn't have if we (I) hadn't asked.

My boss sent me a sweet email thanking me for my efforts.

"We have a long way to go on the fundraising road," he wrote. "We'll get there though! #2019 #moretocome"

I thought, that's right:
Things might (or might not) get better, but at any rate, for God's sake, look to the horizon!

He also told me that the board is setting up a Development Committee, to take on this sort of thing.


In the contrary way we humans have, however, I felt a small pang, as if I were losing out. I had to seriously ask myself, do I want to be on this committee?
100% no!

II. New Doll to Come

The other night when I ordered a Yellowstone bear on ebay, I also browsed the offerings of Orphan Reds (technically "Madeline" dolls), and saw this disheveled one:

The seller's photo of her made me laugh, pleased me with its composition, and disturbed me: 
why is that doll wearing a sock on her hand?
Is she in trouble?

Is she reaching out... to me?

I spoke sternly to myself. "This is just a plastic item. And three is a complete number of Orphan Reds, and three is the number that lives with me now."

But the disheveled doll stayed with me, so I showed her photos to Marz, who is a good guide on these matters.
I thought she'd say, "Get over it."

She said, "You should get this doll."*

I ordered her immediately. Though the seller had photographed her on a fraying dingy bath towel, they weren't selling her cheap--she was $20, with shipping.
I don't care.

She is on her way to my work address. She will be my work doll.
I don't know if she'll even meet the other three Little Reds. 
(I suspect she will, because they are nosy buggers and want to know all.)

#moretocome, yes indeed.
This Sunday the Reds get dressed up as the Three Magi. 
I like to think that to reach the baby by Epiphany, the magi had to start traveling well before the baby was born.

I wonder,
What strange magic is walking toward us, already on its way?


* Marz also said, "What's the harm?" 

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Toys Donate $1.36

I said I was not going to do any fundraising, yeah, but a while ago I'd alerted my thrift store boss to #GivingTuesday, when Facebook & Paypal double donations given on FB. 
That's today, and my boss wanted us to do that--and, due to complications (?), it boiled down to ME setting it up.

I was kind of rude when he asked me––I believe I exclaimed, "This store is soooo behind the curve!"––but I agreed. The store really does do good work, and it really does need $.

FB gives you lots of "recommended" images to choose from for your fundraiser--all very cutesy-corporate. (The best artists of our generation are designing for these guys.)
I decided to make it fun for me, and make my own. Which means, #toyphotography!

Of course the toys were EAGER to help. The dinosaur cared not one whit that holding a hot, plastic-melting quarter (heated up on the stove) destroyed its resale value.

The toys donated $1.36. I think they found the money in the couch cushions... You have to donate in round numbers, so I chipped in to bring it up to $5.

This is the link to the online fundraiser:

Monday, November 26, 2018

Mundane Restoration

I have added a blog to my blogroll (on sidebar)--Shadows & Light, the "more or less daily journal" of an American librarian, Steve, living in London with his "partner, Dave, and our dog, Olga." 

Steve takes nice photos, but it's more the blog's mundanity (oh, that could sound insulting--I don't mean "boring", I mean, a sprightly dailyness) that I enjoy: where he went on a day out (to see friends in Notting Hill); the ongoing treatments to get rid of moths in the apartment; can you get cranberry sauce in England? (yes).

I've looked at this blog off and on--somehow I found it among the 1,157 followers of Going Gently, a blog I keep stumbling upon. (Maybe you've stumbled upon it too? It's one of those Connector Centers––I can't pin down why.)

The way I enjoy Steve chatting about his everyday goings-on reminds me that I don't have to write about Important Things. In fact, browsing my old posts, I like the chatty ones I whipped off as much as (sometimes more than) more thoughtful ones that took more time. (Maybe I enjoy writing those more than rereading them--they help me sort my thinking out.)

Everyday Restorations

What tipped me into adding Shadows to my blogroll was this recent post about a "Quixotic Crusade", in which Steve picked up abandoned clothes strewn along the footpath where he walks Olga, and took them home to wash and fold and donate to the Oxfam thrift store.

That's something I would do.

Well, not with clothes (there would be no end, and I don't care about clothes), but, you know, with stuffed animals. 
Here's my latest rescue from the recycle bin at work, before and after a bath:

I don't love this bear--I don't much like quilted anything––but the maker, Jo Ellison, stitched her name on its right sole, and the bear has been repaired in spots––this always gets me.

I must add some more patches, as I tore its fragile fabric a bit in the process of opening bear up. (Toys have to be basically sound to survive the trauma of restoration.) 
Possibly when I'm finished I will love it.
Or, if not, I could put it out at the store for 99 cents.

Now that I've realized I don't want to be a Nonprofit Fundraiser (yay!) and  I've settled into my job of 6 months, I am back to working on SNARP (Stuffed Needy Animal Rescue Project).

Last night I went looking for stuffed Yellowstone bears on ebay.

I still have many to restore, but I bought the only good one I found.  >
($15, incl. shipping––I've never found one for less than $10.)

This bear is NOT from the 1930s, (as the tag on photo says). 

Many thousands of these bears were made in Japan in the 1960s as mass-market souvenirs. 
Yet each one is slightly different--eyes attached at different spots, noses sewn on at odd angles... different materials, even, including various kinds of red collars and metal-link leashes (which I always take off).
This one has a great face, in my estimation.

I almost bought another because the seller wrote about how her grandparents had bought it for her in Canada when she was little (so, not just Yellowstone)–-but I didn't like the bear itself.

Anyway, I have lots!

II. "You will be uncomfortable."

Working on my own stuff is important because my job has become harder, psychologically. I'm happy enough to drop fundraising, but I'm not happy that I dropped it largely because it felt hopeless. Trying to get anyone else on board was like dragging a load of wet woolen blankets.
Or trying to shape a mountain of marshmallows.

I've said before the store operates in a poverty mindset, and poverty is weirdly self-perpetuating. When basics are lacking, it takes so much bloody work just to supply those, over and over.

Let me pile on another simile:
It's like climbing a steep muddy hill,
always slipping back to the bottom, where you need to start all over.

And with no knowledge of or access to hill-climbing equipment either––ropes and cleats and whatever that would be.

That's how it feels to me, anyway. I may be missing something, but I started volunteering in February and have worked 4 days/week since June--I doubt I'm in for massive surprises.

The last slip-back was when I was about to sign us up for the MN Council of Nonprofits--I'd finally got the go-ahead! 
But the boss--
. . . OK, I'm not going to bore you with details--let me just say, the boss had not read any of the info I'd emailed him, so he screwed up the application, 
and then he said, "Why are we even doing this?"

And I thought, yeah, why am I pushing this? No one wants it, I would end up doing all the work--do I want to? (and for $10.25/hour––or, more likely, on my unpaid time?) 

And that was the end of that.

I keep saying this, but it's important to anchor myself in this:

I want to work with the books. And now the vintage stuff, too.

I love doing that, but the culture of the store has turned out to be more uncomfortable than I expected.

Do you remember, when I talked to my Russian job coach about my fears of working with people after 15 years of freelance, and how I dislike conflict, she had said,
"Knowing this is half the battle. You must persevere. You will be uncomfortable. Very uncomfortable."
I am not "very" uncomfortable, but it is uncomfortable to be the alien--the one, for instance, who's always pulling antiques out of the dumpster.
You know, that can trigger class resentment, so I try not to make a lot of noise about it... (Not now that I've done it so often.)

And yet being an older white lady who knows what sterling silver is also grants me privileges:

A while ago I said to a coworker who's got a criminal record that it's nice to have a flexible schedule--I can move days around, as long as I get in 20 hours/week.

"YOU have a flexible schedule," he said. "I don't."

I did not know that.
It's weird & icky to realize the bosses give me unearned special treatment.
One of them said recently, "I trust you."

There's no ACTUAL reason the bosses should trust me more than my coworkers.  I mean, there is a "hidden brain"* reason--perception is reality, eh?
Knowing what sterling silver is doesn't mean I'm more trustworthy.
In fact, it equips me to know better what to steal.
(I don't, but I could.)

So--I also said when I started that I would try to view this workplace as a spiritual psych laboratory---a place to practice patience (not my strong card).
I am working on that.

When stressed, back off and breathe. 
Think of the bears waiting at home for repairs.

*Hidden Brain from NPR is my favorite, favorite podcast:
"Shankar Vedantam uses science and storytelling to reveal the unconscious patterns that drive human behavior, shape our choices and direct our relationships."

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Firefly, Restored

Days off have been great:
I finished restoring Firefly the bear--brown, with remnants of golden mohair.  (Entries on Firefly, a
hundred year old mohair bear, like Tulip). Firefly had arrived last December ($8 on ebay)––so smelly I was afraid she had bugs.

I ended up taking her apart (didn't want to) and replacing all five rusted metal joints (held with cotter pins of death) with plastic joints. Hours of work, and worth it. Now Firefly can be touched and held.

Several others are in the wings--including this terrier and Dark Bear (from a Minnesota farm auction--complete with farm dirt caked in its wool). Both have been bathed and are ready for their final mends.