Books for Everyone!

27 April 2021

My Birthday Week

I used to have just a birth-day, but, within the past few years, the entire last week of April somehow became my “birthday week”. That phrase sounds grammatically and logically implausible, unless it took an entire week for me to gain entry into the world. In fact, I was born early and swiftly in the morning, at dawn, which represents the last time that time of the day was so productive for me!

My schedule or routine of work does not change during birthday week, except to intensify. “How I work” becomes more increasingly obvious to me during any days and occasions that are supposed to be celebrated, especially formally. The mere act of baking a cake, by me or for me, ensures that a piece of writing is in progress.

My Muse does not like predicability or an overly fixed routine. Me, I like lists, most of all lists of “things-to-do”. The Calendar, however, has typically comprised an optional item for me. During my years of service in the federal government (employment), I was handed, for my use, at the end of each year, a 3-part calendar for the New Year: the current month was in the middle, with the previous month above, the month-to-come below. I felt very claustrophobic regarding the Month-That-Is.

The month that-is all too soon becomes the month that-was. In my writer’s mind, however, such a construct of time might be worthy of immortality. I was not extremely aware of this act of granting immortality to a construct of time, or even to my characters, until my very Dear Friend, way back in 2013, smartened me up about just what it is that I do, and how I work.

I’d been curious about a certain hideous Regional Administrator who had been foisted upon Dear Husband in his office-world and, maddeningly often, in his home-world. As a private contractor, my Dear Friend had minor dealings with this Federal Agency Director; the interactions were appalling enough to cultivate her abhorrence of the man. I thought that writing-the-wretch-into-character might help soothe the pain-in-the ____ that he was giving to everyone around him, save the bootlickers in that Bureau. I’d never met him, and so I inquired about this person, his particulars and peculiarities.

Dear Friend informed me that he was so incredibly boring and do-nothing, a complete waste of humanity — There is nothing there to write about. He’s such a loser loafer, he’s neither hero nor villain.  And . . . if I ever granted immortality to him by creating a character based upon him, she would never speak to me again.

I’ve experienced similar reactions to my fictional characters. “How could I do such a thing, especially to the most sympathetic character in the book?!!!” (Actually, it was rather easy.)

I, Novelist, see “my” character as a character. The Reader sees him as a real person. It’s a compliment, but somehow I do not feel flattered by the palpable hostility given me over a “person” who, in my mind, really does not exist.

And yet, a fictional character can, and does exist, sometimes with more reality than does a real person. A personage in fiction can provide enough constancy and reliability of character, that he becomes a steady-Eddy amidst the storms of life. Such are the tempests and twisters of the times in which we live; but I’ve a strong sense that the stark distance between the Real Person and Her Made-Up Personality has always trotted within humanity.

Image can be an illusion taken for truth; reality can be so unbelievable as to seem far-fetched. A deceptive myth can outweigh even the most sincere and truthful story. History can thus become filled with tales of those distortions of the actual deed, which is why present-day propaganda scribblers are so frantically busy — writing current history, sometimes even before it happens!

As for what has happened, feelings and sentiments are often more potent than facts and details of evidence.

One co-worker of mine from the long ago was the daughter of an Englishwoman, a Tory whose family fled to Canada during the American Revolutionary War. She maintained a detectable sense of embarrassment, intermixed with some guilt, regarding the flight of her forebears to Canada during that war. I assured her that I, the native Northeasterner, held no grudge against people who had been loyal to the Crown.

She tried to explain that England, being such a class society, made it difficult for anyone to go beyond her ingrained beliefs. “Since America is not a class-based society” —

I stopped her right there, and I explained that America very much has classes, particularly in the East. (At that time, I was just beginning to discern that California has no class, or taste.)

“There’s old money, new money, and no money. I was no money. Still am!”

My, how things have changed — evolved — in the Northeast. It now appears that there is no money there either! California remains classless, despite the image being spun, 24/7, that this state is the ever-rising height of elegance and intellectual achievement.

Yesterday, I wanted to visit, online, of course, a true height of elegance and intellectual achievement: the Gardens at Tuileries. In THE DAWN, Camille and Guillaume have planned a future rendezvous, after the war, at that place. From an extreme social distance of thousands of miles, I wanted to stroll through the jardins of André de Nôtre. The Tuileries are such a breath of fresh air in the heart of Paris, even amidst the COVID-induced lockdown.

The original Palace, bien entendu, is no more. Built in 1564, the Palace of the Tuileries, the official residence of kings, and the house of the French National Assembly, got torched to cinders in August 1792. That monstrous deed thereby put an end to the Bourbon monarchy, though not an end to the yearning of the French for a monarch, most notably whenever a dud of a national leader has been elected.

I didn’t get to those magnificent gardens yesterday. I wrote several essays and re-organized the locations of a few on this website. Dear Husband did journey to the garden-supply store where he purchased half a dozen bags of soil (not dirt, because soil is amended organic earthy matter). Today, I can participate in the terra ferma anointing of the potager, the kitchen garden.

I’d also planned during yesterday afternoon to start Chapter 14 of Almost a Miracle, by John Ferling. From the previous chapter, I’d learned from this written history some very contemporary realities:

Not unlike the late 20th-century U.S., the victorious super-power at the end of the Cold War, the Americans of the War of Independence were on course to win this war, but by late 1778, the Continental Congress had not even begun to contemplate the creation of the final peace treaty. Such a treaty formally states the sets of demands that traditionally conclude the end of a war, as well as the beginning of often lengthy legal wrangles between the former combatants.

The new kids on the battlefield-block did not even think ahead to the peace ultimata. The fisheries were at stake in those waters off the coast of Canada and New England. The present and chronically undecided fate of the herring fisheries in Scotland has a very long precedent, starting in 1778 in New England.

I’ve been most eager to progress to the upcoming chapter on the traitorous Benedict Arnold, an egotistical Continental Army commander with itchy and enormous ambitions. George Washington had kept an eye on him, but evidently not closely enough. Yesterday, I never even got to crack open the cover of this book. I wrote for about four hours. I then got caught up with the mail deliveries: my wool batting (and a few yards of sale fabric) arrived, as well as the new Fiskars scissors from the friendly Finns at Finnstyle in Michigan.

I did, however, view last night a very comical and well-scripted episode of Murder, She Wrote, “Benedict Arnold Slipped Here” (Season 4, Episode 18). The key to solving that mystery is to Pause and Reflect, not Reflect and Pause.

Today, I intend to do those things I did not get to do yesterday, or the day before, or last year . . . or even decades ago. Sometimes, the list-of-things-to-do is a free flow of energy that comes to you.

I say, “Go with it.”

You never know where that spontaneous flow of life-force will take you. It’s always an adventure, rolling with that current of creativity. “How I work” shows me how to navigate those waters of imagination, how to till that soil of splendour, and how to enjoy a birthday week as if it’s timeless!

I’m only an hour behind on this day’s schedule, if one must keep an itinerary of such matters. Polishing the prose and finding photos for this essay shall require a bit more time, the X factor that gets squeezed into chronology of work. Time flies even faster that way, sometimes too fast, if you allow the ticking of the clock to keep track of your time and your output. I prefer to ignore the cuckoo of the clock, and listen to my inner metronome. Living by the sun and the moon and the stars affords more pleasure to the moment, to any moment.

For my birth-day, I found online a timeless present to give to myself, I purchased a very vintage Delft vase from the Netherlands. Being good to yourself is part of being timeless too. And today, at two, after pruning some azaleas, I started that new chapter, with a glorious cuppa Yorkshire Gold and a biscotti — a cookie that refuses to crumble.

Tomorrow, the Count, le Comte de Monte Cristo, and Chapitre LXV, await my devoted attention. His gardening and the interior decorating of his house are inspirational, but not nearly as compelling as the words that Alexandre Dumas gave to this immortal character:

Wait and hope. Attendez et espérez.