DREAMING ABOUT CHICKENS – Marilyn Armstrong

Last night I dreamed about chickens.

It looked a lot like it does around here. A bit hilly. Lots of trees. There was a movie star living in the house. She was supposed to be young, but her skin looked like the bottom of an old leather suitcase and was a trifle orange. She was going back to California where she believed she would be better off.

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That left me with 200 chickens. The fowl were arriving (shortly) by truck. Healthy, young, hens and roosters. Enough to start a nice little chicken farm.

Except I didn’t want to be a chicken farmer and I was pretty sure, neither did Garry. I couldn’t just leave the chickens to die of hunger, thirst, and cold. I’m a responsible person and I love animals. Even chickens.

Chickens don’t get lost

I was still baffled over the whole chicken conundrum when I finally gave up, opened my eyes, and began my day. Coffee would banish chickens. Garry said it was from a movie we’d seen and I was caught in an old movie loop.

Sometimes, the absolutely best storyteller in the world has got to be my subconscious. I would never consider creating a story involving me and chickens.

Author Gordon Winter, Garry and chickens
Author Gordon Winter, Garry, and chickens

Not counting authors since this prompt doesn’t concern that … who tells great stories?

Garry tells wonderful stories. He makes us laugh. I don’t know if the story is true or maybe just a little true, but whatever, it is great entertainment. Tom tells great stories too and he usually has a good closing line, which is probably my biggest story-telling issue. I can tell a good story but I run on too long and am not good at wrapping it up. I’m good for the yarn’s first three-quarters.

Story-telling is the glue that makes friends want to hang out with each other. If you can keep the crowd laughing, you’ll never be alone.

It’s not booze, movies, or video games. Certainly not texting. It’s stories. The tales of our experiences, things we remember, times and places and people we’ve known.

Photo: Ben Taylor

I keep wondering what people will do when they realize you can’t live forever with just a cell phone? They don’t seem to have a clue about having conversations or telling stories. From whence will their stories emerge?

Our stories are our personal mythology. Will our children and grandchildren have stories? Or anyone to tell them?

It worries me. It really does.

DREAMING OF LOTTERY WINS – Marilyn Armstrong

RDP #3 – IMAGINATION

I’m imagining my life if I really won the lottery. Would I fix this house, or knock it down and build a new one? What kind of car would we get?

I’m imagining spending the worst months of winter in a warmer climate … like … Arizona maybe? I’m imagining getting my teeth properly fixed and Garry getting whatever is on his wish list. Being able to afford to get the dogs groomed — which would require that they find the time to take them. I don’t think more money would help with that!

What does Duke dream about?

I’m not imagining how this would change my body because — other than my teeth — it won’t. We are what we are. With all the money in the world, we aren’t going to be doing vast amounts of traveling, although I suppose flying first class might beat out Economy. Okay so maybe a little better.

The ultimate non-repairable problem is you can’t buy youth or health. These matters are in the hands of larger powers than the lottery.

This is my favorite form of dreaming — the one where we get all the money we need and imagining how we can use it. Who we can help. How many others we can help dig out of the holes getting older has pushed them into.

Then I realize we have a problem.

We never buy lottery tickets. We intend to buy them, but we forget.  No danger of winning. Or losing.

No tickets, no bushels of bucks. Next time?

IMAGINATION, REALITY, AND GETTING YOUR PERSONAL ROCKET OFF THE LAUNCH PAD

Just Imagine


I’m sometimes slightly hazy about the rough parts of what happened in my life. It isn’t that I have no grip on reality. More that time has a way of softening the edges of hardest truths and making them less edgy.

I seem to have imagined away a lot of the worst stuff. These days, it’s more dreamy. Less like the haunted awfulness of youth. Some of the really bad stuff I worked through. Writing my book was unquestionably one of the major ways I worked through it. It seems I’m better at settling my emotional hash writing about it than talking about it.

Even the people I once hated … I don’t hate them anymore. I don’t like them, either, but they are just people now. I have a distaste for them and I certainly am not going to have a party and invite them round for cookies and tea … but the edge of rage and obsession is gone.

That’s imagination. The ability to see myself as having come from a bad place to a better place. A kind of Christian forgiving, where I recognize it isn’t my job to fix the ugliness of my world. What remains is for some higher power to take on — and good luck to him, her, or them.


Imagination made it possible for me to survive growing up, to try unknown things without dwelling on what might happen if I got it wrong. To believe that things that looked bad might not stay that way and the worst might get better if I stuck around.


Imagination is not merely making up stories. Imagination is the fuel of hope. It’s the big engine under your personal rocket lifting into the sky.

WAITING FOR A GOOD BOOK

To_Kill_a_MockingbirdRecently, I listened to To Kill a Mockingbird. It was re-released in a year ago by Audible.com, with a new narration by Cissy Spacek. After I settled into it, I remembered why I love it. It’s a rare story in which all the pieces fit. Some call it the perfect book. It may be.

It never hits a false note. Takes its time, tells the story at a leisurely pace. It talks about justice, injustice, racism, and the legal system. It’s about family, love, relationships and coming of age. Discovering the world is both better and worse than you imagined.

My granddaughter was assigned to read To Kill a Mockingbird for school and found it boring. I don’t agree, but I understand her problem. She lives in a world so changed from the one in which “Mockingbird” takes place, she can’t relate to it.

Harper Lee wrote about a world without cell phones or email. People walked more than they drove. Food grew in gardens. The world was segregated, separated by class, religion, and ethnicity. My granddaughter can’t even imagine such a world. In her world, the President is Black and her white grandma is married to a brown man.

Everything is instant. You don’t go to a library to do research. You Google it. There’s no time for slow-moving books that depict a less frantic world.

It’s no wonder the fastest growing segments of fiction are fantasy, mysteries, thrillers, and so on. These books are fun. Exciting. So much of “literary fiction” is dreary. Authors seem to have forgotten that literature is also supposed to be entertaining.

I need stories that are more than a dark mirror of reality. That’s not enough. I want a good plot. I need action, stuff to happen. I don’t want to just hear what characters are thinking. I want to see them moving through their lives. I need characters who develop, grow, are changed by events. And, I need heroes. Un-ambivalent good guys for whom I can root. I welcome enlightenment and education, but I require entertainment. Lately it seems the reality-based books I’ve read have forgotten how to entertain. The people they portray are sad, depressed, trapped, miserable. Living lives so hopeless they lack even the energy of desperation.

Are our lives truly so pathetic? So grey and drab? I don’t believe so. I think it’s easier — and fashionable in current literary circles — to write that way. Easier to capture a single note than a whole range of feelings. There are plenty of sad and hopeless characters, but there are also plenty of glad and joyous ones. Winners, not just losers. Heroes and success stories.

I don’t understand current criteria for publication. I don’t get it. A high percentage of the new books I read (I read a lot of just-published books for review) are dull. Many are also poorly written. I find myself wondering why this book, whatever it is, was chosen. To me, I has no merit. I don’t even review these books. I don’t like trashing books and authors, so if it’s that bad, I just skip it.

Boring to me, is the worst sin in literature. I don’t believe Faulkner, Wolfe, Hemingway … or for that matter, Harper Lee — would be published today. I doubt they’d get a reading.

I miss books based in reality. I bet there are great manuscripts waiting, their authors yearning to be published. I hope they get to it soon. Because kids like my granddaughter need to discover how much fun books about real people can be.

COLLATERAL DAMAGE

I didn’t grow up poor, but when I was young, my father’s business was new. Money was tight. It got looser with the years, but by the time he started making serious money, I was gone from the family nest.

stick and ball

As a child, toys were few and far between. I always got one really nice doll every year. Usually for my birthday in March. My mother had exceptional taste in dolls and I have carried on the tradition and passed the taste for (now) antique dolls to my granddaughter.

Other toys, though … we didn’t have much. No one did. Everyone had a bicycle, even the poorest kids. Whether we got them brand new or third-hand, all of them were equally beat up. A shiny bike was a bike nobody rode.

Someone had a badminton set. Someone else had an old swing set. One of the girls had an inflatable pool. Monopoly was ubiquitous. We all had a set and we played it relentlessly for hours on Mary’s front porch on hot summer days.

We had decks of cards and learned to play bridge and poker. Someone could usually scrounge a length of rope for jumping. We built “forts” out of old crates. Otherwise, it was tag, stoop ball, stickball, hide n’ seek. Anything you could do without mom and dad supplying the tools. Because they didn’t. Wouldn’t. We were expected to make our own entertainment.

Creativity was our main weapon against boredom. We weren’t allowed to sit inside when the sun was shining. I wasn’t allowed to watch television at all. Sometimes I got a temporary pass to stay in if I was immersed in a book, but eventually, mom took the book away and told me to go out and get some exercise.

monopoly

Fresh air and exercise were deemed more important than another book. If given my druthers, I would have spent all my time reading — which was considered unhealthy, so out I went.

The other day in Walmart I saw a boxed “stickball” set. It included a special stick, and a couple of hard rubber balls. And of course, logos. You gotta have the logos, right?

A stickball set? I don’t know why I was shocked, but I was. To me, it signaled the death of youthful invention and imagination. No one would again sneak into the kitchen to try to steal mom’s broomstick. Or resurrect a nearly dead rubber ball for “just one more game.”

Why bother when you can ask your folks to buy a set at Walmart or order it from Amazon? Which doesn’t seem (to me, anyhow) to leave a lot of room for fond childhood memories. I’m glad I’m not growing up now.

The freedom of childhood has been collateral damage in the advance of technology. I don’t think I’d like being a kid now.

VISITING MOCKINGBIRD’S WORLD WHILE WAITING FOR A FEW GREAT BOOKS

Recently, we watched To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) on Blu-ray. I bought it months ago and planned to watch it, but hadn’t gotten to it. After we settled in, we remembered why we love it.

It’s a great movie, a wonderful story. Brilliant acting. Gregory Peck in the defining role he chose for himself. In many way, he was Atticus Finch.

A rare movie in which all pieces fit. It never hits a false note. It takes its time. It’s about justice and injustice, racism, the legal system. It’s also about family and love, relationships, coming of age and learning the world is a bigger, better and worse place than you imagined.

Front CoverCoincidentally, my granddaughter was assigned to read the book. She thinks it’s boring, and though I don’t agree with her, I understand her world is far removed from the world of Mockingbird … so far she can’t relate to it. She’s coming into adulthood in a world where the President is Black, where her white grandma is married to a brown man and no one finds anything odd about this.

She’s part of the generation in which everything has been instant. You don’t have to read books to do research. You just Google it. There’s no time for books that move slowly in an unhurried world. Harper Lee wrote about a world without cell phones or email. People walked more often than they drove. Food grew in gardens.

The world was segregated and separated by class, religion, ethnicity. Compared to the world in Mockingbird, our sleepy little town is a metropolitan hub. Kaity cannot relate to that other world and has no patience for it. I understand why she feels the way she does, but I wish it were different.

I’ve read dozens or books during the past year, probably three-quarters of them for review … and the majority were awful.

These books would be considered “serious literature.” Serious seems to have become synonymous with boring, which is totally wrong.These books don’t seem to contain special meaning or lessons. Nothing happens except everyone is unhappy and as the books go on, they become unhappier.

Most are written well, if by “well” you mean good grammar and properly constructed sentences. They offer slices of lives we are glad we don’t live. Missing are plots, action, or any reason I — or you — would want to read them. The authors appear to be trying to do what Harper Lee did … recreate a world, a time, a place. But Harper Lee also had a story to tell. Things happened, events occurred. There were bad people, but good people, too. The story includes ugliness, but also characters worthy of admiration. Atticus Finch is a great man, a fighter for truth and justice. The world is a better place because he is in it.to-kill-a-mockingbird2_9855

The new authors don’t get it. They have forgotten a book is more than description. It needs to tell a story, to involve readers, to draw them in. If my granddaughter is finding To Kill A Mockingbird dull, it’s hard to imagine her enjoying any of these new books. They may describe a world she recognizes, but they are unlikely to lure her into wanting to partake of them.

It’s no wonder that the fastest growing segments of fiction are fantasy, mysteries, thrillers and so on. We have lost touch with the entertainment function of serious literature. If a book makes us think, teaches us, provides moral guidance, delves into serious issues, it should also make us laugh and cry, take us out of our ordinary lives. The magic of any good book is that it lets us become part of other lives and see the world through their eyes.

Call me old-fashioned, but I have my standards. I don’t read books that don’t meet them.

First and foremost, I want a story. I want a plot and I want something to happen. I don’t want to just hear what people are thinking. I want them to also do something. I want to meet characters who develop and grow. I can cope with bad guys, but I need heroes too. I am glad to learn, I’m glad to be enlightened, but I want to be absorbed and entertained. Otherwise, it isn’t a novel: it’s a textbook or maybe a sermon.

I bet there are great authors out there writing terrific books who can’t get them published. For anyone who has tried to get a book published, you know what a battle it is. Manuscripts are submitted electronically and screened  by software looking for keywords. If you can’t write a proposal containing the right buzzwords, your manuscript will never be read by a human being. Using software to judge literature is probably why so many of these books are so dreadful. Human beings should judge literature, not computers. Computers don’t read. People read. More people should read than do.

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Faulkner, Wolfe, Hemingway … or for that matter, Harper Lee … none of them would get their books read much less published today. Unless we want all our literature to consist of science fiction, fantasy, thrillers, and mysteries — if we want any other kind of literature worth reading — it’s time to take a few chances and publish books that people will enjoy. I love science fiction and fantasy, but I grew up reading all kinds of books.

I miss books that take place on this planet, in this world, in my lifetime and don’t necessarily involve magic, time travel, cops, serial killers, courts, vampires, or terrorists. Surely there are stories about our world worth publishing.

Publish more interesting books and I bet there will be more interested readers.

Meraki Figures — With love, imagination, and good cheer

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Friends, made with love. And straw. Plus some old clothing.

From the first time I ever saw autumnal or harvest figures in New England, I was fascinated with them. They are a distinctly New England “thing.” They don’t seem to have any history or mythology. They simply sprang up and began appearing. People just create them out of whatever they happen to have on hand. They sit them on benches, hang them in trees, tuck them on porch swings and on rooftops.

I wanted to make my own and this year, I did.

I bought a bale of hay and I went to the church yard sale and bought some old clothing. I found some of my own unused clothing and brought that out. I took a couple of pillow cases to use for heads.

On a sunny October afternoon, my granddaughter, her best friend, me and whoever felt like wandering into the yard and helping built our two friends.  My granddaughter drew the face on one, her friend drew the other. We all stuffed. I found a couple of brooms. We plopped them on a bench and tucked them in amongst the forsythia.

They seemed tired, as if they has just brought in the whole harvest on their own.

They were made with love, hemp cord, old clothing, straw … and a good dollop of imagination and good cheer. Made with love. Enjoyed for a whole season and through one winter and into the spring. Is this Meraki?

I do most things with love. I write with love, I take pictures with love. I care for my family, my friends and all of it is love because there is no other reason to do it.

But these were not ONLY love. They were also fun. That’s a special kind of love … love with a light heart.

For anyone who wants to make their own figures, warning: you need a lot more straw than you think. Get two bales of hay, not one!