Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Portmanteau Partying

            So last week I got the urge to clean out my pantry, something I do every ten years whether it needs it or not. In the process of that joyful chore, I discovered a huge stash of paper plates, napkins, and plastic flatware that was taking up valuable space.  Throwing them out seemed wasteful, but giving them away? Who wants secondhand paper goods?
Mismatched napkins?
What's a party-planner to do?
            I was standing on my kitchen step-stool and sorting through the collection of twisty-ties I'd been saving, when it came to me I’d be hosting book club in a few days. I decided to break with our tradition of using bona fide dinner settings and flatware and use the seasonal paper plates and napkins I already had. I’d announced an “Oktoberfest” menu, so the orange paper plates and Halloween napkins would be perfect.
            I rifled through my stash to discover I had nine Halloween napkins—not enough. I rooted some more and discovered eight Thanksgiving ones. Again, not enough for the number of guests who were coming. I could buy more of one or the other, but then I’d have a bunch left over to add to my already over-stocked supply.
            At our recent Inklings outing, the subject of portmanteaus came up. (Yes, my writing group has riveting conversations like that.)  Not the suitcase portmanteaus, but the word ones—those words that piggy-back on each other to form spot-on descriptions of items or situations. For example, Apruary—for when the calendar says it’s April but the weather feels like February. Or chairdrobe—that chair in your bedroom with stacks of clothes piled on it. And check here to find out what glamping is.

            Problem solved. I’d have a portmanteau theme. I dug farther into my pantry and unearthed all sorts of Halloween and Thanksgiving gimcrack and put them to use. My book club friends brought WONDERFUL Oktoberfest food, and we had a great time celebrating Happy Hallowgiving!   

My versatile turkey is perfect for a portmanteau party. In the
years I've had him, he's been a Pilgrim, a surfer, an Easter Bunny,
a bride, and Santa Claus! For Halloween, he's a witch!
Another discovery in my pantry--
a mismatched set of jars which became...

Frosty containers for infused water!

PS If you happen to find some Christmas napkins in the mix of your paper goods, Merry Thanksgivoween has a nice ring to it!
Have a favorite portmanteau word or party to suggest? 

Monday, October 21, 2013

Brain Drain

            I’m upset. For years I’ve relied on perfectly good scientific evidence to explain my difficulty with math, to excuse my inability to strategize successful chess moves, to support my claim I’m a “word” and not a “numbers” person. Now it appears that the evidence I’ve relied on is neither good nor scientific. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal  (Kosslyn and Miller 10/19-20/13) reveals that the old left-brain/right-brain theory is bogus—nothing more than psycho-babble.
            How can this be? The theory makes so much sense. I mean, all you have to do to prove its veracity is point to the geek who can build a computer out of tin foil and old television antennas but doesn’t know he shouldn't wear black socks with sandals. And how about the artist who can create a museum-worthy masterpiece but can’t navigate his way through the grocery store aisles?
            And if this evidence right before our eyes every single day isn’t enough, there is the academic community paying homage to the left/right-brain claim. As a former teacher, I’ve lost track of the 
Remember the 1990s movie Soap Dish?
Well, all these brain theories are giving
me "brain fever."
number of workshops I attended that divided students into the “intuitive” and the “logical” and offered tactics to bridge those brain gaps. Surely, experts entrusted with the education of our young can’t be wrong!!!
            So if the whole left/right-brain paradigm is unsupported, how has it gained such a stronghold? The WSJ article gave a lot of facts, statistics, and logical explanations about how that happened, but I couldn’t understand them. So I’m going to skip to the part that tells how our brains really work and give my intuitive interpretation.
            If at this point you are reluctant to embrace yet another brain theory, let me put your mind at ease. The top/bottom-brain approach—known as “the theory of cognitive modes”—is built on “decades of unimpeachable research.” Although that research was conducted over fifty years ago, we’re just now hearing about it because it has “largely remained inside scientific circles.” In other words, they kept it a secret until now. Why? The article didn’t say. You’ll have to ask those inside the circles.
            What I understand, though, is that our gray matter is indeed divided—but between top and bottom rather than right and left. Everyone has the same amount of useable brain available to him, but his “mode” depends on whether or not he optimizes both halves of it. I interpret this as if you’re not wildly successful, it’s because you’re a slacker who isn’t using your entire brain to its optimal benefit. The article claims that no one mode is better than another, but come on. I might not be inside any scientific circles, but even I can decipher that a “Mover”—whose top- and bottom-brain systems are both “highly utilized in optional ways”—has it all over the “Adapter”—who basically coasts along using as little brain matter as possible. The remaining modes of “Perceiver” and “Stimulator,” you might have guessed, use their top and bottom brains to varying degrees between the other two modes.
            If you don’t perceive yourself as a Mover, don’t feel bad. The article states that “Each [mode] is useful in different circumstances.” You might be a slacker Adapter, but you can still be “useful.” You can do things like run errands or answer the phone for the high-powered Mover. There. I knew that would make you feel better. At least until the next theory comes along.                 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Lacking Time and Inspiration for Writing?

             Over two weeks had passed since my last post, and I didn’t have the time or the inclination to post another. I was feeling guilty because, although I’d never committed to a blog-a-week contract, that had been my unofficial game plan. Two particular barriers stood in the way of my productivity: 1) I had nothing to say, and 2) I was getting ready to go out of town and had a million things to do.
            Call it fate, serendipity, a fortunate coincidence. On my trip I acquired a great little book entitled Letters to Alice on first reading Jane Austen. (See post below.) Fay Weldon wrote it in 1983, but her timeless advice helped me gain perspective thirty years later. Not far into the book, Weldon addresses two categories of tormentors that plague writers:  those who stand behind writers and those who stand in front.
            Foremost among those who stand behind is the Muse. The Muse needs no introduction to anyone who has ever dared to dabble in the creative arts. She is as demanding as she is elusive. She dogs writers, prodding them to go forward. “Go, go, go!” she shouts, as relentless as an NFL coach in her insistence they perform. When at last they give in to her goading, she rewards them by bestowing and withdrawing inspiration with sadistic pleasure.
Which necessity impedes your
writing progress?
            On rare occasions the Muse behaves herself. She gives writers a really great plot, an intriguing character, a cutting-edge insight, only to have them attacked by tormentors from the front. Among those tormentors is the one I’ll call Necessity. Necessity steps in front of writers, raises her hand traffic-cop style, and shouts, “Stop!” She insists writers cease or at least interrupt their craft in order to meet the demands of daily living. To impede their progress, she throws in their paths such tasks as doing laundry, transporting kids, paying bills. In her own way, Necessity is as devious as the Muse, imposing stiff fines of guilt on those who fail in these endeavors. 
            So what solution does Weldon offer for overcoming these tormentors? None, I’m afraid. But what she does give, as I stated above, is perspective. The perspective to realize there will never be the perfect situation for sitting down to write. There will always be struggles for great ideas, for the best ways to state them, for enough uninterrupted time to write them down, for strategies to deal with naysayers. And the good news is that—in an almost paradoxical way—it is through struggles and through everyday living, the Muse visits. Or as Weldon so eloquently puts it: “ is the battle the writer wages with the real world which provides the energy for invention.”

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Grousing Gratification Delayed

            Those of you who follow my blog regularly—yes, both of you—might have noticed I’ve missed a week or two in posting something new. That’s because I’ve been in the Great Northwest—the damp and rainy Great Northwest—visiting family. Whenever I travel to Springfield, OR, one of my favorite activities is visiting my niece Amanda Bird’s Book Nest, which features “Fine Books, Good Reading.” Amy (family's name for her) has a wonderful selection of quality secondhand books and collectible volumes, and I always find way more books there than I can possibly afford to buy or find time to read.
            On this trip, I narrowed my choices to two books, one of which was Maeve Binchy’s Minding Frankie. I agree with Kirkus Review’s assessment that Minding Frankie is “cheerful, read-by-the-fire comfort.” There is also plenty of laughing out loud. And I’m as much a fan of Binchy’s style as I am her content. The author is a genius at revealing characters through their actions. Talk about “show and don’t tell,” Binchy has the art mastered. In the past, several of my friends have suggested  I read Binchy, but you know how it goes—so many good books, so little time. I never quite made it around to giving her a try. But the upside of rain and damp on a vacation is that it provides a lot of downtime--time to read. Now I’m hooked on Binchy and will be reading more of her work.
            The second book I chose was Letters to Alice on first reading Jane Austen, written by Fay Weldon and published in 1983. While based on a fictional premise—Weldon isn’t really writing to her niece and, in fact, doesn’t even have a niece named Alice—this book is mainly non-fiction. In a collection of essays, Weldon shares her thoughts on writing and on reading literature—many works of great literature, not just Jane Austen’s. In a review in The London Times, Fiona McCarthy wrote, “...the belief that books can actually change us, have the power to improve us, animate this work...” If you are a Jane Austen devotee, an aspiring writer, or a bibliophile in general, I know you will enjoy her witty and insightful comments. Like Binchy, she also provides many laugh-out-loud moments. And you’re in luck. It can be ordered on Amazon!
             I sat down to write this post, fully intending to grouse about how a blog is not a taskmaster, how I’m not going to be a slave to it, how I do have a short, making excuses about why I haven’t blogged. But I enjoyed these books so much, I just had to share. Don't despair. The grousing will come later.
             If you’ve read either of these authors, I’d love to read your input about them...kind of an on-line book club meeting!