On Writing Well and Why I Blog

I recently finished On Writing Well by William Zinsser.  I enjoyed it because it reminded me why I blog.  Some people craft, not because the world needs another afghan or cross-stitch sampler, but because it’s rewarding to make something yourself and do it well.  I’m not much for making things with my hands, but I like to turn a phrase.  And doing so well is a challenge–a fun challenge.  Too many things in life are challenging but not fun, or fun but not challenging.  Writing well is both.

The book is full of writing wisdom, a lot of which I’ve heard before in legal writing class–be brief, use short words and sentences, choose strong verbs and nouns over adjectives and adverbs, don’t lose your reader’s attention.  Write about what interests you.  (Okay, that last part wasn’t in legal writing class.)  A challenge is doing this while developing a distinctive voice.  (I should add that Zinsser takes what could be a dry manual and makes it a book that is fun to read on its own.   The chapters on sports writing and science reporting, however, I skipped.)

Blogging is a low-risk, relatively high-reward way to practice writing well.  For me, it’s fun to look at a paragraph and think, “How many sentences could I chop here?” or to look at a phrase and think, “how could I replace all these words with a single word?”  Until it gets to be midnight, then I stop and hit publish.  And 99.999% of the population will never read it; the rest (Hi Mom!) don’t care that it’s not perfect.

Zinsser, in a book written before blogging existed, is harsh on blogging.  He says to stay warm and personal while avoiding chattiness and clichés.  I wonder how the chattiness prohibition applies to blogging  Grace‘s blog, for example, epitomizes chattiness, but she’s a great writer in her own distinctive way.  Meanwhile, a lot of blogs or articles that use the same style fall flat.  I think the distinction is that Grace writes exactly the way she talks (so I’ve been told on good authority), whereas others (myself included!) sometimes try too hard.

So, lots of food for thought here.  At another stage of my life, I might have gotten discouraged by this book.  At this stage, I find it a fun challenge.

(I’m linking up with Jessica for her monthly What We’re Reading link-up.  I’m a week late but here I am!)

Faith and Myers Briggs

I got sick of hearing about the Four Temperaments.  For a while there it seemed like everyone I knew was talking about it.  I didn’t like the way it seemed to lead to navel-gazing, and to fitting everyone in the world into one of four little boxes.

My view has softened a bit, especially since hearing Art and Laraine Bennett give a talk on their books, The Temperament God Gave Your Kids.

All the same, I’m more interested in what I’ve learned about the Myers-Briggs type indicator.  It allows for more nuance.  And since reading up on it, I’ve come to an amazing discovery:

Not everyone thinks like I do.

This helps me appreciate my husband more.  It helps me nurture my children.  It helps me to stop judging other people.  (Especially those with “P” at the end of their MBTI type.  As a “J” I tend to have little patience with “P’s.”)

But more and more MBTI helps me in my faith.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and just recently I found a passage in Magnificat that explains it all:

Our natural, spontaneous way of acting (and with religious people it can pass unnoticed when it seems harmless and neutral) is to live by what our feelings tell us is the truth of things . . . how we experience and perceive ourselves, others, events, and, of course, God.  We tend to judge ourselves (do we not?)–our prayer, our spiritual life, our progress–on how it seems to us, and we just assume this is the reality . . . .

Christianity stands on objective truth, not on subjective perception, intuition, reasoning or whatever, whether collective or individual.  . . . We Christians must look to Jesus, and to Jesus alone, for our vision of God, ourselves, others and the world around us. . . . And how different this is from the notions of God that the human mind and heart produce of themselves.

— Sister Ruth Burrows, O.C.D. (excerpted from her book, Hidden Spring)

Reading about my type (I think it’s ISFJ), makes me realize my “subjective perception, intuition, reasoning.”  I tend to cling to tradition, to shoulder responsibilities instinctively, to crave approval for doing the right thing.

This insight into my own subconscious has made me step back.  When I’m making a decision or even just forming an opinion or starting to get emotional: am I really basing this on reality, or my own distorted view of reality?

Of course, we all see reality through our own personality.  That’s unavoidable.  But it’s helpful to step back.

Am I clinging to habits and ways of thinking just because they feel right to me, because it’s my default?  Or am I going to Jesus first and going from there?

It’s really helpful.

And since I read this in Magnificat, I’m linking up with Jessica for What We’re Reading Wednesday.

What I’m Reading, Twitterature Style

Oh the pain–the pain!!–of being a grammar snob and then realizing you titled a past post, “Book reports in 140 characters or less.”  Fewer, Laura, fewer.  “140 characters or fewer.”  **So embarrassed**

Soldiering on, here are a few more very brief thoughts–with letter grades–on books I’ve read in the past few months.

Fiction:

  • Peace Like a River by Leif Enger
    • Outlaws, a mystic, wild West, workings of Grace, power of a (The?) Father’s Love.  Not my usual type but WOW.  Starts slow finishes strong.   A+
  • The Story of a Soul, Therese of Lisieux
    • Is St. Therese INFP?  I have trouble relating.  Still glad I reread it after many yrs.  Better not grade a Dr of the Church?
  • Cherries and Cherry Pits, by Vera Williams
    • Luscious illustrations and a sweet story.  I remember this from my childhood and now enjoy reading it with my kids.  A
  • The Old Man and The Sea by Ernest Hemingway
    • O Ernest how I admire your prose.  O Ernest how this story bores me.  2 dull, didn’t finish.

Linking up with Anne at Modern Mrs. Darcy for Twitterature  (on Monday) and (next week) with Jessica at Housewifespice for What We’re Reading Wednesday.  Happy reading!

 

Scent of a Woman

Anne- Laure was immaculate.  She wore underwear so delicate it could only be hand-washed and she had perfect nails and lustrous, onyx hair that she’d never tried to highlight, a trend that she considers vulgar and base. . . .

When she came to bed, she did so smelling of rosemary with her dark hair in a high bun, hair I had been besotted with back in grad school, but now no longer touched. . . . .

Anne had on her “special night” perfume, a heady mix of bergamot and neroli, along with a silk rose blouse and wide-legged, wool pants with heels.

— Courtney Maum, I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You

 

Pelagia always smelled of rosemary.  It was a young, fresh scent, and it reminded him of festive meals at home. . . . In the darkness he held her face in his hands.  It still smelled of rosemary, and he inhaled the scent so deeply it hurt his mending ribs.  

–Louis de Bernieres, Corelli’s Mandolin

I’ll never be remotely French.  I’m quite attached, to my machine-washable, cotton, Hanes 6-packs.  Also I’ve started highlighting my hair.  Around age 30 I became less concerned about looking like I’m trying too hard and more concerned about looking like I’m not trying at all.

But I would like to smell nice.

My first real perfume was Estee Lauder’s “Beautiful.”  It was a wedding gift from my godmother.  (The advertising campaign works well, apparently.)  It’s a lovely scent, especially after an hour or so, but the “top notes” that hit my nose upon the first spray are not my favorite.  I think they are “green” or “floral” scents, but they smell harsh and chemical-y to me.

I moved on to Estee Lauder’s “Pleasures,” and I’m almost through my second bottle.  It’s warmer but still, I’ve decided, more cool and floral than I’d like.

What to try next?

I’ve fallen in love with bergamot, since using a body butter scented with bergamot oil.  Also I love the smell of cardamom.  I keep a bottle of cardamom pods in my spice cabinet.  Handed down to me when my sister moved, they’re long past the “use by” date, but I stick my nose in the bottle for instant aromatherapy.

And smelling like rosemary is a heavenly idea, isn’t it?

I don’t really know where to begin, especially as I have limited options in my town.  Pinrose has a fun program that suggests scents to you based on your style, color, and music preferences.  It is limited to its own line of a dozen or so scents, though.

Based on an internet search, I think I might like a scent called  A Bientot by Jacques Zolty (bergamot, cardamom, and rosemary!), but I’m hesitant (to put it lightly) to spend three figures on a bottle without sampling it first.

I’ve heard Sephora has an in-store perfume recommendation machine, but I haven’t had the chance to try one.  The nearest Sephora is a ways away from me.

What about you?  Do you wear perfume?  If you do, what do you wear?

As for the books: I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You is a cautionary tale of sorts, a story about a man who cheats on his wife then tries to win her back.  It shows the troubles that come when self-absorbed people attempt marriage.  You can read more about it here.  It has some extremely explicit sexual content, so be forewarned.

You can read my quick review of Corelli’s Mandolin here.  I recommend it wholeheartedly.

Linking up with Jessica of Housewifespice for What We’re Reading Wednesday.

*Scent of a Woman is a movie I’ve never seen.  The title comes from a blind character’s supposed ability to decipher a women’s personality, simply by her scent.  What would my scent say about me, I wonder?

 

What I’m Reading: Book reports in 140 characters or less

Here are my very brief thoughts–with letter grades–on books I’ve read in the past few months.

Fiction:

  • The Expats by Chris Pavone
    • A sort-of spy novel. Page-turner. Takes place in Luxembourg. Narrative jumps around from before, during, and after. Clumsy ending. B-

Non-Fiction:

For Kids:

Linking up with Anne at Modern Mrs. Darcy for Twitterature (once it’s up) and with Jessica at Housewifespice for What We’re Reading Wednesday.  Happy reading!

And–how annoying is this?–I’m going to name my five favorites of these books and link up with Heather for Five Favorites:

1. Please Look After Mom

2. Grace for the Good Girl

3. Girls On the Edge

4. Seven Silly Eaters

5. Promises I Can Keep

Boundary #1: Don’t P*ss Off Mommy

“Mommy, will you smile at me?”

So asks my eldest, after she’s been particularly rotten all afternoon.  It’s not the first time she’s asked me this.  Usually, I try to wipe the scowl off my brow and give the most convincing grin I can muster.  I continue to be firm, but do so gently, smilingly.

IMG_6209

Lately I’m not so sure it’s worth my effort.

I’ve been reading (slowly) the book Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend.  They discuss, among other issues, the idea that parents should avoid making their a child feel “responsible for her parents’ feelings.”  This leads to “a sense of overresponsibility for others and a lack of attunement toward her own needs.”

At the same time, parents should “allow[] a child to experience age-appropriate consequences.”  Also, children need to learn to “respect the limits of others.”  “Children need to be given the grace of having their no respected, and they need to learn to give that same grace to others.”

If you act like a brat, you piss off Mom.  If you piss people off, they act pissed.

Is that such a bad lesson to learn?

As Pat put it, “It’s simple cause and effect.”

I know I must avoid hitting my child out of anger, yelling in her face, giving the silent treatment, withholding love.

But I don’t think I have to pretend to be happy when I’m not.  I don’t think I have to shield her from the law of cause and effect.

Yet at the same time, I want her to know that she’s not responsible for my happiness.  She’s sensitive, despite her stubbornness, and she feels the chill between us once she’s pushed my buttons too many times.  I can tell how sad it makes her, and that breaks my heart.

But it doesn’t change the fact that I’m fed up with her and I’m most decidedly not happy.

I’ve taken to telling her.

 “Sweets, Mommy will always love you, and I will always take care of you.  Even when I’m upset.  But when you and your sister are naughty, it makes me grumpy. . . . But I still love you even when I’m grumpy.”

It’s all I can do.  That, and put her to bed.

Thank God It’s Bedtime.

T.G.I.B.

IMG_6210

 

Linking up with Housewifespice for What’s We’re Reading Wednesday.

Portrait of a Lady: Study of the Vague

I just finished The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James.  Is anyone out there a fan?

There’s a lot to like about it.  Some intriguing characters; some vexing quandaries.  But most of all, it’s pretty vague.  Henry James writes a lot about people sitting around, being.  They’re definitely not doing anything, especially in the first half of the book.  They’re only occasionally saying anything.  They’re not even always thinking anything specific.  The author goes on at length about the various characters’ . . . mode of being.  That’s the only way I can describe it.  If it sounds vague, it is.

I started reading this years ago.  I can’t remember whether I finished, but I figured I just didn’t get it.  Now I think there’s not so much to get.

Have you read it, or anything else by Henry James?  (I started The Wings of the Dove and ran into the same issue.)

I’m very happy to be linking up again finally with Jessica, the spiciest of housewives, for What We’re Reading Wednesday.

Ten Ways To Destroy the Imagination of Your Child

A Review For Conscientious Catholic Mothers

A few weeks ago I groundlessly maligned ten ways to destroy the imagination of your child, by Anthony Esolen:

Anthony Esolen, ten ways to destroy the imagination of your child

The way in which one should raise a child, as explained by Dr. Esolen, is essentially the way I was raised and the way in which my husband and I, almost by default, are raising our children.

I grew up in an idyllic, homeschooled little Catholic bubble, one with lots of outdoor time and hands-on work and old-fashioned books.  I was further educated at a more-Catholic-and-less-politically-correct-that-thou college.  I left the Bubble just long enough to pick up the habit of dropping bad words when I’m mad and to notice that moral relativism really is a Thing.  I then retreated (advanced?)  into the Bubble when it came time to raise my own children.

So.  I have trouble seeing the forest for the trees with this book.

But it’s my blog and all I can do is describe the trees as I see them.  So here they are:

  • Dr. Esolen’s main points, as best I can summarize them, are as follows:
    • Acknowledge the existence of Truth and encourage its pursuit,
    • Let your children have lots of unstructured, outside play,
    • Expose children to machines and machinists,
    • Expose children to fairy tales and not political cliches,
    • Extol the heroic and patriotic,
    • Preserve the Mystery and Sublimity of Love,
    • Acknowledge the Differences Between Men and Women,
    • Acknowledge the Transcendent.
  • This book is written in a satirical style.  You have to take what are described as the ways to destroy your child’s imagination and then formulate the opposite and do that instead, as I have attempted with the list above.
  • Most of Dr. Esolen’s objectives can be achieved by (1) providing a loving home life but (2) leaving your kid alone to do his own thing as much as possible while (3) avoiding public schools if possible and (4) exposing your kid to good literature.   But those who need to hear this the most are the least likely to read this book, and vice versa.  (And I don’t mean to hate on anyone sending his child to public school.   But Dr. Esolen is very critical of them.  Just sayin’.)
  • Dr. Esolen indulges heavily in nostalgia, often referring to his childhood in the 1960s–particularly its dangerous, unsupervised, outdoor exploits–for examples of what builds a child’s imagination.
  • It’s hard to describe exactly how this happens, but the satire and the nostalgia blur the main points of the book, at least they seem to for conscientious Catholic mothers.  We probably are not the target audience, but I’m quite sure we form the bulk of the actual audience.
  •  The other conscientious mothers in my book club and I reflexively fixated on this or that aspect of Mr. Esolen’s idealized childhood, and we berated ourselves for falling short.  “Oh, if only I were a good enough mother to expose my child to more danger,” we fretted.  As if our pesky biological drive to keep that kid alive at all costs might destroy our child’s imagination.  Sheesh.   Just let your kid read Huck Finn.  You don’t have to try to recreate Huck Finn’s life for your child.

A few more thoughts:

  •  But if Simcha likes Dr. Esolen, I probably do too.  Also my cold, hard heart softened somewhat toward him when I read this article he wrote about his autistic son.
  • Initially I thought this book would be a diatribe against television, and it’s not.  Dr. Esolen actually writes favorably of some shows, like Wallace & Gromit and Gunsmoke.  You know what does contain a diatribe against television?  My favorite parenting book of all time!  What can I say?  Whether I like a book is determined about 90% by tone and 10% by content.
  • This book really should be titled Ten Ways To Destroy the Imagination of Your Boy, because girls get the short shrift.  Any study of women in history is derided as feminist propaganda. The only activities mentioned as being appropriate for girls are (a) churning butter, (b) singing folks songs in a broom closet, or (c) eating popsicles while watching boys play baseball (not, understand, playing softball themselves).  I understand Dr. Esolen’s concern for the over-feminization of education for boys.  I also understand that he leans heavily on his own childhood experience, and he was a boy, so he writes a lot about what boys do.  Still, so help me, I want to encourage my girls to play sports if they are the least bit inclined and I also want to teach them about the suffragist movement.  I’m just that radical.  

So those are the trees I observed.  If you read it, tell me what you thought of the forest, er, the book.  I’m joining the “What We’re Reading Wednesday” link-up today, hosted by Jessica at Housewifespice. Thanks Jessica!!