Walking Away from the COVID and Into the Wild West

elizabeth bennet walker

            Like Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, I have nothing, in short to recommend me but being an excellent walker. I can walk for miles and miles as long as I have a good book in my ears and it’s not too cold. (Heat I’m fine with, but cold? No thanks. When I get cold, it takes forever for me to warm back up, and it physically hurts me to be chilly. I’ve been known to cry angry tears when I’m freezing.)

Since the COVID madness, I’ve ramped things up, walking four miles a day on average, and the more stressed or mad I get, the longer my walks become. In fact, I rage-walked 6.83 miles one day last week because I was OVER IT ALL.7 miles

I’m not ill-informed, stupid, selfish, or stubborn; I just don’t believe in a piece of cloth’s ability to solve a natural pandemic, and based on all the flip-flopping and conflicting statements, I don’t believe the “experts” really do either. I do believe completely in Ronald Reagan’s quip that the nine most terrifying words in the English language are, “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.” As someone who grew up in a foreign country that was sort-of free (there were elections, but the outcome was predetermined; you had to be very careful not to criticize the government; I lived through a failed military coup when I was 12 and remember the countless police checkpoints after the coup was put down), I was raised to believe in the Constitution of the United States and its purpose: to protect her citizens FROM the government by limiting its powers. This idea that we are now beholden TO the government instead hurts me deep in my soul.

But I digress; back to books and walking. My go-to audiobooks these days have weirdly been of the Wild West variety (not my typical). I listened to a book about Doc Holliday that I LOVED (called Doc, by Mary Doria Russell), which made me want to load up the car immediately and head to Dodge City and then on to Tombstone. (Hey! A new bucket list item!) A couple of days ago, I finished a book by Larry McMurtry (of the Lonesome Dove fame) called Zeke and Ned.

What an unexpected joy! The story was great, the characters fantastic, and the setting a pleasant surprise; because Zeke and Ned are part Cherokee, they live in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, a town very familiar to me as that is where I received both my Bachelor’s and Master’s degree and started my college teaching career (at the former Cherokee Female Seminary, now known as Northeastern State University).nsu

An even more unexpected delight was the reference to Siloam Spring, Arkansas, the town just over the border where I teach, shop, and yes, walk. I’d never heard any book before mention Siloam Springs, and though it was only briefly discussed as a place where the men went to gamble, it was still very cool to imagine a writer of McMurtry’s status noticing the town enough to put it in the book.

I’m not sure why I’m so attracted to Wild West stories these days. Maybe it’s because I relate to and long for the fierce independence of the characters of old, be they sheriff, outlaw, prostitute, or farmer. I imagine the bemused expressions on the faces of these scarlet fever, smallpox, and dysentery survivors as they are told to stay home for an illness that has claimed less than .26% of the population. Then they’re informed that if they do go out, they must cover their faces “to protect others.” Their response would likely be to laugh uproariously before reminding the mask mandate-giver that only bank and train robbers cover their faces.

I am also drawn to the old-fashioned style of writing in westerns, regardless of the author. For example, in Zeke and Ned, a character is raped, but instead of every gory detail that television, movies, and many contemporary books in other genres love to provide, the terrible event is relayed simply by the observation that the woman “was outraged” and scoundrels “treated her rough.” My horror and sorrow for the character was not lessened by the lack of voyeuristic explanation.

I love all the “-some” words in westerns—“bothersome,” “troublesome,” “tiresome,” “worrisome,” “winsome”—and that usually the most swearsome words are “hell” (usually preceded by “aw”) and “damnation.” Other non-swear swears abound—“tarnation,” “I’ll be blasted” (or “hornswoggled”), “darn-tootin,” “by ginger,” and “jumped up Jehoshaphat.” I’ve always believed that excessive swearing shows a limited vocabulary and lack of creativity; saying, “Now git—you’re as ugly as homemade sin, and that mug of yourn is curdling my milk” is so much more interesting than “eff you.”

I appreciate, too, the manners and codes of honor in these books. Everyone knows his or her place and someone is always on hand to gently (or not-so-gently) remind those who forget. People in western novels talk, but they also listen, and if they disagree, they at least offer courtesy in the disagreement. Nobody is screeching to get his or her way—opinions are presented, and then that’s the end of it. Conversation is just that–a “talk between two or more people, in which news and ideas are exchanged” (Merriam-Webster). It’s not a must-win-at-all-cost argument, which these days seems to be all conversation is anymore, at least on the internet.

Finally, though everything doesn’t always end “happily ever after,” justice is always served. The bad guy gets his comeuppance; you can bet he’s going to end up shot or hung for the outrages and rough treatments he indulged in. Order is restored. The brothel madam with the heart of gold marries a man who treats her right, and if the cowboy hero dies, it is with his boots on and his reputation grown as big as a Texas sky. The hero’s faithful horse and even more faithful dog remain alive and unscathed, either to ride the hero off into the sunset or to sit quietly by his grave, mourning his loss forever. When the last page is turned (or read, as in an audiobook), I can sigh with satisfaction and trudge back to the chaos of this world, my feet sore, the heel pads almost worn to bone, my heart hoping for a return to stability and justice and freedom.

calamity jane

Where Writers Write

Roald Dahl’s desk, found in his “writing hut,” was a winged-back chair with a long tray that was covered in dark green billiard cloth. The tray/desk was balanced arm to arm on the chair, sometimes supported by a rolled pillow. Before settling himself into the chair and positioning the writing tray across his middle, he would first stick his legs in a sleeping bag in order to stay warm. (Now here was a man who no doubt would have appreciated a good Slanket. Alas, for him, progress moved too slow.)

dahl

Jane Austen wrote at a dainty octagonal wooden desk while seated in an uncomfortable-looking, cane-bottomed chair that was positioned by the window for the light. Flannery O’Connor’s schoolroom-style desk and straight-back chair were wooden too, minus the cane bottom but with the addition of a floral needlepoint pillow. Virginia Woolf, Kirkegaard, and Nabokov eschewed seats altogether and often wrote standing up.

nabokov

Some people are coffeeshop writers, enjoying the white noise of conversation as they create. Others write in quiet libraries or peaceful parks. When searching for advice to writers on where to write, you may find the mildly offensive exhortation to “Designate a room in the house as an office, and when writing, always sit at a chair and desk as if you were at a real job.” Fair point; after all, Hemingway once said that “There’s nothing to writing. All you have to do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.”

Pfft.

I do have a writing office in my house, and I love it–it’s a tiny room upstairs, narrow because of the enormous built-in bookshelves stuffed with things that I treasure (like my ever-expanding collection of signed books–getting literary superstars Margaret Atwood, Amy Tan, and David Sedaris to sign my books ranks up at the top of my “I can die happy now” moments), things I use (like my too-many books on teaching college composition), and things a Lit major like myself is required by Lit-major law to dig (Shakespeare, Edward Albee, and Euripides have to hang out on the shelves with Stephen King and Yann Martel, because all the shelf’s a stage, and all authors merely players). The entrance to my office is a wooden Dutch door, salvaged by my husband from one of his jobs. I don’t care that it’s supposed to be an exterior door–it is for ME and I love it so.

office door

My desk seat is a red vinyl director’s chair, a hammock for the butt. My writing desk is another salvage–from the 1930s and enamel-topped, it was given to me by my late Grandma Jean. I had to scrape and scrub to get the rust off of the legs, but it was worth it. Once while watching the awful movie Walk on the Moon,  starring terrible Diane Lane and only-good-in-LOTR Viggo Mortensen, I yelped in delight when I spotted my table on the screen. Then I finished watching the movie and was sad for both me and my table.

desk
Holla at my girl Miranda Hart and her “What have you done today to make you feel proud?” Heather Small tributes. Heather keeps us all accountable.

So yeah, I love my table, but let’s get real–I am more of a recliner than a sitter. Therefore when I DO write in my office, I shun the butt hammock and too-good-for-Viggo desk and instead stretch out on the antique fainting couch I found at a local flea market. Obviously I have smothered it in pillows because comfort (and Michael Jackson) are king, and I am queen.

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But to be really, REALLY honest, I spend 98% of my writing time not at a desk, not in an office, but propped up on more pillows on the bed in my bedroom. Regardless of how uncool it is to admit that my writing is best when I lounge on the bed, gazing out at the trees beyond the window (So unprofessional! Not like a real job at all!) it’s the truth: a semi-prone position works for me.

bed desk

Now before you judge me too much, allow me to direct your attention to other lie-abed writers such as Truman Capote, Mark Twain, and Edith Wharton. And as to the question of where the best place is to write, I humbly submit that we vein-openers should do what we do in the way that we do it, and we need make no apologies.

 

 

 

So I Have to Market This Stuff Too?

That’s what I read on the interwebs–writers these days have to write their books, sell their books to agents, help their agents sell their books to publishing houses, sell published books to readers, and, oh yeah! KEEP selling books by maintaining a sparklingly witty blog that has 4 bazillion entranced readers. Fool, if I had 4 bazillion entranced blog readers, I wouldn’t NEED to sell my book now, would I? I would just sit back and wait for a publisher to notice me. (Holla, those quirky cooking-blog-gals-who-show-up-on-Ra-Ray’s-show-all-the-time.)

Oh, for the good old days when I might have to publish under a man’s name because “women can’t write!” but someone ELSE was in charge of the marketing. Okay, whatever. Here it is. Me and my blog again.  With a recipe for instant pudding. Because this is as good as it gets with me, chums.

Pudding

Ingredients:  

  • Apron. Because cooking is messy.

apron (3)

  • 1 box of whatever blasted flavor of pudding is your favorite. I’m partial to butterscotch my ownself, but all I have in the pantry right now is vanilla.  Sadly, vanilla is the vanilla of vanilla.
  • 2 C. cold milk (Why cold? What else would it be unless you’re planning on squeezing it straight from the cow’s teat into your bowl, and if you ARE, then we need to talk. Because that’s just nasty, my friend. Believe me, I speak from reluctant experience–I grew up in a foreign country where we had to buy smuggled illegal milk from the neighbor, and his wife squirted Bossie’s offerings right into our freshly-washed Tree-Top bottles, and brother! There’s nothing on this planet grosser than warm milk straight from the cow. Sometimes there were even little cow hairs floating on top. Hence my lifelong hair-in-food phobia, but that’s a story for another day.)
  • Whipped topping, otherwise known as Cool Whip, whether it’s the branded version, the generic version, or the shooting-out-of-the-can version. It’s Cool Whip, just like all sodas are Cokes. Don’t question me on this.

Directions:

Open pudding mix. Dump into bowl.

dump pudding (2)

Dump in milk.

milk pudding (2)

Whisk until your forearm aches. (Or 2 minutes, for you Popeye types. Show-offs.) Stick pudding in the frigidaire for five minutes or until you decide you’ve waited long enough. Five minutes is like an HOUR in dog years, y’all.

stir pudding (2)

(So it turns out that I don’t have any Cool Whip in the house either. Though it is an inferior experience, pudding can be consumed without it just fine.)

Eat a sensible serving, telling yourself you will just have a teeny bit, and then hide the bowl behind whatever your family hates the most in the fridge. (I keep a package of collard greens simply for pudding-hiding.)

hidden pudding (2)

After an hour, sneak back in, remove the bowl from its hiding place, and finish the whole batch while standing in your hall closet so you don’t have to share with the kids.

Be prepared to be judged by the dog. He knows what you’re doing in there, and he does not approve. Also, doesn’t he look a little like those scary twins in The Shining? REDRUM, REDRUM.

Make sure you rinse the evidence away so that when your husband comes home and asks you what’s for dinner, you can say, “Oh, let’s just go out. I’m starving–I’ve barely had a thing to eat all day.”

There. I made a foodie post. Are you not enter-taaaaaained?

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