Sometimes You Feel As If you’re Running On ice

Today on facebook, someone posted how they’re having increasing issues writing, because they feel as if it doesn’t matter, it will never matter, and why are they spending time on this anyway…

I kind of live there. Partly, I think, because my family had crazy expectations for me. For instance mom wanted me to be diplomat. No, really.

And while I managed to attend a lot of embassy parties (well consulates. I didn’t live in Lisbon) because I was the 4th best language student in the country, without setting anything on fire, that was only because the American consul was a decent Texan and the Italians had a lot of ice cream. (For some reason at the time Italians owned all the ice cream parlors in Porto) which meant I was too busy shoveling ice-cream in my mouth to get in trouble. (This was back in the days when I ate a full meal a week, part out of economy (eating in restaurants was beyond my pay grade and my study/tutor days often ran 12 to 14 hours out of the house) and partly because I was convinced I was massively fat. So the Italian consulate parties were my one allowed indulgence. Because ice cream you don’t pay for is THE best.)

And honestly, I don’t know if a consul/ambassador or — as I was likely to be — a lowly translator in the Portuguese (for heaven’s sake) diplomatic corps would have made any more difference than a writer, but I guess at the back of my mind I imprinted the idea that I should do something that matters.

Which is why, in my early years of attempting to get published, I often took a detour down the hall and through the living room, and found myself in the kitchen making carrot cake, because you know, words might eventually pay off, but carrot cake made my husband happy right then. (Which btw, yes, does mean I equate food with love. Which explains much about this family’s BMI)

Because food was more tangible, more substantial.

I mean, when it is entirely possible the republic will be gone by this time next month, or on its way out, at the very least, and if so we are –ipso facto — heading to bad times, what does it mean that I can write a few stories and maybe make a little money. What compelling reason do I have to write? What is it good for?

…. I’m reminded of a scene in Asterix. I can no longer remember the context, haven’t re-read in probably over a decade, but in one of the books, the Romans want the forest cut, and the various national-groups of slaves are coming up with delaying tactics, one of which is singing. I remember the line “It’s the Germans. Singing in a choir, they’re terrifying.” Anyway, the Lusitan, dressed in Portuguese fashion, says “I can’t sing, but I could recite some poetry.” That still cracks me up. Partly because it’s me.

I can’t do anything useful, other than cook, clean, refinish furniture and lay down wood flooring…. maybe I can write a few novels?

Talk about bringing your accordion to the war.

This is bad stuff this sort of thinking. And not just for writers.

Let’s face it, we live in a very complex society. Most of us specialize in things which neither grow food nor put it on the table, and as for weaving, only a few of you artsy freaks do it, and certainly not to cover your bodies, or at least not primarily.

It’s not even that the devil whispers: it’s good, but is it art?

It’s that the devil whispers: “Interesting. You do that well, but what is it for?”

Well, in the middle of some of the worst episodes in my life, books kept me sane. I might only read Pride and Prejudice variations, one after the other, when things get bad. Or I might read Disney comics for six months, but do you know how bad things would be if I didn’t have that? I might have had to sniff glue, and when and where I grew up that was the nasty bostik stuff, before superglue came in. And sometimes, sometimes, I escape by writing. I crawl into the hole and write my way back out of it.

But it wasn’t just books that kept me sane. During one of the most depressing years of my life, my husband spent $40 we didn’t have buying me (used) a beautiful coffee table book on the works of Leonardo da Vinci.

I didn’t realize how starved I was for beauty, until that book soothed my soul.

Or there was the Christmas we were really really broke, and my husband bought me a $5 blown-glass owl. It was the best gift ever, both because he went out of his way to get SOMETHING and because it’s a very cute owl (even if it’s a craft, not art.)

Not of bread along lives man. No matter how bad things get, we need to keep up our spirits. Where we’re going we might not need roads, but we will still need relief. Art, beauty, even crafts can provide that.

No, they don’t help directly, but they help. They remind us we’re still human, still have hope, and that life is still worth living.

Also, as a commenter on my other blog reminded me, it might give us the hints we need to find our way out of a bad spot.

Seriously, I’m probably the champion of finding often good advice in the weirdest books (recently figured out how to make scrambled eggs moist from a cozy which is not about cooking, for instance.) But I think everyone does it sometime.

And sometimes the advice is “Oh, this is how sane/non-depressive people see the world.” And you adjust your pattern…

Yesterday I linked this at instapundit: Satan’s Anus: Dishwashing through the Pandemic.

It says more than I have time to unpack about catastrophic change, and about how cancel culture is destroying some people in the professions the crazy arsonists dominate.

But to me, it was the reminder that after his tour of hell, Dante has to crawl up the asshole of the Prince of Darkness to escape (this, btw, makes me believe he was an ancestor of our Kate Paulk. I’m amazed she hasn’t yet plotted this into one of the con books.)

Sometimes you need to crawl up Satan’s ass. But someone has to shine a flashlight on it, first, so you know the way.

And some of us are in charge of keeping that flashlight trained like a laser on the puckered opening of the prince of darkness.

It’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it. And whether you do writing, art, crafting, or just bake really good carrot cake, I suggest you get on it. Because it’s getting darker by the minute, and you can’t climb up what you can’t see.

51 comments

  1. — Talk about bringing your accordion to the war. —

    Sarah, Sarah, Sarah! Haven’t we already been through this? The International Accordions At Arms Society will be interviewing lawyers soon if you don’t knock it off!

    Now to the topic at hand: in some sense, what fictioneers do “doesn’t matter.” Our stuff doesn’t have a direct impact on the great matters of the day. But in another sense, it might matter more than we’re allowed to know. Consider this brief passage from Heinlein’s best-known novel:

    — [Digby] turned to Jubal. “You, too, Doctor. Archangel Foster tells us that the Lord commands us to be happy . . . and many is the time I have put down my crook, weary unto death, and enjoyed a happy hour over one of your stories . . . stood up refreshed, ready to fight again.”
    “Uh, thank you, Bishop.”
    “I mean it deeply. I’ve had your record searched in Heaven—now, now, never mind; I know that you are an unbeliever. Even Satan has a purpose in God’s Great Plan. It is not time for you to believe. Out of your sorrow and heartache and pain you spin happiness for others. This is credited on your page of the Great Ledger.” —

    Even a fraud such as “Bishop” Digby can unintentionally speak the truth. Consider also John C. Wright’s essay “Your Book Of Gold.” More truth, most gracefully expressed.

    Be well.

  2. > Because ice cream you don’t pay for is THE best

    Vice President Aaron Burr was accused, arrested, and tried for treason. Acting as his own attorney, he successfully defended himself and was acquitted. He then felt it would be a good idea to leave town for a while. So he went on an extended tour overseas. While in England, he noted in his journal that he could cadge two or three nice meals per day by leveraging his notoriety.

    For a politician, being able to talk about oneself *and* getting a free meal is a definite win…

    And if you’ve ever heard of the expression, “…like a Philadelphia lawyer”, it’s in reference to Burr’s mad skillz in the courtroom, where he was able to explain away his assumption of the title “Aaron I, Emperor of Mexico” to a skeptical jury…

  3. > It’s that the devil whispers: “Interesting. You do that well, but what is it for?”

    Sarah: “It’s because we *can*.”

    …and the Odds go back to carving mountains, making ice sculptures, listening to radio signals from the stars. making beer, forging iron, or building ultralight aircraft…

    1. For? The glory of God and the Kingdom of Heaven. What is that? You say that using the talents He gave you to make something lovely, does *not* qualify?

      Who made you God?

      The hard part is *which* good thing. Which talent.

      1. Given that God created and creates with ridiculous generosity and variety, human creativity is bound to be just as crazy. And God probably really likes beercan collections.

  4. You might want to stop giving me ideas, Sarah. I’ve finally acknowledged that my Photoshop skills just aren’t up to running you for President – but Madame Ambassador to the United Nations, that is still doable…

    1. Why would you want to punish Sarah by sending her to that cesspool? Think shame on yourself!

          1. I want a Like button on this blog. 🙂

            My father once suggested I should make use of my skill in picking up languages and aim for a job in Brussels. I was unemployed at the time; a MA in Mediaeval history, Scandinavian Studies and Comparative Linguistics isn’t exactly a guarantee for a job 😉 . “Can you imagine me translating the bullshit those politicians produce and keep a straight face?” I replied. He laughed.

            Instead, I used the time to get another useless university degree, a BA in Ancient History and Provincial Roman Archaeology, and eventually got a job again where I can even make use of my ‘exotic’ knowledge now and then. It makes me enough money to pay the rent of a nice flat, the groceries, books and a bit of traveling. And it leaves me time to do some writing and blogging.

    2. The best thing that can be done for the United nations is to give it up as a bad bet and move the heck on. Although I wish it had been when NYC real estate was worth more.

    3. Kim du Toit has been angling for that Ambassador slot for some years now. Much as I like Sarah, Kim’s proposal for that body should have its chance…

    1. Was there ever any doubt? Any culture less than 2 generations removed from serious threat of starving knows that food is love! So I have been informed by little and fierce Italian grandmothers, Iraqi mothers, Hmong grandmothers, Vietnamese grandmothers, Korean ladies of indeterminate age, tiny Chinese will-be-a-grandmother-as-soon-as-her-children-do-her-right with great big meat cleaver, Filipina ladies….

      I mean, the only thing as absolutely certain in kitchens across the world as Food Is Love, is “No matter what it is, smile, thank them very much, and eat it.”

      1. But do not say, “mitt handen und fussen” (sp?) “O grosse-tante H. Was is das? Leber-knudle zup? Ich liebe dis! Ist zehr zehr GUT! Danke! Danke!”

        Because then Tante H. will refill *both* you and your best friend’s bowls to the brim, and she barely choked down the first one.

      2. Real conversation between husband and his very Italian grandmother:
        Grandma: “Did you get enough to eat? You look hungry?”
        Husband: “Grandma, I ate seven pork chops!”

  5. Well, if you ever want to get back into that diplomatic groove, my high school friend is currently ambassador to Bulgaria. I could get the two of you in touch, maybe. I haven’t spoken to her in a few years now.

  6. Some of my favourite writers were working during the Great Depression and WW2, with fascism and communism on the rise. Others were writing back when the Cold War was on and radicals were setting off bombs and the media was telling us all we’d be hopelessly overpopulated by the year 200. It must have seemed like the world was going to hell back then too. But they kept working.

          1. [goes off rabbit-trailing]

            https://infogalactic.com/info/Anno_Domini Looks like the Anno Domini numbering didn’t come about until 525-ish, so anything before that would have used one of the Roman calendars.

            Calendars are something you’d *think* would be simple, but every one of them, now matter how well-intentioned, turns into a hairball after a while. The Julian Day Calendar (not the Julian Calendar, which is a totally different thing) simply counts days from January 1, 4713 BC. How much simpler could it get? Yet they managed to stuff *that* up eventually.

            [the ‘Stardates’ in Star Trek were Julian Day-ish… it’s JD 2459130.23819 at the moment]

  7. I try to avoid existential angst. It’s one of the things that drives the Critical Theory people around the bend. We just can’t know what matters. A short story of yours may change someone’s life, but the odds are good you’ll never know about it. And one can even ask, does changing lives, even for the “better” however it’s defined, matter?
    I will admit that it can be hard to avoid solipsistic hedonism with that attitude. Hedonism tends to focus on endorphin production; I’m looking at joy these days. I don’t think solipsistic joy is a “thing”; maybe for narcissists, but for most people it involves others.
    Meanwhile, about those wood floors…

  8. Why do you put crafts on a lower level than ‘art’? Fine work via any of the traditionally feminine crafts is a way of making beauty accessible on a daily basis. The same is true of a beautifully constructed piece of furniture where the craftsman considered how the grain would look in the finished piece.

    Handicrafts ARE art but they are art for the common people and not the elites in their palaces and so they get sneered at. Far more skill goes into piecing a curved seam than you would think. I can’t do it. But if I set my mind to it, I could learn. Could I learn to master color the way another quilter does? No, but I can master color placement in my own way and still have something beautiful that lasts.

    1. I don’t. My writing is craft, not art.
      I just said “even” because most people would think of things like glass blowing as frivolous and “not art.”
      I was talking to the audience, and people I’ve argued with.
      The line between art and craft is very fine. And it might not exist at all. If you do searches, you’ll find me doubting such a thing s talent or “high art”. I think it’s really ALL craft.
      My family for generations has crossed back and forth on the divide of art and craft, depending on personal inclination (And sometimes the same person. Great Grandfather was a carpenter AND a sculptor.)

      1. Craft is being able to make things.

        Art happens when crafts people make things that inspire people.

        Artists are either people so devoted to their craft they cannot help but be inspired or egotists who think they are inspiring when they are just boring.

      2. Ah.
        I’ve always believed that art without craftsmanship is not art. Technique and mastery show dedication and skill. There may be that certain something extra that cannot be taught, but we can all apply more skill. Skills can be learned too.

        I suppose that’s why the ‘fine art’ people can say a dead ladybug floating in scummy water in a Styrofoam cup is ‘art’ with a straight face, just like a banana duct-taped to the wall is ‘art’. Doing so lets them avoid the hard work of putting in the time to practice, practice, practice.

        Your writing can be ‘art’ instead of ‘craft’ but you won’t know for whom this is true. Someone will read what you wrote and it will sing to their heart whereas the person sitting next to them on the bus doesn’t hear that song. Their heart sings to someone else.

        So you write, because you need to tell stories and you don’t know whose heart will sing. Take it on faith that someone’s heart will sing.

        1. My theory of art versus craft arranges them with science. Basically inspired by a quote about a science being a discipline where a not very bright scientist can do things that took a very bright scientist to figure out during a previous generation.

          I know I’ll get pushback on the last bit. Look at the Los Alamos Primer, it is a thing of beauty. But a lot of the shrewd guesses of the time were subsequently investigated, and now much of the contents is stuff you will have already learned about from other sources before you think to read it.

          For that set of definitions, crafts can advance over generations, but a skilled craftsman from a previous generation is definitely going to be better than a layman or badly skilled craftsman of today. Arts are harder to teach, and the peaks of excellence involve much rarer people. If you genuinely need extreme ability and rare madness, it is art. There’s a part of the works of a Da Vinci, a Sherman, or maybe a Drake that is art.

          On the other hand, more recently, I have been inclined to view certain academic sub disciplines as merely being collections of arts that make sense to teach together. This is a much broader definition of art. They can be a little too obscure for the above definition for a science, and a little too narrowly focused and specialized to fall into the broad categories I am used to thinking of crafts in terms of. Of course, luthiers do a lot of specialized things that simple woodworkers would not know how to easily and quickly carry out. So it may be that I am simply much too ignorant of the hands on skills.

      3. This with bells on. If there’s no craft, there’s no art – whatever you rationalize in the salon. And every craft mastered, creates art even unwitting.

        It is never either nor, but both.

  9. So an Ollie’s opened near me and i went. it was packed. lots of people with no masks… it felt weird.

    1. Colorado Springs. We went there on Monday.
      Supposedly the whole state is under a mask mandate, but the places we visited in the springs no one was wearing them.
      Here, alas, everyone wears them.

    2. I had to go to the bank this morning with Younger Son. In February, if we went in wearing masks, the tellers would have leaped to the alarm buttons to summon the police. Today, they won’t let us in without a mask.
      At least they don’t leap to the alarm button to call the police!

  10. Which btw, yes, does mean I equate food with love. Which explains much about this family’s BMI

    That sounds a lot more like a Latina than a Mormon Male.

    Does that mean you’re a culture appropriator now?

  11. “Interesting. You do that well, but what is it for?”

    “Come just a little closer and I’ll show you.”

    I contend, in this year 2020, it is more important than ever before to shut off the television, shut off the radio, cease looking at the Interwebz, and do your creative thing.

    I watched three minutes of the Vice Presidential Debate this evening. Couldn’t take any more than that. As soon as That Woman started lying about COVID-19, I was out.

    But I caught the feed after the debate, when ABC was running commercials for its news shows and news commentators. … Wow. So amazingly bad! Like a parody of ABC news, except that -WAS- ABC news. It looked like the TV show from The Hunger Games. Music, deep announcer voices, concerned faces, portentous pronouncements… all exactly the same. Like a steam calliope turned up to 11 with all the stops pulled out. A brazen, discordant shriek of propaganda.

    So yeah. This is my war-accordion. The devil gets close enough, he’s going to find out why I brought it.

  12. The Asterix story is “The Mansions of the Gods” (English version). (“I don’t know any songs, but I could give you recitation if you like.”)

  13. Because I believe I was one of the people on Facebook something I discovered. I finished the horror short I’d been working on and started on a western short idea I had. Even put the first scene up on my blog.

    The western is easier to write in the butt in chair sense. I doubt it is any better written and it isn’t easier to conceive.

    But it is easier to engage. I think the reason is the western encompasses a moral universe built around the ideals I grew up stewing in. Even though my dad was the westerns fan (although I’ve come to them late in life), my big early influences include “Wagon Train in Space”….I mean “Star Trek”.

    A while back J. Daniel Sawyer said he expects the western to burst back onto the scene in a big way in the 2020s as Americans sort out what it means to be American again. He argued as our formative myth it is where we go back to.

    I think that is what I’m doing. Westerns allow my concerns about today to come out in a very American way, framed in the way I see them, without engaging the doom and gloom and fear so present in the now.

    I may be writing westerns for a bit. There are worse things I guess.

    1. Herb, one of the best things is to have TWO books in progress, one to fall into when the other stalls.
      Yes, I think part of my problem is current book is depressing. Back pain and pain killers aren’t helping, either.

      1. Well, if “I started this and I promise I’ll finish it one-day” counts, I have three in progress by a not too insane counting: the eternal “Riders South,” “Persistence of Memory,” and the no idea how that title would work “Men Without Cats.” That’s ignoring the “notes to start a novel someday,” including the weird quintet, three WWII historicals. There is also rewriting “Return from the Naked Stars,” the only novel I ever finished. And although I’ve thought NaNo would be a bad idea, I’m also tempted to try and NaNo a western now.

        That’s why I moved to shorts for a while. I know the theory is you can’t make a living on them (although some Kindle people do), but you can develop habits like finishing and revising to be readable with them.

  14. Talk about bringing your accordion to the war.

    *gets the giggles, bad*

    Caught a good radio station– Willey (maybe Willie) 103.5– and they played “Streets of Bakersfield,” a version that had more accordion than I’ve heard in AGES.

    Here’s a version that is close, but not quite:

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