Euphonious Exhortations

My voice is having one of its moments. These come around from time to time. This week I’ve been told not once, not twice, but five times that my voice … “has something.” This morning, I gave a family directions on the subway and both the mom and a random person who overheard me commented on how pretty and comforting my voice is. The homeless man I gave my half sandwich to in Grand Central Market yesterday said I sounded like a fairy godmother. A friend who wants to work with me on a film project hopes I’ll do some narration because I have a good voice. And the young woman who sells me my iced chai every morning told me on Monday that I talk like I’m singing.

I’ve had that last before. A woman once asked if I was a jazz singer because she said my voice sounded like I should be. A coworker once told me I should record bedtime stories because my voice is soothing. A friend’s baby sister told me I could scold her and it wouldn’t feel like scolding because I said everything “in a warm tone.”

It’s not always cute and sweet, however, the reactions to my voice. A man who was trying to date me (quite unsuccessfully, as this will illustrate) insisted I had to be faking my voice, that there was no way I could look like me and have this voice. Clearly, I have a face and figure made for radio! Another man said I should do audio porn, that my “Snow White sound” would make sexy text that much more titillating. Yup.

My voice is fine. It has probably gotten better with time. It certainly used to be glass-shatteringly high. My students used to tease me by repeating my instructions to one another in squeaky mouse voices. I don’t know that I really sounded that awful, but my voice is high. My dream of a Lauren Bacall or Kathleen Turner deep sexiness will never come true, but my voice is fine. Like I said, better with time. I’ve come to terms with it. I think of it the way I think of my face, thoughts perfectly articulated by this limerick:

As a beauty I’m not a star,
There are others more handsome by far.
But my face, I don’t mind it
For I am behind it.
It’s the people in front that I jar.*

I don’t think anyone is particularly horrified by the sight of my face. Certainly, the whole of me has elicited startled responses, but that’s generally about racism, and those folks can’t actually see my face. I’m not always aware of the reactions people have to my face, but reactions to my voice are much more noticeable. I can hear the change in other people’s voices when I’m on the phone, can see people turn and look when I’m out and about. And, of course, there are the folks who just tell me.

I like to say it doesn’t matter, that it’s just how I talk. I know I’m lying, however. I know how I respond to certain voices. And there would be no way to count the number of times I’ve successfully used my voice to impact a situation. It matters. And that seems so unfair. We can’t help the voices we wind up with. Yes, there are classes that teach people to sound different, but why should anyone have to take those classes when they already come equipped with perfectly serviceable voices?

I can’t change that random inequity. But I suppose I can try to use my gift for good, right? What does that mean? Well, maybe it means my friend with the film project is on the right track. That baby who told me that my scolding her didn’t feel like scolding because of my dreamy, “warm tone,” was the clue. Instead of only writing my anger, maybe it’s time to put my voice to it, time to start telling people all the ways they need to step up, just how they can straighten up and fly right, just how fiercely they can work at being anti-racist, at dismantling the structures of racism that are destroying us all.

Let me just clear my throat.

__________

* This limerick credited both to Woodrow Wilson and a poet I never heard of named Anthony Euwer. I have no idea whose poem it actually is, but I am choosing to believe it is Euwer’s poem and that Wilson was known to recite it (I’ve seen two different stories of people saying Wilson recited it for them).


Sending a warm thank you to my friend Lisa at satsumabug.com. Her decision to start making space for short-but-with-a-whole-arc musings was a good push for me. My essays of late have been getting longer and longer and longer … so long that I cannot find my way to the end and so have nothing to post on this blog. So I’m going to try writing shorter pieces, no more than 1,000 words, and see if I can’t get through some of the topics on my pages-long list of essay ideas! If this works, I may catch up with my #52essays challenge by year’s end!

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Tiny Little Dirty Feet

I was out and about yesterday, which means I am flattened by exhaustion today … ergo, this post will be short and silly. (I really want to use “ipso facto” here instead of “ergo.” Thoughts?)

I managed to have three phone meetings today without falling asleep in the middle of any of them. I managed to get a few paragraphs written and submitted for a project at work. I did a LOT of napping.

Late in the afternoon, I decided to make myself move. I had trash to take out. I wanted to check my mail. I needed to give myself proof that I had not done a south Brooklyn take on Gregor Samsa and morphed into a giant slug.

On my way down the hall to the elevator, I noticed something weird was happening with the floor. An odd pattern of shiny splotches. Upon closer inspection, I discovered that they were bare baby footprints. Up the hall, pivoting, back down the hall. But what must she have stepped in before tottering down the hall? Baby oil?

I got my mail, then followed those shiny little prints back to my door. I really hope the next stop for my baby neighbor was the bathtub!


It’s the annual Slice of Life Story Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers! With hundreds of folks participating, there’s more than a little something for everyone … and plenty of room for you to join in!

My phone knows.

I think my phone knows that I’ve pre-ordered the new model. This is the only way I can explain its sudden decision to stop sending texts when I ask it to, to stop charging when I plug it in, to stop letting me download pictures and documents.

I’ve had this phone a long time. The phone that will be arriving at my door in a few days is three generations newer. I was determined not to let a pesky thing like built-in obsolescence force me to buy a new phone every 12-18 months. Besides, my phone was working just fine. Or, mostly fine. Until it caught wind of my betrayal. Now it seems bound and determined to make me sorry in these last few days. Sigh.

And I am duly sorry. My old phone has served me well. So sure, I’m sorry … and really looking forward to unboxing the new model and setting it up. More storage and a better camera just in time for this year’s 24 Hour Project!

Is this new phone season for you, too? I’ll admit, I’d be more excited if the cost of a new phone wasn’t practically the same as my rent!


It’s March, so it’s the Slice of Life Story Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers! Twelve years and going stronger than ever. Click over to read a few slices, see what that eclectic group of bloggers is up to. And maybe write some slices of your own this month!

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I like lists.

In the long saga of my attempts to better organize my day-to-day and get stuff done, I have fallen into the well of the Bullet Journal.  I first learned about this organizational tool at the start of 2017 when I participated in the 52essays2017 nonfiction writing challenge. One of the participants posted a photo of the spread she’d made in her bullet journal to track her week to week progress in the challenge. I didn’t try it right away, but then gave it a shot a few months later. It worked and didn’t work, and I let it got for a while, tried again, let it go again. I read blogs, spent much too much time on Google images looking at other people’s journal pages, priced all manner of colorful pens and washi tape on Amazon … even though I wasn’t a very good bullet journaler, I was ready to fully dive into having all the pretty tools. Thank goodness I managed to control my stationery store shopping urges. My budget couldn’t have handled all of that!

Last fall, after many months of not trying to be a bullet journaler, I decided to try it again. I was a lot kinder to myself this time around — not shaming myself for not creating spectacularly creative decorations and fancy layouts for my pages, just making my lists and trying to get stuff done.

It’s definitely working better this time. I have always been a list-maker, and that’s really the heart of this method for me. And having all my lists in one place is wonderful. I’ve nixed all of the kinds of trackers I tried out in the past and have settled on a very simple list of goals for the month, and quick look ahead to the next three months in case there are things I’m supposed to be planning for, and a tracker for which days I’ve done some writing and what I worked on.

I did give in last month and buy a set of disposable fountain pens (12 colors!), and my seriousness about keeping the journal has, of course, meant that I’ve purchased many new notebooks, but there are worse things I could have too many of. Aren’t there?

I don’t know how long this go-round as a bullet journaler will last, but five months (and counting) is already more than twice as long as I was able to sustain the effort any of the other times I tried it. And I can see that I am doing a better job of getting stuff done, now that I have it all written down. It’s not magic or anything — there are plenty of list items that go undone, that stare out of the page mockingly as I copy them from one day’s tasks to the next — but it kind of is, too. It’s why I’ve always loved making lists. The concreteness of having things on paper, the satisfaction of checking off the done items.

It’s working, and that’s really all that matters. I will leave the gorgeous, artistic pages to people who have those skills, and I’ll just keep making my list and checking them … as many times as it takes to get the job done.

Have any of you tried bullet journaling? What’s your success been like? Any tips to share? If you’re not a bullet journal fan, what’s your task organization tool?


It’s March, so it’s the Slice of Life Story Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers! Twelve years and going stronger than ever. Click over to read a few slices, see what that eclectic group of bloggers is up to. And maybe write some slices of your own this month!

original-slicer-girlgriot

Oh, the places my brain goes …

A random sampling of the earworms I’ve battled in the last two days:

  • The refrain of Foreigner’s “Double Vision.”
  • “Stuck in the Middle with You.”
  • Sade’s “Soldier of Love.”
  • “Elizabeth, Elspeth, Betsy, and Bess” … by Mother Goose

There is a lot of music in the back corners of my brain. A lot. And bits and pieces surface, unbidden, over and over again. Nothing new here. I know we all get songs stuck in our heads. Apparently, some scientists think that, the more musical a person you are, the more earworms you experience.

But then there’s that Mother Goose poem. What was that about? I don’t remember if I’ve ever had a poem stuck in my head in this way before, reciting it over and over like some wacky mantra. But this one most definitely was for most of the day today. I would like to believe it’s an indication of me being a more poetic person — following the logic of the article I found about musical earworms on Live Science — but I don’t imagine that’s it.

And I really hope that writing and thinking about it doesn’t bring it back. It was driving me crazy!


It’s March, so it’s the Slice of Life Story Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers! Twelve years and going stronger than ever. Click over to read a few slices, see what that eclectic group of bloggers is up to. And maybe write some slices of your own this month!

original-slicer-girlgriot

Nice day for a white wedding …

I made the easy choice not to watch a certain speech tonight. I caved for about two minutes and listened in just in time to hear some complete crazypants nonsense, so I turned it right off.

Instead of watching, I did some wondering. I thought about what I would have worn had I been invited to attend. It’s just not that easy for a fat woman to find an all-white outfit at a moment’s notice. I tried to remember the last time I’d seen such a thing in any of the stores or catalogs I shop from. I thought about how sad I would have been to be invited and have to turn down the opportunity because I had nothing to wear (which would maybe just have been an excuse to not have to put on a face of anything other than disgust or rage while listening to the lyingest liar in town bloviate).

But then I realized I had nothing to worry about. Had I received an invite, I would have just made a rush order from Ashro.com! I mean … of course! White suits and dresses? Check. White shoes? Check. Plus sizes? Check. Done and done.

But just to be sure, I clicked over to the website to see what my options would have looked like. I found my outfit in less that one minute:

ashro-1.jpg

But I couldn’t have gone in those heels. I haven’t been a heels girl in years. So what to do? I could have been semi demure:

Ashro 2

At the same time, how many invites to the SOTU can I expect to receive? If I’d been asked, I’d have to go a little outside the expected, right? I found two more fun and comfortable-looking options, and it was a tough choice, but I think I’d go for the bling-y slip-on on the left:

Whew! And here I thought I’d have trouble creating a realistic fantasy! Planned my outfit and made some decisions about my hair just in time to tune in for Stacey Abrams’ stellar response! Perfect!

original-slicer-girlgriot

Oh yes, it’s Slice of Life Tuesday!
Click on over to see what the other slicers are up to this fine evening!

A Writerly Obsession

At my first for-real job, I was a bookkeeper. “For-real job” means the first job I took with the intention of doing the job for more than a minute, the first job that wasn’t simply a way to finance my next vacation – though I didn’t stay there over-long, and it did finance some vacations.

I kept the financial records of a small professional organization. Real work, not the paper pushing I’d done in my previous job. I can’t imagine anything I could have said in my interview that would have inspired anyone to offer me that position. I didn’t know the first thing about being a bookkeeper … and I wouldn’t have tried to gloss over that fact, as it never occurred to me that possessing the necessary job skills was … you know … necessary.

I was trained by the woman who’d been the works-when-she-feels-like-coming-in part time bookkeeper. Let’s call her Edith. She was a bored lady of leisure, childhood girlfriends with the director of the organization. She had stepped in to help out a couple of days a week. Then the organization had grown, and part time was no longer enough time, but she had no interest in working every day. She was in her mid-forties, and casually glamorous. I remember loving her wedding ring — it was a broad gold band, a crowd of people standing hand-in-hand and arm-in-arm.

The organization’s records were kept in the kind of old-fashioned ledgers I’d only seen in movies. They were awkwardly big. I remember them as enormous, but they were most likely legal size. Thick, hard, cloth covers with leather-wrapped corners, bound on the short end with metal peg-and-clamp fasteners. Edith handled them carefully, as if the slightest jostling might shake the ink loose.

The desk was like any desk, but instead of a chair, there was a tall stool, a backless barstool. And when it was time to teach me how to keep the records, Edith opened the top desk drawer and pulled out a fountain pen.

The pen was an old one, a Parker. The pen may still exist, but I couldn’t find it when I searched. The Parker Vector is similar in cost, so it may be the modern version of my ledger pen. My pen had a silver cap and a dark-but-transparent blue barrel, and it took cartridges.

I’d never used a fountain pen, so Edith gave me a crash course in pen use and maintenance. She gave me the location of the one store she knew of that sold the ink cartridges, showed me what I now know to describe as the nib’s flexibility. And she showed me how to “erase” any errors: lick the corner of your Pink Pearl eraser and rub gently until you’ve worn away enough of the paper that you can write over your mistake. Natch!

And then we got into the books. Edith was patient, never once her losing her mind with anger at my inability to learn even one thing about keeping those books. Because really, I didn’t learn a damn thing. My training ended, and Edith was gone, and I was on my own. I sat on my high stool and leaned way down over my ledger and played at bookkeeping.

And I followed Edith’s rule and used the Parker only for the ledger. And, when that pen died, I didn’t do the perfectly reasonable thing and pick up a ballpoint and get back to work. No. I went out and bought a new Parker. It never occurred to me to use any other pen.

At the turn of the quarter, the accountant came. I handed over my ledgers with pride. I was a little cocky, thought I was doing the job. The accountant took my books into the conference room and sat behind closed doors for a couple of hours. Then he called me in to review.

The accountant, David, was a lovely man – older, stocky, Jewish, with a gentle voice, kind eyes and beautiful wavy silver hair. We chatted for a while. It was our first time meeting, and he wanted us to get to know each other. As our chat wound down, he asked what I’d studied in college. I gave what had already become my standard airy, dismissive wave and smile and said, “French and photography. I know! It’s the perfect training for my job!”

We laughed, and he repeated my answer. “French and photography. I knew it couldn’t have been accounting.”

I won’t lie: I was more than a little surprised. Something was wrong with my books? My precious ledgers weren’t perfect?

David, because he actually was a lovely, kind man, spent the better part of the afternoon giving me a crash course in accounting. Most important and most mind-blowing takeaway? The grand totals of my rows and columns had to match! No, seriously, that was the whole concept of balancing the books.

French and photography. Right.

With David’s patient help, I got to be as good at my job as cocky-first-quarter-me had imagined she was. I stayed in touch with David. We exchanged Hannukah and Christmas cards for several years after I left that organization. Whenever I got a new job, he was sure to ask how my French and photography were helping me out.

Most of that is not my point. I just couldn’t resist telling that story.

The first of my two actual points was about Edith’s set-up for this job: the old-school ledgers, the high stool, the fountain pen. It was as if she thought her job was an audition to play Bob Cratchett.

I liked it, that’s true enough, but it was hardly normal, and it certainly wasn’t necessary. Ledgers had moved into the modern era years before. Everyone in the organization had a desk chair. She could have kept the books with a regular pen. Her insistence on using the fountain pen for the ledger when she used a workaday Bic for everything else was just odd – except in the context of her playing the part of bookkeeper in a period play.

Edith’s random oddities are responsible for my second and more important point: my introduction to fountain pens! She planted the seed. My bookkeeping job made me familiar and comfortable with fountain pens. And today, I own many too many, so many that I probably need an intervention.

After my stint with the books, I didn’t find my way back to fountain pens for three or four years. I was in Kate’s Paperie and found myself at the pen counter, practically drooling over the loveliness under the glass. I went back to the same pen again and again. The saleswoman, clearly sensing that I needed only the gentlest of nudges to turn me from a looker to a buyer, inked the display pen and let me write a few lines to see how it felt. Well, of course, it felt wonderful. Smooth across the notepad she’d placed in front of me. Clean, thick line – not bold but assertive. I walked out with that pen, a black-with-gold-trim Pelikan M250 – piston-filled, thick but lightweight, logo at the end of the cap.

Pelikan M250

I was reading Natalie Goldberg then, my first go-round with Writing Down the Bones. So I was doing a lot of writing, filling pages, filling notebooks. And the Pelikan was an excellent companion on that journey, so fluid my words spilled out effortlessly across all those pages.

A year later, I was back in Kate’s buying a ridiculously over-priced birthday gift for my new love (the start of my saga with The Morphine Man) — a gorgeous hand-bound notebook with a birch bark cover and thick, ultra-smooth, creamy paper. A notebook like that deserved a fine writing implement, so I moved slowly down the gleaming pen case until I found a deep green Waterman – slender but heavy, it’s green a dark, marbled resin. I bought it for The Morphine Man … but I knew before I got home that it was really for me. And so it was. (He loved the notebook. Was none the wiser about the pen.)

I used to think pens were necessary, disposable, interchangeable tools. If you lost one, you picked up a new one and moved on. I had favorites – the Pilot Precise rollerball was a particular love – but I wasn’t attached to any pen. The Pelikan changed that. I have only lost one pen in the 30 years since I bought that Pelikan. One. And I agonized over that loss, still occasionally kick myself over my carelessness and hope the person who found my gorgeous Levenger True Writer Kyoto took good care of it and wrote well with it.

And my handwriting has changed. It was never truly terrible — despite the bad penmanship marks I got in grade school — but it is definitely nicer now. This seemed a strange fact at first, but then, the last year that I was teaching, my students helped me solve the mystery. One of the goals that bubbled up at the start of the year was that a lot of the younger students wanted to improve their handwriting. No one had ever asked about good handwriting before. I started researching … and writing with a fountain pen was one of the top recommendations. It was all about ease of ink flow eliminating the need to exert force with the pen, allowing the writer to loosen their grip and write more comfortably.

I bought a set of student pens and gave a little tutorial on how to hold it, how to write with it. No one had every used a fountain pen, and most hadn’t noticed that I always wrote with one. We had a lot of discussion about that. Sadly, I’d been writing with a fountain pen for so long at that point, I had no “before” examples, no pre-fountain writing to show the difference.

My students thought the pens were funny, and the novelty made encouraged practice. Not everyone stuck with it, but the ones who did saw that their writing changed. And they noticed, as I had after switching to fountain pens, that they could write for longer periods of time without their hands hurting. I wonder if they stuck with fountains long enough to see their hands change, too. The tip of the middle finger on my right hand used to have an ugly, rough, half-callused indentation. It doesn’t anymore.

That year of Bob Cratchett playacting had quite the long-term effect. I don’t actually know how many fountain pens I own – I’ll make a conservative guess and say four dozen. Sailors, Esterbrooks, Pilots, Platinums, Pelikans, and any number of other brands, big names and unknowns, fancy and expensive, and three-dollar beauties. It’s fair to say I have a pen problem, but there are far worse vices, so I give myself a pass.

I wonder what made Edith choose that Parker, why she didn’t keep the ledgers with whatever pen was on hand. Was it really about the choice to turn her work into a game – setting herself up like a Dickensian clerk on her high stool with her tiny numbers noted down on those wide green “eye-ease” sheets? Whatever her game, I’m grateful to her. I’d surely have been introduced to fountain pens eventually, but maybe by that future time, I’d have been so entrenched in my writing habits, complete with a favorite pen, that fountains would have been just an interesting curiosity. Edith and her Parker came along at the exact right moment!


(The pen in my GriotGrind image is my perfect little Sailor pocket pen. I have a crazy number of pocket pens, mostly Platinums and Pilot Elites, but my Sailor with it’s excellent blue-black ink is a go-to fave!)

In 2017, I took up Vanessa Mártir’s #52essays2017 challenge to write an essay a week. I didn’t complete 52 essays by year’s end, but I did write like crazy, more in 2017 than in 2015 and 2016 combined! I’ve decided to keep working on personal essays, keep at this #GriotGrind. If you’d care to join in, it’s never too late! You can find our group on FB: #52Essays Next Wave.