Stick a fork in me.

It’s been a long, LONG week, and I am well and truly done. I’m beyond tired, too tired to write either of the posts I thought I’d like to write today. So instead, I’ve taken a tip from Slice of Life Story Challenges past: I fired up the old random words generator and will now write something about each of the words I was given.

antique — I am remembering the fun of going to an auction in the Catskills and wishing I could buy just about everything in the room, particularly the gorgeously-maintained victrola with the stunning purple horn (which is also, quite wonderfully, called the “pavilion”).

milkshake — These need to be extra thick, vanilla, vanilla, and more vanilla. Mmmm … one of the best treats in the world.

wine — Each time I’ve thought about stocking up on anything for sheltering in place, I never remember to buy wine! What could possibly be wrong with me?

cemetery — I live very close to a huge, famous cemetery. But I live on the side where we aren’t welcome. Seriously. Every other side of this cemetery has a big, elaborate entrance. The side closest to my apartment? No entrance at all.

spire — The only thing that comes to mind is the Týn Church in the old town in Prague. It’s more than 30 years since I was last there, and that’s still the first image that flashes to the front of my brain.

emerald — Well, naturally what comes to mind here is that time my wonderful and brilliant aunt accidentally dyed her hair the most extraordinary, deep, dark, Disney-movie-villain emerald green. That was thing of beauty, and one of my family’s favorite stories to tell about her!

crisis — I guess I should be impressed that the generator would give me this word. Mostly, I wish I could have gotten away with one night not thinking about what’s happening all around us.

aquarium — I can’t help but think of Peach, the starfish in Finding Nemo, and that line (“Look! Scum angel!”) that still makes me laugh out loud.

migraine — I used to get migraines when I was in my 30s. At last once a week, sometimes more often. It was a horrible period of my life. They were so debilitating. I will ever be grateful that I no longer get them!

beer — I have never been a beer girl. I’ve never much liked the taste of it. This fact often distresses beer lovers. They always think I just haven’t tried the exact right beer yet. This isn’t true. What is true is that I don’t like beer. As simple as that. People sometimes, quite ridiculously, think that if I don’t drink beer, I am a prim teetotaler. This, also, isn’t true. I drink plenty of other things — cider, tequila, wine, slivovitz, sake, rum … What is true is that I don’t like beer.

I don’t like beer, but I do like silly, random posts like this one!


It’s March, which means it’s time for the
13th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Curious? Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
and see what the rest of this year’s slicers are up to!

Original Slicer - GirlGriot

Counting to Five

This week has been a hard start to the annual Slice of Life Story Challenge. I’ve been super tired and super busy and ideas have either not come at all or have come too big to finish in time for posting a slice.

That’s where I am tonight. I started an essay yesterday but couldn’t get through to an end. Today I was too busy to have time to work on it. With luck, I’ll muddle my way through tomorrow and get it posted.

I still need a slice for tonight, however. Happily, I’ve been reading other slicers, a past time that often results in me feeling inspired by something one of them has written. Over at Teacher Reader Writer, Donnetta shared a list for her slice, a good reminder that lists make excellent slices! And so, following her lead, here is my list of five random facts about me.

  1. I was in the Coney Island Mermaid Parade four times.
  2. I don’t have a driver’s license.
  3. I was once the host of a party at which a friend’s +1 thought his clever party trick would be to insert himself into groups and diagram the sentences of everyone trying to have a conversation. <sigh>
  4. The episode I recounted for my Monday slice isn’t the only time I’ve been lost in the woods.
  5. I am one of those people who has an anecdote for everything (… and one of those people who often forgets that I don’t actually need to share an anecdote for everything).

And there you have it. I have a “random and fabulous” tag … I don’t know if all of these things are fabulous, but they are definitely random!


It’s March, which means it’s time for the
13th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Curious? Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
and see what the rest of this year’s slicers are up to!

Original Slicer - GirlGriot

Oh, it’s March, is it?

Whew! Time to air things out around here, get out the duster and the vacuum, clear out the cobwebs! It’s that time of year when I suddenly show up daily in this space, and I am definitely not ready!

But, ready or not, the daily challenge is upon us! So get ready, friends. The slicing, she has commenced!

This morning, I was trying to be very serious and focused during a conference call for one of the boards I sit on. Trying. But I was utterly distracted by the not-in-any-way-common sound of a marching band outside my window. I know, it’s March first, and maybe someone was being cute about it, but a marching band?! They never came close enough for me to see what was going on, but they made for a full-on distraction from my meeting … and a perfect tidbit to start this month’s challenge.


It’s March, which means it’s time for the
13th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Curious? Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
and see what the rest of this year’s slicers are up to.
Or … it’s not too late to join in!

Original Slicer - GirlGriot

Random

Because I am beyond exhausted, I’ve decided to let a random work generator get me through tonight’s slice.

  • china — I have begun buying china — a plate here, a saucer there — all of it mismatched. There’s no reason for this. Nor is there a need. And yet I’ve found acquiring these pieces ridiculously satisfying. I’ve had four pieces (plate, rimmed soup bowl, saucer, bread and butter plate) for years. Now I have some sauce bowls, a couple of bread and butter plates, a few salad/luncheon plates … and the discovery a) of some patterns I love (Castleton’s “Mayfair,” for example) and b) that the Royal Doulton dinner plate I bought for $0.75 at a stoop sale is worth $55.
  • belt — I need a belt. I have a terrible one (too clunky, too stiff), and I need to spend some time hunting for a better one. I want something sturdy but supple, something feminine but not girlie.
  • seat — All I can think of is that this random word inspiration is me getting through today’s slice by the seat of my pants … though, in truth, I think what I actually mean is “by the skin of my teeth.”
  • orange — Back in the bad old days when I thought I could and should only wear black, I would never have imagined all of the color that lives in my current closet. If you had told me that I would own not one, not two, but six orange tops and two orange dresses, I would have laughed and laughed. Even if I could have been convinced back then that color was okay, I would never have seen myself in orange. Thank goodness those days are gone!
  • curry — I’m just going to say: Mali Thai Kitchen, pumpkin curry. Really. #thatisall
  • station — A couple of months ago, a video of a woman becoming violent on the subway went viral. As I watched the video, stunned by this woman’s horribleness, I realized that the scene of the escalation to violence had something distressingly familiar about it: it began as the train pulled out of my subway station. I could have been on that train!
  • porridge — One of my happy discoveries on my first trip to Jamaica was that Jamaicans make wonderful Cream of Wheat-style breakfast cereals, and they call them “porridge.” The magical revelation of plantain porridge changed my understanding of what the world could be. I’d only ever heard this word used in that old nursery rhyme (Pease porridge hot, pease porridge cold, Pease porridge in the pot, nine days old…). What on earth is Pease Porridge, though? Yes, of course I went to The Google, where I found that it is likely that the term comes from Pease Pottage, which was also called Pease Pudding, which actually sounds like something I’d like to have some of right now, please.
  • file — Now that I have finished making sentences for each of my random words, I want to file this post away in the “Desperation Is the True Mother of Invention” box.

Um, yeah. That’s all I’ve got. Thank you for your patience. I now returned you to your regularly scheduled slicing.


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!

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.