Roadrunner Musings

Wandering with my eyes and heart open, searching for pieces to add to my own personal big picture.

M is For Malice: New Read

M is For Malice is completely new to me. Believe it or not, my dear reader, I had never heard of Sue Grafton until my cousin mentioned her.

m is for malice

Cousin…that’s what you call your uncle’s ex-wife’s daughter, right? My family can get a tad convoluted. We don’t care. If you’re my parents age, you’re an aunt or uncle. If you’re my age, you’re a cousin. That’s how we roll!

The story goes like this, my cousin messaged me about wanting to write some fan fiction about a certain character from a series of books that I’ve never read by an author I’d never heard of. We thought maybe we could help each other out by having someone to be accountable to, but I’m not going to be much help if I don’t know anything about the character.

Time for some research!

I know from some exploration that M is for Malice is not the first book in this series, but I’ve also read the books stand alone, so it doesn’t really matter where you start and since she mentioned she had started with this one, so will I.

One caveat, I’m not a big fan of murder mysteries, but that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate them. This past year, I have stumbled across two other books in this genre and I thoroughly enjoyed them both. The first was “Prayer for the Dead” by David Wiltse (1991) and it said it was a “thriller” but felt more like a murder mystery/detective story to me. And the second was “The Big Sleep” by Raymond Chandler (1939), THE original classic. And I have yet to watch the movie of that one…bad me! I promise to get that on my watch list ASAP! I had forgotten about it until just now.

Look a chicken!

I’m curious how this book will compare to the others I’ve read. Published in 1996, with a female author and protagonist, I’m sure it will be different. But how? And what about the era? The Big Sleep was written in 1939 and the characters were gorgeous, very much reflecting the time they were written in. Prayer for the Dead was also written in the 90’s but with an all-male cast with a male point of view. Will I “connect” with this book more because of its female perspective? I’m excited to find out.

In fact, I think I’ll start reading right now!

Have you read “M is For Malice” in the past, or any of Sue Grafton’s other books? What did you think? Inquiring minds want to know!

Want to read my final thoughts on this book? Hop over to “Mystery Solved, But I Wanted More”

Oh, For Writing Habits Sake!

Ugg! This post was so hard to start! I really don’t have much to say about the book, so why bother with a follow up post? For writing habits sake? That’s the worst reason to post ever!

But here I am anyway: a creature of habit. Once I develop the habit of doing something, I feel compelled to do it, even when I don’t want to. I guess that’s what a habit is but sheesh. You’d think I’d be able to put something down and walk away.

(looks at the cookies, the coffee, the knitting, the books, the daily laundry, the yoga)

There are good habits and bad habits, right? Both of which are hard to let go.

Lately, I’m not sure if writing here is a good habit or a bad one. I’m not sure if I should put more effort into writing and posting daily, or let it go completely. I don’t seem to be one that can do things one or two days a week.

The question I’m asking myself this week (and in the past) is, “Is what I’m writing and posting worth putting out into the world?” At the moment, I believe the answer is no, but I continue anyway out of habit and wonder what will become of it and where it will take me.

Probably nowhere.

I debated all day yesterday whether to write this. And today, while sitting here reading it over and adding a few things, I pondered whether I should post it. I’m not a happy/joy mood. Why add to the negative online?

Because it’s honest and true. So there. I’m not always sunshine and lollypops.

On to my final thoughts about Bitter is the New Black by Jen Lancaster!

About halfway through, I started wondering if the story was going to go anywhere. It did and I got some decent laughs, so it wasn’t a waste of time. I enjoy her style and some of what she says, especially about blogging, resonated with me. I was encouraged reading it because her journey to writing the book feels like something I can do, something I long to do.

Why don’t I get out there and get my book published?! It’s every bit as good as this one, even if it is half the number of pages. I could fix that if I had to.

Because I’m chicken.

And her blog had plenty of readers. Mine? Not so much.

I’ve got to find a way to do this. I know I’ll regret not trying but…so scary. People might have negative things to say about my words. Unlike Jen, I’m not sure I can handle that.

…sigh…

I’ll keep trying though. I need better writing habits. And habits are something I’m good a picking up!

Go back my post “Bitter is the New Black: New Read” to see where I started with this book.

Alone with Me, Myself, and I

I and Me are still slowly chugging along in “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” alone. Most of the time, I read a “speech” and think, “I have no idea what he’s trying to say!” Then there are a few that allow me a glimmer of hope…only to be dashed to the rocks again. I’ve shared a few quotes on my Instagram page, one-liners that made some kind of sense to me. I know that’s not what Nietzsche meant for his readers to do. They are parables, stories that are supposed to lead you in the direction of his thinking so that you can follow him and achieve your own ubermensch.  They aren’t supposed to be dissected or quoted without context, the same way the parables of Jesus were.

alone
@desertdreamer72

But here I am…totally confused, trying to find the meaning. They remind me of riddles. I hate riddles. It is helping us to read them slowly, sometimes two or three times, then allowing them to make sense or not and moving on. It’s like those dot pictures they had in the mall in 80’s that you were supposed to be able to see pictures in. We’d all stand and stare and then someone would proclaim, “I see it! Do you? The boat with a kitten at the helm?!” And then we’d all agree, “Oh, yes! There it is!” Honestly, I doubt anyone ever saw what we were supposed to see. We just didn’t want to look stupid.

But that’s exactly how I feel reading Nietzsche, every single time. There’s meaning in there, I know it! I’ve heard some of it explained. Sometimes I see the edge of a picture, but then I shift my focus and it’s gone. Damn.

I found this little gem in “On the Friend” yesterday.

“I and Me are always too earnestly in conversation: how could it be endured, if there were not a friend?

For the hermit the friend is always the third person: the third person is the cork that prevents the conversation of the other two from sinking into the depths.

Ah, there are too many depths for all hermits. That is why they long so much for a friend and for his heights.”

A couple things. First off, I am not a hermit in any sense of the word. In my imagination, I long to attempt a short hermitage. Step away from all human contact for a prescribed amount of time, just to see if I can do it. I know I’ll be miserable, and the older I get, the more averse to being uncomfortable I become. The closest I get is turning my phone off for a few hours or lacking an internet connection while the power it out.

But I do get the “I and Me” being “always too earnestly in conversation.”  We tend to have very deep conversations with myself and can spiral down into misery pretty quickly if we are left to our own devices. Where would we end up if we didn’t have a friend that called and invited us out for a lunch date or a hike? I shudder to think. I might complete a thought, finish a story, or learn something new.

Second, I’m not sure that Nietzsche was saying this was a good thing. I think he believed it a weakness, something we should overcome to come closer to ubermensch. Now that I’ve sat here writing out my thoughts, I can see why. We’re terrified of being alone.

Alone is where we get out biggest work done. It’s where we find our true selves, not reflected in someone else’s thoughts and ideas. If we had more time alone, what could we accomplish? What would we think?

Something to think about more, but I have a lunch date today, so I have to run off into the world.

Want to start from the beginning? Pop back to my first post, “Thus Spoke Zarathustra: New Read.”

Is Nature Wild and Free?

My meditation app from Down Dog, which I highly recommend for yoga and HIIT as well, mentioned imagining returning to nature, “wild, free, and joyous” and I got lost in thought for a bit.

Why do we make up this story about nature? As if, all we would need to do to be happy and peaceful is to return to a primitive existence, relying on what nature provides.

nature wild and free
She’s probably not wondering if she should have dug her burrow further from the road.

Am I alone in seeing that animals don’t seem all that happy and peaceful? I mean, sure, they are ignorant of ill intent. At least, I believe they are. They kill to protect their young, feed themselves, and secure a mate and territory, but they don’t murder. They spend their days finding food, procreating, and sleeping. Sounds nice. But is it happy and peaceful? In a way, yes, because they don’t make up stories about how it should be or could be. They accept the world they find themselves in. They don’t attempt to change their world, or that of others. They just live. That’s a lesson we could surely take note of, partially.

The reality of nature is that it is dangerous, filled with the struggle to survive long enough to create the next generation.

When we accept this reality, that life (civilized or wild) is struggle and eventually death, that’s when we become free. When we can stop trying to make things into what we think they should be, and relax into enjoying what is, we can be happy no matter what circumstance we find ourselves in. That’s when we can see the joy in every moment, the miracle of existence. Then we are free.

Animals don’t have the “should” and “could” monster of imagination. They make choices, mostly out of instinct, and then live with the results of those choices. They don’t sit and lament, “If only…”

We, with our glorious brains, can do so much more. We can make choices by determining what is best at the moment, based on what others have done before us AND our own creative thoughts. And even better, we can sit and let the results be ruined by imagining what else we could have done and be envious of what other people’s choices have brought them.

When I think of being closer to nature, being wild and free, I think of aligning myself closer to reality, not living like an animal. I imagine myself using my creative energy to make the best choices for myself, not others. I imagine clearing my mind of envy and jealousy and enjoying what I have. I imagine knowing that this life will end eventually and living each day as if it were my last.

Aggression or “Don’t Drive Angry!”

My dear reader, the aggression that I see on the roads has got to stop. Really.

Yesterday, I was telling you about how I had disconnected myself from the news media completely. I posted, and then got in the car to drive down the hill, still thinking about it. I started to shuffle through my list of podcasts but set it aside. I needed to think quietly a while, so I set my notebook out with my pen ready just in case I needed to capture anything that floated by.

I started thinking, “You know, Michelle, everyone is going to think you’re crazy.” I kept imagining the questions and the scoffs. I’m not new to this. I’ve attempted to explain before. But I always come up short-handed. I can’t seem to get my ideas through.

I jotted down, “principles: there’s a list of principles I go by when considering information” and then I sat in traffic trying to get out of the basin and my thoughts were scattered.

My town, and the surrounding area, is filled with extremely aggressive drivers. Do we not understand the basic rules of the road? Am I mistaken in believing that the point is to get where you’re going safely, not get there first? I didn’t know we were in a race to the finish. I watched people vie for pole position, pass me (in a no passing area due to major construction at 30 mph over the posted speed limit) almost forcing me into a wall when they hit the turn, and aggressively not allow other cars to merge into traffic as if they were in line for a prize and would miss out if someone “cut in front of them.”

I started to wonder (as I sat in the twenty minutes of stop-and-go caused by a lack of understanding of traffic patterns, something easily fixed, but you know, screw those people), is our driving aggression a reflection of how we are all feeling right now?

It reminded me of Groundhog Day.

Aggression in drivers.

I get it. Life is complicated. We’re all a tad upset and unnerved these days, but do we need to make it worse by attempting to kill each other on the way to work, school, and the grocery store?

Apparently, the answer is yes. I can’t change that, but I can drive defensively, respond not react, and let things go. Which brings me back to those principles I was thinking of when I started.

Not devouring the news doesn’t mean that I don’t care about what’s happening in the world, but there are natural limits to everything, and I choose to put my energy resources only into things that I can do something about personally.

When something comes into my life, I research what I should do about it, do what I can, and let the rest go. I am not always successful. There are times when I become overwhelmed. I hear something, google it, start to read news articles, and then start to panic. How will this affect me? What will happen? Will my loved ones get wrapped up in this? What can I do? We have to do SOMETHING! Rally the troops! We’re going to war over this!

Ugg. It gets ugly. But I am getting better at it. The space between receiving information and responding to it is getting wider through practice.

In the same way that I’ve chosen to deal with traffic, I deal with rest of the world around me. I limit my news sources to those that seem the least inflammatory and urgent, like printed magazines and books. Once a week, I listen to a few choice podcasts, interviews and conversations mostly. Online, I limit my interactions to those that are fun and entertaining, and I share only that which I am personally experiencing. That’s my version of “defensive.”

I try to respond to the world around me in peace instead of reacting in anger and frustration, as much as possible. I am human, so I fail often, but I do learn.

And the rest…I let go.

This is what is bringing me more peace. This is what is making me a better person than I was. And this is how I’m trying to make my surroundings better than how I found them.

Stress: Considering Ways to Stay Sane

My Dad got me thinking yesterday about ways to stay sane in this climate of stress and anxiety. This starts negative but stay with me a moment.

stress
My Dad, My Brother, and Me (1975ish)

There are days (more and more of them lately) that I want to cry for humanity. It’s usually the day that (for some reason unfathomable to myself) I decide to open a news channel and read a few articles. Between the inflammatory headlines, that I swear are written by a catchy headline generator, and the piss-poor journalism…ugg…I just can’t.

And then there are the social media posts and comments that lead me to believe that there are few people online that are trying to make sense of the world and create a better life for themselves. It seems we are all more interested in creating and fighting a war between factions than understand each other. We’re all flying colors instead of asking questions.

What’s wrong with us? Have we all lost our minds? Is this how civilization gets thrown back into the dark ages again? Maybe.

Then I read more history and see the bigger picture. It’s always the end of the world according to the news media. The government is always reaching for more power. And the people, in general, don’t have a firm grip on reality. The only difference between now and the past is that the information moves much quicker and the whole world can be reported on at once. And that may very well spell disaster, but no more than it ever has before.

The reality is that everything changes, everything ends. Wars start and end. Atrocities are committed. Tyranny looms up. A rebellion begins. All sides believe they are doing what needs to be done to make the world better. Have you seen Star Wars?

And among all of that, here we are, the individual, trying to live our lives as best we can.

I’ve turned off the news completely. No, I don’t know who killed who, what country might invade another, what disease is spreading now, or how much of California is burning. There is absolutely nothing I can do about those things on any given day. And it seems that knowing all that information is putting everyone around me at such a heightened sense of risk awareness that they live constantly in fight or flight mode.

I don’t have time to finish this thought today, but I’m posting this anyway to hold the thought. Today is my “calling day.” It’s my stress reliever, that day that I visit friends and catch up. Yes, in person. While I’m out, I’ll be thinking about how I’d like to move forward. How do I respond to this world? How do I live without causing more stress to those around me? How do I protect myself now and leave a better world for my children’s children at the same time?

Keelboats & Trees: Craving Adventure

Funny thing, reading “Undaunted Courage” the author mentioned, “It was basically a galley, little resembling the classic keelboat of the West.” I thought and noted in the book, “Good thing he said that because I was imagining the keelboats at Disneyland.”

keelboats
Early Morning Time In My Book

I grew up at Disneyland and I’m always amazed at how much I relate everything in my life to the park. Something the kids do, a book I’m reading, a hiking spot, a museum, a conversation with a stranger, all remind me of something I saw or did at the park. It was a major portion of my life and something I never thought I’d leave behind, but here I am. It feels so strange. I won’t say that I’ll never go back. You just can’t know what the future holds, but I so feel like a door has closed.

Do you remember the keelboats on the Rivers of America?

My last memory of them was when I was working there around 1996/97ish. A friend came rushing into the shop to tell us about one of them flipping sideways in the water…with guests on it…and how they were there helping people out of the water, amazed that no one was seriously hurt. I remember thinking, “Nothing crazy like that ever happens to me when I’m in the park as a guest!”

So here I am, years later, reading a history book, and thinking, “How are they going to travel up these rivers with all this stuff and people on that little keelboat?!” Imagining the ones I remember from Disneyland, loaded top and bottom with Mickey ear headed guests with Mickey balloons tied to children’s ice cream dripping hands.

Want to hear something crazy? I’ve only seen a couple real rivers. I drove over the Columbia River in Washington once and I’ve been around the Snake River in Wyoming and Montana. When I see them, I marvel about it. Once, when we were camping at the Grand Tetons, my sons and I looked out over the river next to a park visitor center. They jokingly asked what it was and I told them it’s a river. It’s what people here call a wash but with water in it. And they played along. Their eyes wide, they answered, “You mean all the time!” The ranger behind us laughed.

I’ve never seen the Mississippi river. When I google pictures of it, and the area where Lewis and Clark departed, I’m at a loss for words. All those rivers. All that water. The trees and landscape. It’s crazy. I want to go there sometime and explore, but I’m afraid. It’s so far away and I hear there are tornados. So scary.

I was born and raised here in Southern California, land of sunshine and beaches, but we don’t have much in the way of rainfall. We don’t have rivers; we have riverbeds that usually trickle water and sometimes fill up in an occasional heavy rain. Here on the desert side of the mountains, we are familiar with “washes,” places that fill up with water when it rains hard but usually stay dry and sandy. Trees only grow in the mountains, and where they are planted and watered in people’s yards and along the freeway or in parking lot planters.

Another sidenote: trees. The pandemic and all this eating outside stuff really showed me how few trees we have. There’s no shade anywhere. Even parks only have a few. It’s frustrating.

I’m one hundred and ten pages into this glorious book and they are just now getting started on the journey. I’m loving every page, but it’s really starting to make me want to go on a long adventure myself. Maybe I can convince my husband to take a trip with the trailer, work our way back east from Washington someday.

Bitter is the New Black: New Read

“Bitter is the New Black” by Jen Lancaster is another little gem that I picked up on an adventure that I mentioned in my post about “The Best American Short Stories – 2014.”

bitter is the new black

It’s not a hard and fast rule, more like a guideline, but I try not to pick up books at random as much as possible. There’s just so many books out there. I can’t possibly read them ALL, so I have to have some sort of process when making selections, even from a used bookstore that charges one or two bucks a piece.

My process starts with skipping the fiction section completely. Like fancy processed food at the grocery store, these things are created to catch your eye and make you want them, and they rarely live up to the hype. I’m not a non-fiction snob…ok maybe a little…but good fiction is subjective. You really can’t judge a book by its cover. Your favorite is not going to be mine. Tastes are just too different. So, for fiction, I have to be much more selective. It must come from my list, recommended by someone that I trust, for reasons other than marketing ploys.

PS There are exceptions. “Guidelines, not rules!” I have been sucked into great marketing and been happy for the experience. “Hunger Games” was one of those. Years ago, my sons and I walked into Barnes & Noble with its display of all three novels in piles around the entranceway. My youngest, at the time about 11 years old, insisted on getting it and a mother cannot deny her child a cookie or a book.

While he was reading it, he began describing scenes and I was intrigued. I started reading it, then my other son, then my stepdaughter, AND my husband. A year later the movie came out. …sigh… It was magic.

Where were we? Oh yes, Bitter!

My first stop in a used bookstore is Memoir. I pick up anything by someone I know or who looks like they have an interesting story to tell. Personal points of view are what I’m looking for! It’s my life’s work, my north star (thinking about a post focused on that recent epiphany). “Bitter is the new Black” stood out because, from the cover and subtitle, the story and author seemed completely opposite of myself. And it looked like fun.

From the back cover, “This is the story of how a haughty former sorority girl went from having a household income of almost a quarter-million dollars to being evicted form a ghetto apartment…”

I looked up Jen Lancaster when I started reading the book this morning. Sometimes I feel weird, always coming to the party late, but that’s ok. It’s just part of who I am, always a few years behind the times. If I like this, it looks like there are plenty of others to follow. Her latest book, “Welcome to the United States of Anxiety” came out in 2020, and (once again judging by the cover and description) looks like something I’d be interested in reading.

“Bitter is the New Black” will probably be one of those books that I read in a couple of days, don’t make a lot of notes in, and then summarize my feelings about in a couple paragraphs when I’m done. That’s not a negative, just an observation and prediction. I’m thirty pages in and enjoying it immensely.

Read more at “Oh, For Writing Habits Sake!”

Short Stories: What makes a good story?

The following are my reactions to each of the twenty short stories in “The Best American Short Stories – 2014,” in order of appearance.

Loved. Meh. Anticlimactic. Painful. Eek. Oh, my heart. Interesting. O.K.… Did I miss something? Wow. Felt like that went nowhere. Nice. Made me feel something but why? Beautiful. Eek. Ouch. Nope. Oh man. A dog’s point of view. Again…I have no idea why you told me this story.

short stories

I think that what makes a good story is subjective. We might be able to put our finger on what really makes a bad story, but a good one? I think it’s an impossible task. These weren’t bad stories, but most of them just didn’t speak to me. I felt lost as to why they were telling me these things. Then again, I’m not much of a deep reader. I like things spelled out for me, the same way I like reality to be spelled out. Don’t beat around the bush! What are you trying to say? I don’t have time to decipher what you’re thinking.

Someone else may have loved every single one. What is a good story? Depends on how you view the world, what you want, and how you think.

I did enjoy the book though. It was not a waste of nearly twelve hours of my life. There were some amazing scenes. Some were heart breaking and some lifted my spirits. I also learned something; I could write things like this. It’s not my style, my talent, or my subject matter holding me back. It’s my fear of rejection.

I’ve pulled out a few of my favorite quotes for you. Enjoy!

“Wildflowers bloom without worry.” Long Tom Lookout by Nicole Cullen

“He kept this dangerous knowledge inside him where it tightened and squeezed, but where it couldn’t menace the greater world.” At the Round Earth’s Imagined Corners by Lauren Groff

“The eyes of other people distracted her; the way those eyes begged for an instant intimacy wasn’t just an imposition, it was an affront. An assault, even.” This is Not a Love Song by Brendan Mathews

“What makes you so sure that what I ‘just know’ is any less reliable than what you ‘just know’?” Next to Nothing by Stephen O’Connor

“…’herd dreaming,’ which refers to a mass of people begin possessed by the same delusion: fainting epidemics, or nationalism, or the craze for teeth whitening.” Next to Nothing by Stephen O’Connor

“Do you have any secrets?” Antarctica by Laura Van Den Berg

I have another one of these collections of short stories and I’ll be reading it soon but reading this one has inspired me to submit some of my stories to magazines. I think I’ll make that a year end goal, make myself a post it and give myself a nice reward if I reach it.

Go back to my first post “The Best American Short Stores 2014: A New Read” to see where I started.

The Little Prince: New Read

Feeling a little down this week, so I decided to read a childhood favorite. I’ve read Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s memoir, “Earth, Sand, and Stars,” a few years ago and loved it so much that I still talk about it and recommend it as one of my favorite books. But I’ve never read “The Little Prince”. Crazy, huh?

the little prince
I tried to tell her I was highlighting her, that she’s beautiful even prickly, but she bit me anyway.

I didn’t know about it when I was a child, but I’d see “The Little Prince” on children’s bookshelves when my boys were younger and ask them if we should read it. They refused, already past the age that the cover and description would entice them. I wish I had discovered it earlier, but I’m sure they’ll come around again and read it eventually, maybe to their own children.

Each time I have a few minutes, I pick this book up and read a page and find myself transported back to “Earth, Sand, and Stars.” I love it so far, and I believe I’ll just keep this book with me all the time, ready on stand-by just in case I need a dose of joy and wonder.

“Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is exhausting for children to have to provide explanations over and over again.”

That’s the truth. Maybe that’s why I have such a hard time talking to people sometimes. I’ve never grown up and explaining what I’m imagining and how it connects becomes exhausting. I’m left wondering if anyone will ever let their mind wander a little and meet me along the path to Neverland, or in the Tulgey Wood.

The page I read last night inspires me to start drawing again. I used to love to draw, but I’ve lost the imagination and the patience. I’ve felt rather lost to try anything new, to let go. I feel held back by something, fear and possibly, yes, most likely, ego. I’m afraid I have grown up or begun to get old. Terrifying thought.

Where do you run to when you get that feeling? Is it a book or an activity? Do you have friends there? Are they waiting for you to return?

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