This is the First Day of the Rest of My Blog


There was a very popular saying in the early 1970’s, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.” I had a poster of this adage hanging in my bedroom. It was a black and white fuzzy photograph of a person walking down a beach. The text was swoopy script down one side. I loved that poster and at the age of 11 or 12, I was deeply moved by the saying. No one seems to know who first coined the phrase. Various searches on the internet seem to point to it being the result of the 1960’s drug culture in California, which sounds about right. It is also thought to have evolved into being a quasi religious, spiritualist saying.  At the time, being a 12 year old, I just thought it was BEAUTIFUL and MEANINGFUL and that sensibly, it was basically true. The saying has aged in the same way Burt Bacharach songs have aged, pleasant but syrupy.

I started my blog back in the early 21st century enthusiastically. It was a great way to write things that felt silly to write in a journal. I loved it. No one really read my blog except relatives and some very nice people who found it somehow. I did not care. It was out there for someone to stumble upon. I myself have stumbled upon delightful blogs with apparently few readers. It seemed to be a worthwhile endeavor. I loved spending a Saturday morning putting a post together. I was just a part time blogger.


As it happens, I was also an early Facebook joiner and loved it as well. Gradually, as Facebook became more and more popular and started behaving like a public utility in my life: turn on the lights, run the water, check Facebook, my poor old blog just drifted away. I no longer spent time on Saturday mornings thinking thoughts about a book I had finished or a movie or TV show we had watched or a trip I had taken and sharing it with the universe. I was busy throwing off what I hoped were clever one liners or pictures or what passes for my achievements on Facebook throughout any given day.

Without going into what I have personally decided are the reasons or psychology behind the Facebook addiction, I made myself stop. It was a bit like going on a diet. I would do really well for a week and then falter and fall back into the habit. I found leaving Facebook was really hard. With much effort, I have gone almost a year without looking. I have deactivated and will soon delete my account. I’m almost a year clean. The final push for me was when a friend died and their page became this maudlin place for people to EASILY give condolences. I stress the word EASILY. Facebook has made birthdays too easy, holidays too easy.  It’s nothing to say Happy Birthday on Facebook. It requires little effort since Facebook has sent you a reminder.

Returning to the friend who died, I noticed something odd. I saw many people condoling who had never, ever commented on this deceased friend’s posts when they were alive. I was a frequent commenter and supporter of the posts this friend made. They had a delightful sense of humor. But the page was now filled with “friends” who I had never seen hanging about. And while it was nice these people seemed moved to add their sympathy, it horrified me. I imagined dying and all the people who I was “friends” with -who never said boo to me year in and year out – suddenly showing up to say what a great gal I was. So I quit. That day.

One day, a while after quitting Facebook, I received an email notice saying I had received a comment on this blog. After I got over the shock of someone actually finding this old thing, it made me take a look at Paraphernalia. As I re-read some of the things I had blogged about and realized I had forgotten I had ever written, I was filled with an urge to reclaim my blogging self. It brought back to me the fact that I had had once mused about all sorts of paraphernalia (hence the name of this blog) and so I decided I needed to try again. I am a bit rusty, but maybe with practice, kind of like doing scales on a piano, I will regain my blogger footing.

This is the first day of the rest of my blog.

On Books and Reading… And Writing: Mary Stewart

A good book is hard to find. So hard, in fact, I have taken to re-reading all the good books I have read once before. I find this to be comforting in the same way watching an old movie is comforting or looking at old photo albums is comforting. And while re-reading might sound like going backwards or even just plain blah, it is anything but, it is almost revelatory.

As a person who also likes to write, I am finding that stepping back and taking the time to re-read some of those novels which moved me, inspired me and made me want to write  stories myself, is also an act of discovery. I realize that what I remember about each book is the feeling it left me with. I may or may not remember the character’s names and my memory of the settings and even the plots are fuzzy, like a Monet painting. In re-reading, I am rediscovering the language and the technique of some of the twentieth century’s master story tellers.

Right now, I am re-reading Thornyhold and My Brother Michael by Mary Stewart. I suppose Mary Stewart was considered to be a  middle brow novelist, yesterday’s version of chick lit, but as I re-read these books, I am discovering she was much, much more.

Here is a passage from Thornyhold:

“Now empty your mind as best you can, and look. Without hope, without fear, without memory, and without guile. Just look”

I looked.

My own face, small and distorted. The running light of the river. A flash or blue, the kingfisher. A shoal of black streaks, like tadpoles, but I knew from the screaming in the sky that they were swifts, skimming the tree-tops. Another shoal, white, sailing, tilting, silent as a snow-storm; a flight of doves or pigeons, wheeling and dipping, like a cloud of snow in an old fashioned paperweight. Then crystal, grey as mist, reflecting my eyes and the crimson of my school blazer and the tiny trees behind me.

Isn’t that lovely? When I read some of the contemporary popular fiction written today (and I don’t mean literary fiction or Booker Prize winning fiction) I do not seem to find very much of this sort of careful description. It is hard to pin point exactly, hard to describe without giving multiple examples, but there seems to be almost too much clever dialogue in contemporary offerings. Witty this, witty that. Conversations carefully crafted like a romantic comedy screen play. Fun, but highly unlikely. Description is what seems to be missing in newer fiction. We have become so fast paced, we can’t stop for even a moment to observe the minute details or to simply be quiet and let an author write without having the characters talk so much.

Every critic seems to scream these days what seems to me to be an over interpretation of Henry James’ admonition to “SHOW! Don’t tell!” And yet, the first thirty-eight pages of Thornyhold are just that, telling, she is telling a story. One long flashback, a brief, yet effective summary of the main character’s life, how she arrived at the central location of the novel, which she does not even get to until chapter five. As I read along, I find myself thinking, “I wonder what a writer’s workshop would say about this? Would they criticize for lack of dialogue? Would they say, “this is a flashback, it is good information for the author to know, but the reader  does not need to know any of this…it is important to get right to the story…”

Maybe, just maybe, the past is important to the present.  Maybe it is permissible to spend thirty-eight pages on what happened before. After all, it is what got us here in the first place.

It is a Charles Dickens Trend


I am soooo behind on my blogging. There seems to be a renaissance in Charles Dickens biograhies these days. It has been twenty years since the last one was written. Claire Tomalin (my favorite biographer) is currently working on a book and Michael Slater has just released his. It will be available in the U.S. November 10th.

I have not read everything Dickens ever wrote. Not by a long shot. I think Masterpiece Theatre is partially responsible for this. Many of Dickens greatest novels have been expertly serialized for the ‘small screen.” My sense is that this TV-ization of Dickens has led to a decline in his readership. Yet, I would be willing to wager the number of people who could give a synopsis of one of his novels without having actually read one is huge.  It is also fascinating to think the TV versions were presented to the public in the same form Dickens came to the public in the mid 19th century: serialization.

My great grandfather’s complete set of Dickens is housed in my family’s cottage in Wisconsin. This is my preferred place to read Dickens. When I was twenty-something, I chose to read Little Dorrit because it was the one Dickens novel I had not seen rendered in some sort of film version. Happily, that has been rectified (twice, in 1988 and in 2009, I never saw the 1988 version, young motherhood and all that) and the recent BBC production was wonderful. I am looking forward to this biography. I will probably pick up Bleak House as a result. Biographies have that effect on me.

I found this bit of information to be very validating, since I am guilty of the same: “The sinister villain who entraps Oliver was named after his (actually friendly and helpful) workmate in the blacking factory, Bob Fagin.” The T-shirt admonition is apparently spot on. Be careful, or you’ll end up in my novel!

Dorothy Trades Places with the Tin Man

I just won a writing contest at Memoirs Ink. It is the first contest I have ever won. Being a grown up, it felt like all the Christmas mornings of my childhood. 

I began this writing journey four years ago when I enrolled in the MALS program (Master of Arts in Liberal Studies) at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Feeling restless and bored, sensing I needed something more, I responded to a curriculum catalog I picked up on a newsstand for the University which listed a class called “Writing for Readers.” I thought to myself, “I read, I used to write, why not?”

I remember feeling humble and scared at the first class. The teacher (amazing woman) had us go around the room and introduce ourselves and then she made us write. Everyone in the room was hesitant. We had to respond to a writing prompt with a mere paragraph. It was agony. For ten minutes we struggled and erased and crossed out and there seemed to be a collective groan pulsing like high frequency sound waves in the air. To top it off, she requested we read our responses out loud. She didn’t force us, but we could sense her eagerness and we already recognized her amazing-ness, so we acquiesced.

I will never forget driving home from that class. It was about a twenty minute trip and I wrote a poem in my head all the way and ran into my house to write it down. I still have it. I think it may be a very bad poem, but I love it. Since my name is Dorothy, I wrote a sort of metaphor about The Wizard of Oz and how Dorothy had kind of morphed into the Tin Man and how I, Dorothy, was now the Tin Man, released from my frozen, rusted state. I wrote that “words” had the same effect as oil and suddenly I was alive again, my pen limber and flowing. The poem may be dreck, but the sentiment is real. I began writing again that night and have never stopped.

I say I began again, because I have always loved to write. As a girl I wrote stories. I remember starting a novel in the fourth grade. “The Mystery at Blackberry Hill.” Obviously an homage to Nancy Drew. I wrote myths and fables. In six grade, I wrote a story called, “A Girl from California.” It was about a girl from California (duh) who moved to a suburb of Chicago and had trouble making friends and then she finds a really great boyfriend so everything is peachy again. It was written in the style of the short stories that appeared in Seventeen and Mademoiselle Magazines. Reading the short stories was the first thing I did when I received the magazines. I loved them.

“A Girl from California” was all me. Constance (the girl) looked like me and wore the same shade of lipstick as me (secretly, on the way to and from school.) The plot was me, the boyfriend was the boy I had a crush on and the mean friends were my mean friends. My teacher wrote on the story, “Very good story, did you really write it?” It didn’t occur to her that all the reading I did may have shown me a few tricks and informed my writing.I was devastated. Of course I had really written it. But her reaction, even though she apologized to me when I went to her in tears to proclaim the story was all me, spoiled writing for me a bit. I still wrote stories in high school, but dread always followed when I handed them in. I think I became gun shy.

When I saw the class “Writing for Readers,” I remembered sixth grade and thought, “see, reading DOES teach you a thing or two.” And it did and does. All of the stories written in my class, by supposed novices, were incredible. I even belong to a writing group now, “Scribblers,” with two of my former classmates. When the class ended the amazing teacher reminded us to keep reading, “read when you get stuck,” she said, “it will help your writing.” It’s true. It’s like saying “open sesame.” It works. I wish I could tell my sixth grade teacher THAT.

I want to thank Felice Austin of Memoirs Ink for choosing my memoir. I also want to congratulate the other winners whose stories I just finished. WOW. They are amazing as well. I love your stories, Deborah Thompson, Lisa Piorczynski and Merry Gordon.

Words are wonderful. Life is good.