Yes, Natterings & Noodlings

Thursday, February 1, 2024

Idleness? Or Industry?

Yes, I know, I’ve been neglecting you. No worries: I have not been sick, nor have I been kidnapped by penguins to live in Antarctica. In the last six months other activities and interests convinced me to pay attention to them. I cheerily submitted. The neglect is entirely my fault, but what has occupied me has been fun, fulfilling, and usually both.

Same with the occupational hiatus – I’ve done no billable work recently. The past several weeks were mostly uninspired by the holidays. Phillip and I no longer get submerged into the holiday chaos, but the influence of its disordered vortex can’t be avoided entirely. Our holidays were spent quietly at home. It felt good to spend a few weeks with a minimum of Zoom meetings. I used the time to conduct an archaeological dig in my office. Surely there was a desk somewhere under there, holding up all the books, files, papers, stickie notes, computer monitors, keyboard, mug warmer, pencil cups, etc. It’s easier to deal with the clutter in my beady little brain when the desk clutter has been reduced to nearly nothing. There’s room now for my elbows!

Another aspect of clutter reduction has been more domestic. Piled-up sweaters have finally been hand-washed and moth holes darned. I’ve knitted patches to cover holes in sweater elbows and in woolen socks I knitted years ago. I’m rebuilding a quilt of woolen squares that I made 40-plus years ago, too. Its lining had disintegrated into dense curds of lint and its cotton backing was in shreds. It will be good for another 40 years. This is good work to engage in while watching the idiot box in the evening, when that beady little brain of mine needs to wind down.

But it is high time I put another newsletter together, however, and return to something resembling a schedule. So, at last, here I am.

What have you been up to while I’ve been on a mental vacation?


To Tease Your Mind

What a large volume of adventures may be grasped
within this little span of life,
by him who interests his heart in everything.

Laurence Sterne
clergyman, Irish novelist, author of
The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (1760)

I see this quotation as representative of my current attitude or outlook. I think it has always been a strong internal influence. But of these adventures I’ve abandoned myself to in recent months, in recent years? Somehow, I have been guided to them, unawares or otherwise. They need to be grasped within my little span of life. My heart may not be interested in everything, but it’s definitely interested in more things than I will ever be able to address fully. It’s a guarantee against boredom. It’s also a privilege to have such a broad selection of things to play with.


Yes, Natterings & Noodlings

This issue is truly a conglomeration of natterings and noodlings.

September has always been a crazy-busy month. My husband and I were married in September, and we have spent the thirty-eight years since wondering how we found the time to do so. Usually we don’t have time to go to the bathroom. Most years, we’ll be sitting in the TV room in October or November, watching the TV, and one of us will turn to the other and say, “Didn’t we have an anniversary recently?” The other will say, “Yeah! I think we did. Maybe we should go out to dinner to celebrate.” So we do.

This time, October got into the mix. Then November had to put in its two-cents’ worth, too. But it was all good stuff.

Trooper Black Foundation

As many of you know, I became heavily involved with the Trooper Black Foundation in the fall of 2022. TBF is a federal non-profit organization that raises money to support first-responder families in crisis, whether from permanent disablement or from death. We really got our feet under us in February 2023, after a deputy sheriff in California was shot to death when responding to a domestic disturbance. He left behind a young wife with two little boys and a third one on the way. This so closely matched the experience of Mary Black Andrews in 1964 that we knew we needed to do something. (Mary is one of the TBF founders, which is named after her first husband who was killed in the line of duty.) We contributed to the Tunnel to Towers ( foundation that raised money to pay off that widow’s mortgage.

Since then, TBF has raised monies and distributed funds to eight other families, in Maine, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire. We held a 5K foot race in October, which brought in over $20,000 in sponsorships. Then we went to work with the Maine State Police to host a benefit concert, held a month later, to assist four Maine State Police troopers who were all seriously injured in late August 2023. All required immediate surgeries, two will need further surgeries, and none will be back on active duty for the better part of a year.

We had the privilege of meeting the troopers a few days before the concert. Despite these major physical setbacks, to a man each claimed that his job was “the best in the world.” Who could dismiss that kind of dedication?

Two months later, we still don’t have any final gross or net amounts from the benefit concert: Donations are still coming in! That speaks powerfully of the support for the foundation and its beneficiaries.

Midnight and Moll Flanders
My long-time friend David and his wife Karen are both in community theater. In August, Karen asked David if he’d ask his fife-and-drum friends (of which I’m one) if any would like to get involved with the play she was directing in November – “Midnight and Moll Flanders,” by Marie Kohler of Milwaukee, based on Daniel Defoe’s 1722 novel, Moll Flanders.

Karen envisioned a tavern atmosphere for pre-show and intermission entertainment and scene-change music, with bawdy songs (about women and drink, of course) from the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Four of us signed up and Tavern Band was born, with flute, whistle, bodhran, guitar, rope-tension snare drum, gourd, and wooden spoons, as well as much singing of period ballads with half of the actors in the troupe. My seat was First Gourd!

For those of you unfamiliar with the gourd, it’s in the squash family. It includes the knobby colorful ones in the market in the fall and large, bottle gourds often made into bird houses. It matures with a hard shell. After it dries for several months, the seeds inside rattle. It’s like a maraca, with a less-sharp sound because the seeds’ outer skins are fuzzy. Over time, as the skin wears off with use, the rattle gets sharper.

Surprise, surprise! On the second Friday of the show, the playwright showed up with her husband, all the way from Milwaukee. She so enjoyed the performance that they returned the next night. She hadn’t anticipated the addition of the music; it very much enhanced the whole atmosphere. Rumor has it now that the play will be published, with the music. Being 300-350 years old, all of the music predates copyrights, so that won’t be a concern.

A side note: Some tunes are “evergreen” – they never go out of style. (For example: “The Bear Went Over The Mountain” – called Malbrook” in the 18th Century – is thought to be from the Middle East, from the days of the Crusades, 800-plus years ago.) One of our tavern songs was “Nottingham Ale” to the tune of “Lilliburlero,” a ballad first published in 1641 in a broadside, a poke at contending political figures. In 2009 (368 years later), I heard the tune on TV, as background music to a baby-food ad. Its familiarity may well predate its 1641 publication. And we’re still playing it today, well into the 21st century.

Senior Writing Program:
Two years ago in my town, a bunch of us local writers set up a senior writing program, which has received strong support in our community. My friend Linda Malcolm coordinates it, and it’s only one of the programs offered by The Room to Write, a non-profit 501.c.3 organization.

Seniors throughout Massachusetts’ North Shore area have found the program a welcoming place to write their stories, share their ideas, and feel safe in doing so, without criticism. We who run the program call ourselves facilitators – we serve as hosts or guides, not as instructors. At some sessions, we merely gather and write. Others offer verbal critiques of pieces. And still others are chats, where we discuss an article about different aspects of the art and craft of writing.

I have come to appreciate the depth and insight of the remarkable stories that these seniors share every week. No matter how rough the drafts, they touch us because they are drawn from the heart. This month, the TRtW founder, Colleen Getty, added a blog page to the website where TRtW participants can post their stories, one step toward publication. We’re even considering the formal publishing of an anthology of these nuggets.

It has been a real joy to make friends with all of our writing friends.


What Am I Writing These Days?

Beyond End of Watch:  It’s time to resume work on Beyond End of Watch, the non-fiction book I began in 2019, about police families surviving line-of-duty deaths. (This is closely related to my involvement with the Trooper Black Foundation: Trooper Charles Black was murdered in 1964 when he responded to a bank robbery. My book will show how support agencies and services have come into being and have improved since 1964, when there were none.)

Once the world woke up again after the lockdowns, I returned to libraries to research newspaper archives from 1964, and some of that still needs to be done. There are also a number of living individuals who were part of what went down when Trooper Black was killed – fellow officers, family and friends, business people, etc. I need to interview them while they are still here.

I plan to interview Trooper Black’s brother George in a few weeks, when I’m in the neighborhood for a TBF board meeting. He’s 86 years old.

Nicodemus:  This novel is growing very nicely. It is about the last days of Jesus on earth, from the point of view of Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish council that tried Jesus. He was one of the few councilors who didn’t dismiss Jesus out of hand as just one more blasphemous crack-pot. I’ve always wondered what his “take” was on the whole Jesus phenomenon, and a phenomenon it truly was, one that has influenced the entire world ever since.

I’m half-way through Draft #2. At least two more drafts will develop it to my satisfaction. The story and its possibilities continue to fascinate me, and new resources show up weekly that the details. One recent acquisition is a book called “The Israelites” by B. S. J. Isserlin (2001), which covers every detail of history about this people – climate, crops and livestock, architecture, religion, clothing, food, art, government, influence of neighboring cultures, you name it – all of it based on archaeological evidence.

Great fun!


A Book Worth Checking Out

Considering the scholarly, intricate, and detailed books I’ve read in the past six months, most long out of print, most for my research, I’m not recommending any specific one. But here’s a list. If any interests you, check it out or ask me about it.

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

A scholarly book, quite fat, full of statistics, but the concepts are simply presented. In effect, our brains operate with two thinking systems. System 1 (“fast”) is the emotional part. It’s like the eager kid in school: “Pick me! Pick me!” and it throws out an answer to the question. That answer may be inexact, but it may be close enough. System 2, however, the logical, thinking part of the brain (“slow”), sees System 1’s answer and, with a minimum of thinking, says, “That works for me.” System 2 is lazy, so it is happy to sit back, fold its arms, and nod, if System 1’s answer satisfies it. It doesn’t like to work.

The River Jordan: Being an Illustrated Account of Earth’s Most Storied River by Nelson Glueck
This book traces the geographical, geological, and archaeological history of the Jordan River. With its origin in the mountains over 9,000 feet above sea level, it carves a deep ravine between mountain ranges. Within only 155 miles, it drops thousands of feet to the salty Dead Sea, which lies over 1,400 feet below sea level. Parts of it loop, snake-like, through jungle; other parts cut swiftly through desert terrain.

A History of Dams by Norman Smith
A very fat book tracing the history of dams – their design, development, and construction, for water retention, redirection, and irrigation – from the days of the Sumerians to the 20th Century. (Yes, you have to be pretty geeky – like me – to tackle such material in the first place.)

Sketches of Jewish Life in the Days of Christ by Alfred Edersheim
Lots of information about every aspect of Jewish life in those days – social, cultural, economic, religious, economic, domestic. Quite detailed.

Josephus, Complete Works, translated by William Whiston
Flavius Josephus was a Jewish historian who lived from 35-100 AD. His detailed histories of the Jews cover two or three BC centuries through the first century AD; their interactions with other nations, including the Romans, and lots on royal politics, intrigue, and scandal.

The Lifespan of a Fact by John D’Agata (author) and Jim Fingal (fact-checker)
This is a curious book. D’Agata wrote an article about a teenage suicide in Las Vegas, and Fingal was paid to fact-check it before publication. D’Agata’s adherence to factual precision was considerably lacking, and he carelessly manipulated the facts to make the story more interesting. Fingal called him out on the accuracy of every detail, or “jot and tittle,” as such things used to be called.

Eats, Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss
Truss showcases her pet punctuation peeves. She also gives examples of correct punctuation use, with reasons why. It’s also a very funny book.

(1) Love Does and (2) Everybody Always by Bob Goss
These two books are simple and profound, promoting love as the answer to the world’s problems. He shows how it works from his own personal experience. Very easy reading and heartwarming. Love Does means that instead of talking about love, one must “do” love – take action, not just give the idea lip service – in order to effect change. Everybody, Always is about including everyone – yes, everyone – in your circle of love. That includes people who are nasty-tempered, combative, even evil. There’s always hope for any and all of these.

The Science of Leonardo, by Fritjof Capra

Inside the mind of the great genius of the Renaissance. A marvelous journey with Leonardo da Vinci, from his childhood to old age, showing how deliberate he was to educate himself (not coming from a well-to-do or family of status), and how he saw the world so differently from everyone else.

Calendar & Announcements

Nothing specific on the horizon yet.

In early December I attended the 11th Annual ARIA Book Expo, held in Warwick, RI. It is held by the Association of Rhode Island Authors, and attended by over 130 authors with books galore to offer. The event also has seminars and speakers’ panels, open to exhibitors and visitors alike.

I always have a great time at this event, although I never sell much myself. Most often, I swap books with my neighboring exhibitors. This time, I came home with a memoir about a feisty grandmother who was no saint but modeled powerful love of family. I love the title: Marn: One Hell of a Broad by Kim Harris Stowell.

I made a few connections, too, that may bring me editing business. That’s always good.



Image: penguins & person

Image: archaeological dig

Image: gourd

Image: Nicodemus

Image: Josephus

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